Sunday, December 21, 2014

Where is Sir Robert Peel when we need him?

Recent weeks have seen several cases of police and/or prosecutorial misconduct.  The deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in New York, NY are well-known, but by no means the only cases.  I wrote yesterday about the tragic outcome of a police raid in Haversham County, Ga., and also learned of the acquittal of a Fort Bend, TX man after what appears to be a gross abuse of power by the law enforcement authorities (according to another source, the police lied to a judge in order to obtain a warrant).  In throwing out a lawsuit in the latter case, a judge ruled:

“There is no freestanding constitutional right to be free from malicious prosecution.”

Sounds unbelievable, doesn't it? - but it's true.  That's the legal reality we face.

These are only a few of the many accusations of bias, incompetence and egregious abuse of authority leveled against law enforcement agencies and officers every year.  Radley Balko has done a great job of documenting them in his book and his regular articles in the Washington Post.  The ACLU and other organizations have also put a great deal of energy into documenting and exposing such cases.

Police, on the other hand, respond that the public doesn't really understand the stresses of the situations in which they find themselves.  Some appear to believe that everyone's against them, and have therefore adopted an "us-versus-them" attitude.  Others take refuge in the "thin blue line" mythos, defending each other no matter what, always taking the side of brother and sister officers irrespective of the details of the case.

The trouble is, with perceptions of police overreach so widespread (and, let's face it, so widely justified in terms of the number of reported incidents), there's a growing over-reaction among certain sectors of the public, who now regard police - all police - as "the enemy".  They're not discriminating against the few bad cops who spoil things for the many decent ones.  They're simply lumping all law enforcement personnel together, and all their actions, and condemning them all.

That's what appears to have led to the murder of two NYPD officers yesterday.  The gunman posted online that he was "putting pigs in a blanket" in revenge for the death of Eric Garner.  He walked up behind the policemen as they sat in their car and shot them both in the head.  They may never have seen the man who killed them.  He'd earlier shot his girlfriend (who survived), then committed suicide when pursued by police into a subway station.  The police officers involved were completely innocent of any involvement in the Garner case;  but that didn't matter to the gunman.  There was another attempted shooting of police officers in New York, but this one fortunately ended without any casualties.  A third incident was the shooting of an off-duty police officer in St. Louis, Mo. a couple of days ago.  We don't yet have many details, but the circumstances appear to suggest a deliberate attack on him solely because he was recognized as a police officer - at least, there's been no mention of any other possible motive.

More and more, it appears that any and all police officers are regarded by a large segment of our society as complicit in the Brown, Garner and similar cases mentioned above.  They're perceived to be "guilty by association", whether or not they themselves have anything to do with police overreach.  Given the widespread - and seemingly increasing - abuse of authority by many police officers and agencies, one can hardly be surprised by such a development;  nor by its expression in attacks on individual officers as a form of "revenge" against the "system".  I'm sure there'll be more such incidents.

This is the inevitable result of police attitudes, practices and procedures that emphasize their authority over the people's.  I submit that many cops no longer see themselves as public servants, but as public masters.  They insist that their authority be recognized and instantly obeyed, or else.

This is the diametric opposite of what Sir Robert Peel, founder of the forerunner of all modern police forces in democratic societies, saw as essential for success.  The nine "Peelian Principles" remain a seminal contribution to the theory of law enforcement.  They are:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

There's more at the link.

I can already hear the scoffing from police officers that those principles are utterly outdated when dealing with a society that regards the rule of law as nothing more than a polite fiction.  I can't blame them;  our politicians and leaders in other spheres often appear to honor our laws more in the breach than in the observance.  Needless to say, our citizens all too often take their cue from their leaders (or is it the other way around?)  Nevertheless, any officer of the law who enters upon his career regarding the people he's called to "protect and serve" as the enemy rather than his peers and fellow citizens is riding for a fall.  Sooner or later, someone's going to provide one for him.

I don't have an answer to the current situation.  I only know that police have overstepped the bounds of their legitimate authority on all too many occasions;  that innocent citizens have, indeed, suffered unjustly as a result (remember Salvatore CulosiJose GuerenaKathryn Johnston?  Cory Maye?  Three of them are dead.  Many others have suffered greatly - check the list of cases of police brutality for yourself.)  With so many cases on record, and more being added seemingly every week, is it any wonder that an increasing number of our citizens regard the police as the enemy?

