We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Now you can camp with your laptop

This item just in from Fox News:

“NEC initially plans to introduce a computer with a fuel-cell system able to run for five consecutive hours on a single cartridge of methanol fuel, but also plans to make a PC within two years that can run continuously for as long as 40 hours”

If they get up to 40 hours on a single refillable charge, the laptop becomes a useful accessory for wilderness work where power is far away. This will be a major boon to naturalists, geologists and other field scientists.

It will also be of immense advantage to Special Forces. A long lived and lighter portable equipment power technology is certain to be welcome in the backpack.

FBI warns Mexican ID card a threat

The Washington Times reports that the FBI has concluded that the Matricula Consular card, issued by the Mexican government to Mexicans living in the United States, “is not a reliable form of identification” and poses a criminal and terrorist threat.

Steven McCraw, the assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Intelligence, said the identification cards are easy to obtain through fraud, and lack adequate security measures to prevent easy forgery. He cited examples of alien smugglers being arrested with up to seven different cards and an Iranian national who was arrested with a Matricula Consular card in his name.

Opponents of the cards’ use say they have turned into a back-door amnesty that allows illegal aliens to blend into society by letting them obtain bank accounts and some state and local services. Rep. Elton Gallegly, California Republican said:

The only people who need these cards are illegal immigrants, and sometimes criminals or terrorists.

None of the witnesses at a House immigration panel held last week could dispute that claim and the State Department admitted they have not studied the issue.

Link via World Watch Daily.

Truce or Truth?

Yesterday:

The hardline Palestinian Islamic organisations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction have declared a suspension of attacks against Israel.

Today:

But a Palestinian shooting killed a Romanian truck driver in the West Bank, and gunmen opened fire on workers near the border with Israel, suggesting some armed bands had not been brought into line with the day-old cease-fire called by militant groups.

Tomorrow?

The State moves to crush tax dissent

While opinions may vary on the correctness of the opinions of people who believe the income tax was illegally instituted – and there is some historical evidence that on the issue of employer withholding they are correct – few libertarians would disagree they have a right to say it.

That right is exactly what is being abridged:

“On Monday, June 16, Federal District Court Judge Lloyd D. George issued a preliminary injunction banning the sale and distribution of Irwin Schiff’s book about the income tax titled, “The Federal Mafia: How The Government Illegally Imposes And Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes And How Americans Can Fight Back.”

Say what you will, this is a rather vile and blatant breach of the First Amendment. Judge George should be severely reprimanded.

If you are interested in very large court documents, I’ve made the Court Order available for reading.

And speaking of Judges who should be reprimanded… A Texas judge who was in trouble once before has reverted to his previous bad behavior and placed a tax withholding protestor in jail without bond and after improper procedures.

This was after a previous hearing in which the judge nearly laughed the State out of court over their claim the dissenting corporate CEO was a flight risk. While their victim is in jail, the IRS is spreading rumours the company has been dissolved. Creditors are calling the victimized company demanding cash payments.

Just one more example of “Your Government Servicing You”… like a bull with a cow…

Good news… bad news

We got a mention in The Times (link may not work if you are outside the UK) today in an article about blogging by Michael Gove. Excellent.

And they go our URL completely wrong. Bugger.

I called up The Times this morning and asked them to at least correct the URL for the on-line edition. And did they? Nope. It seems the wheels grind extremely slowly at The Times.

Oh, and Michael… I ready don’t think our antipathy to statist solutions to most things makes us ‘right wing’ as social conservatives we ain’t.

Truth about trains

Last week, Connex became the first private rail operator to be stripped of its franchise after being accused of financial mismanagement and poor service. The company, which carries 300,000 commuters a day, has become a byword for crowded, dirty and late-running trains.

What caught my eye was the fact that Connex is a French-owned company and the main reason for its demise is its contant pleas for funds. Connex has lost its franchise mainly because of its financial management. The SRA (Strategic Rail Authority) decided the extra £200 million of public subsidy demanded by the company would not be wisely spent (after it has already spent £58 million of public money received last December).

In the last couple of weeks we have had some interesting exchanges among commenters attacking and defending France. The trains were held as an example of French superiority in matters of public policy and generally as the evidence of higher civilisation in France. Ross Clark points out in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph:

If there is one good thing to come out of Connex’s humiliation, it will be that it should stop British railway passengers whining: “Why can’t we run our trains like the French do?” Connex, of course, is a French company, which brought with it to Britain experience of running commuter services in Paris.

The superiority of French trains is hugely overstated. TGV trains may be rapid and relatively inexpensive to use, but that is an inter-city service with few stops and it operates thanks only to state subsidies which would make a British taxpayer squeal. Most other French trains run on slack and infrequent timetables which ensure punctuality but at the cost of providing little amenity for the passenger. On holiday in Brittany two years ago I took my family on a 15-mile train ride from Paimpol to Guincamp. The journey took well over half an hour, excluding the 10 minutes that it took to buy a ticket. It cost £17 for two adults and two children; and there were only three trains a day.

