Category Archives: Civics

Every July 4 . . .

. . .  we celebrate our independence. Because 238 years ago a brave group of revolutionaries threw off a colonial power. That’s something that has happened around the world many times – both before and since. But . . .

. . . I think our greater achievement is this: for 225 years we have maintained a continuity of government (even in war), peacefully transferring power (that one’s just since Washington to Adams, so 214 years) over and over . That’s a testament to the brilliance of our constitution and our continuing respect for it. Good for us!

Please ‘splain to me

Inside the majestic building housing the Supreme Court of the United States (truly a gorgeous building), the Justices yesterday  ruled that the 35-foot buffer zone around an abortion clinic “violated protestors’ freedom of speech”. Outside that same building, the exclusion zone for protestors is 250 feet.

Bad. More bad.

So SCOTUS has decided:  protections accorded human beings by the Bill of Rights are extended, yet again, to Corporations.

  • Since corporations are persons and speech is money, political donations are from them are unrestricted. It’s Free Speech, protected by the First Amendment.
  • And now, some for-profit corporations have been granted Freedom of Religion and the attendant protections to exercised those ‘freedoms’ even when in opposition to the civil laws of the land.

Heed Thomas Jefferson:

“The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

Say no more.

Ornstein says ‘nihilists’ and he always knows what he’s talking about

Norm Ornstein chimed in this morning on the near future of the GOP. He views Cantor’s loss less as the beginning of a populist trend and more a preview of intracine battles yet to come in the party. It’s here.

He sets it up with pitch perfect – and delightful – disdain for our fickle media narrative:

The new dominant narrative, of course, is that the Tea Party rose up, struck back, showed its muscle and has the party establishment on its heels. That replaces the previous narrative, that the establishment rose up, struck back, and has the Tea Party on its heels.

And wraps with this:

American political parties always face a tension between their establishment and ideological wings. On the Republican side, going back more than a hundred years to the Teddy Roosevelt era, that was a struggle between moderate progressives and conservatives.

Now it is different. There are no moderates or progressives in today’s GOP; the fight is between hard-line conservatives who believe in smaller government and radical nihilists who want to blow up the whole thing, who have as much disdain for Republican traditional conservatives as they do for liberals.

Always worth a look is old Norm.

Just sayin’

Rep. Steve King:

“I think it’s a constitutional violation” and “We’ve never had a president with that level of audacity and that level of contempt for his own oath of office.”

House Speaker John Boehner:
“There’s a Constitution that we all take an oath to, including him!”
And then, of course, there’s this:

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) said Tuesday night he left President Obama’s State of the Union speech early after “hearing how the president is further abusing his Constitutional powers.”

“I could not bear to watch as he continued to cross the clearly-defined boundaries of the Constitutional separation of powers,” Stockman said in a press release shortly after Obama’s speech ended. “Needless to say, I am deeply disappointed in the tone and content of tonight’s address.”

Stockman said Obama was promising to “break his oath of office and begin enacting his own brand of law through executive decree.”

Texas doesn’t care who you are. Dammit, the law is the law!

Texas’ new voter ID laws are working just fine because they are very good laws and proof is here. They’ve snagged yet another suspicious ‘voter’:

https://maureenholland.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/eaab5-georgehwbushinauguration.jpg

Former House Speaker Jim Wright was denied a voter ID card Saturday at a Texas Department of Public Safety office.

For Speaker Wright, matters were cleared up in a few days. I wonder how it would go without his level of civic savvy. (There he is at some big DC event or other, standing behind the guy with his hand up in the air.)

While the House burns like Atlanta . . .

UPDATED BELOW: From Forbes magazine this morning:

But a new survey of 1,976 registered voters finds that only 33 percent believe that the health law should be repealed, delayed, or defunded. 29 percent believe that “Congress should make changes to improve the law,” 26 percent believe that “Congress should let the law take effect” and see what happens, and 12 percent believe that the law should be expanded. The bottom line? Voters are skeptical that Obamacare will live up to Democrats’ hype. But they also believe that it should be given a chance to succeed.

