April 30, 2017

In God gabble we trust

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2011 -  Recently, by a vote of 396-9, about the most ungodly yet still legal institution in America – The US House of Representatives – reaffirmed that our national motto is “In God We Trust.”

For a bunch of blasphemous GOP apostates to be leading such a cause is both deceptive and absurd – almost as bad as the claim of several GOP presidential candidates that God wanted them in the race. Since, in aggregate, these purportedly chosen people managed to get less than 40% in the polls this was at best a sign that the Father Almighty had better stick to theology.

But beyond that, the reaffirmation of the national motto is a reminder of how little we care about the separation of church and state. Even the Ninth Circuit in 1970 issued a thoroughly deceitful ruling that "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."

Of course, courts don’t care much about history, unless it’s legal history they're trained to misinterpret, so the actual origins of the phrase as a government act – other than as the motto of that citadel of democracy, Florida -  is not generally known.

The perp was  Lincoln’s treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, who wrote the director of the Mint:

“No nation can be strong unless it is a Christian nation. We refuse to be secular; separation of church and state does not exist. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins."

Chase got his way and thus we have had our coins and law besmudged by this political hypocrisy ever since.

Even if we must blur the separation of church and state, at the very least the House would be better advised to choose as its own motto the words from Matthew: “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.” Note that the operable word is “fulfill” and not “reaffirm.”

April 29, 2017

Church Ladies With Typewriters

These sentences actually appeared in church bulletins or were announced at church services

The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals

Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled Proceeds will be used to cripple children

The sermon this morning: 'Jesus Walks on the Water.  'The sermon tonight: 'Searching for Jesus.' 

Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale.  It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house.  Bring your husbands.

Don't let worry kill you off - let the Church help. 

Miss Charlene Mason sang 'I will not pass this way again,' giving obvious pleasure to the congregation. 

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs

Next Thursday there will be try-outs for the choir.  They need all the help they can get. 

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church.  So ends a friendship that began in their school days. 

A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow. 

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is Hell?'  Come early and listen to our choir practice.

Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

 The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility. 

Pot-luck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind.  They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon

This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church.  Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin

The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday

Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM.  Please use the back door

The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare's Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 PM.  The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church.  Please use large double door at the side entrance.

 And this one just about sums them all up

The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new campaign slogan last Sunday: 'I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours.'

Trump claiming immunity in non-federal law suits

Vice - The president cannot face lawsuits related to what he does in an official capacity while in office, the Supreme Court has ruled in multiple cases. Instead, anyone who feels wronged by a presidential action needs to sue the U.S. government as a whole.

But what Trump did before he moved into the White House is fair game — for now. His legal team is trying to expand the legal exceptions already afforded to the president, potentially putting ongoing lawsuits against Trump in limbo.

“[His lawyers] are kind of just throwing every argument they have at the wall and seeing what sticks,” said Dan Mahafee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of the President and Congress. “They’re certainly looking for novel explanations.”

In a unanimous decision in Clinton v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled that civil lawsuits brought against a president that are unrelated to his official actions can proceed.

“The argument was that this will not be a big problem for the president,” said George Edwards, a political science professor at Texas A&M University and editor of “Presidential Studies Quarterly.” “We have to just follow the normal routines of the law, and this will only take a small amount of the president’s time.”

Two weeks before Election Day, 75 ongoing lawsuits in both state and federal court named Trump as a defendant, according to USA Today. Political scientists and historians noted he was involved in more litigation than than any other presidential candidate in history.

Since taking office, Trump has settled several of these suits, including fraud claims against Trump University, the president’s now-defunct for-profit education company, and a contract dispute with celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian. One ongoing lawsuit, however, has gotten the lion’s share of the attention: Zervos v. Trump.

After Trump’s infamous “Grab ’em by the pussy” tape surfaced in October, Summer Zervos, a contestant on “The Apprentice” in 2007, came forward to accuse Trump, then host of the NBC reality series, of sexual assault. When Trump denied the allegations and called her a liar, Zervos slapped the president-elect with a defamation suit in New York, just four days before his inauguration.

