Clear Thinker

Mar 182018

There’s nothing magic about state boundaries. So why not change them now?

It is either a brave person or a fool who claims that something will never happen.  But in this case, it seems fair to be so absolutist in predicting we’ll never see a breakaway state created by splitting an existing state into two, even though there are occasionally – and particularly at present – vocal minority groups calling for the creation of new states, primarily on the west coast.

There are also moves by some states to secede from the US, and that too is something we view as improbable.  Let’s look at both these scenarios.

Splitting States in Two

In all the west coast examples, what we see is a minority group of people wishing to create a new state out of some part of a current state (California, Oregon, Washington), or perhaps out of some part of several states – part of CA and OR combined to make a new state, or part of OR and WA, or whatever.  Examples of this include proposals for new states to be called Cascadia, Jefferson and Lincoln.

In all three cases, each state has a very stark split between a conservative rural population and a liberal city population, with the liberal city populations dominating both the state legislatures (sometimes even to the point of having super-majorities) and the senators who are sent to DC (all six senators from these three states are Democrats).

In addition, the three current states award all their electoral college votes to the candidate winning a majority of votes, unlike some states that award electoral college votes proportionally to represent the popular state vote, or by congressional district.  California currently has 55 votes, Oregon has 7 and Washington has 12 – a total of 74 votes between the three states which are safely awarded in their entirety to whoever the Democratic Presidential Candidate may be.

Due to the strong Democrat majority in all three states, Republican voters have little or no say in either state or federal elections (other than for House of Representatives members) and feel disenfranchised, with their states increasingly taking positions that are further and further away from their own views.  And because these people are not evenly distributed through the state, but rather are geographically concentrated in certain regions, it is understandable why they would feel alienated from the current concept of their state and seek to create a new state to better represent their values.

It is possible we might see new states added (Puerto Rico in particular), but the political balancing required to split existing states into two is unlikely to ever work, for the very simple reason that doing so will upset the political balance.  In the past, there have been some accepted splits (Vermont out of New York in 1791, Kentucky out of Virginia in 1792, Maine out of Massachussetts in 1820 and West Virginia out of Virginia in 1863) but the most recent of those is 150+ years ago and well before the political balance coalesced so clearly into two bitterly opposed camps.

Think about what would happen if, for example, California split in two, with the result being a new state that solidly votes Republican and the remains of original California still continuing to vote solidly Democrat.  At the national level, there will be little change in terms of how members of the House of Representatives are selected, because that is based more on population than on state lines, but in the Senate, an additional two seats have been created, and they will be almost surely filled by two more Republicans.  In addition, the solid bloc of 55 Electoral College votes has now been split in two, diluting the Democrat advantage in Presidential elections.

What Democrat would willingly support a move that would see two more safe Republican senators added to the Senate, and to siphon off some of their safe electoral college votes?  Never mind notions of fairness and what is honorable and just.  Simple politics will override such concepts, and all Democrats will unite to prevent that happening – both at state and national levels.

So there is the paradox – a state that is dominated by one party will never ‘commit political suicide’ by enabling the minority to create their own additional state and to gain a voice over their region and in the national political forums.

To be even-handed, if there were also a move to divide a firmly Republican state in two, we’d expect the same behavior to be exhibited by the Republicans!

How The State Splitting Process Would Work

The process for creating new states is spelled out in Article Four, Section 3, Clause 1 of the US Constitution.  It reads :

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

This makes it relatively easy for entirely new states to be added, but the restrictive provisions after the first semi-colon requires that creating an additional state out of parts of one or more states requires both the agreement of the affected states and of Congress too.

So even if, as at present, the Republicans control both houses of Congress and the Presidency, the fact that at the state level the affected states are controlled by Democrats means that splitting a state will never happen.

Never Say Never?

There is, however, a very scary thought.

What say instead of a Republican controlled federal government, we had Democrats in control.  What would prevent a large state such as California from credibly saying “We’re too big, we feel that it would be fairest for us to reduce in size to something more similar to other states”, and then gerrymandering the border split so that both the new states remained strongly Democrat?

The state legislature would happily vote for that, and so would the federal government, and the net result would be two more Democrat senators appointed.

Would a State Secede From the Union?

The other thing we’re seeing renewed interest in, during the Trump Presidency and the ever greater divide between his political views and those of certain Democrat-dominated states (yes, California, we’re talking about you) is a move from simple state defiance of the federal government (the ‘sanctuary’ nonsense) to a desire to leave the union entirely.

