Thursday, April 30, 2009

2nd Amendment and 9th Circuit—Not News

So short a post from Eugene Volokh that I quote it all:
The Ninth Circuit's Second Amendment Ruling in the News -- Or Not:  So I thought that the Ninth Circuit's holding that the Second Amendment binds state and local governments (via the Fourteenth Amendment) was a pretty big deal.  It was the first federal court of appeals decision to so hold.  If followed, it would invalidate the Chicago handgun ban, plus perhaps some other broad state and local gun restrictions, such as New York City's ban on all gun ownership by 18-to-20-year-olds.  And it might well trigger Supreme Court consideration of the issue, since there's now a split between the Second and Ninth Circuits on the issue.

But here's the odd thing:  I couldn't find any articles about this in the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune, or the Washington Post.  (I searched for second amendment or bear arms or nordyke or gun show.)  There was early coverage on CNN and in the San Francisco Chronicle, but nothing else in any newspapers in the NEWS;MAJPAP file on LEXIS. Am I missing some stories that just didn't happen to use the keywords I searched for?  Or is the court decision just not worth even a brief mention?
It is an odd thing.  On the other hand, if you accept that gun rights are guaranteed under the Second Amendment, the only thing that makes it news is that it is out of the Ninth Circuit. Hat tip to Instapundit.

Regards  —  Cliff

The VP on the Flu

Hat tip to Instapundit and then to to Moe Lane, who links to the video below and also links to this commentary.

OK, so the Vice President wants us to stay out of airliners and subways.  But, we do need to show some fortitude in all this.  Let's avoid the panic button for right now.

In the mean time, the video interview also includes the Vice President answering questions on the economy and Senator Arlen Specter switching back to being a Democrat—although the VP doesn't mention that he is switching back.  In his first campaign for public office the Senator ran for District Attorney in Philly, as a Republican, while still registered as a Democrat.


Here is an update, via Instapundit, from Just One Minute. I think it is a little harsh, but then I thought some of the comments about Governor Palin were a little harsh. Here is the money quote: "They told me that if I voted for McCain we'd have a Vice President who was a moron... and they were right!"  Fortunately, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs rode to the rescue:
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued an apology Thursday for Vice President Joe Biden’s comments that he wouldn’t recommend taking a commercial flight or riding in a subway car because swine flu virus can spread in confined places.
(From the link to Politico, above.)

Here is the link to Just One Minute. (Frankly, I thought the first comment at this linked site was a bit tacky.)

Regards  —  Cliff

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spoiler From Kad Barma

What can I say?  Kad Barma has run the numbers on influenza and posted his results on his website (choosing a soundtrack), at fun with numbers.  Yes, Kad has a problem finding the shift key.

The bottom line is that there is a lot of influenza going around and killing people each and ever year.  His numbers are 500,00 to 250,000 per year.

I checked a different source, the US Federal Statistical Abstract.  The answer I got was somewhat lower (for 2002 to 2005) being between 59,662 to 65,681.  That is still a whole bunch of people and that fits nicely with Kad's statistic of about 13,000 deaths so far this year.

We are all trying to sort through what this all means.  My wife is hoping to go visit a couple of our grandchildren (3 years and a year and a half) soon and is worried about picking up the strain if she flew and then giving it to the grandchildren.  This is a serious and responsible concern.

How to gauge it? We listen to CDC and WHO, but we also use our common sense, as Kad says.  But we need to understand our own bias.  Remember the headlines about torture, which this crisis pushed off the front page?  Yes, we wanted to be assured and on 12 September 2001 we didn't really know anything. In some ways we are at the same state today.

Interestingly, if one looks at the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918/19, we see that deaths peaked in New York City, London, Paris and Berlin inside a month (mid-October to mid-November) and then subsided. The Chart is here.  Surprisingly, this was in an age without trans-Atlantic flights and a major war was under way (Berlin and the other cities were on opposite sides).

So, in some ways it is up to us to protect ourselves.  So, wash your hands (or as one authority on TV said yesterday, wash your hands, wash your hands and then wash your hands).  Maybe buy some hand sanitizer, like Purell.  Avoid people who are not well.

Regards  —  Cliff

Out Back Question of the Week

The Out Back Question of the Week is, which US Senator recently switched parties?

And what was his real reason for making this switch?

For bonus points, what is the implication re the filibuster?


Regards  —  Cliff

Monday, April 27, 2009

Well Said, Boston Globe

This editorial by The Boston Globe, "Homeland Security misfires does a good job of making the case that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was off the rails in their recent report on Right Wing Extremism.

Thank you, Boston Globe.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  And, by implication, their somewhat earlier report on Left Wing Extremism.

Out Back Question of the Week—Answer

The Question was, who is the Speaker of the Massachusetts House and where does he or she stand on tax increases.

The answer is Mr Robert A DeLeo and today's Globe suggests he is for a bump of 1.25 percentage points in the sales tax.

As for the bonus question, I would think that it would (a) result in a few more people going out to dinner at restaurants and (b) people reducing the size of their tips by about a percentage point off the total bill. It is an experiment I am not interested in observing. On the other hand, we either cut programs, dip into the rainy day fund or we raise taxes in one way or another.

So, we now have the question, is this big enough to upset the voters, but not big enough to do the job without cutting programs?

Regards  —  Cliff

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Drunk Driver Trap

If The Washington Post is to be believed, the Pentagon has turned into a large trap for drunk drivers in the early hours of any given morning.

Since 9/11, the security efforts applied to the Pentagon have made navigating the parking lot and the various highway on and off ramps around the facility even more challenging.

For drunk drivers it can be a problem.

So far this year 58 people have been arrested for drunk driving after becoming trapped in the Pentagon parking and road system.  Last year the number was 128.  And, being the Pentagon, it is a Federal offense.  Up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

The article ends:
The Pentagon's own Web site tells visitors to take public transportation and warns that driving through the District during rush hours is "asking for trouble" and that the options to get to the Pentagon are "tricky" and "trickier."
"Hey, let's be careful out there"

Regards  —  Cliff

To Prosecute/Investigate

Former Representative / Former CIA Director Porter Goss, writing in Saturday's Washington Post takes on the question of where we should go with regard to the question of torture by CIA interrogators.  Says Mr Goss:
I am speaking out now because I feel our government has crossed the red line between properly protecting our national security and trying to gain partisan political advantage.  We can't have a secret intelligence service if we keep giving away all the secrets.  Americans have to decide now.
Well, this is one of those things that each generation has to do for itself.  Now is our time to decide.

Mr Goss points out:
Unfortunately, much of the damage to our capabilities has already been done.  It is certainly not trust that is fostered when intelligence officers are told one day "I have your back" only to learn a day later that a knife is being held to it.  After the events of this week, morale at the CIA has been shaken to its foundation.

We must not forget: Our intelligence allies overseas view our inability to maintain secrecy as a reason to question our worthiness as a partner.  These allies have been vital in almost every capture of a terrorist.
On the other hand, we can go back to 1929, when Secretary of State Henry L Stimson shut down our decryption program, saying famously, "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail."  (Mr Stimson, as Secretary of War during WWII, changed his position.)

Then there is the view expressed by General Paul Aussaresses.  In his book, The Battle of the Casbah:  Terrorism and Counterterrorism in Algeria 1955-1957, he says that he used torture to extract information.  The other thing he said was that you had to get the information in the first 24 hours for it to be actionable and that after such an interrogation the best thing was to kill the person who had been interrogated.  Needless to say, after publication of his book he lost his French Legion of Honor.  (For those wondering, during 1955 to 1957 the key Premiers were Pierre Mendès France and Guy Mollet and moving from Minister of the Interior to Minister of Justice in this time frame was future President François Mitterrand.  Of course they didn't know anything about it.)

Is there a middle ground?  Of course there is.  We need intelligence, so we have to interrogate.  We have standards to maintain so we don't abuse people.  At least that is the way it should be done.  Further, there is a whole school that believes you get more information with kindness than with harsh interrogation techniques.

On the other hand, if you are standing in your living room and a bullet comes through the front window and lodges in the wall behind you, the brave will stroll over to the window to see what is going on.  The rest of us will be hugging the floor and dialing 911 on our cell phones and wonder why it takes them so long to respond.

