Category Archives: commentary

No Bill. Just No.

This tweet was posted by Bill Cosby shortly after he left prison and returned to his home. IMHO, never has a bigger piece of BS been posted on the Internet. For those in the audience who are even older than I am, IMHO means, In My Humble Opinion. These acronyms abound in the world of social media but it is becoming more and more important that I remind readers that this blog represents my opinion. This is because now that Chief Justice John Roberts has achieve his lifelong goal of nullifying the Voting Rights Act and eviscerating the Fifteenth Amendment along with it, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas are taking aim at the First and the Sullivan exemption for critics of public figures may not be long for this world. That’s a subject for another day.

Today we have Bill Cosby. I have managed to avoid writing about Cosby for years. But this tweet, posted just hours after the comedian who was put on trial for sexual assault, convicted by a jury, and sentenced to spend 3-10 years in jail was released from prison, was the last straw.

No, William Henry Cosby, Jr., your release has nothing to do with innocence. It does not make you innocent. And your victory dance is both unseemly and unsightly for a man who remains, in my opinion, both a disgrace and a profound disappointment.

A disappointment, because I still remember my first serious date. The year was 1968. I had my new driver’s license. I had convinced my mother to let me borrow her car. I had convinced a very nice high school classmate to join me on this expedition. And she had convinced her father to trust me with his daughter on a Saturday night trip to downtown Chicago for a grownup dinner and then a show.

That show was at the Auditorium Theater, a newly restored nearly four thousand seat turn of the century venue. The performance consisted of Bill Cosby, alone, with a stool, a microphone, and a follow spot. And he had the packed house rolling in the aisles laughing our heads off for 90 intermission free minutes. This was the year Martin Luther King was assassinated. The year Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. The year of riots in many major cities at the height of the Civil Rights movement, the woman’s rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. I’m a lot older now but I can’t remember another year like that. It seemed to me as if the country was about to explode. But Cosby brought people together, young and old, black and white, it was an amazingly diverse audience. He told stories we could all relate to. He never used a profane word. It was a great first adult date and I talked about it for years.

But my disappointment with the guy once known to millions as “America’s Dad” is nothing. Cosby’s disgrace comes from the actions of his “other” persona. The persona he kept hidden from me and almost everyone else. For the man once defined by the character of Cliff Huxtable and Jell-O commercials is now defined as the man accused by some sixty woman of sexual assault. I know, it’s my opinion again. But you can’t ignore the accusations from so many, all basically telling the same story of a sexual predator who used drugs to have his way with women who could not defend themselves.

Cosby didn’t deny the events, he maintained they were consensual. He admitted to giving drugs to women in a sworn deposition in a civil lawsuit against him. The Fifth Amendment says you can’t be forced to testify against yourself. To force Cosby’s testimony in that case, the local district attorney promised Cosby would not face a criminal indictment. That district attorney left office and his successors broke the agreement.

Cosby was tried twice on criminal charges. The first criminal court proceeding against him ended in a mistrial, but the second jury concluded Cosby had drugged and assaulted Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004. He is not now and never will be, at he states in his tweet, innocent.

Which is why I most painfully concur with the decision to release Cosby from prison. It is because Cosby does get one thing right in his tweet when he gives “thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law.”

The decision runs 79 pages but it boils down to one question. Did prosecutors break an agreement with Cosby? The answer is yes. The deposition testimony from the civil case cannot be used against him in a criminal trial. Justice and the rule of law are two separate matters. In this case, the cause of justice was not served. But the rule of law was upheld.

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GOP ∞ – Democracy 0 – Roberts 😉

The racist party scored another infinite victory in the United States Senate with all 50 Republicans voting against even discussing legislation to overhaul election law in America. Of course the Constitution says in case of a tie vote the Vice President, currently Democrat Kamala Harris, breaks the tie. But this democratic majority rules standard doesn’t apply here because this wasn’t a vote on passing into law the “For the People Act.” This was a “motion to proceed to consideration.” This little bit of nonsense, known as a cloture vote, requires a three-fifths vote. A 50-50 tie doesn’t cut it. You won’t find this “filibuster” rule in the Constitution either. It has been a tool of the racists for years.

The law would protect voting rights, end partisan gerrymandering, establish new ethics rules for federal officials, and curb big money in politics. No wonder it didn’t stand a chance. Republican senate leader Mitch McConnell called it a “power grab” by Democrats.

