An Excellent Question

Byron York: "If Hillary becomes president, who will make her obey the law?"

It appears to be the case that no one can make the President obey the law, though a united Congress can impeach him (or her, in Hillary's case). However, there's no reason to believe that Congress will unite on the point in the supermajority required.

So: no one will make her obey the law. Next question: what are the consequences of turning her loose from all legal restraints, coupled with the power invested in a President?

UPDATE: Related.

American Trains Iranian Fighter Pilots

I expect that this guy and I must know some of the same people, because I've been hearing this story too. It's certainly not implausible, given the tight ties between the Iranians and the Iraqi Security Forces right now. It would be a little surprising if there weren't infiltration by Iranian agents.

Clinton Cash

The amounts are very large.
According to Sirota’s accounting from public records, the Clinton-led State Department authorized $165 billion in sales to 20 nations that donated to the foundation. State also authorized another $151 billion in “Pentagon-brokered deals” with 16 nations that coughed up cash for the family charity. Some of the defense contractors involved also donated to the foundation, and a few of them paid big money to Bill Clinton for speeches.

The US routinely conducts arms sales to allies, but this wasn’t a case of business as usual. Comparing the three full fiscal years of Hillary’s tenure at State to the corresponding timeframe of the Bush administration’s second term, Sirota found that the State Department nearly doubled the sales to those nations, and increased the amount of Pentagon sales by 143 percent.
On the other hand, it is possible to push this point too far.
Sirota notes that the Clinton Foundation took cash from regimes like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Algeria, and Hamas’s diplomatic ally Qatar while approving large arms sales. The Israelis objected strenuously to a $29 billion arms sale to the Saudis, and even Clinton warned about their lack of cooperation on counterterrorism strategy. Qatari cooperation against terrorism was “considered to be the worst in the region,” Hillary also declared in internal memos exposed by Wikileaks years later.
Qatar is also a key US ally, and the home of US Central Command's forward-deployed headquarters. Painting them as merely Hamas's ally obscures that the picture is not as clean. They are also our diplomatic go-between when we want to talk with the Taliban. Sometimes, in diplomacy as in war, you have to work with actors whose motives are dubious from your position. Probably our motives appear dubious at times to them.

The story is powerful enough as a painting of the appearance of massive corruption and conflict of interests. Trying to make it into a 'Clintons have ties to terrorist supporters' story is too far. As a diplomat, it was her job to have ties with people who support terrorism. Sometimes diplomacy means routing them something they want. It's the nature of the business, and it's a necessary business for nations to engage in sometimes.

Eternal Punishment

Generally a sentence to punishment like this has been practically reserved to the divine, and for good reasons. Some things it would be better not to invent.

Schlock Mercenary did a bit with an AI that was trapped in isolation for "megayears."

The Problem with American Intelligence

In my experience, this author is exactly right.
Let’s be honest about what it would mean to fix the problems Morell describes. CIA officers would have to get out of protected enclaves to spot and recruit the principal agents who, in turn, could find sources within the jihadist lair. Staying “inside the wire” isn’t just ineffective, it’s dangerous...

The agency has been wary of sending case officers onto the streets in war zones without bodyguards from the paramilitary Global Response Staff. But John Maguire, a veteran of many dangerous CIA assignments, says officers traditionally understood the rubric that “you will not be captured.” Under a special training program called Case Officer Defensive Action, operatives were taught to evade surveillance and, if that failed, shoot their way out of trouble. This course was abolished, Maguire says....

For decades, the CIA and the military have tried to fix intelligence problems by relying on National Security Agency surveillance. But the jihadists have gone to school on the leaks about U.S. capabilities and learned to mask their operations. Gathering intelligence against this 21st-century jihadist adversary, paradoxically, will require the kind of old-fashioned spying and resistance operations we associate with the CIA’s founding generation in the OSS.

The British Press

They have their moments and their flaws, but they do know how to write a great headline.

Cultural Domination

An excellent paper from the English Historical Review asks, "Why did the Anglo-Saxons not become British?" (H/t: Medievalists.) The question may be of interest to us today, not merely for historical reasons, but because of our own mass immigration from very different cultures than our own: different in language, education, poverty, and so forth. What prevented the Anglo-Saxons from fading into the British culture?

