Archive for June, 2009

Government disconnect from reality or just plain arrogance

June 26, 2009

This article deals with the disconnect between what government expects from industry and government’s own sad history of how it runs the public’s business.

Just a few months ago, members of Congress took turns wagging their fingers at CEOs of the automakers for not making tough choices–not shedding “legacy costs,” not making products consumers wanted, not cutting bloated bureaucracies.  Detroit had become self-referential, unable to compete because it was unwilling to deal with its internal constituents.

Now Washington faces a series of domestic crises that will shape the health of our society for decades–unaffordable healthcare, balkanized financial regulation, and a mind-boggling deficit, to name three.  But Washington will likely fail–indeed, may even make the problems worse–unless it deals with its own “legacy costs” and bloated bureaucracies, which currently make it impossible to achieve new focus and efficiencies.

Detroit is Google compared to Washington.  Year after year, Congress makes laws but almost never repeals them.  Washington is like a huge monument to legacy costs.  Laws from the Depression will send tens of billions in unnecessary subsidies this year to farmers, organized labor and other groups thought to be in need–80 years ago.  Bloat is also notorious–it’s nearly impossible to fire anyone under civil service laws, so layers of middle management have grown exponentially.  Professor Paul Light found 32 levels in some agencies (compared to 5 levels in most well-run enterprises).

All this accumulated law–about 300,000 pages of federal statutes and regulations–operates as a form of central planning.  It bogs people down in bureaucracy.  In healthcare, the labyrinthian requirements of Medicare, Medicaid, HIPAA, plus the equally dense, and often conflicting requirements of 50 states, plus the insurance company red tape, make it impossible for people to deliver care efficiently.  Add to that bureaucratic nightmare the ever-present fear of being hauled into court whenever a sick person gets sicker, and you have a system that looks like it was designed for frustration and waste.

The inertial forces that make it hard to achieve change in Washington, in the best of circumstances, become a kind of invincible fortress when reinforced by thousands upon thousands of pages of binding law.  Each of those provisions is zealously guarded by special interest groups, and changing any word of a statute requires the votes of 218 members of the House and (generally) 60 senators.

The article is, an interesting read, but if anyone thinks that there is any chance of a federal bureaucracy reforming itself – especially one as huge as in the U.S. – they are smoking some really strong stuff.

But it is funny – sad but funny -  that government, which has an abysmal history of piling pointless legislation on top previously passed pointless legislation, has the arrogance and the smugness to tell the auto industry how to fix its problems.

What is even funnier and sadder is that probably not one of the members of congress sees the irony of the situation.

Thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.

Now the threat of U.S. knife ban courtesy of their Customs agency

June 19, 2009

I’ve written a few times about proposed knife bans – usually in the UK, and unfortunately also in Canada – over concerns about sharp, pointy knives that could cut someone. No kidding. But I had always considered this to be the rantings of various nutbars. But now we see an actual threat to knife ownership in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave (or the USA for short).

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency is proposing a new definition that could be used to eliminate 8 of 10 legal pocketknives in the United States right now, according to activists who are gearing up to fight the plan.

The federal bureaucracy is accepting comments – written only – that must be received by June 21 before its planned changes could become final, but Doug Ritter of KnifeRights.org, said the implications of the decision would be far-reaching, since many state and federal agencies depend on the agency’s definitions to determine what is legal in the United States.

For a long time, those switchblades that have long stiletto blades that are spring-ejected powerfully from the side or end of the handle have been illegal in the United States, but now a review by the agency of its own approval in 2008 of a particular type of knife for import is raising serious alarms.

“They are saying that any knife that you can open quickly or any knife that you can open with one hand is therefore a switchblade,” Ritter told WND.

It really makes you wonder what is happening within the Obama administration, although I doubt that these are instructions coming down directly from the White House.

A possible explanation is that we are  seeing the reaction of a bureaucracy emboldened by how they interpret the current administration’s philosophy on governance and control.

………. the change came after the incoming administration of President Barack Obama reassigned some managers at the agency.

“What we do know is when the incoming administration reshuffled assignments at Customs, it moved the responsibility for knives and switchblades from one organization with Customs to a new organization,” he said. “That group has, as far we can tell, virtually no experiences, background or anything with knives.”

On the other hand it may be just the normal and ongoing practice of a federal bureaucracy that sets and changes regulations with seemingly little oversight and less concern about consultation with the public.

I wouldn’t hold out much optimism on the chance of getting the agency to withdraw their proposed regulation change unless some serious political pressure can be applied.

