August 21, 2006

Wall of Shame China Censorship Enablers Continue. What to Do?

Thanks to my inability to cover a million things at once, I haven’t had much to say about The Internet Wall of Shame lately.

Of course the American technology-enabled censorship goes on. Here’s one story from Linyi that is not getting the light of day in the mainland, thanks to the Wall of Shame members:

Linyi, China (LifeNews.com; August 18, 2006) — The trial of Chen Guangcheng, the activist attorney who brought international attention to a brutal family planning campaign that involved the forced abortions or sterilizations of 10,000 women, ended in chaos Friday. Chen’s attorneys were arrested and he was appointed two state lawyers who knew nothing of his case.

Local officials in Linyi, who previously arrested Chen on trumped up charges, arrested three of his defense attorneys and held two of them until after the trial concluded.

Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer and law professor from Beijing, was detained for 22 hours and false charges of theft to prevent him from attending the trial.

“It’s obvious the authorities did not want us to defend Chen Guangcheng,” Xu, a member of a district people’s congress in Beijing, told Reuters.

Li Fangping, another attorney who was falsely arrested and prevented from helping Chen, said the activist was appointed to state lawyers who knew nothing of his case. He said the repeated denial of rights caused Chen to be physically ill.

“Chen Guangcheng fiercely protested. He was so angry that he threw up several times,” Li told Reuters, quoting Chen’s brother who attended the trial. “The court hearing broke the law. We demand a retrial.”

There is no news on the outcome of the trial or when the verdict will be announced. Chen’s attorneys said it lasted about two hours.

The Xinhua news agency, an official state-run China news outlet, reported that a third Chen attorney, Gao Zhisheng, was held “for questioning for his suspected involvement in criminal activities.” It did not provide any further details.

….. Hundreds of police surrounded the courthouse in Yinan County, Shandong province where the trial was held and prevented Chen supporters from entering, including Chen’s wife Yuan Weijing. Others were placed under house arrest.

….. Linyi officials have persuaded some top Chinese leaders that Chen’s efforts are supported by overseas groups and they successfully lobbied the Foreign Ministry and the powerful Propaganda Department to ban any discussion of Chen’s case in the state media or on the Internet.

Anyone who believes in free speech, free expression, a free press, and the right to due process ought to be deeply offended by what has happened in the Chen case, and doubly so at the moral know-nothingness in the high-tech sector that made it possible.

This story made me wonder if I have an easy browsing alternative to Google, because I really would like to reduce my use of it.

I learned that I can switch my Firefox for Mac browser selection in the browser search bar at the top right of the browser window to another alternative, but that the only all-purpose alternative not on the The Wall of Shame is Dogpile, which, as a “browser of browsers,” accesses Wall of Shame members in ITS searches (and it takes some doing to add Dogpile; it’s not on the default list, and has to be installed as a plug-in). I did switch my Firefox default to Dogpile, but I’m not at all confident that it will reduce traffic to Wall of Shamers.

Accordingly, I sent the following e-mail to press@mozilla.com: (anyone with a better e-mail addy should tell me what it is):

As a FF for mac user, I am puzzled that there are not more alternative browser choices or plug-ins available for the address bar at the top right of the browser window.

I have a problem with using Google, Yahoo!, and MSN as they are all involved in Chinese censorship. The remaining default browsers listed are limited in scope. Dogpile is the only general-purpose plug-in available for Mac Users, but because it is a browser of browsers,” its searches ping the Chinese censorship enablers.

I want to know both as a blogger (i.e., “press”) and as a user whether Mozilla has any plans to expand the default or plug-ins list for Firefox to include browsers made by companies who do not support the Chinese government’s censors.

I also confirmed with Apple Technical Support that Safari for Macintosh has NO alternative to Google in its browser search bar, resulting in this note I sent to Apple’s Support site (Feedback link):

Because I object to Google’s cooperation with the Chinese government in censoring its search engine results in the mainland, I have looked around for a way to change to a diffferent default search engine from Google, and have been unable to do so.

