Friday, January 27, 2012

Do As We Say … But Exempt Us

A whole bunch of Indiana legislators* decided to try to follow Florida’s example and introduced a bill (HB 1007) to require those Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds to take a drug test. I don’t really want to spend time discussing the merits (or lack thereof) of this bill other than to note that it wound up costing Florida several million dollars (which, gee wiz, went to a company owned by the governor…) and revealed a lower incidence of drug use than among the public at large (how many poor people can really afford drugs, what with trying to eat and have a roof over their heads…). The discussion of whether those receiving government assistance should be obligated to take a drug test is a good discussion for another day (but in thinking about this question, you might ask if CEOs of the auto companies or banks had to take drug tests).

Anyway, what I really wanted to take note of was what happened at today’s hearing on HB1007 at the Indiana General Assembly. An amendment was offered to HB1007 that would also require drug testing for Indiana legislators! After all, if we’re going to require some Hoosiers take take a drug test for receiving government aid, why shouldn’t those on government salaries who decide which Hoosiers must take drug tests to be tested themselves? Surprisingly (at least to me), the amendment passed 54-41 (I’ll be interested to see the party breakdown of those voting for and against the amendment).

But rather than allow that sort of compromise bill to become law, Rep. Jud McMillin (R-Southeast Indiana), the principal author of the bill, withdrew the bill from consideration! Think about that for a second: 55 Indiana legislators were so concerned with possible drug use by those receiving welfare that they introduced a bill to drug test those recipients … but Rep. McMillin was so opposed to having he and his colleagues tested that he decided to withdraw the bill instead. It’s relatively rare (well maybe not so much anymore) to see that kind of hypocrisy so blatantly displayed.

Welcome to Indiana.


*Here is the list of sponsors of HB1007; note that of the 55 sponsors, only 2 are Democrats: McMillin (R), Noe (R), Bacon (R), Baird (R), Behning (R), Borders (R), Brown (R), Burton (R), Cheatham (D), Clere (R), Crouch (R), Culver (R), Davisson (R), Dermody (R), Dodge (R), Eberhart (R), Ellspermann (R), Espich (R), Foley (R), Friend (R), Frizzell (R), Frye (R), Goodin (D), Gutwein (R), Heaton (R), Heuer (R), Hinkle (R), Kirchhofer (R), Knollman (R), Koch (R), Kubacki (R), Lehe (R), Lehman (R), Leonard (R), Lutz (R), Mahan (R), McNamara (R), Messmer (R), Morris (R), Neese (R), Rhoads (R), Richardson (R), Saunders (R), Smith (R), Speedy (R), Steuerwald (R), Thompson (R), Torr (R), Truitt (R), Turner (R), Wesco (R), Wolkins (R), Yarde (R), Ubelhor (R), VanNatter (R).

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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Atlanta Jewish Community Needs to Take Action

Note: I am Jewish. And I consider myself a strong supporter of Israel. Those points are essential background for this post.

Until a few minutes ago, I’d never heard of the Atlanta Jewish Times. Apparently, it is a small community newspaper with a readership of approximately 3,500. The paper was purchased by Andrew Adler in 2009 and he presently serves as Editor and Publisher. While reading some news updates online, I was directed to a January 13 “From the Publisher” column written by Adler entitled “What Would You Do?” (it appears that the column is either not available on the paper’s website or it has been taken down). The column asks readers to pretend that they are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to consider what action they might take in response to threats from Iran and Hezbollah. After offering two options for the Prime Minster to take, Adler offers a final, third option. Here is the part of this short column that made my mouth drop and caused me to literally shake with rage and disgust:

Three, give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States’ policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.

Yes, you read “three” correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence. Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don’t you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel’s most inner circles?

Another way of putting “three” into perspective goes something like this: How far would you go to save a nation comprised of seven million lives … Jews, Christians and Arabs alike?

You have got to believe, like I do, that all options are on the table.

I dispute his entire premise, that President Obama has been unfriendly to Israel. I’ve written about that in the past, and that’s not really the point of this post. But the last thing that will help Israel are columns like this, even mere suggestions like Adler’s. One of the problems facing Israel today is that too many on the left, both Jewish and not, are beginning to become less strong in their ties to Israel, if not actually turning against Israel. How will people who find J-Street’s message persuasive react to columns like Adler’s? Suggestions that “Israel’s most inner circles” are contemplating assassinating President Obama may make for interesting fiction (a Steve Berry novel, perhaps), but it is harmful both to Israel and to American Jews, especially as charges of' “Israel First” and “dual loyalty” are being tossed around with greater and greater frequency.

Now to be clear, Adler has already apologized for this column:

"I very much regret it, I wish I hadn't made reference to it at all," Andrew Adler told JTA on Friday.

He said he would publish an apology in his next edition, and that reaction from readers had been overwhelmingly negative.

But you know what? That’s not good enough. Note that he doesn’t say he was wrong, just that he “regrets it” and wishes that he “hadn’t made reference to it”. And note that he hasn’t put his apology on the Atlanta Jewish Times website; he’s just said that he’ll include it in his next edition.

The people who know Adler, the Atlanta Jewish community, the readers of the Atlanta Jewish Times, and supporters of Israel, need to make it abundantly clear to Adler and others who would make such horrific suggestions that his thoughts are far outside the mainstream, outside the pale of rational thought. Adler and those who share his fetish for thinking about reasons to harm President Obama simply cannot be a part of polite, civil society. We condemn those who seek to kill Americans. We condemn the preacher who prays for President Obama’s death. We must also condemn other Jews who offer such abhorrent viewpoints. They harm Israel and they harm the American Jewish community. The Atlanta Jewish community should find a way to show Adler that, by his actions, he isn’t really a part of that community at all. And he needs to do far more than indicate his “regret”; he needs to show that he understands just how harmful and dangerous his words are. And, even though it is not yet Yom Kippur, he needs to find a way to atone.

Take a minute and let Adler know what you think of his column.


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So What Is Mitt Romney Hiding?

In both of South Carolina Republican Presidential nomination debates, one of the issues that seemed to bedevil Mitt Romney was the question of if and when he would release his tax returns. Given that his success at Bain Capital — and the wealth he has accumulated — has become an issue in the campaign (not to mention a general issue as it relates to the Occupy movement and the question of the 99% vs. the 1%), it would seem that the answer to the question “Will you release your tax returns” should be an simple “Of course, because I have nothing to hide.”

But that hasn’t been Romney’s response.

Over the last month or so he first said that he wouldn’t release his tax returns. Then in the first South Carolina debate, Romney said that he was thinking about it and might release them in April. When pressed again in last night’s debate, his answer was somewhat more certain, but he continued to hedge as to when (probably April, after his 2011 returns are done) but said that he probably would not release tax returns for prior years.

Newt Gingrich, who I hate to agree with on anything, asked the right questions: He wanted to know what Romney was hiding and whether Republicans ought to know if there were any surprises in the tax returns before they selected Romney as their candidate. Romney, for his part, suggested that he didn’t want to release old returns and didn’t want to release his new return until April because he didn’t want to give the Democrats ammunition. Of course, that answer makes no sense at all. First, as Gingrich pointed out, what Romney is really doing is denying ammunition to his Republican opponents that they could use now. Whether he releases the tax returns or whether he limits the release to the 2011 return will be no different for the Democrats than for the Republicans. And if he waits to April, he will deny Republicans the ammunition, but Democrats will still have 7½ months to use those returns against Romney.