That is were we were on the 12th of September 2001.  On the floor and wondering if it was one random shot or the opening of a major assault.

Still, we crossed a line, just as we did at the beginning of World War II, when we interned German, Italian and especially Japanese and put them in camps.

Now it is clean-up time and the question is, what are we really going to do about it.  We now have time to think about the long term implications of any action.  Will we destroy our human intelligence program, and seriously damage other intelligence programs? Will we start a Dryfus like affair that will go on for decades, dividing us needlessly?  Will we, as a people, sink into some sort of Latin American political turmoil where the incoming administration turns on those going out of office, devouring them?

On the other hand, will a passing over of this situation be taken as a wink and a nod by those involved in intelligence gathering? The reason the François Mitterrand issue is important is that later on, when he was President of the Republic he ran his own personal wiretap operation, often going against those he thought might expose dirt on him, like his illegitimate daughter. The message that some things are wrong needs to be sent.

Finally, there is the question of how much pushback we want from the bureaucrats over new Government policies, brought in by new Administrations.  What if General Tommy Franks, Commander of US Central Command, had told Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2003 that his command, USCENTCOM, was not going to invade Iraq, because he (Franks) thought it was against International Law?  What if someone in the Department of the Interior says to the Secretary that he is not going to sign off on drilling in ANWAR, not withstanding what the President thinks is best for America?

I would be happy to hear someone say:  "There are no good solutions to this problem."

My thoughts, at this point, are:
  • First off we need to understand to what degree these procedures are what we do to our own Service members to prepare them for the possibility of capture.
  • Then, IMHO, those who directly participated in this need to do some community service and then be rehabilitated and allowed to get on with their lives.
  • Those who worked up the legal theories would benefit from explaining it to the US Congress or an independent commission.
  • Finally, we would benefit from some up front candidness from the Members of Congress.  If Mr Porter Goss is to be believed, those folks on Capitol Hill knew a lot about what was going on and in some sense, their lack of knowledge may well have been a deliberate abdication of responsibility.
That said, what we should not be doing is creating an atmosphere where any advisor to any future president or cabinet secretary goes to bed at night wondering if he or she will be hauled before some future panel to explain why he or she thought that destroying the habitat of the Blue Spotted Orange Marmalade was a good idea when the building of a new levy in New Orleans was approved.  Some things need to be left to the not so tender mercies of the historians.

We are hearing a lot of words, but not a lot of wisdom just yet.

Regards  —  Cliff

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Late Night

Last night I wanted to go to bed at about 2000 (8:00 PM ROTC Time).  However, the Red Sox were playing and we were going to watch it.  And, it was very rewarding, but it did go on until the next morning.  The Yankees lost.

Fortunately, today's game started at 1601.  I went to the Four O'Clock Mass, took my wife out to dinner and still was home in time to see the last couple of innings of an interesting game.  And, the top of the ninth kept my attention.  The Yankees lost, but it took over four hours, just like last evening.

I am hoping to be able to get to bed a little earlier tonight.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  Do you think the "Curse of the Bambino" has moved to the Yankees?  The Yankee owners did tear down "The House that Ruth Built" in order to have a new stadium.  They put money over tradition.  It is something worth thinking about.

Friday, April 24, 2009


The Boston Globe has a review of Burgers by J. Kenji Alt, who I don't know in person or in print.

But, he did mention "In-N-Out Burger" and "Five Guys."  The first I know from travel to the Coast.  The second from visiting our sons down in Northern Virginia.

The writer says, early on:
Until recently, a decent West Coast-style burger was impossible to find in the Boston area.  But like many cities nationwide, we're in the midst of a burger renaissance, and the past three years have seen a slew of high-quality West Coast-style joints springing up.  These arrivals have set the stage for a single-city East-West showdown.
Any time there is competition it is good news.

But, the interesting thing is that there is a "burger renaissance."  I wonder if that has to do with the economy?

At any rate, it seems a trip to Dedham is in order, once my spouse gets her health back.

Regards  —  Cliff

The Issue of Working Women

There may be some economic issues about working women that might be worth talking about—for example the fact that their unemployment rate at this time is less than for men.

But, the Taliban is very concerned about working women, and in particular women in the US military.  This article out of The New York Times talks to a concerned Taliban spokesman (you didn't expect any spokeswomen, did you?) who is bothered by US women soldiers.  The Tabliban spokesman,
Haji Muslim Khan, said that Taliban anger was partly caused by the presence of female American soldiers in the region.  Mr. Khan said that Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, "should think about Western white women who take up arms and come from 20,000 miles away to fight against us here."
The snarky comment from The Times was that since the globe has a circumference of about 25,000 miles, they must have come the long way.

The larger issue is that the Taliban thinks that women need to be cloistered at home.  Opinion writer Ellen Goodman of The Boston Globe brought this up a couple of weeks ago.

What do we think?  Does our respect for other cultures include saying that US women should not be allowed to join the US military and fight in Afghanistan?

My answer?  A definite No.  Women should be allowed full opportunities and if those in other cultures don't like it they should either stay out of trouble or gird their loins and prepare to be shot at by women in US uniforms and detained by those women and interrogated by those women and maybe have their wounds tended by those women.

Regards  —  Cliff

The Bedford Boys

There is a small stone monument on Hanscom AFB that reads:  "All gave some, some gave all.";  I was reminded of that line when I read this story someone EMailed me this morning. It was in today's Washington Post.

The story is about death of the last of the boys from Bedford, Virginia, who assaulted the beaches of Normandy on 6 June 1944.;  The little town of Bedford suffered the highest percentage of casualties that day of any town or city in the US.

The reason for that high rate of deaths is that the young men of that town joined their National Guard unit together and trained together and went ashore together. From that town of then 3,200 people, 38 were members of A Company, 116th Infantry. Half, 19, died on OMAHA Beach on 6 June.

I suspect no one reading this blog knew Mr Elisha Ray Nance.;  I didn't.;  But this story touches me in a special way.;  I can think of nothing to add to the respect he and his comrades won that day.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  In a way, Massachusetts is linked to this story, in that the 116th Regiment is part of the National Guard's 29th Infantry Division, which is made up of units from Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day Plus One

Yesterday was Earth Day and I didn't even mention it.

Today I will, to ask the question, where is the Federal Government spending money to look at the flip side of the "Global Warming" issue, "Global Cooling."

Remember how "Global Cooling" was all the rage thirty-five or so years ago?  Well, most of you are too young to remember, but it was.

So, if there are any "strategic thinkers" in the Federal Government, they should have some small corner of Government, maybe in the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, looking into this.

What if there is a Maunder Minimum in our future?  That would give us a "Little Ice Age."  At this point there is no reason to panic, but NASA does tell us that this year is quieter than 2008, which was the quietest since 1913 and was support to represent the "bottom."

I am not saying that there is a cold streak in our future or that "Global Warming" is over.  I am just asking for a tiny bit of money, just asking for a little prudent hedging of bets.


Regards  —  Cliff

Out Back Question of the Week

The Out Back Question of the Week is:

Who is the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and what is his or her position on increasing the state sales tax?

For bonus points, what does such a move mean for restaurants in the local area?

Regards  —  Cliff

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Budget Cuts

I don't like to have long quotes in my blog, notwithstanding what some of you think.  My youngest son sent me this link and I thought it was interesting in the way it described the impact of the $100 million budget cut President Obama has ordered his Cabinet Secretaries to make.

Don't get me wrong.  I think $100 billion is a lot of money.  Saving it is a step in the proper direction.  That said, it is not a big dent in what is going on in DC.  So, here is gun nut and accountant Larry Correia:
A hundred million?  That’s a lot right?  Well, the news sure makes it seem like a big deal.  So is a 100 Million a lot?

Yes, unless you are the government.

So to illustrate, this is what the numbers look like when you type out all the zeros.  Please forgive me if I screw up, because that is a lot of zeros.

Thousand:  1,000.00

Million:  1,000,000.00

Billion:  1,000,000,000.00

Trillion:  1,000,000,000,000.00

Okay, so far, so good.  So if we are spending over a trillion dollars that we don’t have all over the last few months, how much is cutting a hundred million from a trillion?  Well, that would be a .0001 cut!

