Tag: Constitution

The Accursed 113th Congress: Are Our Democratic Institutions Broken?

Posted by – November 18, 2013

ac·cursed
1: being under or as if under a curse
2: damnable

Source: Merriam-Webster’s dictionary – accursed

I am probably one of the few bloggers who would notice our worst. Congress. ever. is also the 113th Congress, and feel a gut feeling that the correlation isn’t really… entirely coincidental.  Too many horrendous events have happened to me and those I know on the 13th day, especially Friday the 13th, and though I know on the intellectual level that correlation doesn’t imply causation—a number can’t damage you, and dates on the calendar are more subjective…or more Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey than you might initially realize, for example the Jewish calendar may tell you it’s the 5th of Tishrei instead of September 13th—nonetheless I have some mild triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number 13… or at least some discomfort and anxiety around thirteen.   Or, as Alejandra said in another context, not meaning 13-itself, “numbers are bad enough… odd numbers are shady mtherfkers.” 

Prior Congresses (Congrii?) have been notably awful: there’s the last session—the 112th Congress—which brought us to the brink of a sovereign default crisis in 2011 which led to Standard & Poor’s downgrading the credit rating of the United States government for the first time, and we lost international credibility big time, and so on.  Of course there was the infamous 80th Congress, which President Truman ran against as “the Do Nothing Congress,” though it was a marathon of productivity compared to the 112th and 113th Congress.  We would much prefer “the Do Nothing Congress” to the current situation.  All the available polling data bears that out. And the 113th Congress is even worse than the 112th by every available yardstick.

Confidence in Congress has never been lower.

Put another way, when Public Policy Polling did a survey during the shameful government shutdown last month, asking registered voters questions like “what do you have a higher opinion of: Congress or hemorrhoids?” hemorrhoids won 53% to 31%… people have a higher opinion of dog poop than Congress 47% to 40% and when asked about zombies vs. Congress, people have a higher opinion of zombies 43% to 37%… at least you know where zombies stand…well, shamble.  [Public Policy Polling full results PDF]

The 113th Congress is also on track to be the least productive in history, demonstrating a shocking inability to pass legislation, even ceremonial laws like congratulating the winner of the World Series and the like…

Ceremonial vs. Substantive legislation in recent Congrii. Source: Washington Post’s “The Fix”

The inability to pass legislation has become so bad during the 113th Congress, the federal government is unable to fund itself, meaning funding only getting done in half-hearted three month CRs (Continuing Resolution), creating dysfunction in everything from scientific research to military procurement.  We’re on a three month CR right now; the weeks of government shutdown lowered expectations so much, it’s seen as a success.  The legislative machinery of our republic is going grinda-grinda-grinda, grinding nearly to a halt, and the dysfunction is mostly due to choices made by the House leadership.

Now, to the real thrust of this post: the decay of our democratic institutions and the weakening of American constitutional values occurring at present.  For example, the mechanism, or underpinning, enabling law that made the government shutdown possible was House Resolution 368, which banned anyone bringing legislation to the floor to re-open the government except the House Majority Leader or his designate, a new, innovative abuse of parliamentary rules and certainly extra-constitutional—not in the constitution, as the parties are not mentioned in the constitution, nevermind a party’s “Majority Leader”—and against the spirit of constitutional law if not its letter.
H. Res. 368 was snuck-in at 1am as the government shutdown began October 1st. Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen, whose DC suburb-district is made-up heavily of federal employees and was disproportionately harmed by the government shutdown, proposed that the House vote on the Senate bill to re-open the government in order to force the Speaker-designate to block him under H. Res. 368, so he could question H. Res. 368 in public; the video clip of Van Hollen’s effort became the first “parliamentary inquiry” to go viral on Facebook and Twitter.  Ironically, the Majority Leader given the sole power to re-open the federal government, and kept it shut down for over two weeks, was Eric Cantor, whose DC-suburb district has broad swaths of its working population depending on federal contracts and paychecks, and was nearly as disproportionately harmed as Van Hollen’s district.

Underpinning all that, how we find ourselves with appropriations stalled and shutdowns possible in the first place, is the Hastert rule.  The Hastert rule, which really should be called the Gingrich rule, as it was first added under Newt Gingrich’s speakership, requires majority support among the Republicans before the speaker will bring legislation to the House floor for a vote.  As the constitution envisions legislation passing the House with simple majorities, the Hastert rule to require legislation either passes with majority-Republican votes or never gets considered, is unconstitutional.  Similar to the situation in the Senate, where the constitution requires supermajorities in cases of ratifying treaties, expelling a Senator, removing a president, not for routine legislation like the 60-vote supermajority needed for passage of most everything, since most everything is now held up by filibusters, this Hastert rule violates the spirit if not the letter of the constitution,  The filibuster certainly isn’t mentioned in the constitution, and the routine blocking of run-of-the-mill legislation and nominations is an innovation not seen until recently.

In the House of Representatives, the Hastert rule has meant nothing gets voted on until the Speaker and/or Majority Leader “have the votes” of the majority of the Republican caucus.  This has meant a vocal minority of the Republicans can grind the legislative

Male elephants tusk-jousting for dominance. Photo by EPA/DAI KUROKAWA

machinery to a halt; the elephant factions have to battle it out and come to a resolution before anything can happen.  This explains the historically low number of bills voted on and passed, the inability to appropriate funds for federal departments, etc. And because of the rapidly changing dynamics within the GOP, which, in my recent post discussing the shifts in conservatism I describe as “revolutionary flux,” the Hastert rule is freshly problematic, not only because of its inevitable enabling of an extremist minority shutting down the government, but because of Republican unity on positions so radical they risk extinction in future presidential elections if the Speaker had held fast on the Hastert rule.  For example, an extension of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) had the majority of the Republicans united in opposition, but the national GOP didn’t want to head into the next elections having removed assistance for battered wives, so Speaker Boehner allowed a vote; VAWA passed with only 38% of the Republicans in the House voting yes.  Similarly a “danger zone” for national disgrace, Speaker Boehner had to bring the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief bill to the floor despite harsh opposition, even drawing no votes from Republicans representing damaged New Jersey districts; it passed with a healthy majority of 241 votes, but only 49 Republican votes, a mere 21% of the majority.

I don’t usually quote others at great length like this, but the blog Gravitas: A Voice for Civics has an excellent explainer on the unconstitutionality of the Hastert rule, explaining it much better than I can:

For example, right now there is an initial impetus to oppose the death penalty between what we call liberal or progressive politicians and libertarians. Usually, these two groups of politicians are known for their antagonism toward each others’ positions, but here is one area in which they agree. Now, I don’t know whether there are enough liberals and libertarians to form a majority, but there is the possibility that if not today, maybe eventually. This potential is exactly what the Founding Fathers foresaw and I believe hoped for. But the Hastert Rule makes such an eventuality almost impossible.

Why? The Hastert Rule calls for limiting the bills that come before the House for a vote to those that are supported by a “majority of the majority.” Let me explain. The Constitution calls on each chamber of Congress to form its own rules. The formal rules of the House state that the Speaker has the role of placing on the voting agenda those bills he or she feels should be considered by the membership. So, if the Speaker is against a bill, it will not come up for a vote unless 218 members sign a “discharge” petition – a very unlikely development. In effect, this role gives the Speaker a great deal of power. An informal rule – one not voted on by the membership – states that the Speaker will not call up a bill that is not supported by a majority of the members who make up the majority party in the House – presently, the Republican members. This, in effect, can give as little as one quarter of the members veto power over any considered policy option – a far cry from the rule of the many. That is what the Hastert Rule allows. The Democrats have never implemented the Hastert Rule when they held the majority, but Republicans have, although there have been a few occasions when the present Speaker has brought up a very limited number of bills that didn’t have a majority of the majority’s support. The Hastert Rule is named after a former Speaker, Dennis Hastert, but it was in effect under a previous Speaker to Hastert, Newt Gingrich.

