Saturday, May 14, 2016

Vacation Time!!

It has been a while,again. Life gets so busy and I just forget to take notes... This weekend, we are heading south to San Antonio. Six Flags, later today, then Sea World tomorrow. Of course, the weather report says rain for both days.

Tonight, Six Flags is doing fireworks - their Sprint Blast! Their water park is supposed to be open, too.

Sea World is previewing their new Discovery Point area. This replaces the old dolphin pool. The new facility will allow visitors to interact with the dolphins in the water. In another area of the tank, visitors can watch the dolphins under water. It should be interesting. Tomorrow is also the last day for their annual Seven Seas Food Festival. We went to Sea World about a month ago and bought passes for the Food Festival and sampled some of the fare. Tomorrow, we will sample the rest.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Today, on the website Slate, Jamelle Bouie penned their cover article, How Trump Happened: It’s not just anger over jobs and immigration. White voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama. While she makes many valid points and I am sure that white racism form a significant part of the problem, I think she misses the bigger picture.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, we were taught that once you got out of school, regardless of whether it was high school or college, you looked for a job with a good solid company. If the first one did not fit or proved unstable, there were others. You had about five or six shots before recruiters would discount you as a suitable employee. You then stayed with that company until you retired. If you were good, you might get promoted into management and up the corporate chain. We knew that most of us would not make it that far. In return, we expected a steady paycheck with regular increases and the promise of a pension when we reached retirement age.

Sound too good to be true? Not to us! We are "Baby Boomers!" We saw our parents, especially our fathers or our friends' fathers, do it successfully! Our families moved from the racially and ethnically segregated neighborhoods of the cities into the suburbs. Instead of renting an apartment, our families owned a little piece of land. While most of us were white, there was a sprinkling of non-whites in our suburban blocks (at least in my part of the country) – although I am of German-American stock, the ancestors others within a block of my parents house hailed from Ireland, England, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Romania, Egypt, the Netherlands, the American Midwest and the American South. The non-whites were just like us, with jobs in the defense industries, auto repair, banking, retail, restaurants and teaching. Racism and ethnic-ism were rampant, with derogatory slang for each of us – you learned to live with it and get into fights about it.

Perhaps I am presenting a romanticized version of life when I was growing up. But remember, I was a child. I now know that many families never escaped from the cities, living in much less comfortable surroundings with what is now called "food insecurity."

The first real crack in the bubble was the Vietnam War, when many of my classmates got shipped off to Southeast Asia. Some never returned. Some returned to be interred. The rest came back changed in a way that I, as someone who was not drafted, can never understand.

The next crack was the 1970s, when the "oil shocks" and serious inflation hit. Wages, both for us and our parents, just could not keep up with the cost of living. Major US corporations began to curtail their pension plans and the unions, who had grown fat on corruption in the 1940s through the 1960s, failed to take notice or action. Our parents were squeezed out, years before they would be eligible for the promised pensions.

It has been all downhill since then. Instead of secure, stable jobs, the companies we worked for kept hiring, laying off and often, reorganizing in bankruptcy. My own resume is littered with companies that no longer exist. Only two of the companies I worked for will pay me anything in my retirement. Prices keep going up, but wages do not. I currently earn over twice my father's top salary, but that wage buys less than his did.

None of what I have just described is racial or ethnic. We are now at or beyond the "normal retirement age," but have little to show for it. We cannot wait ten or twenty years for our nation to recover from the last fifty years of stupid, wasteful policies. President Obama is just another politician that says, "Wait, things will get better." We have heard this lie from administration after administration. On the promise of "Hope and Change," we voted Obama into office, but he has left us without either hope or change: our paychecks are stagnant and, every day in little ways, prices deliberately left out of President Franklyn Roosevelt's Consumer Price Index keep crawling up, especially food and medical care.

Now, eight years after electing Obama, we are more desperate. Who are we to turn to? Hillary Clinton? Her husband's policies led to the "Great Recession" ten years later. Bernie Sanders? He talks a good game and is getting significant Baby Boomer support from those of us who have, in spite of the odds, done reasonably well. Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz? They are too inexperienced – we had that in Obama. Of all of the candidates for this cycle, only Donald Trump is promising to make America great again. Although it is probably pie-in-the-sky, it sounds as attractive to us as FDR's "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" did to our parents.