Trump’s longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz responded with an argument that could reshape the powers of the presidency. He suggested that the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes the sovereignty of federal law above that of states, prevents the president from being sued in state court. Trump’s lawyers also claim he has complete immunity from a lawsuit brought by three protesters who allege Trump incited members of the crowd at a Louisville, Kentucky, campaign rally who then beat the protesters.

In Clinton v. Jones, the Supreme Court found that the president can’t claim immunity for his actions before taking office — but Jones originally brought the case in federal court. The justices didn’t rule out suing the president in state court, but they did raise concerns about that possibility in their decision.

Meanwhile. . .

Harper's Index - Estimated total amount held on prepaid Starbucks rewards cards : $1,200,000,000

Note to Bruce Poliquin's constituents

DCCC - 53% of Bruce Poliquin's district has pre-existing conditions. The GOP healthcare plan removes their protections.

At least 61,000 in prison for parole violations

The Marshall Project conducted a three-month survey of state corrections departments, finding more than 61,250 technical parole violators in 42 state prison systems as of early 2017. These are the inmates who are currently locked up for breaking a rule of parole, rather than parolees who have been convicted of a new crime; the number does not include those in county and local jails, where thousands more are likely held. (The eight remaining states — Alabama, Connecticut, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia — said either they did not keep current state-level data or it would be too costly to generate.)

The total, 61,250, seems small, given the 2.3 million people behind bars in this country. Imprisoning fewer technical violators would make only a dent in the effort to reduce mass incarceration. “But still,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, “the numbers aren’t trivial.”

To Mauer and other experts on what drives prison and jail populations, the fact that tens of thousands of people are incarcerated for infractions such as traveling without permission or frequenting a bar that serves alcohol is significant in itself.

That may be all the more true in seven states — Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania — which, according to the Marshall Project data, have more technical parole violators in their prisons than the other 35 states combined

Working Families Party wins state legislature seat

Huffington Post - The Working Families Party, a labor union-backed progressive party, notched its third state legislature victory ever on Tuesday.

WFP candidate Joshua Hall, a vice president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, defeated Democrat Rickey Pinckney and independent Kenneth Green in a special election for the 7th District in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
Hall will caucus with Democrats, who have a majority in the state House.

Unlike the Green Party or other independent left-leaning parties, the WFP frequently functions as a progressive faction of the Democratic Party in the handful of states where it has a large presence. Progressive Democratic candidates that elicit the WFP’s endorsement are often listed on their election slate.

Abortion opponent picked for high federal health post

Mother Jones - Charmaine Yoest, the former president and CEO of anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, has been tapped to be the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, the White House announced.

Yoest, a long-time anti-abortion advocate, has helped orchestrate some of the anti-abortion movement's most significant legislative victories. From 2008 to 2016, Yoest headed AUL, a small but mighty law firm whose goal is to end all abortion in the United States. Under her leadership, AUL helped spur a wave of anti-abortion restrictions around the country, writing model bills and distributing them to state legislatures.

Maine ID to become legal for federal use

WCSH - After years of resistance, Maine has dropped its opposition to federal Real ID requirements.

Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill into law on Friday that will bring Maine into compliance. Maine was one of four states to oppose Real ID over privacy concerns.

Under Real ID guidelines, the federal government requires official forms of identification to meet certain security standards in order to grant the holder access to regulated services like air travel and medical care through the Veterans Administration. The push for compliance gained more support after the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security warned that those services could be withheld from Mainers as of next January unless state-issued identification cards were brought up to federal standards.

The newly signed law directs the Maine Secretary of State's office to issue new Real ID compliant drivers licenses and non-driver identification cards. As Maine makes the transition, Gov. LePage said Mainers will be granted a waiver allowing them to continue using their old cards beyond the January deadline.