In California’s case, there are certainly many rational reasons for seeing this as a possible move and expecting the new nation to be viable.  They have plenty of coast and deep-water ports, they have all the infrastructure they need, they have a large land mass (if a separate state, it would become the 59th largest in the world, smaller than Iraq and larger than Paraguay), population (it would become the 35th largest, smaller than Sudan and larger than Poland), and economy (if a separate state, it would be the sixth largest in the world – smaller than Britain and larger than France).

But the political implications are very complex in such a case, and there’s an amusing paradox for the Democrats to consider.  If they were to abandon the US and secede, they’d be weakening the Democratic base for the rest of the US.  Two fewer senators, 55 fewer electoral college votes, and a varying number fewer Congressmen.

So, Californian Democrats have to ponder – is their hate for Trump, who will be in office for at most seven more years – so great that they’d be willing to turn the rest of the US more strongly Republican by leaving the union?  Or, in the interest of keeping the nation as a whole more strongly Democrat, will they tough out the balance of Trump’s first and possibly second terms?

There is also the fact that if California decided to secede, that would change the equation for the more conservative parts of the state.  They would no longer be trying to split a state in two; instead, they would be part of a separate nation trying to be accepted into the US instead, and that no longer requires the consent of the rest of the nation they in turn would be seceding from.

Note that back in the Obama days, a number of primarily Republican states also grumbled about seceding, although of course nothing ever came of it.

Can a State Secede From the Union?

The preceding section ignored an important question – could a state ever secede from the union?  Surprisingly, the Constitution is entirely silent on this point.  As far-sighted as its drafters undoubtedly were, they clearly never thought that a state, once joining, would ever want to leave again.

There is, however, a famous Supreme Court case that spoke to the subject, known as Texas v. White, back in 1869.  The key part of the verdict is usually quoted as being :

When, therefore, Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States.

This quote is accurate, and is shown on page 726 of the Court’s decision.

But whenever you see a quote, you should always go to the source, and read it in context.  In this case, there are three points of note.

The first is the nature of the case itself.  It was primarily about the ownership of some bonds and whether the state of Texas lost or retained ownership of those bonds during its period of self-declared independence and the Civil War.  The nature of the state’s potential for independence was possibly secondary to its bond ownership and obligation, and whenever a Court comments on something that is outside of the direct purview of the case, those comments become known as ‘obiter dicta’ and don’t bind future courts and rulings.

It is debatable as to if the above paragraph is obiter or part of the binding decision, but anything that is debatable can indeed be debated, and the Supreme Court has managed to come up with new opinions and policy reversals on much weaker grounds in the past, when it chooses to.

The second point is that there is another sentence in the same paragraph that was quoted above.  That sentence adds an important exception to the preceding global assertion.

There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.

So, even though the judgment started off by asserting the permanent nature of the union of states, it also countenanced two mechanisms – neither clearly defined or explained – that would allow states to secede, albeit one of them a mechanism which required the concurrence, in some form, of some number of the other states in the union.

It is also relevant to note that the concept of the word “revolution” is far from clear.  We’re in an age of ‘peaceful revolutions’ that have occurred throughout Europe; a revolution may as likely be a sweeping tidal wave of public opinion on a matter, without requiring bloodshed, and without also requiring the concurrence of some external authority.  The fact that revolution is cited as a separate means for secession would imply the Court understood that revolution does not require ratification by Congress or the other states; but we are not told what would constitute a qualifying revolution.

The third point is that this was not a unanimous decision of the Court.  It was a majority decision, with five justices agreeing and three disagreeing.  While the majority rules, the dissenting judgments by other justices can often be used in subsequent court cases to ‘distinguish’ cases from previously decided cases and to support overruling future cases.  There is plenty of material in the dissenting judgments, should any future court be so minded.

A combination of the paragraph possibly being considered as obiter dicta, and the dissenting opinions provides future courts with plenty of rich opportunity to rewrite this finding.

So, while the simple answer to the question ‘can a state secede from the union’ is usually given as an emphatic ‘No!’, the actual answer is more nuanced.  Clearly, through some sort of peaceful process and with some degree of acceptance by the remaining states, secession is possible, and similarly, whether it be peaceful or not, revolution could also result in secession.

Our feeling though is that these days there will never be sufficient consensus within a single state to create the overwhelming groundswell of opinion and popular support for a secessionist movement to be successful.

The Real World Possibilities

While there are some genuine and ardent supporters advocating either carving states up into additional states or simple seceding from the union as a whole, the number of such people have never risen to any appreciable percentage of the population.

Until there is a real true public demand for such actions, of course no such thing will occur, and indeed, even if the supporters of such a move become broader based and more vociferous, the extremely contentious nature of such actions are likely to see nothing happen.