So why doesn’t Romney want to release his tax returns now. Why doesn’t he want to release old tax returns? Why does he want to wait until April?

What is Romney hiding?

And before you answer, it is worth noting that the three most likely answers can’t really be the reason … because that information is already available.

Romney has already released some financial information that shows that he is really, really rich. Like, as in, he’s got more than enough money to fly first class if he really wants to. Or, said differently, he could easily pay off Gingrich’s account at Tiffany and not even notice. So it seems unlikely that his reluctance to release the tax returns has anything to do with the fact that they will show that he’s rich.

So perhaps he’s trying to hide that he is the poster child for the so-called Buffet Rule (which some are now trying to rebrand as the Romney Rule). The idea behind the Buffet Rule is that those who earn most of their money from investments and not employment, shouldn’t pay a lower effective tax rate than do their secretaries. But Romney got out in front of this issue too (well, out front by a day or two) when he acknowledged earlier this week that his effective tax rate is probably only about 15%, far lower than the 30% or so that many “middle” income earners pay. So, given that we know that he pays at a low tax rate, it seems unlikely that bit of information is behind his reluctance to release his tax returns.

Could it be that he is nervous about people learning that he has stashed deposited millions in offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, a traditional haven for tax shelters for the wealthy? Again, he also acknowledged those accounts a few days ago, though he denies that they are tax shelters. Query, though, if they’re not tax shelters, why is his money in the Cayman Islands instead of, say, Boston. Or Salt Lake City. Or Toledo, Peoria, or Ypsilanti? In any event, again fear of “exposure” of the existence of the offshore accounts wouldn’t seem to be the reason for the reluctance to release the tax returns.

So what is Romney hiding?

If there was nothing in those returns that would have a negative impact, wouldn’t he just release them all now and say, as I’ve suggested, “Look, world, nothing to hide”? But he isn’t releasing them now and he’s refusing to release old tax returns. And his continued refusals and dodges on this simple question have been the cause of some very awkward, very uncomfortable, very telling moments in the recent debates. He was willing to allow last night’s debate audience to boo him on national television as he stood firm in his refusal and reluctance. Why not say, after hearing those boos, “OK, fine, I’ll release them tomorrow”? The crowd would have turned the boos to cheers and Romney would look the part of a hero, responding to the wishes of the electorate. But he didn’t do that.

So once again, I ask, what is Romney hiding?

I have a few ideas, the first of which would explain his reluctance to release the returns now but willingness to do so once he has the Republican nomination.

What if those tax returns showed a charitable donation to Planned Parenthood?

Can you imagine the Republican heads exploding when they saw that? And that isn’t a piece of information that would be of much practical use to Democrats who will already be able to accuse Romney of having changed his position. And how could Democrats even be overly critical of Romney for giving to an organization that Democrats support?

Or what if the tax returns showed charitable donations to pro-polygamy Mormon groups or other Mormon organizations that would make Republicans, especially evangelical Christian Republicans, uncomfortable with Romney’s religion?

What if the tax returns showed political contributions to Democratic candidates? Can you imagine if, after losing the nomination to John McCain in 2008, Romney donated to President Obama’s campaign? Doubtful, but you never know…

Or what if the returns showed donations to NPR or the National Endowment for the Arts or ACORN or any of the other Republican bugaboos?

Perhaps the tax returns would show income from a source that he doesn’t want to talk about, say consulting for the Chinese or Iranians or an investment in Venezuelan oil interests.

Maybe the tax returns would show that Romney stood to earn an enormous fortune if the auto industry had gone bankrupt. Or that he made an enormous fortune because it didn’t. Or what if the returns showed that he’d invested heavily in the housing bubble or bet against the market in those risky transactions that earned billions for certain investors while leading the economy into a near depression?

Obviously, I don’t know what Romney is hiding. But his refusal to release any tax returns until April certainly suggests that there is something that he doesn’t want Republican voters to see until he (presumably) wraps up the nomination. And his refusal to release old returns suggests that there is something he doesn’t want anyone to see. If there’s nothing to hide … why hide it?

It seems clear that, while Romney may still be the favorite to win, he just isn’t very well-liked by the electorate. Hiding something damaging won’t help that. But then again, his continued stumbling and bumbling over questions about his tax returns and being loudly booed by the audience on a nationally televised debate, clearly isn’t making him more likable.

Mitt Romney has a problem. Too bad.


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Friday, January 13, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance in Action … Again

Note: I wrote this post in early December but apparently never actually posted it.

Readers of this blog may remember my post Cognitive Dissonance in Action published in August 2011. In that post, I talked about the phenomenon of people refusing to modify their own view of events in light of incontrovertible facts or perhaps accepting as “true” a version of facts from a substantially less-qualified source than from a much more obviously qualified and trustworthy source. As I said in the conclusion to that post:

Cognitive dissonance is a problem when it comes to science. It is a problem when it comes to history. And it is really a huge fucking problem when it gets in the way of our political and legal system. How can we have a proper debate about the deficit and debt ceiling if the Tea Party refuses to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that default would be bad? How can we have rational discussions about energy policy if Republicans, despite almost all evidence to the contrary, refuse to believe in global warming? How can we have a discussion about the proper role of religion in the public sphere or the rights of minority religious views if people like the author of the email that prompted this diatribe post continues to believe that the Founding Fathers said things that they simply did not say?

To once again quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan …: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” So long as we, as a society, cannot come to terms with and agree upon certain basic facts, we will have a really hard time making decisions about the best policies for the future of America.

Saturday night and Sunday, I had another encounter with cognitive dissonance that I thought worth sharing.

This past weekend we had lots of family and friends come to town for my nephew’s bar mitzvah (mazel tov!). Included in that group was one particular very dear family friend. When we’re together (which, unfortunately, isn’t very often anymore), we like to argue discuss politics. Let’s just say that his views and mine are not exactly in sync. But we have fun engaging with one another in these discussions. Let me also just note that he has both a razor sharp wit and intellect. This is a person who, when he says something, even something with which I instinctively disagree, I give due consideration and weight to the ideas that he expresses.

But as it was a celebratory weekend, I decided to try to avoid talking politics (and that went for a relative who one of the subjects of my post The Election Is Over — Now What? the day after the 2008 election). Yeah, I know. Not exactly my nature to shut up about politics. Generally speaking, I’d say I managed to accomplish that goal. I didn’t bring up politics with either of these people though I did get into relatively brief conversations (they both started it … really!) with each of them. And it is one of those conversations that led to this post.

The family friend (who has not lived in Indiana for at least 25 years) was asking about several of the Indiana races in 2008. I think that he was particularly interested in the Lugar-Mourdock race. He also asked about the likelihood that Dan Burton could (finally) be ousted. During the conversation, he commented that he thought Rep. Burton was one of the dumbest members of Congress (a sentiment that I certainly did not disagree with). But then my friend said that another of the dumbest members of Congress was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), the Congresswoman who was shot in the head last January. I asked him why he said that and he told me that Rep. Giffords had asked Gen. David Patraeus “whether the United States had done an environmental impact study on the war in Afghanistan.” This was not a claim that I’d ever heard before and so I had no idea how to respond. Thankfully, our discussion moved on to things other than politics.

