Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Comment on The Fictious War on Christmas

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “Good morning all and to all a Good Morning.” That awful day of the year Christmas Day has rolled around once more. I am mindful of the self-proclaimed christians and christianist politicians among us who are bemoaning a mythical War on Christmas by people who have the temerity to wish people something different than the usual Merry Christmas in favor of a more diverse greeting reflective of the diversity in America that we all enjoy. Well perhaps all of us enjoy it except for the Lost in Leviticus christian crowd who believe that Happy Holidays is an act of war against the godhead. The greeting preferred by such people has always made me think of a a gaggle of old fat English gentlemen suffering the effects of gout on their blossoming bodies sitting around a bounteous table packed with fowl, roasts, rabbits, duck, and geese toasting themselves and their good fortune with glass after glass of English port and claret. In my view it has always seemed somewhat sacrilegious to honor a babe born in a shed meant to shelter animals against the cold of the night with such a gluttonous feast.
Recently I was in the local diner for breakfast and to visit with some of my friends and neighbors who favor the place for its breakfasts when I noticed one of the local Norbertine monks was present with a small group of his friends. I hailed the good father and he came over to where I was sitting and we began a short discussion about his confrères' plans to move their abbey from its present location in Trabuco to a more suitable location in Silverado. We began a polite discussion about their move and their efforts to build their new abbey on the grounds on an old turkey farm nearby. At some point he introduced himself simply as “Leo” and I introduced myself in the same fashion. I disclosed to him that I had once been a Claretian, an association of which I am still very proud decades after I left the company of those brave men. That prompted more discussion and we found we knew several people in common who were and are Claretians today.
He eventually withdrew from our conversation to rejoin his friends and shook my hand and wished me a Blessed Christmas. That blessing has been with me since as I think of Christmas and how it has been transformed from a shopkeepers' holiday into a corporate shopkeepers' holiday in modern America. Father Leo's simple greeting and blessing has really touched me and made me realize that I am indeed blessed to have the wonderful collection of friends who care for and love me. A Blessed Christmas to all who read this.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What Caused the Detroit Bankruptcy?

Something needs to be made clear about the Detroit bankruptcy:
The chapter 9 filing is not the fault of the city's pensioners nor is it the fault of the unions representing Detroit's worker bees.. Detroit has not fallen because 'greedy pensioners' are sucking up the money as America's wingnuts and their allies scream. IAccording to news reports the average pension in Detroit is some $19000 per year and the average social security benefit is about $14000 per year.
There are lots of people and institutions who are indeed responsible for the disaster that is Detroit but it is not the fault of the unions and it is not the fault of the pensioners. To say otherwise is simply not true and another example of lies being told in the GOP war against workers and poor people. These misstatements whether intentional or not are just examples of the class war being waged against people by other people working for vultures feathering their own nests.
The public employee unions represented the workers toiling for the City and its inhabitants negotiated labor contracts with the City. No one overpowered the City or otherwise took advantage of the City regarding pay, benefits and working conditions. These contracts were approved by both the workers and the City fathers through the City's legislative body elected by the citizens of the City. The result is there was created a contract binding both sides: the workers worked and the City paid a fair wage and agreed to pay money into the pension funds created by the contract. That should have been the end of the matter but it wasn't.
Several things coincided in time over the last decade or so to cause this bankruptcy:
The city fathers decided for whatever reason that they were not going to fund their portion of payments into the pension fund. These are called by the euphemistic term “unfunded pension liabilities”. In plain English the City government breached the labor contract.
The tax base of the City eroded because of a combination of things. Motor City was dependent upon the auto industry and the auto industry demanded and received special rights in the form of tax benefits which decreased significantly the funds available to the City to run the local government and to fund the pensions. The American auto industry began to falter due to competition from foreign auto industries in Europe and in Asia. The auto manufacturers and other industries dependent on the auto industry such as parts manufacturers left the City for other places where they could negotiate better deals for themselves and their equity holders and basically abandoned the City and abandoned their plants in situ to become Detroit's problem. As a result taxes were not being paid by the industry to the City. None of this of course happened overnight but these results accumulated over time. The net result was a decrease in the City's cash flow. Cash flow became a trickle.
The City needed to continue operating and to do that it had to borrow money and those loans were obtained on the strength of the tax value of the real property located in the City. The City borrowed this money from Wall Street banks and banking institutions generally referred to now as Banksters. The obligation to repay these loans were secured by tax levies and the consequent revenue stream now flowing very slowly. The value of real estate in Detroit plummeted and the tax receipts were no longer sufficient to support the City neither in its day to day operations, nor it obligation to maintain and repair or replace infrastructure nor its obligations to repay the Wall Street banks. The City's credit rating plummeted as well and for for the simple reason that the lenders were nervous and feared they would end up holding the bag. This started a ball rolling downhill and the City struggled to refinance its debt and meanwhile the City stopped making contributions to the pensions. Detroit made a habit of robbing Peter to pay Paul. The debt was refinanced and interest payments deferred to allow the City breathing room. The refinance documents tied the new obligations of the City to the City's credit rating as determined by the banking industry's allies in the credit rating industry. The banksters and the credit rating industry were and still are linked at the hip. Under the deal signed on to by Detroit and its bankster creditors if the City's credit rating decreased further which it did all bets were off and the deferred interest payments became due and payable not over a period twenty years but now. Due dates were accelerated just banks do with individual credit card users
The state of Michigan which had an obligation to pay to Detroit some forty seven million dollars annually for some mandated activities failed to make those payments and thereupon reduced the City's cash flow even more. Everyone it seemed had a straw in Detroit's revenue stream with an obvious result.
Michigan has a law that is pretty much unique to Michigan. It is called the Emergency Manager Law and is codified as Public Act 4 enacted and signed into law in its present form by GOP governor Rick Snyder. It allows the governor of the state to impose upon distressed \local governments and school districts a super bureaucrat called an Emergency Manager who after appointment runs all of the affairs of the city and converts the elected government into an a dictatorial government run by that manager. That manager reports to the governor and becomes in effect both the City's legislature and the City's executive. The elected government is magically turned into a group of political eunuchs with no legal authority to do the jobs that the citizenry elected them to do. It effectively overturns elections. The emergency manager is responsible only to the governor and are analogous to viceroys who were responsible only to the kings who appointed and anointed them. It was the Emergency Manager who initiated the bankruptcy that is now threatening the paltry pensions of Detroit's retired workers.
To say that the City's pensioners or the Union representing City workers are responsible for this bankruptcy is total unmitigated nonsense. The fault lies with Detroit's city council and other elected officials, the state legislature which defunded Detroit, the greed exhibited by Wall Street Banksters, the governor, the emergency manager and the credit reporting firms hired by the banksters. The destruction of the domestic automobile industry bears some responsibility. Currently it is the plan that Detroit's retirees are going to make up the shortfall by decreases in the payments the retired workers will receive. The banksters as is the usual case will get paid in full on he backs of poor and middle class people.
Remember that un-restrained capitalism is an upward wealth redistribution scheme in which the rich get richer and the poor become poorer and middle class destroyed. That my friends is what is going in Detroit. If there is a conspiracy it must be laid at the feet of the financial industry.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Ron Wyden Speaks on Secret Government

The following exchange took place between a Rolling Stone writer Janet Reitman and Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR) a member of the senate intelligence committee:

Reitman: “In March, you asked the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, whether the government knowingly collected data on millions of Americans, and he answered "not wittingly" – which we now know was, basically, a lie. Yet Clapper has described it as "the least untruthful" answer he could have given. What's the story behind that?”

