We've written before about the movement to change the Constitution to allow for the direct election of the president via popular vote. Yesterday, a bill passed in Rhode Island to add their name to the compact. It's likely Lincoln Chafee will sign it.
Here's how things stand now; click on the map for more information:
The deal is that when states with the equivalent of 270 electoral college votes sign on to the compact stating that they will accord their electoral college votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of how their state voted, the issue will go to Congress. There is a discussion about whether Congressional action would be required, but there's a movement afoot to introduce legislation because you know it's going to court.
Now, personally, I have mixed feelings on the idea of a national popular vote. On the one hand, I like the Constitution (okay, most everything more than the Second Amendment). And back in 2011 when we first posted on this, I couldn't see a compelling reason. But that was before the blue states controlled by Republicans started the push to disenfranchise everyone who wasn't an old white guy, or an old white woman subservient to an old white guy.
In many states, it's not just the direct voter suppression struck down by the Supremes yesterday, nor the Voter ID legislation - they're actually working legislatively at the state level to steal votes to game the Electoral College. And since most people are too stupid or lazy to vote in elections other than the presidential, these creepy elected officials get to hold their seats. And they'll pass things that, if they survive a court challenge, is the sole chance the GOP has of winning a presidential election.
It may be that allowing for all votes to count nationally is the only recourse against their attempted thievery.
The Framers bent over backwards to balance things between large states and small states. But things were very different back then. No airplanes. No telephones. No 24/7 media. And hey, no polls. It's hard to imagine that the Framers foresaw a country where the Republican nominee for president was dictated by the outcomes of very few states. When there were Framers, for example, there was no Iowa or Nevada. They didn't understand the immediacy of voting. Back then, votes were counted and then compiled in one place having been carried by horseback. No one knew an outcome that day, or even that week. Technology has changed elections.
So in this age of technology, some states are "overlooked" by candidates based not on geography or size, but by whether or not they're considered toss-ups. When is the last time you heard of a presidential candidate going to, say, Wyoming? Or Idaho? Or even California for any reason other than a fund raiser?
Perhaps we need to use technology better and for a cleaner outcome. This could also help with the weariness that sets in when the next presidential election starts before the inauguration of the one elected. Wouldn't it be interesting if all political ads were banned from TV until January of the election year? And then each candidate would have create a 30 minute "ad" that would be accessible on CSpan On Demand, and on the internet from 1 January until primary day, which could be national, and on the 1st of April. In February and March, there could be televised debates. Candidates chosen NOT by polls, but by whether they qualified for the ballot in a minimum of states with 270 electoral college votes. Then, the conventions would be in May, the candidates chosen, and the whole election season would be compressed into June through November. (Yeah, it's long, but it's actually shorter than it is now.) Everyone votes, and the tallies go up by number of votes, as opposed to a state-by-state accounting.
Remember when Chris Christie set the Senatorial special election date three weeks prior to the already scheduled November date? Well....he was sued. The state appeals court ruled Thursday that Christie was within his rights to set an election 20 days before another election, but the State Supreme Court agreed to hear an immediate appeal.
At issue are the costs of the additional election, the ability of the machines to be reset in time for the next election, and the logistics of getting people to the polls twice in terms of getting out the sample ballots, arranging for election workers, etc. The appeals court said that most of that list related to policy issues and they took Christie at his word (emphasis mine) that there would be no problems with the electronic voting machines.
The State Supreme Court waived the application process, said no to oral arguments, and gave the petitioners until 10 a.m. Monday morning to submit briefs. They'll give the Christie administration 24 hours to respond. They will then rule at any time.
In addition, Union County has declined to fund the special election, calling it fiscally irresponsible. They'll reconsider if the courts say they have to, or if the Christie administration agrees to pay at least part of the costs of the special election. Of note, have you wondered why there are so many NJ Democratic Party leaders supporting Christie? One of the reasons is his largesse with state funds to his supporters. Most, although not all, of the Union County hoi polloi, are not Christie supporters.
