Saturday, December 23, 2006

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Back in Paradise, Join Me

One of the first things I noticed returning to Key West after almost a year in Central America is the number of shiny new public buildings in town. Almost all public buildings in Costa Rica have a humble, flaking-paint shabbiness about them that seems to assure the locals they are not overspending to be bossed around. Here the government is living large, and bossing us around more than ever.

The US Weather Service Hurricane Shrine on White Street steps nicely outside the recent bombproof-bunker trend in government architecture, pouring tax dollars into a sculptural monument to bad weather. On the other hand, the Homeland Security building perched on stilts over the hallowed ground of the former Hukilau looks like a gun emplacement. Painting it pale yellow is the architectural equivalent of putting daisy stickers on your M-16. At the new Poinciana School cheerful tropical colors fail to mitigate an undeniable concrete authoritarianism.

I think of it as the Painted Trollop School of public works design, paint and plaster striving to hide a sordid truth.

Local politics continue to amuse. An apparent check forger won a seat on the school board while the county commission turned a Stock Island property owner into a lottery winner, paying millions for a piece of land the county doesn’t need and no one wants. The parcel features a tiny patch of waterfront remarkable for the number of floating fish heads that wash ashore and for a uniquely industrial sunset view. I understand the land and the dilapidated wood structure on it will be “preserved” for posterity.

On my first day in town a newly elected commissioner got some front page space for proposing to protect his own business with an ordinance that would drastically limit property rights. The good commissioner was wringing his hands over a possible dire shortage of drunks and wet T-shirt contestants if the appalling trend in condo conversions continues. Heaven forefend such a curse.

The commissioner needn’t fret, however, with a five year real estate inventory on offer and thousands of condos in the pipeline the frenzy to sell hotel rooms for $1500 a square foot should resolve itself into a frenzy of lawsuits against developers, realtors and mortgage brokers. This will probably happen long before the commish runs out of coeds with fake ID’s.

The commissioner’s proposal confirms one of O’Boyle’s theories of social trend spotting (OTOSTS). The theory says that government actions are accurate counter-indicators of social moods and trends. If a government agency or commission makes a proposal to take advantage of or limit a trend, you can be sure the trend has peaked and will soon be over. Since the commission is proposing to end condo conversions, it’s a near certainty they are doomed anyway.

Interestingly, the end of the trend the commissioner now thinks will continue forever, the Great Keys Real Estate Bubble (GKREB), was the inspiration for my family’s adventure in Central America. Returning now, I’m not surprised to see the GKREB deflating predictably, with enormous inventories of unsold property and a local government, woozy with windfall property taxes, expanding aggressively as the population shrinks.

Prices climb a wall of worry, as the saying goes, and slide down a slope of hope. Hope is palpable in the conversations I’ve had since returning, conversations that still swirl around the heady values imagined for a common mix of dirt, brick, nails and wood. Hope is a word that appears with surprising regularity in e-mails I receive from people with property for sale all over Florida and elsewhere. A lack of worry and abundance of hope is a clear trend indicator.

But for all that, I’m a great fan of hope. Though it can be ruinously harmful in making financial decisions, hope remains essential for facing an uncertain future and maintaining the eccentric grace and good humor I’ve always loved in the people who make this peculiar rock their home.

I’m enjoying seeing old friends and being back on this little island paradise that I fell in love with more than 30 years ago. I hope to induce those friends to visit or even move to my new love, Costa Rica, a place with much the same charm of a Key West now long gone.

If you can’t visit Costa Rica, however, I hope all of you, my loyal readers, will join me for the First Annual Hal O’Boyle Blue Paper Happy Hour and Bar Fight (FAHOBBPHHABF). My always encouraging editor, Dennis Cooper, has finally offered to compensate me for three years as house curmudgeon with a meal and a drink. Apparently the occasional letter calling for my beheading has not convinced him that very many people read this column. A good turn out will earn me another sandwich and a beer in three years.

It will take place at Seaweeds at the Blue Lagoon Hotel on N. Roosevelt Blvd., on Monday evening, December 11, at 5:30 pm. It will be my last night in Key West before returning to San Jose for what will probably be a good long time.

For your safety and amusement my stunt double will be tending bar and all attendees are encouraged to carry firearms. I hope you will join me to lift a glass to Key West past and future. I will not try to sell you a book.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Back on Alert in the Homeland

After over nine months in Central America the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport seemed like the Emerald City in the Land of OZ ─ vast, opulent, crammed with Star Wars gadgetry. Although the terminal in San Jose, Costa Rica is a modern facility, with eight dollar hamburgers and fancy gift shops, Ft. Worth made it look like a jungle landing strip.

The DFW concourse was packed with guys in business suits talking out loud to themselves. At first I thought they were deranged poets or well dressed bag men. Turns out they were using hands-free cell phones. TV screens showed where planes were in flight. My son marveled at soap dispensers that worked magically as you waved your hand in front of them.

