Archive for category The Constitution
Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Draper) has introduced S.B. 63, which proposes that Utah join with a coalition of other states totaling 270 electoral votes in order to allocate them as a block to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote. This coalition, called the National Popular Vote, would effectively change the way we elect a President when the electors meet after Election Day in December at the state capitols (constitutionally, that’s when it’s decided). In fact, if this system had been in place in the 2000 election, Utah would have been helped make Al Gore the President — despite the fact a majority of Utahns voted for George W. Bush.
The National Popular Vote law has been enacted by states possessing 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate it.
In an e-mail to constituents, Rep. Greg Hughes supported S.B. 63, saying:
The electoral system does create some unintended side effects. Since the number of electors varies greatly by state (Utah has 6, Florida 29, California 55) consistently red or blue states are accepted as such, and taken for granted in a presidential race. For example, no Republican candidate spends much time in California, and no Democrat candidate spends much time in Utah. As a matter of fact, no candidate spends much time in a state that has historically leaned strongly to either party, instead dedicating most of their time to the eleven or so swing states which could go either way and deliver large numbers of electoral votes. As a consequence, smaller states get ignored –along with states whose majority can be easily predicted. That’s two strikes against a state like Utah.
If the focus were on individual votes (which a mechanism like S.B. 63 would provide) instead of ten swing states, “fly-over land” would suddenly become infinitely more valuable.
S.B. 63 raises an interesting constitutional question.
How can a coalition of states do this without a constitutional amendment that would allow for direct election of the President? States have the right to set the rules governing electors, who are free to vote for anyone eligible to be President. Utah’s electors are not bound to follow the majority popular vote. However, electors traditionally vote for the winning candidate in their state. The few who have broken this unwritten rule are referred to as “faithless electors”.
Given the difficulty of amending the Constitution, it makes sense to try to reform the electoral system on the state level. The National Popular Vote coalition would ensure that that every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election. OTOH you can say the new system would be as undemocratic as the present system, and an election such as the 2000 election would still be highly controversial, except in a different way.
Under the proposed new system, presidential candidates would likely concentrate their campaign efforts in the most populous states instead of the swing states. Utah would not be totally ignored any longer (and would keep its disproportionate 6 electoral votes), but the two major party candidates still might not come here.
Utah Democrats and progressives could go to the polls in the knowledge that their votes might make a difference. At the same time, third-party candidates might lose votes. Voters could worry that voting third-party might hurt the chances of one of the major-party candidates.
Is S.B. 63 a good idea? Any thoughts?
I have stopped watching the GOP presidential candidate debates in favor of the less time-consuming alternative of watching the post-primary speeches. Willard (“Mitt”) Romney’s New Hampshire speech was clearly an attempt to set an all-time record for the lie-to-word ratio. Last night he repeated a lot of those same lies, but I just jotted down his main message and that of the other contenders.
“If you don’t like me, then you must have something against PROSPERITY. And maybe you’re also one of those weaklings who doesn’t like the Warfare State.” Says the guy who spent the Vietnam War in France.
“Paper money is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, and we won’t need any if we cut the federal budget by $1 trillion and stop the wars.” Amazingly, Gingrich came along later in the evening and agreed with Paul about fiat money.
Shorter Rick (not James, the real Rick):
“We need to get back to WORKING-CLASS VALUES and blue-collar jobs. Plus shotgun weddings, gotta love those.” Probably the most sincere candidate, although clueless.
“Get the country back on the right track by rejecting the NEW YORK-WASHINGTON ELITES, and the news media. It’s American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” Tell me how Gingrich is not part of the elite. And I’m still wondering who the hell Saul Alinsky might be – besides a GOP punching bag.
None of these guys has laid out a practical plan for recovering the economy, and getting back the jobs and homes lost in Bush’s Great Recession. Only Ron Paul has opposed the pointless wars, the unconstitutional USA PATRIOT Act and all the other assaults on the Bill of Rights, but then again he thinks everything the federal government does is unconstitutional. Not one of them will concede that climate change is happening, much less propose solutions.
