December 25, 2012

America's 'Gun Culture' and Piers Morgan's Selective Outrage





By David Paulin

It's a strange omission: liberal pundits like CNN's Piers Morgan are fulminating over America's "gun culture" following Newtown's school massacre -- yet they seem blissfully ignorant about what happened after Britain's draconian handgun ban following a school massacre in Scotland, in 1996, eerily similar to Newtown's.

After the ban, more than 160,000 law-abiding citizens gave up their handguns. The idea was to stop gun violence. But ironically, crime-related gun violence jumped a whopping 40 percent in the two years after the ban. And since then, gun crime has continued to soar at an alarming rate. Anti-gun liberals may be aghast, but as that old NRA bumper sticker stated: "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." One wonders how long before guns are used in another massacre in the United Kingdom; or perhaps next time it will be done by a madman carrying a can of gasoline.

Piers Morgan, an urbane native of England, surely knows what happened after Britain's gun ban. But like others anti-gun media elitists and politicians (whose children are defended by armed guards at upscale private schools) Morgan avoids discussions of the complexities and nuances of gun control and their impact on ordinary people -- that is, law-abiding gun owners. "You're an unbelievably stupid man, aren't you?" Morgan told Larry Pratt, director of Gun Owners of America, during a discussion about gun regulations that included proposed bans on large clips and military-style weapons like the AR-15 used by Newtown, Connecticut's shooter Adam Lanza. Now, an online petition demanding that the smug Brit be deported is drawing tens of thousands of signatures.

Morgan surely knows about Britain's failed effort to reduce gun violence - and how those efforts backfired. Even the lefty BBC took notice -- explaining that the 40 percent surge in gun violence suggested the handgun ban was "targeting legitimate users of firearms rather than criminals." Specifically, the BBC explained that, "The Center for Defense Studies at Kings College in London, which carried out the research, said the number of crimes in which a handgun was reported increased from 2,648 in 1997/98 to 3,685 in 1999/2000." Moreover, it noted there was "no link between high levels of gun crime and areas where there were still high levels of lawful gun possession; that "of the 20 police areas with the lowest number of legally held firearms, 10 had an above average level of gun crime. And of the 20 police areas with the highest levels of legally held guns only two had armed crime levels above the average."

Interestingly, the massacre in Dunblane was hardly the case of an upstanding citizen inexplicably exploding into a murderous rage. Thomas Hamilton, the 43-year-old shooter, had been on the radar of law-enforcement authorities and townspeople for some time, just as Newtown shooter Adam Lanza was on the radar (both to school officials and townspeople) for having significant mental health issues.

Yet in each case, nothing was done.

Hamilton was a closet homosexual and serial child abuser. Interestingly, police were aware of his proclivities for young boys. Parents had lodged a number of complaints about Hamilton's sordid behavior as a Scout leader and in other youth groups. Yet Hamilton, a shopkeeper and registered gun owner, was never brought to justice by legal authorities. It's an issue that came up repeatedly after his rampage, provoking charges that police engaged in a cover-up regarding Hamilton's sexual crimes. Suspicions of police negligence were further aroused when records pertaining to the sexual abuse allegations were sealed for 100 years (ostensibly to protect Hamilton's abuse victims), Although Hamilton escaped legal prosecution for molesting children, he was nevertheless shunned by townspeople. His shop went out of business. And community leaders prohibited him from leading or organizing anymore groups for boys.

On March 13, 1996, Hamilton took his revenge, entering the Dunblane Primary School with four handguns - two 9 mm Browning HP pistols, and two Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolvers. All of them were legally held. He carried 743 bullets.

He fired 109 times and killed 16 children, ages 5 and 6, shooting them at close range in a gymnasium. He murdered their teacher as she tried to protect them. He shot up other parts of the school, then returned to the gym where he committed suicide by putting the barrel of a handgun against the roof of his mouth and pulling the trigger. Fifteen others were wounded in his rampage.

Britain, to be sure, has not experienced another massacre. But given the number of handguns still in Britain - now mostly in the hands of bad guys and not good ones - it's only a matter of time before another massacre happens. After all, when guns are outlawed, only outlaws (and madmen) will have them. And if they can't get their hands on a gun, they'll find another means to kill.

Interestingly, some anti-gun elitists who would deprive ordinary law-abiding citizens from owning firearms seem unconcerned about madmen obtaining nukes in Iran and North Korea. They entertain the naive delusion that the United Nation's Security Council and Human Rights Commission will keep these madmen at bay, just as they naively believe the United Kingdom's mostly unarmed police officers can keep growing gun crime at bay.

One thing can be safely inferred about Thomas Hamilton's mental state: He had no reason to fear that an armed policeman might quickly show up: Scotland's police, like England's famous bobbies, are mostly unarmed.

Piers Morgan, for his part, says that in the unlikely event he's deported, he may broadcast from the Caribbean island-nation of Jamaica, part of the British commonwealth. Does Morgan know that Jamaica has one of the world's highest murder rates? And that obtaining a handgun permit there, especially for non-Jamaicans, often drags on for months and months?

Good luck, Piers.

Originally published at The American Thinker

December 24, 2012

In Key West, the 'Hemingway Home' Battles the Feds over Cats

 
By David Paulin   

Michael A. Morawski, chief executive of the iconic Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida, has spent nearly 10 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees fighting the feds - all to stop them from regulating the 43 resident cats that roam the museum's grounds to the amusement of visitors. His dealings with the United States Department of Agriculture - in meetings, administrative hearings, and the courts - ended earlier this month at the Atlanta-based United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh District.

He lost his appeal.
  
Yet he had reason for hope, because this was a rare case in which federal judges suggested the laws they were obligated to follow had produced an unjust outcome. In its unanimous decision, the three-judge panel ruled that federal authorities may regulate the 43 cats roaming the grounds of the Hemingway Home - the residence of novelist Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s, and now Key West's most popular tourist attraction. The decision reaffirmed an earlier district court ruling.

