Deconstructing the Seduction of The Will of the People

Within hours of the death of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican senators and candidates for President were saying that President Obama should not put forth a nominee, that we should wait for the Will of the People to be revealed in the coming election.

It is a seductive argument, if you don’t think about it… of course, that is the nature of seduction. Feel it, it feels so right, shhhh, don’t talk (don’t think), be carried away, float away with it feeling so right...The Will of the People…

Snap! Think using facts.

The Constitution (every Republican has one in their pocket, right?) says in Article Two, Section 2, Clause 2, “… he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for,…”. That is, the President nominates and the Senate provides consent or rejects the nominee. There is no ‘except in an election year’ clause. If Obama were to not offer a nominee it would be an abdication of constitutional responsibility. If the Senate does not hold hearings and vote for confirmation, it would be an abdication of constitutional responsibility.

The Republicans are saying that we should wait for the Will of the People to be represented in the 2016 election. But, there is no precedent for that. In contrast, there have been numerous nominations for Associate Justices by Presidents in an election year, even in their last year of their second term. One example is President Reagan in 1988 nominating Associate Justice Kennedy as a third choice after his first two were rejected. (Parenthetically, it is arguable that Joe Biden could have overcome some of the difficulties he faced in the 1988 Presidential campaign if he’s ignored his responsibility as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, see What it Takes by Richard Ben Cramer.)

The Republicans are saying that we should wait for the Will of the People to be represented in the 2016 election. But, that will has been spoken in the 2012 election of Barack Obama as President with the known power to appoint Justices. Twice elected. The Republicans say that the 2014 election that put the Republicans in control of the Senate means the people no longer support the President. Maybe, maybe not. The way to test it is to have the actual argument over a nominee. The Constitution says the President nominates and the Senate provides advice and consent. That is to say: The Will of the People from both the 2012 election and the 2014 election are represented in the process.

That is, we can allow the Will of the People to lead us, because it has already been expressed…This wait for the Will to be expressed argument has some traction because that old actually-expressed Will is not seductive. Like most idealized offerings, seduction lays in their unexpressed possibilities not in their realities. The Will of the People of 2012 and 2014 are not seductive, not like the easy to idealize Will of the People yet to be discovered for 2016. That 2016 Will will be so lovely, so clear, so perfect an expression that we will all know what to do…. <sigh>

The Constitution is designed to deal with the reality of the situation, taking into account the Will of the People through two branches of government to establish members of the third branch. It is not designed to have us live in the thrall of seduction. Otherwise we will always be in a never-ending hesitation awaiting the next expression of the Will of the People, only 2 years or less away.


Trump is just plain mean and he’s at war

This past week we visited Washington, DC for a couple of days, enjoying Smithsonian museums. In one of our walks we happened upon a building site with a bright blue banner above the sidewalk protection rigging with the word TRUMP in huge letters. It was a development for a new hotel, but it felt like political advertising. Here it is from an article in the Washington Post.

Workers at Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C. - Washington, DC

Granted, it is in a serif typeface as Trump uses for his properties, and he uses sans-serif for his official campaign logo. Still, the color of blue is unmistakable, he’s using his building sites as campaign advertising. I’m no expert, but I’m sure this skirts some kind of campaign laws.

Which brings me to the point that’s been circulating for me for weeks and then Trump just freely announced it, for Trump, this is war. And, we all know, there are no rules in war, contrary to whatever civilized nations have tried to cobble together. The above, is just a minor example of skirting/ignoring rules because, rules are for losers. Winners go to war and ignore the rules.

So, what we’ve been seeing is Trump at war, rallying his troops to do horrible deeds (at a Trump rally, his supporters were recorded beating a black man to shut him up), playing to their prejudices, never retreating in the face of facts (Trump refused to back down from false and racist statistics), always attacking, always certain of victory, etc.

The low blow that really set me off some weeks back was something else. I think Trump is just plain mean. When you mock a person’s disabilities in an effort to discredit their reporting, that shows a man with no apparent sense of decency (a phrase that needs to return to currency).

While it is hoped by the remainder of the Republican party that Trump’s numbers finally slide to oblivion, the fact is the emerging alternative is not altogether better: Ted Cruz. He’s not Trump-lite. He’s Trump with a better sense of how to resonate with a wider political base. Worse, he will look sane after Trump. If Trump had not been in the contest, however, Cruz would have been considered the bombastic hate-spewer. Trump has given Cruz a shield that reads, “At least he not Trump.” It’s pretty grim in the Republican party right now.


