It’s interesting how closely linked the EPA is to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Do you want information on what constitutes a wetland, perhaps because you may just have one on your own property? Why the ACE has a Regional Supplement “which provides technical guidance and procedures for identifying and delineating wetlands that may be subject to regulatory jurisdiction under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act.” That’s especially interesting seeing this coming April, just in time for spring flooding, the EPA will come out with updated rules that will define which specific waterways the agency can regulate, cleaning up the details, if you will, of a Supreme Court ruling that was left, perhaps intentionally, vague. While it might be a touch paranoid to expect to hear the rumblings of an ACE convoy coming up your driveway in order to disembark, identify and delineate a possible wetland lurking somewhere on the land that you bought and paid for, the rule changes do mean that the EPA, and it’s partner the ACE, will have the regulatory power to define, and enforce, how your land, or at least the wetter part of it, is to be managed. And that will mean resources to do all that delineating and accompanying paperwork, and a part of your taxes going to fund those resources and all that additional paperwork.

Rep Lamar Smith, R-Texas, raised the warnings last summer and seems to be leading the charge against the proposed rule changes and the additional paperwork and cost they would almost certainly impose on private property owners as well as businesses. A series of EPA maps – whether they are detailed enough is debated by EPA spokespeople – gave the game away according to Smith, who fears that property rights will become even more conditional and subject to further EPA regulations. Will the Government’s considerable surveillance systems be used to map out the nation’s waterways, including small streams and temporary wetlands? Spy satellite data bases being cross referenced to nail down whether your land should be ground surveyed by Army Corps Engineers? It seems exaggerated, but hardly impossible. And if the EPA rule changes do lead to a rush to further survey and classify private property across the USA, you can be sure that a rush of legal challenges will also follow, perhaps ending up again on the doorstep of the Supreme Court. Whatever challenges to the EPA’s authority that SCOTUS then takes up will be, yes, a watershed decision. That’s because any EPA rule changes that broadly define streams and wetlands will be a further step towards including private land in the public commons. Clean water matters a lot, but a power grab by bureaucrats is an expensive, aggressive, and inefficient way of achieving, and especially enforcing, measurable progress on clean water. Let’s hope, against hope perhaps, that the EPA rule changes coming this April are reasonable and flexible.

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s father Steve, was Sheriff of Dodge county in Wisconsin, having moved his family from Chicago. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s father Llew Walker was a reverend, a Baptist Minister in fact, having moved his family from Colorado to Iowa, and finally Wisconsin. And yes, the sheriff’s son is not bothered at all by a potential shoot-out, that would be political and civic please, with unions and Democrats over right to work legislation in Wisconsin. The reverend’s son, however, with his hand on a potential FEC filing, wants to avoid unseemly conflicts and get good things done, like cutting taxes. How embarrassing that such internecine clashes would so quickly emerge.

Well, not really. As Senator Fitzgerald sees it, there is a limited legislative window available to get right to work legislation passed and assure employers that Wisconsin is an appealing jurisdiction to open or expand a business in. As Governor Walker sees it, tax cuts are a better way of achieving the same goal, without the noisy protests that will inevitably ensue, both inside and outside the state legislature. Both points of view make sense, but the suspicion that Walker may be preparing a bid for the GOP nomination casts doubt on the reasons for his approach. While a smooth legislative session that achieves measurable, if discrete, goals might be a way to avoid gridlock, sometimes gridlock is not only unavoidable but necessary. In a conflict as fundamental as right to work legislation vs. union rights, a legislative stalemate, (even if it is a manufactured one given the GOP majorities in Wisconsin), can be the precursor to more fundamental change. And change is always resisted by whatever groups or institutions feel threatened. It might not play well for Governor Walker’s supposed presidential ambitions to show his state in legislative turmoil, or at least engulfed in noisy protests, but it may pay off in the longer run in terms of added jobs, something most people in Wisconsin would support. Will the sheriff’s son have his way? That depends on how effectively the reverend’s son can convince his own party. Both want Wisconsin to work, in the broadest sense of the word. Let’s see if they can work something out.

Wishing a happy and healthy New Year to all. 2014 had been stuffed with political changes and dramas and a control shift in the Senate. Another year dusted and a new year with another whole round of changes. We hope 2015 is a good one!

