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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Overcoming Adversity
A recent Sacramento Bee article about Sacramento volunteers helping to make Sheila Granda’s house wheelchair accessible,” caught my attention. It’s a remarkable story about helping others, but what really got my attention is the fact that, although this 33-year-old woman, was “left paralyzed from the neck down in a 1997 rollover accident at the age of 17, a few months before she was supposed to start college,” she subsequently managed to overcome
her handicap and become a lawyer.
 
“‘We never thought I’d get out of the hospital after I was injured,’ said Granda, who works for the state Department of Health Care Services. Those first three to five years, we did not know what would happen if I lived, if I’d have any quality of life at all.’”
 
Sheila Granda is not the only example of people who manage to overcome adversity and lead productive lives.
 
Following are some other examples of people who also managed to overcome their disabilities:
 
Charles Krauthammer: An American Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, political commentator, and physician. His column is syndicated to more than 350 newspapers and media outlets. He is a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, a weekly panelist on the PBS news program Inside Washington, and a nightly panelist on Fox News's “Special Report” with Bret Baier. 
 
Krauthammer was raised in Montreal, Quebec, where he attended McGill University and obtained an honors degree in political science and economics in 1970. The following year, he was a Commonwealth Scholar in politics at Balliol College, Oxford, before returning to the United States and entering Harvard Medical School.
 
During Krauthammer's first year of medical school, he was paralyzed in a diving accidentand was hospitalized for 14 months. However, he continued his medical studies and graduated with his class, earning his MD in 1975. From 1975 to 1978, Krauthammer was a resident and then a chief resident in psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
 
Steven Hawking: Afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Hawking is considered one of the world’s greatest theoretical physicists, originally positing the theory of “Black Holes” to explain the creation and expansion of the Universe. His speech is generally unintelligible, and his caretaker must interpret his sounds, but in spite of his handicap, he managed to write one of the definite works on physics.
 
Irena Sendler: One of the many heroes and heroines of WWII. A woman of uncommon principle and courage who, for two years during the Nazi occupation of Poland, helped rescue some 2,500 Jewish infants and children from the Polish Ghetto, often hiding them from the Nazi guards, risking her own life in the process.
 
Muhammad Ali: The most famous African-American of his time, Ali is still among the most widely recognized faces on the planet. During the Vietnam War, he refused to serve in the United States Army, on the grounds that considered himself to be a conscientious objector. He was prevented from fighting for three-and-a-half years, but ultimately regained his title in 1974, defeating the then champion, George Foreman, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. Today, at age 72, as he is dealing
with the ravages of Parkinson’s disease, Ali is a living example of character and grace.
 
Helen Keller: When she was 19 months old she contracted an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which might have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last very long, but it left her deaf and blind.
 
Her parents were advised to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, which was then located in South Boston. The school's director, Michael Anagnos, asked former student Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired and only 20 years old, to become Keller's instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship, Sullivan evolving into governess and then eventual companion.
 
Keller wrote a total of 12 published books and several articles.
 
One of her earliest pieces of writing, at age 11, was “The Frost King” (1891). There were allegations that this story had been plagiarized from “The Frost Fairies” by Margaret Canby. An investigation into the matter revealed that Keller may have experienced a case of cryptomnesia, which was that she had Canby's story read to her but forgot about it, while the memory remained in her subconscious.
 
At age 22, Keller published her autobiography, “The Story of My Life” (1903), with help from Sullivan and Sullivan's husband, John Macy. It includes words that Keller wrote and the story of her life up to age 21, and was written during her time in college.
 
In 2908, Keller wrote “The World I Live In,” giving readers an insight into how she felt about the world. “Out of the Dark,” a series of essays on Socialism, was published in 1913.
 