The luxury didn’t come without risk, however. The US airport was a hotbed terrorist danger. Warnings filled the air. Complementary scary terror propaganda flowed from the many sleek, flat-screen TV monitors. After almost a year of never knowing what my terror threat alert color was, suddenly I was reminded of it every few minutes. CNN was reporting all kinds of terror news and flacking their upcoming special “Keeping You Safe.”

Every five minutes CNN updated us on the discovery of a suspicious package at the Lincoln Memorial. Authorities closed the memorial immediately and were checking out the package. They were searching for a six foot tall white guy. I’ll bet they found one.

I never understood why unattended packages in public places are reported immediately on the national media. What is the public safety benefit? If it turns out the package is dangerous, widespread reporting only helps the terrorists by spreading vastly more terror than keeping it quiet would. And if it turns out that the package is a peanut butter sandwich instead of an anthrax cocktail, the authorities look foolish.

My flight left before I found out what was in the Lincoln Memorial package. Since I never heard about it after that day, it must have been benign. I wondered how many abandoned Sponge Bob lunch boxes wrapped in duct tape it would take to initiate martial law.

I don’t know if the Lincoln Memorial incident was the reason, but I was traveling on the very day on which our terror alert level had been raised from YELLOW (Significant Risk of Terrorist Attack) to ORANGE (High Risk of Terrorist Attack). I felt like I should do something. I looked around for swarthy men with towels and bungee chords on their heads. I scanned the area for abandoned bags. Nothing.

I was in a Wifi hotspot there in the airport, so I whipped out my laptop and went to the Department of Homeland Security website for instructions. There’s not a lot of detail in the threat level instructions. I’ll review them briefly here.

At the low risk Green level, which we’ve never known, we are supposed to have taken a CPR course, put together an “Emergency Supply Kit” (duct tape and plastic sheeting, food and water, forget your rifle and ammo) learned how to “shelter-in-place” (not exactly described, but involves duct tape and plastic sheeting) and how to shut off the utilities. None of that seems particularly useful to the traveler in a high-risk Orange Alert airport. If “sheltering-in-place” includes hiding behind the furniture I guess we could do that. I doubt you could get your Emergency Supply Kit past security.

Further instructions for threat levels above Green ─ which include Blue, Yellow, Orange and Red ─ consist mostly of reviewing stuff you did at previous threat levels and being “alert for suspicious activity.” At level Orange, we are to expect further searches and delays. And, I quote, “Exercise caution when traveling, pay attention to travel advisorie.” Yes, they misspelled “advisory.”

At threat level Red (Severe Risk of Terrorist Attack) the emphasis shifts solidly to obeying orders. Level Red instructions are essentially, “Do as you are told. Don’t try to help,(unless we tell you to.) Call the office you might have the day off.”

I’m frankly disappointed that DHS has so little confidence in the ability of Americans to defend themselves and deal with terrorists. Surely we can do more than “shelter-in-place.”

With that in mind, here is O’Boyle’s Threat Level Alert System (OTLAS). I offer it as a less passive alternative to the DHS system. Below is an example of how the OTLAS would deal with a threat in the most likely place, the airport, and in the most common manifestation, the unattended piece of luggage. There are many other situations and threats, of course.

You discover an abandoned Sponge Bob lunchbox and your OTLAS threat level is:

GREEN: Open it right now; it’s probably full of Twinkies and M&Ms left by the luggage fairy.

BLUE: Shake it first, then open it and enjoy your treat.

YELLOW: Don’t touch it. Yell a warning to everyone in the area. Call the bomb squad.

ORANGE: Too dangerous to wait for the cops. Stomp it flat and then toss it out into the road in front of the airport. Take cover.

RED: For God’s sake, it’s going to blow, throw it into the nearest trash can, empty your pistol into the can, then “shelter in place” until it explodes.

Citizens interested in doing more than just waiting to be killed by terrorists or bossed around by bureaucrats can get a handy wallet sized OTLAS action guide by email. If you would simply like a more dynamic threat color alert system you can use this one:

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The New Boss

Tweedle-dee Dee - he's on his hands and his knees
Saying, "Throw me somethin', Mister, please."
"What's good for you is good for me,"
Says Tweedle-dee Dum to Tweedle-dee Dee
Bob Dylan

The Tweedledee party just won control of Congress while the Tweedledums still have their man in the Oval Office. I suppose, as an opponent of the fraudulent War on Terror and a great fan of the Constitution, I should be gratified. Many Tweedledee supporters are pleased as punch and seem to think some important changes will come of their newfound power. But I suspect that while the beneficiaries of the War on Terror scam will probably change, the shabby nature of the undertaking will remain the same and the damage it has done to American freedom will go unrepaired.

Since the events of 2001, the ruling Tweedledums have played havoc with what remains of the US Constitution. If any good came of the Constitution’s further destruction, it was a sudden, uncharacteristic reverence for the document by the Tweedledees. In control of Congress they are now in a position to act on their new respect for the Constitution. Somehow, I doubt they will.

