Saturday, August 5, 2017

Strict construction

Some oppose liberal interpretation of the Constitution and call for strict-construction. They argue it is not a living document (subject to interpretation) and oppose things called “welfare entitlements” as outside the constitutional enumerated powers saying any action not specifically designated is prohibited.
What does the Constitution have to say about welfare?  Starting with the Preamble  We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and …, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.  Is that just rhetoric?  Article I.  Sections 8 - Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States;
So it appears that welfare programs they object to are not violations of the original intent, but its fulfillment.
Unlike the received-wisdom of religious law, the Constitution was negotiated by fallible humble men and has a provision for amendment.  It was obviously intended to be updated and it has been, 27 times.  The Constitution was written at a time of tumultuous change often called the industrial revolution.  No longer the static nothing new under the sun world of Ecclesiastes, but the dynamic world of inventors  Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Eli Whitney, James Watt, John Fitch some of whom were participants.
If strict-interpretation means literal, well Article. VI. no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. Would it matter if Obama was Muslim?
Would strict adherence to Amendment 1 - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; allow Preservation of Religious Liberty to justify prejudice as free practice of religion? Likewise, does or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; not apply to modern media? There were no radios, TV or internet in 1789, are Fox, CNN and Alex Jones only entitled to oration on a soap box and the printed page?
Strict-constructionists don’t object to the National Security Act of 1947 that created the Air Force merged it into the Defense Department, contradicting the Constitutional limits on Army funding.  In Article I.  Section 8 Powers of Congress To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.  Are programs for developing new ordnance, or the promise of a career limited to two year appropriations?  
Where in the Constitution is the justification for all the special tax provisions rich liberals and conservatives enjoy?  Would not strict-construction not invoke Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform …?
The framers, and especially James Madison who wrote it all down eloquently, expected it to serve for a long time, and it has.  Longer than any comparable document!  One could argue that religious rules have lasted much longer, but how many of us live by the literal interpretation of Biblical commandments.  Religious rules get reinterpreted too; they just don’t have an orderly non-violent process to do it.  Otherwise for example Christian women would all dress like 16th century nuns.  There are multiple versions of many religious texts, each with ardent followers of their one true version.
The logic of strict-construction seems to rely on Amendment 10 The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.  The Constitution limits what the Federal Government can do to you. Congress clearly has the power to tax, whether or not liberals or conservatives agree with how the money is spent.  

Strict-construction doctrine is like apostasy, Gods-will or Inshalla an all-purpose do-it-my-way objection without substance.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Green Harvest a Waste of Time and Money

I was about to submit a column about Constitutional issues, about which I am an expert recognized by no one, when my concentration was interrupted by a helicopter.  It did not just pass high overhead as helos usually do.  Soon joined by another; they circled for an hour.  My first thought was search and rescue, but the yellow choppers never went out to sea, just circled my peaceful law abiding neighborhood.   This is not the first time.

Back in 2011 the tranquility of my quiet South Kona neighborhood was shattered as multiple helicopters thundered directly overhead for over three hours.  Neighbors reported large numbers of police vehicles, including a gigantic SWAT type van.  I know what inner city residents are subjected to.  Normally we hear a helicopter a day, maybe two.   The number of overflights had been increasing for several days, then that day all hell broke loose.  Was it an invasion; a hostage situation; an act of terrorism?  No.  Somebody maybe spotted a pot plant.  I was asked several police agencies why most claimed “It’s not us”.  I eventually got the bizarre answer that some of your neighbors may choose to engage in an illegal activity.  Somehow that justified harassing the rest of us. (A few do have medical marijuana cards)

Green Harvest goes on with no evidence of public benefit.  Friday I made three calls and got to the State Narcotics Enforcement Division of The Department of Public Safety: Safety!  I asked (8296359) if they were responding to a complaint and learned that they were “conduction a mission” bureauspeak for looking-for-trouble.  I was told if no one came knocking on my door don’t worry about it.  New fiscal year, coffers brimming with cash, let’s turn taxpayer dollars into noise and maybe find a few MJ plants. With any luck we get some overtime and convict some kid of the heinous crime of growing grass that nobody but Jeff Sessions cares about.  That’s when the light went on.  The citizens of Hawaii and basically most of the US, maybe the world have made it clear that they do not consider cannabis a problem.  We even voted to tell the Hawaii Police to make it their lowest priority.

