Public documents, debt ceiling strategy, and other matters.

View 758 Thursday, January 17, 2013

My son Richard, his wife Herrin, and two grandchildren are here. In addition, I am working on getting the Reader finished and in publication, and I am proofreading the final of HIGHER EDUCATION by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle for eBook publication. And I am working on two novels. I’m dancing as fast as I can…


Prosecutor defends actions in Aaron Swartz case – on Technology

I saw this story on and thought you’d find it interesting.

** Prosecutor defends actions in Aaron Swartz case ** The U.S. attorney who directed the prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who took his life last Friday, made her first public comme…

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Dear Jerry:

Apparently whoever threatened Aaron Swartz with a long jail sentence did

not work for the U.S. Attorney. They were going to give him six months

at a Federal country club. So the mystery deepens.


Francis Hamit

Which makes the story even stranger. Of course the usual practice of prosecuting attorneys is to threaten the maximum penalty while offering something much smaller in exchange for a guilty plea. One presumes that what Swartz wanted was a trial in which his defense would be along the lines of liberation of public owned property: that he was entitled to copies of the materials he had downloaded. Why he believed – as apparently he did –- that he was faced with ruinous fines and decades in prison as opposed to a few months at Camp Fed in the company of financial offenders is not clear.

Leaving Swartz out of it, there remains the question of distribution of public documents. I find impossible to believe that setting up monopolies on the distribution of documents reporting publicly financed research fits any constitutional definition of promoting useful arts and science. I understand that journals must be financed. The editorial activities of soliciting peer reviews and doing initial publication have to be paid for; but the current system is simply ridiculous. ITHAKA and JSTOR pretty well prohibit widespread distribution outside academia; but the taxes that paid for the research certainly apply to the general public.

Perhaps Swartz’s legacy will be a new look at our whole journal distribution system with a view to promote the progress of science and the useful arts – and to make available to the public the results of publicly financed research. That issue is not settled.


Today’s Wall Street Journal has an op ed article

Keith Hennessey: How to Wage the Debt-Ceiling Fight

Republicans ought to make Obama an offer that would put him at odds with members of his party.

Step one is for House Republicans to argue for and pass a debt-limit increase combined with present and future spending cuts. Mr. Obama will reject deep spending cuts and accuse Republicans of playing dangerous games with our financial system. So what next?

The president wants a very large increase in the debt ceiling—he and his team have demanded either no limit at all, or a five-year increase, which means at least a few trillion dollars. His obvious goal is to punt the issue past the 2014 midterm election. Yet if he has to ask Congress for a new increase every few months, the spending problem his administration has exacerbated in his first term will dominate the policy agenda—when he wants to work on other issues.

That brings us to step two, which is for congressional Republicans to offer Mr. Obama a choice. He can have a long-term debt-limit increase if he agrees to cut spending, or he can have repeated, short-term increases without spending cuts. If the president continues to dodge the country’s long-term spending problem, the solution is to force him to ask Congress every few months to give him the authority to borrow more while facing questions about why he refuses to restrain spending.

The article continues with arguments for his strategy. For those who believe, as I do, that it is vital for the United States to stop the automatic growth of government – in particular the exponential baseline expansion, replacing it with zero growth baseline so that a cut in a budget item really is a cut, not merely a reduction of the increase which has been promised, this seems like the right idea. The Constitution requires that money bills originate in the House.

The first move ought to be reform of the budget process to eliminate the growth that is built in to continuing resolutions. Then Hennessey’s strategy will work, possibly quite splendidly.


Some views on conscription


The Draft


I have always thought that it would be a good idea to make completion of Basic Training (Boot Camp, et al) a requirement to graduate High School. One wouldn’t need to continue on to the specialization schools (infantry, radio operator, cook & so on), and of course those who have a physical or mental handicap that might preclude them from completing basic shouldn’t be required to attempt it. I realize that there are able-bodied and mentally competent individuals that would still refuse going through any sort of military style training, I will call them conscientious objectors I suppose, for them and perhaps for those with handicaps where appropriate why not require them to do some sort of equivalent time in the Peace Corps or something similar. I think something that could be accomplished over a summer, or less would be appropriate.

