Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lessons from Sandlot Baseball

Here are some lessons learned from sandlot baseball:

1. When team captains choose up sides, you don't have to play;

2. If you do play, give it your best effort;

3. Always keep your eye on the ball;

4. When you step up to the plate, don't just rest the bat on your shoulder;

5. If you get on base, don't just stand there;

6. The object of the game is to score - not just avoid being thrown out;

7. You leave the safety of one base to reach the next;

8. You don't win - the team does.

Monday, August 30, 2010

South Avenue: The Fence is Coming Down

After eight years of litigation, loss at summary judgment, victory on appeal sustained by the NC Supreme Court, and six months after Judge Crow signed the final order granting ownership to the Town of Oriental, the fence across the South Avenue right-of-way blocking public access to the water is coming down.

This morning, a contractor hired by the Town began cleaning out the debris left behind when Neuse Ways Company ceased operation of its marine railway. By tomorrow, it may be possible for the public to walk right down to the water, as they were able to do in past decades.

This is a time to celebrate.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Filibuster

The U.S. Senate always called itself "the world's greatest deliberative body," even in the 19th century, when seats were fairly blatantly purchased. (Until 1913, senators were elected by state legislatures.)

Even after 1913, the Senate has been arguably the least representative legislative body in the Western world. Because each state has two senators, a senator from California, for example, represents thirty times as many people as a senator from Wyoming.

This problem isn't going to be fixed. It is built into our Constitution.

But rules of procedure in the senate aren't determined by the Constitution. They have evolved in recent years to a situation where any senator can prevent the senate from considering any particular bill simply by filing a piece of paper.

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has made a reasonable proposal in the New York Times that might unclog the senate. A central feature of his proposal would be to bring back the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" style of filibuster. When filibusters were done that way, they were remarkably rare.

I think it is a good idea and would greatly improve the public image of the senate. It might also help get things done.

End "Complaint-Based System"

If I were asked what qualities or views I would seek in a new Town manager, at the top of my list would be the abandonment of the "complaint-based system" concept.

Our Town manager, the Chief of Police, the Mayor, and other elected and appointed officials keep reciting the mantra that we have a complaint based system of enforcing the Town's ordinances. If this is true, we should abandon the system.

Otherwise, we set neighbor against neighbor.

We saw the consequences of "complaint-based system" last Thursday. The Board of Commissioners seemed unable to resolve a neighborhood dispute, even after spending $1500 that was not budgeted.

If there arise in the course of Town affairs disputes between neighbors, the proper place to resolve such disputes is the courthouse in Bayboro. The Board of Commissioners is not a court and cannot rule in favor of one or the other disputant. What the Town Board is supposed to do, is make the rules (ordinances) that apply to everyone and rely on the Town manager and subordinate departments for enforcement.

Requiring a complaint to initiate enforcement results in inherently inconsistent, arbitrary and unfair enforcement.

If the Town is not going to enforce an ordinance, the Board shouldn't pass it. If an unenforceable or unenforced ordinance remains on the books, it should be repealed. (I tried to do that last year with the chicken ordinance, without success).

Then the Police Chief, the Town Manager, etc. could simply enforce the ordinance anywhere in town against any resident, owner or business, without requiring a citizen complaint.

All too often, when a citizen complaint initiates action, another citizen makes a counter complaint and the Town Board members choose up sides, perhaps based on personal animosities or likes and dislikes, rather than enforcement of existing ordinances or judging what new ordinances or amendments are best for the Town.

That's no way to run a government.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Citizens Voter Registration Awareness Month

Governor Perdue has proclaimed September 2010 as Citizens Voter Registration Awareness Month. The goal is to provide North Carolina citizens with every opportunity to register to vote.

This is a statewide effort, conducted by County Boards of Elections. We will be working on the details at our next meeting of the County Board.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Special Meeting of Oriental Town Board Aug 26

Oriental's Town Board met at 4:00 p.m. today, August 26, 2010 in special session. Commissioner Styron was unable to attend.