Aug 272013

The uncommon but powerful .357 SIG round (left) combines the necked case of a .40 with the bullet diameter of a 9mm.

The TSA – the Transportation Security Administration – was formed shortly after 9/11/2001, and was tasked with taking over airport security screening duties.

Rightly or wrongly (more wrongly than rightly) it was felt that a government coordinated organization could better manage airport security than was the case prior to that time with private security firm contractors at each airport.  In understanding this, it is essential to realize that the box cutters taken on board the four flights that were taken over by hijackers on 9/11 were perfectly legal to take on board the planes.

The failures of 9/11 were two-fold, and neither was the fault of the private security screeners – the biggest failure being the policy of passively giving in to and cooperating with hijackers, and the second failure being arguably the decision to allow box cutters as carry-on items.

But in the panic after 9/11 and the need to blame anyone but themselves, the security authorities saw an opportunity to create a new massive government department and rushed to form the TSA, which then became part of what is now the third largest of all government departments (only the DoD and VA are larger), the also newly formed Homeland Security Department.

Anyway, enough of the history.  You know the TSA – you see them every time you take off your shoes and belt and shuffle through the security screening at any airport.  The TSA now employs about 55,000 people.

Although they’ve tried to make themselves look more like police, now with police style uniforms and shields/badges, the happy fact is that these government employed ‘rent a cops’ have no powers of arrest and are not sworn peace officers.

There’s one more thing about TSA employees.  They don’t carry guns.

So how now to understand their publishing a tender for the supply of 3.454 million rounds of .357 SIG pistol ammo?  This sounds unbelievable, but you can see their official tender document here.  (Note they refer to .347 but it should be .357).

What does an agency made up of non-sworn non-police officers need with 3.454 million rounds of out-of-the-ordinary caliber pistol ammo?

Seriously, what do they want with this huge quantity of ammunition?  Can anyone tell us?

Jul 212013

How did our police transition from being friendly locals to impersonal hostile strangers? Has this change made us safer?

The cornerstones of modern effective policing actually date back to 1829 and England, when Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force in London, based in Scotland Yard (hence them sometimes being referred to as Bobbies, or, in a more pejorative sense, as Peelers).

Arising out of his reforms came what are known today as the Principles of Policing, and we’ll list all nine of them before moving on with our article.

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

The core concept is that the police operate with the support and approval of the citizenry they serve.  This was evidenced by the concept of police officers walking the beat, armed with nothing more than a short wooden truncheon discreetly in a pocket, and integrating into the neighborhoods they serve.  Peel’s most famous statement stresses the integration between the police and community by saying ‘The police are the public and the public are the police’.

We can see the epitome of Peel’s principles expressed in that lovely television series from the 1960s, The Andy Griffith Show, which ran from 1960 through 1968.  As you surely know, Sheriff Andy Taylor was known, respected and liked by all in his North Carolina (fictitious) town of Mayberry, and he never carried a gun.  He didn’t need a gun, because a friendly word, a fatherly word, sometimes a stern word and sage advice was all he needed to keep the peace.

The year after The Andy Griffith Show ended its run, policing in the US took a turn for the worse.  After several years advocating the concept, the then police inspector Daryl Gates of the LAPD (subsequently to become a controversial police chief) was given permission to develop the nation’s first SWAT team, which deployed for in 1969, first in a raid against a holdout cell of the Black Panthers.  The SWAT concept was modeled after the Marine Special Forces.

After some controversy, Congress provided the next tool for the militarization of the police, when in 1970 it passed a new law authorizing ‘no knock’ raids for federal narcotics agents.  After repeated abuses of this power and many probably unnecessary casualties as a result of such raids, the law was repeated in 1974, but strangely, the concept lives on to this day, even without a federal law authorizing it.

Originally, in the 1970s, there were only a few hundred SWAT raids each year, but since that time, the number has been inexorably growing, while the trigger point for requiring a SWAT deployment has been successively lowering.   This article says the number of no-knock raids increased to 3,000 in 1981, and grew massively further to 50,000 in 2005 (that’s 136 times every day), and suggests that over 40 innocent bystanders have been killed.

As well as the 40 innocent bystanders who have been killed in gratuitous shoot-outs, many of the people being raided have also been killed in totally unnecessary circumstances, in situations that would not have occurred if one policeman had simply and calmly knocked politely on the guy’s door and had a discussion with the person when he answered.