To break that down into money units that most normal people would understand, that means that if you had a thousand dollar budget, you would be cutting an entire ten cents!  That is a whole DIME!

Think of what you could do with that?  Ten cents is like… well…  I don’t really know… but it must be a big deal, because Chris Matthews thought it was awesome.  You could be all like, hey dude, I just borrowed this thousand bucks from a loan shark, but I totally don’t need this ten cents.  Whoo hoo!  Now I only borrowed nine hundred nintey nine dollars and nintey cents!  Hey, what is the interest on $999.90?  Oh wait, that’s my kids and grandkids problems!
Larry is from Utah.  His math sort of explains the Tea Party Phenomenon.

Regards  —  Cliff

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Thought on the Constitution

A couple of days ago I blogged on the Ninth Circuit ruling on gun rights—the Second Amendment.

The Cato Institute had a comment on the Ninth Circuit's ruling.  The writer, Ilya Shapiro, noted this footnote:
But we do not measure the protection the Constitution affords a right by the values of our own times.  If contemporary desuetude sufficed to read rights out of the Constitution, then there would be little benefit to a written statement of them.  Some may disagree with the decision of the Founders to enshrine a given right in the Constitution. If so, then the people can amend the document.  But such amendments are not for the courts to ordain.
That makes great sense.  If you don't like it, amend it.  If you are really brave, call a Constitutional Convention. Hat tip to Instatpundit.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  Yes, I didn't recognize "desuetude" either—[des-wi-tood], the state of being no longer used or practiced.

What Did They Know?

Here comes Michael Barone, talking about what the public knows about the current economic crisis.  Hat tip to Instapundit.


You can take the quiz yourself and see how you do before you read Mr Barone's comments, which contains a couple of answers, or hints.  Click HERE, it's fun.

Writing in The Washington Examiner, Mr Barone looks at a recent Pew Research Center poll of the public.

One of the things the poll suggests is that those of us out here in the sticks (well, we aren't in Cambridge or Chevy Chase) are paying attention to what is going on. Maybe those attending the Tea Parties this last Wednesday were better informed that some have suggested.

Regards  —  Cliff

Monday, April 20, 2009


I have been bugged a couple of times about when breakup will be (breakup being defined as when the Tanana River goes out at Nenana, along the highway from Fairbanks to Anchorage).

For you wags, breakup is NOT about Bristol and Levi.

Here is some news on what the weather folks are expectings.  In a word, "messy."  The reason is above average ice and snow.
A handful of villages in rural Alaska face the prospect of difficult breakup this spring with possible flooding, the National Weather Service’s top hydrologist in Alaska said on Tuesday.

In much of the state, including the Fairbanks area, snowfall and the thickness of frozen ice is almost at historical averages, hydrologist Larry Rundquist said.

Points along the Kuskokwim River in Southwest Alaska could see severe breakup this year as river ice slowly melts, Rundquist said.

Breakup season could be different as well in Eagle, where ice on the Yukon River recently measured 55 inches thick, almost 40 percent thicker than usual for late March or early April, he said.
Here is a snapshot of the betting, from an interested website.

Then, there is this.

We have not gotten to breakup yet.  The earliest calendar date the ice has gone out is April 20, in both 1940 and 1998, both times in the afternoon.  That would be today.  I am guessing at least three more weeks.  I blame climate change.

The weather forecast for this week suggests snow later in the week.

Regards  —  Cliff

Second Amendment

It seems the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has taken a view on the Second Amendment that is friendly to gun rights.  Eugene Volokh quotes:
The panel instead follows the Supreme Court's "selective incorporation" cases under the Due Process Clause, and concludes that the right to bear arms "ranks as fundamental, meaning 'necessary to an Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty.'"
This is THAT Ninth Circuit.

There is more at the link. Hat Tip to Instapundit.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  With a link to the Volokh Conspiracy one has to wait two heartbeats after getting to the correct website for it to actually jump to the proper post.

Transportation Upgrades

Can we please stop calling it "high speed rail?"

Our AMTRAK folks are talking about trains that travel at half the speed of trains in Europe and Japan and China.

See this article from Popular Mechanics.

The first step to recovery is to tell yourself the truth.

Regards  —  Cliff

Connections and First Things

A hat tip to Instapundit

I found this a very interesting article out of the on-line journal, Asia TimesThis is the coming out of "Spengler," a pseudonym for Dr David P Goldman, now associate editor of First Things.

Dr Goldman talks about culture in this article and in particular about Western Culture and the trouble it is in.

An interesting read.

Regards  —  Cliff

DHS and Army Retention

This is a tongue in check comment, but it shows how careless words by our Federal Government (by any organization, for that matter) can upset the folks who are doing the hard work.

The following blog post is real:
MAJ Gary John Spivey said:
Sir, as a member of class 08-02 (but not presuming to speak for my class) I'd say that my top two reasons for staying in are Job satisifaction followed closely by quality of life for my family.

In the absence of those two, a monetary bonus would help appease things nicely.  Or maybe asking the DHS to NOT consider me an extremist and a possible threat against my own government (sorry Sir, could not resist the dig)

April 17, 2009 9:53 AM
The "Sir" he addresses is Lieutenant General William Caldwell, the Commander of the Army's Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and thus Major Spivey's boss while he (Major Spivey) is at Command and Staff College.

The other thing, besides the humor, is that a number of Army general officers are prepared to go live on the web and present ideas and ask for comments.  This LTG Caldwell did, with regard to retaining Army majors, one of those key transitional ranks that need to be filled so the Army can find the best to be Battalion Commanders—a lieutenant colonel job, the next rank up.

The original post by "Frontier 6" (LTC Caldwell), and the comments, can be found here.

I think that leaders in Government and Industry should be active bloggers.  I don't think it has hurt Lowell's City Manager, Bernie Lynch.  Rather, it has helped the City.  And, the same goes for Fort Leavenworth and for the Army's 10th Mountain Division.

Regards  —  Cliff

This Explains it All

The BBC (everyone trusts the Beeb, right?) reports that a new study suggests that if we just go back to the 1970s, when people were slimmer, we wouldn't have this global warmingclimate change problem.  Here is the article.  A hat tip to Professor Ann Althouse.

So, I guess it is back to the old days.
The rising numbers of people who are overweight and obese in the UK means the nation uses 19% more food than 40 years ago, a study suggests.

That could equate to an extra 60 mega tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, the team calculated.
We lived in the UK in 1974 and it was a wonderful experience.  I wonder if we can go back?

In the mean time, here is the end of the article:
It is not just a UK issue - in nearly every country in the world, the average BMI [body mass index] is rising. [This means you, Mr and Mrs North and South America and all the ships at sea.]

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health said shifting the population weight distribution back to that of the 1970s would do quite a lot to help the planet.

"In the 1970s we had bigger portions of vegetables and smaller portions of meat and there's been a shift in the amount of exercise we do.

"All these things are combining to hurt the planet and this is a calculation that deserves a bit more attention," he said.
So, there you have it.  Eat your veggies and go out for a walk now and then.

Regards  —  Cliff

CNN and Fair Useage

Copyright used to seem pretty straight forward and limited.  Now it seems to run to the horizon and as I pay more attention it becomes more confusing, but then I am not a lawyer.

I was surprised that CNN has apparently stepped in to have a clip pulled from YouTube.  They are claiming Copyright infringement.  However, it has the smell of embarrassment.

One take on this can be found at a post (hat tip to Instapundit by Ron Coleman, a litigator and trademark lawyer at Goetz Fitzpatrick LLP.

The source of this imbroglio was CNN reporter Susan Roesgen, at a tea party in Chicago, Wednesday last.  (If you read The Boston Globe for your news, there were three of these "tea parties" in Eastern Massachusetts on Wednesday:  Lowell, Worcester and Boston.)  The reporter got a little confrontational with a couple of the protesters.  Nothing serious, but she is apparently now enjoying a well deserved vacation.  For additional discussion, you can go here.  At the time of this blog posting that website did have a link to the "offending" video.

