Bans, Russia and Trump Tweets

Reading the news this past week, I’m left wondering who is actually in charge of the country? It’s an odd feeling to have seeing signs that the country you’re living in is actually being coordinated by a loose group of people who may or may not understand truly how government works. I’ve found that BBC News does a good job of covering American topics without a lot of bias, you may feel differently, but the sources in this post are all from BBC News.

On Tuesday, Virginia’s U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a preliminary injunction on the travel ban because it violated the U.S. Constitution in what amounted to a “Muslim ban”. Despite the fact that those words weren’t implicitly written in the travel ban from 7 middle eastern countries, those countries are overwhelmingly Muslim with a very small contingent being other religions.

In her 22-page ruling, the Virginia judge cited several of Mr Trump’s campaign statements including those in which he promised to create a “Muslim ban” if he were elected president. “The president himself acknowledged the conceptual link between a Muslim ban and the EO (executive order),” Judge Brinkema wrote. She also criticised the president’s statements that persecuted Christians may be permitted entry despite the ban, which she said amounts to a religious test. She also referenced a Fox News interview in which former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump adviser, said that the president wants a “Muslim ban” and that he had been instructed by Mr Trump to put together a commission to determine “the right way to do it legally”. Judge Brinkema sharply criticised lawyers for the justice department, who she said did not present any evidence except for the president’s executive order. “Maximum power does not mean absolute power,” she wrote. “Every presidential action must still comply with the limits set” by the separation of powers laid out in the US Constitution.

SOURCE: Trump travel ban hit by new legal setback | BBC News

As if the news coverage and protests on the travel ban weren’t enough to keep us on our toes, Michael Flynn announced that he was resigning as National Security Advisor this past Monday. Only 24 days or so on the job, there has been controversy surrounding this guy regarding his son and Pizzagate weeks prior to his appointment by President Trump. Now he is allegedly involved with conducting phone calls with the Russian Ambassador over the Obama Administrations actions towards the 35 Russian intelligence officers in December. He claimed he couldn’t recall or remember such events, something right out of the Watergate playbook.

Mr Flynn is said to have misled officials about his call with Russia’s ambassador before his own appointment. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy. US reports said earlier the White House had been warned about the contacts last month and had been told Mr Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail. The national security adviser is appointed by the president to serve as his or her chief adviser on international affairs and defence.

[…] In his first public comments about the controversy, President Trump tweeted on Tuesday: “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N Korea etc?”

SOURCE: Michael Flynn: Trump’s national security adviser resigns | BBC News

Do I need to go into detail over the fact that Trump is having an issue with the leaks coming out of Washington when he himself tweets out information that no previous President would have dared send out? I’m a proponent for transparency, but using Twitter as your platform of choice to assist with transparency is eliminating a large group of Americans that don’t have or can’t afford the Internet.  Are we on the verge of our centuries “Watergate” scandal? Time will tell, but the signs are all there and the actions of the White House now will have a huge impact on the mid-term elections in 2018.

From inauguration to full-blown scandal and a high-level resignation in 24 days. That simply has to be some kind of record. Donald Trump never does anything small. If his administration is going to have a political crisis, why waste any time? Mr Flynn has now been cut loose but that may not be enough to staunch the bleeding. Congressional Democrats – and perhaps some Republicans – will want to find out who was informed about Mr Flynn’s contradictory stories and why nothing was done earlier. How far up the chain of command does it go? All of this has some observers dusting off language from the mother of all presidential scandals, Watergate. What did the president know, and when did he know it?

SOURCE: Michael Flynn: Trump’s national security adviser resigns | BBC News

The tweets of the President go a long way in demonstrating that his operating knowledge of the Constitution is limited and he doesn’t have a full understanding of how the systems of government truly work. If he did, he would understand that an Executive Order is subject to the same checks and balances as any law passed by the Congress and it’s the Judiciary that determines constitutionality when a case is PRESENTED to them, never before.

