Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Open Letter to Mr. Obama

 Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Dear Mr. President:

I heard recently that you plan to delay any executive action on immigration, such as delaying deportation of child refugees, until after the November elections — this in spite of your stated intention earlier to do something by the “end of the summer.”
I’m sure your advisers told you that this would be a smart political move. You may even believe it yourself. Well, they’re wrong, and so are you if you buy into that.
Oh, sure, it’s true that some of the more hotly contested races that could determine control of the Senate are in so-called “red” states. I know it looks like a bad idea to rile up the Republican “base” of xenophobes, bigots, Fox News-addicted outrage junkies, and various other angry, frightened old white dudes. My stars, taking executive action might even upset them enough to get to the polls to vote against Democrats.
But here’s the thing, Mr. President: They’re going to get riled up no matter what you do or don’t do. Riled up is their default state. They’ve been in a state of apoplectic rage since Nov. 4, 2008, when you sent the poster child for angry old white dudes and his empty-headed snowbilly running mate packing.
It only got worse four years later, when their supposed savior, Lord Mitt Romney, couldn’t get out of the way of his own feet and stumbled to a humiliating loss that everyone except them could see coming. All you have to do to upset the Republican base and get them to the polls is be a black Democrat in the White House.
You don’t believe me when I say that trying not to upset the Raging Right is a sucker’s game? Check out Newt Gingrich, who went on CNN’s “State of the Union” to call you “cowardly” and “indecisive” for delaying taking action on immigration.
Of course, no one on the program bothered to point out that on Aug. 3, Newt called such action “unconstitutional” and an example of “the Venezuelan-style, anything-I-want-is-legal presidency.
Look at the House, where the speaker, John Boehner, urged you to act on immigration “without the need for congressional action,” the day after his caucus voted to sue you for acting without congressional action — to delay implementation of a law that they repeatedly voted to repeal.
You cannot placate these people. You cannot calm them down, especially since there’s a billion-dollar industry dedicated to keeping them angry and so afraid of everything that they’re convinced that they’ll be robbed, raped or killed if they don’t have a gun on them every time they leave the house.
Instead of trying to soothe the Republican base, why don’t you pay some attention to your own? You seem so worried at the prospect of right-wingers going to the polls that you’re forgetting the people you need to go there.
Latinos, of course, are the fastest growing demographic in the nation. You also need to get young people fired up. But what I’m hearing from them is a growing sense of frustration, complaints that “politicians are all the same,” and a general apathy about voting.
Dems will probably still get a goodly portion of the female vote, but that’s mainly because several Republicans will inevitably say something incredibly stupid, misogynistic, or patronizing toward women before it’s over. But we need the rest of the constituency, too. So now is not the time for half-measures.
I know, Mr. President, that you’re called “No Drama Obama.” But maybe it’s time for something dramatic. For starters, use the power you have as the executive to delay or defer the deportation of refugee children.
For all the caterwauling about “tyranny” (which, remember, they’re going to do anyway), that power falls squarely within the scope of what’s called “prosecutorial discretion”: the recognition that you simply don’t have unlimited resources to prosecute every law, all the time, so the executive branch can allocate those resources as it sees fit. Prosecutorial discretion has long been recognized by the courts as a legitimate use of executive power.
The Teahadists have threatened impeachment if you try that? Let ’em bring it. Lawsuits? Bring those on, too.
Iowa Rep. Steve King has raised the idea of another government shutdown in protest if you take executive action. Tell him, “Please proceed, Congressman.” Because if there’s one thing that will get wavering Democrats and independents off the couch and into the voting booths, it’ll be the spectacle of the wingnuts once again waving their torches and pitchforks and threatening to destroy the country in order to save it.
So do the right thing, Mr. President, and dare the Republicans to do something about it. Thank you, and God bless.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Less to the Perry Indictment Than Meets the Eye

