Town Council: "No" to the PATRIOT Act and to Sprinklers in Hell

Although I was at the Chapel Hill Town Council meeting in person tonight to present the Horace Williams Commitee's report, I dashed home to watch the exciting conclusion from the comfort of my sofa rather than wait it out in the Council Chamber which was filling up with hard-drinkin' lovers of civil liberties. And a TV camera! Did anyone see channel 17?

I think at least a dozen local residents spoke to the Council against this proposal to require expensive sprinkler systems in just three bars in town... which are not coincidentally in the same building downtown on East Rosemary Street. This proposal was made in the name of safety after the tragic fire at a club in Rhode Island. What the requirements fail to do is protect us from pyrotechnics and blocked fire exits, which were two of the main causes of the fatal fire.

It seems like the Council basically balked at the proposal to require sprinklers in just one building, but they didn't say "no way." Intsead they grandfathered current businesses, and applied the restriction only to new establishments. This reminds me of this same Council on red-light cameras: in search of a solution to a non-existent problem. I guess someone thinks voters want to see that, 'cause it sure isn't making anyone safer.

The next order of business was response to a petition about local enforcement of the so-called "PATRIOT Act." The staff wisely choose to not make a recommendation saying this is more of a political judgement call. A few people spoke in favor of the petition, and then UNC law professor emeritus Daniel Pollitt came to the podium.

Literally almost 15 minutes later, the Council cried "uncle." Councilmember Dorothy Derkerk said she was well-convinced by the speakers, and that unless someone in the audience wanted to speak against the petition, she was ready to go ahead and vote. The Council agreed and passed the resolution (page 3 of this 1MB PDF).



Here's the Chapel Hill Herald coverage of the sprinklers:

And here's the News & Observer's coverage of the PATRIOT Act resolution:

Ruby is right, again. Creating a better tomorrow by developing solutions to non-existent problems -- the new Council mantra.

As I said last night, the originial retroactive proposal was, at best, a clumsy tool. The new prospective approach has the same problems as the original. It's much too easy for a new business to avoid the regulation. At the end of the day, I doubt we'll ever have a bar in Chapel Hill that has to install sprinklers.

But also, imagine what could have happened had the original ordinance passed last night. Assuming arguendo, that Hell has a problem with fire-safety. Well, Dorosin could just install a grill and start serving lunch, run the receipts high enough to qualify as a "restaurant" and *poof* -- Hell is exempt from the ordinance. Would that be a "safer" Hell? Probably not. In fact, add a grill, grease, and an open flame, could turn into hell down there.

There's an oddly similar illogical thread running through a series of recent Council policy decisions involving occupancy restrictions, panhandling ordinances, stoplight cameras and the sprinkler ordinance. Make up a problem, and we'll make up an answer!

Victor Davis Hanson is author, most recently, of Ripples of Battle and a fellow at the Hoover Institution

Thomas Jefferson, 1791 Dec. 23. "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." (to Archibald Stuart, B.22.436)

Heh, heh

There will be no sprinklers in hell for traitors like you.

Revelation 13

Like it or not, 9/11 changed the world...and us.

The current conspiracies that arise about Texas drawlers, Christian fundamentalists, neocon Straussians, Likud Jews, and former CEOs in charge of America derives not really from American unilateral provocation, but rather from the horrendous task of restoring some balance to an out-of-kilter world to prevent another disaster in New York and Washington.

Just consider: Before September 11, Saudi Arabia was not seen for what it in fact was — the world's foremost treasurer of terror, with its subsidies to madrassas, ransom to al Qaeda, and billions for plausible denial in Washington — but rather as a reliable pro-Western and anticommunist oil spigot. Arafat was accepted as somewhat unsavory, but nevertheless an adherent to the new global acceptance of reason in place of fanaticism. Sadists like the al Qaedists in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq were kept down in "boxes" by cruise missiles and tens of thousands of air sorties — as if they were naughty children sent to "time out" zones.

South Korea's massive trash-America demonstrations and promulgators of appeasement were thought to be mildly irritating — if not perhaps valuable in opening a "dialogue" with the North. We were slightly worried about what the European street and the coffeehouse intellectuals spewed forth from Paris, Berlin, Brussels, and Athens, but more or less kept quiet. At least we found such invective no real impediment to protecting the continent as usual — while it created a socialist utopia that could teach us a thing or two about the environment and quality of life.

There is no reason to believe that President Bush would necessarily have sought to change radically the status quo. Who, after all, would want to take on all that? At least he gave no hints in the campaign, other than mentioning plans to scale back on thankless humanitarian interventions.

Then came 9/11 — and the last decade's groupspeak and apparition of multilateral "stability" simply floated away on the first breeze across lower Manhattan.

