Trips and Tidbits

Been rather busy with work, so I haven’t posted much this year. Managed to take a week off to clear the brain. Just returned from a week in South and North Carolina. My first visit to the Holy City, which is what South Carolinians call Charleston. It is a historically interesting place, and the food is good—much like New Orleans. It’s also warm and humid. We stayed at the Inn at Middleton Place, located on a colonial era rice and indigo plantation located about 13 miles up the Ashley River from the city. An 18th Century Middleton was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a 19th Century one signed the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession, and a 20th Century descendant played the role of Ming the Merciless in a Flash Gordon movie.

The Smoky Mountains of North Carolina were pleasant as always. We managed to do some semi-serious hiking up trails. Great waterfall scenes; mountain laurel and rhododendrons were blooming. Journey back to Dallas was a hassle because our original flight was canceled. It was partially made up for with a first class seat, but we still had to endure a rather tense landing at DFW with lightning and thunder all around. The Airbus A-300 made it to the ground in one piece on the second try.

Speaking of the weather, North Texas has had serious rain during the past month or so: Fifteen plus inches this May. The drought has ended, but some of our neighbors may not have gotten the word, as they insist on leaving their lawn sprinklers on automatic. Whatever.

I have heard opinions that this “extreme weather” is caused by global warming (or whatever the PC term for it is now). News flash to those who don’t bother with history: The world was not created when you were born. A serious drought in the 1950s ended with flood in 1957—tornadoes and levee to levee water in the Trinity River (those levees were built in the 1930s—any guess why?). There were also droughts in the late 1960s and late ‘70s (1980 was the hottest recorded summer here). Both were broken by torrential rains and floods. The late Harold Taft, a venerable local TV meteorologist observed that’s the only way to end a drought.

The 2016 Presidential race is already in progress. Hilary Clinton wants to succeed Obama, her 2008 nemesis. So far she has no serious Democrat opponent. The GOP field, on the other hand, looks like a flash mob. No space here to name everyone. Which side will win the Presidency is not predictable at this time, but internationally there seems to be a rightward swing. Israel, Britain, and local elections in France have seen the rightist candidates win. Perhaps a harbinger for the U.S.?

Politicians being charged with various wrongdoing generally is not note worthy for my bytes, pixels, and scarce time. Nevertheless, I am compelled to comment on former House of Representative Speaker Dennis Hastert’s indictment. He is charged with structuring cash withdrawals from a bank account so as to avoid reporting requirements, and lying to the FBI about it. The alleged reason for the withdrawals was to pay hush money to a blackmailer to keep quiet about some past, unnamed, misconduct by Hastert. There is speculation that the “misconduct” was of a sexual nature—perhaps molesting boys he was coaching. There was no indication that the money in Hastert’s account was dirty (except, of course, to those who believe that lobbying fees are ipso facto ill-gotten gains). It’s also odd that the blackmailer was not charged. Is this a vindictive prosecution by a Democrat Justice Department against a former Republican Speaker?

There is a federal law that any cash transaction with a bank over $10,000 must be reported to the government. It is a felony to structure such transactions; that is, make numerous ones under that amount to avoid triggering the reporting requirement. It is also a felony to lie to a federal law enforcement agent in connection with an investigation. The cash transaction reporting requirement is an attempt to root out terror financing and money laundering, especially that of illegal drug trafficking money. Laudable goals, one might believe. But is it really the government’s business what honest folks do with their money? In cash, or otherwise? This seems to be an overreach, especially in Hastert’s case. If he was paying off an extortionist, he was the victim, regardless of what he might have been paying for. The blackmailer has not been charged; wonder why? Hastert should have known better. After all, the law was passed by Congress, in which he had a significant role. Whether he was instrumental in passing this particular law, he is bound to have known of it, otherwise why structure the transactions? Let the bank report it and tell whoever might ask about it that it’s none of their business, including the FBI. Lying to the FBI or any government investigator is idiotic. Actually, consenting to be interviewed by a criminal investigator is unwise, unless you do so with you lawyer present. One has every right to tell them you’re not giving them the time of day and leave you alone. But you cannot lie. Hastert should have realized that. Maybe he was a child molester. If so, and the statute of limitations had run on the offense, this might be the way to get him. I suppose we will find out in the fullness of time.

On that note, this coming June 15th is the 800th anniversary of King John’s signing the Magna Carta. That document is touted as the foundation of the principle that the king—or the government, democratic or monarchical—is not above the law. While its immediate significance back then may often have been overstated, its downstream effects are profound. I may have more to say about that in a subsequent post. In the meantime, if you’re interested, take a look at this article.

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