Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hillary Clinton Goes Multiple Choice on Benghazi

Who killed Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012?
(A) A protest.
(B) Guys out for a walk one night who decided to go kill some Americans.
(C) What difference at this point does it make?
(D) Terrorist attacks that were part of a broader strategic challenge to the United States and our partners in North Africa.
The correct answer is (D) and you probably already knew that before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turned up for the Congressional oversight hearing this week. That's the answer she gave in her official statement. Why she found it necessary to add (A), (B), and (C) as part of her testimony is beyond me.

Still, the hearings were not especially illuminating as to what actually happened that night in Benghazi. We'll probably have to wait for the Hollywood movie. Meryl Streep will play Hillary, I predict.

If you want accountability, four State Department officials have been relieved of duty, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has been denied promotion, CIA Director David Petraeus has been cashiered, albeit ostensibly for other reasons, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is stepping down as is Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. There are probably several intelligence analysts who require reprimand for stopping at (A) instead of going directly to (D). That's enough accountability for me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Roe v. Wade and 40 Years of Adverse Possession

The controversial landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights turned 40 years old yesterday. That's long enough to establish adverse possession.

The core holding was on a right of personal privacy:
"This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."
Nowhere will you find right of privacy or abortion mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. However, that is an unconstitutional argument against the asserted right, as the plain language of the Ninth Amendment makes clear:
"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
Whether or not you agree with the decision, certain facts must be admitted. No Justice was impeached for the holding exceeding the Supreme Court's authority. No Constitutional Amendment has passed either House or Senate by the requisite two-thirds vote, no Constitutional Convention has been called, and no President has put enough votes on the Court to overturn it, although several could have.

Several words contained in the Fourteenth Amendment are worth looking at too on this anniversary:
"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Those phrases - privileges, immunities, life, liberty, property, due process, equal protection - are susceptible to being read narrowly or broadly. "Separate but equal" is a notorious example of a narrow reading, the law of the land supporting Jim Crow segregation from 1896 to 1954. Of course, that doctrine contained the seeds of its own destruction in the qualification "but equal."

It is the shame of social conservative Republicans that they have for 40 years not embraced the broad reading. One case they didn't like, which they could have distinguished based on competing life and liberty interests. That unnecessarily ceded libertarianism and egalitarianism to the Democratic Party.

Surely a government that can be kept out of the bedroom by the Fourteenth Amendment can also be kept out of the pocketbook. Property is listed right alongside life and liberty. The equal protection principle can be applied to equalizing tax rates. The Supreme Court could be debating how levying income tax on 53% of the people while exempting 47% is unequal, or how the federal government can't be granting privileges and immunities to some citizens and not to all.

Monday, January 21, 2013

An Oath to God and Country, Sworn on a Stack of Bibles

Three key excerpts from Barack Obama's second inaugural speech:
"The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed."
That simultaneously denies the right to rule not only to the 1% elite but also to the Occupy Wall Street mobs. Does using the word Republic instead of Democracy means that Barack Obama is really at heart a Republican and not a Democrat?
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
That came out a little wrong, at least to my ear. That phrase "to hear a king proclaim" was not spoken with a capital letter. The President meant Martin Luther King, Jr. but he sounded for a moment like he was talking about some foreign king.
My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.
Barack Obama has now taken the Presidential oath of office four times: Once at his first inauguration. Again the next day due to Chief Justice John Roberts botching the administration of the first oath. This Sunday, the day before his second inauguration ceremony which was delayed until Monday in deference to Sunday being a day of rest. And again Monday, because they didn't dare hold the public ceremony without it.

Only FDR has taken the oath as many times, and he was elected President four times. That's a whole lot of swearing for Barack Obama, and a stack of Bibles:
The Robinson Family Bible owned by Obama’s paternal grandparents
The Lincoln Bible used to swear in President Abraham Lincoln in 1861
The King Bible which belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Article II section 1 paragraph 7 of the U.S. Constitution prescribes:
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: -- "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
That word "he" is going to become a problem for sticklers should we ever elect a woman President of the United States of America.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

December Cattle Drive and Cows with Dirty Bottoms

I was back in Iowa in early December, and helped get the herd up for the bred heifer sale. The grass is short due to last summer's drought. We used to do this on foot, now we have ATVs. As the cattle go through the gate, you'll see them kick up their heels.

When you run a cattle herd through a gate, there's always at least one calf that hangs back, tries to run back, or follows down the fence instead of going through the gate. A mother cow usually won't let her calf get separated like that if you are driving the two of them, but in a herd the cow forgets about her calf. It's the herd mentality, safety in numbers.