Under the radar is another Senate special election: the Massachusetts election to replace John Kerry. Polling indicates that Markey is ahead of Gomez by 9 - 13 points, and hopefully the citizens of the great state of Massachusetts don't want another Scott Brown on their hands. 10 days to go.
This past week, the Supreme Court issued seven opinions (leaving nineteen cases still outstanding for the next two weeks), four from April (leaving six), two from March (leaving five), and one from February (leaving two). Of the fourteen cases I noted in last week's post as being potentially significant, only one came down this week -- Association for Molecular Pathology vs. Myriad Genetics.
The question in this case was whether Myriad Genetics could patent its discovery of two genes that are associated with breast cancer, thereby giving Myriad a monopoly on developing products based on that discovery. (My understanding of the science is that it is technically a "defect" in this gene that is associated with a greater likelihood of breast cancer). The Supreme Court held that while a company could patent a synthesized gene (e.g a new gene sequence to "fix" these two genes), the existence of the naturally occurring gene (both in its healthy and risky variations) was knowledge that could not be patented.
The positive side of the decision (which was expected by most observers based on the questions at oral argument) is that the discovery of genes associated with diseases is not patentable, thereby allowing other scientists and companies the opportunity to develop cures that fix the problems caused by certain genetic variations.
What is potentially patentable are specific "tests" to detect the "defective" genes as well as potential treatments -- both more permanent genetic fixes as well as medications to provide the protein manufactured by the "normal" sequence or to counteract the protein manufactured by the "defective" sequence.
In other words, this decision lives a window open for other companies to develop cheaper and more effective tests and cures, but still leaves room for the companies that initially discover these genes to obtain patents on the first generation of medical products related to these genes. (Doc Jess, if you have any thoughts from the medical perspective on what this might mean, I would welcome the medical take on what this decision might mean.)
Every once in a while, a politician or two lives on the dollar equivalent of food stamps (SNAP) for a day, or maybe a week. This week, it's 26 members of Congress. (List here) I understand why they're doing it: the Senate farm bill cuts SNAP. Again. Before the latest round of cuts, the current amount one can eat on is $4.50/day.
I read Barbara Lee's blog post on her shopping trip, and was struck by:
Getting your budget down to $4.50 a day is complicated. You need to try to make sure you have enough protein, limit your sodium, and find good vegetables. If you have special dietary needs, like diabetes or an allergy, there's even more to think about.
Congresswoman Lee means well, and her heart (and those of the 25 other members of Congress) is in the right place, but she forgot something. She's making a tuna noodle casserole as part of her week's meal plan. She noted that she found a box that only required water, since milk and butter weren't in her budget. What she forgot is that some people who are on SNAP also don't have electricity or gas, therefore, they can't cook.
In addition, food tends to cost more in poorer neighborhoods. I'm not saying that only "the poor" are on food stamps, there are many people living in middle-class neighborhoods who have lost jobs, are eking by with unemployment and food stamps...but if your only food source is a bodega, it's likely a can of tuna will cost more than if you can compare prices at multiple markets from the flyers that get delivered weekly, and choose the best location for price.
Having said all that I applaud the members of Congress taking this challenge. I wish that JUST ONE of the people voting for the cut to SNAP would take it up also. Food is expensive.
Every time I write an article about SNAP, I look at my log and see what I ate the day before, and how much it cost. Yesterday, I had coffee (58 cents/cup, 3 cups), about a half pound of grapes ($1,50), a yoghurt (79 cents) and a salad made with fixins' on hand, plus dressing. I hit $4 before figuring out the cost of the salad. I'm a tiny eater, and I know that "regular" people couldn't live on what I eat. And then I think about all the people who have no choice.
You could try eating on $4.50 a day, or just add up what you spent on food yesterday. And then call YOUR Congressman or woman, check the link to see if he/she is participating, and if so, thank him/her. If your rep is not on the list, call and ask why not? Ask if he/she thinks it's possible that none of his/her constituents live on food stamps. Ask if he/she there is a moral imperative to make sure that no American goes hungry. Money for weapons, money for corporate welfare, tax cuts for the rich: but no money for kids who'll be really hungry this summer when they're not getting school lunches. Perspiring minds want to know...I've called my rep, and they wrote down my questions, but I doubt I'll get an answer. Maybe you'll do better.