The 19th century idea, which the paper considers and rejects, was that the Anglo-Saxons had simply destroyed the native population or driven it out -- rather like early Americans did with the Cherokee. We did not become Cherokees because we cleared the land of them and their civilization, and thus there was little chance that we would intermarry or become subsumed. (I'm told that, in Latin America, genocide against the native population is euphemistically called "the North American solution" to the problems their cultures still today face integrating Spanish civilization and the native ones.) The 19th century thinkers found this view plausible because of the racial theory of the day. Unlike other peoples, those descended from good Anglo-Saxon blood were of a moral character fit for self-government; and since much of moral character was thought to be carried in the blood, obviously the Anglo-Saxon bloodline must be substantially different from, say, the Welsh.

That turns out to disagree with both the historical record and the genetic one. What happened instead was that the Britons intermarried with their conquerors. Rather than the Anglo-Saxons becoming British, the British became Anglo-Saxons in those areas where the new culture could command. In regions further flung, the native culture continued to dominate in spite of intermarriage.

Importantly, then, the issue has to do with language. So why did the Anglo-Saxons not become Frenchmen after the Norman conquest, when French became the official language of court and law?

In an important sense, they did: they became "frank" and free men who were fit for the "franchise." Their old thanes became "franklins." Amusingly, the very concept of being a people whose moral character fitted them for self-government that was fielded by the 19th century scholar with pride in his Anglo-Saxon roots was a French import. It was because they were "frank" that the English were fit to be free men.

(And that of course is true, in a way: the virtues of honor and forthrightness that the Franks saw in themselves are indeed a necessary condition for sustainable self-governance. What is not true is that they are especially French virtues, or especially Anglo-Saxon ones.)

The French language didn't come to dominate in England the way that English did, however. There simply were too few of the Anglo-Normans, and they spread themselves thinner yet: they went to Scotland and became Anglo-Norman-Scots, like Robert the Bruce, whom today we think of as the very model of a Scot. They went to Ireland and became Anglo-Irish, and while today the Normans are referred to by the Irish as "the Old English," even by the day of Elizabeth I they were more Irish than the Irish themselves. They were also the locus of Irish resistance to English rule, as they were the locus of Scottish resistance to English rule. I suspect Tolkien's concept of Black Numenorians is rooted here, in spite of his own stated preference for "Anglo-Saxon" characteristics more like the Eorlings and the Hobbits than like his Numenorians. The Normans like the Numenorians went everywhere the sea would take them, conquered and intermarried, and came to be the ruling element of different and disparate peoples. In the West, they were the leaders of the defense against Sauron; in the East and Harad, they were commanders of his legions.

The lessons for today are... well, again, obvious, aren't they?

Emergency? Why Didn't We Do This All Along?

A story from our friends across the pond, who like us are trying to use their central government to reform local schools' lunch menus.
Pupils at a Bath primary may have to be fed sandwiches from the local pub as an emergency measure while the school struggles to upgrade its kitchens to comply with the expansion of the government's free school meals programme.
The Devil you say! Sandwiches from the pub? Why, it's monstrous. Could the pubs just take over feeding all the students, do you think?

I'd endorse the idea here in America, only we haven't got enough pubs. Though perhaps if they were given responsibility for feeding all the students, we might get pubs in every town....

Call your Senator!

What's a Little Anthrax Between Friends?


Wise Advice

Elizabeth Price Foley and Naomi Schaeffer Riley agree that this behavior is problematic, and that it is an excuse:
But this idea that it doesn’t look right for a male boss to be alone with a female employee sounds like it comes straight out of Victorian England. And it’s probably just an excuse.

More likely the congressmen, like the professors I’ve spoken to, don’t want to leave themselves open to claims of sexual harassment and the lawsuits that might result.
I don't think it's an excuse at all. I think "it wouldn't look right" means that some people might think that something sexual is going on, and the point is to dispel any possibility of people coming to that conclusion. It's not just that you might harass someone sexually, it's that the two of you might be doing something perfectly consensual that violates your wedding vows or even just the spirit of the workplace. This was the advice I got from my father decades ago on how to deal with women in the work place: do it in the public eye, so that people come to understand that you never leave yourself room for anything inappropriate.

Once a sufficient bond of trust or friendship forms, of course, things can change. Still, it's hard to be friends with a superior or someone who reports to you directly, just as it was hard for a king to have friends. So the best thing, if you're dealing with someone who reports to you, might well be to deal with them only with the doors open.

