Uncommon Sense

December 20, 2022

Jan 6th Committee Punches Up!

The hapless Republicans keep shooting themselves in the foot. When the House of Representatives decided to investigate the “Attack on the Capitol” the Republicans decided to play ball, the Republican Way. They nominated clear Trump loyalists/fan boys but those appointments were nixed by the Speaker of the House. Then they decided to not play ball at all and told their caucus to not serve on that committee. But the Committee was formed and it had two Republicans on it! Of course, there were consequences to those “rebellious” Republicans; neither will have seats in the next House.

But that didn’t deter the Republicans. They labeled the effort as a “partisan witch hunt” (and continue to do so to this day).

So, the Repubs refuse to appoint honest Republicans to that committee (maybe they couldn’t find any) and then claim that the committee’s work is political and biased and “partisan.” Brilliant. Trump even whined after one of the hearings that none of the committee members were defending his viewpoint. (Duh!)

The Committee held hearings on TV with the vast majority of those being heard were Republicans, including officials in the administration and Trump family members. (Trump declined to testify and the Committee declined subpoenaing him.)

Five Republican members of the House were asked to testify and when they declined, subpoenas were issued. All five spurned the subpoenas and so the committee referred them to the House Ethics Committee as such is a violation of House Rules, and well, you know, the law. (Only four were referred as one of the five had already left the House.)

Since the committee was investigative in nature, they could only make recommendations: recommendations for changes in governmental policy, the election laws, etc. And they recommended that the Department of Justice consider criminal proceedings against the main perpetrators. Many of the little perps are already in jail, but none of the masterminds are. If the DOJ pursues those cases, that may change.

One of the charges recommended by the committee is that of aiding or abetting an insurrection and that was leveled at former President Donald John Trump (all major criminals are referred to with their full names, e.g. Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wayne Gacy, John Wilkes Booth, etc.) and potentially many others. And a provision of the Constitution is that anyone convicted of insurrection-related crimes is no longer eligible for public office. This is being called into dispute, I presume by Trump loyalists. They claim this provision may be unconstitutional.

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 3:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Now that is a hoot. The Constitution may be unconstitutional! The Constitution states all kinds of restrictions as to who can run for office. These involve age (you must be this old to ride this ride), to being a “natural born citizen” (we don’ need no stinkin’ immigrants). (Being white and male weren’t explicitly stated but were unofficial qualifications early on.) Why disallowing oath breakers and insurrectionists would conflict with the other parts of the Constitution seems bizarre, but with the current version of the Extreme Court, aka the Rogue Supreme Court, I guess anything is possible. The Repubs worked like beavers to get those political hacks installed on the SCOTUS bench and they seem to be betting that they will do their bidding no matter how ridiculous.

May 29, 2020

The Values of the Western Cultural Tradition . . . Biblically Inspired?

I was reading a book last night and read this: “The implication is that this crisis should be of concern not only to theologians and clerics, but also to intelligent lay folk, and indeed to all who cherish the Western cultural tradition, which in large part derives from values enshrined in the Bible (emphasis mine).”

So, the nature of the crisis aside, have you read something like the italicizes part before? I have many, many times. But right now it seems a sop thrown to the Christians who often form the majority of citizens in Western countries.

So, our cherished “Western cultural tradition” is. . . ? We favor democracies as our governing models. Would a democracy be supported by anything in the Bible? Not at all. In the Bible it is Yahweh or the highway. The only allowed form of government supported by the Bible is a theocracy and a Christian (or Jewish) theocracy at that.

How about . . .
The separation of church and state in the U.S. and elsewhere? Nope.
No religion tests allowed in elections? Nope.
The elimination of blasphemy laws? Nope.
The elimination of anti-abortion laws (on going)? Nope.
The government refusing to support Christian schools? Nope.
Allowing people to get a divorce on their own recognizance? Nope.
Legal same sex marriage? Nope.
Anti-discrimination laws base upon gender? Nope.
Allowing people of different faiths to marry? Nope.
Anti-discrimination laws base upon race? Nope.
Trial by a jury of one’s peers? Nope
Local control of various government functions? Nope
Anti-slavery laws? Nope.

So, what are these “cherished” values “enshrined” in the Bible that are still part of our Western traditions? It seems that we have, step-by-step, weeded out all of those influences as being unenlightened. (Pun intended.)

