Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Short Takes

Speaker Paul Ryan rules out run for White House again.  (Watch this space.)

Brazilian congressional panel advances effort to impeach nation’s president.

Deutsche Bank says “nein” to expanding into North Carolina.

U.S. Navy may charge officer with espionage.

Judge Merrick Garland met Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley.  Nothing happened.

The Tigers beat the Pirates 8-2.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Reading

Teach Your Children Well — Jonathan Zimmerman in The Atlantic on the poor state of civics education in public schools.

Little hands. A bad tan. And blood coming from wherever.

If you’re put off by the crude tone of politics in the Age of Trump, you’re not alone. According to a recent poll by Weber Shandwick, Powell Tate, and KRC Research, 70 percent of Americans think that political incivility has reached “crisis” levels.

The poll also found that Americans avoid discussing controversial questions, out of fear they too will be perceived as uncivil. The findings speak to a flaw with civic education, especially in the main institution charged with delivering it: public schools. Put simply, schools in the United States don’t teach the country’s future citizens how to engage respectfully across their political differences. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they can’t, or that that they don’t.

Schools have sometimes been blamed for the meteoric rise of Donald Trump, whose legions of supporters allegedly lack the civic knowledge to see through his proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States or to kill family members of terrorists in the fight against ISIS. But it’s hardly clear that Trump supporters are less knowledgeable than anyone else. In six state GOP exit polls, Trump was the most popular candidate among college-educated voters and came in second in another six polls.

Indeed, the facile dismissal of all Trump enthusiasts as bigots or ignoramuses speaks to the most urgent problem in American civic life: the inability to communicate with people who do not share the same opinion. Trump himself epitomizes that trend, routinely vilifying his opponents as “losers” or “dummies,” or worse. And yet Trump’s critics often use similar terms to tar his diverse array of devotees. This isn’t a discussion; it’s a shouting match.Public schools aren’t merely expected to teach young people the mechanics of government: how a bill is signed into law, what the Supreme Court does, and so on. They’re also responsible for teaching the skills and habits of democratic life, especially how to engage civilly with people from a different political camp.

Many districts have written policies promoting the teaching of “controversial issues” in schools. Typically, these policies affirm students’ right to discuss such issues as part of their preparation for citizenship. They also warn teachers against imposing their own point of view on students.But there’s an enormous gap between policy and practice. Many teachers say they’d like to address controversial issues but lack the time; in poorer districts, especially, every available minute is devoted to preparing students for high-stakes standardized tests. Others admitted that they were not prepared to lead such discussions, which require deep background knowledge on the issues as well as the skill to manage diverse opinions about them.

Still other teachers said that their districts discouraged or even barred them from addressing controversial issues, particularly if the teacher displayed a liberal or unorthodox bent. After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, for example, two teachers and a counselor in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were suspended without pay for hanging posters in their classrooms urging “No War Against Iraq.” School officials invoked the district’s “controversial-issues” policy, which declared that teachers “will not attempt, directly or indirectly, to limit or control the opinions of pupils.”

As later court filings confirmed, however, the district offered no evidence that the teachers were trying to do that; instead, the mere expression of their opinion was taken as proof of their propagandistic intent. Never mind that military recruiting posters festooned other parts of the school, or that one of the suspended teachers had organized a debate between herself and a pro-war colleague. Her poster was an act of indoctrination rather than education, officials said, and it had to be stopped.

[…]

To be sure, it’s easy to imagine situations where teachers might impose their views instead of assisting students in formulating their own. But many school leaders simply don’t trust teachers to know the difference. After the Ferguson riots, a superintendent in nearby Edwardsville, Illinois, prohibited teachers from mentioning the subject, lest they sway students in one direction or another. “We all have opinions on what should be done,” the superintendent explained. “We don’t need to voice those opinions or engage those opinions in the classroom.”

But how will children learn to “engage those opinions” unless they do so in the classroom? That’s become even more urgent over the past few decades, when Americans increasingly segregated themselves into communities of the like-minded. In 1976, 27 percent of Americans made their homes in so-called “landslide counties” that voted either Democrat or Republican by 20 percent or more; by 2008, 48 percent of Americans lived in such environments.

When divisive subjects do arise, Americans don’t know how to discuss them. In the same KRC survey that revealed overwhelming concern about the incivility of modern politics, over a third of respondents said they avoid talking about racial inequality, abortion rights, or same-sex marriage for fear of the discussion turning “uncivil.” And only one-third said that they do not avoid any issues because of worries about incivility.

Trump has played on that anxiety in his frequent broadsides against “political correctness,” encouraging people to follow his lead and say whatever they think. And while there’s a certain attractiveness to that kind of blunt candor, it’s a poor formula for civic discourse. Nearly three-quarters of the people replying to the KRC survey said they supported “civility training” in schools. Let’s hope they prevail on the schools to provide it.

Why It’s The Worst — Katherine Stewart in The Nation on Mississippi’s gay-bashing law.

On Tuesday morning, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law HB 1523—the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”—one of the most sweeping of the nation’s “religious liberty” bills that are making the rounds in numerous red-state capitals this year. In the press they are often referred to as “anti-LGBT bills,” because they would give legal cover to those who want to discriminate against LGBT people out of “sincerely held religious belief.” Critics such as Ben Needham, director of Human Rights Campaign’s Project One America, has said the measure is “probably the worst religious freedom bill to date.” But there is an even more radical agenda behind these bills, and the atrocious attempt to deprive LGBT Americans of their rights is only a part of it.

According to State Senator Jennifer Branning, one of the Mississippi law’s original backers, the real victims of the story are not the LGBT couples denied services but people “who cannot in good conscience provide services for a same-sex marriage.” These are the true targets of discrimination, and we are invited to sympathize with the proverbial florist who balks at providing flowers at a gay wedding or the restaurant owner who refuses to serve a same-sex couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. But the text of the law also specifically protects the “sincerely held religious belief” that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” a marriage between a woman and a man. So if you are religiously opposed to other people having non-marital sex, this could be the law for you.

It is also inaccurate to think that this law is just about those who wish to refuse to perform a service. One of the more disconcerting sections of the law is that which discusses people who provide foster-care services. The government, we are told, will no longer be allowed to take action against any foster parent that “guides, instructs, or raises a child…in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief.” If you want to know what that could mean, check out Focus on the Family’s “spare the rod” philosophy of child rearing. On its website, the religious-right advocacy group offers handy tips on “the Biblical Approach to Spanking.”

If the point were only to spare the fine moral sentiments of a few florists, why would the law’s sponsors seek such a wide-ranging exemption from the laws and norms that apply to the rest of society? A helpful clue can be found in a letter that the American Family Association sent out in support of the Mississippi bill before it was passed. (The AFA has been named a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010.) The bill, said the AFA, is crucial because it protects the AFA, and groups like it, from the “governmental threat of losing their tax exempt status.”

There is a revealing irony in that statement. Tax exemption is a kind of gift from the government, a privilege. It is an indirect way of funneling money from taxpayers to groups that engage in certain kinds of activities (like charity work or nonprofit education)—and not other kinds of activities (like political activism). The AFA is right to worry about the governmental threat to their governmental subsidy. As our society views the kinds of activities they endorse with increasing skepticism, the justification for continued subsidies and privileges from the government will diminish.

The people who drafted the bill on behalf of the Mississippi legislators get it. (Most of the red-state “religious liberty” bills were either drafted or, to some degree, inspired by the Alliance Defending Freedom—the “800-pound gorilla” of religious-right legal advocacy and itself a beneficiary of the great tax exemption game.) This is why the very first “discriminatory action” by the government the law prohibits is “to alter in any way the tax treatment” of any person or organization that abides by the newly sanctioned religious beliefs.

It’s about more than money, of course. The AFA and its allies on the religious right want to carve out a sphere in American public life where religion—their religion—trumps the law. It’s a breathtakingly radical ambition. And it upends the principles on which our constitutional democracy is based.

