Monday, June 30, 2014

Observations of the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby Ruling

Well, the damage is done for another Supreme Court calendar year, finishing up with a ruling on corporations refusing to provide healthcare coverage to employees with regards to birth control medication and devices...  while I'm not a legal scholar, I've been a witness to history and American politics long enough to understand a few things:

1) The ruling clearly puts the religious beliefs of an owner over that of the employees: rather than try to find a spot between which the owner's beliefs won't conflict with the employees, the Court took a side... which hurts more people (workers and their families) more than it would have hurt the owners.

2) Justice Alito's contention that the ruling specifically affects birth control makes it clear the decision was about abortion and not religious liberty (despite what the fundamentalists think, those issues ARE separate).  The ruling didn't bring into consideration other religious arguments against various medical treatments - for example, some churches object to blood transfusions and others might object to psychiatric meds - which means the Justices were only concerned for the one that mattered to them: the religious argument against abortion.  It didn't help that all five Justices ruling FOR Hobby Lobby are practicing Catholics, whose church decrees that birth control is equal to abortion (there's a sixth Justice who is Catholic, but Sotomayor is female, which brings us to the next point).

3) The ruling was passed due to five Justices all of whom - Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, and Thomas - were not only Catholics but also all male.  The sixth male Breyer sided with the dissent, which was where the three sitting female Justices all argued against the ruling.

3a) Not to mention that the five Justices in favor are all Republican party appointees, with the four dissenters all Democratic.

If you were a Republican operative working on any outreach programs to young unmarried women (and even married women) who are in dire need of healthcare coverage to pay for medications like birth control (some of the meds are useful outside of birth control, such as reducing risks of ovarian cysts/cancer), all of a sudden you're going to find it VERY hard to find any women with any fondness for the GOP.  The Republicans were already having problems getting young women to support the party, now it's going to get worse...

4) While the Far Right and Pro-Fetus crowd may be celebrating the ruling, it needs to be said it is easier to rally your voters around a grievance than anything else.  Meaning the motivation is now all on the Democratic side of the midterms this year.

Now the Republicans will crow that this ruling hurts dreaded ObamaCare, and that may get the Far Right base out and voting this November.  But now the Democrats have motivation by pointing out to women voters that they need to get out the vote to keep Democrats in control of the Senate this 2014: It's the Senate that approves Supreme Court Justices after all, and the sitting Justices aren't getting any younger.  If Ginsberg - eldest of the left-leaning Justices - dies or retires with a GOP-held Senate (who will press for a Far Right candidate no matter what even with Obama making the nominations), that's a vulnerable vacancy that could secure a solid block for conservative rulings for a long time.  Or if any other conservative Justices dies or retires while the Democrats control the Senate with Obama making the nominations, that could well shift the balance of power in the Court away from the current 5-vote conservative side.

Either way, if women feel threatened by a conservative Supreme Court - and I'm willing to argue a lot of them will be, not just over abortion and access to healthcare but also employment and salary equality, access to education, access to voting (!) - they have a lot of motivation now to vote Democratic for Senate seats this 2014... and to vote Democratic for the Presidency (hi, Hillary!) in 2016.

This is still the key point: despite whatever the Supreme Court rules, it's still up to voters to put into political power in the White House and the Senate (as well as the House in Congress) those elected leaders who will pass the laws and enforce the laws that the Supreme Court rules upon.  It's up to the President and the Senate to put Justices onto the Court bench when the time comes.  It's up to the people - us - to vote the right people into office who will make damn sure the Court is made up of Justices who will follow the law rather than their own biases.


P.S. point 5) This is still a slippery slope where "religious liberty" is going to get pursued in other fields of debate, such as education, social services, what have you.  Relying on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to make this ruling is going to open up the possibility that questionable law can be argued for other ways the religious extremists can get around the restrictions and limits based on the Separation of Church and State.  This can get scary.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Anniversary: The Fuse

(update: big hello to the Crooks and Liars audience, welcome back)
History teaches us that the War was inevitable.

There was this... understanding across the nations of Europe at the turn of the 20th Century.  The empires of the 19th Century had made treaties and agreements to protect their global power by dividing themselves into two armed camps.  Revolving around the animosities between France and newly-forged Germany, the other nations and empires - Great Britain, Austria-Hungarian Empire, Russia, newly-forged Italy - chose sides to back in case France and Germany decided to start a thing.

It all came from the belief in a Balance of Power working between the nations/empires of Europe: that no one nation would become stronger or more powerful than the others, requiring nations to gang up against the growing "threat" to ensure war wouldn't happen...  Except that, by the 20th Century, various powers wanted war in order to satisfy their needs or avenge some slight.

Or, as Captain Blackadder so rightly put it: "It was bollocks."

The splits had formed over slights and injuries spanning decades: France being humiliated by Prussia/Germany in 1871; Russia being slighted over Austria-Hungary's control over the Balkans; Great Britain threatened by Germany's growing Imperial Navy and open desire for empire-building in places the UK already controlled; Germany's desire to make themselves an economic powerhouse equal to a British Empire the Kaiser Wilhelm II - cousin to the British Royals - so wanted to emulate.  Underneath all of this was a budding sense of Nationalism - a tribal impulse of patriotism - merged with various elements of anarchism and economic malaise.

