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Waiting

One of our dinner guests, a Parisian, discussing the politics of France, said something like “we feel like we are all waiting.” She explained that the economy is doing will by people with jobs, and the French safety net is strong enough to quell serious problems among the unemployed. But no one is inspired, and the various parties that have dominated French politics are moribund; they haven’t had a new idea in a long time. And so “we are waiting.” The conversation moved on, but that stuck with me. Waiting for what? I also feel like I’m waiting, at least for Trumpian Motion, that hurricane of corruption, lies and intentional cruelty, to subside. But that’s not what our guest was talking about, and it doesn’t explain my feelings either.

In context, I think the problem she described is a feeling of disgust for the French political parties. Francois Hollande, the previous president and a Socialist, was a profound disappointment and didn’t run for reelection. His successor finished a dismal fourth in the first round. The conservative, Francois Filon, was mired in a make-work scandal for his family and finished third. The two who survived to the second round were Marine Le Pen, the right-wing crazy, and Emmanuel Macron, a rich man who started his own party, La Republique En Marche (France On the March, shades of MAGA). Macron won in a landslide, and Le Pen’s party seems to have fallen to schism.

Macron is “business-friendly”, meaning neoliberalish in French terms. He has pushed reforms to the labor laws that are loathed by workers and the subject of massive resistance. Nobody except the rich thinks this will fix anything. The other parties seem irrelevant to our guest. That means there is little to look forward to on the part of the large French left. Something has to change, and she’s waiting.

I too think our party system is moribund. Neither legacy party commands 30% of the voters. The last election was a contest between a competent Democrat and a corrupt cruel liar. We don’t have majority rule here as they do in France, so the corrupt cruel liar was elected.

Oddly in a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks seems to recognize that this is a problem, and argues for multi-member House districts and ranked-choice voting. Brooks thinks something needs to change, and so do I. We can’t go on like this. I mean that in a broader sense than Brooks, of course. I think we can’t keep going with a system that allows the minority to run the country, especially a racist minority, a misogynist minority, a fundamentalist minority, a cruel and stupid minority. Oops. I called them stupid. We aren’t supposed to call them stupid. It’s as bad as saying rat-fucker.

This is a huge problem. I’ll just address two parts of the Constitution that are problematic. One is our voting rules, the other our worship of private property. Aside from Republican skill at voter suppression gerrymandering and maybe worse, there are Constitutional provisions. Every state has two senators. The 22 smallest states have a total population less than California using Census Bureau estimates for 2017. They have 44 senators. Using the filibuster, it only takes 21 States to stop any legislation. Even without the filibuster, it takes 26 states to stop any legislation. The smallest 26 states have a population of about 57 million, less than the population of California and the New York metro area. Under winner take all rules, the minority can control the country with say 20 million voters, about 6% of the population. How many people in the US are like the people who turn out for Trump’s rallies?

Now consider the protection of property. One central feature of the Constitution is that it is designed to protect property rights. The most obvious parts relate to the protection of the interests of slavers, starting with the Three-Fifths Clause. Doubters should read this article. It also makes a broader point about protection of property, and says that the slavers had a disproportionate effect on US public policy in its early years. On this view, we have always been governed by a minority.

The Fifth Amendment is another obvious property protection: the Takings Clause bars governments from taking property without “just compensation”. All the rights of the slavers and the thinly populated states are protected by the provisions regarding amendments to the Constitution which make it possible for the tiny states and slave states to kill any amendment.

This love of property has become an obsession with Americans. “You Can’t Tell Me What To Do With My Property” should be the National Motto. One tiny bit of evidence of this is the ugliness of most US cities and towns, because people have no interest in the way their communities look if it means they can’t hang ugly signs and pave the countryside to build a Walgreen’s on every corner not occupied by a Taco Bell.

Another manifestation is the idea that taxation is theft as libertarians and not a few others say. Not that it really matters what people think, because Congress is afraid to tax anyone ever. In fact, historically Congress does what the filthy rich want and little else. Because, after all, protecting property is the point of the Constitution.

To top all that off, a large part of the population despises the libtards. No one knows how big that group is, because no one polls the question in that form. In recent polling, the percentage identifying as conservative is trending down while the percentage identifying as liberal is trending up, but the former leads the latter by 9%; moderates are also slipping down. At the end of 2017, conservatives and moderates were each at 35%, while liberals were at 26%. Of course, the operational definitions of all three groups have badly slipped to the right over the years. It doesn’t much matter right now, the conservatives can block any change.

Even if the Democrats start winning, which given their allegiance to neoliberalism is not a sure thing, the crazy right has made it clear that they will howl and throw feces at any action the Democrats might try and we have no reason to think the Democrats won’t cave and do the very least possible as they have done for decades.

