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Hybrid Vehicles

There’s been a great deal of “buzz” over hybrid vehicles being green… but for a very long time I’ve had some serious questions about just how green they are.

Yes, there’s no question that their carbon emissions are substantially lower than gasoline powered vehicles (but remember, hybrids do use gasoline).

Yes, hybrids are a significant step forward (though the modifications to hybrids that allow them to be recharged and ran totally from electricity certainly makes them far more green; and really shouldn’t cost any more in a production model).

But the reality is green isn’t just about the emission in the every day use of the vehicle — green also has to do with the environmental impact of the production of the batteries and their disposal.

Most hybrids use lead acid, a few newer ones use Lithium Ion / Lithium Polymer… neither of which is exactly eco-friendly (I’d prefer them not to be buried in my back yard, or any where near where my water comes from).

Lead acid batteries have a limit life; how long they last depends on a number of variables, and some of the materials can be recycled and reused – but you need to make sure that your community has setup to deal with those issues before you buy your hybrid.  My reading indicates that only California has implement stringent rules for the warranty and handling of lead acid batteries in hybrid (hopefully more states will follow suit).

Lithium cells appear to be a great solution.  They’re small and dense; but the downside is they have a three year life span from the time they were manufactured.  And Lithium is an extremely dangerous substance to release into the environment.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a hybrid; they are good choices for many drivers (particularly commuters who can’t use all electric), but consider the impact of the improperly disposed of batteries, and even the properly disposed of batteries resulting from normal wear and tear as well as accidents.

Green isn’t something you should try and see under a microscope — it’s an end-to-end game.

Originally posted 2010-01-17 01:00:52.

Due Process in Jeopardy

by Wendy McElroy, The Freeman

The Supreme Court takes liberty lightly

Last week the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Comstock et al. that Congress has the constitutional authority to empower federal district courts to civilly commit dangerous sex offenders who had completed their sentences. In effect, the courts can mandate indefinite confinement of such federal prisoners. The controversial power derives from Section 4248 of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.

Civil commitment generally refers to the involuntary confinement in a mental institution of a person deemed dangerous to themselves or to others. In 1949 the federal government assumed the power to detain federal prisoners in treatment facilities past their sentences if they were judged insane. The new decision expands this power in significant ways. Moreover, given the aggressiveness with which the law and public opinion focuses on sex offenders, use of the new civil commitment power is likely to become widespread.

The decision also invites state involvement in federal civil commitment. The ruling declares that “‘all reasonable efforts’ must be made to cause the State where tried person was tried, or the State where he is domiciled, to ‘assume responsibility for his custody, care, and treatment.’” Only if both states refuse will the federal government accept responsibility for the prisoner. Currently, 20 states have their own civil commitment programs that include sex offenders. Presumably, all states will now be expected to establish policy on this issue.

The respondents in the original motion were federal prisoners who challenged the constitutionality of being detained through civil commitment for years past their release date. The federal government argued the Walsh Act is authorized by both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution, which are often paired together. The Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) gives Congress the power “To regulate Commerce … among the several States….” It has been broadly interpreted to include laws mandating the state sex registries also established by the Walsh Act. The Necessary and Proper Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 18), also known as the Elastic Clause, gives Congress the power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.” The government argued that the Walsh Act is necessary to establish and maintain a federal penal system.

In an amicus brief filed on behalf of the prisoners, the Cato Institute countered these claims. Regarding the Commerce Clause: “Notably, the Government does not and cannot affirmatively argue that the Act is a legitimate exercise of Congress’ Commerce Clause power. Civil commitment involves neither commerce nor interstate activity. Mental illness demands physicians not merchants.” Regarding the Necessary and Proper Clause: “[L]egislation adopted under the Clause may be justified only by an enumerated power, not by an implied power. Congress may carry into execution the powers specifically delegated to it, and the Necessary and Proper Clause permits adoption of reasonable means to carry into execution the enumerated power. But there the power ends. Indeed, the Tenth Amendment was adopted to ensure that Congress did not rely upon the Clause to expand its powers….”

Lower courts agreed with Cato’s analysis.

In the original motion both the district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Congress had exceeded its constitutional powers. The unanimous appellate decision held that Congress lacked a general police power to protect the public at large from crime.(By contrast, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of civil commitment for a “sexually dangerous person.”)