By the early 1900s, all of Europe was a literal powder-keg: each nation building up arsenals and weapons of increasing technological lethality that few of the generals and men in power even comprehended how dangerous war was becoming.  While the peace held, it was merely over the fact nobody wanted to be the idiot to start the whole thing blowing up.  Nobody wanted the blame once the dust settled...

Except for the ones who didn't care.

For all the politicians and men of power who knew to tread lightly, Europe was also filled with ethnic factions subsumed by the aging Empires affected by the same Nationalist pride.  Except that Nationalist pride drove them - especially the Serbians in the Austrian-held Balkans - towards a desire for self-determination, the right to form their own nation outside of imperial dominance.  They'd seen nations like Greece gain their independence from the Ottoman Empire - a Middle Eastern empire on the edge of the European boiling pot - and they'd seen Italy and Germany form themselves into true nations out of divided squabbling states.  So these smaller states, these ethnic groups, sought their own nations.

This brings us to Serbia.

Serbians had been suffering for centuries, a once proud eastern European culture taken over by the Ottomans in the late 1300s.  By the mid-19th Century they were able to fight back to gain some independence from the Ottomans only to suffer new rule under the Austria-Hungarians as part of a Russo-Turkish treaty.  While Serbia retained some independence as a nation it still had to answer to the Habsburgs in Vienna, and was blocked from expanding further influence in the Balkan region.

The resentments led to various factions in Serbia plotting for action against the Austrians.  Violence and riots were common throughout the region leading up into 1914.  When the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria decided on a visit to the region as part of his military duties to the Navy (Austria-Hungary had access to the Mediterranean through their hold of Bosnia), he also planned on visiting Sarajevo for a museum dedication on the date of his wedding anniversary with his beloved wife Sophie.

That was June 28.

Welcome to the anniversary date of the starting point of World War I: the assassination of the Archduke and his wife.

Done as a protest against Austria-Hungarian hegemony, for Serbian nationalism pushing for a Greater Serbia dominating all of the Balkans, it was the excuse the powers back in Vienna needed to stomp down on a Serbian nation they viewed as a threat.

Problem was, Russia had become allies of Serbia by then.  Russia's interests in eastern Europe had always been there ever since the birth of their own empire.  When Austria-Hungary mobilized for a war on Serbia by July 28, it triggered clauses in treaties Russia had with Serbia and with their Entente with France and UK to mobilize, which triggered Germany's mobilization, which triggered France's...

One trigger unleashed another.  At no point did any national leader "man up" and say "wait, this is stupid, this is a fight between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, it doesn't involve us!"  Germany didn't need to mobilize against Russia... France didn't need to mobilize versus Germany... Germany didn't need to invade Belgium to preemptively fight France, which gave Great Britain the excuse to jump in... except that there were enough people in power in each of those nations who argued that war was war, that it would be quick and easy with everybody's allies lining up to fight it, and now was the time to pitch in.

Like Blackadder said, bollocks.

Whatever ideals or hope there had been in the 19th Century that humanity as a whole was stepping towards a more evolved, artistic, sensible future died in the muddy trenches of the war fronts.  Once started, neither side had little incentive to end it fearing the consequences of national collapse and panic.  For four years, the European powers pummeled each other until they had placed serious strains on their manpower and resources.

None of it ended well.

Germany, trying to destroy Russia from within, unleashed a communist uprising in the heart of a frayed Russia that led to the rise of the Soviet Union and to the horrors of Stalin.  Austria-Hungary fell apart through a prolonged war that drained their resources.  Italy, jumping in late on the side of the French-UK-Russian Entente, found their fortunes ruined in disastrous military campaigns that collapsed their government, leading to the rise of the Fascists under Mussolini.  The Ottoman Empire fell apart through British intervention in the tribal uprisings across the Middle East.  Great Britain and France lost hundreds of thousands of men against the German lines.  Germany used up much of its resources and men as well.  Germany's desperation against the UK led to their attacking American shipping and trade interests, dragging the United States into the war.

When the fighting finally stopped on November 11 1918, it was due more to fatigue on all sides than due to any actual victory.  But Germany's government fell apart as a result of the armistice, and France and Great Britain wielded enough influence on the following peace process that its lopsided punishments on Germany convinced a good number of politicians and historians to note that the peace wouldn't last (and it was because some of them like General Foch believed the treaty was too lenient and would allow Germany to rebuild).  And we all know what that bloody Treaty of Versailles led to...

