Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day Hero

From The Sedalia Observer, May 2013

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – Sgt. 1st Class Trenton L. Rhea, 33, of Kansas City, Mo., died May 15 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was a member of the 603rd Military Police Company, in Belton. He deployed under Operation Enduring Freedom.
He is survived by his wife, Leah Reid Rhea, his daughters, Autumn, Joanna and Abigail, his father Marshall, his mother Rebecca, twin brother Travis, sister Samantha Repshire, step-mother Julie, step-brother Jody Kruse, step-sister Jade Kruse, grandmother Eileen Rhea, grandfather Kenny Breeden, and his in-laws, Harlan and Lynn Reid.

According to his family, Rhea was an amazing father, husband, brother, and son who loved his family and God. He was a great leader who led by example and considered his soldiers as family. His family said Rhea was a very caring, sincere man who put others first. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was “the nicest guy you would ever meet,” according to his wife, Leah. Rhea’s hobbies were spending time with his family and studying history.

Rhea was an Army Reserve Military Policeman who deployed three times overseas to United States Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan, plus a stateside assignment at Fort Riley, Kan. In Afghanistan, his mission was to train the Afghan Police Force, which Rhea considered very important as it benefited the Afghan people. He has been awarded several military honors, to include the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious  Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal.

Rhea’s civilian employment was with the Human Terrain System at Fort Leavenworth.

The Rhea’s are members of the First Baptist Church of Platte City. Mrs. Rhea stated her husband was a devoted man whose desire was to raise a strong Christian family.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Two officers this week killed deploying, setting out or otherwise using stop sticks. I only have one observation.

Get rid of these fucking things.

Cadet Trooper Taylor Thyfault - thank you for your service, however brief. It is the act of stepping up and saying "Pick me" that demonstrates courage. You will be missed.

Okay, maybe that was two observations.

Monday, May 18, 2015

And, His Head Explodes

"In a 5-4 ruling, the justices agreed with a lower court that the tax is unconstitutional because it discourages Maryland residents from earning money outside the state." Supreme Court Strikes Down Double Tax Law, Fox News, May 18, 2015.

Law Porn Alert

Comptroller of the State of Maryland v. Wynne, Et Ux is an amazingly tasty case. The oft-indulged "Liberal Wing" v. "Conservative Wing" pasture apple nonsense into which the press descends is nowhere to be found.

Okay.... It's cold and cloudy. I have no desire to return to work after two weeks off (one spent primarily with a book, a beach, a drink and my soul mate beside me). I'm waiting for lunch to settle before I head to the gym. And I read the above in a story about a Supreme Court decision. I mutter the epithet commonly known as "YHGTBFKM." The dogs scatter.

The case is a thorough (some might say "nauseating") examination of what is called the "Dormant Commerce Clause." Dormant, Justice Scalia points out, because it is not contained in the Constitution. It is a creature of a Supreme Court intent on deciding what is good tax policy and implementing it. Or, ordering its implementation, anyway. As Justice Scalia points out, the Commerce Clause says, in whole: [The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. The dormant part of the clause (now you've read the whole thing - does it look like something is sleeping in there?) was totally invented, a long time ago, by judges.

Sigh. Okay, maybe Congress has written a law on this subject? No. Maybe another part of the Constitution permits The Supremes to strike down tax policy it finds disadvantageous in Maryland? Nope. How about if the law "discourages" some kinds of commerce, and not others, irrespective of a federal law to that effect?

Commonly, in places where Congress chooses to legislate they are said to "occupy the field." States may not intrude by passing laws that contradict the Federal statutes. In the absence of Congressional action (I know - the US Code is thick enough to require a crane to lift it) States are free to craft their own solutions, unless the Constitution prohibits it to the States (a Bill of Rights thing, involving the "incorporation doctrine." Truly, I loved teaching this shit at Metro). That's not what is going on here. The Supreme Court could not be bothered overturning what is plainly a power grab.

Scalia's opinion is worth reading, but Ginsburg's dissent twists the knife. Any court case in which Kagan, Ginsburg, Scalia and Thomas join in dissent is law porn. Although, that all in one sentence is kind of creepy, isn't it?

Of course, the Fox News story and headline (assist, AP) so far misses the point that it should be illegal to print. A law is unconstitutional because it violates the Constitution. Discourages Maryland residents?! Oh, you poor baby.

I'm going to the gym.

1033, Baby

"According to philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt, however, the 'essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony.'" William Voegeli, National Review, November 13, 2013.