 

March 9, 2020

Mike Pence’s Coronavirus Prayer Circle, WTF?

Vice-president Mike Pence has been put in charge of the nation’s response to what is looking to be a major flu pandemic. Mr. Pence as governor of Indiana, allowed an HIV outbreak to blow up because his Christian extremist ideology prevented him from adopting sensible policy, so he is experienced, albeit not in a good way.

Criticism and support have swirled around this prayer circle photo op but nobody seems to be looking at this as I do, so here are my two cents on the issue.

Prayer is something you do when you are powerless. You do not pray for something you can manifest yourself. If you pray for the intelligence to do a good job, you are admitting you do not have the intelligence to do a good job. If you pray for miraculous intervention to protect you, then you are admitting you cannot protect yourself. And so on.

So, here is the Vice-president of the most powerful nation in the world, having been given the responsibility to guide the scientific/medical response to the pandemic, starting out praying. But he hasn’t even begun his task. How the heck would he know whether we are up to it or not? How could he know whether we need divine help or not?

The Trump administration has put a massive budget cut for the Centers for Disease Control in their current budget proposal, a demonstration of bad timing if there were ever one. Their general ineptitude and desire to reduce the size of government has led to many functions of government being massively understaffed. And their anti-scientific attitude has led to a significant brain drain from the very departments being called upon to respond to what seems at this point to be a national emergency.

If you had a medical emergency and you knew your doctor could handle that with ease, who would you call? Members of your church who were good at praying or your doctor?

If you had a medical emergency and you thought your doctor might possibly handle it, who would you call? Members of your church who were good at praying or your doctor?

At, last, that there was a photo taken of this bizarre process, indicates that this is one more point of pandering to the Christian Right by the Trump administration. Humble leaders might have begun with a prayer and then begun their work with no photos taken. Who the fuck calls in the God Squad of people who do not even know what the issues are to pray for a positive outcome. How the heck would they know what to pray for, not knowing any of the details? Clearly Mr. Pence wanted to be “seen” praying, and praying with these people who represent something politically. (Notice that no rabbis or Imams were involved, only very white, very Christian pray-ers. Oh, but, there was a token female by the door.)

So we are back to the old saw: how do you know when a politician is lying? The answer, of course, is when their lips are moving . . . and they are dumb enough to have cameras rolling to prove it.

August 16, 2019

A New Slant on the Second Amendment Debate

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
(Second Amendment, U.S. Constitution)

Quite a few people are unaware that until quite recently most people and most Supreme Court Justices viewed the Second Amendment as addressing other than an individual right. Since its ratification, Americans have been arguing over the amendment’s meaning and interpretation. One side interprets the amendment to mean it provides for collective rights (of militia members), while the opposing view is that it provides individual rights.

Until quite recently, this was considered mostly a collective right, not an individual one, with few Supreme Court cases addressing that matter (in effect, they were hiding from an definitive decision). That all changed with District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. (Yes, 2008, eleven years ago, peeps! Pay attention!) The case centered on Dick Heller, a licensed special police office in Washington, D.C., who challenged the nation’s capital’s handgun ban. For the first time, the Supreme Court ruled that despite state laws, individuals who were not part of a state militia did have the right to bear arms. As part of its ruling, the court wrote, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home” (Empahsis mine. SR).

So now the Second Amendment addresses the government’s ability (inability, actually) to control an individual right. And that will be the case until a reversal of this opinion is had, so basically forever.

But, consider this. If you strip out all of the militia verbiage (which creates the collective vs. individual brouhaha) and just look at the rest of it, it says:

“. . . the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Keep and bear. “Keep” refers to people who already have an “arm” and that they are to be allowed to keep (store, house, etc.) those arms and “bear” means to carry and, in this case, use the arms involved. But it says nothing about the government infringing upon the right to acquire firearms. (None other than Antonin Scalia stated in that 2008 decision the opinion that for him, “to bear” was simple enough, meaning “to carry.” And “arms” were just weapons. He conceded that there was an idiom, “to bear arms,” which meant to belong to an organized military force. But this was only a possible import of the phrase, not its core meaning. So, while establishing this new individual right, he also established with the terms “keep” and “bear” were in this amendment.)