The main reason for calling the meeting - to appoint an interim Town Manager - was delayed until the end of the meeting. Items were discussed as follows:

1. Bay River Metropolitan Sewer District and the Town of Oriental continue to negotiate in an attempt to conclude an interlocal agreement. The main issue is the price the Town charges Bay River to provide billing services, including collecting payments and remitting them to the utility. About two years ago, at the recommendation of the Town's representative on Bay River's Board (Nancy Inger) the Town increased the monthly fee to $1.50 per household. Bay River proposed an agreement that would freeze this rate for five years. The previous board found that unacceptable and wanted to set a level that would not lose money. They also wanted to establish an automatic escalator clause in case Bay River were to increase their rates. Negotiations have been going on for more than a year. The absence of a contract was identified in last year's audit as a control deficiency.

2. South Water Street. The Board played "kick the can" with this issue as well. The Town retained a surveyor who had never surveyed in Oriental or perhaps even in Pamlico County, to determine where South Water Street's right of way lies in hopes of resolving a neighborhood dispute. The report, which arrived today, described how the R/W line was surveyed and marked. Now the contentious issue is "how wide is it?" The surveyor reports some maps show it 36' wide, some 40', some 45' and at least one shows the R/W as 60.' He marked the R/W with stakes at a width of 40'. The Board decided to table the issue until next week's agenda meeting, though it was unclear exactly what was tabled. Commissioners Bohmert and Roe advocated just setting the R/W width at 36' since this width was encompassed within all of the possible widths. This was rejected by Commissioners Johnson and Venturi. Mayor Sage broke the tie, voting with Johnson and Venturi.

My opinion, for what it's worth, is that a surveyor familiar with Oriental and its history would have given far greater weight to the original survey of 1900, which shows the width as 36'. Another factor to consider is that if the Town tries to claim a wider R/W than 36', they may have difficulty defending it in court. The survey has already cost the Town $1200.

3. South Avenue Right of Way. Mayor Sage reported that he has met with Mr. Lacy Henry. Mr. Henry has "given the Town permission" to remove the fence. Why the Town needs Mr. Henry's permission to remove a fence in the Town's R/W was not explained. Heidi Artley reported she has received one bid from a contractor to remove the fence at a cost of $1200. Two more bids are expected. Some of the commissioners seemed unaware that a decision had been made to hire a contractor for this job. No mention was made of whether the Town would send the bill to Mr. Henry. Some mention was made of the contractor cleaning up debris and identifying items of historical interest. As I reported here three months ago, the items of greatest historical interest disappeared not long after the judge signed his order. Removed by a person or persons unknown.

Incidentally, one of the commissioners reported some time ago an interest in a grant application, which opened June 15. Well, that deadline (Boating Infrastructure Grant program) has passed and nothing was submitted. What will it take to get some action?

4. Amendment to Town Charter. It was Alice DeBaun who provided information that the Town had adopted an ordinance in 1997 amending the Town Charter to Council-Manager form of government. Apparently for some reason it wasn't filed with the Secretary of State and the Legislative Library. I informed the Board that a similar circumstance appears to exist concerning the amendment to have five commissioners instead of three.

It was the council-manager amendment to the charter that required the Board to appoint an interim manager. They went into closed session to discuss personnel, even though Commissioner Roe tried to make a nomination in open session.

Following the closed session, Commissioner Venturi moved to appoint Heidi Artley as interim manager, seconded by Commissioner Johnson. Commissioners Bohmert and Roe voted against the motion. Mayor Sage broke the tie by voting in favor.

In his closing remarks, Mayor Sage said this is a major step to "making right" what we did during a nearly three month interim, in the mistaken impression that the Town had a mayor-council form of government.

The meeting adjourned at 6:00 p.m.