None other than the late Antonin Scalia put his finger on the problem. To make an individual’s obedience to the law “contingent upon the law’s coincidence with his religious beliefs” amounts to “permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, ‘to become a law unto himself,’” he said. It “contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense.” Scalia made these comments in his 1990 majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith. In that case, the majority ruled that the state of Oregon could deny unemployment benefits to a pair of individuals who violated a state ban on the use of peyote, even though their use of the drug was part of a religious ritual. It was the overreaction to that verdict—on both the left and the right—that produced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. Though intended only to ensure that laws did not needlessly burden the religious liberty of individuals, the RFRA sparked a wave of unintended consequences. It effectively planted the demon seeds of the current crop of “religious liberty” bills.

Employment Division, as it happened, involved a religion—that practiced by the Native American Church—with which Scalia likely did not identify. Which brings up a crucial point about the Mississippi law and its numerous cousins. These “religious liberty” bills are really intended only for a particular variety of religion. Indeed, HB 1523 protects you only if your religion involves a specific set of beliefs—such as the religious belief that “man” and “woman” “refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex,” and that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” marriage. To speak frankly, the law was designed to advance the claims of conservative Christians, and it would never have become law otherwise. If you think that every religion will find as much liberty in the laws of Mississippi, then I have a Satanic temple to sell you.

Donald Trump Performs Shakespeare — Aryah Cohen-Wade in The New Yorker.

“Hamlet”

Listen—to be, not to be, this is a tough question, O.K.? Very tough. A lot of people come up to me and ask, “Donald, what’s more noble? Getting hit every day with the slings, the bows, the arrows, the sea of troubles—or just giving up?” I mean, smart people, the best Ivy League schools.

But I say to them, “Have you ever thought that we don’t know—we don’t know—what dreams may come? Have you ever thought about that?” Ay yi yi—there’s the rub! There’s the rub right there. When we shuffle off this mortal whatever it is—coil? They say to me, “Donald, you’ve built this fantastic company, how’d you do it? How?” And I say one word: “leadership.” Because that’s what it’s all about, is leadership. And people are so grateful whenever I bring up this whole “perchance to dream” thing. So grateful.

And on and on with the whips and the scorns of time and the contumely and the fardels and the blah blah blah.

Then I see a bare bodkin and I’m like—a bodkin? What the hell is this thing, a bodkin? Listen, I run a very successful business, I employ thousands of people and I’m supposed to care whether this bodkin is bare or not? Sad!

And when people say I don’t have a conscience—trust me, I have a conscience, and it’s a very big conscience, O.K.? And the native hue of my resolution is not sicklied o’er, that’s a lie! If anyone tells you that the native hue of my resolution is sicklied o’er, they’re trying to sell you a load of you-know-what. And enterprises of great pith—listen, my enterprises are so pithy. So pithy. Fantastic pith. But sometimes, hey, they lose the name of action, right? I mean, it happens—it happens.

“Romeo and Juliet”

Quiet, quiet—shut up, over there! What’s coming through that window? A light, it is the east, and Melania—you know, people are always telling me, they say, “Mr. Trump, you’ve got a wonderful wife”—Melania, she’s sitting right there. Stand up, sweetheart. Isn’t she a beautiful woman, Melania? Gorgeous. I love women, they love me—and I think we all know what I mean, folks! I’m gonna do so well with the women in November. So well.

Melania’s the sun, is what a lot of people are saying. Hillary Clinton? I mean, with that face? She looks like the moon! She’s very envious, if you ask me, very envious, but can you blame her? Visit Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue—which is the best street in New York, by the way—I mean, who wouldn’t be envious? This moon, Hillary, is sick and pale with grief when she compares herself to Melania, who is a very beautiful woman, I have to admit.

Melania, she’s got a great cheek, it’s a wonderful cheek, a bright cheek, everyone knows it, the stars ought to be ashamed of themselves, ashamed. The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars. As daylight doth a lamp! Look at this, folks, how she leans her cheek upon her hand. If I were a glove upon that hand—first, let me tell you, I think we all know what I would do, because I bought the Miss Universe Pageant, very successful, so I know a thing or two about gorgeous women. And all this stuff about the gloves, and my hands—I have great hands, O.K.? Gimme a break.

“Julius Caesar”

Friends, Romans, folks—listen up. The reason I’m here is to bury Julius. It’s not to praise him. It’s just not. Brutus over there—we all know he’s a good guy, right? And he says Julius was low-energy. Is it a crime to be low-energy? Well, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—who knows?

The point is, Brutus is a good guy, all these guys over there, the ones who did this, they’re all good guys—and Julius, Julius was my friend, a really terrific friend to me.

Julius—he brought a lot of captives home to Rome, filled a lot of coffers. Really fantastic coffers. Does that sound low-energy to you? And when the poor people, regular, hardworking, everyday Romans, cried—Julius did, too. He cried. I saw it with my own eyes—many, many times. But Brutus—Brutus says Julius was low-energy. And everyone knows that Brutus is a good guy, right?

You all saw that on the Lupercal, three times—three times—I tried to give Julius a kingly crown. And you should’ve seen this crown—this was a great crown, O.K.? Very, very kingly. And three times he said, “Nope.” Is this low-energy? Yet Brutus says he was low-energy—and, sure, sure, Brutus is a good guy.

I’m not here to say Brutus is lying, but I am here to speak what I do know. You all loved Julius once—so why not be a little sad, now that he’s dead? Just a little sad.

I’m sorry to say that the Roman Senate has been run by a bunch of morons for a long, long time. Morons! A lot of bad decisions—these guys, they’re like a bunch of animals. It makes me so sad. So sad. And I’m looking here at the coffin of my good friend, Mr. Caesar. Just a minute. (He pauses to wipe a tear from his eye.)

So we’re gonna build a wall! And who’s gonna pay for it? (The crowd shouts, “The Visigoths!”)

“Macbeth”

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and yadda yadda, the days are going by—what I’m saying is this is gonna last a long time, believe you me. Long. I see this candle, and I say—should I blow it out?

Should I? Because, when you think about it, and there’s been some great polling on this, in fact there’s a new poll out from the Wall Street Journal—which is a terrific paper, by the way, they’ve won a lot of prizes—listen to this, they say blow out the candle. They do, they say blow it out.

People come up to me and say, “Mr. Trump, life is like a shadow,” and I’m like, “What? A shadow? I don’t get it, and, listen, I went to Wharton, O.K.—the top business school in the country. So I’m a smart guy, I’m a smart guy, it’s no secret.”

And what’s really interesting is I like to talk, and tell a tale, and that tale is gonna have a whole lotta sound, and a whole lotta fury, because that’s what the American people want to hear! They want to hear some sound and some fury sent to Washington for once in their lives, and, I mean, is that too much to ask? They want to hear me tell it, and they can decide what it signifies, but I’m saying right now—it’s gonna sound great, I guarantee it. Absolutely, a hundred and ten per cent, just really, really great. O.K.?

Doonesbury — Future shock.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tennessee Faerie Tales

The state legislature of Tennessee makes a 17th century collection of myths and superstition their Official State Book.

The Volunteer State’s legislature overwhelmingly approved a bill on Monday that would name the Bible as the state book and sent it to Gov. Bill Haslam. It is not yet known if the two-term Republican will veto the bill, though his attorney general has said it would violate the separation of church and state.

Because “The Chronicles of Narnia” was still under copyright and is too obscure in its analogies to Christianity, I suppose.  Or because “My Pet Goat” was taken.

Perhaps they should instead read up on a passage from some 18th century writings.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sunday Reading

History Lesson — Robert Bateman teaches the Oregon “militia” a few things about their rights and wrongs.

Massachusetts, April 1775.  Daniel Shays was 30 years old when things went all squirrelly. The son of Irish immigrants, he spent his early years working on a farm in the western part of the state. Agrarian labor was the lot of the overwhelming majority, especially those living away from the coast. Swept up in the emotions of the day, Shays walked to Boston and immediately enlisted in one of the newly raised militia regiments then surrounding Boston in the wake of Lexington and Concord.

