To Bee Worried, or Not to Bee Worried

honeybee-m“By engaging in simplistic and sometimes misleading environmental narratives — by exaggerating the stakes and brushing over the inconvenient facts that stand in the way of foregone conclusions ­­ — we do our field, and our subjects, a disservice.”  — Hannah Nordhaus, environmental journalist and author of The Beekeeper’s Lament

No one likes to get stung, so we tend to fear, or at least shy away from, bees. But, we also need to remember that, in many ways, bees are our friends. After all, they don’t just pollinate 16% of all the flowering plant species. They also pollinate one-third of our food crops, which not only keeps us well-fed but adds $14-15 billion dollars annually to the U.S. agricultural industry alone. As such, they are an integral part of the food chain, as well as a source of jobs and wealth-building. So, we would have a right to be concerned if something began causing bees to die off.

US honeybee coloniesBack in 2006, some commercial beekeepers started seeing higher-than-normal winter die-offs among honeybees — more than double the usual 15% average. As more reports came out and the media ran with it, we have seen alarmist claims of “a crisis point for crops,” a “threat to our food supply,” and my fellow word-players have warned us of “beemageddon” and the “beepocalypse”. (Heck, I even saw an episode of “Elementary” last season that dealt with it.) It isn’t only honeybees that are affected, either. Bumblebees, which make similar contributions, have seen population declines, too. The overall phenomenon has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and the various culprits accused of causing it range from parasites (e.g., Varroa mites), neonicotinoid insecticides, and GMOs, to coldspells from anthropogenic climate change, even cell phones.

Enter, the U.S. Federal Government to the rescue…

In 2014, the Obama administration issued a presidential memo directing the formation of a task-force to develop “a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” Last month, the Pollinator Health Task Force, co-chaired by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and including the heads of multiple other Executive departments and agencies, announced its creatively-named “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators”. The plan? Reduce the honeybee-colony losses to “sustainable” levels and create 7 million acres of pollinator-friendly habitat, all for the low, low price of $82 million. (I wonder how long before that estimate gets adjusted upward.)

A noble goal, and perhaps even a reasonable price — that is, assuming the problem is real and as bad as we are led to believe. Consider this, as reported by Shawn Regan at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC):

o  There are more honeybee colonies in the U.S. today than there were when colony collapse disorder began in 2006.

o  According to the USDA, U.S. honeybee-colony numbers are now at a 20-year high.

o  U.S. honey production is also at a 10-year high.

Regan continues…

“Almost no one has reported this, but it’s true. You can browse the USDA reports yourself. [Note: See the graphs in this post.] Since colony collapse disorder began in 2006, there has been virtually no detectable effect on the total number of honeybee colonies in the United States. Nor has there been any significant impact on food prices or production.

How can this be? In short, commercial beekeepers have adapted to higher winter honeybee losses by actively rebuilding their colonies. This is often done by splitting healthy colonies into multiple hives and purchasing new queen bees to rebuild the lost hives. Beekeepers purchase queen bees through the mail from commercial breeders for as little as $15 to $25 and can produce new broods rather quickly. Other approaches include buying packaged bees (about $55 for 12,000 worker bees and a fertilized queen) or replacing the queen to improve the health of the hive. By doing so, beekeepers are maintaining healthy and productive colonies — all part of a robust and extensive market for pollination services.”

honey-production

Source: USDA NASS Honey Production Report

While this need to replenish their increased losses means that commercial beekeepers are obliged to buy more queens & workers, the abovementioned ease and speed with which large numbers of queens can be raised has kept commercial breeders from needing to raise their already low prices. Now, it is true that the pollination fees beekeepers charge producers of almonds — a very important pollination crop — have more than doubled in recent years. But, the rise began a few years before CCD was reported, so CCD can only account for a portion of the inflation. The almond producers have had to pass on much of their increased costs to the consumer, so you might have to pay an additional 3 cents or less for a pound of Smokehouse Almonds. (Not exactly a budget-breaker.) The increased fee income has helped many beekeepers more than recover the costs of rebuilding their lost colonies.

To summarize, then, commercial bee colonies are stable and healthy, honey production is up, and economists Randal Rucker and Walter Thurman’s research on the relevant markets led them to conclude that CCD has had almost no discernible economic impact. It seems that commercial beekeepers are not the “passive, unimaginative onlookers” to disaster that some journalists make them out to be. They actually know what they’re doing, and they have responded & adapted to this problem as they have to others. Also, while the CCD phenomenon is worthy of concern and research, the supposedly impending bee/food crisis is hardly the calamity that some, including the Obama administration, are making it out to be. In fact, as Regan has observed,

“With U.S. honeybee colonies now at a 20-year high, you have to wonder: Is our national pollination strategy a solution in search of a crisis?”

So much for the “beepocalypse”….

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Executive Actions, Orders, Memos, and Proclamations

“And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”  — President Obama on 1/14/2014, continuing his “pen and phone” comments about advancing his economic agenda as he convened his first Cabinet meeting of the year

A few weeks ago, I defined and explained the differences between “executive authority” and “executive privilege”, particularly in regards to U.S. government. I promised to also address three more, similar and related terms — “executive action”, “executive order”, “executive memorandum” — in hopes of clarifying their differences and how they may (not) be used by the President to further his agenda. I’ll do that now, and I’ll even throw in a fourth term — the “presidential proclamation” — for good measure.

Obama signs exec order“Executive action” is actually a somewhat vague and broad term, referring to just about any informal proposal or move that the President expresses his desire to make, usually calling on Congress or his administration to do something. However, even when the President lays out some “executive actions”, they are simply his (or her) personal wishlist of things he wants to accomplish — i.e., items for his desired agenda. None of the “actions” has any legal weight behind it until either an executive order, memo, or proclamation is issued to implement it. These executive instruments are the ones we need to be wary of. But, according to political writer Tom Murse, “Those that do actually set policy can be invalidated by the courts or undone by legislation passed by Congress.” I might also add that sometimes the term “presidential action” is used instead. At whitehouse.gov, “Presidential Actions” is used as an umbrella term to include executive orders, presidential [aka executive] memoranda, and proclamations. Apparently, it does not list the unimplemented “actions”.

Given the way the terms “executive action” (EA) and “executive order” (EO) are sometimes used, one might think they are interchangeable. Even the professional media have been known to mislabel one for the other on occasion. For example, when Obama issued 23 executive actions to curb gun violence back in Jan. 2013, some were touting them as “executive orders” (which gives the impression of accomplishing more than they are) or at least assuming they had the same legal force. But, they don’t. So, while conservatives and others were justified in objecting to much of what Obama wanted to do re the gun issue, those like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) were wrong (this time) when they accused the President of “abusing his power by imposing his policies via executive fiat.” (One might say Rubio jumped the gun on that one.) On the contrary, Obama was perfectly within his rights to express his desire to take “executive action”.

