States Rights Attack!

Am I the only one who hears folks yelling about the Constitution and State’s Rights in the same breath, and feels their irony senses start to tingle?

Let me get the obvious out of the way:

  1. I’m not a Constitutional Scholar
  2. I didn’t play one on TV

While I’m at it, let me get the less obvious out of the way too:

  1. I’m not a historian
  2. I don’t think I’m smarter than the average bear
  3. I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn last night

I’m not even a history buff, though you might say I’m an intermittent, amateur historian. As such, I’ve been slogging through The Federalist Papers over the last year or so. I open up the copy on my Kindle when I’m having trouble sleeping.

Anyhoo, back to irony.

As I understand it, the US Constitution arose from the anarchy and ashes of the Articles of Confederation – a government (if you could really call it one) where the original states had ALL of the rights… and all of the power. My recollection from high school history was that in it’s earliest days our government was a chaotic mess, and the Constitution’s chief aim was to reign in the chaos by shifting some power away from the states, to the central government.

Alexander Hamilton in Federalist #1:

“Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments….”

Yep, I dove deep for that one, eh? All the way down to the first sentence of the third paragraph of the fist essay.

We could argue all day and into the next millennium about how much power the Constitution shifts to the central government, but I don’t think anyone can argue it does. Well, you could… but you’d be wrong.

So this is what’s going through my head when someone starts popping off about The Constitution! The Tenth Amendment! States Rights!

I wonder if they’re familiar with the history of the document they invoke, sometimes with a bit of angry spittle.

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Sitting in the dark

Empty LakeA month or so ago, I posted a picture to Facebook with the caption: “in over my head.” I think it sounded like I was lost, or any number of things other than what I intended, without the context of the pictures I posted before (which I suspect slipped past many folks). We were on a camping trip, visiting a place that goes much of the way back to me and Cheryl’s childhood. The first time we visited this large state park, out in the middle of North Florida Nowhere, we were students at UF. It was one of the few places I could go with Cheryl and just sit, relaxing.

She’s not one for sitting around, that one.

This recent trip was nostalgic – and incredibly sad. What made the park a wonder was the interaction between the land and water, the contradictions that make Florida ecology a delicious, but acquired taste.

In spots, relatively high land can look dry and tortured – both by the semi-arid conditions and the periodic fires which sweep through. But hike a quarter mile down and you might find yourself stepping carefully down into a ravine, the temperature just slightly cooler… the air just slightly more humid… and the land MUCH more green and lush. Coming to an abrupt end, clear water trickles from spots in a steep, shaded hillside, which has eroded backwards over the years, and accumulates into a clear stream at the bottom. As simple and unassuming a place it is, few places on Earth look (or make me feel) more alive. Follow this stream a couple miles into the park and you find the lake in the picture below.

Well, there was a time you could.

So here’s what I was trying to say with this picture: I was standing in what was once a lake bed, and (almost) twenty years ago I would have been in water over my head.

Pretty deep, I know.

Sorry.

As is my way, there were a bunch of things I was saying silently to myself. No amount of context would have dipped you into that stream of consciousness. I’ll get to my inner dialog in a second, but if you would first indulge a little cathartic swearing… fuck me. Take a look at this picture, taken in roughly the same direction, from what was then (in 1998) the lake shore:

Full Lake

Yep, there’s a lot less water flowing over the surface of northern Florida. The morning was filled with scenes like this (the first picture, not the one with all of the water), and I was in mourning. As the sun rose over a much drier Florida than I remembered, my mood felt darker – though not just because of that morning. I think it’s something that’s grown steadily worse for about the last seven years – though it got MUCH worse this last year… and Jesu Fucking Cristo, God help me worse in the last couple of months.

Go back and ask the November 2008 Edition of Me about the state of things, and I would have been really worried about the economic rubble strewn around me, but I couldn’t have been much more optimistic about the state of society as a whole. Heck, I was thinking about going back to church – and did, for a little while. A black man had been elected President and I thought human kindness had turned a corner.

The November 2016 Edition of Me felt like human kindness had been tortured, humiliated, and tossed into a dumpster fire.


I’d hoped to write more than this, but that’s about all I can take right now. I’m gonna go hide for the rest of the evening/night, and see how I feel tomorrow – JK

The Facebook reply that wasn’t

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m the mostly absent author of this site. The name’s John, but my friends call me John.

I have not said much about the looming election, mostly for mental health reasons. That’s not meant to be a joke. I’ve started a few dozen posts – I think. I’ve lost track. I’ve always given up less than a few sentences in, already emotionally spent.

But time is running short.

