Tuesday, February 24, 2015

No federal charges against Zimmerman for slaying of Trayvon Martin

The hysteria after the acquittal of  George Zimmerman on the grounds of self-defense for the murder of Trayvon Martin was appalling.   It was a toned-down version of the presumption-of-guilt hysteria that used to lead to the lynching of black suspects.   Now, Obama's left-leaning DOJ will shortly announce that after an extensive investigation they will not file criminal charges against Zimmerman. If they can't find a basis for charges, no one can.  Let's all try to remember the larger principles at work here that transcend our national racial issues.

Concealed Carry Reciprocity Back on the Table.

New proposals for interstate reciprocity on licensed concealed carry have been introduced in Congress.  “Our fundamental right to self-defense does not stop at a state's borders. Law abiding citizens should be able to exercise this right while traveling across state lines, . . .”  This certainly makes sense, but I feel uncomfortable about reciprocity for the few states that allow a person to get the license completely online without showing firearms proficiency.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

OTAppeasement, current sanctions and negotiations alone will not work with Putin and Iran

If you are into the history of diplomacy and WWII you are undoubtedly familiar with the tragedy of "appeasement" which only encouraged Hitler to become more aggressive and eventually led to his invasion of Poland which led to the start of WWII in Europe.  Failure of the League of Nations to take a tough stand other concessions/acquiescence in Nazi violations of the Treaty of Versailles also added to the problem. This is obviously not the sole cause, but it was an important part of the development of the tragedy.

Although I am wary of international military involvement, like many I worry that our policies toward Russia and Iran are going to backfire. 

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is a bully. As a dictator he worries little about the effect of sanctions and can blamed the West for Russia's crumbling economy.  The Russians have violated two ceasefires and and the likely outcome is de facto Russian annexation of Eastern Ukraine.  According to the Economist:

"Look at the world from his perspective, and Mr Putin is winning. For all his enemies’ machinations, he remains the Kremlin’s undisputed master. He has a throttlehold on Ukraine, a grip this week’s brittle agreement in Minsk has not eased. Domesticating Ukraine through his routine tactics of threats and bribery was his first preference, but the invasion has had side benefits. It has demonstrated the costs of insubordination to Russians; and, since he thinks Ukraine’s government is merely a puppet of the West (the supposed will of its people being, to his ultracynical mind, merely a cover for Western intrigues), the conflict has usefully shown who is boss in Russia’s backyard. Best of all, it has sown discord among Mr Putin’s adversaries: among Europeans, and between them and America. . . the contest he insists on can no longer be dodged. It did not begin in poor Ukraine and will not end there. Prevailing will require far more resolve than Western leaders have so far mustered."

This author, like most has not stomach for direct western intervention.  He even has doubts about arming the Ukraine

"The current version of this quandary is whether, if the latest ceasefire fails, to arm Ukraine. Proponents think defensive weapons would inflict a cost on Mr Putin for fighting on. But anyone who doubts his tolerance of mass casualties should recall his war in Chechnya. If arms really are to deter him, the West must be united and ready to match his inevitable escalation with still more powerful weapons (along, eventually, with personnel to operate them). Yet the alliance is split over the idea. Mr Putin portrays the war as a Western provocation: arming Ukraine would turn that from fantasy to something like fact, while letting him expose the limits of Western unity and its lack of resolve—prizes he cherishes. If fresh Russian aggression galvanises the alliance, arming Ukraine will become a more potent threat. Until that point, it would backfire."

A better strategy is to eschew his methods and rely on an asset that he, in turn, cannot match: a way of life that people covet. If that seems wishy-washy beside his tanks, remember that the crisis began with Ukrainians’ desire to tilt towards the EU—and Mr Putin’s determination to stop them. Better ensure the cash is not misspent or stolen). The IMF deal announced on February 12th should be only a start. Mr Putin wants Ukraine to be a lesson in the perils of leaning West. It should instead be an exemplar of the rewards.

Just as urgently, those former Soviet countries that have joined Western institutions must be buttressed and reassured. If the case for sending arms to the Donbas is doubtful, that for basing NATO troops in the Baltics is overwhelming, however loudly Mr Putin squeals. Western leaders must make it clear, to him and their own people, that they will defend their allies, and the alliance—even if the struggle is covert and murky."

Further, although it is not a formal treaty, doesn't the U.S. have some obligation to the Ukraine.