What about executive orders, then? Political writer Robert Longley puts it this way:

“A presidential executive order (EO) is a directive issued to federal agencies, department heads, or other federal employees by the President of the United States under his statutory or constitutional powers. In many ways, presidential executive orders are similar to written orders, or instructions issued by the president of a corporation to its department heads or directors. Thirty days after being published in the Federal Register, executive orders take effect. While they do bypass the U.S. Congress and the standard legislative law making process, no part of an executive order may direct the agencies to conduct illegal or unconstitutional activities.”

It should also be noted (as Murse does) that executive orders can be reversed by the courts, and Congress can overturn one by passing legislation in conflict with the EO. Alternatively, as always Congress may use its “power of the purse” to refuse to fund, in part or as a whole, the execution of policy measures contained within an executive order.

The first U.S. President to issue an “executive order” was, of course, George Washington in 1789, though it wasn’t called that. Executive orders are not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but the courts have determined that such a thing is justified by the requirement (Article II, Section 3, Clause 5) that the president “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”. For many decades, executive orders had no official form or substance and went largely unannounced and undocumented. To restate what Longley said, they are typically issued to direct or facilitate 1) the operational management of the Executive Branch; 2) the operational management of federal agencies or officials; or, 3) the execution of statutory or constitutional, presidential responsibilities.

Some notable examples include FDR’s Executive Order 6581, which created the Export-Import Bank of the United States; Truman’s Executive Order 9981, which ordered the integration of the armed forces shortly after World War II. Clinton’s Executive Order 13155 would have required federal benefits and services to be provided in foreign languages, but it was overturned by the Supreme Court. The Heritage Foundation, in a paper by Todd F. Gaziano (Director, Center for Legal & Judicial Studies), has accused presidents of abusing executive orders, using them to bypass Congress to make laws and to redirect existing laws from their original mandates.

While the abovementioned 23 executive actions did not carry much weight, the 3 presidential memoranda issued at the same time did. What is an executive/ presidential memo[randum]? According to New York Magazine, “executive memo” is just a less “controversial and politically charged” term for an executive order. But, technically it is a different type of “administrative order”, issued to manage and govern the actions, practices, and policies of the Executive Branch’s various departments and agencies. Though an executive memo is generally considered less “prestigious” than an executive order, they are both vaguely defined and often either one can be used to do the same thing. Whereas executive orders are numbered, memoranda are not numbered, not indexed and, until recently, difficult to quantify.

According to the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress No. 95-722 A,

“They differ in that executive orders must be published in the Federal Register whereas presidential memoranda are similarly published only if the President determines that they have “general applicability and legal effect.” [Note: That is a very important difference.] If issued under a valid claim of authority and published, executive orders and presidential memoranda have the force and effect of law and courts are required to take judicial notice of their existence…. One may say that the difference between executive orders and presidential memoranda may be, similar to executive orders and proclamations, one more of form than of substance…. [I]t is important to examine the legal basis for each executive order and presidential memoranda issued and the manner in which the President has used these instruments.”

exec orders and memosThe presidential memorandum comes in three flavors: presidential finding/determination, memorandum of disapproval, and hortatory memorandum. The first is a document issued by the White House stating a determination resulting in an official policy or position of the Executive Branch. It must be required by a statute and issued before certain actions can be taken. (E.g., President Clinton’s Presidential Determination 95-45, exempting the U.S. Air Force’s facility in the vicinity of Groom Lake, NV (aka “Area 51″) from environmental disclosure laws.) The second type is essentially a public veto statement, in which the President explains that he is withholding his approval for a particular bill/act/resolution for stated reason(s). The hortatory memorandum is a broad policy statement issued to direct (or “encourage”?) an executive agency to take certain (types of) actions. (More on these memos below.)

As for presidential proclamations, I’m going to cheat a bit and cite the following from Wikipedia (which, in turn, cites an authority):

“According to political science professor Phillip J. Cooper, a presidential proclamation “states a condition, declares a law and requires obedience, recognizes an event or triggers the implementation of a law (by recognizing that the circumstances in law have been realized)”. Presidents define situations or conditions on situations that become legal or economic truth. These orders carry the same force of law as executive orders -— the difference between the two is that executive orders are aimed at those inside government while proclamations are aimed at those outside government.

The administrative weight of these proclamations is upheld because they are often specifically authorized by congressional statute, making them “delegated unilateral powers”. Presidential proclamations are often dismissed as a practical presidential tool for policy making because of the perception of proclamations as largely ceremonial or symbolic in nature. However, the legal weight of presidential proclamations suggests their importance to presidential governance.”

Or, more succinctly, as per the San Diego State University on-line library:

“Proclamations (Proc.) are issued for ceremonial purposes (Proc. 7211 Parent’s Day) or as broad policy statements (Proc. 4865 High Seas Interdiction of Illegal Aliens).”

In my research, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which ostensibly freed the American slaves, was referred to as an executive order. However, given its name and the fact that it was a broad policy statement not limited to those inside government, it does indeed appear to be better classified as a presidential or executive proclamation.

All clear?

So, you may be asking, where is the threat from the Obama administration? Some have pointed to the number of executive orders issued, but liberals — including Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and the President himself — have countered that he has actually issued fewer executive orders than any president in the past century. And, as of Dec. 2014, at least, they are correct. But, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Obama has issued more presidential memos “than any other president in history -— using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders.” The report at usatoday.com continues…

“When these two forms of directives are taken together, Obama is on track to take more high-level executive actions than any president since Harry Truman battled the “Do Nothing Congress” almost seven decades ago, according to a USA TODAY review of presidential documents.

Obama has issued executive orders to give federal employees the day after Christmas off, to impose economic sanctions and to determine how national secrets are classified. He’s used presidential memoranda to make policy on gun control, immigration and labor regulations… [and] to declare Bristol Bay, Alaska, off-limits to oil and gas exploration.”

Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, observes that after laws and “normal” regulations, presidential memoranda now have the most regulatory impact.

C1-number-restrictions-executive-order_0

Note: The data shown in the above chart correspond to the number contained in executive orders and proclamations issued in the prior year.

But, even those numbers are insufficient. Think-tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Mercatus Center have pointed out that some executive orders (and proclamations) have much more impact on policy than others. So, Mercatus decided in 2014 to analyze the content, not just the number, of executive orders and proclamations. (I wish they had been able to include presidential memoranda in their study. According to USA Today, “About half of the memoranda published on the White House website are deemed so inconsequential that they’re not counted as memoranda in the Federal Register.”)

“[W]e have used RegData, a database producing statistics based on the Code of Federal Regulations, to examine some of the content of these executive orders and proclamations for the past six presidencies, through the end of Obama’s first term. In particular, we examine the usage of restrictions —- words that create binding, legal obligations, such as “shall” and “must.” Although the current administration has issued fewer executive orders than other modern administrations, the figures below show that its total usage of restrictions in executive orders and proclamations exceeds that of any of the past six administrations, with the exception of Clinton’s first term….

