Monday, March 30, 2015

It Is Not Christian To Hate, Indiana

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.
- 1 John 2:9

My personal experience with Indiana is fleeting.  I drove through the state on a road trip to Chicago ages ago.  All I can say is that was the flattest piece of land I had ever seen in my life.  And I've driven through the Everglades on a regular basis, which is basically sawgrass as far as the eye can see.

I dunno if the flat unending bland landscape does something to the mindset of the locals, because I can't think of many other excuses that the state's residents can offer to explain how they elected a bunch of self-satisfied haters to run their government.

This is a historical thing.  People may well remember that Indiana was one of the major Union states of the Civil War and fought to end slavery and all that, but they need to remember that Indiana was one of the most redneck-y haters-gonna-hate state north of the Ohio River.  When the Klu Klux Klan, dear God, became a massive political movement that threatened to run its own candidate for the White House back in the 1920s, Indiana was the state with the largest membership at 250,000 men.  That was three out of ten white guys.

This is a historical debacle.  Indiana just passed and signed into law a bill that allows, in some ways encourages, private businesses to discriminate people even on the supposition those people are gay/lesbian.  There's actually laws similar to this one on the books in other states and even in the federal code, but as Garrett Epps points out at The Atlantic none of them do this:

...That becomes clear when you read and compare those tedious state statutes.  If you do that, you will find that the Indiana statute has two features the federal RFRA—and most state RFRAs—do not. First, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.” The federal RFRA doesn’t contain such language, and neither does any of the state RFRAs except South Carolina’s; in fact, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, explicitly exclude for-profit businesses from the protection of their RFRAs.
The new Indiana statute also contains this odd language: “A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding...”  Neither the federal RFRA, nor 18 of the 19 state statutes cited by the Post, says anything like this...
...Of all the state “religious freedom” laws I have read, this new statute hints most strongly that it is there to be used as a means of excluding gays and same-sex couples from accessing employment, housing, and public accommodations on the same terms as other people. True, there is no actual language that says, All businesses wishing to discriminate in employment, housing, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, please check this “religious objection” box. But, as Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk...”
The governor who signed this, Mike Pence, has spent the past few days trying to defend this law.  He keeps saying that the law is about "protecting religious liberty," but when asked about whether the law discriminates, or asked if it's wrong to discriminate, he avoids giving a straight answer.

It's telling that this "great and wonderful and Christian law" for religious liberty had to be signed behind closed doors and with only a handful of religious leaders - some of them known for their rabid brand of hate - rather than a broad range of church pastors and fellowships.  That's probably because a lot of the larger Christian denominations - PresbyteriansEpiscopalians and most Lutheran churches in particular - support gay rights.  And a lot of other Christian churches such as the Methodists may oppose homosexuality on principle due to Leviticus and other books, but they refuse to make it a public stance to openly discriminate.

The thing is: this law does not protect religious freedom at all.  It has nothing to do with ensuring our churches stay open, it has nothing to do with protecting people who gather in public to pray, it has nothing to do with making sure that God remains in Heaven while the flock tend to their affairs within the world.

It has everything to do with letting haters use religion as a weapon to hurt others.  It has everything to do with twisting the words of love and forgiveness from Christ himself to justify rash and reckless judgment of others.  It has everything to do with those few so-called Christians who want to persecute and punish a very small minority group in the name of other Christians who do not want to hate at all.

And Indiana just keeps its historical reputation as a Hater state continue on.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Predicting Character: Marco Rubio In the Shadow Of Others

(Update below)
Just as the Candidate Clown Car of 2016 is making room for the likes of Texan blowhard Gohmert (no wait, after the laughter continued for 12 straight hours, he dismissed the trial balloon), this little tidbit appeared on the St. Pete sigh Tampa Bay Times website:

Marco Rubio has reserved Freedom Tower in downtown Miami for an undisclosed event April 13, which appears to be a potential, if not likely, spot for Florida's junior senator to announce his candidacy for president...
...Rubio, 43, has been preparing for a potential presidential run for at least a year. While behind in most early polls, he has generated considerable buzz as a top-tier contender who offers the party a fresh face, foreign policy experience, charisma and substance...

Rubio has long been touted as a potential Republican candidate for the White House - since he won the Senate seat in 2010 - strictly on his symbolic value rather than merit.  Hispanic at a time the Republicans are roundly despised for their anti-immigration policies (that goes into dog-whistle racial doublespeak against Hispanics way too often), he was and still is viewed as a means to convince the growing Hispanic vote to sway GOP Conservative.