Increasingly, I feel like I should – not because the masses are clamoring for me to endorse – but because I have a conscience. These are a couple of paragraphs I was going to share (lift/steal – though attributed, of course) from writer John Scalzi, in response to some random person’s ranting elsewhere in social media. I didn’t. That way leads not to good mental health. But I share them with you now, my friends. Before you ask, let me say: yes, I do agree with the things he’s writen. I’d only ask in return, out of respect for me (if I deserve it, as I hope I do) to read and consider his words – to give them some benefit of doubt, if your instinct is to doubt.

Mr Scalzi:

This should not be a close contest. That it is a close contest (right now) is a testament first to the twenty-five years that the GOP and conservatives have spent demonizing Hillary Clinton, and second to the effectiveness of the GOP and conservatives in creating an epistemic bubble inside which millions of (largely white, largely older, largely less educated) people live, trained to be suspicious of facts, trained to see political opponents as traitors, trained to be afraid first and anything else after that.

And yes! When you say those things in sequence out loud, it sounds ridiculous! But yet here we are in 2016 with Donald Trump, ignorant, hateful, horribly afraid Donald Trump, as the Republican candidate for president. He didn’t appear out of nowhere. The way was prepared for him over decades, by people who couldn’t see that they’d laid the way for an incipient demagogue who would have no loyalty to them or their political goals, such as they were. They didn’t see that the person who would be tasked to stand in his way is the person they’d spent a quarter century convincing those in bubble land is one of the gravest threats to America that had ever put on a sensible pantsuit ensemble.

… no one should be complacent about this election. Register to vote. If your state is making it difficult for you to vote, know now so that well ahead of election day you can jump through all the stupid, intentionally-placed hoops preventing you from registering.

I’d be more than happy to discuss any aspect of this post, privately or in public. It’s often said that much is at stake in national elections, but I think it’s especially true this year.

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Bad timing

I don’t have much to say. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around it all. It’s probably more an unwillingness that an inability.

Let’s just say our new Governor picked the wrong week to propose drastic cuts to state employees’ health benefits.

Well, for me anyway.

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Being the other end

They have my number, so they call me.

Nothing about my job is life or death, but it’s not insignificant either. Parents, children, and court orders fill my day. The parents call me because they don’t know who else to call and I usually have an answer. They don’t always like the answer and I’m not naive enough to believe they always accept it (or act on it), but some do, and the course of lives change. It may not always be a big change. In fact it’s probably always a small one, but I like to think it’s a nudge in the right direction, making a few lives a little easier than they would have been. And they add up.

Other times, when I’m not on the phone, I’m a cog in the government machine, spinning out my little piece the best I can.

Or I’m a shot of oil, trying to help the cogs around me spin a little easier.

Or I’m a mechanic, putting a cog back in place if it needs a little help.

My job lets me do lot of different things, but in the end they’re all about helping someone else. Most of the time you’d never know. As long as I’m doing it right you wouldn’t, and that’s ok with me. I’m one of those people who’s uncomfortable with attention, even if it’s to recognize a job well done. My preferred reward is a calm, reassured voice on the other end of the phone, a coworker who’s a little more confident, or a service to the public that runs a little more smoothly with the odd line or two of code.

What bothers me… what I think might fuel my depression… I think you hate me. Well, maybe not you, but the public taken as a whole.

From my perspective, Republicans have spent the last forty years getting elected on the idea that government is THE problem (is there an antonym for panacea?), and doing a bang up job of making it true. It strikes me as a bit odd, to say the least… like hiring a manager for a sporting goods store who hates sports. But many of us keep electing these people, and the rhetoric seems to get harsher and angrier as the years pass.

Contrary to what some of you may think, we’re not issued a copy of the Communist Manifesto on our first day. We don’t observe a moment of silence on May Day, mourning the fall of the evil empire. We don’t spend our lunch hours thinking of ways to make your children gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that). We don’t attend secret meetings plotting new ways to subvert the constitution. Well, not since Bush left office anyway.

But what do I know? I’m just one person. Maybe most of my fellow civil servants don’t care. Maybe they don’t welcome accountability or relish the opportunity to serve. It may not mean much, but most of the people I work with care – and it’s a privilege to work with every one of them. At times we skip lunch, clutching a snack in one hand and pecking at a keyboard with the other, or work long days, like many of you do. To some extent, we even accept the stigma many of you associate with government work. These days we’re grateful just to be employed, and particularly mindful of our obligation to help those who need us that much more.

I believe government does good. I believe it does certain things for us the private sector can’t, won’t, or is ill-equipped to provide. I believe unregulated capitalism gives us ample reason to believe it doesn’t always produce the greater good, in the short term or long term.

It hurts when we’re treated like the enemy. It felt that way when our former governor stood on the steps of the capitol and waxed poetic about the day the government offices around him would be empty. It felt that way when the news showed scores of people shouting about taking their country back – as if we were all trying to take it away from you.