Executive orders and proclamations do not have to contain restrictions…. Executive orders can be used to provide information or suggestions, or they can be used to create constraints on actions sets in a way that is similar to regulation. Restrictions create binding, legal constraints, whereas suggestions may not….

Simply counting executive orders, pages, or words can produce misleading statistics. In legal language, at least, the frequency with which restrictions occur can serve as a proxy for measuring the overall restrictiveness of text. Content matters.”

(Check out the Mercatus report at the link to see more charts and further analysis, revealing additional trends. Also, the USA Today report is very eye-opening.)

These are not the only questionable methods the current administration uses to accomplish its policy goals, particularly in the face of pushback from a Republican majority in Congress. But, the somewhat deceptive use of presidential memoranda and the excessively restrictive nature of executive orders and proclamations — all of which carry legal force — reveals Obama’s always pushing the limits of his authority, even to the point of executive overreach.

As Crews says, Obama’s “imperious” use of pen-and-phone tactics are increasingly threatening, especially given the administration’s lack of transparency and accountability. It’s also easier to do, apparently, what with the increased intrusion of the federal government into the private sector. Crews also points out that, with the issuance of 12 memos over the first half of 2014, Obama was able to: “create a dubious new financial instrument, implement new positive rights regarding work hours and employment preferences, seem to nod toward California-style written consent before sex, blur energy and infrastructure in a manner aimed at extending government control and more.” All without an act of Congress.

President Obama says that, as long as Congress keeps obstructing his agenda, “I’ll keep taking actions on my own.” I believe him, and now we have a little better understanding of what that involves. If you aren’t angry or, at the very least, concerned about this, I hope your eyes are opened soon.

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Sustainer of the Universe

The God AbductionI published “The Right to Refuse Service” a day earlier than usual this week, so I decided to do a “bonus” post today. Besides, I hadn’t done anything science apologetic-y in a while. This is an excerpt from The God Abduction: How Scientific Discovery Strengthens the Case for a Creator by Ron Londen, writer, photographer, and self-described “lifelong science nerd”. I’m currently less than a third of the way through the book but am really enjoying it — delightfully & clearly written for the layman, providing lots of good information with plenty of end-notes referring curious readers to articles and books by notables in the various fields explored. Consider this post a sequel of sorts to my “Living on a Razor’s Edge” series….

“Remember back to Albert Einstein’s original idea of a “cosmological constant” (Chapter 3). He theorized an “antigravity” force that only acted at a distance, undetectable and irrelevant up close. He came up with the idea to allow general relativity to accommodate an eternal and unchanging universe. When the data came out strongly favoring an expanding universe, Einstein abandoned the cosmological constant, calling it the greatest blunder of his career. Eight decades later, the cosmological constant was discovered, performing the opposite function Einstein originally expected. How positively Einstein! Even his biggest mistake turned out to be correct.

The cosmological constant is also widely called “dark energy,” perhaps a rhetorical companion to “dark matter” and the recently discovered “dark flow,” which we won’t go into here. What’s with all the “dark” talk? Perhaps it’s a marketing ploy from Cosmology, Inc., to increase funding. Or maybe these terms are intended to make astronomers look dangerous and edgy, perhaps a ploy to attract more girls. If so, I predict failure.

(Let me beg the indulgence of the physics community for having a little fun at their expense. In truth, the term “dark energy” is invoked because there are several competing theories to explain the phenomena. The distinctions between them are technical and beyond the scope of this book. And no clear consensus has yet emerged. Suffice it to say whatever it is called or how it is explained, something is behaving very much like Einstein’s cosmological constant.)

There is a bigger point. The universe is flat, balancing on a knife-edge between wild expansion and a slowdown that will eventually collapse. “Flat” [as opposed to "open" or "closed"], as it turns out, is the most life-friendly condition for the universe, and we have the cosmological constant to thank for it.

But there is a theoretical fly in the observational ointment, and it’s a big one. The best theories of “quantum cosmology” — that is, using quantum mechanics (discussed in the next chapter) to explain the beginning of the universe — suggest that dark energy should actually be a very powerful factor, so powerful that it ought to rip the universe apart in a fraction of a second. Since the universe has not been ripped apart, scientists have assumed some unknown factor was driving the dark energy to zero by balancing one factor against the other. They didn’t know what was causing this equilibrium, but whatever it was appeared to balance out the cosmological constant to be zero — and zero is an easy number to ignore. But the 1998 discovery (and others since) have revealed a value that is not zero, and also much smaller than expected. The predicted value varies wildly from the actual measurement of the cosmological constant.

einstein_medHow much does theory disagree with fact? By 120 orders of magnitude. For decades, all observations indicated a cosmological constant of 0. Instead, we find a decimal point followed by 120 zeroes and a 1. “This apparent discrepancy would involve the most extreme fine-tuning problem known in physics,” wrote cosmologist Lawrence Krauss in a groundbreaking paper on the subject.

Something cancels the cosmological constant out to 119 decimal places, but fails at the 120th. What would happen if it didn’t? Using well-established methods of theoretical physics, as noted earlier, the “predicted” value would rip the universe apart. But what if dark energy were canceled out by, say, one less decimal place? Physicist Paul Davies weighs in:

So our existence depends on the dark energy’s not being too large. A factor of ten would suffice to preclude life: if space contained ten times as much dark energy as it actually does, the universe would fly apart too fast for galaxies to form. A factor of ten may seem like a wide margin, but one power of ten on a scale of 120 is a pretty close call. The cliche that ‘life is balanced on a knife-edge’ is a staggering understatement in this case: no knife in the universe could have an edge that fine.”

As noted earlier, an original recognition that the mass of the universe was incredibly fine-tuned was explained away by the idea of inflation. But what replaced it was fine-tuned to a vastly more precise degree, almost beyond the ability to visualize. The ratio represented by that fine-tuning, astronomer Hugh Ross observes, is “vastly greater than the difference between the mass of a single electron and the mass of the entire universe.”

The depth of the fine-tuning we encounter makes a subtle point about the difference between our world and our tools for exploring it. Our human efforts are characterized by hard-won progress. We struggle with the facts, we argue, and some theories gain sway at the expense of others. In that sense it is an evolutionary process, after a fashion — with the effort, intellect, and will of human scientists standing in for natural selection.

But our universe had no such latitude. It had to be right, exactly right — “dime in the universe” right — from the earliest conceivable instant. Our best scientists argue and struggle to find the truth, and over the course of a century they have found this: an unexplainable moment forming a universe that is incomprehensibly fine-tuned for life.”

Reading and hearing of such exquisite fine-tuning of the universe for life, down to the subatomic level and the very fundamental forces of nature, reminds me of God’s incredibly great love for us. It also demonstrates His incalculable power and the fact that He not only created all matter, energy, space, & time, but He continues to hold it all together — balanced on that “knife’s edge” — as an act of His almighty will. There are many Bible passages that speak of this, but here is one of my favorites:

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power….”  — Hebrews 1:1-3a (NASB)

Yahweh, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe!