Let’s just make a little reality check here. Senate Democrats represent 43 MILLION more people than Senate Republicans but 41 Republicans representing just 21% of the voters in the country can block the For the People Act, which is supported by 68% of Americans. Democracy is the loser here.

And what exactly are the terrible things this For the People Act would address? They are the things that would combat the seemingly never ending attempts to keep in force the Jim Crow laws which are designed to prevent primarily people of color from voting. These laws institutionalize the practices which interfere with the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of the right to vote.

  • Partisan gerrymandering as a tool for disenfranchising voters.
  • The principle that people should choose who represents them instead of the other way around.
  • That we should make it easier for people to vote, not more difficult.
  • That corporations should not be able to buy elections.
  • That dark (or untraceable) money does not belong in politics.
  • That government should work for the people, not the special interests.

These are all things Republicans cannot stand for the simple reason that when people vote, Republicans lose. And Mitch McConnell doesn’t like to lose. The man who represents the four and a half million people of Kentucky just loves telling presidents elected with 80 million votes where they can stuff it. He blocked the agenda of Barack Obama. Now he’s blocking the agenda of Joe Biden.

But McConnell isn’t the only winner in this vote. Let’s not forget that it represents a great victory for John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States. John Roberts has made the destruction of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 his lifelong crusade. His opposition to the Act dates back to his days as a law clerk for then Associate Justice William Rehnquist. Rehnquist, also to become a Chief, notoriously wrote a memo in 1952 stating, “I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be re-affirmed.” Plessy was the infamous “separate but equal” case institutionalizing racism in public schools. It was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Roberts, made Chief by President George W. Bush in 2005, got his ultimate chance to fight back for the cause of racism in America in 2013, demonstrating the hypocrisy of the typical Republic talking point that the courts should defer to the legislative branch and refrain from “activism” in their interpretation of law. In Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General et al. Roberts, writing for a 5-4 conservative majority, gutted the Voting Rights Act. In Shelby, Roberts struck down the Act’s formula determining which states had to receive advance federal approval for their changes in election law and procedure. Roberts complained that the “preapproval rule” for some states should not remain in force for such a long time without Congress updating the data on racist regulation in their territories which led it to enact the remedy. He mocked critics, telling them the states would not be so bold as to resume their racist activities. “Our country has changed,” he concluded.

Five years after the ruling, nearly 1,000 polling places had closed, many of them in predominantly African-American counties. Research shows that changing and reducing voter locations can reduce voter turnout. A 2018 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (a bipartisan, independent commission of the United States federal government) found that there had been an increase in laws making it harder for minorities to vote. The commission found that at least 23 states enacted restrictive voter laws, such as closures of polling places, cuts to early voting, purges of voter rolls, and imposition of strict voter ID laws.

According to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, so far 18 states have put in place more than 30 laws restricting access to the ballot. These laws will affect around 36 million people, or about 15% of all eligible voters. In Georgia, a new law means that county election boards will no longer be bipartisan but will be appointed by Republicans; other states are similarly stripping power from Democrats to put Republicans in charge.

Roberts does not limit his disfavor to legislation designed to protect voting rights. Housing rights are on his radar as well. Is the Chief a racist or is he just naïve? His history indicates he is getting exactly what he wants.

There are some Democrats who believe the loss of this vote, preordained and expected, is just part one of a series of battle that will eventually produce voting rights legislation that will be less expansive than the For the People Act but still effective. One can only hope.

But history shows wishful thinking is not a viable political strategy and I see little likelihood Republicans will do anything that can be labeled bipartisan. The only answer seems to be to keep the votes, and losses, coming and run on these issues in 2022.

Perhaps a few extra seats in the Senate can be won by Democrats. But with Republican state legislatures left to gerrymander the boundaries of their districts, see my personal favorite abomination below ,designing them to disenfranchise people of color in Houston, one has to wonder if there is any hope for Democrats. Or for Democracy.

Texas 2nd Congressional District

The district is represented by Republican Daniel Crenshaw, who is one of the insurrectionists who tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election of Joe Biden. The boundaries of the district have been drawn to take as many black and Hispanic voters out of the other districts more generally in Houston, to reduce their numbers, while still being fewer than the number of white suburban voters included. That insures a Republican seat and renders ineffective a large number of minority voters who might prefer a Democrat. What a racket.

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What is a Joe Manchin?

Yeah. I know. An easy one, right?

A Joe Manchin is a United States Senator. Represents the great state of West Virginia. One of two senators representing about 1.8 million people. Claims to be a member of the Democratic party. Loves the spotlight. Is a royal pain in the butt.