Universal health care (which Obamacare is most assuredly not – at least not yet) has been a political objective, indeed a platform goal, of the Democratic Party  since Truman (Teddy Roosevelt and Nixon liked it too). So it has been a stated goal of at least half this nation for decades. It is now the law, as passed by the Congress, signed by the President, upheld by the US Supreme Court, and reaffirmed by the American people when they re-elected the President who sponsored it. That’s exactly the way our Federal government was designed to work.

The House GOP is not pursuing the will of the American people, they are pursuing a Party objective. They forget that they are only one of three branches of government (and only half of that branch!). 

Our Founders knew well to build in protections against a tyranny of the minority. UPDATE: commenter Alan Scott points out – correctly – that I am wrong here. Our Founders built in protections against a Tyranny of MAJORITY. My bad.

The minority half of one branch of our government is on the wrong side of this.

Articles of Confederation bitchez!

Because that worked so well.  Who needs a balance of powers anyway? Checks and balances? Bleh.  We have a US Senator is ‘whipping’ votes in the House of Representatives. A significant cohort of the Congress is ideologically committed to the destruction of a strong Federal government. The House Speakership – designed to wield enormous power – now powerless. Who really needs him any more? Put the world economy at risk during a fragile recovery? So what if that usually leads to World Wars. That’s the world’s problem. – and damn Europeans and Mooslims.

Shut it down. Take it down! USA! USA! USA!

I asked my old friend Wikipedia for a few random factoids about the debt and that debt ceiling thingee:

  • 800px-US_Public_Debt_Ceiling_1981-2010US government indebtedness has been the norm in the financial history of the nation. The carriage of debt in Western Europe and North America by governments has been normal for the past 200 years, so the US situation is not unique.
  • The US has been in debt every year except for 1835.
  • Debts incurred during the American Revolutionary War and under the Articles of Confederation led to the first yearly report on the amount of the debt ($75,463,476.52 on January 1, 1791).
  • Every President since Herbert Hoover has added to the national debt expressed in absolute dollars. The debt ceiling has been raised 74 times since March 1962,[1] including 18 times under Ronald Reagan, eight times under Bill Clinton, seven times under George W. Bush, and three times under Barack Obama.

Filibuster(?) update . . .

. . . Ah well, I now hear that Cruz’ ‘filibuster’ is “in name only” as the vote has already been scheduled and his talkie-talkie can’t delay it further. So it’s theatre and therefore well suited to our Cuban Senator from Canada who is totally – TOTALLY – a natural born citizen.

Filllibuster!!! Popcorn please!

ringmasterLadies and gentlemen! Citizens of television land! I call you to gather at the CSpan for the Greatest Show on Earth!! Ted Cruz has taken the floor.

This is the third real filibuster in the last few years and that should be a good thing. I much prefer it to the invisible procedural nonsense of  placing holds.  Last year, Bernie Sanders (D-VT) did eight hours and last winter Rand Paul did thirteen hours. I don’t think either changed any minds, but they were presented honestly and honorably.

But this one? After hours of Ted Cruz sends the whole populace rushing for the showers, other Congress Critters might decide that doing business in the shadows was the better idea after all.

Good old Ike – he didn’t think anyone would take these guys seriously. He was wrong.

http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/MjAwWDIwMA==/z/PVMAAMXQ0pNRpPzs/$T2eC16R,!y0E9s2S6cbQBRpPzsNBgg~~60_35.JPG?set_id=8800004005As we approach the start of the GOP’s Annual Hunting Season To Capture and Kill Legislation (Social Security from the 1930’s, Medicare from the 1960’s, and those 21st Century obscenities, Bush’s Medicare Part D Rx plan, and Obama’s nose under the door of universal health care), I like to remember this guy. Here’s then-former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a 1954 letter to his brother.

Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this–in some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything–even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas.Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

 

It’s so ugly and we allow it

This clip is from QI, a British panel show, hosted by Stephen Fry.Fry asks the participants “where one percent of Americans can be found.” You and I know the answer is ‘prison’. But the contestants did not. Watch then – as they learn and draw their conclusions.

A little vulgar, but an important question

And it’s not about Obama specifically; it’s about US policy that increasingly turns away from very serious threats to freedom and democracy. But of course they’re only ideals. So, you know . . .

~Liberty~

There must be almost a hundred people there – why is no one objecting?

In Alabama, at a hearing on a public power utility hearing:

Perhaps they’re really praying for lightning; they may think that’s where their ‘lectricity comes from?