To put it succinctly: Trump is offering us hope. None of the other candidates, with all their pretty speeches and proposed programs, are offering that. God help us all!

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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Bill of Rights, Part II - The Second Five

The Bill of Rights

Amendment VI

Another "dirty trick" that has long been used by governments around the world to silence someone is to arrest the person but then never quite get around to charging the person with a crime or bringing the person to trial. Or, if the person is actually brought to trial, it is done in a way that makes it very difficult for the press, relatives, defense witnesses and often the defense counsel to attend.

During the Colonial period in America, the British often dragged alleged criminals to England for trial. Often, after the trial, the defendant could not afford to return to the Colonies and remained in England. From this practice, the Sixth Amendment was born:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Over the years, American law enforcement, quite famously, denied many alleged criminals their rights. Police detectives would arrest a suspect, question them for hours, until they would confess to anything. The suspects did not know about their rights to a lawyer or that they did not have to incriminate themselves. As alleged criminals became more aware of their rights, cases worked their way up to the US Supreme Court. The Court decided, in 1966, the case of Miranda vs Arizona that this police tactic was illegal. This led to the "Miranda Warnings" which American law enforcement officers must give to suspects when they are arrested, either verbally or on a card such as this:

Amendment VII

A key concept of British law was trial by jury. Unfortunately, in the Colonies, many civil legal decisions were decided by a judge in camera, often following the payment of a "fee" to assure that the judgment was in favor of the fee-payer. Twenty dollars, at the time, was a considerable sum of money. Thus was born:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Unfortunately, this still happens today — usually, with a little more discretion. Today, instead of a private decision and a fee, the judge announces the decision in open court for which he receives a political favor at some point in the future, usually during their next political campaign either for re-election as a judge or for election to a higher office.

Amendment VIII

The purpose of bail is to ensure that the defendant will appear in court to face a criminal charge. Under a British law, The Statute of Westminster in 1275, bail was granted only when the accused owned considerable real property and only for certain offenses. The granting of bail allows the accused to work with legal counsel to prepare the best defense possible. This can be very difficult to do while jailed, especially with limited or virtually non-existent visiting hours.

Governments around the world today still jail suspects pending trial, regardless of how long they chose to wait prior to setting a trial date. Not only does this make planning a defense difficult, it prevents the accused from earning an income from which to pay the legal counsel and other costs related to the defense.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This amendment also prohibited punishments such as torture, maiming, and depriving a prisoner of food and water.

Amendment IX

Our Founding Fathers knew that they had not listed all of the rights that should be accorded to Americans. They assumed that, although they tried their best, the States and the people would consider routine actions needed for day-to-day living, such as hunting or privacy, as a right. This amendment allows the Supreme Court to declare judicially that this is an unlisted right.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The Founding Fathers firmly believed in limited government. They added this amendment in an attempt to prevent the Federal government from usurping all the power.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

This amendment says to the Federal government: if a power is not listed here in the Constitution, then it is not yours to usurp or exercise. It says to the States: all other power belongs to you and the Americans unless this Constitution reserves it to the Federal Government. This leaves most of the power in the hands of the States and, through state and local elections, in the hands of the people.

This does make sense. Laws and programs enacted by the Federal government must apply to the whole country — a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem. Our nation is so varied that a law that makes perfect sense in cold mountainous state like Alaska or Montana often seems nonsensical to a warm, flat state such as Florida or Louisiana.

Next - Amendments XI Through ??

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bill of Rights, Part I - The First Five

The Bill of Rights

Many of our Founding Fathers did not believe that their new Constitution of the United States gave Americans enough protection from the new federal government. In 1791, a group of ten amendments were added to the Constitution. Collectively, these are known as the Bill of Rights. Most of these amendments specify and guarantee additional rights for Americans.

The reasons for this distrust were rooted in the endless stream of lies, double-dealing, corruption and just plain, criminal activity of the European governments of the day. Any attempt to bring this festering mess to light could result in a persons persecution, prosecution or summary execution. One case known to all Americans of the Eighteenth Century was the trial of John Peter Zenger, the publisher of the New York Weekly Journal. Simply expressing disgust for any dishonorable or despicable act of the government could bring a jail sentence for sedition or libel.