"Breaking News: The White House announced that it will no longer allow federal programs to supply local police forces with some military-style equipment amid an outcry over police treatment of minority communities and protesters." Fox News, May 18, 2015.

It is colloquially called the 1033 Program. In a nutshell, it is intended to provide surplus military equipment to law enforcement organizations. According to Wiki: "The most commonly obtained item from the 1033 program is ammunition. Some of the other most commonly requested items include cold weather clothing, sand bags, medical supplies, sleeping bags, flashlights and electrical wiring. Grenade launchers and vehicles such as aircraft, watercraft and armored vehicles have also been obtained."

I have not personally seen in recent years airplanes, boats or tanks that were obtained from the military. Although a low pass in a formerly mothballed A-10 might discourage a persuadable hostage taker or two, generally it is cost prohibitive to obtain the really cool stuff. For example mechanized vehicles that are readily available are..."pre-owned," the replacement parts for which are not on a shelf at Auto Zone.

As for the other stuff... Puh-leeeze.

What ails law enforcement circa 2015? Partisans of all persuasion are available to cash grant checks, fill unreadable volumes and belly up to microphones to offer fabulous-sounding hogwash. "Ron Davis, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services at the Department of Justice, told reporters he hoped the [President's Police Reform Task Force] report could be a 'key transformational document' in rebuilding trust that has been destroyed in recent years between police and minority communities," says Fox News. Davis is billed as a 30 veteran, once a California police chief. Their article has a helpful picture of a SWAT sniper overwatching a "relatively small crowd."

Well, here's the opinion of another 30 year veteran. Law enforcement as practiced in the United States in 2015, as a general statement, is the most professional it has ever been. Officers are more carefully selected, better trained, better equipped and held to a higher standard than ever before. The degree of scrutiny is closer than ever, and will become closer still. None of that is a bad thing.

Public support for law enforcement, despite breathless media coverage to the contrary, continues to be strong. Individuals who live and work in communities (as opposed to talking heads who arrive, do  few pithy interviews and depart for the next career-enhancing story) are familiar with the strengths and challenges of their officers. They accept that men and women are fallible, that sometimes there is inequity in the most reasonable soul. Plainly, people who see law enforcement as a basic good in their community don't demand perfection.

What can we do better? First, we can listen to our community. "(Citizens) call us half a million times a year," a retired police commander once commented. "You think maybe we should look at what they want, as a start?" 

Next, let's stop looking at citizens as a revenue enhancement stream. Enforcement action is meant to solve public safety problems. It is not designed to solve budget shortfalls. The Justice Department report on the Ferguson Police Department began that conversation.

Finally, let's stop listening to the loudest voice. "Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world," said Edward R. Murrow, "doesn't mean you are wiser than when it only reached the end of the bar." Grown men and women searching for real solutions don't have time to waddle in front of a microphone, proclaim themselves outraged, and then disappear to the next community. Media are not hoping to be part of the solution - they are hoping to increase readership and make money doing it. You want to know what should be done?

Lower voices. Turn off the TV. Stop listening to know-nothing social media (except Bikecopblog). Engage a police officer in a discussion and ask them. They will jokingly ask for more money, and then they will say, in their own way:

"Give us more of a say in how police services are delivered.Get the politicians, and the politics, out of our police cars. We know what makes our communities safer, and more just. We know the rules, who among us isn't following them (we want them gone as much as anyone). And then, when we make mistakes, treat us fairly and with dignity. We are doing our best."

It isn't about grenade launchers, MRAPs and BDUs. Anyone who tells you that is talking bullshit.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Deferring to My Father

"The shirt, labeled on Under Armour's website as "Band of Ballers," bears a strong similarity to the U.S. Marine Corp War Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The statue, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, features a group of soldiers planting a flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima (1945), which resulted in 26,000 American casualties." Underarmour Stops Selling Shirt Bearing Similarity to Statue,  Darren Rovell, ESPN Business reporter, May 16, 2015

What the...?

I am agnostic about this t-shirt. I did not serve as a Marine. All of my military experience was in the US Naval Reserve, mostly locked in a safe reading stuff and practicing creating classified briefings out of it. So, if an honest-to-God Marine is offended by this shirt, I will never tell them they are wrong. I'm not going to go all Rage Boy about it, either.

Here is my issue, on this glorious Armed Forces Day. The main objection this writer can imagine is the t-shirt's similarity to a statue? Does he have any fucking idea what that statue represents? (Yes, Graham, Papa wrote f-word).