Earlier this year, Obama said if Assad used chemical weapons, that would be a "red line". In April, he said there wasn't enough information. Now...
According to an internal memorandum circulating inside the government on Thursday, the “intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.” Source.
So are we going to war? Again? And should we? Alone? With NATO?
In so many ways, this is where the rubber hits the road.
Some people contend there are good wars and bad wars. WW2 was a "good" war, Korea (yeah, yeah, a police action), Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan...all "bad". Our track record on making that determination isn't a good one.
But let's look at it from a variety of perspectives. On the one hand, if Assad is killing Syrians, it's an internal problem, which is what the world said when Saddam gassed the Kurds. Then again, perhaps standing up is a worthwhile thing in this age of multiple weapon types that can be deployed from far away. Like drones. Oh wait...too soon?
Do we have the manpower? Nope, sequester has seen to that. We don't have the manpower, the planes, nor the infrastructure for another front.
Do we have weapons to provide to the rebels? That's what Obama wants to do, and here's the first thing that bothers me: we, the United States, don't make weapons, we BUY them. Congress is cutting food stamps (again) because we don't have the money. But we have the money to arm rebels half a world away?
The second bothersome thing is that we're a member of the UN. This means we can't take up arms against a sovereign nation without UN permission. So how will we arm the rebels? Through CIA back channels. What could possibly go wrong with that pipeline? she asked with dripping sarcasm. Think "Charlie Wilson's War."
In the back of my mind, I'm wondering where the chemical weapons came from. Back before the first Gulf War, when there were a bunch of delays to the AEC inspections of Iraq, I postulated that Saddam was putting his whole stash on flat bed trucks and driving it over to Syria. Perhaps I was right back then, which means we need to wonder what else they've got on hand. Alternately, there are the Russians. If Putin is completely aligned with Assad, what will come up when the G8 meets in Ireland next week?
And what of Congress? You've got John McCain who never met an Asian nation he didn't want to invade. He's been beating the war drums for a while now on the Syrian issue. Even went over there to meet with the rebels recently. Likely, the Senate will vote for whatever warlike advances the administration wants. But it's not the Senate that would stop things, it's the House. There's a huge schism there with the Republicans in charge. Not only can't they get anything done other than voting to repeal the ACA, but there are legitimate issues between factions within their party on all issues. War will be no different. Then again, if and when we send troops, we can call it a police action. Again.
I had planned to put this off, but Joe Sestak just announced that he'll be running for the Senate IN 2016. Seriously, he sent out an email asking for money. Pointed out that he came within 2 points of Pat Toomey while being outspent 10:1.
2016? We have two rounds of local elections and a 2014 election set for Congress and the Governor's Mansion.
What do you think? (Note: I'm trying new poll widgets to see how they work - this redirects you to another site. Yes, I miss the old one, but they went out of business. So bear with me as we try them ALL, so we're ready for next year's races.)
Setting an October election date for the Senate race to succeed placeholder Jeffrey Chiesa (and it should give you chills that he's sitting in Frank Lautenberg's chair) is an interesting choice for Christie to have made. On the one hand, if Cory Booker wins the primary (we'll come back to that) it would hurt Christie in November in the gubernatorial election against Barbara Buono. On the other hand, by setting any election date, instead of letting Chiesa hold the seat until Lautenberg's term would have run out, Christie may have cost himself the Iowa and South Carolina primaries in 2016.
As an aside, Barbara Buono's web ad is cute, but also has a message so subtle that most people will miss it.
Did you see the "secret message"? Buono is more than anything likening herself to Andrew Cuomo. Why does that matter? Because, like Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo is a pragmatist for state issues, while holding the party line on social issues. Just saying.