But this claim, the suggestion that Rep. Giffords thought that we should have performed an environmental impact study on the war, bothered me. I would have to agree with my friend’s general sentiment that such a question was not a very good one (though I’m not sure that I would generalize it to paint Rep. Giffords as one of the dumbest members of Congress). Thus, I kept thinking about that quote. Did she ask that question? If so, in what context? And if not, why did my friend think she had?

So, when I got home, I decided to do a little research. Guess what? That’s right. The query to Gen. Patraeus that my friend attributed to Rep. Giffords isn’t accurate. Here is a clip of Rep. Gifford’s statement and question followed by Gen. Patraeus’ answer:

Transcript of the relevant portion of Rep. Giffords questioning (from Snopes):

There's been a lot of attention back in the United States on what's happening with the BP oil spill, and we all know the largest user of energy on the planet is actually the United States Air Force and the DoD is the largest user of energy in the United States, and I really want to commend the work done on the behalf of DoD and also what's happening in the field with our energy, but it's an area that I just really want to focus on, and I know a lot of questions have been asked, but in the last few years supply lines have been increasingly threatened either by enemy action or through international crises, and in places like Kandahar, where we have a large presence, we've been plugged into a very unsustainable and really an incapable grid system.

We know that a major part of the upcoming Kandahar offensive will include some serious repairs and upgrades to the energy system which will include small-scale solar and hydropower systems and also some solar-powered street lights. I'm just curious whether or not there's plans to utilize any of those same technologies at our bases around Afghanistan, and wouldn't that greatly reduce our need for fuel?

Hmm. That’s a different question she’s asking, isn’t it? Not quite “have we done an environmental impact study?” Both Snopes and Politifact have much more complete explanations of the exchange between Rep. Giffords and Gen. Patraeus together with some information about the charge that Rep. Giffords was asking something other than what she did, in fact, ask. Both pages are worth reading to see just how stories like this one come to be. In fact, it appears that the charge that Rep. Giffords asked about an environmental impact statement (or that we “put more emphasis on less environmentally damaging methods, like stabbing or clubbing enemy forces in order to minimize the carbon output”) came from a satirical post.

So what, I hear you asking (well, not really…) does that have to do with cognitive dissonance?

The next morning, when I saw that family friend again, I explained that what he’d told me about Rep. Giffords just didn’t “feel right” to me and that I therefore stayed up the night before to research the issue. And then I told him what I’d found. His response was … interesting. First, he told me that he too had researched what Rep. Giffords had said (though not the night before) and, he said, he’d watched the video of her asking Gen. Patraeus about an environmental impact study and she did, indeed, ask that question. I told him that I’d also watched the video and that she did not, in fact, ask such a question. I also explained that both Snopes and Politifact had debunked the claim as well as documenting where it came from. His response was that Snopes couldn’t always be trusted (implying, though not saying, that it erred on the side of liberals) and that he’d never heard of Politifact. I suggested that his information might have come by way of a chain email, but he said that he doesn’t read chain emails. I suggested that I’d be happy to send him the information that I’d found (including the video) and he said that he’d send me his information. But then, a few minutes later, he said that we’d just have to each accept our own understanding of the events.

So here we have quite a disconnect … and an example of cognitive dissonance. Somehow, at least in his memory, he recollects having watched the video and having seen something that simply isn’t there. I don’t care how many times you watch that video, you’re not going to find Rep. Giffords asking about an environmental impact study. But compare what he believes that he heard Rep. Giffords say with these excerpts from the text of the chain emails quoted by Snopes and Politifact:

Poster-child for what is wrong in Washington, DC Our Arizona 8th District US Congressional representative, the Hon. Gabrielle Giffords, in a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee, asked General David Petraeus the following question: “General Petraeus, what are you doing to reduce carbon emissions in the war on terror?” Wow. I had to read, and re-read this several times to believe it.

What Google says about Rep. Giffords: Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az) took Afghan Commander, General David Petraeus, to task for what she characterized as “willful disregard of the environmental impact of our war effort.” “There is no policy, no plan to minimize carbon emissions in our military activities,” Giffords charged. “Bombs are dropped and bullets are fired without considering the environmental impact.” Giffords insisted that she was “not demanding an immediate halt to current military operations in the Middle East. I'm just saying that battle plans should include an environmental impact assessment as a regular part of the process before attacks are launched.”

She also suggested that the Army “put more emphasis on less environmentally damaging methods, like stabbing or clubbing enemy forces in order to minimize the carbon output.”

In other words, the question that my friend “heard” Rep. Gifford ask in the video is not in the video at all (because she didn’t ask that question) … but it is in the text of the chain emails that are going around on this issue. Query just what kind of research he could have actually done that would convince him that he had in fact “seen” her ask that question? Maybe he didn’t read the charge in a chain email; perhaps he heard someone make the charge or read it in a different publication. Nevertheless, the point remains that he believes something was said that wasn’t and he believes that he saw and heard said something that wasn’t. Hence cognitive dissonance. He has put aside the fact of what the video actually reveals and replaced that in his memory with the false “facts” and memory that support the worldview that he wants to believe.

Once again, this is but a tiny example on a relatively insignificant issue. But this is a very, very smart man. So you have to wonder what other facts he and others set aside when inconvenient and what false facts replace those in order to confirm an existing understanding of the world or an issue? As I think I’ve repeated … well … repeatedly on this blog, we can’t make good societal and political decisions unless we do so on the basis of facts … real facts … not those that have been skewed to support a particular political argument or point of view. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

Whether Rep. Giffords is a smart legislator or not isn’t the question; but we can’t criticize her for saying things that she didn’t say. And we can’t make our own decisions on issues of public policy on the basis of things that never happened.

Finally, I don’t know if the friend in question ever reads this blog. If so, I hope he doesn’t take offense at what I’ve written. My goal is not to criticize him; rather, my aim is to point out an endemic problem that manifests in dramatic ways in our political discourse. And, by demonstrating that this problem is not limited to those of lesser intelligence or who don’t pay close attention to issues and the world around them, perhaps we can all recognize that we need to be careful with our perception of the facts upon which we make our decisions. We need to continue to discuss and even argue about the issues and which policies are good or bad, but in so doing we must be sure that facts that we cite are accurate. And when confronted by evidence that what we believed to be a “fact” may be inaccurate, then we need to reexamine our understanding and positions on the issues, rather than dismissing or even changing those inconvenient facts.


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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Stupidity So Stupid It’s Stupid

Last week I wrote about President Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to be the first chair of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Republicans Claim President Obama Arrogantly Circumvents American People … After Republicans Refuse to Consider Any Action Unless They Get Their Way First). In that post, I noted:

I don’t want to spend much time on the issue of whether the recess appointment is valid; the issue comes down to whether the pro forma sessions that Senate Republicans have been holding to prevent recess appointments are sufficient to actually prevent recess appointments. That discussion gets a bit esoteric, even for me. For the record though, here is how “recess” is defined by the Senate (emphasis added): “A temporary interruption of the Senate's proceedings, sometimes within the same day. The Senate may also recess overnight rather than adjourn at the end of the day. Recess also refers to longer breaks, such as the breaks taken during holiday periods.”

Like many Republicans, Rep. Diane Black (R-Tennessee)* was outraged by President Obama’s use of the recess appointment provisions of the Constitution. On Tuesday, she issued a press release that included the following:

“It’s astounding to me that the president is claiming these are recess appointments and within his authority, when Congress was not in fact in recess,” said Black. “These appointments are an affront to the Constitution. No matter how you look at this, it doesn’t pass the smell test. I hope the House considers my resolution as soon as we return to Washington so we can send a message to President Obama.”