Our Founding Fathers correctly reasoned that in order to keep any government honest, people must be able to discuss the actions of the government, especially when the actions were dishonest. This requires not only the freedom to speak out but also the freedom to publish about these actions. These freedoms would be meaningless, unless the government was also prevented from retaliating against those who speak out.

Governments around the world have not changed much. According to WikiPedia:

In Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Poland it is illegal to insult foreign heads of state publicly.
  • On 5 January 2005, Marxist tabloid publisher Jerzy Urban was sentenced by a Polish court to a fine of 20,000 złoty (about €5000, UK£3384 or US$6,200) for having insulted Pope John Paul II, a visiting head of state.
...
[In the Netherlands,] For insulting the king, the heiress apparent, and their relatives, an offender may receive up to five years imprisonment plus a fine.
  • In October 2007, a 47-year-old man was sentenced to one week imprisonment and fined €400[11] for, amongst other things, lèse-majesté in the Netherlands when he called Queen Beatrix a "whore" and told a police officer that he would have anal sex with her because "she would like it".

From the December 15, 2015 edition of the New York Times,

BANGKOK — Thailand’s strict laws making it a crime to insult the monarchy entered new territory on Monday when a factory worker was charged with disparaging the king’s dog.

In a case brought in a Thai military court, the worker, Thanakorn Siripaiboon, was charged with making a “sarcastic” Internet post related to the king’s pet. He also faces separate charges of sedition and insulting the king.

Mr. Thanakorn could face a total of 37 years in prison for his social media posts, ...

Citizen of other nations today can and are penalized by their government for speaking their mind while living in the United States. This is especially a problem for foreign college students and scholars and for American universities offering history and culture courses – think "Spanish Studies" or "German Studies" type of courses – required for political science degrees. India is currently offering a case in point.

Again, from India, a US government agency, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom was, with the support of the US Department of State, planning to visit India. This had been scheduled for quite a while, but India failed to provide the necessary visas. (Updated on 3/4/2016)

With these, and countless other examples found in history, in mind, the Bill of Rights was added to, and is still of paramount importance within, the Constitution.

Amendment I

When the American colonies were founded, religious persecution was rife in Europe. Many colonists came to this continent looking for a place to worship God in their preferred way. In the latter half of the Eighteenth Century, the heavy hand to the British monarchy induced fear on those who disagreed with royal actions. From this, sprang:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

First, concerning religion — there is to be no "official" state religion. Everyone is to be able to worship God as they see fit. Our Founding Fathers presumed that God exists and we should worship God in some way.

Second, we have the right to discuss the actions of, and disagree with the policies of, our government in private conversation, in published writings, or from the lectern of a church or assembly hall. We also have the right to complain to our government and ask that it change its ways.

Amendment II

In the Declaration of Independence, our Founding Fathers declared:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

These words are a powder keg waiting to explode! Governments, by their very nature, attempt to increase their power and to act in self-preservation. To protect ourselves and our individual states from external threats, whether from outsiders or from our own Federal Government, each state must have the right to establish and maintain a state militia. Currently, this function has been subsumed into the National Guard. State militias and the National Guard are both under the command of each state's governor, except in time of war. Thus, the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Militias are made up of local volunteers, originally set up by towns and villages to protect the townspeople from raiders. They also have to react quickly – natural disasters and foreign adversaries strike quickly and with little or no warning. Training is also of vital importance. However, for good or for ill, it is the weapon that keeps the peace in time of crisis – thus, the right to keep and carry weapons. Criminals and foreign adversaries will not care about our laws controlling weapons and will use these laws to their advantage. We the People must have the right to level the battlefield.

Amendment III

In the mid- to late-Eighteenth Century, when the British troops occupied the American colonies, the British government often forced local citizens to host, at their own cost, these soldiers – especially the officers – in their homes, taverns and inns. The locals resented the practice, but had no voice in the matter. From this was born the Third Amendment:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

Governments around the world have a long history of confiscating the property and possessions of dissenters as a form of retribution for disagreeing with the government or its policies or of alleged criminals, especially political criminals, to render them financially unable to mount a vigorous legal defense. Sometimes property, such as grand houses and estates, were confiscated for the "convenience" of the government, or to satisfy the greed of a government functionary, to become an "official residences." As you can imagine, this practice was strongly resented, leading to the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

Governments around the world, both then and now, have long been known to arrest people and charge them with crimes that they did not commit. Sometimes this is due to malice, sometimes because the police have no other suspect, and sometimes just to arrest someone – anyone – to alleviate the political heat caused by the crime. Under some governments, as this story from North Korea shows, people are arrested and forced to confess in a very public way in an attempt to force foreign policy concessions from other nations. These practices lead to the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The last clause is still contentious. Laws have been passed in this country which allow private property, allegedly purchased by money gained illegally, to be seized and auctioned by the government without first convicting the owner of any illegal activity. The owner does not receive the money from the sale; it goes to the state treasury. These laws were passed to penalize organized crime and drug traffickers. However, as much as I detest criminal activity, I do not believe these laws pass Constitutional muster and should be challenged in the Federal courts.