When a President travels: it’s embarrassing

Every now and again, a tired and predictable outrage erupts over the cost of Bush’s! Obama’s! or (fill in the blank) _____’s travel. We heard one a few weeks ago when the President went! to! Africa!

The rants are usually accompanied by charges that the President is getting all tyrannical and acting like a king plus no other President has been so respectful of hard-working tax-paying Americans, so extravagant (especially if the President being so characterized is of anther political party).

And they’re right. President protection has reached preposterous levels. As for the effectiveness of the web of security we’ve constructed, look  no further than Reagan –  shot from just a few yards away while surrounded by Secret Service.

From the time of the Kennedy assassination, the retinue – from the epic productions that are foreign travel, to the limo known as “The Beast” and the ambulances that accompany every POTUS motorcade – has grown like a cancer.

In a post called When Presidents Travel, james at PoliticalDog101 tells us in detail how costs reach absurd levels when a POTUS and/or a FLOTUS go a’callin’ – pretty much anywhere.

Here’s The Dog (he does not even try to list the number of people who travel with the President – staff aides, cooks, stewards, pilots, government functionaries):

Aircraft for the President:

  • Air Force One of course
  • a second B-747-200 back up plane in case the one the President is traveling on has trouble.

Helicopters when needed:

  • Marine One Helicopter – for POTUS
  • For security details and press, another 4-5 choppers

The helicopters are airlifted by Air Force C-17 Cargo planes to EACH stop on the trip

The vehicles:

  • Presidential Limo’s – two limos for EACH stop
  • Secret Service ‘Back-Up’ Vehicles to transport the President’s Security Detail
  • White House Communications Vehicle – This SUV will be in the motorcade to help keep up contact with the US from anywhere on the planet
  • Secret Service Counter Assault Team SUV – Heavily armed firepower to protect POTUS (in addition to the Security Detail)
  • Hazmat Vehicle – A Marine detail in case of a chemical assault on the POTUS group
  • White House Medical Team Vehicle – Usually a US Doctor from the WH Staff plus a paramedic or military medic with their equipment

All of the vehicles (about 8 to 10 ) are airlifted by Air Force C-17 Cargo planes to EACH stop

Continue reading

On the Fourth of July . . .

. . .  I choose to celebrate the continuity of our government. We’ve managed it for  237 years. That’s an achievement and a testament to the brilliance of our constitution and our continuing respect for it. So good for us. Herbunk created this a few years ago and he just reposted for 2013. Also, it may be the best morph ever.

This disgusts me

The President needs to stop this and find a way out. But he isn’t. He’s defending it. The inhumanity of force-feeding political prisoners plays out in the wider world just like Abu-Ghraib. But this time, it’s my guy doing it. Shame, shame, shame.

MIAMI, July 3 (Reuters) – The U.S. federal court has no  jurisdiction and no legal basis to intervene in the  force-feeding of prisoners at the Guantanamo naval base, the  Obama administration argued in a court document on Wednesday

What will The Nine sayeth?

As those who give a damn wait for the Supreme Court to wrap up this session and announce their final decisions, I dare to repost my own predictions. Know that I bravely put these out here so that you may bow to my majesty if I’m right, or mock me without mercy if I’m wrong.

  • DOMA – The Supremes knock it down as unconstitutional
  • California Prop 8 – unconstitutional
  • Affirmative Action – limited decision, but basically will say the program has – in some instances – run its course. They side for the Plaintiff.
Image

Jes sayin’

As it is, so it’s ever been.

I like this picture

presidents

It’s an illustration of one thing that we’re still doing right – this picture reminds me that for two and a quarter centuries we’ve managed a peaceful transfer of power every few years. That counts for something.

The massive NSA scoop of Verizon records (and others probably) is well timed – for us

  • UPDATE: Seems this program has been going on for years through two administrations and the authorization is renewed, almost automatically, every 90 days. Some nat’l security reporters point out that this has been reported on before and is the result of the big FISA public debate of a decade ago, but it disappeared from the public conversation. (We really need to do better than this.)

