Sunday, April 27, 2014

Benjamin Franklin v Bundy

I've been thinking about cattleman Cliven Bundy's recent anti American rant and what it reveals about the warped views of American history it reflects.

Bundy and his Tea Party and Libertarian supporters envision America as some kind of historical anarchy. Laws are apparently tyranny in his view. And everything he has he did entirely on his own.

Benjamin Franklin, without whom we may not have ever achieved independence, had an entirely different view of property and taxes. Here is what he wrote in 1783:


CHAPTER 16 | Document 12
Benjamin Franklin to Robert Morris
25 Dec. 1783Writings 9:138 The Remissness of our People in Paying Taxes is highly blameable; the Unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some Resolutions of Town Meetings, a Remonstrance against giving Congress a Power to take, as they call it, the People's Money out of their Pockets, tho' only to pay the Interest and Principal of Debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the Point. Money, justly due from the People, is their Creditors' Money, and no longer the Money of the People, who, if they withold it, should be compell'd to pay by some Law.
All Property, indeed, except the Savage's temporary Cabin, his Bow, his Matchcoat, and other little Acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his Subsistence, seems to me to be the Creature of public Convention. Hence the Public has the Right of Regulating Descents, and all other Conveyances of Property, and even of limiting the Quantity and the Uses of it. All the Property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other Laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 16, Document 12
The University of Chicago Press

The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Albert Henry Smyth. 10 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1905--7.
Easy to print version.

© 1987 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 2000

Thursday, April 24, 2014


I recommend Nicholas Kristof's article about Moldova in today's New York Times. A pretty small place under a significant threat from Russia.

Moldova, like Eastern Ukraine, Crimea, and the Baltic states, has pockets of Russians moved there while they were still part of the Soviet Union. It seems Putin wants them all back.

Not unlike the pockets of German speakers scattered across Central and Eastern Europe that Germany went after in the 30's and 40's. These Russian pockets should temper their enthusiasm for absorption into Russia. The analogous German experience didn't turn out so well.

In any event, I think this all shows that the Soviet Union was less about communism and more about Russian imperialism.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cox v Town of Oriental

Today was the day the North Carolina Court of Appeals heard my case against the Town of Oriental. This was at least the end of the beginning, if not the beginning of the end.

We won't know the outcome for weeks or perhaps months. I'm not counting any chickens yet, but I think my case is strong. Still, there are never any guarantees when a case goes before a court.

Without getting into the ins and outs of my legal argument and the Town's, I want to register a mild complaint in another direction entirely.

From the time I first brought my concerns before the mayor and the town commissioners, I had the impression that elected officials and the town's attorney dismissed my views out of hand. What could a naval officer possibly know about the law? And why would he make a big deal about whether the town was acting within its legal authority?

Those who don't go down to the sea in ships have possibly never reflected that a warship operates in a very complex legal environment. Commanding officers must not only understand Law of the Sea, but also grasp how his actions may affect the interests of the nation differently depending on where the ship is located. The legal regime may vary depending on whether the ship is in US waters, or even whether the ship is in the Mississippi river, on the Great Lakes, or in other special regimes. Is the ship in international waters? Is the ship in the territorial waters of another sovereign state?

What legal regime applies? How does the legal regime affect the captain's authority and legal responsibilities?

I first encountered these issues when I was seventeen years old and learning to be a naval officer. To be sure, I was taught navigation and seamanship. I was taught ordnance and gunnery. I was taught the operation and maintenance of ship propulsion plants. I learned radar, sonar, other electronic systems. But that wasn't all.

The very first semester of my four year course of Naval Science introduced me to "US Naval Regulations, 1948." This document spelled out the authority and responsibilities of Naval officers - the source of the authority and the limitations on that authority.

A little later on, I studied the Uniform Code of Military Justice,  the Judge Advocate General Manual, and the Manual for Courts Martial.

These weren't just theoretical studies. They were central to my profession.

In those days, more so than today, unrestricted line officers performed most of the Navy's legal functions. We administered justice through non-judicial punishment as well as through our own criminal justice system under the UCMJ. In case of mishap, suspicion of criminal activity or in other cases, we conducted our own investigations using procedures in the JAG manual.