Whatever its origins, the rule counters a constitutionally conceived quality: the possibility and, hopefully, the likelihood that Congress, particularly in the House, would have rolling coalitions that form over particular issues and policy considerations. These coalitions would form over one area, dissolve, and then other coalitions would form over other considerations. In each, there would be a different collection of members. This reflects a more congregational atmosphere in our Congress and would give meaning to its name: a congress, not a parliament. The Hastert Rule belies this entire conception and, as such, it is un-constitutional with a small “c.”

Read the post in its entirety: AN UN(c)ONSTITUTIONAL RULE

Perhaps we need a new word for things that violate the intended system, instead of “against the spirit of the constitution,” or “un-constitutional with a small ‘c,’” we could call it counter-constitutional, meaning it runs counter to the framers’ intent for our constitutional system of government.

People have a tendency to chuckle at the EPIC FAIL of our

from an early Bob Dylan music video, in which he captions the song with signs that he flips through for every word of the lyrics

from an early Bob Dylan music video, in which he captions the song with signs that he flips through for every word of the lyrics

system: you know, “LOL Congress is less popular than dog poo,” or “haha, we make Europe’s coalition parliaments that collapse every year look functional.”  But I’ve written so much about the dysfunction and the erosion of constitutional values in hopes people will notice the problems.  I want blogging to save us.

The weakening of constitutional values seems to be worsening not only in our legislative branch but in disregard and non-enforcement of the Fourth Amendment leading to a case of the police unnecessarily forcing a colonoscopy on a guy they thought was hiding drugs in his butt (he wasn’t).  The president suspending sections of the Affordable Care Act by executive fiat isn’t exactly a sign of constitutional health either: the law blog The Volokh Conspiracy points out the order’s lack of constitutionality.
Our country desperately needs its legislative branch, the broken branch, fixed.  We badly need to get the budgetary and lawmaking machinery running at normal speeds again, break the cycle of budgeting by emergency CRs; we need an end to austerity and a return to normalcy.  There’s such a yearning for a return to normalcy, you even heard the House GOP calling for a return to “regular order” in legislative procedure and budgeting in the first half of 2013 (though that rhetoric seemed long-forgotten by gov’t shutdown zero-hour October 1st).
I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the 2014 midterm elections to seat the 114th Congress and in the presidential primaries in late 2015 and early 2016, candidates on all sides run on variations of the “return to normalcy” theme.   I expect to see at least one presidential campaign reminiscent of Warren G. Harding‘s strategy in his 1920 run; Harding’s main campaign slogan was a “return to normalcy,” tapping into the American public’s weariness of the economic upheaval (and unimaginable carnage) of Woodrow Wilson’s presidencies and World War I.  Harding won in a landslide.

For Congress, normalcy would look like a string of routine appropriations bills passing and fully funding federal departments and programs.  Appropriation bills have become more “rarity” than “routine,” a situation that desperately needs reversing.
The accursed 113th Congress has visited upon us so many evils, the most obvious being the government shutdown, but an even longer-lasting evil is the distortion of expectations to the point that the vicious cycle of three-month budgets via emergency CRs is seen as regular, and anything resembling a healthy appropriations process is seen as remote, a distant thing on the horizon, at the verge of impossibility.  The 113th Congress’ dysfunction feels even more egregious because more voters voted Democratic party for Congress in the 2012 Congressional elections than voted Republican, yet redistricting allowed the GOP to keep a healthy majority in the House; unlike the awful 113th, the 112th Congress had a definite democratical mandate for obstruction and/or reversal of the incumbent’s policies behind a sizable GOP victory.
Hopefully the departure of the unluckiest 113th Congress following the 2014 midterm elections, a year hence, will mean a breath of fresh air and full funding for federal obligations for a full fiscal year.

If you don’t remember anything else from this post, please absorb this: for better or worse, the House and Senate are our democratic institutions, meaning the democratically-elected, collaborative, “people’s house(s),” and when democratic institutions are weak, the authoritarian parts of our system—the increasingly “unitary” executive, an enforcement branch run amuck without Congressional oversight, etc.—inevitably become stronger.  Despite the absence of a savvy demagogue-executive who could strip Congress of power, it seems the Congress and “the suicide caucus” could still self-destruct, de facto leaving the U.S. with a unitary executive by process of elimination (only the executive still functioning). We have to have healthy, functioning democratic institutions lest “separation of powers” whittle away, and a much more unitary/much less representative system emerges as a fait accompli, justified as a necessity in the face of a Congress that isn’t able to even keep the lights on.  Our democratic institutions MUST regain credibility.

Keep bloggering on.

Nick

The Closing Arguments For America’s Future Before The New Hampshire Primary

Posted by – January 9, 2012

Just 10 hours after the debate Saturday night sponsored by St. Anselm College and ABC News, there was another debate put on by NBC’s Meet the Press and Facebook. They’re trying to pack in as many debates as possible before the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.  You can watch the Meet the Press Republican Candidates Debate in its entirety at mtp.msnbc.com
What follows below is my “retelling” of the Meet the Press debate yesterday morning, an attempt to nutshell the various arguments in a more accurate and humorous way that both captures the rich theatre of the absurdthese debates offer, and will stir up some discussion and rethinking.  While some of these are verbatim quotes, they’re mostly my perception of what the candidates generally meant.

I can’t endorse any of these guys. I am a left-leaning independent guided by the social justice messages in the Bible, and I don’t feel represented by either the Republicans or the Democrats; I can’t, in good conscience, support either side of this duopoly right now.  Both donkeys and elephants seem increasingly broken and corrupt.

But, to all primary voters, especially New Hampshire voters, please consider these closing arguments carefully, because the plans discussed may shape America’s future.  These six candidates are talking about big ideas, from changing Medicaid, Medicare and other social programs, to energy policy to economic policy, and, my funny retelling aside, this is super important because it could change the direction of the United States and your standard of living. I really care about the critical, often life and death, issues they are discussing. For that reason, I’m a policy wonk.  I hope you will use my “translations” of the debate below as a springboard for exploring and learning about the important issues Americans face.

 

Meet the Press Republican Candidates Debate, January 8th, 2012
A translation

First question from David Gregory: Romney is leading. Why do you other guys think he shouldn’t be the Republican presidential nominee?

Gingrich: “because of his moderate record, he’ll have a tough time debating Obama; they have very similar plans for America.”

Romney: “I’m very proud of my conservative record; it’s a beautiful thang. in Massachusetts I cut taxes 19 times and ordered the state police to start arresting illegal immigrants… That is some true conservatism right thurr”

Willard "Mitt" Romney, debating

Presumptive front runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Willard "Mitt" Romney, debating, January 8th, 2012.

Real screenshot I took from yesterday’s debate. NOT photoshopped!