The Venerable Bede

In addition to being Memorial Day, Monday was the Feast of St. Bede of England. I assume you all know his history, and its influence. You may not know how he came by the title "Venerable." No one does, really, but tradition holds:
The title Venerabilis seems to have been associated with the name of Bede within two generations after his death. There is of course no early authority for the legend repeated by Fuller of the "dunce-monk" who in composing an epitaph on Bede was at a loss to complete the line: Hac sunt in fossa Bedae . . . . ossa and who next morning found that the angels had filled the gap with the word venerabilis. The title is used by Alcuin...
...from the house of Charlemagne.


The Libyan Adventure and 2016

It seems as if 2016 will feature former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a prominent role. The debate over her tenure in that job is turning more and more toward the Libyan adventure, as it appears to have been her special project, and it appears to line up neatly several arguments about her corruption and incompetence. The most important aspect of the Libyan adventure, though, was that it was conducted as an exercise of pure executive power without any permission from Congress.

Clinton may have been the primary proponent in the administration of overthrowing a foreign government without consulting with the People's representatives. That she did so at the behest of a corrupt adviser who personally profited from it is bad; that the planning and execution of the adventure led to a failed state now functioning as a colony of the Daesh Caliphate is worse. The key thing, though, is the degree to which she proved to have contempt for the division of powers, or the seeking of permission from the People before taking us to war.

Had she sought a debate, I would probably have been on her side. This post is cryptic only if you do not know me: it cites Gadaffi's use of rape rooms as a tool of state policy without commentary from me. Yet the use of rape rooms as state policy was my reason for supporting the Iraq war, a fully sufficient justification for overthrowing Saddam in my opinion without regard to any questions about WMD. I wrote something very similar about Iran's use of rape in state policy. There are just reasons not to go to war in such cases, as for example if you believe you cannot win the war (for then you would be bringing about the harms of war without the hope of victory). However, if you think you can win such a war, it is always morally just to wage war against a state that uses rape as a tool of its policy. That is too deep a violation of human nature to be compatible with just government. Such governments are wicked and ought not to survive.

It ought to be most important in our consideration of her qualifications that she did not care for the limits of the law or the Constitution on such a mighty question.
We live in an hour in which we are told that democracy is the answer to political problems; and therefore, we should be interested in the great questions of the day. Yet the systems are such that, short of breaking the systems, we can have no hope of affecting the questions at issue. The law means nothing -- as we have seen in the case of the war in Libya, where the War Powers Act has proven toothless. I am in favor of that war, and indeed of a more emphatic approach to it, but the law is broken here. The administration shows no deference to the law.... It isn't right to say that we can do nothing; but I wonder if we can do anything meaningful that is also lawful. If democracy is the answer, the Stoic philosophy is of less use; we are bound to be involved, and engaged. Should we say that these matters are nothing to us? The laws are carefully crafted to keep our efforts from having an effect; and where they are not, they are ignored outright.
Democracy can ill afford another such administration. Is there no candidate for office who believes in obeying the limits of the Constitution? Are there no candidates who will feel bound by the laws they swear to enforce?

Happy Birthday, John Wayne

The Philosophical Structure of the New Sexuality

In the wake of the recent vote in Ireland, there is some concern about what the Church's teachings can say to the new generation. To understand what can be said, first you must understand what the new generation is endorsing. It is not (merely) a different position on a few discrete issues. There's a developed and unified mode of thought at work behind it. It tracks to John S. Mill, but has filled out over time.

The first assumption of this new philosophy is Mill's assumption, which is that the important element in human life is the individual. Where Aristotle thought (correctly, I believe) that societies are formed by families, Mill took the Modern position that the thing that comes before society is a state of nature made up of radical individuals. This assumption is unquestioned in the new philosophy as far as I can tell. The individual and the individual's will is the thing that matters.

The second assumption follows from the first: the individuals we are talking about are fully-formed adults. The first assumption means that the wishes of an individual will always be selected for when they come into conflict with the interests of families considered as a whole. The second means that the wishes of adults will be placed before the wishes of non-adults: abortion is at the will of the adult individual who is pregnant, without other considerations. The family structure that is best for children is the one that is best for the adult individual parent given custody of them, so long as that structure does not produce adults who are out of line with the new philosophy. Homeschooling is a questionable practice; single motherhood is not.

Those are assumptions, as I said: they are not argued for, but taken as given.

Proceeding, then, given those assumptions, the philosophy is that sexuality should be regulated this way:

1) Adult individuals should be free to choose.

