Science is a wonderfully obscure field of thought to most of us. The cliche has one scientist examining the complex equations presented by another. "I was with your distributive equation down to the point of 'Miracle happens here.'"
But one natural phenomenon may enlighten us about what is sometimes said to be an internecine war within the Republican Party.
Orbits are a common thing in the cosmos. We can see why. When two large bodies come close enough, they either hit or they start to circle.
Sometimes the circle never completes. The wanderers are not quite near enough to go into orbit. A sort of slingshot effect happens. They change direction, then separate, destined never to meet.
Sometimes the tendency to go in a straight line, centrifugal force, matches nearly enough with the force of gravity to get the two to circle each other for a long time. Nearly even match ups in size and mass are rare, and those involve a sort of mutual orbit around a central point.
More often, a smaller body goes around a larger one. Both pull on each other, but the central point is actually more than close. It puts into the cosmos the old Groucho joke. "If I was holding you any closer, I'd be behind you." The central point of the mutual revolution is actually inside the large body. That is what happens to the earth and the moon. The moon swings and the Earth wobbles in itchy response. We get tides and mood swings.
Orbits don't last forever. Being random, these encounters are inexact. The bodies either drift apart until they divorce and continue without each other, or they drift ever closer into an orbit decay.
When the bodies are the size of planets or moons, their orbits never ever get so close they actually touch. Before they get that close, the smaller one disintegrates. Here's why:
The orbit represents an uneasy almost equilibrium between gravity and centrifugal force. Centrifugal force is not actually a force, but what the heck. Life is hard enough as it is, right? When the smaller body gets closer. One side of a moon is closer to a planet than the other side. So the force of gravity becomes much greater on the closer side than on the farther side. Centrifugal force gets greater on the far side than the near side. The near side is more pulled inward. The far side is more pulled outward.
At some point before they merge, the competing forces pulling the far side outward and gravity pulling the near side inward reach what is called the Roche Limit. The strain is too much. The back of one hand goes to the forehead and the other clutches the pearls. Some humans have fainting couches. Moons just disintegrate.
And that, members of the jury, is what is happening to the Republican Party as it spirals inward toward a black hole.
It is a sort of a definitional pounding of a square peg into a round hole to describe what is occurring as a party war. If it was religious, it would not be between differing faiths or even between denominations, where my Father in Heaven can lick your Father in Heaven. It would be more akin to a war between occupants of adjoining pews, witnessed by an amazed Pastor and astonished choir.
It's not so much like the Hatfields against the McCoys. It's more like McCoys shooting McCoys for not using a nuclear bomb against the Hatfields across the street. "You want me explode a nuclear bomb across the street? Are you nuts?" Oh don't be such a hand fluttering RINO.
It looks like Dumb and Dumber in a feud, with dumb angry at dumber for not being dumb enough for suicidal attacks.
But appearance is not everything. What is happening now is not a strategy. It is a symptom.
Those nearest the center of orbital gravity are pulled inward by a desire for ideological statements and a consciousness of party primaries. They look in furious wonderment at those who are slightly outward from them. Why don't they get it?
Those farther from the center of orbital gravity are also pulled inward, but the outward pull is a desire for ideological victory and a consciousness of general elections. They look to those a little nearer in befuddled anger. What is wrong with them?
Truth is, there is not much light between Ted Cruz and those he considers the Republican establishment. They both share a common commitment that is a galaxy away from what most Americans want. When Republicans are tired of talking about Obamacare, they express hostility against the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens.
Most recently, the side that could see Obamacare as a temporarily lost cause wanted to release hostages in exchange for slashes to Social Security. The other side, the side that clung to the anti-Obamacare cause like a stray puppy clinging to the bumper of a car he just caught, wanted to hold onto hostages in the belief that debt prioritization would force government to pay creditors by holding back Social Security checks.
They all join hands and sing their unending hymn of hate for Obama, loathing for Obamacare, and hostility toward those who depend on "entitlements" like Social Security. Both sides continue the inward spiral toward singularity.
This is not a Republican civil war.
Before they all slip past the event horizon and wink out of sight, conservative extremists are simply approaching their own Republican Roche Limit.
From Consumer Reports:
Pundits opposed to the new health care law and some media outlets have tried to suggest that our coverage of the troubled HealthCare.gov site means that Consumer Reports has turned against the Affordable Care Act.