"Much attention has focused on the so-called Budapest Memorandum. As part of the process to get Ukraine to give up Soviet nuclear weapons and other components it had inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a long and complicated set of negotiations took place. Some in Ukraine wanted to keep nuclear weapons as a hedge against the possibility that Russia, in the future, would use its superior power to pressure Ukraine or even reincorporate it into a new union. The government of Leonid Kravchuk was persuaded to part with the weapons, in part by promises of massive Western foreign aid, and guarantees that Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity would be protected. The Budapest Memorandum, signed in December 1994, was a promise and pledge of the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia to secure Ukraine’s borders and to protect Ukraine against attack particularly by a nuclear power.
The problem, however, is that like many other “understandings” reached during the late Cold War and early post Cold War period, this was not set up as a formal treaty. So,
This promise was an important incentive in getting Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons. However, it is not akin to the treaty which created Belgium and which guaranteed its security–the stated reason for Britain to declare war on Germany in 1914 after the German army violated the Belgian frontier. It is, as the title suggests, a memorandum. It was never ratified by the Senate and it offers no security guarantees whatsoever to Ukraine."
There are no easy answers to Putin, but the current approach is not going to work.

Next Iran.  The West has been negotiating for years with the Iranians to give up the technology and materials that can be used to build a nuclear weapon.  There has been lots of stalling and half-hearted claims of wanting to negotiate by the Iranians.  Some of the talks are in their 12th round. Sanctions do not seem to be working.  The current round of negotiations looks like it will fall through.  If some workable diplomatic solution is not found soon, will the Isreaeli's take military action.  This could result in a new explosion in the Middle East.  The Obama administrations indecision and wishy-washy approach here, as with the Ukraine, only encourages our opponents.   Again there are no easy answers, but something more needs to be done.  The Obama administration's head-in-the-sand approach, which we saw initially with ISIS, is not going to work.

OT: Insight into individual and cultural factors in Islamic terrorism, the role of sexual repression

What drives  many conservative Muslims into unspeakably brutal terrorism? What drives even some westernized Muslims into this horror? This NYT story is about a relatively educated and affluent young conservative Muslim male who felt guilty about his "western lifestyle" and joined ISIS.  Unlike many other analyses,  it offers some relatively unexplored insights on both the individual and group level.
"There is no single path that leads to jihad, but in exploring Mr. Yaken’s life, signposts emerge. There are influences familiar and easy to discuss, like a lack of economic opportunity and a renewed sense of political alienation, especially among youths. But there are also more delicate subjects — less often publicly debated, let alone dissected — like the increasingly conservative thinking that defines the faith for many Muslims today, or sexual repression among young people who are taught that their physical and emotional desires can bring them eternal damnation."

"This conundrum, often presented as a choice between a modern Western lifestyle and living a pious life, is central to understanding how Mr. Yaken transformed from an ambitious bodybuilder who tried to cast his charm on women to a jihadist violently imposing the strictest social code."

Conservative Islam with its strict rules on sex causes both sexual repression and sexual guilt. Going to the repressive extreme seems to be one possible way to deal with these feeling.  On the group level, the permissiveness about sex, nudity and pornography of western culture which is a message available to all on the internet, is a serious threat to conservative Islam.  Many have the unpleasant emotion of both being tempted and hated by the temptations of western culture.  Violent reactions are one way to deal with these uncomfortable, conflicting emotions.   Perhaps it offers a distraction that is strong enough to overcome the issues. They secretly envy the West, but hate it.  Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the theory of cognitive dissonance.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book on ATF's Scandalous Operation Fast and Furious

This book is written by a licensed firearms dealer who cooperated with the feds.  The book has a Foreword by Sheryll Atkisson the network reporter who broke was among the first to blow the whistle on the outrageous cross-border gun scheme pursued by BATF.  Most of the national media ignored the story.

Federal Court strikes Down Obamas Executive Order on Delaying Deportation of 4-5 million

In a victory for the separation of powers doctrine in the U.S. Constitution, a U.S. District Court invalidated the Obama administration's executive order regarding delayed deportation of around 5 million aliens.  Yes, the President has discretion in how to enforce the law, and can fill in small gaps until Congress acts, but this is an act of national policy-making which by Art I of the Constitution is granted only to Congress.  The President's duty, under Article II is to enforce the law, not make it.  See portions of the Constitution below:

"Article. I.