Some obvious choices for at least a partial restoration of our lost rights would be a thorough criminal investigation of the events of 9/11, the repeal of the USA Patriot Act, and the repeal of the many recent laws allowing the secret lockup of the innocent, illegal eavesdropping, surveillance, and torture. A repeal of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 alone would restore much of the effectiveness of the now forgotten Bill of Rights.

While the Tweedledees are at the job of restoring American liberty, they might also consider repealing the Real ID Act, a law that will have us all numbered and tracked like barnyard animals starting sometime in 2007. And of course, doing away with the ever creepier Department of Homeland Security and its army of airport granny friskers would greatly revive American rights and dignity without appreciably increasing our risk of death by terrorism. It would also save billions in wasted taxpayer dollars, millions of hours of shoe removal and strip search time and who knows how many tons of discarded toothpaste, deodorant and KY jelly.

I doubt very much, however, that any of these ideas have occurred to the new majority in Congress. In fact, the new Speaker of the House designate, Nancy Pelosi, said nothing about the death of the Constitution or our lost rights at a press conference after the elections. Instead she immediately set off my BS alarm by telling me how honest the Tweedledees were going to be. I instinctively mistrust people who feel compelled to tell me how honest they are. Pelosi said: “Democrats intend to lead the most honest, the most open and the most ethical Congress in history.” Not that that would require any great level of honesty or candor. Does that mean we can expect the Clintons to return the stolen White House furniture in a gesture of Tweedledee integrity?

Pelosi went on to outline a “First Hundred Hours” plan. The plan had nothing to do with the restoration of the Constitution or ending the war in Iraq. Instead the Tweedledees plan to reform lobbying, implement some 9/11 commission recommendation, increase unemployment with a hike in the minimum wage and buy more votes from young and old alike with drug benefits and student loan interest rate cuts.

Many Americans viewed this election as a referendum on the war in Iraq; apparently Ms. Pelosi didn’t, saying only that she wants to work with Bush on a "new direction" on Iraq. A “new direction” in Iraq would imply that the whole murderous enterprise already has some identifiable destination. It would imply possibilities in Iraq that don’t involve the further humiliation of the most powerful army on the planet by malcontents with home made bombs and the further wholesale murder of Iraqi civilians by Iraqis and Americans alike. I can’t think of what that direction might be.

Now that the Tweedledees have some power they will do nothing to reduce the power of the government they control. Instead they will savor and hoard it to gain more in the next election. Our troops will remain in Iraq. Their blood and our freedom will be further sacrificed to unseat the Tweedledum president in 2008. Should that occur, as it very likely will, every potential Tweedledee president, including the ruthlessly ethical Hillary Clinton, has promised to expand the war on terror. And why not? Nothing appeals to politicians more than massive government projects and what government project could possibly top a perpetual global war against an invisible enemy.

The lyric from the Who’s song We Don’t Get Fooled Again keeps repeating in my head: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…”

The Coming Sellout
Democrats Pull Out Method

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Another Rule for Your Protection

The solution is so elegant I’m surprised they didn’t come up with it sooner. The good shepherds at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have proposed a fix for the “no fly list” problem. The “no fly list” is the list DHS has compiled of travelers too risky to allow on airplanes without first harassing the life out of them. From all reports, it is heavily populated with peace activists, retired clergymen and Democratic political candidates. Senator Ted Kennedy briefly and famously showed up on it once, in what is arguably the no-fly-list’s only success at delaying further damage to the republic.

To further protect us from global terrorism DHS has proposed that instead of selecting a few thousand luckless travelers politically or randomly for routine humiliation and delay, they are going to put everyone on a no fly list. No danger of mistakes that way. All the terrorists will be included.

I’m referring to a new DHS rule scheduled for implementation in January 2007. Should the rule go into effect, all passengers leaving, entering or passing through the US will have to get DHS permission to do so.

Americans have always enjoyed the freedom to travel both inside and outside their own country. Though there is no law specifically protecting freedom of movement, it has been confirmed by our courts. The Supremes have held in a number of cases that the right to travel necessarily exists even if nowhere specified. In a 1958 case where a person had been denied a passport as a suspected communist, Justice William O. Douglas wrote for the Court:
The right to travel is a part of the 'liberty' of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. . . . Freedom of movement across frontiers in either direction, and inside frontiers as well, was a part of our heritage. Travel abroad, like travel within the country,... may be as close to the heart of the individual as the choice of what he eats, or wears, or reads. Freedom of movement is basic in our scheme of values.

Internationally the right to travel is acknowledged in such documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads,
Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
If you hold a US passport today a court order is necessary to prevent you from using that document to leave or enter the homeland at will. Under the new rules, you could be denied entry or exit at the whim of a nameless administrator.

How will determination of your worthiness for entry or exit from the homeland be made? No one really knows. Decisions will be administrative, secret and will not give the slightest nod to due process. No pesky warrants. No time consuming court orders. No right of appeal of any kind. If you say “Mother, may I” and they say no, you could become a prisoner either inside or outside the homeland.

