The Baffled States of America

I try to be respectful towards the Office of the President.  The next four years will be an endurance test, one unlike any that I’ve ever embarked upon in my time alive.  Let me set the record straight first and foremost.  I have no personal animosity towards President Trump.  None at all.  That said, let’s get started.

First, he’s not a politician.  That’s why many voted for him.  That was the “appeal” that many Americans saw.  He wasn’t an insider in Washington, and he said all the right things in front of the right crowds*.  People seriously thought that he was listening to what they wanted and needed from the head of the Executive Branch of our government and have not been getting for decades.  He’s the one who will fix everything as he claimed that he would do, right?

Well, I can say that I have not been dazzled by his brilliance thus far, even though it’s only been a month.  Actually, not even a full month yet.  It hasn’t been a full four weeks at this point, and we already seem to be witnessing a 2mph train wreck happening during the evening rush hour.

We got warned about this long ago, but we didn’t heed the advice.  Dr. Seuss showed us how to avoid being taken for everything by a con man, a bullshit artist.  Trump is that, and then some.  Look at his history if you don’t want to take my word for it.  He has a record of stiffing businesses out of money on already agreed to contracts.  He’s avoided paying taxes for decades by assuming liability for an absurd amount of debt.  He reminds me of the guy on the street corner taking people for their money playing three card monte.  The problem is that he doesn’t know when to turn the bs off and has no idea of how to not bs people.  If there’s any one job in this country that should not be filled by a bs artist, it’s the job of being president.

We’ve been witness to this through the outright lies and doublespeak coming from people within the administration.  The apparently thin-skinned POTUS has attacked people personally or through spokespeople from everything from the size of the inauguration crowd to the portrayal of him on Saturday Night Live.  This has also been evident from the attacks on the media, the intelligence community, and pretty much everyone around the world except for Russia and Putin.  As things are beginning to show, we’re getting a good education on why he hasn’t attacked Russia or Putin.  The problem with the “breaking news” stuff about Gen. Flynn is that the only thing that’s new about the reporting is that we now have actual names of people with government positions who were communicating with Russia.

There were early reports about Paul Manafort and a server in Trump Towers that was communicating with a server in Russia.  There have also been rumors and such of other people involved with his campaign that had ties to Russia.  The Secretary of State is well-known to have strong business ties to Russia and Putin.  Individually, the rumors and innuendo don’t amount to anything that points to outright malfeasance.  At the same time, you can create an avalanche when you get enough things piled on top of each other.

At this point, there is permanent damage that has been done to the credibility of people in Washington.  It’s not like there was a vast amount of credibility to begin with, but I don’t recall any administration in my lifetime having a beginning like this.  It hasn’t been a full four weeks yet, and there’s enough stuff floating around to do about 8 years worth of Congressional investigations.  I don’t expect to see Republicans do anything at this point, as they’re likely going to try to wait things out.  It appears that Trump tried to wait things out on Flynn, and look at what it got him.

It’s not wise to try to pick a fight with the intelligence community that has taken an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States.  Especially when the intelligence community is full of people who take their oath seriously.  In case people forget, foreign enemies are not the only ones listed in that oath:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

5 U.S.C. §3331

Those who focus more on the leaks than the information leaked should stop long enough to consider that oath.  If the federal employee thinks the actions rise high enough to be considered as an enemy act, they have a responsibility to take actions to defend the Constitution.  I’m not saying that leaking information is always a good thing to do, but we do have some whistleblower protections for a reason.  It’s dumb to think that you could communicate with foreign adversaries and our intelligence community wouldn’t pick up on those communications.  I also saw that some of our allies also picked up communications on their own, and they have their own concerns about American leadership as a result.

If Hillary Clinton’s email investigation was so important that we had to have a press conference by the FBI about it, why wasn’t the American public told about the communications between Trump’s campaign and Russia?  Remember, Democrats left a classified briefing on Russian hacking and were furious with Director Comey.  Middle, rural America elected trump because he said that he would bring jobs back to their communities.  If they’re farmers, they will have enough manure over the next four years to keep fertilizing crops for generations.  If they’re not farmers, there’s always a need for someone to shovel the bs.  If the first four weeks are any indication, we’re in for record amounts of bs in short order.

Welcome to the Baffled States of America.  This is what some of  you voted for, and this is what we’re all going to get as a result.

*I think it’s entirely possible to say the right things to the right people.  That still doesn’t mean that you’re correct in what you’re saying, or that the people who believe you are also right. 

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Thank you SCOTUS

What happens when politicians are allowed to draw their own voting district maps.

 

What is, in my opinion, the most important ruling to come from this year’s Supreme Court session has barely registered a blip on the media radar.  Since it involves a rather mundane topic, it doesn’t garner the headlines like the PPACA or same-sex marriage does.  However, the ruling in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, No. 13-1314 can and should have a far-reaching and long-term impact on the political process in America.

