Saturday, June 11, 2011

Police State Brutality: On The Rise

The next door to be violently knocked down could very well be yours. Innocence of any offense is no protection

Earlier this year in Tucson, Arizona a shooting rampage targeting U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made international news – and prompted a coordinated effort to demonize Tea Party supporters (and free speech itself).

Without knowing the details of the case, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik immediately blamed the shooting on “the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government.”

“The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” Dupnik said, calling Arizona “a mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

Obviously, the world quickly learned that Dupnik was flat out wrong in his assessment of the situation. The violence in Tucson was the product of a deranged madman – not a discernible ideology. But that didn’t stop Democratic leaders like U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn from saying that government should “rethink the parameters of free speech” in the wake of the shooting.

Five months after the Giffords’ tragedy, another fatal shooting took place in Tucson – only this one didn’t make international headlines. It has also failed to produce so much as a peep of disapproval from those who were so outraged earlier this year.

On May 5, 2011 – deputies and “operators” of the Pima County Sheriff’s Office raided the home of 26-year-old Jose Guerena, a U.S. Marine who served two tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2005. Having just fallen asleep after working the night shift at a local mine, Guerena was roused by his wife, Vanessa – who saw a man with a gun outside of the couple’s bedroom window. Thinking his home was being invaded, Guerena grabbed his rifle.

What happened next?

SWAT “operators” – executing a narcotics warrant – broke into Guerena’s home and fired 72 rounds within a matter of seconds, hitting him 22 times. Guerena’s five-year-old son, Joel, watched his father die. Initially, Pima County Sheriff’s investigators said that Guerena had fired his weapon at police officers. That report turned out to be patently false. In fact, Guerena never removed the safety from his rifle.

Also Guerena’s wife is adamant that the officers did not identify themselves as law enforcement agents until after the raid was completed. No drugs were found in the home – and it was later revealed that Guerena’s brother was the real target of the investigation.

Sadly, these fatal mistakes are occurring with increasing frequency. Last September in Utah, a SWAT team fatally shot Todd Blair three times in the head and chest during a hastily-planned raid – even though he wasn’t the person sought by the narcotics warrant. Last May in Detroit, 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was shot and killed while sleeping on the sofa during a raid filmed by reality TV cameras.

Part of the problem is obviously the vast expansion of the police state in America. According to Americans for SWAT Reform, more than 50,000 raids take place annually in the United States. Thirty years ago, there were less than 3,000 raids a year.

Another contributing factor is the steady militarization of local law enforcement.

“The war on drugs has done incalculable damage to the character of law enforcement by encouraging police officers to forget they are civilians,” writes David Rittgers, a legal analyst at the Cato Institute who served three tours in Afghanistan.

“When police officers refer to their fellow citizens as civilians and mean to exclude themselves from that category, they’ve mentally leapt from enforcing the law to destroying the enemies of the state,” Rittgers continued. “That’s incompatible with a free society.”

Also, the definition of what constitutes a “SWAT-worthy” offense has broadened considerably – as multiple federal agencies now reserve the right to knock down your door for virtually any reason.

For example, earlier this week a SWAT team raided a home in California – roughing up a man whose estranged wife had failed to pay back her student loans. What agency issued the warrant for this raid? The U.S. Department of Education – which recently purchased more than two dozen 12-gauge shotguns to help prevent “waste, fraud, abuse and other criminal activity involving federal education funds, programs and operations.”

Government apologists can deny it all they want, but the fact is that we are witnessing a massive build-up of the American police state at all levels of government – with repercussions that diminish our liberties and threaten our very lives.

After all, the next door to be knocked down could very well be yours.



Affordable Housing Means Your House Is Worth Less

Consumer advocates have their priorities backwards

Martin Luther King famously once proclaimed, “I have a dream, that one day my children would not be judged by the color of the skin, but by the content of their character, and that they would have a right to a home at an affordable price.”

Okay, that’s not exactly what he said. But an unusual coalition of financial institutions and community housing advocates has been arguing this.