I suggest that the next release of Safari give the user the ability to choose his own search engine for the search engine entry area at the top right of the Safari window.

Of course there are other alternatives to the address bar, which I will attempt to use, but which will exact a bit of a cost every time a search is done using a method other than direct entry in the address bar.

Windows users, of course, face their own challenges in trying to wean themselves from Wall of Shame member searches; as a Mac user, I’m not conversant with what those challenges are. While anyone who wants to comment on what Windows users can do is certainly welcome to, it might be better if a Windows-knowledgeable blogger does his or her own post on this.

Google, Yahoo!, and MSN are certainly counting on the inability of many people to stay focused (something I alluded to at the very beginning of this post) to enable the storm over their money-grubbing, tyranny-enabling ways to pass. If enough folks move to alternative browsers and demand that browser developers allow more choices, maybe the pressure can be loud enough, and consistent enough, to cause a rethink. I’d at least like to see it tried.

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UPDATE: August 24′s Life News reported that Chen was sentenced to 4 years and 3 months in prison.

Don Luskin Says High Inflation Is Coming, Thanks to Bendable Ben Bernanke

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:31 am

I knew a column like this would be coming from Luskin. He minces no words, and it’s tough to argue against his logic:

This week’s lower-than-expected reports of the Producer Price Index and the Consumer Price Index are being treated as an “all clear” signal on inflation.

Never mind that the lower-than-expected PPI was due entirely to an unanticipated drop in the prices of autos and trucks, and for the CPI it was entirely due to a similar effect in apparel. These reports will surely be enough to keep the Fed from raising interest rates at the next FOMC meeting in late September.

Nobody is panicking now, but they will be.

The reason why I know that inflation is going to keep heading higher is because I am a student of history. ….. I know the inflationary signs to look for, and I know the signs to ignore.

One thing I know is that statistical measures of inflation — like the CPI — are very slow to react. They reflect average prices across the whole economy. When there is inflation, many prices don’t adjust right away — such as wages for union workers who are under long-term contracts.

So even though the CPI’s current 4.2% ought to be alarming in and of itself, it actually underestimates the inflation that is currently building, but which has yet to infect the entire price structure of the economy.

That’s why I like to look at instantaneous measures of inflation, things that register price pressures very quickly.

One such measure is the value of the U.S. dollar on foreign-exchange markets. Throughout history, when the dollar falls, it’s a precursor of inflation to come. Right now the dollar has fallen 30% over the last five years. Today it’s almost as low as at any time in the last decade.

Another measure is the price of commodities, especially gold. My historical studies show that gold is very highly correlated with future inflation, as measured by the CPI. At today’s gold price — which has more than doubled from its lows about five years ago — CPI can be expected to start running between 5% and 7%.

And even that’s an optimistic estimate, because in that study I used so-called “core” CPI, which strips out the effects of energy and food prices. Put those back in — especially energy — and you’ve got a panic-inspiring inflation rate.

….. What should be done about today’s inflation threat?

….. All it takes is higher interest rates. The Fed should not have paused its rate-hiking cycle at last week’s FOMC meeting, and it should not pause at the upcoming September meeting.

But the Fed did, and the Fed will. And when more evidence of inflation comes pouring in over the coming months, eventually the Fed will have to make up for lost time with much larger rate hikes.

The bottom line is that, after some tough talk in July, Bendable Ben Bernanke probably blew it in August. It would be nice to see him surprise everyone, including Luskin, with a rate increase in September. Here’s hoping for a few signals to point him in that direction in the meantime.

The Feds’ Tobacco Suit: Some “Victory”

Filed under: Business Moves,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:40 am

This AP report from the Fox News site on the tobacco ruling last Thursday is the conventional wisdom:

Judge: Big Tobacco Guilty of Decades of Deception
Thursday , August 17, 2006

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Thursday that the nation’s top cigarette makers violated racketeering laws, deceiving the public for years about the health hazards of smoking.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler stopped short of ordering the companies to pay for a quit-smoking program.

