Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Caution: Transportation is Dangerous to Your Health (?)

Several recent accidents and travel raise the question; Is it too dangerous to travel by plane, train, or bus? Is transportation dangerous? The most publicized accident was the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 on July 6, 2013 on approach to San Francisco International Airport. The pilots came up short in a visual landing on a clear day. Three passengers died and 181 were injured. The cause was clearly pilot error. None of the three pilots in the cockpit realized they were coming too low and slow until it was too late. Two Southwest pilots last week on July 21 also proved at LaGuardia they could not safely land a plane. They landed nose gear first rather the tail first. The nose wheels cannot sustain the force of a nose first landing. Fortunately no one died in the accident. 10 passengers were injured. Again, pilot error is undoubtedly the cause of the accident. Train accidents have come to the fore in recent days. July 6 witnessed a non- passenger train in Canada killing at least 47 and leveling 40 buildings. The train of 72 rail cars was lying at rest in the small town of Lac Margentic, Quebec. The engineer claims to have set the hand brakes. The engine was left running to keep the air brakes locked. The train was carrying crude oil from the Bakken Field in North Dakota to a refinery in northern Canada. A fire broke out. The firefighters shut down the engine in fighting the fire. The railroad now claims, for litigation purposes, that shutting off the locomotive released the brakes, which cause the tank cars to start their unimpeded trip to the center of town in the middle of the night. Some of the cars derailed with a fire and massive explosion following. 47 town residents died while 40 buildings were leveled by the blast. A high speed train on the Paris-Lyon run derailed in Bretigny-Sur-Orge in France on July 12. Six passengers died and over 200 injured. The cause was a bad piece of tax. A high speed train, at twice the recommended speed, derailed in going through a slow curve, on July 24. The driver (engineer) said the brakes failed, but he had apparently ignored warnings to start slowing the train 2 ½ miles from the curve. He was apparently doing 190KMH through the curve, which is posted at 80KMH. Speed kills. Francisco Jose Garzon has been indicted on 79 counts of manslaughter. Earlier today two passenger trains collided head-on in Switzerland. 44 injuries and perhaps one fatality occurred from the crash. Any head-on collision by trains will usually involve engineer error. A bus returning from a youth camp in Northern Michigan took an exit curve too fast at 4:15 on I 465 in Indianapolis, Three passengers died, including a pastor and his pregnant wife. The driver said the brakes failed. The good news about bus accidents is that they usually will not result in scores of casualties because of the relatively low capacity of busses. A bus driver in Arizona on the Vegas – Grand Canyon Skywalk yesterday did not notice the flood warning. He drove the 33 passengers into a flooded wash at 1:50PM. Fortunately all 33 passengers walked out of the crash. Conversely, a driver in Italy yesterday crashed into several cars, bumper car style, slowed by heavy traffic, and then plunged into a ravine. At least 37 died. These recent accidents suggest that transportation is a high risk activity. The opposite is the case. It’s still much riskier driving to the airport than in catching the flight. We learn of these accidents because they are publicized because of their extreme rarity. No human activity is risk free. We learn from accidents how to minimize the risk in the future. No rules, safety standards, procedures, or measures can totally eliminate human error. Modern means of transportation are so much safer, convenient, and faster than the older methods of stage coach, wagon train, horse and bugger, pack mules, camels and donkeys. The last passenger airline crash in the United States was in 2009. That’s quite a safety record!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mayor Filner Flinched Before Congressman Weiner

The main political question this past week was “Who will withdraw first – Mayor Robert Filner, the serial sexual harassing Mayor of San Diego, or Anthony Weiner, the serial sexting winnable Mayor of New York City? Odds favored both hanging in since they are both strong-willed misogynist narcissists. The week got progressively worse for the two progressives. The Mayor was sued on Monday by Irene McCormack Jackson, former communications director for the Mayor. His first problem is the lawsuit. The second problem is that Ms. Jackson is represented by Gloria Allred. Allred v. Filner is no-contest. Four more women emerged Thursday, accusing him of sexual harassment. The victims include a Dean of San Diego State University and a Navy Rear Admiral. Bronwyn Ingram, the 70 year old’s fiancée cancelled the engagement earlier when she caught Filner making dates with other women. Mayor Filner was a ten term Congressman prior to winning the election last November for Mayor of San Diego. His conduct is a throwback to that of some Senators, such as JFK, LBJ, and Robert Packwood, from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Anthony Weiner resigned from the House of Representatives two years ago because it was revealed that he was serially sexting women he never met in person. His missives were often as well received as those of Bret Favre. He announced his run for Mayor after receiving treatment. It was revealed last week that he continued sexting women, at least three, after treatment ended. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who often looked the other way at Democratic defalcations when she was Speaker of the House, stated both should set aside. She said of Congressman Weiner his conduct was “reprehensible; it’s so disrespectful of women.” She’s obviously concerned that between Filner, Weiner, and Eliot Spitzer that the Democrats could be accused of waging a “War on Women.” The Democratic Central Committee of San Diego voted Thursday night that the Mayor should resign. The San Diego City Council voted 6-3 in calling for his resignation. A recall campaign is underway against the Mayor. The Mayor made a two minute announcement Friday, hoping to short circuit the campaign against him. He admitted the wrongful conduct, which included headlocks, groping, and sexist statements. He vowed to become “a better person.” He admitted “My failure to respect women and the intimidating conduct I engaged in at times is inexcusable. It has undermined what I have spent my whole professional life doing and working on, fighting for justice and equality of all people.” That’s echoes of Senator Ted Kennedy. No, he didn’t resign. Instead he announced that on August 5 he would enter two weeks of intensive therapy at a behavior counseling clinics, and that he would continue with the program upon his return to the Mayor’s Office. One hopes, if not assumes, that the two weeks will not involve hands-on therapy. He assumes, or hopes, that we will forget that counseling did not apparently help Anthony Weiner, the pedophile priests and their victims, Lindsay Lohan, and tragically Cory Monteith. He also pointed out that he would be briefed twice daily on San Diego developments while in counseling. How intensive can that be? The Mayor’s fiancée may have dumped him, but Anthony Weiner dragged out his wife Huma Abadin, to “Stand by her man” as her former employer Hillary Clinton famously did. The winnable Mayor proved once again last week that he is more interested in media face time than his family, much less New Yorkers. The question remains - "Will either drop out? Both are hoping their travails will disappear with the passage of time. The voters have the final say in a democracy. Clearly, New York and San Diego deserve better.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The California Republican Party Won One Tuesday