At the same time, I think that law enforcement authorities have a point that their indisputable authority as enforcers of the laws passed by those we, the people, elect, is increasingly disregarded.  If we don't like the laws that are passed, we should make sure we elect representatives who'll repeal them and pass laws more in accordance with our wishes.  If we don't do that, we have no right to blame the police for the laws.  However, increasingly we live in a society that scoffs at laws.  John Adams famously pointed out:

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

We now live in a post-Christian society, where many of our citizens behave in a way that can only be described as immoral and irreligious (at least by the standards of Adams' day).  Many also forget that our second President warned:

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

I can only hope and pray that our Republic isn't headed there.  The size and scale of the conflict between sections of our society and law enforcement doesn't give me much confidence.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

So that's how he does it!

From my favorite South African cartoon, Madam and Eve.  Click the image for a larger view.


Craftsmanship and artistry in action

Courtesy of an article at Gizmodo's Sploid 'side blog', here's a magnificent video clip showing how a bespoke Holland & Holland shotgun is made.  It's all here, from the fitting of the customer with a 'try gun' to the final, finished, beautiful product.  Make yourself a cup or glass of your favorite beverage, sit back, and enjoy.  Watch it in full-screen mode for the best results.

Poetry in motion, and in creation.


The disastrous consequences of rogue law enforcement

Back in June I called the actions of a drug task force in Habersham County, Georgia, "Child abuse under color of law".  In a botched raid, then-19-month-old Bounkham 'Bou Bou' Phonesavanh was critically injured when a flash grenade was thrown into his crib.  Officers refused to allow his family access to him, instead taking him to hospital themselves and not informing his mother of his injuries for several hours.  To add insult to injury, Sheriff Joey Terrell blithely informed journalists that "Our team went by the book. Given the same scenario, we'll do the same thing again. I stand behind what our team did."

Now it appears that the ongoing consequences of that raid are going to bankrupt the family.

Alecia and Bounkham Phonesavanh never imagined their family would be at the center of a controversy over the militarization of police. But that’s exactly where they found themselves when their toddler was seriously injured by a SWAT team, also leaving them with a $1 million medical bill they have no hope of paying.

. . .

At approximately 2 a.m. May 28, the family awakened to a blinding flash and loud explosion in their bedroom. A Special Response Team (aka SWAT team) from the Habersham County Sheriff's Office burst unannounced into the bedroom where they were sleeping. According to police reports, Habersham Deputy Charles Long threw a “flash-bang” grenade – a diversionary device used by police and military – into the room. It landed in Bou Bou’s pack-and-play.

“Bou Bou started screaming,” recalls Alecia Phonesavanh. “I immediately went to grab him.”

But Alecia says Habersham Deputy Jason Stribling picked up the child before she could reach him. “I kept telling him, ‘Just give me my son. He's scared. He needs me. The officer wouldn't. And then he walked out of the room with [Bou Bou] and I didn't see him again.”

. . .

It all came about because a drug task force had been looking for Bounkham Phonesavanh’s nephew, 30-year-old Wanis Thonetheva, who police suspected was selling methamphetamine. Using information from a confidential informant, drug agent Nikki Autry had secured a “no-knock” search warrant that allowed the police to enter his mother’s home unannounced.

. . .

As Bou Bou lay in the hospital, agent Nikki Autry resigned from her job with the Mountain Judicial Circuit’s drug unit. Judge James Butterworth, the chief magistrate of Habersham County, who signed the “no-knock” warrant, announced his retirement within days of the raid.

. . .

In Georgia, Habersham County’s District Attorney Brian Rickman convened a grand jury to look into the botched police raid. After six days of testimony, the grand jury found “the drug investigation that led to these events was hurried, sloppy.”

They did not recommend criminal charges against any of the officers involved, which deeply upsets Bou Bou’s mother. “They made the mistake,” claims Alecia Phonesavanh. “And we got the backlash of everything.”

“The intelligence on the front end, in this particular situation,” says District Attorney Rickman, “is how the tragedy could have been avoided.”

The drug task force that gathered that intelligence was disbanded four months after the raid that injured Bou Bou Phonesavanh. It also happened to be the day after “20/20” arrived in Habersham County to investigate.

Since the incident, the toddler has undergone surgeries to repair his face and torso. The Phonesavanh family says they are facing close to $1 million in debt from hospital costs. Habersham County officials will not pay the medical bills, citing a "gratuity" law in Georgia that prohibits them from compensating the family.

