September 2, 2014
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Who needs judges, anyway?
My take on the news
Lonnie Barham

“JUDGES?  WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING JUDGES!”:  After the Justice Department’s debacle when it secretly searched reporters’ records without seeking an impartial judge’s approval, and after the hue and cry raised by the news media and the public, President Obama directed a review of Justice Department procedures in such cases.  Attorney General Eric Holder released the “review” this week along with the “improvements” made to preclude future problems.  Clearly, very little has changed.

The “new” rules are virtually the same as the old ones that Holder so cavalierly violated.  Both the before and after rules require that news organizations be notified before a reporter’s records are searched; this provision was ignored before and will likely be ignored in the future.  The new rules require the Attorney General to be personally involved in approving the search of reporters’ records; this is nothing new since Holder was almost certainly involved in the improper searches before.  There will now be a News Media Review Committee to advise Holder when he considers searching reporters’ records.  Unfortunately, the committee will be a strictly in-house DOJ body.  So, the DOJ will still issue its own search warrants for reporters’ information with no outside input.  There will still be no impartial judge involved as there is with local and state police search warrants.

Isn’t this the same as a mayor telling the police chief that he can issue a search warrant without judicial review and approval, or Governor Chafee telling Colonel O’Donnell that he can forget about asking a judge to approve a search warrant; that he can just bypass that bothersome, constitutional delay and approve the warrant himself.  It appears President Obama and Attorney General Holder are saying, “Judges?  We don’t need no stinking judges!”         

WARWICK SCHOOLS’ SURPRISE BUDGET SURPLUS:  How in the world can any organization that has even one finance-trained employee end the fiscal year with a “surprise” budget surplus of 2.5 million dollars?  That’s exactly what happened with the Warwick School Department.  Most organizations, both public and private, track spending weekly or monthly against the amount budgeted.  They know on an ongoing basis almost exactly how much money is left in each account; thus, they know when they must tighten their belts and when they can make additional purchases - all based on the simple accounting practice of tracking each account’s spending and receipts against the account’s budget.  It’s not rocket science!

I have railed against Mayor Avedisian and the Warwick City Council for level funding the schools year after year.  I still think the schools are under funded overall, especially considering the annual increases in the budgets of almost every other municipal department.  However, with the school department’s finances being run in such a slipshod manner, it is no surprise that city leaders don’t trust the schools to put together a believable budget or to spend responsibly.

RHODE ISLAND ON TOP OF THIS LIST?  This week’s list of good versus bad states is the so-called “Integrity Index” produced by a Chicago group calling itself the Better Government Association.  The group lists Rhode Island’s government as having the most “integrity” of any state in the nation.  The state with the lowest integrity -  Montana!  Come on!  Does anyone in this country really believe that Rhode Island, with its multitude of indictments and frequent imprisonment of public officials, has more integrity than the clean, open “Big Sky” state of Montana?

When the list’s foundation is examined, the reasoning for Rhode Island’s top ranking is apparent.  The compilers only looked at four areas of each state’s laws - freedom of information, public meetings, conflict of interest, and whistle-blower laws.  They didn’t measure the amount of government corruption in each state, which is the real indicator of a state government’s integrity.  A “corruption index” would likely have us at the top of the list, also.

The report itself seems to agree since it opens with the statement, “Integrity is not a word we generally associate with the states of Rhode Island, New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana.  Most people in a multiple-choice quiz would probably pick the word “corruption” to go with those states…”   The list’s representative admitted that corrupt states feel compelled to pass good “integrity” laws but don’t feel compelled to follow them.   He seems to have admitted that his list is inaccurate or, at best, terribly misleading. 

These ubiquitous lists are sometimes informative and usually entertaining; but it is obvious from this list that they are not always accurate.

CHAFEE AGAINST GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY:  Governor Chafee has vetoed a bill that would have cast some sunlight on the secretive, behind the scenes operations of Rhode Island’s quasi-public agencies.  These 20 publicly-owned but self-governing agencies include the Economic Development Corporation, the Airport Corporation, the Turnpike and Bridge Authority, and the Resource Recovery Corporation.  Not only would the law have required the agencies to report publicly on their borrowing, spending and consulting contracts, it would have prohibited members of the agencies’ boards of directors from also serving as officers of the corporations.  Because of Chafee’s reluctance to allow taxpayers to view the inner workings of these taxpayer-funded agencies, the agencies’ financial books will remain closed to public scrutiny and those who run the corporation can continue their conflicts of interest by sitting on their own boards - in essence, eliminating top-level oversight of their actions.  Thanks for nothing, Linc!

GIVE IN TO BULLYING OR STAND YOUR GROUND?  Agree with the verdict or disagree, the George Zimmerman acquittal has led to a nationwide controversy on whether we should allow bullying or defy it.  The “stand your ground” laws that exist in many states, to include Florida – though it was not used at all in Zimmerman’s defense, allow people to use deadly force if they believe their life is in danger.  Citizens who are attacked are not required to run away and allow a violent criminal bully to intimidate them and take their belongings.  Instead, they can actually stand their ground and defend themselves.

We teach our children that bullying is wrong and that, instead of running from bullies, they should stand up to them.  Now, because of the Zimmerman verdict, many Americans want adult, law-abiding citizens to forget standing up to bullies and run away instead.  Forget about protecting yourself, your family and your belongings.  Just run away and let the bully get his way by intimidating you and leave him free to intimidate other citizens in the future.  It’s just not the American way!

Yet, everyone from President Obama to Attorney General Eric Holder to popular black musician Stevie Wonder are telling us that we must be cowardly and run from a violent attacker; that even though we have the legal right and the capability to defend ourselves, we should run away instead.  They say we should give ground to such criminals and allow them to dominate our society.  Such abandonment of self-respect and self-sufficiency is exactly what’s wrong with our country today.  Our leaders don’t want us to stand up for ourselves.  Whether it’s allowing the government to baby us through lifelong entitlements, or allowing government to watch our every movement and our every phone call and Internet visit, or letting government “protect” us from criminal bullies instead of protecting ourselves - we are expected to “let big government take care of it.”

It’s wrong, it’s anti-American, and it is contributing to the destruction of the America our founders created and our forefathers fought and died to protect.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:  In response to Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments following the George Zimmerman acquittal that “...it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense...,” Chris Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, responded that the attorney general “fails to understand that self-defense is not a concept, it’s a fundamental human right.  To send a message that legitimate self-defense is to blame is unconscionable.”  Had Holder been attorney general at the eve of WWII, he would likely have advised President Roosevelt that our nation must somehow retreat after Pearl Harbor instead of declaring war on Japan.  Whether you like the NRA or despise it, the group is clearly correct in its quest to protect law-abiding citizens’ right to self-defense.


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