Oriental Audit News

In case you missed it - the annual audit of the Town of Oriental started Tuesday, August 24. It should be completed by Thursday.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Instant Runoff Voting

Just got back from State Board of Elections training in Asheville.

The weather was lovely, though walking up those hills certainly challenged this flatlander's legs.

Yesterday while I was being trained, the State Board of Elections held a well-publicized meeting, packed with press and TV. The media wanted to learn what action the State Board would take concerning failure of the governor's campaign to report a number of private plane flights. As soon as they learned the outcome, most left.

They missed a very important story - the election of a replacement for Judge Jim Wynn of the NC Court of Appeals, recently appointed to the federal bench. Judge Wynn's appointment created a vacancy "less than 64 days before the date of the second primary." Under state law adopted in 2006, this mandates an election to fill the vacancy, on the same day as the election for members of the General Assembly, using "instant runoff voting."

This requires voters to rank their choices. If one candidate doesn't win a majority of votes on the first round of counting, then the second or possibly third choice votes will be counted. A very clever system to avoid calling a special election.

The filing period opened yesterday and will close August 31. We won't know how many candidates there are until then.

If there are more than two candidates, North Carolina will become the first state in the nation to hold an instant runoff for a statewide election.

Details to follow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Oriental Form of Town Government New Info

I understand the ordinance amending the Town's charter to a council-manager system has been found. Good. The Town needs a manager.

Thursday's special meeting to appoint an interim Town manager is important. The interim manager has all of the statutory powers assigned by state law to a permanent manager.

Whoever is appointed will be responsible for taking the town through its annual independent audit.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Does Oriental Really Have Only Three Commissioners?

I found a record today suggesting that Oriental may only have three legal commissioners, though it has been operating with five since the election of November 2, 1993.

How can that be?

The Town Charter of 1899 provides for three commissioners and a mayor.

In 1992 the General Assembly authorized a referendum on possible changes in the electoral system for the Town of Oriental. In 1993 the General Assembly approved technical corrections to the first act. On November 2, 1993 Oriental voters held a referendum, selecting one of three choices; A: - three commissioners and a separately elected mayor who could vote only in case of a tie; B: - five commissioners, with the highest vote-getter serving as mayor and voting on any issue; C: - five commissioners and a mayor, with the mayor voting only in case of a tie.

The vote was held, and the voters selected option C.

Two problems.

First, the only surviving record of the vote, an abstract of canvassing on file at the County Board of Elections, describes it a a "Bond Ref" and gives no description of the meaning of A, B, or C.

Second, and this may be more significant, no one seems to have told the Secretary of State or the Legislative Library what option the voters chose. This is possibly significant because the ratified Bill includes the following language: "If a plurality of the votes cast are in favor of question 'A', then Section 1 of this act shall become effective beginning with the 1995 regular municipal election. Otherwise, Section 1 of this act shall have no effect." Identical language referred to questions 'B' and 'C' and the corresponding Sections 2 and 3.

So only one of the three Sections can be in effect, but we never told State officials which one. In other words, we never finished the amendment process.

How to fix it? Easy. State Law lets us amend our charter by ordinance. We should do it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Notes on the Passage of Time

August of 1954 I raised my right hand and became a 17 year old midshipman, United States Naval Reserve. That was 56 years ago.

We began learning about US Navy history, traditions, customs and usage. We learned about the Battle of Manila Bay, when Commodore Dewey led his squadron into Manila Bay and destroyed the Spanish squadron stationed there. To a 17 year old midshipman, that day in May 56 years earlier seemed impossibly remote in time. So did the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), the Great White Fleet (1907-1909), and the First World War (1917-1918).

To a midshipman serving in Dewey's squadron, 56 years earlier would have been 1842, before the War with Mexico.

How time flies.

Maritime Treasures

Today's New York Times reports on the sad state of some national maritime treasures.

The most urgent and saddest case is USS Olympia, Commodore Dewey's flagship at the battle of Manila Bay in 1898.

