Thursday, December 19, 2013

Inspector General's Report At Department of Justice Mimics Libertarian and Conservative Concerns

Above the Law recently summarized a report by the inspector general of the Department of Justice.  The conclusions reached sound like they came from the pages of Reason and other outlets.

It notes that every dollar spent on prisons is a dollar not spent on enforcement and prevention efforts.  It quotes the assistant attorney general who called prison costs "unsustainable."  In addition to Above the Law's analysis, it is interesting to find the opportunity cost argument used by the government.  Perhaps the sequester made some agencies realize that even a federal budget is finite.

Part of the prison cost will require some rethinking.  The writer explains that quite a few prisoners of means live in cells on the taxpayers' dime well into old age.  Could other options be available for non violent felons besides prison, at least in these circumstances.

The American Bar Association warned in 1998 that overfederalization "strains the fabric of the federal and state system."  It also noted that "there are powerful reasons for the fundamental limitations on federal criminal law."  General police power over day to day crime, according to constitutional law, is better left under the control of the states.  State courts can lose their importance, while federal courts become overburdened.  The ABA cites a number of other hazards of putting more police power in the hands of the federal government.

The inspector general warns that these chickens have come home to roost.  The federal government now can prosecute over 4,000 criminal offenses in federal law.  Add to that 10-100,000 possible federal regulations that could carry federal criminal penalties.  Moving back to state prosecutions of criminal law can "alleviate the budget crisis posed by the federal prison system."

Reevaluating federal prosecution of criminal law is the first step.  Next comes rethinking the mindset that allowed and encouraged this overreach in the first place.  An unrestrained federal leviathan is rampaging through our society.  Curbing the law enforcement prerogatives of this beast is one step toward restoring the proper proportion of power.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Six Fictional Characters From the Mountain State

1.  Clarice Starling

This is one of the most compelling West Virginia born characters ever created.  In Silence of the Lambs her country origins emerge as a powerful part of her anxieties about dealing with superiors and the FBI world itself.  ATF ranked her as the sixth best protagonist in the last hundred years of film.

Her accent was a little off, but Foster was extremely convincing as a West Virginia native character.  her defining role.

2.  Aunt Bee

Francis Bavier had few other roles that anyone today would remember.  But she did get to portray one of American culture's most iconic characters.  The Andy Griffith Show's Aunt Bee was the perfect example of small town grandmotherly love and concern.  In real life, it has been said that she was a little more wild than the kindly woman seen on TV.  On the show, she hailed from Morgantown.  This was the actual hometown of co-star Don Knotts.

3. Harry Powell

This is one of the most disturbing characters to ever make it to the big screen.  Much of the credit goes to Robert Mitchum's portrayal of the dangerous con man/preacher in Night of the Hunter.

Love tattooed on one hand, hate on the other.  Powell seduces a widow on the chance of finding an ill gotten $10,000.  When she discovers the ruse, he kills her.

The plot only gets more diabolical from here.

4.  Connie Mills

The Connie Mills character from The Mothman Prophecies is a breath of fresh air for West Virginia film fans.  She is professional, strong, intelligent, attractive, yet down to earth.  She seems at home in the fake Point Pleasant seen in the film.

5.  Ray Gillette

This is one of the most interesting and hilarious characters ever drawn from West Virginia that manages to not be used to abuse the state.  In the FX show Archer, Ray Gillette is an openly gay field agent.

His backstory includes Olympic gold medals, experience as a Marshall University cheerleader, and former preacher.  The episode "Bloody Ferlin" shows him going home to save his brother from a corrupt sheriff, or so he thinks.  "Ferlin" is set in southern West Virginia and manages to be somewhat accurate wirthout being openly insulting.

The Gillette character and the Ferlin portrayal definitely lead you to think that there is or are West Virginia natives working on this show.

6.  Jennifer Elizabeth Marlowe

Jennifer Elizabeth Marlowe, the beautiful blonde played by Loni Anderson (pre Burt Reynolds) was a smackdown to a slew of stereotypes, not just West Virginians.  She is the receptionist at a struggling Cincinnati radio station called WKRP, but happens to be the smartest one of the bunch.  She uses her charms to attract wealthy older men's attention and money.  One never sees them, but their costly gifts generally show up in the lobby.  After years of West Virginia hicks and ditzy blond bombshells, her character was pretty well drawn.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ukraine Continues Tilt Toward Russia

In the Middle Ages, Kiev served as the capital of Russia.  Now it serves independent Ukraine in that capacity.  Over time, Russia and Ukraine separated culturally, linguistically, and nationally.  Now Kiev once again looks to Russia for leadership and support.