But back to the Senate race. Christie had 3 choices for filling Lautenberg's seat. He could have run the election concurrently with the already scheduled November election for Governor. He could have set any other date, provided it was enough in the future to allow time for a primary, and a time period between the primary and the general. Or, he could have let Chiesa stay. Any of those choices was bound to anger a group or two.
Christie wants to run in 2016, and he wants to run as the smart, centrist, non-crazy, thin Republican. To do so, he needs to accomplish a few things: first and foremost, he needs to win his re-election race. If Cory Booker is the candidate, there's a good chance that a lot of people who wouldn't have voted in November, would vote, and that could affect the outcome of the race. Enough to make Christie lose? Unlikely, but he wasn't willing to take the chance. If Frank Pallone or Rush Holt win the primary, there's an even better chance that Christie would have problems in November.
By setting the election ahead of November, Christie has left himself open to charges that he spent $12 million on an election that didn't have to be. Fuel to the fire to the teabaggers who weren't going to vote for him in the 2016 primaries, But a lack of fiscal responsibility will hurt him in the debates. Not to mention the ads his competitors run against him with the picture of Christie and Obama hugging, with the voice-over indicating they both "waste" taxpayer monies.
By setting any election, Christie has infuriated the Republican base. The legislation relating to the succession of a Senator says that the governor shall appoint a new Senator and then "may" hold an election to fill out the term. Not "shall" not "will", but "may". Christie could have left Chiesa. But that would have angered the Democrats who have been giving a lot of money and support to his gubernatorial election. Remember that while "the governor of New Jersey is a Republican" is not a rarity, the state hasn't elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972, and that's not going to happen this year, either.
So who will win the senatorial primary? I know, I know, you can't imagine it's anyone but Cory Booker. He's famous, he pulled a neighbor from a burning building, he's a party-line Democrat, her's famous....BUT, what Cory Booker is not is a liberal. Go figure. He also doesn't have a long track record compared to competitors Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, both of whom are serious liberals and who have organizations. Pallone has three times the money Booker does. So on the one hand, Pallone and Holt might split the liberal vote and give Booker a clear shot, or one of them might actually win. In either case, the winner of the primary will walk away with the seat in October. Booker was always going to run in 2014, but his organization isn't road tested. However, he's got a shot at raising big bucks, and having a lot of monies bundled by Mark Zuckerberg. Yes, the Facebook guy. Zuckerberg already made a million dollar donation to Booker to use to improve Newark's schools, and rumour has it Mark will raise money for Booker.
Both Pallone and Holt are incredibly interesting and would make great Senators. Holt is an actual astrophysicist (yes, he really handed out bumper stickers to his constituents in 1999 when he was first elected saying "My Congressman is a Rocket Scientist.") He's also the only Quaker in the House. Fun fact: Rush Holt was one of two elected members of Congress to go on Jeopardy!. The other was a Senator (his name after the jump). Holt not only won 5 games (the limit back then) but later was one of a group of Congressmen and women to play Jeopardy! against Big Blue. Holt won then, too.
Pallone is a member of the Progressive Caucus, the Native American Caucus and the Armenian Caucus. Pallone will be announcing his candidacy today, and will do so by delivering his petitions in a Chevrolet. Of the three candidates, Pallone is best positioned amoung major Democratic groups such as unions, and county officials.
Any of the three men will be a good Senator and will represent New Jersey's interested, but if I lived in Jersey, I'd vote for Frank Pallone. I love Cory Booker, but feel that his eye is on the White House, with the Senate being only a waystation. I adore Rush Holt, but I don't think he can win, and may even drop out before the August 13th primary. He's not going to be able to raise the necessary dollars.
For all three men, it's a no-risk primary as none of their terms are up this year. One of the things that has stopped both Pallone and Holt from running previously was the need to give up his House seat to be able to run.
An asterisk is the Republican candidate. Petitions are due today, and no one is sure that any Republican was able to raise enough signatures. Like I said, the primary is the race here, whoever wins it is going to the Senate.
I've been spending a lot of my limited free time watching in horror. I consider myself a smart person, but I lack understanding of what has been going on.