© 2013-2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Spending Our Way To Prosperity
Turner Catledge, a journalist during the Roosevelt era, described the pattern used by the Roosevelt administration to sell his legislative proposals to the public as follows: “First there is the early ‘idea’ period, when either the President or some group of his associates hatches the rather rough for of what is to be attempted. Then there is the selling stage, in which the person or the group who thinks up the idea has to ‘sell’ it to the other. There follows in third place the ‘method’ stage when the modus operandi is evolved. The there comes the final ‘publicity’ stage when the program is announced and the argument is submitted both to Congress and the public in behalf of its adoption.”
 
Sound familiar? It should. It’s the tried and true formula that was used by Obama and his administration to panic the public into accepting the so-called stimulus package at the time it was wending its way through Congress.
 
Economist Walter Williams observed: "The stimulus package being discussed is politically smart but economically stupid. It's that bedeviling, omnipresent Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy problem again. ... A far more important measure that Congress can take toward a healthy economy is to ensure that the 2003 tax cuts don't expire in 2010 as scheduled. If not, there are 15 separate taxes scheduled to rise in 2010, costing Americans $200 billion a year in increased taxes. In the face of a recession,
we don't need that."
 
And, columnist Michelle Malkin noted: "Bashing Rush Limbaugh last week, Obama urged GOP lawmakers to ignore the voices of obstructionism and sign on to his behemoth stimulus package: 'We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done.' ... History has shown us that 'Get Things Done' is mindless liberal code for passing ineffective legislation and expanding government for government's sake."
 
In an open letter disseminated by the Cato Institute, two hundred economists stated, "More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. More government spending did not solve Japan's 'lost decade' in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today."
 
In short, the stimulus package was hyped as the way to spend our way to prosperity. The president told us that if we didn’t act immediately, the nation would never recover from economic condition at the time, which he characterized as the worst economy since the Great Depression. However, if it is really possible to spend our way out of a recession, why isn’t the economy perpetually strong?
 
People who have held positions of responsibility know that that panicking in an emergency does not solve anything. As a matter of fact, it makes things worse. Panic keeps people from thinking clearly and acting without sufficient facts, especially in complex situations that present a variety of alternatives. And, the worst situation of all is when leaders panic.
 
President Obama’s image has been that of a cool customer who keeps his head under pressure. Yet, he has repeatedly appeared in press conferences and public appearances, telling us that the situation with the American economy was so urgent that if we did not act immediately, we would never recover. 
 
I don’t see that as leadership. Under pressure, true leaders try to keep everyone else from over-reacting and losing control.
 
Unfortunately, the initial response of the Bush administration was also to overreact and hastily push through the $700 billion bailout package, then immediately spend $350 billion without any accountability. 
 
It’s clear that it did not work, yet we are being told that we need more of the same. The reality is that no one in either the Bush or the Obama administrations provided any clear information about how the causes of the financial crunch that brought the economy down can be fixed, because they don’t know. 
 
For my part, I would prefer to see our leaders try to keep the public calm while they go about the business of methodically working to restore the economy.
 
The American people, who generally have more sense than their political leaders, appear to agree. A Gallup Poll found that 54% of Americans either wanted to see major changes to the current stimulus plan, or they rejected it outright.  Other surveys also indicated that public support declined rapidly.  
 
Politicians can call it stimulus and they can call it change, but it's just more of the same old tax and spend approach.
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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Wednesday, March 5, 2014
“Alleged”
“Alleged” has become perhaps the most overworked word in the American lexicon. No longer used just to protect the rights of an accused when referring to a crime, it has become so ubiquitous that it is often used even when commenting about someone who has actually been convicted of a serious crime, such as rape or murder.
 
The media now use the word routinely in reporting the news, often when it really should not apply.
 
For example, the attempted terrorist bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 and the statements by the Obama administration, including the president himself, highlight the degree to which Political Correctness (PC) has overrun our culture: “A person was detained by customs at Detroit Metro Airport on Friday following Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's alleged [emphasis added] attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, according to a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.” 
 
It was an “alleged attack” notwithstanding the fact that the man seriously burned himself in the act and was clearly attempting to blow up the airplane as it was landing.
 