Section. 1.
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States


Article. II.

Section. 1.
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America."

Unfortunately, the court rested its ruling on a federal statute, the Administrative Procedure Act.  The administration obviously violated the Act:  According to the excellent S.Ct. website SCOTUDBLOG:

"The states, in suing over both the new program and the expansion of the 2012 arrangements, had made two broad claims: a constitutional claim, that the president and other officials had failed to “faithfully execute” the laws, as Article II requires, and a claim that government officials put the changes into effect without approval by Congress and without following the proper procedures.
Judge Hanen ruled only on the procedural point, finding that the new policy was implemented in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires the government to seek public reaction before implementing a new policy or program.  He rejected the government’s argument that the program was solely a result of the exercise of enforcement discretion that was not subject to review by the courts and did not have to go through the APA procedures."

The feds will appeal. Stay tuned.  Some court along the line needs to rule on the constitutionality of such actions.

Hand-held Drug Identification Device being developed

Scientists are working on a hand-held drug identification device.  If it works with reasonable accuracy, this should help those who are found in possession of something that merely looks like an illegal drug.  Might help reduce the jail population a little.  Of course, trying to sell a legal product by falsely claiming it is a controlled substance is a crime ("counterfeit drug").

2nd Amend does not protect open carry (?)

"In what judges described as a first-of-its-kind case, an appeals court Wednesday upheld a Florida law that prevents people from openly carrying firearms, finding that the restriction does not violate the constitutional rights to bear arms." . .  ."The ruling described the case as presenting a question of "first impression" about whether the Second Amendment forbids the state from banning the open carrying of firearms while allowing people to carry concealed weapons under a permitting system". 

Does the word "bear" in the Second Amendment mean that guns can be "borne" only when concealed?  I don't think so.  That construction would certainly surprise the Founding Fathers.  This is an intermediate state court of appeal opinion.  Stay tuned.

TIH: 2/18

1970 Five of the Chicago Seven defendants were found guilty of intent to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic national convention. (The convictions were later overturned.)
1972 The California Supreme Court struck down the state's death penalty.
1988 Anthony M. Kennedy was sworn in as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Defensive gun use is not a myth

The leading expert on gun issues in the U.S. is Dr. Gary Kleck of FSU.  See this great, recent article of his is here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

$8.3 million settlement over death of jail inmate

"OAKLAND -- A record-breaking settlement [$8.3 million] over the death of an Oakland man who died after being beaten and Tased by Santa Rita Jail deputies requires better health care in Alameda County jails and is projected to set a higher standard of care in jails and prisons nationwide.
"Martin Harrison's legacy will be safer care for jail and prison inmates around the country," said Julia Sherwin of Haddad & Sherwin. "His family ... was committed to making sure that Martin's death was not in vain. They have succeeded completely.  The Alameda County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to -- along with its jail medical services provider Corizon Health, Inc. -- pay $8.3 million to Martin Harrison's four adult children. The county in 2013 settled with Harrison's fifth and minor child for $1 million in a separate lawsuit.

Total for this incident now at $9.3 million. One of these days incompetent public officials and insurance companies  will figure out that it's cheaper to run a decent jail  rather than to pay millions in settlements.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

More on open-carry of handguns

Good article on open carry in Texas and elsewhere.  Although Texas is viewed as "gun-owner friendly," it is one of the few states with an absolute ban for all civilians on open carry of handguns. 
"So how did Texas — with a robust gun culture — end up on the anti-gun side of the equation?
The answer dates to Reconstruction after the Civil War, when federal officials helped empower Republican lawmakers in Texas. Those leaders had to control an area teeming with Confederate sympathizers, who suddenly found themselves living among freed slaves.
That volatile mix led to some of the most turbulent and violent times in Texas’ history.
In 1871, the Legislature passed a law that banned a person from carrying a pistol “on or about his person, saddle, or in his saddle-bags.” The law had exceptions for travelers and those living on the frontier — which allowed for selective enforcement.
Loopholes stayed put
But when Reconstruction ended and Democrats seized back control of the state, the handgun ban stayed. Fearing the prospect of armed blacks, Democratic lawmakers actually stiffened the law, while keeping the loopholes that now worked in their favor."

For more on the topic of racism and guns see this article.

For a state-by-state summary of law see Wikipedia.

OT Sex and the Orthodox Jewish Woman (from NY Times Mag.)