(Emphasis, quite obviously, added.) Then, after discussing why the recess appointments were improper (she focuses on the fact that the House did not consent to a Senate recess as required by the Constitution), she says (in relation to President Obama’s recess appointment of two members of the National Labor Relations Board):

Their names were only put forward on December 15th, a mere two days before the Senate recessed for the holiday.

(Emphasis again, quite obviously, added.)

That’s right folks. Congress isn’t actually in recess; they’re just, you know, not in Washington and not able to conduct any business until they return to Washington. But it’s not a recess. Nope. Not even if we call it a recess. Still isn’t one. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Move along.

Look, there are issues and questions concerning whether the pro forma sessions of the Senate or the failure of the House to consent to a Senate recess are legitimate ways to prevent a Presidential recess appointment. But I would submit that Rep. Black’s recognition that the House can’t act specifically because House members are out of town is a pretty damning admission that Congress is, in fact, in recess. Add to that her explicit recognition that the Senate was, indeed, recessed, seems to drive the proverbial stake through her argument (hey, if the Senate isn’t in recess, then what’s wrong with the timing of when President Obama submitted the nominees?). And if Congress isn’t in recess, then why aren’t the members of Congress, you know, like, in Washington, working?

Perhaps Rep. Black is confused; perhaps she think there has to be a playground for there to be a recess. I mean, nothing else would really explain her childlike whining about the process at the same time that she essentially admits that she’s wrong.


*Oddly, on her official House webpage, Rep. Black is referred to as “Congressman Diane Black” (emphasis added). I checked the webpages of two of the other female Republican members of Congress who I would suggest are at least as dumb as Rep. Black (Rep. Michele Bachmann and Rep. Virginia Foxx); both identify themselves as “Congresswoman”. So either Rep. Black has really bad proofreaders, is in the process or transitioning, or is trying to make some kind of point. I’ll let you be the judge on that score.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Republicans Want to Require Indiana Students to Recite The Lord’s Prayer. Seriously.

Last night while I was watching the most boring football game ever played (and rooting for both teams to lose…), I read a tweet from Indiana blogger Doug Masson (and if you don’t regularly read Doug’s posts, you should…). Each year, Doug (who I believe used to work for Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency) writes brief recaps of new bills introduced in the Indiana General Assembly. The tweet in question directed me to Doug’s newest post on another bill that has been introduced … and my jaw nearly hit the floor.

Doug was writing about Senate Bill 251 which would add the following law to the Indiana Code:

Indiana Code Section 20-30-5-4.6.

(a) In order that each student recognize the importance of spiritual development in establishing character and becoming a good citizen, the governing body of a school corporation or the equivalent authority of a charter school may require the recitation of the Lord's Prayer at the beginning of each school day. The prayer may be recited by a teacher, a student, or the class of students.

(b) If the governing body or equivalent authority requires the recitation of the Lord's Prayer under subsection (a), the governing body or equivalent authority shall determine the version of the Lord's Prayer that will be recited in the school corporation or charter school.

(c) A student is exempt from participation in the prayer if: (1) the student chooses not to participate; or (2) the student's parent chooses to have the student not participate.


Before discussing the specifics of SB251, I want to go ahead and direct you to the Senators responsible for this abomination. Call them. Write them. Email them. Tell them that you’re outraged. Express your disbelief that they clearly don’t understand certain basic concepts of our constitutional framework:

Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Northeast Indiana [District 14])

Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Southwest Indiana [District 49])

Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Northeast Indiana [District 16])

So let’s start with a simple question: What is the Lord’s Prayer? I admit that all I really knew was that it was a prayer that was commonly recited by Christians. So I immediately turned to the irrefutable authority on all things religious: Wikipedia.

The Lord's Prayer (also called the Pater Noster or Our Father) is a central prayer in Christianity. In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, it appears in two forms: in the Gospel of Matthew as part of the discourse on ostentation in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Gospel of Luke, which records Jesus being approached by "one of his disciples" with a request to teach them "to pray as John taught his disciples." The prayer concludes with "deliver us from evil" in Matthew, and with "lead us not into temptation" in Luke.

(Footnotes, links, and emphasis deleted.) The basic form of the Lord’s Prayer is:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Apparently, the appeal to forgive debts is often replaced by an appeal to forgive sins. In all honesty, I was surprised that the Lord’s Prayer didn’t include an explicit reference to Jesus. But given that the prayer was supposedly recited by Jesus as an example, then I guess this makes sense. (I’m told that some Christians append a call to Jesus at the end of this and other prayers, something along the line of “In Jesus’ name we pray” or something similar).

In any event, the issue isn’t really the text of the prayer; rather it is the notion of a prayer mandated by the government (or an entity of the government). Perhaps Sen. Kruse, Sen. Tomes, and Sen. Holdman (who, believe it or not, is an attorney) forgot the words of the First Amendment to the Constitution:

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.

It seems hard to argue that a state statute directing school boards to adopt a specific denominational prayer is a form of impermissible establishment of religion.

And certainly, the Senators appear to have forgotten to text of Article I of the Indiana Constitution:

Section 3. No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.

Section 4. No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.

I would certainly argue that a statute mandating a specific denominational prayer would, at minimum, be an impermissible preference to the Christian mode of worship.

Moreover, these Senators also appear to have missed the fact that the United States Supreme Court ruled on the issue of government-mandated school prayer nearly 50 years ago (in fact, this year is the 50th anniversary of one of the two main cases on the issue of school prayer)! Furthermore, it is worth noting that most of the school prayer cases have dealt with (and found unconstitutional) non-denominational prayers. But these Indiana Senators want to impose a core Christian prayer upon Indiana’s school children.

And don’t for a minute think that this isn’t a Christian prayer. When was the last time that you heard a Jew or a Muslim recite the Lord’s Prayer? Apparently Mormon’s don’t recite the Lord’s Prayer (but then, according to a whole bunch of fundamentalist, evangelical Christians, Mormon’s aren’t “real” Christians anyway…). Nor, I suspect, do Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, or the followers of any of the myriad of other religions practiced in Indiana, recite the Lord’s Prayer. And certainly atheists and others who do not profess to any religious belief would not recite the Lord’s Prayer. The point is, this prayer is derived from instructions in the New Testament and instructs Christians on how to pray. It is a Christian prayer for Christian belief.

One might also think that this bill was “necessary” because of the notion that kids can’t pray in school. That is patently false. First, kids can pray when they wake up. They can pray at the breakfast table with their family. They can pray while they brush their teeth. They can pray on the school bus. They can pray in the school hallways or standing at their locker. They can gather in a group by the flagpole and pray to their heart’s content. They can sit at the homeroom desk and pray. And when the teacher hands out the math test that they didn’t study for (because they were too busy praying), they can pray then as well. The can pray silently or out loud (as long as they don’t disturb others). The only thing that they can’t do is ask the school to make them pray or to direct everyone in prayer. And why, with all of those opportunities for individual prayer, is state-sponsored, coercive prayer, really necessary?

Why do Sen. Kruse, Sen. Tomes, and Sen. Holdman care whether my child prays. And why do they care what prayer my child utters? Perhaps I should be asking them why Christian students aren’t being asked to say a prayer that Jesus probably recited every morning and every evening:

Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad

Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One

I mean, Jesus was a Jew, wasn’t he?