The definition of alleged is: “Represented as existing or as being as described but not so proved; supposed.”
 
For example, an “alleged” burglar is someone who has been accused of being a burglar but against whom no charges have been proved. An “alleged” incident is an event that is said to have taken place but has not yet been verified.
 
In their zeal to protect the rights of the accused, newspapers and law enforcement officials sometimes misuse “alleged”. Someone arrested for murder may be only an “alleged” murderer, for example, but is a real, not an “alleged”, suspect in that his or her status as a suspect is not in doubt. Similarly, if the money from a safe is known to have been stolen and not merely mislaid, then we may safely speak of a theft without having to qualify the description as “alleged”.
 
In recent years it has become common for speakers to include “allegedly” in statements that are controversial or possibly even defamatory. The implication is that, by saying allegedly, the speaker is distancing himself or herself from the controversy and even providing protection against possible prosecution. However, the effect created may be deliberate. The use of “allegedly”
can be a signal that, although the statement may seem outrageous, it is in fact true. 
 
For example, he was “allegedly” drunk at work. Conversely, it is also possible to use “allegedly” as an expression of ironic skepticism: He's “allegedly” a hard worker.
 
Writing in the Kansas City Star, Derek Donovan, said “I am often puzzled by the Star’s use of the words ‘alleged’ and ‘suspected’ in connection with crimes that have been committed. My OED defines ‘allege’ as ‘claim that someone has done something wrong, typically without proof.’ In many cases, the perpetrator is caught in the act of committing the crime. There is no doubt that this person committed the crime. When then does The Star refer to this person as the alleged or suspected perpetrator?...I agree that these references sometimes seem a bit ludicrous, as in a case earlier this year where a man was apprehended while holding a purse he had apparently just stolen a block away. He was called the ‘suspect’…
 
Steve Buttry commented in ‘The Buttry Dairy (October 26, 2012),’: “When it comes to language choices, I try to decide matters based on accuracy. This is why I want to call on all journalists and news organizations to stop using the term “alleged victim,” especially in stories about sexual abuse (almost the only type of stories where it appears)...It’s a blame-the-victim term we should banish forever from the journalism lexicon. You want to know why? Here’s the second definition of ‘alleged’ at Dictionary.com: doubtful; suspect; supposed.”
 
“And here’s a fact about victims of sexual abuse: Their stories are almost always credible. So, in most cases, alleged victim is not only insensitive, but inaccurate.”
 
“(The first definition for alleged, “declared or stated to be as described; asserted,” is accurate, but if people could read a second definition as the meaning,
we should look for a more accurate word.)”
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
 
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Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Asset Forfeiture Laws Are A License To Steal
A few years ago, a notice in one of Santa Barbara’s local newspapers highlighted an issue that has been on the back burner of public awareness for far too long: asset forfeiture laws. 
The notice listed thirteen cases in which the District Attorney had instituted proceedings to forfeit assets that had a total estimated value of $161,409.
 
The California Attorney General’s office reported that a total of 3,988 forfeiture proceedings were initiated in 2004, valued in excess of $28 million. In that same year, 3,512 forfeiture cases were completed and over $22 million disbursed. 
 
Where does that money go?
 
In California, 1% is distributed to a non-profit entity for the purpose of training prosecutors in asset forfeiture laws and 10% goes to the prosecutorial agencies that prosecute the various forfeiture actions, 24% goes to the State General Fund
and 65% is distributed to the state and/or local law enforcement agencies that participate in the seizure. The local jurisdictions are required to put 15% of any money they derive from this source into a special fund for the “sole purpose of funding
programs to combat drug abuse and divert drug activity.” The remaining 85%, or 55% of the total, can be used as they see fit.
 
How many people know they can lose their car, home, boat, airplane or other property if it is connected with certain types of illegal activity, even if they are completely unaware of it (say, in a situation that involves a tenant)? 
 