Wyden: “
After both the NSA Director and the Director of National Intelligence declined to clarify these remarks in writing, I decided it was necessary to ask the Director of National Intelligence about them at an open hearing. I sent the question over a day in advance so that he would be prepared to answer it. They didn't ask me not to ask the question – and when they've made requests like that for security reasons, I've always respected them. If they had asked me not to ask the question I would have not asked the question, though I would have kept trying to find a way to press them on it. When the Director gave an inaccurate answer to the question, I had my staff call his office later on a secure line and urge them to amend his response. They decided to let his inaccurate answer stand on the public record, until about a month after the Snowden disclosures. Even then, they started off trying to defend his answer, before finally admitting publicly that it had been inaccurate.” [Emphasis added]

What struck me hard between the eyes was the disclosure of the strength and power of the hold that executive agencies of the government have over members of the legislative branch of that government appearing in the emphasized portion of Mr. Wyden's response.
Our national government is supposed to be a limited government and our Constitution spells out the powers of that government and vests “all legislative power herein granted” to the Congress. Which simply means in plain English that the power to make government operate is with the Congress alone. No executive action is permitted without prior legislative action. What Wyden is saying is that “congress crested the agency and the agency controls how congress operates with respect to that agency” and that seems absolutely backwards. It seems that all any nameless government agent need do is pin a National Security label on any project, authorized or unauthorized, named or un-named and the project disappears from public view forever unless there's an Edward Snowden or a Bradley Manning lurking about. It is subject to only as much congressional oversight as the agency deems proper. This is nonsensical and really puts the cart before the horse. Now what do we do about this? Lift the carpet and sweep all this under the carpet until we forget about it – and let it continue?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Freeze Frame Terrorism

Today sixty-eight years ago. America set a new world's record. On this day in history America in a single act of terrorism killed one hundred and forty thousand innocents as they were going about their daily lives during a war they had no role in starting. They only fought it in the name of their emperor and died in it with the name of their emperor on their seared lips and skinless faces. Their screams of terror echo down the time line to the end of the universe where everything stops dead up against the wall.  Here we stand today more than ready, willing and able to do it again if herded again by politicians in service of their masters. Politics by other means is what historians call war. Mass murder is what it really is. God bless America.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Last Post

This will be my last post for the foreseeable future. I would like to thank all the people who have read my rants over the time I have been writing this blog. I also would like to thank all the people who didn't bother to read it. I won't thank anyone who bullshitted me about reading it. You know who you are.  I am closing up the shop, taking down and folding the tent.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Civil Disobedience as Espionage

(c) 2010
I find the uproar over Snowden to be interesting. Snowden is not the traditional Civil Disobedient in the mold of Gandhi, MLK Jr, or Nelson Mandela or any of the other political prisoners including Bradley Manning. The practitioners of classical civil disobedience all realized that paying the penalty for their disobedience was part of what they had to endure and the educative function of civil disobedience was the fact that they went to jail for their beliefs and their refusal to bend to the demands of then current political morality. 
Snowden did not (although he may yet do so) go to jail. That causes me to believe that CD is an ongoing  political event. That being said it does not mean that Snowden is not a whistleblower.  We probably all suspected the existence of the NSA program if we actually thought about the technology available to the Government and the Government's secret contractors such as Bozz-Allen.. All he did to earn the enmity of the right wing noise machine and the various servants of government overreaching such as Feinstein, Schumer, Graham and McCain,Obama and Holder and the lesser lights or dimmer bulbs if you will like King, Gohmert et al was to disclose the actual existence of a tornadic covert program that sweeps up everything its path. He gave us concrete proof, direct evidence if you will  that we are being surveilled by our own Government.  This is not the same as saying that we are currently being listened to by agents of the government or agents of the privatized government such as Snowden's former employer. What he has established is  that all of what we say, hear, speak and write is being vacuumed up and stored for later use. Archived if you will. As someone said recently this is not a search and seizure. It's a  seizure and the search is yet to come. Snowden is going to be used by Chinese and Russian politicians. There is no doubt about that.  That does not make him a bad guy (at least as I understand the term) and much more importantly it does not mean that his disclosures are any the less important to us as citizens off the US. What we make of this is up to us.
Snowden's actions are certainly less criminal than the lies told by James Clapper under oath to congress this past spring nor less criminal than the disclosure of the identity of a CIA operative by Dick Cheney...something that deprived our nation of the services of Valerie Plame as a covert agent of our government.  That was certainly more of an espionage operation than Snowden's disclosures.

Monday, June 17, 2013

US Senate Skips Town for Fathers' Day Gfits

By law the Congress is charged as the lawgivers in our Nation with overseeing the operations of the the executive branch of government. This includes our national security infrastructure including the National Security Agency (NSA) that is busy turning our Nation into a textbook example of the national security state.
On Thursday last only days after Edward Snowden released documents showing the existence of the PRISM program at the NSA that indiscriminately vacuums up incredible amounts of what is called metadata from the phone calls, emails and Internet site visits of ordinary Americans the NSA held a classified briefing for the entire membership of the US Senate in a secure room in the basement of the US Capitol building. This was reported in The Hill which is a smallish circulation newspaper that reports mostly on goings on in the Government of the US.
What made this article unusual and worthy of note is that more than half of the membership of the Senate decided they would skip that briefing. That's right you read it correctly 53 members of the senate balanced their duty to oversee the structure of the national security state that has been created since the attack on the US by foreign nationals against their desires to get home early for the Fathers' Day weekend and the weekend won..
What really frosts my butt about this story is that the identities of the members who chose to get home early in order to be on time to receive their Fathers' Day gifts and accolades were secret and their names not disclosed to The Hill. Apparently the gift-receiving culture of our national politics was more important to them than doing the jobs they were elected or in some cases appointed to do. What gives here? Has the US Senate just blown us off big time?!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tomorrow is Decision Day.