There's more at the link.

I was furiously angry when I heard of this incident, as my post at the time shows.  I'm still furiously angry.  How dare any honest, moral law enforcement officer or agency not only make excuses about 'going by the book', but then hide behind statutes to refuse to pay medical bills incurred by a totally innocent victim of law enforcement excess?

I think every single officer involved in this abuse of authority should either resign (if he or she has any moral courage at all - which most of them clearly don't) or be fired.  They should never again be allowed to pin on a law enforcement badge.  Any and every elected official, law enforcement or otherwise, who authorized, endorsed or supervised anything to do with this incident should do the same.  The fact that they've attempted to hide behind the letter of the law and refused to take responsibility for their actions demonstrates clearly that they're all beneath contempt.  People like that can never be trusted by anyone in their right minds, and should not be tolerated in or by any civilized society.

As I noted at the time, I speak as one who's worn a law enforcement badge myself and held statutory powers of arrest.  Don't try to tell me that there really was a drug dealer known to use that address, and that the Phonesavanh family "put themselves in harm's way" by associating with riff-raff.  I associated with riff-raff every day as a prison chaplain.  Does that mean I can expect a flash grenade to be thrown into my bed by cops as well?  People like young Bou-bou and his parents are not military targets or 'collateral damage'.  As soon as law enforcement officers start treating them as if they were, they're no longer law enforcement personnel at all - they've become tyrants and jackbooted thugs.  The Golden Rule applies:  they have nothing coming if someone decides to treat them in the same uncaring, savage, violent way they've treated others, like Bou-bou.

The Phonesavanh family has set up a Web site to raise funds for their son's medical expenses.  May I suggest that this Christmas, it wouldn't be out of place to send a dollar or two their way?  I'm going to do what I can.  I hope my readers will do the same.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

AR-15 follow-up #4: Sights

This is the fourth update on my request for information w.r.t. refurbishing AR-15 rifles for disabled and handicapped shooters.  The original post is here;  the first update is here;  the second update is here;  and the third update is here.  In separate articles I've also covered the importance of magazines and the selection of an AR-15 and accessories to meet your needs.

I've been very surprised to learn (while reading and researching sights and options) that some writers now suggest that it's no longer necessary to put conventional 'iron sights' on your rifle.  They believe that red dot and telescopic sights have become so reliable that they're trustworthy on their own.  I'm afraid I can't agree with them.  I accept that Aimpoint stands alone at the pinnacle of red dot sight development, and has established a soaring reputation for being as reliable as a sight can get.  However, anything not wearing an Aimpoint label - even Eotech, rated as second only to Aimpoint - can't make that claim.  Furthermore, even Aimpoints aren't immune to natural perversity.

  • If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage is the one that will go wrong.
  • Everything will go wrong sooner or later - usually when you least expect it.
  • If nothing can go wrong, something will.
  • Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.

Batteries can fail;  sights can be damaged when a rifle is dropped;  I've even known three cases where incoming enemy fire hit a sight.  (In one of them it didn't do the person behind the sight much good, either.)  You need a backup sighting system, just in case.  Iron sights provide that backup.

There are two types of iron sights on AR-15's:  fixed and folding.  The fixed sights are tougher and stronger, in my experience.  However, the fixed rear sight has the disadvantage of making it difficult to use red dot or telescopic sights, because it's usually either mounted on a carry handle or sticking up from the rear of the rifle and getting in the way.  I therefore prefer a flat-top rifle with a Picatinny rail above the receiver, coupled with a fixed M16A2-style front sight tower.  My 'social use' rifle uses this upper receiver configuration:

A folding rear sight and/or the optical sight of one's choice can be mounted on the Picatinny rail above the receiver, while the middle portion between the receiver and the front sight is covered by the handguard of one's choice.  I have a Magpul MOE handguard on mine.  Two other carbines in my gun safe use railed handguards instead, to extend the Picatinny rail on the receiver.  One wears a Daniel Defense EZ CAR unit that fits behind the standard front sight (like that shown above);  the other is fitted with a free-floating Troy Industries Bravo rail unit (discussed and illustrated here) that makes it impossible to use a fixed front sight.  On that carbine I've gone to a folding front sight mounted on the handguard.