So, here we are. Stuck. Interesting question: How long will the majority consent to be governed by the minority? Famous quote from Herb Stein: “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.” I’m waiting to see how that happens.

Waving the Constitution at Those Who Ignore It

I waved my pocket copy of the Constitution at Nancy Pelosi on July 19,2008. Khizr Khan waved his at Donald Trump on July 28,2016.

I waved my pocket copy of the Constitution at Nancy Pelosi on July 19,2008. Khizr Khan waved his at Donald Trump on July 28,2016.

In real time Thursday night, I caught only the final few seconds of Khizer Khan’s powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Through the rest of Thursday and Friday, more and more of the details of the speech flitted through my Twitter stream and then my heart was warmed when I saw photos of Khan pulling out his pocket copy of the Constitution and waving it at Donald Trump. Almost exactly eight years ago, I had done the same thing, waving my pocket copy at Nancy Pelosi, who then was Speaker of the House and appearing at Netroots Nation in Austin.

Khan was confronting Trump about his campaign in which he had noted that “Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country.” (Quotes come from this copy of Khan’s transcript.) Khan then continued, presumably in reference to banning Muslims from the US: “Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”

In my case, as I noted here and then in a follow-up a couple of months later here, I was urging Pelosi to act on the clear evidence that the George W. Bush administration had committed war crimes including torture. Sadly, as we now approach the end of two terms with Barrack Obama as President, no significant Bush Administration official has faced any consequences for the torture and other war crimes carried out in our name. Further, despite clear-cut evidence of many crimes by banksters in the massive foreclosure fraud crisis that dispossessed a significant proportion of the US middle class, no significant prosecutions have been undertaken by the Department Formerly Known as Justice.

Khan is so right to wave the Constitution in Trump’s face. Note that a central feature at recent Trump rallies has been endless chanting of “Lock her up”, calling for prosecution of Hillary Clinton for crimes associated with her use of a private email server (and presumably also for Benghazi!!1!) while serving as Secretary of State.

And that is where I see potential huge danger for our dear Constitution. We already have seen failure to prosecute crimes of tremendous impact to the world and to ordinary citizens here at home. Should Trump win, how could a “Justice Department” that already has shown a willingness to ignore the law in response to the desires of two presidents in a row refuse Trump’s insistence that Clinton be incarcerated through massive overcharging of any technical violation (if it even occurred, which is a huge stretch on its own) on the email front and totally fabricated charges on Benghazi.

Thank you, Khizr Khan for reminding our country that we are founded on what should be a sacred document that lays out how we should establish justice. And thank you for the sacrifice of your son Humayun, who was lost while taking part in an ill-advised war in which many of the war crimes discussed above were carried out.

Here is the full video of Khan’s speech. Standing next to him is his wife, Ghazala Khan.

Pakistan’s National Assembly, Senate Pass Bills Establishing Military Courts

On Sunday, Dawn’s editors knew that Pakistan’s lawmakers would enact the bills needed to establish military courts and published a stern condemnation of the move in an editorial with the telling title “A Sad Day”:

In the end, our political leadership proved unable to defend the constitutional and democratic roots of the system or resist the generals’ demands.

Pakistan is to have military courts once again. To establish them the politicians have agreed to distort the principle of separation of powers, smash the edifice of rights upon which the Constitution is built and essentially give up on fixing decrepit state institutions.

The editors pointed out how the efforts to establish the military courts could have been put to better use:

Had the same time and effort spent on winning consensus for military courts gone into urgent reforms and administrative steps to fix the criminal justice structure, the existing system could have been brought into some semblance of shape to deal with terrorism.

Sadly, the political leadership has abdicated its democratic responsibilities. Surrender perhaps comes easily.

For a country that has been beset by repeated military coups, the Dawn editors rightly note the risk in granting more powers to the military.

The votes on the bills were unanimous among those present and voting today, but Imran Khan’s PTI party and religious parties abstained:

The National Assembly and Senate on Tuesday passed the 21st Constitutional Amendment Bill 2015 and Pakistan Army Act 1952 (Amendment) Bill 2015.

The Constitutional Amendment Bill was passed with 247 votes – 14 more than the required two-third majority in the NA, and 78 votes out of 104 were passed in the Senate.

The amendment – aimed to set up special courts to try militants – was not opposed by any member present inside the house. Lawmakers from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl and Sheikh Rasheed abstained from voting – in both the NA and the Senate.

Each clause of the bill was voted for separately. The bill is now expected to be signed into law by the president this week.