2) Freedom to choose is not compatible with any sort of coercion.

3) Therefore, sex is fine as long as it is consented to freely, verbally, and enthusiastically.

It's a very simple philosophy, but it is coherent. Many on the right make the mistake of assuming there is some conflict between the left's position that women are the equals of men in all respects, and that they need special protections in college, in the office, in the workplace in general, from harsh language or offensive terms. All of it follows from what has been said above. Both the man and the woman are equals in that they are free to choose. However, men are physically bigger and stronger; in addition, it is argued, society provides men with unearned power over women in various ways. Thus, to ensure that sex is always only fully consensual, we must regulate all sexual interactions to ensure that there was no power relationship providing any sort of coercion. We should ensure that there was clear, explicit, verbal consent and that such consent was really desired in a deep way.

The reason you get 'gay marriage' out of this is that there's absolutely nothing in this philosophy to speak against it. It's fully consensual, and an association of adults, so it's perfectly fine. There's not only no reason to be opposed to it here, there's no room for a reason. The principles are clear bright lines, and they admit of no exceptions.

From this, then, you will not get bestiality and pedophilia in spite of right-leaning arguments to the contrary. Kant thought you would, so it's not a foolish position, but it depends on assuming that the bright lines of the old system are the only possible ones. There the bright line was human nature, and it is obvious that sex fills a natural and necessary function. You can draw a bright line between those acts that do and those that do not fill natural functions. That was the old position, and it is a rational one. The new argument rejects the concept of human nature, however, in favor of individual will. There is just no room in the system for a concept of nature that should constrain will.

You will not get bestiality because consent is not possible. There is no slippery slope there. You will not get pedophilia because of consent issues, and the underlying assumption that this is a system for adults. The slippery slope there is limited to arguments about just how young you have to be before you can't clearly consent, but there's no danger of that line falling beyond a certain point.

What you will get is polyamory and plural marriage, and all of the trans-* desiderata. Those things are perfectly in line with this philosophy, and there is no reason to oppose them possible within the system.

Now, the reason to spell all this out is to address the question: what can the Church say to people who believe this philosophy? Well, you can't persuade them to adopt the old standards without first persuading them to abandon this entire mode of thinking about sexuality (which they will call "my sexuality," because everything is fully individualized in this philosophical structure). You have to show that the whole mode of thought is to be rejected, and then begin again showing why the traditional mode is a rational and proper substitute.

What you need not do, and ought not do, is argue for the rules. The rules follow from the structure. What you have to do is argue against their structure, and in favor of the traditional structure of reasoning from things we can observe about human nature.

How do you argue against the structure of the new philosophy? There are two general modes of argument that can be effective.

1) Argue against the assumptions. It happens that the assumptions are both badly wrong, so a lot of headway can be made here. Point out that these assumptions exist, and that the structure depends on both of them being true. Show that they are false. Human beings do not come into the world as radical individuals. We come into the world dependent on those who brought us into the world, and who care for us until we are able to take care of ourselves. That is to say, we come into the world not as clean actors free to choose anything that they want so long as it does not harm others, but as members of a pre-existing society who carry debts and obligations to those who helped them when they were weak. Those debts point forward to the next generation. We are duty bound to think about what is best for them, and not only about ourselves.

2) Argue against the good being pursued. The good is pleasure. Mill's philosophy believes that life is properly structured around pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain, according to rules (such as the three rules of the new philosophy) that make sure that these opportunities are as widely available as possible. But pleasure is a terrible standard for ethics. It is opportunity for pleasure and pain that ethics needs to control, because it is in temptation of pleasure or danger of pain that we are most likely to do wrong against others. Ethics needs to focus on how to ensure that we don't give in to our temptations to pleasure as much as it needs to talk about how we stand true to our duty in spite of the occasion of pain. Mill's rules are inadequate because they leave in place the idea that we should chase pleasure and flee pain as much as possible without being unfair to others. What we should be chasing and fleeing is something else entirely.

We might begin by saying that we should chase what is honorable and flee dishonor. (Aquinas says that, in his treatment of the virtue of magnanimity). Honor and dishonor are not personal like pleasure or pain, but have to do with relationships between human beings. They are the first answer to the idea of radical individualism as the proper seat of the good. The honorable is always about what you do from duty, and the dishonorable is always about letting others down who had a right to depend upon you.