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

There was certainly a lot of liberal schadenfreude at the news that Texas Gov. Rick (“Oops”) Perry had been indicted by a grand jury in Austin on two felony counts.
Schadenfreude, as you may remember, is a German word meaning “pleasure at another’s misfortune.” (I love how those Germans have a word for every emotion.) But, as so often happens when it comes to legal matters in the news, there may be less to this supposed “crime” than meets the eye.
I’ll admit, there was a certain amusement value to seeing Perry’s mug shot plastered all over the news and to learn that he’d lost his concealed carry permit while the charges are pending. Heavens! How will he fight off the coyotes on his morning jog, the way he once bragged of doing to The Associated Press? It was even more amusing to watch Perry defenders twist and turn trying to spin this charge.
For example, The Wall Street Journal’s Wingnut Laureate Peggy Noonan appeared on ABC’s “This Week” (or as I like to call it, “David Brinkley Spins in His Grave”) and blasted the indictment as “local Democratic overreach.” When host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that the prosecutor who brought the case was a Republican, Noonan simply handwaved that away: “That may be. But when you look at this case, it just looks crazy.”
In fact, Michael McCrum, the prosecutor in question, worked in the Bush/Quayle White House and was appointed by a Republican judge. Democratic officials in Travis County recused themselves from the case. But Peggy Noonan, like any good conduit for right-wing persecution fantasy, isn’t going to let something like facts turn her aside.
All that said, Rick Perry deserves the same presumption of innocence as anyone else, and he shouldn’t be convicted of a crime unless a crime was actually committed. So let’s look at the case.
It seems there’s this district attorney, a Democrat as it turns out, named Rosemary Lehmberg. Lehmberg was the head of what was called the Public Integrity Unit (PIU), which investigates wrongdoing by public officials.
One fine night in April 2013, Madame DA not only got arrested for drunk driving, but also made a grade-A, world-class ass of herself while doing it. On video. Lehmberg pleaded guilty to the charges, which is about all one can do when the cops find a bottle of vodka in your passenger seat and have video of you raving like lunatic down at the station.
Perry demanded that Lehmberg resign her position. Lehmberg refused, claiming that just because she was convicted of breaking the law, it didn’t mean she couldn’t go on being a DA. (Say what you like about Texans, you have to admire ’em for pure chutzpah.)
Perry threatened to veto the funding for the PIU, then did so when Lehmberg remained defiant. So Special Prosecutor McCrum got a grand jury to indict Perry for “abuse of official capacity” (on the theory that vetoing funding to compel or punish behavior was using said public funds for an improper purpose) and “coercion of a public servant.”
It probably didn’t help that the Public Integrity Unit was, at the time, investigating misuse of public funds in a grant to a major Perry donor. It also didn’t help that Perry didn’t demand the resignations of two other Texas DAs, both Republicans, who’d also been involved in drunk driving arrests.
And let’s be honest: Had Barack Obama pulled a stunt like this, Republicans would be screaming about “tyranny” and “Chicago Thug Politics” and adding it to their long list of impeachable offenses (right after "mentioning that he has things in common with other black people” and right before “inappropriate golfing.”)
However, “failure to do right,” as an old DA in this district once used to put it, isn’t a crime. You have to have violated some actual law, and several legal scholars have pointed out that interpreting the law the way McCrum wants to might very well be unconstitutional.
The Executive Branch, state and federal, uses the veto and/or the threat of the veto all the time to bargain or to get its way. It’s the way checks and balances and separation of powers work. There’s also what’s called the “political question” doctrine, which states that if the question is “fundamentally political and not legal,” the courts should stay out of it.
In other words, hardball politics may be distasteful, even unfair, but they’re not necessarily criminal. If you don’t like the way an executive uses executive power, don’t vote for him. Which is exactly what I suggest when it comes to Rick Perry.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Message From Ferguson

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

I’ve been hearing it all week: “You’re going to write about Ferguson, aren’t you?” … “What are you going to write about Ferguson?”
To be honest, I’ve hesitated. The unrest following the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., raises a lot of highly charged issues, issues guaranteed to provoke an outpouring of vitriol, whatever you say.
It’s also one in which new “information” comes out every day from a variety of outlets, only to be contradicted the next day. There are a few things, however, that come loud and clear through the noise:
Dear Ferguson Police: Using a loudspeaker to order reporters to “turn off your cameras” just looks bad, especially when you do it on camera. It looks even worse when one of your officers tells reporters, again on camera, that “I’ll bust your head” and that he’ll get away with it because he’ll “confiscate the tape as evidence.”
When a police officer doesn’t want a record of what goes on in a public place, that officer is not to be trusted. And when an entire department, armed to the teeth, doesn’t want a record of what its members do in a public place with unarmed protestors, then that is exactly the kind of department you’ve got to watch. ‬‬‬
If you want to talk about racial disparity in this country, look at the difference in the way the authorities handled the unarmed Ferguson protesters and the way the nut cases at the Cliven Bundy ranch were treated.
Bundy and his militia supporters got off scot-free after pointing rifles at federal agents and claiming they would kill any federal agent who tried to arrest Bundy for flouting multiple court orders and grazing his cattle on public land without paying for it. 