Santorum: “if you are so proud of your record, why didn’t you run for reelection in Massachusetts? I ran in a 71% Democratic district, it was hard but I brought people together around love of Rick Santorum without giving up conservative principles. Mitt didn’t even try…and he ran to the left of Ted Kennedy in ’94…. Governor, you’re a wussy and a quitter.”

David Gregory: but Santorum, you yourself endorsed Romney for president as the true conservative in 2008

Santorum: only because fearful of John McCain

The candidates are talking to each other for once, really mixing it up.

Romney: “that isn’t accurate, Santorum. Too many things to refute one by one, but I will say this.. Career politicians like Rick Santorum don’t understand this, but I didn’t want to run again to get reelected in Massachusetts because it’s not about a political career, it’s about being a selfless hero for change. It’s about making a difference. no, wait wait wait, don’t interrupt me RickRoll, it’s still my time… ”

Santorum: “so, you’re not going to pursue a second term if president?”

Romney: “politicians shouldn’t stay in Washington and then become lobbyists, that stinks… they should go home. Term limits are good. no, no, of course I would run for reelection as president, of course…”

Gingrich: “you get to overrun your time because you’re the front runner, but can we please cut the pious baloney that you’re not about a political career? You ran for Senate in ’94 and lost or you would’ve been serving in the Senate all this time with Rick Santorum, and you didn’t try to run for a second term as Governor because Massachusetts hated you, your opportunistic self was out of state 200 days of your gubernatorial term running for president! While you were governor, shamelessly running for president! You’ve been running for office for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS, don’t try and front! Just level with the American people!”

:ohsnapsign:

*audience applause big*

Romney: Mr. Speaker, I’m all about citizenship. My dad was a governor when he was 54 years old. My dad said ‘son, don’t get involved in politics to pay your mortgage, but if you’re wealthy you have an obligation to run for office and make a difference.’ (see noblesse oblige). Now, I never thought I’d run for office, but in 1994 I hated seeing Ted Kennedy run unopposed, I thought, gee willikers, he’s pushing the policies of the liberal welfare state! So I felt I HAD to run. Now, I didn’t mean a word I said in 1994. I was wise enough to know that I didn’t have a ghost of a chance of winning. I told the fellas at work ‘BRB —don’t move my chair.’ But I was proud Ted Kennedy had to take out a second mortgage on his house to beat me. I’m proud that I fought for what’s best for America. I love this country.”

David Gregory: “Governor Romney, you’ve often called yourself a moderate. Let’s ask Ron Paul.”

Ron Paul: “How can anybody beat Obama without talking about spending and challenging imperial overreach overseas? This is how empires fall.”

Rick Perry: “The Tea Party understands that Obama has thrown gasoline on the fire, but the bonfire has been burning way longer than Obama’s term, and that it’s big-spending Republicans like Santorum who got us into this budget mess: I’m the candidate that will best lead the Tea Party to defeat Obama.”

David Gregory: “Governor Romney, how do you respond to past interviews when you described yourself as a moderate?”

Romney: “Look at my record as Governor of Massachusetts. As I watch government solutions fail, I’m more and more conservative over time.”

David Gregory: “Governor Huntsman, about policy, are you ready to demand painful austerity?”

Huntsman: “before I answer, let me respond to Romney. Last night he criticized me for serving my country. Attacking me for putting my country first and serving as ambassador to China under the Obama administration. Like my two sons in the United States Navy—they don’t ask what the president’s political affiliation is before serving—I’ll always put country ahead of party.”

Romney: “I think you serve your country by being a principled conservative, not by supporting Obama”

Huntsman: “attitudes like that, David, are why Americans are so divided”

*loud ovation of relief and approval*

Huntsman: “the American people are sick of it, they’re fed up with the partisanship and division, there is no trust left between the American people and their elected officials… We have had enough, and we need a new direction.”

17:27 mark

David Gregory: “name three programs you’d cut back to make the American people sacrifice. Real pain to balance the budget.”

Huntsman: “Well, Paul Ryan’s plan for Medicare ALL THE WAY! I think I’m the only one up here who would implement that in full, oh—sorry RickRoll—and no sacred cows… Medicare is getting rocked, and DOD is getting cut too.”

David Gregory: “not brutal enough. Name three programs where Americans will feel real pain, sir.”

Huntsman: “Across the board cuts in entitlements. And I’m willing to tell the higher income category they’re going to be cut off, Social Security and Medicare will be means tested…”

David Gregory: “Senator Santorum, same question: three programs you’d cut back to make the American people feel real pain. Real sacrifice to balance the budget—GO.”

Santorum: “Social Security, means testing—yes. And reduce benefits. Food stamps will be turned into block grants and given to the states completely. Medicaid: block grant that beast and send it back to the states. Public housing: block grant it and send it back to the states, and require work, everybody in public housing must work. And put a time limit. Those three programs, take them from dependency programs to transition programs to lift people out of poverty.”

Some relevant video sources on Santorum’s stated viewpoints on health care: Video: Santorum drawing parallels between Italian fascism and Medicaid, food stamps, welfare, during his Iowa caucus victory speech; also, Video: Insurers Should Discriminate Against People With Pre-Existing Conditions, Santorum Says: he said his daughter who has a disability is “very expensive to the insurance company” and thus her insurance should cost a ton. What about the non-millionaires, Santorum? You’ve made millions lobbying, so you can afford to privately insure a disabled child purely out of pocket, and that is great—I’d love you to adopt me; but what about everybody else facing disability?  Given current policies, only the uber rich can afford to insure a child with a “pre-existing condition,” i.e. a son or daughter born with a disability and not insured before the disability appears.)

 

 

David Gregory: “Speaker Gingrich, why are you hatin’ the Ryan plan?”

LOL Owl "Haters Gonna Hate"

Gingrich: “I like the Ryan-Wyden plan that just came out recently, because it gives seniors the ability to choose, a choice between traditional Medicare with premium support model, or new approaches, and it allows a transition in a way that makes sense. I find it fascinating how very, very highly paid Washington commentators and Washington analysts love the idea of pain, well who is gonna to be in pain?
:ohsnapsign:

*big applause*

Rick Perry: “The three programs to make reductions where Americans will feel real pain—Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Education.” *audience laughing*

Rick Perry: *answering actual question about government assistance from Facebook* “people don’t want government assistance, they want a job. We gotta create jobs, so people have the dignity of a job.”

David Gregory: “Romney, what about tax policy. Warren Buffet vs. Grover Norquist, who’s right?”

Romney: “Democrats want to take more of your hard-earned money so they can continue to grow government. We want smaller government. We gotta cut spending. Obamacare—gone. Like Rick Santorum said, Medicaid, Food stamps and Housing have to be turned into block grants and sent back to the states”

Huntsman: “No more tax loopholes and deductions. They encourage the lobbyists, and the convoluted tax code is dragging our economy down.”

Gingrich: “I can work with Democrats to get big, important things done. I have a long record of getting things accomplished under Reagan and Clinton.”

Romney: “in Taxachusetts, my legislature was 85% Democrat! Top that, Newtie! I still made friends and got really important things done.”

David Gregory: “Ron Paul you can’t get but one bill passed in 20 years in the House of Representatives. How do you expect to get anything done if president?”

Ron Paul: “I couldn’t get anything done because Congress is broken and completely out of touch with the American people. But I can build coalitions with people around freedom and the Constitution! And have. My plan gives people their freedom back, eliminates the federal income tax and rolls spending back to ’06 levels. The special interests getting special privileges and bailouts may feel pain, but the American people won’t be feeling pain.”