Of course the object of the exercise is to halt terrorism, but the mind reels at the possibilities for nabbing other undesirables as they try to cross the borders. Did you ignore that last jury summons? Have a pile of unpaid traffic tickets? Forget to file that tax form? Are you a little behind on your child support? Did you send a check to the wrong charity or political party? Are you a member of an organization with “terrorist” sympathies? Did you write a letter complaining about airport security?

The list of countries that have restricted their citizens’ right to leave when things got intolerable is long and disreputable. Among the most famous are Nazi Germany, Castro’s Cuba, East Germany and the Soviet Union. The list includes all the many socialist hell holes of Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

Generally travel restrictions are only part of more extensive government efforts to offer complete protection for its citizens. Historically those efforts have included internal passports, civilian disarmament, prisons bursting with political dissidents and mass graves. We can take comfort knowing the Department of Homeland Security is diligently laying the ground work for our complete protection.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Crawling Peg

The Crawling Peg sounds like a rock group that isn’t too proud to beg for a gig or that gets so lubed up during one that dancing is impossible except on all fours. It’s nothing so cheerful, however.

Here in Costa Rica “the crawling peg” refers to the narrow spread of buy and sell prices for the local currency, the Colone, (rhymes with baloney when spoken by gringos). The central bankers here refer to it as a system of “controlled devaluation.” That’s because the value of the Colone only moves one way ─ down ─ against anything of fixed value. Particularly good measures of its value are those things that are hard to create more of, like land and gold.

The Crawling Peg is much in the news recently because the central bank has decided to allow the Colone to move within a wider range of prices against the dollar. This has created a lot of uncertainty about the future value (in dollars) of the local money. People living here are used to their currency deteriorating at an alarming but relatively predictable rate. The new rules make the immediate future value of the Colone more uncertain, but its ultimate value of zero, like that of the dollar, has never been in doubt.

Since Costa Rica’s most recent bankruptcy the mid 80’s the Colone has gone from a little under 10 to the dollar to a little over 500. And keep in mind that the dollar itself is hardly a fixed benchmark. In that same time the value of a dollar fell by about half, unless you want to buy a house in Old Town, in which case it just plain crashed.

I’m a great admirer of the pious, official, bald-faced lie. That’s why I love listening to central bankers talk about what they are doing to control inflation. They talk about inflation as if it were an unstoppable natural phenomenon like earthquakes or malaria. In reality, inflation is no more natural than the local grocer short weighing your order. A central banker explaining inflation is like a kleptomaniac explaining why removing alarms and firing security guards will help him deal with his problem.

Central banks don’t fight inflation, they produce it. They print money for the government to cover the difference between tax collections and the cost of supporting an enormous political class of paper pushers, enforcers and pensioners. Inflation is a mechanism for stealing money from people who work and giving it to people who vote. Central bankers are the guys in expensive suits and cushy offices who are well paid to broker the scam and hide the evidence. Here in Costa Rica, they exchanged exploitation of the poor by a few land owners to exploitation of the poor by a large political class of government beneficiaries. Central bankers run the whole sorry con.

So naturally, when the suits decide to change the way they calculate the take from their scam, some of us become suspicious that the scheme might somehow cost us more than it is now. Clearly, the new plan has nothing to do with controlling inflation. Inflation could be stopped immediately by simply not printing up money for the government whenever it runs short.

Changing the exchange rules doesn’t effect inflation at all, but can capture temporary relative advantage against other currencies. In this country, as in most countries in the world, there is only one other currency worth talking about, the US dollar. By any measure, Uncle Sam has been printing up new dollars at a breathtaking pace. Maintaining the global empire isn’t cheap and American taxpayers are in no position to pay cash.

Borrowing from our enemies and the Fed is the only way to fight terror and spread freedom. Borrowing dollars into existence works the same for the US as it does for banana republics everywhere. Each new dollar means every old one is worth less. Perhaps the suits here in Costa Rica have seen an opportunity to take advantage of the deteriorating condition of the dollar. Early results, to the great surprise of the clueless, show the Colone strengthening against the dollar.

Jiggering the exchange rules won’t do more than temporarily affect the relative winners and losers in the game. It certainly won’t do anything to “control inflation” or strengthen or weaken the local tokens except as they are valued against other paper tokens.

In a world where there is only unbacked paper money, we can picture national currencies like skydivers without parachutes vying for position as they fall through the air, each hoping to be the last to hit the ground.

