Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Judicial candidates shouldn't brag about harsh sentences when seeking office

Click to enlarge
    I recently visited the Jackson Jambalaya website, which is always full of great news, and saw the ad at right for Marlin "Marty" Miller, a candidate for 20th District circuit judge in Madison and Rankin Counties.
    All I can say is that Miller, who is currently a prosecutor, would not have my vote.
    Cannon 5, Section 3, Subsection d of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that judicial candidates shall not:
i) make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office;
(ii) make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court;
    Now, to be certain, Miller's ad is not promising that he will as judge impose maximum sentences as a judge. But he is clearly trumpeting the fact that he obtained these lengthy sentences as a prosecutor, and the clear inference is that he will impose these types of sentences as a circuit judge. And for that reason the ad is, in my opinion, unethical.
    I confess that I'm glad that Miller helped put those criminals away for quite a while. They are scary looking guys. I just don't think it ethical to run for circuit judge on a platform of having obtained harsh sentences as a prosecutor. I would rather see a prosecutor run on a platform of being firm but fair, and see him brag about how few of his cases had been overturned on appeal. But that's just me; other people may disagree.
    A major problem with our criminal justice system is that we have far too many judges who go straight from the prosecutor's office to the bench. Many become fair arbiters overnight, but others never set aside their prosecutorial bias. I don't think a law banning anyone from being appointed or elected judge within two years of serving in a prosecutor's office would be unreasonable.
    I don't know Miller and have no axe to grind with him, but if Miller were to be elected and I were to be a poor defendant in his courtroom, based on his advertisement I really don't feel like I would get a fair trial. And that's not healthy for our judicial system.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

If Initiative 42 language doesn't match explainations in petitions, it may not survive post-election challenge

    With all the arguments going on about Initiative 42, I’m surprised we aren’t hearing more about the almost fraudulent nature of the very petitions used to put this petition on the ballot in the first place.
    The original Initiative 42 petition which voters signed was accompanied by a statement on how it could be paid for, which asserted that it could be funded over several years out of new revenue only. This is not in the amendment.
    Another statement said, "For purposes of the initiative, a minimum standard of contemporary adequate education is described by the funding formula of the current version of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and an efficient education is one that will, among other things, enable Mississippi's public school graduates to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states." But again, nothing about MAEP appears anywhere in the amendment, and these statements will have no legal effect.
    Essentially the people who were asked to sign the 42 petitions were told it would do one thing when the words of the actual amendment say something else entirely.
    That’s why we keep hearing people insist that there will be no tax increases; after all, that’s what was in the explanatory statement of the petition they signed. It’s just not in the actual amendment. That’s why we keep hearing that the purpose of the amendment is to fully fund MAEP, even though MAEP isn’t mentioned in the amendment. The poor voters who were tricked into signing the thing were told, in writing, that the amendment was to fully fund MAEP.
    As a reminder, here is the actual amendment that is proposed. You will note that there is not one word about it being funded over time only out of increases in revenue, not a peep about MAEP, and that the chancery courts have no limits whatsoever placed on their power. This is just plain English:
Section 201 (Proposed)
To protect each child's fundamental right to educational opportunity, the State shall provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.
    In 2011 the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to consider objections to the Personhood Amendment on the grounds that the issue was not ripe since it had not yet been approved by the voters. It held that the court should only consider the case if the Initiative was actually approved, at which time it would consider challenges.
    If Initiative 42 should pass it will become ripe for challenge. Opponents will be able to point out to the court that the amendment doesn’t include the provisions that were promised to those who signed the original petition, and therefore the attempt to amend the constitution should fail.
    It’s not hard to write a constitutional amendment that will do exactly what an explanation says it will do. There is no excuse for the Initiative 42 that is being laid before the voters to have none of the provision that were in the petition description, unless the omissions were intentional.
    This fraud on the public must not be allowed to stand.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A broken water pipe forces a bathroom remodel, so we decide to do something a little different

