We are in session, if necessary, up to January 5th. That is the clock our Republican colleagues need to run out. It's a long clock.
- - Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), December 16, 2010
On Republican efforts to kill gay rights with delaying tactics
When US District Judge Henry Hudson ruled an important part of Obamacare unconstitutional, conservatives cheered. Virginia's Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, had been shopping about for a friendly judge to act against universal health care. It sure looked as if the effort had paid off.
The part the judge ruled unconstitutional has to do with the insurance mandate. Part of the law forces insurance companies to cover pretty much everyone. Pre-existing conditions can't be an excuse to exclude anyone. That requirement forces insurance companies out of business if it stands alone. Nobody would buy insurance in advance if they can get on a cell phone and enroll on the way to the hospital. So abolishing pre-existing conditions, providing universal coverage, has a companion. Everybody has to have insurance. Those without resources will get help buying it.
The judge held that telling folks they have to buy a product can't be done, at least not by Congress. But conservatives who read the opinion got heartburn. The logic he used to get there would have the side effect of dissolving the federal government.
The way constitutional law works is this: the feds can't do anything that isn't in the constitution. Now, there's a lot in the constitution, so the feds can do a lot. One of the things the government can do is pass laws concerning Interstate Commerce. That includes health insurance.
Another part of the constitution is the Necessary and Proper Clause. If I tell my grown up kids they can borrow the family car for the evening, can I later object because I didn't tell them they had permission to unlock the car doors? The Necessary and Proper Clause says Congress can do what is reasonable to fulfill the duties the Constitution allows.
This was challenged in court a while back. Congress had passed a law saying that federal prisoners could be held even after their sentences were up if they were an active threat to children and refused to register on sex offender lists. It was called the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, named for a child who was kidnapped and murdered. Some inmates said that was unfair because nothing in the constitution said Congress could hold prisoners after they had served their time. But everyone agreed that Congress had the power to put people in prison and and to protect those on the outside, including children. So the court ruled that extending sentences was necessary and proper in protecting the public. It would be like giving permission to use my car. Using the car keys to get in the vehicle is included in that permission. The prisoner bringing the case was named Comstock, so the ruling was called the Comstock decision.
Judge Hudson reversed that logic on health care. He said if an action is not specifically mentioned in the constitution, Congress can't do it. Period. The Necessary and Proper Clause doesn't apply, he said, if an action doesn't stand on it's own. So you can use my car, but you can't unlock the doors, turn the steering wheel, touch the pedals, or sit in the seat.
Conservatives, and almost everyone else, will be appalled if the ruling is upheld once the matter reaches the Supreme Court. Almost everyone. Those with an unhealthy sexual interest in kids won't mind.
My style is little bit different than most conventional Republican party chairman. My style is more grassroots oriented, I'm much more of a street guy.
- - Michael Steele, Republican Chairman, December 13, 2010
On why fellow Republicans dislike him
It is impossible to do all of the things that the majority leader laid out without doing -- frankly, without disrespecting the institution and without disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians and the families of all of the Senate, not just the senators themselves but all of the staff.
- - Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), December 14, 2010
On the possibility of having to work after Christmas and before New Year
faux pas–noun, plural faux pas /foʊ ˈpɑz; Fr. foʊ ˈpɑ/ Show Spelled
[foh pahz; Fr. foh pah] Show IPA
a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion.
It was early in my career at a major telecommunications firm. I had gotten along quite famously with my supervisor and, consequently, reaped many benefits due to his high regard for me. He chose me to handle some of the most important accounts. He recommended me for quite a few prestigious sales awards. He was a great supervisor, and I was understandably upset when he announced his departure. It meant I would be getting a new supervisor.
Would the new supervisor recognize my talents? Would the new supervisor inure to me the same benefits I had learned to expect? Would I continue to receive the same choice account assignments? I knew I would have to get on his good side as soon as I could in order to elevate my status above that of my peers.
At first, I was unsure. I had learned that he was an ex-warden at a famous Arkansas prison (the one made famous by the movie, “Brubaker” starring Robert Redford). In fact, I was told he was the warden immediately before the Brubaker character and was forced to resign because of his cruel treatment of prisoners as portrayed in the movie. I never really learned if this was true, but I believed it at the time. It was indeed cause for concern. How would I be treated? Images of solitary confinement in low level, closet sized rooms as punishment for poor sales or simply his ill regard filled my head. I was certain I wouldn’t suffer physical torture, but I did consider the possibility of mental “whippings” and psychological beatings with blunt instruments.