As Voltaire said, “All paper money eventually returns to its intrinsic value.” Monkeying with the exchange rules is just twisting and turning as you fall through the air. It may delay the inevitable, but it won’t repeal the law of gravity or make a golden parachute less valuable.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Late, Great Writ

"The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive." ─ J. Scalia, dissenting in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

Known as “The Great Writ” or “The Great Writ of Liberty,” the Writ of Habeas Corpus has been a feature of English common law for at least 400 years. The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus is a common law tradition that allows a person who has been arrested to appear in front of a judge to hear the charges against him. Habeas Corpus is a Latin phrase that means “you have the body.” “The body” is that of a prisoner. The people who have it are usually the police or some other government authority ─ the CIA, NSA, FBI, IRS, DEA, DHS, are but a few of many possibilities.

Habeas Corpus is the legal concept that gives us that precious phone-call from the jailhouse. Its original purpose was to fight the nasty habit kings had of throwing their enemies into dungeons without charges or hope of release. Kings are rare these days, but nasty habits die hard.

Habeas corpus keeps you from being thrown into jail in secret, indefinitely, on the whim of someone who has the power to arrest you. Habeas corpus helps make sure the wrong person isn’t busted by accident and that prisoners get a fair trial. The Great Writ is the emergency brake on both the bulldozer of tyranny and the carelessly parked garbage truck of bureaucratic screw-up.

The U.S. Constitution specifically forbids suspension of the Great Writ except in cases of “rebellion or invasion.” President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in Maryland at the beginning of the Civil War, ordering his generals to arrest anyone who interfered with the passage of troops through that state. The suspension was controversial, to say the least, and did little to promote a love of the union in Maryland. The courts ruled against Lincoln and he ignored the courts. Congress eventually backed Abe up with legislation. There was a rebellion, after all.

More recently, without invasion or rebellion, the Supremes effectively gutted our right to know the charges against us in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Relying on a case about the deprivation of welfare benefits, the robes determined that Hamdi, a U.S. citizen imprisoned as an “enemy combatant,” had the right to have his case heard, but that the government didn’t have to produce any evidence that he had committed a crime. Instead he had to somehow prove he wasn’t what the Government claimed he was. Good luck, Hamdi.

Laws since the 1990’s, including the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), the USA Patriot Act, the Streamlined Procedures Act (SPA) and most recently the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA), have done much to weaken habeas corpus rights. With just a little tweaking the MCA could eliminate those rights entirely.

The MCA legalizes imprisonment without charges for an indefinite time. Not coincidentally, it also retroactively approves torture of any kind before December 30, 2005 and all but the worst torture after that date. Although presently limited to alien “unlawful combatants,” the president can determine who “combatants” are using committees appointed by him. There won’t be many civil libertarians on those panels. Identifing and detaining US citizen “unlawful combatants” under this law would be easier than rigging a county election.

And what might you have to do to be called an “unlawful combatant?” Traditionally, combatants are guys with guns, or bombs, or knives, or box cutters at least. The MCA ominously expands the definition of an “enemy combatant” to include those who “purposely and materially” support enemies of the US, no actual combat or even intent to combat is necessary.

Under the right circumstances, a donation to an Islamic charity that gave money in turn to an Iraqi mosque could be interpreted as “material” support for a US enemy. Welcome to the wonderful world of “enemy combatants,” all of whom are subject to indefinite detention without charges or trials, and to all the friendlier forms of torture.

By writing the words, “The War on Terror is a fraud, based on a lie, based on a false flag military operation,” I could be opening myself to charges of anything from conspiracy mongering to treason. However, if it’s treason, at least until now, I would have to be charged and tried for treason in open court. But in the brave new world without habeas corpus, writing that sentence could flag me as someone “purposely and materially” supporting enemies of the U.S. That would make me an “unlawful combatant” as defined by the MCA. If I vanished without a trace it would be perfectly legal and many patriotic Americans would say, “Good riddance.”

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Friday, October 20, 2006

9/11 Mysteries (Full Length, High Quality)

This is a brand new public domain 9/11 Truth documentary. It's a little long, but worth the time spent. Unlike official reports the controlled demolition of the World Trade Center complex doesn't require the suspension of the laws of physics. It's excellent. Pass this link on!

World Trade Center WTC twin dowers controlled demoltion thermate thermite explosions 9/11 911 9-11 september 11 11th truth conspiracy theory theories theorist george bush dick cheney donald rumsfeld paul wolfowitz doctring PNAC project for a new american century NORAD FAA FBI CIA NSA cutter charges molton steel WTC7 building 7 larry silverstein pull it BYU physics professor steven jones loose change alex jones NIST pentagon flight 77 missile flight 93 shanksville PA lets let's roll put options gold emma e. booker elementary jersey girls

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Formulating the War on Terror

"But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship ... That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." ─ Nazi Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering

Here in the Outland you get a different perspective on the War on Terror than you do in the Homeland. I rarely know what color my terrorism threat level is, for instance. And when I do, it seems even more absurd than it did when I enjoyed the protections of Homeland Security. You can carry water, toothpaste and deodorant onto airplanes that aren’t going to the States and you don’t have to take off your shoes. The backbeat of fear played by the major media in the Homeland doesn’t get heads nodding and feet tapping here in Central America.