Let's start with the privacy invasions. In terms of phone data, this is really nothing new. Nixon had a program of listening to phone calls back in the late 60's. Also opening snail mail. You got used to hearing the clicks, and getting mail that had been "accidentally" opened and placed in a clear plastic envelope with a little "apology" sticker on it.
But here's my question. Since the government has had, for YEARS, access to who is doing what on the internet, why didn't they do something really good with it? For example, anyone can easily find a porn site. Why hasn't the government picked a few of these sites, gotten court orders for the names of the people downloading pictures of children, and prosecuted? Looking for a terrorist is a needle in a haystack proposition, while finding a few thousand perverts looking at little kids is more akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Think of all the children who could be saved from lives of sexual slavery and the lifetime of emotional horror that is an outgrowth of such a childhood.
And to be honest, it actually bothers me that both the government and private industry knows so much about me. Sometimes I research medical conditions online. About a year ago, I was looking into Benign Prostactic Hypertrophy. I received an email asking about my PSA level, and did I know about a new treatment. Really? I couldn't have BPH, I'm a woman. Now I know Amazon works to make my "buying life" easier by letting me know about books by my favourite authors, and sales on things I buy from them, and it's nice on the one hand, and scary on another. What I'm struggling with is whether it bothers me more that the government knows me, or that private industry does.
Benghazi? Like most Americans, I don't think we know everything, and I don't care that much. The IRS chasing down conservative groups? THAT'S THEIR JOB! And I don't think they should stop with groups with "Tea Party" in their names -- go after ALL of them, starting with the big ones. Corporations are not people, the original law said NO political activity not SOME political activity, as the IRS rules interpreted the original legislation.
Every month, there are poll numbers indicating whether the country is on the right track or the wrong track. I don't even understand the question. Are they asking whether the government is doing what it's supposed to do? Asking about morals and ethics amoung members of society? Separating out who's trying and who's blocking?
Guns? One of my neighbors came over to talk to me about guns. More specifically, offering to help me purchase a gun, and then he'd take me to range so I could practice shooting. Now, a little about my neighborhood. There was a "crime wave" here about 12 years ago when a kid from a nearby neighborhood was home from college, and he used to go out at night, and see whose back doors and sliders were open. He'd use a flashlight to see if he could open the door, grab something of worth within a few seconds and get out. He was caught, we all started making sure our doors were locked and it was over. There's never been a drive by shooting, nor a break-in other than the college kid (who carried no weapon), nor a rape, nor even a real robbery. (I believe the difference between "theft" and "robbery" has to do with the value of the objects stolen, and this kid was mostly going after wallets, pulling the cash, and dumping everything else in the woods.)
He's concerned that crime MIGHT happen and so going forward we should be prepared. Like what? A gang of people would come through the woods with pitchforks trying to get my potable water? And I'd shoot them? Perhaps I'm naive, but I took that "above all do no harm" oath. I couldn't shoot anyone. I can't even shoot anyone with a laser tag gun.
I heard Chris Hayes the other night speaking about Andrea, and how while the reporters would be out all hurricane season getting blown over and watching the damage, he had a different take. When history looks back, Hayes contended, they would see this time period as the start of the new normal: where weather, caused by too much carbon, would start destroying our country. The destruction of not just homes, businesses and schools, but infrastructure.
I wonder. With unemployment where it is, why are people STILL not talking about a new CCC and other programs where unemployed construction and factory works could be used to rebuild our roads, bridges, tunnels, beaches and public buildings. As government employees? Joplin is still not rebuilt from the tornado a year or two ago. Moore and West residents are still in shock. The Jersey coast is only partially rebuilt, and that doesn't even mention New Orleans where the 9th Ward is still far too uninhabitable.
For years, my first order of business every morning was to come to this page, the "create a DCW post" page, with my snippets from the previous day's USA Today, and my topic list, and write the morning post. Coffee in hand, a good view of the day's weather out the window. And yes, I'm still interested in the Senate races, and what goes on in Congress (if anything) and the criminal activities of various politicians. But several things conspired to end that.