But then it appeared good fortune was in my immediate future. This man, it seemed, was anxious to “win over” his new staff. He had scheduled a dinner for his new crew and also planned on taking us all to an upcoming ball game. These were social situations with which I was quite familiar and confident in my ability to perform well. I felt I could truly shine in such settings and induce a reaction from him that would be more comparable to a favored “prison guard” rather than a hardened, ill behaved prisoner.
His first day as my new supervisor had gone well and I and my colleagues were looking forward to a nice dinner with him and his wife. That evening, immediately after work, we were all sitting down at a very posh restaurant and I was remembering to be the consummate gentleman. I waited until all the women in our group were seated and, of course, was last to sit down after his lovely wife was seated. I complimented her several times on her stunning dress and even gave notice to her stylish purse. The new boss was smiling. I felt I may already be “in.” He ordered drinks for all of us and I waited until she received hers, complete with large pieces of fruit and a multi-colored umbrella, before I took a single sip of my beer. No guzzling tonight! Suddenly, the waiter came up to our table and asked for me by name announcing that there was an urgent phone call for me. I politely excused myself and proceeded out to the main foyer to take the call. It was my wife. “Could you pick up a gallon of milk on the way home?” she asked. “Of course”, I said with hidden irritation. “And, oh yes,” she said, “We also need some bread, eggs and a package of yeast.” I asked, “Do I need to make a list?” She said that I should surely remember those few things. “I should put them on a list” I thought as I hung up. Of all the times to be interrupted!
I went immediately back to the group and, sitting down, wondered if, in my relatively short absence, I had missed any opportunities to make a good impression on my new boss. Looking to make quality conversation, I noticed the boss’s wife routing through her purse, obviously searching for something in the depths of a sack large enough to hold a medium size dog. “What are you looking for?” I asked. I heard her answer, “Something to put on my list.”
Thinking of the phone call I had just received, I said “Well... I’ve got something you can put on your list!” This could be a good conversation, I was thinking. But as soon as I had finished speaking, my new boss looked at me like a warden looking at a two-time lifer, “I can’t believe you said that, Deming.”
What? I thought. I froze as I saw his wife pull a tube of lipstick from her purse. I suddenly realized the word “list” could and apparently did sound very much like the word, “lips.” Oh my God! What have I done! I tried desperately to explain myself, but to this day, I’m certain only I understood what I actually said and meant. I could not un-ring the fatal bell. I had just made a pornographically obscene “come on” to the warden’s wife! I was sunk with no chance of resurfacing. As I finished choking down what food I could still eat, I couldn’t help but notice the winks and smiles I was covertly receiving from his wife. Well, I guess I did leave a “stand-out” impression with the new boss.
The ball game to which he was bringing the entire group was the very next evening. A chance for some form of redemption? I hoped. I truly hoped.
Actually, the evening progressed rather safely. There were not enough seats for all of us to sit together and so the boss and his wife sat in a different section to enjoy the ball game. I sat with my peers and listened, red-faced, to their jibes as they recalled the previous evening… over and over again.
My new boss and his wife were newly-weds and, her roots in St. Louis were the primary cause for his relocation from Arkansas. Despite my recent nightmares about him and, in my dreams, his uncanny resemblance to a tyrannosaurus, she apparently thought of him as quite handsome… a lucky catch. I approached them during the seventh inning stretch, still hoping I could induce a conversation to show I was not the lewd and rude subordinate that the last evening seemed to indicate.
“Enjoying the game?” I asked. The wife responded, “Yes, but all of these girls kept approaching my husband… I think they were trying to steal him away!” Like the “list” of the previous evening, words escaped my “lips” before I had truly considered them. I said, “Did you have to beat “em” off?” Of course I was referring to “all the girls” that had approached him. And, of course, they both thought I meant something completely different. She smiled at me. He didn’t.
He was my supervisor for the next six months after which I received a promotion. I think he may have instigated the promotion, but not for the reasons I had originally intended. I saw him occasionally after that, though we seldom spoke. Our work environment was such that I could almost always find a different aisle to walk when I noticed his approach. I never saw his wife again.
