Thursday, March 5, 2015

DHS as Sacrificial Lamb

Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?
— Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

It all worked out beautifully and the way it was structured made it absolutely clear that the House of Representatives was not acting out of self interest when it finally decided to fund Homeland Security and put an end to end the stalemate that threatened to defund Homeland Security, an action that would have put the whole country at risk of all manner of bad things from which it is protected by that agency. Members of Congress were acting in the best interests of the entire country which is exactly what we have come to expect from our elected representatives. It also became obvious why it did what it did.

At first observers wondered why members of the House didn’t link passage of legislation to reverse the president’s executive order with respect to immigration, to its own compensation instead of to the compensation of the folk who work at Homeland Security. Almost all of them earn considerably less than members of Congress and it is fairly certain that the President consulted with absolutely no one in Homeland Security before issuing the executive order to which Republicans took such strenuous objection. Why members of Congress did what they did and what members of the House who were the last hold-outs were almost certainly thinking was that if they were threatening to withhold their own pay (instead of the pay of those in Homeland Security) it would make them look bad if and when they finally agreed to approve their own pay without reversing the executive order to which they so strenuously objected. Had they structured the deal so that their pay was tied to overturning the executive order, the impasse might have been short lived. More importantly, however, if their opposition proved to be short lived, people would have assumed it was because members of Congress were more concerned about their compensation than about their principles. Therefore, they decided it made more sense to hold those who work for Homeland Security hostage to its goals so its members would not be accused of having acted out of self-interest when they finally accepted the inevitable.

The folks at Homeland Security probably wonder why they, of all the governmental agencies funded by Congress, became participants in the budget vs. the immigrants fight. The answer is Homeland Security is a very small agency. As of October 2013 the federal government had 2,721,000 employees (excluding members of the armed forces). Only two hundred thirty thousand people work at Homeland Security. Of that number 200,000 are considered “exempt employees” whose work is “necessary for safety of life and protection property.” They are required by contract to continue work even though they receive no pay until the budget is approved at which point they receive back pay. “Exempt employees” include, among others, those who are part of the formal greeters at the nation’s airports as travelers pass through security. It also includes those who are the first to greet illegal immigrants shortly after they have crossed the border into the United States. Since “exempt employees” are required to show up for work even if they receive no pay checks until the standoff comes to and the public would not even notice that they were working for free. Making them work for free inconveniences only 200,00 employees rather than the general public and members of Congress understandably thought that a small price for them to pay in order to reverse the President’s executive order on immigration reform. Only someone unschooled in the mind of the mindless in Congress would be puzzled by the link. (If a shutdown had occurred, the remaining 30,000 non-exempt Homeland Security employees would have been sent home and would have received no pay for their days off.)

The foregoing proves only one thing. The love members of Congress have for the United States and the appreciation they have for the work done by Homeland Security employees, who make them and the rest of the country safe, is exceeded only by their dislike for the President and his executive order. To prove their dislike they were prepared to let Homeland Security employees be the ones to make sacrifices for their country so members of Congress could make political points for themselves.

As we now know, the entire affair had a happy ending. People who work at Homeland Security were not forced to work without pay until the standoff ended or, in the case of a minority, go home for an indefinite leave without pay. The President’s executive order remains in full force and effect and members of Congress can now return to the difficult, but self-imposed task, of governing by doing nothing on the few days they can bring themselves to stay in Washington each month. Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

Discuss this column [1]


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jewels from Giuliani

Quick, send in the clowns,
Don’t bother they’re here.
— Stephen Sondheim, Send in the clowns

We are in Rudolph Giuliani’s debt. He has given Republican wannabe- presidents something of substance to discuss and has introduced a gentle note into the campaign-love. Until Rudy came along many of the candidates seemed to have no idea what to say other than to attack the Affordable Care Act which they all agree is dreadful because it gives health care to millions of Americans who had theretofore been unable to afford it. Although members of Congress and prospective republican candidates do not tire of raising the issue, the average voter is more than tired of hearing about it. After all, when Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted 54 times to repeal the law knowing the votes would have no effect, for a man hoping to become president to mimic their words suggest he is pretty much out of ideas. Happily, Rudolph has gotten them off the hook. And instead of hate and calumny Rudy has made the present conversation to be all about love. Since it is Rudy who changed the conversation a word about who he is is in order.

Rudolph Giuliani is a former mayor of New York City and a former wannabe himself. He has a deep love of the United States of America. Most recently he made news when he took New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to task for ending that practice of which all who deeply love this country were so proud-inserting spies inside Muslim congregations during worship services. The spies did not call themselves spies even though that is what they were. They were members of New York’s finest, inconspicuously dressed so as not to alarm the people they were spying on. Mr. Giuliani proudly told an interviewer that it was he who, as mayor, increased the number of police in the mosques because, as he explained, “ the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 was organized in a mosque.” By putting more police in the mosques he was taking steps to deter further acts of terrorism. 9/11 proved the success of Rudy’s approach.

In that same interview Rudy’s understanding of the constitution and the right to privacy it bestows on its citizens was demonstrated when he said: “What rabbi, what priest would care if there were police in their service? What are they saying in the service that they should be concerned about?” He could ask that question of anyone who has been complaining about the fact that the government has been eavesdropping on its citizens unbeknownst to them. Unless they are plotting evil, Rudy suggests, they have nothing to fear from such activities. Rudy also has an uncanny ability to judge other people.

