Lies, Spies, and Videotape.

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Edward Snowden. Hero? Traitor? Irrelevant?

It’s a big deal, and the calls for lionization, incarceration, exculpation, evaporation, and a lot of other “-ations” are beginning to ring from coast to coast and across the world.

I have no doubt the NSA, CIA, FBI, and Mogg knows what other hush-hush agencies would like to see this man suffer in the fiery heat of Satan’s hottest furnace for eternity. On the other hand, civil libertarians are calling for an immediate pardon for a man they see as a brave and fearless national hero.

It appears that Snowden certainly broke the law in releasing the information that he did, but in so doing it also appears that he brought to light an even greater violation of principles than he himself is guilty of. So where do we draw the line?

mission-impossible-season-5

“As usual, if you or any member of your IM force is caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”

Sean Connery as James Bond

License to Kill

Spies are paid to lie. Governments who employ them lie on a regular basis. The popularity of the action/spy thrillers on TV and in movies proves that we expect, nay, demand it. In real life it may not be right, but it becomes a matter of national security in some cases; nations simply don’t operate along the same moral lines as we would like them to. Can you imagine what would happen if governments were  completely open, honest, and transparent with one another? [1] The “good guys” are pretty much obliged to resort to deception and subterfuge to combat the “bad guys,” and keep their nations safe. That’s what the NSA and the CIA are there to do. For what it’s worth, we even spy on our friends. Don’t ask me how I know… I’d have to lie to protect certain other people.

Unfortunately, the CIA and NSA and other alphabet-soup agencies have also been tasked with things that have much less to do with keeping our nation safe than with keeping it rich, at the expense of other governments and peoples. If you’d like a glimpse into that shadowy world, read “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” by John Perkins; it will most likely raise both your eyebrows and your conscience. An extract of Amazon’s review:

“John Perkins started and stopped writing Confessions of an Economic Hit Man four times over 20 years. He says he was threatened and bribed in an effort to kill the project, but after 9/11 he finally decided to go through with this expose of his former professional life. Perkins, a former chief economist at Boston strategic-consulting firm Chas. T. Main, says he was an “economic hit man” for 10 years, helping U.S. intelligence agencies and multinationals cajole and blackmail foreign leaders into serving U.S. foreign policy and awarding lucrative contracts to American business. “Economic hit men (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars,” Perkins writes. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is an extraordinary and gripping tale of intrigue and dark machinations. Think John Le Carré, except it’s a true story.”

What has been revealed by Snowdon goes far, far beyond keeping our nation safe from external evils; it has much more to do with controlling a domestic population, and despite groans and sobs of denial from those in the know, I can’t believe – I refuse to believe – that this massive accumulation of data can and will not be used for financial and potentiary gain by those in a position to access and use it.

And the fact that this mind-boggling misuse power was authorized years ago by the “patriot act” does not make it any more right. I’m glad it came to light, and I’m glad there’s a dialog going on, and I hope that some people are going to get their feet held to the fire, and I hope that what comes out of it is more transparency, and better for the citizenry of our country than for the power brokers.

I don’t condone illegal behavior. But I do believe in the principle of the “greater good.” I think Mr. Snowdon has recognized that his actions would carry a heavy price, and it was a price he is willing to pay to act according to the dictates of his conscience. I have no idea how all this is going to play out, but for me, at this moment, I’m keeping him in the plus column.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] Somewhere out there is a science fiction story (or perhaps creative fantasy) about a special blend of coffee that mutates somewhere, and has the stunning effect of making people reasonable. After drinking some of it, the French delegate to the UN stands up and shouts, “It’s all balls!” In the end, the entire world has partaken, and governments actually start acting with decency and common sense, for the good of all the people of the world. I have never been able to relocate this story. If it sounds similar to Mark Clifton’s 1952 story “The Conqueror,” that’s not surprising – instead of coffee it was a mutant pychotropic dahlia root that changed the world:

“So it came about that one by one the members of the Politbureau tasted of the dahlia, even to the leader himself.

All of this took much time, and meanwhile heads of other nations who were not so suspicious of every shadow, and not so inaccessible, were eating regularly of the dahlia.

When finally the sincere word of peace and goodwill came ringing from Moscow to all the world, it was echoed back with all sincerity.”

A lovely story. Read it, if you’d like a smile.

A Sad Tale of Abuse of Power

On May 21, 2012, Barbara Alice Mahaffey died of colon cancer in her home in Vernal, Utah. It was 12:35 AM, and her husband Ben and a friend who was also an EMT were at her side. Within ten minutes, a hospice worker and a mortician were present to attend to the remains… along with Vernal police officers Shawn Smith and Rod Eskelson. Instead of allowing Mr. Mahaffey to grieve and attend to his wife’s body, they insisted that he stop what he was doing and help them search for any prescription painkillers his wife had been using.

The search was warrantless. No one knows how the police came to be there in the first place.

“I was indignant to think you can’t even have a private moment. All these people were there and they’re not concerned about her or me. They’re concerned about the damn drugs. Isn’t that something?” Mahaffey said. Mahaffey said he was treated as if he were going to sell the painkillers, which included OxyContin, oxycodone and morphine, on the street. “I had no interest in the drugs,” he said. “I’m no addict.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Mahaffey wasn’t happy about what happened, or how he was treated. He complained. And the story gets worse.