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The Right to Refuse Service

“We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

“No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

– signs posted on restaurants nationwide

I’m sure you have all heard about the “Sweet Cakes” case, in which Aaron and Melissa Klein were recently ordered to pay $135,000 in emotional damages to a lesbian couple because they refused to bake them a wedding cake based on their religious convictions. (And, now, the state of Oregon says it will place a lien on the Kleins’ home, if they don’t hurry up and pay.) The Kleins didn’t refuse to bake said cake because the potential customers were lesbians, but because the cake was for celebrating something the Kleins could not in good conscience be party to. Commenting on the case, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said,

“You shouldn’t be able to turn people away based on who they are.”

She is absolutely wrong.

Assuming you own the business, you should have every right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. I don’t care if they are LGBT or straight; liberal or conservative; Christian, Muslim, Jew, or atheist; black or white; Trekkie or Whovian; open carry or pacifist; vegan or meat-eater. I also don’t care if you are a racist, bigot, or generic jerk, or if you have legitimate, practical and/or principled reasons for discriminating against one or more groups, characteristics, or behaviors. If it’s your business, you should be able to serve or not serve whomever you want, in general or only in particular circumstances, for whatever bleepin’ reason you please!

AAUGH!!!

AAUGH!!!

You should be able to make this known with signs or word-of-mouth, via social media or traditional media, or not at all until a certain situation arises. Of course, as soon as any such restrictions to your clientele become known, you run the risk of losing business, because even people whom you would not turn away but who object to your policy can & will take their business elsewhere. On the other hand, others will appreciate and support you all the more. You chalk it up to competitive risk within a free-market system and go into it with eyes wide open. That’s up to you. And any businesses involved in marketing, tax prep, vendors, etc., that you want to do business with should have the right to accept or refuse your business, for the same reasons and with the same potential ramifications.

I don’t care if you run a bakery, print shop, B&B, restaurant, gun store, florist, photography studio, computer repair service, or anything else. No private business should be told — either by government or by any other group (unless you voluntarily submit to their authority) — who they must or must not serve or what kinds of services/products they must or must not provide. No one has a right to demand that you serve them, nor do they have a “right” to not be offended or have their feelings hurt. “That’s mean! That’s not fair!” These aren’t legal arguments. And you should not be under threat of a lawsuit — with potentially huge fines, legal fees, even jailtime, putting your business, home, and/or life at risk — for not serving them. That’s just wrong and a violation of your rights! The fact that this is even an issue in this of all countries is a symptom of the sad state of affairs we are in and the constant battle to maintain our constitutionally recognized freedoms.

AAarrgh!!

Now, many of you are probably yelling at me through your screen and reminding me of anti-discrimination law like the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin — “places of public accommodation” being hotels, restaurants, theaters, banks, health clubs, and stores. (Non-profits, e.g., churches (for now), are generally exempt.) Also, there is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination by private businesses based on disability. In return, I would first point out that you can refuse to serve someone even if they are in a protected group, but the refusal can’t be arbitrary and you can’t apply it to just one group of people. (Unfortunately, this can work for or against you, depending on the judge.) But, I also question the constitutionality of such anti-discrimination laws and suspect that they impinge on First Amendment rights like freedom of association and, in cases like that of “Sweet Cakes”, religious liberty and freedom of conscience. I would also point to the benefits of full competitiveness in a free-market capitalist economy and the often detrimental effects of unnecessary regulation and other manner of government intervention in business.

But, my rant is not really about what laws may or may not be in force right now. I’m talking about what, in my humble opinion, should be the case. Ultimately, it’s your business. Barring any criminal activity or issues of genuine public health & safety, you should be able to determine your own clientele. It’s that simple. Or, at least, it should be.

OK, I’ve said my piece….

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On This 4th of July

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

I hope y’all are enjoying your long holiday weekends! If you have been fortunate enough to have good weather, fantastic! My family didn’t plan any activities, and it’s just as well, because it has been raining on and off here all weekend. Even got a brief thunderstorm Saturday. But, rain or shine, it is still time to remember and celebrate the sacrifices made in the founding of this nation, and the many freedoms we still — for the most part and for the moment, anyway — enjoy as citizens and residents of the United States of America.

Fun Fact: Nobody actually signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776!

america-eagle-flag-fb-cover

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee presented his resolution for independence from Great Britain to the 2nd Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Not all the colonies were ready to commit, so the delegates took a few weeks off to rest, discuss informally, and communicate with their constituents. Meanwhile, a “Committee of Five” — with Thomas Jefferson as lead penman — was tasked with drafting a formal declaration, which was presented for review on June 28. Congress then reconvened on July 1 to resume debate on Lee’s Resolution. The next day, July 2, they formally adopted the resolution for independence, with 12 of the 13 colonies voting in favor. (Still-hesitant New York abstained.) The day after that, John Adams wrote the following to his wife, Abigail, about the momentous occasion:

“… The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

Of course, we now know that it was July 4th, when the 2nd Continental Congress formally adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence, that became historically celebrated. But, Adams got pretty much all the rest of it correct, even if the celebratory specifics have been modified over time and vary from place to place.

Despite later claims by Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson that they signed the document on July 4, most historians agree that this was false. New York’s delegates finally gave their official support to the Declaration of Independence on July 7, after receiving authorization from their home assembly. But, it wasn’t until August 2, after the Declaration had been copied in clear handwriting onto parchment, that most of the 56 signatories signed the official document. (A few held out until a later date, and two never signed at all.) Thus marks the formal and auspicious birth of the great “American Experiment” that continues even today.

Now, we don’t claim to be a perfect nation or to consistently actualize our founding principles. Our nation and our government will never be perfect. It never can be, because ‘We The People’ are imperfect. But, what we have done for the good, domestically and around the world, over the past 239 years has been truly amazing and unmatched in blood and treasure. It is easy to get caught up in the politics and the various worldview battles evidenced by daily headlines. But, although we are under assault from without and within, I firmly believe that the U.S.A. is still the greatest, most exceptional nation that has ever been. I, for one, am Proud to be an American!

That said, I invite you to follow this link to a video of country music legend Lee Greenwood, backed up by the Jay Sekulow Band, performing Greenwood’s beloved tribute to America, “God Bless the U.S.A.”. Enjoy!

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Executive Authority vs. Executive Privilege

“We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” — President Obama, not-so-subtly implying that he’ll do whatever he can to advance his agenda

As you may have noticed, the current administration of the U.S. government, arguably more than any before it, has a habit of pushing the boundaries of its authority (to put it mildly). It isn’t very subtle about it, either. In fact, usually its efforts are rather bold (e.g., unconstitutional “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB); “executive amnesty”) and obvious to those paying attention. Unfortunately, the other two branches of government haven’t always taken the necessary measures to put the President in his place. Or, whatever they do is too little, too late. But, what exactly is “executive authority”, what are its limits, and how does it differ from, say, executive privilege, another term thrown around that sounds like it might be sort of similar? I decided to do a little research to help clarify.

checks and balancesFirst, let’s look at the words separately. The adjective “executive” is defined generally as “of, relating to, or suited for carrying out plans, duties, etc.,” or, even more relevantly, as “pertaining to or charged with the execution of laws and policies or the administration of public affairs.” (See Dictionary.com.) The noun “authority” means “the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine,” though it can also refer to “a person or body of persons in whom authority is vested, as a governmental agency.”