Santorum: *truly creepy grin* “Ron Paul can’t get anything done in Congress, but as president he could bring all our troops home as he has promised. He would create power vacuums all over the world and danger danger danger, fear fear fear!

Ron Paul: “We can’t afford 900 bases overseas!”

Huntsman: “The American people have lost trust in their elected officials. I’m the only candidate who will focus on ETHICS IN GOVERNMENT SERVICE. Campaign finance reform! if elected president, I will travel across the country stumping for term limits, and for closing the revolving door of members of Congress going right out and becoming lobbyists. There is no trust. We have to act.”

Rick Perry: “I’m an outsider and I’ll cut spending, cut Congressional salaries in half, send ‘em back to live in their districts to live under the laws that they pass, and then a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.”

Andy Hiller WHDH-TV: “Energy prices are $4 a gallon for heating oil, and people in New Hampshire are suffering. House Republicans have proposed cutting the funding for federal home heating assistance in half, or entirely. Should the LIHEAP program’s funding be restored?” (See Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program—LIHEAP)

Huntsman: “yes, funding, but to get prices down we need a diversity of energy sources, break up the monopoly oil has on home heating.”

Ron Paul: “subsidies are bad economics, they use government force to take wealth from some and redistribute it to others. very harmful economically… good politics, yeah, but bad economic policy.”

David Gregory: “Governor Romney, what about the social safety net?”

Romney: “Poverty should be a state matter. Federal bureaucrats are terrible at managing these programs and little money gets down to people who really need it.”

John DiStaso, New Hampshire Union Leader: “Santorum, what about gay rights.”

Santorum: “I can be against the gay legislation and still be respectful of gays.”

John DiStaso: “what do you all think of Right to Work laws?”

Perry: “i’m lovin’ it”

Romney: “it’s crucial we destroy government unions as well”

Santorum: “I didn’t vote for the right to work thing because unions are important in Pennsylvania, but I would be good with a national right to work law that makes labor policies uniform in every state.”

Gingrich: “Massive oil drilling everywhere!”

Romney: “Obama has been anti-investment, anti-jobs, anti-business.”

Romney: “Natural gas, baby. Clean, cheap, awesome…let’s build a national natural gas network!”

Rick Perry: “We have a president that’s a socialist. I don’t think the Founding Fathers wanted this country to be a socialist country.”

Huntsman: “The American people are sick of the nastiness. They want a leader. I’ll attack the trust deficit as much as the budget deficit.”

*lots of meaningless personal bickering between Gingrich and Romney*

Santorum: “the decline in marriage is the cause of the economic problems in America. We need social conservative programs at the federal, state and local levels promoting abstinence and marriage in order to rebuild this country.”

Ron Paul: “as president, I’d use the bully pulpit to preach the gospel of liberty!”

Ron Paul, debating

Ron Paul, debating in the Meet the Press Republican Candidates Debate, January 8th, 2012

screenshot from the final moments of the debate

THE END—please comment below

you can check my source, the debate—in its entirety—at mtp.msnbc.com

Video Blog: Islamic Center on Park Place: Guy in Neighborhood Responds

Posted by – September 1, 2010

I’m that guy in the neighborhood. Believe it or not, we live in an apartment only 6-8 blocks or so north of the disputed Park51 site, so this is about MY NEIGHBORHOOD and I feel I’m a direct stakeholder in this controversy, so I should weigh in.

Knowledge of the neighborhood, and of the culture and dynamics of New York City itself, is badly missing from this “debate.” Most of the opposition never frequents these parts of Lower Manhattan; they come from other places, often hundreds of miles away or farther, to protest.

I know that New Yorkers do view the 16 acre (65,000 m2) superblock where the World Trade Center buildings stood as hallowed ground. New Yorkers have been very offended by the petty squabbles between The Port Authority, WTC lease-holder Larry Silverstein and various insurers that delayed any work on rebuilding until April 27, 2006. The planned permanent memorial and visitor center isn’t completed despite promises it would be. The September 11 Families’ Association has often decried the crass commercial activity surrounding the site, with illegal vendors yelling to sell tourists tacky Chinese-made 9/11 memorabilia like Twin Towers snowglobes and bad commemorative booklets with inaccurate Engrish text and pirated photographs, for absurdly high prices. See Hawking History and Cutting Corners for details about the situation.
The fact that the site has shameless vendors hawking tasteless souvenirs but not the promised memorial is a festering wound for a lot of New Yorkers. THAT offends us living in Lower Manhattan, not an Islamic YMCA that might be built two full blocks north (conservatives respond: you’re not offended by this in your neighborhood! we’ll be offended x1000 FOR YOU!)
Insensitive out-of-towners asking everybody on the bus “how do I get to Ground Zero?!” like it’s just another tourist attraction and go to buy those tacky knickknacks is pretty offensive though, and many of us connect those clueless tourists with the clueless out-of-towners (who often take after the willful ignorance satirized here in The Onion) pouring into the city to protest in a neighborhood they’ve never frequented and don’t remotely understand. A recent Marist poll confirms what I’m saying, only 31% of Manhattan residents say the Cordoba House offends them, whereas opposition goes up the further away from the area they poll (53% against if you count all five boroughs, 68% if you ask people in all 50 states). Misunderstanding the situation and hating this is “roughly proportional to distance” from it (from a great Hendrik Hertzberg op-ed).

Yes, the actual World Trade Center site (can we stop calling it Ground Zero, a misused term from douchebag news anchors, please???) is hallowed ground, but the surrounding area? Those surrounding blocks are no different than the rest of this Lower Manhattan neighborhood. It’s a place constantly changing, lots of run down buildings waiting for redevelopment beside gleaming corporate towers, Wall Street titans, tons of office space, churches, mosques, old stores, tacky souvenirs, “adult entertainment,” and more, as market forces (self-interest, competition and supply and demand: AKA the invisible hand of the market) continually puts businesses and other facilities in the city, and because it’s NYC, everything is right next to everything (placed to serve the concentrated demand in such a tight, concentrated space of real estate). That’s right, the blocks surrounding the WTC have STRIP CLUBS, Burger Kings, everything–NOT “hallowed ground.”

from The Village Voice

What is already here

Topless dancers catering to rich Wall Street guys

This is closer to the World Trade Center site than the Park51 project

Shady gambling place also on Park Place

Very much non-hallowed ground, an Off-Track Betting joint also on Park Place, even closer to the World Trade Center site than the Park51 project


Photo credit: History Eraser Button blog, Tumblr editorial director TopherChris and the Village Voice. I recommend everybody read the Village Voice’s take on this, which I think represents the feelings of most of us in Lower Manhattan pretty well: we’re tired of the lies and manufactured outrage and want to be LEFT ALONE.

I heard a host on NPR asking an outspoken opponent of Park51 what about the (actually a mosque) mosques also near the WTC, and he said “well, that preexisted 9/11 so they’re grandfathered in” but there should be no FURTHER mosques constructed in the area. When told that the Park51 project is modeled after the 92nd St Y, and is, by no definition (in Islam nor in the dictionary) “a mosque,” this guy brushed it off, disbelieving. What would he have said if told of the strippers, gambling and other low-brow establishments even closer to the WTC site? “How dare you say strip clubs aren’t sacred ground!!!”?? It’s like the opponents of this REALLY BELIEVE that this project (construction not slated to begin until 2015 or later) will be some huge domed mosque with minarets towering over “Ground Zero” and the muezzin’s call to prayer echoing off rubble and skeleton fragments as Taliban wield rifle butts to corral women in burqas. Nothing but fiction!!! It seems NOTHING can penetrate this fictitious narrative that the Right clings to, NOTHING. The machine (political/media machines) must have an enemy. The beast must be fed red meat to survive. The age-old bread and circus to distract the masses. The machine is all that matters–founding principles, the Constitution, even the physical safety of a religious minority BE DAMNED!

