Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Moral Victory For Equal Rights

A Polk County judge on Thursday struck down Iowa's law banning gay marriage.

The ruling by Judge Robert Hanson concluded that the state's prohibition on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and he ordered the Polk County recorder to issue marriage licenses to six gay couples.

So begins an article in the Des Moines Register. Of course, the Republicans won't stand for this:

House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, said the judge's ruling only illustrates the need for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"I can't believe this is happening in Iowa," he said. "I guarantee you there will a vote on this issue come January."

You know, when it comes to constitutional amendments, the Republicans always want to take away your right to do something, not guarantee it. Whether it's the right to die, the right to marry someone of the same gender, or even the right to express your first amendment rights by burning a flag, the Republicans are the ones who want to amend the constitution to prevent it. Why is that? Why do Republicans hate Freedom?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Joke Time: Sunday Morning Sex

Upon hearing that her elderly grandfather had just passed away, Katie went straight to her grandparent's house to visit her 95-year-old grandmother and comfort her. When she asked how her grandfather had died, her grandmother replied, "He had a heart attack while we were making love on Sunday morning." Horrified, Katie told her grandmother that 2 people nearly 100 years old having sex would surely be asking for trouble.

"Oh no, my dear," replied granny. "Many years ago, realizing our advanced age, we figured out the best time to do it was when the church bells would start to ring. It was just the right rhythm. Nice and slow and even. Nothing too strenuous, simply in on the Ding and out on the Dong." She paused to wipe away a tear, and continued, "He'd still be alive if the ice cream truck hadn't come along."

Before Discussing Iraq

Often, while posting at my favorite hangout for intellectual delinquents, Think Progress, I encounter some "wit" from the conservative side (or, as I prefer to think of it, the Dark Side) who likes to throw out "Well, Mr. Liberal, what would YOU do to win the war in Iraq?" This question has no answer in today's debating context, because a discussion of Iraq has to start with a certain foundation of facts. And the Dark Side, as we who have attempted to engage them in debate know, does not use facts in their arguments. And that is a fact.

To begin with, the Dark Side must define what they mean by "win in Iraq". What does "winning" mean? It's a fair question, but it's hard to get a definitive answer on that when you ask them. Because their concept of "winning" is always changing. At first it was to depose Saddam, install a democratically-elected government, and get out with the area stabilized because Iraq would be ruled by the people and not some tyrant. That may not be it exactly (either by the official, public account or the real, secret account), but that's the gist of what the idea of "winning" was when we started.

Then Saddam was caught, tried, convicted by a rigged jury system (he had no chance of winning), and executed. Meanwhile, during that time, a democratically-elected government was put in place and it has, to this date, struggled to gain any respect or actual ability to effectively govern. So why are we still there? Well, there's still too much "instability", and now you've got al Qaeda getting a foothold in Iraq. And because al Qaeda is one of our "enemies" in the "War on Terror", we have to stay there and "defeat them". So, the mission has changed, hasn't it? My question is, "Says who?" But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

What the Dark Side refuses to ackowledge is that they have been wrong about virtually everything regarding the invasion of Iraq right from the beginning. That is a fact. Not only were they wrong, but the people who managed to convince the country that invading Iraq was necessary were lying about the reasons. That is also a fact. That's not just Bush-hating rhetoric from an anti-War veteran of the Air Force, and it's not just my opinion. They lied, and if they want to disprove that, then they should release every piece of information they had (including, and particularly, where it came from). After all, aren't they the kind of people who like to say, "If you've done nothing wrong, then you've got nothing to worry about"? But they won't do that, because the evidence would prove that the things they said were certainly true were not only highly in dispute then, they were flat out wrong! And when the proof they claimed would be found never was, they started changing what they claimed Saddam had. ("Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs", instead of actual weapons.) Aluminum tubes that could only be used for "one thing", that is, once you mill off an anodized coating put there for the tube's "original purpose". The things they told us that they knew to be untrue when they said them would fill volumes of books, and they do, and they're out there.

