Saturday, September 5, 2015

Kim Davis and the 1st Amendment

As the howls of protest from the religious right echo throughout the Fox wasteland, let us be perfectly clear about one thing: if anyone has violated the 1st Amendment in this case, it is Kim Davis herself. By elevating her own peculiar religious beliefs above any other as part of her public duties, Davis has, de facto, established her particular brand of Christianity as the religion of Rowen County, Kentucky. Regardless of what the Christo-fascist "Liberty Counsel" will say, Davis has not been jailed because of her beliefs. She has been held in contempt of court for refusing to perform the duties that her job, and the oath she took when accepting that job, require. She, in traditional civil contempt parlance, has 'the keys to her own cell.' All she needs to do is promise not to interfere with her clerks performing their duties, and she is out. If she cannot do that, then she must resign.

Cries of 'religious liberty' are inapt. The guarantee of religious freedom, as with all rights granted by the U.S. Constitution, is not absolute. Just as one's freedom of speech does not cover falsely crying fire in a crowded theatre, one's religious freedom ends where the rights of others begin. A public official may not establish her own beliefs as the official policy of a governmental entity, regardless of how 'sincerely held' they may be. Contrary to the dogma of the religious right, no god's law trumps the law of the United States, because only civil law has any practical effect. Those who want to follow their deity's commands are welcome to do so in their homes and private lives, and in public, in so far as they do not affect the rights of others. When equality is threatened by religious zealotry, the law must step in to put things right. Society would crumble otherwise.

Further, the Liberty Counsel lawyers have danced along the line of ethical responsibility, and with this last phase, in my mind, jumped over it. They are using Ms. Davis' actual freedom as a revenue-generator, placing their client at risk for their own pecuniary gain. Any competent attorney knew she had no chance of winning at the federal appeals level. She should have been advised to either find a different job, or complete her legal duties as required. To encourage her to continue this case, as seems abundantly clear they did, is blatantly unethical. So, Davis is in jail because of her own inability to complete her duties, and the cynical machinations of a fringe group of religious zealots.

So, while you may disagree with the Obergefell ruling, you can not cry about the 1st Amendment in Davis' case. To paraphrase our chief justice, 'religious freedom has nothing to do with it.'

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

These Aren't the Drones You're Looking for...

Previously, I mentioned concerns I have with regard to drone strikes used as targeted assassinations against U.S. Citizens and foreign nationals abroad.  Mr. Obama has apparently mentioned these concerns in a Google+ chat he had with certain constituents last year.  Unfortunately, I did not see that chat, and have been unable to locate a complete transcript, so I am using news reports to determine what was said.

According to Yahoo! News, the president said that "it is not sufficient that citizens just take my word for it that we are doing the right thing."  He stated that there have not been strikes against a U.S. Citizen on U.S. soil, and that he has to "work with Congress ... so people understand what's going on, what the constraints are, (and) what the legal parameters are.”

This is a somewhat comforting assertion, but only in so far as it is followed through.  Even during the "Cold War,"  it was, at least officially, against U.S. policy to target political adversaries for assassination.  (Whether certain administrations actually followed this policy, including Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan, is up for dispute,) But it seems, since 9/11, the U.S. has followed a policy that entails targeting of individuals who are citizens of countries with which we are not at war, for assassination, many times using the rather blunt instrument of unmanned drone strikes.

Regardless of what some would have us believe, this is not analogous to bombing of command structures of enemies during war time.  First off, no declaration of war has been made against any political entity.  Secondly, we have no reason to suspect, because we are not given any evidence, that any of these individuals pose an existential threat to our nation, or to the lives of its citizens. 

The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads that :""No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger... nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." 

The first thing to notice in this language is that the term "person" is used, not "citizen."  One of the primary rules of statutory construction requires that we look at the plain meaning of the language used; especially when other words could have been substituted instead.  The 5th Amendment does not simply protect U.S. Citizens on U.S. soil.  By plain reading it applies to all "persons." 