BTW the cable news channels failed to report that Herman Cain (or Stephen Colbert) came in fifth place in South Carolina, with 6,324 votes. Cain actually received more votes than Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann combined.
UPDATE: According to the exit polls, Mitt Romney lost all income levels with the exception of those making over $200,000 a year.
I think I’ve just eye-witnessed the spontaneous birth of a new political party and in the most unlikely of places – Utah.
But, hey. Why not Utah? Are we not the home of political mavericks?
Did we Utahns not replace a senior, sitting senator at convention (Bennett R-UT) with an insane, tea-party nobody? Did we not also deliver the only sane GOP candidate for president (Jon Huntsman)?
That’s right. So no one should be surprised widely popular, 2-term, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is running for President. And its about time. Even if this time around is just a warm up, it will be fun.
Here’s why: How many progressive, red-state mayors can say they handed Bill O’Reilly his ass on O’Reilly’s own show …/anderson-spanks-bill-oreilly/, or provoked Sean Hannity into to a live debate televised on Fox News! (…that one turned into a professional wrestling match. Make some popcorn its a 2-hour brawl.)
That was two Wednesday’s ago. The next day, folks began to gather at Rocky’s house in Salt Lake. Paul Zieitz came out from Washington and a nascent steering committee kicked into high gear. The first state committee was tele-formed and a plan to get on the ballot in all fifty states was hatched around a dining room table and a speaker phone. (If you would like to form a committee in your state, contact Paul (end of press release)
This is not at all how I expected a third party to form. I always thought it would be a well funded, meticulously-planned, institutionally sponsored effort. Instead, it just happened. And like the Occupy Movement, no one owns it and it has no platform…yet.
The founding and interim steering committee are made up of the most unlikely characters: more women than men, all busy and passionate, but otherwise ‘unremarkable.’
The first, monumental task ahead is to get on the ballot in California. That means 103,000 Justice party registrations or approx 200K signatures BY JAN 2…two weeks? If that miracle happens, the other 49 states should be a cinch. Stranger things have happened.
Hey, people are winter camping in public parks in every major city in the world and one of the major American political parties seems about to crash and burn along with its media arm (Murdoch). A political vacuum is forming.
Its crazy. Everything is crazy. The rules are changing. A Dkos recommend can change the world. But it feels right and it feels unstoppable.
The Senate voted Tuesday to keep a controversial provision of the massive National Defense Authorization Act that would let the military detain Americans on U.S. soil and hold them indefinitely without trial. The legislation was authored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), and would require the military to dedicate a significant number of personnel to capturing and holding so-called “terrorism suspects.” It was attached to the authorization bill without any hearings, in a closed-door committee meeting.
In a chilling statement on the Senate floor during yesterday’s debate, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said: “America is part of the battlefield. We firmly believe the war is coming back home.” This is a “war” without a defined enemy, goals, timetable, or victory conditions which grants vast unconstitutional powers to the government to “protect” us.
Both of Utah’s senators voted in favor of the military detention program.
The White House staff has issued a statement (PDF) threatening a presidential veto:
This unnecessary, untested, and legally controversial restriction of the President’s authority to defend the Nation from terrorist threats would tie the hands of our intelligence and law enforcement professionals. Moreover, applying this military custody requirement to individuals inside the United States, as some Members of Congress have suggested is their intention, would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets. We have spent ten years since September 11, 2001, breaking down the walls between intelligence, military, and law enforcement professionals; Congress should not now rebuild those walls and unnecessarily make the job of preventing terrorist attacks more difficult.
In other words, President Obama doesn’t like this legislation because he doesn’t want any laws that might restrict the Executive Branch’s currently unlimited power to imprison Americans without any charges. This power stems from the Military Commissions Act of 2006, an unconstitutional law that suspended the right of habeas corpus.
Nevertheless, Jack Goldsmith has doubts about whether Obama will follow through on his veto threat.
So this is where we are now. The Washington politicians are nearly unanimous in the belief that government ought to be able to imprison U.S. citizens indefinitely without even having to say why. Their only disagreement is over the details of how this happens.