By all accounts Shays was a solid man. A stalwart soldier. Because he already had a modicum of training, Shays was enlisted as a sergeant. In that rank he fought at some of the most pivotal battles of the Revolutionary War: first, Bunker Hill; then, after his regiment went from being “militia” to “regulars” in the Continental Army, Long Island, New York, Saratoga, and his last battle, Stony Point.

It is there that we really come to see what kind of soldier he was. By then, Shays had been promoted to lieutenant and then captain of a company in his regiment. And he was not just any captain: He was the commander of the elite “light” company. It was in that role that he participated in the storming of Stony Point, during which American troops made a midnight assault with unloaded weapons, just bayonets, and won a significant and lopsided victory against the British. Shays performed so heroically that the Marquis de LaFayette personally awarded him a ceremonial sword in recognition of his leadership. (There was no such thing as a ribbon or a medal yet, at least not institutionally.)

In 1780, due to wounds, he mustered out. He had been away from home for five years, without pay. Yea, nada. Food and uniforms, but no actual pay. When he got home he found that he was being called before court for failure to pay debts. What a kick in the nuts for a guy who just spent five years, and spilled blood, unpaid, on behalf of the new nation. Eventually he sold the sword from the Marquis for petty cash.

Things weren’t much better for the state. After the war ended in 1783, Massachusetts was trying hard to clear its debts. But their technique was somewhat lacking. Among other things, they pushed hard on the collection of debts and taxes, especially in the sparsely inhabited and relatively poor western parts of the state. The men living there felt cut out, particularly since it was the rich businessmen, mostly on the coast, who held political power.

A tax revolt ensued. Something of a natural leader, Shays unexpectedly found himself in the lead of armed men once again. This time, however, they were fighting against their own government. It was, by any definition, an insurrection against the United States of America: Armed men sought to take over federal property (the Armory in Springfield). They were confronted by organized militia, raised locally, and paid by private donors because there was no “official” money for such a contingency. Both sides had over 1000 men. But one side, the authorized militia, had cannon, and that made all the difference. The insurrection was busted, and their whole effort ended in chaos. Their rebellion against America ended in abject failure. The conflict, known commonly as Shays’ Rebellion (though Shays was just one of its leaders), shocked the nation and had enormous influence over what became the U.S. Constitution.


The men in Bend, Oregon identify themselves as “patriots.” Many self-describe themselves as members of an extremist group known as the “Three Percent” – harkening back to the alleged percentage of colonists who fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War. They make much ado about being true to the U.S. Constitution.

But their knowledge of the actual history, let alone the text, of the Constitution, appears to be, shall we say, a tad lacking. To begin with, they seem to skip over some of its words. To begin, let’s look at what it means to be a “militia,” as these men claim to be. Here are the powers granted to Congress, in the Constitution, as they relate to “militia:

“To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

Bottom Line: There is no such thing as a “locally organized” militia that is not subject to the authority of a State or the Federal Government. Indeed, such is almost explicitly prohibited, in no small part because the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent something like Shays’ Rebellion from happening again.

Now let’s take a look at the definition of treason, as defined by the Constitution:

 “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”

Does taking over federal property or fighting the US government constitute “levying war?” For that, we must decide whether or not a forcible occupation of federal property that obstructs the ability of U.S. citizens from enjoying its resources constitute “insurrection.” The Insurrection Act, written by the Founding Fathers in 1807, which these Oregon dudes profess to adore, says this:

“The President, by using the militia or the armed forces, or both, or by any other means, shall take such measures as he considers necessary to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy, if it—

(1) so hinders the execution of the laws of that State, and of the United States within the State, that any part or class of its people is deprived of a right, privilege, immunity, or protection named in the Constitution and secured by law, and the constituted authorities of that State are unable, fail, or refuse to protect that right, privilege, or immunity, or to give that protection; or

(2) opposes or obstructs the execution of the laws of the United States or impedes the course of justice under those laws.

In any situation covered by clause (1), the State shall be considered to have denied the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution.”

In reality, these men in Oregon are following in the footsteps of Daniel Shays’ armed insurrection, not his military service. Shays’ later actions, which are the very basis for the use of the terms “militia” and “treason” and the authority given to Congress to raise troops from the militia in order to suppress “insurrection,” are their antecedents.

Damn those Founding Fathers and the documentation that they inconveniently left behind.

Sure They Would — Rebecca Gordon in The Nation tallies up the votes from presidential candidates in favor of committing war crimes.

They’re back!

From the look of the presidential campaign, war crimes are back on the American agenda. We really shouldn’t be surprised, because American officials got away with it last time—and, in the case of the drone wars, continue to get away with it today. Still, there’s nothing like the heady combination of a “populist” Republican race for the presidency and national hysteria over terrorism to make Americans want to reach for those “enhanced interrogation techniques.” That, as critics have long argued, is what usually happens if war crimes aren’t prosecuted.

In August 2014, when President Obama finally admitted that “we tortured some folks,” he added a warning. The recent history of US torture, he said, “needs to be understood and accepted. We have to as a country take responsibility for that so hopefully we don’t do it again in the future.” By pinning the responsibility for torture on all of us “as a country,” Obama avoided holding any of the actual perpetrators to account.

Unfortunately, “hope” alone will not stymie a serial war criminal—and the president did not even heed his own warning. For seven years his administration has done everything except help the country “take responsibility” for torture and other war crimes. It looked the other way when it comes to holding accountable those who set up and ran the CIA’s large-scale torture operations at its “black sites” around the world. It never brought charges against those who ordered torture at Guantánamo. It prosecuted no one, above all not the top officials of the Bush administration.

Now, in the endless run-up to the 2016 presidential elections, we’ve been treated to some pretty strange gladiatorial extravaganzas, with more to come in 2016. In these peculiarly American spectacles, Republican candidates hurl themselves at one another in a frenzied effort to be seen as the candidate most likely to ignore the president’s wan hope and instead “do it again in the future.” As a result, they are promising to commit a whole range of crimes, from torture to the slaughter of civilians, for which the leaders of some nations would find themselves hauled into international court as war criminals. But “war criminal” is a label reserved purely for people we loathe, not for us. To paraphrase former President Richard Nixon, if the United States does it, it’s not a crime.

In the wake of the brutal attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the promises being openly made to commit future crimes have only grown more forthright. A few examples from the presidential campaign trail should suffice to make the point:

* Ted Cruz guarantees that “we” will “utterly destroy ISIS.” How will we do it? “We will carpet bomb them into oblivion”—that is, “we” will saturate an area with munitions in such a way that everything and everyone on the ground is obliterated. Of such a bombing campaign against the Islamic State, he told a cheering crowd at the Rising Tide Summit, “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” (It’s hard not to take this as a reference to the use of nuclear weapons, though in the bravado atmosphere of the present Republican campaign a lot of detailed thought is undoubtedly not going into any such proposals.)

* Kindly retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson evidently has similar thoughts. When pressed by CNN co-moderator Hugh Hewitt in the most recent Republican debate on whether he was “tough” enough to be “okay with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilian[s],” Carson replied, “You got it. You got it.” He even presented a future campaign against the Islamic State in which “thousands” of children might die as an example of the same kind of tough love a surgeon sometimes exhibits when facing a difficult case. It’s like telling a child, he assured Hewitt, that “we’re going to have to open your head up and take out this tumor. They’re not happy about it, believe me. And they don’t like me very much at that point. But later on, they love me.” So, presumably, will those “dead innocent children” in Syria—once they get over the shock of being dead.

* Jeb Bush’s approach brought what, in Republican circles, passes for nuance to the discussion of future war-crimes policy. What Washington needs, he argued, is “a strategy,” and what stands in the way of the Obama administration’s developing one is an excessive concern with the niceties of international law. As he put it, “We need to get the lawyers off the back of the warfighters. Right now under President Obama, we’ve created…this standard that is so high that it’s impossible to be successful in fighting ISIS.” Meanwhile, Jeb has surrounded himself with a familiar clique of neocon “advisers”—people like George W. Bush’s former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz and his former deputy national security advisor Stephen Hadley, who planned for and advocated the illegal US war against Iraq, which touched off a regional war with devastating human consequences.

