Archive for June, 2009

Will Wilkinson gets his wish

June 23, 2009

Jonah Goldberg brought this babble to our attention

Will Wilkinson on why he won’t color his Twitter avatar green in solidarity with the opposition:

…Here’s what I do worry about. When people feel pressure to signal, and it’s free, they’ll signal. But sending the signal creates a small emotional investment in the overt message of the signal — solidarity with opponents of the ruling Iranian regime. As every salesman knows, getting someone to make a big, costly commitment is best achieved by getting them to first make a tiny, costless commitment. The tiny, costless commitment of turning Twitter avatars green is thin edge of the persuasive edge for the neocons who would like to sell the public a war in Iran. Since I would rather not be Bill Kristol’s useful idiot, I will conspicuously leave my avatar as is, and continue hoping for the best.

Shorter Will: Hey, I like to pretend that I care about the iranians, but when push comes to shove I’d much rather see them beaten, murdered, and enslaved, than have to reassess all the idiocies I’ve spewed over the last 8 years.

Here’s a clue, Will: When violent thugs want to keep you down, either you have to use violence against them, or you have to get someone else to use it, or at least threaten to use it.

Wishing doesn’t work.  Neither do words.  Little Rock schools didn’t get integrated because the Supreme Court said they had to be, they got integrated because President Eisenhower sent in the Army.

If you want the Iranian people to only have as much freedom as the “Supreme Leader” is willing to give them, then you want them to be slaves.

At least be man enough to stop lying about what you support.

In any event, congratulations: You’re not a useful idiot.

Too bad it’s because you’re not the least bit useful for anyone who cares about freedom.

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No More Nokia Phones for me

June 22, 2009

Every cell phone I’ve owned has been made by Nokia. But the one I have now is the last Nokia product I’ll buy. Here’s why:

Iran’s Web Spying Aided By Western Technology

European Gear Used in Vast Effort to Monitor Communications

By CHRISTOPHER RHOADS in New York and LORETTA CHAO in Beijing

The Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale.

Interviews with technology experts in Iran and outside the country say Iranian efforts at monitoring Internet information go well beyond blocking access to Web sites or severing Internet connections.

Instead, in confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.

The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cellphone company, in the second half of 2008, Ben Roome, a spokesman for the joint venture, confirmed.

The “monitoring center,” installed within the government’s telecom monopoly, was part of a larger contract with Iran that included mobile-phone networking technology, Mr. Roome said.

Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Good bye, Nokia, terrorist thug enablers.

Iran news: Rafsanjani’s daughter released

June 22, 2009

In case you’re new to my blog, I changed my banner to green to do my (pitiful little) part to support the protesters in Iran. I have been following what’s happening there, I hope hope for the best (an overthrow of the current government, and replacing it with something better).

The following news item makes me feel a bit more hopeful

Iranian media say the daughter of one of Iran’s most powerful figures, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, and four family members were detained during the protests but later released.

The vast majority of the people in the Middle East are amoral familists.  “My brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against everyone else.”  Rafsanjani was out trying to drum up support among the mullahs.  Grabbing his daughter put him in a terrible bind.  the fact that the government had to back down, and let her go, is amazing.

I do not believe they would let her go simply because Rafsanjani agreed to stop working against the government.  No one’s going to trust him that much.

If they really did let her, and the other four, go, it’s IMHO because someone let the “Supreme Leader know that there are some lines he cannot cross.

And that makes it more likely the good guys will win.  Or at least that the worst guys will lose.

More Global Warming fantasies

June 20, 2009

Some useful information from John Tierney

The new federal report on climate change gets a withering critique from Roger Pielke Jr., who says that it misrepresents his own research and that it wrongly concludes that climate change is already responsible for an increase in damages from natural disasters. Dr. Pielke, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, asks:

[Why] is a report characterized by [White House] Science Advisor John Holdren as being the “most up-to-date, authoritative, and comprehensive” analysis relying on a secondary, non-peer source citing another non-peer reviewed source from 2000 to support a claim that a large amount of uncited and more recent peer-reviewed literature says the opposite about?