The article also points out that criminals sometimes now pretend to be police on a no-knock raid, and, even worse, the police have moonlighted as criminals, conducting unauthorized no-knock raids to seize cash and drugs for their own personal gain and resale.

The article (it is short and you should read it) also points out just a few of the too many dubious uses of lethal force by police in no-knock raids.  What it does not and apparently can not point out, however, is any case where the ‘official review’ of use of force in a no-knock raid has ever been ruled unlawful or inappropriate, or any charges being filed against the police who conducted the raid (or, even better, filed against the judge who inappropriately authorized it).  Our police are increasingly unaccountable for their actions, even when their actions result in the unnecessary loss of life.

Until recently, one of the worst cases of no-knock raids was the shooing of US Marine veteran Jose Guerena in Tucson.  After shooting at him 71 times (and hitting him 22 times), the police then did not allow any medical aid, and watched Guerena slowly die from his wounds over the next hour.  In justifying their actions, the police claimed that Guerena shot at them first, but subsequently it was shown that his rifle was unfired and the safety catch still on.  An official report exonerated the police (naturally).  Details here.

In addition to no-knock warrants, the ‘knock and announce’ type warrant has become more and more closely identical to a no-knock warrant.  In theory, a knock and announce warrant requires the police to knock on the door and call out to the occupants, giving them a chance to voluntarily open the door prior to breaking it in and invading the property.  But how loud a knock, how loud an announcement, and how long a wait is involved prior to the police then breaking down the door and swarming inside, with their fully auto weapons ready to gun down anyone they encounter?  That’s a grey area, and the courts have been increasingly permissive about what the police can get away with.

There are also repeated allegations that police did not knock and announce prior to breaking in to properties.  Of course, in a situation where you have a team of half a dozen or more police officers all claiming they followed procedure fastidiously, and one or two citizens, now either dead or in custody for some trivial crime (perhaps ‘resisting arrest’), who will the courts believe?  The police, every time.  The police are no longer accountable.

After the ‘success’ of the first LAPD SWAT team, other police departments were quick to copy.  After all, it gave the police new fancy clothes to wear, new vehicles to drive, and new toys to play with – who wouldn’t love that.  By 1975, there were approximately 500 SWAT teams around the country.

More recently, in the hysteria fueled by 9/11, the new Department of Homeland Security (now the third largest cabinet level agency in the country, with only the DoD and Veterans Affairs larger) has been awarding grants, totaling over $32 billion so far, enabling police departments everywhere in the country to outfit themselves with military vehicles and military weapons.  The federal government seems to want to encourage the militarization of even the smallest town’s police departments.

Does any Police Department not have a SWAT team now?  Even small towns have SWAT teams.  In 1983, already 13% of towns sized between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team, and in 2005, that number had grown to 80%.

It isn’t only PDs that have SWAT teams these days.  Some of the most unlikely federal agencies also have SWAT teams, including the Fish & Wildlife Service, NASA, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Education.

SWAT raids now seem to be the standard way for the police to interact with the citizens they are protecting and serving.  Whether it be the SWAT team that raided a small group of Tibetan monks who had overstayed their visas while on a peace mission, or the repeated SWAT raids on home games of poker, any and every police action seems to warrant a full SWAT deployment.

Think about the slogan ‘To Protect and To Serve’.  The police are neither protecting us nor serving us when they hide behind face masks, helmets, and body armor, and break into our houses in the dead of night for no substantial reason.  They’ve totally lost sight of their mission.  Instead of protecting and serving us, they are recklessly endangering us and dominating us.

Here’s a great history of the rise of SWAT culture in US policing.  (If the link is dead, search for ‘Rise of the Warrior Cop’ in Google, you want to find a Wall St Journal article from July 19, 2013.)

All of the preceding has merely been introduction.  Please now read an appalling story of the latest SWAT raid, and in particular, the circumstances in which it took place.  The police received an anonymous tip suggesting that a child rape suspect was somewhere inside an apartment complex.  They had no specific information that the suspect was in the woman’s apartment that they terrorized, and they had no warrants supporting any of their activity.  But when the woman was slow to comply with their demand to let them in and search with no warrant, that ‘confirmed’ to them that he must have been in her apartment.

Yes, if you don’t voluntarily surrender your constitutional rights, you are now presumed guilty of harboring a rape suspect, it seems, even if you are a 59 year old middle class nurse with no police record or past problems.

Details here.

Look back up to the nine principles of policing.  How many of those are still being observed today?

We read a lot about the terrorist threats against the US.  Some might think that the greatest threat, and the greatest acts of terrorism, involve not Muslim extremists, but our own law enforcement officials, and rather than breaking the laws, they are aided and abetted by permissive laws and even more permissive courts.

