Sunday, March 29, 2009

Michelle Bachman, How Far is Too Far?

The right to free speech is one of the most important provisions set forth in the Constitution. As a lifelong civil libertarian I have been involved in a variety of legal cases in which the issue of free speech was at the forefront. In fact, one of the cases I advocated for involved defending, of all groups, the Ku Klux Klan. There is no denying that the KKK is a despicable organization. However, I hold no desire to give up my 1st amendment rights just to insure that they are denied theirs.
That being said, the 1st amendment does not give you the right to yell fire in a crowded theatre, neither does it protect your right to violate a United States Federal Statute. Representative Michelle Bachman, (R-Minnesota) approached, and possibly crossed, the line of legal free speech during her March 27th appearance on the Sean Hannity Radio Show. Representative Bachman said:

"At this point the American people - it's like Thomas Jefferson said, a revolution every now and then is a good thing. We are at the point, Sean, of revolution. And by that, what I mean, an orderly revolution -- where the people of this country wake up get up and make a decision that this is not going to happen on their watch. It won't be our children and grandchildren that are in debt. It is we who are in debt, we who will be bankrupting this country, inside of ten years, if we don't get a grip. And we can't let the Democrats achieve their ends any longer.

The Alien Registration Act, also known as the Smith Act makes it a criminal offense for anyone to:

"knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise or teach the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence, or for anyone to organize any association which teaches, advises or encourages such an overthrow, or for anyone to become a member of or to affiliate with any such association."

It is fairly clear that Rep. Bachman's statement advocates and advises the necessity, desirability, and propriety of overthrowing the duly elected Government of the United States. The only question is whether she is advocating that this overthrow is done by force. Her use of the word "orderly" before the term revolution" may" be a reasonable defense. However, when this statement is coupled with her March 21st statement in which she said:

"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us ‘having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people – we the people – are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country.

that defense becomes considerably less plausible. Regardless of her intent, Rep. Bachman is using extremely dangerous terms in a public forum. There are mentally unbalanced citizens in our society who need little motivation to become violent. I believe that our enforcement authorities have a duty to act when anyone in our society is involved in such a reckless campaign for revolution. Rep. Bachman is advising the political minority to overthrow the Government elected by a significant majority.

As if Representative Bachman's words are not inciteful enough, observe this recent poll from Sean Hannity's Website:

The Smith Act goes on to say:

"If two or more persons conspire to commit any offense named in this section, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction"

For the last eight years The Bush Administration routinely acted with reckless disregard for the Constitution and the laws of our Country. It is time to hold the right wing extremist accountable for their words and act to protect our elected officials.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Shredding the Constitution, Again

The Bush Administration was frequently lambasted by their left wing opposition for violating, or “shredding” as it was popular to say, the Constitution. It seemed that the Constitution was at times viewed by the Bush people as an impediment to achieving what they believed were honorable goals. It was blatantly obvious to Bush's detractors, and a number of Federal Judges, that they crossed constitutional lines on a number of occasions.

The term "shredding the constitution" became popular when it became clear that the Bush Administration was deliberately taking unconstitutional actions, hiding them from the public and Congress, and showing utter contempt for those who dared to question their actions. The legal decisions on which they based their actions were generally hidden, and most have been labeled as absurd once reviewed by competent legal experts.

Article I, Section 9; Clause 3 of the Constitution is quite clear, "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed." An ex post facto law is a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences of acts committed or the legal status of facts and relationships that existed prior to the enactment of the law. A Bill of Attainder is an act of the legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without benefit of a trial.

It seems that the "ends justifying the means" attitude in Washington did not leave when the Bush Family moved to Dallas. Congress has decided to take a page from the Bush Administration's play book and deliberately violate the Constitution to achieve what they believe are honorable goals. In the political pandemonium that followed the revelations that AIG executives were taking huge lumps of taxpayer dollars in the form of bonuses in return for destroying the Company, Congress played the Bush card. They passed a law which retroactively taxes the unconscionable bonuses out of existence. Denying those who were either incompetent, unethical, or a combination of both the opportunity to fleece the US taxpayers is an honorable goal. However, Article I, Section 9; Clause 3 of the Constitution does not contain an exception for honorable goals. In a news interview, Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) never defended the Constitutional footing of the law in question; he simply indicated that the aggrieved executives would have to take legal action to overturn it. This statement infers that he had full knowledge that the law was unconstitutional and that the intent was to force the intended targets to challenge the law in court and face the subsequent negative press.