Now we have a new Attorney General and Howdy Doody, look-alike, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III who wants to go back to the failed nineteen seventies policies of Nixon’s all-out War On Drugs.  Prosecute anyone you can especially if they are not white.  Hawaii’s got plenty of not white.  Fill the jails at any cost:  Minimum sentences, Life in jail for possession of 29 grams.  Now I suspect there is a flood of Federal money to fly helicopters ($700 an hour).  Put those kids in jail at up to $200,000 a year and a broken family.  What’s $200,000 here and $200,000 there when you are on a mission like Carrie Nation or Harry Anslinger?  Protect America from Reefer Madness.  

Harry Anslinger - Google him- campaigned with religious fervor against demon marihuana.  (Prohibition had just ended. The G-Men needed new boogiemen) if you believe his followers weed’s more deadly that heroin, causes people to go crazy with lust, commit heinous crimes, and “reefer makes darkies think there as good as a white man.” There is no evidence of any of those claims.  It’s most serious faults are making people indolent and hungry; overdose has killed exactly zero Americans.

His motivation may have been mostly racial, Mexicans, blacks and entertainers were the primary users, in fact it had been mostly called hemp or cannabis until the Spanish name was picked to emphasize its foreignness.

I think our county police are a professional organization motivated to do what’s right for the people of Hawaii, but Federal pressure and Federal funding can tilt the scale.  So let’s hear from the Governor.  Why are to people of rural Hawaii targeted and harassed by this mission nobody wants?

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a semi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today. E-mail obenskik@gmail.com

 Green Harvest a 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Land of opportunity

America is the land of opportunity, or so we’re told. For the vast majority of us, including immigrants, it is. For a minority it’s just not. At a certain level, the barriers are just a little too high.
Regressive taxes: The federal income tax was supposed to be progressive. The personal exemption in 1913 when people worked for a dollar a day was $3,000. A common cliché’ was, “I wish I made enough to pay income tax.” Over the years, the exemption has varied. It’s now $4,050, nowhere near a year’s pay. Not even at minimum wage. (2,000 hours at $7.25 = $14,500) Progressivity is supposedly built in but the successful have more deductions available to keep income safe from a higher marginal rate.
Mortgage interest deduction: not if you are a renter. Deductions for travel to “inspect your rental properties”: nope. Medical expense deduction: only for the part that exceeds 10 percent of your gross, even if that’s for elective plastic surgery. Deductions for business equipment (that might experience a little private use): nope. The list goes on but I’m not a tax lawyer, oh, yeah, that’s a deduction, too. If you use a lawyer to help you avoid income tax, that’s deductible. There are even special deductions that only apply to select wealthy individuals.
Sales tax (VAT, GET): The rate is flat, and sometimes food is exempted whether it’s rice or lobster. It’s taxed if it’s served ready to eat whether it’s $99 chateaubriand at the Four Seasons or 99 cent corn dog at a gas station. The hotel maid takes the bus to work, shops at the local store where everything costs 10 percent more than Walmart and maybe 50 percent more than Costco, where she can’t afford a membership. Thus she not only pays more, but pays more tax. The way GET is calculated the small store pays at Costco, includes it in their cost, then adds it on again at retail.
TAT: Everyone pays at hotels, even the cheapest, but if Obama vacations free on Rick Branson’s yacht in the Virgin Islands: no tax.
Gasoline and vehicle weight tax: Hits hardest those who travel furthest to work in older cars that weigh more and use more gas.
Both the rich and the poor are equally forbidden to sleep under bridges or steal bread. Granted, it’s an old cliché’ but it’s a valid commentary. The person who can barely afford his old car is more likely to experience an expense he cannot pay to pass nitpicking safety inspection: can’t pay, can’t get to work.
Health care system: It is very good at what it is designed to do. What it is designed to do is insure that insurers profit from insuring healthy people. The insurance is deductible to the employer and untaxed benefit to the employee who is lucky enough to qualify. The under-employed, not being part of a group, pay a much higher rate, if they can even get it. Not so bad if you stay young, healthy, accident-free and not pregnant.
Here is what I don’t understand. How does it benefit us to deny pregnant women health care? How does it benefit our nation if children are born with preventable health problems? How does it benefit us all if a mother dies in childbirth, if the welfare mom has another baby because she was denied birth control, if the unloved child falls in with bad companions? How does it benefit society when an able-bodied worker dies of a simple infection? Would not a healthy worker be more productive?
Sometimes greed motivates progress, but greed that denies basic dignity and imposes long-term costs on society is not only mean, it’s stupid. Limiting essential care is like watching your neighbor’s house burn down and refusing to lend him your hose because he should have bought his own. If everyone has that attitude, one day the whole town burns down.
Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. He writes a semi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today. Email obenskik@gmail.com

