Friday, August 29, 2008

"Dangerous" board game seized by moronic British police

A War On Terror board game designed in Cambridge has been seized by police who claim the balaclava in the set could be used in a criminal act. The satirical board game was confiscated along with knives, chisels and bolt cutters, from climate protesters during a series of raids near Kingsnorth power station, in Kent, last week.

The game's creators, Andrew Sheerin and Andy Tompkins, web designers from Cambridge, have expressed total shock at the inclusion of their toy among "criminal" items. Andrew, 32, said: "I saw pictures of the board game in papers and was absolutely baffled. "Surely no member of the public is going to believe that a board game could be used as a weapon?"

War on Terror, similar to games like Risk, revolves around creating empires that compete and wage war. But there is a twist - players can poke fun at the rhetoric of world leaders like George Bush and Tony Blair. The game was born from the frustration of its creators as they sat watching the news in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Each player starts as an empire filled with good intentions and a determination to liberate the world from terrorists and from each other.

Then the reality of world politics kicks and terrorist states emerge. Andrew said: "The terrorists can win and quite often do and it's global anarchy. It sums up the randomness of geo-politics pretty well."

In their cardboard version of realpolitik George Bush's "Axis of Evil" is reduced to a spinner in the middle of the board, which determines which player is designated a terrorist state. That person then has to wear a balaclava (included in the box set) with the word "Evil" stitched on to it.

Kent police said they had confiscated the game because the balaclava "could be used to conceal someone's identity or could be used in the course of a criminal act".

Andrew fumed: "It's absurd. A beard can conceal someone's identity. Are the police going to start banning beards?"

All High Street retailers declined to stock the controversial game. But more than 12,000 copies have been sold online or through independent stockists.


England's surveillance state at work

Dreary old England is suffering mightily under the weight of the authoritarian government of the Labour Party. Labour has been working assiduously to impose a total surveillance state trampling on traditional British freedoms. First, here is a video of the local police randomly stopping people and demanding to search them. As they make clear, if you do not "consent" to being searched you will be arrested. Of course, once they arrest you they can search you. In other words, in England, the police may search anyone they wish, anytime they wish without any probable cause.

One British "subject" has filmed this sort of police state mentality. It is hard to understand some aspects of the video as the sound is not totally up to par. Please note that these these officers are not only searching the man's belongings but frisking him, going through his pockets, looking in his wallet, and flipping through the books he reads. Notice the lie they tell. They argue that they are looking for anything that can be used by terrorists. But they start going through his credit cards and looking through his wallet. And then, when they find nothing wrong, they send in his details to check up on the man.

Basically the cops end up arguing that anything a "terrorists" could use can be inspected by them at any time they wish. Of course the terrorists can use anything. Also watch as people walk by and look over at this poor man being searched. You know that many of them are wondering what this man did that was illegal to be apprehended by the police.

The last time I was in the UK I saw a thug harassing an older woman inside the local McDonalds. I complained to the staff who did nothing. I went outside and told the police. The thug walked out and I pointed him out. The police REFUSED to do anything saying they didn't want to "embarrass" him in "front of his mates". Apparently guilty people shouldn't be embarrassed but innocent people deserve to be frisked, searched and checked out on some central data base. Sieg heil! The one thing I will say is that, as disgusting as this is, in the U.S. merely asking the police the questions this man asked would have gotten him beaten, perhaps tasered and possibly shot.

Meanwhile the Telegraph reports that the local councils are using the antiterrorism surveillance systems to spy on "couples' sleeping arrangements." Taxes are based, not only on the value of property, but also on the number of people living there. So councils "undertake `surveillance' of cars registered to addresses `to substantiate the allegation of living together.'" Documents from one council show they are checking to see if couples are living "as husband and wife."

In Thurrock single residents are required to sign a document giving blanket permission to local bureaucrats "to enter their home as part of an inspection" to determine if they really are single or in a couple. If they have a partner their tax rate increases by one-third. A spokesman for the Conservative Party said:
Day by day under Labour, the country is sleepwalking into a surveillance state, where spying on citizens has become the norm. Laws which were originally intended to tackle the most serious crimes and safeguard the public are now being deployed routinely and without hesitation.