From the start, the issues for Morawski were not only about his cats but the proper role of the federal government; specifically, this was about the USDA's contention that it had the authority to regulate the Hemingway Home's felines that are thought to be decedents of Snowball -- a polydactyl cat (meaning it had extra toes) that Hemingway owned. The six-toed feline was said to be a gift from sea captain Stanley Dexter, a Hemingway friend.

Cat Fight
  
The USDA contended Congress gave it - not Florida or Key West -- the ultimate say regarding the cats under the Commerce Clause and Animal Welfare Act of 1966. Although the appeals court agreed, its sympathies were with Morawski and his cats. "Notwithstanding our holding, we appreciate the museum's somewhat unique situation, and we sympathize with its frustration," Chief Judge Joel Fredrick Dubina wrote earlier this month for the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit in his 13-page ruling. "Nevertheless, it is not the court's role to evaluate the wisdom of federal regulations implemented according to the powers constitutionally vested in Congress."

"I'm still dumbfound. This is overreach by the federal government," said Morawski, during an interview this week with American Thinker. Morawski said he ran up $500,000 to $600,000 in legal fees over most of the decade in his futile efforts to get the feds off his back and force it out of the cat-regulating business.

Not long after Hemingway died in 1961, his sons sold the Key West property for $80,000 to Bernice Dixon, a local jewelry store owner and Morawski's great aunt. The cats were already there, and like Snowball many of them were polydactyls. "The cats provide a link to the past," said Morawski. Some of Hemingway's sons have recalled as boys that their father had cats at his home in Cuba, not Key West; but the appeals court accepted as fact that the cats were descendants of Snowball.

Dixon turned the home into a museum in 1964, and upon her death in the late 1980s left the property to her family. The Southern colonial house - where Hemingway wrote masterpieces such as " For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" - now attracts some 250,000 people annually. Beautifully maintained, the family-run museum provides a fascinating glimpse into the writer's life in Key West. This includes the fact that Hemingway - a man's man according to the norms of his day - was a cat lover.

As for museum's cats, Morawski said neither Key West authorities nor the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have ever complained about how they were being treated; some were given away over the years, he said, but none were ever sold. The appeals court panel acknowledged as much, also noting the museum had cared for them, fed them, and provided weekly visits from a veterinarian. But nearly 10 years ago, one Key West resident contacted the USDA and raised concerns about the cats, thus setting off Morawski's battle with the feds. A USDA official investigated. Hemingway Home was subsequently classified as an "animal exhibitor" under the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 - all for exhibiting its cats as part of the museum's admission fees ($13 for adults, $6 for children) and for featuring them in advertising. Under this classification, Hemingway Home's cats fell under federal control because they were regarded as being the equivalent of animal performers in circuses, zoos, and carnivals.

As Judge Dubina recounted in his ruling, the USDA then issued a number of edicts to the museum: "obtain an exhibitor's license; contain and cage the cats in individual shelters at night, or alternatively, construct a higher fence or an electric wire atop the existing brick wall, or alternatively, hire a night watchman to monitor the cats; tag each cat for identification purposes; construct additional elevated resting surfaces for the cats within their existing enclosures; and pay fines for the museum's non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act."

To Morawski, it all ignored the nature of cats - especially the option about caging them up. "Obviously, cats are roamers. I don't know of any community that has a leash law for cats." Interestingly, the Illinois legislature did in fact adopt a state-wide leash law for cats in 1949, but Gov. Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat, vetoed the "Cat Bill" with a famous rebuke, including that lawmakers "have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency."

Morawski, for his part, initially protested the federal edicts. USDA officials then refused to issue an exhibitor's license and threatened to confiscate the museum's cats. The impasse ended when Dr. Chester A. Gipson, a USDA deputy administrator for animal care, granted an exhibitors license to the museum in 2008, without prejudicing its right to contest in court the USDA's authority to regulate its cats, which Morawski was anxious to do. "I kept wanting to get this in front of the federal court, and I had to get a license before we did that," he said.

One of the USDA's concerns was that the museum's cats might jump the 6-foot-high brick wall enclosing the property - an issue that come up during a visit by a USDA official. "She saw a cat sitting on a fence and said, 'Oh, that's a problem,'" Morawski related. So an 8-foot-tall black mesh fence was put up next to the brick wall. Morawski also registered each of his 43 cats with the USDA and made minor modifications to their abode, a "cat hotel" that resembles the Hemingway Home. 

Despite making changes, he said he'd rather not be dealing with federal officials regarding his cats.
During his dealings with the USDA, Morawski solicited help from Florida's U.S Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican. "She helped us and assisted us the best she could."

One issue still puzzles Morawski: How come his cats can be regulated under the Commerce Clause which, after all, is only supposed to regulate interstate commerce? "We're a local business," he pointed out. "Our goods don't go outside of Key West. So how can we be involved in interstate commerce?"
  
But Judge Dubina, after some erudite legal reasoning, explained that Congress can indeed regulate the museum's cats under the Commerce Clause. He wrote, "The Museum invites and receives thousands of admission-paying visitors from beyond Florida, many of whom are drawn by the Museum's reputation for and purposeful marketing of the Hemingway cats. The exhibition of the Hemingway cats is integral to the Museum's commercial purpose, and thus, their exhibition affects interstate commerce. For these reasons, Congress has the power to regulate the Museum and the exhibition of the Hemingway cats via the Animal Welfare Act."

What's next for Morawski? Getting justice in the courts has become too expensive, he said. "We're better off investing our money back into the business and employees. So I think we're probably dealing with a legislative issue now." Accordingly, he plans to enlist the help of like-minded members of Congress, starting with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, to introduce legislation that would "rein in the scope of the federal government."

So how many cat lovers are members of Congress? That may be the best indicator of whether Morawski has a fighting chance in shooing the feds away from his cats.

