Tuesday, May 06, 2014

French Islamic Congress Sinks into Anti-Semitic Hate Fest

In some deep corner of hell, Hitler is smiling.  One Hundred and Fifty Thousand Muslims gathered in Paris to attend the Union of Islamic Organization’s Thirty First Congress. It was advertised as a gathering about immigration, assimilation, and culture, but it soon descended into an anti-Semitic hate fest.

When the “Jew” was cast into the convention’s spotlight, the crowd was whipped into frenzy with as much emotion as Albert Speer could have ignited from his Nazi rallies orchestrated with cascading lights and burning torches. The atrocities in Syria, the bloodbaths in the streets of Cairo, the barbaric behavior of Boko Haram in Nigeria, and all the evil and wanton cruelty in the Islamic world that daily leap out at us from television, print, and the Internet, all of this was explained as being guided by an invisible hand, the Jew.

Hatred is the great unifier of mass movements. Hitler dressed millions of compliant Germans in uniforms and marched them to their deaths to fight the international Jew. He convinced the Germans they were Aryan superman. The ideal version of which was blond, tall, and slim.  So, consider, here was Hitler with dark hair; Goering  who was morbidly obese; and Goebbels who was a dwarf, all  preaching the genetic virtue of the blond, slim, and tall Aryan superman. And the incongruity escaped mass detection because hatred is also the enemy of rational thought.

In Paris, Hani Ramadan (brother of Tariq) took his place in the pantheon of Jew haters while spewing the irrational to an overly enthusiastic audience, who suspended disbelief. Does any rational human being believe that all the evil in the world, all the violence and barbarism in the imploding Islamic world, and all the backwardness of Islam is due to the all powerful Jew, who is clinging to a sliver of land the size of Rhode Island in a region that is one huge cesspool, whose peoples, like those meeting in Paris, are seeking eagerly to return to the seventh century?

Ramadan’s words, like Speer’s torchlight parades, echo manifestations of violence in the streets. Ilan Halimi, in 2006, was the first Jew killed in France since World War II for simply being a Jew. He was grotesquely tortured, beaten, set on fire, and left to die. His killers were Muslims steeped in anti-Semitism. Andrew Hussey, the British cultural biographer and expert on France, investigated Halimi’s murder and found that people in the Muslim neighborhood where he had been held knew where he was. Yet, they chose to do nothing, even finding convenient justification for the kidnapping because Halimi was Jewish.

Halimi was not the last Jew to die in France because he was Jewish. In 2012, a rabbi and two children were slaughtered in Toulouse as part of a hate crime. Again the murderer was Muslim, and elements of the Muslim community have not only justified in the crime; they cheered it.

Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, the Muslim French comedian, who is said to be the progenitor of the popular reverse Nazi salute, the quenelle, is obsessed with making Holocaust denial -- a crime in France -- mainstream. Dieudonne, of African origin, apparently is ignorant of the special hatred the Nazis held for blacks, whom they considered animals.

Anti-Semitism, embedded in the pages of French history, has taken on new life with the vast immigration of Muslims. A Jew can no longer go out on the streets of Paris dressed like a Jew. Europe’s largest Jewish community is faced with whether to remain amid the rising Islamic-fueled hatred or leave. The numbers that are leaving increase from year to year. French Jews buy second homes in Tel Aviv as a safety valve. And French Hasids have moved entire congregations to Brooklyn.

“If we do not stop these words that kill and that tear apart our society, there will be other Ilan Halimis,” former French Interior Minister Manuel Valls warned. Of course, as Hani Ramadan has shown, the words will not stop, and they will be received with the same passion that Albert Speer was able to choreograph at a torchlight ceremony in Nazi Germany.

Words do kill where there is a clear and present danger. They just need time and opportunity to incubate. One hundred and fifty thousand Muslims in their hate-fest frenzy are the creators of France’s future brown shirts.



Poverty, not inequality, is the source of (some) social ills

By Shikha Dalmia

Conservatives are upset that Pope Francis' recent tweet “inequality is the root of social evil” was meant as a nod to French economist Thomas Piketty's 500-plus page controversial bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which warns that Western capitalist countries are headed for ever-widening inequality.

That the Pope is on Piketty's side is hardly a revelation given that he has previously blamed “unfettered” capitalism for perpetuating oppression, tyranny and every other ill on God's great planet. But he was wrong then, and wrong now.
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Setting aside the irony that this sweeping condemnation of inequality is being offered by the head of the most hierarchical organization in the world, there isn’t much empirical evidence for the Pope’s claims.