The Spanish-American War lasted 13 days short of 4 months. The Teller Amendment passed the Senate a few days before the war began in April of 1898 by 7 votes, the same number as the number of conditions imposed by it’s legislative successor, the Platt Amendment, on Cuba 3 years later in 1901. Over a century later, what was attempted, and what was prohibited within Congress still affects America. As Obama seems to be readying the ground for another executive action on one of his favorite tactics, a quick military retreat from various spot around the world, in this case from Guantanamo Bay, or Gitmo, the ghosts of those actions over a century ago still live. The Teller Amendment placed the brakes on annexation of Cuba before the U.S. went to war. It may have been mainly motivated by Henry Teller’s defense of the beet sugar industry in his home state of Colorado against a feared avalanche of Cuban cane sugar should the island have indeed been annexed.

Both the Platt Amendment and the 2nd occupation of Cuba during the period 1903 – 1906, revolved around the American preoccupation over what direction a new Cuban government would take. Their worries about a revolutionary neighbor were well founded if a little premature, to say the least. It would take the Russian Revolution and the full emergence of the Soviet Union to create a worldwide framework in which a revolutionary Cuba would no longer be just a mid-sized Caribbean nation turning towards left-wing politics, but rather a key player in the strategic life and death struggles of the Cold War. Did Eisenhower, did the Kennedy brothers in October of 62, curse Henry Teller and his beloved beet sugar industry? Likely they did, but Cuba has never presented easy solutions to the US Congress and Executive, unlike Puerto Rico, which despite a few radicals and the bullets they fired inside the Capitol Buildings, seems to be perfectly comfortable with its status.

Cuba, unlike Hispaniola who asked to be annexed in the 19th century and arguably Puerto Rico, wanted their own government from the start. And boy did they get it. But from the start, the entanglements between American and Cuban interests were as dense as, well, a tropical sugar plantation. Batista’s coup, or golpe de estado, was planned, where else, in Florida in the 30’s after a half-dozen or so interventions earlier in the century by the US in the island’s chaotic affairs. If to John Quincy Adams, Cuba had represented an apple which would gravitate towards America once freed of the shackles of Spanish rule, to others it may have appeared at times like a forbidden fruit mistakenly savored by American business interests. which ended up owning a majority of the islands sugar industry by the 20’s, Teller’s worries notwithstanding. But the arms length dominance backfired in the late 50’s and what would have almost certainly never occurred under annexation, became a nightmarish reality: a communist, Soviet-backed nation 90 odd miles off the Florida coast.

Guantanamo existed, in that context, as a suddenly vital outpost, because of the close connections almost immediately established by Castro and Guevara with the Soviets. The Soviet Union is gone, precisely because of America’s commitment to a military presence around the world, as well as the unsustainability of a command and control marxist economy over the longer run. Russia nowadays is far from an ally, but is no longer committed to supporting left wing insurgencies around the globe. And Cuba remains marxist, remains under the grip of the Castros, remains denying even basic freedoms to the overwhelming majority of its citizens. So a retreat from Guantanamo is a victory for the Cuban regime, which will be played as a glorious vindication of Fidel and Raul’s policies and applauded by sympathizers in academia and the media and elsewhere from the comfort of their democratic, first world abodes. And the average citizen of Cuba will still be waiting for something better. Whether they say it out loud or not.

While Fox New’s Greg Gutfeld is obviously right about the media’s sensationalizing the police protests, it is not a trivial issue and is one that needs to be covered. While BBC World and other international, as well as local and domestic media head to any protest with an andrenaline-charged glee as if they were heroically uncovering a dark truth, there is a problem and it is especially a problem because police are dying. The point is not merely to place the issue in context, although inflaming an issue does tragcially endanger law enforcement and other first responder’s lives is irresponsible to say the least. The problem is the perception among parts of the African American community that they are being targeted is a reality, and needs to be covered, even if the perception is not always accurate and encourages the breakdown of law and order. How to do that in a way that does not justify the looting is not easy, but saying the issue should take a back seat to Ebola or ISIS does not solve what is a real problem.

