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Amusing Ourselves to Death

Posted on August 2nd, 2010 at 22:07 by Paul Jay in category: Cartoon, Security


Aldous Huxley VS George Orwell

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  1. I’m afraid the jury is still out on that one… I can’t see how liberal capitalism will be able to compete with authoritarian capitalism. My guess is both Huxley and Orwell are right.

Crime and punishment in America: Rough justice

Posted on August 2nd, 2010 at 20:55 by John Sinteur in category: News


IN 2000 four Americans were charged with importing lobster tails in plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes, in violation of a Honduran regulation that Honduras no longer enforces. They had fallen foul of the Lacey Act, which bars Americans from breaking foreign rules when hunting or fishing. The original intent was to prevent Americans from, say, poaching elephants in Kenya. But it has been interpreted to mean that they must abide by every footling wildlife regulation on Earth. The lobstermen had no idea they were breaking the law. Yet three of them got eight years apiece. Two are still in jail.


THREE pickup trucks pulled up outside George Norris’s home in Spring, Texas. Six armed police in flak jackets jumped out. Thinking they must have come to the wrong place, Mr Norris opened his front door, and was startled to be shoved against a wall and frisked for weapons. He was forced into a chair for four hours while officers ransacked his house. They pulled out drawers, rifled through papers, dumped things on the floor and eventually loaded 37 boxes of Mr Norris’s possessions onto their pickups. They refused to tell him what he had done wrong. “It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that,” he recalls.

Mr Norris was 65 years old at the time, and a collector of orchids. He eventually discovered that he was suspected of smuggling the flowers into America, an offence under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This came as a shock. He did indeed import flowers and sell them to other orchid-lovers. And it was true that his suppliers in Latin America were sometimes sloppy about their paperwork. In a shipment of many similar-looking plants, it was rare for each permit to match each orchid precisely.

In March 2004, five months after the raid, Mr Norris was indicted, handcuffed and thrown into a cell with a suspected murderer and two suspected drug-dealers. When told why he was there, “they thought it hilarious.” One asked: “What do you do with these things? Smoke ’em?”

Prosecutors described Mr Norris as the “kingpin” of an international smuggling ring. He was dumbfounded: his annual profits were never more than about $20,000. When prosecutors suggested that he should inform on other smugglers in return for a lighter sentence, he refused, insisting he knew nothing beyond hearsay.

He pleaded innocent. But an undercover federal agent had ordered some orchids from him, a few of which arrived without the correct papers. For this, he was charged with making a false statement to a government official, a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Since he had communicated with his suppliers, he was charged with conspiracy, which also carries a potential five-year term.

As his legal bills exploded, Mr Norris reluctantly changed his plea to guilty, though he still protests his innocence. He was sentenced to 17 months in prison. After some time, he was released while his appeal was heard, but then put back inside. His health suffered: he has Parkinson’s disease, which was not helped by the strain of imprisonment. For bringing some prescription sleeping pills into prison, he was put in solitary confinement for 71 days. The prison was so crowded, however, that even in solitary he had two room-mates.

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Is the United States a Police State?

Posted on August 2nd, 2010 at 16:01 by John Sinteur in category: News


What about the courts?  For that, ask lawyers who work in the trenches.  Lawyers regularly advise clients to plead guilty to crimes they are innocent of, and to not sue government officials who violate their rights.  It is not that lawyers are afraid of a fight, or do not understand the injustices individual Americans face.  Rather, the lawyers understand the system all too well.  The system is stacked against regular Americans.

If you’re Goldman Sachs, the government will not indict you for manipulating the stock market.  If you’re a guy who allegedly stole a few pieces of software code from Goldman Sachs, you’ll be arrested within 48 hours of the theft.  Where as you and I would be told to civilly sue an employee who stole trade secrets, the United States Department of Justice has given Goldman Sachs a direct line. 

Thus, the legal system is not available to most Americans:  

What’s key to the definition of a police-state is the lack of redress: If there is no justice system which can compel the state to cede to the citizenry, then there is a police-state. If there exists apro forma justice system, but which in practice is unavailable to the ordinary citizen because of systemic obstacles (for instance, cost or bureaucratic hindrance), or which against all logic or reason consistently finds in favor of the state—even in the most egregious and obviously contradictory cases—then that pro forma judiciary system is nothing but a sham: A tool of the state’s repression against its citizens. Consider the Soviet court system the classic example.

Those of you who think you have rights should call some Section 1983/civil rights lawyers for a lecture on qualified immunity.  Yes, we have a legal system.  Yes, we can sue in court for the violation of our constitutional rights.  Just as in the Soviet Union, we will almost always lose these cases.

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  1. That guy has a really sad worldview. I hope no one here shares it.

  2. @ Rob,
    A lot of sad things are reality. Not that i share his complete view.
    But have you read 10 steps to fascism by Naomi Wolf?

  3. @Rob,
    His view is a United States view, not a world view. I do share his view. Many of the things that are happening in the states are quite similar to the police state tactics employed by the soviets in their occupied lands. It is well past time for ordinary U.S. citizens to get past their numerous diversions and golden hand-cuffs and realize how incredibly bad it is. Look only at the incarceration rates for petty offenses in the U.S. compared to other countries and it would be a good start.

  4. @Paul Jay

    i think the book is called “The End of America: Letter of warning to a Young Patriot”

    here’s it’s wikipedia link:

    It’s an engrossing and quick read and, written in a deliberately non-alarmist style… even though the subject matter is pretty severe.

  5. @Florian

    You’re right. I was confused with the title of a Guardian article about that book.
    Fascist America, in 10 easy steps

  6. Most of the alarmists abroad think the US is becoming a religious theocracy or a police state and most of the alarmists here think we’re becoming a nanny state. There are exceptions, of course. Some alarmists abroad and some here think the opposite. Dueling sirens is a fun game but it gets boring after a while. I’d prefer to lose my hearing to loud rock music. Carry on, though.

  7. @Rob
    I prefer to lose my hearing to listening to the alarms, many of them. It keeps my mind sharply attuned and not bored. Regarding the Nanny state, I would not worry too much. With the lack of real social safety nets, crappy health care access, actual livable unemployment benefits, a regressive tax system, a corrupted & now non-transparent electoral funding process, government by lobbyist and an ever increasing fox news drones, well the threat is low.

Elite US cyber-squad Vigilant recruits hackers from DefCon

Posted on August 2nd, 2010 at 9:42 by Paul Jay in category: News


An elite US cyber team that has stealthily tracked Internet villains for more that a decade pulled back its cloak of secrecy to recruit hackers at a notorious DefCon gathering in Las Vegas.

Vigilant was described by its chief Chet Uber as a sort of cyber “A-Team” taking on terrorists, drug cartels, mobsters and other enemies on the Internet.

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