Tomorrow is the 17th of June. There will be only one more Monday in June and the current Term of Court ends when the last decision of the October 2012 Term is filed. The Court does not convene again until the first Monday of October. Absent a special decision day it is quite probable that the Court will file its opinions in Hollingsworth vs Perry and US vs Windsor on either tomorrow, the 17th or on the following Monday the 24th of June. There are at least two other hot button cases to be decided before the term ends: the affirmative action case and the case out of Shelby County Alabama seeking to toss section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. My guess is that tomorrow is going to be Decision Day for both the Hollingsworth and Windsor cases. The court traditionally files its opinions on related but separate cases on the same day. So I expect both cases to be filed or, probably more accurately, released on the same day. I am not as familiar with the facts and arguments in the Windsor case as I am in the Hollingsworth case so I will limit my comments to Hollingsworth only.
Hollingsworth vs Perry arose out of California's Proposition 8 at the 2008 General Election which amended the state's constitution to take away the right of Californians to marry the person of their choice and welded the so called 'traditional marriage' model into the California's constitution. There are three things that SCOTUS could do with this case.
First of all it could render a global decision that either ties marriage to privacy rights like the court's prior decisions on birth control (Griswold vs Connecticut) and a woman's right to choose whether she will carry a pregnancy to term (Roe vs Wade) or on the validity of statutes that outlawed interracial marriages (Loving vs Virginia) and hold that the states cannot interfere with personal life choices on either or both of those grounds . The Court could adopt a global decision denying gay and lesbian people equal access to the legal benefits of marriage. If the courts adopts the view(s) of the petitioner proponents of the traditional model it will have some difficult writing and persuading to do in the face of cases like Loving vs Virginia that held that laws against interracial marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. There will also be a major PR issue reconciling a denial of marriage equality based on the existence of non-marriage fixes such as California's Registered Domestic Partner statute which gives RDPs all the rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage other than the designations husband and wife while ignoring what SCOTUS said about the separate but equal fiction cobbled onto Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence by Plessy vs Ferguson: essentially that it was nonsense. A decision adopting the positions of either the Petitioners or the Respondents will be of great scope and will go to to the heart of how society is organized is so fundamental that it should not be by a narrow one vote majority but i should be unanimous. Chief Justice Warren realized that and the great school desegregation case Brown vs Board of Education was a unanimous decision. We should ask no less of the Court in rendering such a major case as this one. If the marriage equality case is rendered by a less than unanimous Court it will suffer the same as Roe: continual attack by partisans on the losing side of the case. Some that will divide the Nation for decades to come. I think that Justice Kennedy who has been very understanding of the the issues involved in gay rights litigation and who is generally agreed to be the 'swing vote' will withhold his vote to render any 5-4 decision in favor of nationwide marriage equality. I also suspect that Chief Justice Roberts will also not want to lend his vote to a narrow 5-4 decision holding for the proponents of Proposition 8. I doubt that either side in this great dispute can muster the five votes necessary for for either such earth-shaking nationwide decision.
Another possible outcome would be for the SCOTUS to dismiss certiorari on lack of standing grounds under Article III of the Constitution. A dismissal on this basis would effectively uphold Proposition 8 because it would vacate the Court of Appeals decision previously filed in the case and it would vacate the decision and judgment of the District Court declaring Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is that if the petitioner at SCOTUS did not have standing to ask for certiorari in the Supreme Court it also would be lacking, ipso facto, in both the Ninth Circuit appeal and in the District Court lawsuit as well. Those cases would have to be dismissed also. Federal courts are almost without exception courts of what is called “limited jurisdiction” and the judicial power of the United States has to affirmatively and expressly appear in Article IIII or the federal judiciary is without power to act at all in the case. A finding there is no standing would effectively end all of the attacks on Proposition 8. I would think that this view would have a chance of prevailing but for the fact that the original panel of 9th Circuit judges certified a question of standing under state law to the California supreme court and that court unanimously held that in a case where California's constitutional officers, the Governor and the Attorney General, who are charged by law with defending an initiative measure enacted by the electors fail and refuse to defend the act under attack because they believe it is unconstitutional that the proponents of the measure have standing under California law to defend the measure in state courts. That is close to but not identical with Article III standing. In California's trial court system, the superior court is a court of general jurisdiction that has original power to hear and decide any and all cases except those which the legislature has been expressly removed from the superior court's jurisdiction so that the superior court can not hear and determine the case. The federal district courts being courts of limited jurisdiction only have the power to hear and determine cases over which it has been expressly granted jurisdiction either by the Constitution or Congress. The plaintiffs, Perry et al in the federal court lawsuit brought their case in federal court because they urged that Prop 8 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment therefore the district court had jurisdiction because it was a 'federal question'. The also asserted that they had Article III standing because they had skin in the game and alleged that it was their federal constitutional rights that were being denied. The same cannot be said for the proponents of Prop 8. Their interest in this case, their skin in the game so to speak was more akin to the interest that every citizen and taxpayer has in seeing that the laws are enforced. The courts have always held that the interest that each of us possesses in that regard is so minuscule that it's non-existent and does not confer Article III standing. The Court could find that because the proponents of Prop 8 could allege no particular injury to themselves they did not have standing to defend the case in federal court. SCOTUS to dismiss on standing grounds would have to do either one of two things. Either it would have to distinguish standing as discussed by the state supreme court and found to exist in these Prop 8 proponents as different from Article III standing. That could be done but it might appear to the public to be a nonsensical exercise in the parsing of words and thus adversely affect the moral authority of SCOTUS. The other supporting logic in such a standing opinion is that SCOTUS would just be interfering with the judgment on the certified question of state law much like SCOTUS did in 2000 in Bush vs Gore when it overturned the decision of the Florida supreme court on the question of who won the state's electoral votes. The illogic of that decision has troubled SCOTUS and its moral authority for the last 13 years much like it was a bell tied to the tail of a dog or a cat. Based on these  very real considerations  I think that SCOTUS will not adopt this position and essentially follow the lead of the California court on the standing issue or just ignore the issue entirely.
The third possible outcome and the one I believe will prevail as to Proposition 8 is that SCOTUS will in fact DIG the case. Certiorari is a discretionary writ. It is not an appeal because generally there is no right of further appeal from an adverse decision in an appeal from the district court. The court of appeal in this case had exclusive appellate jurisdiction. The only way Prop 8 proponents could  launch themselves into the Supreme Court was to convince four of the nine justices to issue a Writ of Certiorari. The only thing required for a grant of certiorari is the affirmative vote of four of the nine justices. Five justices may later say that they don't' want to hear the particular case for whatever reason. DIG is lawyerese for Dismissing Certiorari as Improvidently Granted. The effect of DIGing the case would be to reinstate the opinion of the 9th Circuit upholding the decision of the District Court in declaring Prop 8 to be unconstitutional. The reason for this is quite simple and involves no effort to distinguish anything from anything else as a dismissal for lack of Article III standing would require. The case as litigated in the San Francisco district court involved a simple fact pattern. California's supreme court found under the California constitution that marriage is a fundamental right and  that denying same gendered people the right to intermarry was an interference with a fundamental right supported by neither the required compelling state interest nor even the lesser standard of a rational basis. Proposition 8 six months after the California supreme court's 4-3 decision in The Marriage Cases holding that marriage equality existed in California later removed that right and declared that in California only opposite gendered people would intermarry. Proposition 8 was held valid by a subsequent ruling of the California court and there was no discussion of any federally guaranteed right in either opinions of the California court. The issue presented to the district court by the plaintiffs and later to the circuit court on appeal was a question of whether California's doing what it did in November of 2008 was lawful under the US Constitution. Since Proposition 8 was passed public opinion in California now shows a substantial majority in favor of marriage equality. Furthermore the last four times that the issue was on the ballot anywhere in this nation the electorate has supported marriage equality in all four of those contests. SCOTUS knows this. They are not going to ignore this march toward equality. They are going to want to see it proceed. Since the facts of Hollingsworth are unique in this dispute and really only apply to the California fact pattern it really should only apply within California and to the facts and procedural history of this case, DIGing the case would cause minimal damage to the proponents of Prop 8 and achieve some justice at least in California. It would also allow the progress of democratization of our society to grow and prosper.
Thus I suspect that SCOTUS is going to DIG the Proposition 8 case and allow everyone to claim to be the victor.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Is It Time for a Constitutional Convention? Part One

