Don’t drop the soap.

Number 6 in a Series

It’s good advice to anybody who’s in the position of President Trump’s personal lawyer. Last week on CNN Anderson Cooper was speaking to another lawyer acquainted with Michael Cohen. Michael Avenatti, who represents porn star Stormy Daniels in a case against Cohen, continues to find interesting details related to Cohen’s business dealings.

Cohen formed Essential Consultants LLC a few days prior to writing a check to the actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. The check was for $130,000, and it was payment to Ms. Clifford in return for her agreement to not talk publicly about having humped the future president ten years previous. The Delaware company was from all appearances formed for the sole purpose of insulating Cohen from the payment. It was Essential Consultants whose name was on  the check. That would have been interesting enough, but this Delaware company-in-name-only has since developed a life of its own, and that life seems to  consist entirely of passing money from one hand to the next. More recent customers include:

  • Columbus Nova
  • Novartis Investments S.a.r.l.
  • AT&T
  • Korea Aerospace Industries.

For people who do not know, Columbus Nova is an investment company with ties to Victor Vekselberg. Mr. Vekselberg is a Russian oligarch with close ties to recurring Russian President Vladimir Putin. Novartis is a multi-national pharmaceutical company based in Switzerland. That company’s modus operandi has in the past included making multi-million dollar bribes to foreign governments. AT&T is, of course, a century-old American company that began life as Southwestern Bell Telephone company, an offshoot of a company formed by telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell. Full disclosure: my mother spent her working career working for this company and retired on a company pension. Upon her death I received a death benefit of several hundred dollars from the company. Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is the sole major aircraft company in South Korea. Their recent claim to fame includes the company’s near collapse following revelations that company executives were fixing the books and directing cash into their pockets. A deal with American  Lockheed-Martin to build military aircraft is now in jeopardy.

Enough of that. Attorney Cohen, whose only client seems to be the President of the United States, recently had every inch of his personal space raided by the FBI seeking information relating  to special  prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian government meddling with the 2016 election. Is Mr. Cohen in trouble? He has not been charged with any crime, although his payment to Ms. Clifford has the possibility of being in violation of campaign finance law.

The CNN interview with attorney Avenatti yielded a number of picturesque screen shots, including this one:

So, Columbus Nova is assuring us that gospodin Vekselberg was not personally involved in making payments to Michael Cohen. That is most comforting to Mr. Cohen. Provided it sticks.

In  the meantime, I have some advice for Mr. Cohen. Wherever life and circumstances take you in the next few months, keep your wits about you, and be aware at all times of your surroundings. And don’t drop the soap.

Advertisements

Schlemiel-in-Chief

Number 32 in a series

People ask me, “How come you don’t do one of these every day?” Actually, nobody asks. But if they did ask I would have to concede I am at the point where I’m running low on energy. But for an ambitious landscaping project, I might have posted this Friday while it was still hot. Which reminds me, I need to be sure to get Barbara Jean a birthday present.

Anyhow, the following image, a screen shot from MSNBC streaming on YouTube, shows some people desperately in need of assistance.

These are the hosts (Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade) of Fox and Friends on (where else) the Fox network, and if they appear distressed to you, then you are imagining things. That’s because I watched this episode, and I can tell you that at this point in a thirty-minute sequence these people were desperate to not appear distressed, but they were squirming, and they were trying mightily to get a caller off the phone. They were also trying mightily to conceal that fact. The reason for their discomfort is the caller was their supreme, exalted patron, the President of the United States, who had just spent the major part of half an hour demonstrating why I call him the Schlemiel-in-Chief.

If you just returned from a trek through the desert on a horse with no name, then I need to inform you what the rest of the nation already knows. The Fox network show Fox and Friends comes on at 6 a.m. Eastern Time, and sometimes the President of the United States phones in, and the hosts are always glad to have him, they being his chief cheer leading squad. Last Thursday that joy appeared to last all of ten minutes. Some explanation as to why:

TRUMP: People have to understand how dishonest the news is. And in all fairness to Fox, you guys don’t always treat me great. But you treat me fairly. It’s not like Fox is perfect for me. They’re not! They’re tough. But at least it’s fair. When you look at some of the others, you look at like a CNN, they’ll have a council of seven people [audibly becoming enraged] and of the seven people, every one of them is against me! I’m saying, where do they even find these people?

BRIAN KILMEADE: I’m not your doctor, Mr. President, but I would recommend you watch less of them.

TRUMP: I don’t watch them at all! I watched last night, I tell you what. I watched leaking lying Comey last night [Steve Doocy guffaws sycophantically] and I did, I hated to do it, you know, one of the reasons, people say, “You’re still looking good, Mr. President—how do you do it?” [Ed.: No one says this, I hope]

DOOCY: All right—

There is more from Fortune:

Trump criticized the Obama administration and former Secretary of State John Kerry for not handling tensions with North Korea sooner.

“This should have been settled long before I came into office,” he said, calling Kerry “the worst negotiator” he’s ever seen.

The president said he did watch the interview with former FBI director James Comey on CNN Wednesday night.

“His performance, by the way, was horrible,” Trump said. He blasted Comey as a criminal, calling him a “leaker and a liar.”

“He is guilty of crimes,” the president said. “I did a great thing for the American people by firing him.”

On Michael Cohen pleading the fifth

“This doesn’t have to do with me, Michael is a businessman,” the president said. “I have nothing to do with his business.”

He emphasized the small role Cohen played in his own legal affairs.

“Just so you understand, I have many attorneys. So many attorneys you wouldn’t even believe it,” Trump said. “He represented me on this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, and from what I can see he did absolutely nothing wrong.”

The president hit his favorite highlights in the interview with Fox and Friends, criticizing CNN and NBC, among others, as “fake news,” and bragging about his electoral college win.

“The electoral college is set up perfectly for the Democrats,” he said, “They should never lose the electoral college and they did.”

Trump repeated the claim that the Russia investigation is an effort by Democrats to save face after an embarrassing loss, citing the number of electoral votes he won.

On how he would grade his time in office so far

“I would give myself an A+,” Trump said. “Nobody has done what I’ve been able to do and I’ve done it despite the fact that I have a phony cloud over my head that doesn’t exist.”

He spoke about accomplishments like deregulation and the Republican tax bill, but mostly emphasized the challenges he’s faced during his first year.

“I’m fighting a battle against a horrible group of deep-seated people — drain the swamp — that are coming up with all sorts of phony charges against me and they’re not bringing up real charges against the other side,” the president said. “So we have a phony deal going on and it’s a cloud over my head. And I’ve been able to really escape that cloud, because the message now everyone knows now it’s a fix, it’s a witch hunt.”

From Vanity Fair:

Doocy, Kilmeade, and Earhardt endured the deluge heroically, fidgeting slightly at times, and offering small laughs as they encouraged the president and tried to keep him on track. The interview went off the rails, however, when the Fox hosts asked Trump about the Russia investigation dogging his presidency, and whether he would agree to interview with Mueller:

“Well, if I can. The problem is that it’s such a—if you take a look, they’re so conflicted, the people that are doing the investigation. You have 13 people that are Democrats, you have Hillary Clinton people, you have people that worked on Hillary Clinton’s foundation. They’re all—I don’t mean Democrats. I mean, like, the real deal. And then you look at the phony Lisa Page and [Peter] Strzok and the memos back and forth and the F.B.I.—and by the way, you take a poll at the F.B.I. I love the F.B.I.; the F.B.I. loves me. But the top people at the F.B.I., headed by Comey, were crooked.”

“You look at the corruption at the top of the F.B.I.—it’s a disgrace,” Trump continued, practically yelling, as the Fox hosts stared ahead nervously. “And our Justice Department—which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won’t—our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia. There is no collusion with me, and everyone knows it.”

As the Fox & Friends control room may have guessed, Trump’s burning anger could come at the expense of his current legal-defense strategy. With Mueller reportedly investigating the president and his associates for obstruction of justice in the Russian collusion probe, Trump’s lawyers have urged him to stay quiet about the special counsel’s work and allow his investigation to go forward. By impugning the F.B.I. and threatening to intervene at the Justice Department, Trump may have just given his adversaries more legal ammunition. He may also have undermined his case in more roundabout ways: at another point, he referred to his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen as having done a “tiny, tiny little fraction of my legal work”—an apparent attempt to distance himself from Cohen, who he admitted represented him in “this crazy Stormy Daniels deal.” Michael Avenatti, Daniels’s lawyer, immediately called the admission a “gift from the heavens” and “hugely damaging”: not only did Trump’s statement suggest he was aware that Cohen had paid hush money to Daniels, it also undercut Cohen’s argument that his communications with Trump, recently seized by the F.B.I., are protected by attorney-client privilege.