Capital crimes are those that are eligible for the death penalty, which is essentially what we are discussing.  With the exception of members of the military in wartime, the government can not hold any person to answer for a capital crime without first getting an indictment against that person from a grand jury.  For those unfamiliar with grand jury process, generally, the prosecution presents its evidence to the grand jury, and the defendant need not be present, and in fact, while able to testify, generally is not able to fight the prosecution's case at this point.  The point of the Grand Jury is to determine if the government has sufficient evidence with which to charge the individual with the crime alleged. 

So, my question to the president would be, have all those targeted by the drone strikes been indicted for crimes they have been alleged to commit?  If not, what provision of U.S. law allows for the execution of these individuals, and what are the crimes for which they are being held to answer?

Note this does not even get into the questions of national sovereignty of other nations, or the likelihood of collateral damage against innocents with the use of such weapons. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Salient Points Regarding Boston Bombing

As have many, I'm sure, I've been watching the news coverage of the search for the supected Boston Marathon Bomber, and I have a few points of concern:

One: when did describing something as a "bombing" become not shocking enough for newscasters? It seems that every reference to the incident that occurred Monday has to include some adjective, often repeated twice: "horrific," "horrendous," "heinous." Why can't it just be described as a "bombing?" That's how it would be described if it occurred in a different country, even if more poeple had been killed and more destruction wrought.

Second: Can we stop with the baseless speculation that these particular suspects were part of an "international terror cell?" There is absolutely no evidence, of which I'm aware, that these individuals were connected to any organization or group, especially Al Quaeda. One of the suspects is an American Citizen, the other a Lawful Permanent Resident. This is, by definition, a "domestic terror attack." Yes, they are of Chechnyan ethnicity. Chechnyan groups have no history of attacks on U.S. interests. In fact, the U.S. has, at many times, been sympathetic to Chechnyan issues due to Russian attempts to deal with Chechnyan seperatists.  This article in Salon now seems even more relevant:

Third: In Texas, half of an entire town was destroyed, and at least 13 people killed in an explosion at a fertilizer factory that had not been inspected in 50 years, likely due to the Federal Government's lack of funding OSHA.  That incident was many times more "horrific" than the Boston bombing, both in loss of life and destruction of property.  And yet, the day after that "horrendous" event, when the Senate was questioning the nominee for Secretary of Labor, not a single question was asked about OSHA. Senators did ask about ridiculous conspiracy theories regarding the "New Black Panther Party." The news coverage on all networks, has been almost exclusively about the Boston incident. In Ohio, today, 4 people were found shot in the head in the basement of an apartment building.  That is the same number of people killed in Boston by these suspects. Yet, the entire nation is focused  on Boston.

As a nation, we need to get over our fascination with "terrorism." I guess it's because these actions are more like a Hollywood movie than industrial accidents or every-day gun violence. But the real threat to our country comes not from "terrorist" groups, but from our reactions to them.  When we begin to give this issue so much importance in our lives that all other, more serious threats to our society, such as rampant firearms use and the government's abdication of its responsibility to protect workers from unsafe work environments, specifically in dangerous industries, the terrorists win.

Even at its strongest, Al Quaida was never an existential threat to the United States. The only way they can take down our country is with our help.  And right now, we, as a whole, because of our reactions to these types of events, are the best friends Al Quaida could have.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Well, fellow Floridians, we may not know how to run an election, we have Rick Scott, Katherine Harris, the Koran-burning preacher, the Treyvon Martin case, and Jeffrey Loria, but we can thank our lucky stars for one thing: at least we're not Mississippi.

You've no doubt heard that the mighty Mississippi Government became the last state to officially ratify the 13th amendment earlier this month  (Interestingly, after an Indian immigrant saw the film Lincoln  and looked it up.)  Yes, it was a clerical mistake over something that doesn't make a practical difference, but still; 1995 when the legislature finally abolishes slavery?  And then they forget to file the paperwork? 