You can check out Dr. Pielke’s blog for a detailed rebuttal of how the report presents science in his area of expertise, the study of trends in natural disasters and their relation to climate change. While the new federal report (prepared by 13 agencies and the White House) paints a dire picture of climate change’s impacts, Dr. Pielke says that the authors of this new report, like those of previous reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Stern Review, cherrypick weak evidence that fits their own policy preferences. He faults all these reports for all relying on “non-peer reviewed, unsupportable studies rather than the relevant peer-reviewed literature” and for “featuring non-peer-reviewed work conducted by the authors.”

Dr. Pielke contrasts these reports’ conclusions about trends in natural disasters with the some quite different findings last year by the federal Climate Change Science Program. Dr. Pielke summarizes some of its less sensational conclusions:

1. Over the long-term, U.S. hurricane landfalls have been declining.
2. Nationwide there have been no long-term increases in drought.
3. Despite increases in some measures of precipitation . . . there have not been corresponding increases in peak streamflows (high flows above 90th percentile).
4. There have been no observed changes in the occurrence of tornadoes or thunderstorms
5. There have been no long-term increases in strong East Coast winter storms (ECWS), called Nor’easters.
6. There are no long-term trends in either heat waves or cold spells, though there are trends within shorter time periods in the overall record.

I am shocked, shocked, to discover that the Obama Administration’s Angencies are committing fraud in order to advance their political / fantasy agenda of anthropogenic global warming!

More from Tim Blair.

The difference between a threat and a warning

June 20, 2009

Far too many news articles and blogs have been talking about the “warning” that “Supreme Leader”  Khamenei gave to protesters.  This is a misuse of the English language.

If I tell you “don’t go onto that bridge, because it’s unstable”, I’ve given you a warning.

If I tell you “I will shoot you if you go on that bridge”, that is a threat.

Khamenei isn’t warning the people of Iran, he is threatening them: roll over like dogs or I will send my thugs out to brutalize and murder you.

Let’s stop abusing the English language, and correctly describe his actions, ok?

Why the Supreme Court made the right choice in OSBORNE

June 19, 2009

The Supreme Court today released it’s decision in District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne (08-6). There’s been a lot of vapors about this case (even Instapundit got it wrong), so I’m going to stop commenting on this in other people’s posts, and write my own instead.

The crime:

On the evening of March 22, 1993, two men driving through Anchorage, Alaska, solicited sex from a female prostitute, K. G. She agreed to perform fellatio on both men for $100 and got in their car. The three spent some time looking for a place to stop and ended up in a deserted area near Earthquake Park. When K. G. demanded payment in advance, the two men pulled out a gun and forced her to perform fellatio on the driver while the passenger penetrated her vaginally, using a blue condom she had brought. The passenger then ordered K. G. out of the car and told her to lie face-down in the snow. Fearing for her life, she refused, and the two men choked her and beat her with the gun. When K. G. tried to flee, the passenger beat her with a wooden axe handle and shot her in the head while she lay on the ground. They kicked some snow on top of her and left her for dead.

The evidence:

At the scene of the crime, the police recovered a spent shell casing, the axe handle, some of K. G.’s clothing stained with blood, and the blue condom.
Six days later, two military police officers at Fort Richardson pulled over Dexter Jackson for flashing his headlights at another vehicle. In his car they discovered a gun (which matched the shell casing), as well as several items K. G. had been carrying the night of the attack… Jackson admitted that he had been the driver during the rape and assault, and told the police that William Osborne had been his passenger.
The State also performed DQ Alpha testing on sperm found in the blue condom. DQ Alpha testing is a relatively inexact form of DNA testing that can clear some wrongly accused individuals, but generally cannot narrow the perpetrator down to less than 5% of the population… The semen found on the condom had a genotype that matched a blood sample taken from Osborne, but not ones from Jackson, K. G., or a third suspect named James Hunter. Osborne is black, and approximately 16% of black individuals have such a genotype. In other words, the testing ruled out Jackson and Hunter as possible sources of the semen, and also ruled out over 80% of other black individuals.