For example, the rap against rising inequality is that it slows economic growth and leads to bad health and social outcomes for the poor. But Harvard University’s Christopher Jencks found little impact of inequality on the poor’s standard of living, life expectancy, violent crime, political participation or even happiness.

Consumers in America, the most unequal of all Western countries, he found, “do better than their counterparts in other large democracies.”

Indeed, after looking for all the ills that liberals attribute to rising inequality in Western countries for over a decade, he has come up with so little that he has abandoned his book plans, he told New York Times' Eduardo Porter last week. (He feared headlines like, “Professor Doesn't Know What he is Talking About.”)

Jencks’ findings sound counterintuitive, but they aren’t. Why? Because the real issue is not inequality but poverty: If the rising income gap between the rich and the poor stemmed from the poor losing ground, Jencks would have found the dreaded ill effects. But even Piketty doesn’t claim that the poor are getting poorer in America or the West – only that the rich are getting richer faster. He expects this trend to grow because advanced capitalist economies offer bigger returns on capital investments (rich people's main asset) over labor (poor people’s main asset).

But even if inequality due to the rising income of the rich doesn’t affect economic and social outcomes of the poor, it is still possible that it is inherently corrupting for society. That’s because rich people can be arrogant jerks. Being vastly better off makes them feel that they are better: smarter, more talented, more virtuous and therefore more entitled. Such attitudes erode social bonds and trust.

Indeed, research by University of California’s Paul Piff found just that last year. He conducted lab experiments in which rich people consistently demonstrated an “empathy gap.” Even when their wealth resulted from pure chance, they became less generous and ethical.

That might be true. But my experience with rich people in a rich country like America and rich people in a poor country like my native India suggests that India’s rich are bigger jerks than America’s on all those counts. Whereas in America, expensive cars and designer clothes define a rich person’s style, in India they define his status and worth. India’s wealthy classes are far likelier to blame not the system and its lack of opportunities for rampant poverty, but the poor themselves. Conversely, they are more likely to attribute their success to their own superiority, not good fortune.


Because the scarcity of wealth elevates its social importance, making it a far more important metric for judging people. Since abject poverty has been more or less eliminated in America, wealth itself has become something of a lifestyle choice. Plenty of Americans opt for modest lifestyles not because they are losers; it’s because they cherish some other value -- leisure or family time or intellectual/artistic pursuits -- over extra income.

This undermines the notion that wealth is the sole measure of success, tempering the pathologies of wealth. This is one reason why America’s rich are far more apologetic – and less flamboyant – than their more in-your-face Indian counterparts.

All of this suggests that the Pope needs to bear in mind that not all inequalities are equal: Inequality that stems from prosperity isn't nearly as big a problem as that resulting from poverty. Wealth, paradoxically, is its own cure.



DOJ's 'Operation Choke Point' May Be Root of Porn Star Bank Account Closings

Despite being in good financial standing, adult film performers and others in the porn industry have had bank accounts abruptly terminated—and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) may have had something to do with it.

Under "Operation Choke Point," the DOJ and its allies are going after legal but subjectively undesirable business ventures by pressuring banks to terminate their bank accounts or refuse their business. The very premise is clearly chilling—the DOJ is coercing private businesses in an attempt to centrally engineer the American marketplace based on it's own politically biased moral judgements. Targeted business categories so far have included payday lenders, ammunition sales, dating services, purveyors of drug paraphernalia, and online gambling sites.

"Operation Chokepoint is flooding payments companies that provide processing service to those industries with subpoenas, civil investigative demands, and other burdensome and costly legal demands," wrote Jason Oxman, CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association, at The Hill.

    "The theory behind this enforcement program has superficial logic: increase the legal and compliance costs of serving certain disfavored merchant categories, and payments companies will simply stop providing service to such merchants. And it’s working—payments companies across the country are cutting off service to categories of merchants that—although providing a legal service—are creating the potential for significant financial and reputational harm as law enforcement publicizes its activities.

    Thus far, payday lenders have been the most frequent target. ... And if payday lenders are today’s target–what category will be next and who makes that decision?"

I'm not sure who made the decision, but it seems the next big targeted category is the adult film industry. Last week, adult film actress Teagan Presley and an unknown number of others in the porn industry received notices that their Chase Bank accounts were being abruptly terminated.