Originally published at The American Thinker

December 6, 2012

New York Post's subway death photo stirs debate over journalistic ethics


By David Paulin

Some journalistic values are not necessarily the same as human values -- a fact that explains much about the uproar over Tuesday's front-page photo in the New York Post. "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die," screamed the headline under the word: "DOOMED."

The man's name was Ki Suk Han, a 58-year-old Korean immigrant from Queens. The photo capturing the last seconds of his life has provoked soul-searching and outrage over journalistic ethics -- or lack of them.

Practically nobody is defending the Post for publishing it -- or its photographer for taking it. Aside from journalistic misconduct, there were disquieting reports that none of the 18 bystanders bothered to help Han. Yet various witnesses said he was on the tracks for a minute or more, scrambling to pull himself onto the platform.

Overwhelmingly, outrage over the photo is being directed at photographer R. Umar Abbasi, a freelancer for the iconic tabloid that regularly trades in sensational stories.

As the subway bore down on Han, Abbasi snapped photos of him clinging to the platform - instead of helping him up from the tracks. Or at least, that's how it seemed.

No doubt sensing a controversy over Abbasi's actions, the Post's original story lamely explained that he'd used his flash to alert the subway's motorman to Han's presence. Accordingly, photographing Han about to be "crushed like a rag doll" was merely incidental to his efforts to save him. It was hardly credible.

Abbasi also initially claimed that he wasn't strong enough to lift Han up from the tracks (although Abbasi's photo suggests that Han, who was trying to pull himself up, only needed a helping hand to climb onto the platform). Nobody offered him one. Han had reportedly exchanged words with his dread-locked attacker, a loud-mouthed panhandler. Police subsequently arrested 30-year-old Naeem Davis.

In a first-person account in Wendesday's New York Post, Abbasi defended himself with a slightly different version of his role in the tragedy than what was originally published in the Post. He insisted he was never close enough to help Han and has been anguished over what happened.

One can debate the ethics of publishing the photo, presenting arguments for and against. On the negative side, of course, the photo sells newspapers by appealing to an ugly voyeuristic and prurient streak in readers. On the other hand, it provides a searing and unforgettable drama of a horrific crime, showing the dark side of New York's subway system where predators are all too common. Even so, didn't the Post have any more appropriate photos to publish for the sake of good taste, decency, and the feelings of Han's family? It seems that the paper did have other photos based on what Abbasi related.

Abbasi's conduct would be indefensible if he could have helped Han but instead chose to take pictures. True, journalists and photojournalists ought to be impartial professional witnesses; but that detachment doesn't mean they stop being citizens, first and foremost.

Criticism over Abbasi is that if he had the presence of mind to snap photos of Han, then he surely had the presence of mind to make a credible rescue effort; and after that effort he could have taken all the photos he wanted - either of Han having survived a terrible scare or alternatively (if his rescue effort had failed) of Han's being tended by a doctor who was among the bystanders. Either way, Abbasi would have been a hero -- not a villain (although Abbasi now says in his first-person account, to be sure, that there was too little time for a rescue; that he only could fire off his flash to catch the motorman's attention).

Outrage over Abbasi's actions are similar to the public revulsion over the paparazzi in France who eagerly snapped close-up photos of a dying Princess Diana. None of those photographs were ever published in mainstream publications; editors felt that doing so would push the limits of decency and good taste. Couldn't the Post have made a similar decision?

Journalistic misconduct aside, there also were all those distributing reports of able-bodied witnesses doing nothing to help Han, who was heading to renew his passport. Some bystanders were stunned or afraid, clueless as to what to do. "People who were on the platform could have pulled him up but they didn't have the courage. They just didn't react like that," said Patrick Gomez, 37, who admitted to being guilty of the same inaction.

Aside from fear, there were examples of callousness. The subway's traumatized motorman expressed disgust that as a young doctor and others tended to Han, some bystanders "were taking pictures of the poor gentleman. They didn't want to leave." How to explain this? It could well be the result of a society saturated for years with violent and vulgar images on television, video games, and the Internet. For them, Han's death represented an opportunity to take some photos with their cell phones in order to post them on YouTube or show to friends.

To be sure, there are reports every day of ordinary citizens -- good Samaritans -- who risk physical danger to come to the aid of others. And, yes, this happens in New York City. But unfortunately, none of these sorts of people were around to help Han.

Other able-bodied witness may have figured that somebody else would come to the rescue -- a reflection of a certain mind set that can occur among numerous bystanders: what's now called the "Genovese Syndrome" -- a phenomena of "diffused responsibility" leading to inaction. It was coined after the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old New Yorker who was stabbed to death near her home. Her cries for help were ignored by numerous apartment dwellers according to initial media reports. Although the "Genovese Syndrome" is now taught in psychology and sociology classes, later investigations raised doubts about what neighbors in fact heard or failed to do.

As more information comes to light about Ki Suk Han's gruesome death, a more sympathetic picture may well emerge to explain the behavior of some bystanders -- those who should have done more.

As for Abbasi and his editors, their careers will forever be defined by a low point in American journalism.


Originally published in the American Thinker blog on  Dec. 5, 2010

November 27, 2012

University of Iowa's intolerant liberal law faculty

"Athens of the Midwest" is how many deep thinking liberals in America's heartland describe Iowa City. If they mean the Athens that forced Socrates to drink hemlock because of his unorthodox ideas, they may have a point.

  

By David Paulin 

"Athens of the Midwest" is how many deep thinking liberals in America's heartland describe Iowa City -- the artsy and liberal college town that's home to the University of Iowa. But as many conservatives might have guessed, some of Iowa City's most self-important elites -- the powers that be in the University of Iowa's law school -- have much in common with those intolerant ancient Athenians who tried and executed Socrates because they didn't like his politics.