Day to day, it’s the 94 District Courts which deal with interpretation of US laws, treaties, and public officials – powers devolved to them from the Supreme Court. But the courts do not offer opinions on government policy unless they are asked – they only interpret law when a case is brought before them. The other two branches of government make and enforce the laws, and the judicial branch interprets the laws when there is a dispute. That is the issue here – a presidential executive order has all the force of law, and is subject to the same checks.

SOURCE: Taking on Trump: Is the US facing a constitutional crisis? | BBC News

checksandbalancesus

As the Constitution states: The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made…  US Constitution, Article III (2)

Someone should send President Trump a copy of the U.S. Constitution so that he may reference it before singing anymore Executive Orders. With all the negativity that has surrounded this administration the last four weeks, one thing is for sure, we’re living through what will likely be a dark time in our countries history.

Chuck fear mongering under the bus

We, as a people, have used fear and anger to drive our existence for thousands of years. What we have to show for it is a dotted history of violence, genocide, war and generations of conflict. Are we not better than that at this point in our short history on this planet? What makes a person wearing a hijab any different from someone wearing a shirt and tie? They both breathe the same air, both walk with legs, have similar composition of blood pumping through their bodies. Our world culture has created a system where people are classed based on wealth, religion and nationality and made judging others a normal part of life. What right do we have to judge another person, that we don’t know, merely based on their appearance? What visual references do we draw upon that tells us, without impunity, that someone is a terrorist vs. a U.S. citizen?

So muslims wear a hijab, that doesn’t make them terrorists. Catholic priests wear a white collar and a black suit, we don’t see them as terrorists yet the Catholic church has a horribly violent past with wars fought over religious beliefs. It wasn’t that long ago that Protestants were viewed as devil worshippers, and publically hanged, merely because they rejected the Vatican and Catholicism. Christians are persecuted in countries primarily dominated by Islam in much the same way that Protestants were persecuted by Catholics (1300’s)and Jews were persecuted by the Germans (1900’s). It’s sad that we’re a violent species that terrorizes others based on perceptions of inferiority, to the extent that Americans do this to other Americans. The Civil War for example over the issue of slavery. Even after African-Americans being freed in 1865, flash forward 150 years and there are compelling arguments that African-Americans *still* aren’t free in the United States.

Call me an idiot for not fearing others that are different from me, I’ve heard it all in the last few years as my ideology has slowly shifted to what I’ve heard referred to as being a humanist. I see people for what they are, fellow humans, and attempt still with some difficulty to not judge based on appearance. It’s hard to break a habit that has been slammed into my brain for over three decades from mainstream media, educational systems and other powerful figures. We have a 10,000 year old instinctive response of fight or flight when presented with a situation we perceive as a threat to our lives that has been reinforced over the last thousand or so years to include everything from a charging bear to someone walking down the street wearing a hijab or a someone wearing a long trench coat in the middle of summer. I get it, we’re hardwired to act on our instincts, but I am arguing that we’re ignoring vital information that we sacrifice with our laser focus on only the perceived “bad” thing in front of our eyes.

I don’t believe that *every* Muslim in the U.S. is a terrorist much like I don’t believe that *every* African-American is a drug dealer or *every* Hispanic is someone’s maid or butler (which really are stupid stereotypes if you think about it). My grandparents had a dislike for everyone that wasn’t a white Catholic; a fact I found disturbing and an indicator of their learned, backwards thinking from their parents. I really could keep going, the common theme of all this is a common hatred of anyone that isn’t in *your* arbitrarily labeled group. We’re all flipping human beings, we’re *all* in the same group.

I consider myself lucky being an introvert in the age of the Internet. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to engage in deep conversations with others that wasn’t predicated on their appearance. I was able to interact with them on a human level, brain to brain, not caring about their religion, station, wealth or physical appearance. I’ve been like this for years, much longer than my awareness of the fact that we subliminally treat others different based on physical traits. My drive to take this into physical life, instead of virtually, is a rather large and difficult hurdle that I’m still struggling with on a daily basis. I ask stupid questions out of naivety, that I find is usually dismissed as I’m genuine about my curiosity. The answer is something that I absorb like a sponge, stored for later when I have the time to process through the interaction.

