Sunday, December 30, 2012

Good Morning Jack...

Letter to My Son
Sunday, 30 December

Good Morning Jack…

Erwin Chemerinsky’s Constitutional Law is your standard-sized college textbook.  It’s appendix includes the text of the U.S. Constitution.  It’s seven articles were written in 1788.  The first ten amendments were added in 1791.  Together they take up just over ten pages.  The remaining seventeen amendments add another five pages to the document.  That is the entirety for what serves as this nation’s most fundamental laws.  It’s very brief.  The Constitution’s Second Amendment is but one sentence.  It reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

It is brief, isn’t it.  It is also somewhat ambiguous.  The clause giving people the right to bear arms is prefaced with the initial phrase “A well regulated Militia”.  It then explains the rationale for such a Militia:  “being necessary to the security of a free State.”  Finally, the Second Amendment states, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”   The point of contention in today’s world is that the sentence, taken as a whole, implies placing a condition on the right for people to bear arms.   In this instance greater brevity would have made the Second Amendment’s statement of rights more clear if it had simply said:

The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

If this is what the founding fathers meant why didn’t they make this right more clear, more certain, without adding the preceding condition of a well regulated Militia?  Certainly they meant for citizen’s of frontier America to own a musket – for defense, where otherwise there often was none, and to provide their family with meat through hunting in the surrounding forests and glades.  They included an element that creates uncertainty and, I think, deliberately so.

The writers of our Constitution were wise enough to know they could not anticipate circumstances of future generations.  If their document was to remain relevant over the years it had to be capable of interpretation within the context of a society’s problems, challenges and contemporary sensibilities.  This didn’t give lawmakers two hundred years in the future license to refute fundamental Constitutional principles but, where there was room for honest argument as to the meaning of a clause, there was also latitude for interpretation.  The Second Amendment certainly supplies this latitude. 

The gun owner of Eighteenth Century America had a smooth bore flintlock weapon that was capable of being fired up to three times in the space of a minute by an experienced shooter.  The nation was largely rural and families were on their own, self reliant for most everything they would need to survive in a potentially hostile environment.  In this environment it was clear to the writers of the Second Amendment that people needed their firearms.  But would this always be the case?  During this period, administered by George Washington, who among the populace could foretell America of the Twenty-first Century?  Obviously no one, and the Constitution’s writers were wise enough to know it.  When they felt it necessary they wrote laws in a fashion that would allow the judges of future Supreme Courts to determine a law’s meaning – within the context of a nation’s needs.  The Supreme Court makes our Constitution a living document because its rulings unavoidably reflect contemporary circumstance.  The judges themselves, more often than not, reflect the philosophy of the democratically elected representatives who appoint them and approve their nomination to sit on the Court.  The Constitution’s writers attempted to limit its scope to fundamental principles that would provide the foundation for a healthy government, free people and a vibrant, dynamic society.  The document’s language was vigorously debated.  Compromises were made.  No one claimed its perfection. 

We are each daily immersed with news of dispute, turmoil and folly.  In this context it seems the wisdom of the Founding Fathers has been lost somewhere between then and now.  I think not.  Given what they knew of the squabbles of their time I doubt the lawmakers of George Washington’s era would think so, either.

Happy New Year, Jack!


Monday, December 24, 2012

Good Morning Jessicca...

Letter to My Daughter
23 December, Sunday

Good Morning Jessicca…

Gangnam Style has become the first video to surpass one billion views.  The words 
are Korean but what does it matter?  The visuals are magnetic, sexy and irreverent.  
The music is energetic and infectious.  I first watched it without sound and I laughed 
through much of it.  It was often unpredictable and hilarious.  With the sound, though, 
I was rolled by the music.  I couldn't sit still.  I had to join in. 