I read a post by Daniel Marks in FDL discussing the current utter inability of Congress to govern the Government that was created as the product of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. It is an excellent rundown of the evidence showing that our Government is both dysfunctional and no longer operating for the benefit of us, the posterity of the people who wrote that document. They are the people we generally call the Founders. They attempted to create a republican government that would 'promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” as solemnly promised by them in its Preamble.
I have lately and for the last several years wrestled with the thought that perhaps we need a constitutional convention to deal with specific issues that face us as a society operating in the fourth century since its adoption. I was concerned that a convention would open the flood gates to nonsensical ideas like making our government a theocracy, or creating classes of citizens, or restricting the burning of flags only to patriotic associations retiring tattered copies of it, or monkeying around with the franchise by authorizing literacy and wealth tests and the like and freezing and calcifying religious beliefs as to how society is organized into the Constitution. Those were scary thoughts to me, what if we were jumping from the frying pan into the fire? What if we ended up worse than before? After reading and thinking about Mr Marks' post I no longer have those fears. In this part of my analysis I am going to write about current issues of governance. What we can't get done and why we can't get it done. In the next I will put forth an analysis of what needs to be done in order to further the hopes and desires of the Founders and how we might as a nation go about doing what we decide has to be done to keep faith with the Founders, and to keep faith with ourselves and our fellow citizens.
The current Constitution became effective in 1789 and it wasn't much of a magna carta but it was the best that could be cobbled together at the time. It also was most definitely not a monumental work of democratic political theory. It was simply a broad outline with some basic requirements and built in bumps in the political road. The Founders were by no stretch of anyone's imagination democrats of any stripe. All but one of the Founders either were the owners of other human beings kidnapped and condemned to a life of slavery or had made fortunes in endeavors that supported slavery. Twenty percent of the people of this new nation were owned by some percentage of the other eighty percent! The Founders were definitely not democrats.
It created a bicameral national legislature it called a Congress and abandoned the unicameral legislature under the Articles of Confederation. This new legislature was composed of one house which was elected by the legislatures of the constituent states of the Union for six year terms. They called that the Senate. The other house they called the House of Representatives and it was elected 'popularly' by persons allowed to vote for the more numerous branch of their state legislatures. That generally meant males of European descent, who owned real property and who weren't themselves owned by other members of the society and who paid taxes. Seats were apportioned in this body according to the Three-Fifths Compromise. So basically if you weren't allowed to vote for your local legislative representative you were only 3/5th of a human being for purposes of representation in the Congress. That was not very democratic at all.
The Constitution also created an officer called “President of the United States” and set out his qualifications and prescribed a special oath he must swear before he could undertake his duties. The new Constitution set out his duties and made him commander in chief not of Americans (as some people urge today)  but of our military forces. It also set out how he was to be elected. It created another body which we call the Electoral College. Each state had seats in this college equal to the state's total representation in Congress and stated that no sitting member of Congress need apply for a membership in this body. It left the 'chusing' of its members to the discretion of each state's legislature. Having done that it required that the college meet on the same day, a day prescribed by Congress, in each state capital. Essentially there were going to be thirteen separate meetings.There they would vote only once by indicating their choice for President. They then packaged up their ballots and sent them off by messenger to the senate. When Congress convened it would count the votes. The person with a majority of electoral votes would become president and his runner up became vice president. If no one received a majority each chamber would meet separately and the senate would elect a vice president and the house, each state having one vote, would select the President. When there is no requirement of popular elections for an office it can't really be said that it was a democratic election.
The history of constitutional law in this country is a steady march to democratize the government. Changes were made in the Electoral College by the Twelfth Amendment, the 3/5th Compromise was repealed by the Fourteenth Amendment, slavery was ended by the Thirteenth, senators were directly elected by the Seventeenth , the franchise was broadened and enshrined in the Fifteenth Amendment which prevented states from denying the vote to persons on account or race or 'previous condition of servitude', women were given the right to vote by the Nineteenth in 1913 the year of the birth of my mother, poll taxes were outlawed by the Twenty-fourth in 1964
Fast forward to 2013 and where are we? We have a senate that requires a ten vote super majority in order to take a bathroom break. We have a house dominated by rural interests protected by something that has bothered us and been derided by pundits since the beginning of our history. We call it the “gerrymander” after Eldredge Gerry who was the fifth vice president of the US.
As a result, we have a Congress that recently  strained mightily in long hours of labor and gave birth only to a fraction of what's needed to fix our health care delivery system. Then that institution voted no fewer than 37 times to kill this 'child' that it gave birth to after much cajolery, poking and prodding and financial transactions between interested parties and entities associated with that Congress. I understand the speaker is going to bring it up again for another vote. Yet we have no budget. We squabble quarterly over how much debt we the people can incur and which of our bills we are going to pay. We have a polity where money is speech and speech is money and I have a right to drown out your speech with my money. We have a polity where fictitious entities are treated equally with 'we the people.' Congress has devised a scheme whereby people who make secret and anonymous donations to certain tax exempt 'social welfare' organizations can be safe and secure in the knowledge that their taxpayer-aided gift will benefit the candidate of the contributor and no one will ever be the wiser because the donor lists of those privileged groups are secret. We have a society in which every thought ever expressed by us and given voice by us via the telegram, telephone, television, social media, via the internet and all the devices it has spawned such as smart phones and the like are preserved forever in some data archive somewhere and available for instant retrieval and use by government entitles for whatever purpose, known or unknown to us. The Government in theory knows what movies you watch, what books you buy. What TV shows you watch. What emails you write. What your tastes in porno are even. It knows what you tell your congressman perhaps even what you tell your priest. There are even restrictions on the doctor-patient relationship enacted by the Patriot act in this new national security state. I am no longer convinced even that my communications with and from my law clients are protected to the extent they were only forty years ago in the early days of my career.
The Judiciary has not been exempt from the destruction wreaked by these changes to our political system. In an end run around the Warrant Clause of the Constitution the Congress in 1978 created an Article One court called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). It's has a very specific jurisdiction. And in a complete reversal of our practice since the founding of the country it is a secret court., our very first secret court. No one knows what cases are pending before it.  No one knows what relief the petitioner (which is always the Government or an agency of the Government) is asking for. No one knows who, if anyone, has physically appeared before the court. The petitions filed are secret. The arguments are secret. The evidence is secret and its final orders are secret. The FISC is staffed by sitting district court judges selected for six year terms by the Chief Justice of the US. No publicly accessible records are kept. Turnover orders are issued by the FISC and are completely secret and the persons or corporations receiving these orders are required by law to keep the fact they have been served with an order secret and and may not disclose its existence or contents to any person. In other words everything this court does is secret. We have entered upon an era in our history, both the good and the bad,  in which we are living under the oppression of secret laws made in total secrecy. That is the hallmark of tyrannical despots and of fascists and even of nazis.
Neither warrants nor the concept of probable cause is a concern of the FISC. Any judge of the court is required to issue the order requested if made by an appropriately titled government official who says there is an investigation pending related to national security provided that if the investigation is of a “United States person” it is not 'conducted solely upon' activities protected by the First Amendment. Simply put the Government may investigate you and obtain secret orders based on your exercise of  your First Amendment liberties provided there is at least one other ground for investigation other than your exercise of those liberties. This is a truly nugatory guarantee and it means that the FISC is simply a rubber stamp on a decision already made by an unknown and unquestioned government official. All of this is contained in the Patriot Act enacted after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The problems outlined above are some of the pressing issues of our political history and they are intermixed with other problems the Nation faces such as climate change, tax burdens, constant warfare and the ever present burden of poverty, hunger and the lack of adequate access to health care, mental health care and access to justice in our society. We must also deal with the biggest problem we as a society have the inescapable fact that our governance is controlled not by us but by corporations and money. We have to decide what it is that we want the Government to deal with and how best to ensure that those ends are met These are some of the problems we as Americans face in the Twenty-first Century. Our task is to decide  how we will  address them. Addressing these core issues in our society demands that we continue to democratize our Constitution and our society.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