As Exhibit One, consider a recent court case that's been drawing belated attention over the weekend in some corners of the Internet. The issues were summed up in an editorial last month in the Des Moines Register, appropriately titled: "U of I needs to respect diversity of thought, too." Here's an excerpt: 

The University of Iowa College of Law dodged a potential employment discrimination verdict in a case tried in Davenport last week. But the case could still come back to haunt the university.
 Regardless of the outcome, this case raises questions about the hiring policies at the University of Iowa College of Law, and perhaps in the university as a whole. The U of I respects the goal of diversity for race, religion and gender, but it should show the same respect for diversity of political thought.
 This case involves a lawsuit filed by Teresa Wagner against the law school after she was turned down for a faculty position in the legal analysis, writing and research program. Wagner is a Republican who has worked for anti-abortion organizations. She alleged that she was passed over the position not because she lacked the qualifications but because she was blackballed by liberal members of the law school faculty.

The law school denied politics were involved in the decision not to hire her. The university claimed Wagner was turned down because she had performed poorly in an interview.
 After a weeklong trial, the jury ruled in favor of the school on the allegation that Wagner's political beliefs were a "motivating factor" in her rejection. But the jury of 12 deadlocked on a separate question whether Wagner was treated differently than other job applicants because of her political beliefs. If the school did that, that would violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
  
It's possible these questions will be rehashed in court as Wagner has asked for a new trial. U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt will rule on that later.
Well, let's be clear about one thing: such intolerance is not confined only to the legal windbags at Iowa's law faculty. As evidence, consider Exhibit Two: the experience that historian Mark Moyar, a Harvard and Cambridge grad, had during his unsuccessful application five years ago for a professorship at the University of Iowa's history department. Moyar at the time was the Kim T. Adamson Chair at the U.S. Marine Corps University and had authored respected revisionist histories of the Vietnam War. In an article in National Review, "Diversity is for Democrats" Moyar observed that Iowa's history faculty wasn't much interested in listening to ideas that contradicted their own - ideas that presumably were all the more rankling (one can assume) because they came from a conservative middle-aged white guy.
The University of Iowa College of Law
To create greater diversity of ideas, Moyar offered this advice:
Students, parents, alumni, taxpayers, and politicians should pressure the University of Iowa's administration to enforce the university's non-discrimination policies, and to create new faculty positions for conservatives beyond the reach of other professors' tentacles, as other schools have started doing. They should demand that the university use its lecture series to bring in conservative speakers, not just liberals and radicals. In the meantime, students must realize that the university is not a free market of ideas, but a one-party state that strives to convert the impressionable and unwary by hiding half of the political spectrum.
Regarding Iowa Law: In one respect, it's ironic that its faculty members are overwhelmingly liberal and, by inference, Obama fans. Because in the miserable economy that Obama owns, less-than-top-tier law schools like Iowa's don't cut it anymore. To be sure, I know one grad of Iowa Law, a former next-door neighbor and occasional boyhood chum, who became a successful corporate lawyer and partner in a prestigious firm. Today he's a judge in Iowa. And a high school classmate from Illinois who graduated from Iowa Law is now a partner in a top Chicago firm. Lucky for them, they graduated from Iowa Law in the 1980s - during the go-go economy of President Ronald Reagan.

Unfortunately, the days are gone when nearly all top and grads of Iowa Law reached such stellar heights. And disgruntled recent grads are, increasingly, finding that out the hard way. That's reflected in a blog called "third tier reality." It warns potential Iowa Law students to stay away - unless somebody else pays for their exorbitant tuition and, most importantly, that they have a job lined up through the help of friends or family connections. Or maybe, I might add, if they know Obama.

Ironic, isn't it? Iowa's law faculty and the political and economic ideology they embrace (and political leaders they support) may be the cause of their own irrelevance.


Full disclosure: Back in my younger and more vulnerable college days, when I was a Democratic, I took a class in "international law" at the University of Iowa College of Law. Despite my political immaturity and open-mindedness, I was nevertheless troubled by my professor's high-minded talk about how a U.N.-like body would ensure world peace and social justice - even though thug states would, in the professor's vision, have as much say as Western democracies in that body. Raising my concerns, the white-haired prof, Burns H. Weston, seemed peeved and snapped: "So what? What's your point?" And then there were Prof. Weston's idiotic discussions about terrorism, the implication being that one man's terrorist was another man's freedom fighter; that if we were a victim of terrorism, it must be because of something that we did to them.

Nor did I ever quite understand that lecture about the "sources" of international law. According to him, they included the scholarly writings of law professors, including himself. "Can I make international law?" he asked with a big smile and twinkling eyes - and of course the answer was supposed to be "yes."

Not long ago, I learned that this left-wing blowhard -- the son of an official in FDR's administration -- was a 9/11 "truther" whose members believe that the Bush administration had some complicity in 9/11 and its "cover-up." It was all a pretext to go to war.

Well, I'm really not surprised given the ideological indoctrination that took place that class, which included no diversity of ideas that might have been taught by allowing a visiting speaker into the class -- one like, say, John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. under George W. Bush.

Hey, Iowa Law, can I get my tuition back for that course?"

 Hat tip: TaxProf Blog and Memeorandum

Originally published at American Thinker blog, albeit with some minor additions due to a few other things that came to mind.



November 5, 2012

Mitt's unwitting campaigner in Florida: Hugo Chávez


By David Paulin


Yes, the Romney campaign has enlisted the help of Venezuela's leftist president in the pivotal swing state of Florida. Hugo Chávez figures prominently in a 30-second Spanish-language television ad being run by the Romney campaign. It starts with a narrator asking: "Who supports Barack Obama?" 

Next comes the answer: a television clip of Venezuela's anti-American president. "If I were American, I'd vote for Obama," he says.

Later in the ad, Chávez says: "If Obama were from Barlovento, he'd vote for Chávez." (Barlovento is a Venezuelan town whose population is overwhelmingly black.)

Chávez, who has made anti-Americanism a cornerstone of his foreign policy, endorsed Obama last September in an interview on Venezuelan television.  