I find it breathtaking that three Fox TV hosts grasped something the President of the United States failed to. That is when Fox host Steve Doocy spoke words that may eventually be carved in granite.

Meyers unpacked what he called the “truly crazy rant” that was Trump’s phone interview with Fox & Friends on Thursday morning. It was a conversation in which the Commander-in-Chief “rambled on for so long about so many random topics that at one point the Fox & Friends hosts said they were the ones who were running out of time,” Meyers said — before cutting to footage of the Fox & Friends hosts’ deflating expressions and Steve Doocy interrupting Trump to say, “We’re running out of time.” [Emphasis added]

On the first level Doocy was wanting to get the President of the United States off the air, back into his box, and safe from American ears. On another level Doocy may have offered up a prophecy. We [Fox and Trump] are running out of time. There is only so much longer this comedy can go on before it is dragged down by the sheer weight of its lunacy.

In the meantime, President Trump has trapped himself with his own words. Two hours after this bit flapped publicly, Justice Department lawyers handed into a judge an argument that the President’s words have unraveled his claims for attorney-client privilege in the investigation of his lawyer, Michael Cohen.

 

In particular, the letter to Kimba M. Wood United States District Judge Southern District of New York, government lawyers used the President’s language from the Fox and Friends interview against his case.

2 If Cohen’s request for a privilege log were to be granted, there is no reason the Government’s Investigative Team could not review the privilege log.
3 As the Court is aware, after originally stating that the Government seized “thousands, if not millions,” of pages of privileged documents, Cohen subsequently identified three current clients.Of those three clients, one, Sean Hannity, has since said that “Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees.” Another, President Trump, reportedly said on cable television this morning that Cohen performs “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his overall legal work. These statements by two of Cohen’s three identified clients suggest that the seized materials are unlikely to contain voluminous privileged documents, further supporting the importance of efficiency here.

If ever there was a definition for Schlemiel-in-Chief, then this should be enshrined.

The Government You Paid For

Number 17

Voters (and taxpayers) are rejoicing all over this land. That which was promised had been delivered. We finally have the government we paid for. And are we ever so well rewarded. Recently-elected President of the United States Donald J. Trump promised, and he has delivered.

Extraordinary! Twelve Federal Circuit Court judges confirmed, and President Trump is still in his first year in office. This accomplishment exceeds that of any other president—more than Kennedy’s and Nixon’s 11 in their first year and far ahead of President Obama’s three. What makes President Trump’s accomplishment all the more remarkable is that he had to deal with a Republican Senate and a Republican House. Of course, the House of Representatives is not involved in confirmation of judges, but I’m just throwing that out to impress you.

Additionally remarkable is the caliber of individuals being advanced to this judicial level. An example would be Matthew Spencer Petersen, which person President Trump nominated to the Court. To be sure, before a nominee can advance to actually sitting in judgment on federal cases, that person must be confirmed by the Senate, and to assure some legitimacy of such confirmation there is a proforma hearing—merely a bureaucratic exercise the nominee is required to endure before he is hustled off to his chair behind the bench. Mr Petersen’s experience with this exercise was notable.

Here is a transcript of part of the process involving Mr. Petersen. The “Kennedy” referenced in the transcript is Judiciary Committee member John Neely Kennedy (R-La.). From The Washington Post:

KENNEDY: Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?

(PETERSEN RAISES HIS HAND)

KENNEDY: Mr. Petersen, have you ever tried a jury trial?

PETERSEN: I have not.

KENNEDY: Civil?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: Criminal?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: Bench?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: State or federal court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

KENNEDY: Have you ever taken a deposition?

PETERSEN: I was involved in taking depositions when I was an associate at Wiley Rein when I first came out of law school. But that was —

KENNEDY: How many depositions?

PETERSEN: I’d be struggling to remember.

KENNEDY: Less than 10?

PETERSEN: Yes.

KENNEDY: Less than 5?

PETERSEN: (Pauses) Probably somewhere in that range.

KENNEDY: Have you ever tried a — taken a deposition by yourself?

PETERSEN: I believe not — no.

KENNEDY: Okay. Have you ever argued a motion in state court?

PETERSEN: I have not.

KENNEDY: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: (Nods repeatedly) When’s the last time you read the Rules of Civil Procedure?

PETERSEN: The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure? I — in my current position, I obviously don’t need to stay as invested in those on a day-to-day basis, but I do try to keep up to speed. We do have at the Federal Election Commission roughly 70 attorneys who work under our guidance, including a large litigation division. And as a commissioner, we oversee that litigation, we advise them on overall legal strategy, provide recommendations and edits to briefs and so forth, and meet with them about how we’re going to handle —

KENNEDY: If I could ask you — I’m sorry to interrupt you, but we’re only given five minutes for five of you. So, when’s the last time you read the Federal Rules of Evidence?

PETERSEN: The Federal Rules of Evidence, all that way through would — well, comprehensively would have been in law school. Obviously I have been involved in — when I was an associate — that was something that we had to stay closely abreast of. And there have been some issues having to do with evidentiary issues that will cause me to examine those periodically in our oversight role for litigation at the Federal Election Commission.

KENNEDY: Well, as a trial judge, you’re obviously going to have witnesses. Can you tell me what the Daubert standard is?

PETERSEN: Sen. Kennedy, I don’t have that readily at my disposal but I would be happy to take a closer look at that. That is not something I’ve had to contend with.

KENNEDY: Do you know what a motion in limine is?

PETERSEN: Yes. I haven’t — I’m, again — my background is not in litigation — as when I was replying to Chairman [Charles] Grassley. I haven’t had to, again, do a deep dive. And I understand, and I appreciate this line of questioning. I understand the challenge that would be ahead of me if I were fortunate enough to become a district court judge. I understand that the path that many successful district court judges have taken has been a different one than I have taken. But as I mentioned in my earlier answer, I believe that the path that I have taken to be one who’s been in a decision-making role in somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 enforcement matters, overseen I don’t know how many cases in federal court the administration has been a party to during my time —

KENNEDY: Yes, I’ve read your résumé. Just for the record, do you know what a motion in limine is?

PETERSEN: I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table.

KENNEDY: Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is?

PETERSEN: I’ve heard of it, but I, again —

KENNEDY: How about the Pullman abstention doctrine?

PETERSEN: I — I —

KENNEDY: Y’all see that a lot in federal court. Okay, any one of you blog?

PETERSEN: No.

KENNEDY: Any of you ever blogged in support of the Ku Klux Klan?

PETERSEN: No, Senator. (Other witnesses indicate no.)

And that is so heart-warming. Isn’t this a great country? We live in a place where the President of the United States can just step outside the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania and pull somebody off the sidewalk, announcing, “How would you like to the Queen for a Day?” All right, it only a judgeship, but who’s quibbling. At long last we are getting the government we paid for.

Here’s a video:

People Unclear

This is number 23

Full disclosure. I served six years in the Navy Reserve, several months of which were active duty and aboard Navy warships. Respect for the flag in the military is a critical issue, and daily there are raising and lowering ceremonies. If you are above decks (outdoors) when the bugle sounds, then you stand at attention and salute. Additionally if you don’t already know, the Navy has a code that you always wear your hat when above decks, and you never wear your hat when below decks. And you never salute unless you are wearing your hat. This is enforced.

Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore did not serve in the Navy, but he did serve in the United States Army, and I am sure he picked up some good flag etiquette there. That said, he seems to conflate military flag etiquette with civil law. How do I know this? I know this because he said as much in so many words:

Alabama’s Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore said Wednesday that NFL players and other athletes who take a knee during the national anthem in protest are violating a federal law.

In an interview with Time magazine, Moore said that NFL players are violating a section of federal law that establishes “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem, and details proper respectful conduct during its performance.

“It’s against the law, you know that?” Moore said. “It was an act of Congress that every man stand and put their hand over their heart. That’s the law.”

“It’s against the law, you know that?” Let that sink in. A candidate for the United States Senate seems to be unclear on the issue. Here is what is real and official:

Prior to Flag Day, June 14, 1923, neither the federal government nor the states had official guidelines governing the display of the United States’ flag. On that date, the National Flag Code was constructed by representatives of over 68 organizations, under the auspices of the National Americanism Commission of the American Legion. The code drafted by that conference was printed by the national organization of the American Legion and given nationwide distribution.

On June 22, 1942, the Code became Public Law 77-623; chapter 435. Little had changed in the code since the Flag Day 1923 Conference. The most notable change was the removal of the Bellamy salute due to its similarities to the Hitler salute.