This case ruled affirmatively that commissions voted on by the people are constitutional when it comes to drawing up redistricting maps.  Given how politicians are laser-like focused on protecting their own asses and their party’s rule, this is a step towards returning this country to a representative democracy.  What we have now is an absurd joke.  I remember reading a post from Nate Silver’s 538 Blog years ago how we’ve gone from more than 100 competitive House districts in the 1992 election to around 30 twenty years later.  That’s the long-term effect of gerrymandering.

This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see

I’m both surprised and appalled that nobody’s really been celebrating this ruling.  I’m surprised because this topic isn’t as glamorous as health care or same-sex marriage.  There hasn’t been the constant drumbeat in the media over the redistricting process, unlike the two aforementioned issues.  Redistricting is something that’s usually done behind closed doors and out of the public eye, and that has to change if we’re going to return to a government that works for the people instead of against the people.

I’m appalled for the very same reasons.  People should give a damn about how their voting districts are carved up.  They should be concerned when politicians move the maps around to concentrate a particular voting bloc to one district.  It may very well help “your team” this time, but it may be your ox being gored on the next go around.  I personally don’t think any politician should have a “comfortable seat” because that removes the incentive for them to represent ALL voters in their districts.  When a politician sits in a district filled with more of his own voters, he will tend to ignore or neglect those who wouldn’t vote for him anyway.  That’s wrong because whether a person votes for you or not, you are still their elected representative in Washington D.C.

I tip my hat to the SCOTUS on this decision.  I think this will decision will go a long way towards giving people a true voice in D.C. now.  At the same time, I expect this to be swept under the rug as quickly as possible.  If the voters in all states jumped on this bandwagon, it would be an effective countermeasure to the financial arms race going on to elect people beholden to monied partisan interest groups and individuals.  These types of commissions should be the law of the land to give American voters confidence that their elected representatives will better represent the people who elected them as opposed to those who lined their campaign coffers.  The party apparatus will undoubtedly loathe this decision because it takes power from them and gives it to the voters instead.

Expounding a bit on immigration

President Obama can not legally give anyone legal status in the United States.  That has to come by way of Congressional action.  Those of you who believe that whole amnesty thing need to go and read up on immigration law a bit.

The President, by being the head of the Executive Branch, is the point person for the enforcement of law.  What his executive actions can do is direct how a particular law or set of laws is enforced.  He cannot change law either.  So, don’t believe that crap.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, did not legalize any children brought here to the US.  It did not give them a legal pathway to citizenship nor did alter their current legal status.  It only gave them a temporary reprieve for being subject to orders of removal.  They are still subject to grounds of inadmissibility, and they can be removed if the situation warrants removal.

What we need is a Congress that has the balls to be honest with America.  We need a media that has the balls to be honest with America.  We need an America that has the balls to be honest with America.

Obama cannot grant amnesty, and I doubt he intends to do so.  His actions can only direct enforcement of immigration law.  Congress has the power to grant amnesty, and I doubt they will do so.  They can, however, do what’s necessary to settle our immigration issues.  Instead, they’re too damn busy trying to score political points by stirring up the base, pushing ideological lies that do nothing but make people angry.

Obama, for his part, is playing political games as well.  He’s asked Congress numerous times to work on immigration, and they have chosen not to.  By pushing EOs, he’s basically goading them into doing something.  Whether it turns out to be meaningful or strictly political is up to Congress.

The Fourth Amendment still applies in 2014

In a ruling handed down on December 31st, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven gave a thumbs down to a law passed in the State of Florida to require drug tests for people applying for welfare benefits.  As part of her ruling, she stated “The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”  There was already an injunction in place putting a temporary ban on the law, and that ban will now be permanent.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and 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.”Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

I haven’t seen a written copy of her ruling online, but from my viewpoint, that ruling shouldn’t have taken 10 minutes to reach.  Simply applying for welfare benefits is not enough to satisfy the conditions of the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause for a search.  Peeing in a cup is a personal search, whether most people realize it or not.  If you volunteer that sample, then no warrant is necessary or needed.  The government can not compel you to give a sample without a warrant though.  In obtaining that warrant, there has to be probable cause to issue that warrant.  A person applying for welfare is not probable cause for a personal search.

This is not the first time such a law has been struck down by the courts.  In 2003, the courts struck down a similar law passed in Michigan.  Undeterred, numerous states have passed these laws with the same Fourth Amendment to the Constitution still in effect unchanged.

I understand the emotional aspect of the debate.  Emotion does not trump law though, at least in the USA it doesn’t.  No politician or political party should ever put emotion over the Constitution either.  While it feels good when you want to piss on the rights of those with whom you disagree, I’m sure that same person doing the pissing would be pissed off at someone trying to eat away at his constitutionally protected rights.

There are numerous ways to combat the perception of drugged out welfare users.  The first thing is to join reality.  From the previous testing done in Michigan and Florida, drug use amongst welfare recipients was not any greater than the general public.  That should show there is no huge segment of drug users applying for welfare, regardless to what ideology and/or rhetoric says.  Some people eat, sleep, and crap rhetoric so I think that will be much easier said than done here.  That does not mean that we shouldn’t try to rid ourselves of this out-of-touch thinking.  A big help would be for the media to stop pushing the false narratives and actually return to investigative reporting as opposed to the sensationalism crap we’re having thrust upon us.