Whose butt? Mine for one. I didn’t vote for Manchin. I did vote for Joe Biden. Remember him? He’s the one who ran for president. Got 81 million votes. Won the election. Has promised a wide range of popular reforms on taxation and spending designed to rebuild our aging infrastructure. Prepare us for the competitive world we face. Care for those who have not benefited from the great growth of the American economy in the last century. Narrow, at least a little, the gap between those who have done very, very, very well (and pay little or nothing in taxes) and those who could use a little help.

But we are unlikely to get any of these things, because Joe Manchin doesn’t want us to. In the United States Senate, 1.8 million people outvote 81 million. Or put another way, 41 votes beats 59. That’s because Joe M. believes in the filibuster come hell or high water. The high water will be arriving soon because new laws to help protect us from climate change can’t get 60 votes in the Senate. That’s what the filibuster rule requires and that makes the United States Senate about the least democratic institution in any modern democracy.

Just remember, the filibuster has nothing to do with the Constitution. The framers did not think it up. They clearly believed 51 votes out of 100 should be sufficient to pass new laws through the Senate. If anything the filibuster was a mistake written into the Senate rules controlling debate. The rule went unnoticed until segregationists hit upon it as a way to create a deadlock and prevent anti-discrimination laws from being voted on. That is the great tradition Joe Manchin is upholding.

Of course he’s not the only one. But he is one of two or three Democrats willing to torpedo the entire Democratic platform for…. Actually, I’m not sure what for.

Manchin says he has a strong belief that no legislation should pass unless it is bipartisan. I’ve written before about the days when Everett Dirksen and Lyndon Johnson could get together over a bottle and do some horse trading resulting in compromise legislation. But those days are long gone.

Mitch McConnell, the current Republican leader in the Senate, has dug in his heels on voting reform while Republicans across the country are passing law after law designed to suppress Democratic votes in future elections. McConnell also says revisiting the huge two trillion dollar 2017 Trump tax cuts for the rich and for big business is out of the question, and Democratic plans for increased infrastructure spending and social programs are not going to be paid for with tax increases as long as he has his 41 votes.

Meanwhile the turtle from Kentucky is warning that if Republicans regain control of the Senate in 2022 he’ll keep Joe Biden from appointing anyone to the Supreme Court. Probably from appointing anyone to any other court as well. McConnell is sent to Washington by a state with only about four and half million voters. Still he gets to tell Democratic presidents to go to hell any time he wants. Go figure.

Meanwhile Manchin won’t remove the filibuster to pass the voting rights law, the “For the People Act,” without Republican support. And Manchin won’t support use of the so-called “reconciliation” process to side step that blockade on Democrat’s tax and spending proposals, even though the Republicans used that process to pass the 2017 tax cuts.

There is really nothing one can do to solve the Manchin problem in the near term. The only solution for Democrats is to overcome the odds and win more Senate seats in 2022. A Democratic majority not counting Manchin, or the frequently unpredictable and always strange Krysten Sinema of Arizona, would render those two nominally Democratic senators irrelevant. That’s the title both so richly deserve.

At least good old Joe is keeping the political cartoonists busy:

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Ban the Damn Guns

America today is suffering a plague of gun violence.

It wasn’t always this way. Americans used to own guns without engaging in daily massacres. As a Chicago native, I learned as a child about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when members of one Chicago gang set up and killed seven members of a rival gang. It was so shocking it led to legislation that prohibited automatic weapons in the U.S.

That ban was extended with restrictions on “semiautomatic assault weapons,” as well as magazines that met the criteria for what it defined as a “large capacity ammunition feeding device,” in 1989 after 34 children and a teacher were shot and five children killed in Stockton, California with a semi-automatic Kalashnikov rifle. A pull of the trigger is required for each shot of a semi-automatic. An automatic fires continuously.

The Federal Assault Weapons ban went into effect in 1994 after a 52-48 vote in the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed it into law the same day. But times have changed. The ban expired after ten years and attempts to renew it have repeatedly failed. In 2018, another Valentine’s Day shooting, this one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 children and wounded 17 others. This time, then-President Donald Trump called for arming teachers, and the Republican-dominated Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have limited some high-capacity guns.

Fast forward to today. Our acceptance of violence npw stands in striking contrast to Americans’ horror at the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. I’ve done the legal arguments before, most notably here in a column which includes Chief Justice Warren Berger’s declaration that the conservative reading of the Second Amendment is a “fraud.”