* And then there is Donald Trump. Where to start? As a simple baseline for his future commander-in-chiefdom, he stated without a blink that he would bring back torture. “Would I approve waterboarding?” he told a cheering crowd at a November rally in Columbus, Ohio. “You bet your ass I would—in a heartbeat.” And for Trump, that would only be the beginning. He assured his listeners, vaguely but emphatically, that he “would approve more than that,” leaving to their imaginations whether he was thinking of excruciating “stress positions,” relentless exposure to loud noise, sleep deprivation, the straightforward killing of prisoners, or what the CIA used to delicately refer to as “rectal rehydration.” Meanwhile, he just hammers on when it comes to torture. “Don’t kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn’t work.”

Only a stupid person—like, perhaps, one of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who carefully studied the CIA’s grim torture documents for years, despite the Agency’s foot-dragging, opposition, and outright interference (including computer hacking)—would say that. But why even bother to argue about whether torture works? The point, Trump claimed, was that the very existence of the Islamic State means that someone needs to be tortured. “If it doesn’t work,” he told that Ohio crowd, “they deserve it anyway.”

Only a few days later, he triumphantly sallied even further into war criminal territory. He declared himself ready to truly hit the Islamic State where it hurts. “The other thing with the terrorists,” he told Fox News, “is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” Because it’s a well-known fact—in Trumpland at least—that nothing makes people less likely to behave violently than murdering their parents and children. And it certainly doesn’t matter, when Trump advocates it, that murder is a crime.

The Second Amendment: Original Intent — John Quintance at The New Yorker uncovers some correspondence that should clear it up.

December 5, 1791
James Madison
House of Representatives

Dear James,

How is it almost 1792?! Quick question on the right to bear arms thing in your “Bill of Rights”—the wording and punctuation are slightly confusing. Did you mean that the right of the people serving in the militia to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, or people in general? I’m assuming the former, but don’t want to make an ass of you and me! (Franklin made that up, but I’m using it everywhere!) Could you please send me a quick note whenever to clarify?

TJ

P.S. To be honest, I’m still meh about “Bill of Rights” as a name.

* * *

December 7, 1791
Thomas Jefferson
Office of the Secretary of State

Dear Tom,

I know, it’s so crazy how fast this year has gone—I just got used to writing 1791 on my deeds of purchase (of slaves)!

As far as the amendment, of course it’s the former. If every private citizen had the right to carry a musket, a thousand people would’ve shot Patrick Henry by now, am I right? Don’t worry about it. Everyone will know what it means.

JM

P.S. You’re not back on “The Ten Amendments” are you? It’s trying way too hard to sound Biblical.

* * *

December 9, 1791
James Madison
House of Representatives

Dear James,

Hahaha re: Patrick Henry. And I agree it should be obvious. It’s just, why not make it so clear that even the biggest Anti-Federalist looney tune can’t misinterpret the meaning? I’d add “while serving in the militia” to line three. Also, not to be a grammar redcoat here, but the use and placement of the comma isn’t helping. Can we change it? It will take two seconds.

I know I’m being annoying!

TJ

P.S. How about “Constitution, Part Two?” (Not a serious pitch, unless you like it!)

* * *

December 11, 1791
Thomas Jefferson
Office of the Secretary of State

Dear Tom,

There is literally zero chance that anyone will misconstrue this, and the great news is that if someone actually does, the Supreme Court will set them straight. I don’t want to change it. It won’t take two seconds, because the addition would push a page and I’d have to do the whole rest of it over again and W. is breathing down my neck about it. Plus, I like the way my signature looks on the version I sent you, and you know I always hate the way it looks on important stuff.

Not trying to be snippy, but you’re worrying about nothing.

JM

* * *

December 13, 1791
James Madison
House of Representatives

Dear James,

I know, I know—I’m the worst. Just hear me out. Imagine it’s some two hundred years from now. Musket makers have made new and more powerful muskets—ones that are capable of firing two or even three shots per minute—and, in an effort to sell more, they claim that every homeowner should have the right to own one, or two, or twenty. They bribe politicians to advance their cause, they stoke public fears of crime and federal tyranny, and they manage to exploit this slightly confusing language and comma placement to claim that we originally intended to give every private citizen the right to own as many muskets (and for that manner, cannons!) as they can get their hands on. And because in this version of the future (just bear with me here) we’ve had such a run of Anti-Federalist Presidents, the Court is packed with men who might agree. Isn’t there the slightest chance that this could happen?

TJ

* * *

December 15, 1791
Thomas Jefferson
Office of the Secretary of State

Dear Tom,

You know I love you, but we seriously need to get this ratified, like, today, or W. will have my ass. There is no way that what you’re talking about could come to pass. It’s too ridiculous. The amendment goes before Congress as written.

Besides, if anyone ever needs to confirm our intention two hundred years from now, they need only consult any decent spiritualist to communicate with our ghosts. If muskets can fire three shots per minute in your future, I’m sure mediums will have become even better at their jobs, too.

JM

Doonesbury — Can’t get here from there.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Crazy For Guns

Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station posted this on Facebook and I have to share it.

Bang Bang Crazy

An outfit calling itself “Come and Take It Texas” announced they will stage a “mock” mass shooting this weekend on the campus of the University of Texas.

They’re calling for volunteer “crisis actors” to play unarmed liberal students who will get “shot” like sheep in their gun-free zone by pretend perpetrators armed with cardboard weapons.

“It’s a fake mass shooting, and we’ll use fake blood,” said the event’s organizer, Matthew Short.

According to the Austin Statesman, the ammosexuals staging this idiotic event will simulate gun noises using recordings played over bullhorns, then when the fake blood is flying and they’ve convinced the students a full on slaughter is underway, the day will be “saved” when good guys with guns rush in (also armed with fake guns) to kill all the bad guys, pew! pew! pew! and thereby demonstrate to the unarmed students the foolishness of their liberal ways.

“We want criminals to fear the public being armed,” Short said. “An armed society is a polite society. We love freedom and we’re trying to make more freedom.”

We love freedom and we’re trying to make more. Yes we do. That’s why they didn’t get permission or a permit, because they’re not going to bow down to the man. Also? This mock shooting will take place immediately after the SAME people march through town with their REAL guns in a show of armed liberty.

And then there’s this: An armed society is a polite society.

Really?

Look, I love Robert Heinlein stories, the guy was a hell of a writer. He said a lot of quotable things. Some great, some funny, and some just plain stupid. And that idiotic canard, an armed society is a polite society, is manifestly the stupidest thing he ever said. Especially when quoted out of context as justification for even more idiotic stupidity – not that I expect Matthew Bang Bang Short has any idea where that quote came from, he doesn’t strike me as the reading type, other than Guns & Ammo I mean.

An armed society is a polite society, sure – if you’re a science fiction writer like Heinlein and you create the society you’re talking about for a novel where genetically engineered immortal supermen duel out of boredom. Sure. But out here? In the real world? It’s bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit. PROVABLE bullshit. I can show you armed societies, truly armed societies, we’ll start in Iraq and work our way around to Somalia then via the Mexican drug corridors through gangbanger territory in Los Angeles.

Universally armed societies are emphatically NOT polite. This is provable and repeatable as many times as you care to run the experiment. Q.E.D.

And, really, don’t we Americans make fun of comparatively unarmed societies (compared to us) such as France and Great Britain for their politeness? Canadians are so polite that it’s damned near a cliché, and yet somehow their easy going nature doesn’t seem to be at the muzzle of a gun. How is that? Because based on ACTUAL real world examples, it’s the UNARMED societies which are most polite.

If armed societies are polite societies, how do you explain Texas?

An armed society is a polite society?

What’s the logic here? Be polite, say please and thank you while kissing my ass or I’ll blow your fucking brains out?

Listen to me: Politeness at gunpoint is neither politeness nor a society.

And let’s be honest here, do you really – and I mean really – want to live in a society where social interaction is enforced by the threat of deadly violence? Really? Welcome to Saudi Arabia. Welcome to Feudal Japan. Welcome to Dodge City and Tombstone. What’s next? Do we bring back dueling? Be nice to me, or I’ll shoot you dead, fucker.