To do all of these things in 1954 when I began learning about it, the Navy had very few legal specialists. We did not even have a JAG corps of legal officers at all until 1950. You would not find one aboard most ships. Some major commands had a JAG officer assigned. The first JAG officer I served with was on a guided missile heavy cruiser in 1971.

When I was commissioned as a naval officer and reported to my first ship, within six months I was the ship's legal officer. I was also the navigator, the personnel officer, the administrative office, and a dozen other things. When the captain convened a court-martial, I was the trial counsel. Over the years, at various times I served as trial counsel, defense counsel, member of the court and president of the court. 

I first worked really closely with Navy JAG officers in the Pentagon in 1972. We collaborated on international negotiations, on issues involving status of forces agreements with foreign powers, in negotiations on Law of the Sea matters.

By that time, I had degrees in international law and diplomacy. Many of my civilian counterparts in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and in the State Department were attorneys. I learned a lot from them. After I retired, I continued working on international issues as an engineer and policy analyst in the field of international technology cooperation.

I certainly don't know as much about courtrooms as practicing attorneys do. That's why I retained one to represent me in my appeal of the trial court's dismissal of my complaint against the town.

There are a lot of terms of art in the legal field that don't come tripping off my tongue. Though I dare say few practicing attorneys know more about Law of The Sea than I do.

The best way for professionals to relate to each other is with mutual respect. The better to learn and to join forces.

My goal all along has been to protect the public interest and the rule of law.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ukraine's Aspirations

In today's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof visits the Ukrainian village his father grew up in. The people Kristof describes are like the Ukrainians I know. They just want to be a normal European country.

We can and should help.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Seventy Years Ago: USS Houston (CL-81) Ready For Sea


Boston, MA April 15, 1944, Newly commissioned Cleveland-class light cruiser Houston, after completing shakedown cruise in the Caribbean, provisioning, training, and final outfitting, reports Ready For Sea. Her orders: get underway April 16, 1944, proceed through Panama Canal to San Diego, California. On arrival, report to Commander, US Pacific Fleet for combat duty.

Ship Characteristics:

Awarded: 1940
Keel laid: August 4, 1941
Launched: June 19, 1943
Commissioned: December 20, 1943
Decommissioned: December 15, 1947
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Va.
Propulsion system: geared turbines, 100,000 shp
Propellers: four
Length: 610.2 feet (186 meters)
Beam: 66.3 feet (20.2 meters)
Draft: 24.6 feet (7.5 meters)
Displacement: approx. 14,130 tons fully loaded
Speed: 32.5 knots
Aircraft: four
Armament: twelve 15.2cm 6-inch/47 caliber guns in four triple mounts, twelve 12.7cm 5-inch/38 caliber guns in six twin mounts, 24 40mm guns, 21 20mm guns
Crew: 70 officers and 1285 enlisted

Monday, April 14, 2014

US Navy Electrical Propulsion

Department of "History Begins When I Was Born." Yesterday's News and Observer printed an AP report about the Christening of USS Zumwalt, named for a former Chief of Naval Operations from the 1970's. Good. I am proud to have served under Admiral Zumwalt's strong and innovative leadership.

On the other hand, the AP article explained that USS Zumwalt is "the first U.S. Ship to use electric propulsion." That is not accurate. In 1912 the Navy launched a new fuel ship, USS Jupiter, powered by a prototype turbo-electric propulsion system. After serving in World War I, Jupiter was converted to become USS Langley, CV-1, the Navy's first aircraft carrier. The next two aircraft carriers, USS Lexington (CV-2) and USS Saratoga (CV-3) were also electrically powered. In the 1920's, the navy adopted diesel electric propulsion for its new S-Class submarines and continued using diesel-electric propulsion for its submarines until the switch to nuclear power. These submarines were propelled by electric motors, drawing electricity from diesel generators when on the surface and from batteries when submerged. At least six US battlehips of the era were also powered by electrical propulsion: (Tennessee, New Mexico, California, Colorado, Maryland and West Virginia,) as were three classes of destroyer escorts (Evarts, Bulkley and Cannon classes) used to protect WWII convoys.