My point in commenting on this imbroglio is that CNN has come a long ways since the 1980s, when it was a great news source.  Either it changed or I did.  Now I no longer find it that scrappy and friendly alternative to the three major networks. And this episode with trying to use copyright laws to suppressed debate strikes me as another example their slide toward the bottom.

While I may not particularly like some of the politics of Mr Ted Turner, I do think that his was a great news organization, once upon a time.

Regards  —  Cliff

Sunday, April 19, 2009

US Law and the Law of Other Nations

First off, I am not a lawyer. But, I am a voter and thus what those folks in DC do interests me.

Thanks to Ann Althouse's blog, I went to a Newsweek story by Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas, on the nomination of Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh to be the top lawyer at the Department of State (the official job of lawyer; Secretary Clinton is, of course, the top lawyer in Foggy Bottom). While Dean Koh is supported by many Republicans, including former Solicitor General Ted Olsen, there are questions being raised about his views on US law and international law. Put another way, Professor Koh is in favor "transnational law."

After saying he should be confirmed, the writers note:
But his rather abstruse views on what he calls "transnational jurisprudence" deserve a close look because—taken to their logical extreme—they could erode American democracy and sovereignty.

Koh is "all about depriving American citizens of their powers of representative government by selectively imposing on them the favored policies of Europe's leftist elites," says Edward Whelan, a lawyer and head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative Washington policy group. Whelan's tone is alarmist, but he raises legitimate questions. Koh is well within the mainstream of the academic establishment at elite law schools like Yale—but the mainstream runs pretty far to the left. At his confirmation hearings, Koh, who is in "no comment" mode until then, will find himself defending some statements that irk centrists and conservatives.
There is the rub. Do we want our judges citing folks like Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzón (recently indicted five Bush Administration officials re the question of torture). I have always been a little dubious about one nation reaching out and meddling in the affairs of another at a judicial level. If it is THAT important, let them invade.

And, the fact is, not everyone has the same standards and values. Referring to the United Nations "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women," which President Carter signed and which Professor Koh supports becoming US law, the writers note:
A U.N. committee supervising the treaty's implementation has called for the "decriminalizing of prostitution" in China, the legalization of abortion in Colombia, and the abolition of Mother's Day in Belarus (for "encouraging woman's traditional roles"). In 2002 Senate testimony, Koh stressed that these reports are not binding law, and he dismissed as "preposterous" the notion that the treaty would "somehow require the United States to abolish Mother's Day." Still, the reports are very much part of the "transnational" legal process that Koh celebrates.
While I trust the assurances of Dean Koh that this kind of thing wouldn't happen, the fact is, there is no way of knowing how some law will be used down the road. We had the first Anti-Trust law and the first use was against a labor union. We had the RICO statute and someone decided it was a good way to deal with those opposed to abortions. Prosecutors are driven people who will be looking for whatever way they can to achieve their ends. This isn't being evil, it is just being a lawyer on the side of the Prosecution. That is why we have some of those amendments to the US Constitution.

In the end, this isn't about Dean Koh. It is about "transnational jurisprudence." I am not sure how we as citizens make a point about the fact that we want US elective assemblies making US laws. We haven't been doing such a good job of that recently. Maybe if we have an egregious example of imposing the laws of some other nation or international body on US Citizens (Mother's Day would surely be an example) and then the US Congress (or some State Legislature) impeached a couple of Justices, it would be a step in the right direction.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Law and Jack Murtha

Did you know that in the Dominican Republic, where they speak Spanish, the lawyers have to also speak French? Our waitress at dinner tonight told us that. The reason is that they use the Napoleonic code in the DomRep. Frankly, speaking as a citizen and not as a lawyer, I prefer the Common Law. I love Runnymede and the Magna Carta.

But, on to the latest little twist in the law. As some of us know, Representative John Murtha, long term Democrat from the Johnstown, PA, area, (PA District 12), defamed a bunch of US Marines in Iraq, by accusing them of murder. Some have been tried and acquitted and some have had the charges lowered. One of them still awaits trial, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich. This is the Marine who sued the Representative for slander, but the suit was dismissed this week because Representative Murtha was protected by a 1988 statute that protects all Government employees from being sued for something they say while performing official duties (I would have thought that the Constitution protected him—Article I, Section 6, Clause 1, but it apparently only addresses debate and committee work).

Interestingly, another of those accused by Representative Murtha, Sergeant Ryan Weemer, was acquitted on 9 April of this year.

Now comes another Marine, Justin Sharrat, and his lawyer is arguing that Mr Murtha wasn't "on duty" when he slandered those Marines. (Hat tip to Instapundit.)
Geary's argument is elegant: At the time he made the offensive comments, Murtha—a member of the legislative branch of government—was commenting on an ongoing investigation being conducted by the executive branch of government.

Because commenting on executive branch investigations before they are concluded is not part of the job description of a Congressman, Geary reasons, Murtha's comments should not be protected.
There is more at the link. And, former Lance Corporal Sharrat had all charges dismissed (this was an Article 32 investigation, like a grand jury).

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the suit against Representative Murtha. I don't want legislators to feel under the gun when making comments, and I don't want the Executive Branch to have a stick with which to beat legislators, but Representative Murtha was making outrageous and insulting statements at the time. If the Representative thought we were losing the war or that our troops were out of control he should have built a case and made it. He didn't.

I would have been happy with a "sense of the House resolution" that said that Representative Murtha had gone too far and he should apologize to the individuals and to the US Marine Corps as a whole.

Regards  —  Cliff

Friday, April 17, 2009

Survey for You

Linda King, from Lowell City Government, sent me a link to the current ongoing homeless survey.  This survey is NOT just for those who are homeless, but for anybody who is interested in homelessness.  Needless to say, that anyone should be everyone, at least IMHO.

If you click here you will get to the survey.

As Linda says:
Please see the link to the 10YP Implementation Plan Survey below.  The results will help to determine which of the 10YP Action Plan Recommendation are most important to you and to the community.  Please fill out the survey and SHARE it with anyone who you feel would be interested.

The survey must be filled in electronically and will be automatically submitted when you complete the form and press the submit button at the end.  It will automatically analyze the data and we'll get the results back out to you as soon as possible.

It took me about 15 minutes.  Page four appears daunting, but it isn't.  And, for the places where you can fill in what you think, the survey has a auto-spell check, something I need everywhere I go.  And, if you fill in some data on the last page you can get the results. Or, you can do it namelessly.

Please help the homeless and help the City.

Regards  —  Cliff

Back to Something Lighter

Here is a video of a Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunter flying through the Alps.

Those in a position to know suggest that the Hunter is a great subsonic fighter.

Caution, this video has sound--a chorus chanting in Latin.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  My thanks to Neal for sending me this link.

More on Extremists

Yesterday I commented on two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports on extremist groups in the US.

This morning, thanks to Instanpundit, we know that The Wall Street Journal is reporting on the FBI's Operation VIGILENT EAGLE.  This is an operation that started when George Bush was still President of the United States.  It is being done in cooperation with the Department of Defense.  And, we are promised they are concerned about our civil rights.
Michael Ward, FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said in an interview Thursday that the portion of the operation focusing on the military related only to veterans who draw the attention of Defense Department officials for joining white-supremacist or other extremist groups.

"We're not doing an investigation into the military, we're not looking at former military members," he said.  "It would have to be something they were concerned about, or someone they're concerned is involved" with extremist groups.

Mr. Ward said that the FBI's general counsel reviewed the operation before it began, "to make sure any tripwires we set do not violate any civil liberties."
The government, at all levels, need to be vigilent with regard to extremists of all stripes.  They need to do that while protecting the rights of all citizens (including the extremists) and avoiding actions that polarize the people.

Regards  —  Cliff

Guns for Mexico

I am just not bright enough to know how to post a comment to Mr Mill City's blog.  But, still, I want to comment on an item in yesterday's collection of items.

They have this comment
Shouldn't it be easier to get a gun an Mexico?
which included a link to an item in The New York Times.

The question of the source of guns for the Mexican drug cartels has been an issue of discussion for several weeks.  The idea of a circular trade—drugs to the US and guns to Mexico—has some logical appeal, except the drugs only pass through Mexico, so some cash is having to move in this trade cycle.  The problem is, in my mind, why are they buying expensive weapons in the US and then smuggling them back into Mexico?  Why not buy them from places where they are cheaper and then smuggle them in to Mexico.  Are we to understand it is easier to smuggle an AK-47—its not like it is a US Army model—across the border from the US than it is to ship it in from some former Soviet (or current Russian) client state?