It didn't help that some of the underlying issues causing the war - the fervent tribalism that masqueraded as nationalism, for example - weren't properly resolved.  France and Great Britain still had their empires to maintain after all, and they exerted their influences into the Middle East by carving up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire into nations that forced the wrong ethnic groups in the region into the wrong states.  While the bloody history of the Middle East has existed long before the European map-makers made their mark in the region, the drawing up of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Palestine (without an Israel at that time), Turkey and other regional nations with reckless disregard for ignored groups like the Kurds and ignorance of the divisions between Shia and Sunni faiths certainly exacerbated tensions to where we've got the bloody chaos the world endures to this day.

It was 100 years ago the modern world was born.  In fire and in blood and in death.  We've been dealing with the consequences ever since, more than any other historical event preceding it.

God help us all today.

Friday, June 27, 2014

In The "You Can't Make This Sh-t Up" Department of Crazy-Ass Primarying

Over at the TNC Horde, we'd save this for a Tuesday, but hell it's Friday and we might as well get this out of the way (link via Talking Points Memo):

On Tuesday, Timothy Ray Murray (pictured) challenged longtime incumbent Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) for the Republican nomination in Oklahoma's 3rd Congressional district. Murray lost, but he did manage to pull in 3,442 votes, good for 5.2 percent of the total. Now Murray says he will contest the outcome of the election. Because, he says, Lucas is dead and has been replaced by a "look alike."

Wasn't this an episode of The X-Files? No, wait, it was Nowhere Man, starring Bruce "Enlist in Starfleet" Greenwood...

"The election for U.S. House for Oklahoma’s 3rd District will be contested by the Candidate, Timothy Ray Murray," Murray wrote in a press release posted on his campaign website. "I will be stating that his votes are switched with Rep. Lucas votes, because it is widely known Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed by a look alike."

Widely known? This is the first any of us are hearing about this!

On the website, Murray claims that Lucas and "a few other Oklahoma and other States’ Congressional Members," were executed "on or about" Jan. 11, 2011 in southern Ukraine.

What were Oklahoma politicians doing in southern Ukraine in January 2011?!

"On television they were depicted as being executed by the hanging about the neck until death on a white stage and in front of witnesses," the website claims. "Other now current Members of Congress have shared those facts on television also. We know that it is possible to use look alike artificial or manmade replacements, however Rep. Lucas was not eligible to serve as a Congressional Member after that time."

I dunno, there's been a few Congressmen still serving office well past their zombiefication...

The bizarre charge was first reported by KFOR TV in Oklahoma City. The station reported that while Oklahoma election board officials had also received Murray's press release, Murray had yet to file a formal petition to contest the election. The station also sought comment from Lucas, who said that he had never been to Ukraine.

Well, that's what you'd expect the Life Model Decoy of Congress-Podperson Lucas to say!

“Many things have been said about me, said to me during course of my campaigns," Lucas told KFOR. "This is the first time I’ve ever been accused of being a body double or a robot."

There was that time he was accused of being one of the original singers for Milli Vanilli, but the evidence never panned out...

Murray, who previously challenged Lucas in 2012 while running as a Democrat, ran on a pledge to "help bring U.S. House leadership back to traditional values and defend and serve the voice of The People." Federal Election Commission records show that Murray raised and spent just $50 on his campaign. His campaign website's "issues" page called for balancing the budget, creating incentives for job growth in "all tiers" of the job market, protection for small businesses and banks, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and tax reform. He also pledged to "never use a look alike to replace my (The Office’s) message to you or to anyone else, as both the other Republican Challengers have."
Murray did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPM on Friday.

Here's the thing that's bothering me: what if Murray is telling the truth, and there's been an elaborate sham perpetrated by the Pentagon and the global media to cover up the shocking assassination of American politicians on foreign soil? What if Lucas is a plant, a stealth agent for HYDRA, just waiting for the opportunity to abuse the 25th Amendment to his own diabolical need?  What if this is some massive conspiracy dating all the way back to Operation: Paperclip to destabilize the U.S. government out of some twisted need for revenge by the still-living brain of Adolf Hitler?! What if, man, what if! YOU GOTTA START THINKING LIKE THE CIA DOES, MAN! ROSWELL! ROSWELL!


Just to note, Murray originally ran as the Democrat candidate back in 2012 against Lucas.  Didn't exactly see the reports on this back then, you know...

I'm not going Tag this with a Republicans Are Insane label, since this is pretty much just this one Murray fellah jumping off the cliffs of sanity here, and he's someone party-jumping for some personal need for attention.  But... Seriously, guys?  Both parties - Republican and Democrat - need to do a better job screening their candidates with psych evaluations before letting them do any fundraiser campaigning.  Seriously.

Meanwhile... in an abandoned warehouse outside of Floyd, Texas... (insert ominous musical sting here)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Meanwhile in Florida, Another Gripe About Gerrymanders

(update: hello to the readers visiting via Crooks and Liars.)
I mentioned on my last post I had several things worth blogging, and this was one: a follow-up of sorts from the Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano about the gerrymander trial and a realization he made about how screwed up our electioneering is:

...Nearly one-third of the candidates for 140 Senate and House seats are running unopposed. You think that sounds bad? Pffft, that just scratches the surface.
Dozens of other races offer only the appearance of competition with write-in, third-party and no-party affiliated candidates on board. No disrespect intended to those folks, but it has been decades since anyone booked passage to Tallahassee via that route.
All of which brings us to the bottom line:
There are a grand total of 57 races out of 140 that include both a Republican and a Democrat. Fifty-stinking-seven!
That means nearly 60 percent of the legislative races in November are slam dunks. And only a handful of the other 40 percent will actually turn out to be competitive.
In other words, your American Idol vote will probably carry more weight...