I am, however, occasionally reminded that the WOT sock hop is in full cry back home. A few days ago I received an anonymous e-mail from a guy who drives a delivery truck in Key West. In his note he seemed perfectly normal and friendly, like a guy you’d enjoy hanging with at a barbeque, except that he was reporting that his fellow delivery truck drivers suspected the tenant in my house in New Town was a terrorist. It’s a suspicion I’d have found hysterically funny if the potential consequences for me and my tenant weren’t so serious.

The driver was writing to ask about the guy before his friends called ICE. Consistent with my deep ignorance of the gravity of the terrorist threat, I didn’t know what ICE was. The driver, probably amused by the depth of my ignorance, informed me that ICE is the enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

The word Gestapo sprung to mind, as did the words snitch, busybody, and informer. My personal informer is a nice guy by all indications. I’m sure those words never sprang to his mind. And I am, in fact, truly grateful he called me before his pals called the enforcers.

Of course, I was curious as to what suspicious activity had attracted the drivers’ attention. Did my tenant receive boxes from Pakistan in plain brown wrappers? When you shook the packages did it sound like clock parts and chemistry equipment? Was the return address written in Farsi?

No, none of that. Here are the clues to terrorist activity. My tenant isn’t a native speaker of English. He speaks with a foreign accent, vaguely Middle Eastern. He has a somewhat dark complexion and dark hair. He never mows the lawn. That’s pretty much it.

The vigilant delivery truck drivers used this formula:

Swarthy Guy + Foreign Accent + Tall Grass = Terrorist Hiding in Tall Grass.

He actually told me the unmowed lawn was the evidence that prompted them to action. I hope real terrorists don’t read this and start mowing their lawns. How would we find them then?

The formula is logical enough in its way, but only when heavily lubed with WOT Islamophobia. Even a superficial examination reveals logical flaws arising from prejudice, paranoia, xenophobia and cowardice. After I vouched for my tenant’s good character and spent $100 to have the yard cleaned up the driver still chose to remain anonymous. I can understand his lack of pride. Snitches, informers and stool pigeons enjoy little respect anywhere, even among government agencies that are so heavily dependent on them.

I’m reminded of the proposed nationwide TIPS program. Loud disapproval by the American public ended TIPS, which would have recruited people like the delivery guys to inform authorities about the private comings and goings of Americans in their homes. I’m distressed to see an informal TIPS program growing spontaneously like a mushroom on a cow pie from the manure of WOT propaganda.

Neighbor secretly spying on neighbor creates its own formula, and it’s not a formula for increased safety from terrorists:

Paranoia + Xenophobia + Cowardice = Totalitarian Nightmare.

The only way to avoid nightmares is to wake up.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Jesse Has His Doubts

Former governor of Minnesota, Vietnam vet and actor Jesse Ventura went further than ever in detailing the reasons he doubts the official 9/11 story. He cites NORAD falling asleep at the switch, Operation Northwoods and the phoney Gulf of Tonkin attacks in talking about his suspicions.

They will never buy it in Omaha, though, where your hairstyle has as much to do with your credibility as your facts. MORE HERE>>>>>>>>

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bin Laden's CIA Pension

Are We Safe Yet?

Do you feel safer because of our War on Terror? Our leaders would like you to think you are and are making much of the fact that there hasn’t been a terrorist incident in the U.S. since 9/11. As politicians do, they are taking credit for the fact that so many of us are still shifting air in and out of our lungs. It’s like they are saying, “You’re alive, aren’t you? Quit your whining,” because keeping us alive and terrified has required the removal of a good many civil liberties.

That there has been no attack on U.S. soil since we undertook the bombing, invasion and “liberation” of Afghanistan and Iraq is really something of a miracle. Bombing and torture haven’t won us many friends in the Islamic world and have surely created many enemies. If we only count the relatives of the tens of thousands we have killed, there are surely many more Muslims who hate America now than there were five years ago.

For evidence let’s take the word of our own government. Somebody leaked a copy of the National Intelligence Estimate recently. It concluded that… "the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and ... the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks."

Of course it has. Just because there haven’t been any attacks on American soil doesn’t mean terrorists haven’t been busy. Scores of attacks have occurred since the U.S. Air Force got started on Afghanistan in 2001. American institutions and American allies all over the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific have suffered attacks.

The US State Department used to produce an annual report called “Patterns of Global Terrorism.” The report on the year 2003 showed more “significant terrorist incidents” than at any time since they started keeping statistics in 1985. The report for 2004 was even worse. The gnomes at State had a solution for that. They stopped publishing the report.

Our leaders will never take the rap for the increase in terrorism since the War on Terror began even if the correlation is obvious to everyone else. The Decider and his special friend, Tony Blair, are quick to point out that terrorists were terrorizing long before 9/11. And surely they were, but it’s not as though the US and Israel were idle in the Mideast before 2001.