Of course the Church will not wish to stop with honor and dishonor. It has something more to say, something that can become clearer to those who have begun following you on this road. When you have begun them in this direction, so that they see that their lives have some better end than pleasure, you will be doing again your ancient service to humankind.

Memorial Day

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well.

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But I know one thing that never dies,
The glory of the great dead.

-The Havamal


Airborne Beer All the Way!

A good story from Stars and Stripes that I stole from Ace:

It took 65 years for Vincent Speranza to find out that his actions in Belgium during World War II had been immortalized — for his ingenuity with the beverage that the country is famous for producing.


Speranza joined the Army in 1943 right after graduating from high school. He was assigned to Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, as a replacement in November 1944 while the unit licked its wounds from the devastating failure of Operation Market-Garden.

Within weeks, Speranza would be in a foxhole in Bastogne, Belgium — cold, running short on supplies and ammo and surrounded by German troops.


On the second day of the siege, a friend named Joe Willis was wounded with shrapnel in both legs and brought to a makeshift combat hospital in a blown-out church. When Speranza tracked him down, the fellow paratrooper asked him to get him something to drink.

Speranza explained they were surrounded and no supplies were coming in. The soldier asked him to check a devastated tavern nearby.

Speranza found a working beer tap there. He filled his helmet — the same one he had used as a foxhole toilet — and made two trips to the wounded in the church. He was caught by an angry major and told he would be shot if he did not stop, for fear he would kill the wounded.

Visiting Bastogne in 2009, Speranza found his foxhole still there, but Dutch and Belgian military officials told him that the legend of the soldier filling his helmet with beer for the wounded is still told — and had been immortalized on the label of Bastogne’s Airborne beer.

The beer is typically consumed from a ceramic helmet.
So, I had to find  the beer. The website Untappd gives enough information that I should be able to order it. I wonder about the helmet mugs, though. (Pics at the linked page.)

There is more about Speranza's service and a video of him telling the story at Stars and Stripes.


The king stablished all his knights, and gave them that were of lands not rich, he gave them lands, and charged them never to do outrageousity nor murder, and always to flee treason; also, by no mean to be cruel, but to give mercy unto him that asketh mercy, upon pain of forfeiture of their worship and lordship of King Arthur for evermore; and always to do ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen succor upon pain of death. Also, that no man take no battles in a wrongful quarrel for no law, ne for no world’s goods. Unto this were all the knights sworn of the Table Round, both old and young. And every year were they sworn at the high feast of Pentecost.

-Le Morte Darthur

1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he led me out in the spirit of the Lord and set me in the center of the broad valley. It was filled with bones.
2 He made me walk among them in every direction. So many lay on the surface of the valley! How dry they were!
3 He asked me: Son of man, can these bones come back to life? “Lord God,” I answered, “you alone know that.”
4 Then he said to me: Prophesy over these bones, and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!
5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Listen! I will make breath enter you so you may come to life.
6 I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put breath into you so you may come to life. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.
7 I prophesied as I had been commanded. A sound started up, as I was prophesying, rattling like thunder. The bones came together, bone joining to bone.
8 As I watched, sinews appeared on them, flesh grew over them, skin covered them on top, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me: Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man! Say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: From the four winds come, O breath, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.
10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath entered them; they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army.

-Ezekiel 37:1-10

Some Details Leak Out

What's in the secret treaty? An economist writes:
Companies can sue governments for full compensation for any reduction in their future expected profits resulting from regulatory changes.

This is not just a theoretical possibility. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay and Australia for requiring warning labels on cigarettes. Admittedly, both countries went a little further than the US, mandating the inclusion of graphic images showing the consequences of cigarette smoking.

The labeling is working. It is discouraging smoking. So now Philip Morris is demanding to be compensated for lost profits....

The proceedings are so expensive that Uruguay has had to turn to Michael Bloomberg and other wealthy Americans committed to health to defend itself against Philip Morris. And, though corporations can bring suit, others cannot. If there is a violation of other commitments - on labor and environmental standards, for example - citizens, unions, and civil-society groups have no recourse.
I can't see why we'd want to further mortgage our democratic institutions to major corporations. Don't they exercise enough control over our form of government already, without granting them a unique right to sue us for any new laws that interfere with their "expected" profits?


We have accomplished what no one said can be done, which is to be a trip for peace, for reconciliation, for human rights and a trip to which both governments agreed,” Steinem, 81, told South Korean media after crossing. “We were able to be citizen diplomats.”
Who said it couldn't be done? North Korea was delighted with the opportunity to help you stage their propaganda.