The California Republican Party Won One Tuesday. They actually won a state Senate seat in the Central Valley. The California Republican Party was written off after the 2012 elections as irrelevant, moribund, dying. The once powerful California Republican Party, the home of Earl Warren, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, was decimated in 2012 as a combination of the rising Asian and Hispanic vote, which vote 70% Democratic, the shrinking Republican base, and the 2010 reapportionment. California had increasingly become a blue state delivering 55 electoral votes to the Democratic Presidential candidate; that is, 1/5 of the electoral votes needed for election. Prior to the 2012 elections, the GOP held 20 of the 53 Congressional seats, 27 out of 80 Assembly seats, and 15 of 40 state Senate seats. The legislative seats left the GOP in a minority position in the legislative, but enough to prevent any tax increases. A supermajority (2/3) is necessary in each House under California law to enact tax increases. The 2012 election was a wipeout for the GOP. It lost 5 Congressional seats to shrink to 15 out of 53. It dropped down to 12 Senate seats out of 40 and 25 Assembly seats. It also lost all 8 statewide elections. The Democrats had a supermajority in the California Legislature. The Republicans were irrelevant, barely posing a nuisance to the Democrats. The California Republican Party had become overwhelmingly white when the Caucasian population is a shrinking plurality. Its political base was San Diego County (usually), Orange County, the Inland Empire, and the Central Valley. However, the majority of California’s population lives along the coast from Los Angeles up through the San Francisco Bay Area – all solidly blue. Andy Vidal, a conservative Republican farmer from Hanford, won an open state Senate seat. The 16th District in the San Joaquin Valley is over 50% Democratic by registration and 63% Hispanic by population. Republicans comprise about 30% of the registered voters. Michael Rubio, the conservative Democratic incumbent, resigned unexpectedly on February 22 to accept a position with Chevron Petroleum Company. No Republican had held the seat in 19 years. It is tailor made for a Hispanic Democrat. Vidal almost won the primary, falling 115 votes short of a majority. Thus, Tuesday’s election. He won by roughly a 54%-46% margin, although not all votes have been counted. Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez was the Democratic opponent. She raised $2 million for her campaign, 95% from “special interests” in Sacramento; i.e. unions. The Central Valley is increasingly Hispanic, but as far as Silicone Valley, Hollywood, California’s tourist industry, and the Democratic Party bosses are concerned, the Central Valley is flyover country. The perspective of the Central Valley is that the powerful environmental movement is trying to put the farming industry out of business, using the Delta Smelt, an endangered species, as the means to cut off irrigation water to the Valley. Andy Vidal attacked Supervisor Perez for taking her campaign funds from the unions, and for supporting the environmentalists, all pillars of the California Democratic Party. He advocated bringing clear drinking water to the District. She had also advocated raising the California minimum wage to $9.25 from $8.00, which is meaningless when the unemployment rate is 15% in the district. She also supports the high speed rail train, which is increasingly recognized as an expensive boondoggle. Here’s the lesson for California’s Republican Party. They can win Hispanic votes if they have something to offer, if they reach out to them. Avoid the divisive issues (abortion, gay rights, and immigration), and campaign on the economic issues that matter to the voters. California voters are smart. The voters in San Diego and heavily Democratic San Jose voted overwhelmingly against the opposition of the public employee unions to rein in pension expenses. The Republicans need to offer voters a reason to vote for them. Ask Andy Vidal how to do it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stand Your Ground, Self Defense, and The Retreat Rule: A Legal Primer

The common law early adopted the privilege of self-defense as a defense in criminal(homicide and manslaughter) and civil (Tort) suits. The common law rule was fairly simple. A person was privileged to use reasonable force to protect against a threatened physical attack. Reasonable force did not include deadly force unless the threat involved deadly force. No duty to retreat existed when only reasonable force was used in self-defense. However, the common law imposed a duty to retreat prior to the use of deadly force in self-defense, but only if it were safe to do so. To reiterate, the common law only imposed a retreat rule when deadly force was used in self defense. Deadly force was defined as force calculated to inflict death or serious bodily injury. The idea of “retreat” was viewed with disdain by western and southern states because the concept of “retreat” could brand the retreater a “coward.” “Real men” were not cowards and would not retreat or run from a fight. These states adopted modifications to the retreat rule. The first exception was that one did not have to retreat if the threat came in the house. People should be able to defend themselves in their homes. The no-duty to retreat in one’s house rule became known as the “Castle” rule. It became the majority rule while the traditional retreat rule became a minority rule. Several states adopted “Castle” statutes. The next exception to the common law retreat rule was that no one had to retreat in their place of work prior to using deadly force. The workplace exception was not as widely adopted as the home exception. The next wave of statutes was “Stand Your Ground” laws, pioneered by Florida in 2005, and strongly backed by the NRA. The “Stand Your Ground” statute allows the use of deadly force with no duty to retreat when threatened with deadly force in any place you have a legal right to be. That would include, for example, in your car is threatened with a carjacking. The Florida statute clearly imposes an immunity from criminal and civil liability if the conditions are met. Three points about the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. First, the Zimmerman defense team did not raise “Stand Your Ground” as a defense. Instead, they used the traditional rule of self-defense. If George Zimmerman was threatened with deadly force, such as by having his head banged into concrete, then he was privileged to use deadly force. Thus, the new campaign by politicians against “Stand Your Ground” is disingenuous. It was not an issue in the Zimmerman Trial except to the extent that the judge threw it into one of the jury instructions. The second point is that if Zimmerman were being restrained with his head pounded into the concrete, then he had no duty to retreat. It would be both impossible and unsafe to do so. These issues would, of course, be questions of fact for the jury. The third point is the proposed boycott by entertainers of Florida and the other “Stand Your Ground” states. About half the states, both red states and blue states, have enacted Stand Your Ground statutes. In addition to Florida, the Stand Your Ground states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. A boycott of these states would severely impact the potential concert revenues of entertainers. One of the ironies of the “Stand Your Ground” debate is that Illinois State Senator Barack Obama in 2004 co-sponsored a statute that extended the privilege to use deadly force without retreating to defend their lives or their property.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