Here is a report from Fox News, saving it isn't so. For those of you who distrust Fox News, how about The Los Angeles Times.  Their story says weapons are coming up from Central America.

I hope this current discussion of the arms race in Mexico is about showing the Mexican Government our heart is in the right place and not an end run on the Second Amendment.  That kind of move would cause some of us to become a little distrustful of the current Administration.

But, for The New York Times, the conclusion continues to be that they are not doing a good job of reporting the news.  Where is the "in depth" reporting that would have turned up the facts and avoided the errors?

Regards  —  Cliff

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Right Wing Extremists

A Department of Homeland Security report on Right Wing Extremism ("Rightwing Extremism:  Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment") made it out into the public this week, upsetting Veterans and others. It came from the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis and was dated 7 April 2009. Missed was the report dated 26 January 2009, "Leftwing Extremists Likely to Increase Use of Cyber Attacks over the Coming Decade."

It is to be said that the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, was on Fox News this morning, apologizing to veterans.

The Secretary had forgotten, earlier, the number one rule of life in DC, if it is a written report, you are likely to see it on the front page of The Washington Post the next day. But, kudos for a good recovery.

The "Right Wing Extremism" report, which was the first of the two I heard about, got under my skin, and that of the Head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, because of the lack of nuance in talking about returning veterans.
DHS/I&A assesses that the combination of environmental factors that echo the 1990s, including heightened interest in legislation for tighter firearms restrictions and returning military veterans, as well as several new trends, including an uncertain economy and a perceived rising influence of other countries, may be invigorating rightwing extremist activity, specifically the white supremacist and militia movements. To the extent that these factors persist, rightwing extremism is likely to grow in strength.
To this we might add a footnote on page 2.
Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
And the report on the Left Wing wasn't much better.
DHS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines leftwing extremists as groups or individuals who embrace radical elements of the anarchist, animal rights, or environmental movements and are often willing to violate the law to achieve their objectives. Many leftwing extremist groups are not hierarchically ordered with defined members, leaders, or chain of command structures but operate as loosely-connected underground movements composed of “lone wolves,” small cells, and splinter groups.
There is not doubt in my mind that there are veterans who go off to the left or the right. But, if they become an animal rights extremist or believe that the Federal Government is out to take away the Bill of Rights and they need to take to the hills to fight it, we should not take them on as an extreme version of normal political discourse, but should group into their own categories.

I don't deny that there are extremists and that they come out of the general population, including veterans and gun rights advocates and those who think that our forests are so important that we need to stop logging no matter what.

But, these kinds of reports, which provide little that is new, do serve as platforms for groups on either side to condemn their political opponents, as in this blog post.

I believe we need to distinguish between small groups and large groups. Large groups of people are for a "right to bear arms" sense of the Second Amendment. That doesn't mean they are members of one militia or another. There is no correlation there. There is a coincidence. People who recycle paper and put a tag on their EMails asking that the recipient not print out the EMail if it is not needed are not the same as those who drive spikes into trees that might be harvested at some time in the future (the spikes endangering the lives of the loggers as they cut down the tree).

Regards  —  Cliff

PS Here is some academic research on "militia groups." I received it from a reliable source, but have not researched it myself. It shows that yes, the militias recruit from the military, as did, the Black Panthers. On the other hand, Bill Ayers had not military experience and that didn't stop him from being a violent extremist.
Qualitative studies indicate many militia members are military (in particular Vietnam) veterans or law enforcement personnel (Akins, 1998; Gallaher, 2003; Karl, 1995; Kramer, 2002; Seul, 1997) and O'Brien and Haider-Markel (1998) found more militia groups in states with higher rates of Gulf War veterans. Ethnographic studies have found militia members to be overwhelmingly male (Chermak, 2002; Gallaher, 2003; Mitchell, 2002; Seul, 1997; Tapia, 2000) and the content analysis by Weeber and Rodeheaver (2003) of 171 militia members' internet traffic revealed that 97% were male and most were white. While prior research has not usually found a relationship between the militia movement and cultural diversity (Freilich, 2003; Van Dyke & Soule, 2002,3 but see Akins, 1998) or African American empowerment (Van Dyke and Soule, 2002), scholars have found hostility to feminism and acceptance of traditional notions of masculinity to be popular among many militia members (Kimmel & Ferber, 2000; Seul, 1997). On the state level, however, Freilich (2003) and Van Dyke and Soule (2002) found opposite associations between female empowerment and the militia movement. The latter found the percent female of the state legislature to be positively related to the number of militia/patriot groups, while Freilich found a negative association between female-to-male earning power and the number of militia groups. All three previous state-level studies found gun culture to be related to the number ofmilitia groups. O'Brien and Haider-Markel (1998) found more militias in states with more subscribers to the NRA's American Rifleman magazine. Freilich (2003) found greater numbers of militia groups in states with a stronger paramilitary culture (an index comprised of the American Rifleman subscription rates, full-time state and local police personnel, current military members and their families, and Vietnam and Gulf War veterans). Van Dyke and Soule (2002) found that states with weaker gun control laws had more militia groups (though the authors noted that this finding also supports McAdam's political opportunity model discussed below).

Finally, the fundamentalist-religious component of the paramilitary culture thesis was supported by Akins' (1998) individual-level study in Florida that found an association between religious fundamentalism and militia participation (see also Dyer, 1997; Seul, 1997; Smith, 1994).

Posse Comitatus Act Today

Law Professor Glenn Reynolds, author of the Blog Instapundit links to this news story about the new border "czar," Alan Bersin.  He and Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, met on the bridge over the Rio Grande, between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  Quoting from the AP report:
"The posse comitatus have served this country well," he said, referring to laws that prevent the U.S. military from operating as law enforcement within the U.S.
Ah, the Posse Comitatus Act. Professor Reynolds says:  "Good."

But, while I agree with Professor Reynolds, I think that a too easy agreement, without knowing the history of the Act, is a disservice to our history.  So, we take advantage of the research done by Mr Matt Matthews, out in Leavenworth Kansas. His monograph, The Posse Comitatus Act and the United States Army:  A Historical Perspective, tells us the sorted history of this Act. Here is the Act itself:
After much political wrangling, Kentucky Congressman J. Proctor Knott introduced the following amendment to the Army appropriations bill:
From and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States as a posse comitatus, or otherwise, for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress; no money appropriated by this act shall be used to pay any of the expenses incurred in the employment of any troops in violation of this section and any person willfully violating the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars or imprisonment not exceeding two years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
The reason for the act is that the White majority in the South, and in particular the Southern Democrats who again controlled the US House of Representatives, wanted to stop the US Army from interfering in local government, including backing up the US Marshals charged with enforcing the law.

As Matt Matthews points out, what really brought this to a head was the combination of the South regaining its power in Congress after the Civil War and the disputed election of 1876.  Again, Mr Matthews:
The presidential race of 1876 between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and his Democratic opponent Samuel J. Tilden was so close that a special commission, comprised of members of the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court, was required to determine the winner. In return for a Democratic promise not to challenge the commission’s findings, President-elect Hayes, in what can only be described as a “back-room deal,” vowed to remove a large portion of the Army from the South.  Furthermore, he assured Southerners that the federal government would no longer interfere in their internal affairs. In this so called “Compromise of 1876,” black civil rights became the first casualty.
Mr Matthews has footnotes at the link above.

So, while the Klan grew, the Posse Comitatus Act kept the US military from getting in the way when federal laws were violated.  Fortunately, we have made good progress in the area of Civil Rights since the period of "Reconstruction," and new concerns exist about privacy Federal Government interference, so I agree with Professor Reynolds.  However, this was originally a law instituted to prevent the enforcement of Federal laws that were designed to prevent bad things from happening to innocent people.

Back to Mr Matthews.  He is a frequent speaker at Civil War Roundtables; and he has appeared on the History Channel as an historian for Bill Kurtis’ "Investigating History."  Mr. Matthews was the mayor and city commissioner of Ottawa, Kansas, from 1993 to 1999.