This is what gerrymandering does in the pursuit of creating "safe" districts. Enough of these districts are so skewed to favor one party that the opposing major party doesn't even want to waste the resources to challenge the incumbent that's usually sitting in said district.

More from Romano:

The maps are drawn to have predetermined outcomes in elections. Republicans have given themselves enough safe districts to ensure they will remain in power, and they have given Democrats just enough safe districts to keep them from complaining.
So who loses?
Instead of getting multiple choices of candidates who have a legitimate chance to win, you are stuck with take-it-or-leave-it elections.
The bigger problem is you have already made it clear you were tired of this sham. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments that forbid the Legislature from just this kind of district stacking when maps were redrawn for 2012.
And yet the problem is only getting worse.
In 2010, the last election under the old maps, 51.7 percent of the races failed to field both a Republican and a Democrat. In 2012, the first year of new maps, that percentage rose to 54.3. Right now, barring anyone dropping out, it's 59.2 percent.
So that means the legislative leaders who were specifically instructed to redraw maps to make them more competitive may have actually made them more lopsided.
Which is easy to believe if you listened to the testimony of deleted emails, consultants being invited to the table and a phantom map falsely submitted under a student's name...

Just on those points alone, the judge overseeing this case ought to dump the GOP's redistricting maps (and for good measure hold each of the con artists responsible for it for contempt).

Romano notes how the general electorate has grown disgusted by the gerrymandering, about how state amendments forcing better redistricting were passed in popular referendum, but that's not the only emotion these gerrymandered maps create.

These maps also create disillusionment and disinterest.  When voters tend to get confronted with elections that have no consequences or value, when voters are pretty much told they have no choices for them to make, they tune out and refuse to show up.  Voter turnout for these mid-term elections - where nothing is at stake in 60 percent of the districts - is hideous, barely topping out over 39 percent and sometimes barely getting over a quarter of all registered voters (when real competitive races take place like the Presidential ones, voter turnout at least breaks over the 55-60 percent mark).

At best 39 percent turnout, people.  That's not a majority of registered voters.  That's not enough residents in this state electing people to office who have the power to dictate business regulations, quality of schools, quality of the local roads and bridges, our environment, any kind of local or national jobs bills that could stimulate the local/national economy... and so on.

We're not ruled by majority vote, we're ruled by the extremists who are the only ones who care enough to vote no matter what.  And those extremists - especially the ones on the Republican side - don't care if government works or not, they just want their special interests protected at all hazards...

This is what gerrymandering creates: lack of honest-to-God representation of the majority's best interests.  It creates disgust in the entire political process.

Gerrymandering has to go if we have any hope of making government at the local, state, and federal levels work again.

That judge better rule against these maps and make certain honest, competitive maps get installed right quick.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Executive's Order, Speaker's Chaos

I had about five other things I wanted to write about - after long weeks of having little to discuss that could be resolved in a simple, "what the hell?" retort - but I spotted this halfway through the day and felt compelled to lead off with this.

Speaker John Boehner is seriously reviewing his options on pursuing a lawsuit against Barack Obama's use of Executive Orders.  To wit (via the Washington Post):
Reports today indicate that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is planning a lawsuit over Barack Obama's use of executive orders. These orders have long been a focal point of right-wing anger, particularly since January of this year when Obama announced he'd be using more of them to bypass a gridlocked and dysfunctional Congress.

After the immediate round of laughing my ass off, I had to consider the actual seriousness of what Boehner's hoping to accomplish.

With regards to EOs (abbrev. Executive Order, natch), there has been a long history of Presidents issuing such things ever since the first one under the Constitution, George Washington himself.  The argument for them stems from the interpretation of Article II, Section 1 Clause 1 that grants Presidents the power to "faithfully execute the laws": in order to execute - or perform duties - under such laws the President has to establish the who, how, where and when those laws have to be enforced (the "why" of the laws fall under judicial review set by the Supreme Court).  The only noticeable time Executive Orders were even considered by SCOTUS, it was when they overturned an EO issued by Truman because it "attempted to make law" rather than enforce one.

Ever since that, Presidents made the effort to relate their EOs to congressional laws.  Legal scholars, however, still consider Executive Orders in a kind of gray zone where their actual constitutionality might or might not exist.  It's in the gray zone that Boehner wants to attack Obama's efforts to use EOs this year to work around GOP Congressional obstruction.

