The Many Problems with Congress

I don’t think there ever was a golden age when “the Constitution meant something.” Instead, I think there was a time when the system of checks and balances work more efficiently. We know, for example, that there have always been greedy selfish individuals in government and out. However, we have had periods where these greedy and selfish individuals have been exposed, particularly on the federal level.

I could cite individual examples.  Yes, we all remember Nixon.  Well, let’s assume we all at least heard of Nixon even if we’re too young to remember him — which I’m not.  We can’t be satisfied with the current occupant of the White House.  We’re not.  This man has been a miserable, horrible failure.  But we also cannot be satisfied when the United States Congress sits back and permits abuses to go on, unchallenged, and collectively loses its balls.

It seems like half of Congress wants to be president.  Perhaps that’s always been the case, but in this instance, they’re all running.

The most disappointing thing about this crowd in Congress is not that the Constitution has ceased to work. Rather, it’s that Congress has ceased working the Constitution.

Jon Stewart Did It Again

I’m completely floored and astounded.  Jon Stewart just interviewed Evo Morales,  President of Bolivia on his program.  I have no comment at this time on what was said, or indeed any of the actual content of the interview.  I was simply completely floored and impressed that this man on Comedy Central is once again interviewing a world leader.  Jon Stewart has done it again.

There were no Twinkies served this time.  Nothing of the sort occurred.  In fact, by Comedy Central standards, this interview was rather sublime and serious.  I don’t know the president’s politics.  I simply know what I heard: this man made promises, and he kept them after his election. 

Consider this: when we watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, we are essentially getting our news one day late.  He tapes around five o’clock in the afternoon, and generally doesn’t use any of the material from the current news day.  Instead, he and his team spend that evening I’m sure, after taping, parsing the news from the previous day and deciding what they’re going to use on air the next day.

But the genius of this man and his team is incredible. World leaders to come on his show, appear on Comedy Central, and reach a demographic they would never otherwise reach. 

We all know now that the current occupant of the White House has learned nothing in six years.  In fact, if the man ever knew anything about governing, and we must presume from some success in Texas that he did, he’s forgotten everything.  If the man ever knew anything about bipartisanship, he’s long ago rejected that as well.

How refreshing to see someone appear on Comedy Central looking more “presidential” than the current President of the United States ever did.

I’m having a Twinkie tomorrow in Jon Stewart’s honor.

The First Amendment Tasered

I’ve been considering the Tasering of student Andrew Meyer during an appearance by Sen. John Kerry at the University of Florida since I first heard about it.  Some of the first accounts sought to discredit Meyer right away, asserting that based on videos he had posted previously on You Tube, this may have been a stunt.

Nevertheless, here was a man Tasered in the United States of America.  As a refresher, here’s the Amendment placed First in the Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Now, freedom of speech does not mean that we get to say what we want to say where we want to say it all the time.   If I started shouting the the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives, as did this “Christian” person when a Hindu chaplain was invited to pray, I would be removed.  And, no, this is not a violation of my right to free speech.

But tasering someone asking a question?   This is troubling.

The weird right has sought to criticize Senator Kerry, and that’s just wrong.  He was completely innocent in this case.  This was a choice of the police.

Joe Conason comments on the tasering in Salon.com, making reference to the recently unearthed “how to stop free speech” manual from the White House:

As Matthews noted on Tuesday evening, the Bush White House standardized those methods for squelching speech in a manual for presidential advance teams. “By the way, 80 percent of the country disagrees with him,” Matthews quipped, “so you’ve got to have this manual handy.” Then he quoted a telling section: “If demonstrators appear likely to cause only a political disruption, it is the advance person’s responsibility to take appropriate action. Rally squads should be dispatched to surround and drown out demonstrators immediately.”

That October 2002 manual — obtained in heavily redacted form last June by the American Civil Liberties Union in the course of litigation against the Bush administration — includes copious instructions for ensuring that dissension need never be seen nor heard. Its repetitive themes include “the best method for preventing demonstrators,” “deterring potential protestors from attending events,” and “designat[ing] a protest area … preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route.” Potential protesters are to be ignored only “if it is determined that the media will not see or hear” them.