The judge did order the companies to publish in newspapers and on their Web sites “corrective statements” on the adverse health effects and addictiveness of smoking and nicotine.

Kessler said that adoption of a national smoking cessation program, as sought by the government, “would unquestionably serve the public interest” but that she was barred by an appeals court ruling that said remedies must be forward-looking and not penalties for past actions.

The government had asked the judge to make the companies pay $10 billion for smoking cessation programs, though the Justice Department’s own expert said $130 billion was needed.

What? No money? News coverage of the ruling has been very sparse in the area of monetary damages. It takes until the tenth paragraph of the report for the AP to tell us that there’s a good reason for this:

A separate court issued an interim ruling in the case last year, finding that civil racketeering laws did not permit the government to seek $280 billion from the companies for money they allegedly earned over many years through fraud.

So it took The Wall Street Journal, in a subscription-only editorial Saturday, to bring some common sense back into play:

What Were They Smoking?
August 19, 2006

After seven years of litigation, $140 million of taxpayer money and a 1,700-page decision, the government could finally claim this week to have won its racketeering case against the tobacco industry. But then why were tobacco stocks up by some 3% yesterday, with Altria, parent company of Philip Morris and the Marlboro Man, hitting new multi-year highs?

Investors know a loser when they see one, and in this case it’s the Justice Department. Federal Judge Gladys Kessler ruled for the government on the civil racketeering charges, claiming that the tobacco companies had done what everyone already knew they’d done for decades, which is aggressively market a dangerous but legal product. But she also awarded no damages, instead requiring a series of “remedial” measures from the cigarette makers. These include a requirement to publish mea culpas in the form of paid advertisements in newspapers, the elimination of the words “light” and “low tar” on cigarette packs and additional warning labels. For whatever that’s worth.

The government will also be allowed to apply for reimbursement of its costs in the case, which were estimated last year at $140 million. But that’s a far cry from the $280 billion that government lawyers were seeking before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year ruled out going after 50 years worth of industry profits, plus interest.

This misbegotten case goes back to the Clinton Administration, which looked at the $250 billion settlement between the industry and the state Attorneys General and decided it wanted its own quarter-trillion-dollar chunk of Big Tobacco’s profit stream. The cynicism here is remarkable, since the government was essentially claiming that the industry was unconscionable precisely so it could lay claim to the cash flow from its unconscionable behavior.

….. Philip Morris has already pledged to appeal both the unfavorable ruling and the remedial measures, and legal experts give it some chance of success. Judge Kessler seems to have inserted herself into all manner of minutiae in how cigarettes are sold and marketed. Given how heavily regulated tobacco marketing already is, it’s an open question whether the judiciary is stepping on executive branch toes with the ruling.

….. But we suspect investors know the real score here, and their verdict on Friday was to bid up tobacco stocks. No doubt many state politicians around the country were also cheering the verdict because it means the feds won’t be able to horn in on their long-term tobacco income stream. The war against cigarettes long ago stopped being about public health; today it’s all about public revenue.

Yep, it was always about the money. The feds won’t get any, will lose money if its legal costs aren’t reimbursed, and could even lose the remedial measures on appeal. That looks like a loss to me. Investors appear to agree.

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UPDATE: The CEI Open Market blog rips other aspects of the decision.

A Courageous Woman…..

Filed under: Consumer Outrage,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:18 am

….. won’t be kicked out of the nursing profession for doing the right thing.

Hats off to Carla Sauer-Iyer for exposing the truth about Michael Schiavo’s treatment of Terri, to the American Center for Law and Justice for their defense of Sauer-Iyer, and to Florida Governor Jeb Bush for speaking out in favor of reversing the Florida Nursing Board’s original decision to take away her license and make her pay $1,700 in administrative fees.

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Note: Starting August 21, what was the “AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links” post has been replaced with four or so short individual posts early each morning to increase visibility and allow greater opportunity for comment.