HRC

I confess, I am voting for Hillary, proudly.  I think her basic values are consistent with mine and the Bill of Rights.  She may be the most prepared candidate ever. The GOP has been after Hillary for as long as I can remember, yet every ‘scandal’ fails.  Calling someone a cheat or liar does not make it so, no matter how often or loudly.  If there was substance you would think there would be at least an indictment, nope, not one. A grand jury could indict a spam sandwich.  Not one allegation I can find has made it to formal charges.  The notorious Ken Starr could not make a case against her.  Some things she has said are not totally accurate, but who’s that perfect, Mr. Spock?

She has bent a few rules, who hasn’t?  Being able to bend a few rules and not crash is proof of ability to manipulate politics, as our most effective Presidents have. There’s an old joke.  Clintons go back to Illinois for her high school reunion.  They pass a man digging a ditch.  Hillary comments that in High School she dated him.  Bill opines, “If you married him you would be married to a ditch digger.”

“No!  If I married him, he’d be President.”   Everyone I have told that story agreed she could.

When I look back at the Presidents I have known, from Eisenhower, I wonder which one Hillary could be most like.  She won't be too close mainly because the world has changed.  In her case I don't think gender is going to remain an issue.  She was scandalized for wearing an expensive jacket.

Eisenhower: best known for playing golf and the Interstate Highway System.  He added "and Defense" to the title to get it passed.  Conservative Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to integrate the High School and finished with a budget surplus; got us out of Korea, but into Vietnam. In the light of history he looks better now.  I can't see HRC playing golf while there are Conservatives to convert.

Kennedy: charismatic war hero but ineffectual against a hostile Congress.  HRC not charismatic, instead she gets things done often letting others take the credit. The list is way to long for this space, Google it.

LBJ: aka Johnson, D for charisma, but A plus for getting things done that Kennedy hoped for but couldn't get through Congress: Civil Right Act, Voting Rights Act. If he had gone the other way on Vietnam he would be a considered a great President.

Nixon:  no one is as secretive, underhanded and hard to analyze as Tricky Dick.  No.

Gerry Ford: nice guy in the White House. No major goof ups (pardoned Nixon). No leadership, but stood up for the Mayaguez crew.

Jimmy Carter: another nice guy.  Not a bomb dropped of bullet fired in anger.  His policies ended most Latin American dictatorships, but Iran errors were his undoing.

Reagan: the Patron Saint of the GOP, in spite of his sins, like Iran-Contra, and tax increases.  The Teflon President managed to dodge every bullet. HRC is the Post-it candidate the GOP attaches allegations to her but none of them have any substance.  

Poppy Bush:  war Hero, lifetime civil servant, hero of Kuwait but victim of an economic crisis the Republican economic ideology could not cope with.

Bill Clinton: his best move was marrying Hill. On the other hand he, like Ike finished with a budget surplus.

Bush II: blew Bills budget surplus, let Cheney run the country from the basement.  HRC will be in the middle of everything. VP who?

Obama: cautious slow-on-the-draw deep thinker; slowly mended the economy.


HRC is informed on and has already position on most issues. I don’t always agree with her, but we’re getting closer.  She like LBJ will browbeat anyone who gets in the way until practical policy is done deal.  Some people would disagree but the world would be in good hands. Bill gets paid to speak, so?  People with too much money donate to the Clinton Foundation, which then helps people who don’t have enough. The Clintons have done well by doing good.  That’s why.