Well, on the heels of that, there's this stunning news.  Yes, a community newspaper gets enough hate mail, calls, e-mail etc. for filing a news story on the county's first lesbian wedding (that isn't even recognized by law,) that the editor feels compelled to defend it.  The wedding, incidentally, was between a woman and her partner who is undergoing treatment for cancer that may be terminal.  I'll let the editor of the Laurel Leader-Call say what I think is the takeaway from this:

"We have stories about child molesters, murders and all kinds of vicious, barbaric acts of evil committed by heinous criminals on our front page and yet we never receive a call from anyone saying 'I don't need my children reading this.' Never. Ever. However, a story about two women exchanging marriage vows and we get swamped with people worried about their children."
Stay classy MS!  Stay classy!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The State of the State of the Union

Last night, President Obama gave the requisite “State of the Union” address. While it wasn’t quite FDR’s “New Deal,” or LBJ’s “Great Society,” it proposed an array of specific policy initiatives on a variety of important issues, from infrastructure improvement to early childhood education, to the federal minimum wage, to deficit reduction. I had several issues with the specifics of the President’s plans, especially his pledge to be more “transparent” about how we conduct our foreign policy and the power of the executive branch to order the targeting of both American Citizens and foreign nationals for political assassination. President Obama offered no specifics about how this transparency would be accomplished, or what criteria are currently being used to sentence human beings to death by remote control without due process of law as required by the 5th and 14thAmendments to the Constitution. I also had some concerns about Obama’s pledge to use executive order to bypass Congress with regard to Environmental issues; although court decisions have more or less given the EPA (and therefore the executive branch) the power to enact “cap and trade” rules, it seems to me to be a better idea to use the legislative process.

What concerned me more, though, is the Republican response to the State of the Union which was presented by FL Sen. Marco Rubio. As a FL resident for 16 years, I have become accustomed to Rubio being a dynamic speaker, and although I often disagree with his positions, I also often admire his ability to articulate them with a rational yet passionate delivery. I was sorely disappointed in Mr. Rubio tonight, as his “rebuttal” was a simple rehash of GOP talking points, with no character or any specific policy initiatives. In fact, listening to Republican speeches these days has become akin to the old “Frankenstein”Saturday Night Live routine: “Taxes Bad!!!!” “Government Bad!!!” “Guns Good!!!” What was especially striking to me was Rubio’s hypocrisy with regard to social program spending. The GOP Platform is clear that it opposes Federal Student loans (yes, it advocates Federal insurance of private loans, which is its own can of worms). In Rubio’s response he stated that he couldn’t have gone to college without Federal Loans. He also stated that both his parents benefited from the Medicare system. And yet… These are all the things that Mr. Rubio’s party are eager to cut to ensure that taxes are not raised on the richest segment of the nation. What Mr. Rubio is essentially saying is, “Now that my loans are paid off, (a few months ago, apparently,) no one else need benefit from these programs. Medicare is good for my parents, but there’s no reason anyone else should benefit from that program.” And Republicans wonder why average Americans aren’t getting their economic policy?

Another issue is the current Republican effort to suppress the voting rights of minorities and those of lower socio-economic status. This is especially important in my state of Florida, because the GOP Governor, Rick Scott, and the GOP Legislature has done as much as possible to make it as difficult as possible for those in certain areas (read: areas that tend to vote Dem.) to cast their ballots. They have done this through a combination of gerrymandering, punitive “voter ID” laws, creating obstacles for former prisoners to have their franchise reinstated, and the elimination of as many early voting days as possible. This is not only a problem in FL, but around the country, as bills are pending in PA to change the electoral law to divide electoral votes amongst districts, rather than awarding them to the winner of the aggregate state vote, because the Republican-controlled legislature has managed to draw districts in such a way that GOP Candidates would almost always come out of the state with more electoral votes.

These strategies are all reminiscent of the “poll Tax” and“literacy requirements” of Jim Crow days calculated to suppress black votes. Generally, the reasons given have to do with “voter fraud” issues. Except that voter fraud has not been a major issue in any United States Election. There are more UFO sightings every year than allegations of voter identity fraud. When the State of Indiana was asked to defend its voter ID laws by a court, it could not cite a single instance of voter identity fraud in its history. This is the definition of a“manufactured crisis.” These laws are not necessary to protect the democratic process; in fact, they are cynically calculated to usurp that very process.

Mr. Rubio’s response did not even mention the issue of correcting the system of elections in the U.S. that forces some individuals to wait in line, in some instances for 6 hours, to cast his or her vote. This, of course, is likely because these difficulties tend to crop up in urban areas where the majority of voters have a tendency to vote Democrat. (In FL, the problems in the Miami area can be directly traced to the elimination of extra early voting days, and more stringent ID requirements enacted by the Republican administration.)

