boycott

I had already been planning on not watching DT’s inauguration. Seeing and hearing him remind me too much of all the hateful things he has said and done.

I have even more reason to boycott now as a show of solidarity with Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta, Georgia.

Rep. Lewis said in an interview last week that he questioned the legitimacy of DT’s election, due to the interference of Russia.

I agree.

DT does not and excoriated Rep. Lewis on twitter, of course, on Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. Rep. Lewis is one of the last living stalwarts of the 1960’s civil rights movement dedicated to non-violence, who marched with Dr. King and bled at Selma, and the member of Congress widely known as its conscience. DT once again showed his pettiness and ignorance.

Also, DT showed his complete lack of the sense of irony, given that he spent five years questioning the birthplace and legitimacy of President Obama and repeatedly said during his own campaign that the US elections were rigged.

Many, many people are upset about this situation. Over thirty members of Congress are joining Rep. Lewis in boycotting the inauguration.

While I had already decided not to watch the inauguration before this happened, I am humbled to join my small, private boycott to theirs.
*****
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living in Zootopia?

Given that the movie Zootopia came out in the spring when we were busy dealing with Grandma’s death, I saw it for the first time recently in our local late-run movie theater.  I found a number of uncomfortable parallels about racism, sexism, prejudice, jumping to often unwarranted conclusions, and fear and fear-mongering.

I feel like I am living in the midst of those things.

After the shootings in Baton Rouge yesterday, the public officials in Louisiana tried to quell rumors and pleaded for calm. President Obama then reiterated his calls for civility and for toning down divisive rhetoric, especially important as we enter two weeks of political conventions.

We need to pull together as community, as a nation, and as citizens of the world.

I am adding my voice to this effort, as I tried to do in this recent post.

I admit to being disheartened by those who are publicly blaming President Obama for the deaths of the police officers, following years of hateful rhetoric that has so many not only questioning our civic institutions’ legitimacy but also falling into violent extremism, hate speech, fear, mistrust, and/or hyper-individualism.

We are better than this.

We have brains that can gather facts and reach reasonable conclusions from them.

We have hearts to love others and to move us to care for them.

We have bodies that enable us to interact with our loved ones and for the common good.

We must not allow ourselves to be bullied, misled, or blinded by hatred or fear.

We need each other.

We are connected to each other.

We must respect each other’s human dignity.

Never forget.

Senator Chris Murphy stands up

I wrote a post in the hours after the mass killing at Pulse in Orlando, predicting that the US Congress would do nothing, even in the face of so many deaths at the hands of a single person with an assault weapon.

I am proud to report that I was wrong.

First, some Democratic members of the House walked out on the symbolic moment of silence in protest against inaction.

On Wednesday, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut took the floor at 11:21 AM and began speaking against the lack of debate and action on gun issues from Congress, intending to hold the floor until there was a promise to bring legislation to the Senate for debate and vote.

Senator Murphy lives near Newtown, Connecticut, site of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. He had been a member of the House from an adjoining district and was newly elected as Senator at the time of the shooting. He has been in close contact with the families of the Sandy Hook victims and has long advocated for tighter gun laws and better mental health care.

In order to hold the floor, he was not allowed to leave the chamber or even to sit.  There also needed to be continual talking. To help him, over thirty other Senators, mostly other Democrats but a couple of Republicans also, came to the floor to ask extended questions so that Senator Murphy could rest his voice.

Remarkably, Senator Murphy held the floor for almost fifteen hours, until in the early hours of Thursday, word came that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would schedule votes on four amendments regarding gun purchases next week.

I urge you to watch how Senator Murphy ended his marathon speech. I pray that his words will strike to the hearts of the senators so that they will vote to enact some new protections against gun violence, which is such a plague for us here in the United States.

There is a lot of work to be done. The American people are overwhelmingly in favor of restricting access to military-grade weapons and of ensuring that violent, unstable, or hate-filled people do not get their hands on guns and shoot people.

The President has been advocating on these issues for years.

Congress, listen to Senator Murphy, the President, voters, and especially the families of victims, and act.

Reaction to the death of Justice Scalia

Like most people in the United States, I was surprised to hear of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday. Although he was the longest-serving justice on the current Court, he was, at 79, not the eldest, and was considered to be in good health.

He has been the anchor of the conservative justices on the Court for many years. He was an originalist, trying to interpret the Constitution as intended by its authors. I think of originalists as being akin to fundamentalists in religious interpretation. (When interpreting documents, I am more inclined toward taking into account the historical setting of the time a text was written, as well as historical-social developments since to gain contemporary understanding, which is the opposite school of thought to Scalia’s viewpoint.)

What was most shocking to me, though, was the reaction within hours by the Republican leaders of the Senate and the Republicans running for the presidential nomination that President Obama should not nominate a replacement for the Supreme Court vacancy, instead leaving it open until his successor takes office. (For those of you outside the United States, the Constitutionally-proscribed procedure is that the President nominates a person for the Supreme Court and the Senate then votes to accept or reject the nominee. Supreme Court appointments are for life and choosing Supreme Court nominees is considered one of the most important duties of the presidency.)