There are almost innumerable options available for folding iron sights.  A quick search will reveal a bewildering variety of options.  A relatively low-cost solution (that I've used on the rifles I'm currently repairing and updating for my disabled students) is Magpul's MBUS sights.  The standard units are made of polymer and represent good value for money, while the newer Pro series are made of steel and should prove harder-wearing, albeit at a higher price.  On my own rifles I use the MBUS PRO steel folding front sight where necessary, coupled with the MaTech folding rear sight (shown below) that's been standard US military issue for several years.

As a former serviceman, I appreciate the concept of something being 'soldier-proof'.  If that sight's proved tough enough to take whatever US troops can do to it in combat zones, I'll trust it to be tough enough for my needs too!  It helps that it doesn't cost much more than Magpul's MBUS PRO rear sight, which would be my unhesitating second choice.  Either sight will serve you well.  (Hint:  if you find the rear sight aperture shown above to be a bit small - as I do, with my aging eyes - it can be drilled out to a wider diameter with no difficulty.  Just do it slowly and carefully, because if you remove too much, you can't put it back!  Remember the old saying about 'Measure twice, cut once', and apply it religiously to drilling as well.  Blacken the edges of the enlarged hole - a flat black paint marker pen is a handy thing to keep in your gun tool kit - and you're good to go.)

For serious combat use there's not much that can touch a good red dot sight.  The US armed forces have standardized on Aimpoint units, issuing over a million M68 CCO sights (that designation first referred to the CompM2 model, and more recently to its successor, the CompM4).  That speaks volumes for Aimpoint's quality and explains their dominant position in the field.  Their ultra-light construction, toughness, incredible battery life and proven reliability put them in a class of their own.  Unfortunately, this is reflected in their price, which is very high indeed;  typically $400-$800 depending on the model.  If your budget can support those numbers, I urge you to buy the Aimpoint sight of your choice without a second thought.  In particular, the Patrol Rifle Optic (shown below) appears to offer the best 'bang for the buck' in the company's range at present.

(In my experience, the best prices and customer service for Aimpoint sights and other high-end equipment were encountered at Strohman Enterprise, Inc, where retired Marine LtCol Joe Strohman was extremely helpful and very informative.  If you need a high-end sight, GPS unit, combat light, etc., I highly recommend his company's services - and no, he's not compensating me in any way for this endorsement.  He earned it the hard way.  Tell him you read about his company here, and see whether you can persuade a few friends to work together for a group purchase.  It helps with the pricing.)

There are some good lower-cost options out there.  Matt at The Bang Switch produced a three-part survey of the field earlier this year.  I won't reinvent the wheel;  instead I'll refer you to his articles at the links below.

There were two clear 'winners' in Matt's evaluation:

On sheer numbers totaled from the evaluation forms, the Bushnell TRS-25 is the winner, but the winner as chosen by 4 of the 8 evaluators was the Primary Arms MD-06L, with the other 4 votes being the singular vote for 4 of the other optics.  That said, on pure numbers alone, they were very close in scores as can be seen in the attached final scores table, with only 1.6 points separating the top two optics.

I was delighted to read that, because those are the two red dot sights I use on my own rifles and am currently installing on my students' weapons.  They're virtually identical in size and performance - in fact, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they're made in the same factory in China.  The Bushnell TRS-25 is shown in the top photograph below, with the Primary Arms unit in the lower image.

They're very affordable - in fact, right now the Bushnell unit is available below $50, which is the lowest price I've seen for it for a long time.  The Primary Arms unit is somewhat more expensive, but not unduly so, and that's compensated for by absolutely outstanding customer service.  This week I contacted the company (their Web site is here) to confess that I'd screwed up and inadvertently damaged the quick-detach riser mount for one of their sights.  I asked what it would cost to fix it or buy a replacement.  Not only did they supply a new mount free of charge, they shipped it overnight at their expense!  It must have cost them a lot more than the profit they'd made on the sight in the first place, but they did it without a second thought.  For customer service like that, I'll gladly pay a little more for their sights.

Both sights are very similar in size, weight and operation to the much more expensive Aimpoint Micro T-1, which isn't surprising - China copies everything!  Like the Aimpoint, they can be mounted on riser units to co-witness with AR-15 iron sights.  The risers can be bought already fitted to the sights (see here for the Bushnell and here for the Primary Arms versions), but I find that 'generic' risers (available from dozens of manufacturers) work just as well and are often a lower-cost option.  I particularly like this Hammers quick-detach unit because it has full-length mounting rails on both sides of the base, giving greater strength and stability.  It's also priced right.  I've bought five of them so far for the rifles on which I'm currently working, to mount both Bushnell and Primary Arms sights.  The riser allows the iron sights to be seen in the lower one-third of the field of vision of either red dot sight.  That means one can use the iron sights without removing the optical sight (although, since the Hammers unit is quick-detach, dismounting it takes only a few seconds if necessary.)