How does it feel to be young at its best?  You can’t rely on words here.  Talking about 
what inspires youth would be like driving a high-performance car with the four tires flat.  
The youthful spirit is best conveyed with feeling – raucous, kinetic and subversive.  
When you’re having the time of your life at twenty-two you’re too busy experiencing it 
to think about it.  You’re living Gangnam Style

Actually I did Google the lyrics and found out the artist Psy downs his coffee while still 
too hot to drink and the woman on the subway drives him wild with desire even though 
she is fully clothed.  That’s about it.  That is all the message you will find using words.  
But if you've watched the video and spasm danced with the music… you knew it all 
already, anyway.

Of course, living life at eighteen or twenty-two, or whatever, has its complications; 
sometimes dark, tormenting.  Four minutes of joyous dance video can bring slumbering 
embers to a crackling flame.  There’s always a story line that precedes the vital  release.  Can we know exhilaration without first knowing struggle?  Even the spontaneity celebrated in this video is successful because it was first carefully plotted out, choreographed, experimented with and repeatedly rehearsed. 

So, OK, there’s some kind of work ethic here.  That doesn't mean a conscientious cubicle worker can daydream this production while wrestling with spreadsheets.  The mind in the cubicle is often a lawn sprinkler, carefully nurturing symmetrical plantings.  The nature  of Psy could more likely be that of a fire hose stream, chaotic energy barely restrained.  Much of the time you manage to color within the lines but you've the instincts of an artist and, at times, you just have to scribble. 

We prosper comfortably from the benefits of our carefully orchestrated society.  But after a time the air becomes so intolerably stale.  We are revived once a fresh wind courses through a window shattered by the one among us talented enough to mask rebellion as charm.  I have no idea how many times you've seen Gangnam Style.  You might have one more look.  Here’s the link:  Gangnam Style - take notice of what entertains us.  It’s playful.  It’s flamboyant.  It makes no sense.  We just instinctively understand without the benefit of words.  We need no training to know how to respond.  It’s fun.  It’s kid’s stuff.  It’s some kind of art.

Merry Christmas, Jessicca!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Good Morning Justin...

Letter to My Son
16 December, Sunday

Good Morning Justin…

The horrific tragedy in Connecticut last week had me thinking of another young man, a protector of small children, the protagonist of the book The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield.  As he neared his own breakdown following an odyssey of dealing with life’s phonies, he said:

“I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all.  Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me.  And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.  That’s all I’d do all day.  I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.  I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.  I know it’s crazy.”

How are you?  I’m wondering what you have in mind for Christmas.  I remember your interests being centered on sports.  You should be very good in baseball now; football, too.  I’m sure you’re still a vibrant, vocal competitor.  It’s been in the marrow of your bones since you first learned to throw and catch a ball.  You have been and will always be a rough and tumble mama’s boy, just like the college football player along the sidelines, turning to the TV camera, waving and saying “Hi, Mom.”

The weather here has been cold then unseasonably warm, then snapping back to cold again.  It’s dry.  We’ve had no rain of any consequence for weeks.  People are beginning to talk.  I think most of us would like snow but that’s a tricky convergence of a cold front from the north greeting warm moisture moving up from the south, the Gulf of Mexico.  Snow from Indiana and Kentucky plays itself out in the Appalachians before reaching here.  The careful timing required of a Northern freeze meeting Dixie moisture over our area means we get only a couple of snowfalls a year.  The snowy landscape soon dissolves in the warm air south of the Mason-Dixon line unless, of course, you live in a cabin in a nearby mountain town such as Blowing Rock. 

Walking the dog each morning I still see squirrels in a spiraling chase up and down trunks of oak as they squabble over who gets which tree.  They’re cranky insomniacs with fitful patterns of hibernation.  They seem to need a deep chill for good sleeping weather.  Smart squirrels bury acorns that fall from trees in the Fall.  They use their keen noses to find their stored food in winter months and early spring when the new crop is not yet available.  On snowy days I toss unsalted shelled peanuts about.  It seems to suit them in a pinch.  Various birds carry them off, as well.  Winter is a time of stress for animals.  The older ones with creaky joints can no longer compete and they soon lose out.  Weakened, they are easily picked off by a prowling hawk or fox.  You either eat lunch or be lunch.  There are no days off.

Nine days till Christmas, Justin.  Tell everyone hello for me.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Good Morning Jacob...