However, the rest of that article report is a bit off.  While he would offer a fresh face - at 43, he'll be one of the youngest candidates at the debates - those other descriptives of "foreign policy experience", "charisma", and "substance" do not exactly fit his resume.

Rubio's foreign policy experience includes accusing Democrats who avoided a politically-tinged speech by visiting Israeli PM Netanyahu of "hurting Israel," then turning around and signing a toxic and possibly illegal letter with other GOP Senators threatening Iran during our State Department's efforts to negotiate a safe nuclear weapons ban deal.

Rubio's charisma is about as charming as any politician's, but he's not especially noted for it on the Congenial level that Reagan had.  His various appearances on television aren't regularly noted or reviled one way or another except for his big moment: giving a post-State of the Union counter-speech.  Which flamed out when the media and public mocked him for sucking on a water bottle like his life depended on it.

Rubio's substance is essentially his biography: his Hispanic heritage.  The first Cuban-American to serve as State Speaker in the Florida Legislature.  The fact he was basically called on by the Party to draw up a more conservative immigration package in 2013 to counter Obama's more open policies is all he's really got to show for his efforts.  But that heritage translated into little: those efforts went nowhere when the party leadership decided to double-down on the obstruction after 2012's electoral failures, and refused Rubio's suggestions.  That he didn't have enough power or allies among his fellow Senators (or House Republicans) to press the matter shows how ineffective Rubio has been.

If I had to write up a Barber-esque prediction for Rubio, it'd be like this:

Marco Rubio - Senator, Florida
Positives: Represents one of the largest populated states in the nation.  Had made good-faith efforts to enact immigration reforms that a more racist party has decided to ignore.  Had been repeatedly touted and praised by the major GOP cheerleaders as a "serious" figure (at least it when profits them).
Negatives: Still a relative newcomer to the political stage.  Has little in the way of legislative success to hang a hat on.  Republicans habitually back candidates who "paid their dues" over the younger, fresher candidates, which means that even Santorum might have an edge over Rubio.  In terms of policies, he toes the party line backing tax cuts, banning abortion and gay marriage, denying climate change is real even as his home is getting flooded out, and an aggressive foreign policy that boils down to "bomb Iran and anybody else."  Which means if he survives the harsh Far Right primaries, he still has to sell an increasingly unpopular platform to a general voting public, and he doesn't have anything that shows he can moderate those views.  Worst of all: there is no guarantee Rubio's Hispanic background will convince the Hispanic voters to side with him in enough numbers for him to win the White House.
Chances: Officially laughable.  His "mentor" Jeb Bush is still the presumed front-runner in terms of the Establishment money-people, which crimps his own positive of being a Favorite Son of Florida.  Rubio's attempts to actually work on immigration reform may bring on the haters in the Far Right who would disagree with what he tried to pass.  He doesn't have anything else that sets him apart from  the rest of the expected candidate field.  The only thing Rubio does bring to the table is that he's the SANE Cuban Hispanic candidate for the White House compared to wingnut Ted Cruz.  But even Cruz is going to hog the spotlight.  In every respect, Rubio is a second-tier candidate hidden behind the more publicly touted likes of Jeb, Scott Walker, Chris Christie (whom we haven't heard much lately due to ongoing scandals), Mike Huckabee, and even long-shot Cruz.  If Jeb doesn't win the primaries, Rubio at least can position himself as a ticket-balancer for the Veep spot (by law, Presidential candidate and VP candidate on the same ticket can't be from the same state: it's why Cheney pretended he was from Wyoming after living in Dubya's Texas for years).
Character Chart: His biography and political history point to someone ambitious and smart but ideologically hide-bound and unwilling to rock the boat.  That puts him in Active-Negative with a Republican Party platform that only an Active-Negative would love.

UPDATE (4/13) Rubio did announce today, and in an interesting bit announced he would not run for the Senate seat (he was up for re-election 2016) which suddenly makes it an open contest.  The lack of an incumbent combined with the likelihood of a larger Democratic-leaning voter turnout makes this a VEERRRRY interesting Senate race.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

X-Files Coming Back? There Goes Any Attempt To Rebuild A Social Life...