Not true. Consistent with our mission to inform and protect consumers, particularly in this complicated health care market, our advice remains the same: The best place to buy coverage on your own is through the Health Insurance Marketplace in your state. That guarantees you will get comprehensive coverage, and it’s the only way you can lower the cost of your premiums and possibly even your deductibles and copayments.
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Although many pundits describe Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as on the fringes of the Republican Party, a new Democracy Corps poll finds he's actually right in the ideological middle.
Tea Party and evangelical segments of the party make up over half of all Republicans, and these groups think very highly of Cruz.
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The staff meeting was somber. The team leader was faced with multiple software issues. He addressed the small gathering. He cautioned us. This must not leave the room. Before we discussed solutions, we had to devise a way to present information to top management, the suits, that would minimize the difficulties.
I raised my hand. Why not deliver the news bluntly and honestly? They would be making important decisions on production scheduling. A lot depended on the suits having accurate information. Besides, the truth would get to them eventually, and it would enhance the reputation of the team leader if it came from him.
Within moments, the amazed staff witnessed an angry shouting match, with the team leader sternly emphasizing the need for team loyalty.
The company eventually failed. Decades now separate me from that experience. I will never understand why the guy was never fired.
Defining with precision the online troubles of Obamacare enrollment is an illusive venture. Hard data is unavailable except on a predetermined schedule. The actual evidence is in the experience available to any individual who wants to try enrolling. It is a universally frustrating experience.
Reports from disparate sources tell us officials were stunned at the scope of the difficulties. Speculation is somewhat varied, but seems to cover all of a limited number of possibilities. With some variation, all reasonable explanations reduce to three: Top officials were remarkably incurious, or they were woefully misled, or both.
Harold Geneen, head of ITT for a generation, is sometimes credited with the axiom "Delegate, Don't Abdicate." A hands off but eyes on approach strikes me as basic.
Somewhere along the way, that did not happen with the development of the computer matrix that was to have handled Obamacare enrollment.
There are a number of circumstances that seem to conspire to minimize the political damage.
The roll out was set for months before enrollment becomes effective, a very smart move in a story that is not notable for smart moves.
All damage, at the moment, is in the eye of the beholder. That beholder's eye is seeing a lot right now. But there is time before January to set things right.
The political damage has been mitigated by pure anger at Republicans.
On-the-other-hand reporting had given low-information voters a pox-on-all-houses view of obstructionism. In the zero sum world of politics, Republicans did not need to care that both houses of the national legislature were declining in popularity. "Senate Fails to Act" or "Progress Blocked in House" fueled a sort of fact free irritation.
Threats to the pocketbook tend to fixate the mind into a powerful focus. As government shutdown and debt default became highlighted, the villains of the drama did not need black hats and evil sneers to draw the wrath of the electorate. Republican officeholders are currently supported by their children, their spouses, and their mamas.
Everyone wants to see good guys win. Even more, audiences like to see bad guys lose. New polls should not be surprising. Obamacare remains a divisive issue, with those opposed and those favoring stabilizing into parity. Those fer and those agin are about equal.
But it is not a real standoff. Half of those opposed to the Health Care law also oppose abolishing it. They seem to want to give it a chance. So half of those who think it won't work still want it to succeed. Ted Cruz has become God's gift to Obamacare.
Even more fundamentally, the debate has shifted. Those who had declared Obamacare a failure, because it would harm anyone so foolish as to participate, now declare the new glitches to be horrible because potential participants are having problems enrolling.
Read that last sentence again, and join me in saying "Huh?"
It is not an anti-Obamacare argument that most Americans seem to find compelling. Did I mention that half of those who don't think the law will work want to be proven wrong?
Even that glitches-show-the-law-is-wrong argument will fade to obscurity if technical issues are resolved. Obama officials need to establish interim, measurable milestones, and they need to find within themselves an insatiable curiosity about progress.
Above all: Delegate, don't abdicate.
One other thing. It concerns honesty in reporting to the suits.
If my one-time team leader is there, he and those with a similar ethic should be - um - encouraged toward a new career path.
Ted Cruz has failed in his Sampson-like cause aimed at collapsing the US government and the American economy. But the vulnerable pillars of the Republican Temple do remain.
In actuality, the Ted Cruz cause is more a symptom than a cause.
The near term vanishing of the Republican Party as a nationally significant institution involves six logical steps, which can be found here.
Three of those items involve the separate world views of the party from the rest of the American electorate, the enforcement of those views through the primary process, and the continuing trend toward extremism. Three new pieces of evidence, all Cruz related, support those propositions.