Letter to My Son
9 December, Sunday

Good Morning Jacob…

The dog Jake and I got a late start on our walk this morning.  It was sunny and already almost warm by the time we came across a large flatbed truck trailer parked in a field near the brick Methodist church that faces Main Street.  A gathering of kids and their parents were busy placing bales of hay on the trailer, using a step ladder at its tail end to climb aboard.  The hay bales were centered and lined up as seats for nearly the length of the trailer.  A Christmas tree, naked of ornaments, was placed to end the bales.  On each of the trailer’s sides hung a large yellow sign, showing the diamond symbol of Cub Scouts above words proclaiming it to be Pack 87, Franklin Heights Baptist Church.  Jake and I had come across one of many Kannapolis floats being readied to wheel down Main Street that evening for the annual Christmas parade. 

It was very cold at last year’s parade and it took close to two hours for half of the community to pass in review for the benefit of the community’s other half, lined along the roadway, sitting in lawn chairs, bundled in bulky coats and wrapped in blankets, sipping hot beverages of coffee and cocoa.  Numerous church groups sang carols on the decks of trailers as they passed, being pulled by trucks of various description and by farm tractors, cleaned up from the muck of field work.  The town’s fire trucks were part of the parade as were patrol cars of the Kannapolis police and the sheriff’s of Cabarrus County; their sirens wailing and their colored beams of lights spinning across faces in the crowd.  Interspersed throughout the parade were large formations of kids from the area’s dance studios moving to the music provided by loudspeakers attached to the roofs of tag-along cars.  The kids were all brightly costumed and probably quite cold as they trooped gamely by, the youngest of them mostly walking along, too bewildered for dancing as they gazed into all the strange faces starring back at them all along the way.  The two rival high schools provided the marching bands – the Wonders of Kannapolis’s A. L. Brown High School and the competing Spiders of nearby Concord.  It seemed to me that Concord’s band was the more energized and crisp of the two during last year’s Christmas parade.  It’s possible they were making a statement after having lost The Bell to the Wonders in the final football game of the season.  The finale of each regular season is the game between these two longtime historic rivals to determine which school has possession of a large bell, attached to a wheeled cart.  The winning school paints the bell with its school colors and displays it as a trophy over the next year.  This year The Bell reverted back to the Spiders of Concord in a hard-fought upset over the favored Kannapolis team.  The Bell is also a part of the parade, at least when Kannapolis holds it.

Of course, Santa is the celebrated finale, drawing the parade to a close.  The sound of cars idling becomes a chorus as parents tuck chilled children inside.  Headlamps stream to the street and cops with flashlights and whistles do their best to disentangle the crowd of vehicles all trying to leave the area at once.  This year’s parade participants and followers benefited from temperatures that dropped only into the fifties.  Still, the Kannapolis turnout was thinned a bit by adversity.  The local hospital is filled with people struck with the flu.  Many of the nurses are also out with this year’s flu despite having been inoculated with their mandatory flu shot.  It’s already a bad flu season but better to get it now and out of the way instead of being in bed Christmas day, too sick to open presents under the tree.  Can you imagine a Christmas morning, with gifts waiting, and everyone parked beneath the blankets of their bed, unwilling to tear free the wrapping paper from presents, unable to ride new bikes up and down the street?  This would be the season of a truly Grinch flu.  Where’s the Gingerbread cookies?  Where’s the cinnamon eggnog?  No, we mustn't think of such a catastrophe.  It’s just wrong to even bring it up.  I’m so sorry.  Hand me another log for the fire.  Happy holidays one and all.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Maxine Waters

House Financial Services Committee – Ranking Minority Member, 113th Congress

Maxine Waters

Congressman                            35th District, California              Democrat
Elected 1990

Financial Services

Ratings for 2010:

ADA    Americans for Democratic Action                                                    90
            Liberal:             less defense spending   
                                      protect civil liberties, human rights

ACLU  American Civil Liberties Union                                                         94
            Protect individuals from legal infringements on rights

AFS     American Federation of Government Employees                       100       
            Liberal labor