For law enforcement or military use, where conditions may be harsh and unforgiving for extended periods, low-cost red dot sights probably won't stand up to the demands of the environment.  Something tougher like an Aimpoint would be the way to go.  However, for 'average' civilian use on the range or hunting or for home defense, where the rifle won't have to to endure desert heat, Arctic cold or equatorial humidity for weeks on end, lower-cost sights can be very useful.  I wouldn't hesitate to use either Bushnell or Primary Arms red dot sights to defend myself if that was all I could afford.  I'd just make sure I checked their battery regularly (swapping it for a new one every six months, or every three months in colder climes), made sure they were in good working order, and satisfied myself at least once per quarter that they were still zeroed to my defensive load.  (Of course, I'd also want reliable, dependable iron sights available as a backup.)  They can be used on any gun that has a rail on which they can be mounted, including shotguns or even handguns.

Some vision problems, such as severe astigmatism, make it difficult to use a red dot sight.  Those with such problems are left with the choice between a prismatic sight and a telescopic sight, both of which tend to be more expensive than low-end red dot sights.  I don't propose to go into detail about either option.  I'll just say that for those who need an affordable alternative, my standard recommendation is to install a Weaver V3 1-3x20 riflescope (shown below).

They're not too expensive, offer good optical quality, and are compact and lightweight enough to work well on an AR-15.  At shorter ranges I use them at 1x with both eyes open as if they were a red dot sight, and find that works just fine.  For shooting at longer ranges I dial the power up to 3x and use them as a normal telescopic sight.  I find they offer more than adequate performance out to 300 yards range or more.  I currently have four of them on various rifles, and will be putting one on Miss D.'s new AR-15.  (I'll install it atop a UTG 1" riser mount so it'll work with her iron sights, yet she can take it off using the two thumbscrews at a moment's notice if necessary.)

I hope this short article has helped to clarify sight choices for those needing to make them.


A good man hangs up his hat

I've known for some time that Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma was retiring, but it's sad to see the day come at last.  Irrespective of his party affiliation, he's been 'a voice crying out in the wilderness' against government waste, fraud and corruption, rendering a service to the whole nation.  The Washington Times saluted him.

It takes a certain kind of senator to single-handedly block a bill that supporters say would save veterans from committing suicide.

But that’s exactly what Sen. Tom Coburn did last week, facing down withering pressure from veterans groups and insinuations from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he will have the blood of veterans on his hands because he’s refusing to let the bill through.

The Oklahoma Republican also held up an energy conservation bill, released a road map for reforming the Social Security disability system, tried to undo one of Mr. Reid’s nuclear option-fueled rules changes and battled with Mr. Reid to try to pass a legacy-building transparency bill that would have forced the executive branch to produce a list of all its programs — all part of one of the busiest weeks any departing senator has ever had.

He cast his final vote as a senator Tuesday night, and was the first to flee the chamber floor, returning to the citizen part of “citizen legislator.” By Wednesday afternoon he was back in Oklahoma, driving to his home in Muskogee.

His next challenge as an ex-senator: pushing for a balanced budget amendment through an Article V convention — a method of amending the Constitution through a call of the states, which has the benefit of going around the entrenched interests in Congress.

. . .

... in his farewell speech last week, Mr. Coburn made the case for individualism.

“The magic number in the Senate is not 60, the number of senators needed to end debate, and it is not 51, a majority. The most important number in the Senate is one — one senator,” he told several dozen of his colleagues who had come to the floor to hear him speak. “The Senate has a set of rules that gives each individual member the power needed to advance, change or stop legislation.”

He also read his colleagues the oath of office they take, in which they pledge to defend the Constitution. He urged them to pay attention: “Your state isn’t mentioned one time in that oath. Your whole goal is to protect the United States of America, its Constitution and its liberties. It is not to provide benefits to your state.”

There's more at the link.

Senator Coburn excoriated waste of taxpayer dollars and pork barrel projects in his annual Wastebook, chronicling incidents uncovered during the year in question.  His final Wastebook for 2014 (link is to an Adobe Acrobat document in .PDF format) included these fripperies.