I call Shenanigans.

“Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.  With guns.” – Pogo.

HT to CLW.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Try, Try Again

I will at the least give the Democrats credit for bringing up gun control in the Senate.

Senate Democrats are gearing up for another gun-control push after the massacre at a community college in Roseburg, Ore., as the chamber’s top Democrat accused Republicans of being “puppets” of the influential National Rifle Association in obstructing action on guns.

But as members of both parties pitch ideas for gun-control legislation, once again, there appear to be few areas of agreement between Democrats and Republicans.

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday that he is reaching out to other Democratic senators on moving background checks legislation – a tall order in the Senate, where just two years ago Republicans and red-state Democrats blocked a bill when the chamber was under Democratic control. On Monday, Senate Republicans again shrugged off the push from Democrats as political and not addressing the root cause of the country’s mass shooting affliction.

“We’ll see whether the people who have no solution, who just want to keep talking about guns, are willing to meet us halfway,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who wants to focus on the link between mental health and guns. “If somebody’s got a better idea, great. But if they’re just going to rail about guns and violence without offering solutions, that’s not good enough.”

Someone has pointed out that the United States cannot be the only country in the world with a population that has a number of people with mental illness.  That’s a human condition, not just one based on where you live.  So why is it that we’re the only country that has a problem keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them?  Does Canada or Australia not have people who are unfit to own a gun?  Why don’t they have all these mass shootings?  There must be another reason we have them and they don’t…

Yes, I’m being sarcastic.  But it’s time to start hitting back at the strawman arguments against gun control.  And it’s also time to stop using the qualifier of “common sense” gun control versus some other kind.  That’s a sop to the NRA.  Between their advocacy for the gun manufacturers and the paranoids who think every law is tantamount to the guv’ment grabbing all the guns just like the Third Reich, they have no idea what “common sense” means, as if they really cared in the first place.

I doubt that Sen. Reid’s attempt will create a legislative tsunami anytime soon, especially as we head into an election year.  But at least it’s more than “it’s too soon” to talk about it.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Nothing Will Be Done

Despite President Obama’s crie de coeur (see below), this yet-again shooting will not change anything.  Oh, there will be the obligatory vigils, the interviews with the families, the speculation on the motive, the tugs at the heart, but in the end, the politicians will shrug and say that freedom isn’t free, and then they’ll be off to a fundraiser hosted by the NRA.

Charlie Pierce:

I will tell you when I knew that the latest mass murder by gunfire in the United States wasn’t going to matter very much in relation to this country’s insane attachment to its firearms. It was the moment when one of the two CNN anchors felt obligated to mention that the campus of Umpqua College was a gun-free zone. For the record, Oregon is an open-carry state generally, but the courts there have ruled that colleges could ban weapons from campus buildings, and that is only going to make the inevitable rhetoric worse. Judges are going to be blamed. Academics are going to be blamed. The people turning a buck on our regularly scheduled carnage know how to duck when the blood coats the breeze. If only all the students were strapped, 13 of them wouldn’t be dead because the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, and so forth, forward into a general grave.

“I heard at least nine shots,” he said. “There’s a door connecting our classroom to that classroom, and my teacher was going to knock on the door,” Mr. Winder said. “But she called out, `Is everybody O.K.?’ and then we heard a bunch more shots. We all froze for about half a second.” “We heard people screaming next door,” he said. “And then everybody took off. People were hopping over desks, knocking things over.” All the classrooms in the building open to the outdoors—there are no hallways, Mr. Winder said—and “as we were running away, I think there were more shots, but my brain was kind of panic mode, just focused on running as fast as I could.”

See, this is what we have to understand. The full and free exercise of Second Amendment rights can be dreadfully inconvenient to the academic process, not to mention anyone who wants to live to be 25.

Mr. Grogan said students were evacuated to a local fairgrounds. “The police searched everybody,” Mr. Winder said, “searching their jackets and bags for weapons, before putting them on buses.”

See, there’s the barn. See how the door is locked. And over there, disappearing over a high and distant hill, that’s the horse.

And that’s the way it will always be.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday Reading

Going Ugly — Amy Davidson in The New Yorker: The birther question reveals the id of the GOP.

…But even more outrageous, this week, was Trump’s tolerance of the questioner’s premise: that Muslims in America are “a problem.” Calling Obama a Muslim is not wrong because being a Muslim is bad; it’s wrong because he is a Christian, and so “Muslim” becomes a shorthand for impostor and liar, for deceptive secret agent. Trump, though, went well beyond not defending the President: he affirmed an attack on the millions of Muslim Americans who are as much a part of the national community as anyone else. The man in the T-shirt’s actual point, after all, was about the supposed training camps “where they want to kill us.” He wanted Trump to answer his question: “When can we get rid of them?”

The campaign did say, according to the Washington Post, that it understood “them” to refer to the “training camps,” not to a potential ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population as a whole. A campaign official also said that Trump was focussed on the part of the question about this larger phantom threat, and not on the part about Obama’s religion—as if entertaining an insult to an entire community, rather than just to the President, were a defense. Trump’s own statement seemed to underscore the man in the Trump T-shirt’s fears: “The media wants to make this issue about Obama. The bigger issue is that Obama is waging a war against Christians in this country. Christians need support in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake.” Donald Trump, Christian warrior.

Last week, in an effort to slow Trump’s momentum, the Club for Growth released ads portraying him as a liberal. Jeb Bush, too, has made the case that the problem with Trump is that he is inadequately conservative—as if, with Trump’s talk of building walls, the G.O.P. were being pestered by a moderate in its midst. Perhaps his comments in New Hampshire will persuade his competitors to confront his extremism instead. So far, they have been too fearful or too eager for the votes of people like the man in the T-shirt. Or maybe they agree; Ben Carson, for one, has talked about the possibility of staged civil disorder leading to the cancellation of elections. (Hillary Clinton, who was also in New Hampshire, said that Trump “should have, from the beginning, repudiated that kind of rhetoric.”)

It can’t be said that Trump didn’t have control of the exchange; he had, after all, broken in twice. And he had another opportunity to do so when, later in the event, another questioner rose to say, “I applaud the gentleman who brought up the Muslim training camps here in the U.S.A.—the F.B.I. knows all about that.” To which Trump replied, again, “right.”

“But America has also guns pointed at ordinary citizens here,” the second man said, and then hesitated.

“Don’t get nervous!” Trump said. “You’re on about seven television networks here—don’t get nervous!”

The man launched into a disjointed attack on the Bureau of Land Management. “How can we get in and stop them?” he said.

“So many things are going to change,” Trump said, and then offered some news-you-can-use for conspiracy theorists.

“Being in real estate, we have Army bases, Navy bases—so many are for sale,” Trump said. “And so many of them have been sold over the last short period of time.”

And just who is buying those military bases? The audience seemed to know. Evan Osnos wrote recently about the support for Trump among white supremacists and other extremists in this country. It can seem, though, as if they are not only listening to him but as if he is listening to them. Trump is learning the practice of politics in halls echoing with American paranoia. There has always been a strain of that, and he is not alone in playing to it: a number of Republican senators solemnly presented themselves as concerned investigators of Jade Helm, a U.S. military training exercise that, in some circles, was presented as a dress rehearsal for martial law. The man in the T-shirt has a theory; the man in the suit smiles. What is less and less clear, in the interaction between the potential Presidents and the crowd, is who is humoring whom.

No-Show and Tell — Zoe Carpenter in The Nation on the kangaroo court in Congress over Planned Parenthood.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee held the first of several congressional hearings sparked by undercover videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood profits from illegal sales of fetal tissue. Less than 40 minutes had elapsed by the time someone quoted Adolf Hitler. The hysteria lasted for nearly four hours, marked by claims that abortion providers start their day with a “shopping list” of body parts to procure, about a fetus’s face being cut open with scissors, about fetuses who “cried and screamed as they died” but weren’t heard “because it was amniotic fluid going over their vocal cords instead of air.”