The Dodd-Frank Act, passed last year revamping rules for financial institutions, directed all bank regulators to issue a joint regulation defining a reasonably safe, well-underwritten mortgage. Their recent proposed definition for such a “qualified residential mortgage” has created a stir because it has strict guidelines such as a 20 percent down payment requirement and tight limits on the collective debt of the borrower.

Rather than praising the definition of a good mortgage for ensuring borrower safety, consumer groups have criticized the regulation as being too strict, since banks would have to hold more capital against any loans that are riskier than qualified residential mortgages, meaning that financial institutions would charge more for mortgages with lower down payments.

“This is a civil rights issue,” John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, said recently.

Mortgage Bankers Association CEO David Stevens echoed the sentiment: “We still need to be able to make affordable mortgages that don’t just go to the wealthy, who can afford the biggest down payments and who have the most positive credit ratings.” Such a kind heart from a man whose organization has lost significant business in the past few years as mortgages to less qualified borrowers have dried up.

Stevens, Taylor, and the leaders of other groups such as the Center for Responsible Lending and the National Council of La Raza (not to mention the realtors and homebuilders associations) have been teaming up to fight the qualified residential mortgage definition on the grounds that it will cause low-income households to spend more time saving up for a down payment while increasing the cost of mortgages.

But why is access to affordable homes equated with access to affordable mortgages, i.e. debt? They are not the same thing.

This coalition is nothing new. Such groups were also aligned in the late-1980s hawking a similar product. MLK’s wife even gave a speech in 1989 encouraging President George H.W. Bush to push for “affordable housing” as a part of her late husband’s dream for civil rights.

Ultimately, the Government Sponsored Enterprise Reform Act of 1992 was passed creating “affordable housing goals” targeted at increasing lending to low-income families. But the trade-off for access to cheaper mortgage debt—often through a subprime loan—was that housing prices increased.

Affordable mortgages replaced affordable housing.

As Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac expanded their purchases of subprime mortgages throughout the 2000s, the prices of homes kept growing and growing—requiring more and more federal subsidies to keep pace. That is partly because as mortgage prices fell, demand increased for homes, and prices rose. It was basic economics at work.

Sure, increased mortgage rates can be quite the deterrent to homebuyers, especially first-time homebuyers. But so can high housing prices.

Yet Janis Bowdler, a research project director at La Raza, still argues that the new Dodd-Frank authorized regulations will “so significantly deter the ability of first-time buyers to break into the market that we will see a real decline in home ownership.”

The issue of whether increased homeownership is a good thing is a matter for a different column. The confusing part of Bowdler’s comment is why she isn’t pushing for lower housing prices if she is worried about first-time buyers.

With virtually ever other commodity, innovation that improves quality and lowers price is seen as a good thing. Only because of the misperception that owning a home is a universally good investment for households do we favor rising home prices. (Well, that and the politics of housing prices.)

But historically, home prices on a national level have generally grown just at the rate of inflation. Only during the recent housing bubble did prices break from their historical trend and double over the course of 10 years. It is a myth that homeownership inherently creates wealth.

Now, home values have been falling since 2006 as the bubble has deflated and we are almost back to the historical trend line that dates back to the end of World War II for housing prices. But a host of federal policies—like the First-time Homebuyers Credit and the Fed’s quantitative easing programs—have slowed the decline in prices; though they have not stopped it.

It's not that Washington should force prices to go lower, it's that La Raza and other consumer organizations should be clamoring for the government to get out of the way to let prices finish their fall back to natural levels. That would help first-time homebuyers since housing would become more affordable.

Plus the households would have less mortgage debt with less needed to borrow.

But if La Raza and their cohorts could write the rules, they’d keep the government involved while lowering the threshold for getting a federal subsidy.

When the homeownership mob—to borrow a John Carneyism—won the day in 1992, the results were 1) government supported housing finance that put taxpayers on the line; 2) lower underwriting standards for housing finance supported by Fannie and Freddie; and 3) a bubble created by an artificial boost in housing prices. Ultimately, millions of low-income families were stuck with high and unsustainable debt, leading to the millions of foreclsoures we are wrestling with today.