The Supreme Court decision, however, endorsed the federal power by a vote of 7-2. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented. In the dissenting opinion, Thomas stated, “The fact that the federal government has the authority to imprison a person for the purpose of punishing him for a federal crime — sex-related or otherwise — does not provide the government with the additional power to exercise indefinite civil control over that person.”

Interestingly, the constitutional protections of due process contained in the Bill of Rights played no substantive part in the ruling. The decision stated, “We do not reach or decide any claim that the statute or its application denies equal protection of the laws, procedural or substantive due process, or any other rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Thus the most important issue for civil libertarians was not addressed: Does the continued imprisonment of a category of criminals who have served their sentence violate the due-process and equal-protection guarantees in the Constitution? The closest the Court came to addressing this issue was Justice Breyer’s statement, “[We] assume, but we do not decide, that other provisions of the Constitution — such as the Due Process Clause — do not prohibit civil commitment.” In short, the Court’s default position is that indefinite confinement of a prisoner past his sentence is constitutional and legally proper. Constitutional considerations such as the due-process protections of the Fourth and Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment protection against “cruel and unusual punishment,” and the Equal Protection of the Fourteenth Amendment appear not to automatically apply to “dangerous’ sex offenders.”

A key concern about the ruling is mission drift — namely, that civil commitment will be applied to ever widening categories of people. Since alcoholics and drug addicts are currently subject to such involuntary commitment in several states, this is a reasonable concern. It is not reassuring that the government’s case in Comstock was presented by Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court. She is almost certain to be confirmed. Orin Kerr, who attended the proceedings, reported at the Volokh Conspiracy website, “Kagan made a much broader Article I power argument at oral argument than was made in the Government’s brief. Indeed, her argument struck me as sort of shockingly broad: She argued that the Constitution gives the federal government the general power ‘to run a responsible criminal justice system,’ and that anything Congress plausibly thought a part of running a ‘responsible criminal justice system’ was within the scope of federal power.”

This does not bode well for individual rights or due process.

NOTE:

I wrote this post a little over a week ago; yesterday the Supreme Court issued a ruling effecting Miranda Rights.  Apparently choosing to be silent, without actually stating that you choose to be so is no longer considered exercising your right to terminate a police interrogation.  The 5-4 decision puts those who Miranda was most intended to protect at the most risk for police abuse.

The bottom line, now a suspect must clearly state that they wish to remain silent and that the interrogation is over… if a suspect does not invoke their right, the police are free to keep interrogating their suspect as long as they so choose.

Originally posted 2010-06-02 02:00:07.

There’s no place like home…

According to a survey by Mercer (a London based investment services company owned by Marsh and McLennan Cos) that’s true is you live in Vienna.

Their survey considered political stability, crime, economy, personal freedom, health services, sewage, air pollution, schools, public utilities, transportation, housing, and climate.  It aslo took into account the cities’ restaurants, theaters, sports, availability of consumer goods, and record of natural disasters.

The United States didn’t have a single city appear in the top ten.

The ten most liveable cities included Vancouver Canada; Auckland New Zealand; Dusseldorf, Munich, and Frankfurt Germany; Bern Switzerland; and Sydney Australia.

Of US cities, Honolulu ranked 31, San Francisco ranked 33, and Boston ranked 37.

The company also prepared a list that emphasized eco-friendly cities; focusing on water availability, cleanliness, waste removal, sewage, air pollution, and traffic congestion.

Honolulu placed second, bested only by Calgary Canada.  Minneapolis was sixth, Pittsburgh was thirteenth, and Washington was twenty-third.  Cities in Canada, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan dominated the list.

Originally posted 2010-05-31 02:00:15.

The End of an Error

Today marks the end of an error and tomorrow the beginning of a new era in America… or at least that’s our hopes.

What?

Today is George W Bush’s last full day as President of the United States; and tomorrow we will have a new president, a president who takes office at a time when the American economy and the very foundation of America is crumbling, a president who talks of a new direction and a sustainable future.

My personal belief is that FDR put us on this path, and years of patch work laws creating a welfare capitalistic state combined with heavily regulated practices in some sectors and virtually no regulation in others.

I’m hopeful for the future, but change will not come quickly, nor will it come for free… we as Americans need to decide where we want out future to take us, and commit to having a better world for future generations.

Originally posted 2009-01-19 12:00:13.

Winter Solstice 2017

December 21 2017 16:28 GMT