Langley, still in service in 1942, was converted in 1936 to function as a seaplane tender. She supported Australian anti submarine air operations out of Darwin, and then was pressed into service to transport crated P-40 fighters to Tjilatjap in the Dutch East Indies. Attacked by Japanese Aichi dive bombers on February 27, 1942, she was so badly damaged she had to be scuttled and abandoned by her crew to keep the ship out of the hands of Japan. When she went down, her 30-year-old electrical propulsion plant was still working reliably.

File:AV-3 near miss 27Feb42 NAN5-81.jpgUSS Langley  Under Attack By Japanese Navy Aircraft February 27, 1942

So electrical propulsion is far from new.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Living Within Our Means?

The budget just passed by the Republican House of Representatives sheds new light on the phrase "living within our means."

"Mean" is a word with many meanings. But when referring to Republicans, one set of meanings stands out:

mean 2  (mēn)
adj. mean·er, mean·est
a. Selfish in a petty way; unkind.
b. Cruel, spiteful, or malicious.
2. Ignoble; base: a mean motive.
3. Miserly; stingy.
a. Low in quality or grade; inferior.
b. Low in value or amount; paltry: paid no mean amount for the new shoes.
5. Common or poor in appearance; shabby: "The rowhouses had been darkened by the rain and looked meaner and grimmer than ever" (Anne Tyler).
6. Low in social status; of humble origins.
7. Humiliated or ashamed.
8. In poor physical condition; sick or debilitated.
9. Extremely unpleasant or disagreeable: The meanest storm in years.
10. Informal Ill-tempered.
11. Slang
a. Hard to cope with; difficult or troublesome: He throws a mean fast ball.
b. Excellent; skillful: She plays a mean game of bridge.

[Middle English, from Old English gemǣne, common; see mei-1 in Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: mean2, low1, base2, abject, ignoble, sordid
These adjectives mean lacking in dignity or falling short of the standards befitting humans. Mean suggests pettiness, spite, or niggardliness: "Never ascribe to an opponent motives meaner than your own" (J.M. Barrie).
Something low violates standards of morality, ethics, or propriety: low cunning; a low trick.
Base suggests a contemptible, mean-spirited, or selfish lack of human decency: "that liberal obedience, without which your army would be a base rabble" (Edmund Burke).
Abject means brought low in condition: abject submission; abject poverty.
Ignoble means lacking noble qualities, such as elevated moral character: "For my part I think it a less evil that some criminals should escape than that the government should play an ignoble part" (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)
Sordid suggests foul, repulsive degradation: "It is through art . . . that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence" (Oscar Wilde).
A check of the Republican budget reveals that it (the budget) is mean in most of those senses.
It is such a mean and destructive budget that Americans should be enraged. NYT  columnist Charles M. Blow tells us today why we should be enraged. Republican insistence on measures like this is the main reason why wages for sixty percent of Americans are lower now (in real terms) than they were 40 years ago, despite vast improvements in economic productivity. 

This is not driven by economics. It is driven by the greed of a narrow sliver of American society who make nothing but deals. And prosper out of all proportion to any contribution they make to society. Many of them got their wealth the old fashioned way - they inherited it. And for the past half century they have used that wealth to acquire great political power. Which the George W. Bush Supreme Court has just increased.

The only weapon we have to fight back with is the vote. We can see how much this threatens the wealthy and powerful by what a concerted effort Republican state governments across the land have exerted to suppress the votes of the poor, people who work for a living, people of color, women and the elderly. 

We see it right here in North Carolina.

Get out and vote!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cox v Town Of Oriental Update

Last Thursday the Town of Oriental filed a 33-page motion with the North Carolina Court of Appeals requesting permission to file an additional reply ("surreply") in addition to normal filings in an appeal, responding to my reply to the Town's brief. This is pretty much unprecedented. The Court has already scheduled the hearing in the case for April 23rd.

I don't know what action to expect the Court to take in response to the Town's motion. But I am certain that the 33-page motion (posted here) will add to the Town's legal bill.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What Is A Robber Baron?

A little etymology is in order.  Fortunately, Timothy Taylor in his blog "The Conversable Economist" saves us the trouble of poring over the archives.

He explains the origin of the term in the Middle Ages here and provides some helpful examples from Nineteenth Century oratory using the term in very descriptive ways.

Where are the orators of our day?