More Bad News.

Again the New York Times lives up to its role as the Nation's Newspaper of Record and published a most interesting story on information provided to it by the UK's Guardian newspaper. You can read the article here.
In mid April of this year an unknown bureaucrat employed by the FBI, a person of no lesser rank than an Assistant Special Agent in Charge the minimal rank required by section 215 of the Patriot Act, i.e. the assistant manager of an FBI field office located god only knows where applied to a secret US Court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISA for a secret order requiring MCI Communications dba Verizon Business Services to a secretly turn over call records of all of Verizon's customers in the United States to this unknown and unidentified assistant special agent in charge acting under the authority of the Director of the FBI. Presumably this major domo then turned all the tangible things he received pursuant to the order of Judge Clyde Vinson to the NSA which is another snooping agency of the US Government. The Order which you can read here is a continuing order and requires Verizon to continually turn over the tangible things it accumulates until it's expiration date sometime next month.
The order  is marked Top Secret and the relevant portions of the Patriot Act under which it was issued, section 215 of the Act can be read here. All persons who see the order or upon whom it is served are required not to disclose to any other person the existence of the Order or its contents or the persons upon whom it has been served. The order published by the Guardian required Verizon to turn over all data in its possession or under its control concerning any and all telecommunications originating anywhere and delivered anywhere by any person using Verizon's telecommunications facilities. The Order required that even routing and trunk information i.e. the specific route that any such communications took on the system be disclosed to the FBI. The only exception in the Order was that Verizon was not required to disclose the data for any communications which originated and terminated outside United States. Which is another way of saying turn over all of the metadata generated within the US that used any Verizon telecommunications infrastructure. It is by its own terms a fishing expedition and was issued without any finding of probable cause. It is really important to understand that the failure of the judge to find any probable cause as is required by the Warrant Clause is not the Judge's failure in his duty. Rather it is the fault of section 215 of the Patriot Act which does not require a finding of probable cause. The Congress that enacted this law did not require such a finding. If anyone or any institution is to blame for this the blame must be laid directly at the feet of each and every member of Congress who voted for the law. Again I suppose we have the best Congress that money can buy.
The Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment is simple and straight-forward: “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 “ Congress created a mandatory duty and imposed that duty on FISA judges to issue the order (they didn't call it a warrant) when the right person applied for it and asserted that the reason for the application does not solely have its genesis in actions or events protected by the First Amendment.. This is akin to the robo-signing scandals of recent years in the foreclosure industry that those of us who practiced bankruptcy law for debtors saw all the time in motions to avoid the automatic stay and for leave to foreclose on debtor's residences. It is simply a mechanistic recital of magic words and a want list. All the agent has to do is mention the magic words “national security” and ask the judge for the order. The judge then must enter the requested or modified order.
The FISA court while staffed by Article III judges is not an Article III court. That's because the members of that court are not appointed to that court by the President with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, and they do not have lifetime tenure upon “good behaviour”. There is no building called the FISA court building. It operates totally in secret and in the chambers of the judges who serve on that court. The files of the FISA court are not open to the public. You can not connect to the court's computer via PACER and read or download pleadings or orders or even see the docket. The only thing we know about the FISA court is that it is a secret court, its members are appointed from among sitting District Court judges by the Chief Justice of the United States for specific terms of office. All matters pending before the court are secret, all hearings are secret and ex parte. Ex parte means that only one side, the government's side in this case, is entitled to appear before the court, to file applications and to argue before the court. No one is authorized to object to any application or any proposed order of the court. Persons who are subject to orders issued by FISA are not allowed to participate and are bound to secrecy when they are served with a copy of the Order.
The Order issued in this case was issued under the authority of section 215 of the infamous USA PATRIOT Act which was authorized by Congress within days of the attack on the US by Saudi Arabian nationals on September 11, 2001.
The Patriot Act not only does not require a finding of probable cause from the application before the FISA court but section 215 mandates that the court shall issue an order for the production of tangible things when application is made (1) by an appropriately titled FBI agent (2) who mutters anything about National Security as its justification, and, (3) if the the request is made on grounds that are not “solely” based on the exercise of First Amendment protected rights of the person(s) who are the proposed subject(s) of the requested order. The FISA court can modify a proposed order but if there are no standards set out in the statute governing the order's issuance in the first place then what standards are to be applied by the FISA judge in order to modify the requested order? It is quite apparent to anyone who reads the statute and is of normal intelligence that the likelihood of a court modifying a request is somewhere between non-existent and the proverbial snow ball's chance in hell.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

North Carolina Repeals Its Racial Justice Act.

