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Jun 28, 2015

Amendment Needed to Check Supreme Court

I think it’s become perfectly clear in the last week that the Supreme Court is abusing its power.  It seems to me that recent decisions of the court are based on what the majority of the justices want the law to be rather than what the law is.  I think that the unchecked power of the Supreme Court has proven to be a design flaw in the Constitution. To return our government to the rule of law instead of the rule of nine appointed judges, I think we need to consider changing the Constitution to check the power of the Supreme Court.  First let me explain why we need to check the Supreme Court.  Then I’ll take a shot at proposing an amendment which I think will help.

I am in favor of gay marriage. If the court had ruled that a legal marriage performed in one state must be recognized in all states, I would have been very happy with the decision. The means Justice Kennedy used instead have badly damaged the outcome. The Supreme Court made it up in both the Obamacare case and the gay marriage case. The whole point of having written laws is that they are predictable. Everyone is supposed to be able to understand what the law is and live by it. Under current circumstances, Supreme Court rulings are more like professional football games. On any given case, the Supreme Court can change the plain meaning of the words in a statute, or the clear understanding of a Constitutional Amendment when it was ratified.

In the Obamacare case, the statute language said subsidies would only go to purchasers who used an "Exchange established by the State.” The Supreme Court added the words "or the federal government" because too many states did not set up exchanges. It's clear that the bill was very poorly drafted. In the bad old days, when Congress was the only legislature, this would have been a problem only Congress could fix. Instead, the executive and judicial branches conspired to cut Congress out of the process. This disenfranchises all of the voters who elected Senators and Representatives in 2010, 2012 and 2014. If the court had ruled that the statute meant what it said and the stayed its order until 12/31/15 to give Congress and the President time to fix the mess, that would have been a ruling on what the law is rather than what 6 justices thought Congress intended the law to be.

In the gay marriage case, the Supreme Court used the 14th Amendment to rule that gay marriage was mandated by the Constitution. In 1868, when the 14th Amendment was passed, homosexual acts were illegal in every state. The state legislators who voted to ratify the 14th Amendment thought they were ratifying equal rights regardless of race. When the 14th Amendment was used to invalidate laws against mixed race marriage, this was exactly what the ratifiers would have expected. None of them would have expected that gay marriage was what they had ratified.

One way to fix this might be a Constitutional Amendment permitting a Supreme Court minority opinion to be ratified by the legislatures of a majority of states within two years of any decision. If this happens, the minority takes effect instead of the majority ruling. This would put the brakes on crazy Supreme Court rulings that ignore the plain language of the Constitution or statutes. It would also give states back some of the power they have lost to the federal government.

I think that this is reasonable. The minority opinions are learned legal opinions, so this is not a blank check for the state legislatures. The mere possibility of opinions being overturned in this fashion might promote moderation and compromise in Supreme Court Decisions.  If the threat wasn't enough, the remedy would not be easy, but it would be easier than a specific Constitutional Amendment to overturn a bad Supreme Court reading of the Constitution. It also would be easier than impeachment to correct a bad appointment.

Jun 21, 2015

Confederate Battle Flag is Not Appropriate on State Capitol Grounds

A recent article by David French discussed the Confederate Battle Flag that flies over the Confederate war memorial on the state capitol grounds in Columbia, South Carolina.  Mr. French discusses the subject from the point of view of his Virginia family, which fought in the American Revolution, the Confederate Army, and most of America's wars since.  My family history starts early in Virginia, similarly to Mr. French's, then veers off. My ancestors from Virginia fought in the French and Indian War, where one of them served with Col. Washington, as well as the American Revolution. However, they decided that slavery was wrong. The last slaves my family owned were freed and sent to Liberia in about 1855 with money to buy land once they got there. My family did not think it was safe for them to remain in Virginia. My family then moved to California and stayed out of the Civil War as a result.

I can understand displaying the Confederate Battle Flag only in the context of war memorials and war cemeteries. However, in both cases, I think any of the official Confederate States government flags would be less incendiary, although less acceptable to Mr. French. I think that the Battle flag on the grounds of the state capitol is not appropriate, even if it's over a Civil War memorial.  It’s ironic that the Confederate Battle flag was originally displayed over war memorials and war cemeteries because the veterans wanted to be associated with the Confederate Army and not the Confederate government.  However, now the Battle Flag has assumed a different meaning.

It is the unfortunate truth that the Confederate Battle flag was appropriated by some extremely racist bigots as the symbol of their resistance to integration. Since this misappropriation occurred during living memory, it remains the way the Battle flag is understood by the vast majority of the admittedly ignorant population. It's hard for most people to identify the dates of the Civil War within 25 or even 50 years. The details of the conflict beyond the basics are not clear to most. I don't see any way this misunderstanding can be corrected in the next 50 years. Perhaps giving the flag a rest will allow it to return to its original meaning as the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. 