Thing is, Boehner's case is weak to begin with.  Obama's case history of issuing EOs demonstrate he's not the great offender Boehner and the Far Right make him out to be:

That Post chart tells the facts: compared to modern Presidents, Obama's issued the fewest EOs in decades.  For the most part of the 19th Century, you'll note the lack of executive activity... up until Teddy Roosevelt, that bundle of energy who defined the modern Presidency with his progressive activism.  It calmed down by the time of Eisenhower, and even then the EO average hadn't been reached since the days of Jimmy Carter.

And while the modern conservative wingnut faction of the GOP are screaming about Obama's "overreach", his 175 (as of March 2014) EO count in six years comes nowhere near sainted Ronald Reagan's 381 total (Obama would have to double his EO count in the next two years to even come close).

Despite what Boehner claims, this whole thing smells of setting up for cause to impeach.  They couldn't impeach over the birth certificate, they couldn't impeach over Solyndra, they couldn't impeach over ObamaCare, and the Far Right are finding out they don't have much to impeach with over Benghazi, the IRS SuperPAC investigation, Benghazi, the prisoner exchange for the sole POW we had in Afghanistan, Benghazi, Obama's method of shoelace tying, and BENGHAZI.

So they're going after Executive Orders.  The plan looks to be simple:
1) Get the courts to establish that Executive Orders in general are not allowed under the Constitution: that it's executive law-making, conflicting with the Legislative power to make laws.
2) Argue that considering Obama used EOs throughout his tenure, he was committing impeachable acts all along.

Which brings up the unpleasant reality that EVERY President - save William Henry Harrison (I died in 30 days!) - would have to be retroactively impeached.  Not to mention the fact that any future President coming out of the Republican ranks (if that ever happens again, considering how f-cked the party's becoming at the national level) is suddenly going to have no executive power of his/her own to wield if Boehner and the Far Right succeed at this.

This obsession with stopping Obama at all costs is both ridiculous and dangerous.  Ridiculous in that the GOP's efforts are going against decades if not centuries of effective government traditions.  Dangerous in that if any of these efforts succeed we could see the end of the system of checks and balances that made our federal republic work all those centuries.

The courts already established clear limits on EOs: banning them outright can restrict a President's ability to enact any law not without instructions spelled out by Congress to the letter.  And considering how some laws may conflict with others, it'd end up to the courts clearing that chaos which could take years to resolve, which a smartly-worded EO would otherwise straighten out.  We've been doing this for decades, as history shows us: even during the questionable periods of civil war and world wars, overall this system worked.

Now, just to deny Obama anything, Boehner and his congressional allies want to wipe that all out.

"This is about faithfully executing the laws of our country," says Boehner.

Problem with that, Mr. Boehner, when you were asked which laws weren't being executed, you couldn't provide a single example.

If you were serious about this, Mr. Boehner, you'd have a violation on hand, you'd have an excuse, before coming to the cameras to make your threat known.

The Speaker of the House is inviting chaos into our system of checks and balances.  This is what we've come to.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Only Thing To Say About Dick Cheney

Considering the former Vice President's recent hypocritical and vile comments about Obama's handling of the Iraqi mess Cheney left behind, about the prolonged history of Cheney's lies and distortions, about the thousands of lives broken and killed under his orders, there is only one thing to say:

Arrest the son of a bitch for war crimes and shove his goddamn criminality back into his goddamn face.

That's all that needs to be said now and forever.  No more television interviews.  No more speaking events.  No more book deals.  Send him to jail, put him on trial.  Make him answer for the torture regime, the lies about WMDs, the war-profiteering, the folly of waging two wars with massive debt and without end.

Monday, June 16, 2014

When Courts Let Lying Prevail

Nothing good can come of it:

...If ever that could be said of a Supreme Court opinion, it would be Monday’s unanimous decision in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus. The case seemed, at first glance, to concern the right to lie about politics. As properly decided by the Court, however, it only had to do with the abstruse doctrine of “standing to sue,” which requires a plaintiff challenging a law to show an “actual injury,” not just a political objection to the law.
The plaintiffs want to challenge an Ohio state law that bans “a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official” within a specified period before a primary or general election “knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” (Their petition counted at least 15 other states that have “false statement” laws.) Because there is no action pending against them now, a lower court held they had no standing.
The issue presented to the Court thus was narrow. That may be why the opinion was delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas. Thomas has idiosyncratic views on free speech, and rarely gets to write a majority opinion on a First Amendment question. His opinion said only that a political group that might be penalized down the road for making “false” statements in future campaigns had standing to go forward now with a lawsuit...

The problem with this decision is subtle but important: while it looks like it gives PACs and candidates the right to fight back against governmental oversight with too broad and vague a reach, it lays the groundwork for elections to be filled with the worst sort of mudslinging and negative campaigning.  While we already have a huge problem with negative campaigning, there is at least a method in place to stop or limit such bad behavior through the threat of sanctions by state-level authorities.  This ruling can be the first step towards eliminating such authority down the road.

The Court doesn't seem to recognize - when you look at other recent rulings making it easier to lie to the public - the implications of lying in the public forum.  They're thinking about the specific harm against an accused or a victim of the lie, or the specific harm against the person or group making that lie.  They're not looking at the effect that lie has on everybody else.