This move by Pakistan, coming in the wake of the devastating Taliban attack on a military school in Peshawar, is drawing obvious comparisons to US moves to establish military commissions at Guantanamo for trying terrorism suspects. Sadly, Pakistan has been just as reckless in making the move as the US was. Had they taken the time for a review of the outcome of US military commissions, they would have found (pdf) that while about 500 suspects in terrorism trials have been convicted in US federal criminal courts, the vaunted military commissions have yielded only 8 convictions since 9/11. On the occasion of the conviction in federal court last year of Osama bin Laden’s son in law, Lyle Denniston had this to say:

As long ago as 1866, just after the Civil War, the Constitution stood for the principle that, if the civilian courts were open and functioning during wartime, trials of civilians charged with crimes of war should be tried in those courts, not in military tribunals. That was the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Ex parte Milligan.

The Court’s lead opinion back then said: “No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism, but the theory of necessity on which it is based is false.”

[We can separately note that Denniston’s quote from Ex parte Milligan seems to apply just as well to the excuses brought forth in favor of torture as they do for the establishment of military commissions.]

Perhaps the only good aspect of Pakistan’s move to establish military courts is that the bills carry a two year sunset provision. Sadly, though, given the current cowardly status of Pakistan’s lawmakers, it would not be surprising for regular two year “extensions” of the laws to continue in perpetuity. Just like our endless extensions of unconstitutional wiretapping under FISA.

For John Kerry’s State Department, Constitutions Matter Only on One Side of Durand Line

John Kerry has made not one, but two trips to Afghanistan to pursue his extra-constitutional “power sharing” agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah that creates the completely new position of chief executive within the Afghan government. As was easily predicted, that plan now teeters near total failure. Clearly, Afghanistan’s constitution means nothing to John Kerry in his pursuit of US goals in that country.

In the daily press briefing yesterday at Kerry’s State Department headquarters, spokesperson Marie Harf had this remarkable exchange with a reporter, where we suddenly see that next door, in Pakistan, the constitution is of prime importance*:

QUESTION: One more quickly. What Imran Khan is saying and others in the country, including hundreds of thousands or millions of people in Pakistan, they are not happy with the current government, and Imran Khan is saying that those elections by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were fraud and fake and they were not legitimate or he’s calling that he should step down. That’s what I’m asking. I’m saying —

MS. HARF: He’s the prime minister, period.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So you’re not calling for Prime Minister Sharif to step down?

MS. HARF: I in no way am calling on that.

QUESTION: Does the United States support regime change in Pakistan?

MS. HARF: We support the constitutional and electoral process in Pakistan, which produced the Prime Minister of Nawaz Sharif. That was a process they followed, an election they had, and we are focused on working with Pakistan. And we do not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them.

How about that? In Pakistan, the State Department does “not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them”, while just across the border in Afghanistan, the Cabinet member in charge of the State Department is putting a huge amount of his own energy into an extra-constitutional change to the democratic system there.

Just three days ago, Kerry included this snippet in his letter of congratulations to Afghanistan on their independence day:

With millions of Afghans across your great nation braving violence and intimidation to cast their ballots, it is critical that all parties honor those voters’ aspiration for a democratic, peaceful transfer of power that unifies the country. We will continue to strongly support the democratic process and the agreement reached between the two candidates concerning the formation of a national unity government.

So Kerry claims he supports the democratic process and yet he wants it to produce a “national unity government” that is described nowhere in the constitution that enabled the voting. His real aim appears near the end of the letter:

With a timely resolution of the election and the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement, I am confident that the next year will open an important new era in U.S.-Afghan relations.

For John Kerry, as well as the rest of the US government, it always has been and always will be about keeping those troops going (and those military contracts running).

Postscript: Did you notice the *asterisk above? I felt compelled to add it when I said that for the US, the constitution in Pakistan is of prime importance. There is a huge exception to that statement. The democratically elected government of Pakistan, whose constitutionality Harf is praising in her briefing, means absolutely nothing to the US when the US wishes to carry out a drone strike inside Pakistan’s borders, even when that same democratically elected government has made it clear that such actions are a violation of sovereignty.

Provide For the Common Defense or Go Galt?

We awake to a changed and battered country this morning. CNN’s headline at CNN.com currently blares “Millions wake to devastation”, while AP gives us a state-by-state rundown of the effects of Hurricane (and then Superstorm) Sandy. At a time, though, when the natural American response is to help one another, we have perhaps the strongest example of what is at stake next Tuesday as we go to the polls for a Presidential election. Here is Mitt Romney in the Republican debate hosted by CNN:

The idea that an “immoral” FEMA should be disbanded in favor of private sector disaster response did not go over well with the editorial staff of the New York Times. From this morning’s editorial:

Over the last two years, Congressional Republicans have forced a 43 percent reduction in the primary FEMA grants that pay for disaster preparedness. Representatives Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have repeatedly tried to refuse FEMA’s budget requests when disasters are more expensive than predicted, or have demanded that other valuable programs be cut to pay for them. The Ryan budget, which Mr. Romney praised as “an excellent piece of work,” would result in severe cutbacks to the agency, as would the Republican-instigated sequester, which would cut disaster relief by 8.2 percent on top of earlier reductions.