More info here.

Government tables bill to allow police to snoop through electronic communications

June 19, 2009

If you gave police free reign you would be carrying an official identification card, have your fingerprints and DNA on file and probably (OK a bit too far) have video cameras in your house to make sure you aren’t breaking some law out of their sight.

Think not?

The Canadian government has just tabled legislation that would give police much easier access to your e-mail content and other digital equipment such as cellphones and the like. As the Globe and Mail reported:

Police will have sweeping new powers to collect information about Canadian Internet users without a warrant, and activate tracking devices in their cellphones and cars under legislation proposed by the Conservative government yesterday and criticized by privacy advocates as excessive.

If the government’s latest shot at introducing “lawful access” legislation – something successive governments have tried but failed to do for the past decade or so – succeeds, Internet service providers will also be forced to install monitoring technology on their servers to keep track of their users’ online activities.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan yesterday introduced two bills – the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act and the Technical Assistance for Law Enforcement in the 21st Century Act – just before the House of Commons empties out until the fall session.

In another article in the National Post:

The draft legislation would also oblige telecom firms and Internet service providers (ISPs) to quickly give authorities subscriber information such as name, address, telephone number and Internet protocol address, e-mail address, service provider identification and certain cellphone identifiers.

You don’t think that the various police departments and certainly the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs haven’t been lobbying the government for just this kind of  legislation?

Certainly it bothers me that the police continually push for even more ways to insinuate themselves into your private life, but what bothers me a great deal more is how casually our elected representatives are willing to offer up legislation that reduces Canadians’ rights and freedoms.

On a narrower scale we have Victoria police of chief, Jamie Graham, wanting the B.C. government to ban all cellphone use while operating a vehicle.

Certainly there is inappropriate use of cellphones by drivers, but I have seen even worse instances of people driving while reading material laying on the passengers seat, eating or numerous other distracting activities.

As the article says, four provinces already have bans in place for the use of hand held phones while driving, but Graham also wants to ban hands-free units. For the life of me I can’t see why talking on a hands free cellphone is any more distracting than talking to a passenger in your car. Personally, I would think it would be less distracting.

And as the article points out:

Newly appointed Solicitor General Rich Coleman said the Ministry of Public Safety is looking at a broad number of issues that distract drivers, and will consider the cellphone issue if the B.C. police chiefs bring it forward.

“But the problem is at one time it was the cellphone. It’s not just the cellphone anymore. It’s electronic devices like BlackBerries, MP3 players, GPS units.”

Right. It’s not a cellphone that causes the problem it’s driving without due care and attention.

But regardless, they want to give us another law that doesn’t really solve a problem; as if we don’t have enough of those already.

Besides, do you really think that people aren’t going to continue to use their cellphones in their cars? Give me a break. It’s now part of the culture. It just gives the police one more reason to pull you over and write a ticket (and act accusatory).

The problem is not cellphones or BlackBerries or MP3 players. The problem is human stupidity, of which we all have a genetic share. I have seen a person almost walk into the side of a moving vehicle while totally engrossed in texting. Certainly one way to be removed from the gene pool.

You can pass all the laws you want, but you can’t legislate common sense.

Silencers and ineffective, silly and pointless laws

June 15, 2009

The other day, obviously having nothing more important on my mind, I got to thinking about the illegality of silencers as applied to firearms. Now I don’t have an extensive background on silencers or suppressors, as Wikipedia likes to categorize them, but years ago I actually had the opportunity to shoot a German made .22 rimfire rifle that had been manufactured with a silencer as an integral part of the barrel. The story was that in Germany big game hunters would keep the silenced smallbore rifle with them in their stand to pot small game without the fear of disturbing other game in the process. It was rather a neat gun. Also many years ago, while on a coaching course with the Shooting Federation of Canada at Fort Benning Georgia, I had the opportunity to shoot some centrefire rifles complete with silencers and shooting sub-sonic ammunition.

But I digress. What did occur to me is that silencers would, in many instances, be extremely useful and certainly have no detrimental effect on public safety. For shooting ranges it would solve the noise problem which would be of enormous benefit. For all shooters, suppressors would significantly reduce hearing damage and for hunters there would be the benefit of game not spooking from the crack of the rifle on a missed shot. Kind of a win-win situation.

So why – I said to myself – are they illegal or at least so heavily controlled in so many places?