Our voters, our citizenry, rely on being well-informed - informed to the facts, and with accuracy - in order to make decisions when voting for elected officials and voting for public referendums.  When they're being told falsehoods about a candidate - "Oh, that one eats babies!" - or a political issue - "Gay marriage causes hurricanes and earthquakes!" - it confuses the public dialog, making it more difficult for reasonable, common sense political fixes to get made.

We're still dealing with the massive fallout of one of the biggest falsehood campaigns our elected officials pulled: we're still coping with the lies Bush and Cheney and their administration spread across the nation's media outlets about Iraq being a backer of Bin Laden and with Saddam wielding an arsenal of WMDs.  More than 12 years later, we've got a radically divided Iraq on the verge of sectarian collapse because we got lied into an invasion and ill-planned occupation, and as the nation most responsible for the damage Iraq is in now, we're looked at paying the costs of trying to keep that war-torn nation afloat... even as the liars who got us into the mess are making more noise about what to do (bomb 'em some more, for the most part) about it.  All because those liars never got held accountable, because they kept selling their snake oil and their BS to the electorate still voting themselves or their allies back into office giving them political cover to lie some more.

This is the damage lying can cause in politics: lying distorts, lying ill-informs, lying kills.

We need stronger laws in place to stop candidates and campaigns from making false accusations and outright lies.  At some point, the facts have to matter.  The truth has to matter.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

They Did WHAT To the House Majority Leader?

I was going to write about the increase in gun violence putting lie to the NRA's obsession to turn the Second Amendment into a License to Kill, but then I got home to the current news coming out of Virginia:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is losing his primary to a virtual unknown Far Right challenger.

This is part Schadenfreude, the part where I laugh my moderate RINO ass off as a solid conservative party leader is getting creamed because he wasn't Far Right enough for his own district.

Cantor's positions are - well were is the operative word now that we're talking past tense - very much anti-abortion, anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-gay, anti-matter, anti-ante, auntie-anti, anti-Audi, pretty much anti-Obama across the board.  And he still lost his base.  BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Enjoy the Purity Purge now, boys!

Cantor's the Majority Leader, pretty much the Second-in-Command of the House behind Speaker Boehner, essentially one of the key players who was keeping Boehner's ass protected by the wingnuts decrying Boehner's unwillingness to pursue a more hardened "Impeach Obama With Any Excuse" (for all his opposition and obstruction, Boehner genuinely wanted to get things done: after all, a Speaker's reputation stands on the things done under his/her watch).

That's the public stance, by the way.  Cantor's also one of the backroom players who keeps, uh kept, stoking the grumbling ire of the Far Right back-benchers as part of a long game towards making himself Speaker whenever Boehner falls.  It seems as though Cantor's falling first...

Cantor's losing tonight, by the by, because he wasn't hard enough being anti-immigration.  His opponent Dave Brat (I'm a minor self-published writer, even I don't go out of my way to name my characters so blatantly... somewhere Charles Dickens is spinning in his tomb) went after Cantor's occasional attempts to push an immigration reform bill that included "amnesty" - a wingnut no-no - as a sign of Cantor's failure to represent true Republican dogma.  As Joan Walsh notes:

...In a GOP primary season where the big story had been the GOP establishment beating back the Tea Party, the story turned on a dime with Cantor’s stunning defeat. He is the first majority leader in history to lose in a primary in his own party since 1899...
This is a huge victory for anti-immigration extremists, including Ann Coulter, Matt Drudge, Laura Ingraham and Mickey Kaus... Brat had accused Cantor of shoving immigration reform down the party’s throat – why is the right obsessed with things being forced down their throats? – and with recent news about children crossing the border from Mexico vainly hoping for congressional sanity in the form of an immigration deal, the issue had new heat...
...But it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. Cantor is another conscience-free Republican leader who courted the Tea Party when it seemed politically advantageous and then tried to run from it when it was clear it was going to bite him in the ass...

The chatter about a GOP Civil War is bound to go major coverage on the blogs and political talk shows for the next few days.  Deal is, it's not really much of a Civil War as it is a shift between the Establishment Republicans who want to wield their political might for their own ends and the Radical (Tea Party) Republicans who want to use that political power to truly achieve their destructive "kill the government" agenda.  Either way, the conservatives - and their deep-pocket uber-rich overlords - win because they share the same true agenda - massive tax cuts and the shredding of the social safety net - that remains on the table.

What's really happening here is the increase in the voting base outrage and anger - some of which is expressed through the scary increase in gun violence the last few weeks - which is not getting mollified or controlled by a party leadership starting to show signs of losing touch with its own base.