Those people didn’t so much as smell a whiff of tear gas.
If the Bundy ranch crazies pointing their guns at the feds had been African-American, they’d have been tear-gassed at least, and the right would be calling Obama racist because the feds weren’t using napalm.
But wait! Isn’t this disparity the perfect argument for those “Second Amendment remedies”? After all, aren’t our guns our last line of defense against overbearing and tyrannical authority? Well, maybe, but only for white people. Don’t believe me? Every right-wing nightmare of oppression is coming true right now in Ferguson, and we don’t hear a word from the NRA.
While we’re at it, how many African-American faces do you see in the Open Carry movement? A white man walking into Chipotle with an assault rifle can claim he’s exercising his Second Amendment rights. Let a black man do it, and he’ll be lucky not to get his head blown off by a SWAT sniper before he gets to the hostess stand.
Heck, black people don’t even have to be armed. Apparently, the justification Officer Darren Wilson used for shooting Michael Brown (who, let us not forget, was completely unarmed) is that Brown attacked Wilson.
It should be noted that: This version of events is denied by every eyewitness to the event; no ambulance was called for Officer Wilson; no first aid was administered; and video taken immediately after the shooting shows Wilson walking around calmly with no apparent injury.
Even if true, this “defense” raises the question of how the Ferguson Police Department can afford all those fancy military-style vehicles and sniper rifles we saw pointed at protesters on TV, but can’t seem to provide them with Tasers, which is the usual police weapon deployed against a rowdy subject.
Even though Michael Brown supposedly stole some cigars from a store not long before being killed, the Ferguson PD has admitted that Officer Wilson had no knowledge of the alleged robbery. No witness (and there were several) supports the story that Brown was struggling with the officer for his gun.
Which means the revelation of an alleged robbery is offered more as a smear of the deceased than a justification for the shooting. Officer Darren Wilson wasn’t scared of a strong-arm bandit; he was just scared.
Which brings us to our last point. The latest report from the Ferguson PD is that Wilson isn’t really a bad guy. He’s not a “cold-blooded killer,” as some have described him. And you know what? He may not be. The evidence we’ve heard could also support a theory that he’s a young, frightened, poorly trained officer in a police department ruled by arrogance, mistrust, and outright fear of a large part of the community they’re supposed to be protecting.

It’s the same fear that’s corroding American society from the inside. Ferguson is just the latest symptom.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Twitrage Strikes Again

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

The online reaction to couple of recent news items illustrates once again the dangers of what I’ve come to call “Twitrage.”
Twitrage happens when someone sees an item in print or on the Internet, gets offended, then immediately takes to Twitter or other sites on the Web to trumpet their outrage, all before taking a closer look to see if there’s really anything to be offended about.
For our first example, we turn to Amanda Carpenter, whose Twitter feed describes her as a “Speechwriter/senior communications adviser to Ted Cruz.” Sen. Cruz’s designated mouthpiece was mightily incensed over the idea that in these troubled times, President Obama would be frivolous enough to host a concert by teen idol Katy Perry at the White House.
“Do they even care about optics anymore?” she tweeted, before comparing all the important things her boss had been allegedly working on: “Israel, border crisis, Internet taxes, NSA, FAA. Iran. Not Katy Perry concerts.”
Only problem was, Ms. Carpenter had missed the fact that, not only was the president certainly working on all those things as well, but that the concert was a benefit for the Special Olympics. As one of Cruz’s fellow Republicans once famously said, “Oops.”
After this was pointed out to her, with a few questions as to what, exactly, Cruz’s office had against benefit shows for disabled children, she deleted the tweets in question and apologized — not to the president, the person she’d actually insulted, but to her Twitter followers. Obama Derangement Syndrome means never have to say you’re sorry --to the president.
Then there’s the liberal outrage directed against State Sen. Richard Ross of Massachusetts, after The Boston Globe’s website reported the Republican senator was sponsoring a bill to require divorcing couples to get court permission before dating.
It’s pretty much standard language in a custody order that neither party can have “unrelated overnight guests of the opposite sex while the children are in their custody.” The theory, and it’s not an unreasonable one, is that it would be upsetting to children to have someone who’s not Mom or Dad stumble out of the former parental bedroom yawning while the kids are eating their morning Froot Loops.
This bill, however, went even farther than that. It says that in a divorce proceeding “the party remaining in the home shall not conduct a dating or sexual relationship within the home until a divorce is final and all financial and custody issues are resolved, unless the express permission is granted by the courts.”
Got that? For divorcing couples in Massachusetts, the bill as written would require judicial permission to even date until the case is settled.
We should all be pretty outraged about this, right? Sen. Ross is pushing a major invasion of personal privacy and liberty, right? Certainly there’s been much headshaking and finger-wagging on Twitter, as well as on liberal blogs such as Jezebel.com and ThinkProgress.
“Hard to believe a small-government Republican would want to make you check with the government before having sex,” tut-tutted Alan Colmes’ blog Liberaland.
But, as so often happens with Twitrage, there’s less to this story than meets the eye. As reported by Boston Magazine, “the bill has no legislative sponsors, no support, and is in no way under consideration by anybody.”
It seems there’s an old tradition in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts called “the right of free petition,” which allows private citizens to submit just about any bill they want to the legislature for consideration. You want to propose legislation to make putting pineapple on pizza a capital felony in the Commonwealth, you could do it. The only requirement is you’ve got to find an actual member to file the paperwork.
According to Boston Daily reporter David S. Bernstein, “many legislators aren’t even aware that they are allowed to deny a citizen petition request.” Just because a proposed bill gets filed doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, or even that the person who signed off on the petition cares enough about it to bring it to the floor.
As it turns out, this same bill has been proposed by the same guy, an 83-year-old codger named Robert LeClair, for years, and it never gets anywhere. LeClair clearly has an ax to grind, but nobody in the legislature is turning the grindstone for him. So everybody just calm the heck down.
In these times of instantaneous worldwide communication, false or incomplete information can, in the words of the old saying, “be halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” So can the indignation from the kind of stories that cause both liberals and conservatives to say “isn’t that just like those [insert your favorite bogeyman here]” before they have all the facts.
So let’s be careful out there.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Boehner: PAY NO ATTENTION TO THOSE WINGNUTS BEHIND THE CURTAIN!