President Obama Speaks From the Heart on Trayvon, Finally

President Obama surprised reporters yesterday by showing up unexpectedly in the White House Briefing Room. A dull briefing was expected so the first two rows were empty. He spoke about Trayvon Martin and race. The President is an accomplished politician who is well aware that race can still be a divisive issue in America, with whites still a majority of the population. He has carefully avoided raising divisive racial issues during his Presidential campaigns and Presidency. He ran away from Reverend Wright during the 2008 election. Not this time. He openly addressed race. President Obama spoke extemporaneously for 19 minutes – No teleprompter. POTUS was not needed for the President’s remarks. The President, who has been criticized for four years for being too cold, too remote, too detached, so unempathetic, so unemotional, dropped the mask, and spoke from the heart. He opened himself up as he had not in his Presidency. He may have said shortly after Trayvon’s death that if he had a son, he could have been Trayvon. Now he said “When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. That’s another way of saying Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” The young Obama was a crackhead 35 years ago He could easily have taken the wrong track and ended up dead or imprisoned like so many, too many young Blacks. The President continued from his personal experience with anecdotes common to young Black males: 1) being followed in a department store; 2) hearing the clicking sound of car locks as he walks across the street; and 3) watching women in elevators nervously clutching their purses. The son of a white female and Kenyan male was a black male, who endured the same daily racism as if he were of the blood. Racism was pervasive through America. It was not limited to the South. I may have grown up the son of a poor single mom in San Francisco during the 1950’s and 1960’s, but I cannot profess to understand what the poor young Blacks in the Fillmore or the Potrero were experiencing at this time. For example, I never had to worry about the police. The President did not second-guess the jury verdict for George Zimmerman. His point about the reaction of the African American community to the acquittal is that “I think that it is important that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.” He was speaking to his African American constituency, but reached out to White America. He wanted Americans to consider the Black perspective – not to commence a national dialogue, but to reflect on it. He recognized that America is not yet a post racial society. He is asking in this context that those of us whites, who believe that Trayvon Martin’s tragic death did not make him a martyr like Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, or Issac Woodard, Jr., should think about it from the Black perspective. President Obama has never forgotten his roots. Indeed, they are indelibly engraved on his DNA. Reverend Jeremiah Wright and his Liberation Theology are the views of Barack Hussein Obama. He was the most progressive Senator in his short time in the Senate. His passion said it all. President Obama spoke because he had to. America is probably not listening.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Detroit Is In Bankruptcy, But Has Not Hit Rock Bottom

Detroit Hit Bottom Today To no one's surprise,Detroit, MoTown, Motor City, entered bankruptcy earlier today. It’s a new low, but Rock City has not yet struck rock bottom. There’s more jobs to be lost, population to leave, and homes to be torched. Today’s filing for bankruptcy by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is just the latest formal step in the death spiral of one of America’s greatest cities. The collapse of the other Detroit, the American auto industry, hasn’t helped, but the city’s demise began on July 23, 1967, the beginning of 5 days of riots in Detroit. Only 8,000 National Guardsmen and 4,700 82nd Airborne soldiers squashed it. The statistics don’t tell the true story: 43 dead, 1188 injured, over 2,000 buildings destroyed and 7,231 arrests. Other cities, such as Los Angeles with the 1965 Watts riots, survived, but Detroit entered a death cycle. The response to the Detroit riots was White Flight and middleclass flight (black and white). Downtown was left a hallowed shell. The great J.L. Hudson Department Store, which once vied with Macy’s Herald Square for the largest in size, was shuttered on January 17, 1983, and demolished on October 4, 1998, leaving a large vacant space in downtown Detroit. That the City is down to one auto plant, Chrysler, from 12 hasn’t helped. The loss of Stroh’s Brewery and bankruptcy of Kmart, GM, and Chrysler in recent years hurts, but the city was already hemorrhaging. The numbers tell the tale. Detroit shrank from 1,849,568 in the 1950 Census to 713,777 in 2010. Detroit now has a smaller population than San Francisco (805,235), but spreads it over 142.87 square miles compared to 46.9 for the City By the bay. Over half of Detroit’s 305,000 properties failed to pay their 2011 property tax bills. 77 city blocks have only one resident paying property taxes. Abandoned buildings, burnt out buildings, permeate much of the City, making New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward look redeveloped by comparison. 700,000 abandoned homes. Broken street lights aren’t fixed and potholes left unfilled. One-third of the city's ambulances are broke, and over half the parks are closed. Homicide rates are at a four decade high. Police and fire cannot respond to every emergency call. ABC cancelled Detroit 187. Two abandoned buildings exemplify Detroit: the classic Beaux-Arts Michigan Central Station and the 3,500,000 square foot Packard plant. 15.6% of the population is officially unemployed, but that number is deceiving. 1/3 of the residents live below the poverty line. Detroit is broke. It cannot borrow anymore. The long-term debt is estimated at $20 billion. It defaulted on June 14, 2013 on $2.5 billion in debt, missing a $39.7 million interest payment. The current budget has a $380 million deficit. A major source of income for the city is $11 million monthly from the three Detroit Casinos, if the banks will release the funds - hardly the future of the Motor city. The former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, was corrupt. The Board is dysfunctional. The public employee unions are fighting any cutbacks in pension and health benefits owed the city’s retirees. Their argument is compelling. The Michigan Constitution provides pensions are ”contractual obligations” that “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Two problems exist with the argument. First, they are now in federal bankruptcy court – not state court. Second, the city has no money. 65% of the city’s budget goes to the legacy costs of retiree pension and healthcare costs - 4 active workers for six retirees.. Michigan was the heart of the union movement with the once powerful United Autoworkers leading the nation. Rubber, glass, steel, auto parts, all built on the UAW power. Detroit, the city, became the experiment in mass transfer payments. The city's last Republican Mayor was elected in 1957. Only one Republican has been elected to the City Council since 1970. Detroit is a one party bankruptcy. Finally, the city's structure could not be sustained by its shrinking economic resources. The population steadily declined, but not the bureaucracy, until the past few years. Detroit still has a planning department. Why? Many innocent retirees are going to pay the price for past profligacy by public officials. The City of Detroit has few assets, except for the Detroit Institute of Art and the original Howdy Doody Puppet, to liquidate to pay off any creditors. 100,000 creditors; 40 public employee unions in Detroit - The lawyers will feast off this bankruptcy. The Republican House of Representatives is not going to authorize President Obama to bail out Detroit Sadly, these legacy costs reflect the future for several California cities, as well as elsewhere in America. Too many city councils, county boards, and state legislators were overly generous in the past to public employees, but the legacy is present. Suggestions for Detroit revolve around clearing the abandoned blocks, and bringing commercial agriculture back to the city, perhaps marijuana. Detroit is the largest municipal bankruptcy to date, but it will not be the last.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman As a Teachable Moment