This is the scary part of tonight's results: the growing possibility that the Republicans are going to not only field more radical candidates coming out of the primaries this midterms, but also the now-certainty that the Republicans are going to pursue a radical Far Right agenda in order to appease that angry base regardless of being Establishment-types or Radicals themselves.  For the voters to willingly turn against an incumbent with massive political power - almost unheard of in this era of incumbency entrenchment - is a huge blow, a terrifying reminder to those other incumbents that their own political survival is at stake.  The talk right now is how the immigration reform efforts are dead in the water (again) and how the existing House leadership is going to outdo each other in the "Wingnut Purity" contests to keep their own asses safe (meaning the likelihood of seeing an Obama impeachment before the 4th of July).  "Bipartisanship" is now going to be a dirtier word than "Twerking".  ...what the hell is "twerking" anyway...

The other scary realization is how more dangerous the election results this November are going to get.  Like it or not, we're in an electoral process of a winner-take-all zero-sum system between two major parties (Rep or Dem).  Given the obscene gerrymandering of "safe" districts, the possibility of a crazed radical candidate - someone spouting a lot of anti-rape rhetoric for example - getting elected to an office where he/she can cause major damage is high.  In a Senate race where a whole state - which diminishes the strength of a radical voting base in a sea of more moderate voters - could get repelled by an uncaring or unthinking candidate (as we've seen with Todd Akin), the risk is less: in a House race where a radical voting base is in the majority, the risk is serious.

The only thing lessening the risk of a wingnut getting elected is the possibility - even in a hard Far Right district - that Brat will do something so offensive during his victory lap between now and November that even the Far Right voters will go "oh God, we voted for THAT idiot?"  Sadly, the only offensive thing I think Brat can do is say something stupid like this portion of the sentence has been filtered by the Decency Board, who would like to point out that what is being described here not only violates the Laws of God but also violates the Laws of Biology, Physics, and Field Hockey.

While there is a Democratic challenger Jack Trammel in that district - someone from the same college where Brat teaches - there is no certainty that Trammel can win over enough voters: the 7th District went heavily for Romney in 2012 and given the rancor the Republican voters are feeling in that district they're bound to keep that enthusiasm well into November.  It wouldn't hurt, and indeed might help, to send Trammel all the support that can get mustered: in some ways, this seat is up for grabs (losing the incumbent weakens the party's hold on it).

There are more primaries on the way: more possible challenges by Tea Party types versus Establishment Republicans now shaking in their faux cowboy boots.  The Peak Wingnut that John Cole worries about has yet to hit its limit.

God help us.

P.S. Don't Vote Republican.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Anniversary, Longest Day Edition: Eisenhower Decides

Off of last year, where I did a brief review of Presidential Character, I had Eisenhower up, and I mentioned his leadership during the war, especially the part where he gambles on making the invasion go on June 6th, in bad weather and against his cautious nature:

Unfortunately the YouTube clip is a cropped and colorized version of the Longest Day movie, which is bound to get played on AMC or TMC or the many history/military channels on the digital cable this weekend.

But this was a big thing.  Eisenhower knew he had to send the Western armies into France and into Germany before the winter weather set in: June was the last best month to secure a foothold.

D-Day.  After North Africa, after Sicily, after Italy, each step marching towards the primary objective: liberating France as a prelude to ending Nazi Germany.

One of the most famous photos from that moment: Eisenhower meeting with the troops he was about to send into harm's way.

Eisenhower posted one letter to the troops:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory! I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

He also wrote a second letter, in case the invasion failed:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

The invasion succeeded.  Eisenhower didn't need to read the second letter.  He kept it on himself for a month and then showed it to an adjunct, suggesting it get thrown away.  The junior officer held onto it, and eventually it ended up in the National Archives.

The first letter was all about the troops: the airmen clearing out the skies, the home front providing them supplies and support, the men ready to go into battle.  There are a lot of "you" and "your" being used in that first letter.  The second letter was about the man who made the decision to invade: that it was his call, his judgment.  If there would have been anyone to blame if the beach landings had failed, "it is mine alone".

This was Eisenhower.

This was why a lot of people wanted him to be President.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Anniversary: Still Waiting, 25 Years Now, To Speak Free in China

Today is the 25th anniversary of the government crackdown on the freedom protesters in Tiananmen Square:

And it's been 25 years wondering about the guy who stood in front of the tanks:

Links to previous anniversary reminders here and here.

Seems like I need to re-link some photos in remembrance:

Dear Chinese leaders: the protesters weren't destroying your nation, they were speaking out against corruption, they wanted reforms and they wanted a government more responsive to the people's needs.  Instead they got shot down, bullied with tanks, arrested, disappeared...  And today, you're still dealing with the corruption they spoke against.

In a twisted way, the protesters won: they were right about corruption.  They were right about needing more freedom to speak up and speak out against such things.

If the Chinese government want to be truly serious about their current fight against that corruption, they need to be frank and honest and open about it... and they need to stop cracking down and censoring what happened in Tiananmen Square.  They need to admit a bad thing happened there.  They need to realize that the protesters and freedom speakers are not the enemy here, but the crooks are.

China should be free.  Today is a good day for them to do it.  Wouldn't it be pretty to think so...?

P.S. tell us if Tank Man is still alive.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Is This The Time For a Constitutional Convention?