Word: Press freedom

Daniel Ellsberg - Obama having opened the legal campaign against the press by going after the roots of investigative reporting on national security — the sources — Trump is going to go after the gatherers/gardeners themselves (and their bosses, publishers). To switch the metaphor, an indictment of Assange is a ‘first use’ of ‘the nuclear option’ against the First Amendment protection of a free press. (By the way, the charges they’re reportedly considering against him — conspiracy, theft, and violation of the Espionage Act — are exactly the charges I faced in 1971.)

“If journalists and publishers fail to call this out, denounce and resist it — on the spurious grounds that Julian is ‘not a real journalist’ like themselves — they’re offering themselves up to Trump and Sessions for indictments and prosecutions, which will eventually silence all but the heroes and heroines among them.”

April 28, 2017

Journalist arrested second time

Intercept - Award-winning journalist Barrett Brown was re-arrested and taken into custody Thursday, the day before he was scheduled to be interviewed for a PBS documentary.

Brown quickly became a symbol of the attack on press freedom after he was arrested in 2012 for reporting he did on the hacked emails of intelligence-contracting firms. Brown wrote about hacked emails that showed the firm Stratfor spying on activists on behalf of corporations. Brown also helped uncover a proposal by intelligence contractors to hack and smear WikiLeaks defenders and progressive activists.

Faced with the possibility of 100 years in prison, Brown pleaded guilty in 2014 to two charges related to obstruction of justice and threatening an FBI agent, and was sentenced to five years and 3 months. In 2016, Brown won a National Magazine Award for his scathing and often hilarious columns in The Intercept, which focused on his life in prison. He was released in November.

Jay Leiderman, Brown’s lawyer, told The Intercept Brown was arrested Thursday during a check-in. According to his mother, Brown had not missed a check-in or failed a drug test since he was released to a halfway house in November. Neither his mother nor lawyer has been informed where he is being held.

According to his mother, who spoke with Brown by phone after his arrest, Brown believes the reason for his re-arrest was a failure to obtain “permission” to give interviews to media organizations. Several weeks ago, Brown was told by his check-in officer that he needed to fill out permission forms before giving interviews.

Since his release, Brown has given numerous interviews, on camera and by phone. But according to his mother, Brown said that the Bureau of Prisons never informed him about a paperwork requirement. When he followed up with his check-in officer, he was given a different form: a liability form for media entering prisons.

Justice Roberts to Trump lawyer, "Oh, Come on"

Daily Kos - It, uh, doesn’t sound like the Trump-Sessions Justice Department is going to prevail in its argument to the U.S. Supreme Court that citizenship can be revoked over any misstatement or failure to disclose at all, however minor, that a person included (or didn’t include) on their citizenship application. Yes, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were all vocally skeptical. But there was also this, from Chief Justice John Roberts:
“Some time ago, outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone,” the chief justice said, adding that he had not been caught.

The form that people seeking American citizenship must complete, he added, asks whether the applicant had ever committed a criminal offense, however minor, even if there was no arrest.

“If I answer that question no, 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, ‘Guess what, you’re not an American citizen after all’?” Chief Justice Roberts asked.

Robert A. Parker, a Justice Department lawyer, said the offense had to be disclosed. Chief Justice Roberts seemed shocked. “Oh, come on,” he said.
It sounds an awful lot like the Trump regime is looking for the right to revoke any naturalized person’s citizenship at any time, while creating an enormous new hoop for people seeking citizenship to jump through. Can you remember every single thing you’ve ever done?

Slate - What's particularly interesting about the Trump administration supporting such an argument is that Melania Trump appears to have committed just such an omission on her own naturalization paperwork. In 2016, a lawyer representing Melania—a native of Slovenia who was naturalized in 2006—attested that he had reviewed her immigration documents and found no evidence that she had ever violated U.S. law. Later that year, however, the Associated Press uncovered records showing that she had in fact done paid modeling work for several weeks while she was staying in the U.S. in 1996 on a visitor visa, which would have been a violation of that visa's terms. If, as her lawyer's statement would appear to imply, Melania did not subsequently disclose this violation on other immigration documents, the Trump administration's current position would thus suggest she—the First Lady of the United States—is subject to deportation.