LCV    League of Conservation Voters                                                        90
            Pro-environmental protection

ITIC     Information Technology Industry Council                                          67
            Promote electronic commerce and innovation

NTU    National Taxpayers Union                                                                    6
            Pro-taxpayer rights

COC    US Chamber of Commerce                                                              25

ACU    American Conservative Union                                                            4
            Conservative:    foreign policy
                                       social and budget issues

CFG    Club for Growth                                                                                    3
             Pro-tax limitation

FRC     Family Research Council                                                                   6
            Conservative:    promotes marriage and family
                                       oppose abortion

Votes in 111th Congress:           2009 - 2010

Yes      Overturn Ledbetter
            Extend statute of limitations in pay discrimination
Yes      $820 billion stimulus   
            Funds to revive U.S. economy
No       Let guns in national parks
            Permit people carrying guns in parks
Yes      Cap and Trade
            Industry measure to reduce greenhouse gases               
No       Bar federal abortion funds
            No federal funds for health plans covering abortion
Yes      Health Care Bill
            Provides insurance for people without health insurance              
Yes      Financial Firm Regulation
            Regulations on financial services firms
Yes      Pass tax cuts for some
            Bush era tax cuts to continue for incomes under $250,000
No       Stop detainee transfers
            Prohibit defense funds used to transfer detainees to U.S. facilities                      
Yes      Legalize Immigrants’ Kids
            Give children of illegal parents path to legal status
Yes      Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
            Lift ban on openly gay people in military           
No       Limit Campaign Funds
            Requires sponsors of campaign ads to identify themselves

Year                 Candidate                     Vote                                         Campaign Chest

2010                Maxine Waters (D)         98,131  79%                             698,821
                         K. Brown (R)                   25,561  21                                   17,340

2008                Maxine Waters (D)       150,778  83%                             831,984
                         Ted Hayes (R)                 24,169  13                                  13,282
                         Herb Peters (Lib)              7,632    4

2006                Maxine Waters (D)         82,498  84%                             759,619
                        Gordon Mego (AMI)           8,343    8
                         Paul Ireland (Lib)               7,665    8

2006 primary    Maxine Waters (D)         34,338  86%
                           Carl McGill (D)                  5,538

2004                Maxine Waters (D)       125,949  81%                             330,980
                         Ross Moen (R)                23,591  15                                    3,540

2002                Maxine Waters (D)         72,401  78%                             262,943
                         Ross Moen (R)                18,094  19                                  75,114

2000                Maxine Waters (D)       100,569  87%                             266,309
                         Carl McGill (R)                 12,582  11                                    7,671

2000 primary    Maxine Waters (D)         64,176  85%
                          Carl McGill (R)                   8,898  12

1998                Maxine Waters (D)         78,732  89%                             177,584
                         Gordon Mego (AI)             9,413  11                               

1998 primary    Maxine Waters (D)         48,892  86%
                           Gordon Mego (AI)             7,677  14

1996                Maxine Waters (D)         92,762  86%                             235,851
                         Eric Carlson (R)              13,116  12                                     2,428

1994                Maxine Waters (D)         65,688  78%                             177,791
                         Nate Truman (R)             18,390  22                                     9,580

1992                Maxine Waters (D)       102,941  83%                             207,954
                         Nate Truman (R)             17,417  14                                     7,143

                        AI        Alaska Independent Party
                        AMI     American Independent (CA)
                        Lib       Libertarian Party

Population 2010:                      662,413
Change since 2000:                 up 3.6%

Urban:                                      100%
Rural:                                           0

Median Income:                           42,091
Median Home Value:                447,300

Private Employment:                 78%
Government Employment:         14
Self-Employed:                             8
Blue Collar:                              28
White Collar:                            49

Median Age:                            31
Over 65:                                     8%
Under 18:                                 30

High School Graduates:            68%
College Graduates:                   17
Graduate Degree:                       5

Veterans:                                    5%

White:                                        9%
Black:                                       28
Hispanic:                                  55
Asian:                                         6         

2008 Presidential Vote:
Barack Obama (D) -                165,761           84%
John McCain (R) -                      27,789           14