I was shocked first in social/human/religious terms, that the Republican Senate leadership was so immediately politicizing Justice Scalia’s death.  In the first hours and days after his death, there should have been recognition of his public service and condolences to his wife, their nine children and many grandchildren, colleagues, and friends, not political wrangling about his replacement. It was sadly ironic that many of the same politicians who say it is disrespectful to the families of victims to discuss gun control legislation in the aftermath of a mass shooting had no qualms about politicizing Justice Scalia’s death before his body had even been transported back to his hometown.

The Supreme Court has been closely divided in recent years, issuing many 5-4 decisions. With Justice Scalia gone, the current term is likely to be produce a number of 4-4 ties, which means that lower court rulings will stand, but that no precedent has been set. Those cases or issues are likely to come back to the Supreme Court in the future.

If a replacement for Justice Scalia has not been confirmed by October, when the next Court session will begin hearing arguments, the country risks losing the voice of the Court for another whole year.

Our government is already suffering from gridlock; we can’t afford to make it worse.

The Congressional Republicans have been obstructing much of the normal legislative functions of passing bills and timely confirmation of executive and judicial appointments during the Obama presidency.

It has to stop.

If the Republicans delay or obstruct a Senate confirmation for a Supreme Court justice, they are violating the Constitution that they have sworn to uphold.

PS  Within an hour of posting this, I ran across this segment of John Oliver discussing Scalia’s replacement. I thought you might enjoy it. Warning: there is a bit of adult language.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Vt9xV9ZI74

The State of the Union

This evening will be President Obama’s last State of the Union address.

The media has been full of summations, speculation, and punditry about the last seven years and the one remaining in the Obama presidency.

There have been major economic improvements. The unemployment rate is about half what it was. The US auto industry is doing well after almost going under in the financial crisis. The budget deficit is much lower than it was under the Bush administration.

Many more people have access to affordable health care insurance. The country is generating less pollution and more renewable energy.

There have been gains for diplomacy, such as the Iran nuclear deal and the recent international climate agreement in Paris.

These and other achievements will be remembered and studied by future students of history.

The tragedy is that so much more could have been accomplished if Congressional Republicans had decided to cooperate in governing rather than obstruct it.

There could have been needed tax reform, immigration reform, and criminal justice/sentencing reform.

There could have been mandated background checks for all gun purchases to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, traffickers, and people intent on harming themselves or others, a measure that has overwhelming public support.

If the Congress would vote on the president’s nominations, there would have been a surgeon general in place during the ebola scare, a full complement of judges in the federal courts to deal with the backlog of cases, an ambassador to Russia during the Ukraine crisis, and a current ambassador to Mexico to work on the extradition of El Chapo to stand trial in the US.

The military prison at Guantanamo would have been closed.

There would have been greater progress on updating our crumbling infrastructure.

So much lost opportunity.

I hope that, as the United States progresses through this election year, we pledge to vote for elected officials who are dedicated to serve the common good, to “promote the general welfare”as it is termed in our Constitution.
*****
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on the radio

This morning, I heard the first part of President Obama’s speech on gun violence and action against it. Near the beginning, he listed the major mass shootings that had happened during his presidency so far.

One of the sad realities of living in the United States is that there is a long list of mass shootings, so many that only certain of them are synonymous with the place in which they occurred.  Aurora, Fort Hood, and Newtown are among these during the Obama presidency.

But this morning, the President listed all the high-toll mass shootings. (In 2015 alone, there were over 350 mass shootings in the United Sates, using the definition of mass shooting as one with four or more victims, so the president was listing only those with the highest number of victims.)

Although the list was not chronological, one of the first cities he mentioned was Binghamton. (Binghamton is in New York State, near the Pennsylvania border about halfway across the state. The town where I have lived for over twenty-five years borders Binghamton.)

While I am grateful that Binghamton hasn’t been reduced to being shorthand for mass murder, I am sad that the shooting at the American Civic Association and its aftermath have been largely forgotten, its lessons about mental illness and access to guns, about discrimination and social acceptance, about civic pride, education, altruism, and the ideals of America as a welcoming community unheeded.

On the fifth anniversary of the ACA shootings, I wrote about why I think that is so.

Early last month, I posted about my thoughts on gun regulations and the Second Amendment.

I am grateful that President Obama is taking further common-sense steps to ensure that more background checks take place. I call on Congress – again – to take action to change the laws to protect people from gun violence.

The United States loses over 30,000 people every year to gunshots. If we were losing 30,000 people to plane crashes, it would be considered a calamity of the highest order and there would be swift action to rectify the situation.

The people of the United Sates deserve action – now.
*****
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Update on the nuclear deal with Iran

Following up from my post on the proposed nuclear deal with Iran, we just found out that enough United States senators have expressed support for the deal that the Congress will not be able to override President Obama’s promised veto of a bill that would block ratification of the international agreement with Iran.