The point is, they have been wrong about everything, and now they want us to accept the framing of the issue at hand. They insist that there is a "Global War on Terror" (when they're not insisting that there isn't) and that we are fighting the terrorists in Iraq. Well I don't see it that way. The way I see it is that Presidents George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have deliberately unleashed our military on an ill-conceived, ill-thought-out "mission" to achieve an objective that they haven't been honest about from the beginning, including the admission that this was a guy who tried to kill Bush's "daddy." Why should they have any say at all in this discussion, if they won't admit the basic facts about the reasons we are there in the first palce? We are there because they fucked up and took on more than they could handle, and they expect us to accept that any solution to what's going on in Iraq must begin with the framework in which they launched it. No it does not. Any solution to the ongoing occupation in Iraq by our forces must begin with an admission of culpability about everything, including the lies, and the acceptance of the fact that if they're not going to operate within a framework of reality and not ideology (that everyone wants Democracy, for one), then they are unfit to be a part of the solution.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Recess Appointments Have To Go

The ongoing tragedy (now "catastrophe") at the Crandall Canyon Mine in Huntington, Utah, should serve as a wake-up call that we need to amend the constitution to take away the Executive's authority to make recess appointments, or, at the very least, severely restrict its usage with clear, specific language. (None of this crap where the president can fill a vacancy because he claims it's a national emergency to not have a particular post filled.)

Despite being rejected not once, but twice, by the Senate to head the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Bush went ahead and used his authority to put Richard Stickler, a former executive in a mining company, in there as a recess appointment. There was a reason why Stickler was rejected not once but twice. He has a terrible safety record and he is so on the side of mine owners that he has said that he doesn't feel there is any need for new laws or regulations for mining safety. Congress has vowed to hold hearings "at the appropriate time" (which, I guess, means once this particular tragedy has come to its final resolution.) Obviously nothing they do can ever bring back the six miners lost in the original accident (hope is fading that they are still alive) nor the three resucers killed trying to save them. My condolences to their families. I am sorry that your loved ones fell victim to an administration that doesn't care one way or the other if you live or die, as long as someone can make money off it.

The recess appointment was seen as useful during a time when the Congress met for less than half a year before going back to their farms or businesses or families. But those days are long gone, and now the Congress is rarely in recess for more than a month and a half. Six weeks is not a long time to go without someone being at the head of any agency. If they picked their subordinates well (and the Senate didn't rubberstamp them), the number two person should be able to handle executing the laws of the country just fine. If they can't, then they shouldn't be in that position in the first palce. I do not believe the framers of the constitution ever intended that a twice-rejected nominee would ever get put in that position through a recess appointment. Perhaps one of the stipulations would be that no person rejected by the Senate could be given a recess appointment. Then we wouldn't get people like John Bolton as our UN Ambassador. Bolten was famous for saying that if ten floors of the United Nations building were blown up, it wouldn't make any difference. He also said once (on The Daily Show) that the president is there to serve the people who elected him, not the entire country. (He also said that President Lincoln's cabinet were all people who thought like he did. Luckily, the next night, Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of "Team of Rivals", corrected the record on that point.)

The problem comes when we assume that our government officials will act on behalf of the people, and not corporations. Corporations have no constitutional rights whatsoever, only people do. Corporations do have have any right to vote, only people do. And yet there are people in this country who actually believe that businesses should be unregulated, that "the market" will weed out the bad business practioners, and that making a profit should be the only concern of any corporation. Two of those people are the president and vice president. And yet these two men have demonstrated time and again, through the appointments they have made, that the will, safety and well-being of the people are of no concern, that the wishes of businesses are more important than the will of the people, and that laws that require business owners to keep their employees safe are unnecessary. Because, to their way of thinking, anything that takes away from profits is inherently a bad thing.