2004 Presidential Vote:
John Kerry (D) -                      130,764           79%
George W. Bush (R) -              33,110           20

Maxine Waters's Voting History

Votes in 110th Congress:           2007 – 2008

Yes      Increase Minimum Wage
            Raise minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour
Yes      Expand SCHIP
            Expand State Children’s Health Insurance Program
Yes      Raise CAFE Standards
            Increase fuel efficiency to 35 mpg by 2020
Yes      Bail Out Financial Markets
            $700 billion to bail out financial industry
No       Share Immigration Data
            Bar funds to governments refusing to share immigration information
No       Foreign Aid Abortion Ban
            Bar funds for abortions in foreign aid programs
Yes      Ban Gay Bias in Workplace
            Prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation
No       Repeal DC Gun Law
            Repeal local prohibition of firearms
No       Withdraw Troops 8/08
            Requires withdrawal of troops by August, 2008
Yes      No Operations in Iraq
            Bar military funds for contingency operations in Iraq
No       Free Trade with Peru
            Implement free trade agreement with Peru
No       Overhaul FISA
            Overhaul Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

Votes in 109th Congress:           2005 – 2006

No       Estate Tax Repeal
            Permanently repeal federal estate and gift taxes
No       Limit CAFE standards
            Less stringent auto fuel efficiency standards
No       FY06 Spending Curb
            Curb federal entitlement spending
No       Drilling in ANWR
            Oil and gas leases for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
No       Limit Interstate Abortion
            No minors across state lines for abortions without parental consent
No       Extend Patriot Act
            Reauthorize USA Patriot Act expanding law enforcement authority
No       Bar Same Sex Marriage
            Amend Constitution to define marriage as between man and woman
Yes      Stem Cell Research Funds
            Override veto to fund embryonic stem cell research
No       Build Border Fence
            700 miles of fencing along border with Mexico
No       CAFTA
            Approve Central American Free Trade Agreement
No       Oppose Iraq Withdrawal
            Oppose setting date for withdrawal of US forces from Iraq
No       Detainee Tribunals
            Create military tribunals to try detainees
Votes in 108th Congress:           2003 – 2004

No       Drilling in ANWR
            Permit oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
No       Approve Bush Tax Cuts
            Reduce taxes by $350 billion through 2013
No       Medicare/Rx Bill
            Medicare prescription drug legislation
*          Bar Overtime Pay Regulations
            Oppose federal overtime pay regulations
No       DC School Vouchers
            Funds for private schools in DC
*          Ban Human Cloning
            Criminal sanctions for human cloning
No       Restrict Gun Liability
            Restrict liability lawsuits against gun manufacturers, sellers
No       Ban Partial Birth Abortion
            Criminal sanctions for “partial birth” abortions
No       Ban Same-Sex Marriage
            Amend Constitution to ban same-sex marriage
No       Fund Iraq War
            Approve appropriations for U.S. military operations in Iraq
Yes      Bar Cuba Embargo Funds
            Prohibit funds to enforce economic embargo of Cuba
No       Intelligence Reorganization
            Reorganize intelligence agencies; create national director

*          Absent

Votes in 107th Congress:           2001 – 2002

*          Approve Bush Tax Cuts
            $1.35 trillion in tax cuts
No       Limit Patients’ Bill of Rights
            Limit non-economic damages in liability awards
Yes      Campaign Finance Reform
            Eliminate most uses of soft money; limit pre-election advertising
Yes      Ban ANWR Development
            Protect Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development
No       Faith Based Charities
            Federal incentives for religious social services
Yes      Bar Gays in the Boy Scouts
            Do not enforce anti-discrimination rulings against Boy Scouts
No       Ban Partial Birth Abortions
            Criminal penalties for “partial birth” abortions
No       Arm Commercial Pilots
            Commercial pilots able to carry fire arms in flight
No       Trade Promotion Authority
            Authority for president to negotiate international trade agreements
No       Bar Funds for International Court
            No federal funds for International Criminal Court
No       Authorize Force in Iraq
            Authorizes U.S. military force in Iraq
No       Deny Home Security Department Union
            Deny employees of Homeland Security from joining union