So, while the government cannot infringe the right to keep and bear arms, it is free to legislate who can acquire arms and for what purposes. We can limit what arms can be acquired, how many, how much ammunition, etc. and the conditions that need to be met to be able to acquire them, which includes having a license, passing a training program, being sane, providing insurance against criminal use, etc.

Well, what do you think?

August 10, 2019

Book Report—The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American

I am trying to catch up on reporting on books I have read and can recommend to you. The latest is The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American by Andrew L Seidel.

I highlighted all kinds of paragraphs to use in this review, but there were just too many of them. I’d end up quoting the entire book. So, I decided to offer you just a bit of the concluding chapter. The author starts by explaining that he had taken an elderly relative to a Catholic mass. The quote beings with some ruminations on that event.

“The last mass I witnessed was during a full Catholic wedding. The priest mentioned the happy couple about sixty times—a respectable number, given that we had gathered together to celebrate them. But the priest was also able to mention his church and god more than 235 times. This four-to-one ratio of church over couple has held at the two other Catholic weddings I’ve attended. The Catholic Church is co-opting the prestige of more illustrious events, people, and moments for itself. Two people dedicate their lives to each other, and religion injects itself in the middle. Christian nationalism excels at this type of piracy and imposition. It attempts, like the Catholic priest at those weddings, to bask in unwarranted glory. It seeks to co-opt undeserved greatness, accolades, and credit. It claims a nation dedicated to the freedom of and from religion, for one particular religion. It insists that a nation with a godless Constitution is dedicated to one particular god. A religion that demands fearful, unwavering obedience takes credit for a rebellion and revolution in self-government. It declares that that revolution was the brainchild of a few Christians rather than of a group of unorthodox thinkers testing Enlightenment principles. It even claims universal human morality as its own invention. Christian nationalism also contends that the United States of America is exceptional because the nation was chosen by a god, not because the founders’ enlightened experiment was successful. Christian nationalists sometimes misconstrue a 1983 Newsweek quote: ‘Historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our founding document.’ Ken Woodward and David Gates’s full quote is more interesting, and, as one would imagine, more reflective of reality: “Now historians are discovering that the Bible, perhaps even more than the Constitution, is our founding document: the source of a powerful myth of the United States as a special, sacred nation, a people called by God to establish a model society, a beacon to the world. Biblical America is indeed a myth, a powerful one (emphasis mine SR).

“The sad irony of the myths of the Christian nation, biblical America, and Judeo-Christian principles is that they are born out of a misplaced zeal to revive or extend American exceptionalism. Trump and his Christian nationalist brethren want a return to a Christian nation; they want to “make America great again.” But religion did not make the United States, let alone make it great. ‘We the People’ make America exceptional. Religion is the millstone around the neck of American exceptionalism because religious faith denies experience and observation to preserve a belief. It is for this reason that it is unlikely to contribute to progress, though it will take credit for what science, rationality, experience, and observation have accomplished. America succeeded as an experiment because it was based on reason. If we abandon reason in favor of faith—or if our elected leaders commit this sin—we are asking to regress. Not to some golden age, but to a time ‘when religion ruled the world . . . called the Dark Ages . . .’”

It is abundantly clear that the idea of a Christian Nation is a power play, an attempt to grasp power for a “special” group of people. Unfortunately, the thinking behind this movement is roughly: Christianity good, America good. Christian America . . . double good. Christianity has no elements in it that are at all democratic. If you believe that it does, please explain that to the Pope. Declaring this nation to have an official religion would gut the Constitution and create religious strife like no attack from our enemies could conceive.

This book dismantles all such claims and efforts in this vein and is high recommended to those of you who wish to preserve the Constitution and the Grand American Experiment in self-governance.

May 19, 2019

Hello? What About the Emoluments Clause?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

When he issued a subpoena week before last, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said he was seeking six years of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns to aid a committee investigation into whether the IRS was doing its job properly in auditing a sitting president and whether the law governing such audits needed to be strengthened.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied the “request” saying that the subpoena was “unprecedented” and “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Hello?

First of all, the Treasury Secretary does not have a say in this. He does get to decide whether a congressional subpoena is appropriate or not. The law simply says such returns will be provided upon being subpoenaed.

