Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Dangerous Leftist hatemongers

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has a problem.  They are now directly tied to a terrorist act committed by a nut who attacked the Family Research Council because the SPLC listed that group as a “hate group” due to their traditional views on marriage and family.

The SPLC makes a living as one of the left’s favorite hate finger pointers, and now due to their over the top rhetoric, they are certified in federal court as being directly responsible for an act of domestic terrorism.

Floyd Lee Corkins, II pled guilty to charges of domestic terrorism explaining that he came to target the Family Research Council saying, “Southern Poverty Law lists anti-gay groups.”

The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard reported that Corkins admitted in court that he hoped to “kill as many as possible and smear Chick-Fil-A sandwiches in victims’ faces and kill the guard.”

Now that Southern Poverty Law Center has been fingered by an admitted and convicted domestic terrorist as being the source for his targeted rage, it is time for the federal government to disassociate from this group that incites hate.  Incredibly, in spite of the direct tie to this terrorist act, the SPLC has not removed either Family Research Council or another of Corkin’s targets, the Traditional Values Coalition, from their “Hate Map.”

Now that the federal court has tied SPLC to a direct domestic terrorist act, it is fair to ask just what is the Southern Poverty Law Center?

This innocuous group Montgomery Alabama based group’s website describes itself as, “a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.”

Over the years, the SPLC has managed to insinuate itself into various federal and state law enforcement agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department (read emails obtained by Judicial Watch between SPLC head Morris Dees and DOJ.)

The relationship with Obama’s DHS is so deep that in 2009, the Department set up “Fusion Centers” in each state that include the Southern Poverty Law Center ostensibly to coordinate federal, state and local responses to Katrina-like disasters.  The reality is that the fusion centers have on at least two occasions issued reports and statements that specifically attack conservative oriented groups, either tying them to acts of domestic terrorism or identifying them as terrorist threats.

And the SPLC’s influence continues to expand.  In a case of one of the most poorly timed letters in U.S. history,  the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote to the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice on March 13, 2013, urging them to shift priorities toward “the growing threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.”

Tragically, just a little more than a month later, foreign born Islamic jihadists bombed the Boston Marathon, showing that the SPLC couldn’t have been more wrong.

The SPLC has proven itself to be nothing more or less than an organization that finds domestic conservative terrorists around every corner, and according to liberal critics are little more than direct mail fundraising scam artists.

And now, that they have been directly implicated as the responsible party for motivating a proven act of domestic terrorism, their influence on government policy needs to be ripped out by the roots.

Congress should treat SPLC like they did ACORN when they were proved to be running an operation designed to undermine the U.S. election process by engaging in massive voter fraud.  All ties with law enforcement should be discontinued immediately, and the SPLC should be eliminated from every working group trying to set anti-terrorist policy.  To leave them in the room is akin to looking the fox in the henhouse in the eye, winking and closing the door.

If Congress fails to act, a group that has been proven to incite terrorism will continue to have access to the highest levels of the Obama Administration with all the respect that those associations convey.

Never again, should a group found responsible in a court of law for driving a terrorist act be seated at the highest levels of power defining what should be considered a terrorist act.  Fortunately, in the case of the Family Research Council, multiple deaths were avoided due to the courage of an unarmed guard.

And yet through it all, the Southern Poverty Law Center continues to spew hate, all in the name of toleration.



Banking secrecy is a key civil liberty

By Martin Hutchinson

The wolves are closing in on the world's bank secrecy laws. Former bank employees in Switzerland and Liechtenstein have handed lists of depositors to the U.S. and EU authorities. Following the Cyprus debacle, the EU is seeking to end bank secrecy in the well-run banking systems of its members Luxembourg and Austria. Luxembourg appears to have "compromised" but Austria, bless it, is still holding out (as a former.Abteilungsdirektor of the Austrian bank Creditanstalt-Bankverein I declare an interest here.) Nevertheless I hope a number of strong-minded but respectable states with few avenues for blackmail keep bank secrecy, for one very good reason: in a modern social-democratic world, it is a key civil liberty.