The hearing was engineered to repulse and horrify; it was not designed to reveal any credible information about Planned Parenthood or the Center for Medical Progress, the antiabortion group that made and edited the undercover videos. Neither Planned Parenthood nor CMP were asked to make representatives available to testify. Instead, Republicans called on two “abortion survivors” who lived after their mothers attempted to terminate their pregnancies, and issued emotional appeals against abortion, broadly. They also invited James Bopp, the Indiana lawyer who argued on behalf of the nonprofit Citizens United in the Supreme Court case that extended 1st Amendment rights to corporations. Among other things, Bopp argued in his testimony that fetal tissue donation encourages women “to choose abortions as an acceptable form of birth control.” Priscilla Smith, who directs the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at Yale Law School, was the only witness who supported abortion rights.

Representative Trent Franks, the Republican chairman of the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, was particularly unhinged in his attacks, appearing to work himself nearly to tears as he described the videos that “irrefutably reveal” Planned Parenthood officials “haggling” over fetal tissue. Later, Franks was pressed on whether he’d actually seen full, unedited footage from CMP. After erroneously claiming that CMP had made it available online, Franks admitted that neither he nor anyone else from the GOP majority had seen the footage in its complete form. He also confirmed that committee Republicans haven’t asked for it.

Democrats were quick to point out the absurdity of holding a hearing about accusations based on film footage that no one on the committee has seen in its original form. Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the committee, called the hearing “one-sided” and said that the videos revealed “no credible evidence that Planned Parenthood violated the law.” Representative Steve Cohen called it “the Benghazi of health care hearings.” Representative Hank Johnson likened the proceedings to a “third world show trial.” “Senator Joseph McCarthy would be proud of this committee today,” remarked Representative Jerrold Nadler.

The hearing is part of a broader push to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives about $500 million a year. (Under the Hyde Amendment, none of that money can be used for abortions, except in rare cases.) Conservatives are hoping to ride the momentum from the undercover videos to force the issue during budget negotiations, potentially leading to a government shutdown at the end of the month. “The horrifying thing about this hearing,” Smith said in her testimony, “is the mismatch between the allegations and concerns here about abortion [and] about fetal tissue research, and what is being considered, which is defunding Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion-related services.”

Perhaps the most ridiculous line of questioning came from Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, who wanted to know “why Planned Parenthood needs to get over half a billion dollars of federal funding every year when there are other pressing needs, such as feeding hungry children, that maybe we should be putting that money into?” Here’s how much Sensenbrenner cares about hungry children: In 2013, he and 216 of his fellow Republicans voted for a $39 billion cut to the food-stamp program.

In a memo released in advance of the hearing, Planned Parenthood pointed out that this is the 10th time since 2000 that secretly recorded videos and other accusations against the organization have led to congressional investigations. The evidence has never held up. But as Michelle Goldberg explained here, the latest videos—and witnesses like the two “abortion survivors” who testified on Wednesday—have a powerful visceral impact, despite their lack of grounding in fact. Republican Representative Steve King explained during Wednesday’s proceedings, “I don’t need an investigation to know what’s going on here.”

The Threat to the First Amendment — The New York Times editorial board on GOP anti-gay bigotry.

This past June, in the heat of their outrage over gay rights, congressional Republicans revived a nasty bit of business they call the First Amendment Defense Act. It would do many things, but one thing it would not do is defend the First Amendment. To the contrary, it would deliberately warp the bedrock principle of religious freedom under the Constitution.

The bill, versions of which have been circulating since 2013, gained a sudden wave of support after the Supreme Courtlegalized same-sex marriage nationwide. It is being hawked with the specter of clergy members being forced to officiate such marriages. This is a ploy, as the bill’s backers surely know: There has never been any doubt that the First Amendment protects members of the clergy from performing weddings against their will.

In reality, the act would bar the federal government from taking “any discriminatory action” — including the denial of tax benefits, grants, contracts or licenses — against those who oppose same-sex marriage for religious or moral reasons. In other words, it would use taxpayers’ money to negate federal anti-discrimination measures protecting gays and lesbians, using the idea of religious freedom as cover.

For example, a religiously affiliated college that receives federal grants could fire a professor simply for being gay and still receive those grants. Or federal workers could refuse to process the tax returns of same-sex couples simply because of bigotry against their marriages.

It doesn’t stop there. As critics of the bill quickly pointed out, the measure’s broad language — which also protects those who believe that “sexual relations are properly reserved to” heterosexual marriages alone — would permit discrimination against anyone who has sexual relations outside such a marriage. That would appear to include women who have children outside of marriage, a class generally protected by federal law.

This bizarre fixation on what grown-ups do in their bedrooms — which has long since been rejected by the Supreme Court and the vast majority of Americans — is bad enough. The bill makes matters worse by covering for-profit companies, which greatly multiplies the potential scope of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

These are radical proposals, but they are accepted without question by many in today’s Republican Party. In its current form, the bill has 148 co-sponsors in the House and 36 in the Senate — all Republicans but one, Representative Daniel Lipinski of Illinois. It has been endorsed by the Republican National Committee and at least four Republican presidential contenders. It is, in other words, a fair representation of right-wing reaction to the long overdue expansion of basic civil and constitutional rights to gays and lesbians.

Thankfully, the bill’s chances of passage are low. Even if it were to get through Congress, President Obama would surely veto it. Still, its symbolic power will embolden those looking for a legal justification to discriminate — whether they are individuals like Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who went to jail rather than obey the law and issue same-sex marriage licenses, or states, where similar legislation has a much better chance of becoming law. In Indiana and Arkansas, laws protecting such discrimination have already passed.

Both laws, of course, provoked a swift and emphatic backlash from the public and the corporate world, leading both states to scale them back. (Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence, embarked on a bumbling effort to claim that his state’s law would not provide cover for discrimination against gays and lesbians.)

Fear of a similar debacle at the national level may help explain why a committee vote in Congress on the First Amendment Defense Act, which conservative Republicans pushed for in late July, was not scheduled.

The best outcome at this point would be for the bill to die where it is. The First Amendment needs no assistance in protecting religious freedom in America.

 Doonesbury — The news.  In spurts.

Monday, September 14, 2015

First Things First

George Takei does a masterful job of explaining why Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky, is violating the First Amendment when she refuses to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The First Amendment has two clauses that are relevant here. One is the Establishment Clause, and the other is the Prohibition Clause. Congress may not prohibit free worship, and that is what so many claim, wrongly, is being violated. But it is also not empowered to establish any religion, nor to enact any laws favoring one religion over the other. Permitting a state employee to foist her religion upon others, denying them a fundamental right as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell, would be to give government, through this agent, the power to impose religious doctrine and viewpoint. That it cannot do. Ms. Davis is in effect establishing religion by using her governmental powers to impose her religious views.

Any questions?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

First Things First

Matt Bevin is running for governor of Kentucky.  You might remember him as the guy who tried to primary Mitch McConnell a couple of years ago and lost badly.  So if he’s whacky enough to lose to him, you know he’s not what you’d call mainstream.

Now of course he has an opinion on the trials of the Kentucky county clerk who won’t issue marriage licenses to anybody because Jesus and icky gays.

“I absolutely support her willingness to stand on her First Amendment rights,” he said. “Without any question I support her.”

How noble, except there is no First Amendment right to defy the Supreme Court’s rulings.  Your rights end where the other person’s begin, and the couples — straight or gay — in Rowan County have a right to get a marriage license issued by the county.

So do the people of Kentucky really want a governor who seems to have slept through Grade 10 government class?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Constitutional Dissonance

Shorter Scott Walker on immigration:

We must enforce the law by violating the Constitution.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says we should “reexamine” birthright citizenship as if it is some nebulous policy promulgated by liberals to pack the voting booths with immigrants who have yet to learn to walk.

What is it about people who say they revere the Constitution but have no trouble distorting it, ignoring it, or shredding it to fit their political motives?  If it’s not citizenship as defined by the Fourteenth Amendment, it’s the simple declaration that all citizens are entitled to the equal protection of the laws, also in the Fourteenth Amendment, that gave us marriage equality.  Yet somehow that is unconstitutional.