Trayvon Martin never should have died on February 26, 2012. His death is a modern American tragedy. His shooter, George Zimmerman, is scarred for life and may never be able to resume a normal life. The jury of six women, five of whom are mothers, acquitted George Zimmerman of Trayvon’s death. The jury had no choice. This case was not one of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The prosecution had so few facts in the case that they had no case; inferences, presumptions, aspersions, yes – but no facts. 56 witnesses, but no case for the prosecution, Even some of the witnesses for the prosecution turned into witnesses for the defense. The only clear, and undisputed fact, is that George Zimmerman fatally shot tray on Martin with one shot. The prosecution could never present facts to effectively rebut Zimmerman’s self-defense claim. George Zimmerman may have been overzealous in his role as the neighborhood watch coordinator, but that’s not against the law. This case is normal in that not all the material facts are known, and cannot be discovered. The known facts, not supposition, support the defense. The case never should have been brought, but the state had no political choice. Bill Lee, the Sanford Police Chief opposed filing criminal charges against George Zimmerman because the Sanford Police found no evidence to contradict George Zimmerman’s account of the shooting. He was fired. Governor Rick Scott (R Fl.) removed the local prosecutor and appointed a special prosecutor in the case. Trayvon’s death became a cause celebre in the civil rights moment. It seemed like yet another case where an overzealous white vigilante ruthlessly murdered an innocent teenage African American with the homicide being covered up by a racist police force. Elements of the media joined the chorus, as some did earlier with the Duke Lacrosse players. The initial impression was that George Zimmerman was white, fitting the historic pattern of white violence directed at African Americans. Once it was discovered that Zimmerman’s mother was Peruvian, first CNN, and then the New York Times on March 22, 2012 referred to Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic.” The lead word was “white.” An NBC broadcast went further. It edited the 9-1-1 call from Zimmerman to portray him as racist. The NBC broadcast had Zimmerman saying “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” The actual recording is “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” The 9-1-1 dispatcher then asked: “OK, and this guy, is he black, white, or Hispanic?” George Zimmerman responded “He looks black.” NBC never apologized on the air for the doctored tape, but several employees were fired. Zimmerman has sued NBC for defamation. The condemnation of George Zimmerman, as a trigger-happy racist, went viral. President Obama stated at a press conference “If I had a son, he’ll look like Trayvon .” The election of President Obama was said by many commentators to usher in a post-racial era in America. Unfortunately, it has not. President Obama has contributed to the racial divide in instances, such as the killing of Trayvon Martin and earlier in Cambridge. Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Sergeant James Crowley arrested African American Harvard Professor Louis Gates in July 2009 in Gates’ house. The police had received a 9-1-1 call reporting a possible break-in at the Gates house. The Professor was ill, and had just arrived from a long flight. He was uncooperative with the police, who thereupon arrested him. President Obama, without learning the facts stated at a press conference “The Cambridge Police acted stupidly.” As the facts came out, the President then said we have a “teachable moment.” He then invited the Professor and Police Officer to the White House to drink beers. The Trayvon Martin and Duke Lacrosse Team prosecutions also provide teachable moments. They tell us not to jump to conclusions because an initial set of facts, or often accusations, seem to fit a historic narrative. They teach us again that we are innocent until proven guilty, regardless of what a prosecutor or the media might say. They also teach us that juries normally follow the law and apply the facts. Sadly, race, as shown by the Zimmerman and OJ cases, can still affect perception.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The D.C. Demonization of Walmart

Walmart and the unions have engaged in a scorched earth battle for over a decade. The retailer has been spreading throughout the country from its Arkansas roots into all 50 states, especially in rural America, the small towns and suburbs. Its last frontier is the big cities. It made it into Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia, but is still blocked in New York. Two unionization efforts show the length to watch Walmart fights the unions. 11 meatpackers in a Texas store in 2011 voted to unionize their department. Walmart responded by not only eliminating that department, but also switching to pre-cut meats in all their stores. The workers at a Canadian Walmart in Jonquirre, Quebec voted to unionize in 2005. Walmart responded by closing the store. The strength of the unions lies in the big cities, which are overwhelmingly Democratic. The key to electoral success in these cities is winning the Democratic primary, which is often controlled by the unions. The unions will pour money into their favorite candidates and get out the vote for them. Thus, the city council members are quite attentive to the unions’ demands. The unions, especially the Food and Commercial Workers, often fund the “local” opposition to Walmart, including demonstrations and litigation to block a proposed store. Even if the anti-Walmart effort fails, they have cost the company money. Walmart faces little opposition in expanding into conservative counties, such as Orange County with its 3 million residents. The unions win individual battles, but even when they lose they have cost Walmart substantial time, resources, and money. A new twist to the anti-Walmart saga is occurring in Washington, D.C. The company is building three Walmarts and planning three others in the city. The usual tactics did not work. These stores are in the otherwise undesirable neighborhoods – not Georgetown and the revitalized downtown, which the tourists see. The minority neighborhoods have high unemployment, a lack of supermarkets, and little hope. They are underserved. The City has been trying to lure business into them for seemingly forever. These are not the communities where a Walmart will shut town small businesses and boutiques. Indeed, the presence of a Walmart in a mall will allow small stores to flourish around it. These are the communities where lines form around the block as residents apply for jobs. These are also the communities where the low prices of a Walmart can save families a couple of thousand dollars annually. Each store can add 300 jobs to the employment roll and generate $1 million in tax revenue to the City. None of this matters to the unions. It’s the damn Walmart! Eight of the 13 D.C. City Council members adopted yesterday a union drafted “living wage” ordinance for “big lot stores.” The existing minimum wage in D.C. is $8.25. The new living wage would be a 50% increase to $12.25. How do we know this is a union proposal? It applies only to stores of 75,000 square feet or more with the parent company generating revenues of at least $1 billion, but it exempts existing stores and unionized supermarkets. One council member’s naïve or arrogant statement is “We’re at a point where we don’t need retailers. Retailers need us.” The D.C. City Council voted 8-5 to adopt the anti-Walmart ordinance. Walmart’s immediate response is to cancel the three stores in the planning process. It has yet to decide on the three under construction. The Mayor has ten days to decide whether or not to veto the measure. Mayor Daley successfully vetoed a similar measure in Chicago. Nine votes are needed to overturn the veto. The question is not a “living wage.” The question is if there will be any wages. The supreme irony is that both Target and Home Depot are also non-union.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Justice Department's Quixotic Antitrust Attack on Apple