Jun 302013

Judge Howard Shore of the San Diego Superior Court.

Okay, so some people might disagree with what the defendant did, but that’s not to say he shouldn’t be allowed a full defence in his criminal trial on 13 charges of vandalism.

Jeff Olson, a left-wing anti-bank political activist (gack) had been scribbling messages such as ‘Stop big banks’ on the sidewalk outside Bank of America branches in San Diego, using chalk to do so.  You know – what kids use, sidewalk chalk, the stuff that can be washed off or which just ‘disappears’ all by itself in double quick time anyway.

Rather unbelievably, one of the Bank of America branches claimed it had cost them $6,000 to clean up the chalk slogans.  Presumably the bank can do this if it wishes, although the city not the bank owns the sidewalk outside the bank building.

After pressure from the bank, the City of San Diego agreed to bring 13 charges of vandalism against the sidewalk chalker.

Which brings us to our headline.  In a pre-trial motion hearing, Judge Howard Shore granted the city’s motion to prohibit the defendant from claiming or even mentioning any rights possibly extended to him under the First Amendment.

The learned (?) judge said that because California’s Vandalism Statute didn’t specifically provide an exemption for First Amendment rights/claims, that means that a First Amendment based defense would not be allowed in his court.

Now, goodness only knows that we’re not attorneys, but we do remember from our law school days a quaint notion being that the Constitution (including all Amendments) was the Supreme Law of the Land.  And no matter what lesser federal, state, county and city laws might or might not say, they could not ignore or overrule the Constitution.

Perhaps Judge Shore skipped class the day this was taught.

It is also surprising that the Judge has prohibited even mentioning the First Amendment in the trial.  It may well be that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the facts of this particular case, but to prohibit it being raised is an unfortunate decision.

But wait, there’s more.  After word of his ruling filtered out of the court-room, the judge found himself facing a tidal wave of criticism – from the defendant and his attorney of course, from the public, from media, and even from the Mayor of San Diego.

So the judge’s next step was to forbid the defendant or his attorney from talking about the case to anyone!

Secret justice?  That’s an oxymoron, and is totally the opposite of our American notions of the need for justice to proceed in an open court, holding all parties accountable to public scrutiny and review.

That’s another class that Judge Shore may have skipped.

Here’s some background on the case, and here’s a report of the judge’s first decision banning the First Amendment, and here’s a report of the judge’s gag order.

Mar 062013
Do we need more accountability when we give government officials powers over us?

Do we need more accountability when we give government officials powers over us?

We understand that everyone makes mistakes from time to time, whether they work for the government or not.

That’s unavoidable and okay, if the mistake was sincerely made in the first place rather than a deliberate abuse of authority (and authority is something that government employees tend to have much more of than people working in the private sector) and if the mistake is quickly rectified.

We also understand that some people are not very nice people, and will sometimes vindictively do bad things, just because they can.  That’s not okay, but this also happens in both the private and public sectors.

The key thing here is that the person who acts badly be accountable for their bad actions.  Usually, in the private sector, apart from union-protection issues, people who clearly and deliberately act in appropriately can expect consequences from their actions, including possibly even being fired.  But how often do we think that happens in government departments?

Here’s an appalling example of egregious abuse of authority by a Customs & Border Patrol individual who decided it was easier to impound a guy’s new boat than to correct her paperwork, and who refused to allow the boat-owner to speak to her supervisor or in any other way attempt to get her capricious decision reviewed.

As detailed in a follow-up post, this woman’s decision to impound the boat for no good reason ended up costing over $10,000 in fees to a broker to get the boat back.  The follow-up post is also interesting because it shows two additional things – first, how the woman or her co-workers will self-evidently lie to justify their actions, and secondly, how CBP view us – normal, ordinary, honest, Americans – as the enemy, rather than as the client they are there to serve.

Two questions :  What negative consequence will flow to this woman for what apparently was a wrong act on her part?  (Probable answer – none whatsoever.)

Secondly, will the boat owner and the company who sold it to him get their $10,000 broker fee reimbursed by CBP due to the inappropriate actions of their employee?  (You can probably guess the answer to this, too.)

The more authority we give to government departments and their employees, the more accountable they must become.  Currently, the opposite seems to be the case – we are giving them more and more power and removing their accountability at the same time.

Our government is in danger of becoming out of control, and rather than acting to help us, as was the original intention of progressing from anarchy to government in the first place, it all too often now seems to deliberately make things difficult for us.  There is a growing divide between government employees and the rest of us; an ‘us vs them’ situation which bodes extremely ill for the country as a whole.