My outward interactions with the world, how others perceive me, has changed significantly in a dramatic and profound way. My view of the world has grown so much, in such a fantastic way, it’s hard for me to put into words even after thinking about this for several days. My interactions with others are getting easier because I’m no longer drawing on outdated prejudices or life lessons that feel as outdated as my grandparents’ views did years ago. This is something that I’ve had to work at, constantly remind myself to not judge based on appearance, force myself to look beyond the surface. Looking (and interacting) with what’s inside all of us takes time, effort and practice…. lots of practice. To put it another way, I’ve learned to love the taste of my foot 🙂

Enlightenment starts with the self, then becomes contagious to those around. This is one pandemic that I think would benefit the human race. Call me crazy to believe that we can do better than we have in the past, we certainly have a lot of history showing us what not to do going forward into the future. Why not start small, a little change that could have a large impact: resist the rhetoric and draw your own conclusions.

I’m a Libertarian, officially

This past Thursday, I wrote that I had submitted my voter registration change form to switch from the Democratic party to the Libertarian party.  Here is the screen grab I made to signify the change.

changeofparty

There were ONLY three choices, another example of how we’ve been forced into a two-party system with no real choice.

Years ago I had been registered as an Independent and revelled in the calls and visits to my home practically begging me to switch to the Republican or Democratic party. The only real argument that really had any weight with any of these people is that I didn’t have the ability to vote in primaries and was “stuck” with who won both parties at the regular election in November. It wasn’t until 2008 that I decided to switch to the Democratic party so that I could vote in the primaries for the next President. Out of both parties, which I now see more similar than different, I aligned more with the Democrats (at that time). I’m going on record here that I actually voted for Clinton in my state primaries and in my defense, I had no idea about our political system in 2008, my eyes were still covered. When she lost, I ended up voting for Obama and 4 years later, voted for him again. If I had known then what I currently know now, I probably would have not voted for him in 2012, but still would have voted for him in 2008. Obama’s challenger in 2008 did not appeal to me in any way and his policies were old-fashioned.

Well, fast forward to this past Friday and my state election board accepted my voter registration change and is sending me out an updated card. I feel this is the right choice to make right now for several reasons that I’m going to go into shortly. I had a long conversation with my wife over this weekend about this change as she used to be a Republican but recently has been questioning the political system as I have been. It was a spirited conversation that had its moments of raised voices and interruptions to make points, mainly from her as I kept myself rather reserved in tone and volume. I’ve invested significant amounts of time reading, learning, reading some more, observing, more reading…… My wife is more the “did you see this on Facebook?” kind of person that asks questions about whether what is posted is real or not. I’m working on her, but it’s a slow process as politics is so not her favorite subject to talk about let alone read about. She did admit that she voted for Johnson in this past election based on the conversations we had leading up to the election. My views and supporting detail of those views convinced her that neither Trump or Clinton were good choices and I’m sure she checked up on some of them.

At this point you’re probably wondering why I would remove my ability to vote in the primaries. The blunt and simple answer is that I think the primaries are ineffective. As voter turnout is public record, I did some research on the recent elections for my state and was shocked to see the numbers for voting-elegible population (VEP):

  • 14% Primaries (2012)
  • 59% General Election (2012)
  • 36% General Election (2014)
  • 33% Primaries (2016)
  • 62% General Election (2016)

SOURCE: United States Elections Project

Looking at the 2016 general election, across 50 states and the District of Columbia, the average turnout was only 60.5%! In raw numbers, an average of 39.5% of VEP did not vote for our current President. This represents a 20 year low in voter turnout that has been showing a down trend in recent years. Nearly 40% of the country that is eligible to vote doesn’t bother to show up and actually vote? That is just sad. I personally refuse to be so jaded that I stop voting all together because damn, it’s still my right in this country and hasn’t been taken away (yet).