I also want to note the red-herring contained in the SB251. Yes, the bill permits a student or parent to opt-out of saying the prayer. How realistic of a remedy is this? You try being an impressionable school child, burdened by peer pressure, your own insecurities as your learn who you are and what you believe, and the weight of a teacher or school administrator, and raising your hand to say, “No, I don’t want to say the prayer.” My 12-year-old children, who have heard me talk about issues like this since they first started in public school, had a difficult enough time telling their choir teacher that they were uncomfortable singing the Hallelujah Chorus and Silent Night. And that was just for a single performance; it wasn’t something that was going to start each and every school day.

Query further why it is the job of the schools to teach “spiritual development” (isn’t that what parents and houses of worship are for?) or why that is important to “establishing character and becoming a good citizen”. Do these Senators really suggest that atheists or others who don’t have “spiritual development” don’t have character or aren’t good citizens? Are they really implying that the ills of society are tied to a failure to establish good character that would be cured if we just had (Christian) prayer in schools? Let me quote from my Ben Stein post (go back and read that for a much deeper discussion of certain church-state issues):

The email next furthers the foregoing argument by suggesting that America is in trouble because we no longer read the Bible in schools and it is the Bible that teaches “thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself”. I guess, that we are to understand that, if we still taught the Bible in our public schools, we wouldn't kill or steal and we would love each other. First, just because our children don’t read the Bible in public schools doesn’t mean that we can’t (or don’t) teach our children not to kill or steal or can’t or don’t teach them to love one another. [2011 update: Note that it would also appear that the “love your neighbor” admonition only applies if your neighbor is the right kind of neighbor; certainly, you shouldn’t love your Muslim neighbor or your homosexual neighbor, right?] And even when children did read the Bible in public schools, bad things happened: Jim Crow laws prevented blacks from voting or forced them to sit at the back of the bus (and sometimes left them hanging from a tree), but I would be willing to wager that supporters of those laws prayed quite a bit. Murder and burglary did not suddenly start the day that prayers ceased in the public schools; it seems that those societal ills have been with us (and with all of humanity) from the beginning of time, whether or not people prayed (and irrespective of the type of prayer or the deity to which those prayers is offered). It is simply too easy to say that things are bad and to place blame accordingly without empirical evidence supporting the allegation.

Look, I could go on and on, reciting and discussing all of the reasons why prayer in school is inappropriate. I could spend countless pages talking about the basis for the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment or the premises behind the religious freedom clauses in Indiana’s Bill of Rights. But I think that by 2012 these issues really aren’t that difficult anymore. Sure, there are still some open issues (student-initiated prayer at school-sanctioned events, being one of the current hot-button issues). But whether the state can mandate that children pray and mandate the specific prayer that the children must recite (or listen to) is as unconstitutional now as it was when the Supreme Court ruled on this issue in 1962.

The scary thing isn’t the prospect of this law’s passage (though I suspect a lot of Indiana’s legislators would vote for it); I think the courts will have an easy time tossing this on the rubbish heap of other unconstitutional laws. No, the scary thing is that three Indiana Senators think that this law is a good idea (not to mention constitutional). These three think nothing of having the State of Indiana tell Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, and other children not only that they must pray but that they must offer a specific Christian prayer. What does that say about our society? About tolerance and diversity? To me it says, “Hey, if you’re not a Christian, you’re not a part of ‘real America’, so just fuck off and let our Christian country move backward.” I would just love to see the reaction of these Senators if a school district chose to require children to recite a Jewish prayer or … gasp! … a Muslim prayer. Can you imagine the outcry, horror, and gnashing of teeth? But right now, we need to come to terms with a society that has become so polarized, so afraid of the “other”, so willing to believe in the “War on Christmas” hyped by Bill O’Reilly and Faux News, that legislators are willing to even contemplate, let alone introduce, bills such as SB251.

Welcome to the Theocratic States of America where we make all decisions on the basis of What Would Jesus Do … except, you know, we don’t really pay attention to things that Jesus said. Instead we just force majority religious beliefs on others, discriminate against gays and Muslims in particular (and those with differing beliefs in general), worry incessantly about what’s going on in a woman’s uterus, and grip tightly our God-given guns. And we don’t give a damn about the sick, homeless, and poor. I mean, I’m certainly not a scholar on Christian theology or the teachings of Jesus, but I know that he was far more concerned with guns, gays, and abortion than he was with charity, helping those in need, and, you know, just being a good person. If Jesus had cared about those sorts of things, he probably would have created some kind of golden rule or something, right?

Call Sen. Kruse, Sen. Tomes, and Sen. Holdman (each can be reached at 800/382-9467 or via email). And tell them what you think of their efforts to bring theocracy to Indiana. Oh, and you might also suggest that when they’re done reciting the Lord’s Prayer, they ought to go read Jesus’ thoughts on prayer (from Mathew 6:56):

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men … when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret…

Sorry if I seem a bit snarky or cranky, but bills like this really, really make me angry. And they remind me that the American Experiment in tolerance, diversity, and religious liberty remains a work in progress.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

So Just How Homophobic and Scary Is Rick Santorum?

I want to take a brief moment to highlight just how homophobic Rick Santorum really is. Because he was thought of as such a marginal or fringe candidate, he hasn’t generated much attention. But now that Pawlenty, Cain, Bachmann, Perry, and Gingrich have each had their moment in the spotlight before either quitting or flaming out, the spotlight has finally begun to focus on Rick Santorum. And the truth ain’t pretty.

So just how homophobic is Rick Santorum? Well, just a few days ago, he said, “even fathers in jail who had abandoned their kids, were still better than no father at all to have in their childrens’ lives” while allowing gays to raise children was “robbing children of something they need, they deserve, they have right to”. Think about that for a moment. A child is better off with a father, in jail, who had abandoned the child, than two parents of the same sex. I don’t even want to ponder what exactly the “right” to two heterosexual parents really means (can a kid sue to force a parent to be involved in the kid’s life; can a kid use the courts to force his parents to marry?). Or, consider this:

Santorum argued that gay people shouldn’t have the “privilege” of enlisting in the armed forces or marrying because “we decide what’s in the best interest of our national security” and what kind of relationships are best for society. “It’s not discrimination not to grant privileges. It’s discrimination to deny rights,” he explained. “Everyone has a right to live their life, that doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to certain privileges that society gives for certain benefits that society obtains from those relationships.” Santorum has pledged to reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and annul all same-sex marriages.

I don’t want to get into the weeds of Santorum’s arguments; but query, on the basis of his explanation of the societal good of marriage in regards to kids, why we permit infertile people or those who don’t want to have children to marry? And note the specter of “other kinds” of evils that would be brought about, he suggests, should gays be allowed to marry. I presume that this is an offhand reference to his red-herring fear that same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy, bestiality, and who knows what else (and for those who don’t know, it was his comparison of homosexuality to bestiality back in 2003 that resulted in Santorum’s so-called “Google problem”; if you’re unfamiliar with that problem, try Googling the word “Santorum” but be careful of who is looking over your shoulder…).

