Abuse of power

Feb 152011

The cops bust into a home without notice, shooting a man who comes out into the hallway with a golf club to see what the fuss is about.   But it’s OK, because the officer who shot the man was following proper procedures.

In the Odgen incident, Sgt. Troy Burnett was found to have handled the situation appropriately, [County Attorney] Smith says. “This was a split-second decision. He acted according to his training.”

And it’s certainly no reason to allow homeowners to shoot illegal intruders in self-defense.

USA Today article:  “Critics knock no-knock police raids.”

Nov 292010

My comment at Weasel Zippers:

The government doesn’t want us to have any secret transactions. Pay someone more than $10,000 in cash and the government wants to know what that’s all about. With the ObamaCare act, businesses are supposed to report any transaction over $600.

So if we can’t keep any secrets from the government, what good reason is there for the government to keep so many secrets from us?

I can understand that we don’t want secret military technology to fall into other hands. If we were at war, we wouldn’t the enemy to know about our strategizing. (Q. How do I know we’re not at war? A. Congress hasn’t declared any war that I’ve heard of.) But we’re not at war, so there isn’t a lot of information that needs to be kept so secret.

And I’m a bit suspicious of Rep. Peter King, anyhow.     Sounds to me like his call for WikiLeaks to be treated as a terrorist organization, besides being a stupid move that robs the term “terrorism” of any slight bit of meaning it may still have, is an excuse for him not to be spending time on his real job, which is to find  ways to cut spending and cut the deficit.

Jun 102010

It appears that there is an effort to defend President Obama’s “kick ass” remarks about the BP oil leak by pointing out that it was in response to an interviewer who asked if it wasn’t time to kick some butt.

What I haven’t seen so far is any discussion about how these remarks — both the question and the answer — reveal a deep and dangerous misunderstanding of the proper purpose of government.

It’s not the proper job of the President and Congress to kick ass. It’s the job of the President to enforce the laws and bring violators to justice. If the laws are serving us badly, then it’s time to work to improve the laws and/or the enforcement mechanism.

I suppose some might say the “kick ass” remark is just a way of saying the same thing. But even if it were, which is doubtful given the history of this administration, it’s a bad way to say it became it promotes the idea of vigilante justice, of working outside the law.

We see this bad attitude in newspaper articles that, instead of informing us about regulatory mechanisms being proposed for, say, the banking industry, instead talk about whether or not the new laws are “tough.” But the question of whether they are tough distracts attention from the question of whether they are effective, predictable, and enforceable in a fair, corruption-free manner.

Apr 212010

The ruling class worries that peaceful demonstrations might incite broader unrest? They want protestors to work without fanaticism?

No, this isn’t the American ruling class trying to maintain its hegemony against the rise of tea party activism. These are Russian rulers who are afraid of motorists who are protesting against special road privileges for VIPs.

Just the same, the Russian government could use the services of our Bill Clinton. He knows how to deal with these types of people, if you know what I mean.

His step to the national stage brought police surveillance and a mix of pressure and courtship by officials worried that his horn-honking activism might ignite broader unrest. He recalls the swift reaction when a participant on his group’s online forum suggested setting a car on fire in Red Square. Within minutes, Mr. Kanayev was summoned to Criminal Police headquarters. “It was just a joke,” he says he told his interrogators.

A Kremlin political operative approached, he says, and promised time on state-run television if he would stop the caravans. Another official, Sergey Shishkarev, who heads parliament’s transport committee, says he has offered to shape some of Mr. Kanayev’s ideas on tax and safety issues into legislation but warned the activist “to work without fanaticism.”

WSJ link here

Aug 102009

There is an amazing article by Josh Levin at Slate.com: “How is America Going to End? Five steps to totalitarian rule.” It makes a lot of good points, even going to the trouble of pointing out FDR’s authoritarian tendencies and abuses of power during the 1930s.

The truly amazing part is how it managed to put out so many words without once mentioning Barak Obama’s actions in the direction of totalitarianism. It mentions Bush & Cheney quite a bit, and gives a fairly balanced account of what they did and didn’t do in the totalitarian direction. Richard Nixon gets a mention. But there is not a word about Barak Obama’s new detention policies that go farther than Bush’s ever did, or his politicization of the Justice Department, or his takeovers and attempted takeovers of various sectors of our economy, or his intolerance of dissenting viewpoints.

How could anyone who is not a partisan hack write such an otherwise balanced account without mentioning our current President, I wondered.