*          Absent

Votes in 106th Congress:           1999 – 2000

Yes      Patient Bill of Rights
            Bill of Rights dealing with health maintenance organizations
Yes      Accelerate Minimum Wage
            Increase minimum wage by $1.00 in two instead of three years
Yes      Strike Ban on Ergonomic Standards
            Strike ban on federal standard for ergonomic protection
No       Override Estate Tax Veto
            Override veto of phase-out of estate and gift taxes
*          Bar RU-486 Funds for FDA
            Bar FDA funding of chemical induced abortion drug
No       Display 10 Commandments
            Permit state and local governments display Ten Commandments
Yes      Gun Show Background Checks
            Require gun show dealers to perform background checks
No       Ban Partial Birth Abortion
            Ban partial birth abortions
Yes      NATO War in Serbia
            Authorize deployment of US military forces for Kosovo
No       Permanent Trade with China
            Authorize permanent trade relations with China
Yes      Debt Relief for Third World
            Provide debt relief for heavily indebted nations
Yes      Drop Cuba Economic Embargo
            Drop enforcement of US economic embargo of Cuba

*          Absent
Votes in 105th Congress:           1997 - 1998

No       Clinton Budget Deal                          
            Approve budget reconciliation bill implementing required tax cuts
No       Education IRAs
            Expand retirement accounts to be spent on education expenses
No       Required 2/3 vote to Raise Taxes
            Amend Constitution for 2/3 votes to raise taxes
No       Fast Track Trade
            Negotiate trade agreements on “fast track” congressional authority                                
Yes      Puerto Rico Statehood Referendum    
            Referendum on statehood in Puerto Rico
*          End Highway Set-asides
            End minority set-aside funding benefits in highway program
No       School Prayer Amendment
            Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing right of prayer in school
No       Override Partial Birth Veto
            Override President Clinton’s veto of partial birth abortions ban             
No       Cut money for B-2 Bombers    
            Cut funding for additional B-2 stealth bombers 
Yes      Human Rights in China
            Require preference to U.S. firms in China with human rights code of conduct    
No       Withdraw Bosnia Troops
            Invoke War Powers Resolution to withdraw U.S. military forces in Bosnia        
Yes      End Cuban TV – Marti
            End funding for television broadcasts to Cuba   

Votes in 104th Congress:           1995 - 1996

No       Reduce Medicare Growth
            Reduce projected spending for Medicare                     
No       Override Product Liability Veto
            Override veto of bill to limit damages in product liability
Yes      Increase Minimum Wage
            Increase minimum wage to $5.15 an hour                     
No       Welfare Reform
            Five year restriction on benefits; beneficiaries find work                        
No       Flag Amendment
            Constitutional amendment barring desecration of U.S. flag                    
Yes      Drop EPA Limits
            Drop limitations on enforcement authority of EPA                                 
*          Repeal Assault Weapons Ban
            Repeal ban on manufacture and sale of assault weapons                       
No       Override Partial Birth Veto    
            Override veto of bill barring “partial birth” abortions     
*          Cuban Embargo
            Tighten embargo on trade with Cuba                
No       Bar Bosnia Troop Money
            Bill prohibiting funds for U.S. troops deploying to Bosnia          
Yes      Cut Anti-Missile Defense
            Reduce funding for anti-missile defense program           
No       Bar U.N. Uniforms
            Prohibits U.S. forces from wearing U.N. uniforms

*          Absent

Votes in 103rd Congress:           1993 – 1994

Yes      Clinton Deficit Plan
            Clinton Administration deficit reduction plan
No       NAFTA
            North American Free Trade Agreement
Yes      Brady Handgun Purchase
            Waiting period and background check on handguns
No       Strike Race/Death Penalty
            Strike provisions barring racial discrimination death penalties
No       Limit UN Command of Forces
            Restrict placing US forces under UN command
Yes      Cut Missile Funds
            Cut $1.2 billion from Navy weapons procurement fund