In the same ad, the narrator points out that Fidel Castro's daughter Mariela Castro also supports Obama. "I would vote for President Obama," she says.  
Finally, the narrator points out that the "Environmental Protection Agency sent out e-mails for Hispanic Heritage month with a photo of Che Guevara." It's all true, of course, and the Obama campaign is furious, and an article in the Miami Herald - a paper that just endorsed Obama - called it an example of unseemly negative campaigning.

But it's sure to energize Cuban-Americans to get to the polls. They comprise a third of Florida's Hispanics, vote overwhelmingly Republican, and they're no fans of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, nor Che Guevara. The ads comes as a new poll, whose results were published on Saturday by the Miami Herald, gives Romney a 51 to 45 percent lead over Obama. 

Citing a survey from Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, the Herald said Governor Romney's strengths include "independent voters and more crossover support from Democrats relative to the Republicans who back Obama."Other polls, to be sure, are predicting a tighter race, the Herald noted - a fact that must be a relief to the Herald's editorial board and the paper's left-leaning reporters and columnists.  

Oh, and don't forget to take a look at that television ad in which Hugo Chávez has been transformed into a Republican campaign stooge. Even if you don't understand Spanish, you'll catch the drift of things - and smile.

Originally published at The American Thinker blog

Obama and the 'Repo Games' Voters


By David Paulin  



Originally published at The American Thinker

Here's a brain teaser for you: what weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?  If you're still thinking, you've got something in common with more than a few of the contestants on a reality-television show called Repo Games.  In case you've missed it, the Spike TV series follows veteran "repo men" Tom DeTone and Josh Lewis, who double as engaging game show hosts.  Showing up to repossess a vehicle, they offer the debtor a way out as cameras roll: answer three out of five trivia questions correctly, and the vehicle loan will be paid off.  Otherwise, the vehicle will be towed away.

"F--k you!  You're not taking my car" is how more than a few contestants respond, before being coaxed into playing "Repo Games."  Others initially threaten violence -- flailing arms, screaming profanities, and even producing kitchen knives and pots to ward off the repo man.  One hot-tempered man with a pickup menacingly pointed an assault rifle at DeTone.

"I'm a crazy mother-----r.  Somebody will get hurt!" he warned.  Later, DeTone recalled seeing his life flash before his eyes.

Interestingly, some contestants who you'd assume would be winners are utter losers, as was reflected in a segment in which a fourth-grade teacher was asked: "What South American country has over 2,700 miles of coast but is only 150 miles wide?"

"Cuba?" she replied , tentatively.  She flubbed the other two questions, too.
Repo Games isn't all about laughing at dumb and ill-mannered people, however.  It also lets viewers root for contestants who seem nice and perhaps have had some bad luck (and there are of course lots of those types of folks in the miserable economy).  Some of the more sympathetic contestants are single moms.  You also can't help but feel sorry for the contestant who loses a Corvette or BMW parked in the driveway of his nice-looking home.

As for that silly question: what weighs more -- a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?  Yes, it was asked of a "Repo Games" contestant.  He said he didn't know.

Ultimately, it's the numerous stupid and vulgar contestants who are the most memorable -- and in the segments featuring them, Repo Games inadvertently veers from goofy entertainment into trenchant social commentary.  Indeed, in the low-income neighborhoods seen in many Repo Games segments, the residents are what socialist writer Michael Harrington sympathetically called inhabitants of the "other America" -- poor America.  This is where food stamps and welfare have hit record levels over the past four years, reflecting stubbornly high unemployment rates and the Obama administration's efforts (including through radio ads) to get as many people on the dole as possible.  Yet, as Repo Games reveals, these folks are definitely not poor in the conventional meaning of the word.  Their neighborhoods in fact seem rather nice -- suggesting they don't, as liberals would suggest, suffer from a deficit of social justice.



And besides living in decent houses and apartments, they own late-model cars -- albeit on which they're not making regular payments.

The poverty in which these folks exist needs to be viewed from a certain perspective -- something a Heritage Foundation report did not long ago when observing that "most of the persons whom the government defines as 'in poverty' are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term. The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care."

From another perspective, the real problem many of these folks have is not poverty, but a deficit of middle-class values and social skills.

Consider, for instance, the volatile reactions many contestants display after being told their car is being repossessed.  Flailing arms, vulgarities, and threats of violence -- it's the same manic behavior found in high-crime areas where mundane disputes quickly escalate into physical violence.  This is related to a lack of interpersonal skills and self-control -- an inability to negotiate a nonviolent solution after (in their minds) being "disrespected."  This behavior is constantly on display on Repo Games.

Intriguingly, once the repo man calms down these contestants, they seem like perfectly nice people, albeit without the social skills and manners that exist among the middle class -- a term that in this sense describes certain cultural values and manners rather than a particular income bracket.
In Las Vegas, the Repo Games crew may have thought they were in a decent neighborhood, but it's where they had their most dangerous encounter: a middle-school special-education teacher started firing a handgun in their direction.  He was reportedly upset that a Repo Games vehicle had parked on the street outside his house.  Police charged him with attempted murder.

Bad behavior aside, there's that interesting sense of entitlement that more than a few contestants reveal with their initial remarks: "F--k you, you're not taking my car!"

Presumably, most of the contestants on Repo Games are Democrats and ardent Obama supporters, though one shouldn't presume they bother to vote -- and why should they?  Entitlements are now written in stone, and they're unlikely to change much with a Democrat or Republican in the White House.

It's hardly a coincidence that Repo Games, now going strong in its second season, also comes amid a terrible economy in which the mortgage crisis has festered -- as the Obama administration has bent over backwards to enable people to remain in houses they never should have purchased.
All in all, the Obama years have been profitable for the car repossession business -- and for Repo Games.
 