Unfortunately for the White House, such strategies are patently unconstitutional and violate several provisions of the Bill of Rights. It is unlawful to bar individuals from public events because they have the wrong bumper stickers on their cars, or wear the wrong T-shirts, or belong to the wrong organizations, or have written the wrong letters to the editor of their local newspaper, as the president’s advance agents have repeatedly done over the past six years.

This will be a country in recover for some time after these Bush Republicans are gone from the White House.  They’ve done more damage than trash the economy, the dollar, and raise the national debt to an obscene $9 Trillion and counting.

Randy Pausch Sets the Tone for Living

In a matter completely unrelated to politics, I call your attention to the last lesson taught by Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.  Mark Roth at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an excellent piece on Dr. Pausch’s lecture.  Among the highlights:

“If I don’t seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you,” said Dr. Pausch, a 46-year-old computer science professor who has incurable pancreatic cancer.

It’s not that he’s in denial about the fact that he only has months to live, he told the 400 listeners packed into McConomy Auditorium on the campus, and the hundreds more listening to a live Web cast.

Dr. Pausch was not there to talk about cancer:

What he was there to discuss was how to fulfill your childhood dreams, and the lessons he had learned on his life’s journey.

When he was a boy, Dr. Pausch said, he had a concrete set of dreams: He wanted to experience the weightlessness of zero gravity; he wanted to play football in the NFL; he wanted to write an article for the World Book Encyclopedia (“You can tell the nerds early on,” he joked); he wanted to be Captain Kirk from “Star Trek”; and he wanted to work for the Disney Co.

In the end, he got to tackle all of them, he said — even if his football accomplishments fell somewhere short of the NFL.

Read the entire article.

John McCain Seems Ready to Blow

Watching Sen. John McCain on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, I’m struck by his attempt to convey a controlled, soft-spoken, and soft-spoken he tries to be. His began the interview sounding measured and reflective, almost pensive. Soon, however, he was apologizing for barely raising his voice above a whisper. His exaggerated efforts at restraint are evident.

But that famous McCain temper is evident just below the surface.

“I apologize for firing back at you like that,” he said after he barely raised his voice in response to a question by Stephanopoulos.

Apologize? For what? Answering a question? Disagreeing?

McCain spent a good portion of the interview trying to convince the American people that he’s everybody’s favorite grandfater, and Gen. David Petraeus is simply misunderstood, and, gosh, really a great guy.

McCain will boil over soon. As his numbers drop, he’ll explode.

Fred Thompson Changes His Mind Again

Fresh into the race for the office of President of the United States, Fred Thompson is revealing a sneaky mean streak as he begins his campaign. The issue is homosexuality, or “deviancy” as one Iowa voter put it this week. Thompson did not correct the white-haired gent who uttered the “D” word, but took advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate his deadly position on human rights, reversing his previous position against a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage. And let’s not forget his not-so-subtle appeal to “States Rights,” the old rallying cry of the southern racists who wanted to preserve slavery.

From Salon.com’s War Room:

It’s not every day that a presidential candidate gets asked point-blank what to do about “deviancy.” But there was Fred Thompson in Sioux City Friday morning, taking this question from a voter: “My question is what society’s position should be on deviancy, including homosexuality?” asked an older, white-haired man.

And the reply:

Thompson answered the deviancy question with a considerable lack of specificity. “Well, society’s position and the government position, and what the government ought to do to exercise the power of the federal government, is not necessarily the same thing,” he said. Then he said that the government should treat everyone the same way, and that “we should not set aside categories to give special set-aside treatments” to specific groups. This is the language, more or less, of the religious right, which argues that laws that protect gays and lesbians from discrimination amount to unjustified special legal privileges.

Then Thompson took further opportunity for gay bashing when Steven Carlson, a director of the Iowa Christian Alliance, raised his hand and asked whether Thompson would support a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, the dance began:

In the past, Thompson has opposed a federal amendment to ban gay marriage on federalist grounds. Like Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, he has said that he does not believe the federal government should be involved in an issue that should be left to the states.

