Like Talking to a Brick Wall

 


The First Continental Congress of the American Colonies sent a petition to King George III on October 25, 1774, requesting he redress their grievances against the British Parliament related to the Coercive Acts passed in response to the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. The king ignored the petition, and consequently the colonists’ march toward revolution picked up momentum over the next year, resulting in the beginning of hostilities in the spring of 1775. Petitions were the primary recourse of the American Colonists in dealing with their British rulers across the Atlantic Ocean since they had no official representation in Parliament, hence the slogan “No taxation without representation.”

The nation’s founders regarded the right to petition the government as so essential to a free society that they included it in the First Amendment, adopted in 1791. They made the right explicit despite the reality that citizens of the United States, unlike colonists under the British Empire, had official representation in the government. James Madison, who was largely responsible for drafting the Bill of Rights, understood that while the people had representation in government, their representatives may not be responsive to the wishes of all the people, and that therefore the people required another, independent outlet “for a redress of grievances.”



The unresponsiveness of government representatives to the people has rarely appeared as evident as it does now, when it seems representatives are responsive mostly to the wishes of corporate contributors to their election campaigns. Polls do not necessarily give lawmakers an accurate idea of how some of their constituents are feeling about issues because responding to pollsters is a passive response to a pollster’s sometimes tailored questions. Poll sample sizes are also often ludicrously small on account of the expense and difficulty of polling. Pollsters claim they conduct their surveys based on well-researched principles in order to achieve accurate representation from small sample sizes, but there are plenty of examples to cite in demonstrating that taking polls is as much art as it is science, and not at all infallible. For one example, look at how inaccurate the polling was in several key Rust Belt states in the weeks before the November 2016 presidential election.


Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, Leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, is arrested outside Buckingham Palace while trying to present a petition to King George V in May 1914. Q81486
Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Woman’s Suffragette movement in England, arrested outside Buckingham Palace in London while trying to present a petition to King George V in May 1914. Photo from the British Imperial War Museum.


Signing a petition is an active measure taken by citizens numbering in the thousands or millions, as opposed to a select few hundreds or thousands responding passively to a pollster. Citizens mostly seek out petitions on their own initiative, or are made aware of them by friends or family, or by reading the news. The relative ease of signing a petition online, compared to signing one circulated door to door, does not discount that people are participating in the political process instead of waiting for someone to ask their opinion. The distinction is not a small one. Yes, physical participation in a protest weighs far more than signing an online petition in getting the attention of government leaders and the society at large, but an online petition nonetheless demonstrates that the people signing it are paying attention. Numbers have always given weight to petitions, and in the internet age it is possible for millions of people to make their wishes known to their representatives within days of a petition’s first appearance.

The petitions currently circulating urging United States House of Representatives legislators to impeach the occupant of the Oval Office are an excellent demonstration of the need of the people for an outlet to make their wishes known to their government. To anyone paying attention honestly to developments originating from the White House since January 2017, it has long been obvious that impeachment and conviction of the current president would be necessary sooner or later to uphold the rule of law. The nation’s legislators, however, always conscious of political calculations and of the interests of their big money donors, have been dragging their feet to avoid having to put themselves on the line in upholding the oath they took to preserve and defend the Constitution.

Captain Queeg, the character played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, was obviously unstable, but nonetheless discharging him from his command was quite difficult because the captain of a vessel at sea is by necessity an autocrat whose authority is fully backed by a nation’s institutions. For all that, Captain Queeg was not a corrupt grifter with contempt for democratic institutions and a sneering disregard for the norms of civil discourse, and in comparison to the offenses of the current president, Queeg’s official transgressions were minor.

In other words, members of Congress have a constitutional duty to impeach this president for high crimes and misdemeanors he has engaged in too obviously for them to ignore any longer. Whether he will be convicted in the Republican-controlled Senate is anyone’s guess at this point. It probably depends on whether political calculations indicate to at least a few key Republican senators that the time has come at last to throw the president over the side, at which point many of the rest will scramble to get on board.

If millions of American people had waited politely for a pollster to ask them if impeachment was necessary, instead of taking matters into their own hands and petitioning their representatives, Congress might still be dithering, possibly all the way up to Election Day 2020. The current president may not get convicted in the Senate and removed from office before then, but it’s important that public hearings in Congress shine a light long enough and brightly enough on the corrupt and unethical practices of his administration that even the most disengaged voters will have to listen. A brick wall, no matter who constructed it, can keep people from hearing their government at work as well as keep government leaders from hearing the people, but now that representatives have finally listened to people engaged enough to petition them, it’s important that the rest of the populace listen honestly to the arguments for impeachment, and honest engagement requires more than checking an often lopsided Facebook news feed, a far sloppier way of exercising one’s civic duty than signing an online petition.
— Vita

 

None So Blind

 

“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:”
Jeremiah 5:21, from the King James Version of the Bible.