They’re also not wild about the First Amendment protecting people from the establishment of religion because, of course, it’s only meant for Christians.  They also believe that it protects people from being fired for denying marriage licenses to people they don’t like and from networks cancelling reality shows because one of the members of the family that breeds like rabbits is a pedophile, and that the Constitution guarantees “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  No, it does not.  That’s from the Declaration of Independence, which was a resolution passed by the Continental Congress, which went out of business before the Constitution was written.

But let’s be fair.  If we’re going to revisit various parts of the Constitution, let’s talk about the Second Amendment, shall we?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday Reading

“A Dream Undone” — From the New York Times magazine, Jim Rutenberg reports on the efforts to bring back Jim Crow.

On the morning of his wedding, in 1956, Henry Frye realized that he had a few hours to spare before the afternoon ceremony. He was staying at his parents’ house in Ellerbe, N.C.; the ceremony would take place 75 miles away, in Greensboro, the hometown of his fiancée; and the drive wouldn’t take long. Frye, who had always been practical, had a practical thought: Now might be a good time to finally register to vote. He was 24 and had just returned from Korea, where he served as an Air Force officer, but he was also a black man in the American South, so he wasn’t entirely surprised when his efforts at the registrar’s office were blocked.

Adopting a tactic common in the Jim Crow South, the registrar subjected Frye to what election officials called a literacy test. In 1900, North Carolina voters amended the state’s Constitution to require that all new voters “be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language,” but for decades some registrars had been applying that already broad mandate even more aggressively, targeting perfectly literate black registrants with arbitrary and obscure queries, like which president served when or who had the ultimate power to adjourn Congress. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know why are you asking me all of these questions,’ ” Frye, now 83, recalled. “We went around and around, and he said, ‘Are you going to answer these questions?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not going to try.’ And he said, ‘Well, then, you’re not going to register today.’ ”

Sitting with me on the enclosed porch of his red-brick ranch house in Greensboro, drinking his wife’s sweet tea, Frye could joke about the exchange now, but at the time it left him upset and determined. When he met Shirley at the altar, the first thing he said was: “You know they wouldn’t let me register?”

“Can we talk about this later?” she replied.

After a few weeks, Frye drove over to the Board of Elections in Rockingham, the county seat, to complain. An official told him to go back and try again. This time a different registrar, after asking if he was the fellow who had gone over to the election board, handed him a paragraph to copy from the Constitution. He copied it, and with that, he became a voter.

But in the American South in 1956, not every would-be black voter was an Air Force officer with the wherewithal to call on the local election board; for decades, most had found it effectively impossible to attain the most elemental rights of citizenship. Only about one-quarter of eligible black voters in the South were registered that year, according to the limited records available. By 1959, when Frye went on to become one of the first black graduates of the University of North Carolina law school, that number had changed little. When Frye became a legal adviser to the students running the antisegregation sit-ins at the Greensboro Woolworth’s in 1960, the number remained roughly the same. And when Frye became a deputy United States attorney in the Kennedy administration, it had grown only slightly. By law, the franchise extended to black voters; in practice, it often did not.

What changed this state of affairs was the passage, 50 years ago this month, of the Voting Rights Act. Signed on Aug. 6, 1965, it was meant to correct “a clear and simple wrong,” as Lyndon Johnson said. “Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote.” It eliminated literacy tests and other Jim Crow tactics, and — in a key provision called Section 5 — required North Carolina and six other states with histories of black disenfranchisement to submit any future change in statewide voting law, no matter how small, for approval by federal authorities in Washington. No longer would the states be able to invent clever new ways to suppress the vote. Johnson called the legislation “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom,” and not without justification. By 1968, just three years after the Voting Rights Act became law, black registration had increased substantially across the South, to 62 percent. Frye himself became a beneficiary of the act that same year when, after a close election, he became the first black state representative to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly since Reconstruction.

In the decades that followed, Frye and hundreds of other new black legislators built on the promise of the Voting Rights Act, not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to actively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud, began undoing much of the work of Frye and subsequent generations of state legislators. They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on. Republican state legislators proceeded with a new round of even more restrictive voting laws.

All of these seemingly sudden changes were a result of a little-known part of the American civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements. The story of that decades-long battle over the iconic law’s tenets and effects has rarely been told, but in July many of its veteran warriors met in a North Carolina courthouse to argue the legality of a new state voting law that the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School has called one of the “most restrictive since the Jim Crow era.” The decision, which is expected later this year, could determine whether the civil rights movement’s signature achievement is still justified 50 years after its signing, or if the movement itself is finished.

Upping the Outrage — James Hamblin in The Atlantic on how the internet fuels the response to something and then moves on.

Now is the point in the story of Cecil the lion—amid non-stop news coverage and passionate social-media advocacy—when people get tired of hearing about Cecil the lion. Even if they hesitate to say it.But Cecil fatigue is only going to get worse. On Friday morning, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, called for the extradition of the man who killed him, the Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Muchinguri would like Palmer to be “held accountable for his illegal action”—paying a reported $50,000 to kill Cecil with an arrow after luring him away from protected land. And she’s far from alone in demanding accountability. This week, the Internet has served as a bastion of judgment and vigilante justice—just like usual, except that this was a perfect storm directed at a single person. It might be called an outrage singularity.Palmer didn’t just kill a lion. He killed an especially good-looking and “beloved” lion in an ostentatious and gruesome fashion that culminated in decapitation. To make things worse, that lion had a human name. To make things worse still, that name was Cecil.

[…]

The Internet has served to facilitate outrage, as the Internet does: the hotter the better. And because the case is so visceral and bipartisan in its opposition to Palmer’s act, few people stepped in to suggest that the fury, the people tweeting his home address, might be too much. That argument wins no outrage points.Instead, the people who hadn’t jumped on the Cecil-outrage bandwagon jumped on the superiority-outrage bandwagon. It’s a bandwagon of outrage one-upmanship, and it’s just as rewarding as the original outrage bandwagon. Anyone can play, like this:

It’s fine to be outraged about one lion, but what about all of the other lions who are hunted and killed every year?  There are 250 Cecils killed annually across Africa as trophies, and that’s what you should really be outraged by. But good job caring now.

Actually, what about all of the animals? All of the cattle and fish and brilliant pigs who are systematically slaughtered for human consumption every day? Were you eating a hot dog when you posted that thing about Cecil on Facebook? Anyone who is not vegan is no better than the dentist Walter Palmer. That is what you really should be outraged by.

Actually, you only care about Zimbabwe when a lion is killed? Great of you. Killing animals is part of the circle of life, but you know what’s not? Human trafficking. People are bought and sold as slaves today all over the world. Why are you talking about one aged jungle cat in a place where the relationship between impoverished pastoralist communities and wealthy foreign tourists is more complicated than you actually understand?

And I’m glad you’re so concerned about human trafficking, but there will be no humans at all if we don’t do something about climate change. Reliance on fossil fuels and industrialized farming is the real problem, and that’s what you should be outraged by. You don’t know what to care about. I know what to care about.

The Internet launders outrage and returns it to us as validation, in the form of likes and stars and hearts. The greatest return comes from a strong and superior point of view, on high moral ground. And there is, fortunately and unfortunately, always higher moral ground. Even when a dentist kills an adorable lion, and everyone is upset about it, there’s better outrage ground to be won. The most widely accepted hierarchy of outrage seems to be: Single animal injured < single animal killed < multiple animals killed < systematic killing of animals < systematic oppression/torture of people < systematic killing of humans < end of all life due to uninhabitable planet.

To say that there’s a more important issue in the world is always true, except in the case of climate change ending all life, both human and animal. So it’s meaningless, even if it’s fun, to go around one-upping people’s outrage. Try it. Someone will express legitimate concern over something, and all you have to do is say there are more important things to be concerned about. All you have to do is use the phrase “spare me” and then say something about global warming. You can literally write, “My outrage is more legit than your outrage! Ahhh!”

Jon Stewart, Patriot — An appreciation in The New Yorker by David Remnick.