Only the wealthiest would benefit from Trump's tax plan

NY Times - "The only Americans who are very clear winners under the new system are the wealthiest," said Edward D. Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California and former chief of staff of Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation, which estimates the revenue effects of tax proposals. Continue reading the main story

Repealing the estate tax, for example, would affect just 5,300 or so fortunes a year. For 2017, couples can shield up to $11 million of their estates from any taxation, leaving only the largest inheritances subject to taxation. Repealing the estate tax alone would cost an estimated $174.2 billion over a decade, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center said.

Reducing the rate on capital gains, non-corporate business taxes and those in the highest bracket, as well as repealing the alternative minimum tax, would also ease the burden on wealthier Americans. So would the repeal of the Affordable Care Act's 3.8 percent surtax on the investment income of high earners, put in place to subsidize health coverage for low-income Americans.

"These are all afflictions of the affluent," Mr. Kleinbard said.

There is no way to know how the mathematics of the proposal would work, since the White House offered no cost estimates, no detail about which incomes would be taxed at what levels and no information about tax deductions or other breaks that might be eliminated to make up for the lost revenue

Trump turns executive orders into show business

Politico - 99 days into his presidency, Trump’s high-profile orders have not actually undone Obama’s health reforms, financial regulations, or carbon restrictions. They’ve merely allowed him to announce his intentions to undo those policies in official documents. Trump’s first 30 executive orders will create a lot of federal reviews and reports, along with some new task forces and commissions, but not a lot of substantive change. So far, they’ve been more about messaging than governing, proclaiming his priorities without really advancing his priorities.

The White House is making Trump’s flurry of executive orders the centerpiece of his 100-day legacy, in part because he hasn’t yet signed any major new laws or made much specific progress on his Make America Great ... But a close look at the language of his orders shows that most of them are basically press releases with presidential signatures, plus instructions to his Cabinet secretaries to look into the issues at hand.

Some facts about a government shutdown

Things to do before Trump goes away: Instant runoff voting

Federal court upholds San Francisco instant runoff voting

We've long advocated instant runoff voting and now Britain is voting on adopting it (over there it's called alternative voting or AV). This is one of the best graphics on the topic we've seen. (FPTP is "first past the post" or the way most American elections are run)
Instant runoff voting is a method of electing a single winner. It provides an alternative to plurality and runoff elections. In a plurality election, the highest vote getter wins even if s/he receives less than 50% of the vote, and may even be considered the worst choice by the majority of voters. In a runoff election, two candidates advance to a runoff if no candidate receives more than 50% in the first round.
Voters rank candidates in order of choice: 1, 2, 3 and so on. It takes a majority to win. If a majority of voters rank a candidate first, that candidate is elected. If not, the last place candidate is defeated, just as in a runoff election, and all ballots are counted again, but this time each ballot cast for the defeated candidate counts for the next ranked candidate listed on the ballot. The process of eliminating the last place candidate and recounting the ballots continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote.
Political status
Ireland uses IRV to elect its president, Australia to elect its House of Representatives, and London to elect its mayor. In the U.S., San Francisco, CA, Burlington, VT, and Cary NC are communities that use IRV to elect their major city offices such as mayor. Many major universities use IRV for their student government elections and the American Political Science Association to elect its president. Hundreds of jurisdictions, organizations and corporations use IRV to elect leaders.

As a state senator, Barack Obama introduced legislation that would have instituted IRV at the state and congressional level in Illinois. John McCain, Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich & Howard Dean support IRV.