Now, a quick review from American Government (or Civics) class. In the U.S., we have a separation of powers between three branches of government: the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive. The first consists of the two houses of the U.S. Congress — i.e., the House of Representatives and the Senate. Their main purpose is to make (i.e., write and pass) federal laws. The Judiciary consists of the federal court system, with the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) being at the top. Their main purpose is to interpret the laws. The Executive branch consists of the President, the Vice President, the Cabinet, and various administrative agencies (e.g., IRS, EPA, FDA, SEC, Cabinet-level departments) that help to carry out executive functions. Those functions are the implementation, enforcement, and administration of federal laws, as directed by the President. The President is also head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces. (For more details, visit whitehouse.gov. Wikipedia gets some of this shamefully wrong.)

It shouldn’t be too hard to realize that “executive authority” refers to the jurisdiction or rights of the President (with the aid of his underlings) to perform the various duties of the Executive Branch. It does not include creating or interpreting laws or performing any other duties reserved by the Constitution for the Legislative and Judiciary Branches or for the individual States and/or the citizens themselves. (See Article II of the Constitution.) These would be examples of “executive overreach”. Of course, this works both ways, since the other branches and the States should not be allowed to assume or usurp duties that belong to the Executive Branch or one another, either. (Unfortunately, the Supreme Court seems to be effectively (re-)writing laws, these days.) This function of the separate branches of government with their respective domains and responsibility of keeping an eye on each other is called “checks and balances” and is designed to prevent any one branch from getting too powerful.

“Executive privilege”, on the other hand, is a totally different sort of thing. As per Dictionary.com, a “privilege” is “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most,” or, more specifically, “a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities.” In this context, “executive privilege” has a very particular application. Here is the legal definition (from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary):

“The privilege that allows the president and other high officials of the executive branch to keep certain communications private if disclosing those communications would disrupt the functions or decision-making processes of the executive branch. As demonstrated by the Watergate hearings, this privilege does not extend to information germane to a criminal investigation.”

frabz-holderironyHistorically, a president will invoke executive privilege in an effort to resist a subpoena or other means by which Congress or the courts demand access to information and/or personnel from the Executive Branch. Sometimes, the administration will then volunteer limited or partial access to what was requested. If challenged, the “executive privilege” invocation may be denied, if SCOTUS determines the reasoning for it was insufficient and that the larger public interest is served by full(er) disclosure. An example of the George W. Bush administration invoking executive privilege was during the investigation into former presidential counsel Harriet Miers. An example from the Obama administration can be found in the infamous “Fast and Furious” investigation.

It must be very tempting to abuse this privilege and, to be fair, it isn’t entirely clear what its limits are. The concept is not explicitly found in the Constitution but has been inferred by SCOTUS as either inherent in “separation of powers” or rooted within “the supremacy of each branch within its own assigned area of constitutional duties.” But, it is not meant to be simply a CYA maneuver for the President, nor does it appear to be the presidential version of “pleading the 5th”.

In the near future, I hope to also address executive actions, orders, and memoranda, which are often the means by which Obama (as with others before him) attempts to overreach his constitutionally granted executive authority.

‘Til next week….

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Replacing Hamilton on the U.S. $10 Bill

“Our democracy is a work in progress. This decision of putting a woman in the $10 bill reflects our aspirations for the future as much as a reflection of the past.”  — Jack Lew, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

You’ve probably already heard about it, and if you haven’t, you’ll likely hear more about it soon. The U.S. Treasury will be replacing the visage of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with that of a woman-to-be-determined. Or, rather, Hamilton will share the bill with a woman, though it hasn’t yet been decided how.

“There are many options for continuing to honor Hamilton. While one option is producing two bills, we are exploring a variety of possibilities.”

Mercy Otis Warren

Mercy Otis Warren

The new bill(s) will debut in 2020 — 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote — and the theme of the redesign will be “democracy”. Apparently, there was a brief, grassroots campaign called “Women on 20s” that gathered signatures to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. But, despite the President’s apparent approval, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew decided to make the change to the $10 bill instead, since it was already due for a security redesign. This got me wondering about what the guidelines have been historically for deciding whose face will grace a particular denomination of paper currency, and who makes that final decision. I found this on the Treasury Dept.’s website:

“As with our nation’s coinage, the Secretary of the Treasury usually selects the designs shown on United States currency. Unless specified by an Act of Congress, the Secretary generally has the final approval. This is done with the advice of Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) officials.

The law prohibits portraits of living persons from appearing on Government Securities. Therefore, the portraits on our currency notes are of deceased persons whose places in history the American people know well.”

Nothing more about what kind of people should be honored, but I guess that mostly answers my question. I was just thinking that they needed to be a president, statesman, or other significant holder of federal office. I guess not. I also thought that it might be limited to those who lived and were in office predominantly in the 18th and 19th centuries. (I.e., centered mostly around the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.) Wrong again. The discontinued $500 bill featured William McKinley (1843-1901), the $1000 bill featured Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), the $10,000 bill had Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873) on it, and the $100,000 bill had the only portrait of someone who didn’t hold public office until the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924).

Social media has apparently been all atwitter (yes, that was a pun) about this, lately. Many from the political right are rather skeptical about the reasoning behind this decision. Some think that Hamilton is “a little too white for this administration” and that this is merely one more effort by “progressives” to remove “rich, white slave owners” — i.e., the Founding Fathers and others — from U.S. currency and other places of honor. Some have also suggested that doing this now will somehow give a boost to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Personally, I’m not sure how much of that I buy into. Other commentators have made other good points. S.E. Cupp, for instance, thinks it is an “empty symbolic gesture.”

“Surely, putting a woman on a U.S. banknote will be an important step forward for gender equality and advancing women’s rights, with a tangible, measurable return on investment, so to speak. Sorry to be sarcastic, but I just can’t summon the excitement to celebrate something so trivial and, in a way, insulting to women….

Why, after decades of complaining that our American economic system is oppressive, male-organized, unfair and broken, are modern feminists now begging to be featured on its most famous symbol? Moreover, what good are symbols in confronting reality? Putting a woman on the $10 bill has nothing to do with ending domestic violence, for example, or with preventing college rape. It won’t change the difficulties a woman faces balancing work and home life.”

Among other things, Mona Charen calls out the stupidity and arrogance of the move:

“Let’s start with stupidity. If there’s one figure whose face arguably does not deserve to adorn the currency, it’s the man on the $20 bill, not the $10. That is Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, adamant opponent of paper currency (!), friend of slave power and scourge of Native Americans. Who can forget that when the Cherokee appealed their treatment by the state of Georgia to the Supreme Court and won, Jackson refused to enforce the law? Jackson pushed for and signed the Indian Removal Act, which led directly to the forced deportation of nearly 17,000 Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee and others — known as the Trail of Tears….