And it’s primarily fueled by lies and distortions ginned up by the shameless, ratings whores in cable news.

Fox News

Is this crap driven by the media? Yes, yes! A thousand times yes!

Violence is escalating now. A Bangladeshi cab driver was asked if he was Muslim and then brutally stabbed in midtown. Five teens were arrested in Waterport, upstate NY for firing at a mosque and disrupting a religious service. This has grown and grown beyond just a media distraction to threaten the peace and stability of our country, as well as our Constitutional principles and national soul.

Is religious freedom and the right of private property trumped by angry mobs ginned up by hate and fear? Are we at war with Islam itself and reject anything related to Islam on U.S. soil? (anti-Islam forces are battling Muslims trying to build on their own private property in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, California…and arsonists attacked the construction in Tennessee.) Are we already at war with 1.5 BILLION believers? if so, time for a draft. What are we at war with? How can we win over Iraq and Afghanistan, which hinges on “hearts and minds,” if we paint all Muslims as terrorists hell-bent on destruction? IT’S DECISION TIME!

Amid all this turmoil, the mainstream media wall-to-wall hate speech, countrymen set against each other, friends de-friending each other on facebook, what should those of us who want a teaching moment about religious liberty, private property and anti-violence DO?

I made the video blog below, my response to the right-wing talking heads on your TVs and internets about this project, really a Y to be built in a disused Burlington Coat Factory IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD! SuperAleja edited in captions for the Nick impaired.

My main points: the Burlington Coat Factory isn’t hallowed ground. Park51 is not a mosque and it is not at “Ground Zero,” and Islam is not evil.

Warning: the clips of right-wing talking heads spewing hate speech I use may be offensive and difficult to watch. Dick Morris paints all Muslims as radical enemies and says “all the other (mosques)” are “command centers for terrorism,” Newt Gingrich calls the people behind the Park51 project “radical Islamists” and compares the building to “a Nazi sign in front of the Holocaust museum” and self-described Christian conservatives are shown burning the Koran. I cringe seeing these clips, but we must recognize the bigotry in this country in order to squelch it and lower the heat of this issue.

Transcript of the video blog:

Hello, this is Nick Dupree for nickscrusade.org. And because I live only 4 or 5 blocks from this proposed Islamic community Center that has consumed all of American politics, I thought I should comment.

[O'Reilly clip]

All the arguments against this thing rely on the idea that Islam is somehow related to 9/11. And it would be like putting a statue of Hitler next to a Holocaust memorial; it would be like building a Robert Oppenheim school of nuclear science at Hiroshima. All these arguments are pure crap. Islam has nothing to do with 9/11, any more than Christianity has to do with the KKK. By the same logic, we couldn’t build a church near Atlanta’s Millennium Park because of the Christian extremists who bombed it. Or they say, it’s “hallowed ground”.

Oh no, you must not build on this hallowed ground! Okay, come on. It’s two blocks, two full city blocks, away from the World Trade Center. City blocks in New York City are huge, and there’s an entire culture in each city block different from the other ones. The city blocks around the World Trade Center already have everything–there’s already mosques, there are churches, there are strip clubs, there’s adult bookstores, there’s everything already in the surrounding blocks. And the place that they want to put this thing, is in a disused Burlington Coat Factory, for pete’s sake.

[Burlington Coat Factory commercial]
[NYC landmark commission unanimously ruling that there's no reason to make the old Burlington Coat Factory an untouchable city landmark]

Come on! Stop telling me that the Burlington freaking Coat Factory is hallowed ground! It’s not on the site of the World Trade Center, and, it’s not a mosque, it’s an old Burlington Coat Factory. It’s going to be a community center like a YMCA, you know, with a gym, and a swimming pool, a culinary school, a food court, classrooms….. only a tiny part of it is going to be for prayer. And what’s so wrong about prayer? Don’t we have freedom of prayer, freedom of religion, and our very Constitution?

It’s not a mosque, there’s no minarets towering over the city. There’s no muezzin calling for prayer. It’s a crap argument. It shouldn’t even be a story, it’s a YMCA, for all intents and purposes. And they have the freedom to build what they want on their own property. It’s property rights, and a municipal land-use issue. It should be decided by those in the neighborhood, like myself.
Not the worst bigots in the country from a crazy church that wants to burn the Koran. [local Jacksonville news clip about this church's "Burn A Koran" day]
Pat Robertson [clip of Robertson talking about "Cordoba mosque" (sic) on the 700 Club]
Dick Morris, [clip of O'Reilly interviewing Morris]
Newt Gingrich, [clip of Gingrich spewing hate speech on the Fox News morning show]
should these bigots decide what goes in my neighborhood, or should I decide it? Really it’s a no-brainer. Angry bigots, thousands of miles away, should not be deciding this. I, and the rest of the neighborhood, should decide it. There’s nothing dangerous, there’s nothing sinister, about the people that are behind this project, who are moderates. And they’re being painted, along with the entire religion of Islam, as evil. If we’re going to paint an entire religion of a billion and a half people with the same brush, then why would they make peace with us, why would anything change? So, the hate that we’re hearing all over the media… friends de-friending each other on Facebook over this, it really needs to stop. It’s a YMCA. Please, let the neighborhood decide this.

Please spread this blog post and video. Truth, justice and the American way will only exist to the extent we make it exist.

Nick

PS
This is the 1337th post on nickscrusade.org. 1337!!!

When Government Won’t Even Let You Choose What’s For Dinner

Posted by – August 4, 2010

Raw Food Police: When Government Won’t Even Let You Choose What’s For Dinner

This is the ultimate unacceptable act by a nanny state+police state gone awry.

Police Begin “Guns Drawn” Raids on Organic Food Stores in California

LA Times: Raw-food raid (features actual surveillance video of the police storming an organic grocery store, pointing guns at unarmed food workers, demanding to confiscate food property)

Raw Milk Controversy: Raids and Regulations

At issue is raw milk and other unprocessed dairy products. This is why members of the FDA, USDA, California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office invaded the private property of the aforementioned Venice Beach grocery store, Rawesome Foods, and confiscated jugs of raw goat and cow milk, blocks of unpasteurized goat cheese, and yogurt.

Despite the fact that Rawesome Foods has always had a big sign by the front door stating that this is a private membership buyer’s club (ala Sam’s Club) and only members may enter, and states that members take responsibility for their own health choices–all those caveats up front!–the peaceful property was still raided, commando-style. Yelling commands at unarmed citizens while pointing guns at them implies strongly that you’re ready to shoot any uncooperative people! ALL OVER UNPROCESSED MILK!! Unprocessed milk that no one has argued has hurt consumers; they just argue that it lacks government permission.
This has gone way too far into jackboot thug territory for me.