Ukraine in terms of size is about the size of Texas or France.  Next to the North American Great Plains, its soil potentially can produce more than any region on Earth.  Its 45 million people live in a state of chronic underdevelopment.  The nation suffers from severe corruption and holds the fifth lowest international credit rating.

Twenty years of independence from the old Soviet Union brought disastrously bad government to a nation with energy reserves, a seaport, and food production capacity that could easily provide for a continent.

Ukraine naturally shied away from Russia at first.  Russia dominated the old Soviet Union which in turn terrorized Ukraine.  Stalin ripped away from the land tens of millions of innocent farmers and others.  Over the USSR's entire history, Ukrainian language and culture were stifled.

Ties to Europe and the United States grew.  Ukraine wanted to participate in institutions such as the European Union and NATO.  Economic instability in the past several years has made help from the EU come with conditions.  These include applying to the IMF and signing a free trade agreement.

Full free trade with Europe would help Ukraine develop itself.  It can cheaply produce enough food to sell to all of Europe.  France, Germany, and other countries, however, continue to cling to agricultural subsidies.  For Ukraine to get ahead, it needs to be able to exploit its competitive advantages in land and cheap labor.  A free trade pact would merely open the door to European manufactures without helping Ukraine develop its agricultural sector.  Some in the United States have floated the idea of a bailout, but with the US and the EU experiencing their own debt crises, this will not happen.

Enter Vladimir Putin and Russia.

Putin seems to have figured out what Britain learned after the American Revolution.  Gain influence over an independent nation's economy and get the benefits of colonialism without the costs of administration.  Britain, the United States, Japan, and others have all adopted that lesson at some point after hard lessons learned about war, conquest, and colonialism.

Russia has extended its hand to Ukraine, offering a trade deal and other forms of assistance.  This will tie Ukraine more strongly to the nation that served as its overlord during Czarist and Soviet times.

Many in Ukraine see this as too risky.  Thousands have rioted in protest against rising Russian influence.  Russian ties to Belarus have resulted in the near merger of the two states.  This will likely not change Ukraine's official position.

Putin will continue to channel efforts into building an informal empire dependent on Moscow.  This is a less risky strategy than China's new belligerence in the Far East, but it is no less important.

As for Ukraine, its potential remains untapped.  But a country the size of France with oil, gas, and food capability is not a forgettable part of the world's balance of influence.

The EPA's War On Common Sense

I rarely post something in the first person, but sometimes it's needed.

A couple of days ago, I was warming up my wife's car.  I didn't check the gas when I started the car and it ran out.  I figured, no problem, I'll just go get a gas can, get a gallon of gas, then put it in, right?

I go to the store and buy a gas can.  They are a lot more expensive than they used to be, but I chalked it up to inflation.  Then I get to the gas station and open it up.  It looks like some kind of system that belongs on the space shuttle, I mean, that used to belong on the space shuttle when we used such things.  I put the gallon in anyway.

When I got home, I tried using the can.  The nozzle system was more complicated than I ever dreamed and all I accomplished was spilling about a pint of gasoline onto the ground.

At this point, I figured out that this must be the EPA's fault.  The private sector is best known for selling products that are easy to use and get easier over time.  The gas can used to be simple, a nozzle and a vent in the back.  It operated on the same principle as canned juice.  Open both ends for a smooth and easy pour.

Now it works on impossible to discern engineering principles.  As sure as I had just ruined my leather gloves by accidentally spilling gasoline all over the place, I smelled an EPA rat here.

Sure enough, I was right.  Long story short, the EPA forced mind numbing, California originating, standards on gas cans to do what?  Prevent spillage.  Apparently, all over the country, people are spilling gas from these stupid things.  I spilled more gas with the new can than in 40 years of life combined.

They also have a tendency to inflate in hot weather and rupture, spewing gas everywhere.  Why?  They are airtight.

And I still couldn't get gas in my car.  But my daughter came to the rescue.  She and her friends had run out of gas months before.  They also couldn't work the gas can, so they came up with a good solution.

Cut the bottom off of a water bottle and get a coat hanger.  Use the upside down bottle as a funnel while the coat hanger opens the tank.  Take the entire nozzle apparatus off the can and pour the gas out directly.  No muss, no fuss.  And try to find a safe place to dispose of the bottle and hanger.

Or, figure out where racing teams buy their gas cans.  They still use the old style.

Thanks EPA.  One more thing that you have done to make everyone's life a little more frustrating.  Now I will have to remember you more often than when my low flow toilet backs up.