The first bank secrecy law was written by Switzerland in 1934 and played a vital role in enabling at least some German Jewish people to preserve both their lives and their assets during the horrors of World War II. The "key civil liberty" aspect of bank secrecy laws thus cannot be dismissed. While we will hopefully never again have a regime as evil as the Nazis, there are plenty of regimes around the world that oppress their subjects, and those subjects need an asset bolt-hole where they can preserve their wealth while they emigrate or simply decide to wait for better times.

Switzerland had a tradition of neutrality and a solid banking system which, unlike Austria's and Germany's had not been affected by World War I; hence it naturally became a haven for flight capital. Given the political situation in Germany, Italy (another dictatorship) Spain (Socialist government followed by civil war) and France (Communist-Socialist Popular Front government from 1936) it's also not surprising that a Swiss banking secrecy law was thought necessary, to prevent bank employees selling customer information to brutal governments.

After World War II, even Britain had exchange controls until 1979, while its governments, Conservative and Labour, pursued highly repressive policies, with top rates of tax above 90% for almost the entire period, interest rates around or below the rate of inflation, and inflation itself eroding the real value of savings. It's thus not surprising that even in that law-abiding society, many people found ways to get their money out of Britain's closed economy and into the safe hands of a Swiss or Channel Islands bank (this is neither a confession nor a claim of virtue – the Hutchinsons were simply not rich enough to benefit much from doing this.)

The remainder of Western Europe similarly suffered from very high marginal rates of tax after World War II, as did the United States (albeit only at very high levels of income.) It's thus not surprising that many perfectly respectable wealthy citizens saw Switzerland, Luxembourg, or in the U.S. case the tax havens of the Caribbean as sensible places to park their money. The Eurobond market, in which investments took the form of untraceable bearer bonds denominated in hard currencies, grew up from 1963, with Luxembourg a favorite place to deposit the bonds concerned.

Government responses were fairly slow in arriving; the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act was passed only in 1970, and even in the 1970s morning trains from Brussels to Luxembourg were full of comfortable burghers (proverbially "Belgian dentists") with bearer bonds tightly wrapped around their upper bodies, going to clip coupons. Then some governments reacted the opposite way; Austria passed bank secrecy legislation only in 1978, in an attempt to get some of Switzerland's business. It was said to be tighter than Swiss legislation, because you never needed to give your real name, merely show the nationality of your passport. If you said your name was Mickey Mouse the bank staff would accept this, and when you visited the bank cheerfully greet you with "Gruss Gott, Doktor Maus!"

Of course, this system has been abused. Ethically, in tax systems that are not oppressive, people should pay the taxes they owe. However when governments levy taxes at rates of 70, 80 or 90%, the ethics become arguable, and you can certainly see the benefits of bank secrecy to people whose home is in a dictatorship, or even a nominal democracy whose economic policy is appallingly bad (most comfortably off Argentines, for example, have foreign bank accounts.) But at the other extreme bank secrecy is only too useful to terrorist and organized crime groups.

In the middle are the dictators themselves, who may be evil billionaires like the Congo's Mobutu Sese Seko, embezzling all the wealth of their country, but may also be largely honest and economically benign authoritarians, like Chile's Agosto Pinochet or Croatia's Franjo Tudjman, who know they can't rule forever and want to keep their modest and mostly legitimate wealth out of the hands of their leftist successors. Also somewhere in the middle are the Russian mafia, who can't reasonably claim a need to escape President Putin's tax regime, a flat tax of only 13%, but can reasonably wish to keep some wealth out of the hands of Vladimir Vladimirovich's unpleasant cronies. Of course, it was foolish of them to choose Cyprus as their haven, rather than somewhere economically solider and politically less bullyable.