For a variety of reasons, George Bush has proven that he has been a terrible president (many think the absolute worst) because many of the things he has done he has done specifically to get around the laws preventing him from doing what he wants to do. His recess appointments have frequently been used to get people into positions the Senate said they were unfit to hold. This is not acting in "good faith". This could even could be contrued as not faithfully executing the laws of the country. And that is a clear and undeniable breach of his constitutional oath of office. We can't take any chances that we will never have a president as bad (if not worse, though that's hard to imagine) as Bush. He has become the poster boy for consitutional reform. The president's duty is to carry out the laws, not make up his own, and not to ignore the ones on the books already. Those miners, and the rescuers lost going after them, are all victims of this administrations "profit at all cost" mentality. My heart goes out to their families.

UPDATE: The Congressional Research Service issued a report on George Bush's recess appointments that can be viewed here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Give 'Em the Bird, Vote For a Third! Pt 5 - Party Line Voting

I came across some great websites for getting information about not only past elections but past votes in Congress. One is the official House of Representatives House Clerk's website. It has links to roll call votes (mostly through Thomas) and it has links to the results of past elections of US Representatives, including the 2006 election results. What I like is the breakdown of which party got how many votes.

As I looked through the 2006 Official results, I saw some interesting things. For example, in New York State, there were an awful lot of Blank/Scanning Error votes, some on the order of 10% or more! In fact, my own Congressman, Rep John "Still The One" Hall beat incumbent Sue Kelly by fewer votes than there were uncountable ones! Out of curiosity, I compared the "spoilage" to another state's vote. In Wisconsin, they cast about two million votes statewide, and the number of spoiled votes in the Senate race was about two thousand, or about one-tenth of one percent! Something is very wrong here, and very alarming.

With paper ballot voting, there wouldn't be nearly so many counting errors, and not nearly so many votes thrown away uncounted. The fancier the technology gets, the easier it is to mess it up. What are we waiting for, mind reading technology so we just walk into a booth, pull a lever, and all our thoughts are "calculated" and "analyzed" and a vote spits out for the Republican candidate anyway? Even with a Democrat running unopposed? Don't let the fancy stuff fool you into thinking your vote will be counted. Demand paper balloting as the best insurance against Election Vote Counter Fraud.

Find and support candidates who favor a move away from electronic voting. Repeal the Help (corrupt) America('s) Vote Act (HAVA). Don't let the Democrats and Republicans continue to run this country against your best interests. GIVE 'EM THE BIRD, VOTE FOR A THIRD!

Stay Tuned (Merv Griffin, 1925-2007)

Merv Griffin has died at the age of 82. America owes this man a debt of gratitude for what he has brought to our culture. In addition to being an Emmy-winner, a singer, a real estate baron, and a highly successful producer, I will remember Merv as the Elevator Killer, in Steve Martin's "The Man With Two Brains", who injected his victims with window cleaner, thus causing their brains to die last (which was an important plot point.) But we should all remember him for creating two of the best, most successful, and most popular game shows in television history.

If you ever clapped your hands, even as a joke, and said, "Big money, big money" (for whatever reason), you can thank Merv. If you ever looked at someone's name with a whole bunch of consonants throughout and thought (or said), "I'd like to buy a vowel, please," you can thank Merv. And if you ever made a joke to someone about "Once you buy a prize (car, dog, lover, etc.), it's yours to keep," you can thank Merv. We get all those fun expressions from "Wheel of Fortune", the longest running and most popular game show ever. And Merv Griffin created it. Thank you, Merv.