Mar 022013
Maybe providing free bags isn't so bad after all.

Maybe providing free bags isn’t so bad after all.

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a law last year banning the use of plastic bags in grocery stores, and requiring stores to charge 5c each for paper bags.

In truth, it seems the retailers were quite pleased about this.  They no longer had to give away plastic and paper bags for free, and – even better – could often make a profit by selling the massively marked up reusable shopping bags that it was hoped Seattle’s citizens would switch to.

The law took effect last July.

So what has happened since then?

Local hospitals report a surge in E.coli cases – and even deaths – as a result of people carrying food in unclean bags they were reusing.

Shoplifters delighted in being able to carry bags into the store, fill them, and walk out without paying.

Other shoppers, frustrated at finding they would have to pay to bag their purchases, simply walked off with the store baskets (and maybe/maybe not paid for the contents of the baskets).  Stores responded by not replacing the lost/stolen baskets, but that caused a new raft of customer service problems too.

As for the benefits – well, we’re still waiting for a report on those.  But perhaps the fact that there is no measurable global warming at present might ‘prove’ that Seattle was very wise.  On the other hand, the last time there was any significant global warming was almost a decade ago, so perhaps Seattle was simply late to the party.

More details of Seattle scoring an own-goal here.

Feb 112013
Don't learn your lessons from the movies. Dirty Harry isn't real. And you're not a cop.

Don’t learn your lessons from the movies. Dirty Harry isn’t real. And you’re not a cop.

So there you are.  You’ve surprised three felons about to burglarize your property.  Fortunately, you have your handgun with you, and when you confront them as an armed homeowner, the three felons very sensibly turn tail and flee.

Great.  So far, so good.  Bravo.

But what happens next can completely change your day if you’re not careful.  There you are – heart pounding, blood surging, adrenalin levels off the scale, full of righteous anger, and your gun is in your hand.  Maybe you even have some vague fuzzy perception that it is legal to shoot after felons, perhaps because you are ‘in hot pursuit’ or something like that.

Do you shoot after the bad guys?  Or do you carefully holster your handgun and call the police?

Don’t just answer this question in the calm and comfort of where and how you’re reading this.  Try and really put yourself in the scene, and understand how you’d be thinking and reacting.

Now – the answer.  Would you shoot after the bad guys?

If you answered ‘yes’, go take a cold shower.  Then come back and please continue reading.

If you answered ‘no’, congratulations, but don’t relax.  Drill that ‘I must not shoot’ thought hard into your brain, so that when the situation actually occurs and you’re operating more on instinct and emotion, your rational self can still fight away the blood lust and desire for vengeance and correctly guide your actions.

Don’t just take our word for it.  Read this short news item about a homeowner in a scenario pretty much as we just depicted.  He did the wrong thing, and got locked up for it, and now is facing an expensive journey through the legal system, with the only certain thing in his future being tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, many sleepless nights full of worry, and possibly – probably – a criminal conviction on his record and maybe even some prison time.

Two things to remember :

First :  Your state may or may not have a long laundry list of situations in which it might be legal to use lethal force.  But the only one of these which is likely to be unimpeachable is when you or your loved ones are staring certain death or severe injury in the face, and you have absolutely utterly no way to avoid that outcome, other than to use the least amount of deadly force possible.  All the others are less black and white, and you can find yourself trapped in very unpleasant grey.

As soon as you retreat away from that ‘worst case’ scenario, you start to facing a growing subsequent alternate worst case scenario – either criminal and/or civil action against you after your shooting.  Depending on the jurisdiction you live in, your state’s laws on deadly force may be interpreted permissively or restrictively, and concepts such as ‘what would a reasonable man be expected to do in the circumstances’ could be answered – in a court of law – in very different ways.

Remember also that juries are fickle.  You can never guarantee what verdict a jury will reach.  Get a couple of vociferous anti-gun people, a few others who believe that ‘nothing can ever justify taking a human life’, and have the others basically conciliatory and passive, and before you know where you are, you’re guilty of whatever the prosecutor has decided to throw at you.

Maybe the local community is currently experiencing a backlash against some gun tragedy somewhere in the country, and it is just your bad luck to be the recipient of that backlash.  Maybe you are white and shot at black criminals, and the case has been perverted into a cause celebre for ‘black rights’ and you are made to look like a racist rather than an ordinary homeowner.  And so on and so on.

The bottom line :  Any shooting may have extremely unfair criminal and civil consequences.  Avoid the risk of such consequences, by avoiding the need to shoot.