Not all things are the same: not all whistle blowers are honorable, but the tradition of revealing secret government activity to the press . . . that will always be the essential ingredient if the press is to fulfill its most important mission. Our press is charged to:

Speak truth to power

Connor Friedersdorf makes that point today:

The Unknown Patriot Who Exposed the Government’s Verizon Spy Program

In praise of whistle-blowers whose risky disclosures of official wrongdoing make the nation stronger rather than weaker . . .  “The order was marked TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN, referring to  communications-related intelligence information that may not be released to noncitizens. That would make it among the most closely held secrets  in the federal government”
This leaker is no doubt fully aware he/she has committed a crime but got the priorities exactly right. So to some unknown person – well done.

Steve Coll hints at something . . .

free pressFrom one of our best investigative journalists, here’s Steve Coll, today in The New Yorker:

It seems likely that Holder or his deputies have authorized other press subpoenas and surveillance regimes that have not yet been disclosed. The Justice Department has acted belligerently even in cases where no grave harm to the public interest has been demonstrated, or where, as in the A.P. case, the leaks under suspicion have served to publicize the Administration’s successes. . .

He allows that the increase in investigations by Justice in recent years may relate to this:

 Obama inherited a bloated national-security state. It contains far too many official secrets and far too many secret-keepers—more than a million people now hold top-secret clearances. Under a thirty-year-old executive order issued by the White House, the intelligence agencies must inform the Justice Department whenever they believe that classified information has been disclosed illegally to the press. These referrals operate on a kind of automatic pilot, and the system is unbalanced.

But ultimately, Coll says:

. . . The media are not just watchdogs barking at the White House and the C.I.A. The First Amendment aspires to a fuller compact among citizens, including between journalists and confidential sources, that is premised on the self-evident truth that secrecy and concentrated power are inherently corrupting.

Yup.

Too bad there wasn’t a good guy with a gun around to keep this bad thing from happening

bridge

Once we get all the school teachers armed and trained, we’ll surely find some money to fix stuff like this. But first things first.

Now it’s even more urgent that Trump get back into politics

This is a disaster for we vapid, shallow news junkies and consumers of utter nonsense. Aiken lost. Palin is gone (mostly, give it a few more months). Is it going to have to be all Louis Gomert all the time? Come back Donald, come back. Please.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced early Wednesday that she would not seek a fifth term in Congress in 2014 but would keep fighting for the conservative principles that made her a favorite of the tea party movement and, she said, are vital to protecting the United States from moral and economic decline.

Because it’s so much easier to throw stones than waste time on all that problem solving stuff.

Some scandals be a-comin’ her way, so time is of the essence – there are riches out there, waiting to be scooped up before fame fades.

pino asks “Are we born tribal?”

It’s a fascinating question. So far only he and I are talking, but I’d be interested, as I’m sure would he, in your thinking on the subject. Go on over.

please please please please . . .. oh dear Elvis, please

trumpLet this be so. Please.

Donald Trump has spent more than $1 million on electoral research for a potential presidential run in 2016.

East Coast storms and Oklahoma storms: totally not the same thing

coburninhofeFederal assistance to Oklahoma? Duane notes that its two Senators (Inhofe and Coburn) aren’t too sure about that Federal funding stuff in theory. They didn’t want to step in after Sandy and they’re always trying to defund FEMA. But here’s what Inhofe had to say this morning on the teevee:

JANSING: You know there were a number of people along the East Coast who weren’t happy about your vote on Hurricane Sandy . . . you said the request for funding was a “slush fund.” . . .  is there money to help the people here in your home state rebuild?

INHOFE: Well, let’s look at that. That was totally different . . .

Yup. Totally different. I get that.

What Inhofe and Coburn don’t seem to grasp – well,  here, Duane says it best:

Yet despite the efforts of Inhofe and Coburn, the FEMA trucks will show up in Oklahoma throughout today and beyond. Those trucks are representatives of the American people, most of whom live far, far away from Moore.

Let me repeat that: Those trucks are representatives of the American people.

We can, however, take some comfort that both of the esteemed Senators, while not crazy about that food and rescue equipment part, did ask for prayers.

You may know that Duane lives in Joplin MO and two years ago a tornado devastated Joplin; 161 people died. His post a few days later is one I’ve never forgotten and it still touches me. Read it. That’s probably pretty close to what they’re feeling in Moore OK about now. It begins:

Sunday evening, before the onset of the cruel aftershocks that continue to pummel our devastated city with remorseless storms and rescue-impeding rains, my youngest son and I undertook a journey to a destination he—a high school student and baseball player—seemed desperate to see.