Councils will naturally wish to ensure that council tax discounts and benefits are not wrongly claimed. But I am concerned that innocent citizens will be spied on through heavy-handed and disproportionate use by town hall snoopers. There are far less intrusive and more cost-effective ways of vetting council tax, such as through data matching, rather than paying town hall officials to camp out overnight outside people's homes.

The fact such snooping is already over-used by local authorities bodes ill for the planned powers for town halls to access communications data. There are insufficient checks and balances to prevent people's sex lives being habitually monitored by state bureaucrats, purely because they claim a council tax discount for living alone.
Bureaucrats with the Local Government Association have a unique stand on the matter. They say "Pretending to live alone to defraud the taxpayer is not a victimless crime." This goes on the assumption that your wealth belongs to the government and they let you keep some of it. If you keep more of your own income then the government has to take more of other people's income. So it is your fault that they are confiscating more wealth from other people. Thus keeping your own money is a crime against others.

Already it has been shown that government powers initially created to "stop terrorism" have been used by councils to arrest people whose dog took a shit in the wrong place or who dumped trash in the wrong location.

But one government official, with the title of Interception of Communications Commissioner, Paul Kennedy, complained that the local councils were not using their spying powers enough. He suggested that more councils spy on people to fight crimes "such as skipping work and filing fraudulent overtime claims." The Telegraph reports: "Councils across the country were criticised last month as it emerged that they used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act up to 10,000 times a year to investigate such petty offences as dog fouling and under-age smoking."

And while the Conservative Party is, this now, whining about the surveillance state, only days ago they were demanding that police powers be expanded to do more surveillance. Then another Tory spokesman said: "It is not right that we charge our police with combating crime and disorder and then tie their hands behind their backs.... the police should be given both the resources and the freedom to use those resources to do their job." In that incident the Tories said that restraints to protect citizens from spying were "red tape" and promised to make it easier to spy, including putting in wire taps, without any court permission required.


Character is Relevant!

This country has gone through some deep changes about this issue: is a politician's sex life "private" in the sense that it is irrelevant to what we should think about the things he or she does or will do as a "public" official?

During the agony of the Clinton sex scandals I tried to interest a class I was teaching on moral character in writing a term paper on this issue, and they were struck dumb -- literally -- by the suggestion that there is a discussable issue here. When I prodded them with a few questions, I was told that the idea that a politician's sexual behavior is relevant to our moral or political judgments about them as politicians is a myth invented by cynical Republicans, who are pursuing their own political ends. In other words, as a philosophical issue, it is utterly beneath contempt. Well, then, I said, what do you think of the Mother of All Character Issues: Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. If these allegations are true, do they give us some reason to chisel him off Mount Rushmore? Or not? What do you think? Anybody? Anybody?

No one wrote on that issue. I concluded that the students' view was probably the standard one among Democrats at the time, including those who constitute almost 90% of my esteemed colleagues at the university. I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and I can only gain insight into how such people think in the same way that an anthropologist finds out about the beliefs of distant tribes: by observing the behavior of others. Introspection is less than no help at all. Today, using the same methods, I conclude that things have changed. During the flap about Edwards, it became obvious that many of his supporters (or former supporters) it were genuinely disappointed by his behavior. Today, his political status seems to be somewhere in the category of damaged goods.

What do I think about this issue, other than that it really is an issue?I have actually written on theoretical issues that bear on this question but every time it pops up I find myself thinking about -- not some theory or argument but -- a comment someone made to me while we were watching a movie.

He was a Russian scientist, here to do research, and we were watching the original airing of a made-for-cable biopic about Stalin, in the early years of the Clinton agonies. During a scene in which Stalin (Robert Duval) was treating his wife, Nadezhda, in a particularly beastly way (she later committed suicide), my companion became very upset and said something like: "This is what drives be crazy. How can people say that the way Clinton treats women has nothing to do with what we should think of him as a politician? What Stalin was doing to his wife, he later did to the whole country! The same thing!"