In a nation of over 300 million, that a policeman has to shoot to defend himself, or herself, is statistically inevitable, perhaps even on a daily basis. It’s what happens afterwards that causes the real problems. Don’t like a grand jury ruling? Go shoot a police officer seems to be the sickening response. That it is a few lone psychotic, violent individuals that actually pull the trigger seems not to matter at this point. The evidence, for example, seems clearly to suggest that Michael Brown charged the officer and had fought with him, trying to gain control of his firearm. That does not matter to his rioting defenders. What is being indicted on the streets is the rule of law. And the violence entrenches opposing sides, with police logically more reluctant to respond to calls and protesters looking for any excuse to trash and burn, and lone wolf crazies, looking to shoot the men and women who place their lives on the line to uphold the law. In order to avoid sensationalizing the issue, should we, for example, ignore the lives of the two police officers in New York who were gunned down as they ate lunch in their squad car?

Greg Gutfeld would never say that of course. So it seems a little late to quibble about media bias. Of course there is bias, much of it anti-police. Of course it endangers lives of first responders. Of course it can have dangerous implications. Moving forward, enacting police reforms that do not shackle their ability to do a dangerous, often thankless job will be necessary, whether it seems an impossible task at the current time or not. The other part of the solution is making rioters understand that the rule of law is the only way forward and that rioting and looting will be punished. That, of course, is already being done. And inbetween the gleeful sensationalism, those stories also have to be told. I’m sure that Gutfeld would say that’s exactly what he’s doing, but he knows that freedom of the press comes with the risk of excess. The best answer to sensationalism, especially dangerous sensationalism, is to take on the same story being sensationalized and tell it in a better way.

The holiday season brings thoughts of joy and gratitude, and there’s no better time to express our thanks and sincere appreciation to the Political Derby Community for your amazing dedication and contributions.

We wish everyone and their families a very happy and safe holiday.

It’s good to know that Sony Entertainment is following Japan’s pacifist policies in swiftly obliging North Korean interests and canceling the release of The Interview, the comedy about assassinating the Stalinist state’s leader. Nice move. North Korean cyber terrorists are clearly behind the hacking of Sony Entertainment and the 9/11 style threats to any theatre that showed the film, an impossible threat to carry out according to security experts, convinced the corporation to run for cover. It’s main stars Seth Franco and James Rogen are practically in hiding, and the First Amendment Rights so valued by Hollywood, especially in matters like explicit sex and on-screen violence, are somehow missing in action from the quick retreat. It is hard not to sympathize with the perhaps irrational fear that Rogen and Franco must be feeling, but if you are going to do a brutal comedy about North Korea, you would be silly not to expect some sort of screeching response from the regime.

As a post-modern exercise in the absurd, the script when we actually get to see it might be amusing, but as a political fact that produces reactions, it is something more real, more sweaty and in your face. Hopefully Franco, Rogen, and others associated with the film will change their minds and stand up for their creation, whatever its artistic merits. If they don’t they will raise the suspicion that their film was an adolescent prank that blew up in their faces, an awkward turn of phrase given the admittedly absurd threats. Freedom of thought carries, or should carry, the burden of responsibility, and hopefully that responsibility leads the thinker to certain limits on their expression. And if the thinker chooses to stretch those limits, they also bear the responsibility for at least being conscious of the effects their thought, expressed in speech or art or any other form, produces in society at large. It is seems to be common currency for the last few decades to label that burden of responsibility as self-censorship or repression, or some form of archaic taboos. The creators of The Interview should bear that responsibility with enthusiasm and spunk in the face of yet another seemingly psychotic threat from the regime in Pyonyang.

Nothing like an English Conservative Euroskeptic MEP – that would be member of the European Parliament – to advise the GOP on how to gain Latino voters. Nothing like an English Conservative Euroskeptic MEP who was born and raised in Peru to advise the GOP. And there’s really nothing like an English Conservative Euroskeptic MEP from Lima Peru to tell the GOP that Canada has the answers when it comes to the future of Latino voters in the US. Daniel Hannan in an effervescent piece in the Washington Examiner, relates how the Conservative party of Canada has managed to improve its image amongst immigrant voters there and that they, especially former minister of citizenship Jason Kenney, now minister of employment and social development, managed to change the party’s image among immigrant voters by providing early contact, if you will, through various initiatives that brought recent immigrants into contact with the party and helped dispel negative images that the Liberal party had actively encouraged.