October 23, 2012

VENEZUELA'S LOSS IS AMERICAN'S GAIN: Venezuelan exodus to Florida expected to increase after Chávez's election victory

 
By David Paulin

Hugo Chávez's reelection victory and subsequent pledge to deepen "21st Century" socialism in Venezuela has produced a predictable result -- yet another exodus of Venezuelans is expected to head to Florida. Like early waves of Cubans who fled Fidel Castro’s communism, these Venezuelans are members of their country’s business, professional, and entrepreneurial class. They could, to be sure, have been part of the solution to Venezuela’s poverty and dysfunction. But Chávez saw them as part of the problem as he created class divisions; nationalized large swaths of the economy; and implemented currency exchange and price controls that strangled the economy and even produced food shortages.
  
The ongoing exodus of Venezuela’s best and brightest – and the increase that's expected after Chávez’s reelection -- is the subject of an article in the Miami Herald describing how South Florida immigration lawyers and real estate agents are gearing up for visits from Venezuelans who have decided it’s time to get out. They're looking to buy real estate and start businesses in South Florida, with the hope of gaining residency and starting new lives. After suffering 14 years of Hugo Chávez – and facing six more to come – they decided to join the estimated 200,000 or more Venezuelans already in the U.S. – 57 percent of whom live in South Florida. 

 “Nothing surpasses fear as a cause for capital flight,” Enrique García, a Key Biscayne council member and real estate agent, told The Herald. Citing immigration statistics from the Department of Homeland Security, The Herald noted that the “total number of Venezuelans who have received permanent residence has been growing year after year — from a little more than 5,000 in 2002 to more than 9,000 in 2011.” 

 During the era of soaring oil prices in the 1970s, oil-rich Venezuela earned a nickname: “Saudi Venezuela.” But easy petro-dollars not only contributed to corruption, they fostered a culture of populism and paternalism -- what Venezuela’s poor majority expects today, and what Chavez has promised to deliver.

On the other hand, the Venezuelans settling in the U.S. are educated and can make their own way. They need no lessons in democracy, as underscored by the thousands of Venezuelans who on election day rode in bus caravans to New Orleans, where they stood in long lines at Venezuela’s consulate to vote for opposition challenger Henrique Capriles.

They couldn't vote in Miami because Chavez had closed the consulate there earlier this year, following a spate with Washington over the State Department's expulsion of Venezuela’s consul general in Miami, Livia Acosta Noguera. It concerned recordings of her allegedly discussing an Iranian plot to carry out a cyber-attack against the U.S.        

That created a problem for 20,000 Venezuelan voters in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina who'd registered to vote at the Miami consulate. Accordingly, 8,500 of them cast their ballots at Venezuela’s consulate in New Orleans -- virtually taking over the city as they waited in long lines to vote, and passing the time by singing their country's lovely national anthem.
 
This YouTube clip provides a look at some of the Venezuelans whom Chavez has demonized and intimidated in his quest for “social justice” and “21st Century” socialism.

Originally published at The American Thinker blog


October 19, 2012

Why did Hugo Chavez endorse President Obama for a second term?

 
By David Paulin

The answer to that is easy -- anti-Americanism. Hugo Chavez, after all, has made anti-Americanism a cornerstone of his leftist policies. And this can’t be ignored when explaining why Chavez endorsed President Obama for a second term.

"I hope this doesn't harm Obama, but if I was from the United States, I'd vote for Obama," Venezuela's socialist and firebrand president declared during a television interview. Calling Obama “a good guy,” Chavez also opined that if Obama were a Venezuelan, he would vote for him too.

All in all, it was a remarkable endorsement given that soon after Chavez took office 14 years ago – during Bill Clinton’s second term – he started to rail against Yankee imperialism; cozied up to Cuba's Fidel Castro and various Middle Eastern strongmen; and praised Venezuelan-born terrorist Carlos the Jackal as a "worthy heir of the greatest [leftist] struggles."

So how come Chavez considers himself a kindred spirit with Obama? It no doubt has much to do with the similar world views both share. Chavez, for example, believes that America is responsible for all the world’s ills – and so in his mind this justifies his efforts to build anti-American and anti-Western alliances. It would not be enough for him to merely concentrate on Venezuela’s soaring poverty, crime and endemic corruption – for all these things are for him related to the poisonous world order for which America is the No. 1 villain. One of Chavez’s favorite books is the paranoid anti-American and anti-European screed “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent” – a book he presented to Obama at a Summit of Americas conference in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Obama, for his part, has tacitly embraced significant aspects of Chavez’s anti-American world view – reflected in his deep bows to foreign leaders; his demonization of Wall Street and financially successful Americans (the “1 percenters”); and in his Middle East apology tour. Above all, Obama seems to believe America is a declining power and must maintain a lower-profile in the world; this for him is the best way to avoid international conflicts and create a peaceful world.

When Obama was elected, Chavez briefly toned down his anti-American broadsides and insults, saying: “I am ready to negotiate with the black man in the White House.” (It sounds a lot funnier when said in Spanish.) Since then, however, Chavez has tossed occasional barbs at Obama -- though he  hasn’t demonized him to the extent he did Bush.

Ultimately, though, it would be a mistake to take Chavez at his word when he sings Obama’s praises. He may believe what he’s saying on a certain level. But ultimately, Chavez and his leftist soul-mates hate the United States for what it is – not for what it does.

But don't expect Obama to understand that. He'll see Chavez's endorsement as evidence that he's doing something right -- rather than reflecting an embarrassing truism: "Show me your friends, and I'll tell you who you are." 

Originally published at The American Thinker blog

Cuba's new travel law a cynical ‘survival tactic’

By David Paulin

 
Cuba’s new travel law, announced on Tuesday in Cuba’s official newspaper Granma, is being spun by the Associated Press and others as a historic first by the communist regime – a long-overdue reform giving Cubans the freedom to travel abroad for the first time in more than 50 years.
 
In reality, the new law is a survival tactic by the Castro regime.
 