All-organic grocery stores are available here in NYC, so I’m a recent convert to organic eating (though I am not vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination). I’ve become to strongly believe in the power of free enterprise to drastically improve our health (and taste!) choices, plus, through competition, begin to change the awful, immoral and terribly unhealthy practices that are so pervasive in the food industry. The dominant factory farms are chafing from rising competition; their PR hacks have spread dubious “safety concerns” for years (meanwhile their products get repeatedly recalled after hard evidence of salmonella and e. coli). Word has it that the factory farm industry leaned on the FDA and USDA and California Department of Food and Agriculture to begin raiding organic grocery stores. Now they have gotten their wish: the government is taking down competitors FOR THEM.

But my objections go deeper. This is about the ongoing debate over what America IS. Is America supposed to be more and more like a gigantic, continent-sized open air prison? the guards make most of our choices, we have little freedom except to be human batteries (Matrix-style) for the state. Is that what the Founding Fathers wanted for us?

We can’t even choose what’s for dinner anymore? This is so unAmerican. The above articles say it is illegal to buy milk direct from the animal (just like our Founding Fathers did, by the way) in 39 states–ironically, California is one of the 11 states that normally allows it.

People should be free to be put whatever they want into their bodies, from raw eggs and milk, to hard drugs or whatever… even if you argue that certain things cause self-harm and (as do I) advocate strong moral codes, the state still has no sensible reason to interfere with self-harm because self-harm poses no threat to the well-being or freedom of other citizens, and, therefore, the state must be barred from interfering. The role of the police must be to protect us from the interference of others who would diminish our well-being or freedom, and those freedoms include the right to choose. That means that the police should be arresting someone who swipes your beer in public, not doing the swiping themselves (43 states enforce ridiculous open container laws.

How do we end this nanny state+police state tag team that has crushed more of its peoples’ basic civil liberties and human rights than most other developed countries? This IS NOT what the Founding Fathers wanted for us.

Nick

Nick’s Essay on America’s Decline, with Big Solutions (long)

Posted by – May 15, 2010

I’ve been away for quite some time, I know, but I haven’t stopped thinking about public policy and the way things are going.

They aren’t going well. I followed the health care reform debate with a magnifying glass throughout, and came away deeply disgusted in both the final product and the process that made that sausage.

We desperately needed SERIOUS reform to the United States’ health care non-”system”; we’re in the richest country on Earth, but among OECD nations, our health care is at the back of the pack. No country with our level of wealth has our level of dysfunction in basic health care.

Instead of “the change we need,” what we got when Congress was done kowtowing to big insurance donors and passed the damn thing, was incremental change to half the health care industry (the private insurance market) while leaving the half the government actually runs, Medicaid and Medicare, nearly untouched. The goal of the Obama reforms is to give more Americans access to the health insurance market, more people buying insurance, with subsidies to help the poor afford private insurance. The health insurance industry stands to rake in BILLIONS! I was devastated with disappointment.

Meanwhile, the frenzy on the right wing about this bill (which was nearly a straight copy and paste of the 1993 Republican health care bill (full text of that bill, see for yourself) taking us to “socialism” are patently absurd! I’m like “really? The first thing communists do when they take over a country is enact tepid, insurer-friendly reforms that set up a free market exchange so more people can buy insurance plans? Seriously?” A volcano of right-wing rage exploded, including dozens of death threats and some vandalism across the country. How can anyone take the Tea Partiers and Glenn Beck seriously that health care reform is anything but weak-kneed incrementalism?

The Tea Party is more disconnected from reality than any political movement I’ve ever seen, and yet, they seem to be the only major grassroots force out there and their impact is unavoidable. They’re protesting more private insurance as socialism, railing against the lowest income taxes since the 1920s as communist tyranny (simultaneously, the largely graying group opposes changes in entitlements–”get the government out of my Medicare”) and now that they’re doing the one thing that Republican politicians really care about, picking off incumbents, you’re going to see the GOP tilt even more toward the radical fringe (a terrifying prospect).

Real sign, real Tea Partiers. Medicare is a government-run program.

Since the Tea Party guys’ claims have little relationship to reality, and none of them took to the streets when George W. Bush took us from record surpluses to record deficits, centralized power and forever gutted the Bill of Rights in the name of the War on Terra, the Tea Party has to be about something else. You never see the huge, angry backlash and anti-government “patriots” in funny hats and militia terrorists like McVeigh come out of the woodwork when THEIR party is in power! I’m guessing the root of the dispute here is the right-wing’s belief that government shouldn’t have the right to interfere in the market AT ALL, and add in some good ol’ American racial panic when the multicultural Democratic party took over from the virtually whites-only Republicans. Expect another McVeigh-style attack before Obama leaves office (there have already been several shooting rampages, including one targeting religious liberals at a Unitarian church, one targeting policemen for “gonna take our guns,” and one by a long-time rightist fringer targeting Jews at the National Holocaust Museum in DC).

All that furor against the health care reform bill, while, of course, from the disability rights perspective, Obama’s reforms don’t go nearly far enough, because they only make meaningful changes in private insurance, not Medicaid and Medicare, which most of us with disabilities rely on for our care.

Medicaid and Medicare are BADLY broken and rapidly going bankrupt, but aside from expanding eligibility so that more people will be crowding already scant Medicaid resources, nearly NO changes are being made there. The home care reforms I’ve devoted a decade to are not in the bill; America’s long-term care programs remain frozen in 1965, with government continually making expensive, antiquated segregation in nursing homes THE ONLY OPTION for the disabled, including children and young adults. The horribly dysfunctional patchwork of Medicaid waivers that I rail against? Despite years of demands for change from many quarters, including the National Governors Association, those injustices will remain firmly intact, untouched by “comprehensive health care reform.” People like me will continue struggling to wring bad care from what’s left of Medicare and Medicaid; our lot will not improve at all after “Health Care Reform” takes effect. I am fighting this battle every day, and the problems with hospitals closing due to inadequate payments from Medicaid, not being able to find doctors who still take Medicaid patients, and more, just continue to escalate for me.
Meanwhile, the insular Washington leadership is curiously detached and unaware of what’s happening to their own Medicaid and Medicare programs right under their noses. President Obama made me sick when, during the health care reform “summit,” Congressman Peter Roskam (R – Illinois’ 6th district) asked him, “how can we expand Medicaid when in some counties, NO doctors that take Medicaid are left standing?” and the gist of Obama’s response was “my word, what is this that you speak of my good fellow? if this is so, we can look at raising reimbursement rates!” Everyone knows that they’ll never hike Medicaid funding, and that’s why so many in Congress sought special provisions in the bill (e.g. “The Cornhusker Kickback”) for the feds to cover their states’ new unfunded mandates to expand eligibility to millions of additional people. These expansions are not going to go well, particularly in poorer states, especially since the “kickbacks” to soften the fiscal blow were all removed from the bill with reconciliation.

The failure to even attempt changing the glaring problems with Medicaid and Medicare has left me more jaded and frustrated than ever, to the point [b]I can no longer call myself a Democrat[/b]. Especially since I know that Congress exhausted itself scraping through this tinkering with private insurance, and most likely won’t have the political will or sense of urgency to revisit health care issues for another 10, 20 years. I hate being stuck with our dysfunctional Medicaid system but that’s what people with disabilities are, stuck.