The argument for the continuation of the downward spiral does not flow from the recent debacle of the government shutdown and the attempted refusal to pay America's bills. In fact, those lemming-like Republican actions were not so much causes, as results. But those results are revealing.
First, the acceleration of the party faithful toward the cliff continues, at least for now.
One hope is that moderate Republicans will, at last, stage a counter-coup and wrest back the party from extremists. Senator John McCain has spoken out against self-destruction. Peter King is a voice on the House side who criticizes the deadenders. And a cadre of media personalities have spoken out.
The proposition is that the shock of public anger toward Republicans forced the Congressional wing of the party, at long last, to turn against conservative radicals. This may offer a portend of future Republican resistance to extremism.
The vote that ended the crisis, or at least pushed it a few months away offers a firm contradiction to that hope. Almost half of the Republican contingent in the Senate voted against resolving the crisis. An overwhelming majority of the House voted for continuing the shutdown and for defaulting on our bills. The lemming parade continues.
The hard core of extreme lawmakers are joined by those who make up in timidity what they lack in glassy eyed commitment. The reason is simple. Those who stray, or who appear to stray, or who are suspected of thinking of straying, are subject to harsh penalties in Republican primaries.
Second, extremism will continue to be enforced through Republican primaries. Senator Ted Cruz modifies his promise not to participate in primary challenges to other officeholders. He now says he will "likely" not interfere. He added this in an interview with the National Review:
But every elected official has to make the case to the grassroots in his or her state on why he or she is effectively fighting for them.
- Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), October 19, 2013
In fact, conservative groups have already targeted extreme conservatives for insufficiently backing the recent shutdown/default Republican stands. The targets are extreme, but insufficiently extreme.
Third, the Republican universe remains quite separate from that of the rest of the electorate. Poll after poll shows that separation, on a variety of issues and values. The latest implies a remarkable party future for Senator Ted Cruz. The most conservative voters of the Republican party see Ted Cruz as a bit of a rock star, with 72% favorability. The American public at large is about 75% against the leader of the shutdown/default effort.
Bits of data do not represent proof. The logic of Republican demise may yet prove flawed.
It hasn't happened yet.
Why Republicans Held America Hostage for So Long (4:13) - Click for Podcast
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Speaker John Boehner's Knife Fight with Tony Curtis (5:21) - Click for Podcast
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One Man with a Flag - the Future of a Political Party (5:06) - Click for Podcast
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Republican Constitutional Argument for Shutdown (6:38) - Click for Podcast
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So let's work together to make government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy or purposely making it work worse. That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government.
You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president, then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don’t break it. Don’t break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building.
That's not being faithful to what this country is about.
- President Barack Obama, October 17, 2013
I have written a basic tenet more than once. I am perpetually surprised when I stumble across firm evidence that others do not firmly share it:
I am more than willing to put my ideas up for a vote in periodic elections. The one with the most votes wins. If that's the other side, I'm willing to try again next time.
That is why I am naively dumbfounded by those who try to keep power by preventing legitimate voters from participating. Everything from trickery to fine print to closing registration offices tends to leave me slack jawed. It is a secular sort of profane blasphemy, a mortal sin against democracy.
I am perpetually amazed by those who seek power through structural manipulation. From Governor Elbridge Gerry's gerrymandering in 1812 to Strom Thurmond's filibustering in 1957 to voter suppression in today's conservative morality. I am especially amazed by this last failed attempt to hold America hostage with a demand that the policies rejected in the previous election be put into place.
I suppose I ought to give up childhood illusions and simply embrace the fact of evil in the political world. But I remain stubbornly surprised that the innocuous and obvious bromides uttered by the President would be considered at all controversial.
A talk radio host in Ohio:
Whoa. Really? Go out and win an election?
In the NFL, that's called taunting. In polite company, it's called being ungracious. And no where is it called consensus building.
Cybercast News Service, a well funded conservative site:
The president suggested that the system of checks and balances invoked by tea party Republicans in an attempt to defund Obamacare is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
A headline on a Republican website:
Obama: Founding Fathers Would Not Have Approved Of The Republican Party
And, of course, a call for violent overthrow from the usual suspects.
Why is a call to respect elections seen as anything other than bedrock democratic morality? The insistence is for free competition in the marketplace of ideas. The notion is that a fair fight in a fair election is a better forum than economic brinkmanship or government shutdown. Why is the basic concept, taught to me in the fifth grade many, many years ago, rejected by so many conservatives?
