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October 24th, 2017

Diversions

Government in Action

News of the Weird by Chuck Shepherd

By News of the Weird by Chuck Shepherd

Published Feb. 26, 2015

Government in Action

Because Congress and presidents often change their minds, NASA recently continued to build on a $349 million rocket testing tower in Mississippi for a "moon" project that had been canceled back in 2010. The now-idle tower sits down the road from a second rocket testing tower being built for its "replacement" mission -- an "asteroid" project. Critics, according to a December Washington Post examination, blame senators who believe it smarter to keep contractors at work (even though useless) because, Congress and the president might change their minds yet again. Said a high-profile critic, "We have to decide ... whether we want a jobs program or a space program." NASA's inspector general in 2013 identified six similar "mothballed" projects that taxpayers continue to maintain. [Washington Post, 12-15-2014]

Un-Government: About 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts claim their SWAT and other specialty operations are not "government" services, but rather not-for-profit corporate activities and are thus entitled to avoid certain government obligations. Even though their officers have the power to carry weapons, arrest people and break down doors during raids, these "law enforcement councils" refuse to comply with government open-records laws for civilian monitoring of SWAT activities. The latest refusal, by the 58 police agencies of the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, was filed in state Superior Court in December. [Daily News of Newburyport, 12-13-2014; Washington Post, 6-26-2014]

DIY Policing in Seattle: A Seattle Times columnist suffered a "smash-and-grab" break-in of his car in October, but was brushed off by the Seattle Police Department and told simply to go file an insurance claim. However, he and his energetic 14-year-old daughter located the perpetrators themselves by GPS and called for police help, only to be chastised by the dispatcher, warning that they could get hurt. Only when a local crime-fighting TV show adopted the case, along with the suburban Sammamish, Washington, police department, was the gang of thieves finally pursued and apprehended (resulting in charges for "hundreds" of smash-and-grab thefts). (Bonus: One alleged perpetrator was quoted as saying the thefts were undertaken "because we knew the police wouldn't do anything.") [Seattle Times, 10-31-2014, 11-7-2014]

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