Now note that Santorum doesn’t just oppose same-sex marriage. He doesn’t just argue that we should have a Constitutional amendment to stop same-sex marriages (what happened to state’s rights?). Nope. Not good enough. He thinks that the Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages should also be read to annul existing same-sex marriages recognized by certain states. Now those are family values! And what about the kids of those same-sex marriages? What about their rights?

And a few more quick notes about Santorum’s ideas. He thinks that the way to be economically successful, is simply to graduate from high school, get married, and have kids:

Number one, graduate from high school. Number two, get married. Before you have children," he said. "If you do those two things, you will be successful economically. What does that mean to a society if everybody did that? What that would mean is that poverty would be no more. If you want to have a strong economy, there are two basic things we can do.

He’s even phrased it this way (emphasis added): “There are two things in this country that will assure you of never being poor — graduating from high school and getting married.” Hmm. I think that there are plenty of Americans who graduated from high school and got married but who are still poor. Santorum may have been relying on a 2009 study from the Brookings Institute as the basis of his statements. But guess what? He left out the step between graduating and getting married: acquire a full-time job.

Santorum also believes that we need to cut social security benefits. Now. If you depend on your social security check, how in favor of cutting those benefits would you be? And would your answer change if those who can afford high taxes aren’t asked to pay more?

Finally, the folks over at Think Progress have put together some great lists of outrageous statements by Santorum (I’m including them here just in case the links go bad):

Rick Santorum’s 10 Most Outrageous Campaign Statements

1) ANNUL ALL SAME-SEX MARRIAGES: Arguing that gay relationships “destabilize” society, Santorum wouldn’t offer any legal protections to gay relationships and has pledged to annul all same-sex marriages if elected president. During his 99-country tour of Iowa, Santorum frequently compared same-sex relationships to inanimate objects like trees, basketballs, beer, and paper towels and even tried to blame the economic crisis on gay people. As Santorum explained back in August, religious people have a constitutional right to discriminate against gays: “We have a right the Constitution of religious liberty but now the courts have created a super-right that’s above a right that’s actually in the Constitution, and that’s of sexual liberty. And I think that’s a wrong, that’s a destructive element.”

2) ‘I’M FOR INCOME INEQUALITY’: “They talk about income inequality. I’m for income inequality,” Santorum said during an event in Pella, Iowa in December. “I think some people should make more than other people, because some people work harder and have better ideas and take more risk, and they should be rewarded for it. I have no problem with income inequality.”

3) CONTRACEPTION IS ‘A LICENSE TO DO THINGS’: Santorum has pledged to repeal all federal funding for contraception and allow the states to outlaw birth control, insisting that “it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

4) GAY SOLDIERS ‘CAUSE PROBLEMS FOR PEOPLE LIVING IN CLOSE QUARTERS’: During an appearance on Fox News Sunday in October, Santorum defended his support for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by arguing that gay soldiers would disrupt the military because “they’re in close quarters, they live with people, they obviously shower with people.” He also suggested that “there are people who were gay and lived the gay lifestyle and aren’t anymore.”

5) OBAMA SHOULD OPPOSE ABORTION BECAUSE HE’S BLACK: During an appearance on Christian television in January, Santorum said he was surprised that President Obama didn’t know when life began — given his skin color. “I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say ‘now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people,” he explained.

6) WE DON’T NEED FOOD STAMPS BECAUSE OBESITY RATES ARE SO HIGH: Speaking in Le Mars, Iowa in December, Santorum promised to significantly reduce federal funding for food stamps, arguing that the nation’s increasing obesity rates render the program unnecessary.

7) ABORTION EXCEPTIONS TO PROTECT WOMEN’S HEALTH ARE ‘PHONY’: While discussing his track record as a champion of the partial birth abortion ban in June, Santorum dismissed exceptions other senators wanted to carve out to protect the life and health of mothers, calling such exceptions “phony.” “They wanted a health exception, which of course is a phony exception which would make the ban ineffective,” he said.

8) HEALTH REFORM WILL KILL MY CHILD: Santorum, who claims that Obamacare motivated him to run for president, told reporters in April that his daughter Bella — who was born with a genetic abnormality — wouldn’t survive in a country with “socialized medicine.” “Children like Bella are not given the treatment that other children are given.”

9) UNINSURED AMERICANS SHOULD SPEND LESS ON CELL-PHONE BILLS: During a meeting with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register in August, Santorum said that people who can’t afford health care should stop whining about the high costs of medical treatments and medications and spend less on non essentials. Answering a question about the uninsured, Santorum explained that health care, like a car, is a luxury resource that is rationed by society and recalled the story of a woman who said she was spending $200 a month on life-saving prescriptions. Santorum told her to stop complaining and instead lower her cable and cell phone bills.

10) INSURERS SHOULD DISCRIMINATE AGAINST PEOPLE WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS: Santorum sounded like a representative from the health insurance industry when he addressed a small group of high school students in Merrimack, New Hampshire in December. The former Pennsylvania senator not only defended insurers for denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, he also argued that individuals who are sick should pay higher premiums because they cost more money to insure.

Rick Santorum’s 12 Most Offensive Statements


1. “In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be….If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.” [4/2003]

2. “Is anyone saying same-sex couples can’t love each other? I love my children. I love my friends, my brother. Heck, I even love my mother-in-law. Should we call these relationships marriage, too?” [5/22/2008]

3. On repeal of DADT: “I’m worried when many people will stand up and say, ‘well whatever the Generals want.’ I’m not too sure that we haven’t indoctrinated the Officer Corps in this country that they can actually see straight to make the right decisions.” [2/20/2010]

4. On gay adoption: “A lesbian woman came up to me and said, ‘why are you denying me my right?’ I said, ‘well, because it’s not a right.’ It’s a privilege that society recognizes because society sees intrinsic value to that relationship over any other relationship.” [5/3/2011]

5. On teaching history of gay Americans: “I certainly would not approve of [a bill moving through the California legislature compels the state to add gay history to the state education curriculum], but there’s a logical consequence to the courts injecting themselves in creating rights and people attaching their legislative ideas to those rights that in some respects could logically flow from that. So I’m not surprised.” [5/10/2011]


6. “I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say ‘now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people’.” [1/19/2011]

7. “Marriage is an institution that’s a bridge too far for too many African-American women and is not desirable among African-American males….I think [Obama] has to realize that flying to New York is…self-indulgent. Go down to the corner bar and have a drink, a shot, and a beer.” [6/2/2009]


8. “In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might find they don’t both need to….The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness“. ['It Takes A Family,' 7/6/2005]


9. Santorum responded to the Pentagon’s decision rescind its invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham to speak at the upcoming National Day over his statement that Islam is “evil” by saying that Graham’s comment was “a reasonable statement at the time.” [3/23/2010]

10. “I think the Democrats are actually worried [Obama] may go to Indonesia and bow to more Muslims.” [3/23/2010]

11. “The creeping Sharia throughout Europe and here in this country and in Canada. The Islamization of Europe that is already on the way and will visit these shores not too soon is a concern for us and something that we need to identify and we need to talk about and we need to fight with every ounce of our being“. [2/28/2009]

12. “Now we have the Attorney General confirming to Osama bin Laden just bide your time and the effeminate and pampered Americans will cower away.” [2/28/2009]

Oh, and in the interests of full disclosure, apparently there is now some dispute as to whether Santorum’s wife had an abortion in 1996. There is some suggestion that it was merely an induced delivery of a non-viable fetus in order to save his wife’s life. Other’s say that it was a partial-birth abortion. But no matter; Santorum is opposed to abortion under any circumstances. Hmm.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not terribly keen on living in a Santorum theocracy hostile to anyone who looks or thinks differently than he does.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Republicans Claim President Obama Arrogantly Circumvents American People … After Republicans Refuse to Consider Any Action Unless They Get Their Way First

Yesterday, President Obama appointed former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to be the first chair of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray’s appointment was a so-called “recess appointment” made while the Senate was not in session. Not surprisingly, Republicans have been highly critical of President Obama’s decision to make the recess appointment. Their criticisms have focused on several points: First, that the Senate was not actually in recess, and second, that President Obama’s use of the recess appointment option was an arrogant, unprecedented, undemocratic abuse of power.