Although Americans share much in common, the  sociologist in me is always fascinated by the differences between America's subcultures and the mainstream culture.   This is a fascinating, and in some senses disturbing, article from the NY Times Magazine.

NYPD Officer indicted for manslaughter of unarmed suspect

As you may already know, a target/suspect has no right to be notified that he/she is the subject of a grand jury investigation.  They also have no right to be present or present testimony.  However, in many jurisdictions, including NYC, police officers under investigation for alleged excessive force are allowed to testify.  This arguably is one of the reasons that there are so few indictments. If the officer can present, or make up, something justifying the use of force, grand jurors will often believe them.  This is especially the case if the Prosecutor running the grand jury doesn't want an indictment.  If this case, the officer, who claimed his handgun discharged accidentally, did not testify and was indicted.  In this case, the officer who claimed that his gun went off unintentionally didn't testify. He was indicted for manslaughter.

The First Big Trial of 2015

The killing of Chris Kyle ("The American Sniper" author) and his friend Chad Littleton by a disturbed vet they were trying to help has led to the first big criminal trial of the year.  The prosecutor has taken the death penalty out the case and the defense will be insanity. See this article on the case and on the fate or some other well-known defendants who pled insanity (e.g. Andrea Yates, Dena Schlosser, Alexander Ervin) are also treated.   The jury has now been selected and testimony is now undeway.  Given the publicity and movie success of "American Sniper" I questions whether this case should not have been delayed.

2 Big Gun-Owner Rights Issues in Texas

The latest state government elections in Texas put more gun-owners rights supporters in office.  The legislature is considersing two issues. The governor has indicated support.
1.  Allowing concealed carry licensees to carry inside public college and university buildings.  They can already carry on the grounds of the institution.  I agree with this proposal.  Most college students will not be eligible because of age.  Those with "problems" (e.g. convictions) will, as in the general population, not be licensed.  I have heard some Profs say they fear they will be threatened or killed if they hand back a paper with a bad grade to a licensed concealed carrier.  All they have to do is announce that the student will be allowed a chance to argue with them about a higher grade upon a second review.  In the rest of the state, licensed concealed carriers are not threatening or killing nay time they get frustration. This is not a valid  objection to the proposal.  We all know that most colleges and universities are dominated by left-wing political correctness.  It is this domination that drives the opposition, not rational fears.
2.  open carry. Interestingly, Texas is one of the few states that completely bans open carry of handguns by all civilians.  Part of the debate is whether there should be a license requirement for this as is already the case for concealed carry.  The simplest solution would be to allow those who already have or get a concealed carry permit to carry openly.  The "absolutists" who wrongly think constitutional rights are absolute reject a permit requirement.  The U.S. Supreme Court has stated in Heller and McDonald that children, convicted felons, the mentally ill and other categories are not entitled to full Second Amendment protection.  For instance, the Amendment may give convicted, adult, competent felons to have protective weapons in their home.  However, giving this right to children and the mentally ill makes no sense.  If these restrictions are allowed under the Amendment, state and federal governments should be allowed to screen out those who fall into these categories.  Hence, a licensing or permit system.  On the other hand, it doesn't seem that unlimited open carry where it currently exists has any effect on the crime rate.   Arguably, it might depress it, as some researchers (but not all) have suggested.  On the other hand,  no state that allows unlicensed open carry allows everyone to engage in the behavior. I don't think anyone wants the mentally ill, or teengagers, esp. violent gang member, etc. to engage in open carry.  No lower court has held that "must issue" permit systems that disqualify certain categories of people  are unconstitutional.  Thus, the issue seems to be whether it is enough to just exclude certain categories from the practice of unlicensed  open carry, or to allow open carry only after getting a permit which helps assure that the forbidden categories will not carry.  As compared to concealed carry, the public and police will automatically know who is engaging in open carry. Anyone who appears to be mentally ill, under age, etc. can be asked to produce a license.  Legislatures should specify how these situations are to be handled and licensees should be trained as to the proper legal response.   I suggest that in Texas we start out with a licensed open carry system.  I can hear the moaning and groaning and gnashing of teeth from the ideologues, absolutists and anarchists, but I'm a "cautious" libertarian.