Our new shower has only a half wall and no door
    Several months ago we had a broken pipe in our bathroom that required us to cut our shower out of the wall in order to get to the water line. It was a mess. We decided to make the best of things and remodel the bathroom.
    Our shower was located in a separate room with a toilet. It was an  insert shower with sliding doors that was going to cost just under a thousand bucks plus labor to replace. We decided we wanted a tile shower.
    I lobbied hard for a doorless shower with just a half-wall on one side, partly for the clean, modern look and partly because I was too cheap to buy a door set. Jinny, as always, made decisions concerning tile and color. I don’t know that I’ve seen any showers like this, but I sure do like the way it turned out. There's a door to the toilet-shower room, so there's privacy available should one want it.
    Not included in the photo is our toilet, which is not particularly interesting, although it will flush a dozen golf balls according to the manufacturer. I’m not sure why one would want to flush a dozen golf balls down the toilet, but it’s nice to know we can if we want to.
    I’ve taken the first couple of showers over the past two days. A bit of water reached the bathroom floor from the entrance to the shower, but that was expected; a bath mat will take care of it.
    We had planned to place a glass screen atop the half wall to keep water from splashing all over the place. I’m glad we didn’t, because not one drop of water splashed over our half wall during my showers, so we won't be needing it. I think it looks better without the glass screen, and shower glass always develops a haze over time.
A bench where we can keep our stuff!
    We used a pebbled stone tile on the floor of the shower. This came in 12x12 sheets. I was very happy with the way it came out. We also built a little bench so we would have a place to place our soap and shampoo, and so Jinny would have a place to put her feet when shaving her legs. It can even be used for sitting. I've left the soap and shampoo in the photo, because after all, that's what it's there for.
    I think I may be tempted down the line to leave things on top of the little half wall. I foresee squabbling over this.
    There’s still a bit more work to do on the bathroom, but we’re almost there. It’s great to be able to use my own shower again.

    Here are some specifications for anyone wishing to build something like this.
    The half wall is 32 inches long and 58 inches high. I really wish we could have made it 38 inches long, but there was no way to do that in our space.  The interior dimensions of the shower are 55" long by 39" wide. It's a little wider than normal, but I think the extra width is the reason no water splashes over the half wall. I really like the extra width. The perfect size would be 61"x39", with a six inch longer half wall.
    As a matter of personal preference, I think this works best where a toilet and shower are together in a single closed off room. But with that said, it might be attractive in an open bathroom with a tub backed up to the half wall. At any rate, if I've presented you with a design idea that you can use, have at it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

In unarmed societies genocide is the rule, not the exception

Countries where victims of genocides of 100,000 or more lived are colored in red.

    Shown above is a world map with all of the countries of the world that have experienced a genocide of 100,000 or more since 1900 shown in red. Death estimates vary, but many estimate genocide deaths of the 20th Century at more than 150 million. Most of these victims did not own guns.
    Not included in this map are countries where smaller genocides have taken place. If they were added the map would be mostly red.
    What countries should be shown is a matter of debate, and some of the countries had multiple genocides. Included in this number are those sent to die in work or concentration camps.
    It should be noted that estimates of total dead vary widely. The number of dead in Congo, for example, is based on the decrease in population, which is subject to debate. Here’s a link to a Wikipedia page showing the list of genocides by death toll, as well as another list I used in creating this map. I'm sure I've failed to color in some countries which should have been included.
    Almost all of Europe is colored red because of the genocides of Adolf Hitler. But much of Europe, particularly the Balkans and the Soviet Union, earned genocide status without Hitler’s help.
    Now for a question to which I do not know a definitive answer: How many of these people would have died if their societies had been armed in the way that the citizenry of the United States is armed. My opinion is that most of them would have survived. Others may disagree, but this is the issue that we must agree on before we ever start discussing restrictions on gun ownership.
    But aren’t there more gun deaths in societies where the populace is armed? Yes there are, but there aren’t 150 million of them.
    During the fall of the Soviet Union that country’s leadership was at a crossroad where they couldn’t decide whether to bring down the boot of oppression ever harder or to release their grip and allow their citizens greater freedom. In the end greater freedom won out, but while the debate was going on they confiscated virtually every hunting gun in the country. They knew that it’s much harder to oppress an armed populace than an unarmed one.
    Citizen gun ownership is a prophylactic against tyranny and genocide. Those who say “It can’t happen here” need to take a good look at the map; genocide is the rule, not the exception. It can happen here, and if the liberals get there way, it likely will.