Second, audits? WTF? What about the emoluments clause of the Constitution, also called the foreign emoluments clause, which is a provision of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8) that generally prohibits federal officeholders from receiving any gift, payment, or other thing of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers, or representatives? If Mr. Trump has been making money off of his presidency, and he apparently has, and the sources of those funds are foreign, wouldn’t his tax returns show that income? Wouldn’t this be a way for Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities as no other body has that responsibility?

Hey, they got Al Capone on tax fraud, didn’t they? Might work again!

May 3, 2019

Some Have More Equal Rights Than Others

No, we are not talking Animal Farm here, we are talking about Republican court packing which has created a Supreme Court consisting of five Justices wedded to the Religious Right. If the Republicans win the next presidential election and retain control of the Senate, it is quite likely that Justice Ginsberg will retire from the Court and be replaced with a sixth Justice wedded to the Religious Right.

The consequences of this are huge. We are faced with avoiding taking cases on church-state separation to the Supreme Court out of fear as to how they might rule. (Look what they did with Citizens United.) And, once the federal courts indicate that they favor religious exceptionalism, look to the more conservative states to be making laws favoring religious groups by the score.

Right now, the recent history of the court has provided exclusions for religious groups from obeying the law. They say, everyone must obey the law . . . except . . . if you have a profound religious belief, you do not have to. Consider the Obamacare contraception coverage situation, as just one example. You must obey the law, they do not.

The whole idea of the separation of church and state was to keep religious squabbles outside of government . . . and . . . to not have government bodies deciding religious issues. It protects the government from religion and religion from government. Once that barrier is broached (and there are already holes in the dike) then where is the line to be drawn as to how much the government can favor the religious over the non-religious? There is no natural divide, so as the metaphor goes, the flood gates will be open. Once that happens, how long will it be before states pass laws favoring one religion over others? (You will only need a stopwatch to measure how long that will take.)

Any number of current justices believe that the religious can be favored over the non-religious under the Constitution. This leaves the non-religious in a second class status, with only the freedom of speech provision of the Constitution to protect us.

And so many of the religious wonder why atheists are so “hostile” to religion! Even when religious people, some–not all, are actively working to get the law to favor them over us. That’s one reason for the hostility. (D’ya think?)

Elections have consequences. If you want to continue the Repubs court packing practices, then indeed vote for Republicans for Senate and President. Ruth Ginsberg cannot live forever. If the Supreme Court gets packed with even more adherents for the Religious Right movement, then the GOP will have its fondest wish, for trickle down religiosity incorporated into our governments, to become the state of this country for decades to come.

April 6, 2019

Are We Violating the First Amendment?

The first amendment to the Constitution begins with the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” and then changes the subject. This “law” has been declared to apply also to state governments.

Currently, the IRS and state taxing authorities generally exempt churches from paying taxes. As a consequence, I must pay more in taxes to make up that shortfall. Therefore, I am being forced by the government to support those churches (even Scientology!). This seems like a violation of the spirit of the First Amendment at the very least and the letter of Constitutional law at the most.

I know some will object and say that churches are charitable organizations and qualify for tax-exempt status thereby. A study I read indicated that just a few percent of most churches incomes (<5%) goes to charity (most going to costs such as utilities, employee salaries, etc.), so that doesn’t hold water. Others claim that churches are non-profits and that doesn’t hold water, either. How is a church, an institution that gives out advice (some for fee, some pro bono) any different from a tax accountant or financial advisor? Granted they may not make much profit to be taxed but they could not sustain continuing losses, so they must make some profit, and some of the large property owning churches make scads of money. And taxes on profits are not the only taxes. Dentists are taxed upon their dental chairs and offices if they own them (property taxes). Financial advisors are taxed likewise. Churches? Not so much.

(And don’t get me started on prosperity churches and their jet plane owning pastors.)

January 10, 2019

They Used to Hijack Airplanes, Now It Is The Government

President Trump is trying to hijack Congress. Congress was given the purse strings of the nation, not the Executive branch. This was one of those old-fashioned “checks and balances” things. But Mr. Trump is telling Congress, pass the legislation I want (authorizing the expenditures I want) or suffer the consequences, Basically he is saying that he won’t do his job (faithfully execute the laws of the US of A) unless Congress gives him what he wants. “So, give me I want or I shut the government down.” <signed> Donald J. Trump If this were being done by a foreign agency, it would be considered an act of war.