This had to happen:

...Fox just issued a press release confirming the long-whispered return of The X-Files — and also confirming the return of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
It's been 13 years since the finale (and a couple of so-so films in between) and now Fox has re-ordered a six-episode X-Files run, with original showrunner Chris Carter.
In the PR release, there's lots of nice talk, like this bit from Carter saying he thinks of the hiatus as a, "...13-year commercial break." And as for what's in store, lots more weirdness as Carter seems pretty giddy about the state of scifi television today, "The good news is the world has only gotten that much stranger, a perfect time to tell these six stories."
Hell. Yes.

In a previous life before the political blogging here, I did fanfiction and postings as I followed this show I got hooked on back in the early 1990s.  I've mentioned before I was into the conspiracy stuff, UFOs and Bermuda Triangle and Bigfoot and ghosts and here was this show that delved into all of that and I pretty much geeked out.

This was around the time that Star Trek was getting into a rut, where Babylon 5 was an acquired taste, and Dr. Who had faded away (with only a badly written but well-acted TV movie with Paul McGann as The Eighth Doctor as a hoped-for reboot), and there wasn't much else good science fiction on television.  There wasn't much more in the way of mind-bending fun/scary sci-fi, and The X-Files covered the need.

It helped that the show was anchored by two fun actors - Duchovny and Anderson - and had heaping helpfuls of a recently realized trope called Relationshipping (or 'Shipping for short).  The concept had been around for ages, as a literary trope (SEE Ivanhoe, Little Women, Jane Austen), but rarely seen on television the way they did it on this show.  They didn't create UST (Unresolved Sexual Tension), they merely demonstrated how brilliant a story-telling device it could be in the right hands.

Fans tuned in less for the scary monsters and tuned in to watch Moose and Squirrel shamelessly flirt with each other over an autopsy.  It got to where nearly every other show aims for it, intentionally or not (West Wing was a good example: the show started off with the open intent of having Josh flirt with Mandy, but when it proved Josh interacted better with Donna the dynamic of the show - Will They Or Won't They? - revolved around that).

From that, my massive output of writing during the 1990s revolved around what I called Senseless 'Shipper Surveys, an episode recap done in a humorous vein around how much that episode involved the 'Shipping and how silly Mulder got while St. Scully lorded over all.  I had a major section of a personal website (ye olde site) devoted to it (the other half was to following the Tampa Bay Bucs).

The website is gone - I got to the point I couldn't afford to pay the domain rights - but I've got those old surveys on file somewhere.  I am sorely tempted to waste a lot of my time re-posting them online.

Just how many blogs should I be running at one time?  I may need to grab another Blogger address...
UPDATE: new blog address for the Surveys, folks!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Predicting Character: The Willful Ignorance of Ted Cruz

Today's news was mostly buzz about Senator Ted Cruz's formal announcement to run for the Republican Party nomination for the 2016 Presidency.  There are others who can easily detail the horror and hilarity of the moment better than I.

Researching Cruz's background to develop a world-view analysis is tricky because of his relative newness to the national stage.  Where Jeb Bush's history is easy to find - tied into biographies of his President father and President brother - Cruz doesn't even have an official book biography as a reference point.  The best I could find as a librarian were articles in various magazines and websites, which can provide some profile material but not as much as a full-depth review would need.

Most of what's known about Cruz comes mostly as anecdote, such as:

  • His history at Princeton University, where fellow students noted him as "abrasive" and "intense" with an already hardline conservative world-view.  One student noted that he remembers Cruz as someone who wanted to argue over anything or nothing, just for the exercise of arguing. "The only point of Ted talking to you was to convince you of the rightness of his views." The link to that Daily Beast article is pretty much one of the more detailed works on Cruz's biography I've found so far.
  • His history at Harvard Law, where he reportedly refused to study with any student who did not previously attend another Ivy League school like Princeton or Harvard (for undergraduate studies).
  • His history as an evangelical, where the world-view is permanently set to "Waiting For Rapture" and openly claiming the "world is on fire", as a religious expression of Revelation-esque apocalypse.  It's important to note that evangelicals are pretty much hard-core Believers who do not change their views on anything, religious and political.

In short: Ted Cruz has the mindset of "my way or not at all."  A New Yorker profile said it best in the article's own title: The Absolutist.  To the writer Jeffrey Toobin about Cruz's failures to win friends in his own workplace and his own party:

...Cruz has learned no such lesson. As he travels the country, he has hardened his positions, delighting the base of his party but moving farther from the positions of most Americans on most issues. He denies the existence of man-made climate change, opposes comprehensive immigration reform, rejects marriage equality, and, of course, demands the repeal of “every blessed word of Obamacare.” (Cruz gets his own health-care coverage from Goldman Sachs, where his wife is a vice-president.)...