With the release of the redacted Mueller Report last week by the presidential administration’s stooge at the Department of Justice, Attorney General William Barr, Democrats should finally let go of one of the beliefs they have clung to since Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, namely that the other campaign colluded with the Russians in meddling with the election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team found it was not through lack of trying on the part of Republican campaign officials that collusion did not occur, but due to their bumbling incompetence.


Ms. Clinton is apparently still in denial about her loss in 2016. As we move further away from 2016 and closer to 2020, she becomes increasingly irrelevant unless – please no! – she throws her hat in the ring again. Mainstream Democrats have to get over the loss by first admitting one undeniable fact: The Republican candidate didn’t win the election as much as Ms. Clinton lost it, largely due to the arrogance and hubris that infected her campaign. The Russians didn’t help him win; she lost. The Democratic National Committee didn’t obstruct her progress; far from it, since the Committee colluded with her to obstruct the progress of her rival in the primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sexism undoubtedly worked against Ms. Clinton, though possibly only among those who weren’t going to vote for her anyway for other reasons.

Tissot The Pharisee and the publican Brooklyn
The Pharisee and the Publican, a painting from between 1886 and 1894 by James Tissot (1836-1902), based on a parable in the Gospel of Luke.

There are many things that would improve elections in this country, among them reforming the system of primaries and abolishing the Electoral College. Those two major improvements are unlikely to happen before 2020. What can and should happen this year and going into 2020 are impeachment proceedings against the president in the House of Representatives. There is enough even in the redacted version of the Mueller Report, as well as in other ongoing investigations, to start impeachment proceedings against this president. While impeachment is an indictment only, and not the entire procedure to eject a president from office, the public proceedings can lay before the public all the president’s misdeeds. If impeachment succeeds, will he be convicted at trial in the Republican controlled Senate? No.

It is important to proceed with impeachment of the president because it is the right thing to do, because the evidence against him mounts every day and the House is therefore obligated by law to proceed, and because no matter what Old Guard Democrats like California Representative Nancy Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer advise about waiting the president out until November 2020, they are wrong since they underestimate the value of the impeachment proceedings aside from the futility of achieving conviction. The Oval Office Blowhard wants to always make everything about him? Very well, let him have it, with day after day airing of dirty laundry.

One third of the American people are never going to be dissuaded from following this president no matter what comes out in an impeachment. Those people are lost to reason, as the president acknowledged in his notoriously accurate assessment of them when as a candidate he boasted he could shoot somebody in broad daylight and they would let him get away with it. The people who need to have the case against the president laid before them in a way they can’t ignore are the third of the people between the hard core MAGA brigade and the other third of the population, mainstream Democrats.

“Israelites”, a 1968 song by Desmond Dekker & The Aces.

Then see clearly enough to put before the voters a Democratic candidate who generates more widespread enthusiasm than a neoliberal hack such as Hillary Clinton. Give them someone who genuinely speaks for all of them, not just Wall Street while hypocritically mouthing old platitudes about helping the middle and working classes. People don’t want to be sold down the river again, as they were in the Bankers’ Bailouts of 2008 and 2009, and the only ones who could blame them are mainstream, corporatist Democrats who haven’t learned a thing from that time or from the Debacle of 2016.
— Ed.

 

Not a Piece of Cake

 

“All politics is local.” ― An old saying, most famously uttered by former Speaker of the House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill

This fall the Supreme Court will hear the case of Gill v. Whitford, a partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin, where redistricting lines drawn up by Republicans in the state legislature in 2011 after the 2010 census resulted in grossly unbalanced election results, such as in the 2012 election when, despite a majority of the votes statewide going to Democrats, Republicans nonetheless won sixty of the ninety-nine State Assembly seats. While the case is specifically about the redistricting lines drawn for state elections, there are implications for national elections because state legislatures also draw the lines for federal congressional districts. National election results have similarly tilted toward Republicans winning more seats in the House of Representatives than simple vote tallies warrant, and Democrats typically gain fewer seats than vote totals should grant them.


The Gerry-Mander Edit
“The Gerry-Mander”, a political cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835), published in the Boston Centinel in 1812. The district depicted in the cartoon was created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates sponsored by Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists.

Gerrymandering has been around since the founding of the Republic, ever since Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution specified that the states had the power to apportion congressional districts based on census results every ten years. There’s nothing in there about how the states should draw the lines, though the 14th Amendment, adopted 149 years ago on July 9, 1868, set guidelines for citizenship and equal protection under the laws for all citizens, and that has been invoked by the Supreme Court to overrule racially motivated gerrymandering. State legislatures have nevertheless taken the broad leeway left in Article 1, Section 2, and run with it, with both parties divvying up the cake as they liked if they had enough votes from their own members to push new district lines onto the books. Once one party or the other established districts in their favor, subsequent elections had the effect of consolidating their power.