I toured Olympia almost thirty-five years ago when my ship was being overhauled at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The ship's guns had been removed (possibly during a WWII scrap metal drive) and had been replaced with hollow metal tubing. Still, it was possible to imagine the ship speeding through the warm waters of Manila Bay, evading Spanish mines, that long ago May night, closing at dawn on the Spanish Fleet, when Commodore Dewey turned to the ship's captain and said, "you may fire when ready, Gridley."

The most impressive part of the tour below decks was the engine room. Her massive reciprocating steam engines could propel the nearly 6,000 ton ship at a speed of 20 knots.

Olympia was ordered in 1888, only five years after the first four ships of the modern steel navy were authorized by Congress. Her design incorporates the lessons learned from building the first four ships (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dolphin) of the new steel navy. It did not yet have the benefit of operational experience with the "ABCD" ships.

Olympia's paint job, with white hull and buff masts and stacks was the peacetime paint scheme of US Navy ships of the day. Before going into battle in 1898, she was repainted in haze gray.

USS Olympia is the only ship of her era still afloat. A true national treasure. We need to find a way to preserve her.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Oriental Form of Government Update

Mr. Hartwell Wright of the NC League of Municipalities conducted a workshop today with the Town Board. Mr. Wright, who is an expert on human resources matters, not an attorney, nevertheless provided some interesting observations.

1. If the Town has a council-manager form of government, the duties of the manager are spelled out in General Statutes. The Town Board may not take away any of those duties except by charter amendment.

2. In a council-manager system, a member of the Board may not serve as a department head.

3. In event of departure of the manager, the Board shall appoint an interim manager.

4. The relationship between the Board and the manager is pretty much what I described earlier:

"The Council/Manager plan of government promotes the separation of the Town Board's responsibility for political judgments and policy direction from the manager's responsibility for administration in accordance with the council's overall policy guidance and his or her own politically neutral expertise.

I think this is a fair description of how the Town has been governed for many years."

5. When Mr. Wright assists towns in changing their form of government it is always from mayor-council to council-manager, not the other way around.

6. Towns in our size category with council-manager forms of government tend to be towns with more infrastructure whose population grows during the summer.

I have not been able to confirm that the Town adopted an ordinance amending the charter to council-manager. Still working on it. August 24 update. The Town has located the amendment to the Charter. The Ordinance amending the charter to provide for a Council-Manager form of government was adopted November 12th, 1997. It is signed by Mayor Sherrill Styron and Town Administrator William Crowe. It cites NCGS 160A-101(9)(b). David Lawrence's data specifically cites GS 160A-101 as basis for one of our charter amendments. A change to council-manager in other towns often cites that provision. Our only amendment on file not only doesn't cite that provision, it was done by petition to the General Assembly, not by ordinance. Curious. It also doesn't report the results of the town's referendum. Maybe we still really have a mayor and three member council?

No telling what you'll find when you start looking.

The search continues.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Oriental's Form of Government

Professor David Lawrence of the NC School of Government has kept a detailed database of town governments in the state: http://www.sog.unc.edu/pubs/FOG/index.php

Using his database, you can find out how every town is governed and the statutory citations. Where a town with a mayor/council form of government hires an administrator to run the departments, this is also shown. According to his data, of the municipalities in Pamlico County, Minnesott Beach and Oriental are Council/Manager governments. The rest are all Mayor/Council.

The professor provides statutory cites for each town. For Oriental they are:

SL 1993, c. 4
GS 163-279
GS 160A-101
Pr. 1899, c. 184
SL 1991(92), c. 878

You can look it up.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Town of Oriental's Form of Government

Did the Town's 1899 Charter establish a Mayor/Council form of government? Yes. In fact, in 1899, that was the only form of municipal government in North Carolina.

Does the 1899 Charter determine what Oriental's form of government is today? Not necessarily. A lot has happened since then.