Political life in America never ceases to astonish. Take last week’s pronouncements from the Republican Presidential field. Please. Mike Huckabee predicted that President Obama’s seven-nation agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Ted Cruz anointed the American President “the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.” Marco Rubio tweeted, “Look at all this outrage over a dead lion, but where is all the outrage over the planned parenthood dead babies.” And the (face it) current front-runner, the halfway hirsute hotelier Donald Trump, having insulted the bulk of his (count ’em) sixteen major rivals plus (countless) millions of citizens of the (according to him) not-so-hot nation he proposes to lead, announced via social media that in this week’s Fox News debate he plans “to be very nice & highly respectful of the other candidates.” Really, now. Who’s writing this stuff? Jon Stewart?

Over the decades, our country has been lucky in many things, not least in the subversive comic spirits who, in varying ways, employ a joy buzzer, a whoopee cushion, and a fun-house mirror to knock the self-regard out of an endless parade of fatuous pols. Thomas Nast drew caricatures so devastating that they roiled the ample guts of our town’s Boss, William Marcy Tweed. Will Rogers’s homespun barbs humbled the devious of the early twentieth century. Mort Sahl, the Eisenhower-era comic whose prop was a rolled-up newspaper, used conventional one-liners to wage radical battle: “I’ve arranged with my executor to be buried in Chicago, because when I die I want to still remain politically active.” Later, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, and Joan Rivers continued to draw comic sustenance from what Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk.”

Four nights a week for sixteen years, Jon Stewart, the host and impresario of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” has taken to the air to expose our civic bizarreries. He has been heroic and persistent. Blasted into orbit by a trumped-up (if you will) impeachment and a stolen Presidential election, and then rocketing through the war in Iraq and right up to the current electoral circus, with its commodious clown car teeming with would-be Commanders-in-Chief, Stewart has lasered away the layers of hypocrisy in politics and in the media. On any given night, a quick montage of absurdist video clips culled from cable or network news followed by Stewart’s vaudeville reactions can be ten times as deflating to the self-regard of the powerful as any solemn editorial—and twice as illuminating as the purportedly non-fake news that provides his fuel.

[…]

Stewart set out to be a working comedian, and he ended up an invaluable patriot. But the berserk never stops. His successor, Trevor Noah, will not lack for material. As Stewart put it wryly on one of his last nights on the air, “As I wind down my time here, I leave this show knowing that most of the world’s problems have been solved by us, ‘The Daily Show.’ But sadly there are still some dark corners that our broom of justice has not reached yet.”

Doonesbury — Amateur Night.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Amend This

First Texas had a problem getting their state officials to go along with the Supreme Court’s ruling that banning marriage equality violated the Fourteenth Amendment.  Now they have a problem with the provision that people born on U.S. soil are citizens.

So if this plays out the way most of these things usually do, you’re going to hear people invoking their First Amendment — and possibly their Second Amendment — rights in order to deny people their Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Out of Control

Watching the response by conservatives and the Republican candidates to the events last week, especially the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, tells me something about them beyond just their political stance and the base they’re pandering to.  It tells me that they have come to the realization that they are no longer in control, and they can’t deal with it on a rational basis.

The responses by the presidential candidates and leading voices in the conservative movement have been both apoplectic and infantile, ranging from threats of secession to indecipherable spluttering about amending the Constitution and bracing for God’s revenge.  These are not the reactions of rational minds and it calls into question whether or not these people should be trusted with positions of power.  Invoking “states rights” may carry some weight when you’re talking about enforcing medical marijuana laws, but when you are dealing with fundamental human rights such as marriage or equal access to accommodations, there has to be an understanding that there are certain things we don’t get to vote on: those are already hard-wired into the foundation of the country.  When the Constitution says that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” that applies to everyone.

This theory presumes, of course, that they ever really were in charge of the narrative of America: that we were a nation of straight white people who went to church on Sunday where the preacher told us that gay people were abominations and that people of other faiths were not to be trusted because they didn’t have the same values as we did.  It never was really that way and it never has been despite their best efforts to make it so.  Now that significant steps have been taken to demonstrate that all people are entitled to all the rights, that making healthcare available to all people is possible, and that old banners of treasonous states are no longer acceptable in polite society, they feel as if they are the ones being marginalized.

Their biggest fear is that they will now be treated the same way as they used to treat the ones they marginalized.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

That’s Some Progress

From the man who admonished his fellow Republicans not to be “the stupid party,” we get this pearl of wisdom regarding LGBT rights and the people who fight for them:

“My concern about creating special legal protections is, historically in our country, we’ve only done that in extraordinary circumstances,” the Republican governor continued. “And it doesn’t appear to me that we’re at one of those moments today.”

According to [Louisiana Gov. Bobby] Jindal, “there are many that turn to the heavy hand of government to solve societies problems too easily.”

“I do think we need to be very careful about creating special rights,” he declared.

You’re not creating “special rights” when you grant people who have been denied rights the same rights as everyone else.  It’s called equality.

By the way, fifty years ago Mr. Jindal would have been denied the right to stay in any number of hotels, use any number of bathrooms, and not allowed to rent any number of apartments based solely on the color of his skin.  So it must be some kind of weird progress in America were civil rights have evolved so that he can turn around and be just as much of a bigot.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Other Side of The Coin

Mitt Romney was deservedly mocked in 2011 for asserting that “corporations are people, my friend,” and a lot of people were understandably concerned when the Supreme Court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case affirming the right of a family-held corporation to essentially have the same religious rights as a living, breathing human citizen.

It seems ridiculous that a company is entitled to the same protections under the First Amendment as a citizen, but if that’s the case, there’s an upside to it.  If they’re entitled to them, they can exercise them in ways that may not make their conservative allies happy.  Witness the number of companies that have voiced disapproval of the RFRA law in Indiana, many threatening or following through on their intention to not to business in a state that allows discrimination against gays and lesbians, and when Walmart warned the governor of Arkansas not to sign the bill, they got his attention.

Be careful what you wish for, my friend.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Utah Passes Landmark Anti-Discrimination Bill

It’s not perfect, but it’s impressive that a state that is not known for religious diversity and tolerance would pass it.

The legislation, known as “the Utah compromise,” has been hailed by Mormon leaders and gay rights advocates as a breakthrough in balancing rights and religious freedom, and as a model for other conservative states. But leaders of some other churches oppose it, saying it would not sufficiently protect the rights of individuals who have religious objections to homosexuality.

[…]

The bill would ban employers and landlords or property owners from discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, adding those categories to Utah’s laws that already protect against discrimination on the basis of race, sex and age.

Religious organizations and their affiliates, such as colleges and charities, would be exempted. It also would exempt the Boy Scouts of America, which voted in 2013 to end a ban on gay scouts but still prohibits gay scout leaders. The bill also would protect employees from being fired for talking about religious or moral beliefs, as long as the speech was reasonable and not harassing or disruptive.

The legislation passed the Utah House on a vote of 65 to 10, after passing the Senate last week, 23 to 5.

“It is a landmark,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization. “This is a Republican-controlled Legislature with a Republican governor, and this will be the first time that a Republican-controlled process has led to extension of protections for L.G.B.T. people.”

The Southern Baptists don’t like it because it doesn’t demonize gay people enough, but the Baptists don’t think Mormons are real Christians anyway.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Detest and Defend

“I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” — Voltaire.

At first I thought it was a good idea to expel two college students at the University of Oklahoma for the racist video that’s gone viral; there’s no place at an institution of higher learning for such vile and juvenile behavior.  But the more I think about it and read what legal scholars that I respect have to say on the matter, I’m inclined to think that no matter how vile and indefensible the speech was, being expelled for it from a public university runs headlong into the First Amendment.

There’s probably a lawsuit already in the works to get the students reinstated.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Short Takes

Secretary of Defense stands up for transgender people in the service.

Malls in U.S. on alert after terror threat.

More winter weather hits the South.

South African miners rescued after fire.

New killer virus found in Kansas.

And the Oscars went to…  (And my brother was right about Birdman.)