The requirement that the Senate consent to Presidential appointments can be found in Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution:

[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 3 provides:

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

So, with that background out of the way, let’s look at the issues.

I don’t want to spend much time on the issue of whether the recess appointment is valid; the issue comes down to whether the pro forma sessions that Senate Republicans have been holding to prevent recess appointments are sufficient to actually prevent recess appointments. That discussion gets a bit esoteric, even for me. For the record though, here is how “recess” is defined by the Senate (emphasis added): “A temporary interruption of the Senate's proceedings, sometimes within the same day. The Senate may also recess overnight rather than adjourn at the end of the day. Recess also refers to longer breaks, such as the breaks taken during holiday periods.”

Instead, I want to look at the decision to use the recess appointment and whether it is somehow an unprecedented “undemocratic” action or an example of “Chicago-style politics at its worst” (as Mitt Romney claims). As Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) phrased it: “President Obama, in an unprecedented move, has arrogantly circumvented the American people….” Or, in the words of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio):

This is an extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab by President Obama that defies centuries of practice and the legal advice of his own Justice Department… The precedent that would be set by this cavalier action would have a devastating effect on the checks and balances that are enshrined in our Constitution.

So was President Obama’s decision to make a recess appointment “unprecedented”? And what about checks and balances?

Funny, but I don’t recall Republicans charging that President Bush engaged in a power grab when he used a recess appointment to name John Bolton as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Perhaps more importantly, take a look at the following graph (from Mother Jones):

Data from the Congressional Research Service

Hmm. It would appear that President Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, and President George W. Bush are all more “undemocratic” (arrogant?) than both President Clinton and President Obama. So maybe Republicans protest a wee bit too much on this issue? Can anyone say “hypocrisy”? What about those stones and glass houses?

But the real issue isn’t whether President Obama was being undemocratic or arrogant or acting in an unprecedented way. Instead, we should focus on the conduct of the Republicans. Remember that the Constitution requires the advise and consent of the Senate. However, Senate Republicans have blocked consideration of Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Well, in this day and age, that’s not so unusual. Filibusters and other delaying tactics to prolong votes on unpopular nominees is nothing new.

But that’s not what happened to Cordray’s nomination.

The Senate didn’t reject Cordray because of his views. Republican Senator’s didn’t really object to Cordray. Instead, Republicans objected to the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They objected to the fact that, like other federal agencies, it had a chair (instead of a board of directors). And they objected to it having an budget that did not require the Bureau to come back to Congress for new funding each year. You see, Republicans refused to allow Cordray’s nomination to come to a vote unless President Obama agreed to change the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in ways that would weaken the nascent organization. As CNN noted:

[W]ithout a director, for example, the bureau can't regulate financial products from non-banks, including student loan providers, debt collectors, payday lenders and check cashers.

Without a chief, the bureau also can't regulate mortgage originators and servicers, which played a big role in the financial crisis by providing subprime mortgages to families who couldn't afford them.

Just in case you think that I’m being a bit too hyperbolic in my explanation of Republican objections, here’s what Speaker Boehner had to say:

This position had not been filled for one reason: The agency it heads is bad for jobs and bad for the economy. It’s clear the president would rather trample our system of separation of powers than work with Republicans to move the country forward.

Or there is this statement from Sen. McConnell following the recess appointment (emphasis added):

Earlier this year, 44 of my Senate Republican colleagues and I served notice that we will not confirm any nominee as director, regardless of party, until structural changes are made to make the bureau accountable to the American people — and more transparent.

You see? Nothing about Cordray at all. The objection is to the Bureau that Congress created in 2010. Republicans lost that debate but now they’re trying to hold up the President’s right to appoint a nominee, not because they object to the nominee, but because they object to the structure and purpose of the Bureau. Go back to Sen. McConnell’s claim that the recess appointment has “arrogantly circumvented the American people”. I’d argue that refusing to allow a vote, not because of any issue with the nominee, but because Republicans don’t like the nature of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is the real case of “arrogantly circumvent[ing] the American people”.

Just to be clear, the organization that we’re discussing is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is designed to help protect consumers. But Republicans don’t like that, do they?

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How Do Indiana Politicians Avoid Hearing From Those With Different Opinions? By Suppressing Constitutional Rights!

Tomorrow is the first day of the Indiana General Assembly’s 2012 session (a “short session”). If you’ve followed the news at all, I’m sure that you’re aware that Indiana’s Republican legislators have indicated that their top priority is passage of a so-called “right to work” bill (or, as union supporters refer to it, a “right to work for less” bill). This bill, when introduced in the 2011 session, was the principal issue that led to the walkout of the Democratic delegation in the House.

Now, before getting into the primary issue that I want to discuss, there are is one preliminary matter worth discussing, albeit briefly: Query why Indiana’s Republican legislators (and Governor) are so gung-ho for this type of legislation, especially given the public reaction to efforts to target unions in Wisconsin and Ohio. You’d think that the large public outcry against those efforts (successful recall elections in Wisconsin and a public overturning of the law in Ohio) might make Indiana’s legislators consider whether they really have a mandate for this kind of legislation.

(If I have time, I’ll try to write another post at a later date examining the pro and con arguments for the legislation.)

But what I really want to talk about is the apparent fear that the Republican members of the General Assembly have for actually hearing what opponents of “right to work” legislation have to say. Recall that during the 2011 session, unions and others opposed to Republican overreaching staged huge rallies in Indiana (and Wisconsin and elsewhere). One of the great things about American democracy is that people can and do protest against (or for) legislation and engage in peaceful efforts to make their voices heard. It is one thing for a legislator to vote for a particular piece of legislation that will (or may) harm or have a negative impact on some; it is much more difficult to do so when those who may be aggrieved by the legislation are participating in the democratic process and telling the legislator that the legislation is bad.

So how have Indiana’s Republicans decided to avoid having to hear angry protests against their efforts to pass “right to work” legislation? How will they keep members of Indiana’s unions who believe that they will be harmed by this legislation from making their voices heard (or at least heard too much)? Easy. By suppressing constitutional rights for some.

How have constitutional rights been suppressed and why do I say “for some”? Read on.

Last week, just days before the session was to begin and during a shortened holiday week, Indiana released new “Security Policies” for the Indiana Statehouse. Before discussing the content of these security policies, ask yourself the following questions: Why are those policies being implemented now, just days before the new session opens, a session which promises to be extremely contentious with a highly charged partisan issue at the forefront? If you believe that the policies really are about security, then why weren’t those policies implemented two weeks ago, a month ago, over the summer, or any time in the past? Why weren’t they implemented during protests last spring or during previous sessions for which protests were staged? Why now?