W.C Flagg, president of the Illinois State Farmer's Association, was such an orator in his day. He explains the results of the Robber Barons' in the field of transportation: "There-by you, the citizens of a democratic-republican country, are enabled to know how cruel, relentless, and unscrupulous a thing is arbitrary power in the hands of a few. Regulation by combination means that the railroad managers are feudal lords, and that you are their serfs."

An 1870 article in Atlantic Monthly draws a picture that seems all too familiar today:

"They make money so rapidly, so easily, and in such a splendid sensational way, that they corrupt more persons by their example than they ruin by their knaveries. As compared with common rogues, they appear like Alexander or Caesar as compared with common thieves and cutthroats. As their wealth increases, our moral indignation at their method of acquiring it diminishes, and at last they steal so much that we come to look on their fortunes as conquests rather than burglaries."

The article might have been referring to the practice of high frequency trading, where margins of time in microseconds result in vast stock trading fortunes as described this week in the New York Times. In times past, such people were also described as parasites. 

Ukraine, Nuclear Weapons And Japan

A little over a month ago, I posted a reflection on the danger of failing to live up to the international security guarantee the nuclear powers gave to Ukraine in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal.

Today's New York Times article reporting Japanese concerns over the U.S. reaction to Russian takeover of the Crimea should, therefore, come as no surprise. The article makes it clear that failure to carry out the security guarantee to Ukraine not only complicates efforts at nuclear non-proliferation, it also complicates conventional diplomacy.

It is a bit reminiscent of the inter war diplomacy of France. After World War I, France signed a guarantee to defend the independence and territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia. But France lacked a common border with Czechoslovakia and besides that, had built a vast fixed fortress (the Maginot Line) and a military designed to operate behind that line. How were they to come to the aid of Czechoslovakia if necessary?

It created a mismatch between miltary planning and diplomatic efforts. In the end, it didn't work.

I would hope we have learned something useful in the intervening eighty years.

WHO Says America Has The Best Healthcare System?

Actually WHO doesn't say that. The World Health Organization ranks the health care systems of its members.

WHO's on first?


We're number 37!

Here's the list:

World Health Organization Ranking; The World’s Health Systems
1 France
2 Italy
3 San Marino
4 Andorra
5 Malta
6 Singapore
7 Spain
8 Oman
9 Austria
10 Japan
11 Norway
12 Portugal
13 Monaco
14 Greece
15 Iceland
16 Luxembourg
17 Netherlands
18 United Kingdom
19 Ireland
20 Switzerland
21 Belgium
22 Colombia
23 Sweden
24 Cyprus
25 Germany
26 Saudi Arabia
27 United Arab Emirates
28 Israel
29 Morocco
30 Canada
31 Finland
32 Australia
33 Chile
34 Denmark
35 Dominica
36 Costa Rica
37 USA
38 Slovenia
39 Cuba
40 Brunei
41 New Zealand
42 Bahrain
43 Croatia
44 Qatar
45 Kuwait
46 Barbados
47 Thailand
48 Czech Republic
49 Malaysia
50 Poland
51 Dominican Republic
52 Tunisia
53 Jamaica
54 Venezuela
55 Albania
56 Seychelles
57 Paraguay
58 South Korea
59 Senegal
60 Philippines
61 Mexico
62 Slovakia
63 Egypt
64 Kazakhstan
65 Uruguay
66 Hungary
67 Trinidad and Tobago
68 Saint Lucia
69 Belize
70 Turkey
71 Nicaragua
72 Belarus
73 Lithuania
74 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
75 Argentina
76 Sri Lanka
77 Estonia
78 Guatemala
79 Ukraine
80 Solomon Islands
81 Algeria
82 Palau
83 Jordan
84 Mauritius
85 Grenada
86 Antigua and Barbuda
87 Libya
88 Bangladesh
89 Macedonia
90 Bosnia-Herzegovina
91 Lebanon
92 Indonesia
93 Iran
94 Bahamas
95 Panama
96 Fiji
97 Benin
98 Nauru
99 Romania
100 Saint Kitts and Nevis
101 Moldova
102 Bulgaria
103 Iraq
104 Armenia
105 Latvia
106 Yugoslavia
107 Cook Islands
108 Syria
109 Azerbaijan
110 Suriname
111 Ecuador
112 India
113 Cape Verde
114 Georgia
115 El Salvador
116 Tonga
117 Uzbekistan
118 Comoros
119 Samoa
120 Yemen
121 Niue
122 Pakistan
123 Micronesia
124 Bhutan
125 Brazil
126 Bolivia
127 Vanuatu
128 Guyana
129 Peru
130 Russia
131 Honduras
132 Burkina Faso
133 Sao Tome and Principe
134 Sudan
135 Ghana
136 Tuvalu
137 Ivory Coast
138 Haiti
139 Gabon
140 Kenya
141 Marshall Islands
142 Kiribati
143 Burundi
144 China
145 Mongolia
146 Gambia
147 Maldives
148 Papua New Guinea
149 Uganda
150 Nepal
151 Kyrgystan
152 Togo
153 Turkmenistan
154 Tajikistan
155 Zimbabwe
156 Tanzania
157 Djibouti
158 Eritrea
159 Madagascar
160 Vietnam
161 Guinea
162 Mauritania
163 Mali
164 Cameroon
165 Laos
166 Congo
167 North Korea
168 Namibia
169 Botswana
170 Niger
171 Equatorial Guinea
172 Rwanda
173 Afghanistan
174 Cambodia
175 South Africa
176 Guinea-Bissau
177 Swaziland
178 Chad
179 Somalia
180 Ethiopia
181 Angola
182 Zambia
183 Lesotho
184 Mozambique
185 Malawi
186 Liberia
187 Nigeria
188 Democratic Republic of the Congo
189 Central African Republic
190 Myanmar
Source: World Health Organization