The problem with travelling by train in London and the South-East is the millions of passengers being transported over an increasingly large urban area. The rail network is far from efficient but comparing it to the French equivalent is misleading at best. I am sure the guys from the Transport blog could supply all the relevant comparative statistics but even without them one can see that conveying commuters in London is, at least when it comes to size, a slightly different proposition to doing that in Paris, Rome or other European capitals.

A nasty taste

An opinion piece in today’s Telegraph alerts the readers:

A dangerous and disagreeable piece of legislation comes before the House of Lords today. In order to implement the EU’s directive on higher-dose vitamin supplements, the Government proposes to ban nearly 300 products currently on sale in our health stores.

The proscription of these vitamins is the first in a series of EU regulations dealing with alternative remedies. A second directive, covering herbal medicines, is already clanking its way through the machinery of state. There are proposals to regulate homoeopathy, and even to require a standard European qualification for herbalists (who, in England and Wales, have operated under a statute dating from Tudor times).

These restrictions are driven by something called “the precautionary principle”. The concept, emanating from Brussels and very popular with the EU types “holds that nothing should be legal until it can be shown to be safe”. In other words, it reverses the burden of proof.

The issue is not one of science, but of freedom. Here is a horrible demonstration of how the EU system can work, elevating corporate interests over individuals, and tossing aside all considerations of liberty and fairness in pursuit of harmonisation.

Voting against the legislation is, alas, only a gesture, since EU rules come into force automatically in Britain, but it is a gesture that should be made none the less.

Club of queer trades

According to the Adam Smith Institute, public sector jobs such as “walking officers”, “anti-social co-ordinators”, “diversity co-ordinators” and an army of other such appointments are costing the British taxpayer more than £1 billion a year.

The job section of the Society Guardian supplement has been monitored by the researchers at the ASI for a month. They calculated that public sector jobs whose purpose it at best vague, at worst utterly non-sensical amount to around £1bn a year.

How did this come about? Dr Madsen Pirie, the president of the institute, explains that one enters “the twilight zone of political correctness translated into situations vacant“.

In some issues the Society supplement consists of over 100 pages. Each page features several jobs. The sheer volume of them is immense. It is like entering into another country. One leaves behind the world of productive activity, of goods and services for which people are willing to pay. One leaves the wealth-creating process which sustains our present and future livelihood and Britain’s economic position in the world. One enters instead into a world of public sector services, some of which seem to be of dubious, if any, economic value. The pages take the reader into a world inhabited by anti-social behaviour co-ordinators, of racial equality officers, of social inclusion officers and community liaison officers.

Indeed, job descriptions sound all pretty barmy, here are some of my favourite ones:

Durham County Council – Young People’s Substance Misuse Tier 3 Service Manager (£30k)

Chorley Borough Council – Anti-Social Behaviour co-ordinator

East Kent Coastal Care Trust – Smoking Cessation Specialist: Inequalities (£20k)

Herefordshire Council – Public Rights of Way Developments Officer (£14.8-20.5k)

Bad Court Judgements

With the exception of the judgement by the Supreme Court to overturn the Texas anti-sodomy law, the last few days have seen some bad judgements in both the United States and Britain.

Indeed even the sodomy case was dodgy – in that a good result was achieved by, I suspect, bad methods.

True I have not been able to bring myself to read the judgements (reading the words of modern judges tends to make very depressed), but unless they used the elastic Ninth Amendment (which, perhaps, could be used to stop the Federal, State of local governments doing just about anything – which might be no bad thing) it is hard to see how the six judges found anything in the Constitution to prevent the State of Texas banning sodomy. I suspect that the judges tended to waffle on about freedom – i.e. expressed their political opinions (which I happen to agree with this time) rather than actually based the judgement on the text of the Constitution (as they should have done).

As for the other cases that have caught my eye.

Well the University of Michigan has been told that it is okay to practice racial discrimination – as long as it is not open and honest about doing so (diversity waffle rather than an overt quota). This would seem to be the worst of both worlds. Of course there is an easy way to solve the problem of who goes to State Universities – close them down and have no one go to them. However, whilst they exist, it would seem reasonable that such places do not make skin colour a factor in admissions (but five of the Supremes think differently). Oh well, who reads the 14th Amendment anyway – ‘equal protection of the laws’? No, let us have ‘diversity’ instead (although the Constitution does not mention the word diversity anywhere).

Then there was the Nike case. The Supreme Court decided that if a company decided to argue back against attacks made on it, the company may be taken to Court under California’s wonderfully biased statutes. In short the First Amendment applies to ‘activists’ (individuals or groups) attacking a company, but not to the business itself.