Layton Benton/TwitterLayton Benton/Twitter"When Presley went to the bank in person to ask why, she was told it’s because she’s considered 'high risk,'" according to VICE News. VICE's Mary O'Hara was the first to note a likely link between the porn bank account closings and Operation Choke Point. The DOJ did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

For years, various government initiatives have been aimed at reaching the "unbanked" and "underbanked." Federal officials claim to want to help these individuals avoid high fees and other downsides of nontraditional financial services, but it's hard not to suspect these efforts have at least as much to do with wanting a record of everyone's financial goings-on. If the unbanked were such a real concern, why would federal agencies be simultaneously encouraging banks to drop more customers?

Targeting porn performers or not, Operation Choke Point represents an incredible abuse of regulatory power. In a recent American Banker op-ed, former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman William M. Isaac called it "a direct assault on the democratic system and free-market economy."

In a March 2013 hearing before a Senate Banking subcommittee, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) pointed out the obvious: that DOJ has "no statutory authority" to be doing this. But why bother with statutory authority when you can just secretly strong-arm highly regulated businesses into doing what you want? I've never been much of a cryptocurrency evangelist myself, but I'm beginning to come around...



The prison door keeps revolving

by Jeff Jacoby

Longer sentences are the only thing that reduces crime

THE UNITED STATES jails more prisoners than any nation on earth — about 2.3 million, or more than 1 percent of all American adults. Our gigantic penal system is regularly characterized as a national disgrace. I've applied the label myself.

Plainly there is something deeply disquieting about a democratic superpower locking up so many people that 25 percent of the world's reported prisoners are housed in US cells. How can a country with an incarceration rate of 716 inmates per 100,000 residents, roughly five times the global average, think of itself as "The Land of the Free?"

Yet whether America's vast prison population really represents such a scandalous failure depends on what prison is supposed to do. In that light, consider a trove of data released last month by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency of the US Department of Justice.

In the first major federal study of recidivism since 1994, BJS statisticians tracked nearly 405,000 inmates in 30 states who were released from prison in 2005. Within six months, 28 percent of those freed prisoners had been arrested for a new crime. After three years, 68 percent had been arrested. By the end of the five years (the period covered by the study), the percentage had grown to a whopping 77 percent.

The report breaks down these new crimes by category. Five years after regaining their freedom, 29 percent of the prisoners had been arrested for a violent offense, 38 percent for a property crime, 39 percent for a drug offense, and 58 percent for public-order offenses. (Many released inmates were arrested on multiple charges.) Only 23 states could provide researchers with complete data on inmates who returned to prison; but among the released prisoners in those states, more than half — 55 percent — ended up behind bars once more.

The Justice Department's earlier recidivism study, though organized and presented differently, came to similar findings. It found that 67 percent of former inmates released from prisons in just 15 states had been rearrested for at least one serious new crime within three years. Those included, the bureau noted, "2,900 new homicides, 2,400 new kidnappings, 2,400 rapes, 3,200 other sexual assaults, 21,200 robberies, 54,600 assaults, and nearly 13,900 other violent crimes."

In April 2011, meanwhile, the Pew Center on the States issued its own report on recidivism. Its conclusion: "More than four out of 10 adult American offenders … return to prison within three years of their release."

Such recidivism rates are terrible. It is heartbreaking and alarming that so many criminal offenders emerge from prison only too ready to offend again. Too many inmates come out hardened and more antisocial than they went in. For decades, scholars, policy makers, social workers, and public-safety experts have searched for the holy grail of rehabilitation and effective sentencing that would give us a more humane corrections network — one less congested, less expensive, less unfair, and less of a revolving door for the addicted and the unstable.

The problem with holy grails is that they are more easily sought than found. Bill Keller of The New York Times recently described a range of seemingly promising strategies for addressing what has become "the hottest subject in criminal justice," the US system of mass incarceration. Among them: Easing mandatory-minimum sentences and three-strikes laws. Diverting nonviolent drug offenders to specialized courts focused on treatment. Counseling for inmates about to be paroled. Repeal of rules that bar felons from getting many kinds of occupational licences.

But would they work? Prison reform and rehabilitation programs have been earnestly advanced for decades, but that holy grail remains elusive — and recidivism remains sky-high. American sociologist Robert Martinson made waves 40 years ago with an influential essay that concluded: "With few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism." Decades later, reformers are still trying to figure out what works.

Prison is awful, there's no question about it. It doesn't turn criminals into model citizens. It can't be expected to cure dysfunction whose roots go back to a broken home or a lousy school.

But one thing we know prison can do: It can isolate criminals from society, and thereby make society safer. In the 1980s we began locking up more convicts for longer terms. Now we have the largest prison population on earth — and crime rates at 30-year lows. When it comes to crime and punishment, there's always a trade-off. At least until we find that holy grail.



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