Regards  —  Cliff

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Oh Great!

For my birthday I got a Kindle—the Amazon electronic book reading device.  The first book I downloaded was David Kilcullen's Accidental Guerrilla.  I am about 12% of the way through the book (I know that because, down at the bottom of the screen, instead of a page number, it provides a percent complete.

Now comes the same David Kilcullen being briefly interviewed by IBN, which I take to be Indian Broadcast Network (the first clue that it is India is that one of the tabs on the home page is for cricket). The interview can be found here.

The lede is Dr Kilcullen telling us that we are about three months from a governmental collapse in Pakistan.  Then the money quote:
The consultant David Kilcullen has warned that if collapse happens—"It will dwarf anything we've seen so far. Pakistan has a military intelligence establishment that refuses to follow the civilian leadership. Pakistan has 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than America's and the headquarters of al-Qaeda sitting in two-thirds of the country which the Government does not control.”
Now, there is a happy prospect.  We finally get the US Government focused on Mexico, from which it has been distracted since 9/11 by al Qaeda, and now a failed Pakistan rears its ugly head to again distract the US Government form Mexico . And, with 100 nuclear warheads and our supply line to Afghanistan, we have to be distracted. And, unfortunately, the ISI—the Inter-Services Intelligence organization is a rogue operation and is, or should be, of major concern. Some call ISI a state within a state and accountable to no one.  It is reported to have links to the Taliban and to al Qaeda.  Which way will ISI lean if Pakistan does collapse—Pakistan a state with 100 nuclear weapons.

Incidentally, Wikipedia isn't keeping up, in that it doesn't have Dr Kilcullen's latest book, the one I am reading, listed in his bio.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  See you down by City Hall at 1600 for the "Tea Party."

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Blog Listed

I have listed a new blog on my list of blogs—"My Blog List--Outside Lowell."

This is "Life on the {Scrap}beach" and it is about scrapping.

If you remember "New in Town," with Renee Zellweger as Lucy Hill, executive from Miami, Florida, dropped down in New Ulm, Minnesota, you may remember an early scene, where Ms Hill is in a car with the real estate agent, Trudy Van Uuden, who casually asks, "Do you scrap?"  Innocent enough question, but Ms Hill has no idea what the lady is talking about.

So, now as a counterpoint, we have the scrapper from Miami, Kathryn Krieger.  Yes, this is a shameless plug.  That said, Ms Krieger does seem to have a nice rig for doing YouTube videos of her scrapping work. Scrapping is not for everybody, but this is the internet.  There is always interested somewhere.  Her YouTube efforts have been reviewed and critiqued in Germany and she has 100 subscribers on YouTube.  I should be doing so good.

Regards  —  Cliff

Pirates and President Obama

At this location Eric Posner talks about what we can do about the piracy thing.  Worth the read.  His conclusion is that there isn't much we can do in the mid-term (we have already acted in the short-term, in ways that we applaud, but may later regret).

Does anyone out there have a solution that will reduce the piracy problem, maintain our relations with our allies, curry favor in the Horn of Africa and also boost the standard of living of those who have felt forced to turn to piracy?  If so, I think I can get you an interview with mid-level officials in the Obama Administration. Just let me know.

Regards  —  Cliff

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Pirate Thing

Who has not been following the pirate takeover of a US Flagged merchantman, the MAERSK ALABAMA?

There are 300 million opinions on this, and that is just in the US.

Here is the take by Mr Bill Lind:  "A Barometer of Order."  I think that Mr Lind makes a good point that piracy—raw capitalism, "red in tooth and claw"—is an indicator of general world order.  And, he makes a good point about it being seen as a problem since the days Rome ruled the waves.

The other thing Mr Lind's article does is satisfy our desire to wade in with both guns blazing.  Unfortunately, that is not a good solution.

In the immediate situation we want Captain Richard Phillips back safe and sound.  At some point the pirates will run out of food (although a report I read said the lifeboat was stocked for 38 people for ten days.  That sounds like about 70 days of food, assuming they are careful and not worried about kosher cooking.  But, the pirates are not about Wahhabist Islam but about making money.  They may well be prepared to negotiate.   We want Captain Phillips back.

Then there is the long range issue. What do we do to deter further such attacks?

A good first step is to ask if this is our problem?  It is to the extent that we depend upon ocean shipping for our international trade.  On the other hand, we have been immune to this problem in that we don't have that many US flagged ships out there to be attacked.  The Dayton Daily News has this quote:
Douglas J. Mavrinac, the head of maritime research at investment firm Jefferies & Co, estimates that only about 5 percent of ships sailing in international waters fly a U.S. flag.
This ship was US flagged because it was carrying cargo for the US Federal Government—as required by the contract.

OK, so it is 95% someone else's problem.  How many are voting for the US to step back and let someone else take the lead for once?

If we take the lead, we have to then ask ourselves what we want to do. We could go in and level the home base, but as kad barma pointed out so long ago I probably can't find it, a lot of those people are just fishermen.  If we act, we will be judged, so we want to show some prudence.

Then there is the question of if we want to try these folks in court.  The British Foreign Office (read State Department) has warned the Royal Navy to not capture any of these folks, for fear they will then demand political asylum.  Such is the modern world, per historian Sir John Keegan, OBE, writing in the Sunday Telegraph.  Sir John wants to hunt down the pirates and sink their ships on sight.  This goes along with the old fashioned view that pirates are hanged without a trial.

Of course that all comes out as Westerners oppressing Muslims.

The perfect plan would be to loan the Saudi Arabians three of our LCS platforms and let them do the job.  That isn't going to happen, so we will have to continue to patrol and slowly whittle away at the problem.

One last thought, before you second-guess the US Navy Captain of the USS BAINBRIDGE, remember, he is being second-guessed by experts in Washington.  And, if he doesn't follow their advice he is on his own.

This is a problem with no simple solutions, although I would like to just strafe the pirate home base myself.  Isn't going to happen and wouldn't work anyway.

One last thought.  Some tout this as a test of President Obama.  I don't think so.  This does not rise to the level of the President and we shouldn't try to make it do so.  This is a problem for DoD and DoS.

UPDATE I changed hung to hanged. Thanks to $Bill. He also pointed out that I used "since" when I should have said "because." Also, I corrected the spelling of "following." And, I put an "ing" on carry.

The good news update is that we have Captain Phillips back.

Regards  —  Cliff

Here is a hint...

For those wondering about the Out Back Question of the week, here is a hint, from a recent "Sun Talk Live."

It is on "Facebook."

And here is Sandi Martinez's EMail...

Regards  —  Cliff

Back to County Government?

I was reading the "Saturday Chat" in The Lowell Sun and when I got to the jump I thought that Kendall Wallace was saying it is time to bring back County Government.

For those of you who have never heard of County Government, it is the way most of the nation (and some of the Commonwealth) achieves decentralization, while retaining the efficiency and effectiveness of some degree of centralization.  Just about the time I got here, we the people voted to do away with most of County Government.  My sense, at the time, was that we didn't wish to waste our tax dollars on that degree of decentralization/centralization.  Now we have the folks on Beacon Hill providing too much centralization.

I believe Mr Wallace is correct about the value of some consolidation.  But, I suggest we don't need a hodgepodge of arrangements for all the consolidations we might benefit from.  That said, I am not sure the old Counties were small enough to meet today's needs, which are centered, as Mr Wallace says, around police and fire and DPW and the sharing of big equipment and computer systems.  Actually, it isn't the computers as much as the software.  After all, how many copies of Microsoft Project do we need in the area?  I would say one planner and one computer and one copy of the software could handle Lowell and the surrounding towns.

If you looked at the link at "County Government" above, you might have thought that Middlesex County, our County, is pretty big. I think that is the case.  We should be looking for an organization that is sized to meet the common needs, values and responsibilities of a group of citizens.  You can get a sense that Middlesex County is too big an entity from the fact that we have two Registers of Deeds (ours is Dick Howe, who will be on WCAP Monday at 0700).  Also, SEVEN of our ten members of the US House of Representatives represent a piece of Middlesex County.