The problem has become so egregious that in some instances, such as certain environmental or drug laws, the element of criminal intent is not even required to charge someone with a crime or confiscate their property. 
 
Media Awareness Projectreported, “Another Forfeiture Outrage: The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that police may keep the $124,700 they seized from Emiliano Gonzolez, an immigrant who by all appearances was attempting to use
the money to start a legitimate business.”   In spite of the lower court’s ruling that Gonzolez’s witnesses “were credible enough” to convince it that he was telling the truth, on appeal he lost the lifelong savings he, “his friends, and relatives had pooled
to start a business. No charge and no conviction were necessary.”
 
The aspect of this case that was particularly absurd is the fact that the “money,” not Gonzolez himself, was found guilty of drug crimes. Unfortunately, when it comes to asset forfeiture laws, turning logic on its head is nothing new.
 
In an Institute for Justice article, Tim Keller offered the following observations:
 
“Civil forfeiture actions, which arise from a legal fiction that treats inanimate objects as if the objects acted to assist in the commission of a crime, can be filed even when the property owner is never charged with a crime. Under Arizona’s forfeiture law,
prosecutors and police keep confiscated assets – giving them a direct financial stake in the outcome of forfeiture proceedings….”
 
“…Arizona law enforcement agencies at both the state and local levels have generated $64.5 million in revenue from forfeiture cases. For many agencies forfeitures constitute a sizable percentage of their budgets. For example, in 2002, the Arizona
Attorney General’s office obtained more than $2 million in forfeiture revenue, most of which went to pay for regular salaries as well as overtime pay and medical benefits. Statewide, nearly one out of every five forfeited dollars spent (almost $11 million)
went directly into the pockets of prosecutors and police in the form of employee compensation.”
 
The Institute for Justice also reported on a New Jersey case in which Carol Thomas of Millville, N.J., had her 1990 Thunderbird seized because her 17-year-old son was arrested and pleaded guilty to selling marijuana to an undercover officer while using
her car without her knowledge or consent. The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office pursued confiscation of the car in a separate civil action, even though no drugs were found in it and it was clear that she was not aware of and did not consent to her
son’s actions.   The Institute for Justice won the return of the car and Ms. Thomas, who was a seven-year veteran officer with the Sheriff’s Office at the time, subsequently left the force and went on to fight abusive forfeiture laws.
 
In a 1992 Policy Analysis report, the Cato Institute noted that in the seven years between 1985 and 1992 the total value of Federal asset forfeitures increased over 1,500% - to over $2.4 billion, including over $643 million for the Department of Justice
in FY 1991 alone. 
 
Asset forfeiture has clearly become big business.
 
Writing in Libertarian World, James Bovard noted: “Mass confiscation has become politically fashionable. Politicians and the courts have created an overwhelming presumption in favor of the government’s right to seize control over private land, private
homes, boats, and cars, and even the cash in people’s wallets.”
 
Although asset forfeiture laws date back to antiquity and to early customs law in America, its use increased during prohibition and subsequently, beginning in 1970, when Congress enacted legislation to seize property of Mafia organizations. 
The use of these laws has become increasingly popular and, as current statistics reveal, they have become a major source of funding for law enforcement.
 
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of asset forfeiture laws is the fact that they are enforced largely under the radar of public awareness. We rarely see or hear anything about them in the media. The biggest problem is the perverse nature of the incentive
that has been created for law enforcement to confiscate private property, sell it and distribute the proceeds to their own agencies. 
 
Nice work if you can get it. That is, taking and selling the property of others and putting the proceeds in your own pocket (budget).
 
I have never seen or been able to find any details about the application of asset forfeiture monies to government budgets, i.e., city, county, state, or Federal. How are these funds used? 
 
If the various government entities are budgeting the cost of operating law enforcement agencies adequately, asset forfeiture should be treated as cost recovery, not as a source of extra money they can spend as they wish with little or no accountability.
 
© 2011-2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
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