A similar point is made about Hitler's relationship with Geli Raubal in a fairly good novel by Ron Hansen. I hope it is obvious that I am not comparing Clinton and Edwards to Hitler and Stalin -- the issue here is the (in some broad sense) logical one of whether the "private" realm of a person's life is a separate compartment from the "public" one, with no inferences (not even probablistic ones) allowed from one to the other.

To accept the compartmentalization idea is very close to denying that there is such a thing as moral character at all. The idea of character is the idea that there is a certain kind of connection between one's acts: that people act from traits, like courage and cowardice. If you do a brave thing, that is evidence that you have the trait of courage and are a courageous person. Not conclusive evidence, because acting out of character is possible. Compartmentalization is also possible. A person can be a hero in the face of physical dangers and a coward about moral ones. I don't deny for a minute that this sort of looseness and independence between the parts of one's life is possible. But the compartmentalization idea implies that such things are not merely possible but necessary.

In effect, the compartmentalization idea says that, necessarily, there two Stalins: the one who abused Nadezhda, and the one who abused Russia. It is simply a coincidence that they were both abusive. But why only two? Applied consistently, the idea would disintegrate the person into an infinitude of homunculi, with no connection between them. That, of course, is not how things are.


Social Security Increases Poverty

One of the most common arguments supporting Social Security is that it reduces poverty among the elderly. Last week, Barack Obama stated that, "Social Security has lifted millions of seniors and their families out of poverty. Without it, nearly 50 percent of seniors would live below the poverty line." This is almost certainly untrue.

Social Security affects poverty among the elderly in two offsetting ways. While it reduces poverty by providing income to retired persons, it discourages private saving during the working years-ultimately decreasing the private assets people bring to their retirement. The net effect of this is increased poverty among the retired population.

To understand this conclusion, it is important to compare the rate of return on taxes paid that is generated by Social Security to the rate of return people could receive on their private saving. For those retiring in 2008, the average implicit real (inflation-adjusted) rate of return on Social Security taxes paid was slightly below 3 percent-and it is scheduled to decline to under 2 percent in the next forty years. In contrast, if people retiring in 2008 had invested the taxes they paid into Social Security in a balanced portfolio (60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds), they would have received a return of 5.5 percent.

The difference between a 5.5 percent return and a 3.0 percent return may not sound like much, but in annual returns compounded over a lifetime, this difference has a huge influence on the income available during retirement. In fact, the annual retirement income provided by a 5.5 percent return is double than that provided by the 3.0 percent return of Social Security. Even more compelling, an investment in the stock market averages a 7 percent real return, which would mean an annual income of three times what Social Security provides. In short, it is likely that we would have fewer poor among the elderly had they been free to invest their taxes in private assets. Once Social Security's rate of return drops to below 2 percent, it will only continue to aggravate poverty in the future.

While this simple comparison is compelling, it overlooks the huge hidden costs of this system. By reducing the incentive for workers to save privately for their own retirement, we reduce the economy's saving and investment in productive assets. This means the economy grows more slowly as a result of Social Security and people end up with lower incomes even before they pay their taxes. When this cost is taken into account, the real return from Social Security to those retiring today is actually negative!

And things are only going to get worse. Although Obama assures us, "the underlying [Social Security] system is sound," economists have emphasized for years that this is not the case. Today, government expenditures on Social Security and its companion retirement program, Medicare, are 7.3 percent of GDP. However, the Boards of Trustees of Social Security and Medicare tell us that figure will rise to 15.2 percent by 2040 if we don't change the rules for determining benefits.

Ultimately that means we will have to more than double tax rates to pay the benefits Congress has unwisely legislated. Or we will have to cut benefits in half, or some combination. Raising taxes would be disastrous-imagine a 35 percent payroll tax rate (compared to the present 15.3 percent) and higher income tax rates as well. And since Medicare is partially funded by the federal income tax, its rates would have to rise as well.

Neither option is attractive, but cutting benefits is clearly preferable since people would then depend more on private saving. Most economists favor gradually raising the retirement age as the least painful way of cutting benefits. But the longer we wait, the harder it is to implement this option and the more likely we will be forced to accept substantially higher taxes.

The elderly poor, as well as the rest of us, are ill served by politicians who systematically downplay the huge costs of Social Security and delay confronting what is indeed a true crisis



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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