Clearly the AIG Executives have not earned these massive bonuses. However, a Congress controlled by the Democrats has no more right to "Shred the Constitution" than a Presidential Administration controlled by Republicans. In both cases the Parties involved in the act either new, or should have known that their actions constituted a Constitutional violation. It appears that we have finally found common ground between the Democrats and the Republicans in Washington.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Credibility Gap

Republican Whip Eric Cantor's appearance on "Meet The Press" very clearly underscored the major hurdle that the GOP must overcome to regain national prominence. Rep. Cantor was in the midst of complaining about the reckless spending habits of the current Democratic Administration when the host, David Gregory, reminded him of his personal participation in the Bush Administration's eight year spending orgy. Mr. Gregory questioned how Representative Cantor and his Party leaders could criticize the Democrats for overspending after their abysmal fiscal record in recent years. Representative Cantor's answer was as self destructive as it was dishonest and insincere. He implied that the massive GOP budgets during the Bush years were mainly to support the troops, ignoring the fact that the money to run the wars was intentionally left out of every Bush budget and had to be appropriated through emergency spending measures. He also made the shocking argument that the Democrats should not make the same mistakes that the GOP had made during the Bush years.

Representative Cantor's argument was, to some extent, reasonable although not as he meant it. His argument, as I see it, is that his Party is fighting to insure that the Democrats are not as fiscally irresponsible as the Republicans. Though the premise is quite reasonable, it certainly is not one that would influence voters to abandon the Democratic Party and vote Republican. The 2009 GOP is modern day proof of the age old saying, "you can't talk yourself out of something that you have behaved yourself into." Eight years of bad behavior has destroyed the credibility of the Republican Party. There isn't much left that they can complain about without facing charges of hypocrisy. Other than right wing radio talk shows and Fox News, there are few media outlets on which they can attack the Democrats and go unchallenged.

The hapless leadership of Michael Steele coupled with an argument that accents their own disastrous fiscal record is setting the GOP up for a third consecutive drubbing in the 2010 elections and complete political irrelevancy. If their misfortunes continue unchecked, their Congressional power will be so insignificant that they will go from the Party of "NO" to the Party of "PLEASE DON'T."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Another Unfortunate Titanic Metaphor

OK, lets just suppose there was the Captain of a ship called the Titanic, for the purpose of this metaphorical illustration we'll call him Captain Bush. Now this Captain is arrogant, cocky and not terribly bright and unfortunately he happens to be at the helm of the most powerful Country, oops....I mean ship, in the history of the World. As is easily predictable, this hapless bungler of a ship's Captain proceeds to slam the massive vessel square into an iceberg. Though Captain Bush and his bridge hands are able to conceal the degree of damage for a few hours, eventually it becomes obvious to all aboard that the circumstances are dire. After a brief meeting, the Passengers and Crew vote to toss the Captain and his inner circle of supporters overboard and select a new Captain.

Their plan goes off without a hitch, but time is short and the situation is critical. The new Captain Obama is young bright and optimistic, however he has assumed control of the bridge of a vessel which is taking on water at an alarming rate. He devises a brilliant plan and embarks upon what may be a futile attempt to save the vessel. At this point in the metaphor the ship is in pretty bad shape,but still afloat so we don't yet know how the plot will unfold, but things definitely don't look rosy.

The scene changes and we find ourselves in the media room with various pundits, many of whom helped place the incompetent Captain Bush at the helm in the first place. Horrified that the passengers will recognize their complicity in the creation of this tragic circumstance and make them walk the plank, they make a pact never to mention the name of the former Captain and to make the case that the New Captain is at fault. They decide to argue that the number of gallons of water pouring into the vessel per minute has increased since the new Captain has taken the helm and therefore he should be held responsible for the tragedy, instead of old "What's His Name."