In response, during the last two years we have had to start completely over, in some ways rethinking everything from 1945 onward — including the location of and need for 171 bases in some 32 foreign countries. It isn't easy, since millions have invested so much in the present comforting delusions — both the champions of a reassuring appeasement and enemies enraged that they are now confronted rather than bought off or ignored.

South Koreans have had to give up the idea of rewriting the Korean War as a U.S.-induced holocaust. There will be far fewer massive anti-American demonstrations calling for our exit — inasmuch as we may very well nod yes and genuinely wish the South Koreans well on the DMZ, which apparently is not as dangerous for us as the Sunni Triangle might be for them. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton probably will not be invited back by Seoul to craft peace. Even the most anti-American South Korean accepts that the shared negligence of the past has presented all of us a madman with a bomb, who pretty much thinks he has sized up weak Western democracies and likes what he sees. And it will prove hard to wean such a nuclear mass murderer off his American- and Japanese-fed grain, diesel fuel, and cash.

I don't think we will see too many Europeans privately telling us to lay off Tehran — not when they, not us, will soon be in distance of Iran's missiles without a "retrograde" or "wholly unnecessary" ABM deterrent. For all their triangulation and good-cop/bad-cop role-playing, a Noble Peace Prize for a courageous dissident is just not going to bring in real inspectors. Our own State Department won't talk much anymore of "moderates" that we can "work with" in Tehran. How can we when the mullahs ape Kim Jong-Il, speaking of Muslim bombs and nuking Israel?

I wouldn't imagine either that we will see too many more German politicians echoing the trendy slogans of the German street. Why? For the first time, too many over here have asked questions that we weren't supposed to — but surely should have — for the last 15 years: Exactly whom or what are we protecting Germany from? Communists? Themselves? Poles? Americans, I think, can figure out a way of being engaged and not backwardly isolationist — without stationing over 100, 000 ground troops in Europe.

Perhaps the next time a German official starts in on "the German way" or the "Bush as Hitler" metaphor, some dense American from the heartland quietly watching the emperor's parade will go agape at a naked royal and ask, "Excuse me, but why do we have thousands of troops in Germany when we have too few soldiers in Iraq?" In the new world I don't think we are ever going to go back to "Please don't insult us too much so we can continue to stay for another 60 years and spend billions to protect you." And that will be good for both us and the Germans — who, in fact, really are our friends.

In the Middle East I don't think Colin Powell is going to wait for hours on the tarmac of Damascus as Mr. Assad loiters in his palace. We are not going to blame the messenger who truthfully reports to us about the barbaric things written in the Arab press. I don't sense that the beleaguered Turkish government — with an EU membership pending, U.S. bases under review, deadlock over Cyprus, and Istanbul smoking as the new terror haven — is going to keep energizing its Islamic fundamentalist base.

No, the once-cheery multilateral world has become a very different place after 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq — the latter being the greatest and riskiest endeavor in the last 50 years of American foreign policy. Understandably, almost everyone is invested in its failure — and will slur us as either isolationist or hegemonist, depending upon the particular ox gored.

Russia will not want to see us succeed humanely when it has failed brutally in Chechnya and profited off Saddam. Europe's faith in multilateralism surely cannot be dashed by Anglo-American exceptionalism. Faux-moderates in the region were "moderate" only when they had a Saddam Hussein to point to and say, "At least I'm not him!" Here at home, Democrats can't count on a bad economy, and so it must instead be a bad situation in Iraq. Professors and media pundits cannot believe the world really has descended to such a level that reason only works in tandem with force.

So if Americans in exasperation are asking "What is going on here?", the answer is, "Almost everything." And that is precisely why so many are so upset about so much. Remember, "multilateralism" and "unilateralism" are just concepts — only as good or bad as the people who embrace them. In 1939 a "multilateral" world — Germany, Italy, Russia, along with support from Spain, Japan, and many Eastern Europe states, and the indifference of the United States and most of the Americas — decided to carve up Poland; a "unilateral" Britain choose to become bothersome and thus resisted. Go figure the moral arithmetic between the one and the many.

We need not talk up all these new realities. No need for braggadocio at all; forget the Clintonites as they desperately try to reinvent their past laxity as diplomacy. Reassurances are preferable to threats, lip-biting to banter. The goal is to reestablish a lost deterrence, not prompt endless war. Our leaders engaged in these perilous times would do well to ignore the hysteria, smile, and praise to the heavens the old reassuring alphabetic standbys and multilateral nomenclature — the U.N., the EU, NATO, the Arab League, Oslo, Camp David, and on and on — even as they quietly press ahead on their own in crafting a safer, better future for everyone involved.


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