The CIA overthrew the government of Iran in 1953. We bombed Libya. We devastated Iraq, killing 100,000 soldiers and a large, unknown number of civilians. A US Navy cruiser shot down an Iranian airliner. There have been American troops in Saudi Arabia for years. And the US has never stinted with help to Israel in keeping the Palestinians in their place.

It is curious that the possibility of revenge or retaliation as a motive for terrorist attacks never seems to occur to leaders of the War on Terror. The propaganda machine grinds away at the theme that Islamic terror exists in a political vacuum, that it is evil for evil’s sake, that they simply hate our “freedom.” Such a notion is not only absurd, but captured terrorists themselves refute it.

William Blum, the author of a number of books on the history of American military intervention quotes a captured terrorist from a New York Times report on the recent UK plot to down a bunch of airliners: "'As you bomb, you will be bombed; as you kill, you will be killed,' said one of the men on a 'martyrdom' videotape" ... "One of the suspects said on his martyrdom video that the 'war against Muslims' in Iraq and Afghanistan had motivated him to act." ... "The man said he was seeking revenge for the foreign policy of the United States, and 'their accomplices, the U.K. and the Jews'."

Religious fanaticism can’t explain the motives behind even the 9/11 attacks. The FBI reports that 9/11 hijackers drank alcohol, took drugs and hung out in strip joints, hardly the habits of fanatical Muslims. The common theme in interviews with captured terrorists has been a hatred of American foreign policy in the Mideast, not a hatred of our freedom, or our prosperity, or our way of life.

Unfortunately, those waging the War on Terror present the enemy as irrational religious fruitcakes or freedom hating monsters who loathe democracy and Rock and Roll. They never suggest, despite overwhelming evidence, that Islamic terrorism is simply revenge for Western foreign policies. Until they do, we can expect to keep killing Muslims until they don’t hate us anymore.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

What is This All About?

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Monday, September 18, 2006

You Called and We Were Listening

Walt Handlesman's brilliant NSA wiretapping cartoon.

And as long as you don't have anything to hide, you won't mind this move to make sure you can't hide anything.

New NSA Powers in the National Security Surveillance Act.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Further Proof of the Absurdity of Voting

It’s Official - You Can Hack’em (in under a minute)

Princeton students hack voting machines in under an hour. Malware could change vote totals without being detected. MORE HERE

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Newty Cranks It Up a Notch

Neo-con favorite declares World War III
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Two years before the 2008 presidential election, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, is trying desperately to grab the national spotlight by declaring he'd be a lot tougher than George W Bush in prosecuting what he calls "World War III". MORE>>>>>

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Decider Says "Boo"

The Decider is trying to scare the crap out of me again. The Leader of the Free World made a speech from his office in Washington on September 11 that was clearly designed to scare me, scare you, scare our friends, our relatives and everybody we know. His speech, and in fact, the president’s entire career since 9/11 has been dedicated to proving H.L. Mencken was right when he wrote:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Mr. Bush’s 9/11 remarks were a masterpiece of fear mongering with a heavy sprinkling of noble mission and self-importance. In it he tried to cast himself and his government as noble heroes in an epic battle between good and evil. The war on terror, according to the president, is “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation.” It’s a “struggle for civilization,” he said.

If you define civilization as the ability to rain steel death from the skies, the U.S. is clearly the most civilized nation in history. By more traditional definitions, however, civilization would require the renunciation of barbarism, murder and terror to dominate others. By that standard, Mr. Bush’s government is hardly more civilized that of Attilla.

If this speech is any indication we are not nearly scared enough. Heavier doses of fear are now necessary to keep a generally peaceable American public on board Mr. Bush’s world-wide freedom train and to keep us in step with his ambitious effort to “rid the world of evil.”

Ratcheting the evil intent of the evil-doers up a notch, he tells us that the forces of Islamic terror are “determined to bring death and suffering to our homes.” Maybe so, but that’s a pretty big job, one that has proven nearly impossible so far.

The real terror alert level in most American homes has never even come close to the much more tangible fears of a falling real estate market or an IRS audit. The real dangers of terrorism are in fact vanishingly small. More people die in car wrecks in the U.S. every month than died in the destruction of the World Trade Center. You are many times more likely to be killed by an armed government agent than by a terrorist.

Nevertheless, Mr. Bush compares the struggle against a few hundred desperate Muslim fanatics to the global conflicts of WWII and the Cold War. So desperate is the president to assume the role of hero that he compares himself to popular war-time Democrats of the past, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

The battle is global and possibly intergenerational said Mr. Bush, “If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons.” To which we might reply, “So what?”

A Middle East overrun with religious fanatics intent on mutual destruction will not affect the lives of Americans in any meaningful way. Gas may become more expensive, but there are worse things than that, including the sacrifice of every last civil liberty you’ve ever know. When Mr. Bush is not scaring us he never tires of reminding us of the great struggle between tyranny and freedom. Tyranny and freedom are certainly engaged in a struggle as they always will be. What is not clear is just who the tyrants are.