It's that time of year again. According to the Supreme Court calendar, the last court session of this term is supposed to be June 24 (if history is any guide, the Court will miss that deadline and hand down several opinions later that week, probably wrapping up on Thursday, June 27.) With three weeks left to go, the Court still has 26 argued cases in which to issue opinions. (So far over the past eight months, they have handed down a total of 52 opinions.) In other words, the will average about nine opinions per week. So far this term, the Court only issued nine opinions per week once, the week of President's Day.
Part of this crunch is the calendar. Over the past couple of years, the Supreme Court has typically taken between 90 and 105 days on average after argument to issue an opinion. We are only 70 days out from the end of the March argument session and 40 days out from the end of the April argument session. Not too surprisingly, 17 of the 26 outstanding cases are from those two argument sessions. While there are some significant cases from the last two months, it is the earlier cases that are most likely to reflect a closely-divided court (5-4 or 6-3) having trouble reaching a consensus.
First, what to expect over the next several weeks. Every Monday, the court will issue orders on cases seeking review for next year and issue some opinions. The Court will typically announce by the previous Friday at least one other day in which opinions will be issued (for next week, opinions will also be issued on Thursday). While there is no absolute rule against it, it is unlikely that any opinions will be issued on a Friday. (Scotusblog is good about posting information on when the Court is expected to issue opinions.) The Court never announces in advance which opinions are coming.
Second, what are we still waiting on.
From October, the only outstanding case is Fisher v. University of Texas dealing with affirmative action in college admissions. As the Supreme Court has already accepted another affirmative action case (very different situation) for next term, there is a very slim possibility that this case may be bumped for reargument in the fall.
There are no outstanding cases from November. From December, the only outstanding case is Vance v. Ball State dealing with the issue of what test should be used to determine if a coworker is a supervisor for the purposes of making the employer liable for sexual harassment by that employee. (By now you should be getting a hint that civil rights issues are going to feature prominently in this month's opinions.)
From January, there are four outstanding cases. One of them is a purely technical criminal case. The two that probably have the greatest likelihood to become controversial are Koontz v. St. Johns River Water District (involving a takngs claim based on an allegedly unreasonable permit condition) and Maracich v. Spears (involving access to driver's license records for the purpose of finding potential plaintiffs for a lawsuit). Given the recent passion on the right about takings claims and excessive government regulation of land use, I would expect Koontz to get the bigger play in the media, but Maracich potentially fits the meme of the moment.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg died this morning of viral pneumonia at age 89, his office said.
The oldest member of the Senate, Lautenberg had struggled with health problems since late last year, when he missed several weeks of votes because of what he said was flu and bronchitis.
The death of Lautenberg, a Democrat who was the longest-serving senator in New Jersey history, creates a vacancy that Governor Christie, a Republican, will fill. - Bergen Record
Statement by the President on the Passing of Senator Lautenberg
Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, a proud New Jerseyan who lived America’s promise as a citizen, and fought to keep that promise alive as a senator.
The son of working-class immigrants, Frank joined the Army during World War II, went to college on the GI Bill, and co-founded one of America’s most successful companies. First elected to the Senate in 1982, he improved the lives of countless Americans with his commitment to our nation’s health and safety, from improving our public transportation to protecting citizens from gun violence to ensuring that members of our military and their families get the care they deserve. Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to Bonnie, the Lautenberg family, and the people of New Jersey, whom Frank served so well.
Pelosi Statement on the Passing of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg
Washington, D.C.—Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today on the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey:
“Today, our country mourns the loss of Senator Frank Lautenberg – a man whose life embodied the American Dream and who dedicated his career to putting that dream in reach for all Americans. The longest-serving senator in New Jersey’s history and the last remaining World War II veteran in the Senate, he served us all with the strength, perseverance, and compassion that exemplifies the greatest generation.