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

Here’s the arrogance: The Treasury Department is downgrading Hamilton, without whom there might not be a United States currency, just because they yearn to check a “diversity” box, and without consulting the American people. Hamilton was a poor kid from the West Indies who immigrated to New York, joined the patriot army at age 17 or 18 and organized an artillery company, became an aide to Gen. George Washington, authored more than half of the Federalist Papers, and served as the first treasury secretary of the United States, where he structured the finances of our infant republic so that we didn’t drown in debt. He was also a fierce opponent of slavery. Hamilton belongs in the pantheon of American heroes….

Here’s the solution: Upgrade the security features on the $10, but keep Hamilton in his spot. Dump Jackson from the $20 and hold an essay competition among American high school seniors for his replacement. It would be a great exercise in the appreciation of excellence. Both sexes may be nominated. There are many American women who could be chosen: Emily Dickinson, Harriet Tubman, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Susan B. Anthony? But by announcing in advance that you’re choosing a woman, you’ve guaranteed that the honor will be downgraded to the ‘best woman’ rather than the best candidate.”

I am certainly not against the idea of having a woman and/or person of color on a U.S. banknote, as long as s/he is truly worthy of the honor and that another, true American hero is not displaced in the process. I absolutely agree with Charen (and Steve Forbes and others) that, if any, Jackson should be the one to go. (Note: Jackson’s military victories in the War of 1812 and/or the fact that he founded what became the Democratic Party may be additional reasons/excuses that the current administration has for not replacing him.) Also, it would indeed be preferable to have more input from the citizenry before making such an historic decision. But, assuming Sec. Lew won’t change his mind, the public can still chime in. The Treasury Dept. has a special site set up with more info on the subject, as well as the opportunity for people to suggest who they think should be given the honor of joining(?) Hamilton on the $10 note.

In addition to those Charen noted, various suggestions I have read included Frances Perkins, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Wilma Mankiller, Ayn Rand, etc. Here are nine that I like….

Abigail Adams (1744–1818): Influential “Founding Mother” and First Lady (i.e., wife of John Adams, 1st U.S. Vice President and 2nd U.S. President)

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906): Abolitionist, suffragist, and women’s rights activist

Clara Barton (1821-1912): Teacher and Founder of the American Red Cross

Sarah Livingston Jay (1756-1802): Influential “Founding Mother” and wife of John Jay (NY governor and first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court)

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880): Abolitionist and early feminist

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896): Renowned author, including on such controversial topics as slavery (e.g., Uncle Tom’s Cabin), religious reform, and gender roles

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Former slave, abolitionist, and women’s rights advocate

Harriet Tubman (c.1822-1913): Former slave and noted ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railroad; also served as a scout, spy, and nurse [for the Union] during the Civil War

Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814): Influential “Founding Mother”, author, women’s rights advocate, and “Conscience of the American Revolution”

If aesthetics is a concern (i.e., having an attractive or noble visage), I suppose a few could be ruled out. But, I don’t know how much of a deciding factor that will be. I tend to favor the idea of honoring someone from the Revolutionary War era, especially since that is when our (representative) democracy began. With that in mind, I favor either Adams or Warren. Then again, the biggest advances in civil rights for non-whites and for women began in the mid- to late-1800s. For that era, I’m leaning toward Tubman or possibly Anthony. (Hey, if Washington and Lincoln can each get a coin and a bill, maybe Anthony can, too?) But, I’d be happy with any of them, I suppose. Heck, if they get enough good suggestions, maybe they’ll replace Jackson next.

What about you? Do you have a favorite? Or, do you think the whole thing is ridiculous?

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Advances in Bionics

Yes, I realize that the title might make you think this post belongs on my “Heroes and Aliens” blog, but this is about the real-world development of “bionic” prostheses and orthoses. Last month, I ran across a list of really cool, recent advances in the field of bionics that I thought would be fun to investigate a bit further and share with my readers. (H/T Dr. Hossein Eslambolchi) I tracked down a few links that will show and explain further the concepts, design, and application of the new tech. It’s some exciting stuff that will be able to help many who have lost (or never had) limbs or have suffered Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). Check it out!

Tendon Transfer: Researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Washington have developed a new tendon transfer surgical procedure that “uses an implanted passive hierarchical artificial pulley mechanism for attaching multiple tendons to a single [undamaged] muscle, in place of directly suturing tendons to the muscle.” They still need a few years to develop biocompatible materials and coatings and such, then more testing. But, the improved natural grasping function (with less muscle energy) will help people recover function lost due to illness or injury.

How neurobridge technology works

How neurobridge technology works

Neurobridge sensors: A collaboration between The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and non-profit Batelle, this new technology bypasses the damaged nerves causing paralysis. The brain’s signals are routed through special sensors implanted in the brain’s motor cortex, where the signals are recoded and re-sent to directly stimulate the muscle via a special “sleeve”.

ReWalk Robotics: Almost a year ago, ReWalk Robotics announced that the FDA had approved the ReWalk Personal System for home and community use. The system is essentially a wearable exoskeleton that helps paraplegics stand and walk by giving powered assistance at the hip, knees, and ankles. “ReWalk provides user-initiated mobility through the integration of a wearable brace support, a computer-based control system, and motion sensors. The system allows independent, controlled walking while mimicking the natural gait patterns of the legs, similar to that of an able-bodied person.”

BiOM: The BiOM T2 System utilizes a battery-powered ankle-foot prosthesis with an internal spring, which compresses to absorb impact and releases to propel the foot forward. “Personal Bionics™ emulates a specific individual’s muscle and tendon function through unique Bionic Propulsion technology. People with amputations now have an ankle device that controls ankle stiffness and power during the stance phase of walking, emulating natural muscle function and enhancing their mobility.” Also, “The device replaces the function of the individual’s lost muscle and tendon anatomy and provides more energy than it stores.”

Intraosseous Transcutaneous Amputation Prosthesis (ITAP): Stanmore Implants is conducting a UK study on a bone implant that provides a secure, easily-accessed, irritation-free attachment point for a prosthetic limb. In other words, no socket required. “This means that loads experienced during daily activities, such as walking, can be taken through the skeleton rather than through soft tissue.” (Note: Current study is only being done on above-knee amputees, as yet.)

Implantable Myoelectric Sensors (IMES): A multi-institutional team, including the Illinois Institute of Technology (see link), has developed a system consisting of “multiple single-channel implanted EMG sensors which provide control signals for control of artificial limbs.” With IMES in each affected muscle, the amputee gains 6-8 degrees of movement at the same time, as opposed to only two degrees provided by surface EMGs.