North Carolina is in a headlong rush back into the 19th century and honored its own brand of Traditional Values recently  by repealing the first in the Nation Racial Justice Act which allows persons convicted in North Carolina and sentenced to death to urge on appeal (and to establish)  that racism was a cause of their condemnation to the graveyard. It was enacted at the time when there was a progressive streak in the politics of the Tar Heel State  Those years were apparently sweet but short.News of this legislation  appeared in today's New York Times. You can read the whole article here.
The Act was enacted during the tenure of a Democratic governor. Mike Easley  and at a time when the legislature was not as populated with RWNJs as it is now. This repeal  is nonsensical. It is designed not only to grease the skids to the death chamber in that formerly slave state but allows North Carolinians to reminisce their way back to when the good old Southern tradition of the Lynch Mob was in its hey day. Apparently proponents of the traditional values of slavery, segregation and mob-imposed justice swinging  from the long leaf pine trees (pinus palustris) of North Carolina have succeeded in returning to the 'good old days'.
There is only one solution to this nonsense: the wholesale repeal of capital punishment throughout the Nation. It is intolerable that people can be put to death in anywhere in  the Union. It is barbaric, it is of no use in the prevention of heinous crimes and when it is erroneously imposed on a person factually innocent of the crime it is just as much a murder as any committed in this country.

Good News and Bad News.

There is news this morning. It is good news and it is bad news. Since I believe that bad news is sometimes ameliorated and cushioned a bit by good news. I will deal with the Bad News first.
In today's New York Times I found an article about a sitting Judge for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which sits in Houston, among other places, and handles appeals from the judgments of the district courts of Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana which comprise the Fifth Circuit. You can read the article here. The judge in question is Edith Jones who has been on the Fifth Circuit bench since she was first nominated by President Ronald Reagan at the end of February 1985. She was confirmed by the US Senate thirty five days later on April 3, 1985. That is a most interesting fact since President Obama's nominees have waited sometimes almost two years before receiving the advice and consent of the Senate and taking up their judicial duties. In some cases the senate has refused to vote on his nominees altogether because 'filibusters' could not be broken.
Judge Jones recently made a speech in Pennsylvania before a meeting of the Federalist Society in which she asserted that black and Latino Americans were more predisposed to commit crimes than their caucasian peers and that the death penalty was a good thing because it prodded the soon to be executed to make their peace with god. She also stated that claims of mental retardation by criminal defendants (mostly people accused of capital offenses) were an abuse of the justice system. She commented that the SCOTUS decision in Atkins vs Virginia (2002) 536 US 304 which held that the imposition of the death penalty on the “mentally retarded” violated the Eighth Amendment's proscription against 'cruel and unusual punishments'. She said the case was wrongly decided. That is easy to say about any case. You just have to say it. Now Judge Jones is certainly as entitled to opine that cases decided by SCOTUS were wrongly decided as any lawyer, judge or citizen is. My problem with the comment is that it shows a mindset that believes the society has the unfettered right to dispose of its detritus (as defined by either majority opinion or by loud and raucous minority opinion) by gassing, poisoning, shooting, hanging or any other way. She does not seem to care that capital punishment is un-fixable when wrongly imposed. Any trial lawyer (which she was not) will tell you one of the greatest tasks in trying a case to a jury is to overcome societal prejudice against certain types of defendants (and the crimes they have been alleged to have committed), especially when prosecutors have previously tried those cases in the media.  Additionally Judge Jones for years has been criticized for her demeanor and her open criticism and ridicule of lawyers and litigants who come before her court. She has even told her fellow judges sitting in review of the same case to “shut up.” She apparently is no one's favorite judge. Nor is she a model of judicial temperament and certainly cares nothing for the judicial canon commanding her to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Complaints have been filed against her with the current Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit. If nothing else Judge Jones is distasteful and perhaps her remarks and her beliefs deserve investigation by the House Judiciary Committee with a view towards filing Articles of Impeachment against her for failure to engage in “good behaviour.”
Now for the good news. I want to share with my readers (aren't I presumptuous) the blog of a friend of mine, Robbie. That blog can be found at www. Robbie is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is also Poz or more clearly living with the fact that he has been infected with the HIV virus. He posts about politics, geek stuff and HIV. He is thoughtful and articulate and deserving not just of a read but of a bookmark. Welcome to the Gathering, Robbie. Enjoy writing, discussing and good faith arguments for and against various propositions. I enjoy your writing and I hope others will too.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

An Interesting Evening in the Eastern Orange County Mountains.

Last night I visited a friend here in the Canyon. Actually it was in one of our side canyons. The canyon is named Wildcat Canyon and is of some local historical interest. My friend is a talented beer brewer. So I went over and sat at his bar which is built on the canyon wall under a grove of blue agave which are quite large and protect his bar from being trashed by small rocks dislodged from the canyon wall by various wild critters walking along paths on the canyon wall.
It was a nice spring night and the air was a little crisp and the beer wonderful. We sat and we talked about stuff. He's a geologist and we talked about yesterday's 8.3 quake off the eastern coast of Russia not far from the Aleutian Islands. Remember Sarah Palin talking about how she was qualified foreign policy-wise to be president because she could see Russia from her front porch in Alaska or some nonsense like that? It is interesting that quake which the USGS calls a 'severe' quake has yet to be even mentioned by the US media. I guess it wasn't important enough for our media to comment on or report to us. After all it happened in the land of our Mortalist Enemy (ca 1948-1982) so it couldn't possibly be of interest to us. Even though our leaders and their leaders were committed to the mutual destruction of our peoples. I would like to thank the Media for deciding for us what would be of interest to us as a people.
Anyhow one thing led to another and soon we were treating our various ills with a little bit of a small innocent plant banned in the early decades of the last century by Congress at the behest of the then newly legalized liquor industry. Somethings in our system never change and Congress apparently still only acts at the behest of moneyed interests who open their checkbooks to members of congress, much to the chagrin of those of us who really wish for a Congress more open to actually working for the benefit of those who with our hard-earned money pay their basic compensation and pay for their Cadillac medical plans and their overly generous retirement benefits. These are the same guys who have voted no fewer than 37 times to repeal what they derisively call Obamacare in order to deny non members of Congress decent medical care at affordable prices. As to who pays for Congress' non-basic compensation I will leave that to your own imagination, but please don't be surprised when you discover the answer to that.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, or more correctly at the hillside bar in Wildcat Canyon he and I (along with his wife who had by that time joined us) began to notice something odd and unusual. On his bar my friend has a small lamp made from a 'dead soldier' or more commonly called an empty half gallon-sized bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. The lamp has a small conically shaped green lampshade on it. At the top of the lampshade his wife noticed some small winged member of the genus Bug. This poor fellow was repeatedly walking along the top of the lampshade and making circle after circle heading lord only knows where. Sometimes the bug would slip off the side of the top edge of the shade but would quickly recover and head on to wherever it thought it was headed. We watched him probably for an hour engage in this up to then fruitless exercise. At one point my friend decided it might be helpful to the bug's endeavor if it were to walk through a cloud or two of exhaled smoke. So that was arranged. The bug made a couple more trips through the clouds and slipped off a few more times but always recovered and continued on its sisiphistic journey around its small world. It continued to fall, recover and head on. Suddenly it fell again and clung to the side of the shade. It clung there for awhile and then apparently had some sort of epiphany and realized that for the last hour or so it had been headed in the wrong direction! So it climbed back up the rim of its world and began walking in the opposite direction. We continued to observe its progress until it got a bit too nippy to be outside and adjourned our meeting. I have no idea if the bug made it to wherever it was going with such determination. I hope it did. I hope we helped it a bit on its journey. It was indeed a most interesting  fun Friday evening in the eastern Orange County mountains.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jan Brewer a Monument to Terminal Stupidity.