Does any of this help the GOP? Does Canada have over 200,000 illegal immigrants (a proportionately similar amount) mostly from a neighboring country that has had a confrontational history with Canada and is currently being ripped apart by drug wars? Does Canada have to maintain an armed vigil over any of it’s borders to ensure that an endless stream of refugees willing to break the law do not overwhelm its ability to secure its borders? The answer is no, and in fact the Conservatives main appeal among immigrant groups is among Chinese immigrants to Canada, many of whom do not arrive “penniless” in the words of Hannan, but rather are successful investors and businessmen who have accumulated considerable wealth in China and subsequently parked a portion of it in cities like Vancouver and Toronto. The GOP needs to be clear on what its policy is regarding illegal immigration, and it is clear that however that policy is articulated in the new congress, it will annoy the great majority of immigrants, illegal and otherwise, from Mexico. Can a grassroots campaign help? Perhaps, but if applying the rule of law is seen as an affront by those who deem it their right to enter the US by any means they can, then getting close to Mexican immigrants may be of little use. Latino voters are, of course, a broader group, and here maybe the GOP can and should spend some effort. But a panicky courting of Latinos due to demographic fears seems the wrong way for the GOP to try and get re-elected.

Making headlines, a 14-year old teenager, shot and killed one of 2 home invaders. The boy was at his grandmother’s house visiting, when they heard someone trying to enter the house. There were two suspects, and the boy shot and killed one of them and the other ran off. The police have confirmed they arrested the second suspect.

This young boy quite possibly saved his grandmother’s life. It’s an unfortunate incident, but he did the right thing to stand his ground and protect his own. It’s an example where we can be grateful for the 2nd Amendment and to have a brave boy in the community. Sadly, the grandparents’ home has been burglarized before, and this teenager has had to deal with gun violence before.

It was reported that his father was gunned down outside his automotive shop back in 2008. The community is rallying around this family as they deal with another violent crime, but fortunately this time none of them were hurt.

The suspect killed was 18 years old, and the suspect now in police custody is 22 years old. It’s a tragic event, but also incredible for this young boy to protect his family. Amazing.

Without the nefarious nine, FOIA may never have seen the light of day. In other words, without the 9 exemptions, especially nasty number 5, the Freedom of Information Act, passed into law on July 4,1966 by a reluctant President Johnson, might have instead been vetoed or died in some committee. In 1974, a willing President Ford was convinced instead to veto that year’s Privacy Act, (which contained amendments that strengthened FOIA), by chief of staff Rumsfeld and deputy Cheney with legal advice from government lawyer A. Scalia. Congress overrode the veto and the act became law. And as we end the year with a Senate approved bill to reform FOIA now waiting for House approval, the blushing bride in this case is Boehner, prudishly reluctant to expose government secrets that may prove difficult for, well, government. At least that’s the rumor.

Is this reluctance, whether on the part of LBJ, Rumsfeld et al, or any politician or more likely bureaucrat nowadays, merely vested self-interest? The current proposal is hardly radical. It would bring to an end exemption number 5 which is so broad as to allow any government official a handy excuse not to comply with any request for information they choose not to, for whatever reason. So the question is who decides how necessary secrecy with respect to government produced documents and other information is? The tendency is for possessive, bureaucratic ownership of any information they, or any particular government agency, may have had a hand in creating. As anti-secrecy crusader Steven Aftergood states, “the secrecy system does not exist in some kind of abstract isolation. It is an ordinary bureaucratic artifact that is subject to pressure on many levels.” That means the usual foibles of human nature which can and usually do lead to power and greed fueling corruption of various kinds. The quite liberal Aftergood also suggests the boundary between secrecy and transparency is constantly shifting due to changing national security priorities. This does make sense. When combined with U of Chicago’s Geoffrey Stone’s assertion that government secrecy should be presumptively illegitimate, and only authorized when there is a clear and overriding justification, it clearly makes the proposed reforms of the FOIA more than justifiable. The reforms seem modest and do not involve endangering national security as can be argued was the case with Julian Assange. They should be passed.

In Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett’s opinion piece on the Columbia University Law Exam Delay, alongside his admonition to grow up and get a spine he states, “if you don’t like the system, go out and change it.” Unfortunately, with their demand that their exams be delayed, the Columbia Law School Coalition of Concerned Students of Color, is doing exactly that. They are asking for preferential treatment based on their self-proclaimed identity. This is group rights in action and it will be only a matter of time before other students group themselves into self-identified collectivities and demand preferential treatment or some other action, positive or negative, on the part of terrified College administrators. This means that in the central legal and political debate of whether individual or collective rights should predominate in the USA, and elsewhere, this has in fact set a precedent in favor of collective rights. It can be seen as part of affirmative action, and one that leads into the minefield of academic performance and social and ethnic class.

That prods and dangles the ghost of guilt, white and often liberal, in order to gain preferential treatment. But even that will be defined away. It will no longer be preferential treatment, but something more like “equalizing opportunity” in the words, and title, of an essay by Luke Charles Harris and Uma Narayan. As they write, “an array of factors that contribute to institutional discrimination – such as class, race, gender, and sexual orientation – should be taken into account. When several factors intersect and contribute to a process of discrimination, as in the case of a working class, Black woman, each factor should be considered.” In other words, a great matrix of group identities will in the future define you, a radical sociologist’s paradise. In the perfect world for people like the CLSCCSC, (with it’s soviet sounding acronym), or Harris and Narayan, you will be graded, employed, and treated in court depending on where you fit in this great matrix. And the guardians of this great matrix will be those who are best able to claim victimization and advocate on behalf of it’s alleged victimized groups.

It is impossible to deny the brutal injustices of the past regarding race. It is vital, however, to debate which way forward respects the principles of the US Constitution. While Jarrett’s advice to stop the whining and show some spine makes a lot of sense in today’s legal world, if groups like the CLSCCSC continue to be successful in their advocacy for collective rights, today’s legal, academic, and job market worlds will be radically different within a generation. Far more than they already are today. Collective rights cannot be ignored. But they must be framed, in the best possible sense of the word, with wisdom and restraint.

How does the government, especially the Executive, but the Congress and the Judiciary as well, ensure accountability in the essentially clandestine intelligence field? While it appears that the CIA spun both the press and the White House in terms of the success of its intelligence gathering, the question remains how to oversee such claims? Is the intelligence community an enormous bureaucracy that protects its own interests, sometimes to the detriment of the government and people it is charged with protecting and serving? Of course it is. The question is how to minimize exaggerated or outright false data that may be used to justify any given program or approach to intelligence gathering. And that means answering the question of how one can possibly independently measure the data that the CIA or NSA or any of the 17 “elements” or agencies of the community that collect and analyze data? Perhaps the multiplicity of agencies is not merely turf-staking, but also is meant to provide a multiplicity of viewpoints, as Rumsfeld suggested about 10 years ago. That would mean that the 17 elements of the intelligence community keep each other in check. Given the complexity and secrecy of intelligence gathering and analysis, that hardly sounds like a reassuring proposition.

But the question remains: how can you possibly measure success of any intelligence program on say, a quarterly or annual basis? As if it were the latest job numbers out of Washington? How can you do it when the very act of independently measuring any data obtained might jeopardize the program itself? How can you hold intelligence agencies accountable without undermining their capability to perform their job? The same press that heaps scorn on alleged CIA abuses will lambast them should any terrorist succeed in harming American interests or Americans, at home or abroad.

Clearly the government’s oversight of the intelligence community is a difficult, if not impossible task, and one they must do. Perhaps this release of the report in question is a tactic meant to pressure the CIA and other agencies to provide more credible data, if this in fact is a persistent problem. Unfortunately, in former CIA deputy director Phillip Mudd’s words, “we either get out and sell, or we get hammered.” For this to change, both the government, and the intelligence community need to agree on oversight that is measurable and effective. That’s a tall order for an unwieldy bureaucracy that is also a firewall against violent attack on life on property. Perhaps less getting out and selling and more cooperation, rather than grandstanding, on all sides would be a first step. And measuring success in a way that doesn’t drown in due process would help.