I have a variable descriptive of Cruz: he is someone willfully ignorant.  Someone smart enough to know how things work, but has made the conscious decision to deny those things to work at all because those things do not fit his personal values or fulfill his objectives. And where the hypocrisy of his ignorance is the most noticeable - his opposition to healthcare coverage while he himself enjoys the best that money can buy, his opposition to immigration reform when he himself as the son of an immigrant profited from the government's functional role as provider to new arrivals - Cruz refuses to acknowledge it, turning the accusations back on the accusers as though debating the conflict of interest away saves his position.

I've mentioned in an earlier, quick one-paragraph review of each major potential GOP candidate that nearly every candidate automatically fulfills the Active-Negative grade.  This is due to three factors:
  • Each candidate openly and wholeheartedly accepts the radical Far Right party platform, which disdains a pro-active government in favor of a pro-business, restricted federal system that many previous A-N Presidents pursued as policy.  Cruz not only accepts this, he wants to take it further Right...
  • Each candidate openly favors massive spending cuts to social needs yet massive spending increases to military/defense, which happens to pay off their business allies and which plays into a vicious pro-war agenda.  While a good number of A-N Presidents didn't actively pursue many wars (they were pretty much equal to Active-Positives in that) at least not until the 20th Century, many of them did not shirk from the jingoistic fervor that envelopes the nation during wartime moods.  Cruz's pro-war, bomb-Iran stance is a given.
  • Each candidate seemingly lacks the laid-back Congenial or Reserved traits common to Passive-Positives or Passive-Negatives, seen from their aggressive gubernatorial and legislative records.  Cruz certainly does not have the reputation of being a Compromiser. 

In terms of legislative successes, Cruz is something of a paradox: he actually doesn't have much of a track record with bills or legislation.  He's in the middle of the pack when it comes to co-sponsored legislation, but has zero of those bills made into law.  Cruz's success has been taking that lack of a legislative record and parading it as evidence he's not one of those "insider" politicians more obsessed with resume-building than "fighting the good fight." (which ironically pads his resume for the anti-government crowds)

As for his odds, Cruz offers another paradox: he's at once the most-liked candidate among the voting base (hi, Tea Partiers!) and the least-liked candidate among his own colleagues.  Cruz's habits of sabotaging legislative efforts in both the Senate and the House (his undercutting of Speaker Boehner in particular violates a lot of unwritten rules of congressional decorum) all in the quest of making himself look good to the rabid primary base has made far too many enemies among his own, which can hurt the part of the campaigning of getting endorsements.

Another knock against Cruz is his extremism, which is pretty harsh even for the primary system that favors the Far Right rhetoric.  To quote again the 538 article:

Cruz is more conservative than every recent nominee, every other candidate who mounted a serious bid in 2012 and every plausible candidate running or potentially running in 2016. Let’s look at three ideological measures: DW-Nominate common-space scores (which are based on a candidate’s voting record in Congress), fundraising ratings (based on who donates to a candidate), and scores (based on public statements made by the candidate). As my colleague Nate Silver has previously noted, these measures aren’t perfect, but together, they give you a fairly good idea of where a candidate stands.

538 even brought a chart:

There's Cruz at the bottom: he's scaling more conservative than the legendary Barry Goldwater, and to the right of failed hard-line candidates like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann.

This, however, gets to be the scary point: if the 2016 primaries are going to be anything like the 2012 Republican primaries, Cruz has a genuine shot to win.  This is because the 2012 campaign was pretty much a "Mitt vs. Not-Mitt" primary: the Establishment, Deep Pocket candidate Mitt Romney against whomever appealed to the extremist base that did not trust Romney's too-calculated posturing.  Every week a different candidate - Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Newt, Santorum - would be the preferred flavor because those candidates spoke to the twisted spirit and emotions of the Far Right.  Romney won out of sheer endurance because none of those Far Right candidates had the campaign savvy or charm to last.

In 2016, the Establishment candidate Jeb Bush is pretty much running a Jeb vs. Not-Jeb campaign (unofficially).  If a real charmer - Huckabee, as I noted then and now, could have seriously won the 2012 primaries against Mitt - gets in this race, Jeb is going to be toast even with the deep-pocket support much the same way Mitt was toast in 2008.