A subsequent federal court ruling held that enforcement of flag etiquette on civilians is an abridgment of the First Amendment and cannot be enforced. Judge Moore’s mental idle ramblings notwithstanding, nobody is in trouble for kneeling during a flag ceremony, or for the playing of the national anthem.

Judge [former] Moore is unclear on a great number of things, and one day I will make an attempt at a comprehensive listing.

The Government You Paid For

Number 8

From WND

Wait for it. It’s coming. It’s coming. Wait! It’s here!

Washington (CNN) — President Donald Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio on Friday, sparing the controversial former Arizona sheriff a jail sentence after he was convicted of criminal contempt related to his hard-line tactics going after undocumented immigrants.

There. It’s done. Did you ever doubt it was going to happen? To find anything more predictable I had to go all the way back to… To last week, when an eclipse of the sun raced across this country from the west coast to the east. That was more predictable. But it was close.

So, what does it take to draw a get-out-of-jail-free card from President Trump? You might not be surprised:

Arpaio has been accused of various types of police misconduct, including abuse of power; misuse of funds; failure to investigate sex crimes; improper clearance of cases; unlawful enforcement of immigration laws; and election law violations. A Federal court monitor was appointed to oversee his office’s operations because of complaints of racial profiling. The U.S. Department of Justice concluded that Arpaio oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history, and subsequently filed suit against him for unlawful discriminatory police conduct. Arpaio’s office paid more than $146 million in fees, settlements, and court awards.

Over the course of his career Arpaio was the subject of several federal civil rights lawsuits. In one case he was a defendant in a decade-long suit in which a federal court issued an injunction barring him from conducting further “immigration round-ups”. A federal court subsequently found that after the order was issued, Arpaio’s office continued to detain “persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed.” In July 2017, he was convicted of criminal contempt of court, a crime for which he was pardoned by President Donald Trump on August 25, 2017. In a separate racial-profiling case which concluded in 2013, Arpaio and his subordinates were found to have unfairly targeted Hispanics in conducting traffic stops.

Yes! Those are exactly the qualities that are going to earn you a nod from Donald Trump. Did we ever not see this coming?

We complained, and we complained, but now we need to quit complaining. At last we have the government we paid for.

Friday Funny

Number 70 of a series

A Facebook friend posted an item referencing “God’s ACLU.” It’s about an organization to defend religious liberty:

Advocates for religious liberty in America are part of what might be seen as the second wave of rights activism in the courts, the first being the wave that began in the 1950s and ’60s with litigation over the rights of minorities, women and criminal suspects, among others. In the past 25 years, conservative and libertarian groups have applied lessons that the liberal vanguard learned about how to select test cases for litigation as a way to steer the law. The focus today is still on the individual, but on his right to own guns, send his children to the school of his choice, or—Ms. Alvarado’s field of concern—worship freely and live a full religious life uncramped by the state.

“Our first case at Becket was in 1996,” Ms. Alvarado says. “A boy name Zachary Hood wanted to bring a ‘Beginner’s Bible’ to his first-grade class on share-your-favorite-story day. His teacher said, ‘No, you don’t get to do that.’ ” The family sued the school board but lost the case, and the Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal. But the board eventually settled in a related matter—having to do with a Thanksgiving poster the 6-year-old had drawn saying he was “thankful for Jesus”—and the federal Education Department issued official guidance shortly thereafter, affirming a student’s right to express religious beliefs in all schoolwork.

Some who know me may be surprised, but I an in favor of religious rights, otherwise known as the right to  act foolishly in public. That said, someone seriously in need of such protection is whacked out pastor Rick Joyner:

Right-wing pastor Rick Joyner posted a video on his Facebook page today claiming that the chaos that is engulfing the Trump White House is actually a sign that President Trump is an “extraordinary leader” … just like Jesus.

“I’m expecting some chaos in the White House team for the duration of Trump’s administration,” Joyner said, “and I am saying this is because he is such an extraordinary leader. It’s not a lack of leadership; it’s a different kind of leadership.”

Few would not agree that this is funny to an extraordinary degree.

Please join me in protecting Pastor Rick Joyner’s right to act foolishly in public.

Majority of One

A Continuation—Number 2

Four years ago I posted on the Edward Snowden business:

Snowden has seen something that is wrong with this country, and he has acted to correct it. From his point of view. The issue is currently being batted about in the halls of government, and some are saying PRISM and FISA are bad, and some are saying they are good. The discussion will likely go on for some time, and in the end some disagreement is sure to persist.

In the mean time Snowden has nullified all those other votes with his one vote. He has become a Majority of One. It would appear that sometimes it is necessary to destroy one part of democracy in order to save another part.

There’s a long tradition of defying the law to do what’s right. Mohandas Gandhi was one such person. Martin Luther King was another. We have to wonder whether Snowden saw himself in the same light as these two. Both saw a wrong that needed to be corrected, and both went beyond the law. Of course, there’s a difference. Gandhi and King owned up, didn’t flee, didn’t back away. They offered themselves up to suffer the legal consequences of their actions. Both were murdered. Snowden, to the contrary, sought refuge from justice within the purview of one of the most corrupt and anti-democratic regimes on the planet, refusing to submit to the legal consequences of what he did. It takes some of the shine off.

That said, I never condoned Snowden’s methods. The government actions he exposed were not part of a great scheme to subjugate people and to suppress equal opportunity under the law. Furthermore, there is serious question whether anybody’s civil rights were in jeopardy. Snowden figured he had a vote in the matter, and he cast it—a majority of one.

There’s more.

While the Edward Snowden affair was still fresh in people’s minds, others figured they had a better lock on what was right and just than the American court system. There was the episode I titled High-Pocket Pickpocket.

Bundy’s family has been grazing cattle on the disputed piece of public land since the 1800s. The government allows private entities to use public lands for commercial purposes on a fee basis. The trouble with Bundy began in 1993 when the government changed the rules for grazing in this area, and Bundy quit paying the fees in protest. From all appearances, Bundy is getting a lot of support from locals and from out-of-towners who share a disdain for government regulations:

What I found most impressive was the support Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy got from those whose pockets he was picking. The cold facts are this. Bundy’s ranch was grazing its cattle on government land for which a fee was required. He refused to pay the fee. In essence, he was getting for free the use of the land and the grazing. Contrast this to somebody in competition with the Bundy ranch. The competition, those raising cattle and selling to the same market, either owned their land or else leased it, often from the government. It’s a nice arrangement for Bundy, he can 1) undercut the competition and still break even, or 2) he can go head to head with the competition and pocket more of the proceeds. Either way, it’s a win for Bundy. As I mentioned three years ago, this arrangement put Bundy ahead of his competition to the tune of $1.3 million over the previous 20 years. And civil liberties be damned.

What really caught the news was the armed confrontation with government agents. Bundy’s friends and neighbors were not of the same ilk as Gandhi and King. They brought their guns. And they pointed them at the G-men. There were further developments and ultimately consequences. See the image above from the FBI video in Oregon last year. Bundy’s sons and some like-minded people took command of a government building in the wilderness and held out for several days. They had guns. As the confrontation with the FBI came to a conclusion, one of the Bundy fans, Robert LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed by an agent. So much for a majority of one.

Subsequently there was a trial, and the anti-government gunmen were acquitted of the charges against them. Additionally, an FBI agent who participated in the confrontation with Finicum has been indicted for making false statements concerning the event:

An FBI agent, W. Joseph Astarita, is alleged to have fired two shots at Finicum’s pickup, one of which penetrated the roof of the pickup and exited through a window. FBI agents were believed to have recovered the ejected empty cartridges. A five-count indictment for lying about the circumstances at the scene of Finicum’s death, and obstruction of justice, has been obtained in Portland against Astarita by the Department of Justice. He is being represented by a public defender.

There have been other developments. The consequences of Bundy and supporters pointing guns at federal agents are winding their way through the justice system. The first to go down has been one Gregory Burleson:

The weight of a heavy sentence landed in the quiet federal courtroom Wednesday morning, leaving Gregory Burleson occasionally stroking his graying beard and his attorney pleading unsuccessfully for leniency.

The 53-year-old Burleson was the first to be sentenced for his role in the 2014 standoff between federal agents and supporters of Cliven Bundy near his Nevada ranch.

He got 68 years in prison.

Again, so much for a majority of one. An additional Bundy friend has been convicted and is due to be sentenced in September, unlikely to get the breaks obtained by Burleson. Four others obtained acquittals on offenses related to the ranch standoff, but they are now schedule for trial on federal charges. Once that trial is concluded, according to the Los Angeles Times, Cliven Bundy and his son Ammon will go to trial for their part.