Does Mr. Romney really believe that financially strapped states would do a better job than a properly functioning federal agency? Who would make decisions about where to send federal aid? Or perhaps there would be no federal aid, and every state would bear the burden of billions of dollars in damages. After Mr. Romney’s 2011 remarks recirculated on Monday, his nervous campaign announced that he does not want to abolish FEMA, though he still believes states should be in charge of emergency management. Those in Hurricane Sandy’s path are fortunate that, for now, that ideology has not replaced sound policy.

A common refrain for the Galt crew is that they want to go back to the basics of the Constitution. And yet, here is the Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The simple truth is that if we wish to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare in the face of such a huge storm, then a Federal agency coordinating the preparations before the storm and the response afterwards is the most efficient plan. Putting disaster capitalists in charge instead would only lead to many more deaths and huge delays in response times.

As the country responds to this terrible blow from the storm, it is worth considering whether we wish to go back to the ineptitude of the Katrina response (or worse) or if we want to work together for the common defense through a properly funded FEMA.

Cowboys, T. Jeff’s Declaration, Bond Bitchez and Teh Porn Stash

Hi there buckaroos and buckarettes. Sometimes a man has gots to do what a man has gots to do. Now is one of those times. Marcy up and penned this most awesome cutting, biting, truth to power wonderful post. And then she went and buggered the pooch with a sandpapered, plain vanilla, non confrontational milquetoast title.

Bleeeccchhh.

Responsible blog wingman and all that I am, I immediately pointed out the title should be “The Declaration of Independence, Obama’s Presidential Kill Cards and the Porn Stash”. Same old story; same old song and dance. Nobody ever listens to good old bmaz. Instead we went with the Wolf Blitzer/Jonas Brothers/Disney Lite title of “Keep Your Declaration of Independence Right Next to Your Assassination Cards”.

Yawn.

Come on, you just know that Michael Leiter, the designated human kill switch of the Obama Administration, keeps those two critical reference materials – the Declaration of Independence and the US Government’s deck of snuff cards – in the safest, most discreet and yet accessible, location to his bedroom. You know, right where he keeps his porn stash.

Now what is really odd about this report, and does not register at first blush, is that Leiter has mentally honed in and lasered his focus on the Declaration of Independence rather than the Constitution. Seriously; think about it. It is an incredibly telling difference.

Here is the opening text of the aggressive and intentionally somewhat in your face Declaration of Independence, the forward cry and belligerent marking of territory by a new nation staking its claim in the world:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Then ponder the respectful, moral and enlightened reach of the Preamble to the Constitution, the hallowed document that Leiter and Obama ought to be paying attention to when deciding to remotely snuff human lives (including, by all reports, those of American citizens) without the protection of due process and by the cold mechanical death by drone:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Declaration is an affirmative statement of manifest authority; the Constitution is a self imposed restriction of manifest authority and protection of due process in the face of it. So, there are a lot of issues with this whole gig surrounding Leiter and his nighttime is the right time to kill thing. And people were worried about Hillary getting a 3 am call; seems all so quaint now.

Oh, and by the way, T. Jeff it has now been concluded made a mistake in drafting the Declaration of Independence, and had it even more authoritarian than anybody ever knew:

Preservation scientists at the Library of Congress have discovered that Thomas Jefferson, even in the act of declaring independence from England, had trouble breaking free from monarchial rule.

In an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the word “subjects,” when he referred to the American public. He then erased that word and replaced it with “citizens,” a term he used frequently throughout the final draft.

The Library released news of the struck word for the first time on Friday.

Jeebus, even dead presidents and founders are going rogue.

The other quite random thought I cannot pry from my beady little mind is the slathering coverage of the super hot, most awesomest, Redhead Rooskie Spy Babe, Anna Chapman. At first I could not figure out the singular fascination of the press with this chick who is being billed as the new “Bond Babe”.

Then it dawned on me. Chapman is hot, red, sultry and enticing. And she looks eerily like a young and come hither Maureen Dowd. Come on, you just know Howie Kurtz and his penis er the media is thinking that.

Well, that is yer friendly Friday Night Emptywheel Trash Talk. New and improved with no sports! Eh, it will be Favre season soon enough, so do not despair. Tonight’s musical interlude is a little slice of the old west I know and love. Actually, I like both kinds of music, country and western. The incomparable Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy with The Cowboy Song. Oh, and the Boys Are Back.

Happy trails pardners!