I suggest the most plausible answer can be gotten from our dependable friend, Captain Obvious. Republicans are not confident about their own ideas. They are sure Americans will reject them and the ideology they represent.
It is the lesson many in my generation learned every Saturday morning from cowboy movies on black and white television.
Those who fight dirty do not believe they can win any other way.
From the Tampa Bay Times:
ST. PETERSBURG — As soon as they pulled into the church lot, Davion changed his mind.
"Miss! Hey, Miss!" he called to his caseworker, who was driving. "I don't want to do this anymore."
In the back seat, he hugged the Bible someone had given him at the foster home. "You're going to be great," Connie Going said.
Outside St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, she straightened his tie. Like his too-big black suit, the white tie had been donated. It zipped up around the neck, which helped. No one had ever taught Davion, 15, how to tie one.
"Are you ready?" Going asked. Hanging his head, he followed her into the sanctuary.
This had been his idea. He'd heard something about God helping people who help themselves. So here he was, on a Sunday in September, surrounded by strangers, taking his future into his sweaty hands.
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There were many competing moments during the rally. A few Republicans hoped the protest would provide a much needed spark to revive the conservative movement. Instead, there was one sad exhibit after another.
Speakers yelled for impeachment, called the President a foreign agent, hollered for Barack Obama to put down his Quran, shouted for him to go back to Kenya, screamed for his arrest.
Uniformed police officers keeping protestors from crashing White House security lines were harassed as "brown shirts," referred to as "something out of Kenya."
Out of many potential icons, the one image that seems to have captured the moment was that of a single participant carrying a large Confederate flag.
One protestor does not a stereotype make. Certainly, there have been isolated individuals in left wing demonstrations of the past that have provided horrible visions to the public. I remember the concerns of the police chief of the small community in which I attended college as we worked out the conditions of a permit for an anti-war demonstration in the early 1970s.
But, in this case, there seems not to have been a murmur of disagreement with the racist symbol. Not one Republican speaker was concerned enough to create any distance from the shouted slurs and iconic symbols.
It is now difficult to find many references to the protest without seeing that Confederate flag. It is everywhere.
Adam Gopnik of New Yorker magazine suggests that Tea Party conservatism is not a modern phenomenon. He traces it back to before the Kennedy assassination. The first one, before we knew there would be another.
Andrew Sullivan posts a "Wanted for Treason" handbill with President Kennedy's image. It was handed out in Dallas the day before Dealey Plaza came to be viewed in national publications as through a rifle sight.
Others look to geographic strength and conclude the Tea Party has antecedents going further back: a resurgence of the slave holding South, with racial resentments passed down through generations like a malignant heirloom.
The current governmental hostage taking is commonly described as the major cause of sudden Republican decline. It is more accurately seen as part of a larger process, driven by technology. The informational cocoon now offered by the internet, by cable, and by traditional low cost local radio outlets allow conservatives to shield themselves from any call for change.
The bubble ensures the Republican Party will continue to shrink as insufficiently extreme conservatives leave under a cloud of hostility. Those extreme enough to stay ensure the rightward race of the party will accelerate.
By all that is right and holy and symmetrical, Democrats should be victim to the same process. But they seem to remain as constant as the Northern Star, just a little to the left of the American center. Leftward extremists exist, but they do not control. Speculation can be offered, but no firm answer emerges. We know only that the trend is decidedly one sided.
When the Republican party was dominant, I suggested, to the mirth of valued friends, that it would disappear as a significant force by the end of this decade. It is true that the current slump will reverse as ebb goes to flow. Pendulums do swing. But each wave for Republicans will be a little weaker at the crest, a little lower at the nadir. Waves come and go. The underlying tide continues.
The future seems clear. But a clear vision of the future is often wrong.
It is possible that one more unexpected electoral defeat will encourage moderates to reverse direction and journey back home. It is more possible than plausible.
Moneyed interest may force the genie back into the bottle as a party in death throes lurches into more dangerous activity. Playing with explosives endangers more than those who play. Those with means may use that means to rein in extremists.
One bit of evidence against that proposition is the seeming lack of control now exercised by former financial backers. Those who ride the tiger are becoming uncomfortably aware of teeth.
Conservatives will go somewhere, of course. They will not simply disappear. A large majority of Americans wish passively for a third party. Who can blame them just now? How many will act upon this currently passive wish?