But on Friday, he said he would support a different type of amendment to the Constitution. “I would support a constitutional amendment which says some off-the-wall court decision in one state that recognizes the marriage in one state, like Massachusetts, just to pick a state, cannot go to another state and have it recognized in that state. You are not bound by what another state does.” He was not done. “The second part of my amendment would also state that judges could not impose this [gay marriage], on the federal or state level, unless a state legislature signed off on it.”

This second part of his amendment is novel, if a bit ponderous. He has said before that he is against the federal government inserting itself into state matters like marriage. But he supports the federal government inserting itself into state courthouses, when they take up the issue of marriage. He did not immediately explain this conflict.

So keep the federal government out of state matters like marriage, but permit the federal government to assert itself into state courthouses should they take on the issue of marriage.

I just had to restate that for myself so I could try and wrap my mind around it, and I can’t.

DA Arthur Branch would probably have a problem with that one as well.

Jobs Lost In August

The nation lost 4,000 jobs in August, the first time employment has shrunk since August 2003. Economists target several factors, but chief among them is the worsening housing market.

According to the Washington Post:

“We did not expect a report as awful as this,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist with the High Frequency Economics consulting firm.

Stock prices fell nearly 2 percent today, as investors concluded that the risks of a serious economic downturn have been heightened. At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 249.97 points, or about 1.9 percent, to 13,133.38. The S&P 500 was down 25 points, about 1.7 percent, to 1,453.55, and the Nasdaq was off 48.62, or about 1.9 percent, to 2,565.7.

The article goes on to say that, “employers became more cautious about hiring before any impact of the breakdown of many credit markets in August could be felt.”

The number of construction jobs fell by 22,000. The manufacturing sector lost 46,000 jobs.

Once again, there was little acknowledgment of reality from the White House:

In response to today’s report, the White House noted that the economy had still produced 1.6 million jobs during the past 12 months and that the unemployment rate remained low.

“It’s not the kind of number I’d like to see,” Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Bloomberg Television. “Data does not always move in a straight line, so occasionally you will find some surprises. The economy will continue to grow in the second half of the year.”

How to interpret this? “Just sit tight. We’re doing fine, and you should too, eventually, we believe, because, you know, we have faith.”

But there were calls for more:

Others called on the Fed to act.

“Too little has been done to quiet the market’s justifiable fears that things are headed downhill,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

Patriot Act Unravels

Some of the most controversial portions of the U.S. Patriot Act have been declared unconstitutional.  Thursday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero is a setback for the Justice Department, but quite a victory for the ACLU, which filed the lawsuit.

The Washington Post reports:

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York said the FBI’s use of secret “national security letters” to demand such data violates the First Amendment and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers, because the FBI can impose indefinite gag orders on the companies and the courts have little opportunity to review the letters.

The secrecy provisions are “the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values,” Marrero wrote. His strongly worded 103-page opinion amounted to a rebuke of both the administration and Congress, which had revised the act in 2005 to take into account an earlier ruling by the judge on the same topic.

The ACLU should be commended on this one.  The slippery slope to from freedom to tyranny chosen by the Bush Administration is not worth the price.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling. “We are reviewing the decision and considering our options,” said spokesman Dean Boyd.

But Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in the case, said the ruling “is yet another setback in the Bush administration’s strategy in the war on terror and demonstrates the far-reaching efforts of this administration to use powers that are clearly unconstitutional.”

Let’s hope it’s not the last setback for the Bush Administration.  The rest of us have suffered far too many.

Opus Banned

OPUSAnother of Berkely Breathed’s Opus comic strips has been banned from many newspapers across the United States. This one features a character who is flirting with Islam preparing to go to the beach. Many Muslim women dress very modestly, including at the beach.

Banning the comic strip, however, seems rather disingenuous. Breathed has been wildly more offensive — and hilarious — on many other issues before, including religion. That’s what he does.

Censorship of editorials or cartoons that may have editorial content does not advance First Amendment rights for anyone. None of us, regardless of our faith background or any other background, can afford to see the Constitution further eroded.

These newspapers dropping Opus will have difficulty convincing readers they really care when they dare to opine on anything controversial in the future.