Boo-hoo, right? I understand I work for something that, as a whole, has a great deal of power. We should be watched carefully AND treated with a healthy dose of skepticism/wariness. I recognize not everything should be regulated. Government power should not be omnipresent or unchecked. But I also believe there’s a role for government – a necessary one – and we do ourselves a disservice when we demonize it, and everyone who works for it. I believe when you habitually treat the word “bureaucrat” as an epithet, you only succeed in driving away those of us who do care. I believe you create the thing you fear.

I believe attitudes have swung way too far to the extreme. Rather than working towards building an apparatus which serves us all, under those circumstances where it’s uniquely positioned to do so, we’ve become an angry mob… not just willing, but eager to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I’m not a soldier, but I am out there every day working to make your lives better; and every day I turn on the news I feel like someone’s spitting on me. The easy answer is to turn off the news, but that doesn’t solve anything. Not really. This post won’t solve anything either, but I hope it’s better than just sticking my head in the sand – or worse – quitting.

Maybe it was just the depression talking, but the other day I was talking to Cheryl and I asked her if it seemed like people (in general) grow more cynical with age. Maybe there’s good cause. Wouldn’t (doesn’t) that make a hell of a cycle?

Bedtime thoughts

Do you trust the health insurance industry more than your government?

Really?

The right spent the last thirty years (at least) selling the idea that government is the root of all problems, and they’ve made a killing. But ask yourself, has your government let you down that much? If so, have you ever called your representative in Congress or Senator to let them know? Have you ever written them a letter? Do you know who your representative is? Did you vote in the last election? Did you vote in the last election that didn’t involve the Presidency? Do you know who you voted for? Did you know who you were voting for at the time?

Maybe it’s let you down because you allow it to represent someone else by default.

Writing a letter takes a few minutes and costs less than a buck. Email is free. A phone call might take ten minutes of your time, and is likely free if you call their local office.

Do you spend more time complaining about it than doing something about it?

Some say you get the government you deserve.

What kind of government do you deserve?

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Getting Ted wrong

I was born in Massachusetts so I’m required to have a soft spot for the Kennedys. There was rarely more tension in my house growing up than when my mother would accuse my father of voting for Nixon or Reagan… herself a liberal Democrat in the Kennedy mold – and fan of Ted, the liberal lion of the Senate, in particular.

She named one of our cats Ted during the dark years of Reagan/Bush – allegedly for a little push-back against my father. (Having lived through the sequel they seem like the good old days now.)

I get my politics from my mother, and I morn the passing of one of the last unapologetic liberals in the Senate.

Like Joan Walsh, I’m a little irritated by the claims of conservatives that Ted would have made compromise on healthcare happen. Universal healthcare was a career-long goal of his, and the current proposals were already a compromise (irrational hysteria by the far right, the misinformed, or the just plain scary not withstanding).

Here’s video of Ted arguing for an increase in the minimum wage back in 2007 on the Senate floor (via TPM).

Say what you will about universal healthcare, “public options,” or the proper role of government. Do you see that guy compromising further on his lifelong passion? I don’t. I’ll tell you what I do see: more BS from the right on healthcare.

Sadly, his views on the subject are probably irrelevant now.

Differences

We learned another difference between the “far left” and “far right,” as characterized by the media, these last few months. Well, maybe I’VE learned a few things (being a little slower of synapse).

The things liberals fear tend to be true.

Here’s another one of those fears you can add to the list: we never left McCarthyism and it’s legacy completely behind.

Is there another Joseph Welch out there? If so, we could really use you right now.

Political snark

I liked this.

TPM Reader BD:

Remember how during the 2008 campaign a lot of people suggested that Obama could prove to be an excellent role model for African-American men who have often been deemed less than responsible as husbands and fathers? Wouldn’t it be great if white Evangelical Republican men could come up with a role model like that too?

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Senator Arlen Spector (D-PA)

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the news this afternoon around lunch time. I was kind of frustrated too. No one else in court was either surprised or interested.

It’s not like the balance of power just shifted in the legislative branch of government.

Ah, but you see: it might have. When Al Franken is seated (the likely senator from Minnesota), the Democrats will have 60 seats… a filibuster proof majority. But I probably don’t have to tell you that. No, it doesn’t mean all of the Democrats will hold hands, sing campfire songs, and vote as one to pass Obama’s progressive agenda. And for my conservative friends… no, it doesn’t mean the Senate just turned into the Soviet Politburo.

But it does open up a whole lot of opportunity… and responsibility. The Democrats will own the next year and a half, for better or worse. I just hope they won’t govern to retain power; that they’ll do something with this opportunity. Oh, and please, please Mr Spector, don’t reprise the role of Zell Miller.

The biggest individual beneficiary may be Mr Coleman, the former senator from Minnesota. I bet he won’t have to worry about paying any of his legal bills (if there was any question before).