The Trial:

Osborne and Jackson were convicted by an Alaska jury of kidnaping, assault, and sexual assault. They were acquitted of an additional count of sexual assault and of attempted murder.
Osborne then sought postconviction relief in Alaska state court. He claimed that he had asked his attorney, Sidney Billingslea, to seek more discriminating restriction-fragment-length-polymorphism (RFLP) DNA testing during trial, and argued that she was constitutionally ineffective for not doing so. (Billingslea testified that she had no memory of Osborne making such a request, but said she was “ ‘willing to accept’ ” that he had.) Billingslea testified that after investigation, she had concluded that further testing would do more harm than good. She planned to mount a defense of mistaken identity, and thought that the imprecision of the DQ Alpha test gave her “‘very good numbers in a mistaken identity, cross-racial identification case, where the victim was in the dark and had bad eyesight.’” Because she believed Osborne was guilty, “‘insisting on a more advanced . . . DNA test would have served to prove that Osborne committed the alleged crimes.’” The Alaska Court of Appeals concluded that Billingslea’s decision had been strategic and rejected Osborne’s claim.

The court relied heavily on the fact that Osborne had confessed to some of his crimes in a 2004 application for parole—in which it is a crime to lie. In this statement, Osborne acknowledged forcing K. G. to have sex at gunpoint, as well as beating her and covering her with snow. He repeated this confession before the parole board. Despite this acceptance of responsibility, the board did not grant him discretionary parole. In 2007, he was released on mandatory parole, but he has since been rearrested for another offense, and the State has petitioned to revoke this parole.

The Ruling:

  1. The Federal government, and 46 States, have rules in place for post-conviction access to DNA evidence. The elected governments of the States are actively confronting the challenges DNA technology poses to our criminal justice systems and our traditional notions of finality, as well as the opportunities it affords. To suddenly constitutionalize this area would short-circuit what looks to be a prompt and considered legislative response.
  2. Under the State’s general postconviction relief statute, a prisoner may challenge his conviction when “there exists evidence of material facts, not previously presented and heard by the court, that requires vacation of the conviction or sentence in the interest of justice.” Alaska Stat. §12.72.010(4) (2008). Such a claim is exempt from otherwise applicable time limits if “newly discovered evidence,” pursued with due diligence, “establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the applicant is innocent.” §12.72.020(b)(2). (Since he had the chance to get this evidence during his trial, and refused to take it, that means the evidence is not “new”, and so doesn’t qualify under Alaska Law.)
  3. A lot of verbiage on the type of appeal he should be using, and what kinds of things each type of appeal allows. IANAL, but what I could understand seemed reasonable.
  4. Having been found guilty, and exhausted his appeals, he now bears a presumption of guilt, rather than a presumption of innocence. (This is not new.)
  5. In other words, [Osborne] has not tried to use the process provided to him by the State or attempted to vindicate the liberty interest that is now the centerpiece of his claim. When Osborne did request DNA testing in state court, he sought RFLP testing that had been available at trial, not the STR testing he now seeks, and the state court relied on that fact in denying him testing under Alaska law.
  6. Establishing a freestanding right to access DNA evidence for testing would force us to act as policymakers, and our substantive-due-process rulemaking authority would not only have to cover the right of access but a myriad of other issues. We would soon have to decide if there is a constitutional obligation to preserve forensic evidence that might later be tested. If so, for how long? Would it be different for different types of evidence? Would the State also have some obligation to gather such evidence in the first place? How much, and when? No doubt there would be a miscellany of other minor directives. In this case, the evidence has already been gathered and preserved, but if we extend substantive due process to this area, these questions would be before us in short order, and it is hard to imagine what tools federal courts would use to answer them. At the end of the day, there is no reason to suppose that their answers to these questions would be any better than those of state courts and legislatures, and good reason to suspect the opposite.
  7. Alito (correct, IMHO) quotes an expert :“[F]orensic DNA testing rarely occurs [under] idyllic conditions. Crime scene DNA samples do not come from a single source obtained in immaculate conditions; they are messy assortments of multiple unknown persons, often collected in the most difficult conditions. The samples can be of poor quality due to exposure to heat, light, moisture, or other degrading elements. They can be of minimal or insufficient quantity, especially as investigators push DNA testing to its limits and seek profiles from a few cells retrieved from cigarette butts, envelopes, or soda cans. And most importantly, forensic samples often constitute a mixture of multiple persons, such that it is not clear whose profile is whose, or even how many profiles are in the sample at all. All of these factors make DNA testing in the forensic context far more subjective than simply reporting test results . . . .”
  8. I see no reason for such intervention in the present case. When a criminal defendant, for tactical purposes, passes up the opportunity for DNA testing at trial, that defendant, in my judgment, has no constitutional right to demand to perform DNA testing after conviction. Recognition of such a right would allow defendants to play games with the criminal justice system. A guilty defendant could forgo DNA testing at trial for fear that the results would confirm his guilt, and in the hope that the other evidence would be insufficient to persuade the jury to find him guilty. Then, after conviction, with nothing to lose, the defendant could demand DNA testing in the hope that some happy accident—for example, degradation or contamination of the evidence—would provide the basis for seeking postconviction relief. Denying the opportunity for such an attempt to game the criminal justice system should not shock the conscience of the Court.