Mr Wallace is on to a good idea.  However, it needs a bit of refinement.  Maybe next Saturday will reveal more.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  Attribution for the phrase "needs, values and responsibilities" goes to Dr John Richard Paron

Out Back Question of the Week

Late!  Late!  Late!

I apologize.

The question is, what event is happening in Lowell on Wednesday, 15 April, between 1600 and 2000 (4:00 PM to 8:00 PM)?

Regards  —  Cliff

The Taliban and Women's Rights

On Friday Ellen Goodman wrote in The Boston Globe about Afghan President Hamid Karzai allowing a small minority in his country to implement the more strict view of women's rights under Sharia.

I agree with Ms Goodman.  This is a step backward.  And, the quote she has from Dr Sima Samar, chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission,
Human rights are not a Western concept, but universal, and necessary for all human beings.
is perfect.

The problem is, what to do about it.

Ms Goodman belittles President Karzai by labeling him "our man in Kabul."  This is a key point when we are "helping" other nations develop as democracies.  When does "our man" become "his own man?"  If I was an Afghan reading the article I would be digging in my heels by the fourth paragraph.

We also have the question as to when our view of human rights becomes our right to intervene in the the affairs of another nation?  Isn't this what we have been told former President George Bush did wrong (and worse, did wrong after saying it was the kind of thing the US shouldn't do)?

I hope there is another column coming from Ms Goodman.  This opinion piece, "Taliban, the Sequel," identifies a problem.

What we need is the Goodman Sequel, "Possible Courses of Action."

Regards  —  Cliff

Friday, April 10, 2009

When Will Ted Stevens Go Away?

I keep thinking the Ted Stevens case will finally go away, but it doesn't.  The reason this is important is because it goes to the integrity of the US justice system.  If the prosecutors will lie (I hate to be harsh, but the sloppiness in the Stevens case suggests corruption, not incompetence), then we are all at risk to some degree.

Today's offering is from Clarice Feldman of the American Thinker, and titled "Policing the Prosecutors."  (While the American Thinker lists seven contributors, the provide biographies for only six.  Missing is Ms Feldman.  She is listed as Chief Investigative Correspondent.)

At any rate, this is a bit long and involved.  If what Ms Feldman suggests about the prosecution of Senator Stevens is correct then maybe both Kad Barma and I will have to admit that it was more than technical errors on the part of the Prosecution and that, at least in this case, Senator Stevens may have been badly abused.

From my point of view, this is not about Attorney General Eric Holder.  He seems to be doing the right thing.  This problem has been around since the Bush Administration and maybe longer.  I sure hope this is not the Federal Law Enforcement establishment's equivalent of the Catholic Church's pedophile scandal.  That is to say, they knew it was going on for a long time, but to avoid scandal tainting their good work, the Justice Department covered it up and moved the offending prosecutors around.

Those of us who are law and order folks need to think about these kinds of issues.  Letting someone off because of not following the rules (e.g., Miranda) seems foolish, but convicting the innocent because the prosecution has cooked the books is government crime that should be strongly punished. Such things are the reason the Bill of Rights reads the way it does.

To answer the title question, maybe not for a long time.


I am trying to go to bed, but I keep coming across this stuff.  Now we have a Federal case in South Florida where prosceutorial misconduct cost us taxpayers $600K.  Read about it here.  The blogger comments:
Clearly the new AG Holder is taking a strong position against prosecutorial misconduct and sending that clear message to those in his office, something that is wonderful to see happening.  But if this were a corporation that had committed misconduct, would these acknowledgments and payment be sufficient?
No, they would not. But, still, kudos to AG Eric Holder.

Regards  —  Cliff

RMV Visit

Sadly, another birthday was coming up, so I hied myself on down to the Lowell RMV.

I was going to get there at 0800, but my wife suggested it opened at 0900. She was right, except for Thursday, the day I picked.  On Thursdays the RMV stays open late and thus opens at 1000.  I got there at 0930, hoping to avoid the first wave, but got in line at 0940, about a dozen back.  It as cold and windy and I wished I had put on my thin long johns.  As the clocked moved to 1000 the line was long enough to be to the other end of the building.

The door opened a couple of minutes late and there a slight delay as the person opening the door had trouble setting the panic bar lock-back device.

We moved right up to the greeter and I was up to her in a couple of minutes.  In the mean time a gentleman was ushering folks in and bending the line back into the building and down one side, noting to all that we needed to get all the people in because it was cold outside.

I was given a form, told to fill it out and told to then come back to the head of the line.  The form was easy to fill out and I was quickly back with the greeter, who checked my form and gave me a number and told me the area to sit.

I was on the bench for about five minutes and was called up.  Without a word exchanged (I am basically shy) I passed in my form and my eye exam (done about a month earlier with my eye doctor) and my current license.  The lady quickly checked my paperwork, entered some information in a computer and then told me where to stand to get my photo taken.  The system popped up my photo right there for me to look at and it wasn't half bad for my age and weight.

The clerk gave me my temporary license and promised my regular would arrive in the mail within a week.

I then asked if Eileen Trainor was in.  Eileen, who I knew from her time as Choir Director at the Immaculate, runs the operation and I wanted to tell her that I thought it had gone very smoothly.  Alas, she was taking a day off.  The lady, waiting on me, who is from Saint Michael's, said that everyone needs a break once-in-a-while. I agree.

My experience with the RMV was very good. In and out in less than 20 minutes.  My wife got her new license a month ago and she said her experience was excellent.

The changes brought in by Daniel Grabauskas several years ago have stuck.  (The man needs his own Wiki page.)

For my money the RMV continues to be an example of good service for public and private organizations alike.

Regards  —  Cliff

Striving for Balance

I missed it, but someone pointed out that on the same week former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was convicted and sentence to 25 years in prison for authorizing "death squads," members of the US Congress were reporting on their meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In fighting the "Shining Path" insurgency (read terrorists) President Fujimori stepped over the line and when indicted, he returned to Peru to face the music.  At the same time, it looks like his daughter, legislator Keiko Fujimori, is going to run for President of Peru in 2011. She is one of the front runners.
Keiko Fujimori, a popular lawmaker, said many voters in Peru will start flocking to her family's party to protest the 25-year prison sentence her father received on Tuesday. He was found guilty of ordering two massacres that killed 25 people in the 1990s, when he was battling Maoist insurgents.

Despite the verdict, polls show a third of Peruvians still support the man credited with defeating the Shining Path guerrillas and enacting free-market economic reforms that helped generate years of growth.

"This sentence, which was so extreme, will be like a boomerang for people who think the Fujimori movement has been defeated," Keiko Fujimori, 33, told Peru's foreign press club.
But, back to Cuba and Castro and Congress.
A "very healthy, very energetic" Fidel Castro asked visiting Congressional Black Caucus members what Cuba could do to help President Barack Obama improve bilateral relations during his first meeting with U.S. officials since falling ill in 2006.

Caucus leader Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, said the ailing former Cuban president talked for nearly two hours with her and two other delegation members on Tuesday in a meeting seen as signaling Cuba's willingness to discuss better relations with the United States.
I guess that since Mr Castro didn't relinquish power through the electoral process and since he was teamed up with that popular psychopath and homophobe Ernesto "Che" Guevara, he gets a pass.

The nice thing about our form of government is that we have separation of powers.  On the other hand, it allows individual pockets within the government to do silly things. I am for opening full relations with Cuba.  I would just like our elected officials to recognize that the passing of decades doesn't mean that President Fidel Castro is now innocent of murder and imprisonment of those who didn't agree with him.

I am just asking for a little historic balance here—or at least recognition of Peru for being a much better government nation than poor Cuba.

Regards  —  Cliff

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Counter Productive Laws

I was going to skip blogging today.  This week we have "Spring Cleaning" at work and I have the refuse of several people to go through, including a couple of file drawers of stuff from my late, lamented boss, Dr Mike Wagner (Michael Paul Wagner, from Buffalo, NY).  So, I was coasting, until I came across a link from Instapundit to Reason Hit and Run to Cracked dot Com.  There I found a discussion of why speed limits and speed bumps and other such things appear to make sense, but actually may be counter-productive.  The post is titled "The 5 Most Popular Safety Laws (That Don't Work)."