“A proud son of hard-working immigrants, Senator Lautenberg rose from humble beginnings to meet success in business and public service. He was an entrepreneur who turned a small business into one of the largest computing services companies in the world. He was a soldier who put his life on the line to protect our country. He was a Senator who helped ban smoking in airplanes and around children, who worked to ensure parents could take time off to care for sick family members, who helped modernize the G.I. bill to ensure today’s veterans could benefit from the same opportunity that he received.
“Senator Lautenberg spent each day fighting to protect and improve the health, security, and well-being of every American. His lifetime of service leaves a legacy we must follow, and an expectation we must meet. We only hope it is a comfort to his wife Bonnie, his children and grandchildren that so many mourn their loss at this sad time.”
In adopting the Constitution, the Framers established a rough structure of government, leaving it to Congress to fill in the details. For example, while establishing that there would be a Supreme Court and lower courts, the Framers did not establish the number of judges on the Supreme Court or any significant details about the structure of the lower courts. Likewise, while recognizing that the Executive Branch would probably be divided into different departments handling the different duties of the Executive Branh, the Constitution did not establish the exact departments and left Congress free to create new departments.
One of the things that the Framers did provide for in the Constitution was that the executive departments would answer to the president. To assure this, they gave the President the power to appoint executive branch officials. However, recognizing the power of the heads of the departments (and some other appointees including judges), the Framers also required that major appointees be confirmed by the Senate (and gave Congress the power to define what appointees needed Senate confirmation). One of the things that the Framers recognized was (especially given travel time in the late Eighteenth Century) that there would be times when Congress was not in session so that the members of Congress could return home and take care of personal business. Not wanting to hamstring the government during Congressional recesses, the Framers authorized the President to temporarily fill vacancies during such recesses -- Article II, Section 2, clause 3.
In recent years, to avoid recess appointments and pocket vetoes (another power that comes into being during Congressional recesses, Congress has begun to hold nominal meetings when the House and Senate are technically in session once or twice a week even though neither house has a quorum present. At the same time, the Senate has been unable or unwilling to confirm Presidential appointments to administrative agencies, in some cases leaving those agencies without a quorum to do business. To break the disfunction of the Senate, the past several Presidents have contended that these nominal sessions are insufficient to avoid triggering the recess clause.
During one of these recesses, President Obama appointed several members to the National Labor Relations Board. Without these appointees, the NLRB would lack a quorum and would be unable to make decisions on employer-employee labor disputes referred to it under various statutes. Noel Canning Corporation lost one of the cases decided by the NLRB after these recess appointments and filed suit claiming that the recess appointments were invalid and, therefore, there was no quorum for the NLRB to make any decision in its case. In January, the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia issued an opinion finding in favor of Noel Canning. The Circuit Court rejected the claim that these were valid recesses on multiple grounds: 1) that the recess power only comes into effect during "intersession" recesses (the recess at the end of the annual session), not during intrasession recesses in the middle of a session; 2) that to properly trigger the recess power, the position must become vacant during the recess (i.e. the failure of the Senate to confirm anybody to fill an existing vacancy during a session would not authorize a recess appointment at the end of the session).
Last week, the Administration asked the Supreme Court to review this decision. In its application, the Administration asks the Court to review both theories adopted by the DC Circuit.
But for the recess appointment, a party that wishes to, but is unable to, pass changes reducing the powers of an executive agency can fulfill its goals by just refusing to confirm nominees for that agency -- whether that be the FCC, FEC, NLRB, SEC, or any of a large group of agencies that operate through a Board rather than a unitary head -- until the Board governing that agency lacks a quorum due to the expiration of the terms of its members. Even if the court takes this case, there will still be the live question of whether technical meetings are enough that Congress is still in session. Right now, it is 50-50 whether the Supreme Court will make a decision on taking this case before its summer recess. My hunch is that Noel Canning will request more time for its response, pushing a decision on taking the case until October. While the Supreme Court is likely to take this case, an October decision on taking the case would push oral argument into January or February of 2014 and a final decision into June 2014.
