Archive for the ‘ Politics ’ Category

Need to bone up

Who among you can recommend me some good books to get up to speed on the following topics:

  • International Relations Theory
  • History of Africa from ~1800 onward
  • History of Asia (outside of China), from about the same time frame

I’m keenly feeling my deficits in these areas, and want to improve.

ETA: Also, any human-readable books on computer science or cryptography would be appreciated.


Legislating for the people, not a party

Well, the Wisconsin Senate GOP has done its part to strip public sector unions (except police and firefighters) of their collective bargaining rights, passing an amended version of the “budget repair bill” 18-1. I don’t really have much to say about the details of the bill; you can read about that here (NYT), here (Trib), here (WSJ), here (Nat’l Review) …

It looks as though the bill itself is safe on technical grounds, because the purely “fiscal” provisions were removed (See Wis. State Constitution, Art. VIII, Sec. 8), though there is a chance it may’ve violated public notice provisions of Wisconsin’s open meeting law.

Regardless of whether or not you think that weakening unions is a necessary step in battling state budget deficits, it cannot be ignored that there is a very relevant political element to these proceedings: weakening the electoral clout of organized labor. Of the elements remaining in the bill, the only ones which strike me as directly affecting the budget deficit are the increases in employee contributions to their pensions and health care; forcing annual votes on union membership and curtailing collective bargaining have only a dubious (or even nonexistent) relationship to budget deficit reduction.

Jonathan Chait neatly sums up the larger implications of this type of legislating:

Obviously, Republicans think that crippling the Democratic Party is long-term is part of what they need to do to control state-level budgets. But I think the more likely result is simply that Democrats will pass a ball allowing collective bargaining among public employees as soon as they return to power. The ramifications of parties using their political power in order to try to cripple the opposing party are a lot deeper and more dangerous than Walker seems to be reckoning.

On the upside, since this section of the budget repair bill was removed (though probably only temporarily), the sale of Wisconsin’s state-owned power utilities to Koch Industries has been delayed!


A Thought Experiment

So, imagine you’re the governor of the imaginary state of Blobsylvania. You pass a law that says that baseball teams can exist, but they are not allowed to play baseball. Sell jerseys, fine. Host memorabilia signings, ok. But they’re not allowed to play any games involving two teams, pitchers, batters, bases, etc.

This would, I’m sure we can agree, pretty much gut baseball as a thing. It would destroy the very reason baseball teams exist.

This is what just happened in Wisconsin. When you say that unions aren’t allowed to collectively bargain for the good of their members, you take away their reason to be. It’s not, as far as I know, legal to just flat out ban unions (people better at this than me can confirm/disconfirm). But Walker just took public employees back to the gilded age, but cutting out the unions’ reason to exist.

DOMA: Crucial difference between ‘defense’ and ‘enforcement’

A statement from Speaker of the House John Boehner today highlights a troubling lack of understanding of the Dept. of Justice’s decision not to defend DOMA in the courts:

The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts — not by the president unilaterally — and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution.

First of all, the executive branch does not have the power to declare a law unconstitutional. That is reserved for the judicial branch. By simply stating that they will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA before the courts, Pres. Obama and the Department of Justice have not overstepped their bounds in any way; Attorney General Holder’s letter which sparked this whole debate states very plainly that “Section 3 of DOMA will continue to remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or there is a final judicial finding that strikes it down, and the President has informed me that the Executive Branch will continue to enforce the law.”

There is a big difference between a refusal to defend a law in the courts, which has many precedents, and a refusal to enforce a law that was duly enacted by the Congress, which is an abdication of the executive branch’s constitutional responsibility. With regards to DOMA, DOJ’s actions fall within the former category. It is also legally justified because the cases at hand (Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States) fall under the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit Court, which does not have a precedent for the level of scrutiny which should be applied to sexual orientation. As Holder’s letter states, DOJ has previously defended DOMA in jurisdictions where precedents exist that apply a simple ‘rational basis test‘ to laws pertaining to sexual orientation. However, the Obama administration believes that ‘strict scrutiny’ ought to apply to cases where sexual orientation is a material issue; it also believes that Section 3 of DOMA does not meet this standard of strict scrutiny, therefore it will not defend the issue before the Second Circuit.

However, this does not mean that Obama or Holder have ‘unilaterally’ declared DOMA unconstitutional, nor have they refused to enforce it. The ultimate question of whether strict scrutiny or rational basis review applies to cases concerning sexual orientation is still up to the courts, as well as the question of whether or not Section 3 of DOMA meets the standard which the courts decide upon. If defenders of DOMA had actually taken the time to parse Holder’s letter or use their brains for half a second, rather than spewing reactionary bullshit to score political points with values voters and separation-of-powers fearmongers, they would’ve seen that the legal fate of DOMA is still very much up in the air; and barring legislative action, it will be decided in the courts.

Of course, other thoughtful people have already said as much; I just wanted to add my voice to Incomprehensible Shouting.

Judicial system *might* lead to justice

The U.S. Attorney General’s Office today released a statement announcing that it will no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. This may pave the way for DOMA to eventually be struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (since any decisions mirroring the Justice Department’s new stance will inevitably be appealed).