I should have paid more attention to the organization of the Democratic Party. I was not only the leader of our nation, but I was also the leader of the Democratic Party. And I think I failed in that respect to keep the party united.
- - President Jimmy Carter, December 14, 2010
I understand the feeling that it's a bitter pill to swallow the high income tax cuts, but what the president was able to get that is substantially bigger than that and important for the economy –whether it's incentives for investments for firms, whether it's a payroll tax cut for 155 million workers, money for college education, et cetera - is really important, and we can't let that go away.
- - Austan Goolsbee, Council of Economic Advisers, December 12, 2010
Chief Justice Warren Burger, accustomed to decorum and ritual, was said to have been startled by Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall one morning. One Justice after another, encountering the head of the Court, made customary greetings to "Mr. Chief Justice." Then came Marshall with a jovial, "What's shaking, chiefy baby."
Michael Steele began his tenure as Republican chairman promising to attract urban young people to the GOP message. He would put together an "off the hook" campaign into "urban-suburban hip-hop settings" to appeal to minority youth, an untapped market for Republicans, to be sure.
President Obama composed a stimulus package to keep as many working people as possible from losing their jobs. Steele dismissed it, with an urbane flair, as "just a wish list from a lot of people who have been on the sidelines for years.. to get a little bling, bling." I admit running to the urban dictionary. Did "bling bling" still mean the same thing?
Governor Bobby Jindal, Republican governor of Louisiana gave a speech that went fairly flat. Steele came to the rescue. He offered "some slum love out to my buddy." He confronted the Republican pattern of garnering white votes with race baiting campaigns. "Tonight, we tell America: we know the past, we know we did wrong. My bad."
And so it went. Thurgood Marshall had engaged in a bit of humor, gentle disrespect combined with a little self-mocking. But Michael Steele? You didn't have to be a hip hop enthusiast to be provoked into embarrassed eye rolling by his meat locker cool. Anyone who, as a youth, ever encountered an uncle or neighbor trying to act the part would squirm just a little.
Republicans loved it, of course. Well. Some did. At first. Michele Bachmann reflected fond visionary hopes of some that the GOP would at last achieve a sort of coolness, as she lapsed into a demented chant, introducing Steele to CPAC with "You be da man! You be da man."
But then he started impacting the first principle, the prime directive. The Republican Party has a problem. It has accomplished a mathematical anomaly, winning huge in November, but still managing to shrink. It's largely the tea party effect. The GOP drives out liberals, then moderates, then conservatives who are not extreme enough, then extremists who do not howl at the moon. But the party was to maintain the lead in, as they say, the key demographic. Money flows. And that's where Steele put a dent.
The "naked lady place scandal" as Rachel Maddow adeptly called it, changed the money raising dynamic. Well publicized visits to sex bondage clubs, and subsequent argument about it, painted political donors as sexually weird and very uncool. Country Club boasts about donating to the GOP became less a status symbol than something to hide. The bottom fell out of the barrel for Republican fund raising. Conservatives still gave, but not to the Republican Party. The GOP Governor's Association and right wing PAC's took over. Michael Steele is more than an embarrassment. He is an active participant in the remarkable shrinking party that is now the GOP.
Last night, Steele is reported to have promised supporters in a telephone conference that he will run for re-election as head of the Republican National Committee. Here's wishing him well in that endeavor. You be da man, Michael Steele! You be da man.
Early struggles often have a searing effect on the lives of public figures. Children of the thirties learned lessons that lasted through their lives. The lessons varied and the approaches to life touched political history. In California, young Dick Nixon attended a masquerade party as a bum, as homeless men were called. He learned a bootstraps approach. If I can claw my way out of hardship, so can anyone. If you're in poverty, then screw you. It's your own fault for not following my good example. In Minnesota, a lad named Hubert Humphrey learned empathy during the family effort to keep the local pharmacy alive. He saw people work hard to get out of poverty. He saw some who made it, others working equally hard who didn't. Humphrey and Nixon endured similar times and similar struggles. We remember them for the very different lessons they applied.
As that generation is claimed by the ages, newer experiences generate newer approaches. Many Democrats entered government inspired by the Kennedy years. Watching civil rights struggles, hearing inspiring words, witnessing via television while those laboring for the working poor and middle class were assassinated. The idea of lifting the downtrodden, the struggling, is appealing to many of the children of the 60s.