A new lane runs from the big pasture to the barn. The hours we could have saved if we had built this lane 35 years ago.

The last video reminds me of something that my father said once at the dinner table to no one in particular. "There's a cow at the farm with a dirty bottom." To which my sister replied, "I don't have a dirty bottom."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Obama's High-Capacity Gun Violence Magazine

President Obama has announced his plan to curb gun violence. With 9 bullet points for Congressional action and 23 executive actions, that's a lot of ammunition.

When you consider that the legislative proposals could have been introduced and the executive actions taken four years ago, the 26 deaths last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School must weigh heavily on the administration's conscience.

Let's look at whether the President's plan is firing bullets or blanks.

Legislative ProposalsComments
1.Eliminating loopholes and requiring background checks for all gun salesGood.
2.Reinstating the prohibition on high-capacity magazinesObama's proposed limit is 10 rounds. I'd set the national limit at 15 or 20 rounds and let states set lower limits if they want. The new 7 round limit in New York is silly, but I don't live in that state.
3.Renewing and strengthening the ban on assault weaponsWhat makes .223 semi-automatic rifles a weapon of mass murder is the high-capacity magazines, so I'd collect the high-capacity magazines and let the gun owners keep their rifles.
4.Creating serious penalties for gun traffickersI'd legislate one set of harsh penalties for trafficking to criminals and another set of not overly harsh fines for technical violations in sales between otherwise law-abiding citizens.
5.Getting armor-piercing bullets off the streets by prohibiting the possession and transfer of this dangerous ammunitionOK. That's largely to protect police, bank guards, and security officers, but the devil is in the details as to what would be banned and whether criminals can get the banned ammunition anyway.
6.Keep 15,000 cops on the streetWhere and how will these cops be deployed?
7.Further research on gun violenceCan't hurt, but we know the problems are mental illness and deinstitutionalization, poverty and broken families, and drugs and criminality.
8.Help schools develop and implement comprehensive emergency management plansGood. This was one of the NRA proposals.
9.Removing restrictions that require ATF to authorize importation of dangerous weapons simply because of their ageI wasn't aware we had a crime problem with imported antique firearms.
Executive ActionsComments
1.Require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check systemLet me guess, were federal agencies were sending in too much irrelevant data or failing to send in relevant data. You just can't assume law enforcement competence.
2.Address unnecessary legal barriers that may prevent states from making information available to the background check systemGood. Unless the barrier is the Constitution, which some gun control fanatics regard as unnecessary.
3.Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check systemGood. If it's a mandate on the states, how about paying for it?
4.Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracksInsert snide Fast and Furious remark here.
5.Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gunGood.
6.Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellersIf I were selling firearms privately, I'd want to do this even if it were on a voluntarily basis. You inadvertently sell a gun to a drug dealer and pretty soon he's ratting you out as his "accomplice" in return for a reduced sentence. Plus you are guaranteed an unwanted visit from the police.
7.Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaignAnother NRA proposal. Will they run my Shoot Yourself First PSA?
8.Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission)Let's remember that unnecessary "safety" regulations that drive up the costs of these products would self-defeating.
9.Require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigationsGood.
10.Release a DOJ (Department of Justice) report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcementGood. Are these the long-awaited Fast and Furious documents?
11.Nominate an ATF directorWould it help to depoliticize this agency to have it run by a career law enforcement person rather than a political appointee?
12.Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situationsYet another NRA proposal.
13.Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crimeGood.
14.Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violenceMental illness is a disease, criminality is a choice. Where do I collect my research grant money?
15.Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologiesUltimately, outside of a suicide, no one wants to get shot by their own gun.
16.Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homesI'm not sure that a doctor asking a well person if they have a gun in their home does much to advance the cause. The standard of care in treating a mentally disturbed person should be to ask about guns as well as others things the person might use to harm themselves or others and, if the person is a minor, talk to the parents.
17.Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authoritiesIt's funny how laws designed to protect patient privacy can be turned into shields to protect health care providers from responsibility and criticism.
18.Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officersIf "resource officer" means armed guard that's what the NRA asked for. If "resource officer" means mental health social worker, that may be good too.
19.Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher educationPadding the plan with a repeat of an NRA proposal. See legislative proposal 8 above.
20.Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must coverGetting a little off topic here.
21.Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchangesAgain.
22.Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulationsAnd again.
23.Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental healthNational dialogues are generally a call to inaction, so it's a bit disappointing for the President's plan to end on this note.