Lyric Inanity

Ten years ago, the most popular songs read between a third and fourth grade level, but the inanity only increased with time, and after a five-year downward tumble ending in 2014 (the last year of the study), chart-topping hits had a reading level equivalent to second or third grade. Broken into genres, the levels measured just 2.6 for Hip-hop/R&B, a tie of 2.9 for Rock and Pop, and faring best was Country at 3.3[.]
In fairness, it seems like the popular singers only read at that level.


At some point on this side of the grave, I may learn to stop regretting all the things I never took the time to study properly in my youth.  This week, I've spent nearly every waking hour trying to learn to think like QuickBooks, once again exposing the gap in my education where some simple business finance belongs.  By very good luck, one of my first clients was very good at explaining the most basic principles of bookkeeping to me, in order to help me decipher a real estate closing statement when we bought our first house.  Once you get used to the idea of debt entries balancing credit entries, it's not too bad--sort of a double vision, from your viewpoint and the view point of the other.  Nevertheless, many aspects of GAAP will likely remain mysterious forever.

In a weak moment recently, I raised my hand for the job of treasurer in the local Woman's Club.  Like many such organizations, it's hard to find people willing to serve as officers every year.  The job of cheerleader or vision developer is decidedly not for me, but I thought I could handle the checkbook.  It turns out that, a couple of years ago, the club acquired a QuickBooks program, so I dived into figuring out how to use this small-business accounting software.

The previous treasurer had confined herself to the checkbook-register functions, keeping the members' running accounts on a separate Excel spreadsheet.  Because this offends my sense of efficiency (i.e., laziness), by requiring the treasurer to enter everything twice, I tried experimenting with the other functions and reading various manuals online.  Soon I broke down and bought a month's worth of tech support by telephone, thus embarking on an exciting half-week of lengthy conversations with nice young people from the Asian subcontinent, most of whom couldn't be brought to understand just how s-l-o-w-l-y they were going to have to talk in order to surmount both the language barrier and my lack of digital and accounting sophistication.  What jobs they must have.

It's a startling pleasure finally to master something like how to collect a bushelful of miscellaneous payments for dues and cookbooks in the form of cash and checks, enter them into each member's account, and tell the program to batch all the payments into a single deposit in a particular bank.  Et voilà!  A deposit entry pops up automatically in the bank register with a "split" to explain all 50-odd individual elements, all properly encoded by type for the summary reports that will be distributed at each monthly meeting.  At the same time, an accounts receivable page shows me who's paid dues and who still owes.  I'll be able to prepare an annual budget and produce monthly budget-vs.-actual reports.  It's becoming clear how double-entry book-keeping brought commercial life out of the dark ages.

I'm still barely using a small corner of this program, which can handle things like payroll that our club doesn't need.  How amazing that such a product is available for about $200.

Animal vid fix

You've all been thinking, "Hasn't it been a long time since Tex posted a good animal video?"  Fresh from Maggie's Farm:  dogs hooked on soda siphons.


Fed Head (Head of the Fed! Banks in Red! Got to get their coffers fed!) Janet Yellen speaks the truth:
I am describing the outlook that I see as most likely, but based on many years of making economic projections, I can assure you that any specific projection I write down will turn out to be wrong, perhaps markedly so.
The only thing that will never happen is the thing you planned for.

Reshaping Ownership

No, I don't think so, General Motors.
GM has joined with John Deere in asking the government to confirm that you literally cannot own your car because of the software in its engine.

Like Deere, GM wants to stop the Copyright Office from granting an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would allow you to jailbreak the code in your car's engine so that you can take it to a non-GM mechanic for service, or fix it yourself. By controlling who can service your car, GM can force you to buy only official, expensive parts, protecting its bottom line.

As Consumerist quips, GM wants you to know that the car in the driveway is "literally not your father's Oldsmobile."
With one exception, all my cars and trucks have been Chevrolets. The only way I'd be willing to "license" a vehicle I wasn't allowed to work on myself was if you agreed to fix it for free or replace it for free, for however long the "license" lasts. Those are the terms I get when I rent a car, and they're acceptable. I'm not about to 'buy' a car from you without owning it.

Best Behavior

With the Waco dust-up just behind us, the Mongols MC is taking unusual steps to reach out to the community ahead of their annual meeting.
The president of a motorcycle club gathering in Excelsior Springs this weekend promises it will be peaceful. In an interview with KMBC 9 News, Mongol Gary tried to ease concerns of violence in the wake of last weekend’s shootings...