Next, for those who do use drugs, treatment is likely a better option that criminalization.  America has 25% of the world’s prison population, and that’s fueled by our “lock’em up for anything” mentality.  Prison does not help drug users nowhere near as much as getting them help to break their addiction does.  We’ve had our “War on Drugs” for almost as long as I’ve been alive, and we are getting our ass kicked as drug usage is still as much an issue now as it was 30 years ago.  Just saying “No” doesn’t work.

Finally, gainful employment would do more to slow down the application and disbursement of welfare than anything else.  When people have employment that helps them live, they don’t need welfare, nor do they meet the requirements to qualify for welfare.  In allowing companies to squash pay to the point where the minimum wage has about half the buying power it did decades ago, America has set itself up to become a welfare dependent nation.

Hopefully, Georgia, North Carolina, and the other states passing these “waste of time” laws will see the light and do away with them before the court does.  I don’t want to hear the whining about “activist judges” when they are simply ensuring the laws that are being passed meets Constitutional muster.  We have more than enough other issues to deal with right now, so any side-show legislation to give a moral victory to the ideology is a waste of time.

Who’s rights are next on the chopping block?

The State of Michigan is having a North Carolina styled fit on the rights of its citizens.  I don’t know what’s in the water there, but whatever it is, I sure hope they don’t allow it to flow downstream to Georgia.

The first story that caught my eyes coming from Michigan was in regards to a court case that is challenging Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriages.  In this case, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse originally filed a lawsuit to challenge Michigan’s adoption laws but the case mutated into a challenge to the ban on same-sex marriages.

In a brief filed by lawyers of the state, there are two sentences that stick out in what appears to be government over reach into the bedroom of its citizens.  In that brief, you find these two passages:

  • “Post Windsor, it is clear that Michigan has exclusive authority to govern domestic relations, and that authority should not be disrupted short of constitutional violations.”
  • One of the paramount purposes of marriage in Michigan—and at least 37 other states that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman—is, and has always been, to regulate sexual relationships between men and women so that the unique procreative capacity of such relationships benefits rather than harms society.

Pardon me, but since when has it been the government’s purpose to regulate what we do in the privacy of our own homes?  I don’t ever recall learning that lesson in high school civics class.  What we do in the privacy of our own homes as consenting adults is of no business to the government as long as we are not breaking any laws.

What’s next, will they require us to install coitus meters to ensure we’re doing enough screwing each week to meet some arbitrary quota?  I can’t believe this argument is coming from lawyers for the same party that had Grand Mal fits at the notion of women being provided birth control pills as part of their health insurance coverage.

So, let me get this straight…  The government should not allow women and their doctors to make the choice to end a pregnancy on their own.  The government doesn’t think that health insurance should include birth control pills for women but does not argue about Viagra being covered for men.  And now the government has the exclusive authority to govern domestic relations to ensure that men knock women up.

I guess that, when you put it all together, it make sense.  There is no “War on Women”, this is all about “taking our country back”, if that means taking it back to the time when women were barefoot, pregnant, and knew their roles in the house.

The other story out of Michigan has to do with the conservative’s latest game of squash the 4th Amendment.  The text of the 4th Amendment reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and 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.”

This doesn’t appear to apply to those who apply for public assistance though.  Time and time again, we’ve seen states pass these laws that require people to submit to drug tests when applying for public assistance.  I guess the people passing these laws have no concept of what constitutes a reasonable and/or unreasonable search.  There’s also that wording “that no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause” which contradicts these laws.  It’s a sad day when the elected officials themselves have no concept of Constitutional Rights.  I guess we can blame Obama, since he’s the one who is always being accused of shredding the Constitution.  Maybe he secretly wrote these laws in all the states were they have been passed and signed into law.

Where is the probable cause that leads to a search for drugs in these cases?  Where is the articulable facts that prove the search to be reasonable?  Can we even round up enough reasonable suspicion to make this ok with the 4th?

I understand the idea behind the law, but this is not the way to do it.  If you want to reduce the number of people on public assistance, then you need to ensure the public and private sector are working together to create the necessary employment for people to be able to subsist without having to need assistance in the first place.  You’re not going to have that kind of atmosphere when the government is intent on cutting its spending while the private sector refuses to spend.  We live in a consumption based economy which means our economy does well when we spend.  Right now, our economy sucks because the private sector is hoarding cash using the lame assed excuse of “uncertainty”.  There is no such thing as certainty in business.  If there was, then everybody who started a business would be wildly successful instead of most start-ups failing within the first few years.

Michigan, drop the piss cups and get out of the bedroom of your citizens.  Work on providing jobs and economic opportunity, and your citizens will do the rest.  America hasn’t survived more than 200 years because of an overbearing government that wants to control every single aspect of our life.  That’s not America nor is it what being an American is all about.