The human condition being what it is, there are few pure motivations in any endeavor. Compassion is mixed into the larger mystery of human temptation. Motivations are pretty much always mixed.
Before the November elections the Obama administration almost went prostrate before House Democrats, begging them to make an election issue of tax cuts for the extremely wealthy. Democrats balked. Tax policy is too confusing, went the logic of political risk. Increasing any taxes would be a toxic, dangerous, issue. Better to wait until after the election.
November came and went. Democrats were mowed down in a Republican harvest. The economy teetered toward another recession, with no additional stimulus being possible. Democrats were out of bullets, as Republicans were stepping into power. The fires of liberal frustration were stoked by the image of David Axelrod publicly giving away the store, telling Republicans in advance all that the administration would be willing to give away. Yep, there they go again, negotiating with themselves. Wimps.
Then Obama and the GOP announced the new deal. Republicans would get a two year extension of tax slashing for the extremely wealthy. Obama would get unemployment benefits for those desperately looking for work. And a stimulative cut of social security taxes. And a middle class tax cut extension. And the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income credit. And help to low-income families for child care. And help for students and families on college costs, and more tax cuts for businesses in critical research. It was a wish list for economic stimulus dwarfing anything the GOP wanted by 2 to 1.
Many of us are furious. Yes, we still want to help the downtrodden: those deserving families pushed to the ground. We still want to save working folks from an economy that could still slip backward. It's just, well, some of us want something else much more.
The other side should lose.
In itself, it hardly seems the stuff of national news. A non-credited class is offered on religion at a local community college. Nobody signs up for it. It turns out the teacher is an anti-religious activist whose main obsession is to demonstrate, with carefully selected texts, that religion is not only a bunch of hooey, but that it is dangerous: leading inevitably to violence against everything decent in civilized society. The class is canceled by the college.
Non-credited courses in community colleges are often taught by non-credited teachers. They are offered as a courtesy to the community for a nominal sum, often 10 or 20 dollars. The subjects are an eclectic collection. Computer literacy, quilt making, how to make a household budget, Spanish art. The usefulness varies from business application to personal fulfillment. Hobbies are a frequent motivation in taking classes, and they are a legitimate need to be met.
Every once in a while something less legitimate creeps in. In Eugene, Oregon, the class was about Islam. The college finally did a little checking on the teacher. The course was to be taught by a local activist, a leader within the local chapter of a group dedicated to exposing the "authoritarian values of radical Islam, such as the celebration of death, terror and tyranny." He had written a book about Islam entitled: From the Mouths of Our Enemies. "Our enemies want us destroyed, not because of our riches or our liberties, although they say that is so," he says in the forward. "They want us gone because Allah told them so."
A suit has been filed. Christian rights are to be upheld. Our frequent debate opponent John Houk calls it an "infringement of the First Amendment right to share the truth of the negative aspects of Islam." Actually, the First Amendment to the Constitution does not at all obligate a community college to associate itself with hate speech.
Anti-Muslim bigots do have rights. Anyone may publish a blog, or stand on a soapbox and speak at length on the evils of any religion. In fact, if they need instruction, they may follow the good examples of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, or even John Houk. As far as I know, the fellow who was deprived of the $160 fee the little college was, at first, willing to pay for his services, does not instruct anyone to commit actual acts of violence. He does not publish private addresses with driving instructions. If the anti-Muslim activist were to be imprisoned, we should be enraged at the violation of his rights.
Hate filled speech is a form of free speech. It is a right. It must be protected. Its existence is a signal that legitimate rights are protected. Protecting speech that we hate protects speech that we do not hate. There are reasonable exceptions, of course. Advocacy of crime, complicity in it, violation of the rights of others, are limited. The right to be provided a fee and a classroom by a little community college for the purpose of exposing a religion as "the enemy" is not a constitutional guarantee.
Slant Right's John Houk believes a Muslim civil rights group is a front for Hamas, and bigots should teach classes on the true meaning of Islam. Same old, same old.
The Agriculture Department makes the usual recommendations on nutrition, a school district overreacts, and James Wigderson over reacts right back. Because James excels as a writer, it's and interesting rant.
Have a safe weekend. Pray for someone in pain. A lot of them out there this week, the next few could find any of us among them.