Back in Britain we have just had the long predicted outcome to the mobile phone (cell phone) farce. Some time ago the government manipulated some mobile phone companies into paying vast sums (billions of pounds) for mobile phone licences – this put these companies into financial difficulty. Fast forwards a few years later and the government declared that companies must cut their call rates.

In short the companies had paid through the nose and then got hit on the nose. They sued – and have just lost.

The old saying is proved right yet again – never trust the government.

And remember, the courts are part of the state.

Washed Up

The Guardian has reported on the latest developments in Money Laundering. This is the process whereby you have to prove your identity in order to open a bank account and shows that your money has not been received from an illicit source. Under the Money Laundering rules, enthusiastically expanded by the Financial Services Authority, this process is named as “know your customer”.

This is an example of where the rules provide authority for a particular group, cashiers, who proceed, in certain cases, to abuse it without any form of accountability. It would appear that bank staff have been demanding loudly for proof of identity and where the customer received their cash or cheque. Understandably, the customer finds this distasteful and intrusive.
However, the FSA states that it is only implementing the rules set by Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union.

The other intrusion into the financial privacy of the citizen involves the notification of any transaction above £10,700 in a suspicious activity report to the National Criminal Intelligence Service. There are an expected 100,000 SARs anticipated this year “from banks, financial advisers, estate agents, lawyers, accountants, jewellers and high value car dealers“. New rules on house purchase have resulted in deposits above £10,700, paid in cash, being sent for investigation as a SAR. Most of these SARs will not be examined because the reporting system is overwhelmed and understaffed. There are perverse consequences:

Fraud experts such as Liesel Annible of accountants Bentley Jennison, who is UK president of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, believes the system can actually help criminals.

“What does NCIS do with all these reports? Firms are now disclosing so much because of the fear of prosecution that there is a danger of serious infringements being hidden by and lost under the noise of all the minor problems and unfounded suspicions. All these SARs just gum up the works – the vast majority are just stored”, she says.

One enters a strange world where the Royal Bank of Scotland can be fined £750,000 for breaching these strict rules even though no evidence of money laundering was ever found; and where rules for identity are enforced whilst money laundering often takes place elsewhere. The final consequence of these rules is that those who are unable to provide proof, especially the poor, find that they have an additional hurdle to overcome if they wish to use the financial infrastructure within the United Kingdom.

There are a number of indications from this article that the process of subcontracting the enforcement of regulation to private sector bodies results in unaccountable staff intruding upon the financial privacy of the ordinary citizen. A more positive note is that, where the citizen finds that his expectations of certain freedoms are abrogated, the response is anger rather than apathy.

The money laundering rules have perverse consequences and demonstrate that the financial privacy enjoyed by the British has been sacrificed to observe a set of regulations that have not worked.

Treated like criminals

EU Observer has an article about the European Commission’s proposal to treat European citizens as criminals or at least as criminal suspects. No really.

Apparently, the heads of state for EU countries who met in Greece last week have given the ‘green light’ to the process of collection of biometric data such as fingerprints, iris scan or DNA for a chip inbedded in the passports of all EU citizens.

Thomas Rupp of the European Referendum Campaign is not impressed:

Somehow – obviously – I suffer from a clash of realities: Didn’t a lot of people last year talk about “democratisation” of the European Union and making it more “citizen friendly”? – Right: this event was called the “Convention on the Future of Europe”. Obviously the future of Europe now begins with the need of EU citizens to provide their most intimate data to the state.

[...]

Provided this law will pass and they ask me for my personal data… Shall I give my fingerprints – or even my DNA – to a growing state which does not fulfil the minimum standards of a modern democracy? Where there is no separation of powers? That has a parliament, which has no right to initiate law? Where – instead – non-elected public servants have the monopoly to initiate law, which in the end is decided by the executives of the member states – avoiding control by their national parliaments?

[...]

Suppose I refuse to give away my fingerprints? What would happen? Would I immediately be classified a criminal? Someone who has to hide something, with bad intentions? Would I have to go to jail? Would I have to leave the European Union?

Well, rhetorical questions aside, there are no surprises here from the European Commission.

Link via World Watch Daily.

White Rose quote of the day

I do not believe that I was entirely convinced by the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, that the bureaucracy can be trusted to safeguard our liberty… I believe that, beyond anything else, the preservation of liberty is the business of Parliament and of others who are not concerned with government or, in other ways, with the powers in the land. They must ensure that this critical part of our being a free and worthwhile nation is preserved.

When we consider legislation which, in particular, poses a danger to liberty, we must not give the Government blanket permissions; we must justify each and every trespass. We must ensure that the Government do not only do things because they can but that, when they do things, they are effective. We must also ensure that the Government consider all possible ways of achieving the same end without the diminution of our liberty.

It is common that authorities do things because they can or that they choose to do the things that they can do rather than the things that are important.
– Lord Lucas in Security and Liberty debate in House of Lords, 26th March 2003

Link via FIPR