I'm worried about the prospects for an Article V Constitutional Convention being hijacked, but it may be the only way to force a balanced budget on our spendthrift legislators.  If safeguards can be built in to accomplish that purpose without extremists from either the left or the right of US politics being able to hijack the convention for their own partisan ends, I'll support his efforts.

I hope and pray that Dr. Coburn's ongoing treatment for cancer (which caused his early retirement) is successful, and he's given time to enjoy a well-earned retirement and time with his family.  He's done this country proud in Washington, something one can say of all too few politicians.  Thank you, Dr. Coburn, for your service.


Is this an economic tipping point?

I'm looking at economic events over the past week, and seeing all sorts of red lights flashing.  Consider these headlines - just a few of many I could have selected:

Those headlines mostly refer to foreign economies, but if they go down, they'll take ours with them.  There's no way to avoid that in today's interconnected, networked world.  See in particular the third and sixth articles linked above for a very informative perspective on that reality.

Keep your eye on international economic developments.  I think we might be in for a very 'interesting' New Year . . .


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

President Obama's gamble on Cuba

I hold no brief for President Obama.  I believe he's deliberately trying to destroy the United States of America as we've known it most of our lives, and holds the Constitution and our Founding Fathers in contempt.  I don't trust him further than I could throw him, which isn't very far at all . . . but on Cuba, I think his policy change announced today is probably the right thing to do.

Consider that ever since the Cuban Revolution, the USA has maintained stringent sanctions against that country to no effect at all.  They didn't change the regime;  in fact, they drove it into a harder-line embrace of the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.  When we eased restrictions on trade with Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed, and tried to improve relations with other Communist-era countries and governments, we conspicuously failed to do so with Cuba - with the inevitable result that the hard-liners there took an even harder line.  We also drove the Chavez/Maduro revolution in Venezuela into ever closer ties with Cuba, to the latter's economic and the former's security benefit.

If President Obama plays his cards right, this could have far-reaching consequences.  The USA has far more to offer Cuba, economically speaking, than Venezuela does, so it could put enormous pressure on that alliance.  It could potentially also reduce Russian influence in the Caribbean, if a more capitalist Cuba can be persuaded to be less of a Cold War-style Communist lackey.  It would have domestic implications, as the large Cuban exile community in the USA would probably benefit in many ways from closer ties with their former motherland.  This, in turn, might shake up the so-called 'Hispanic' bloc among the US electorate, changing long-standing allegiances.

I don't know whether President Obama's doing the right thing here;  for that matter I instinctively, viscerally distrust anything he does.  However, I've also got to be honest.  The USA's former policy towards Cuba was a failure, and a dismal one at that.  Einstein famously defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results".  In that light, the former US policy towards Cuba was, indeed, insane.  Perhaps a new approach might yield more positive results.  We've nothing to lose by trying, and everything to gain.  Therefore, no matter how reluctantly, I've got to give President Obama credit for trying.  For all our sakes, I truly hope he succeeds.



I'm afraid feghoots and puns are among my many weaknesses, so I couldn't resist this from The Lonely Libertarian.

I must have sprayed tea halfway up my monitor screen . . .


That explains a lot, I guess . . .

I'm amused by reports of this new book.

The Telegraph quotes from it:

Tea has a rich and fascinating history – as a drink, it is as old as the pyramids of Egypt and is second only to tap water as [Britain's] most popular drink.

Here are some facts:

[The British] drink 165 million cups a day, 95 per cent from tea bags; 70 per cent of [them] had at least one cup yesterday using up 25 per cent of the nation’s daily milk consumption.

Shen Nung, a toxicologist, discovered it by accident in central China around 2737 BC. Apart from thinking it a nice drink, he used tea as an antidote to 70 or so poisonous herbs. His stomach exploded after his final experiment because the tea obviously wasn’t efficacious against that particular herb.

. . .

Ireland has the highest per capita consumption of tea in the world: 75 per cent of the population are avid tea drinkers drinking on average six cups a day. In 1910 tea was considered to be a bigger public health problem than alcohol in Ireland. Russia ranks second in tea drinking – presumably to dilute the effects of vodka.

. . .

In 1822 William Cobbett wrote that tea killed pigs and leads women into prostitution, recommending a quart or two of ale instead. It makes boys effeminate and has them ‘lurking in bed’.

There's more at the link.

Looks like an interesting book.  Oh, well, add one more to the 'must read' list . . .