Since I hate me some commie peace-nik types, I’d want the Peace Corps side of things to be conducted overseas in a nasty, brutish, possibly dangerous part of the world; and of course you wouldn’t be armed with any terrible weapon that could possibly hurt anyone, it being a Peace Corps and all…

Maybe I could be talked out of such a crazy idea if say the Peace Corps term was twice as long as the longest military basic training course. Or maybe make them into medics in a busy ER, clean operating rooms or something, we do now have Health-care for everyone to deal with now…

Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force are 8 weeks, Army is 9 weeks and Marines a grueling 13 weeks. I guess that’d make the Peace Corps requirement 26 weeks, six and a half months! Ouch, maybe some of the conscientious objectors would opt for Coast Guard, Navy or Air Force instead?

Anyhow, once you complete the 8-26 weeks of training that you opt to take, you are finished with it unless a REAL draft is needed, at that point you report to whichever branch of service you completed your training in for whatever specialized job they need you to do.

What do we do with the folks who opted for the Peace Corps-style term of service? I would think you figure out which branch of service needs people, and send them to the appropriate basic military school to get them started on the path to infantry, cook or whatever.

Of course, the genuinely handicapped individual isn’t and should not be sent through a military style training scheme, and I don’t think they should be forced to do a 26 week mandatory Peace Corps hitch to graduate either. Maybe make it a voluntary thing for them, 13-week if they choose? Sort of a civilian contractor type role, someone physically disabled might be able to work wonders on a computer for any war effort (or Peace Corps effort, I suppose). Mental disabilities might require a bit more creativity, but if they want to volunteer, surely they can contribute in some way.

Remember, my proposition is to make this a requirement for High School Graduation, one can always drop-out. Later in life, should they so decide, they can finish the requirement and get a GED, if they decide to.

Not quite a draft, but close enough to one to expedite the training process should a draft ever be needed.


One approach is to legislate universal conscription, but make it easy enough to get out of. However, anyone who does not put in the conscript year is no longer eligible for any federal employment, and any employer is exempt from application of any anti-discrimination laws for refusing to hire someone who has not complied with the conscription law.  That has worked well enough for some nations.

conscription; Bill of Rights

Dear Dr. Pournelle:

I’m not in favor of conscription; I agree with Heinlein’s view of it. But I would also note that the conscription of the early Republic was for service in the militia, usually within the state and certainly within the Union. That’s a far cry from the national government having the power to draft people and send them into foreign countries. It makes sense to me to say that if a foreign war isn’t inspiring Americans to volunteer, it’s not a war we should be fighting. It’s a natural check on the kind of military adventurism that became popular in the United States around the time when the Progressive movement emerged.

I’m puzzled by your claim about the Bill of Rights not applying to the states. Certainly that was true when it was originally enacted. But the Fourteenth Amendment seems to say otherwise; if anything, its list—privileges and immunities, life, liberty, and property, AND equal protection of the laws—seems more all-inclusive than the explicitly named rights of the first eight amendments. Could you spare a brief explanation of why you think otherwise?

William H. Stoddard

The notion that the 14th Amendment implied rights against the states that could be inferred – rather than rights enacted by Act of Congress – was not applied until well into the 20th Century. Indeed, the notion of some kind of federal protection against religion didn’t come until quite late. Originally the States had the right to establish religions – seven of the original states had established religions when they accepted the Constitution. Leaving matters to the States and abstaining from ruling on “political matters” was the usual practice of the Supreme Court until the Roosevelt Administration.

But this is all fairly moot since the questions seem to be settled. Whether they have been settled properly is perhaps worth discussion. The search for perfection does not always end well.











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