It's part of the same cynicism that was behind the Mariel boatlift in 1980 when 125,000 Cubans sailed to South Florida aboard private boats -- including criminals and mental patients whom Fidel Castro had set loose. It's part of the same cynicism that Castro demonstrated during the summer of 1984 -- when he looked the other way as tens of thousands of Cubans built rafts to escape their tropical prison.
 
So says a clear-eyed analysis of the new travel law by Fabiola Santiago in today’s Miami Herald, “New travel law just another survival tactic for Castro.”
 
As Santiago writes:
 
And now comes Raúl Castro, re-inventing his brother’s sure-footed strategy to send the enemy into exile — and relieve the pressure on the government to undertake meaningful reforms — by making it easier for the disenchanted masses to leave while retaining control of who travels.
 
While this may seem a blessing to a people without hope, when Cuba talks “immigration reform” and “new travel measures,” only one thing is certain: There will be major — and unfavorable — implications for the United States, particularly for South Florida.
 
Clues to Cuba’s intentions are in the details of the new rules.
 
They exempt medical professionals, scientists, and other desirable skilled would-be emigrants, and the military. They sweeten the offer to the Revolution-bred masses by assuring them that they would be welcomed back to Cuba and could retain their resident benefits as long as they return every two years.
 
In other words, travel to the mythical Miami, city with streets paved in exile gold; become a resident after a year under the Cuban Adjustment Act and be eligible for U.S. benefits; send thousands of dollars and goods to Cuba; come vacation in Varadero — and even collect a few pesos (those $20-a-month Cuban pensions), rent or sell your home and keep your old Lada.
 
“This is a way to get rid of Cuba’s population because they cannot meet the economic needs of the people,” says Andy S. Gomez, senior fellow at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. “They do it with bad intentions. They know that the young people of Cuba are looking for any opportunity to leave the country…. As a young woman told me in Santiago de Cuba, ‘Anywhere but here.’”
 
It’s also no accident that the new travel rules are timed to go into effect on Jan. 13, days from the U.S. presidential inauguration.
 
No matter who wins the election, Cuban officials will be able to peddle their brand of truth to the Cuban people — particularly the disenchanted youth — that it’s not their government prohibiting travel, but the imperialist monster to the North. Another ploy to force their way into the American agenda.
 
And so, then, forget about the positive spin being put forth about the new travel rules. The devil is in the details. 
 
Originally published at The American Thinker

October 4, 2012

Hugo Chavez: 'I am not a socialist!'

By David Paulin

Yes, Hugo Chavez really said it: "I am not a socialist!" Not recently, to be sure, but 14 years ago when Chavez - as a cashiered Army paratrooper who'd led a failed military coup in February 1992 -- was making a run for Venezuela's presidency.

"I am not a socialist!" he said during a television interview, wearing a suit and speaking in reasonable tones. This was when he was trying hard to convince voters - especially middle-class and well-off Venezuelans who were leery of him -- that he'd definitely cast aside the bullet for the ballot. Chavez, at the time, claimed he was an idealistic moderate who would pursue a "Third Way" between capitalism and socialism. He pledged to reverse wide-spread poverty, clean up endemic corruption, and restore the oil-rich but impoverished South American nation's national pride - a nation that, during the era of high oil prices, was a beacon of democracy in the region and, many Venezuelans believed, was poised to attain first-world status. Back then, the country was dubbed "Saudi Venezuela."

"I am not a socialist!" Chavez's words now figure prominently into a powerful YouTube video - "Yo no soy socialista" - that juxtaposes Chavez's original campaign pledges against his leftist rhetoric that started soon after he took office in 1999. The video comes as Chavez, 58, is in a close election race against 40-year-old state governor Henrique Capriles.

You don't need to understand Spanish to understand the video in which El Presidente -- who now speaks of creating a paradise of "21st Century Socialism" -- extols the virtues of "fatherland, socialism, or death" ("patria, socialismo o muerte) to an audience. At another point, he declares: "I am a true revolutionary!"



 In the mainstream media's Venezuela coverage, an important piece of context is often omitted regarding Chavez's rise to power - it's erroneously suggested that only Venezuela's poor voted for Chavez, who won the second-largest popular vote ever, 58.4%, in 1998. In fact, many middle-class and well-off Venezuelans voted for Chavez. They didn't see him as a messiah as did Venezuela's poor, to be sure. But they did regard him as a sincere reformer -- a political outsider not associated with Venezuela's traditional parties, a man who would be an antidote for Venezuela's decline.

But as the YouTube video dramatically shows, Chavez carried out a monstrous bait-and-switch after becoming president. Declaring himself a revolutionary socialist and adopting an anti-American foreign policy, despite Venezuela's historically close ties with the U.S., Chavez consolidated his power by rewriting the constitution and packing the Supreme Court and other institutions with his supporters. He demonized anybody who disagreed with him. It happened because of Venezuela's weak checks and balances and the popular wave of support on which Chavez was riding.

As a Caracas-based journalist at the time, I was impressed at the way some prescient Venezuelans, a minority to be sure, avoided group think. They saw Chavez as a wolf-in-sheep's clothing from the start. Even before Chavez's landslide election victory, for instance, many upper-level executives in state oil company PDVSA were resigning -- making plans for early retirement abroad, with Miami being a popular spot to weather the storm. Many were among Venezuela's best and brightest. They had wanted to be part of the solution to Venezuela's problems. But Chavez, a class warrior instead of a uniter, saw them as part of Venezuela's problems.

Ultimately, Chavez took three bad ideas from Venezuela's past - statism, authoritarianism, and bread-and-circus populism - and took them to new heights. He stoked anti-Americanism like never before, traveling frequently abroad as he made alliances with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Middle Eastern strongmen. He even praised Venezuelan-born terrorist Carlos the Jackal as a "worthy heir of the greatest [leftist] struggles."

As for PDVSA, it used to be one of the world's most respected state oil companies, a vital source of income. Under Chavez, it has become rife with political cronyism. Oil production has declined significantly, according to many observers. It's thought the Chavez administration's mismanagement was responsible for a huge refinery explosion last month - whose flames, as shown in the "I-am-not-a-socialist" video, look like scenes from hell. It's an apt metaphor for what "21st Century socialism" has brought to Venezuela.