As you may have guessed, that’s not the end of the list of people who think American law is for other people. Most recently we have the case of former  Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In years past he made a name for himself as the toughest sheriff in the United States of A. This by being rough on prisoners and also on those not yet prisoners. On multiple occasions the courts have had to smack Sheriff Joe down for wandering outside the laws governing civil rights in this country. Bypassing all that and getting to the most recent, a federal judge enjoined the sheriff from enforcing his policy of profiling suspected illegal aliens, an injunction which he disregarded. He was charged with contempt of court, and about the same time the voters of Maricopa County ended his decades-long tenure. And the majority of one has also come to an end:

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio committed a crime by defying a court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants, a judge ruled on Monday, in the latest rebuke for a once-popular politician who was voted out of office last year.

United States District Judge Susan R. Bolton found Mr. Arpaio, 85, guilty of criminal contempt of court, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. Mr. Arpaio’s lawyers said he would appeal.

So that’s what it all comes to. There is the rule of law, and there is personal preference. Keep your personal preference close to your heart and defy the law at your peril:

Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody’s going to jail

And Edward Snowden will need to learn to speak Russian.

Is too late for me to get my money back?

Number 2

Did I mention I receive regular emails from Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas? Yes, I’m sure I did. Here’s another one. See above.

There is no way I can make too much of this. Read the message and realize this is aimed at adult humans inhabiting one of the most advanced and modern countries on this planet. Once you let that soak in, look at the message:

Six Practical Strategies to Defeat Satan’s Destructive Plan for Your Life!

You did not read that wrong. The supposedly adult audience is presumed to believe in the reality of a fictional character. To put it into perspective, let me restate the above with a minor word change:

Six Practical Strategies to Defeat The Joker’s Destructive Plan for Your Life!

Yes, the fictional character known as The Joker, Batman’s nemesis, has a destructive plan for your life. Of course we always knew that. When did The Joker ever have anything socially beneficial. The Joker always worked against society and toward his own self interests. Fortunately there has always been Batman to protect us.

There is somebody else working toward his own self interest.

The First Baptist Church of Dallas wants your money:

First Baptist Dallas is a Southern Baptist megachurch located in Dallas, Texas. It was established in 1868 and, as of 2016, has a congregation of about 12,000. The church, considered influential among evangelical Christians in the United States, also owns and operates a school, several radio stations, and Dallas Life, a mission for the homeless on the southern edge of Downtown Dallas. The current pastor is Robert Jeffress. Jeffress is currently leading the congregation in a $130 million campaign to re-create its downtown campus. The project is the largest in modern church history.

The church operates a mission for the homeless. That’s good. That’s socially responsible. The homeless are not the only beneficiaries of the church’s good will:

For the 2016 US Presidential election, Jeffress endorsed and appeared at rallies for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, though he initially endorsed Dr. Ben Carson. Jeffress also declared that Christians who would not vote for or support Trump as the Republican nominee were “fools” and “motivated by pride rather than principle”, despite Trump’s lack of an evangelical or Christian background. Jeffress also stated that if a candidate ran on the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount, he “would run from that candidate as far as possible” and would still vote for Trump. On June 21, 2016, candidate Trump named Jeffress to participate in an advisory board of evangelical leaders.

This appears to be a mutual admiration society. Also a political collaboration:

On Thursday morning, as part of National Day of Prayer festivities at the White House, President Donald Trump signed an executive order he said delivered on a campaign promise to evangelical leaders. The order instructs the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, a 50-year-old law banning pastors from making endorsements from the pulpit.

The order essentially calls for the end of a law that’s never been enforced.

First Baptist Church Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, who pushed Trump throughout the campaign to repeal the Johnson Amendment to remove the threat that it could be used as a cudgel against pastors.

Jeffress is controversial, having repeatedly linked homosexuality to pedophilia and called Catholicism and “Babylonian mystery religion” inspired by Satan. Wednesday night, Trump invited Jeffress and some of his fellow pastors to the White House before signing the executive order. “Mr. President, we’re going to be your most loyal friends,” Jeffress said at the dinner. “We’re going to be your enthusiastic supporters. And we thank God every day that you’re the president of the United States.”

After the president issued the order Thursday morning, Jeffress praised it as a promise kept, despite the fact that the Johnson Amendment is still on the books.

First an explanation of the Johnson Amendment from Wikipedia:

The Johnson Amendment is a provision in the U.S. tax code, since 1954, that prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Section 501(c)(3) organizations are the most common type of nonprofit organization in the United States, ranging from charitable foundations to universities and churches. The amendment is named for then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, who introduced it in a preliminary draft of the law in July 1954.

Now, from Wikipedia, here is a description of a political action committee (PAC):

In the United States, a political action committee (PAC) is a type of organization that pools campaign contributions from members and donates those funds to campaign for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation. The legal term PAC has been created in pursuit of campaign finance reform in the United States. This term is quite specific to all activities of campaign finance in the United States. Democracies of other countries use different terms for the units of campaign spending or spending on political competition (see political finance). At the U.S. federal level, an organization becomes a PAC when it receives or spends more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election, and registers with the Federal Election Commission, according to the Federal Election Campaign Act as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act). At the state level, an organization becomes a PAC according to the state’s election laws.

Now that everybody understands the ground rules, here is how it works out:

You want to contribute to your favorite candidate running for office, say $1000. Perfectly legal. It’s going to be $1000 down a black hole, but it’s for a good cause. You earned the $1000 as salary and paid $250 in federal income tax on it. So that was $1000 you donated plus the $250. Sounds like a raw deal, yes?

But wait. Salvation is at hand. Jesus is your friend. You “join” a church with the name “Jesus wants Donald Trump for President.” You donate you $1000 to the JWDTFP Church, and you don’t pay taxes on  that income. That church meets in rented office space in a strip mall in on Legacy Drive in Plano, Texas. They hold services on Sunday, attended by the pastor, his wife, his accountant. They open the envelops and count the money.

They take the money to a professional adversing firm and pay that company to  create television ads promoting Donald Trump for President. Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is now underwritten by the American taxpayers. Breathtaking inanity!

Can’t happen, you say. The IRS will never accept the JWDTFP as a legitimate church. Think not? Suppose the IRS does push back. Imagine the backlash. The United States government is now in  the business of deciding what is a church and what is not a church. Didn’t we previously visit that problem in merry old England? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and the government told citizens what was a church and what was not a church. Hence:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…

Are we about to  rewind this issue? Has it come to  pass we now have the government we paid for?

There is going to be more of this. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Upstairs Downstairs Inside Out

Revisiting a theme from a few years back

What is it about diplomats behaving badly? There was this business about an Indian diplomat abusing the employment of a member of her household staff in violation of American law and also contrary to the terms of the staffer’s work visa:

Anyhow, society in other places is much more stratified, and it’s expected there will be a privileged class and a servant class. That’s the way it was in this case.

Arrest, strip-search of Indian diplomat in New York triggers uproar

(CNN) — The prosecutor in the U.S. government’s case against an Indian diplomat charged in New York with visa fraud related to her treatment of her housekeeper expressed dismay Wednesday over the direction the case has taken.

So, that sort of thing is not going to happen again.  Except when it does:

(CNN) — A high-ranking Bangladeshi diplomat based in New York accused of forcing his servant to work for up to 18 hours a day without pay was charged Monday with labor trafficking and assault.

In a case described by the district attorney as “very disturbing,” Mohammed Shaheldul Islam, 45, a deputy consul general of Bangladesh, is alleged to have used a combination of physical violence and “vile” threats to control the victim, Mohammed Amin, for a period of several years.

Americans need to get used to the fact that in other cultures human exploitation is normal and a way of life, particularly for those privileged to be the exploiter rather than the exploitee. Accounts of what transpired in the Devyani Khobragade case would indicate the caste system remains intact, and the Indian government comes down on the side of the exploiter:

On January 10 the Indian government ordered the expulsion of US diplomat Wayne May because he had assisted Richard’s family in securing T-visas and traveling to the United States. Media sources stated that May had taken “unilateral actions” in expediting the travel of Richard’s family from India and violated various procedures with respect to actions taken related to the case. Media sources also quoted disparaging remarks about India and Indian culture made by May and his wife on their personal social media accounts since their posting to New Delhi. At the time of his expulsion, May was the head of the embassy’s diplomatic security contingent managing a staff of 424 security officers including 10 Marine Security Guards, and had been in India since 2010. The expulsion of a US diplomat by India is viewed as unprecedented. In the history of the US-India relationships, a similar event has happened only once when India blocked appointment of George G B Griffin, a Reagan appointee to the post of US political counselor, the third-ranking post in the United States Embassy.

The best we can hope is the United States continues to place its regard for human rights above any need to curry favor with a foreign  power. More may develop. Keep reading.