This morning I awoke to news that I could hardly believe. In the wake of the 2011 shooting in Tucson that resulted in the in the severe wounding of then congress critter Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head by a crazed gun freak Jared Loughner. Loughner was convicted of the deaths of six people of talent and great value to the citizens of Arizona including the sitting Chief Judge of Arizona's US district court and a staff member of then Representative Giffords and several other people who were simply put to death by Loughner. These people were 'convicted' and executed by Loughner for the 'crime' of going to a shopping center in Tucson simply to meet their representative in Congress, The news that so shocked me was that Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed a bill enacted by the crazies in the Arizona legislature that puts guns back on the street.
This bill championed and signed by Brewer requires that whenever police agencies in Arizona sponsor a gun buy back program those sponsoring police agencies may not destroy the bought back weapons of mass destruction to keep them off the streets. They are required under Brewer's Law to auction off the guns they had purchased 'with no questions asked' so they could be sold to other persons 'with no questions asked' and effectively put back on the street to start the cycle of violence all over again. Am I the only one offended by the actions of this unbelievably and terminally stupid waste of food, air and precious water?
Doesn't Brewer understand that she has now become a part of the problem of gun violence that plagues our nation from 'sea to shining sea'? She is the poster child for bad government and is a flesh and blood monument to terminal stupidity.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It's Argument Day!

Finally after all the blood, sweat and the tears since  Stonewall the SCOTUS is hearing arguments on Hollingsworth vs Perry today and in United States vs Windsor tomorrow. Let justice be done. "We the People" means all of us.
As for me and for what it's worth I dedicate today and tomorrow to the gay people I have loved who have not lived to see this day.

Monday, March 25, 2013

AIDS/Lifecycle Ride to End AIDS

Dear Friends,
I want to introduce you to two things: AIDS/Lifecycle’s “Ride to End AIDS” sponsored by among others, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Both organizations have been involved with stopping and combating the spread of HIV from the very beginning in the very early 1980’s and helping to stem the loss of more of our citizens, family members, our friends and our lovers to this disease. Jointly they sponsor a 545 mile 7 day bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles each spring. The ride this year is from June 2nd through June 8th
My friend Victor “Jesse” Samora has signed up again this year to make that week long ride to end AIDS. Jesse entered the ride last year but was forced to withdraw after an accident last spring before the ride which left him with a broken collar bone, an embarrassed look on his face and unable to participate. He spent months training for this ride and raising money necessary to guarantee him a place in the ride. He was laid up for close to four months.

Jesse, being the tiger he is, has determined that he will make the ride this year. As the price of making this ride he has to raise $3,000 for the AIDS/Lifecycle “Ride to End AIDS.” Jesse is a hardworking stiff but he cannot fund his entry alone. He is asking and I am asking each one of you to make some sort of pledge anywhere from ten thousand dollars to ten dollars on Jesse’s behalf. That’s all you have to do. That’s it. The link below takes you directly to a pledge page for Jesse. Follow the link and give, Jesse’s giving of himself for this and we ought to support him in this event.
The amount of your gift does not matter. It can be ten dollars or it can be ten thousand dollars or anywhere in between. You decide. Join me in giving Jesse the opportunity to rid in this campaign to end this scourge that has ended so many wonderful lives and taken so many wonderful people from us. Please give and give generously.
You can read more about this wonderful charity at:
To donate to this and to sponsor Jesse with your donation visit
It's simple, it's easy and makes you feel good. As an added incentive each of you who donate to Jesse's (and our cause) on Jesse's behalf  will get an invitation to a Leg of Lamb Barbece on Saturday May 11th  at the world famous Silverado Men's Club in lovely Silverado California. This repast will be prepared for your pleasure by none other than yours truly Eamon O'Connor. It will be a great opportunity to meet Jesse and to cheer him on in this really great endeavor. You will have an opportunity to autograph his spandex riding shorts and participate in the Secret Raffle. You can't get a better deal anywhere: a free meal, a tax deductible donation along with a grateful smile and a great hug from a truly great friend. Let's do this!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Distractions Abound

I have been silent for most of this year. The reasons why are many but suffice it to say that the stuff out there to write about is almost overwhelming and I have been unable to decide what I wanted to write about because there is just so much really distressing and distracting stuff that has happened since the beginning of the year. Much of what is going on is a distraction from the really important stuff.
I am interested in the news surrounding the change of heart on 'the marriage issue' that is dominating CPAC's annual circle jerk. Sen Rob Portman (R-OH) has announced that he is switching his position on marriage equality from being an opponent to being a supporter. He says that he changed his position because his son Will came out to him. I wonder if his position change extends to voting for repeal of DOMA and of course, preliminarily to such a vote into a vote for cloture of the always launched “GOP filibuster” machine. The conversion of Rob Portman makes me wish he had been the veep nominee of the GOP in the last election. Could it be that Paul Ryan was second choice to Rob Portman and that Portman was disqualified because he has a gay son at Yale and because the wingnuts in the GOP figured the potential nominee was struggling with something that might be an October Surprise for them?

Last weekend was also the weekend of the annual CPAC conference. There was a lot of the old in and out at CPAC this time around. This year Trump was in and Christie was out. Both Ted Cruz and Rand Paul competed for favorite son status at the conference. GoProud is also out apparently. Sarah Palin was obviously in. Sarah was in good form but sounded like her next gig is going to be in a back alley comedy house somewhere. Rand sounded like Rand, someone who would create his own ophthalmology association in order to call himself an eye doctor. Oh and in case you were worried Barack Obama is still on the outs, and according to some of our fellow citizens at CPAC, the worst thing to happen to the US of A since the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment. Speaking of the Thirteenth Amendment Mississippi just got around to ratifying it a few weeks ago. Repeal of ongoing injustices should never be entered into abruptly and only after careful thought apparently. It only took one hundred forty-three years.