I won’t repeat those arguments. What I do want to do is call your attention to the latest judicial idiocy, California has had its own ban in assault weapons for thirty years. Six other states plus the District of Columbia have similar bans. You would think even if the Second Amendment restricts the Federal government on gun control, language putting the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia” would allow the states, which at the time the Bill of Rights was written controlled the militia, to pass reasonable legislation to regulate firearms.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California now says he knows better than Berger and the state of California. He must figure the words “well-regulated” and “militia” were just thrown in because the Framers had some extra ink they wanted to use up. In a 94-page opinion Benitez declared unconstitutional the California statute. Benitez, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, comes out swinging with his opening paragraph:

Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR 15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.

Miller v Bonta, 19-cv-1537-BEN (JLB)

The Law and Crime blog has a detailed set of quotes from the decision. I’ll dwell on just a few. Judge Benitez writes, “The assault weapons ban has had no effect. California’s experiment is a failure.” This conclusion follows an analysis that claims the rate at which assault weapons were used in mass killings in California during the years the weapons ban has been in effect has not changed. Benitez also writes that mass killings are “rare events.” He also states, “A Californian is three times more likely to be murdered by an attacker’s bare hands, fists, or feet, than by his rifle.”

The New York Times ran a partial list of recent mass shootings in the United States.

Politifact earlier this year found that 10 of 11 mass shootings were done with AR-15 weapons. Newsweek says they were used in 26 of the last 80 mass shootings. As to his other conclusion, I have to wonder if he’d like to stand up for a duel. He gets the Swiss Army knife while his challenger gets the AR-15.

The hypocrisy of the conservatives is clearly on display here. If it is the place of judges only to “say what the law is,” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), Judge Benitez’s judgments on failure and the frequency of events is way out of the base path. If you believe in a state’s right to regulate its own militia, Benitez is also out of bounds.

Voters generally support an assault weapons ban. They support a large magazine ban. They support enhanced background checks. They support closing the gun show loophole. They might support amending the Second Amendment itself to clear up the poor punctuation that the gun lobby and their supporters in Congress and on the bench have used in the last few decades to prevent reasonable regulation. The United States has many more deaths by guns than other western developed countries. The United States has the weakest gun control laws in that group.

Do the math.

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Just a Normal Day on Capitol Hill

Yeah, sure.

On May 12 Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) downplayed the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, comparing the mob’s breaching of the building to a “normal tourist visit:”

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos and pictures…. You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

Rep. Andrew S. Clyde et. al. May 12 Congressional Hearing
Read more

Pay to Play: The American Way

Money has always been a big factor in American politics. You can’t outright pay politicians in return for their vote on an issue of interest to you. That’s bribery and it’s a crime. 18 U.S. Code § 201. But you can come very close. That’s because it costs a tremendous amount of money to run for public office and we leave it to the politicians to raise their own funds.

State-wide races for governor, state legislator, or U.S. House or Senate seats can cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. A major state-wide campaign requires a hefty advertising budget and paid staff to handle things like communications, strategic planning, finances, and legal compliance.

So the holders of public office, from the smallest local post to the highest in the land, spend a great amount of their time raising money to finance their elections. In fact, both the Republican and the Democratic parties have offices located within walking distance of the Capitol. That’s because it is illegal for members to raise money from offices paid for by taxpayer dollars. The party offices contain phone banks and members are expected to put in time working those phones. Dialing for dollars as it were.

What does the donor get for those dollars? As previously stated it is not as crass as, “You make the donation and I’ll vote your way.” But it’s damn close. Consider this scenario: Two constituents are on the line, both want to talk to you about a piece of pending legislation. One is an individual wage earner who is barely making ends meet and either doesn’t contribute to your campaign fund at all or gives a token $25 each election cycle. The other is a professional lobbyist who represents a Fortune 100 company. That company contributes $250,000 each year to a political action committee which runs negative advertisements about your political opponent. Which call will you take?

The Curse of the First Amendment

It is, I must painfully admit, our wonderful First Amendment which is primarily responsible for this problem. While many countries have limits on how much money can be spent on political campaigns, and restrictions on how much money can be contributed, we have to cope with the wisdom of the framers who wrote:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

U.S. Constitution, First Amendment

There is little question that the right of free speech allows one to stand on the tallest soapbox one can find and speak in favor of one’s favorite political candidate. Or that the right of a free press allows journalists to write what they will about the candidates. And that right to petition the Government? That is the right both our individual constituent and the lobbyist were exercising in the example I described above.