In the face of grotesque violence, inaction

Three years since Sandy Hook and the murder of 20 first graders. And our nation still doesn’t have the guts to do anything about the ease with which high powered military weapons can get into the hands of the mentally disturbed, terrorists, and those raging with vengeance.

I want everyone to know that this wasn’t just some kind of peaceful bullet through the heart death as in the movies… these children were “butchered” as the mother of one said.

“Then, unprompted by me, Veronique described what she saw: “We all saw how beautiful he was. He had thick, shiny hair, beautiful long eyelashes that rested on his cheeks. He looked like he was sleeping. But the reality of it was under the cloth he had covering his mouth there was no mouth left. His jaw was blown away. I just want people to know the ugliness of it so we don’t talk about it abstractly, like these little angels just went to heaven. No. They were butchered. They were brutalized. And that is what haunts me at night.”
More: “The details that stuck with me the most — and the details which I felt most conflicted about putting in print — were Veronique’s descriptions of the damage to her son’s body. He was shot 11 times; she told me that his jaw and his left hand were mostly gone.”

And, that’s pretty much the only child for whom details of his injuries have been revealed, but the others were not meaningfully different.

Now, look at your child or grandchild or niece or  nephew and imagine that their jaw or hand has been shot away by the terrific violence of a military rifle.

To tolerate such things as ‘the price of liberty, the price of the 2nd Amendment’ is, in my opinion, madness. We have gone mad as a nation if we can’t do something about the easy access to high powered military weaponry.

Comments turned off for this one. There is nothing to discuss. Just look at each first grader you see and in your mind’s eye savagely tear away their jaw and hand… that’s all the discussion you need with yourself, if you are fully functioning as a human.

The Needs of the Many

I found this NPR story extremely distressing to me. LINK! A family found out via ultrasound that one of the twin babies in gestation had major deformities that suggested, at minimum, critical neonatal care and neonatal surgery would be needed. One option was to abort the infant with deformities which they chose to not do, understandable (though it meant premature birth for both babies, putting the other child at all the risks of premature birth). They had a 2 year old at home, also. Over the course of days and weeks, intervention after intervention was done while the parents hoped for a good outcome and the doctors and nurses knew that a good outcome was not possible. The baby lived 5 months, heartrending story of the family trying to do a little bucket list when they knew the child would die, what they should have known 5 months earlier.
By deciding to go forward at each step the family was deciding that one child who was ill was more important than the two healthy children they had responsibility for. I can’t really see it any other way. If you think I’m an ogre, I’m sorry. The doctors told them of the long odds (at best) and the parents kept on believing in false hope. The healthy twin, for practical purposes did not have a mother and father for her first 5 months. The healthy 2 year old at home didn’t have her mother and for 5 months. Children’s development during these months and years depends hugely on face time, physical contact and interaction time with primary caregivers. It took years for the healthy twin to ‘catch up’ (I wonder if they are sure of that).
Then, the ‘kicker’. The cost. 11 MILLION DOLLARS to keep that infant alive for 5 months. Probably negotiated down to less. Let’s call it half. Half of that 11 million dollars would cover the entire annual budget for a major directly relevant program in the San Francisco area, where they family lives: The Homeless Prenatal Program. All the work that program does to reduce malnutrition, and the associated birth defects and other issues in children, could have been covered. Not to mention, they could have just taken care of the healthy children they love.
While not precisely the same dilemma, Stacey and I had a crippling 10 days of anxiety when we learned that Madeleine was at high risk for Trisomy 18, a disorder that would likely kill her before she was born, that if born she might live a handful of days, more likely minutes to hours. That’s why we have not had a second child. Because, we see no reason to roll the dice on Trisomy 18 or the myriad related genetic disorders that we are all too likely to bring upon a child at our advanced ages. That would mortgage our healthy child’s future, and that would be, in my opinion, ethically indefensible.
I believe what this San Francisco family did was ethically indefensible, also.

Another day, another mass shooting

I see all the calls for prayers, the outrage that it was Christians targeted, the pointing of finger at the shooter’s mental status, the calls for greater number of guns needed and that would have stopped him… wait, what? Umpqua CC campus had virtually no restrictions on guns on campus as allowed by state law, it was open carry and concealed carry (on a shall-issue permit basis, meaning you ask and you shall not be denied unless you are a felon) campus. A ‘good guy’ with a gun was nearby. Still, death and mayhem were not prevented.