In fact, Huckabee right now is the only real reason not to fear Cruz.  This year, Huckabee is in the mix, and when he officially announces - which ought to be soon now that jumping into the race is a thing to do - he's going to be stealing and owning the religious conservative base that Cruz relies on for support.

But we dare not count Cruz out.  He has a base of support already.  The polling on him now among Republicans may be weak compared to Bush and Huckabee, but that is due more to those two being established players on the stage.  Cruz is one of those types of fear-baiting demagogues that does well in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina (not so much in New Hampshire, where they actually consider the small details like actual competency).

The other thing Cruz is going to do is make the primaries play to him.  By going out there as the hardest of hardliners, he will force the debates on immigration and religion and Obamacare to play to his opinions.  He's noted as a decent debater, who will likely stay strong at the podium instead of flaming out like Rick Perry did.

What makes Cruz dangerous as a Presidential candidate is not his debate savvy, however.  What makes him dangerous is his closed world-view that makes him more Active-Negative in the worst way, a world-view that makes him genuinely ignorant of facts.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Rick "No Ethics" Scott Gagging On Climate Change

It's infuriating to note that the dark powers running this state of Florida keep proving Junius right.

Junius, if you'll recall, was a pseudonym for a political agitator back in the 1770s.  He wrote a series of letters/essays about the corruption within the British government, and in one particular letter (number 41) he laid down this meaningful quote:
An Honest Man, like the true religion, appeals to the understanding, or modestly confides in the internal evidence of his conscience. The Impostor employs force instead of argument, imposes silence where he cannot convince, and propagates his character by the sword.

Word has gotten out in the past few weeks that here in Florida, the Impostor Rick Scott has imposed silence with regards to climate change.  Per The Atlantic:
...Can a staunch enough refusal to acknowledge certain words erase facts? If so, the Sunshine State will find a way. According to a report from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, officials at the state Department of Environmental Protection "have been ordered not to use the term 'climate change' or 'global warming' in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting."
The state denied any such policy, but a large number of former staffers assured FCIR it was real and circulated verbally. (Editor's Note: verbal instructions is a clear attempt to avoid any paperwork or evidence) Documents since the policy was allegedly introduced, in 2011, use phrases like "climate drivers" and "climate-driven changes." Since the policy is in dispute, there's no direct explanation for it, but the cause would seem to be Governor Rick Scott's insistence that climate change is not real...
In a state that's supposed to have Sunshine (transparency) laws, in a state that's supposed to have a functioning, responsible and responsive government, this hush-hush "avoid the debate" stance is a terrifying sign of behind-the-doors abuse and avoidance of needed solutions.  BECAUSE MIAMI IS ABOUT TO FLOOD OUT.  That link to The Atlantic uses a photo of a Miami street unable to drain out during a regular thunderstorm, because the Intercoastal waterway seawater is already flooding the sewers and land margins.

This is a live-or-die issue for an entire metro region of Florida.  We are talking millions of lives affected by what this state can do about the VERY REAL THREAT of Climate Change, and our entire state government is pretty much using whiteout ink to paint over the naughty words.

How far is this See-Nothing Say-Nothing Know-Nothing policy going?  They're at the point they're suspending employees.  One such employee was even told to "get medical clearance" for having spoken the Verboten Words before coming back, which is shorthand for "you're a mental health issue."  Per the SaintPetersBlog:
On March 9, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) suspended a state employee for speaking about climate change at an official meeting, which made its way into the record of the meeting, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Barton Bibler, a long-time DEP employee, received a letter of reprimand ordering him to take two days personal leave. The agency also instructed Bibler not to return without medical clearance...
On February 27, Bibler attended a Florida Coastal Managers Forum, where a number of attendees discussed climate change and sea-level rise, among other environmental topics...
DEP superiors directed Bibler to remove any “hot button issues,” such as explicit references to climate change. The letter of reprimand, dated March 9, accused Bibler of misrepresenting the “official meeting agenda (so it) included climate change.”
Bibler was instructed to take two days off, which was charged against his personal leave time (Editor's note: this was like rubbing chewing gum into his hair, it's so petty). He later received a “Medical Release Form” requiring his doctor to provide the agency an evaluation of unspecified “medical condition and behavior” before being allowed to return to work...

Want to know how Orwellian this is?