In Canada, a device to muffle or stop the sound of a firearm is a “prohibited device” under the Criminal Code.[13] A prohibited device is not inherently illegal in Canada but it does require an uncommon and very specific prohibited device license for its possession, use, and transport. Suppressors cannot be imported into the country.[14]

The United States taxes and strictly regulates the manufacture and sale of suppressors under the National Firearms Act. They are legal for individuals to possess and use for lawful purposes in thirty-eight of the fifty states. However, a prospective user must go through an application process administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which requires a Federal tax payment of US$200.00 and a thorough criminal background check. The $200.00 buys a tax stamp, which is the legal document allowing possession of a silencer. The market for used suppressors in the U.S. is consequently very poor, which has driven innovations in the field (buyers want the height of technology, because they are basically “stuck” with the purchase). Primitive suppressors are available in other countries for under US$40,[15] but they are usually of crude construction, using cheap materials and baffle designs that were obsolete in the United States by the 1970s. While suppressors in the US are more expensive (hundreds to thousands of dollars), they are generally built with highly advanced baffle stacks and exotic materials like Inconel and high-grade heat-treated stainless steels. Several states and municipalities explicitly ban any civilian possession of suppressors.

The Federal legal requirements to manufacture a suppressor in the United States are enumerated in Title 26, Chapter 53 of the United States Code.[16] The individual states and several municipalities also have their specific requirements.

The question is: Why have silencers been demonized and banned and ultra-severe penalties been set?

There doesn’t appear to be a lot of information available on the history of silencer/suppressor laws, but I did find this excellent paper titled Criminal Use of Firearm Silencers written in 2007 by Paul A. Clark. The abstract sums up the situation neatly.

Both the public and sentencing judges regard silenced firearms as more dangerous than ordinary unsilenced firearms, and the federal penalty for possession of a silenced firearm during crime is a 30-year mandatory minimum. The assumption that silenced firearms are more dangerous than ordinary firearms has never been empirically researched. This study examines federal and state court data to compile statistics on who is being prosecuted for possession of silencers and what crimes they are used to commit. This data indicates that both on the federal and state level those prosecuted for crimes involving silencers are far less likely to have a criminal record, and are far less likely to actively use their weapon than those people convicted using ordinary unsilenced firearms.
The data indicates that use of silenced firearms in crime is a rare occurrence, and is a minor problem. Moreover, the legislative history of silencer statutes indicates that these provisions were adopted with little or no debate. The silencer penalty has been justified by a need to crack down on “professional criminals” or to punish people using “dangerous weapons.” The evidence suggests that 30-year minimum sentences make no sense. Mandatory minimums should be repealed and sentencing judges permitted to treat each case on an individualized basis.

I was thinking recently about how pointless many laws are. Too often legislation is written and passed in an attempt to solve (or appear to be attempting to solve) some real or perceived problem, but without any intelligent consideration as to whether there is any logical or practical value to the legislation. Silencer laws seem to fit neatly into that category.

It’s not that anyone would be hard pressed to obtain a working silencer as there is a volume of information available on the internet and construction plans are easily available as well. So if a criminal thought that it would be advantageous for him to have a silenced firearm there would be little to stop him from doing so. Again it turns out that like most laws of this type the people it controls is the law abiding citizens and has no effect on the criminals who don’t obey the laws anyway.

The author of the paper mentioned above did come up with some historical background on how silencers became dangerous in the eyes of the courts and the politicians.

Legislative History of Federal Silencer Regulation

The history of silencer regulation is complicated, and the documentation of why various provisions were passed is sparse. Courts that have tried to determine the legislative history of some of these provisions have expressed dismay at the paucity of information in the legislative record (U.S. v. Hall, 171 F.3d 1133, 1139-40 (8th Cir. 1999)). Scholars who have examined the history of gun control statutes in general have concluded that they tend to be the result of complex compromises and determining legislative purpose is difficult (Hardy, 1986: 585).

In 1934, the federal government began to regulate machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers by placing a $200 tax on such weapons to discourage their sale (U.S. Congress, 1986b:219-220). The 1934 congressional debates provide no explanation about why silencers were licensed. Paulson (1996:10) opines that during the Great Depression, poaching game was thought to be a problem and silencers were licensed because of this concern.

In 1968 the federal government passed the first major federal gun control provisions. Anyone committing a felony which could be prosecuted in federal court received an additional one to ten years if a firearm was used (88 Stat. 1214, 1225 (Oct 22 1968)). The statute did not distinguish among different types of firearms, or include silencers.