I changed my party because I want to bring awareness to the people in my small circle that a two-party system is no longer effective anymore and in some arguments is just broken. It has been warped and altered, slowly, over the last few decades, to become something of a trivial formality that is constitutionally required but rigged for the candidates that named their number and are now playing the game as pawns in the oligarchy that has emerged. All the emails leaked leading up to the general election painted a picture of corruption, manipulation, media control and a general lack of accountability to the American people. Would Bernie Sanders have won the Democratic nomination if there wasn’t corruption and fair coverage in the media? We’ll really never know as it’s doubtful that he will run in 2020.

libertarian_party-svgBy my being a Libertarian, I’m rebelling against the status quo and sending a message that I’m not a sheep that can be placated and condescended into thinking that my life is only worth as much as I can spend at the store. I have joined the revolution that is questioning the system, interrogating the system, researching and learning all the details that the system doesn’t want me to know. Changing my party to Libertarian is a signal that I’m now aware of the game that has been perpetrated for at least the last 40 years. I’m going to encourage others to do the same; whether Libertarian, Green, or even Independent. Choosing anything other than Democrat or Republican on the voter registration form is sending a strong message to the ones that are in control. The sheep have seen the wolf and word is spreading.

libporcupine

Unofficial logo of the Libertarian Party, a porcupine, symbolic of just wanted to be left alone (from the perspective of government)

Introduction: A Conservative Review of Trump’s Executive Orders & Actions

For those interested in reading the post below from EatPrayVote, here is a direct link to the Executive Order page on Whitehouse.gov

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/executive-orders

Eat Pray Vote

By Tom Milligan

The use of Executive Orders to bypass our system of checks and balances is nothing new.  

Even though the founders designed our government to include 3 equally powerful branches to provide checks and balances to each other, every President since George Washington has wielded their pen instead of working through Congress as envisioned by our founders.

of-for-and-by-the-people

The founders designed a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.  NOT of the President, for the President, or by the President.

But since the practice of issuing Executive Orders isn’t going to end, all we can do is study each Order and – as a people – fight back against any Order that is illegal, unconstitutional, or represents even a hint of executive overreach.

Notice I said “as a people”.  

All of us.  

This responsibility is not limited to conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, independents, whites…

View original post 482 more words

The U.S. Legislative Process

So few Americans understand, let alone even know, the lengthy and bureaucratic process that is followed attempting to make laws in the United States.  Given the complicated process this is, I’ll do my best to make it understandable, meaning in some cases parts of the process may be simplified for the sake of sanity.  I’m not an expert and there are thousands of resources on this 240 year old process.

After having spent a 2 weeks on this post, I can honestly say that I would *not* want to go into public service as a politician.  It definitely takes a certain type of person to work with this kind of bureaucracy, one that has endured the test of time up to this point and one that I hope continues.

legislativeprocess

Democracy in action!!

POST SOURCE:  Congressional Legislative Process
*some of the content below is paraphrased directly*

There are several sub-steps under each category and depending on which chamber brings up a bill or resolution to discuss.  Each chamber has their own set of procedures they must follow in order to vote on a considered bill.  As is the case with government, there are nuances and exceptions at every step that can alter the defined path in the info-graphic above, but the majority of bills introduced will follow this general process.

Introduction & Referral of Bills

Both chambers submit legislation by introducing them in the form of a Bill or a Joint Resolution.  Bills and joint resolutions may become law if enacted during a two-year Congress in which they were introduced.  Two other forms, called Simple resolutions and concurrent resolutions, are measures that cannot make law, but can be used to publicly express governing rules for processing introduced legislation.  Prior to submission, there is an internal chamber process, run by the bill author, to garner co-sponsors for the bills being introduced to help move it along during later stages of the bill.  All submissions accepted are listed on the congress.gov website for public review and research.  Submission is completed when the bill is dropped into a wooden box called the hopper (House of Representatives) or submitted to clerks on the Senate floor.  Upon introduction to the respective chamber, they are given a designation based on the chamber of introduction.