Merry Christmas From The ADF

These people are still around.

religion-adfsnowflakes

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is curiously named. Here are some details:

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is a 501(c)(3) American conservative Christian nonprofit organization with the stated goal of “defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the organization as “virulently anti-gay”.

ADF supports the inclusion of invocations at public meetings and the use of religious displays (such as crosses and other religious monuments) on public lands and in public buildings. The ADF opposes abortion, and believes that healthcare workers have a right to decline participation in the performance of abortions and other practices an individual health worker finds morally objectionable. ADF opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, as well as adoption by same-sex couples based on their belief that children are best raised by a married mother and father. ADF believes parents should be able to opt their children out of sex education in schools that run counter to a family’s religious beliefs.

That’s from Wikipedia, and if I interpret it correctly—and I do interpret it correctly—what it says is this: The ADF supports the use of funds (taxes) collected by government officials using the power of United States law to proselytize for the Christian religion.

Full disclosure: I readily admit a lack of favor for the Christian religion. As a consequence I object to having money, collected from me under the force law, being used to promote this foolishness. Being as forthright as I am required to  be, I also object to my tax money being used to support all kinds of foolishness. Details on request. However, in the case of using tax money to proselytize for Christianity, there is specific United States law that backing me up:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

It is particularly the establishment clause at work here. What we see is a public school teacher, using his paid time, paid through public funds, erecting promotional posters and such on property, paid through public funds and established by public law. This is especially egregious when the purpose is to sway young children toward a specific religion.

Here is the crucial section of the Facebook posting by the Alliance Defending Freedom:

This wasn’t the first time that the Christmas classic found itself on the chopping block, and unfortunately, it wasn’t the last.

Recently, an employee at a public school in Texas was told by the principal to remove a poster on her door featuring the infamous Peanuts Christmas tree, Linus, and these words:

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

As the Daily Caller reports, the employee was told to remove the poster “because non-Christian students might be offended.”

Where to begin?

First of all, I don’t see anyone tearing down posters of Santa Claus or Frosty or Rudolph for fear it might offend those who believe that Jesus is the reason for the season.

This tells me that either (a) people who aren’t self-described Christians are more easily offended than those who are; or (b) these school administrators simply care more about being “politically correct” than they care about the Constitution.

After all, free speech and free expression are protected by the First Amendment. And as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told the school, “The U.S. Supreme Court has held repeatedly that neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

I have highlighted the significant text. Let’s look at it:

  • Foremost, it is false. Jesus was most surely not born on 25 December, and not in Bethlehem. Actually, I think the “City of David” is Jerusalem.  I’ve been wrong before.
  • Second, the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” is religious propaganda—proselytizing quite pure.

The meat, and the title then of the ADF posting, is this paragraph:

It’s time to stop treating the next generation like precious snowflakes who will melt at the tiniest disturbance in their atmosphere. I know it’s hard considering what’s been happening on college and university campuses across the country—but these students didn’t become this way on their own.

Yes, ADF writer, Marissa Mayer, is casting this as an instance of PC police protecting fragile little souls from offenses to their delicate feelings. Really? How about this? How about casting this as an instance of showing respect for the American legal framework that protects citizens in a minority position from ultimate government power?

Mayer talks about “snowflakes.” Let’s talk about snowflakes. Let’s talk about a teacher in a public school putting up a poster saying something like, “There is only one God (Allah) and Muhammad is God’s messenger.” I suspect (I have been wrong before) that should such a thing happen we would see snowflakes melting like… Well like the proverbial snowball in Hell.

Your Friend The Handgun

Nothing new here, folks.

CasingsInTheStreet

These days it’s up to private citizens to keep themselves and their families safe from terrorists and an ever-present criminal element. People increasingly rely on the 2nd Amendment for the right to arm themselves. It is impressive how well this is working out:

CLARKSVILLE, TN (WSMV) – Clarksville police said a 3-year-old boy has died after being shot in the face.

Police said the shooting happened Friday evening in the 500 block of Samantha Lane.

The child had been shot in the face with a handgun. The 911 call said the boy had found the gun and shot himself in the mouth.

The victim was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where he later died.

The .40 caliber handgun was owned by a resident of the home.

Remember, the handgun is your friend. Keep it handy.

Getting Real

Continuing from a previous post

I previously posted on reasonable legal measures to counter this country’s massive problem with gun violence. Quoting myself:

In the wake of the mass shooting and murder at the Pulse night club in Orlando, there has been a renewed call for restrictive gun legislation. And some response. Vis, a recent Facebook posting:

Nobody added comments to my post, but a link I posted to Facebook received some response. A screen shot captures a summary, omitting 22 additional comments.

Gun-FacebookPage-01

Here is a transcription from the above image:

Steven Breed So back to the first bullet point then: How does it reduce gun deaths?

John Blanton It does not.

Steven Breed Now I’m confused. Does it work in conjunction with the other bullets to reduce them? What is it supposed to do?

John Blanton Steve, because you have shown so much interest in this topic, I am now encouraged to give it the full attention it deserves. Stand by for another Skeptical Analysis post.

Hence this post. To recap, following is my current (revised since the original post) bullet list:

  • Firearms must be registered. Yeah, yeah, this is a preamble for taking away your guns. Get over it.
  • Severe restrictions on the carrying of guns. If you want to handle your weapon anywhere outside your home, anywhere besides a shooting range or a hunting location, you’re going to need a permit, and to obtain that permit you’re going to need to demonstrate you have a good business reason for carrying a gun on the street.
  • Severe penalties for violations. You don’t register your gun, the government can seize it, you won’t get it back, ever. Carry your weapon on the street without the proper permit, and you lose it. Besides, you are going to jail. And you will receive no compensation from the government.
  • Sever penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime. These laws exist and are enforceable. Penalties can be increased.
  • The need for an automatic weapon must be demonstrated before such a weapon can be used outside the home. Gun people like to pick words over what is an automatic weapon, but as an engineer, any machine that operates itself is by definition automatic. Any weapon that reloads itself is automatic.
  • Automatic weapons will not be authorized for hunting.
  • Guns being transported must be locked up. We had these laws in Texas for years. You’re going hunting? You need to keep your weapons in the trunk of the car until you get where you’re going.
  • It will be illegal to transfer a gun from one person’s ownership to another’s without a proper background check.
  • It will be illegal to lend a gun to somebody who does not have the right to possess a gun.
  • Violation of gun laws will result in the forfeiture of the right of ownership for life.
  • Pistols will be regarded as exceptional weapons, requiring additional restrictions for ownership.

Steve’s question is “Does it work in conjunction with the other bullets to reduce them? What is it supposed to do?” I was hoping Steve would have figured that one out, but I am prepared to do the legwork and outline how registration of firearms will lend itself to reducing gun fatalities. Not being a lawyer or legal scholar by any measure, I am sure to get various points wrong. Challenges and corrections are solicited.

  1. When a gun is registered it becomes associated with an individual.
  2. If an individual registered as a gun owner is convicted of a felony, especially a felony involving violence, all guns registered to that individual become subject to confiscation without reimbursement. These guns become the property of some government agency.
  3. If a registered gun from 2 above cannot be located, then the gun will be placed on a watch list.
  4. Any attempt to transfer possession (ownership) of the illegal weapon will incur criminal charges.
  5. The person found in possession of the illegal weapon will be prosecuted.
  6. If a registered weapon is stolen it will be recorded as an illegal weapon, with criminal penalties attached to its subsequent possession.
  7. The above procedures will reduce the free circulation of weapons and will also provide government authorities the ability to remove illegal weapons from circulation.
  8. An obvious result of the above is that a gun removed from circulation will not shortly become involved in death or injury to somebody. People legally possessing a gun will be dissuaded from illegally selling, lending, or giving the gun to somebody who should not have it.

All this may seem minor, and somebody is going to argue that it places undue burden on legitimate gun owners at very little accomplished toward reducing gun violence. The point is conceded, except for the “undue” part. The burden is due and will become part of the cost of gun ownership.

A full transcript of the Facebook exchange is available on request. Again, comments and suggestions are solicited. If you are reading this from a Facebook link, comment in the section below rather than on Facebook. This saves me the trouble of transferring Facebook comments to this posting.

Getting Real

It has come to my attention that my bullet list was incomplete in its original form. This post has been revised to correct that.

It’s getting about time for a reality check. See the photo below.

GunDebate-MariahDavis

That’s five-year-old Mariah Davis. Only now she’s dead. She was not the victim of international terrorists. She was not the victim of a crazed shooter. She was not the victim of a scumbag criminal. She was killed, either by herself or by another child in her own home. Laws banning assault rifles would not have prevented this tragedy. She was killed by a handgun owned by her grandmother, supposedly a responsible gun owner.