Jeff Bezos is one of the great entrepreneurs of the Electronic Era. He created Amazon and built it into a retailing juggernaut. Steve Jobs is one of the great entrepreneurs of the Electronic Era. Apple is his legacy. (This blog is typed on an IMac) Amazon and Apple are slugging it out in electronic books, but Amazon has an unfair advantage; the Justice Department is prosecuting Apple. Amazon made the electronic reader a market success. As a successful pioneer, it gained 90% of the market. As with its initial entry into the hardcover market, it engaged in cutthroat pricing, selling at a loss, to gain market share. It was pricing best sellers at $9.95 to the dismay of the publishers. Success invites competition. Barnes & Noble, Borders, and especially Apple entered the market. Apple had a different approach in creating IBooks, building on the success of ITunes. Instead of buying the books at “wholesale” from the publishers, it would act as an agent, letting the publishers set the price with Apple taking a 30% commission. Apple entered into individual agreements with the major publishing houses. The agreements also provided that if the books were offered at a lower price elsewhere, Apple could match that lower price. The publishers priced their best sellers at $12.98, which would cost the consumers more than $9.98. Apple claimed it offered consumers an alternative: a higher quality technology interface and E-books found on no other site. Amazon responded by raising its prices to $12.98. The Justice Department sued five publishers and Apple claiming that Apple entered into a price fixing scheme with the five publishers, Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, The government could show the five talked among themselves about pricing – a classic case of horizontal price fixing. Thirty-three state attorney generals filed an antitrust complaint against the six defendants, followed by a private class action antitrust lawsuit. The five publishers settled quickly with the government, agreeing to drop the “agency” pricing arrangement. Apple refused to settle, arguing it did not engage in price fixing. It entered into a series of unilateral vertical contracts with each of the publishers; Apple claimed ignorance of whatever the publishers had been discussing among themselves. Judge Denise Cote in New York City as expected ruled against Apple yesterday, holding that Apple was part of the conspiracy. Apple proclaims its innocence and vows to appeal. She held that Apple not only joined the conspiracy, but also facilitated it. In the meantime, Borders has gone out of business, and Barnes & Noble lost $177 million last quarter on the Nook, its electronic e-reader. The Nook business dropped 34% in sales to $108 million. The company bet its future on the Nook as it slowly reduced its retail book inventory- not a wise bet. Amazon continues to hold onto 60% of the market and Apple is up to 20%. Both Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs are driven competitors. Judge Cote was influenced by some of Jobs’ comments. For example, after Apple entered into the agreement with Macmillan, the publisher got into a dispute with Amazon over pulling books from Amazon. Steve Jobs commented in an email “Wow, we really lit a fuse on a powder keg.” Steve Jobs played hardball with the record companies, and in the end everyone benefitted: the artists, publishers, Apple, and consumers. What would the Judge do with Best Buy, which kept a chart in its headquarters of its competitor around America, and then, one by one, x-d them out as they failed? The Justice Department is patting itself on its back with the victory over Apple, but has it looked at what’s happening in the marketplace? The book industry is shrinking while Amazon is increasing its market power. Purchasers may notice, that aside from certain bestsellers, Amazon is raising its on-line prices as it consolidates its power. Barnes & Noble is also struggling on-line against Amazon. The Justice Department should also be leery of impeding technological innovations in a rapidly evolving industry. Apple has proven itself the most innovative product company in the industry and Amazon the most innovative marketer. Success should not be penalized. Let them fight it out in the marketplace. The consumer will win. But not if the field is left to Amazon!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Is It Eliot Spitzer's Turn for Forgiveness and Redemption?

Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford found redemption earlier this year by winning an open House seat. He sought redemption after giving it all up for his Argentine firecracker: his wife, children, office, political career, and reputation. He sought forgiveness from the religious South Carolina voters. Fortunately for the ex-Governor, the conservative voters in his old Congressional District would vote for any conservative with an “R” after his or her name. Having seen the light, former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner announced he was also seeking forgiveness from the voters of New York City. He is seeking election as New York City’s next Mayor. Anthony Weiner, the serial sexter of uninviting women, wants to hold the office of Fiorello La Guardia, Robert F. Wagner, John Lindsay, Edward I. Koch, and Rudolph Giuliani. The Congressman, who had little to show for his 12 1/2years in Congress, wants to be the face of the Big Apple. Early polls show he might pull it off. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who used his family fortune to buy political office and high priced escorts, announced he’s running for City Controller. The “Sheriff of Wall Street” wants to be the Daddy Big Bucks of Wall Street. Eliot Spitzer, as Attorney General of New York, brought a number of high profile lawsuits against Wall Street. Unfortunately the Harvard Law School grad did not let the law stand in his way in filing highly suspect cases. The Governor was waiting in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. on February 13, 2008 for “Kristin” to arrive by Amtrak. The Governor gave Kristin, better known as Ashley Dupre, a $4,300 check. Governor Spitzer had spent so much money, at least $80,000, on the services provided by the Emperor’s Club VIP that the FBI was secretly wiretapping him on suspected money laundering charges when they taped the conversation of “Client 9” and “Kristin.” He had been patronizing prostitutes as early as his New York Attorney General days when he broke up several prostitution rings. He resigned one month later on March 17, 2008. Electoral politics can be addictive. Defeated, disgraced and termed-out politicians keep looking for new offices to run for. They learn from their mistakes, such as “The New Nixon,” “It was a youthful indiscretion (Henry Hyde at 40),” or I seek forgiveness and redemption. Weiner and Spitzer should run as a fusion ticket, the New York Redemption Pair. Their ticket would be one of transparency. They have nothing to hide. In a city whose local politics are currently plagued by corruption, they can run as the Clean Team. They will be emulating their idols, Senator Ted Kennedy, President Bill Clinton and D.C.'s Marion Barry. The Congressman showed the world his Full Monty, and the Governor’s family is so rich he cannot be bought. Neither would succumb to attractive women for neither the media nor their wives will give them a third chance. They can’t be bought by sex or money. New York likes brassy politicians. They have shown it. Yet a major distinction can be made between the two. Spitzer's acts were sordid, but we understand them. They made the ten Commandments, but Weiner's were just plain creepy. Think of the inspiration to oversexed, sex addicted politicians throughout America, or at least blue America, if the Big Apple elects Weiner and Spitzer as the city’s leaders. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom of California and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragosa will find inspiration in their run for Senator or Governor of California. Hopefully the voters will gag on a Weiner-Spitzer leadership. Forgiveness does not mean electability.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Prime Minister Erdogan and President Morsi: Winners and Losers