Monday, September 14, 2015

In Initiative 42 debate, acknowledgement of risk isn't a lie and hopes of supporters are not the truth

    Supporters of Mississippi’s Initiative 42 have been flooding Facebook and other social media with messages that people shouldn’t believe the “lies” that are being told about the proposed constitutional amendment that give the judiciary the duty to ensure adequate school funding.
    I’m opposed to Initiative 42, so I suppose that makes me one of the “liars.” But the truth is that no one can say for certain what this sloppily worded amendment might do. Only if it passes will we know whether or not our fears were justified.
    As a matter of principle, I oppose involving the judiciary in the allocation and appropriation of state funds, period. So even if Initiative 42 were well written, I would still oppose it.
    With that said, nobody needs to tell any “lies” about Initiative 42; the language of the proposed amendment is scary enough. Let’s look at the language, which would amend Section 201 of the state constitution to read as follows (new language is underlined, old language has a strike-through):
Educational opportunity for public school children: To protect each child's fundamental right to educational opportunity
The Legislaturethe State shall
, by general law,provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools
upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.
So leaving aside the scratch-outs, if passed Section 201 would read as follows:
To protect each child's fundamental right to educational opportunity, the State shall provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.
    Submitted with this amendment was a statement proposing that the changes could be phased in over several years, and further asserting that "For purposes of the initiative, a minimum standard of contemporary adequate education is described by the funding formula of the current version of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and an efficient education is one that will, among other things, enable Mississippi's public school graduates to compete favorably with their counterparts in surrounding states."
    This verbage would support to some extent the claims of Initiative 42 supporters. But none of it is going to be part of the amended Constitution, and what ultimately governs is the wording of the amendment, not the statement of the intentions of the petition signers.
    What is important is not what the proposed amendment says, but what it does not say. The proposed amendment does not recognize the right of the legislature to define "adequate." The courts might recognize the right of the legislature to continue to define what is "adequate," and then again, they might not. The new amendment has no limitation on the right of the judiciary to reallocate funds, so that the Hinds County chancery court, where any funding dispute will be heard, will be perfectly free to simply drain funding from high-performing districts while funneling tax revenue into Jackson's low-performing slums as part of some pie-in-the-sky scheme to improve test scores.
    This is exactly what happened in Kansas City, in what the Cato Institute calls "America's Most Costly Educational Failure." In Kansas City, a federal judge decided that enough spending would solve that city's educational woes. After pissing away $2 billion and draining the rest of Missouri's schools dry this grand experiment resulted in lower test scores and higher drop-out rates for the most lavishly funded school district in the nation. The lesson to be learned is that judges and school funding do not mix well, and judicial interference with the educational funding process is to be avoided like the plague.
    If we are going to continue this game of "Liar, Liar, pants on fire," let's look at the assertions of each side. Those of us who oppose Initiative 42 insist that you can't simply increase funding for one part of state government without either raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere. This is just common sense. Perhaps we should reallocate our spending, but let's not pretend that such decisions are completely painless or cost free. In addition, we feel that the language of the proposed amendment carries with it a real risk of judicial overreach and of unintended consequences. Note the word "risk." We do not claim to know for certain that bad things will happen; we just think the risk is there, both from what the proposed amendment says and from what it doesn't say.
    Initiative 42 proponents steadfastly insist that there is no risk whatsoever, even though the language of the proposed amendment is scary as hell. They insist there is no chance of judicial overreach, and no chance of higher taxes or cutbacks in other state agencies. And they may be right! But I just don't understand why the amendment wasn't worded in such a way that it stated some of the limitations that its supporters insist it carries with it.
    To determine who is telling the truth on Initiative 42, I suggest simply reading the plain English of the amendment and consider the claims of each side. I believe the amendment carries with it great risk, but risk is by no means a certainty that things will go wrong. It's supporters insist there is no risk whatsoever. But in insisting that there is no risk, these well-intentioned souls confuse truth with hope.
    Acknowledgement of the risks that Initiative 42 poses is not a lie, and hopes by its supporters that everything will work exactly as they say is not truth. Those of us who are opposed to Initiative 42 are not lying, and those who support it aren't the ultimate arbiters of truth. We're all sharing honest opinions about what might or might not happen should this amendment be adopted.
    The fact is, though, that when transferring power to the judiciary, none of us can be certain of the outcome. The legislature can and should heed the call of state voters to increase educational funding, but we shouldn't do it by putting the courts in charge.
    That's only my opinion, but it's an honest opinion and not a "lie." I'm going to vote "NO" on Initiative 42 and would urge those who agree with me to do likewise. Others may have a differing opinion and are welcome to vote accordingly.
    And should Initiative 42 supporters prevail, I will certainly join them in hoping that their hopes turn out to be true.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Take it from philosopher Blaise Pascal: For students, preparing for the PSAT is a can't-lose proposition