Second :  Go stand in your driveway and imagine yourself doing like the guy in the news story did, shooting at the would-be burglars as they make their getaway.  Now look carefully at what is in the background.  What do you see – and also what are behind the bushes and fences that you can’t see (but which your bullets can reach)?  Houses.  Apartments.  Cars.  And, most of all, people.

In most residential areas, there’s no such thing as a safe direction to shoot in.  Even if your shots hit the bad guys, they might still travel through and on and cause other damage elsewhere.  Police departments regularly average $10,000 and up, for every shot fired by their officers, in terms of the costs they incur repairing the damage from the rounds expended.  You can expect the same, and it will be money out of your own pocket, because your insurance will refuse to cover you.

Here’s the unfair thing (and – get this – everything about these types of situations is unfair, right from the get go).  If you hold your front door open for the burglars and help them carry away all your gear; insurance will reimburse you as per the policy you have.  They see that as an accident or event you have no control over.

But if you protect your property and shoot at the burglars, the insurance company won’t thank you for acting to reduce the amount of loss they have to pay out.  Instead, they say this was a deliberate act on your part, not an accident or random piece of bad luck, and they’ll refuse to reimburse you any of the costs you might incur as a result of where the bullets went and the damage they caused.

Dirty Harry never had to worry about these things.  He was a policeman, more or less acting, on duty, as employed to do.  Sure, the mayor and his superiors would often berate him for the damage he caused, but Harry never had to pay any of that himself.  The city and the police department, and all their attorneys, would run interference for him.

You have none of this behind you.  Instead, it will all be ranged in front of you and against you.

Bottom line?  Don’t shoot, unless you have no choice, and it is the only option open to you, and necessary to save you or your loved ones from imminent and severe harm or death.  And force yourself to stop shooting as soon as the situation changes.

Update :  The citizen who shot at the fleeing burglars ended up agreeing to a plea bargain.  He has given a guilty plea, and is receiving a $700 fine, must take a weapons safety class, and has been required to forfeit his handgun.  Maybe he got off lightly, depending on your perspective.  Add the incarceration, now having an arrest and criminal record, and thousands of dollars in attorney fees, and those two shots truly changed his life.  Details here.

Jan 152013
The Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca (also known as the Abraj Al-Bait Towers), at 1972 ft and 120 floors, the tallest building completed in 2012 and now the second tallest building in the world.

The Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca (also known as the Abraj Al-Bait Towers).  At 1972 ft and 120 floors, it is the tallest building completed in 2012 and now the second tallest building in the world.

As we move into the new century, it is increasingly obvious that the 21st century belongs not to western civilization, but to other civilizations and regions.

That’s an unpleasant truth and hard for most complacent westerners to appreciate or accept, particularly when they close their eyes to the rest of the world and surround themselves only with those selected snippets of information that encourage their belief in the innate supremacy of the western cultural/social/economic system.

It is hard to measure the decline of the west, particularly when we are part of it ourselves, and surrounded by a version of reality that is unwilling to acknowledge our decline.  But if you travel the world (may I modestly say that I have) and particularly if you visit some of the new prosperous regions of the world, the difference between what we have come to accept and what is happening in the rest of the world is astonishing.  Why aren’t we being told about this in our newspapers and on our television programs?

Well, that’s a question with no answer, isn’t it!

One such measure of the economic winners and losers might be urban construction and development.  Here’s an interesting article that gives us a non-standard measure of the relative economic success and prosperity of cities in the world – skyscraper construction.  It lists the ten tallest skyscrapers built in 2012.

If you don’t want to go through the article page by page, here’s the list :

1.   Mecca, Saudi Arabia
2.   Dubai, UAE
3.   Dubai, UAE
4.   Dubai, UAE
5.   Guangzhou, China
6.   Dubai, UAE
7.   Hanoi, Vietnam
8.   Guangzhou, China
9.   Guangzhou, China
10. Chongching, China

In case you’re wondering, you have to get all the way to number 15 before the west appears (Toronto), and number 23 before the US appears (Oklahoma City).  Then another long gap until Canada reappears at #34 and the US again at #45.

As for Europe, its first appearance is #39 (Milan), followed by Moscow (which may or may not be fairly considered as part of Europe) at #48.

This page lists all ‘tall buildings’ (which it defines as taller than 200 meters, ie 656 ft) completed in 2012.  There were 66 in total, of which 22 were built in China, 18 in Muslim countries, and 11 in other Asian countries, but only four in Canada, two in the US, and one in Europe (plus one in Russia).