He wanted to go to his school.

Read the rest.

We’re not them, so who are we?

 In the quarter-century after World War II, the country established collective structures, not individual monuments, that channeled the aspirations of ordinary people: state universities, progressive taxation, interstate highways, collective bargaining, health insurance for the elderly, credible news organizations.

That’s from a NY Times op-ed today by George Packer (author of one of my favorite Iraq War era books, The Assassins’ Gate). It was true then. But we all know it’s not true now.

Later in his piece (which is about individualism as reflected by a celebrity obsessed culture), he uses the phrase ‘the great leveling’. And that perfectly explains I think why that post-War era succeeded and did so on every level.

The shared experience of WWII touched everyone, whether at war or at home. At war, the mechanic served with the lawyer whose car he fixed, and the young kid with an 8th grade education spent lonely nights talking to college professors.  Even more powerful in its effect on the later society was that they not only shared the experience but during it they were equals – all called to service by their country, wearing the same uniforms, fighting in the same battles with the same weapons. ‘GI Joe’ carried the same rifle as his lieutenant did.

They shared too, by rising to the challenge. And when it was done, they shared the tears and the pride.

It’s possible for societies to exhibit those values even without war. There are some here on our planet who manage it. But for us, that day is past.

We’ll never be those people again.

Now go have a nice day!

Gas explosions for profit or bombs for ideology. One good. One very very bad. People still dead. Threat still there. How to choose, how to choose . . . XL baby, XL!

Today, Upworthy brings us a video by activists opposed to the construction of a fracked gas pipeline under the West Side of Manhattan. It includes footage from a PG&E gasline explosion at a similar installation in San Bruno CA. In 2010. Eight dead. 38 Homes leveled. It happened two miles west of San Francisco International Airport. And I never hard of it before. Pipe-from-Sanbruno-explosionDid you? From Wikipedia:

In January 2011, federal investigators reported that they found numerous defective welds in the pipeline.  . .  . On January 13, 2012, an independent audit from the State of California issued a report stating that PG&E had illegally diverted over $100 million from a fund used for safety operations, and instead used it for executive compensation and bonuses.

It’s an all too familiar story.

This graphic shows the blast zone that would be created if an explosion similar to the one that occurred in San Bruno, CA, last year were to happen in Manhattan at the location of the natural gas pipeline proposed for the city by Spectra Energy.

This graphic shows the blast zone that would be created if an explosion similar to the one that occurred in San Bruno, CA, last year were to happen in Manhattan at the location of the natural gas pipeline proposed for the city by Spectra Energy.

But back to New York, the city that never sleeps . . . the pipeline, already under construction, is the project of Spectra Energy. Were their project to suffer an explosion like San Bruno, or like the dozens of others that have happened around the world, it could kill tens of thousands, maybe maim hundreds of thousands, and might even take down the economy of NYC.  The Federal government is spending hundreds of billions, perhaps a trillion or more, to keep us ‘safe’ from terrorists. But developing alternate energy sources is too expensive.Here’s that video from Upworthy:

Security or civil liberties – what’ll it be?

boston policeIn an earlier post, I quoted (and agreed with) Ron Paul in his expression of concern about the militarized nature of the response to the Boston bombings. In the comments, I responded to a polite challenge from jamesb who put forward a common question: “If those two young men had walked into a house and held someone hostage with bombs…..”

I replied:

james, there will always be dilemmas confronting us when we try to balance state security with civil liberties. Which, as a society, do we decide is most in need of protection? Hostage crises, for instance, have happened throughout history, whereas the US Bill of Rights stood alone for centuries as an enormous step forward for mankind.

“Jonathan Turley, a Constitutional lawyer, says it best at his blog in a post titled “The Pavlovian Politics of Terror”:

“My greatest concern is that the Boston response will become the accepted or standard procedure . . .

. . . as a thousand papercuts from countless new laws and surveillance systems slowly kill our privacy, we might want to ask whether a fishbowl society will actually make us safer or just make us feel that way.”

Jim  Wheeler agreed:

Legislation enacted out of fear is fraught with peril, e.g., The Patriot Act.

Just wanted to put this out there.