This was, and still is, a practice of totalitarian (often COMMUNIST) regimes to use psychology to paint political dissidents as "crazy" for wanting to hate the totalitarian Utopia, and ship them off to mental asylums instead of prisons to give the outward appearance of "See? We're not arresting political prisoners at all!"

To the Republican party leaders like Rick "Comrade" Scott who like to accuse liberals - even today! - of being commie stooges, emulating the likes of Red China and Soviet Russia is the height of hypocrisy.

Accusing Bibler of being crazy for discussing a known scientific such as Climate Change is dangerous and wrong.  What is crazy is the "magical thinking" of Scott and his Republican ilk who think that if we don't say anything about the increasing flood risks and weather damage to our own state the "myth" of global warming will go away.

This is a combination of things: Rick Scott and a lot of Republican leaders live off of the largesse of land developers and oil/coal industries so they don't want to do anything to disrupt those businesses (because efforts to repair the climate involves regulating those businesses); and Rick Scott and his conservative allies seem to genuinely view the whole Climate Change debate as a Communist takeover plot, and so reflexively oppose any effort out of sheer idiocy ideology.

So not only is Rick Scott still a crook on this issue because he's making money out of the denial scams, he's also crazy for refusing to discuss the matter at all.  If anyone needs a Baker Act imposed, it's our entire political leadership from Scott downward letting this happen.

And by stifling our government agencies from speaking the words at all, Rick Scott is propagating his Impostor character by the Sword of suspension and work loss.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It's St. Patricks Day. You Know What That Means!

Impetuous!  HOMERIC!
There may be a bit of a values dissonance on the first part of this clip.  But the payoff is epic.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Anniversary: The Ides of March

This is a busy month of events, I tell you what:

Note to self: if I ever win the Presidency, NEVER EVER PUT MY BRO BRUTUS ON THE SECRET SERVICE STAFF.  Especially nowadays.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Kneecapping Your Own Quarterback (with update)

(see Update below)
So forty-seven U.S. Senators went and did a thing this weekend, where they sent a rather demeaning and error-filled letter to the Iranian government warning them that any treaty deal over stopping Iran's uranium nuclear-bomb projects will be meaningless:
...What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time...
The Senators are basically telling the Iranians "Screw it.  No matter what deal you make with Obama, we'll just vote it down or ignore it and if we get a Republican in the White House in 2016 you are all bombing targets."

One of the sins that these Senators committed: the whole "advise and consent" element in Article II of the Constitution is that the Senate should be advising OUR PRESIDENT and NOT advising the foreign power.  The Senators are openly influencing - through reckless intimidation - another nation into NOT dealing with our government over a possibly peaceful solution to a serious problem.  This sort of move reeks of war-mongering (the GOP wants a war with Iran, in case you hadn't noticed), this sort of move reeks of treason interfering with our government's ability to work with other nations.

The other sin is that this move reeks of the Senators being total assholes.

The Republicans have taken their 6-years-and-counting obstruction against Barack Obama and turned it into an international scandal.

There are certain things in politics, in the halls of power, you just don't do.  There are written rules of conduct, official checks and balances codified into the Constitution itself.  There are the unwritten rules of decorum and behavior, of ceremony and tradition where certain offices are granted a lot of leeway to get work done.  There's the common sense things where you don't go tugging on Superman's cape or spit into the wind.

It's been an unwritten rule since the days of Washington himself where the President, via his executive offices of the State Department, handles all the heavy lifting and deal-making of treaties with foreign nations.  In this, the Senate only comes in either as individual experts on certain topics or nations to consult with the President directly, and otherwise the Senate waits until a treaty gets signed before it comes to them for 2/3rds vote to ratify.  There was a sense of decorum about it: let the President handle the foreign policies as Head of State.

This letter nukes all of that, metaphorically and literally.  It's an open warning shot across the bow.  It's a blatant show of disrespect towards a President they've accused again and again of being un-American, and it's a disgusting display of obstruction no other President has ever had to cope with in the 220-plus years of our nation's dealings with the world.

I've looked at that Logan Act, the law making it a crime to interfere directly or indirectly with a President's ability to form treaties or deal with foreign powers.
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

I swear, that Senate letter reads to me like it's violating the part of the Act I've marked in bold.  The only thing that's keeping me from screaming about these Senators committing outright treason is that bit about "without authority of the United States."  As Senators, they DO have authority... but my question would be "do they have THIS kind of authority to directly parley or communicate with a foreign nation, in direct interference with the State Department which DOES have the authority? And in direct interference with the President of the United States who DOES have the authority?"