In response to the quiz show scandals, Merv was talking with his wife about how to create a new one, in which they couldn;t be accused of giving the contestants the answers in advance. And Merv's wife said, "Why not give them the answers and make them come up with the questions?" And Jeopardy! was born. This has always been my personal favorite, and not because I can get a lot of the "responses" correct, if not always in the form of a question. One big hint is to ignore the real trivia and concentrate on what is probably the only thing you know about the person. For example (this is made up), "This Confederate Army commander once worked as a feed salesman when he was twelve." We all know who was the commander of the Confederate Army, so the correct question must be, "What was Robert E. Lee?" Who knows if he ever worked as a feed salesman when he was twelve and, as Clark Gable famously said, "Frankly, my dear, who the fuck cares?"

We can thank Merv not only for Jeopardy!, but for its famous "Think Music" that they play during Final Jeopardy!, or when the manager has the whole infield on the mound to discuss how they'll pitch to the next batter. I like when they do that because the ump usually gives them the whole thirty seconds and times his appearance to tell them to break it up just as the music is ending, as if it interrupting the music would be a sin which the fans might not forgive. Merv Griffin wrote that music.

Thanks, Merv, for giving smart-asses like me the opportunity to show off a useless talent for trivia and Hangman Puzzle-solving. We wouldn't be the America we are today without your creations. When asked once what he would like his headstone to read, it was simply this:


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Take A Stand Campaign

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq has launched what they call the "Take A Stand Campaign":

The "Take a Stand Campaign" is a nation-wide organizing drive to demand that members of Congress and the Senate take a stand with the vast majority of Americans who want a safe and responsible redeployment of American Forces from Iraq.

Note that they are not talking aboput a "withdrawal", they are talking about a "responsible redeployment" of our troops. The troops may not necessarily get sent straight home, but perhaps they would be in less danger if they were taken out of the middle of the fighting.

They have also launched Iraq Summer:

IraqSummer is a campaign organized by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq and the Campaign to Defend America, designed to turn public opinion against the war in Iraq into political pressure on members of Congress who stand in the way of a responsible end to the war.

They have videos of various Iraq Summer activities such as chasing down Rep Thelma Drake (R-VA) and trying to get her to explain her stance on Iraq, and protest events aimed at Senator Mitch McConnell, plus a whole lot more. Amusing if you like Republican war mongers trying to avoid explaining themselves.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ratify the Child Labor Amendment

In doing some research into constitutional amendments, I learned some interesting things. Currently, there are 27 Amendments to the US Constitution. The first 10 are known as the Bill of Rights. This much we all know. (Some of us may not remember the exact number of amendments, but we know about the Bill of Rights.) Or do we? The first ten Amendments that were ratified were actually part of a set of twelve Amendments. Of the two that did not get ratified at that time, one was about a formula for the number of US Representatives which is still technically pending. The other Amendment eventually did get ratified to become our 27th (or, if you prefer, XXVII) and most recent. It requires that before any bill increasing the pay for the Representatives and Senators could "take effect", an election of Representatives shall have "intervened", meaning come first, so the voters could tell them, "No, you can't have that pay raise you voted yourself, but your successor will have to start there." I guess the question has become, technically, "What does 'take effect' mean?" Does it mean start and keep going once that first election of Representatives has occurred, never to be stopped except by another separate law? Or does it mean that no new pay increase, regardless of when passed, could begin until another election of Representatives? If that's more the case, then these annual cost-of-living pay increases that Congress gets may be unconstitutional. But what can we do about it? Ask them? You know, that's crazy enough that it just might work!

What surprised me was that there have only been five other Amendments that have been sent to the states for ratification. For some reason, I suspected that there would have been more. But only two of those other six have been rejected due to time limit expiration. There are four still, technically, pending. One of them is the The Child Labor Amendment.

Section 1. The Congress shall have power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age.

Section 2. The power of the several States is unimpaired by this article except that the operation of State laws shall be suspended to the extent necessary to give effect to legislation enacted by the Congress.