So let’s get to some of the policies:

In order to comply with State fire code occupancy limits, assembly will occur in official meeting rooms, offices, or other pre-designated areas as established by Indiana Department of Administration. No congregation in hallways will be permitted which might interfere with pedestrian flow, entry and exit from offices or meeting rooms, or emergency ingress/egress.

On its face, this limitation at first seems fine. But note the lack of specifics concerning fire code occupancy limits. What precisely are the limits for the Statehouse (and when were they adopted). More importantly, how is a member of the public who wants to protest at the Statehouse supposed to “assembl[e]” in a meeting room or office? Do they get to pick the room or office they’d like to use? Why do I doubt that most meeting rooms or offices are available to protestors. For that matter, how effective will a protest be if it’s limited to a meeting room or office. People can also assemble in “pre-designated areas as established by Indiana Department of Administration”. In other words, Gov. Daniels’ administration can designate areas for protesters, like the basement or perhaps a conference room in Government Center South (which connects to the Statehouse via a tunnel but is not near where legislators meet). And do you have any doubt that some groups will get preferential treatment on their “pre-designated area”? If you don’t think that there will be preferential treatment, keep reading… And then the policy goes on to prohibit “congregation in hallways” if it might interfere with pedestrian flow. Well, now. Isn’t that precisely how protests work? Bring hundreds or thousands of people to the Statehouse and make legislators (and others) have to pass through the throngs in order to get to or from the Statehouse or the House or Senate chambers? For that matter, anyone who has ever been to the Statehouse during a legislative session knows that lobbyists and those wishing to see or speak to their legislators congregate in the hallways outside the respective houses in hopes of capturing the attention of a legislator. Are lobbyists now banned from gathering in such a manner?

Exterior steps at all Statehouse doors should remain clear for emergency egress.

Again, this seems fine on its face. Except that the use of both the east and west steps of the Statehouse as a staging point for political speeches has a long and cherished history in Indiana. Politicians use those steps all the time. And so too do protest groups. Funny, but I seriously doubt that legislators will be prevented from giving speeches on the steps while protestors will be charged with violating the security policy.

The south Statehouse lawn has been designated as the exterior assembly and gathering area. The south steps of the Statehouse and adjacent sidewalks are to be kept clear for emergency egress. An additional area for assemblies and gatherings may be designated by the Indiana Department of Administration if the south lawn is not large enough to accommodate an assembly. Gathering and assembly areas elsewhere on the Statehouse grounds may be authorized by the Indiana Department of Administration and Indiana State Police upon approval of the required application and issuance of a permit as long as state fire code restrictions are observed.

First, the south lawn is not a terribly large area, certainly not as large as the plaza on the west of the building. Nor is the south lawn very convenient. And, unlike the west plaza, the south lawn doesn’t have a good speakers podium (i.e., the stairs at the west entrance). In other words, the policy is trying to shove protests off to the least convenient and effective location. Once again the Department of Administration can designate another area for larger protests but only upon approval of an application and issuance of a permit. In other words, in order to gather in particularly large numbers at the Statehouse, groups will now need to apply for a obtain a permit. How many weeks will that take? And how freely will permits be issued? Will some groups be granted permits while other groups are denied? Will some receive permits more quickly than others? And since when is a permit required to protest at the Statehouse? And why? And why now?

The new security policies also now prohibit “Creating a volume of noise that disrupts the work of the executive, judicial or legislative branches of government, or any committee thereof”. Again, though, isn’t that just what a real protest seeks to do? Don’t protestors want to be loud, to make their voices are heard, to try to force the legislators to hear their complaints before voting on the issues? And I know you’re wondering about the First Amendment; we’ll get to that soon enough.

And the new security policies also prohibit “Signage larger than two feet by two feet (sticks to hold up signs are not permitted)”. Um, why? What does a large sign have to do with security? For reference, most standard poster boards are larger than this (usually 22” x 28”). If the issue is safety, then simply prohibit sticks from being used to hit people (I suspect that is already against the law…).

Finally, as has also been reported (though it isn’t stated in the security policy to which I’ve linked), the maximum occupancy of the Statehouse is going to be 3,000 people, including employees. The estimate is that 1,700 people work in the Statehouse, so only 1,300 additional people will be allowed in (though apparently lobbyists will not be included in this count). Furthermore, I’ve seen reports that the protests last spring drew around 8,000 people. Funny, but I don’t recall hearing any safety concerns back then…

(It’s also worth noting that an initial draft of the security policies went so far as to limit the number of guests that legislators could bring with them, would have required 24 hours’ pre-screening of those guests, and would have prohibited audio-video recording devices in the House and Senate galleries. But those restrictions were apparently omitted at the last minute.)

Anyway, as expected, as soon as these policies were posted, people began to complain and argued that the policies violated the First Amendment (emphasis added):

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.

While I think that the First Amendment is both applicable and worth noting, I think that an even better point of analysis begins with Indiana’s Constitution, specifically Article 1, Section 31:

No law shall restrain any of the inhabitants of the State from assembling together in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good; nor from instructing their representatives; nor from applying to the General Assembly for redress of grievances.

In other words, so long as protests are peaceful, the State of Indiana cannot restrain people from assembling, consulting, instructing their representatives, or applying to the General Assembly for redress. And those are precisely the sorts of conduct prohibited by the new security policies.

And finally, before you say, “But, hey, it’s OK because it’s all for safety,” then consider this:

A prayer group is getting special access to the Statehouse for the opening day of the 2012 session.

People attending Capitol Commission Indiana’s prayer day at the Statehouse can show a copy of an email message to skirt an expected large crowd of union members protesting proposed right-to-work laws on the Legislature’s opening day Wednesday. News of the waivers emerged after state safety officials set a new 3,000-person limit on the number of people inside the Statehouse at one time.

Seriously. If you’d like to attend, here’s the email with the necessary waiver (though it’s also worth noting that the email waiver is no longer available on the website of the group sponsoring the prayer day; they deleted it after word of the waiver went public). And it’s worth noting that the sponsors (and participants) in the prayer day are almost exclusively Republican. Do you still think that certain groups won’t be given preferential treatment? You do? Hmm. Then ask yourself this: How did this group know to obtain a waiver (or go about getting a waiver) before the security policies were announced or implemented?

So, let’s sum up. The week before a highly contentious session of the Indiana General Assembly is scheduled to commence, new “security policies” are implemented that target (anticipated) protests at the Statehouse in violation of both the United States and Indiana Constitutions. The security policies are supposedly aimed at security, not content, but a prayer group is given a waiver to the access rules for the same day that perhaps thousands are expected to show up to protest.

Thus, I think that the conclusion that I drew in the title to this post is accurate: How Do Indiana Politicians Avoid Hearing From Those With Different Opinions? By Suppressing Constitutional Rights!

Whether “right-to-work” is a good idea or bad idea isn’t the issue; rather, the issue is whether the government of the State of Indiana can use “security policies” to try to prevent legislators from having to hear the voices of those who will be aggrieved by their actions. The Founding Fathers in 1789 and Indiana’s Constitutional Framers in 1851 both recognized the core value and importance of permitting protest speech. Now is not the time to decide that the right of people to be heard, to instruct their representatives, to peacefully assemble, and to apply for redress of grievances are simply quaint ideals of the past that can’t stand up to modern safety guidelines, especially when the use of “safety” appears to be nothing more than a pretext.

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