While some pundits hailed the passage of health care as a colossal foreign policy victory, proving America can tackle huge issues, marking our “comeback” as problem-solver on the world stage, I see the opposite. I see a government that lacks the dynamic, bold decision-making capability that these ultra-competitive times demand, a Congress that always cops out or kicks the can down the road in the face of huge problems. I see an America so paralyzed by corruption and red tape that we’ll never catch up with competitors (people in India have already stuck a fork in the U.S., considering the Chinese their only real rival for economic dominance at this point).
Referring to China, I’ve often heard President Obama use the rallying cry, “why can’t we be the world leader in technology again?! Why can’t we have the fastest trains in the world?” Well Mr. President, I would answer him, we will never build trains and train tracks faster than China, because we have so much “environmental impact study” and “archeological impact study” red tape, followed by years of hearing lawsuits from anyone who doesn’t like the project, that it takes an average of 10 years to get any major transportation project off the ground, much less completed. China, meanwhile, simply makes a decision on future train projects, then enforces it by any means necessary. How can we compete with that given our bureaucracy?

While those panicked about executive power right now can take a sigh of relief, because presently it seems Obama can’t even take a $#!T without 60 votes from the Senate, I worry that, before long, fierce foreign competition, falling standards of living, plus a completely paralyzed Congress will lead the American people to demand a dictatorship. Another sudden economic crash, or, G-d forbid, successful terrorist attacks (by Islamist nutbags or another McVeigh) and I fear that the Republic will gasp its last gasp.

The only real solutions are solutions as big as the problems, pushed through by reform groups that aren’t just as dysfunctional as the institutions they’re fighting.

Big Solution #1: Ban campaign contributions (bribing) to public officials, as this has limited access to the halls of power ONLY to moneyed interests, as well as fostering a culture where those who spend more time working for the people than working on fundraising are immediately replaced by candidates with backing from deep-pockets, leaving only self-interested scoundrels remaining. Free speech must be immutable, overturn all McCain-Feingold restrictions on when and where and how candidates can advertise and get their message out, independent expenditures by corporations, unions, advocacy groups and private citizens are unfettered, you can say whatever you want, whenever you want with your free speech, because that’s what the 1st Amendment guarantees–you’re just not allowed to bribe public officials with campaign contributions and rig the system. Campaigns will be publicly financed like in Canada, the UK, and most of Europe. Speech is speech. MONEY IS NOT SPEECH!

Big Solution #2: Breaking the Duopoly is crucial, but WILL NOT happen without a change in the Constitution to allow Proportional Representation via STV (“Instant Runoff Voting,” AKA Single Transferable Vote, as is done in Australia, New Zealand, Republic of Ireland) to bring more parties into Congress. Allowing more parties will enable more principled views to be expressed (because, for example, if you want less intrusive government and less taxation, you won’t have to vote Republican for the tax cuts and get warrantless surveillance, anti-gay crap and anti-immigration laws too as part of the package, instead, you can vote for a party that closely matches your views). More parties also mean regional parties representing genuine regional people’s interests get into the mix. And parties would have to work together to coalesce into viable majority coalitions, and would have to curb the extremist nonsense to keep their coalitions together. Overall, Proportional Representation allows for a much, much healthier democracy, whereas currently we have the opposite of healthy democracy, the Duopoly nearly always wins 100% control of the House and Senate with the support of as little as 20-25% of eligible voters, at the cost of all other parties and their viewpoints.

Big Solution #3: This is my most radical view, but failing Solution #2, maybe we could be far more functional as a people and be much better represented, plus have no more imperialist ventures sapping our wealth, if we were to make a new version of the old Articles of Confederation for the new Information Age that separates the country into 6 or so federated regional powers (see: superstates) to avert any FURTHER deadlock, dysfunction, or civil war (each new state under parts of the current Constitution they elect to have, but empowered to each craft very different rules, based on their shared culture, for how society should work). I’m talking about ending the United States as we know it, replacing it with a federation of nearly autonomous federated republics named “the United Federation of America” (UFA! UFA! UFA!) Each federated republic would choose their own military spending and so on. Think of The Federation (United Federation of Planets) in Star Trek! That’s the type of idea I’m batting around here.

Click to enlarge the map!! In this vision of the future, South Carolina even secedes from the Southern Republic, because, hey, they've wanted to secede since birth.

I’m going even farther than “states’ rights.” I’m altering how the country operates–root and stem overhaul–by almost completely eliminating federal centralization as we know it. Why go this far? Because the paralysis of government has become so bad over the past 30 years that we have to consider crazy, radical ideas we would have shunned in disgust before.
Southern culture should never block Northeasterners’ ambitions for reform in New York where I live now, and visa versa. I moved to NY in large part to escape Alabama’s far-right public policy that was blocking my advancement, but while it’s better here, those policies (tax cuts causing huge deficits, social service cuts, the corporatist approach that keeps the institutional bias in Medicaid alive) FOLLOWED ME to New York because they’re federal policies too. And I believe the policies that affect me would be very different if only a Northeastern bloc could decide their own policies, vs. a national consensus accommodating Southern, Western, everyone’s views being forced on the Northeastern states. National compromises should no more be forced on the Northeastern states than on the Southern states (with some exceptions: states can’t disregard the certain parts of the current Constitution, like reinstating slavery or segregation).

This won’t happen any time soon (there is no public support for it) but maybe we’d all be better off if it did…

I just know that the only real solutions here are solutions as big as the problems. Without trying at least one of these big solutions, get ready to shout “HAIL CAESAR” and go full Banana Republic, while China becomes undisputed world hegemon.

Nick

Is Constitutional Government Dead?

Posted by – October 15, 2006

Is Constitutional Government Dead?

A Look Back At That Quiant Document

While I’ve recently been ranting against “mainstream American culture” as being evil, because it’s become dominated by Fox News and Britney Spears, I do love this country. I love America because it’s based not on shared origins or royal blood, but on wonderful ideas, like all men are created equal, inalienable rights and justice for all. Coequal branches of government wherein the legislature creates the laws, the executive executes the laws and the judiciary reviews and safeguards our rights in those laws, with each branch checking the others to prevent tyranny is truly great. While Americans are incredibly ethnically diverse, we buy into common high-minded ideals, and that makes the American enterprise succeed. But now I face the unyielding truth that these ideals have been left behind. The Constitution no longer applies, and our founders are no longer mainstream.

Let’s take a cursory scan of the law we used to believe in:

The United States Constitution

Article I
Section 8 gives Congress the authority:

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Now our president signs laws with “signing statements” saying he will not follow huge parts of the law, thus rendering the legislative branch’s powers moot. The most recent case of this is with the FEMA bill. Bush cites authority to bypass FEMA law – The Boston Globe

Article I
Section 9:

…The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

Obviously this is shredded. When Senator Specter proposed an amendment to the detainee bill to allow detainees (who may, according to the new law, be American citizens) habeas corpus, it was shot down. Despite the fact that the right to challenge your detention before a judge is a fundamental principle enshrined in our constitution, this evidently no longer applies, and has now been legislated against.
The current regime denied American citizen Jose Padilla habeas corpus, held him without charge and tortured him for over three years.

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

This is out; the detainee bill retroactively immunizes torturers from prosecution.

Article VI

…all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

This is gone. We made the Geneva Conventions the law of the land when we ratified that treaty in 1949, but the detainee bill effectively ends this.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.

Americans are now being arrested for simply wearing anti-Bush T-shirts (full story) at presidential speeches, or are fenced in “free speech zones” blocks away from the event. I thought our constitution made the whole f***ing country a “free speech zone.” Silly me.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Warrantless wiretapping of citizens is now routine.