A historian’s notes on now (written sometime in the future)

From our overstocked archives
Sam Smith, 2012

One good way to step away from the daily news and try to figure out what’s really going on is to imagine oneself as an historian returning to this time some decades hence. What might you see as having happened in the thirty years since Reagan’s inauguration?  Here are some possibilities:

America’s imperial era was over but its leaders didn’t want to recognize it and the media didn’t want to talk about it. The only wars that America could claim to have won since World War II had been penny ante invasions of tiny Latin American countries such as Grenada, Dominican Republic and Panama. Other wars had cost America the lives of over 100,000 of its soldiers and over $2 trillion, but such facts had little impact on policy, media reporting, or action.

By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the level of federal, state and local unconstitutional assaults on civil liberties was unprecedented,  except during the Civil War and the two subsequent world wars.

The Constitution was no longer a controlling document but rather one from which the adhocracy in charge of America picked or ignored at will. The elite, for example, greatly preferred the commerce clause to the Bill of Rights.

America had lost its moral clout around the world.  A 2007 survey in two dozen countries found only three in which a majority viewed America’s influence as positive.

In the decade since 9/11 America  did not take one significant step to ease tensions with the Middle East or the Muslim world. Instead it relied on failed invasions,  futile sanctions and fatuous rhetoric.

The Democratic Party became more conservative than at any time since before the New Deal – relying on a few social issues like abortion and gay marriage to suggest otherwise. The last liberal Democratic presidential candidate was Walter Mondale in 1984. Presidents Clinton and Obama were the most reactionary Democratic presidents of modern times. Liberalism became a social demographic rather than a political cause.

Unlike the New Deal, Fair Deal and Great Society, the three decades after 1980 were (with a few exceptions such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family & Medical Leave Act) virtually devoid of significant legislation that helped significant numbers of Americans deal with their economic or social problems. There were, however, a number of measures passed that greatly limited the civil liberties of Americans such as the Patriot  and Defense of Marriage Acts.

The closest parallel to the corruption at the top of American society during this period was that of the Prohibition Era. The biggest differences between the two eras was that during Prohibition the police and FBI were far more likely to arrest the corrupt.

The war on drugs moved into its fourth futile decade serving largely as a means of imprisoning younger poor American males, especially blacks, for whom there weren’t any jobs. It was, in a sense, a preemptive strike against a possible class based rebellion.

While it is now clear that the biggest development of the era was ecological, the media of the time gave little attention to the looming problems. One study found only about 2% of media stories at the time dealt  with the environment.

There were some improvements such as:

- Serious crime dropped to its lowest level since the 1960s.
- Cancer death rates declined
- Traffic deaths fell to their lowest level since 1949.
- Capital punishment was at a 35 year low
- Risk of dying had dropped 60% over the previous 75 years
- Suicides, infant mortality, and fatal heat disease were at their lowest since the 1950s
- Indicators for women, gays, blacks and latinos, other than economic, were all significantly improved

On the other hand:
- For first time record, a majority of Americans had lower hopes for their children.

- In the 1980s, about two thirds of corporations included health care benefits with their pensions. By 2012, only about a quarter did.

- The Congressional Budget Office said the income gap in the United States had become the widest in 75 years.

- In 1983, 50 corporations controlled most of the news media in America. By 2002, six corporations did.

- The real income of poorest Americas  dropped to its lowest level since the 1970s.

-  A record number of Americans 55 and older were still working

- Credit card debt was eight times worse than it had been in the 1980s.

- Long time unemployment was the worst since the 1940s

- A record number of homeowners were behind on their mortgages.

- There were a record number of home foreclosures.

- The real wealth of the top 1% was up over 100% while that of the poorest 40% was down nearly two thirds.

- The initial decade of the 21st century saw the first decline in family net wealth since the 1950s.

- There are were a record number in poverty

- Child homelessness was at record levels. 

While wars and the Great Depression had brought major disruptions to American life, never before had the system simply disintegrated on its own to this degree for this long. While the elite, including its media, refused to recognize what was happening, there was growing awareness by ordinary Americans of the depth of the collapse and an increasing sense that perhaps it was time to try something different.