  • H.R. – House Bill
  • H.J.Res – House Joint Resolution
  • S. – Senate Bill
  • S.J.Res – Senate Joint Resolution

Once a bill is introduced and accepted, it is sent the respective committee(s) that have jurisdiction over provisions within the bill.   The primary committee (provision majority) is generally considered to have jurisdiction over the bill and is responsible for all actions on the bill.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have similar processes on both sides and the differences between the chambers isn’t drastic enough to expand on in this context.  The committee(s) is now tasked with discussing the provisions detailed within the bill.

Committee Consideration

The influx of bill referrals over the course of a Congress is far more than any one committee can handle in any kind of detail.  The committee chair sets the agenda for the committee and decides which bills or issues will be addressed formally through hearings and/or markups.  The chair of a committee is a rather powerful position to hold as they are the gatekeeper as to what is reviewed and what isn’t.  As an example, a Republican chair could immediately reject a bill proposal from a Democrat if there are no Republican co-sponsors.  Given the amount of bills that are referred to some committees, sub-committees may be formed with specific members so that additional focus can be given to a particular policy or issue.  It is important to note that only full committees may report legislation to the chamber.  The simplified steps followed at this stage include:

  • Conducting a hearing (committee members and the public)
  • Inviting relevant comments from agencies, industries, groups representing interested citizens
  • Submission of comments from invited witnesses to be included with the bill
  • Committee markup – Formal step committee takes for the bill to advance to the floor.  Markup will not take place unless it is known there is already a potential majority.
  • Markup concludes when committee agrees to content by majority vote
  • Report of referred bill (markup to original) or Report of clean bill re-written to include markups

Calendars & Scheduling

After a committee reports a bill it is placed on the calendar of that chamber.  It’s literally a list of bills that are eligible but not guaranteed actual floor consideration.  If during a two-year Congress a bill is never considered, it is essentially stopped.  The process for each chamber is:

House – majority party leadership decides which bills to consider and in what order.  The leader can consider expedited floor consideration or push it to the Rules Committee to start the process of bringing it to the floor, which is usually a lengthy process.  Additional detail on this will be discussed in House Floor below.

Senate – majority party leader makes a motion to proceed on taking up a bill for floor consideration.  Once a motion is made to proceed, the debate on the floor starts with members present on whether to grant the motion.  A majority vote is required on the motion to allow the Senate to start considering the bill being presented.  There is an alternative process, not often used, of asking for unanimous consent of the Senate for certain bill considerations, however if even one person is believed to object (put a hold on the bill), it will revert to the standard process.  Both chamber party leaders keep their membership informed of the schedule using several methods and chamber clerks will post updates to congress.gov.

House Floor

If you’ve stuck with me this far, congratulations, this isn’t exactly the easiest to understand and I had to tap other resources while writing just to make sure I had it straight in my head.  Again, as I’ve stated before, there are nuances at this stage that I won’t be touching upon as they’re not typical.  Most bills introduced to the House that made it through the previous step are considered under what is called “suspension of the rules” procedure.  It limits debate to 40 minutes, does not allow amendments and requires two-thirds majority of members voting to agree.  A bill introduced that is known to not have super-majority support is not considered using the “suspension of the rules” procedure.  Now it gets complicated.

Bills that aren’t introduced for “suspension of the rules” procedure get considered instead with the adoption of a simple House resolution called a special rule.  The House Rules Committee (from the previous step) reports the special rules ahead of bill consideration that include selections of the text to be considered, limitation on debate and limits on the amendments that can be offered.  The House procedures already place certain limitations on amendments unless a special rule overrides them.  amendments must meet certain standards and be precise on the subject of what is being considered.

The House at this point collects a voice vote once all steps are completed to obtain approval to move forward.  The minority party has an opportunity to propose their own amendments after voting on a motion to recommit that can extend the process further.  Now they vote, most often by electronic means that records the individual position of each member who voted.  Rarely are votes taken by voice unless there is knowledge of super-majority or higher support in advance of consideration.