There is no doubt that the end of the President’s speech was a calculated bit of “political theatre” meant to appeal to the emotions of people with regard to gun violence and voter suppression. As much as I would prefer that was not the strategy to be used, the underlying issues are very real, and until the GOP can come up with some sort of actual common-sense policy that would address them, they have little reason to object. 

So, it appears the State of the Union is business as usual, with the President articulating specific policies to address the problems facing the country, and the opposition party simply objecting to everything, without any substantive ideas of their own.This is a pity, because our republic works best when good ideas are forthcoming from both sides of the aisle.  

Progress and the State of Eternal War

Two days ago, President Obama took the public oath of office for the second time. His inaugural speech, as is commonly the case with such addresses, was long on general rhetoric and short on specific policy measures. It was, no doubt, historic on several levels, not least of which was the use of the term “gay” (used to describe individuals of homosexual orientation) for the first time in such an address, and the inclusion of the Stonewall Riots alongside the Seneca Falls Convention and Selma, thus equating the struggle of homosexuals for equal rights under law with those of women and African-Americans.

It was an address that gives hope for the beginning of a truly progressive administration that will at least attempt to start the process of reversing the damage done by nearly 30 years of an almost continually rightward shift in the economic, political and social discourse of the nation. It would, of course, be naïve to think that such changes will be easy or occur quickly, especially with a still largely obstructionist Republican Congress in power.

I would like to focus on one part of Obama’s speech that I think is at the heart of what can be done to redress the failure of previous administrations, including the President’s own first term, to adhere to the values and promise of the United States.

President Obama stated that “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.

For at least ten years, we have been told, in true Orwellian fashion, that we are at war. Not with a nation, or an economic system, but with an abstract concept that has an ever-changing meaning. We have been told that there is a lurking, nebulous, and existential threat to our well being, and that threat is a word: “Terrorism.”

Let’s leave aside, for now, the hypocrisy of the United States’ documented history of being a state sponsor of “terrorist” groups (both governmental and subversive) when it has suited our own policy agenda. The idea that we can wage a physical war on an abstract concept is both ludicrous and a recipe for that very state of perpetual war the president describes.

If Mr. Obama is serious about what he said in his inaugural address, there are a few steps he can take to make a concrete start if he wants to “win the peace:”

1. Most importantly, the president should immediately, and without reservation, ask the Congress to repeal the “Authorization for Use of Force Against Terrorists,” which was a joint resolution passed by Congress on Sept. 14, 2011, and purports to give the president the power to use the military anywhere and everywhere “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” Congress specifically granted this power to be in conformity with the War Powers Act in which the Legislative Branch of our government partially relinquished its Constitutional power to declare war. This would be, of course, an act unprecedented in history, as no chief executive has ever willingly relinquished a power granted to him once it had been given. But this one joint resolution puts us, for all intents and purposes, in a state of perpetual war, a war that cannot be won due to the simple fact that it is a war on an abstract concept, and not a specific enemy.

2. The administration should call for the immediate repeal of those portions of the USA PATRIOT Act that expand the government’s powers in contravention of the 1st, 4th and 5thAmendments to the U.S. Constitution. These portions include , but are not limited to: Sections 214, 215, 216 and 218, which expand the government’s power to spy on its citizens by requesting information on citizens from third parties without those citizens’ consent, search private property without notice to the owner of said property, expands the FISA exception to warrantless wire tapping of U.S. Citizens, as well as “trap and trace” searches that purport to gather only address information, but in practice result in the revelation of the content of private messages.

3. The president should explicitly repudiate the so-called “Bush Doctrine” that advocates interference with the domestic politics of foreign powers and encourages the concept of “Preventative War.” He must also publically renounce the use of “enhanced interrogation methods” (i.e. torture), “extraordinary rendition” (i.e. kidnapping) and the use of unmanned aircraft for the purposes of political assassination. These methods have caused possibly irreparable damage to the strength, standing and reputation of the U.S. as a global power that stands for the concepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Further, rather than achieving the stated goal of reducing the threat of attack on the U.S. these policies have created the conditions necessary for radical leaders to convince otherwise peaceful people to be complicit in attacks against a United States that is acting in an unjust manner.