Mr. Mahaffey says he asked Assistant Police Chief Campbell where his officers had gotten authority to enter the home without invitation and conduct a warrantless search, and was abruptly told that the Utah Controlled Substances Act granted the requisite authority.

City Manager Ken Bassett dismissed plaintiff’s concerns by saying that his own parents had recently passed away, and that although their prescription drugs had not been seized by the police, he would not have cared had the police done so. He also informed Mr. Mahaffey that he was being “overly sensitive to the actions by the police, and that the police were only acting to protect the public from the illegal use of the prescription drugs.”

The city attorney told Mahaffey that his contract with Good Shepherd Hospice waived his rights to be protected from police intrusion in his home, but no such clause in the contract appears to exist.

Chief of Police Dylan Rooks allegedly told Mr. Mahaffey that “this is a great program and we’re going to continue it,” meaning the active pursuit of drugs in the community.

After trying to have “meaningful, man-to-man” conversations with Vernal officials, and finding them “rude and condescending,” Mr. Mahaffey turned to the courts and filed a federal lawsuit against the city, police officials and the two police officers who invaded his home.

I don’t much care for attorneys, and there are far too many frivolous lawsuits clogging up our court system. In this case, however, it appears that everyone in Vernal has lost their sense of decency and humanity.

“Note the utter lack of compassion, the inability to see a grieving husband as anything other than a potential drug dealer. Note the priorities on display. The most important thing the cops had to do that day was get those drugs out of that house. Preventing someone from using Barbara Mahaffey’s pills to get high, or preventing Ben Mahaffey from–God forbid–using pain medication not prescribed to him at some point in the future, was more important than giving a widower a last moment of dignity to say goodbye to his wife of 58 years.” (Radley Balko, Huffpost)

The maraschino cherry on top of this cake of shame is found in this article from the Salt Lake Tribune, which reports that a former Vernal detective has been charged with stealing prescription medication from a couple under the guise of repeated “pill checks.” It would seem that the elected and appointed officials in Vernal would do well to cleanse the inner vessel and re-examine their priorities. Violating basic dignities at one of the most sensitive moments in a person’s life bespeaks a shameful lack of humanity; this lawsuit should act as a wakeup call for those involved, but based on the response thus far, what I’m predicting is that they will circle the wagons, deny any wrongdoing, and continue their campaign of ignoring fundamental civic rights.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Sources:

Let’s help the Mint out a bit, shall we?

According to this article at Newser, “Penny Costs 2 Cents to Make, Mint Stumped on Fix”.

They’ve been trying to create new pennies out of all sorts of materials, but can’t seem to come up with a cheaper alternative.

From a numismatic standpoint, I would “die” to have one of these patterns:

Pattern

Martha Washington Penny Pattern, with “In God We Trust” and ‘Liberty” scrambled

But that aside, I have the perfect solution for the mint, if they’d just take my advice:

Stop making pennies. Eliminate them altogether.

There. You’re welcome.

Oh, and you say a nickel costs 11¢ to make, but a penny costs 2¢? Well, once you’ve gotten rid of the penny, that leaves all that existing manufacturing equipment available for making the new, smaller 5¢ piece… for only 2¢. Yes, vending machine owners all across the country will have to adjust, but it wouldn’t be the first time. Times change.

The Old Wolf’s two penn’orth.

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We the People

I have long loved the music of Schooner Fare, and this song is one of my very favorites. I’ve been wanting to do this video for a long time, and now with just two weeks to go before the election, I have taken the time to put it together.

This is a non-partisan film. It espouses no ideology, save one:  R. Buckminster Fuller’s dream of making the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.

May it please you.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Government Douchebaggery: Get Informed

From the October 2012 issue of the AARP Bulletin, this outrage:

Carol and Paul Kurland of Leavittown, PA, both in their late 80’s, added their daughter’s name to their bank accounts to allow her access to funds if they faced a sudden health crisis. “Given our advanced age, we thought it was a good idea,” Carol Kurland says. “But we fell into a trap.” Sadly, their daughter Amy, 56, died last October. Two months later, the Kurlands got hit with a tax bill for several thousand dollars. They were amazed to discover that, under Pennsylvania law, a third of the money in their accounts was considered to be Amy’s. They had “inherited” it and now owed 4.5% as tax. “Our daughter had none of her own money in the accounts,” says Kurland, “and in fact, had never even visited that bank. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue says it regularly hears from unhappy people in similar situations. Banks in the state are not required to inform customers who add names to accounts that they’ll owe taxes if the new person dies first.

Six other states – Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, and New Jersey – also tax inheritances. Four of them – Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, and New Jersey – exempt parents of decedents, according to Jonathan Griffin at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

After the Kurlands’ tax bill arived, bank officials suggested that granting their daughter a power of attorney could have averted the liability.

“Why didn’t they tell us this before?” asks Carol Kurland. “You lose your daughter, and then you have to go through this. It’s been a bear.”

Takeaways:

  1. If you live in Pennsylvania or the above-mentioned states, be aware of the potential for government thuggery if you add a person to a bank account and that individual passes away before you do.
  2. Ask all the questions you can think of any time you deal with a bank. They have no vested interest in serving you – they only care about churning your worthless assets into valuable fees and commissions. Better yet, move your funds to a credit union, which at this point in time are still a better bet for consumers.
  3. Write your legislators and demand that banks be required to divulge all information pertaining to tax law that touches their sphere of influence. You may also want to tell them that laws like this are the pinnacle of stupidity, and that you’re ready to vote your opinion.

The Old Wolf has spoken.