As I write this, Boston, and its suburbs, is locked down as law enforcement seeks the second bomber. Meanwhile, from Texas, Rick Perry (who has in the past pushed for the secession of Texas from the US, and likely opposed the help the Feds approved after Sandy) is begging for Federal aid for West, Texas, which actually does need it.
But back to Boston. Who is out looking for the bomber? Government workers. Tirelessly, bravely, not thinking about the potential personal harm: these folks rush in because it's what they do. The hospitals that treated the injured after the Boston Marathon bombing? Federal funds recipients for Medicaid and Medicare patients, as well as payment for people who need help and have no insurance. The last thing on anyone's mind as the patients flowed in Monday was who was going to pay. A lot of the doctors and nurses wouldn't hold their degrees today if not for student loans, backed by the Feds, sometimes direct from the Feds. Even in my generation, when education was much cheaper and it was possible to put oneself through college, it was impossible to get through med school without loans. Research? Clinical trials? Lots of things that make hospitals do what they do? Again, government funding.
This is not to say that there are non-government employees who provided photos and videos, and rushed in to help at the initial blast...but it's the FBI doing facial recognition on all those hundreds of thousands of photos and tapes. It's the FBI that announced yesterday they'd be providing victim assistance.
This morning I was at the car dealer to get something recalled fixed on my car (no, I'm not clear what) and the TV was on, and everyone was discussing the bombing and making fun of the idiot on the street reporting for CNN. I got into a conversation with a guy who explained to me why government was bad, why we shouldn't have to pay such high taxes...if you know me, you know the conversation...but today it was peppered with me pointing to the TV screen -- at the cops and other government officials...what would happen if they weren't there? Didn't he think they deserved decent salaries and benefits? He was so beholden to his teabag beliefs that I actually might have given up, but it turns out that I was amoungst people who shared the view that government matters. To all of us.
It may take a Sandy storm, or a Boston bombing, or a Texas explosion to get us to focus...but every year is an election year. Often odd-numbered years are when we vote for the local people who fund (or don't fund) the policemen, firemen, teachers, public works workers....they're out there doing good 24/7/365. Remember that this November.
Today the Senate will vote on background checks. And it looks like the measure will fail. Full details here, including the whip counts.
I understand that we have become a country where lots of people don't read books. Yes, really, half of all Americans read fewer than 6 books last year. From Pew:
All told, those book readers consumed a mean (average) of 15 books in the previous 12 months and a median (midpoint) of 6 books — in other words, half had read fewer than six and half had read more than six. That breaks down as follows:
7% of Americans ages 16 and older read one book in the previous 12 months
14% had read 2-3 books in that time block
12% had read 4-5 books in that time block
15% had read 6-10 books in that time block
13% had read 11-20 books in that time block
14% had read 21 or more books in that time block
That same Pew study looks at e-book readers. Another set of studies indicate that people don't accomplish long term retention from e-readers the way they do from paper books. Fascinating.
I believe reading matters. Dean Heller (R-NV) for example, is voting against background checks because he fears the bill will result in a national gun register, even though the bill clearly states that such a registry won't happen. The background check bill could pass if Dean Heller could read. His one vote is the difference between passage and failure.
I bring up reading with respect to the amount of violence in this country because I think there's a parallel between being violent and not reading. It's not just that elected reps don't read the legislation they're voting on, it's also that reading makes one smarter, more contemplative, less violent. Seriously - when is the last time you heard that a legitimate intellectual shot someone? Or blew up part of Boston?
If people read more books, they might read about history. Think Santayana.
There is something about holding a book in your hands, under a tree, engrossed in a story, or fascinated by science, or being so enraptured by something historical that it actually feels as if you are there.
But people don't read. And when they don't read, there are a lot of other things that go with that state of being. They often don't think things through. They don't understand how to critically evaluate data, therefore lacking the ability to separate propaganda and pablum from truth and reality.
And so we end up where we are today: possibly the most violent lawful society ever known. Crazy people shooting other people every day. And IED killing innocent folks a block from the oldest library in America. Could the solution be as simple as teaching people to read, and then finding a way to get them to read?