The man with the Confederate flag will stay with the party right to the point of Republican singularity, the moment when membership will number literally in the tens.
He represents more than a powerful conservative past of slavery and segregation.
The man with the flag stands proudly as the future of a party that once fought against all that flag represented. The Confederate flag leads the faithful to a destiny of regional end pieces, cheap remnants of a once beautiful tapestry.
Newt Gingrich explains the Republican position:
And I think the conference believes that this is not a dictatorship. We don't have to automatically do exactly what the president wants.
And the job of the speaker, I think, now is to set up the fight in the best possible way, recognizing that he's going to have substantial elements against him. But emphasizing that he wants to keep the government open, that he wants to help the economy create jobs but that there are significant things that the president simply has to negotiate over.
- Newt Gingrich, on The Situation Room, CNN, September 18, 2013
The policy wishlist of Republicans is impressive. Obamacare is no longer front and center. It has been replaced with stripping down Social Security, canceling parts of Medicare, largely eliminating Medicaid, and reducing or eliminating a host of programs, many designed to feed and educate little kids.
But few lawmakers are talking about specific policies. Some wags are referring to it as a "Seinfeld shutdown" over the one time popular program often said to be about nothing. This is not really a battle over Republican desires to slash Social Security. The actual policy demands are not so much on paper as they are on paper mache.
In fact, it is a battle over battles, the application of power in which the fight is about power.
The current Republican concept of Constitutional power bears little resemblance to what we were taught in grade school. That is not to prove Republicans are wrong. We were taught things about post-Civil War politics that contradict current consensus about basic morality.
When I went to school, lo those many decades ago, we learned that both the Senate and the House of Representatives must pass a bill by a majority. If the President signs it, it becomes a law. If he doesn't, it may also become a law as long as two thirds of both houses vote to make it a law anyway.
But, once it becomes a law, it is a law. Period.
Not everyone sees the process that way. Procedural mechanisms once used to guarantee that all voices are heard are now used to ensure that strength of determination will be considered as well.
Filibusters were used in Jim Crow days to prevent federal laws that would have outlawed the lynching of Black people. Later the tactic delayed basic Civil Rights, like voting or desegregated education. Filibusters were used to hold up legislation that was considered especially contentious.
Now, filibusters are used against pretty much every bill except the naming of post offices or dedicating special honors for exceptional but uncontroversial people. It takes only 41 votes to block legislation in the United States Senate.
Laws that have passed both houses and been signed by the President, what we were taught in ancient schooling, can be overturned by a determined minority of one house. The mechanism can be either a shutdown of all government, or a refusal to pay our bills.
The formulation by the President is that Republicans, having been rejected at the ballot box, are holding the government hostage by shutdown, then holding the economic well being of the nation hostage by debt ceiling. They demand the agenda rejected by voters be enacted anyway.
President Obama says that rule by those who can best create crisis is not a sustainable form of government. He should not have to negotiate over the right of a democratic government to exist. So he will no longer negotiate away the right of voters to elections that have any meaning.
Republicans say that the issue for them goes beyond their previous demand that Obamacare be defunded, or even their current demand that Social Security benefits be partially defunded. The issue is one of basic governance. Besides, Bill Clinton didn't seem to mind negotiating over shutdowns and the debt ceiling.
The Bill Clinton precedent has brought up in a cacophony of Republican voices on news shows and interview programs. It strikes me as an unfortunate example.
Bill Clinton has supported President Obama in this fight. "The negotiations we had were extremely minor. The economy was growing and the deficit was going down. They didn't ask for the store."
Not exactly a line in the sand, I suppose. It's okay to take the economy hostage if the issues aren't that big?
But he does seem to capture what lefties like me see as the essence of contemporary conservatism. He called it "almost spiteful." Entitlements are going down as the economy improves. The deficit has been cut in half since President Obama was elected.
But he goes on to express his matured views of Republicans on substance and on procedure.
If I were the President, I wouldn't negotiate over these draconian cuts that are gonna take food off the table of low-income working people, while they leave all the agricultural subsidies in for high income farmers and everything else. I Just think it's chilling.
This is the House Republicans and the Tea Party people saying we want to dictate over the Senate, over the House Democrats, over the Speaker of the House of our own party, and over the President, we insist on dictating the course of the country.
- Bill Clinton, interviewed by ABC, September 29, 2013
The Seinfeld shutdown is not really over nothing.