Baghdad's Corrupt Army Has Usual Historic Flaws

One original reason for military parades was to make sure there were physical soldiers in numbers to match the payroll. Big multiple unit parades assured soldiers were not being shuffled from unit muster to unit muster in different uniforms.

It would seem the Iraqi Army has the traditional weakness of corrupt armies with quite a few phantom soldiers on the payroll. But even worse, the soldiers who actually do show up go months without pay while their officers put the money in their own pockets. All of the best recruits are funneled into the Shiite militias, not the regular Iraqi Army.

If we weren't able to establish an effective Iraqi Army during our occupation, I don't see any way we will be able to do it under current, less favorable, conditions. We should be backing the folks with the best track record on both military effectiveness and religious and ethnic toleration, the Kurds.

Cool Style or Issue Substance?

A recent article talked about how Republicans could get more younger voters because Republicans candidate were cool now.  Cool gets you a hearing, but issues get you a motivated voter. I think Republicans should emphasize that student loans wouldn't have to be forgiven if the government didn't make jobs so scarce by regulating them out of existence. Republicans should also explain that the way Obamacare was designed to work assumed young people were stupid enough to buy overpriced insurance so that "the needy" could be subsidized from what younger and healthier folks were paying. Republicans could further explain that raising the minimum wage puts teenagers out of work, especially minority teenagers.

I was a young voter (relatively) when Ronald Reagan was running in 1980. At that time, the media pundits assumed that young folks like me would not relate to the older generation Reagan. We voted for him in droves because his issues were our issues. His age didn't matter at all.

Liberals win with a divide and conquer strategy. Any of the carefully divided demographic groups that liberals cater to can be solicited for their votes. To get votes, Republicans have to talk to voters. Republican ads have to appear in media with that the target audience sees. Your issues have to be explained in a way that the audience understands. However, you don't have to pander or change positions. In fact, if your message is the same everywhere, it gives credibility to your positions. You must let voters know that you want their votes and that you see them as social equals. 

I think part of a winning presidential campaign in 2016 is mentioning all of the lies Democrats told in the last 8 years in order to get elected and to get their way on legislation. These lies were targeted at demographic groups Republicans can take away from Democrats. For example, not only was Obamacare supposed to let you keep your doctor, it was supposed to be a free lunch. Democrats were careful not to mention that young healthy people were going to pay higher rates to subsidize older and sicker people. Another example is the minimum wage, which Democrats say is designed to help poor people earn enough to support their families. Every time it goes up, more black teenagers lose any chance at part time or summer jobs. Republicans can use these and other whoopers to say they lied to you before, why should you believe their promises now?

The Left Sees Almost Everyone As Stupid

The left is absolutely certain that people in general are too ignorant and stupid to know what's good for them. As a result, the government needs to establish guidelines for taking care of the otherwise clueless populace. The irony of leftist certainty on this is that the left shows itself to be clueless and stupid when it takes one size fits all governmental action intended to take care of everybody. What happens is that the government action makes things worse. Obamacare is an example of how it all works. Once the government program fails, leftists want credit for their good intentions and a follow on program to fix the unintended consequences of their previous programs. The cycle repeats until the government impoverishes the people to the point that there are not enough resources to pay for the programs.

While this is a gross oversimplification, it's still essentially true that Rome fell because the people got used to the government handling everything for them instead of doing things for themselves. Bread and circuses both bankrupt the government and corrupt the people. In the meantime, patronage and handouts buy votes. This cycle needs to be broken in 2016 or we are going to live through the bloody failure of Pax Americana.  

US Intelligence Alone Not Good Enough Verification

The whole basis for "Bush lied people died" was that our intelligence is flawless so Bush had to cook the results. Now liberals believe their own propaganda. They believe intelligence alone can tell us how close the Iranians are to a bomb. After all, our satellites can read a license plate from orbit. Liberals are shocked to find out that the license plate can't be read if Jihadis smear mud on it.

The truth is our intelligence on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was incorrect.  Everyone, including the CIA, Israeli Mossad, British MI6 and the French DGSE thought they were there. Either they never were there, or they were shipped to Syria before the war started. However, it shows that our intelligence isn't good enough to trust for verifying Iranian compliance. 