Excelsior Springs police said they’ve known about the event for months, have had conversations with Mongols leaders and expect an easy weekend, even though they’ll be preparing for the worst.
If you watch the video, it sounds like the Mongols didn't just grant an interview, they may have sought it out. Talking their plans over with law enforcement is also a little unusual, but the police appear to have appreciated the courtesy.

The Mongols may be on their best behavior in part because they have a court case coming up soon that is of tremendous importance to them.
As part of a plea deal, the club president forfeited rights to the Mongol trademark to the Department of Justice, and a federal judge granted an injunction prohibiting club members from wearing, licensing, selling, or distributing the any materials depicting the Mongolian warrior.

At the time, only Uncle Sam was legally entitled to wear the Mongols' leather vest -- known as a "cut" -- as a jacket without sleeves.

Federal Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled that upon presentation of the court's order by police, "defendants and all their agents, servants, employees, family members, and other persons in active participation with them, must surrender all products, clothing, vehicles, motorcycles, books, posters, merchandise, stationery, or other materials bearing the Mongols trademark."

While another judge partially lifted that injunction a few years later, Uncle Sam and the Mongol Nation are headed back to federal court June 2 in Los Angeles to reargue the case and determine who now owns the trademark.

The Mongols mount a First Amendment defense, arguing in court papers the "government's sole purpose in filing the indictment is to crush the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club by seizing the intellectual rights to the 'Rider' and 'Mongol' marks and thereby quash the Club and its members rights to freedom of expression and association." ... To Davis, the DOJ actions are "unprecedented and unconstitutional." He said the Mongol's insignia is a "collective membership mark" that's "on a par with the Christian cross, the Masonic compass, or the Jewish star."
Maybe the Masonic compass. I don't think the other two are good analogies.

It'll be an interesting case, especially with the Waco shootout so close in memory. It seems like there's something special about the government seizing a trademark. Free speech rights are against the government and not against other citizens. As a result, you have a right to violate a trademark in the sense that the government can't stop you from saying whatever you're going to say. However, the government can enforce someone else's copyright by requiring you to pay damages to them for violating that copyright. In this case, the government would essentially be requiring you to pay damages to them -- making it hard to discern a difference between the civil damages and a fine.

Can the government use this power more broadly to fine you for saying something it doesn't want you to say? Could the government, in principle, decide to seize the copyrights of a book they didn't like, and forbid anyone from printing copies of it? How about a religious book -- various translations or editions of the Bible, say? It's the same Amendment where all these protections cluster, so it seems as if they're all in danger together.

Ordinarily I'd think the Mongols were likely to win a case like this, but after last week it's hard to say. It's a moment at which it may be hard to get the judge to think about the more theoretical questions regarding how the precedent could be more broadly applied, and less about the very public and concrete example of violence.

"Public" Comments

Did you know there's a surge of interest in giving the EPA expanded authority?
When the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a major new rule intended to protect the nation’s drinking water last year, regulators solicited opinions from the public. The purpose of the “public comment” period was to objectively gauge Americans’ sentiment before changing a policy that could profoundly affect their lives.

Gina McCarthy, the agency’s administrator, told a Senate committee in March that the agency had received more than one million comments, and nearly 90 percent favored the agency’s proposal.
Amazing! Who knew the American public was so committed to expanding the range of the EPA's authority?
But critics say there is a reason for the overwhelming result: The E.P.A. had a hand in manufacturing it.

In a campaign that tests the limits of federal lobbying law, the agency orchestrated a drive to counter political opposition from Republicans and enlist public support in concert with liberal environmental groups and a grass-roots organization aligned with President Obama.

Oddly enough we were just talking about the difficulty for citizens in influencing the bureaucratic rule-making processes. Pretty much the only way is through the public comment period, when the agency happens to ask for one. If they are now permitted ("required," it sounds like) to game the system by flooding themselves with positive comments from full-time policy organizations that favor their position, that tiny bit of influence will be diluted out of existence.

Once again, the Obama administration is making a mockery out of the ordinary forms of our democratic republic. Rule of law can be set aside by prosecutorial discretion. Rule making comment periods can be gamed. The IRS can be tasked with paying special attention to your enemies. Pervasive surveillance replaces the need for warrants before prying into private communications.

It's a disturbing pattern, and one that will be hard to reform.