The Constitutional question, I suppose, depends on whether a careful reading of our founding documents allows for the veto of existing laws by a determined minority, providing to them the tools of government shutdown and refusal to pay existing bills.
I confess that I cannot find those provisions anywhere in the constitution.
Innocence on Ice - Ryan Ferguson's Decade In Prison (6:22) - Click for Podcast
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Ted Cruz Explains Why Anarchy Does Not Harm Republicans (6:16) - Click for Podcast
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Naval Disaster of 1893 and the Republican Dilemma of 2013 (4:32) - Click for Podcast
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Hating Hispanic Voters and Inviting Their Votes (5:57) - Click for Podcast
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Core Reason for the Shutdown - Fredo's Rage (4:43) - Click for Podcast
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The most important fact about the murder case remains the murder. The loss of a life is irrevocable. Everything was taken from the victim, all that he had, all that he might have accomplished or become.
The lessor crime is more substantial than anything most of us will experience as long as life remains within us. An innocent man remains in prison. Three networks have provided special coverage, researching his conviction. The consensus among experts not directly involved in the case is that his time in prison is a gross injustice.
Ryan Ferguson was convicted in 2004 for the murder of a popular local sportswriter in Columbia, Missouri. On Halloween night in 2001, Kent Heitholt worked late, wrapping up and heading for his car. He made it to the parking lot where his life was taken. He was attacked and killed.
Two years later, after seeing a retrospective news article, a young man with a history of drug use told acquaintances that he was having dreams about the incident. His substance abuse had resulted in huge periods of blacking out. He wondered if he had been involved in the killing during one of those bouts of drug induced amnesia.
That brought in the police. Much of the series of interview is recorded. The young man can be seen and heard, confused and unknowing of details, as information is given to him. As the education provided to him by interrogators about the specifics of the murder takes hold, he becomes more certain. Implied threats about ultimate penalties fortifies his resolve.
He confesses and names an accomplice, the one former high school classmate who had befriended him. And so that friend, Ryan Ferguson, is arrested and tried for the murder.
A janitor who had worked in the building on the night of the murder corroborates the confession. He saw the two teens in the parking lot around the time of the murder. One had yelled to him to call for help, that someone had been injured.
Young Ryan Ferguson is convicted.
Nine years later, earlier this year, at a hearing of an appeal of the conviction, national experts testify about how screwed up the interrogation had been. You don't give a frightened youngster secret details. You hold those back to confirm or discredit his confession.
The drug using dreamer tells the appeals court that he lied in his confession. He had blacked out that night and, aside from his dreams, he had never had any idea where he had gone or what he had done. He apologizes for lying. He was scared, he says, by the prosecutor, who spoke to him about ultimate penalties, who told him his friend had already confessed and accused him of committing the crime. Confess or face the ultimate penalty.
The janitor also testifies. Appeals Court is usually not the scene of drama. Reviews of transcripts and procedures provide pretty dry material. This is an exception. The janitor was a sex offender. He now says the prosecutor had suggested that the right story would prove to be helpful.
The janitor points at Ryan Ferguson and apologizes for having lied nine years before. Under oath, he asks for forgiveness.
There was DNA evidence. The victim had in his clenched fist a few human hairs, not his own. Testing revealed the hair did not belong to Ryan Ferguson or his drug sodden friend.
The prosecutor also testifies. He is now a judge, having won his place on the bench mostly because of the conviction of the two boys. He explains to the presiding judge, his friend and associate, that he would never have actually directed anyone to lie under oath.
Oddly enough, this is not because of a burning desire for justice. It is because he would not want to damage his reputation. Appearances are everything to some folks.
Astonishingly, the judge upholds the conviction. Every bit of evidence that led to that conviction has vanished in the cold glare of careful examination. But in America's system of justice, a verdict itself becomes its own evidence.
A full appeals court is considering the case. Missouri's Attorney General has filed a brief. The Attorney General opposes overturning the conviction and supports the prosecutor who is now a judge. The logic is strange.
The drug using teen's recantation cannot be believed because guilty people are always claiming innocence. Forget the experts who say otherwise. Common sense should rule.
The janitor was so obviously lying during the original trial that the jury could not have believed him. That means his lies did not influence the verdict. Besides, the janitor who was obviously lying during the original trial was telling the truth in the original trial.
This bit of quantum reasoning might work on a sub-atomic level. But, in the real world, courts probably should not rely on Erwin Schrödinger's cat being both dead and alive.