In his reelection campaign, Chavez has had a clear advantage. He controls the levers of power and has no qualms about using state resources to aid his campaign, as was underscored on Tuesday with a report from television news channel Globovision: It showed PDVSA vehicles driving around with Chavez campaign stickers.
 
 
Capriles is good looking compared to the puffy-faced Chavez who claims to be in remission from cancer; and in Venezuela -- home to many beauty queens -- looks matter. Capriles has connected with audiences by hammering away at Venezuela's epic levels of corruption, mismanagement, and Chavez's willingness to use Venezuela's oil to support leftist political goals abroad -- all while Venezuela has suffered regular electricity outages, food shortages, and one of the world's highest murder rates.

What will happen when Venezuelans go to the polls this Sunday? It may be ugly. Chavez, after all, sees himself as being on a divine mission, a veritable reincarnation of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar, his hero. He believes the ends justify the means. Most ominously, Chavez and his senior advisers have asserted that Venezuela will suffer violence and political instability if he's not reelected. All of which raises fears that the country is poised for a social explosion, with Chavez's most fanatical supporters and government forces taking to the streets. This would be in response to a Capriles victory - or perhaps in response to a Chavez victory that's regarded by enraged Capriles' supporters as being rigged.

"A number of multinational companies with operations in Venezuela (including oil companies) are updating contingency plans to pull their expatriate staff out of the country quickly if there's a sudden eruption of social and political conflict," writes blogger Caracas Gringo, a prescient American expat who writes anonymously from Venezuela.
-
Whoever wins, Venezuela's sad decline will not be reversed anytime soon. 


Originally published at The American Thinker blog and FrontPage Magazine

August 6, 2012

Liberal appeals court judge removed from hearing Tom DeLay's case


Originally published at the American Thinker blog



David Paulin


Tom DeLay has been on a legal odyssey for one-and-one-half years -- a seemingly Quixotic effort to get a fair hearing before the 3rd Court of Appeals in Texas. On Friday, however, the former U.S. House Republican Majority leader won a critical legal skirmish -- the removal of Democratic Justice Diane Henson from hearing his appeal for financial and election-law crimes.

Who is Henson? Certainly no paragon of judicial impartiality. In the past, she has publicly vilified the state's Republican judges as "zealots." More ominously, she indicated a desire to hear DeLay's appeal to ensure justice was done.

All of which gives credence to Republicans who have long suspected that DeLay was the victim of a Democratic witch hunt in the liberal bastion of Travis County, where he was tried and convicted by a Democratic prosecutor

A recap of recent history regarding the DeLay case is in order. In January 2011, DeLay was convicted in an Austin courtroom of money laundering: specifically, of illegally funneling $190,000 of corporate money into campaign donations during the 2002 election. From the start, though, the charges against DeLay seemed to push the legal envelope of what constitutes money laundering -- a crime more commonly associated with drug kingpins and thugs. To the delight of many in Travis County, DeLay was nevertheless sentenced to three years in prison. He has been free during his appeal.

Which brings us back to DeLay's wanna-be Grand Inquisitor, Judge Henson. In demanding her removal, DeLay's lawyer Brian Wice of Houston raised alarm bells over a Republican-bashing speech that Henson delivered in 2006 at the state's Democratic Party convention. Henson at the time was a candidate for the Austin-based appellate court -- and she knew how to get the attention of fellow Democrats. In her very first sentence after introducing herself, Henson called attention to an interesting fact about the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals. "It is the court of appeals that would hear the appeal of Tom DeLay if by chance he was convicted," she declared.

Henson also lambasted President George Bush's criticism of activist liberal judges, telling the audience "the only activist judges we have in Texas are those conservative right-wing zealots that control our courts today, and they are Republicans." What's more, she said, the GOP has "filled the courts, our appellate courts, with extremists, with people that are controlled by special interests, big insurance companies and big corporations."

Her remarks drew shouts of approval and applause. Her performance may be seen in the YouTube clip, below:



The Austin American-Statesman broke the story of Henson removal, with reporter Laylan Copelin noting in a Sunday article that the 3rd Court of Appeals had announced Henson's removal, without explanation, on its website on Friday. In the past, Henson had not commented on Wice's motion to remove her. She also "had refused to recuse herself from the case," the Statesman noted.

Obviously delighted with Henson's removal, Wice told the Statesman: "All we ever asked for was a level playing field. That wasn't going to happen as long as Justice Henson's DNA was on the case."

To date, DeLay's quest for an impartial panel of appellate judges has been a tortuous one, but not merely because of Judge Henson. As the Statesman explained:

(DeLay's) appeal was delayed when three of the four Republican justices on the 3rd Court recused themselves from hearing the case. They gave no reason for stepping aside. That left DeLay's fate in the hands of two Democrats and a Republican.

When Wice challenged Henson, the 3rd Court was down to Chief Justice Woodie Jones, a Democrat, and Justice Melissa Goodwin, a Republican, to decide whether Henson could hear the DeLay case.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson added a third, temporary justice to hear the motion against Henson. He appointed San Antonio District Judge David Berchelmann Jr., a Republican and a former criminal appellate justice.

With Henson now off the case, Wice said Saturday he expects Jefferson will appoint a justice to hear oral arguments with Jones and Goodwin.

Arguments in the politically charged case are expected to go forward this fall.

All in all, Henson must be fuming over her removal in light of her apparent eagerness to sit in judgment of DeLay. Previously, one of her biggest claims to fame was having written an opinion for the 3rd Court of Appeals that upheld the right of two lesbians who'd gotten married in Massachusetts to get divorced in Texas - even though Texas prohibits same-sex marriage.

Editor's note: Also see an earlier American Thinker article, "Tom DeLay and moral equivalence in Travis County, Texas."