BTW the next time the DSCC calls to ask me for money to keep the Big Bad Republicans from taking over the Senate, I’m going to be even less polite than I was the last time!
UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald:
This is the war-hungry U.S. Congress acting preemptively to ensure that there is no sense in the citizenry that the War on Terror — and especially all of the vast new powers it spawned — can start to wind down, let alone be reversed.
BREAKING, via TPM:
In a suit filed in federal court in Utah late Tuesday, Justice Department officials argue that the government “has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters.”
“Utah’s adoption of its own immigration policy disrupts the federal government’s ability both to administer and enforce the federal immigration laws including as set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”), and to establish and pursue federal policies and priorities pertaining to, inter alia, the identification, apprehension, detention and removal of aliens unlawfully in the United States,” the suit claims.
We told you so. Rep. Stephen Sandstrom thought that it was OK for Utah to ignore the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution in an attempt to score political points with right-wing opponents of immigration. The DOJ has already sued Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina. Now it’s our turn.
Avi Asher-Schapiro reports for Salon that the Egyptian military is using teargas made by an American company, CSI, based in Jamestown, Penn.
So, to sum up the irony: We invade a country in the middle east, Iraq, because they had nothing to do with a terrorist attack made, at least partly, because many people felt America is an imperial power, and has too much military influence. Since we know they had nothing to do with the attack, we have to add talk about “spreading democracy” into the mix. We don’t actually spread democracy, rather we bomb a couple hundred thousand Iraqis into the next world. This is totally not an example of the afore mentioned military influence or imperial behavior. Just sayin’.
Via Digby, I learned today that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is definitely involved in the coordinated effort to suppress the 99 Percent Movement. I have nothing against the good men and women of DHS, whose mission is to “ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards.” However, that mission statement says nothing about attacking peaceful demonstrations that are supported by the majority of Americans.
An anonymous Justice Department official told the Minneapolis Examiner’s Rick Ellis that the recent evictions of Occupy movement across the country including Salt Lake City, Denver, Portland, Oakland, and New York City were “coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.” Apparently, DHS is now providing “threat assessments” to local law enforcement and they even arrested protesters in Portland. Un-answered questions include whether federal aid has been given to cities to provide overtime pay for police conducting middle-of-the-night raids on demonstrators, and why these coordinated crackdowns took place while President Obama was out of the country.
Update: ‘Occupy’ crackdowns coordinated with federal law enforcement officials
Homeland Security detain Occupy Portland Photographer
Justice Dept: Homeland Security Advised Raids On Occupy Wall Street Camps
DOCUMENT: Department of Homeland Security: “Occupy Pittsburgh Threat Assessment”
While the spotlight is on the 99 Percent Movement and our demands for justice and democracy, we might have lost track of what our friends the Blue Dog “Dems” are up to. Think Progress has an update. Rep. Jim Matheson and his fellow Blue Dogs are endorsing a Republican plan for a radical Balanced Budget Amendment, a plan that according to recent analyses would actually cost America 15 million jobs.
It’s hard to overestimate the negative effects such an amendment would have on the country’s economy. In addition to destroying millions of jobs, it would force such massive spending cuts that House Republicans’ own budget would be unconstitutional. According to a recent study by Macroeconomic Advisers, enacting a BBA now would double the nation’s unemployment rate and cause the economy to shrink by 17 percent — a far cry from the 2 percent projected growth that would occur with no such amendment.
Unfortunately, according to another analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the consequences get worse. The draconian budget cuts caused by a Balanced Budget Amendment would force lawmakers to gut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), among other programs…
Given that this incredibly bad constitutional amendment is never going to be enacted, why is Rep. Matheson backing it? It’s an empty gesture, a loud “screw you” to the American middle class and nothing more. Is Matheson tired of asking Utahns to vote for him? Did he decide to campaign against the 99 Percent and see if that works? I can’t explain it.
The U.S. House of Representatives votes today on a resolution to affirm the phrase “In God We Trust” as the nation’s official motto. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), the founder and chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, sponsored the legislation. Nice to know Congress is keeping busy, with so little going on in these days of peace and prosperity.