Rolling Stones Do Gather Moss — In England

Filed under: Business Moves — Tom @ 8:13 am

These Rolling Stones, off the most successful tour of America ever by anyone (gross: $162 million) are, strangely enough, having a tough time with ticket sales in England (HT Drudge).

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Note: Starting August 21, what was the “AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links” post is being replaced with four or so short individual posts early each morning to increase visibility and allow greater opportunity for comment.

The Cincinnati Enquirer Misses an “Interesting” (Pun Intended) Story

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Ignorance,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:08 am

But The Cleveland Plain Dealer caught it. Considering the subject of the report, it’s “odd” that the Enky missed it.
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Note: Starting August 21, what was the “AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links” post has been replaced with four or so short individual posts early each morning to increase visibility and allow greater opportunity for comment.

Chastened Norwood Eminent-Domain Tyrants Coming to Their Senses

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:03 am

There’s nothing like having your hat handed to you by the Ohio Supreme Court to induce a change in mid-set.

It looks Norwood city officials won’t have to have their arms twisted to remove the “blighted” designation from parts of the area in question. Good.

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UPDATE, Sept. 2: The August 30 Cincinnati Enquirer reports that all parties have filed to have the case dropped.

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Note: Starting August 21, what was the “AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links” post has been replaced with four or so short individual posts early each morning to increase visibility and allow greater opportunity for comment.

The Skeptical Optimist Gets More Optimistic

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:58 am

The Skeptical Optimist has moved up his “Crossover Day” (which I prefer to call “Federal Budget Breakeven Day”) to January 12, 2009. It is based on all information available through July 2006. This is when he predicts that the federal budget deficit will be zero. That’s a 22-day moveup from his June post based on May’s information.

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Note: Starting August 21, what was the “AM Coffee Biz-Econ-Life Links” post is being replaced with four or so short individual posts early each morning to increase visibility and allow greater opportunity for comment.

Positivity: 21 Year-Old Credits His Being Alive to Seat Belt

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:02 am

Brendan Jaffe of Portsmouth, Maine Massachusetts (corrected — see Brendan’s comment below) rolled over six times — and he survived:

8-14-2006
A living case for seat belts

PORTSMOUTH — A minor concussion and a few scrapes and bumps were the only injuries Brendan Jaffe suffered after he lost control of his car and it rolled over six times across Interstate 95 last month.

Was it good luck? Divine intervention that saved his life?

No, says the 21-year-old, it was his seat belt.

“I didn’t break a single bone in my body. All I had was a bump on my head and a scratch on my arm,” Jaffe said Friday as he recalled the accident.

“People will ask me what happened to your arm and I’ll tell them the story,” he continued. “I’ll tell them, Make sure you wear those seat belts; I’m proof that they work.’”

Jaffe was driving his 1998 Volkswagen Jetta from York Beach, Maine, to work in Taunton, Mass., on the afternoon of July 21.

He was in the left lane near Seabrook when a truck in front of him quickly changed lanes, revealing a large trash barrel in the middle of the road.

“I swerved to avoid it and I remember feeling the back of my car swerve left and right, and then I went into the grassy median and just started rolling,” he said.

Jaffe said his car rolled over about six times before landing upright across the median near the northbound lane. He scraped both arms along the road when they went out an open window and sunroof and hit his face on the seat-belt post above his shoulder.

For some reason, the airbags in his car never opened, he said.

“If I hadn’t been wearing a seat belt, I could have gone anywhere. I could have gone through the windshield, out the sunroof, who knows,” Jaffe said.

Some Good Samaritans stopped and helped Jaffe out of his car and extinguished the fire that started in his engine. Paramedics transported him to Exeter Hospital, and he was released later that day.

“The nurses at the hospital said I was very lucky, that it could have been a whole lot worse,” he said.

Jaffe credited his parents with “always drilling it into my head” to wear a seat belt. Other people are now taking that advice after seeing pictures of Jaffe’s crumpled car.