Article I was commenting on:

Jun 15, 2015

Why Air Power Isn't Stopping ISIS

It’s fashionable in the past couple of months to say that air power is ineffective against ISIS.  The effectiveness of air power depends on the rules of engagement, which are set by the White House. The White House has decided that it's more important to avoid civilian casualties than it is to defeat ISIS. There is no way that ISIS should be able to move vehicles with troops and supplies on desert highways in the face of US total air dominance. The fact that ISIS is moving troops and supplies means that the rules of engagement are too restrictive to allow victory.
Given how many civilians ISIS kills when they take over an area, it seems to me that even in humanitarian terms restrictive rules of engagement are self-defeating. Even if attacking ISIS targets means some civilians will die, far more will die if ISIS is allowed to continue its rampage across the Middle East.
I think any vehicle convoy which includes military vehicles should be a free fire zone. Military vehicles should be defined to include armored vehicles, Humvees, pickup trucks with mounted machine guns, or civilian vehicles with a lot of gun barrels pointing out all of the windows. Even if these convoys contain civilian human shields, attacking them will prevent ISIS from killing a lot more people when they overrun the next town.
The same policy should be extended to bomb factories. If we know that ISIS has a lot of explosives in a residential neighborhood, we should still bomb the building. If ISIS uses the explosives to take another town, they will kill hundreds or thousands of civilians themselves. The casualty count will be a lot lower from the secondary explosion of the bomb factory.

In the long run, it's them or us. ISIS has made it clear they plan to attack us and kill us if we don't convert to their brand of Islam. We should take them at their word and stop them now, before they become an existential threat to the US. The leaders who did not believe Hitler meant what he said lived to regret it.

Is the NSA Collecting Phone Numbers an Open and Shut Case?

The NSA collecting phone numbers is more of a grey area than liberals and libertarians make it out to be. Before computers, security services used to run what were known as mail cover operations. They would monitor the envelopes of postal letters sent to people suspected of spying. They would track where the letters were post marked, what return addresses were used and anything else they could find out without opening the letter. They did not need a warrant for this because the outside of the envelope was public information disclosed to allow the letter to be delivered. The argument for collecting who called whom is that this information is similar to information on the outside of an envelope. The NSA collects that you called your mother's phone on Wednesday at 3:45 PM.  It does not listen to the phone call without a warrant.  

What makes it troubling is the massive amount of data collected. However, as a computer programmer with experience dating back to 1968, I don't think the solution proposed by the House bill is technically feasible. They want all of the local phone companies to save the data and allow federal access to it when served with a search warrant.  Mining the phone call connections for useful patterns requires an extensive set of calls collected in one place that you can examine all at the same time.  In essence you have to build the haystack before you can look for the needle. As a Republican with a Libertarian domestic view and a strong defense foreign policy view, I don't have an easy way to solve the technical problem of getting the information when it's needed while protecting people from intrusive government.  What I do know is that any proposal involves trade offs.  As my grandfather used to tell me, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Why New US Weapons Take So Long To Develop

The way US Military new system development works right now, we are wasting hundreds of billions of dollars. When we develop a new aircraft, like the F-35 for example, we get new everything. Not just a new air frame and engines, but new bleeding edge electronics, new landing gear, new ejection seats, new everything. This needlessly increases development risk. If everything is new and untested, then everything has a higher probability to fail, delay development and balloon costs, especially in combination with other new and untested components. The alternative is to start with a new air frame and engines while buying as much as possible off the shelf. The idea should be that the money saved by using off the shelf components initially could be used for upgrades later. This matches the realities of how fast electronics and software change versus how long air frames last. The development cycle for software and electronics is 18 months. The development cycle for new platforms is 18 years. Upgrades should be part of the plan.

Also, when we buy a new platform, it has to be multipurpose. The F-35 had to have versions for the Air Force, Navy and Marines. This meant that it had to be sturdy enough for carrier landings, which are essentially a controlled crash, for the Navy. It had to have internal room enough to a completely new vertical takeoff and landing system for the Marines. It has to be able to do both air to air and ground attack. My grandparents' generation used to have a saying that summarizes the compromises required, jack of all trades, master of none. The compromises required to make all of this work with one family of airplanes expanded costs with minimal corresponding benefits. For the price of one F-35, we could have bought a stealth air to air fighter and a ground attack plane with a lot of money to spare. And the combination of the two airplanes would have been a lot more capable than a single F-35.

Part of the reason that liberals have such an easy time of attacking military spending is the obvious waste in our current procurement system. We need to fix it fast. It's vital to national  security that we get this right.

Earl Simon De Montfort Defends and Expands Magna Carta Rights in 1265

King John had been forced to sign the Magna Carta, but his son, Henry III, pretended it didn't exist. Simon De Montfort, the French born Earl of Leicester who was also married to the king's sister, lead a revolt to confirm and expand the rights in the Magna Carta. De Montfort reached out to commoners to help defeat Henry III, while the king bribed barons with confiscated land to switch sides. The revolt ironically became a rising of commoners against all foreign born noblemen. In 1265, Simon De Montfort called the first English Parliament to include commoners. De Montfort was killed in battle later on in 1265. Henry III’s son, Edward I, made it a habit to call commoners to parliament in 1297. Without Simon De Montfort fighting for the Magna Carta, I don't think it would be considered as important a precedent as it is today. Prior to De Montfort's organized resistance to Henry III, the Magna Carta was a dead letter.

Our rights required defenders, and still do. Freedom is not free.

Article on Magna Carta (requires subscription)