In 1986 Congress adopted a 20-year enhanced sentence for crimes committed with a silencer–and this was increased to 30 years in 1988.6 Congressional debates contain no clear statement of reasons why the additional penalty for use of silencers was enacted. The House report on the legislation says little about silencers but describes them as “used in assassinations and contract murders” (U.S. Congress, 1986b: 4). The most thorough article on the 1986 Act, of which the silencer provision was one small part, does not even mention the silencer provision (Hardy, 1986:585). However, looking at the congressional hearings held on the bill, it is clear that the silencer  rovision was a reaction to the murder of a Jewish talk-show host by white-supremacists. Alan Bergwas a well-known radio personality in Denver, whose outspoken criticism of hate groups resulted in his murder in June of 1984. He was ambushed outside his home and riddled with bullets from a .45 caliber sub-machine gun.The murder was widely publicized and resulted in a book being written about it (Singular, 1987).

In December of 1984, the FBI raided the home of their prime suspect, Gary Yarbrough: When agents searched the home, they found the MAC-10 [.45 caliber sub-machinegun] and four crossbows, 100 sticks of dynamite, plastic explosives, hand grenades, semi-automatic rifles, infrared night vision scopes, gun silencers, booby traps, police scanners and 6,000 rounds of ammunition (“Aryan Group, Jail Gangs Linked,” Washington Post, Dec. 18, 1984, cited in U.S. Congress, 1986a:158).

It was assumed that the silencer had been used in the attack, because silencers were found in the same place as the apparent murder weapon. Witnesses testifying before the Judiciary Committee called attention to this possession of a silencer by the prime suspect. Sam Rabinove, Legal Director of the American Jewish Committee told the House Judiciary Committee:

I have with me several news articles, all of which in some way relate to the kind of racist
violence [which] saw the death of Allen [sic] Berg in Denver, with the Aryan Nations, the
Order, and other such racist extremist groups. In each of these articles, there is always the
mention of a silencer, or a 9mm handgun (U.S. Congress, 1986a:142).

It turned out that Yarbrough was not involved in the murder. In 1987 (long after the silencer provision had been adopted), two other members of the neo-nazi group were convicted of the murder and given 150-year prison sentences (“150-Year Sentences Given to Two Killers of Radio Show Host,” 1987). There is no evidence that a silencer was used. The murder was reported by neighbors who heard gunshots, making the silencer theory unlikely (Singular, 1987:19-20).

In any event, a number of witnesses assured the House Committee that machine guns and silencers were “basic tools of racketeers, drug traffickers and professional killers” (Statement of American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Congress, 1986a:167). There was no statistical evidence cited as to the incidence of silencers in crime. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was asked to provide information on the incidence of machine guns in crime, but no one bothered to ask for any such data about silencers (U.S. Congress, 1986a:221; see also Hardy, 1986:673).7

Unfortunately, that is all the legislative record contains as far as silencers are concerned. Silencers were declared to be the tools of professional killers with no legitimate purpose. There are a number of other reasons one might advance for the silencer provisions which do not seem to have been considered. One might think that silencers are inherently more dangerous than other firearms. At least one court has declared that it is the dangerous nature of silencers which lead to their control (U. S. v. Dunlap, 209 F.3d 472, 478 (6th Cir. 2000)). Yet there is nothing in the legislative record to indicate the inherent danger of silencers was an issue. One congressman, before being corrected by the expert witness, thought silencers were used “to transform a gun into an automatic weapon” (U.S. Congress, 1986a:75). Otherwise, despite numerous people testifying against silencers at the hearings, no one actually claimed they were dangerous. Congressman Hughes, for example, in discussing the provisions regarding machineguns and silencers, began by declaring: “To have an operating machinegun in somebody’s house, it is a dangerous weapon. It is extraordinarily dangerous. It really is.” He then went on to discuss silencers in a totally different vein, merely declaring that there was no reason “why a sportsman would want a silencer” (U.S. Congress, 1986a:759-60). One might think that silenced firearms are more likely to be discharged than a normal firearm, or that they make it easier for a criminal to get away with a crime. No reasons for punishing use of silencers were advanced; the constant refrain was that these devices were used exclusively by professional criminals.

So in effect, silencers were demonized and banned in the U.S. because some politican at the time sold the legislature and the public a bill of goods on how banning silencers on firearms would stop violent criminals from quietly killing people. And the police chiefs of the day would have nodded their heads and said “Yes, yes, we need this law because if don’t, we won’t hear the gang members shooting each other we won’t know where to go to arrest them”. Other countries, including Canada, went along with the same kind of nonsense.