One of the afternoon presiders at the conference on the afternoon before the straw poll was taken urged the attendees to vote 'early and often' as the saying goes. He suggested they just make up names and vote ignoring the log-in system that been established to provide security for the CPAC members' right to vote. These are the same people who are by and large arguing for and legislating to protect the sacred and fundamental right to vote by making sure exercise of the right by people of color, poor people and old people is as onerous as possible.

There was probably more fun stuff going on at CPAC but news of that circus was completely overtaken and pushed off the front page by the drama going on in Rome over the conclave of cardinals charged with selecting a new pontiff. Wonder, speculation and whimsy seemed to dominate that offering. The result of course was the guy no one expected, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the fellow who rides to work on the bus, cooks and eats his own meals. The man called Francis. He has apparently not yet moved into his apartment in the apostolic palace because he has complained of its size. It is being remodeled to reduce its size. That's an ominous sign for things to come at least as far as the curia goes. Talking heads are saying that the man's biggest task is going to be to rein in the curia and to diversify it. It is interesting to note that many of the papal electors were and are curia members. Perhaps that's why after five ballots they chose Jorge for the simple reason he has no curia experience and probably has no idea where the skeletons are buried in Vatican City and has no clue where to start. Or perhaps after two pontificates stretching thirty-five years headed by non-Italians the choice of an Italian-descended Argentine pope was a nudge back to selecting Italians as popes. Who knows? Doctrinally this Francis is pretty much by the book and I don't expect any large changes to come in doctrine. Although it is of some interest to note that when the Argentine national legislature was considering marriage equality he argued to the conference of bishops that they should not struggle against civil unions but should instead support them as the lesser of two evils. So he appears to be somewhat of a pragmatist. He is seventy-six years old and if he rubs too many medieval lords the wrong way they will most likely be rid of him soon, one way or another.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Original Tunes and Friendships

I suppose that it is no great secret at least to me that I will soon have my seventieth birthday. That's about as breathtaking realization as any I can imagine. How on earth did I get this old? Aren't I supposed to feel some great increase in the wisdom that is supposed to come with age that I have been told we are going to experience. The coming event has caused me to think about that getting older and of course not getting older. I have focused for some reason on the 'birthday presents' that I as a septuagenarian might want to receive. It isn't that I need anything or really 'want' for anything. But it sure looks like someone quite by accident and without thinking about it gave me one great gift.
Today I went to the post office and found a package in my box. It was from a friend of mine whom I knew when he lived in Huntington Beach with another friend of mine and I lived in the Big Mormon House in Garden Grove more than forty years ago when we were both under 30. This package contained a short note from Joe and three CDs of music, one of which was simply titled Original Tunes. Joe if you haven't already guessed is a very fine musician, a guitarist, a banjo player, a pianist and lord only knows (and I can't remember) what else he plays and it turns out he's also a fine lyricist. I love the way his voice has matured.
Listening to Original Tunes has taken me back over the more of forty years of his and his wife Kay's friendship with me. Joe when I first met him just sort of bounced around. He worked construction and played guitar and did what we all did back then enjoyed life, enjoyed music and enjoyed a fair bit of pot. We discovered things and many of them we discovered together. I remember one our discoveries back then: finding out for the very first time that french fries should come to the table hot. One night I noticed they didn't and Joe did too. He pitched a bitch and we sent our orders of fries back to the kitchen twice complaining that they were ice cold. French fried potatoes really are better when they are hot! Since then I have always insisted on hot fries. I hope the server got over what was probably a pretty bad shift that night.
Then he met this breathtakingly beautiful blonde woman named Kay. The both of them quickly became an item and wandered through life together raising two kids and heading everywhere and landing everywhere in places like California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington sucking up free air, being each others' best friends and the parents to two amazing kids. All the while Joe is making more and more music, living his life all wrapped up in his marriage, his family and his music. We should all be so involved and happy.
They had moved away from California when I began the awesome task (in all senses of the word) of coming out to myself and to the rest of the world. I decided that the people I had to tell first were Joe and Kay so I sat down and wrote them a letter. It took me a couple days before I put it in the mail. Then I held my breath and waited. After what seemed like an eternity but was only really a few days I got a response. I was overjoyed with their response. They thanked me for telling them and praised me for removing “the one great impediment to our friendship” and expressed their great love for me. I have never forgotten that and in fact I still have the letter.
Something else I have never forgotten is that when Kay was pregnant with their first child, they lived a few doors east of me and used to go over there at night and Kay would make these phenomenal buttermilk pancakes and Joe and I would drink Wild Turkey and enjoy watching Kate build Jesse. I still use that recipe and everyone I ever make buttermilk pancakes for praises them. I am still shallow enough to accept the buttermilk pancake praise as my due rather than Kay's.
I am really enamored of Original Tunes and I am going to sit right down and listen to it again. It's marvelous and thank you Joe for sending it to me. You and Kay have never ceased to impress me with your love and the depth of your friendship.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Antonin Scalia and the Right to Vote

Oral argument was held today in SCOTUS in the case of Shelby County vs Holder an attempt to have section 5 of the Voting Rights Act declared to be violative of the Constitution because it treats some states differently than it does other states. Section 5 of that law requires that some states, generally the states of the old Confederacy before they may make changes in their electoral laws must seek either pre-clearance from the Justice Department or from a federal court. Congress is generally required to treat each of the member states of the Union in the same manner but that is not the determining factor. In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and became part of the Constitution. Section 1 of that amendment says simply and eloquently that no state may limit the right to vote on “account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Section 2 of that amendment says that the “congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” The test of constitutionality is therefore not whether all states are treated equally but rather is whether or not congressional legislation is appropriate to remedy a wrong found by Congress. That standard seems pretty straight forward: is there an attempt to limit or interfere with the crown jewel of democracy, the right of citizens to vote (and to have their votes counted) by either the federal government or by any of the state governments? If there is such an attempt then Congress has the power to take whatever steps it deems 'appropriate' to remedy that fundamental wrong. That seems to be truly a no-brainer.
However at oral argument this morning one Antonin Scalia, activist judge for the right wing in America, took issue with that and called section 5 of the Voting Rights Act a 'racial entitlement' during the course of a little monologue he recited for the benefit of the crazies among us. Scalia apparently prefers a “white entitlement' to govern. It is reported that his diatribe was met by disbelieving gasps from those present in the courtroom. I submit along with Elizabeth Wydra that this is an 'American entitlemen't not a racial entitlement. Each citizen has a right to vote and a concomitant right to have that vote counted.
Mr Justice Scalia has by his comment showed both his unfitness for his office and his porcine leanings in the great struggle for equality under the law which is both the Great Promise of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration that “all men are created equal” and our Great Obligation both as citizens and heirs of that liberty to ensure that the Great Promise be actualized. It is clear to me that the House of Representatives should exercise it's power under Article I to impeach him and send Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for trial and that upon conviction by that body he should be removed from his high office and sent off to his true destiny as a footnote to history.