Next: Part II, the Second Five Amendments

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Replacing Justice Scalia

Replacing Justice Scalia has become a political football. With the impending Presidential election only nine months away, some politicians are saying that our lame-duck President should defer to the next President to nominate the replacement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged that there will be “no action” on any Supreme Court nomination before the election in November.

I believe this is wrong-headed. The Supreme Court should not be ham-strung by the potential for four-to-four decisions. President Obama should nominate someone and the Senate should consider each nominee.

Another issue crossed my desk. I read an article by Royal Furgeson, the Founding dean, University of North Texas – Dallas College of Law, entitled "Diversity key in finding Scalia's replacement on Supreme Court" on the Texas Tribune website. He pointed out that all of the current Supreme Court justices are either from the New York area or from California and that all of them graduated from either Yale or Harvard Law Schools. Seven of the justices advanced from the Federal appeals courts and one is an academic. He continued with his point that we need more diversity on the Supreme Court:

That was not always the case: The Supreme Court that decided Brown v. Board of Education consisted of, among others, a governor, an academic, a senator, an attorney general and a regulator, none of whom had had prior judicial experience. Certainly, it could not hurt to bring broader experience to the court, and it just might help.

As the president considers bringing more balanced experience to the court, he might focus on legislative experience — after all, issues of statutory interpretation make up a significant part of the court's docket.

I believe that he is right. Americans do not just live on the East and West Coasts. Many of us live in "fly-over" country. Most of our "high-powered" politicians also are from the Coasts. These people have little understanding of the problems faced in fly-over country and they often write laws and create Federal programs that just do not work out here.

For example, they talk of gun control because gangs are shooting people while we need guns for rattlesnake and predator control. The effect of such laws is that the gangs, who do not care about laws, are still shooting people while out here we cannot stop the predators from killing our livestock.

I urge our Presidents to consider jurists from law schools across the country, especially those who have served on state courts, and not just those from the Yale and Harvard "old boys" clubs.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

More on Justice Antonin Scalia...

I do not usually re-post, but this time I will make an exception...

Gary Joiner of the Farm Bureau posted this, regarding on the effect of the loss of Justice Scalia on farmers and ranchers.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (1936-2016) RIP

Early this morning, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died at the age of 79. While I may not have agreed with many of his decisions, he was always an honest broker and a strong believer in the original meaning of the words of the Constitution of the United States.

He also did something rare and unusual — he made the Supreme Court approachable by the ordinary citizen. When I was in high school, Supreme Court arguments were seldom mentioned in the newspapers. In oral arguments, the two opposing councils merely read their statements and maybe a question or two would then be asked. Since President Ronald Reagen appointed Justice Scalia to the bench, the lawyers would barely get started before Justice Scalia or one of his colleagues would fire off a question to be answered. This made following the action at the Supreme Court actually newsworthy on a regular basis — a much needed improvement.

Justice Scalia, may you now and forever rest in peace. Your watch is done; your victory won. May the Lord take you into his house to sit at his right hand.

Now, it falls on our current President, President Obama, to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia. Because he is a "lame duck," the current crop of presidential contenders, on both sides of the aisle, are urging him to wait until after the next President is elected and inaugurated.

I strongly disagree — Justice Scalia died on his watch, therefore President Obama should nominate his successor. In the current climate in the United States Senate, I do not believe, however, that any jurist nominated by President Obama or even his successor stand much of a chance of being confirmed by two-thirds of the Senate. It is his job to try, however.

As lawyer-turned-journalist Greta Van Susteren wrote today:

The U.S. Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 says presidents nominate justices to the Supreme Court. It says the president SHALL and does not say MAY. This means it is not an option.(Huffington Post)

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