Make no mistake about it. Political speech is exactly the kind of speech the framers were writing about when they drafted the First Amendment. This was the kind of speech that could get your head separated from your body if you uttered it back then in many of the countries of Europe and the reigning monarch happened to take offense. So for our long history as a nation political speech has been some of the most protected.

That makes it extremely difficult to restrict the political speech of individuals and does give the rich an advantage. They can afford to buy expensive television commercials and web advertisements promoting their favorite candidates and policies. At least, that’s how Mister Justice Gurvey sees it.

Citizens Dis-United

But I am unlikely to preside from any bench other than the one in my garden. And those who sit on the federal benches of the United States have a far more expansive view of first amendment freedoms. I read the Constitution to apply to the relationship between people, as in the opening words of the preamble, “We the People,” and their government. Our federal judges have thrown corporations into the mix by ruling that corporations are people.

To me the concept is absurd. Business entities that survive the lives of their owners were well known to the framers who wrote the Constitution. In fact, most of the colonies were themselves business entities in the form of royal charters or grants. If the framers wanted these business entities to have the rights of people they would have said so. They did not. And that should be that for any originalist, textualist, or whatever the term the judges on the conservative right like to cite. Except, that they want corporations to have the rights of people. So consistent judicial logic goes out the window and they wave the rules of textualism where failure to do so might lead to a legal result inconsistent with their overriding ideology. Thus speaks the hypocrite.

All of this came to a head in Citizen’s United v. Federal Elections Commission, a 2010 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated federal election law which Congress had developed over one hundred years and which put significant restrictions on corporate attempts to influence elections. Critics charge the effect has been to greatly increase the already outsized influence of corporations, wealthy donors, and special interest groups. And the Court isn’t finished. Just last month it heard Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez, a case that may make the situation even worse.

The Confession of Ted Cruz

So if you want to play the “let’s write the laws” game you have to pay the law-writers. But while “Pay to Play” is, thanks to the Supreme Court, perfectly legal, there is still one rule most people follow: You pay to play but you don’t talk about Pay to Play. That’s because it looks bad, because it is bad. And politicians are afraid of looking bad. At least in front of the voters.

Unless of course you are Ted Cruz, a man so out of touch with reality, or just so dumb, that he just puts it out there. Texas’s answer to all three stooges recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal complaining about corporations that are “woke.” By that he means, corporations like Coca-Cola, whose CEO James Quincey criticized voter suppression laws now being enacted in dozens of Republican controlled states saying he opposed “measures in the bills that would diminish or deter access to voting.” Quincey said Coke’s political action committee will not contribute to the campaigns of politicians who support these laws.

Well then, huffs and puffs Cruz, Senator guy who escaped for a vacation in Mexico while the people of his state were freezing during a power outage, if you don’t pay, don’t expect to play, Yes, Cruz supports voter suppression laws, and he tweeted:

There you have it. Pay to play. The Ted Cruz way.

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Space TidBits

Ginny and Percy

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has a new mission. Having proven that powered, controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, the Ingenuity experiment will soon embark on a new operations demonstration phase, exploring how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.

So “Ginny,” her primary proof of concept mission over, will serve as a scout for “Percy,” flying ahead of the rover to survey locations Perseverance will investigate in its search for life on Mars. It will also help mission planners plot the best routes for Percy to follow. She’ll fly ahead and land and wait for the rover to catch up. That’s Teamwork.

Crew-2
NASA TV/4-24-2021

It got crowded on the International Space Station with the arrival of “Crew-2,” SpaceX’s second regular and third actual flight taking humans to the ISS (there was a test mission known as “Demo-2”). There hadn’t been eleven people on board since the Space Shuttle era.

There were other milestones as well. This was SpaceX’s first reused crew capsule to reach the orbiting platform and the first crewed mission with a reused Falcon 9 rocket. The Crew-2 astronauts themselves made history when they started boarding. This was the first time SpaceX had carried passengers from three different agencies (NASA, ESA and JAXA).

Crew-1
NASA TV/5-2-2021

The overcrowding on the ISS came to an end just a few days later with the spectacular nighttime landing of SpaceX’s Crew-1 “Resilience” capsule with four astronauts on board. They landed in the gulf of Mexico just before 3am Eastern Time. But with cameras tuned for night the scene was clearly visible in spite of the pitch dark ocean lighting.

Crew Dragon Resilience will add to its time in space on its next mission launching the privately-funded Inspiration4 crew on a multi-day Earth orbit mission targeted for September.

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