In the wake of the mass shooting and murder at the Pulse night club in Orlando, there has been a renewed call for restrictive gun legislation. And some response. Vis, a recent Facebook posting:

Guns-HarlowKeithOrlandoShooting

Silly remarks are laid upon both sides of this debate. Those notwithstanding, some things are real.

The embarrassing rate of gun-related deaths in the United States cannot be attributed to mental illness. Mariah’s grandmother was not mentally ill. Also, she did not do the shooting. Let’s get real. Let’s toss out all the mentally ill and all the drug gangs and the terrorists attacks. How many countries can even approach the United States when it comes to killings by children under the age of 10?

It is not solely a matter of criminals and deranged individuals with guns. Strike those, and the United States is still number one among advanced countries. The truth is that the more guns there are around the more people will be killed by guns.

Underlying that problem is the Second Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment protects the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. Contrary to the thinking of the National Rifle Association and legions of gun rights advocates, the Amendment nowhere mentions guns. Apparently the Second Amendment was intended to be interpreted. Interpretations have been many. For example:

Its foggy wording and odd locution stand out in the Constitution. Lawyers and scholars debate its commas and clauses. For 218 years, judges overwhelmingly concluded that the amendment authorized states to form militias, what we now call the National Guard. Then, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upended two centuries of precedent. In the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia declared that the Constitution confers a right to own a gun for self-defense in the home. That’s right: the Supreme Court found there to be an individual right to gun ownership just a few years ago. Now, when we debate gun control we do so in the context of a Supreme Court ruling that limits what we can do (though we don’t yet know how much).

Waldman, Michael. The Second Amendment: A Biography (Kindle Locations 39-44). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

This has been a critical decision by the Court. Not being a legal scholar, I take this to mean that if you want to own a gun the government is going to need a good reason to deny you the opportunity. Even the NRA concedes convicted criminals can be denied the right to have a gun.

My opinion: this has escalated beyond all sensibility. States have enacted open carry laws, allowing people with permits to carry weapons concealed or in plain sight just about anywhere they want to go. And this has resulted in greater safety for all of us.

No, it has not.

What is reasonable? Is it too early to start getting reasonable? Maybe the time has come.

Some plans are top of the head foolish. Take away peoples guns. Never going to happen. People purchased guns at a time when the law allowed them to do so. Seizing their property now would, at the least, be in violation of due process, part of the Bill of Rights.

Gun buy-back programs are also foolish and on the face unworkable. People will game the system, even purchasing cheap, often unworkable, weapons and working the program for a profit.

Prohibiting the sale of certain weapon designs. That has gone nowhere in the past, as minor changes in design can defeat the definition of what is prohibited. Exception: machine guns, what gun buffs call automatic weapons, can be outlawed.

Prohibiting the manufacture of certain weapons. Nah.

Holding manufacturers and marketers responsible. No, again.

Enough of that. What can be done? What can be done that has the slightest chance of passing muster with the courts. My suggestions:

  • Firearms must be registered. Yeah, yeah, this is a preamble for taking away your guns. Get over it.
  • Severe restrictions on the carrying of guns. If you want to handle your weapon anywhere outside your home, anywhere besides a shooting range or a hunting location, you’re going to need a permit, and to obtain that permit you’re going to need to demonstrate you have a good business reason for carrying a gun on the street.
  • Severe penalties for violations. You don’t register your gun, the government can seize it, you won’t get it back, ever. Carry your weapon on the street without the proper permit, and you lose it. Besides, you are going to jail. And you will receive no compensation from the government.
  • Sever penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime. These laws exist and are enforceable. Penalties can be increased.
  • The need for an automatic weapon must be demonstrated before such a weapon can be used outside the home. Gun people like to pick words over what is an automatic weapon, but as an engineer, any machine that operates itself is by definition automatic. Any weapon that reloads itself is automatic.
  • Automatic weapons will not be authorized for hunting.
  • Guns being transported must be locked up. We had these laws in Texas for years. You’re going hunting? You need to keep your weapons in the trunk of the car until you get where you’re going.
  • It will be illegal to transfer a gun from one person’s ownership to another’s without a proper background check.
  • It will be illegal to lend a gun to somebody who does not have the right to possess a gun.
  • Violation of gun laws will result in the forfeiture of the right of ownership for life.
  • Pistols will be regarded as exceptional weapons, requiring additional restrictions for ownership.

Good, sensible gun advocates like to remind me that no gun law will prevent gun violence. Of course. No piece of paper will keep a bad guy from having a gun. Of course. What the piece of paper does accomplish is to give police the authorization to seize a weapon and even arrest a person. Without the “piece of paper” the police have to stand by until a crime has been committed or is about to happen. There is a case in point.

This is from news reports. People reported a man on the street carrying a gun. Police did not respond. Without probable cause the police could not stop the man and interfere with his going about his business. After the man killed two people the police were able to respond. Here is a case:

Case study: the Neenah stop. Recently in Neenah, WI, a woman called the police to report a man with a gun strapped to his back walking down the street. The call was placed to the non-emergency police number and the caller didn’t report that the man was doing anything threatening, but she did suggest that the police check on the situation. As a result, an officer stopped the man and his companion. The officer engaged in a protracted dialogue with the man, at one point telling the man that he would be shot in the head if he made any furtive movements. Other officers also responded, and at least one drew her weapon. The man who was stopped remained calm throughout the interaction and was eventually permitted to depart. The full 18-minute video of the stop is here. A local news article about the stop is here. It has generated quite a bit of controversy. Were the officer’s actions lawful and justified by public safety concerns? Or was it an unjustified response to lawful open carry? This post breaks down the legal issues.

Here is another:

As I first reported late Monday, questions are hanging over how the Colorado Springs Police Department handled a 911 call on Saturday morning, when a resident saw a man carrying a rifle on her residential block prior to a deadly gun rampage. The caller, Naomi Bettis, was alarmed about 33-year-old Noah Harpham—who soon went on to shoot three people to death in the area before being killed by police. But when Bettis made the 911 call, her first of two, the police dispatcher apparently reacted without urgency, telling Bettis about Colorado’s law allowing firearms to be carried openly in public. Bettis hung up, and when she called back it was because the killing was underway.

Yes, I’m thinking we’ve had about enough of this business. It’s time to get real.

Friday Funny

One of a series

So, why am I showing this image of a brown (?) Probe? Maybe it has to do with today’s funny headline:

Kenyan Judge Says Anal Probes Are a Legal Way to Determine if Someone is Gay

In Kenya, a nation where sodomy is a criminal offense, a judge just ruled that anal probes are a legal way to determine someone’s sexual orientation.

And that’s funny.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Religion-FaithHealing-01

Unfortunate as it is, I can probably do one of these every Tuesday. This is recent:

Two Mormon parents who own a nutritional supplement company are accused of letting their toddler son die from meningitis because they tried to treat him with home remedies instead of medicine.

David and Collet Stephan have pleaded not guilty to charges that they failed to provide the necessities of life to their 19-month-old son Ezekiel, reported CBC News.

Although Ezekiel’s parents did not substitute prayer for medical treatment, their faith in home remedies proved just as fatal as if they had prayed to Jesus. When faith wins out over pragmatism, somebody needs to come around to collect the bodies.

Expectations of Privacy

This is a continuation of a previous discussion.

Better_Sample_PDF417

In a previous post I discussed what it was like growing up in a small town, the gist being in a small town your expectation of privacy is a fantasy. What got me thinking of this was the civil suit that may have earned professional wrestler Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) $115 million. That’s what a jury awarded Mr. Bollea from defendant Gawker Media. Following that, on Monday of this week the jury came back and awarded Bollea an additional $25.1 million dollars from defendants Gawker Media, Gawker founder Nick Denton , and Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio. Here is how it all came about.

From testimony at the trial, Bollea was at the home of his friend, Tampa-area radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge, whose real name is Todd Alan Clem. Present also was Clem’s bride, Heather Cole, from all appearances a major babe. A suggestion was made, and the very enticing Ms. Cole took Bollea by the hand and led him to an upstairs bedroom where the two engaged in the most intimate of human relations.

The problem is, Mr. Clem arranged to video tape the encounter, although accounts differ as to whether Bollea agreed to this or even knew of it. That was in 2007. Nine seconds of the video wound up being posted on the Gawker site in 2012, without Mr. Bollea’s permission. This according to the jury’s finding.

So here’s the rub. Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) has for some time earned his daily bread as an exhibitionist, engaging in staged wrestling exhibitions (nobody seriously calls them matches) and other, less respectable, exhibitions. He has previously discussed his private sex life in public interviews.