Things I note:

  • Those of you tearing at your clothes in righteous prayer, yet feeling that guns should not be touched, I’m pretty sure you worship guns above your god-thingy. This thoughtful and caring Christian man gets it right: Why Gun Lovers Don’t Get To Grieve Another Massacre With Me.
  • There will be another mass shooting within the next 24 to 48 hours, as defined as 4 or more shot as documented by Shooting Tracker and another major mass shooting (which I define as 9 or more persons shot) will happen within about 45 days.
  • For those who claim we need more guns because then the shooter would be confronted by a ‘good guy with a gun’, that’s just crazy-talk. Here’s the story of the good guy with a gun on the campus of the school knowing that he couldn’t intervene unless the shooter was literally right in front of him: Raw Story on Army Vet at Umpqua. 
  • There are those who claim the cat is out of the bag on this issue, with about one gun for every person in the US. What can be done with so many guns? But, that erroneously describes the distribution of guns. Only about 1/3 of Americans own a gun or live with someone who owns one, effectively the household rate of gun ownership. So, guns are concentrated among a sizable minority of Americans.
  • What can be done with so many guns is this: Declare the most dangerous guns illegal and buy them back as was done in Australia in 1996 after a huge mass shooting there. Do the same with ammunition magazines, to limit them to no larger than 10 rounds, buy back all that are larger. This can be done, Australia bought back over 600,000 guns. We have the resources, do we have the will? Australians get it. 

As President Obama says, we have made a political decision in this country that we will live with mass murders on a regular basis as the price we pay for easy availability of high powered guns. It is a political decision meaning we can change it.

When we decided that the design of automobiles and highways contributed to accidents and deaths, we made laws to mandate better design and laws for usage of safety features such as seat belts. The rate of deaths in automobile accidents is now about 1/3 of the rate of the highest levels (1930s) and as low as it was 100 years ago when cars were just emerging as affordable to the masses.

Alcohol was known as a huge factor in automobile accidents and deaths. The study of alcohol’s effects and implementation of laws to increase penalties for use of alcohol while driving started in the early 1980s has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the proportion of deaths in accidents that were alcohol-related. The drop is from 60% of accidents were alcohol-related in 1982 to now a bit more than 30%.

We had the political will to implement stronger controls, to decide that our freedom to enjoy alcohol was not worth the cost in destroyed lives. Alcohol culture was rampant in the decades preceding this shift in political will. Just witness the use of alcohol in Mad Men, which was NOT an exaggeration of the times. 

So, don’t say we can’t change. We just need to decide that the price in lives is a cost we are no longer willing to pay, just like we did with alcohol.

At that Texas school, they knew it was not a bomb.

It is so easy to get caught up in the obvious parts of a story and miss the details that make it all too apparent what was really going on. I’m confident you are aware of the news item about top student, Ahmed Mohamed, who was accused of making a fake/hoax bomb at MacArthur High School in Irvine, Texas, and arrested, fingerprinted, etc. He was not allowed to speak to his parents for over an hour. I admire that in a news conference he was asked if he would meet with the principal of the high school and he said he would not without his lawyer present. They play hard ball with you, play back, they deserve it otherwise their power will consistently be unchecked. Ahmed has all the abused nerds of the world on his side, including President Obama and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg who have publicly proclaimed their support and desire to meet the young man.

That ignorant treatment of the young man was itself worthy of ire; the obvious story had plenty to be outraged about. But, it really isn’t the story that should upset us most.

This is floating around the internet (thank you to my wife for spotting it), a real (or fictional) exchange between two people, one believing the Irvine, Texas school’s statement that they believed the homemade clock was a bomb. Here’s a place to read it in detail (Daily Kos), but this is what the bottom line is: The officials at the school did not evacuate the school, isolate the suspected bomb from people or call the bomb squad. That is to say, they knew it wasn’t a bomb, because anything remotely suspicious is treated as bomb by doing all the above. Their goal seems apparent: to make an example of this kid, to humiliate him for being outstanding along with being of African and Muslim descent, a point of terrible cognitive dissonance, I suspect.

#IStandWithAhmed We all should.

Guns, Gays & God

All wrapped up in a single package here. The story is a brief one on NPR’s website about the US Supreme Court refusing to issue a stay of the Kentucky Supreme Court that the Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky is required to issue marriage licenses. Reading the comments on this brief story, one stood out.


Wow, that captures so much. I’m in awe of it’s simplicity. I also dearly hope someone out there decides to do this in one of those states where ‘religious freedom’ laws are being passed.