The to-be-released Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques, and possible violations of al-qaeda suspects’ rights under said interrogations is angering many in Washington, including those in the intelligence community. Charles Krauthammer asks the obvious question “what is to be gained here?” and those critical warn of risks to both allies, intelligence agents and military personnel abroad. While one can speculate on the exact motives of the White House for insisting on the report’s release, the question underlying the fuss is simple: do suspected terrorists enjoy ample human rights protection? Especially when being interrogated? Those who insist on an absolute yes have no place in any debate. They are the same who suggested we look carefully into our own hearts in the days after 9/11, and generously apportioned blame for the attacks on America itself and not on the crazed, medieval fanaticism of islamic extremists. Those who insists on an absolute no risk alienating local allies in the Middle East and elsewhere and isolate America in its efforts to contain and, God willing, bring an end to this type of terrorism.

So the question becomes one of balance, a seemingly impossible balance at times, between the intelligence community’s legislated duty to defend the nation, and a minimum acceptable guarantee of some form of due process and rights for those who may have life-saving information and are unwilling to share it with the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The techniques involved may not be very comfortable, even rather painful both physically and psychologically, and they are designed to be so. But they must be effective at the same time, and not produce confessions that lack credibility, and are given by desperate witnesses who have endured extreme pain. That this balance has been endlessly studied and quantified by the intelligence communities is beyond any doubt. That the balance should be up to the intelligence community itself is not a good idea, however. That means Congressional and even judicial oversight of some form. But with that oversight comes the responsibility to not endanger the very purpose of these interrogations. The release of a sensitive report by a lame duck Senate does precisely that; endanger future intelligence gathering efforts, as well as lives of intelligence agents, military personnel and others overseas. When all countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America enjoy stable representative democratic governments with an independent judiciary that pursues and punishes terrorism, the intelligence community will have to provide the commensurate degree of transparency. That time is a ways off. America’s intelligence agencies already operate under judicial and congressional constraints, constraints that may have played a part in 9/11. A flexible system of oversight that allows them to operate but holds them accountable is a good idea. An unwarranted release of potentially dangerous information is not.

Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter’s life tends to come in nice round numbers, a logical outcome for a brainy defense bureaucrat who has worked his way up the academic, corporate, and defense ladder one impressive step at a time. He was born 5 years after the Department he will now head, assuming he is confirmed by the Senate, was created on the foundations of the then-160-year-old War Department. He had his PhD in Physics by the age of 25, apparently as a Rhodes Scholar. Already an Assistant Secretary of Defense during Clinton’s first term, he had been Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013. His membership in high-powered advisory boards is lengthy and impressive as well. So one wonders, if Senator McCain’s gruff warning to Carter to prepare for “incessant micromanagement” on the part of the White House as Secretary of Defense is in reality unintentionally ironic. Isn’t Ashton Carter precisely the type of high-powered bureaucrat who actually has been doing all that incessant micromanaging?

While the White House might have ideas and initiatives on defense as it relates to domestic security and foreign policy, it is an area where there is not an abundance of expertise one suspects at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That means Obama’s advisors consulting with “experts”, and that means people like Ashton Carter. What manner of relationship Carter has had with Obama’s White House is not quite clear at the current time, but Carter’s resume suggests it is good, better than Hagel’s. In other words, Ashton Carter should know exactly what to expect when he is confirmed. That does not guarantee he will toe the White House line, whatever that happens to be. He is known to be fairly hawkish on matters like Iran. The real issue is whether he will see himself as a caretaker and administrator in the final 2 years of an administration in decline.

The answer to that question is that his own job will not let him. Defense is too vital, too volatile in the very nature of the responsibilities he has been charged with, to allow that. Try predicting what ISIS will be doing in the next year or two, for example. Try predicting what North Korea may or may not do and how China will respond. Try predicting what Iran’s nuclear ambitions will drive them to do, despite the slow-burn, do-little negotiations. But that exactly, and countless of other dangerous and unpredictable issues, will be Carter’s job, as well the more important tactical and strategic mission of designing and implementing responses. And here is where Senator McCain’s warning matters most. Ashton Carter should know by now exactly what he is getting into, but how successful he will be in convincing this White House to let his department implement robust responses is uncertain, especially because a robust response needs a coherent and committed foreign policy behind it that convinces voters at home and allies and rivals abroad. Ashton Carter will be reminded of that need more than a few times in his new job.