And finally, this. Innocence, says the brief, should not matter. Letting an innocent man go free for no reason other than that he did not commit the crime would be, well, unacceptable.
I became interested in this case a few years ago when I was contacted at Sunday service by a fellow worshiper. She knew some of the personalities and had become convinced that false testimony was involved.
The injustice has attracted national attention. There is no evidence that points to Ryan Ferguson, none, except what has been thoroughly discredited.
Tragic devastation disrupts life. Accidents, illness, and natural forces sometimes kill. We mourn.
Injustice is sometimes worse. It gnaws at the human soul. And so we grasp at little bits of hope. Last night, we watched yet another televised program, this time on ABC's Nightline. Legal expert Dan Abrams now joins others, expecting a reversal of the conviction. What other outcome can be supported? His legal opinion is to be respected.
Legal opinions, even well founded legal opinions, are not legal decisions. We have been down this road before. So hope has to be diluted with realism. Reasoned justice can fall short when it collides with influence.
A former prosecutor who is now a Missouri Circuit Court Judge may carry enough influence to make justice fall short again.
A new poll shows why the Republican Party is spiraling toward extinction.
No, no. Not THAT poll.
It is true that the Gallop organization shows the Republican Party to be less popular than either party at any point in history since the question was first asked a generation ago. Welcome to the world of government shutdown and debt default.
The disdain voters are expressing toward Republican politicians, the seething anger at the game playing and hostage taking, will fade with time as the shutdown is ended and default is paid back.
The credit rating of the country will be downgraded, interest rates will rise, more good people will be thrown out of work, and more of the needy will be without food and shelter. But accountability for social and economic harm tends to become diffuse. Voters blame whomever they see in leadership.
Dramatic as it is, Gallop becomes significant only because the latest poll offers a single data point that is part of a pattern that extends from the waning days of the Reagan administration. The ebb and flow of politics can obscure a long term trend. Since the late 1980s, Republican victories have gone from strong to not-so-strong to bare pluralities. Democratic victory margins have steadily increased.
Republican popularity this week dropped to 28 percent. Kevin Drum suggests that, when it comes to voting, a core conservative base of 27% will go with the clearly crazy choice out of mindless partisanship. So just one percent of those voters willing to make a sane choice have warm fuzzy feelings toward Republicans.
The logic itself is tongue in cheek. It is based on the Illinois US Senate election of 2004. Republican Alan Keyes ran the most extreme, insane, incoherent race ever against unknown candidate Barack Obama. Both candidates were black, which tended to neutralize race as an overt factor. Keyes got 27% of the vote. Since Illinois has historically been a bellwether, the 27% figure can serve as a baseline.
Not what you would call rigorous science, but it does highlight how low Republicans have gone.
Actually, that 28 percent will go up with the next wave, then go down again with the next ebb. Republicans will win again, if not in 2014 then in a later election. But, as Republican victories become more difficult, and losses become greater, the tide will become apparent to the naked eye. It is already measurable.
Democrats have gotten the most votes in 5 of the last 6 Presidential elections. That single exception came in 2004. National revulsion against the terrorist attack of 2001 rallied voters toward the President who was waging the fight against the attackers. It was the only time since 1988 a Republican candidate for President got more votes than the Democrat.
This trend is not mysterious. The Republican Party has become increasingly extreme since the days of Eisenhower. In the past, extreme parties have reacted to election battering by obeying the siren call of the middle. Extremists were curbed, moderates were emboldened, and political parties recovered and prevailed.
It has happened to Democrats in the past, and to Republicans before this last generation. It has happened to other parties in other countries. It is a painful process brought on by unwanted reality..
But something has changed, at least for Republicans. There is no lasting clarion call to moderation. In fact Republicans have grown more extreme. This has caused the party to shrink as moderates, then those thought to be insufficiently extreme, have been forced out. As they left, those extreme enough to stay gathered more influence within the tightening circle. And so the process became a continuous pattern.
At the root, the break with previous patterns is technological. The internet and cable news have joined with talk radio and traditional random outlets to form a total environmental cocoon that can be adjusted to any individual. No outside interference is needed. Unpleasant interpretation of events can be screened out.
Conservative Julian Sanchez of Cato Institute calls it "epistemic closure." A sustainable belief system that is supported by a complete but selective set of information can exist completely apart of unwanted challenge. Conservatives don't need to know that alternative news or views even exist.