Click to enlarge
    In just over six weeks high school juniors will have the chance to take the PSAT, or National Merit Test. Those with scores in the top one percent of their state will become National Merit Semifinalists. The overwhelming majority of these students (15,000 of 16,000) will become National Merit Finalists.
    To score in the top one percent of Mississippians one need but post a score that is just above the national 97th percentile on the PSAT. On average our state’s students have lower scores, and so it’s easier to become a National Merit Finalist in Mississippi than in most states.
    I’ve written it before, but I’ll write it again. The National Merit Finalist designation carries with it some of the sweetest scholarships available to prospective college students. Ole Miss offers a free ride. Alabama and Oklahoma go one step further, offering 10 paid semesters, both undergraduate and graduate, plus free summers. Since most NM Finalists will arrive at college with more than 50 hours through AP classes and dual enrollment, these schools are essentially offering a free graduate, law, or medical degree. This can be worth a quarter of a million dollars to an out-of-state student.

    So it pays to put some effort into preparation for the PSAT. But don’t take my word on it. Take the advice of Seventeenth Century philosopher Blaise Pascal.
    They didn’t have the PSAT back in the 1600s, but Pascal advanced a theorem which provided a logical basis for believing in God. Essentially his theorem was that there was no penalty in believing in God and being wrong, but if one refused to believe and was wrong the result was eternal damnation.
    The chart at right sums up the possible outcomes for someone who believes or doesn’t believe in God. (Belief, by the way, means more than just detached observation, but rather belief with commitment; however, I’m not attempting any theological debate here).
    I’m not sure when I first heard of Pascal’s Wager, as it’s called. I actually had conducted the same mental exercise as a child of 8 or 9. But it’s an interesting way of looking at things, and in my view a valuable contribution to religious thought.
    One can use a variant of Pascal’s Wager as providing a real incentive to study for the PSAT, at least for those who have at least an outside chance of making the test’s Semifinalist cutoff score. There are four choices, based on two choices and two possible outcomes. One can prepare or not prepare. One can earn a high enough score to become a Semifinalist; or not.
    Those who attempt to become Finalists and fail will still be better students because of their preparation. They will likely have higher grades and score higher on the ACT and SAT. Even if they don't bag the National Merit scholarship, they might improve their scores enough for other merit aid. And of course, those who don't prepare and just barely fail to make the Semifinalist cutoff will be forever burdened with the knowledge that massive amounts of money could have been theirs with just a slight bit of effort.
    I’ve put all of this in the chart which is at the top of this blog post. If this doesn't convince your student to prepare for the PSAT, I'll end by offering this poem by William F. O'Brien.