My interest in this post goes back to when I was in High School.  My Father was the Chief of Safety at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. So, safety was a possible source of conversation.  I can't remember which magazine I saw it in (likely Atlantic Monthly), but there was an article that talked about how, when a community increased the speed limit on a particular urban road the actual average speed of motorist dropped.  The reason suggested was that drivers have a fair sense of what is a reasonable speed and when the posted speed limit is too low from the drivers' point of view, the drivers ignore the speed limit.  However, if the speed limit is within some range of what the drivers see as a reasonable speed for the road, they tend to conform to the speed limit.  I admit that this was back in the 1950s, when sex was dirty and the air was clean.  The world has certainly changed since those idyllic days.  However, I don't think it has changed that much.

So, the first of the five items mentioned in the blog post made good sense to me.

The item about speed bumps also made sense to me.  When I lived out in the countryside, in Prince William, Virginia, the goal for the volunteer fire and rescue service was to be able to reach any place within five minutes of receiving notification.  Speed bumps would be a definite impediment to achieving that goal.

The other three I leave up to your judgement and the comments section.

But, given Rep Kevin Murphy's view that we don't wish to have a nanny state, I think he would agree with the linked blog post.

Regards  —  Cliff

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cigs as Drugs

In yesterday's edition of The Boston Globe Columnist Derrick Jackson talked about the US House of Representatives voting to give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco.

Back in the day I was not bothered by cigarette smoke.  When you could still smoke on airliners I would sit in the back, with the smokers, because the statistics suggested that that was where the survivors sat.  And, we all knew that smoking was a problem, from Phil Harris to early 1960s fighter pilots:  "Definition of an optimist—an F-105 pilot who gives up smoking because he is afraid of dying of lung cancer."  I heard that in 1961, before Thuds were going "Downtown."

Today second hand smoke bothers me. I am even more bothered by the strange ways we cope with current restrictions on smoking. How is it good for Saints Medical Center to be smoke free and then have their smokers on the corner by the Immaculate Conception School or Christ United or Immaculate Conception Parish. Haven't those smokers ever heard of "field stripping" your cigarette? The right thing to do would be for SMMC to build a small smoking facility, complete with air handling and filters.

But, back to Mr Jackson.  I agree with him that we need to move to blunt "... the influence of Big Tobacco." However, I don't think he has gone far enough.  Given that tobacco will likely soon be in the hands of the FDA and given the odds that the outcome of any action will have unintended consequences, we need to start thinking five, ten or twenty years down the road. We need to think far enough down the road that we can visualize restrictions on tobacco sales getting to the point that smuggling becomes fashionable.  Not all at once, but a little bit, which will then make it socially acceptable to buy from the underground market. Then it will be like prohibition.  This would not be a desirable outcome, especially when we are looking at the Mexican Drug Cartels starting to penetrate into the US.

I recommend that we appoint two commissions.
  1. The first Commission is for the Federal Government and its job is to examine the impact of a reduction in smoking.  The statistics seem to suggest that amongst those who stop smoking, a certain percentage will eventually get sick and die.  Will the fact that they stopped smoking be a net plus or a net minus.  A study by Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi suggests that actually for every pack of cigs sold the nation gets a 32 ¢ savings.  The reason seems to be that non-smokers live longer and thus eat up more resources.  I am not saying this is bad—I just want a big Federal Panel to study the issue, tell us about it and make recommendations as to how we are going to adjust Social Security to account for a reduction in smoking.

  2. This second Commission is for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and needs to be appointed to provide input to the General Court about changes in revenue as new restrictions are added to tobacco and as tobacco taxes increase.  There should be no doubt about the fact that changes in the cost of tobacco will drive some to give it up and others to go the underground economy route and still others to just "cough" up the money.  Thus, since Beacon Hill is incapable of planning, this Commission should spread the word far and wide about programs that will be cut if we throttle back on cigarette sales.  In addition, I recommend this Commission include both Mr Jackson (he may need the job, depending on how things go at The Globe) and yours truly (I am looking for something challenging in semi-retirement).
We need to realize that the tobacco industry is one that pays wages, perhaps pays health benefits, pays taxes and pays dividends (and thus people pay taxes on those dividends).  None of this is a reason to not reduce tobacco usage.  However, they are all reasons to do this with a little planning.  This is not about branding a group of people evil and letting them suffer the consequences.  This should not be a witch hunt.  It is about figuring out how to transition a Nineteenth Century industry to the Twenty-First Century.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  I labeled this "Drug War" because passing tobacco over to the FDA is about making them drugs.

Don't Black Out

My Middle brother sent this along.  It is five videos of Atlanta Journal Constitution staffer Steve Beatty flying with Blue Angles pilot LT Kevin Davis.

It is always easier when you have the stick in your hand and you are making the decisions than when you are in the back seat (the "Pit" in the old F-4).

Mr Beatty didn't really go fully out.  Total G-LOC or G Loss of Consciousness can, in some cases, last for as long as half a minute and be fatal.

Regards  —  Cliff

What are Justices For?

Law professor Ann Althouse (University of Wisconsin Law School, in Madison) talks about Rep Barney Frank's recent outburst against Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  The article in The Chicago Tribune, "Barney Frank is all wrong on Scalia's dissent," is found here.

The payoff conclusion:
If [Representative] Frank succeeds in getting people to believe that judicial opinions are the kind wishes of good hearts, we will rubber-stamp these seemingly good people.

If we do that, we will have forgotten what law is, and our rights will depend on the continued beneficence of the judges we've empowered.
And, then we will no longer have our representative democracy, but a nation governed by an oligarchy, granted one our Senators have approved.  We will be like what the EU is becoming.  Or, God forbid, protected by a flexible judiciary such as existed in Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Beware.

Regards  —  Cliff

PS:  Here is Representative Frank's defense of his condemnation of Justice Scalia, on The Huffington Post.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nanny State

Given that last week on "City Life" State Rep Kevin Murphy (Dem / 18th Middlesex) panned the Nanny State, I am sure he will be against this idea out of New York City. Law Professor calls it "Public Policy That Makes Us All Guinea Pigs."

This is about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposing that industry take it upon itself to cut in half the salt content of its products. The original article, by the always interesting Mr John Tierney of The New York Times, talks about Mayor Bloomberg's plan and compares it to real science.
Suppose you wanted to test the effects of halving the amount of salt in people’s diets. If you were an academic researcher, you’d have to persuade your institutional review board that you had considered the risks and obtained informed consent from the participants.

You might, for instance, take note of a recent clinical trial in which heart patients put on a restricted-sodium diet fared worse than those on a normal diet. In light of new research suggesting that eating salt improves mood and combats depression, you might be alert for psychological effects of the new diet. You might worry that people would react to less-salty food by eating more of it, a trend you could monitor by comparing them with a control group.

But if you are the mayor of New York, no such constraints apply. You can simply announce, as Michael Bloomberg did, that the city is starting a “nationwide initiative” to pressure the food industry and restaurant chains to cut salt intake by half over the next decade. Why bother with consent forms when you can automatically enroll everyone in the experiment?
The Mayor of NYC wants me to join him in this experiment. My question is, will His Honor be in the courtroom along with the President and CEO of Swanson Foods, when this all goes wrong? I am thinking "Not likely."

Thank heavens for Rep Kevin Murphy. He will be keeping us safe.

Regards  —  Cliff

Speaking of Cars...

Mark Steyn, writing in National Review Online, suggests that you can have dual income families or small cars, but not both. He actually puts it a different way. In the article, "Auto Demography," commentator Steyn says you can have bigger cars or a declining birthrate.
There is a — drumroll, please — demographic element to the automobile question. Europeans often ask, "Why do Americans need those big cars?" The short answer is: Because Americans have kids and Europeans don't. So Italians and Spaniards and Germans (and Japanese) can drive around in things the size of a Chevy Suburban's cupholder because they've got nothing to put in them.
There is some truth in that comment.

The other thing, of course, is that for most of the United States there is space to build roads. Not true in Europe and not true in our Commonwealth, where the lack of decent roads leads to frustrated drivers, who become frayed drivers, who become dangerous drivers.

Regards  —  Cliff