There have been partisan gerrymandering cases brought before the Supreme Court in the past, but the Court has always been reluctant to step into what it has deemed politics as usual, and their rulings have always been narrow enough to have little effect on the practice of partisan gerrymandering. The Court has been more willing to rule broadly against racial gerrymandering by applying the equal protection principles of the 14th Amendment. It’s hard to see the ultimate ruling in Gill v. Whitford deviating from past rulings unless one or more of the conservative justices rule against the State of Wisconsin, and by extension the Republican party. The Court is currently split 5-4 along party lines, with Republicans in the majority.

A scene from the 1974 film The Godfather: Part II, in which the gangsters Hyman Roth, played by Lee Strasburg, and Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, discuss divvying up business in Cuba before the revolution.

 

This gerrymandering case is a reminder of how failure to pay attention to state and local politics can result in a minority party exercising disproportional power. There are more important elections than the presidential one every four years. The party that turns people out for local school board elections, for city council elections, and for state legislature elections every year, year after year, is the party that ultimately takes power in the national elections. Those seemingly insignificant elections lay the groundwork and set the rules for what follows on a grander scale.

Motivated people turn out for elections, and Republicans have done a much better job over the past thirty or more years of motivating their people than Democrats have done with their people. They have done so with with some dubious tactics, it’s true, mainly motivating people through fear and loathing of The Other, whoever or whatever that might prove effective at the moment. That was easily seen in the 2016 election.

On a national scale, where state boundaries do not change, the Electoral College has worked to gerrymander the presidential election result on behalf of the Republican candidate as Democrats lose strength in the small towns and countryside of the middle of the country. For instance California, the most populous state in the nation, and one with a strong Democratic party majority, has 55 electoral votes (53 congressional districts plus 2 Senate seats) to offer the Democratic presidential candidate whether that candidate wins the state with a simple majority of one vote or an overwhelming majority of three million votes.

This is from a network television appearance by George Carlin in the early 1990s. No foul language warning necessary.

 

In the language of gerrymandering, Democrats are effectively “packed” into California and other highly urban states, mostly on either coast. Getting rid of the Electoral College and deciding the presidential election with a simple nationwide majority vote would eliminate this gerrymandering effect, but with Republicans controlling the Presidency, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, 33 out of 50 governors’ offices, 31 out of 50 state houses, and 37 out of 50 state senates, that won’t be easy.

Magpie eating cake-rubens peale
Magpie Eating Cake, an 1865 painting by Rubens Peale (1784-1865).

It would take working from the grass roots on up instead of snoozing until 2020 and dreaming the current Republican president will be impeached along the way. It would also mean holding the Democratic party establishment to account for selling out the middle and working classes while they chased after financial and professional elites. Since the Democratic party establishment has shown no inclination to change in response to the 2016 election debacle, however, it appears the best course in the years ahead will be to discard the Democratic party apparatus altogether and form an entirely new major party. It’s not like that has never been done before.
― Ed.

 

A Good Day for Swearing

 

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  ― Abraham Lincoln*

Today is Inauguration Day in the United States, and a new president will be sworn into office by Chief Justice John Roberts with the following words from Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”



“Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones.
A cry of protest from long ago that is just as relevant today.

It has become a tradition for presidents to use a Judeo-Christian Bible when taking the oath of office. There is no demand in the Constitution or other legislation to swear on the Bible, or on any book. People taking an official oath may legally place their hand on their heart, and many do just that. The third paragraph of Article 6 of the Constitution implies that an oath taker could use any holy book he or she desires:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

When Keith Ellison, a Muslim, was elected to Congress from Minnesota’s 5th District in 2006, conservatives raised a fuss about whether the nation’s first Muslim elected to Congress should be allowed to take his oath of office using the Koran. In the end Ellison, a Democrat, used an English translation of the Koran owned by Thomas Jefferson.

What should be self-evident is that the words are what matter most about an oath of office, not the manner of taking it. How then to account for today’s outgoing President, a constitutional law scholar, signing into law the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, one section of which authorizes the president to order the military to arrest and indefinitely imprison people anywhere in the world, including American citizens? Today’s outgoing President now bequeaths that unconstitutional authority to the incoming President, a thin-skinned narcissist with a vengeful streak, the Tweeter-in-Chief. God DAMN it!
― Vita


“Dreams” by The Cranberries.
Like all dreams, this one is open to interpretation.