Years ago my father spoke about his first day on Iwo Jima, now 70 years in the past. They could not get over a seawall because the Japanese soldiers would shoot them. So they stayed on the beach for most of the day. An enemy shell, fired from Mt. Surbachi, would land among them. "A couple of kids would get killed," Dad said. That went on for hours, until they got off the beach after dark.

The flag raised on the summit several days later meant that the rain of terror was close to an end, that the enemy inside the hollowed mountain were being silenced. It was one of the iconic moments in the history of a fighting force organized in Tun Tavern in 1776.

The statue represents a moment in American history where a group of Marines planted a flag to let their brothers know they had fought their way to high ground. It represents sacrifice in the face of a determined, bitter enemy. It represents Marines who have served proudly in all of the wars America has fought to preserve our freedom.

I expect that, were my father still alive, he would remind people that it was only a t-shirt. They should remember the "kids" who died this week in a helicopter crash in Nepal, a long way from home.

But, who am I?

Travel Tip #1

"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable."
Clifton Fadiman
People watching.
The scene: Cozumel International Airport (CZM), Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Boarding gate 6. A hundred or so passengers have been cooling their heels for several hours awaiting a late-arriving American Airlines 737-800. Severe weather in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area (the flight's origination) has snarled air traffic. Although Cozumel airport is comfortable, with a number of worthy distractions ("A 750 ml bottle of Bombay Sapphire is how much?!") once one leaves the comfy confines of an all-inclusive resort, nothing but home is acceptable. Edgy is one way to describe the throng, munching on airport snack foods and jealously eying the passengers boarding a US Air flight to Charlotte. Cranky is another.

A sense of foreboding overtakes us. At the US Air gate are three security people, having roped off a table, doing pre-boarding spot checks. Super. Nothing like having someone root through carry-on while others cluck sympathetically, lugging their steamer trunk-sized uprights bound for limited overhead compartments - the victim's rightful space, no doubt.

By and by our chariot arrives and it is our turn to head home...and run the gauntlet. But, fear not. We are saved by "that guy."

Actually, it was a woman. Selected for personal service by security, she puts up a fuss. They want to swab her hands (to ensure no bomb building, I guess) but she freaks. "What are you doing?" she demands to know. She refuses to cooperate, wants to know what is on the swabs...

A friend told me of his arrival in Iraq. He was following a long line of people shuffling toward a check point. Apparently concerned about allowing illness into the country, everyone was having their temperature taken. Forehead sweep? Disposable plastic tip? No. Glass thermometer, swished in alcohol between examinations. He was appropriately taken aback. He had a right to complain. (He declined their invitation, saying he felt fine, thank you). But, I digress. Back to Cozumel.

Now, it's a scene. She demands to know why she has been singled out, what they are doing to her hands and can she speak to a supervisor? This presents two very interesting observations. 

First, with her to entertain them, the security people are not going to care about an aging traveler and his wife taking leave of beautiful Cozumel and boarding the silver bird bound for home. 

Second... Mexico is a sovereign country. They try to make getting in and out as easy as possible, but it is their country. They have rules and procedures that make sense to them. If they don't make sense to you, spend your vacation somewhere else. Anyway, the soldier looking on certainly didn't seem inclined to summon his supervisor.
Not that she was in any real danger of being spirited off somewhere. But why take the chance? Years ago we were arriving at Liberia airport, Costa Rico, to attend a wedding. A woman was standing next to a table, her belongings strewn about. She was screaming at a woman in uniform. Others in similar uniforms were elbowing each other out of the way for a chance to scream back. We stood dutifully in line, but the first uniformed woman (apparently having lost her turn) smiled at us and waved us through.

Travel tip #1? When you are in line ahead of me, in a foreign country, and the locals involve you in one of their infil or exfil ops? Please, make a fuss. I'm on your side.

Friday, May 15, 2015


"The hall burst into flames, and the building was evacuated. Once outside, King realized that he had left his guitar inside so he went back into the burning building to retrieve his beloved $30 Gibson guitar. Two men died in the fire, and King learned the next day that they had been fighting over a woman named Lucille. King subsequently named that first guitar Lucille, as well as every guitar he has owned since, as a reminder never again to do something as stupid as run into a burning building or fight over women." From Lucille (guitar), Wiki, 2015.

Noting the passing of BB King at age 89.

Most of the guitarists I've listened to over the years, and certainly all of the blues guitarists, mention BB King as a major influence. There are lists of awards the man won, and honors he'd been given elsewhere. All I know is that the blues, the guitar and playing for people so consumed him, the love of music so animated his life, that he was still performing at age 89.

We should all be so lucky.