Better To Try And Fail Than Never To Try At All
by William F. OBrien

Some say risk nothing, try only for the sure thing,
Others say nothing gambled nothing gained,
Go all out for your dream.
Life can be lived either way, but for me,
I'd rather try and fail, than never try at all, you see.

Some say "Don't ever fall in love,
Play the game of life wide open,
Burn your candle at both ends."
But I say "No! It's better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all, my friend."

When many moons have gone by,
And you are alone with your dreams of yesteryear,
All your memories will bring you cheer.
You'll be satisfied, succeed or fail, win or lose,
Knowing the right path you did choose.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Unpatriotic cities which ban our state flag shouldn't receive discretionary state funds

     A number of Mississippi cities, including Oxford, have decided to show their support for the Obama-donor-led effort to cram a new state flag down our throats by voting to remove our current state flag from city property.
    The idea is that our current flag is objectionable because it pays tribute to our Confederate forbears by incorporating the battle flag of Northern Virginia in its canton. And so cities with liberal boards of aldermen are voting to refuse to display our state flag to pressure the legislature into adopting another one.
    I happen to believe the Confederate flag is a wonderful symbol of our Southern heritage, and its inclusion in our state flag makes it unique. When people see it they know immediately that it represents a Southern state; most flags give no clue as to region. Every disparagement that can be made of the Confederate flag can also be made of the American flag, save that the American flag has represented far more evil.
    But I will leave the arguments over whether our current flag is a wonderful or evil thing to another day. Good or bad, it’s still our flag, and it’s the duty of our municipalities to display it.
    Suppose the Obama-donors were to be successful and the legislature were to adopt a new flag. Imagine the reaction of the same liberals if people like me refused to accept the new flag, or cities across Mississippi voted not to display it. I can just hear their sanctimonious sermonettes now!
    Mississippi is a sovereign state, and we as citizens have a duty of allegiance to our sovereign. This includes recognition of our state’s emblems, the most notable of which is our state flag. Municipalities incorporated under the laws of our state have an equal, if not greater, duty to recognize and display these emblems.
    As citizens we are welcome to seek changes in our state’s symbols. We the people are the sovereign together, but the decisions we make together must be respected by all. A refusal to display our state’s flag is, plain and simple, unpatriotic. It is a renunciation of citizenship.
    Mississippi’s various agencies distribute a great deal of discretionary money each year to counties and municipalities. If a city does not recognize its duty to show fealty to the sovereign through the display of our state flag, then the state should not provide these cities with any discretionary funding. The legislature should not advance any local bill for any of the municipalities, and if one should pass, Gov. Bryant should veto it.
    Certainly I will be contacting Gov. Bryant and other state officials and will ask them to end any discretionary funding for Oxford and other cities that have voted to ban our state flag. These aldermen can be just as unpatriotic as they wish, but if they have no allegiance to our state then our state owes them nothing, either.


I have emailed the following to Gov. Bryant and will be sending similar messages to other state leaders. I urge everyone who disagrees with this nonsense to send a similar message to him and others.
Many cities are trying to pressure the legislature to change our state flag, despite the fact that the people voted overwhelming in favor of keeping the 1894 flag in 2001. This includes votes to ban the display of the Mississippi flag on municipal property.

I believe that municipalities have a duty of fealty to the sovereign, which includes the display of our state flag. Those municipalities which ban our state flag are effectively renouncing their state citizenship. I would ask that you, as governor, direct the executive agencies not to direct any discretionary spending to municipalities which have banned our state flag.

In the upcoming legislative session, I would also ask you to veto any local bill sponsored for the benefit of any municipality which has banned our state flag. Those who refuse to pay tribute to our state should not receive any special funding or favors from our state.

Thank you so much for standing up for the people and for the rule of law rather than the rule of the mob.