All in all, it's not a bad plan. I can support it in general if not in all particulars. It would be nice to see a price tag. I want $X billion to fight gun violence has a clarity that 32 bullet points don't. And that helps lead the discussion to whether we are getting $X billion worth of added protection for our money.

I'm afraid I have an image of a lots of people showing up with grants proposals for the various surveys, studies, and planning dissipating the main effort, which I would say is beefing up the background check system.

Also, I think the President has largely missed a central problem of getting severely disturbed individuals onto a no buy list earlier in their mental illness. A great many of these mass shooters have or should have been been kicked out of schools, universities, the military, and other government run institutions for their bizarre and dangerous behavior.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Obama Dares Boehner to Cut up the Credit Cards

The debt limit impasse in Washington seems to have taken a turn today with President Obama announcing:
"The issue here is whether or not America pays its bills. We are not a deadbeat nation. And so there's a very simple solution to this. Congress authorizes us to pay our bills."
This is starting to sound like two spouses fighting over who can charge what on the family credit card. But who is the husband and who is the wife? Surely the President is the husband and Speaker Boehner is the wife.

What President Obama says he wants:
"making sure that we are reducing our health care spending, which is the main driver of our deficits"
What President Obama says he doesn't want:
"What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people; the threat that unless we get our way, unless you gut Medicare or Medicaid or, you know, otherwise slash things that the American people don't believe should be slashed, that we're going to threaten to wreck the entire economy. That is not how historically this has been done. That's not how we’re going to do it this time."
Now, excuse me for being confused but the health care spending that President Obama wants to cut is the same Medicare and Medicaid that he doesn't want Boehner to gut. That sounds like wife logic to me. And, as everyone knows, the wife always wins and the husband always loses. And if the husband does win, he loses later.

It's enough to make John Boehner cry, which come to think of it is the one way Boehner can win, by out-wifing the President of the United States. Didn't Boehner just take a political beating from Obama on taxes? Well, husband, you can't win and not expect to lose later.

Now don't blame me for comparing Obama and Boehner to a couple of bickering spouses. I got that image from the President himself (and this reads like husband logic to me):
You don’t go out to dinner and then, you know, eat all you want and then leave without paying the check. And if you do, you’re breaking the law. And Congress is -- should think about it the same way that the American people do. You don’t -- now if -- if Congress wants to have a debate about maybe we shouldn't go out to dinner next time, maybe we should go to a more modest restaurant, that's fine. That -- that's a debate that we should have. But you don't -- you don't say, in order for me to control my appetites, I'm going to not pay the people who are provided me services, people who already lent me the money. That -- that's not -- that's not showing any discipline. All that's doing is not meeting your obligations. You can't do that.
By the way, we are, objectively, a deadbeat nation and wrecking the entire economy is, historically, how we handle fiscal problems. If the $16.5 trillion in national debt is as unsustainable as it feels, the only way out is to stiff the creditors after running the country into bankruptcy. If that's the plan, we better get on with it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Alex Jones Unloads on Piers Morgan

Alex Jones can get on the boat too:

It's so obvious that Piers Morgan would need confiscate all guns to reduce the number of guns deaths in the U.S. to the level of his homeland the United Kingdom, but he only talks about banning semi-automatic rifles and rarely says anything about putting more teeth into the background check laws.

By the way, this is the second 9/11 truther Piers Morgan has interviewed on that subject in the last few months. Providing a platform for that nonsense is another reason for Piers Morgan to be thrown off CNN, if not sent packing back to his home country.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Can the Twenty-Teens End the Long Suck?

It was three years and a day ago that I waved goodbye to the decade with no name. That decade sucked and in ushering in the new decade, I observed, "We could be in for 3 more years of suckiness before the greatness of the Twenty-Teens can truly reign."

Well, knowing the last 3 years would suck didn't make the suck any easier to bear. But now they are over. I watched the Rose Parade from Pasadena this morning, just like I always did when I was a kid back in the 1970s. People now say the 1970s sucked, but I don't remember that. I thought they were prosperous and fun.

"Oh, the Places You'll Go" was the theme for the Rose Parade, complete with a book reading. And I picked up on this part of the reading, "When you're in a Slump, you're not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done."

It's all about attitude, I suppose, and eliminating the negativity. When I made my list of people to deport with Piers Morgan, it included most of the nightly lineup on MSNBC and Fox News, so I'm done with all those guys.

I'll get my cable news from Erin Burnett, the cute brunette on CNN who knows the value of a dollar, or not at all. Congress, call me maybe when you've actually done something. If you just want to talk incessantly about what you want to do, I'm not listening. La la la.