government

“Every country has the government it deserves" and "In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve."   Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre 1811.
Now, like it or not, we are getting President Trump, thanks largely to the liberal media, that he excoriated, giving him free publicity.  There will not be as much change as people fear, or hope.  After the outrageous things he has said, almost anything else may look reasonable.
Previous Presidents have learned, changing the Government is like turning a battleship, with a canoe paddle.  Let me explain.
There are almost 22million government employees.  Almost all of them civil service; he can’t fire them, or stiff them like contractors.  For the most part they will do what they always do as covered by their job description, habit and long standing department policies and procedures.  Never forget the prime mission of a bureaucracy, like any organism, is its own continuation. Those with the power to make changes have sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution, not the President, and see that the laws be faithfully executed.  Hmmm, even the President swears to support and defend the Constitution.  He might have to have someone to read it to him. Most Civil Servants do not work for the Federal government but state and local government; they get their direction from governors, judges and local officials, who have sworn a similar oath.
So the President has a Cabinet plus a few thousand appointees at his beck and call, but they in turn have to work through 1.4 million Civil Service bureaucrats who, see above.  He has a similar number in the armed forces who also have policies and procedures that change as often as rivers flow backwards.  All the officers and enlistees have taken the oath.  While the grunts might not appreciate it, most of the officers take it very seriously.  They understand from Nuremberg what executing an illegal order can mean.
Trump likes to say he’s not a politician.  If I might paraphrase Mayor Kenoi, ‘If you run for office, you’re a politician.’  Politicians have a history of broken promises. Trump has a history of broken promises. Why would Politician Trump be any different?  If he could not keep a promise then, why should anyone think he can now?
"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." - H. L. Mencken. Trump has made these brash promises in a factual vacuum. Whether or not he was aware of that no longer matters. Now he will have to deal with reality where there are no simple answers, no quick fixes, no do overs.  You can’t manage an entire country the way you bankrupt a casino (or hotel). Everything about a country affects everything else, everything.  Even things you can’t imagine, because the whole world’s involved.  A decision to isolate Iran could precipitate another Pearl Harbor.  Every proposal will require the consent of someone, Congress, the Senate, the Joint Chiefs, Governors, NATO; all the people in the chain of command who, like Clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky, can monkey wrench anything that goes against their principals. 
For example, to overturn Roe v Wade he would have to pack the Supreme Court. Unless another liberal Justice dies or retires that’s almost impossible.  Republicans decry activist courts, and some conservatives become liberal Justices, e.g. Earl Warren.  He will need someone to file a lawsuit claiming Roe v Wade has deprived them of their right to, to what, their right to not have abortion?  That will take some creative lawyering.  Then it goes through the system starting with a State Court that might just kill it, and get past Federal Judges including a Supreme Court reluctant to overturn previous decisions.  It could take 100 years, or 1000.
I hope, against evidence that he will do right.  If not we still have the ACLU, courts and a Congressional election in two years. 




holidays


So many issues; so little space on a page.
Every culture or religion in the northern hemisphere it seems commemorates the winter solstice, and for what seems like a good reason to the primitive mind.  The days were getting shorter.  What happens if they keep getting shorter and it becomes night all the time?  What will happen to us?  Of course the more astute tribal members were aware of the cycle and had learned to predict almost to the day when the days would start getting longer, a time for rejoicing, or perhaps penitence.  This has taken many forms; I’m sure far more than I am aware of.  Is there a Southern Hemisphere equivalent?  One of these ancient celebrations has settled into a complex form usually known in the modern western world as Christmastime.
There it becomes an unnecessary controversy.  Some insist it is a religious holiday requiring certain reverence others want it to be just a fun time for spending money, and possibly even licentious behavior at least on New Year’s Eve.  Some have different holidays that they want to celebrate independently of Christmas. My personal wish is that everyone gets to celebrate this wonderful time of year in the way that brings them the most joy to share.
America is unusual among nations in that it did not evolve from a unique tribal culture, but as an amalgam of many.  Now it is true that the most powerful factions have not always been kind to the powerless, however our founding documents say we should.  Some of us try to blend, while others feel put upon that some minority wants equal (special?) treatment.  One faction’s religious display in a public place becomes offensive to another.  The other wants equality, but does not have comparable resources.  There is not enough choice public space to please everyone.  A minority’s humble display might look tacky (or respectful) next to a wealthy sect’s ostentatious display.
So many things to disagree over.  Some are obsessing over coffee cups that are too sectarian, or not sectarian enough. Is it right to put a Christian Christmas tree in a public park?  Wait! the tree was a harmless Pagan symbol that northern Europeans elected to keep, when they were Christianized over 1000 years ago.  In fact if you look into the past of many religious symbols you find will that in one way or another they were adopted from another culture.
To me whatever faith my friends and neighbors choose to follow, or to not follow is their business.  I hope it gives them hope and comfort, but I do insist they not force it on others.  I do not have faith in a divine being, nor do I deny one; I do notice a lack of evidence.  Perhaps “God is an imaginary playmate for grown-ups,” Morgan Freeman, The Big Bounce. “He who made kittens put snakes in the grass,” Jethro Tull, Bungle In The Jungle. 
I have my faith that the laws of math, physics and chemistry will always have predictable outcome; that the laws of the soft sciences, if we ever understand them, will be similarly predictable and that human curiosity and ingenuity to solve what problems we still have, that almost everything can be scientifically explained.
I do believe: There was one miracle: Somehow, improbably, unexplainably, life started spontaneously, on this insignificant lonely planet.  There is no evidence of anything like it within the observable universe.  Evolution via natural selection is a viable explanation for the adaption of a variety of life forms to their environment leading from inexplicably simple life forms to one that attempts to understand it all and appreciate one another.
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do. They're really saying I love you.”  Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World. Although I may not share another’s faith I am never offended by a friendly greeting whether it’s Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Mele Kalikimaka, Shalom Aleichem, Aloha, simply Hi or Happy New Year it’s all the same.  They're really saying in a small way I love you.” 