Anyhow, that pretty much settles that. Freedom of speech notwithstanding, you cannot take something that was rightfully expected to be private and make it public. That is, you can’t do it unless you welcome legal and monetary repercussions.

My previous post (see the link above) delved into the matter of the NSA and other government agencies monitoring network traffic and even phone traffic. I’m going to expand on that. What about other forms of monitoring? Where does the expectation of privacy end? Recall (link above) my tale of growing up in a small town, and everybody told my mother when they noticed I was getting out of line. Bicycling around the streets in a small Texas town did not involve any expectation of privacy.

There is more I did not tell. As kids, I had a brother and some cousins, we decided we wanted to be detectives. What do detectives do? They keep an eye out and see what’s going on. We took it upon ourselves to stand by the street and record the license plate numbers of the cars going by. Yes, that was funny.

Did we have a right to do that? Anyone would argue this was a foolish exercise, but few would deny us the right to do so. But look where this is leading.

Pasted inside the windshield of my car is a toll tag. When I drive through a toll gate on any number of Texas tollways, a scanner reads the information embedded in the tag and records it. They’re going to send me a bill.

But wait. They record more. They record where the car was, at which toll gate, and in which lane. Also the date and time of day—to the minute. I tried an experiment. I logged onto my toll tag account and verified for myself. Yes, I could track the progress of my car throughout my travels along the toll road. And so could anybody else who had access to my account. Not just the NSA, but the local police. If later at a criminal trial I contended I did not murder the famous banker Robert McCool, the police could come back and ask, then why did my car exit the toll road near Mr. McCool’s house just minutes before the crime was committed?

Obviously my privacy went out the window when I decided to paste a toll tag on my windshield. The solution would logically be to not use a toll tag. Just pay cash.

Wrong-o! Nobody takes cash anymore. Don’t have a toll tag? The toll gate just reads your license plate. They look your car up in public records and mail you a bill. And charge you extra for the extra trouble.

Nonetheless, having a toll tag pasted on your windshield opens your privacy to anybody who can scan it, and not just the tollway authority. Anybody with the technology. Of course, reading your toll tag ID does not disclose additional information to somebody who does not have access to the toll authority’s database. They can’t even get your license plate information from the toll tag ID. But they don’t need to.

People don’t need to read your toll tag to get your license plate number. All they need to do is to look at your license plate. And they don’t need eyeballs to do that. Recall the kids in the small Texas town writing down license plate numbers? That was so 1950. Technology exists and is for sale to scan and read license plates. Anybody, anywhere, anytime can set up a scanner alongside a public road and collect license plate numbers from all passing cars. And they can record the date, time, and location. And it’s all perfectly legal. So far. Back to that later.

Besides the toll tag, I have pasted on my windshield another item. It’s the DMV registration tag. The police do not need to read my license plate to identify my car. The windshield sticker has a 2-D bar code that gives the police all the information they need. A cop stops you for speeding (or driving while black) and walks up to your windshield. He scans the bar code. He doesn’t have to write down your license plate number. He may check to see that the plate number corresponds (it had better) with the scanned information, but he has all he needs for his records.

So much for privacy? No way. This is routine, and a policeman stopping your vehicle for any reason can legally collect this information. And it can be use in later legal action.

I’m about to carry this the ultimate step forward. What if it were not necessary to step up to my car to read the sticker? What if, as with the toll tag, the registration stickers could be read from afar, for example from a scanner stationed beside the roadway. Then all the police (read, the NSA) need to do is to set up a network of monitoring stations and track every vehicle traveling on public roads. That is a massive amount of data, but who doubts the ability of the NSA to handle it?

A massive invasion of privacy, you will exclaim. Could be. This will not catch the crooks, you exclaim. The crooks will make up phony stickers. They could, in principle, but remember, the police (NSA) can also read the license plate, and if the license plate and the sticker don’t agree, then there’s trouble. Additionally, if a sticker is just duplicated, then the computing power of the NSA would take note that your car was in two cities at the same time. Flashing lights would appear in the rear view mirrors of two cars simultaneously.

This bit of government intrusion has been very interesting, but I’m getting to something more. Civil rights attorneys can make a big issue of any such government action, but do not believe that eliminates the problem. Though I am no legal scholar, I am going to venture that what the government is restricted from doing a private citizen may not be.

What law currently on the books, what pertinent case law, prevents a private citizen from stationing himself alongside a public road and recording the license plates of all traffic, all day, every day? And storing this information? Let’s give this private citizen a name. Let’s call this private citizen Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google. Google already has photos of your house. Some taken from the street and some taken from above. They possibly have a photo of your car driving on a public road. They have mine. I found it along I-35 in Texas.

Drilling deeper, if Google, or some other entity, were to collect and make public the time and location of every automobile on public roads, there is the possibility of a lawsuit akin to the famous one involving wrestler Hulk Hogan. But it’s not necessary to make the information public. All they have to do is to retain it, for all eternity. At that point all that the NSA, or any prosecuting attorney, would need would be a court order requesting the itinerary of the $75,000 BMW of notorious pimp Larry McCool, accused of murdering the unfortunate Miss Lala McShirley, late of 22nd and Fifth Avenue. Additionally, the NSA could obtain tracking information for all vehicles leaving the scene of a bombing at the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC.

What prevents Google from collecting this information is lack of financial incentive. It’s a for profit company. That does not apply to the NSA. They have not shown a profit in over 50 years. Could the authorities incorporate such a system of surveillance, disregarding whether the courts would allow it? The technology is getting cheaper. And it’s already in use, except for the part of reading license plates. Red light cameras exist through many major cities. There’s a violation, they have the photos. All that would be necessary would be to apply plate-reading technology, and you’re busted. Hey, look what I found:

I-10FreewayTrafficCamera

 

Yes, that’s you traveling on I-10 while I’m writing this at 1039 on 24 March. Does your wife know you’re not at work right now? Hopefully she doesn’t have a computer with a Web browser,  because that’s all it takes to vaporize your expectation of privacy.

In closing, we owe much thanks to citizen Hulk Hogan for defending everybody’s right to privacy. Yes, Hulk. Thanks. A lot.

Bat Shit Crazy

Second of a series (unfortunately)

Todd Akin

Todd Akin

What is this thing called love
This funny thing called love
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?
Lyrics by Cole Porter

Of course, it’s not always thus. There are times when love is not involved. But some politicians hold out hope. Sort of. Idaho State Representative Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home was speaking in support of a proposed bill. It would “require women seeking abortions to be given a list of providers of free ultrasounds, and to be told they have a right to such a procedure and to hear a fetal heart monitor.” My guess is that Representative Nielsen is among those who believe abortion should be avoided in all cases. Lacking the legal means to block abortions, bills of this kind are designed to dissuade women who have decided to abort a pregnancy from going through with the procedure.

But “in all cases” includes rape and incest, two instances in which women are very likely to need an abortion. Fortunately for these women, Representative Nielsen has some good news:

During the hearing Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said, “Now, I’m of the understanding that in many cases of rape it does not involve any pregnancy because of the trauma of the incident. That may be true with incest a little bit.”

Except for the “little bit” part, this means victims of these crimes may not have to worry about becoming pregnant, meaning the proposed legislation would not apply to them. Representative Nielsen knows of what he speaks, due to his extensive background in gynecology and human reproduction.

Actually, that last part is not quite true. Other than attending Brigham Young University and Utah State University, Representative Nielsen seems to have no medical background at all:

This leaves us wondering at the source of Representative Nielsen’s deep knowledge. Apparently some questions are never meant to be answered.

This is not the first time a feckless politician has offered up sage advice on the mysterious workings of human reproduction. During the election cycle four years ago the world swooned at candidate Todd Akin’s amazing grasp of detail:

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) – Todd Akin, the Republican candidate in the closely watched U.S. Senate race in Missouri, released a new advertisement on Thursday featuring a woman who says she was raped and had an abortion but supports Akin’s anti-abortion stand.

The TV commercial comes in the closing days of a campaign that has drawn national attention because of Akin’s remark in August that women’s bodies could ward off pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”

As it turned out, voters did not appreciate candidate Akin’s insight. Some, I am sure, thought he was bat shit crazy. He lost the election to Senator Claire McCaskill.

The election years is just rolling into gear. There will be, I am sure, much more to come. Keep reading.

The Tainted Well

Joseph Smith Translating Harold Kilbourn, © 1970 “You have a gift to translate the plates” (D& C 5: 4) Displayed on LDS’ Website: www.josephsmith.net

Joseph Smith Translating Harold Kilbourn, © 1970 “You have a gift to translate the plates” (D& C 5: 4) Displayed on LDS’ Website: http://www.josephsmith.net

I worked most of a year in Salt Lake City, and many co-workers were LDS members. To a person, they were exemplary individuals, little representative of the founder. An American Fraud is a book by lawyer Kay Burningham, born into the faith, only to leave the church in mid-life. The book lays out the history of the founding of the LDS and the ethical squaller of its early leaders. Under outside pressure the Church morphed to adapt to modern morality, yet still retains tinges of a 19th century oppressive society. This according to Burningham’s observations.