Mark Flatten, in a series of articles in the Washington Examiner, has been investigating the fate of whistleblowers, especially those connected with Veterans Affairs. It turns out they usually suffer persecution of various kinds, including prosecution by the agency’s own Inspector General, for dubious causes. As well as other forms of intimidation, as in the good old fashioned “you’re fired.” What a surprise. Government bureaucracies punish those who don’t follow the official story. Whistleblowing apparently has its roots in 13 century English law, through Qui Tam; a common law writ that allowed those who aided in the prosecution of corporations or governments to be awarded the penalties assessed. In America, the False Claims Act of 1863 allowed for the filing of claims against government contractors. Most claims have been filed against military contractors and in the health care field. So it makes sense that much of recent whistleblowing activity has taken place at or around the activities of VA hospitals.

In the wake of what seems to be multiple cases of clear retaliation against such whistleblowers, one has to ask how effective can the Whistleblowing Protection of 1989 be? In what is at best a quasi-judicial and in-house system, can you really expect those who provide information to the media that may impact strongly on a government agency to receive anything but intimidation, exclusion and abuse? This is by no means to suggest that whistleblowing be ignored or punished with impunity, but how to effectively protect those who inform is a tricky question. One answer would be to take the information straight to the judicial system rather than have it fester in an internal review. Would this be feasible? Would the courts find themselves inundated with charges stemming from resentful employees? One has to remember that the Supreme Court has placed limits on the first amendment rights for government employees, especially those in the intelligence sector. Writing in Forbes magazine in 2010, Steve Pearlman, an attorney experienced in employment litigation, suggested that Dodd-Frank encouraged whistleblowers to head straight to 3rd parties like the SEC rather than resolve the issue internally. Part of the reason for this are the financial incentives offered to them, much like in the days of Qui Tam in 13th century England. Pearlman of course advocates in the same article for an open culture within corporations where financial misconduct is weeded out by well meaning complainers. Given the fate of recent whistleblowers at Veterans Affairs, can you blame them for wishing they had headed straight to a third party? And do government regulations even allow their own employees to do that? It will be a long time before we can expect ethical internal reviews in response to any employee complaint regarding unethical or illegal activity. But it remains, more than a worthwhile, a necessary goal.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Information Management System, or PIMS, has been collecting data on K-12 students since 2007. Of course, data like school records and perhaps even violations or disciplinary measures has been collected by local school boards for some time, but PIMS takes it a step further. As their own Manual states: “PIMS is a state wide, longitudinal data system that will efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, disaggregate, and use individual student data for each student served by pre-K through Grade 12 public education system.” Should you be shocked as a a parent living somewhere in Pennsylvania? Perhaps not; data is collected at an astonishing rate and has been for some decades now. But the last two verbs in their ambitious and interventionist list are the ones that do cause worry: disaggregate and use. That means focusing, if they choose to do so, on a single student and utilizing his or her data to perhaps adjust a learning program, or perhaps engage in more invasive interventions. At least that is what critics of common code and PIMS claim.

It is already true that, for example, to get a job your resume will have to successfully pass through automated screening programs, that as one HR manager found out, won’t even accept some of the higher ups already working at the particular company you are applying to. Your data is being mined, has been mined, and shall be mined for the foreseeable future, whether by employers, insurers, marketers, or government. What might this mean for your children who are accumulating a data profile from an early age onwards, (and not just from education department information systems)? Will the PIMS flag certain types of profiles for Ritalin prescriptions? That might sound extreme, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, provides some protection against this. Some protection, but not anywhere near complete protection. As the PIMS Manual states: “Under FERPA … education agencies may release personally identifiable information to PDE for the purposes of auditing and evaluating educational programs, and for complying with federal and state regulations.” Does that make you feel better as a parent? Likely not, Federal and state regulations is a long list in any state, and your child’s data may de deemed sharable for any number of reasons under that definition. But let’s be clear, common core has been interventionist from the get go. Whether it does so in cohesive ways that achieve it’s original purpose – allay fears that American students were falling behind East Asian students in subjects like math – and whether it’s current purpose is an unwieldy mix of politically correct goals and muddled academic standards, is an ongoing debate. To give education departments the kind of control over your child’s data implied by PIMS in the middle of such debates over common core, is an uncomfortable reality at best for many parents.

Mike Rowe explains to a Liberal how Christians, and anyone else for that matter, can vote Republican. His answer is perfect.