This last part, to my mind, is key: He had the chance to do DNA testing at his trial, he (or at least his lawyer) passed on that chance, now, when it can’t hurt him, he wants the test.

No.

Let’s be realistic here. He should have been found guilty of attempted murder. The only reason I can think of for the jury not to find him guilty was concern, concern caused by having 84% certainty from DNA evidence rather than 99% certainty. He gambled, he made his choice, now he gets to live with it.

A Generalized Right to Post-Conviction DNA Testing Carries Significant Risks

“But,” you say, “why shouldn’t we let anyone who wants to pay to get DNA testing to prove his innocence?” Simple: because it may be more likely to release guilty people, than innocent ones.

No test is perfect. Every test will have problems with false positives (saying yes when it should have said no), and false negatives (saying no when it should have said yes). In our search for justice, we prefer false negatives (letting the guilty go free) to false positives (punishing the innocent). But the two are competitors (pushing down one tends to increase the other). And a test that’s reasonable before a trial (when the defendant has the presumption of innocence) may not be reasonable post-conviction (when the prisoner is presumed guilty, and must prove his innocence). Then there are issues of lab failure, DNA degradation (caused by weather, time, and even by extracting a sample), and, most importantly, contamination. And when you’re running a newer, more sensitive test, contamination that wouldn’t have mattered 10 years ago could now be a serious issue. Finally, let us consider the time frame. Osborne’s case is 16 years old. A ten year old case would have had the RFLP testing done, and we’d already have the DNA evidence that he is guilty. These cases are all going to be with old, and therefore less reliable, samples.

So, let’s assume that 1 major conviction in 1,000 is wrong. Let’s also assume that the tests will give a false positive 1 time in 100, and same for a false negative.

Let’s have 100,000 prisoners decide they want to get tested.

There will be 99,900 guilty people in that pool. 999 will be freed despite being guilty.

There will be 100 innocent people in that pool. 99 of them will be exonerated. That’s 9% of the total freed people.

You may think that’s a good trade. I disagree. But I don’t think any reasonable person can claim that the Constitution requires us to make that trade. Not post conviction.

If you can get the false negative rate to be the same as the false conviction rate, then you’ll end up with half the people being freed being guilty. Better. But how many innocent people will be harmed by those guilty people you’ve set free?

Conclusion

The Supreme Court made the right call, both for Osborne in particular, and the issue in general. People should read the ruling before shooting their mouths off about it, and not trust some of the hysterics who have been screaming the loudest, with no justification.

Single Payer Heath Care and US Business Competitiveness

June 18, 2009

Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey is mocking Obama’s speech to the AMA

A big part of what led General Motors and Chrysler into trouble in recent decades were the huge costs they racked up providing health care for their workers — costs that made them less profitable and less competitive with automakers around the world. If we do not fix our health care system, America may go the way of GM — paying more, getting less, and going broke. When it comes to the cost of our health care, then, the status quo is unsustainable.