The same thing will happen again if the consumer groups win again. Crippling overnment-subsidized debt is not a civil right.



The Suicide of another historic Denomination

It was a long, slow, painful death. In the end, the patient pulled strongly on the plug and what little life was left exited the body with a tragic gasp. May the Presbyterian Church, USA rest in peace. But there will be very little peace in this pathetic death. Ratified by a majority of presbyteries one month ago and effective one month from today (July 10), the church has abandoned its denominational commitment to traditional marriage. Gone is the standard for ordination that requires pastors, “to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman …, or chastity in singleness.”

Conservatives within the denomination had narrowly, but successfully resisted similar efforts over the past 15 years, but the diminished and beleaguered traditionalists lost the 87thand 88thpresbyteries in last month’s effort to change the constitution. “Progressives” had reached the needed majority and the constitution has been amended to allow for ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.

For centuries, the Presbyterian Church stood on the proud heritage and legacy of men like John Knox who fearlessly and valiantly stood for the truth of scripture. Today, the modern Presbyterian Church (USA) (also “PCUSA”) bears little resemblance to its noble ancestry. While some in the movement had worked hard for and held out hope for some kind of spiritual awakening, a renewed commitment to orthodoxy, it seems that hope is now gone. Let this be clear: The issue here is not homosexuality. The core of the matter is the authority of scripture.

It was indeed a long and arduous death. The real beginning of the death spiral began with what has been called the “Auburn Affirmation” in 1924. A controversy had arisen between the forces of “fundamentalism” and “modernism.” Once again, the issue was the authority of scripture. Among other things, the infamous affirmation denied the Bible’s inerrancy. The document was quickly signed by 1,274 of the denomination’s leaders and contributed to a decline in membership along with a decline in the number of churches and influence that—with a few exceptional years and a few exceptional churches—has continued to the present. The PCUSA has showed a constant, measurable decline for at least 40 continuous years. At the current rate, the PCUSA will be extinct in another 40 years. One could make the argument that they have been “dead” for years. The recent decision by the majority of the presbyteries simply made the death official.

What we have witnessed is a “Christian” denomination making a complete 180 degree turn from their founding principles and reaping the consequences. The PCUSA has denied what their spiritual founding fathers fought for and willingly died for. In its place, they have substituted a pathetic forgery. John Knox and others proclaimed that Christ died to set people free from their sins. The PCUSA decision provides space in the presbytery for affirmation of sin —even ordination as minister for those who chose to remain in sin.

From the Auburn Affirmation onward, the denomination has showed signs of death. Year after year, as their attendance numbers declined, they have held their annual gathering to try to diagnose the disease. A prescription that included a return to the simple teaching of scripture was desperately needed —a return to founding principles. What we have witnessed instead is more liberalism, in larger doses. The more liberal the denomination has become, the faster it has declined. And yet every year the cry is the same: “Let’s become more liberal and (in effect) deny more scripture!” Didn’t someone say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?

One of the proclamations in the Auburn Affirmation was, “Division is deplored, unity and freedom are commended.” In other words, unity was far more important than truth. What they did not understand is that there is no true unity without truth! They turned Christ’s teaching concerning freedom on its head: He taught that His death would bring freedom from sin, denominational liberalism like what we’re witnessing in the PCUSA offers freedom in sin.

On May 10, 2011 the PCUSA made clear to the world that, for them, an orthodox view of scripture, man’s sin and the salvation offered through Christ alone are now irrelevant and even divisive. They have again rejected the authority of scripture. The denomination has left its proud heritage and has signed its own death certificate. Following in the footsteps of the liberals of 1924, the modern PCUSA has divided in the name of unity. Schism is the likely result of the presbyteries’ recent decision. Perhaps in dividing, conservative elements of the domination will rise again: Presbyterians that genuinely believe the Bible.


I am pleased to say that my old Presbyterian church is a traditional one with a good outreach that regularly fills its pews pretty well. It is 45 years since I was a member there but it still feels just the same as ever on the now rare occasions when I drop in for a service there (mostly Easter or Christmas) -- JR


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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