This bubble means conservatives never have to hear the call to elective victory. It is like an alcoholic surrounding himself with a support group telling him lots of booze is good for you.
Which brings us to the poll that tells us more than Gallop.
Sen. Ted Cruz during a closed-door lunch on Wednesday argued to his Republican colleagues that the campaign he led to defund Obamacare has bolstered the GOP’s political position in dealing with the government shutdown.
Republicans who attended the weekly lunch hosted by Senate conservatives confirmed that Cruz presented a poll that the Texan paid for.
- The Washington Examiner, October 9, 2013
The poll showed that lots of voters know the aim of the obstruction is to defund Obamacare. While more voters, by a wide margin, blame Republicans than President Obama for the shutdown, the margin is not as bad as it was during the last Republican shutdown 18 years ago. The 18 year old poll was in November 1995.
Yeah, that's the reasoning that compels Republican lawmakers to continue following the Ted Cruz strategy. We're not wounding ourselves as severely as last time we tried a shutdown.
The uncritical minds that see no humor in that logic are stopping basic functions of government. Not included in the report was whether anyone completed that formulation.
The last time we tried a shutdown, we were hurt a lot worse than this.
All we're asking for is a chance.
When I was a kid, I came across an old book, pages yellowed, binder deteriorating. The pages were in order, and the book was readable.
I thought the chapter I found was about a military investigation. I had no idea it concerned the Republican Party several decades in the future.
I no longer recall the title or the overall topic of the book. My retrospective guess is that it was some sort of naval history. The part I do remember was an account of an investigation of a fatal accident in 1893. Britain's Royal Navy conducted a court martial, partly to decypher what had gone wrong.
Two battleships had collided, the Camperdown and the Victoria. HMS Victoria sank. 358 sailors died, including the commander of the Mediteranean fleet, Vice-Admiral George Tryon.
Tryon was a demanding officer. He did not tolerate dissent. If his orders were not followed with precision, there would be hell to pay.
Radio communication was still a future development. The fleet relied on flags and lights to relay orders.
Eleven ships navigated into two parallel lines. It must have been an impressive sight in those days. Britain was still said to rule the seas. On signal, the two lead ships turned toward each other. Later testimony led investigators to believe the maneuver was the beginning of a dual 180 degree turn.
In a few minutes, the Camperdown and the Victoria collided.
The Victoria absorbed the worst of it. The Camperdown had rammed Victoria, penetrating 9 feet into the starboard side. The captain of the Camperdown put all engines in reverse. Backing away proved the final fatal error. The huge gash in the Victoria became a rushing waterway.
Ten minutes later, the ship had carried most of her crew beneath the Mediterranean near Libya. The very strict Vice Admiral was among them.
The sudden death of so many military personnel in peacetime captured the attention of the British public. An outcry for answers surrounded the investigation.
The first question was simple. What in hell was Vice Admiral Tryon thinking? Some mental defect or temporary insanity was thought to be a possibility. Sudden physical incapacity was also suspected.
It was possible he had envisioned a 90 degree turn by one of the ships and had somehow been unable to give the command to cut short the turn. So the ships continued until they collided.
Conventional wisdom finally focused on a mathematical miscalculation. The commander of the fleet had substituted diameter for radius in determining how close the ships should be before turning.
People died because of a mistake in math.
The bigger question, and the cause of the court martial, was what provoked public fury. Why was there no questioning of an obvious blunder?
In the end, officers had simply assumed their commander would issue some further order, that he had something in mind that they could not imagine. Confronting the disciplinarian involved too great a career risk.
I listened to an analysis last evening as some experienced pundit suggested that, whatever the count of moderate Republicans pledging to vote to end the government shutdown, the number who actually would keep that promise could easily be calculated.
Zero. Anyone who voted to end the confrontation would be a conservative pariah forever. No Republican politician would take the risk. "I don't see many profiles in courage in the House," he added.
That got me to thinking about the well preserved, nearly forgotten book I discovered in my far away youth.
The tracks of the great ships 120 years ago, five in one line, six in the other, provide an active illustration of Washington today.
Vice Admiral Ted Cruz has taken charge of the Republican fleet. Pretty much every dispassionate observer sees the miscalculation. A diameter is not a radius.
Reality based members hope against hope their commander has some last second maneuver in mind to extract them from disaster. Courage carries its own perils. Acting against orders will mean the end of life in Congress.
With perfect vision, they see the collision about to happen.
They are distraught, but they dare not disobey.