4. Mr. Obama should renounce the idea of “American Exceptionalism,” as an outdated, ethnocentric, and anti-democratic concept. We must engage the world on an even footing, recognizing that our nation is, on average, no better or worse than any other, and that other countries have the right to establish and pursue their own policy interests within their own spheres of influence.

5. The president must immediately close the gulag located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and those detained there should either be charged with crimes in Federal Courts of competent jurisdiction where the evidence allows, or returned to the countries from which they were taken.

If the president is serious about ending the state of perpetual war, these actions are indispensible, and can only serve to enhance the security and standing of the United Sates.

Notice that Mr. Obama used the phrase “We the People,”when discussing the issue of perpetual war. This entails that it is incumbent upon us, U.S. Citizens, to remember the principles set out in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and that if they are to have meaning, they must apply to everyone, across the board. Terrorism is not an existential threat to the United States, unless we, the people, make it one. We do this every time we compromise our core values in the name of “security” or some nebulous concept of revenge. I have never been more ashamed to be American than the night the death of Osama Bin Laden was announced, as I watched Americans dancing in the streets, waving flags and celebrating the end of another human being’s existence. The pictures could have been taken straight from some middle eastern countries celebrating the September 11 attacks. Is this what we are as a nation now? A screaming mob howling for the blood of other people, and celebrating the extra-judicial killing of a man who posed no imminent threat to our individual selves? I don’t pretend to know whether it was possible for Bin Laden to be taken alive to face due process of law. It is very possible he would not allow himself to be captured. What I do know, is that an operation that was an obvious violation of Pakistani sovereignty and resulted in the death of a human being, no matter how we, as individuals felt about that human being, is cause for sober reflection on the state our nation is in, not a wild celebration. If we truly believe in the rule of law, than we should never be happy when the law is eroded.

Perhaps our president can help lead us to these conclusions; but in the end, it is up to us to realize, that in the words of the band Rush: “Better the pride that resides in a citizen of the world, than the pride that divides when a colorful rag is unfurled.”

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Modest Proposal for The Donald

It has come to my attention that many Americans are unaware of the huge threats facing our country today. What with the gay agenda, run-away government spending on useless programs like headstart, medicare, and social security, and the fascist attempt to turn us all into socialists by giving people access to healthcare, coupled with the constant threat of Middle-Eastern terrorism in our own country which has only been staved off by sending our people to be killed in other countries, the American way of life is in more danger now than in any time in our great nation’s history.

This why it is more important than ever that we thoroughly vet those who might possibly try to attempt to lead us. I understand that Donald Trump is exploring the possibility of running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. I applaud Mr. Trump for his past contributions to the economy and culture of our country, and for his desire to enter the public service. I do have one concern however.

You see, I read on the internet that Mr. Trump’s grandparents emigrated from Germany. I also heard, somewhere, that our country was at war not once, but twice, with that country as recently as last century. Therefore, I have to wonder about Mr. Trump’s eligibility for the presidency. Please understand that I’m not saying he’s a German enemy combatant; I’m simply asking the question.

So I am proposing that Mr. Trump release a copy of his long form birth certificate to the citizens of the United States. Now, an on-line posting is fine and good for some things, but, let’s face it, sometimes people lie on the internet. That is why I propose that Mr. Trump send a certified hard copy of his birth certificate to every registered voter in the U.S. Now, this should be easy, as registered voter lists are public record, and I’m sure Mr. Trump has a certified long-form birth certificate handy at all times, like all good Americans. But, to be generous, I’ll give him a month to complete the mailings. After all, we Americans are entitled to know the truth.

In fact, since the popular current thought is that government should be run like a business, I think, that as Mr. Trump’s prospective employers, the American people need a completed W-4 and I-9 from him, along with the 2 types of acceptable identification as indicated on those forms. After all, if we are going to hire him to run the country, we have to make sure he’s not part of the illegal immigrant menace that threatens to destroy life as we know it.

So, Mr. Trump, I know that after thinking about it, you will agree that this is best for the country. I await your correspondence with confidence. After all, it’s the least you can do if you want to hear those magical words: “You’re Hired.”