Er, yes. Which is why no one could understand why Barack Obama kept sinking tens of billions of taxpayer dollars into GM while its pension and health insurance obligations never got addressed. It’s also why we all wondered why Obama perverted the bankruptcy process in order to favor the unions, who insisted on those big, expensive pension/benefits packages that made GM uncompetitive in the domestic and global market.

While Ed makes good points, he misses the real problem with Obama’s statement: The claim that having “the government” “pay for health care” will improve US businesses competitiveness. This is an oft repeated claim. But it’s utter garbage. Let us consider this WRT GM. There are four ways things can happen WRT GM and ObamaCare:

  1. GM has a”gold plated” health insurance plan for its members, and ObamaCare will allow GM to dump the plan, and stick its employees with the national plan, instead.
  2. GM has a”gold plated” health insurance plan for its members, and since it is required by their contract, GM will continue to pay for that plan.
  3. GM has a”gold plated” health insurance plan for its members, and through the miracle of ObamaCare, the employees will get to keep that plan, subsidized by the rest of us taxpayers.
  4. GM has a normal and reasonable insurance package, and something similar will be extended to everybody.

So, now let’s consider each of these options:

  1. The only way this will happen is if the US bans all private insurance / health care, and forces everybody to be part of the National Health System, and, like Canada, forbids health care providers to do business outside of the government run health care system. If we were to do this, then GM would probably save money. But Obama swears up and down that he’s not going to do that.
  2. This seems to be the most likely option under the currently proposed ObamaCare. At best, GM is no better off than it is now. However
    • Taxes will have to go up to pay for ObamaCare. Which means employees will be fighting for higher wages just so they can keep their standard of living the same.
    • Taxes will have to go up to pay for ObamaCare. Which means that everything GM buys will cost more, raising the cost of its cars compared to cars made in Japan (where their taxes aren’t going up to pay for ObamaCare).
    • We expect that ObamaCare will raise costs for the private health insurance companies. Those costs will be passed on to GM.
  3. I suppose Obama can try to do this. OTOH, I can’t think of a quicker way to destroy the Democrat majority in Congress than to announce that union health plans would get a special subsidy that the rest of us don’t get, and I can’t think of a quicker way to bankrupt the US than extend those subsidies to 50%+ of the country.
  4. the idea behind ObamaCare is to extend health insurance to those who currently lack it. Which is to say: to increase the amount of money we’re going to spend on health care, and thus increase taxes so the government can pay for all those people’s health care. Who’s going to be paying those taxes? Why, GM, and its employees. And its customers and suppliers. See #2 for the problems with that.

In short, one of the competitive benefits US Companies have is the smaller size of the US governments (Federal, State, and Local) compared to Europe, and thus the lower costs that government imposes on all of us. Making the US Government bigger is not going to make us business more competitive.

Got to love that “smart diplomacy”

June 11, 2009

Wow, that Barack Obama, he sure is good at working with our allies, being non-unilateral, etc. Not.

Foreign Office fury over settlement of Guantánamo Uighurs in Bermuda

The British Government responded with ill-disguised fury tonight to the news that four Chinese Uighurs freed from Guantanamo Bay had been flown for resettlement on the Atlantic tourist paradise of Bermuda.

The four arrived on Bermuda in the early hours, celebrating the end of seven years of detention after learning that they were to be accepted as guest workers.

But it appears that the Government of Bermuda [and President Barack Obama’s State Department] failed to consult with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the decision to take in the Uighurs – whose return is demanded by Beijing – and it could now be forced to send them back to Cuba or risk a grave diplomatic crisis.

Bermuda, Britain’s oldest remaining dependency, is one of 14 overseas territories that come under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, which retains direct responsibility for such matters as foreign policy and security.

“We’ve underlined to the Bermuda Government that they should have consulted with the United Kingdom as to whether this falls within their competence or is a security issue, for which the Bermuda Government do not have delegated responsibility,” an FCO spokesman said.

“We have made clear to the Bermuda Government the need for a security assessment, which we are now helping them to carry out, and we will decide on further steps as appropriate.”

Yep. it’s such a good thing that we now have the clever Democrats running our diplomacy now.

HT: Gabriel Malor over at Ace