Mr. Bush seems to hold the transfusion theory of freedom, where by draining all the freedom from Americans he can somehow infuse it mysteriously into those Iraqis lucky enough to survive the efforts of the U.S. military. To get us to lie still while our own liberties are sucked from our viens, he liberally applies the anesthetic of fear. The president, counting on fear for support and hoping to shine in the reflected glow of heroism from Franklin Roosevelt, neglected to mention one of FDR’s most famous remarks, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Terrorists will only succeed if we become terrified enough to destroy ourselves.

Mr. Bush has been wrong about pretty much everything involved in his military adventure in Iraq, from the terrible WMD’s to the open-arms welcome the GI’s were going to get from “liberated” Iraqis. In a call for further support for the debacle he warns, “Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone. They will not leave us alone.”

I am willing to see if he is also wrong about that.

Related: Fear Mongering 9/11
The Bogyman Industry
The Unifying Myth for the WOT

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Madness of Crowds

What a party it was. At the end there was a lampshade on every head, and dancers on every table. Some revelers are just now waking up, slowly, one by one, with dry mouths and headaches, wondering who that is in the bed and what it will take to get him to go home. Oddly enough, there is still a crowd around the empty punch bowl waiting for a refill.

I’m referring, of course, to the recent Florida Keys real estate bash.

Many are trying heroically to keep the party going. The Key West Citizen reports an Upper Keys broker telling property owners to withdraw or withhold properties from the market. It boggles the mind. The hooch obviously hasn’t worn off. In a business where listings are “money in the bank,” such a suggestion would normally be a sign of madness.

The broker isn’t crazy, however. The decision is perfectly logical. The logic is the same as that used by dairy farmers who dump milk into sewers. It is an attempt to limit supply and thus maintain or increase prices.

This broker’s efforts will fail, as, in the long run, all efforts to manipulate markets fail. They will fail because supply and demand achieve balance through a third critical element ─ price. There are a lot of houses on the market right now because prices are high. There is little demand for those houses for the same reason. Convincing a few sellers to take their properties off the market won’t change those simple market fundamentals. Only changing prices can do that.

A fit of collective madness during which otherwise rational people truly believed in magic has thrown real estate prices in the Keys wildly out of whack.

How far out of whack?

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) just announced that the inventory of houses currently on the market in the U.S. will take some seven months to sell at last month’s sales rate. That is the largest inventory/time figure since 1993. Traditionally, a six month inventory is thought to represent a market more or less balanced between buyers and sellers. Inventory has been under six months for many years, representing a seller’s market.

The degree to which this statistic deviates from the mean can be viewed as a measure of how far prices are out of balance with traditional measures of value. A seven month inventory indicates the market has some adjusting to do. Either incomes must increase or prices must fall to meet incomes.

NAR’s chief cheerleader, its in-house economist, David Lareah, is optimistic of a “soft landing” and confident that we will see a “market turnaround” soon. He can afford to be optimistic; it’s what he’s paid for. But he’s only looking at a seven month inventory. I wonder what Dave would think of the Keys, where the picture is very different.

Right now, Keys’ inventory numbers make the worst national stats in 15 years look like a sellers’ paradise.

There are currently 832 Key West residential properties listed with members of the Key West Association of Realtors. Last month there were eleven sales. That works out to 75.6 months of inventory. As recently as 2005 that figure was under six months.

With over ten times the national inventory to unload, even Alan Greenspan, the original party animal, couldn’t keep this soiree going.

The maestro’s relentless spiking of the punch with printed money is the main reason things got out of hand, but not the only one. A whole constellation of circumstances conspired to inflate the price of real estate to levels that defy common sense. Easy credit, loose appraisals, speculation, low interest rates, and many other factors share the blame. But mostly it was just a good old fashioned, tulip bulb, South Seas Bubble, dot com style financial mania.

Throughout history, every now and then, a powerful, irresistible, irrational optimism reaches a deafening crescendo in the collective human consciousness. This time it happened here.

Rational people believed in magic. Money appeared like loaves and fishes each month in home equity checking accounts. Borrowed money, invested in houses, created what people have always dreamed of ─ wealth without saving, income without work, riches without risk. The magic was real.

Charles MacKay, the 18th century author of the classic “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” wrote:

"Men, it has been well said, go mad in crowds and only come to their senses slowly and one by one."

Over six years of inventory on the Key West housing market is a clear sign that buyers are coming to their senses one by one, even as sellers continue to harbor delusions of magical riches.
There are many still who believe prices will recover and that buyers will once again stand in line to bid up asking prices. I believe they are right.

It happened once. It will happen again. Home buyers will once again believe that dilapidated Conch shacks are worth $1500 a square foot. Investors will once again believe that houses renting for $1000 a month are worth $800,000. People will once again believe in magic.

The question is, “When?”

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Monday, September 04, 2006

No More Secrets, The New Census Survey

At over 24 pages the new "American Community Survey" will open your life like a reference book to government snoops.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Illusions in Iraq