I wonder where he got the idea?

Oh, I remember, it was back when the Republican Congress tried to hijack Mr. Obama’s Presidency. Basically they said “give us what we want or we will not extend the national debt limit.” The consequences of not extending that limit was that the government couldn’t pay its bills and employees and could default on the payment of its debt obligations, ruining our credit rating. The final such tantrum by the GOP cost many billions of dollars as I suspect that Mr. Trump’s tantrum will, too.

Does no one else see this as an infringement on the powers granted the Congress by the Constitution? Does no one else see that refusing to “faithfully execute the laws of the US of A” is an offense that could result in the removal of Mr. Trump from office?

I mean, there is a saying that “all is fair in love and politics,” but it is just a saying. It isn’t the Constitution, for pity’s sake. Mr. Trump seems to think that not paying “his employees” is an ordinary bargaining position. If would be is he were still a scummy slum lord in New York, but now he is playing with the big boys and I hope someone hands his head to him.

July 27, 2018

The Problem with Bases

No this is not about baseball. It is about our two main political parties and their “bases.”

The Republicans have sold their souls to the Religious Right, neoliberals, and reactionaries of the fringe of the right wing of American politics to get and stay elected, no matter the damage done. They haven’t dumped the rich as a core base element for who else would they serve? The Democrats have dumped their historic base of labor (working class people), minorities, and the less wealthy for the professional class, only to find out there aren’t enough of those to win them elections.

When I was young (I first showed an interest in politics when Eisenhower was president.) Republicans were stabilizers. They supported the institutions that kept out society stable (in their HO, of course). They supported the schools, the police, the military, the government (Right or Wrong!), the church, law and the courts, and so on. The complained when political or judicial opinions went the other way, but they didn’t threaten to take their ball and go home.

When I was young, the Democrats stood for fairness, helping the poor, balanced taxation, labor unions, and they were far from anti-war (both Kennedy and Johnson expanded the Vietnam War tremendously on specious grounds at best).

Neither party was worth a damn when it came to international relations. There was a small fringe who complained loudly about foreign aid, which has always been a spit in the bucket financially. (Somewhere along the line instead of giving technical aid and money to other countries, we now give them discounts on buy the weapons of war. Apparently as far as the U.S. goes peace and freedom don’t go together.)

Politically there was as much corruption then as is the standard now, but the stakes were smaller as were the amounts grafted by our politicians. But each party had some principled actors who kept the others in line. Often the “line” was racist or sexist, but there were lines and you could, as ordinary citizens, see them and attack them or try to move them.

Now, what I see is cowardice and incompetence (to he left of me, to the right of me, …) in our political bodies. Leadership? Not to be found? Intelligence? So little that the political class cannot evaluate whether their intelligence experts are to be trusted. Political astuteness? I can’t even find a politician who can define it. Deft policy drafters? Give me a break.

If we were to have a parliamentary system as has been suggested, these two parties would dwindle away to nothing and newer, more robust, more coherent parties would take their places. But as I have posted before, our political system is rigged. As much as the Founders feared political parties, they created a system that allowed two of those parties to hijack the system. (Our winner take all elections doom us to having just two dominant parties.) And, it is clear that the Founders feared true democracy, so they structured the Constitution against that.

I am absolutely gob smacked that the “press” still posts articles addressing the public will. They tell us, for example, that the Roe v. Wade SCOTUS decision has never been so popular. So? Since when has public opinion been a determining factor in anything governmental? Large majorities of citizens want background checks for all firearms sales; does that matter? A large majority of people want corporations to pay more in taxes; does that matter? If you are poor or middle class you have zero chance of affecting legislation. If you are rich and a campaign donor, then you have some chance. If you are a rich corporate lobbyist and have donated large sums, then you have not only a chance to affect the outcome, you may be invited in to help write (or write completely) the text of the bill.

If the Republican Party of my youth or the Democratic Party of my youth were still in existence, I could vote for the kinds of candidates either party proffered. As they are now, I cannot vote for either party as they both are embarrassments and anti-democratic and need to go.

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