In a 2012 iinterview with CNBC’s Larry Kudlow he said of Vice president Biden: “I think the vice president . . . has become a laugh line on late night television. . . .”this guy just isn’t bright. He’s never been bright . . .. Actually he’s just not very smart.” To his observations about Biden he has now added his thoughts about the president.

At an event for Wisconsin’s college-drop-out governor, Scott Walker, Rudy said: “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.” In a non sequitur he went on to say: “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. “ Why anyone would love Rudy is certainly a question for the ages and why anyone should love a bunch of wealthy know nothings gathered to celebrate ignorance and raise money for their cause is also a mystery.

Scott Walker who hopes to be the next president seized the “love”moment. Asked about Rudy’s comments he declined to praise or criticize but courageously said: “I’ll tell you, I love America, and I think there are plenty of people-Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between-who love this country.” Those words gave lots of listeners goose bumps because they were both profound and heart felt. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the “gist” of Rudy’s nonsense was true and he would not condemn the mayor for his words. Darrell Issa, whose less than savory background before becoming a member of Congress has been well documented, did not want to be left out of the discussion. Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” he proved a skilled wordsmith pointing out that Rudy said he “didn’t believe” that the president loves America rather than stating as fact that the president doesn’t love America.

Although most of us will spend little time wondering about Mr. Obama’s love of country, there is one thing we will surely be wondering about for the next 18 months. Which of the Republican clowns hoping to be the next Republican candidate for president will actually be selected by the party of Lincoln.

Discuss this column [1]


Thursday, February 19, 2015

More Moore

Old times there are not forgotten.

— Dixie, Old American Folk Song

Alabama is back, represented by Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of its Supreme Court and by the W.F. Burns Middle School in Valley, Alabama. Roy comes first.

In 2000 Roy was campaigning to become the Chief Justice. That was the year the Vermont legislature passed legislation approving gay unions. Campaigning a few days before the Alabama June primary election was to take place, Judge Moore commented on the Vermont law saying the next logical step was for a law to be passed that would allow unions between “two men and four women” or between “a sheep and a man.” He was, of course, speaking in jest. Musing further he said: “Let me ask you this. Are you going to pay your tax money to support a man and a sheep on welfare? Hmmmm?” Judge Moore won the primary and then the general election and became the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. As Chief Justice he had other opportunities to express himself on the evils of homosexuality. In a custody battle involving a lesbian mother he said that homosexuality is “abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” Homosexuals, he went on, are “presumptively unfit to have custody of minor children.”

While serving as Chief Justice, Roy commissioned a 5,280-pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments and had it installed in the central rotunda of the State Judicial Building. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court ruling ordering removal of the monument and when the Chief Justice refused, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary removed Roy from office and the monument was removed from the rotunda. The monument is still gone. Elected again in 2012, Roy Moore is again serving as Chief Justice and is again asserting himself in opposition to a federal court.

In late January 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Callie V. Granade ordered Alabama probate judges to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, a ruling that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to postpone. Accordingly, probate judges were required by the federal court order to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Chief Justice Moore ordered the probate judges to ignore the federal court’s order and to decline to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. As of this writing 51 probate judges have elected to follow the federal court’s order and 17 others have elected to follow Roy’s order. On February 13, 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court, by a 6-2 ruling, acted on an emergency petition filed by the Liberty Counsel and two other groups opposed to same-sex marriage. It ordered probate judges who were issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples to respond to the Liberty Counsel’s petition that seeks an order telling probate judges to cease and desist their issuance of marriage licenses to same sex couples. The Alabama Supreme Court’s response suggests that six members of the Alabama Supreme Court believe the state judges have the right to ignore orders from a federal court. All briefs will have been filed by February 20 and the Alabama Supreme Court should have the opportunity to issue an opinion shortly thereafter. No one is taking any bets on the outcome.

Meanwhile, out in the country the W.F. Burns Middle School in Valley, Alabama, is in the news. W.F. Burns is, for good reason, concerned about the safety of its students. Unlike many schools that have promoted the idea that teachers should be permitted to carry firearms into the classroom in order to shoot possible assailants, W. F. Burns has decided to implement an idea for school safety already used in some other school districts hoping to enhance student safety.

School officials sent a letter home to all parents asking that they give their children canned goods to bring to school. The canned goods are not for eating (although they’ll be given to the needy at the end of the school year) but are instead an enhancement to procedures already in place to deal with intruders. According to the letter sent to parents: “The procedure will be the same as we have done in the past with the addition of arming our students with a canned food item. We realize at first this may seem odd, however, it is a practice that would catch an intruder off-guard. The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive. The canned food item will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters their classroom. . . . We hope the canned food items will never be used or needed, but it is best to be prepared.”

There is a certain symmetry to the Alabama Supreme Court’s action and the school’s action. Throwing a can of peas at an intruder armed with an automatic weapon makes as much sense as the Alabama Supreme Court trying to decide whether a federal court’s orders have to be followed by state judges. The introduction of canned peas into the classroom, however, does no damage to the rule of law in Alabama. That is more than can be said for the Alabama Supreme Court’s actions.

Discuss this column