 

Thanksgiving Day is so important because it give Americans a purpose to reflect and be grateful and celebrate our liberty. Even though we may not agree or have voted many politicians into office, they are our leaders, and we may not support their beliefs but it’s out duty to support our nation. Every Thanksgiving I re-read, for President Reagan’s speech he gave on Thanksgiving in 1985. It’s on the best.

President Reagan closes his Thanksgiving address with, “My fellow Americans, let us keep this Thanksgiving Day sacred. Let us thank God for the bounty and goodness of our nation. And as a measure of our gratitude, let us rededicate ourselves to the preservation of this: the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

To read the speech in entirety click here. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is here, and Ferguson is burning again. Those that burned, enraged as they might have been, whether friends of the Brown family or outside agitators or prone to violence, only wanted to know one thing: was Darren Wilson going to be indicted? The facts, the circumstances, the credibility of some witness accounts; all that was either secondary or meaningless. They had decided the facts of the case and only wanted to know if their opinion of justice was to be carried out or not. And not an informed legal opinion, one that rests on a reasonably careful examination of the evidence, one rather based on community and history. Justice as social justice, justice as righteous revenge in their eyes, justice as violent protest in the absence of the legal outcome they felt they were entitled to.

Some have suggested that the prosecutor felt that the evidence did not rise the level necessary to justify calling a grand jury to examine it. But the prosecutor went ahead with the case and instead, left the grand jury in charge of owning the decision, if you will. The NY Times in a critical article suggested the entire grand jury process needs to be reworked. Bloomberg news gave us a history of the English origins of the grand jury as a check on unnecessary prosecutions by the state and condemned St. Louis prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch’s tactic of leaving the decision up to the grand jury rather than prosecuting vigorously or not bringing the case to a grand jury. Would a public trial, the next stage had the grand jury brought forward an indictment, have eased tensions? Would the media circus, with it’s misplaced emphasis and omissions, to not say untruths, have changed to thoughtful in-depth coverage? Would the trial have resulted in a rational, legal process free of inflaming rhetoric and community violence? The pressure will build from those who criticize the grand jury’s decision to have the Justice Department bring a civil rights case against Darren Wilson. If this does in fact occur, will Ferguson suddenly become an oasis of sombre, rational calm? Or will the media circus and the burning continue?

Come January, Mitch McConnell has promised action from the Senate in response to the president’s amnesty for illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, whatever bill they do decide to try and pass to counter the executive action, the magic number of 60 is still a tough target for the GOP majority that will take their place when the new year’s session gets underway. There are 5 Democratic Senators who have expressed disappointment with Obama’s amnesty, but their disapproval may not necessarily translate into a yea when the crucial vote comes, and even if all five do, that’s still one short. And that’s assuming Louisiana’s run-off election goes the right way. But let’s assume somehow the GOP manages to get 5 Democratic Senators to vote their way and even convinces a sixth to vote with their legislation. The ensuing symbolic victory will be just that, symbolic, and will be vetoed when it reaches the president’s desk.

Then we have Ted Cruz’s proposal. Decline to bring nominations to the senate floor, aside from those involving vital security interests. As well as funding, “one at a time, the critical priorities of the federal government.” While attempting to pass legislation might be seen as a more positive response, one that would involve an alternative plan on immigration perhaps implicit in any legislation attempted by the GOP Senate majority, Ted Cruz’s proposals would certainly have an impact. Would Cruz’s way be too negative and contribute to voter’s views of Washington as dysfunctional? Perhaps that depends on how the senate frames such a tactic in the media. For example, as a response to a unilateral action from the executive branch with no Congressional or, for now at least, Judicial overview, making it necessary to tie up nominations in response. An interesting question is, when voters criticize dysfunction in Washington, are they really talking about presidential nominations? It seems more a case that they want certain problems and issues that affect their lives taken care of. The problem of course is that there are very differing views among voters on how to solve immigration. The GOP House bill was one, and the Gang-of-Eight bill was another. And Obama’s amnesty is more a defining away of the problem rather than a legislative solution to the long running immigration issue in America. Maybe combining Ted Cruz’s hardball, focused response with alternative legislation put together by the GOP majority is possible. Hold up nominations and put together meaningful legislation that secures the borders and deals with the issue. Senators have lots of staff and pretty awesome budgets for their offices. Why not try both?

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