No one is proposing to change the motto. It’s engraved in stone on public buildings. It’s on our money. My father used to joke that they always forgot the second part, “… All others pay cash.”
Interestingly enough, the motto was adopted in 1956, one year after the phrase “under God” was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance. The legislation that made “In God We Trust” official actually violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”
Next time a politician gets on a podium and starts pontificating about how government needs to start abiding by the Constitution, I hope somebody asks what would be a good replacement for the national motto.
UPDATE: Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:
“This meaningless, purely symbolic vote won’t create one job, help one family struggling to pay its mortgage or rebuild one piece of infrastructure… I think we know by now that this Congress likes God. Can we move on?”
Salon blogger and Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald appeared on Democracy Now! Friday morning to voice his displeasure over the United States’ killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, a U.S. citizen who was considered a radical cleric for Al-Qaeda.
Well, the “chief of external operations” for al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen has been taken out. At least, that’s the title given to him by the Obama administration. The killing of New Mexico – born Anwar al-Awlaki, plus another American named Samir Khan, was hailed this morning on MSNBC as “V-Q Day” for victory over al-Qaeda. War over, we won.
Or maybe, we just killed a guy with a website. Which is stupid, because his words will live after him anyway now that he’s been made into a martyr. No proof has been offered that al-Awlaki was an enemy combatant by any real definition, let alone a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader, nor was he charged with any crime. Since the U.S. government never even tried to revoke his citizenship, we must conclude that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him of anything. Instead, they just gave him an extra-judicial death sentence. We’re told that other Americans are still on the list to be assassinated, but the names have not been made public.
No, the war isn’t over. The Obama administration has redefined presidential war powers, asserting the courts should play no role in establishing and enforcing the rules under which the president can kill American citizens that he unilaterally determines to pose a threat.
The targeted killing program violates both U.S. and international law. As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts. The government’s authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific, and imminent. It is a mistake to invest the President — any President — with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country.
President candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX):
“If the American people accept this blindly and casually, that we now have an accepted practice of the president assassinating people who he thinks are bad guys, I think it’s sad.”
UPDATE: Scarecrow on FDL:
The inescapable conclusion is that the rest of the world is becoming America’s “free fire zone,” and the President, this government, and perhaps too many of the American people think it’s not only okay but something to celebrate when we behave exactly like the terrorists we supposedly abhor.
The US military is the greatest military force the world has ever known. But that means that when commanded by civilian leaders with little regard for the rule of law, it can also become the most dangerous terrorist state the world has ever known.
UPDATE: Josh Marshall of TPM says that killing Anwar al-Awlaki was legal, and the right thing to do.
UPDATE: Via Glenn Greenwald, a major question has been answered. If Awlaki was a traitor as alleged by the U.S. government for years, why was he still a citizen?
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department last week incredibly admitted what was obvious all along: there is no legal basis for stripping Awlaki of the protections of citizenship:
While the Obama administration contends al-Awlaki’s U.S. citizenship didn’t prevent the CIA from targeting the alleged terror leader with a drone, the government didn’t have the right to take away that citizenship.
“It’s interesting,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Friday’s daily briefing amid a barrage of questions on the airstrike that killed al-Awlaki in Yemen. Nuland said she asked State Department lawyers whether the government can revoke a person’s citizenship based on their affiliation with a foreign terrorist group, and it turned out there’s no law on the books authorizing officials to do so. “An American can be stripped of citizenship for committing an act of high treason and being convicted in a court for that. But that was obviously not the case in this case,” she said. “Under U.S. law, there are seven criteria under which you can strip somebody of citizenship, and none of those applied in this case.”
In other words: we wanted to strip Awlaki of his citizenship, but there’s no legal authority for us to do that, so we just went ahead and killed him. What a world apart from George Bush.
UPDATE: Via anonymous sources, Reuters reports that the Obama administration marks U.S. citizens for death based on the findings of a secret committee of the National Security Council. The process was approved by a secret legal memo from the DOJ. This all sounds familiar.
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