For any of the readers who've been following my political blogging since Day One, you might remember I started off with the idea of blogging over a specific issue: the need to reform our federal government through any number of amendments that would fix things.  I even had the address as

Of course, that all changed: I ended up ranting about current politics and election woes (GET THE DAMN VOTE OUT) more often, so I re-named the blog (see the banner) and re-created a new address (that old reformamendment one no longer takes you anywhere).

But the interest in reforming/fixing our federal system of governance is still here, which is why I perked up when I saw an Atlantic article asking "Is it time for a Constitutional Convention?":

In January, Gallup found that Americans from across the political spectrum picked the failure of “government” as the top problem facing America today. The vast majority link that failure to the influence of money in politics. Yet more than 90 percent of us don’t see how that influence could be reduced. Washington won’t fix itself, so who else could fix it?
It turns out the framers of our Constitution thought about this problem precisely. Two days before the Constitution was complete, they noticed a bug. In the version they were considering, only Congress could propose amendments to the Constitution. That led Virginia’s George Mason to ask, what if Congress itself was the problem?...
Which lead to the alternative solution: allowing a 2/3rds number of states to call for a convention to submit amendments for consideration.  Which is the point the article writer - Lawrence Lessig, one of the major constitutional scholars out there - is getting at.  He's openly musing over the possibility of enough states getting together for the express purpose of fixing Congress through the amendment process.

I've seen other calls over the years - Larry Sabato has been relatively consistent on the matter - for amendments, and I've joined in on the cry every so often, but I've been reluctant more often than not about pushing amendments as a solution because of one thing: a lot of the proposed amendments are f-cking disasters waiting to explode.

Lessig's article links to another article in Slate, highlighting the movement going on within conservative-led states to get this convention idea off the ground.  One of the primary amendments being pursued is that damned monster known as the Balanced Budget Amendment.  You know, the amendment Republicans conveniently ignore when they're in control of all three branches of government (between 2001 to 2007) but then trumpet and proclaim as our salvation whenever there's a Democrat in the Oval Office (especially now with Obama as President).

I've railed against that damnable balanced budget amendment before: the damn thing is rigged the wrong way.  Every conservative suggestion for a balanced budget involves making it impossible to ever raise tax rates or even create new taxes to, you know, actually pay for sh-t government needs to spend on to make this nation work.  They require a supermajority to raise a tax, yet require a simple majority to cut a tax: they make it too hard to do one thing and too easy to do the opposite, essentially ensuring that the easy thing ALWAYS gets done while the hard (yet sometimes NEEDED) choice never even gets considered.  This doesn't balance anything: all it does is force the government to take different actions, such as massive spending cuts to achieve that "balance" in a false and painful way.

And that's not the only one: that Article V Convention movement - named after the provision allowing it to happen - is also focused on passing amendments allowing Congress to override Supreme Court decisions (and preventing the President from overriding that override with a veto), essentially killing off a checks-and-balance system between the three branches of the federal government; an amendment abolishing the 17th Amendment that provided direct election of U.S. Senators, essentially taking away an individual voter's right and something fully ignoring the corrupt history of state-nominated Senators; an amendment allowing up to 34 states to override any federal laws or regulations deemed "exceeding an economic burden of $100 million," effectively destroying the Commerce Clause under Article I and pretty much giving those states license to kill off FDR's New Deal, LBJ's Civil Rights and Medicare laws, and everything ever born from those two eras.

These aren't exactly the amendments we need: we need genuine reform in federal government such as putting an end to corrupt campaign finance laws that have basically given the uber-rich direct access and control of our elected officials; we need to set tighter limits on a President's power to wage unlimited war and waste trillions of dollars without oversight or accountability; we need an amendment granting us all better voting rights and protection from intimidation and refusal, especially making voting a universal given for all citizens and making it easier to vote period.

Lessig's argument that a state-pushed Constitutional Convention is weak tea: he's arguing for a movement that is not working in the best interests of the American people.  He may have an honest intent - any potential for reform that Congress is unable to even consider is an honest one - but he's backing the wrong damn horse, and he's siding with the wrong team here.  The team he's arguing for is looking to UNDO every genuine reform our nation's had since 1900.

There's an even better solution than this, Mr. Lessig: it's called voter turnout geared towards removing every obstructionist vote in Congress in both the House and Senate.  It's called throwing the damn Far Right Wingnuts OUT of Congress, period.  Every failure of government the last 10-15 years can be laid at the Republicans' doorstep: the refusal to balance their own damn budgets from 2001 until 2007, creating the massive deficits we live with today; the refusal to work with Obama, deciding on obstructing every effort he makes to force history to label Obama "a failure" forever; the failure to maintain ANY oversight of the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, leading to massive human rights abuses along with literally billions of dollars vanishing into thin air by 2005.  With no-one from that tenure ever being held accountable for the fraud, theft, lies, murder...

We need to vote out a Republican leadership in Congress that DOES NOT lead.  That will go a long way to breaking the damn logjam giving us a broken Congress in the first place, where we won't need a constitutional convention to fix any of that.