At what point did the Senate cross the line on the Logan Act?  They sure as hell crossed the line for decorum and decency with this bullshit stunt.  This is an open act of sabotage against the President of the United States.  A President in Barack Obama who's won two majority elections to serve as President.  A President who's been attacked again and again for no sane reason other than the Republicans being hateful bastards.

UPDATE: I think I found the answer to the question above ("At what point did the Senate cross the line on the Logan Act?").  There was a court ruling back in 1936 - U.S. vs. Curtiss-Wright Export - where the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the President using his powers to go after arms dealers selling to foreign nations/powers.  Part 9 of the ruling says "In international relations, the President is the sole organ of the Federal Government." To wit:
...In this vast external realm, with its important, complicated, delicate and manifold problems, the President alone has the power to speak or listen as a representative of the nation. He makes treaties with the advice and consent of the Senate; but he alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation the Senate cannot intrude, and Congress itself is powerless to invade it... They think the interference of the Senate in the direction of foreign negotiations calculated to diminish that responsibility, and thereby to impair the best security for the national safety...

I really believe the 47 Senators broke the law: they calculated to diminish President Obama's responsibility to negotiate with the world.  I really believe they should be charged and held accountable.  The Logan Act requires it.  The Supreme Court confirms it.  The only question now should be "who has standing to file the charge?"  If it's Obama, dammit man NOW is the time to fight the fire burning down our political system.  If it's the State Department, your very office DEMANDS you secure your ability to negotiate with foreign powers.  If it can be someone in the Senate, dammit Democrats MAN UP.

Friday, March 06, 2015

American Income, American Injustice

This is, by the by, the 700th post here on this blog (under different names).  Big Hello to all the Crooks and Liars people following Mike's Blog Round-Up link!  Thank you for stopping by, and please check out the rest of this blog.  Also, I have a separate blog at WittyLibrarian And The Book With the Blue Cover, at which I have a current memorial for Sir Terry Pratchett.)

The federal investigation into the dealings of the Ferguson Police Force, not just in the Michael Brown shooting but a litany of complaints against an out-of-control agency, brought up some horrifying revelations.  Ta-Nehisi Coates aptly titled his article about it "The Gangsters of Ferguson," and for good reason:

(from the DOJ report) Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community. Further, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes. Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities...
Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue...

There's a word for this: Extortion.

Extortion... is a criminal offense of obtaining money, property, or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion. Refraining from doing harm is sometimes euphemistically called protection. Extortion is commonly practiced by organized crime groups. The actual obtainment of money or property is not required to commit the offense. Making a threat of violence which refers to a requirement of a payment of money or property to halt future violence is sufficient to commit the offense...

Thing is, Organized Crime never had it so good or easy as corrupt cops and city employees, who extort through excessive fines and asset seizures using the threat of jail and the threat of police brutality to get their money.  The Mafia ain't got sh-t on a police force that basically fines the hell out of its own citizenry.

And why is this happening?  Why are the police and city governments so eager to shakedown their own communities like a bunch of street thug enforcers and their capos?

Let's ask Chad Staton over at the Washington Monthly:
...What exacerbated such practices is the maniacal hold of anti-tax fervor that has trickled down from the federal level to the state and local level. With conservative domination of many statehouses, its clear to any ambitious politician that wants to advance in the Republican Party that their fealty to the ideal of “no new taxes” has to be iron-clad.
This lock-step discipline on taxes has become a principle unto itself. From the beginning, its support has come as a result of racializing social safety net programs. What we see is a feedback loop occurring post “formal” Jim Crow. Black people are seen as “stealing” the hard earned taxes of white people, who then support politicians pledging to never raise taxes. Revenue is still needed to run the government, however, so we see budgets for programs that benefit everyone slashed. At the municipal level, cities target black communities to make up the gap.
This targeting is then justified by the same logic that was used to rail against taxes in the first place, as we see in the report. Several officials cite African Americans’ lack of “personal responsibility” as justification for targeting them for revenue.
As long as America is under the grip of this circular logic, there will be many cities operating the way Ferguson did...