P.S. Notice that I use the term "gun-owner rights."  Inanimate objects don't have rights, people do.  Or course, in some cases "gun rights" extend beyond owners of guns.  An example would be borrowing a gun for home defense.  Can anyone think of a better term?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Second Amendment Victory

I especially like the way the judge scrutinized the law.  Read the opinion. Will be appealed. Stay tuned.
 The court utilized strict scrutiny. This make the government put up a very strong case.  This is crucial in influencing which side will win the case.  The court say this is appropriate when the core of a fundamental right is attacked. I agree.  Although I might extend strict scrutiny beyond this.The U.S. Court of Appeals case cited on standards of review is N.R.A. v. BATFE, 700 F.3d 185 (CA5, 2012).  The  U.S. Supreme Court denied appeal in the N.R.A. case.  The standard of review is a crucial issue that the Supreme Court needs to decide. The District Court wrote in Mance:

“A law that burdens the core of the Second Amendment guarantee—for example, ‘the right

of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home’— would trigger strict

scrutiny.” NRA, 700 F.3d at 205 (quoting Heller, 554 U.S. at 635) (internal citation omitted). At its

core, the Second Amendment protects law-abiding, responsible citizens. Id. at 206. Instead of
limiting the federal interstate handgun transfer ban to a discrete class of people, it prevents all legally

responsible and qualified individuals from directly acquiring handguns from FFLs in every state
other than their state of residency and the District of Columbia." . .  .
The Court, therefore, applies strict scrutiny—that is, the law must be narrowly
tailored to be the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest."

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Do you recall "REIES (REYES) TIJERINA?

If you were an early baby-boomer and had any social or political consciousness, you probably remember Reies (Reyes) Tijerina, (pronounced tee-heh-REE-na) who became a leader of the fight for Chicano land rights in the 60's.  His passing, last month went largely unnoticed.

NYC pays $5 million to settle "Mafia Cops" lawsuit

Cities pay millions of dollars each year to settle lawsuits against their lawsuits.  Many are settled even though liability is doubtful because it cheaper to buy off the plaintiffs.   But when we start talking real money (millions), settlement comes when exposure of the ugly details wants to be prevented.  (Of course, the city always has a boilerplate denial of liability).  The public should be "mad as hell" and demand the PD straighten up, but the settlements are rarely reported.
  This case involves one of the most outrageous examples of police corruption.  The Mafia used 2 NYPD detectives as informants, paying the $4,000 per month.  They leaked the name of an informer, but the Mafia hit the wrong man.  His family sued.  The city delayed the case as long as it could. The judge noted that the killing would probably not have occurred if one of the detectives had been fired in the mid-80's when "he was caught passing confidential police records to a mobster."

Great, free university courses avaiable for auditing.

As you may know, lots of great college-level courses are available for free auditing on the internet.  3 courses by Columbia U Prof. and Pulitzer Prize Winner Eric Foner  (see post directly below) are available for free.
Even the archived courses are available. Free registration if you merely audit.  If you are interested in other courses, look around the website.

Book on the "Underground Railway."

Eric Foner is one of my favorite historian/writers.  He penetrates to the key issues while others push their ideological hobby-horses, fawn over or hate the historical figure, or get lost in the detail.  His "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery" won a Pulitzer Prize. This is his latest book on the Underground Railroad "Gateway to Freedom:  The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad." (NYT BR here.)  Hope to get to it somedayk.

Should child vaccinations for contagious diesases be mandatory?

Do parents have a right to refuse vaccination of their children for communicable diseases even when state law requires it?  Presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul concluded they should have that right because "parents own the children."  The only people who are owned by others are slaves.  Someone needs to remind Rand that children are not slaves of their parents. 

"No Fly List" challenged in court.

In a suit that the government has been stalling on for  four years, plaintiffs (backed by the ACLU) are challenging the federal "no fly list."  They argue that there is a violation of due process as there is no procedure available for challenging being on the list.  Strikes me as being an obvious violation of due process.

BP agent in U.S. shoots boy in Mex. Do U.S. Courts have jurisdiction?

Border Patrol Agent is on U.S. side of border.  Shoots across border and kills boy in  Mexico.  A 3-judge panel held that the District Court did have jurisdiction to hear a lawsuit by the boy's parents.
The full 5th Circuit (en banc) is now considering that ruling.  A amicus brief from the Mexican government argues that the suit should be allowed.  The officer is arguing self-defense and  Federal officials refused to extradite the agent to Mexico to face criminal charges.