That would seem to clearly indicate where all the economic growth is occurring and – alas – where the economic growth is not occurring.

Jan 132013
King George V reviewing The Grand Fleet at Spithead in 1914. 98 years later, Queen Elizabeth II had to settle for watching a procession of private launches motoring up the River Thames in London.

King George V reviewing The Grand Fleet at Spithead in 1914. 98 years later, Queen Elizabeth II had to settle for watching a procession of private launches motoring up the River Thames in London.

Britain is widely regarded by all (except perhaps our ‘Commander-in-Chief’) as being this country’s strongest ally – it is the country we have a ‘special relationship’ with.  They feel the same way about us too, and they’ve not hesitated to support us whenever we’ve needed it.

The strength of Britain as our ally is measured not just in its moral support of our policies and positions on the world stage, but also in its military support too.  Wherever we’ve been fighting in the last several decades, there have been British troops, planes and ships alongside ours.

It is sobering therefore to understand how Britain’s military capabilities have massively imploded in on themselves.  We not only have our President spurning our relationship with Britain while racing around the world apologizing and bowing to our enemies, weakening the strength of the ties that keep us and Britain so closely together, we also have Britain’s disarming of itself to the point of international irrelevance.

This article, in Britain’s leading and somewhat conservative newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, is mainly of little interest to most Americans, inasmuch as it involves Britain’s dispute with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.  But we can’t let that topic pass without point out how sad it is to note the contrast between the short war with Argentina in 1982 when President Reagan fully supported Britain, and the current situation where our President and his team are unable to even say they support Britain, while cozying up to Argentina.

What is most interesting, however, is to look down to the bottom, at the table of Britain’s military strength as between 1982 and 2013.  In case the link has eroded over time, we repeat the information here :

Total personnel320,000160,000
Assault ships24
Patrol boats154
Minesweepers/hunters     2915
Auxiliary (tankers, etc)     4513


This isn’t just a recent decline over the past 30 years, it has been steady and almost without a break all the way since World War 2.  For example, total personnel in Britain’s armed services in 1972 were 371,000; in 1962 were 434,000; and in 1952 were 872,000.  In sixty years, personnel have reduced five-fold.

In 1913 Britain’s navy was the most powerful in the world, and by official policy, larger than the next two navies combined.  In time for World War 2 Britain’s navy was still larger than any other single nation, but by the end of the war, the US navy was massively larger, and Britain’s navy has continued to decline ever since.

When Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953 the Royal Navy put on a formal ‘review’ at Spithead, with nearly all its fleet lined up in massive rows of warships.  When she observed the 60th anniversary of her ascending to the throne in 2012, the tradition of reviews, dating back to the 1700s, was replaced by a ‘flotilla’ of pleasure launches cruising along the Thames river in London.  The Royal Navy was too embarrassed to admit it no longer had enough ships to be reviewed and hoped people would not notice the difference between private boats motoring along the Thames compared to the former might of the Royal Navy in years past.

The reduction in armed personnel is all the more extreme when plotted against the rise in Britain’s total population.  In other words, the number of armed personnel as a percentage of the total country’s population is declining more rapidly than the simple decline in staffing.  This chart below gives a perspective on numbers from 1950 through 2012 (source).


There are two other issues arising from this, beyond Britain’s simple loss of military power.

The first is that it takes a lot longer to train a soldier, sailor, or airman now than it did 50 years ago.  Everything is much more complicated, and requires much more training.  This means that if Britain had to suddenly respond to a ‘high intensity’ conflict, or to come to our aid in a high intensity conflict of ours, by the time Britain could start deploying newly trained recruits, it would probably be too late.

The second issue is more subtle.  For almost all of Britain’s history, the armed services were a key part of the nation’s social fabric.  Occasional high intensity conflicts, occurring once a generation or so, saw large swathes of the population called up for service (as much as 10% of the population in both World War 1 and 2).  It wasn’t just the small percentage who served in wartime, either – even during peacetime, universal conscription – ‘national service’ saw all young male adults exposed to army training and discipline.  This ended in 1960 with the last intake being November 1963 – 50 years ago.

For the last 70 years, Britain has not had any high intensity conflicts, while the ‘pool’ of ex-servicemen has been dwindling as the old soldiers simply die.  The number of surviving WW2 soldiers is now rapidly reducing and soon there’ll be no more.

Britain is losing touch with its proud past, and is instead willing itself to become weaker and weaker.  Even if Britain wished to strongly support us in the future, it will lack the men and the equipment to do so.

Oh – and as for our own military capabilities?  Don’t ask.  It’s a similar story (but one to be told another time.