It's a wonderful cycle, isn't it?  The anti-tax crowd pushes hard to cut income and corporate taxes at the federal and state level that could otherwise fund our cities and counties and states.  The county and city governments, forced to find other sources of revenue yet unable to even consider raising their own taxes lest the anti-tax forces throw them out of office, have to rely on fees and fines to cover the costs of running their low-level government services.  As most cities are home to large groups of ethnic minorities, these cities view the minorities not as people but as statistics.  And meanwhile, those same anti-tax agitators (yes, I'm pointing a finger at you, Fox Not-News crowd) rail their base against those ethnic minorities as an ongoing social and economic threat, making it easier to ignore their suffering.

There's another word, phrase actually, that can be used here: Indentured Servitude.  Ferguson PD and other departments like them across the nation use violence and the threat of ruin to force a persecuted group - a poor minority like Blacks or Hispanics - to fork over money.  In order to recoup those losses, those minorities are forced to work harder or place themselves further into debt, only to have the PD show up and take more money.

I wrote awhile back about the police department in Waldo, FL shutting down.  It's a small, dot-on-the-map town in the northeast corner of Alachua County.  If you lived in Gainesville (GO GATORS) and had to drive to Jacksonville, you'd know about this place... because Waldo was one of the most infamous speed traps in American history.  Waldo was so small and so poor a community that the police force couldn't rely on the locals for shakedowns fines, so they went with a ludicrous speed trap instead that netted the unwary drivers from out-of-state or from parts of Florida that hadn't heard of them.  My dad got nailed driving through there once, he even knew about it and even he couldn't avoid getting caught in the speed trap.

I was caught once in a speed trap on I-4 one weekend morning, with a group of co-workers leaving a night shift job.  Our driver was accused of being 20 MPH over the speed limit, but she was driving off an expressway ramp onto the interstate having just left the toll booth and there was no way she had accelerated that quickly to the spot the cops pulled us over.  The Orange County deputy claimed an overhead plane was using some form of radar to track us, which was hard to believe because there were no planes overhead (it was a clear morning sky).  As he issued the ticket he bragged that he "always showed up in court to enforce the ticket" and essentially tried intimidating the entire minivan.  Meanwhile a small division of cop cars were swerving backwards on the interstate to reset themselves to catch more "speedsters," driving more recklessly than any civilians they were hoping to ticket.

We all openly questioned the validity of what those county cops were doing.  I argued the Waldo example, that the county was making some damn ticket quota to grind money out of the local drivers.  "It's worse than that," one of the ladies in the back seat told me.  "The cops are also looking for any undocumented workers they can pull in for immigration arrests.  If they do that, it's like a bonus."

These are just two examples of abusive, money-obsessed police actions I've been aware of my whole life over decades of having lived here in Florida.  How do you think this is like for a Black woman living in Ferguson having to cope with this sh-t five times a week? Via Coates' article:
...In one March 2012 email, the Captain of the Patrol Division reported directly to the City Manager that court collections in February 2012 reached $235,000, and that this was the first month collections ever exceeded $200,000. The Captain noted that “[t]he [court clerk] girls have been swamped all day with a line of people paying off fines today. Since 9:30 this morning there hasn't been less than 5 people waiting in line and for the last three hours 10 to 15 people at all times.” The City Manager enthusiastically reported the Captain’s email to the City Council and congratulated both police department and court staff on their “great work.”
How fares a society when we look at the institutions sworn to uphold the law and protect the citizenry... and see only bullies and shakedown artists?  Out of all the "good cops" we are repeatedly told are out there doing the hard honest work, why are the bad cops who make the Corleones look like saints the ones representing the entire profession?

And this is part of the problems we've been having with asset forfeiture, a program that's been in violation of the very concept of the Fourth Amendment (and even the Eighth and Fourteenth).

Here's the real problem: our cities and counties are tapped out of revenue sources.  Without many states able or eager to raise revenues through a progressive taxation plan - indeed with many of those states eager to cut taxes even further as part of the Far Right agenda of "kill government, let the free market overcharge us" - these cities and counties are going to raid their own communities through abusive tactics.  If we want to end these tactics, we're going to have to as a nation recognize that taxation exists for a reason and that using taxes to pay for public services is a just and fair practice.

Otherwise, the price we're going to pay for all these tax cuts for the rich and powerful will be our communities falling apart. 

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Downtime From Blogging...

I am going to use the month of March to focus hard on getting the rough draft of my NaNoWriMo project Ocean Dancers done.

I will finish this.

That means no distractions.

If I check in here, it will be to either keep my seven readers appraised of my efforts, and/or if the political scene does something incredibly stupid or tragic or both.