Amendment V

No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law….

Jose Padilla was held without charge for three and a half years.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

After four years in military prison, Jose Padilla and none of the Gitmo detainees have stood trial.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The authorities tortured American citizen Jose Padilla for three and a half years (full story). I’m not saying he should get hotel treatment or that he’s not guilty, but we are a nation of laws, dammit. If we don’t act within our law, what have we become? Torture is now legal, even on Americans.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg; I could go on forever. May we never forget.

What happens when the values our nation was founded on are alien to “the mainstream?” What happens when the ideals that form the premise of the American enterprise are rendered moot, are lies? What’s it mean when we’re in a climate wherein an Aramaic-speaking, olive-skinned Jesus of Nazareth would never be allowed on an airplane, and the libertarian insurrectionist Thomas Jefferson would get waterboarded? If we abandoned the ideals that made us so great, does that make us just a piece of land below Canada and above Mexico? Have we become just another Great Empire that exists not in pursuit of higher ideals, but only for dominance?

Is constitutional government dead?

Nick

Filed under: Politics and Government

Compromise On Torture?

Posted by – September 27, 2006

Government Sanctioned Immorality Reaching Scary Proportions

Okay, we have a President of The United States of America, leader of the free world, who is pulling out all the stops to get a bill allowing more leeway on torture through Congress. This should be incredibly shocking to all of you. This post is Nick ranting about how evil torture is.

Let me lay down the facts, something you don’t get straight from our soundbite news media:

  • June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States put the smackdown on the president’s secret detainee tribunals (WikiNews article). The Supreme Court ruled them illegal, because *news flash* we have a Constitution wherein the legislature creates the laws, the executive executes the laws and the judiciary reviews and safeguards our rights in those laws, and the president, contrary to his claim to unlimited authority to prosecute the “war on terror,” cannot invent a new law out of thin air to secretly try detainees with no oversight whatsoever. Only Congress is responsible for making new laws.


This should be elementary school-level knowledge. It’s what our founders died for in the Revolutionary War.


In war-time the seperation of powers are not suspended, and the president can never assume all powers, overriding all other branches of government, despite what the Bush Justice Dept. people say. Congress decides what our laws are going to be, and they adopted the Geneva Conventions in 1949. So, on June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case that the president’s secret detainee tribunals are unconstitutional, and told him to either try terrorists under existing law, or get Congress to write a new law for it (Washington Post article).
  • Imagine for a moment the (not-so-far-fetched) scenario that Iran captures a US soldier, and tries him in a secret tribunal, without allowing anyone to see any evidence, all in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Rightfully, there would be a massive international outcry. But when we do it, it’s okay? And now the president wants his perverse double standards codified into American law, and Congress is behind him. What??!!
  • Congress makes the laws, and ratified the Geneva Conventions as the law of the land in 1949, and that law forbids secret trials of enemies and torture. The president can’t abolish existing law, and the Supreme Court spanked him about that. So he’s gone to Congress to make the torture and tribunals legal. On Sept. 15, President Bush stood in the Rose Garden and told reporters:
This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article 3 says that, you know, there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It’s like — it’s very vague. What does that mean, “outrages upon human dignity”? That’s a statement that is wide open to interpretation. And what I’m proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they’re doing is legal.

I’m not making this up. Here’s the full transcript. Bush seriously said he doesn’t know what outrages upon human dignity are. Step back for a minute, close your eyes, and ponder what it means when the leader of the free world thinks the Geneva Conventions are vague and does not know what “outrages upon human dignity” mean! That explains so much about the last six years of our government, no?

There’s a century or so of case law defining what outrages on human dignity mean Mr. President, and you would look it up if it served your cause. It doesn’t of course, and even a cursory glance at our laws would yank away any fig leaf of legality propping up our dubious “alternative interrogation techniques.”

Stephen Colbert, who does wicked satire along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” takes on the topic here, suggesting the Geneva Conventions are as vague as a Lewis Caroll verse and if Bush would show us how he defines torture, we’d see his position with perfect “clarity.”

  • Senators John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham went to the press and said they would insist on legislation that would leave the Geneva Conventions intact.

  • Then they caved, announcing a compromise on torture. You read that right, the United States is compromising on torture. Under the new bill, detainees could see evidence brought against them in court (though the House version omits this). But other than murder, mutilation and rape, which would be classified as “severe breaches” of the Geneva Conventions under the bill, any other form of torture, including beatings, stress positions and so on, would be allowed. Step back and consider the moral ramifications of that. American law would allow the executive branch the leeway to interpret Geneva to engage in just about any nefarious act of torture you can imagine. Extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, blaring noise, beatings, just about anything would be considered below the threshold of “outrage upon human dignity,” anything could be done to get them to talk. And the bill would retroactively immunize U.S. officials from prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1996. See the USA Today editorials: Deal on detainees falls short and Detainee compromise a lose-lose for more details. Senator Specter says he’ll press to allow detainees habeas corpus (the fundamental right to challenge your imprisonment in front of a judge) but it’s a sure bet that the bulk of this horrible bill will pass.
  • Torture doesn’t work. As we can see from the story reported by 60 Minutes about a completely innocent Canadian citizen who was sent to (our enemy) Syria by the CIA to be tortured, the victims will say anything to get you to stop torturing them. Torture ‘never guarantees’ truth, former FBI agent says. During the Great Witch Hunts of Europe (1567–1640), torture forced countless women to confess to “congress with the devil.” If our government doesn’t take a strong stand regarding torture, history will not treat this era much better.
  • Finally, torture is immoral. On MSNBC’s “Countdown,” constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley nailed it: “It is a violation of both domestic and international law. But more importantly, torture is immoral under every major religion, that you cannot fight a moral war with immoral means. And if we‘re ready to embrace immoral means, if that‘s how we‘re going to fight this war, then we have lost. And no one will come to our aid. We will be alone. And that‘s what happens when you become, in the view of many, an enemy to the rule of law. And we cannot afford that to happen.” (transcript)
Torture is immoral under every religion!
Yet, the Religious Right is backing torture like no one else! Molly Ivins reports that “the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition is so in favor of torture he told McCain that the senator either supports the torture bill or he can forget about the evangelical Christian vote. I’d like to see an evangelical vote on that one. I don’t know how Sheldon defines traditional values, but deliberately inflicting terrible physical pain or stress on someone who is completely helpless strikes me as … well, torture. And, um, wrong.” Wow, traditional values = torture? The followers of Christ are all about the torture? What Bible are they reading? Are they figuring since Jesus got tortured on the cross, it’s okay, it’s trendy, what is the justification here? How does torture jive with “love your neighbor as yourself?” This just illustrates so boldly how very disconnected American Christiandom is with the true message of the “Prince of Peace.” Who Would Jesus Torture?

Many say we have to do whatever it takes, without restraint, to protect our families from a savage enemy who uses acts of unprecedented brutality. They say we cannot “show weakness” in this “new era.” They are wrong. Nothing shows weakness more than shedding our values in the face of terrorism, something the generation of Pearl Harbor, who, despite fighting a far more dangerous foe, could not fathom. This is the bottom line: giving up our high ideals to protect our high ideals from terrorism, ideals we no longer have if we surrender them in our battle, is plainly nonsensical and should end. There is no justification for losing American values to protect American values.

Nick

Filed Under: Politics and Government

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