In 1899, for example, the Mayor had all of the powers of a Justice of Peace. He could put people in jail, levy fines, sentence citizens to work on the roads. The Town issued its own automobile license plates, kept its own tax lists, ran its own elections. In the 1920's, the Town had authority to issue bonds. In those days, if the Town wanted to amend its charter, it had to petition the General Assembly.

No more.

A big change, introduced in North Carolina General Statutes about 40 years ago, was to give Towns the right to change their form of governance without going back to the General Assembly for an amendment to the charter.

The town can change its form of government to a number of forms spelled out in NCGS 160A-101. They may change it by ordinance (160A-102)[see below for new info], subject to referendum by petition (160A-103). The charter can also be amended by popular initiative (160A-104) in the form prescribed by 160A-105. When the charter is amended, the amendments must continue in force for at least two years after beginning the term of office of officials elected thereunder (160A-107). Take a look at NCGS 160A. The index and links are at: http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/gascripts/statutes/StatutesTOC.pl?Chapter=0160A

Advocates of the Mayor/Council theory apparently believe the Town never officially adopted the Council/Manager form of government.

Before I accept that as fact, I would want to research the Town's minutes and ordinances from the time NCGS granted authority to change the form of government until some reasonable time after the Town first characterized the chief administrative officer as "Town Manager." We need more than proof by assertion.

Even if it can be shown that the Town did not follow the procedures prescribed in 160A-101 through 106 to amend its charter, it has consistently followed the procedures of governance characteristic of a Council/Manager system for many decades. This history of town governance establishes a reasonable expectation on the part of the Town's citizens that they will be provided the benefits of a Council/Manager form of government.

I argue that the Town is estopped from adopting a Mayor/Council form of government without going through all of the procedures outlined in NCGS 160A-101 through 106.

I don't argue that the Town Commissioners lack the authority to adopt a Mayor/Council form of government. But to do so, they need to go through all the steps. Not by stealth.

August 16th update. I have pretty good information from the NC School of Government that the town's charter was in fact changed by local ordinance pursuant to the procedures in GS 160A-102. I will be seeking confirmation from the state legislative library, now that I have some citations to refer to.

Special Town Board Meeting August 17 11:00

The Town of Oriental has scheduled a Special Workshop Meeting August 17, 2010 at 11:00 am with Mr. Hartwell Wright of North Carolina League of Municipalities to discuss Human Resources.

Warning! This could be a stealth effort to change the form of government the Town of Oriental has enjoyed for nearly 40 years, without alerting the citizenry to the issues.

To set the stage, I quote from a recent letter of Mayor Bill Sage to the Local Government Commission (back)dated April 1, 2010:

"The prior Town Administrator, Wyatt Cutler, had served for nearly a decade when he announced his retirement in late 2008, effective January 31, 2009. The Town began a search process for his replacement and hired the current Administrator, Randall K. Cahoon, in March 2009."

"Pay no attention," the letter seems to say, "to the contract between the Town of Oriental and the same Randall K. Cahoon, made the 9th of March, 2009." The contract was addressed to "Randall K. Cahoon, Town Manager" and signed for the Town of Oriental by "William R. Sage, Mayor." Pay no attention, likewise, to nearly 40 years of minutes describing the "Town Manager's Report," correspondence addressed to and signed by "Town Manager," and the fact that during his "nearly a decade" of service, Wyatt Cutler was styled as and performed the functions of the Town Manager.

With no notice to the public, someone working out of Town Hall seems to have decided to expunge the term "town manager" from our lexicon and replace it with "administrator."

Isn't this a distinction without a difference? Not exactly.

What is at stake is how the town is governed.

The Council/Manager plan of government promotes the separation of the Town Board's responsibility for political judgments and policy direction from the manager's responsibility for administration in accordance with the council's overall policy guidance and his or her own politically neutral expertise.

I think this is a fair description of how the Town has been governed for many years.

The Mayor/Council form of government assigns decision making responsibility to the Town Board as a group, with no clear executive authority.