Thursday, April 3, 2014

In Memory Of John Knauth

Our friend John Knauth died last month. John was an important member of this community for many years and contributed much to our welfare. He was also a dedicated and visible member of the County Democratic Party. I am taking the liberty of quoting today's Town Dock's article:

"If you called 911 here in Oriental a few years back, chances are John Knauth would’ve come to your door, his EMT kit in hand. He was part of Oriental’s First Responders, which was a continuation of the volunteering he’d done in Connecticut. In retirement here, John also helped get the Pamlico Musical Society going. And was on the Pamlico Arts Council and active with the Pamlico Amateur Radio Society. As we write this, we’re certain we’re leaving something out.

"John and his wife Ilona Forgeng moved from Oriental to New Bern a few years ago. John died there last month and this Saturday their families and friends are gathering at the Unitarian Church in New Bern to remember him. That’s from 4-7p on April 5 at 308 Meadows Street."

We'll be there.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Elections For Sale To The Wealthiest And Most Powerful

The US Supreme Court earlier today ruled in McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission that FEC ceilings on how much money a wealthy donor can donate to political campaigns are unconstitutional. Today's ruling completes the coup by the Supreme Court of the United States begun with their ruling in Bush v Gore in 2000. It was hard in 2000 to explain to voters that the most important issue in that election was "who gets to appoint Supreme Court justices for the next four or eight years." Justice Sandra Day O'Connor understood this when she heard the networks had called Florida for Gore and immediately commented "that's terrible." Now America's elections are blatantly for sale to the highest bidder. Unless voters catch on. The vote is all we have now, and in NC the GOP is doing its best to impede the franchise.

Lincoln's statement that "government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish...." has been replaced by "government of the wealthy by the wealthy and for the wealthy." 

Get out and vote. Let the lackeys of excessive wealth in our legislatures, Congress and Governor's mansions spend more time with their families!

Cox v Town Of Oriental

Oriental's Town Attorney, Scott Davis, updated the Board on the status of my suit against the Town. In a nutshell: the Court of Appeals hearing by a three-judge panel is docketed for April 23. There will be no oral arguments. It may be a couple of months more before we hear the results.

Town Of Oriental - Town Board Meeting April 1, 2014

Good Town Board meeting tonight. Everyone got to meet the new Town Manager - Diane Miller. My assessment: we are lucky to have her.

As for the Board, they did well. Tonight was the first quasi-judicial hearing by this board.

Just a suggestion - I think it is generally a bad idea for Town Board members to sit in on Planning Board meetings, especially meetings reviewing permit applications. Best to do that business at arm's length.