green polution

There is a source of pollution nobody seems to notice.  A huge quantity of green waste is allowed to rot on the ground in Hawaii, conservatively 60,000 tons a year* (*my estimate) No doubt others will challenge my figures, but they’re the best I can find.  Sure it makes topsoil, in about 100 years, but it makes pollutants, methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) immediately.

Hawaii, like most places, has energy issues, but environmentally friendly options.  Wind and solar are popular but they have limits too; neither can be depended upon when the need is greatest.  Solar needs sunlight, but peak demand is in the evening.  Wind is fickle.  The turbines only work in a relatively narrow speed range, if the wind is too slow they can’t make usable power, if it’s too fast they can break.  Some efficient inexpensive storage is needed. Unfortunately all known methods for storing electricity are expensive or inefficient.

There are a number of technologies that can turn that green waste, a fuel, into electricity, and while storing electricity is difficult, storing fuel is not.  We have been doing it for eons. Green waste is not only available it is abundant.  Hawaii County Environmental services collects 40,000 tons of green waste annually converts it to mulch, hauls it 40 miles and gives it away.  That pales compared to undocumented green waste rotting by the roadside.  The total green waste is probably over 100,000 tons a year*.  Half the people I know have a secret “puka” where they dump green waste rather than burn gas to drive 40 miles to Puuanhulu.  I alone dispose of a thousand pounds a year from my house lot.  Then there is the timber from trees that Helco has to cut to protect power lines.  No the diesel fuel to haul it to a power plant is not prohibitive; I did the calculations.  Burning 100,000 tons of green waste - renewable biofuel- could generate about 290 megawatt hours* of electricity a year, about what we need.  If those numbers sound absurd, consider that Hawaii used to export over a million tons of sugar a year (Wikipedia) and burn a comparable amount of the bagasse, waste to generate electricity.  The idle Hu Honua plant was built to burn bagasse; then converted to coal and recently began conversion to burn logs.  Anything that will burn and release energy, can be used to fuel a power plant. (Babcock and Wilcox) Yes, there are more sophisticated ways to turn waste to electricity, or even motor fuel.  Why not?

Now one objection that comes to mind is that burning creates CO2, but so does rotting.  Rotting also creates methane a greenhouse gas ten times as powerful as CO2.   A power plant that can turn green waste to energy can also do it with garbage and trash.  If adding recyclable paper, to the mix can make it viable that should not be arbitrarily ruled out.  Granted there are concerns that in order to make such a plant viable there would be a temptation to burn recyclable material. So?

I support recycling but just as there is a wasteful mentality there is a recycle-at-any-price mentality that leads us to pay $140 a ton to ship low value recyclable materials to the mainland where most of it will hopefully be recycled.  On the other hand using paper for fuel - worth maybe $40 a ton* - is summarily rejected. So the actual cost to recycle it is about $180 a ton. There is an environmental impact of shipping it 2600 miles.   

Recycling is a means to achieve a goal. It should not be the goal.  Otherwise we could recycle more by insisting on more wasteful packaging. Sometimes the highest and best use of surplus material is to extract the energy.  The measure is not how much we recycle, but how little we consume unnecessarily.  What do you think? obenskik@gmail.com