Advocates of the Mayor/Council model contend that the Town's 1899 Charter provides for a Mayor/Council form of government.


Maybe not.

More to come.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Town Board Impressions

Watching the proceedings at last week's Town Board reminded me of a film clip I once saw at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma. Will had his foot on the running board of a car, relaxed grin on his face, talking to the occupant.

"From the newspapers, Mr. Coolidge," he said,"I see you haven't done much of anything this year."

"Yep," President Coolidge said.

"But," Will observed, "It seems that's just what the public wanted done."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Oriental Town Board of Commissioners August 3

I attended the August 3 meeting of the Oriental Town Board of Commissioners. I learned a lot. Much of what I learned was from what wasn't said, and some from how things were said. Some of what I learned was just from observation. I'll share some of these observations over the next few days.

One of the first observations is that previous problems with minutes haven't been resolved. The Board spent the first thirty minutes of the meeting wrestling over minutes. In fact, they did not approve the minutes for June 1. What I thought I heard was that those minutes would be approved at the next agenda meeting. I must have been mistaken, because now I see that minutes for June 1 have been posted on the Town's web site. Surely that wouldn't have been done without revisiting them at a public meeting of the Board. August 13 update: just checked the town's web site - the June 1 minutes have been removed.

Surely there is some way to make sure the minutes are done right the first time. On second thought, maybe not. We still haven't solved a similar problem at the County Board of Elections.

More later.

Political Expectations

"A man that would expect to train lobsters to fly in a year is called a lunatic; but a man that thinks men can be turned into angels by an election is a reformer and remains at large."

Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne)

Monday, August 9, 2010


"There's never time to do it right, but always time to do it over."

-Staff Officers' Lament

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Physical Changes

I saw my doctor last week for my annual physical. Everything was great. Only one piece of bad news: I'm an inch and a half shorter than I was when I was 21.

That's unfair.

The problem isn't that I want to tower over other people - it is that now I have to lose more weight. The weight charts are calibrated by height. As long as I thought I was taller, my weight didn't look that bad.

When you think about it, using overall height as the benchmark discriminates in another way. My legs are short. They should be a couple of inches longer. That wouldn't add much weight, but would make a difference on the weight chart.

Guess I just have to start eating less and exercising more.

South Avenue Update

Pamlico County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Crow signed the final judgment granting ownership of the end of South Avenue to the Town of Oriental last February 5th.

Six months have passed, and the fence is still up. I am told that last Wednesday Lacy Henry agreed for the Town to remove the fence he put up in the Town's Right of Way about eighteen years ago.

Care to place bets on how long it will take for the fence to come down?

Voting Rights

Forty-five years ago, August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, effectively ending the deal struck almost ninety years earlier that let southern states deprive a large number of their citizens of rights enjoyed by the white majority.

The Voting Rights Act is often seen as a measure primarily benefiting African Americans. I see it as a victory for all Americans. It took another four decades, but the events set in motion that long-ago August eventually led to the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and countless court decisions establishing the right of every American to vote. No poll tax (that hindered all poor people from voting), no literacy test (first used in the Northeast to prevent Irish immigrants from voting), no competency test, easier procedures for servicemen and overseas Americans to vote, removal of administrative barriers.

The bottom line: now every citizen has the right to vote somewhere unless that right has been taken away by a court of law.

We can best honor the memory of the courageous Americans who gave their lives so this could happen by taking the time to register and vote.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

County Audit

At last Monday's meeting (August 2) of the Pamlico County Commissioners, we learned that the County's auditors have completed their work except for one minor item: adding the revenue from the County's share of NC State sales tax, which will not be received until next month.

Good Job!

At Tuesday's meeting of Oriental's Town Commissioners, we heard nothing about the town's audit. I have since learned that the auditors plan to begin their work in a couple of weeks.