Mohamed Morsi, President of Egypt, was deposed by a popular upraising and military coup on July 3. He is in protective custody. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey, has survived a popular upraising with the support of the police and military. Both leaders brought Islam to the fore of their administrations, and both took office when their nation’s economy was in the dumps. Why has one survived and the other been a dismal failure? The first, and most critical, is the economy. Dr. Morsi is not stupid; he has a Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Southern California, but he is either ignorant or oblivious to economics. He took a bad economy and ran it into the ground. Electricity is often non-existent. Egypt was the granary of the Roman Empire, but mow it cannot feed itself. Both economies are heavily dependent on a robust tourist industry. Tourism is now dead in Egypt, but remains a large boon for Turkey. Economic growth has averaged 5%/quarter in the 40 quarters of the Erdogan government. Turkey is now one of the financially strongest countries in Europe. Economic growth promotes electoral success. President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood pushed an Islamic agenda from the beginning of their government. The Muslim Brotherhood, after 80 years underground or in the shadows, rose to power. Exhilarated by their electoral success, intoxicated by their sudden victory, they refused to form a consensus government and instead jammed through a new anti-democratic constitution. They let previously mild sectarian violence flourish as militant Muslims have tried to drive the 9% Coptic Christian population out of Egypt while Shites and Sunnis have been killing each other in a predominately Sunni population. That has killed tourism and much of the remainder of the economy. Turkey, with a few tragic exceptions in the 20th Century, has a long history of tolerating minority religions and ethnicities. The Sultan welcomed Jews when the Spanish Inquisition was driving them out of Spain. Except for a few instances in rural Turkey, sectarian violence has been rare in modern Turkey, and certainly not in Istanbul. Prime Minister Erdogan has claimed to be of Georgian ethnicity although raised as a Turk. Egypt and Turkey both have a middle class and professional class. Ataturk encouraged the education of women, who have achieved great prominence in Turkish society. The Turkish middle class has been growing, while women are threatened in Morsi’s Egypt. The President was a not a well-honed politician while the Prime Minister was the elected Mayor of Istanbul before being elected Prime Minister. He built up Istanbul’s infrastructure and has carried through with Turkey’s. He emphasized economic development from the start of his Administration 10 years ago. Only after he won reelection two years ago with 49.83% of the vote did he start to promote his Islamic goals. The military in Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey have a long history of overthrowing civilian governments. Prime Minister Erdogan reformed the Turkish military over the past decade with hundreds of military officers cashiered or imprisoned. President Morsi simply removed the very top officers when he assumed power. The generals remained loyal to Erdogan, but not to Morsi. The police under former President Hosni Mubarak used deadly force in attempting to suppress the popular demonstrations 2½ years ago with several police officials criminally prosecuted when Mubarak was ousted. The police have prudently stayed out of the current anti-Morsi demonstrations. President Morsi was doomed without either police or military support, whereas the police strongly supported Prime Minister Erdogan. Prime Minister Erdogan may still face electoral defeat in two years, but two years is an eternity in politics.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Paula Deen and Alex Baldwin: A Tale of Two Celebrities

Paula Deen admitted to using the N word, for which she has been crucified. She has been dumped on and dumped by. The Food Network and QVC have said goodbye and good riddance. Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Walgrens have said no to her merchandise. Sears, KMart and Penney’s, which presumably need every cent of revenue, have abandoned her. Novo Nordisk, a manufacturer of insulin, terminated their relationship. Smithfield Hams, with a history of environmental violations, cut her off. Caesar's Casinos, which has no problem with smoking elders in wheel chairs and oxygen tanks playing the slots, took her name off four restaurants. She lost most of her 17 contractual vendors. All for admitting using the N word decades ago. The N word is one of several racist, sexist, and ethnic terms that are unacceptable in today’s society. Their usage should be condemned. Alec Baldwin used the C word for African Americans – not a peep out of the media. Capital One is sticking by its No-hassles man. Woody allen has him in a movie. Paula Deen’s deposition was taken as part of a sex discrimination lawsuit, directly mostly against her brother. This somewhat long excerpt is the context of the N word. “Q Have you ever used the N word? A Yes, of course Q Okay, in what context? A Well, it was probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head Q Okay. And what did you say? A Well, I don’t remember, but the gun was dancing all around my temple Q Okay A I didn’t. I didn’t real favorable to him Q Okay. Well did you use the N word to him as he pointed a gun in your head at your feet? A Absolutely not Q Well, then, when did you use it? A Probably in telling my husband Q Okay. Have you used it since then? A I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time Q Can you remember the context in which you used the N word? A No Q Has it occurred with sufficient frequency that you cannot recall all of the various context in which you used it? A No, No Q Well, then tell me the other context in which you used the N word? A I don’t know, maybe in repeating something that was said to me Q Like a joke? A No, probably a conversation between blacks. I don’t know Q Okay A But that’s just not a word we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the 60’s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior Q Okay A As well as I do Alex Baldwin has an anger management problem. It manifested itself in 2007 when he left a phone message for his 11 year old daughter. She apparently did not answer his phone call at the scheduled time. These are some of his prize quotes in the two minute tape: “You don’t have the brains or the decency as a human being.” “I don’t give a damn that you’re 12 years old, or 11 years old, or that you’re a child, or that your mother is a thoughtless pain in the ass ….” “I am going to get on a plane and I am going to come out there for the day and I am going to straighten your ass out when I see you.” “You are a rude, thoughtless little pig, OK” That message was also stupid. He was in the midst of a messy divorce and child custody case with Kim Basinger, his soon to be ex-wife. She released the tape to the public and used it in the legal proceedings. He was kicked off American Airlines Flight #4 in Los Angeles December 6, 2011 when he refused 5 times to turn off his cell phone. He even went into the bathroom, and pounded on the wall, while yelling and screaming. The plane had to taxi back to the terminal to the discomfort of the other passengers. A New York Post reporter approached him on February 17, this year while he was walking his dogs. The reporter asked him about litigation his wife was involved in. He grabbed the reporter, Tara Palmeri, and said “I want you to choke to death.” The accompany Post photographer was G. N. Miller, a retired NYPD detective. Miller asserts Baldwin called him a “coon, a drug dealer,” “a crackhead,” and a drug dealer who “just got out of jail.” The piece de resistance was last week at the James Gandolfini funeral. George Stark, a reporter for the Daily Mail, mistakenly reported that Baldwin’s wife, Hilaria Thomas, had tweeted throughout the funeral. The reality is that she started tweeting about an hour after the funeral ended. Baldwin tweeted: “Someone wrote that my wife was tweeting at a funeral. That’s not true. But I’m going tweet at your funeral.” “George Stark, you lying little bitch. I am gonna _____ you up.” “My wife and I attend a funeral to pay our respects to an old friend, and some toxic bitch writes this f___ing trash.” “I’d put my foot up your f___ing ass, George Stark, but I’m sure you’d dig it too much.” “I’m gonna find you, George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna f__k you up.” So we have misogyny, racism, and homophobia in recent days, weeks, and months, compared to a nuclear reaction against Paula Deen for admitting she used the N word three decades ago. The media would crucify a conservative for these statements and acts. Alex Baldwin received a pass. He apologized in a letter to GLADD, saying his tweets had nothing to do with anyone’s sexual orientation. A GLADD spokesman say his language was inappropriate, but that he had a history of actively supporting LGBT equality. GHis penance is that he has stopped tweeting. So why the double standard? Alec Baldwin is highly respected in the Hollywood community. He has repeatedly validated his liberal standing. He even vowed in 2000 to leave America for Canada if George W. Bush were elected President. Unfortunately Baldwin stayed. Hollywood likes his timing with light humor. He’s cool. He’s getting like Joe Biden; you just know he suffers from diarrhea of the mouth. Deep down, he doesn’t believe it because he is of the Hollywood elite. He can't really mean what he is saying, can he? Paula Deen though is the opposite. She is the Queen of Southern Cooking, down home Southern cooking, which is not the cooking of New Orleans. Hers is high cholesterol, artery clogging cuisine of the common Southern: fat, sugar, butter, deep fried. She comes across as uncouth and unsophisticated, peddling trashy food in the eyes of the elite. She reminds us of a time we would rather forget. Paula Deen is of the common people, the real people, the down-to-earth people - not of the New South. Her mistake was telling the truth in the deposition. Of course, generations in the South used the N word as a racial epithet, often directly as an insult. She would have used it, as she acknowledged. Many still do, but not in public discourse. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black and West Virginia Senator Harry Byrd joined the KKK. She also stated that it was decades ago and that times have changed in the South, the new South. The hypocrisy is overwhelming. Random House announced it was cancelling her upcoming book, "New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes: All Lightened Up," scheduled for publication in October 2013. The still to be published book is currently number 1 on the Amazon list. Two thoughts come to mind. First, publishers are having difficulty selling any books these days. Why they would cancel a profitable cookbook is baffling. Second, if the reason is the N word, then how does Random House justify publishing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which contains the N word 219 times? The vendors who terminated her would have interesting answers if they were asked the same question about using the N word. Of course, a secondary reason may be at work. Viewership of her TV show has dropped about 25% and her merchandise sales have fallen sharply from their peak in 2010. Perhaps the merchants were using the N word flap as an excuse to terminate her for commercial reasons.