I was also surprised to find that not only was it still pending because it had no expiration date written into it, it had only been ratified by 28 states. The folks living in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming can all be proud that your states have ratified this Amendment. The State Senates of New York, Mississippi, and Nebraska (before it became Unicameral) ratified it, but their respective Lower Houses did not. And even though they can still later ratify it, as "rejecting" it technically means nothing, the following twelve states actually rejected the Child Labor Amendment. Those proud states are: Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and on at least three distinct occasions, Louisiana.

It's not too late. Even if it's just the ten states that haven't finished deciding one way or the other, it can still become an Amendment if the Legislatures of Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and South Dakota all decide to do the right thing and ratify this Amendment. You may not believe this, but there was a time in this country's history when a child who reached the age of five or six was put to work for the family, either in a field picking crops or at a factory. Laws alone are not a guarantee of rights, and states are free to set their own rules. I wonder what kind of Child Labor Laws they have in the states that rejected this Amendment? Especially Lousiana, which seemed emphatic about not ratifying it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Step in the Right Direction

A report in the Washington Post reveals that California is, at the very least, standing up to the corrupt electronic voting machine companies. And when I say "corrupt", I'm talking about the companies that make electronic voting equipment that "just happen" to fail in ways that virtually always favor Republicans.

If you haven't been keeping up with this issue, I strongly urge you to check out Bev Harris' great site Black Box Voting to learn more about how our democracy is being stolen from us. One company, Election System & Software, was run by now-Senator Chuck Hagel, who won a surprising victory where 85% of the vote was counted on his voting machines. Sort of looks suspicious, doesn't it?

And this isn't just "conspiracy talk" nonsense, either. There have been documented instances where a voter's attempt to vote for a Democrat was switched by the machine to the vote for the Republican. Though they may have happened, I am unaware of any instance in which an electronic voting machine tried to change a vote for a Republican to a vote for a Democrat. Pay attention to this issue, folks. Learn what the rules are regarding alternate ballots in your state. If you can, fill one out on paper.

They should have banned the machines altogether, but at least California headed toward the right drection, if somewhat hesitantly.

The Fourth Means Even Less Now

The US Senate voted to erode, yet again, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The Democrats, in particular, are so afraid of the names they'll be called by their opponents next year, that they lack the courage to stand up to this power-hungry, law-breaking, unconstitutional monarchy of a government. They sicken me. (Via Raw Story.) "White House deputy spokesman Tony Fratto said the bill would give US spy agencies the tools they needed to fight terrorism." They don't get it! Under our constitutional system of government, they are not entitled to get that they feel they "need", they are entitled to get what will not violate the constitutional rights of the citizens of the United States. And if that means they can't have the best possible toys to spy on us, so be it! Find a way to do it within the law and the constitution, or move to another country. Like Paraguay.

If you are among the people who believe that the government (particularly one run by an administration with a solid and verifiable reputation for not abiding by the law) should be allowed to do "whatever it takes", even if it is unconstitutional, to fight whoever they say are your enemies, how long before you start seeing your friends, or people you would never have suspected of being involved with terrorists, start having their lives ruined by the government, and sometimes over a mistake? How would you like to find out the hard way that the charity to which you've been giving hundreds of dollars or more over many years also uses a small percentage of it to support groups that use violence? Under the rules they want to impose, a check from you would be enough to have your citizenship stripped away from you. (And they wouldn't have to actually convict anyone of using that money for terrorist or violent purposes, either.) I said that was under the rules they want to have; I don't believe they've gotten there yet. I hope.

Please don't take this as coming fromt he wrong place. Yes, I'm a Liberal, and the Liberal in me is opposed to everything about this president's neo-conservatism. But this is coming from the Libertarian in me, who fears having even a Democrat in the White House with these powers. This is not a Liberal/Conservative issue, it is a Libertarian/Authoritarian issue. And I know that there are a lot more of you who are like me on this than there are who are like them. Call your Representatives right away and tell them you don't want to give up any of your rights just because the neo-cons have frightened everyone through their poor management of the government with which they were entrusted. The US Senate, sadly, has already fallen tothe enemy.