In my mind, marriage equality is not about the liberalization of tradition, but a matter of civil rights. Married individuals have been granted legal rights based solely on the fact that they are married. When you create rights determined solely by one’s desire to enter into a legally-binding relationship with another person, you absolutely cannot deny those rights to another person – who wishes to do the same thing – simply because you disapprove of the person with whom they choose to enter into that legally-binding relationship. This does not mean that churches can be forced to marry homosexual couples – they can’t. But in the eyes of the law, people must be allowed to marry the person whom they choose; it must be fair.

With the federal government backing down its defense of DOMA, our judicial system may now have a chance of actually serving justice.

And don’t bitch about a “slippery slope” to polygamy or bestiality, because that’s just stupid.

Cheesehead cronyism

In this country, we love to say that politicians with whom we disagree are corrupt, controlled by special interests, inept, etc … Though usually we have little else to go on aside from our own disdain. Here, however, is a pretty stark example of corporate cronyism in the works ….

By now we’ve all heard about the protests in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. Hell, a handful of the state senators were even hiding out here in Rockford. But removing public employee protections without any consent is only one part of the Walker’s “Budget Repair Bill.”

Equally as troubling is the proviso allowing the governor to sell off state-owned utilities to whomsoever he pleases without needing to even glance at another bid. Not that this should be any surprise; it’s the bog-standard conservative line of the last few decades: privatize. Privatize. PRIVATIZE! What is troubling, however, is the role of Charles and David Koch and their PAC, Americans for Prosperity, in helping elect and advise Walker and a sympathetic Republican-controlled legislature in the first place.

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Politico’s Ben Smith all report that the Kochs do not have any financial interest in the outcome of the bill, and they point to Gov. Walker’s previously stated desire to break up the unions as proof that this is a state matter. But that still leaves the focus on the collective bargaining parts of Walker’s bill, and doesn’t address the tangible interests Koch Industries has in Wisconsin’s energy sector (nod to for the link).

Finally, Susie Madrak over at Crooks & Liars found this little gem of a job advertisement:

Energy client is looking for experienced Plant Managers for multiple power plants located in Wisconsin. You need 15+ years of operations & maintenance experience in a power plant environment. You should have at least 5 years of experience managing operations & maintenance teams in an operational power plant. The ideal candidate has experience in a coal fired power plant. Salary is commensurate with experience.

Why would a company describe itself merely as an “energy client” in a job advertisement if it was serious about attracting top talent? A prestigious name alone is usually enough to flood an HR department with applications. Now I do happen to believe in coincidences, and I cannot say for certain that something sinister is going on here, but these events are lining up just a little too perfectly for me not to believe that. The saddest part is, if it turns out that the Koch brothers did engineer a corporate takeover of Wisconsin’s energy sector, it will have been done in public view and perfectly legal.



The Culpability of Rhetoric

Alex Seitz-Wald over at ThinkProgress beat me to it on the point I’m about to make, but I swear I wrote this entire post while at work and before I’d even checked that blog’s content on the shooting in Arizona. And if you don’t believe me, well there’s nothing I can do about that; read the link above and at least you’ll still be exposed to essentially the same notion I hope to impress upon you now …

Oh, and since this is now redundant, I’m not going to take time to change what I’ve currently got in front of me, so if it doesn’t have the smoothest flow … well, there are still worse writers on the Internet.

Let’s begin.

Since the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and murder of six people this past Saturday, much of the cause-and-effect debate has focused on the role of “heated rhetoric” in spurring Jared Lee Loughner to commit his heinous crime. I’m not here to lay blame at the feet of any particular individuals or groups simply because they do employ the type of language currently under fire; what I instead hope to do is outline a basic explanation for how such language can function as a catalyst for violent political action.

The heated rhetoric in question, say those on the left, while not directly advocating violence against opposing political figures, implies that such action is acceptable or even desirable. I am unwilling at this point to go even that far, and cannot comment on the subconscious motivations of the Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins regarding political violence. But what I can say is that such language, even without advocating violence either implicitly or explicitly, can provide an individual with a personally-compelling rationala for such violence. It gives those who might have violent tendencies a logical framework into which they can incorporate such violent impulses as a necessary component.

I believe it is quite pointless to argue about speculations on whether or not certain pundits and demagogues subconsciously exhort individuals to violent political actions; but this does not mean that we cannot debate which, and to what extent, concrete actions taken by such public figures influence such deadly occasions. In other words, you can’t prove that they wanted someone to gun down a disagreeable public official, but you can show that their words were a factor which lead to the shooter’s decision to go through with the crime. To recognize that plitical violence is a potential and realistic consequence, whether desired or not, of certain types of political rhetoric need not devolve into speculations on intent; that politics was unquestionably a factor in Jared Lee Loughner’s decision to act is enough to denounce the use of such language by anyone left, right, or center. When an individual’s or group’s politics is no longer about contestable differences of opinion, but an existential struggle for survival, and when opposing belief systems and their adherents are painted solely as an enemy, the potential for violence becomes much more likely. When discourse ceases to be illocutionary, we invite the type of tragedy like that in Arizona.

So, is Sarah Palin culpable for the murders in Arizona? Only in the sense that she is irresponsible in her rhetoric for failing to recognize the potential consequences of such language in the pursuit of relatively narrow political goals. That being said, however, her hyper-defensive response to such accusations without acknowledging this irresponsibility does begin to say something about her unspoken attitudes regarding violence …