Egypt is Burning: Where Are Our Leaders?

A military coup, or non-military coup, occurred in Egypt. President Obama is playing golf. Secretary of State Kerry was on his 76’ yacht Isabel in Nantucket Sound and then went kayaking. The State Department through Spokesperson Jan Psaki initially denied the Kerry adventures and stated he was doing his job, but the photos of Kerry on the yacht were convincing. Once again we have the Administration engaged in misrepresentations, half-truths, obfuscations, and outright lies. The Situation Room was not heard from - just like Benghazi.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

How Free Are We On Independence Day, July 4, 2013

July 4 is our Independence Day. 59 representatives from the 13 Colonies adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence is one of the most revolutionary documents in human history – not because it called for independence from England, but because it did so in the name of the individual citizen. It was a declaration of the rights of man, not the state. A nation of independent farmers (95% of the population lived in rural areas) sought to throw off the yoke of the state, in this case a distant British government. The subsequent Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights reaffirmed the broad rights of the people and the limited rights of the state. The dilemma in today’s digital world is that our expectations of privacy are increasing colliding with reality, and a government intent on diminishing our personal rights. Griswold v. Connecticut recognized for the first time a Constitutional Right of privacy The normal test is fi we have a reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, I have to assume that my employer, Chapman University, can read any email I send or receive through its servers, as well as any internet sites I search through the servers. Chapman probably wouldn’t, but I have no expectation of privacy from chapman when using its computers. That does not mean though the government has a right to search my files without a subpoena. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) One of the impeachment charges against President Nixon was that he attempted to use the IRS as a weapon against his political enemies. The Obama IRS has succeeded in doing so without anyone in a position of authority knowing anything about it. Extensive publicity has been given to the fact that the IRS discriminated against conservative organizations that sought a tax exemption. It actually issued a BOLO (“Be on the Lookout”) for conservative organizations. Douglas Shulman, the IRS Commissioner at the time, denied any knowledge of the acts, supposedly undertaken by a few rogue agents in the Cincinnati Office. He also could not explain his 157 visits to the Obama White House, and forgot to mention that his wife, Susan L. Anderson, tweeted in December 2011 that people should get to the Occupy Wall Street site. Shulman’s Chief of Staff, Jonathon McDavil, essentially a political aide, visited the White House 310 between 2009 and 2013. He has yet to be heard from. The IRS initially claimed that a backlog ensued when hundreds of applications were received while resources were short. The lack of resources did not stop the IRS from spending $4.1 million for a 2010 Conference next to Disneyland. Lost in the publicity over the singling out of conservatives is that the IRS started auditing conservative organizations that it previously found no fault with and that the confidential records of conservative organizations were leaked to their political opponents. ObamaCare The enactment of ObamaCare represents another large loss of freedom. For the first time Americans are forced to purchase something as a condition of living, or pay a tax for failure to do so. Chief Justice Roberts twisted the Constitution to limit the rights of the people. There’s still more to ObamaCare. The assumption is that we can create a more efficient healthcare system by requiring all medical records to be digitized. Thus, doctors in an ER in Manhattan could pull up the medical records of a patient from Manhattan Beach. So too can anyone who wants to hack in to obtain the medical records of a politician or celebrity, or bribe an employee, as have occurred too many times not only with medical records but also emails and passport files. The worse aspect though is that ObamaCare will go through the IRS. All of our significant information, financial and medical, will be available in an agency which has shown it will abuse its powers. Remember the First Amendment Freedom of Religion? President Obama and Secretary Sibelius are trying to force most Catholic organizations to offer free contraception. The latest ploy is to require insurance companies that cover the religious organizations to offer a separate policy to the employees offering free contraception. Anyone with a basic understanding of economics will realize that the cost has to be built into the premiums charged the religious institution. First Amendment Freedom of the Press Ironically, the Obama Administration, which had been given a free pass by the Mainstream Media, turned on the Media by issuing subpoenas against the AP and James Rosen and Fox News. The effect of such acts is to chill the press. In the case of James Rosen the affidavit issued by the Justice Department for the warrants of his phone records and family members stated that Rosen was a “co-conspirator” and a flight risk. It stated the Justice Department had probable cause to believe the reporter violated the Espionage Act by “aiding and abetting” or as a “co-conspirator” the disclosure of national security secrets. Attorney General Eric Holder testified to Congress on May 15, 2013 that prosecuting reporter was not something he had veer been “involved in, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy.” It was discovered after his testimony that he had signed the 2010 affidavit seeking the warrant for Rosen’s phones. He subsequently explained that the allegation against Rosen was the only way they could get a judge to issue he warrant. A charitable interpretation is that the Justice Department at the minimum engaged in misrepresentations to get the warrant. Eric Holder also claimed ignorance of the botched Fast and Furious operation and that as Associate Attorney General in the Clinton Administration he had not looked thoroughly at the Marc Rich pardon application. The Attorney General is either the most forgetful, ignorant or duplicitous attorney general in recent history. Of course, he had condemned Arizona’s short S.B. 1070 as unconstitutional eventhough he had not read it. The National Security Agency Senator Ron Wyden (D. Ore.) asked James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence at a March Senate meeting if the NSA gathers “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” The answer was “No,” followed by “Not willingly …. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps collect, but nor willingly.” That statement, as we now know from Snowden’s disclosure, was absolutely false. Clapper explained that he had to answer in public a question that should have been presented in a closed session. He also explained in those situations he tried to answer with the truth, or the least untrue statement he could make. The Agency claims that its operations are legal, being authorized by an act of Congress with periodic reporting to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. That doesn’t make them constitutional. The NSA is using general three months warrants to obtain the phone logs of every American phone call to store hold them forever in computer data banks. The 4th Amendment normally requires individual warrants that are specific in their particulars. The NSA claims that this data searching is essential to national security. General Keith Alexander, Director of the NSA, testified on Tuesday June 18 that these data searches helped prevent “potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11,” including at least 10 homeland terrorist threats. The media picked up on this statement and reported that the NSA program prevented 50 attacks. That’s not what the general said. Indeed, when the FBI representative was asked the follow-up question as to whether the Program was responsible for initiating an investigation, he responded that he could not think of one. In short, the program helps fill in the blanks, or connects the dots, once a lead is received from elsewhere. A disingenuous statement was made to Congress. We do not that the NSA Surveillance Program did not detect Major Nidal Hassan, the Tsarnaev Brothers, The Underwear Bomber, or the Times Square Bomber. One defense of the NSA is that it has not abused its powers. How do we know? Even if it has not yet abused its powers yet, what prevents an administration, as with the IRS, from using it for political purposes? The potential fro abuse is too great. President Obama’s response to the Snowden NSA disclosures was unwittingly prophetic: “We’ve got Congressional oversight and judicial oversight. And if people can’t trust not only the executive Branch, but also don’t trust Congress and doesn’t trust federal judges to make sure we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process, and the rule of law, then we’ll going to have some problems here.” Post Office The Post Office may be losing billions of dollars, but the new York Times reported today that it photographs the cover envelope of every mail piece it processes. The Local Level We know that street and private surveillance cameras have become very critical to law enforcement. Since these cameras record public actions, their constitutionality is presumed. An annoying camera is the red light or speed camera, which the public is resisting in many communities. Summary The rise of a strong central government in the digital age inevitably results in a diminution of personal freedom. The risks to our freedoms are magnified n the hands of an administration which is deceiving the Public and the Congress in increasing intrusions into our daily lives. We are not as free as we were.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The 150th Anniversaries of Vicksburg and Gettysburg