I am relieved to know that diplomacy wins and that a lot of suffering will be alleviated by the lifting of sanctions and the much diminished threat of war.

One could hope that those in Congress who opposed the deal due to politics rather than analysis will take a second look and vote for the deal.

One could hope, but it may be in vain.

Government Gridlock: Theme and Variations

Before the Nov. 4 US elections, there was a lot of speculation about whether or not the Republicans would take a majority of the Senate seats. I thought about weighing in, but didn’t because I realized it wouldn’t really matter. We would just be swapping one flavor of legislative gridlock for another.

A primer of the US system, for those who don’t live in the United States:  Legislation must be passed by the majority of both houses of Congress, The House of Representatives and the Senate. (If each houses passes a different version of a bill, a conference committee drafts a compromise version for approval.) The President can sign the legislation into law or veto it. In the case of a veto, the bill doesn’t become law unless a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress vote to override the veto. The other important word to know is filibuster. In the Senate, 60 of 100 votes are needed to move a bill forward for a vote. This was originally designed as a way for minority views to be heard and was time-limited by the length of time that Senators could speak, but has morphed into a tool to block any legislation for which there are not 60 votes in favor, even if it has majority support of 51-59 votes.

Congress has been gridlocked for most of President Obama’s time in office. There was a brief period in the beginning of his presidency with a Democratic majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. This was when the stimulus bill and the Affordable Care Act were passed.  The Republicans had vowed not to support anything the President wanted, but they could not stop legislation, so there was no gridlock then, even though the Republicans were refusing to co-operate in governing.

Within months, due to the death of Senator Kennedy and a special election that went to a Republican, the Democrats lost the ability to break a filibuster in the Senate and the first flavor of gridlock began. Instead of the rare use of the filibuster that had been the case for the 200+ year history of the Senate, the Republicans began filibustering almost every piece of legislation and many nominations for judgeships and executive branch appointees. The Democratic majority House was still passing bills, but the Democratic majority Senate could not get them to the floor because the 41 Republicans kept filibustering.

Next, the Republicans, thanks largely to gerrymandering of Congressional districts within states, took the majority in the House, which began phase two of gridlock, where the House passed dozens of bills that were never going to be taken up in the Senate, like voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act fifty times, while the Senate Republicans filibustered almost everything that was proposed. When there was a rare instance of bipartisanship, such as the Senate passage of comprehensive immigration reform, the Republicans in the House wouldn’t even bring it up for a vote. Meanwhile, the filibuster in the Senate blocked nominations for key posts, so we faced the ebola situation without a surgeon general to lead and co-ordinate the efforts and the debacle with Russia and Ukraine without a US ambassador to Russia.

So, with the electorate already frustrated with gridlock and disgusted that this Congress is about to break the shameful record set by the last Congress for least number of laws passed, we held elections last week. Turnout was 36.3% of eligible voters, the lowest in seventy-two years. In many Congressional districts, including mine, an incumbent was running unopposed. The Republicans will hold a majority in both houses of Congress.

One could hope that the Republicans would now decide to co-operate with the Democrats in governing, as many past Congresses have done when one party had majorities in Congress with a sitting president from the other party.

Unfortunately, such hope is not warranted.

We are just going to move on to the next flavor of gridlock, although this one will probably have a bit more spice to it. Some legislation that the Democrats find particularly objectionable will be filibustered in the Senate. Other legislation may pass by both houses on party-line votes, get vetoed by the president, and then die because there will not be a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

The mystery lies in what happens after that political theater is over. Will the Republicans, having satisfied their base with their initial votes, actually work to craft a bipartisan solution which could pass both houses and be signed by the president?

I wish I could say yes, but recent Republican party history and current rhetoric do not give cause for hope.

Obama’s “All of the Above” Energy Plan

I just finished reading this article about how over 20 billion dollars of US government subsidies are directing at the fossil fuel industry and how the “all of the above” energy strategy is a failure from a global warming perspective.

It reminded me of the letter I wrote to President Obama after he visited Binghamton University in August 2013.

Today has been a heavy commenting day on fracktivist issues. You can all breathe a sigh of relief that I haven’t blogged them all, too. (If anyone is truly interested, I did cross-post a couple of my comments to Facebook, so I have access to links which I will share in comments, if desired.)

Open Letter to President Obama on Climate Change

http://ecowatch.com/2014/01/16/obama-climate-keystone-xl-fracking-arctic/

The letter that is part of the article above encapsulates what many of us have been saying for years. Let’s hope the President is finally in a position to take action to push renewable energy and reduce fossil fuels.

I did finally get a reply to the letter I sent to the President after his appearance at Binghamton University last August. https://topofjcsmind.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/letter-to-president-obama/  It was disappointing, as it failed to acknowledge any points that I had made, just re-iterating the accomplishments of the administration in renewables and the “all of the above” strategy that is causing us to lost ground even further on fossil-fuel-induced climate change.

Obviously, an open letter signed by so many major environmental organizations has much more sway than letters from unknown constituents such as myself. Even then, is it possible to move the bureaucracy and the Congress in the right direction?