Sound pretty ridiculous? You need only turn on Cable news or listen to AM talk radio to hear this absurd argument made daily. The latest right wing talking point, or more accurately "leap of logic", is remarkably simple and just as remarkably absurd. The daily fall of the Dow , according to the right wing media, is a reaction to President Obama's policy proposals therefor he is to blame for our economic woes. This argument ignores the fact that the stock market began it's slide before Obama was elected or that the massive job losses began months before he took office. More importantly we must ignore the fact that most of the Obamas plan ares still in the proposal stage. Their twisted logic creates an economic crisis which began on January 20, 2009 and would clearly right itself shortly if not for the policies being proposed by the Obama Administration. Each day the latest Wall Street drop is directly linked to the latest Tim Geithner speech or future health care proposal.

It was easily predictable that the right wing mouthpieces would make an attempt to shift the responsibility for this economic catastrophe from its rightful owners. Their policies of deregulation and corporate welfare must be protected for future use when, and if, this mess is cleaned up. I foolishly assumed that they would wait a tad bit longer than one month into the new Administration.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Michael Steele's Hip Hop Plan

In just a few short weeks Michael Steel has proven beyond a doubt that he is a hopelessy flawed leader with an impossible mission. In one of Mr. Steele's first proposals, he has indicated that he plans an "off the hook" public relations offensive to attract young Hispanics and Blacks. He has stated that he intends to apply conservative principles to urban hip hop settings. Mr. Steele appears to believe that he need only repackage his message in a way that will be more alluring to the demographic he desires to attract.

As has been most of the GOP strategies over the last several years, this one is remarkably flawed. Mr. Steele appears to believe that young Blacks and Hispanics attraction to the President is related to race and culture as opposed to policy. Were Mr. Steele truly in connection with that community he would have realized that President Obama is by no means a hip hop culture icon. President Obama is a supremely articulate Harvard Lawyer. The closest he comes to hip hop is wearing a designer business suit with no tie and his top button open. From the perspective of music culture, President Obama fits much better in the "jazz music cool" category than hip hop "off the hook". We can much more easily picture our President wearing a pair of dark shades strumming a base guitar than we can wearing baggy jeans and gold chains spewing street slang.

Unfortunately for Mr. Steele, he must operate in an environment that will not, and can not admit that policy is the driving force behind President Obama's youthful following. Admitting that "policy is the issue which creates the attraction" immediately begs the question whether the GOP is willing to question their current policies. Questioning GOP policies is extremely risky for Mr. Steele because the Party's brittle dogmatic base may view that as treason and turn on him en masse. The GOP base, particularly the Southern Evangelicals, have equated their policies to a set of opaque moral values which ultimately means that questioning Party policy is an attack on morality from their perspective.

Chairman Steele is in an unenviable position. His Party obviously felt that the reactionary pick of a Black Committee Chairman to a Black President would counter the Democrats dominance in the Black community. His impossible job is to promote a set of policies designed to favor the wealthy and corporate class, placate the dogmatists, and attract people of color to a Party culturally associated with the Confederacy. Compounding Steele's dilemma is the fact that his "less than stellar" political career indicates that he would likely struggle leading the GOP in the best of times.

Michael Steel may survive just long enough to be an effective scapegoat. Unfortunately for him, GOP leaders have discovered their error in assuming that choosing a Black Chairman would guarantee Black votes. They have also began to notice his conspicuously lacking administrative skills. It is not unreasonable to assume that a plan to unseat him has already been hatched and will be executed at first opportunity.

The irony in this political farce is that the anti-affirmative action Party selected a candidate for the RNC Chairmanship based almost solely on race and ended up with a seemingly incompetent Leader. Then again, maybe it was all just a devious well executed plan to discredit affirmative. Whatever the case, I doubt that Steele's "off the hook" hip hop plan will either bear a great deal of fruit or save his job.