Tactile feedback: Researchers are developing haptic (i.e., tactile feedback) technology to give a more sensitive sense of touch to a robotic hand (which may eventually be applied to prosthetic limbs). Through a  combination of hardware & software, the hand gains the ability to determine an object’s relative hardness or even shape (e.g., round or square).

Luke Arm (photo: DARPA)

Luke Arm (photo: DARPA)

The Luke Arm: After almost eight years of development and testing, the DEKA Arm System has been approved for commercialization by the FDA. Nicknamed the “Luke Arm” (after Luke Skywalker’s bionic limb in the Star Wars sequels) and funded by DARPA, the system was created by Dean Kamen and his DEKA R&D Corp. “What makes the DEKA Arm unique is that it can carry out multiple, simultaneous powered movements, and its wrist and fingers can adjust its positions to perform six different user-selectable grips. In addition, force sensors let the robotic hand precisely control its grasp…. [S]pecial switches on the user’s feet… wirelessly transmit signals to the arm’s computer, allowing the user to control multiple joints simultaneously.”

Cyborg Beast: For something a little more low-tech for children, try this: an open source-designed, 3D-printed plastic hand that is mechanically controlled by moving one’s wrist or elbow. Heckuva lot cheaper than the usual devices, too!

There are other revolutionary advancements being made, of course, but these nine are probably a good representation of the variety of technologies and approaches being used in this field. Advances like these also represent hope, since they will one day provide or improve not only mobility (including range, flexibility, and normalcy) but also the confidence and independence that goes with it. Plus, there’s that whole potential for superhuman performance that would be pretty cool, too!

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What to Make of Jade Helm 15

“All we want to do is be sure our guys are trained for combat overseas. That’s it.”  — Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria

“Friends, when it comes to freedom, we must question, verify and vet everyone and everything. We must never check our brains or blindly trust, especially the government.”  — Chuck Norris, actor, author, and activist

Are you scared?

First, what is “Jade Helm 15″ (aka “”Operation Jade Helm”)? It’s the codename for a huge military exercise — or series of exercises — to be carried out across the nation under the purview of U.S. Special Operations Command. Beginning June 15, 1200 troops from the Green Berets, Navy SEALs, the 82nd Airborne, and possibly others will conduct counterinsurgency training in relatively-isolated areas within at least nine (originally seven) states ostensibly chosen for their terrain — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah. A statement from the Pentagon stated that locals “can expect nothing much different from their day-to-day activities since much of the exercise will be conducted in remote areas. The most noticeable effect the exercise may have on the local communities is an increase in vehicle and military air traffic and associated noise.” Also, there should be a brief economic boost for businesses serving the visiting troops until exercises end September 15.

Jade Helm convoyThis has some people concerned that the exercise will be either the beginnings of martial law or, at least, training and/or conditioning for imposing it in the near future. Since Jade Helm was announced on March 24, and with subsequent sightings of long convoys of military vehicles snaking their way to the areas in question over the past several weeks, dire conspiracy theories have made their way into the public conversation. Chief among the propagators is paranoid nutcase and radio host of “Infowars”, Alex Jones. Rasmussen polls in mid-May had nearly half (45%) of likely voters “concerned that the government will use U.S. military training operations to impose greater control over some states.” Also, “Among voters who oppose military exercises in their state, 82% are concerned that the federal government has greater control in mind.”

Initially, due to his own concerns and those of many of his constituents, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called for the National Guard — well, technically, the Texas State Guard — to keep an eye on the visiting troops and make sure the rights of Texans were not infringed. Personally, I don’t blame him (and neither does Chuck Norris), but his predecessor, Rick Perry, disagreed with the decision and the message he felt it sent. By the time the above-mentioned poll results were released, however, Abbott was singing a new tune:

“[M]y office has been in communication with military at multiple levels, and we have the greatest assurances that these are normal military operations and they’re going to work out just fine.”

Oh, I feel so much better! /sarc/ All along, the federal powers-that-be have attempted to reassure everyone that nothing sinister was underway.

“These are among the most patriotic, courageous, independent-thinking people I have ever been around. They are not robots that are going to go door to door confiscating people’s guns, or rounding people up into vacant Wal-Marts. That’s not going to happen.”  — Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services, speaking with the Wichita Falls Times Record News

“In no way will the constitutional rights or civil liberties of any American citizen be infringed upon while this exercise is being conducted.”  — Josh Earnest, White House press secretary

Of course, if something sinister was being planned, they wouldn’t exactly admit it, would they? In fact, they would probably issue statements, well, like those above.

Some have indicated that it is an insult to question the motives of the maneuvers. Former Gov. Rick Perry, who I like a lot, said as much to the Dallas Morning News:

“It’s OK to question your government. I do it on a regular basis. But the military is something else. Our military is quite trustworthy. The civilian leadership, you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform.”

But, see, the enlisted men and women in uniform follow orders and aren’t always aware of the big picture or the motives of their superiors. It is precisely those superiors — i.e., President Obama and some of the generals (after he purged many from the ranks) — whose motives I and many others (e.g., Norris, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul) question. As Norris put it,

“[W]hat’s under question are those who are pulling the strings at the top of Jade Helm 15 back in Washington. The U.S. government says, ‘it’s just a training exercise.’ But I’m not sure the term ‘just’ has any reference to reality when the government uses it. It’s pretty sad and bad when major military ops are ordered in a large, fiery state like Texas and not even the governor or its senators know the specifics. It’s neither over-reactionary nor conspiratorial to call into question or ask for transparency about Jade Helm 15 or any other government activity. To those who merely think we should check our brains at the door of the White House and trust what the government does, I would reiterate to you the words of one of our government’s primary founders, Benjamin Franklin, who said, ‘distrust and caution are the parents of security.’”

After being misquoted by some in the press, Norris later clarified:

“I never ever said that that seven-state U.S. military operation intended to take over Texas…. I do believe, in addition to the largest domestic military training, it is also a display of power (near the southern border) intended for deterrence of enemies like ISIS and other terrorists, who the FBI have already said are present in all 50 states…. And I will reiterate again that the White House and the Pentagon could have easily avoided any controversy about Jade Helm 15 if its primary Washington leaders would have called for a confidential informative meeting with the respected governors of the seven states in which it is being held this summer.

They also would have been very wise not to place on Jade Helm’s official operation map that Texas and Utah were ‘hostile states.’ When will they learn? Don’t mess with Texas!”

Screen-Shot-2015-04-18-at-7.52.04-AMAll kidding aside, Norris makes a great point that the communications efforts have been rather deficient and contributed to suspicions. Regarding the “hostile states” matter, given what sort of training Jade Helm is to be, it makes sense that certain areas on the map would be designated as being held by the “enemy”. I mean, these are essentially “war games”, right?

Back to the matter of communications, it now appears that more than just the seven states listed above are hosting unusual military maneuvers. For example, just the other day there were reports of similar training operations up north.

“[T]he U.S. Army is also conducting military exercises in Flint, Mich., where residents say they were caught off-guard when explosions rocked portions of the city. A spokesman for Flint city government says the blasts were part of a training program to help prepare the military for combat in urban environments.”