Governments and the media will tell you that tax havens and bank secrecy regimes should be closed down, but economically and ethically it isn't as simple as that. Even democracies can run into crises, or elect leftists like France's Francois Hollande, whose tax regime of a 70% income tax plus a 1.6% wealth tax meets any reasonable definition of confiscation. Even in the United States, that supposed haven of wealth and capitalism, polls consistently show at least 60% support for further tax rises on the wealthy, even after the December 2012 deal eliminated the 2001 tax cuts for incomes above $450,000. You can perhaps argue that a little more U.S. tax on the wealthy would not be harmful, even when you add together the three layers of Federal, state and local taxes, but when President Obama, within two months of obtaining a substantial tax increase on the rich, demands another one, and public opinion generally favors that demand, we can see that in some political circumstances even Americans are not safe from expropriation.



Dumped! by Google

One recent Thursday morning, I logged into my email and made an alarming discovery. Instead of opening my inbox, Google directed me to a notice:

"Account has been disabled . . . . In most cases, accounts are disabled if we believe you have violated either the Google Terms of Service, product-specific Terms of Service . . . . or product-specific policies . . . . it might be possible to regain access to your account."

It was like I’d gotten dumped, via text message, by someone en route to Cabo.  The vagaries left me reeling. I read the terms and policies, but they offered few clues. There were no numbers to call, no tickets to request help. I had a real problem with how things ended, so I filled out a form and sent it into the ether. What exactly had I done wrong? Had I missed the warning signs? Did Google want me or not?

At last count, Google manages a whopping 343 million active Google+ accounts (though the number of actual people using its services is probably fewer) and operates in 130 languages. Google strategically avoids the crush of users by offering little in the way of direct customer service. My calls to Mountain View HQ landed me in a labyrinth of recorded messages that inevitably led to one of a man, sounding only slightly less exasperated than I felt, shutting me down with a “Thankyougoodbye.”

A few minutes into my Google-less existence, I realized how dependent I had become. I couldn’t finish my work or my taxes, because my notes and expenses were stored in Google Drive, and I didn’t know what else I should work on because my Google calendar had disappeared. I couldn’t publicly gripe about what I was going through, because my Blogger no longer existed. My Picasa albums were gone. I’d lost my contacts and calling plan through Google Voice; otherwise I would have called friends to cry.

I turned to Facebook to ask friends who work at Google for help. Living in the Bay Area, I have a fair number of Googler-friends, but the Googleplex has apparently grown so vast that none of them had any idea where to start. One guessed the policy department, another accounts. All assured me that this sort of thing rarely happened.

I had assumed it never happened at all. Sure, it had occurred to me when I had moved my work and memories into the “cloud” that I was relying on other people to keep them safe on their servers. But I figured a company with $50 billion in revenues and the modest aim to “organize the world’s information” had to run a tight ship. Anyway, it seemed implicit that in allowing Google to use my data, I could rely on Google to hold on to it—and to give it back.

In reality, I discovered, Google assumes no responsibility over user data nor is it required by law to do so. In the same notice informing me that it had disabled my account, Google told me for the first time that it reserves the right to “terminate your account at any time, for any reason, with or without notice.” In its Terms of Service, Google limits its total liability for stolen data, lost data, anything, “TO THE AMOUNT YOU PAID US TO USE THE SERVICES” (yes, in all caps), which could mean as much as the $2.49 per month you shelled out for 25GB more storage or in my case, nothing.

Google not only reserves the right to take away or vaporize our data for any reason, but it also reserves the right to discontinue services, the means to access it, whenever it wants. It does this more often than you probably realize and most recently with Google Reader, which disappears on July 1.

In case you’re wondering, in the end, I was fortunate. By Monday, a Googler filed the right internal escalation paperwork on my behalf and on Tuesday morning, six days after I lost access to my account, relayed that it had been restored.

My data was intact save for the last thing I’d worked on–a spreadsheet containing a client’s account numbers and passwords. It seems that Google’s engineers determined this single document violated policy and locked down my entire account. My request to get that document back is still pending.

I returned to the Google fold with eyes wide open to my responsibilities as a user. In relationship terms, I am no longer monogamous. I store my data on other servers maintained by providers like Evernote, Dropbox, and WordPress, and the cloud is my standby, not my steady. I’ve swapped convenience for control: I back up my email and what I care about most on physical hard drives.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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