Doesn’t this all sound a little too familiar?

Firing David Letterman

June 14, 2009

David Letterman has taken some heat over his tasteless joke about Governor Sarah Palin’s daughter, and now there is the inevitable call to get him fired.

Now I’m no fan of Letterman. I have always found his humour to be mean spirited, although I thought he might have mellowed a bit over the past few years. Obviously I was wrong. However my personal opinion has always been that Cher’s assessment of him as being an “asshole” was pretty much on the mark.

Regardless, I have a deep aversion to this trend where you call for the firing of any individual who makes a comment however tasteless or controversial and which offends some segment of the public.

If you don’t like what someone like Letterman says simply don’t watch his show because on the other side there are those who would get people like Limbaugh and Hannity off the air in a heartbeat if they could swing it.

It cuts both ways.

Arrival Home

June 14, 2009

Stopped in Calgary overnight to visit with family members and then headed home Saturday morning. An ugly drive. It seemed like the whole highway through Banff and Yoho National Parks was under repair. They are in the process of widening the Transcanada through that area. But it was slow going, with numerous areas reduced to single lane traffic. It was bad enough with the traffic volume this time of the year and I can’t even imagine how awful it will be when the tourists hit the road this summer. Unfortunately I would think that the construction will be there for the duration. I have to go back to Saskatchewan sometime in September and will have to figure out a way to avoid that section at all costs.

Traveling West From Saskatchewan

June 12, 2009

For the 3rd year in a row my June trip to Saskatchewan has been notable for rain and cool weather. That’s not all bad as I have taken the credit for bringing needed moisture into the prairies. However it did play havoc with plans to golf and do some gopher shooting, although I did get my usual game in at the Weyburn Golf Club. With the weather being so cool and wet, I didn’t even bother stopping in the Hazenmore area  to see if the gopher population was still intact after the poisoning program last year.

Now that I am on my way back west the weather is clearing and the forecast is for more heat units. As they say, timing is everything in life and obviously my timing sucks.

Travelling east to Saskatchewan

June 8, 2009

Traveling to the Eastern provinces. Alberta today and then on to Saskatchewan.

I left the Okanagan this morning wearing shorts and sandals and have just about succumbed to frost bite. Well, not quite that bad but damned cool, even at my first stop in Grand Forks. Living in the Okanagan it is easy to forget that the weather outside of the valley isn’t always comparable. Should have checked the weather channel before leaving.

I am proceeding via Lethbridge this trip rather than my usual route through Calgary so I took Highway 3 across the southern part of the province. It is really a beautiful trip and pretty light in traffic, at least today.

I had thought about staying in Blairmore, Alberta overnight and golfing at the Crowsnest Pass Golf & Country Club there on Monday morning but was dissuaded from doing that when they told me in the pro shop that they expected snow over night and a high of 7 degrees C in the afternoon. But they gave me a cart and told me to take a drive around the course anyway and look at it, which was extremely hospitable.

Too bad the weather was shoddy as I would have liked to have played there. It looked like a tough course, especially so for a first time player.

With the Blairmore option gone,I continued on the Lethbridge for the night and will have breakfast with an old friend in the morning. Maybe try to play a course somewhere tomorrow, enroute.

Swaying like Elm trees

June 6, 2009

A community meeting was recently held in Regina to discuss the pros and cons of nuclear energy in Saskatchewan. Of course there were those for and those against. At least some of the ‘against’ were from the flaky side of the room.

Prior to the community meeting held in the auditorium at Western Christian College, about 40 people gathered on a patch of grass and joined hands in a circle.

Swaying and alternately moving forward and back and side-to-side, they performed “The Elm Dance,” which organizers described as being “in solidarity with those around the world who have been and are being harmed by uranium mining and nuclear power generation.”

A friend of mine who was involved in the uranium industry went through these discussion in B.C. a goodly number of years ago and from some of the meetings he attended began referring to the province as ‘California North’, which was not in any shape or form meant as a compliment.

Apparently some of that philosphy has drifted east to staid and conservative Saskatchewan. California Northeast?

Thanks to Small Dead Animals for the ponter.

Pay the writers – Harlan Ellison

June 6, 2009

This is the best and funniest rant that I have heard in ages – if ever. Harlan Ellison unloading on a movie company who wants to use a interview with him free of charge on their DVD.

Thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.


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