Then I got to thinking that it’s not so unusual after all. Slate is well known as a leftwing magazine. Young leftwingers are not very tolerant these days. If Levin wants to be able to be allowed to work, breed, and not have others treat him like a pariah, it’s probably not something he dares to talk about directly. He needs to talk in parables and circumlocutions to get his point across.


It’s not unlike in movies made in Soviet Russia. In those I’ve seen there is (to me, at least) a surprising amount of social commentary that would probably not have got past the censors if they had discussed the topics directly. So a comedy like Kin-Dza-Dza could be criticial of a government infested with bribe-takers and abusers of power — if the action took place on another planet.

That movie is probably not the greatest example, because Kin-Dza-Dza was released in 1986 when the Soviet Union was already much more open than it had been previously. But I happen to have the movie handy, including the above part where our heroes have just reached the point when they cannot take it anymore and have decided to fight back, starting by taking down the police officer who is helping himself to bribes.

Tarkovsky’s Solaris is probably a better example. It came out in 1972, a very different time, and it, too, got by with a lot by putting the setting on another planet. That way any messages wouldn’t strike too close to home.


Another example is in the 1973 TV series that Myra and I are currently watching: “Seventeen Moments in Spring”, which takes place in Nazi Germany. The English subtitles for the narrator for Göring’s words at the point of the above screenshot say, “Our concentration camps are humane instruments to save the enemies of national-socialism. If we don’t put them in camps, there will be a mob law. In such way, they’ll be completely reformed and realize our rightness”. Even in 1973 it was probably easier and more effective to talk about that than about the GULAG system of corrective labor from the same World War II period, which had very similar methods and purposes.

I’m not sure if the movie was really intended as social commentary, though. So far what I’ve seen of it is a very patriotic movie that doesn’t seem to be getting in digs at problems that include the producers’ own country. But I wonder if a viewer, perhaps living in the same household with former inmates from the GULAG, could help but think about how their own country once did such things, too.

This sort of indirect system of social commentary is of course not just a feature of Soviet Russia. Authors and producers in other countries have sometimes had to approach issues indirectly, too. And if you consider the type of people who usually read Slate, it’s probably something that happens in our country, too. The Josh Levin article may very well be an example.

Late note:  Also cross-posted to Kino Reticulator

Aug 052009

I dislike headlines like this one from CNN: “Ex-Rep. Jefferson convicted of corruption

The problem is, it gives people the idea that corruption is illegal. If corruption was illegal, then Rahm Emanuel would be in the slammer for trying to give out federal stimulus funds only on condition that recipients speak favorably about the stimulus program. Of course Emanuel should lose his job over that, but I’m not sure it’s something for the criminal courts.

Jul 112009

A good way for President Obama to exhort Africans to rid themselves of corruption would be to lead by example. He could start by being more open with Congressional investigators about the firing of watchdog Gerald Walpin.

The first African-American president came to the continent of his father to exhort Africans on Saturday to rid themselves of corruption, embrace democracy and move from the grand, often violent, struggles of liberation and tribalism to the quieter, more potent movement of stability and economic growth.

URL here.

Jun 172009

When Obama’s first stimulus bill was making its way through Congress, we kept hearing about “shovel ready” projects that could get started right away. Then it turned out there weren’t so many such projects.

But now we see that some projects truly are shovel ready.

Last night the scandal involving the firing of federal watchdog Gerald Walpin made it onto the front page of Google News, though not to the very top. In the wee hours of the morning you could find it, not on the front page, but pretty high up if you clicked on U.S. news. Around 9 a.m. EDT it was 19th on U.S. news, and now it’s not there at all. It looks like the news media have been burying it as fast as possible.

There you have it. That story was shovel ready.

Jun 162009

I guess the old saying is no longer operative. Lefters used to say that you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. It looks like Gerald Walpin may have broken the wrong egg.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A White House lawyer says President Barack Obama fired the watchdog for federal AmeriCorps programs because he was “unduly disruptive” and engaged in “trouble and inappropriate conduct.”

And here I thought it was the job of watchdogs to be disruptive.

Back when Rod Blagojevich was in the news, it reminded people that President Obama had come out of the corrupt Chicago political machine. But there were those who pointed out that President Truman came out of the corrupt Pendergast machine, but had managed to stay clean himself. So why couldn’t Obama do the same?

I don’t have the answer as to why he couldn’t, but with the handling of Gerald Walpin it has become apparent that Barak Obama is no Harry Truman.

WSJ editorial here.