Not detailed in the book are the workings of LDS offshoots that show much evidence of drinking from the tainted well. When circumstances arise the egg is cracked, and the world gets a fresh appreciation of the Church’s criminal underpinnings:

FLDS leader Lyle Jeffs, 10 others charged with benefits fraud, money laundering

SALT LAKE CITY – Several leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are in jail, facing federal charges. On Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced indictments against 11 people on charges related to food stamp fraud.

The unsealed court documents allege FLDS leaders directed members to hand over their SNAP benefit cards to the FLDS storehouse, and that certain individuals laundered money to hide the activity.

Up front it should be noted that the FLDS has no relationship with the founding church. This and numerous branches of similar ilk are soundly repudiated by the Church, headquartered in Salt Lake City.

The recent charges relate to blatant criminal activity, but at a lower level these splinter sects have a long history of banking social preferences—supposedly supported by religious doctrine—off the American taxpayer. Polygamy is a Church practice abandoned and condemned by the LDS over a century ago, but it exists in principle, particularly in the Utah hinterlands and other locales out of the main stream. The easing of legal repercussions against casual immorality allows a man, so inclined, to have multiple wives, provided he files only one marriage with the government. The remaining wives are women of convenience, completely tolerated by modern law. Modern society assists this arrangement by providing welfare benefits to these unwed mothers and their children.

lyle-jeffs-mug

Apparently Lyle Jeffs has gone the step too far. What prosecutors are saying is that people eligible for SNAP (benefit) cards were giving the cards to others, under the direction of local leaders. The people eligible for the benefits were not receiving the benefits, but the cards were being used in stores controlled by the FLDS to make phony purchases. Sales were recorded, and the stores received reimbursement from the government, but no actual purchases were involved. The activity amounted to theft of money from the government.

This and other FLDS shenanigans in the towns of Hilldale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, (actually one community spread across the state line) are not appreciated by others in these communities:

Former members of the FLDS church say they’re not surprised by the by the allegations. Hildale resident Isacc Wyler said he’s glad the federal government is doing something about it.

“We know there are things going on that shouldn’t be going on,” Wyler said. “We’ve reported it. It just seems like it was going really, really slow, and then all of the sudden today it’s going really, really fast. So that’s good.”

The rot is not localized:

Former Police Chief Testifies He Lied Under Oath Due To FLDS Church Pressure
February 04, 2016

PHOENIX – On Wednesday, Helaman Barlow entered the Phoenix federal courthouse and took an oath to testify truthfully in front of a jury.

There would seem to be nothing exceptional about Barlow taking that oath, since all witnesses do, and Barlow is the former chief of the joint police department serving the twin cities of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, on the state border.

But on Wednesday, Barlow told the jury he had lied previous times he was questioned under oath about the very matter before them — whether his former police department was controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and whether the city government and police discriminated against church outsiders.

It’s hard to come away from this without concluding evidence of a tainted well. Burningham’s book traces the roots to the following and more:

The Kirkland Bank was typical of the criminal enterprise at the foundation of the LDS.

Soon after his translation of the Egyptian papryi, Smith attempted to create an independent financial institution whereby he would profit from the deposits of his faithful followers. Here is where the Prophet’s outright swindling of the Saints caused the first in a long series of disaffections and apostasies.

Burningham, Kay (2011-03-13). An American Fraud. One Lawyer’s Case against Mormonism (Kindle Locations 3681-3683). Amica Veritatis. Kindle Edition.

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is currently in a Texas slam after being convicted of less than ecclesiastical transgressions. His incarceration did not serve to pull the plug on his criminal enterprise. I am doubting these recent events will, either.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

It was hard to peg this as a flawed production. The story is compelling, and acting and directing are dead on. Only see this one when you are not off your meds, because it is that dark. This one defines film noir.

It’s Caged from 1950 out of Warner Brothers with a musical score by Max Steiner. The director is John Cromwell. Images are from the Turner Classic Movies showing on cable TV. Technical details are from Wikipedia. The movie is based on Women Without Men by Virginia Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld.

Eleanor Parker is Marie Allen, and here is her story. She’s 19, just convicted as an accessory to armed robbery. Her husband, out of work, went in to rob a place and was killed. She was driving. Now she’s in the state slam. And pregnant. Sign-in at the state women’s resort is cold and impersonal.

Caged-01

A ray of light is warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorehead). That light is quickly dimmed by more powerful forces, both within and without the walls.

Caged-02

Within there is the equally criminal matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson). Harper can make life more pleasant inside, if you have something to deal. Marie has nothing to offer and is too innocent to exercise her imagination. Harper can also make things tougher, and she does.

Caged-03

Harper’s brutality works its magic, and Marie rapidly hardens. Her baby is born in the prison infirmary, and she has to put the child up for adoption. Her spineless mother refuses to take the child owing to the objections of Marie’s rigid stepfather, himself unemployed.

Offers come. Marie can obtain parole. But she needs an outside sponsor. And a job. None such is in sight. Except that gangs on the outside are eager for molls to work their rackets for them. Rigidity of the system and brutality on the inside prevail.

Harper meets justice on the floor of the dining hall, cut down by a piece of tableware wielded by the life-hardened Kitty Stark (Betty Garde).

Caged-04

In the end, Marie takes the offer. We last see her getting out on parole underwritten by a gang of crooks. Warden Benton keeps Marie’s file active. She will be back.

Caged-05

The Loose Cruz

How long has it been since I posted anything on Texas Senator Ted Cruz? Well, that’s too long:

So, who is it campaigning for office, all the while keeping a lid on their intellect. Why, it’s Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Who would have thought?

TedCruzPray

That’s all? Fortunately not.

Sen. Ted Cruz had sharp words for President Barack Obama over his comments regarding Republican rhetoric on Syrian refugees, saying his statement “is utterly unbefitting of a president.”

“If you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries, but I would encourage you, mister president, come back and insult me to my face,” the Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate said this on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Unfortunately for the President, when it comes to insulting Ted Cruz, he is a day late and a dollar short. That task has been ably managed by the senator from Texas. To wit:

“President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s idea that we should bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America—it is nothing less than lunacy,” Ted Cruz said on Fox News, the day after the attacks on Paris. If there are Syrian Muslims who are really being persecuted, he said, they should be sent to “majority-Muslim countries.” Then he reset his eyebrows, which had been angled in a peak of concern, as if he had something pious to say. And he did: “On the other hand,” he added, “Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them. But President Obama refuses to do that.”

The next day, at a middle school in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Cruz spoke even more openly about those whom he considers to be the good people in the world. He told reporters that we should accept Christians from Syria, and only Christians, because, he said, “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” This will come as a profound surprise to the people of Oklahoma City and Charleston, to all parties in Ireland, and to the families of the teen-agers whom Anders Breivik killed in Norway, among many others. The Washington Post noted that Cruz “did not say how he would determine that refugees were Christian or Muslim.” Would he accept baptismal certificates, or notes from pastors? Does he just want to hear the refugees pray?

Of course, the foregoing from The New Yorker is a tad snarky. A coarse reading would give the idea that Senator Cruz wants only Christians from Syria allowed in. Come to think of it, that is what the senator said.

Let’s take it from there and do some Skeptical Analysis. Suppose we wanted to let in only Christians. How would we do it? Congress could make a law. The law would be worded something like this:

Only Christian refugees from Syria will be admitted to the United States.

Or, the deed could be accomplished by a simple memo:

From: His Holiness the President of the United States

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington D.C.

To: Ms. Fatima Noor

Special assistant in the Office of the Director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Ms. Noor:

From this date forward, only allow refugees of the Christian faith from Syria to enter the United States.

Yours truly,

Barack Hussein Obama

President of the United States

P.S. Don’t forget to pray five times a day.

Between Congress passing a law, and President Obama sending a memo, the task can be accomplished by any number of means. The problem is that any and all of these means would be in direct conflict with United States law:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…

Yes, that’s the part. There’s not going to be any of getting around that. Unless…

Unless you could set up something back-channel. Maybe a special signal. I don’t mean an applicant would need to kneel and cross themselves as they approach the review board, all the while shouting “Allah is a fag!” It could be something more subtle. A slight movement of the eyes. A particular color of socks. A quantity of unmarked bills. Those with some experience will know ways of getting around the law, any law. A sharp lawyer will know how. Such as Ted Cruz.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.