Hmmm. Michigan is known to have large numbers of Muslims — possibly the most of any state in the union –, including many in Flint. Norris said he thought Jade Helm served as “a display of power… intended for deterrence of enemies like ISIS.” So, maybe this is a not so subtle way of letting the more radical elements know that the Army is nearby and what it can do? Still, why couldn’t City Hall have given local residents a heads-up beforehand?

As for Jade Helm, when it comes right down to it, I am of two minds on the matter. I don’t want to give credence to alarmist, conspiracy-minded rantings. I don’t want to believe that so blatant a move to control the populace would be made by even this administration, let alone with the cooperation of the Pentagon and members of Congress. On the other hand, there are misguided people everywhere, and given the way things are going in this nation, I wouldn’t put it past Obama et al. to attempt something this extreme. Does that make me paranoid? Better to be cautious than to assume the government is entirely benevolent. I think Franklin and the rest of the Founding Fathers would agree.

What do I make of Jade Helm 15? Honestly, I just… don’t… know.

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Ben Carson on Political Correctness

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”  — Benjamin Franklin, author, inventor, political activist, Founding Father

So-called “political correctness” has increasingly become the bane of the First Amendment and anyone who understands and supports it. Most limitations on free speech are dangerous, and when government takes it upon itself to outlaw certain types of speech (e.g., “hate speech”), the Constitution is further eroded and, as Franklin says, we are on the road to tyranny. Even before such legal measures are officially taken, there is plenty of pressure from certain people — mostly, but not exclusively, on the Left — to badger and shame the general public into conforming to their ideas of what types of speech should be acceptable. Only certain words allowed, certain topics avoided.

200_one_nationIn 2013 Dr. Ben Carson gave his second keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast. You may remember that it caused some stirring in Washington and around the nation — nervousness and offense from the Left, excitement from the Right — which led to early calls of “Ben Carson for President”. See, Carson isn’t afraid to say what he thinks needs to be said. So, without intending to offend anyone, his somewhat extemporaneous speech included remarks indicating he was clearly not on board with the President’s policies. This was especially awkward/entertaining, because the President was sitting just a couple chairs away. Obama was clearly uncomfortable, but when it was suggested afterward that Carson call to apologize for offending the President, Carson did not think such a call was warranted.

In his recent book, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future, Dr. Carson talks a lot about the need for open and honest communication, if we are going to solve this country’s problems. “Political correctness” is a huge hindrance to this effort, so he spends some time early on discussing it. I don’t always agree with Carson or his approach to some things, but in this I think he makes some great points and suggestions for overcoming this barrier to solutions which also serves to undermine our freedoms and make many of our problems worse.

“Self-appointed political correctness police (PCP) have set up speech guidelines that go far beyond the requirements of kindness, good manners, education, and tact. They forbid the use of the word slavery by conservatives, the mention of Nazism by conservatives, or the mention of homosexuality in anything other than a positive context, to name a few of their rules. Going even further, they continually grow their list of terms they believe are offensive, tripping up innocent people with their increasingly strict speech code. By bludgeoning people who violate these rules, the PCP establish a chilling control over the speech of a nation that was founded on the principles of freedom of speech. Intent on managing the national conversation, they mock and belittle anyone who violates their tenets of speech or behavior with such ferocity that few people will dare trespass their boundaries….

Many well-meaning Americans have bought into the PC speech code, thinking that by being extra careful not to offend anyone we will achieve unity. What they fail to realize is that this is a false unity that prevents us from talking about important issues and is a Far Left strategy to paralyze us while they change our nation. People have been led to become so sensitive that fault can be found in almost anything anyone says because somewhere, somehow, someone will be offended by it.

To stop this, Americans need to recognize what is happening, speak up courageously, avoid fearful or angry responses, and ignore the barking and snarling as we put political correctness to bed forever. This is the reason why I choose to continue speaking out despite the many efforts of the secular progressives to discredit and silence me. It is also the reason why I continue to encourage Americans to stand up for the freedoms that were hard-won and must be preserved if we are to remain a free society….

When talking about hypersensitivity in our society, it is important to distinguish between those who are truly sensitive to comments and those instigators and manipulators with feigned sensitivity and outrage. To the first group I would say it’s time to grow up and start thinking about what you can do to contribute to society’s well-being instead of choosing to be a victim of speech that is sometimes intentionally cruel and at other times completely innocent. The best way not to be easily injured by others’ speech is to step out of the center of the circle so everything is not about you. By thinking about others and looking at things from other people’s perspectives, there is much less time to feel that someone is picking on you or your interests….

The real key to staying cool and calm is to relinquish selfishness and always consider the feelings of others. When someone is being particularly mean and nasty, I simply think to myself, He or she used to be a cute little baby. I wonder what happened? Thinking about that question will soften your attitude and lessen the likelihood of an inflammatory confrontation….

Sometimes a true wound can be so deep that it clouds the thoughts of the injured party to the point that they can no longer be objective. In such cases, continued explanations tend to result in diminishing returns or even exacerbations of the misunderstanding…. Sometimes you just have to realize that you cannot heal all wounds no matter how hard you try.

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In today’s political scene, some people are so traumatized by perceived past injustices that they cannot conceive of any good thing that a group member who they believe has been unfair to them can do. They tend to demonize these individuals for past wrongs perpetrated by others and there is no changing their minds. It is important for the demonized group to understand this mentality and patiently attempt to undo the damage that has resulted in such attitudes. Both Republicans and Democrats can benefit from this advice.

Whether by creating hypersensitivity or drawing angry reactions, [Far Leftist activist Saul] Alinsky’s organizers’ goal is to make the societal majority feel that their opinion is the minority opinion and that the organizers’ opinion is the majority opinion. The ability to co-opt the mainstream media in this endeavor is a gigantic coup. If the majority of people who are rational, reasonable, and full of common sense feel that their opinions are out of sync with everyone else, it is easy to shut them up and beat them into submission. This is what has occurred in America today. Hopefully by bringing this to light, more people will see the necessity of seizing the banner of bravery just like Nathan Hale, Patrick Henry, and many others in the past who stood up to tyranny.

Why was freedom of speech so important to our nation’s founders? Many had come from countries like England where verbally opposing the king frequently resulted in a jail sentence or even death. The founders also felt that the free exchange of ideas would result in better government and would prevent government from becoming too big and self-important. These are the very reasons we must once again insist on freedom of speech and expression, and we should be repulsed by the very idea of political correctness that muzzles the populace.

If we are to survive as a united nation, we must learn how to engage in civil discussion of our differences without becoming bitter enemies. We cannot fall for the Saul Alinsky trick of not having a conversation while try to demonize each other…. [L]et’s toss out the hypersensitivity and roll up our sleeves and start working together to solve our problems. If each of us is willing to extend the benefit of the doubt or overlook verbal missteps, political correctness will become impotent.”

Wise words. I hope I can follow them consistently. What about you?

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