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Will the Republicans in the House actually impeach President Obama? I don’t know, but the recent furor over the question has provided us with the hilarious spectacle of one-half of the party trying desperately to keep people from noticing what the other half is doing.
Some Republicans, of course, have been muttering the “I” word since Mr. Obama’s election. The carping got louder when they found, to their shock, that they couldn’t beat him in 2012. Recently, the issue burst back onto the national conversation as the Queen of Wingnuttia herself, failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, wrote an inflammatory op-ed for the current flagship for right-wing lunacy, the website Breitbart.com.
“It’s time to impeach,” the Quitta From Wasilla said flatly. “Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, ‘No mas.’”
Well, I guess comparing not getting your political way to being an abused spouse is more classy than their usual complaint of being just like chattel slaves or Holocaust victims, but not by much.
Conservative pundit Smilin’ Bill Kristol, usually a Palin cheerleader, was unequivocal in his rejection of the whole idea of impeachment. He directly responded to Palin’s call on ABC’s “This Week” by flatly declaring, “No responsible elected official has called for impeachment.”
That one had to sting, because Kristol has always pushed Palin’s seriousness as a political voice. Of course, this means that impeachment is inevitable, because, as we all know, Bill Kristol is always, always wrong.
Orange John Boehner was even firmer in his denial, claiming that the “whole talk about impeachment” was a “scam” started by Democratic fundraisers to try to drum up contributions for the upcoming election. It’s all “coming from the president’s own staff and Democrats on Capitol Hill.”
This should come as a surprise to:
— Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who told Breitbart News Saturday, “From my standpoint, if the president [enacts more executive actions], we need to bring impeachment hearings immediately before the House of Representatives. That’s my position, and that’s my prediction.”
— Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who told a radio interviewer: “Not a day goes by when people don’t talk to us about impeachment. I don’t know what rises to that level yet, but I know that there’s a mounting frustration that a lot of people are getting to, and I think Congress is going to start looking at it very seriously.”
— Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), who, according to another story on Breitbart.com, “told colleagues that the House should pass legislation with new steps to secure the border, and tell Obama if he didn’t implement it, they would impeach him.”
— Rep. Marilinda Garcia (R-N.H.), who said she’d vote for impeachment because, according to her, the president “has many, many impeachable offenses, it seems to me, in terms of his disregard for our Constitution alone.”
And of course, no parade of wingnuts would be complete without its grand marshal, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Bedlam), who stopped short of calling for immediate impeachment, then immediately claimed it’s “what the people want.”
“There isn’t a weekend that hasn’t gone by,” she said, “that someone says to me, ‘Michele, what in the world are you all waiting for in Congress? Why aren’t you impeaching the president?”
While it is highly likely that the “someone” she refers to is one of the voices buzzing in her head, she and her pals in the Teahadist Caucus seem awfully fixated on something that their alleged leader says is a Democratic idea.
Did all of these people (and a half-dozen other House Republicans who have either outright called for impeachment or who can’t stop talking about unspecified “impeachable offenses”) join the White House staff or cross the aisle to the Dem side when we weren’t looking?
John Boehner knows the lessons of history. He knows that the doomed impeachment effort against President Bill Clinton caused Clinton’s popularity ratings to skyrocket. He also knows that while impeachment is a big seller among Republicans, less than a third of the general electorate favors it, and 63 percent of independents flat out oppose it.
So, in a weak imitation of the Great and Powerful Oz, Orange John is bellowing for us to “pay no attention to those Republicans behind the curtain!” while pushing his own substitute: a lawsuit against President Obama’s delay in enacting a law the House has tried to repeal so many times I’ve lost count.
Sadly, Boehner is neither great nor powerful. His caucus is out of control and pushing not solutions to problems, but bogus lawsuits and political grandstanding. That’s what the Democrats are raising money to fight. They’re right to do so.