You may recall that the NC Local Government Commission sent a letter to the Town on March 1 requiring the Town to correct a dozen deficiencies from our last audit. The LGC went on to "urge the Board to develop a corrective action plan immediately and begin eliminating these serious internal control weaknesses."

Town Board minutes of April 6 report that Mr. Cahoon was to provide information and after consulting with the auditors, Mayor Sage would sign and send a letter in response to the LGC. I have been unable to find any record of action by the Board to develop or even adopt a corrective action plan.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tonkin Gulf 1964

Forty-six years ago today, August 4, 1964, I was aboard USS Higbee (DD-806), steaming at twenty-seven knots toward the Tonkin Gulf. The day before, our destroyer squadron commander, Captain Vincent Patrick Healey, rushed our departure from the naval base at Yokosuka, Japan, so we could get into the action following the North Vietnamese PT Boat attack Sunday, August 2 on USS Maddox.

The above photo, taken from Higbee's helicopter deck, shows USS Mason (DD-852), followed by USS Orleck (DD-886) in the distance. Not seen is the squadron flagship, USS Joseph B. Strauss (DDG-16), leading the way ahead of Higbee.

My wife Elizabeth and our two young sons had arrived in Japan from the states after nineteen hours in a four-engined propeller plane the evening of August 3, hours after our departure. I would not see them for two more months.

That night (August 4) I stood the mid watch (midnight to 0400). After my watch, I stopped by the radio shack to read the fox skeds (incoming messages broadcast to all the ships in the fleet, printed on yellow teletype paper). I soon came across a stack of messages sent at flash precedence from USS Maddox and the embarked destroyer squadron commander, Capt. Herrick. It read like a war novel.

Maddox and her companion ship USS Turner Joy reported being under attack by PT boats. The ships took evasive action to avoid torpedoes detected by sonarmen. The attacking boats, seen on radar, maneuvered at high speed. Lookouts reported flashes of gunfire and cockpit lights. Maddox and Turner Joy fired their five inch guns and reported destroying several boats.

After several messages of that kind, Commodore Herrick sent a message calling into question some of the earlier messages. His messages conveyed increasing doubt that the ships were under attack at all. Then I saw messages from the Pentagon asking probing questions and directing Herrick to keep all of the records, including tracks from the ship's dead reckoning tracer (DRT), radio logs, sonar records and so forth. Commodore Herrick recommended to the Pentagon to take no action until the records were reviewed.

Unknown to him, action was already underway, with a retaliatory strike planned for dawn.

Suddenly there were no more messages on the fleet broadcast about the event. I was certain the message traffic had been moved from general service communications channels to a "back channel" not shared with the operating forces.

Two months later, back in Yokosuka, we began hearing rumors that the two ships may have been firing at each other. I doubted that. But I never believed that the so called second attack, the night of 4-5 August 1964, that was used to justify the Tonkin Gulf Resolution actually happened.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Conservative Fears and Timidity

Conservatives are timid. Don't take my word for it - read the words of Glen Beck's favorite economist, Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek in his 1960 essay, "Why I am not a Conservative."

"As has often been acknowledged by conservative writers," Hayek writes, "one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead. There would not be much to object to if the conservatives merely disliked too rapid change in institutions and public policy; here the case for caution and slow process is indeed strong. But the conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to whatever appeals to the more timid mind."

He goes on to elaborate:

"Let me return, however, to the main point, which is the characteristic complacency of the conservative toward the action of established authority and his prime concern that this authority be not weakened rather than that its power be kept within bounds. This is difficult to reconcile with the preservation of liberty. In general, it can probably be said that the conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes. He believes that if government is in the hands of decent men, it ought not to be too much restricted by rigid rules. Since he is essentially opportunist and lacks principles, his main hope must be that the wise and the good will rule - not merely by example, as we all must wish, but by authority given to them and enforced by them. Like the socialist, he is less concerned with the problem of how the powers of government should be limited than with that of who wields them; and, like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people."

Be not afraid.