Tomorrow we celebrate July 4 as Independence Day. Today July 3, though, we commemorate the 150th anniversaries of the battles of Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Visitors have overrun Gettysburg the past week. We are all familiar with the battle of Gettysburg, where for three days the Union Army of the Potomac slugged it out with the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, ked by the fabled General Robert E. Lee. President Lincoln delivered a short address on November 17, 1863. The main speech was a masterful two hour oration delivered by Edward Everett. Yet, the self-taught Lincoln bested the former President of Harvard, as many of us have memorized at one time Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address and its immortal lines: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” General Meade, who had only been appointed three days earlier as Commander of the Army of the Potomac, was the victor. He had bested Lee, who continuously defeated a host of Union generals. The battle was decisive. No longer could the South pose a physical threat to the North. Lee was condemned to waging a defensive war of attrition to save Richmond, the capital of the South. General Lee’s army started the campaign with 72,000 soldiers. The Confederates suffered 28,000 casualties at Gettysburg. 1/3 of Lee’s general officers were killed, wounded, or captured at Gettysburg. Lee’s army was spent as an offensive force. Pickett’s Charge of 12,500 soldiers, the high mark of the Confederacy, was as effective as the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea. The South was destined to lose a war of attrition. It lacked both the manpower and resources of the North. Had General Lee won at Gettysburg, he would have been in a position to capture Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington from a dispirited Union Army. A broken North might have capitulated. Instead, Lincoln and the Union were saved. The celebration and glorification of Gettysburg overshadow the fall of Vicksburg after a siege from May 18 to July 4, 1863. The formal surrender was on the 4th of July, but the Confederates agreed to surrender on July 3. One of the earliest strategic decisions of President Lincoln in prosecuting the war was to split the South in half by seizing control of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi was the interstate highway of the nation in 1860. It was the spinal column of America. The campaign began when General Grant and the Army of the Tennessee captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donaldson on the Cumberland in February 1862. These were the first major victories of a Union general in the Civil War. Major battles at Shiloh, Corinth, and Memphis followed as Grant out-maneuvered the Southern generals as he proceeded south down the Mississippi. The Navy captured New Orleans and Union forces moved north. The last Confederate bastion on the Mississippi was Vicksburg, Mississippi, which sits above the bluffs of the river. It was labeled the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.” Vicksburg had natural geographic defensive advantages. Grant tried two bloody frontal attacks on May 17 and 20. They were easily repelled by the Confederates. General Grant then proceeded to envelope Vicksburg and subjected it to a formal siege. The Confederates ran out of food and munitions. They had no choice but to surrender. General Pemberton surrendered the garrison of 29,495 soldiers to the Union Army. The defeat doomed the South. Communications between the two halves were effectively cut. No longer could the South transport materials and shift soldiers from the west to aid its armies in the east. Between the naval blockade of its ports and the loss of Vicksburg, the South was confined to a steadily shrinking land mass, whereas the North could now ship its resources from the Midwest down the Mississippi into open commerce. Just as significantly, President Grant found the two generals who could match General Lee and other Confederate generals in leadership and ability: Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. The eastern generals, McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker and even Meade were found wanting. Even General Meade had failed to follow up the Gettysburg victory by pursuing the fleeing, broken Army of Northern Virginia. Someone once complained to President Lincoln that Grant was an alcoholic. The President is reported to have responded: "Find out what General Grant drinks, and I will send a case to all my generals." Finally, the North had the winning general in Grant. General Grant was moved east in charge of all the Union forces. General Meade technically remained in command of the Army of the Potomac, but General Grant made the decisions until General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. Gettysburg limited the South. Vicksburg doomed it. Let us not forget Vicksburg as we celebrate the greatness of Gettysburg.