Senate Floor

As stated before in a previous stage, we’re assuming the bill has passed a motion to proceed and the bill will be considered.  The House and Senate differ in process greatly on this one point.  Reaching a final vote on a matter raises potential difficult because a motion to proceed, proposing amendments or voting on the bill are not subject to any debate limits.  There are really no rules in place to provide a simple way to cut off a debate on any issue brought to the floor.  Senators can threaten to, or start, a filibuster essentially extending debate to delay or prevent a final vote on all motions.  This is the reason that most bills in the Senate are blocked for reasons discussed shortly.

Oddly, as is the case in the House, there are no rules provided that limit the amendments proposed to a bill.  I’m sure there is a good reason why this is the case, however without looking into this further I’m not able to expound on it.  Amendments in the Senate also do not have to be on the subject of the bill being considered as is the case in the House.  Debates on the floor can often be unpredictable and digress into a wide-ranging debate that fosters divisiveness between Republicans and Democrats.  Senate rule XXII (cloture rule) is available to Senators to propose that allows a super-majority to limit debate on bills, amendments or motions.  A cloture on a bill can even limit the number of amendments that can be added as well.  A cloture motion is, to put it simply, a complex set of rules and it’s defined quite well in paragraph 4 here if you wanted to read it for yourself.

Far more common though, the Senate will act using unanimous consent agreements that can be tailored to each bill that comes to the floor for consideration, similar to the special rule in the House.  This allows the Senate to act more efficiently without having to rely on cloture rules.  Since all Senators have agreed to these agreements in advance, the Senate is much more effective and efficient conducting it’s business while protecting the rights of the Senators.

Executive Business in the Senate

The Senate has additional responsibilities provided to them by the U.S. Constitution.  The two responsibilities are:

  • Power to confirm certain Presidential nominees to the federal judiciary and certain executive branch positions
  • Power to approve treaties

Presidential nominations go to the relevant committee with jurisdiction to conduct a review and vote.  A simple majority vote is all that is required, but nominations are almost always debatable and usually carry a cloture rule imposed to limit the amount of debate and reach a vote in a reasonable amount of time.  Nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court require a three-fifths of the Senate where other nominees only require a simple majority.  Cloture use to reach a vote usually takes significant time on the floor.  The process to approve treaties follows the same process used for bills (see Senate Floor), but needs a two-thirds majority in order for the treaty to be ratified.

In the coming months, there is going to be at least one nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court by President Trump that the Senate will have to debate and ultimately vote on.  Also, with the number of wars that we currently have going on, it wouldn’t be out of the question that a few treaties aren’t sent our way to have the Senate debate and vote on either.

Bicameral Resolution (Resolving Differences)

In order for a bill to be considered for Presidential Action, it needs to be agreed by both chambers before it can be presented.  Any bill with revenue provisions must be a House bill as required by the U.S. Constitution.  A bill is engrossed (official form) once it passes in one chamber so that it can then be passed to the second chamber for agreement.  A majority of bills, from either chamber being sent to the other chamber, are generally accepted and agreed upon with exact text.

What tends to delay and lengthen the legislative process at this stage is when the second chamber, through their internal processes, decides to add amendments to the engrossed bill creating an alternative form of the original.  Once the alternative bill is debated, voted and engrossed, it is passed back to the originating chamber for a review of changes and debate.  As is the case in legislation where the Senate can add amendments that don’t match the subject matter of the bill, the House will almost certainly reject the changes and reject the alternative bill.  This process is called amendment exchange (aka ping-pong) and for it to have any chance one chamber must agree to what the other chamber has sent.

A third resolution that can be used is called a conference committee, which is temporary, setup with member from both the House and Senate from committees that have jurisdiction over the bill.  The committee is tasked with resolving the differences between the two versions of the bills that are in contention preventing the other chamber from accepting.  A majority of committee members from the House and the Senate is required to prepare a negotiated proposal contained within a conference report.  The conference report is subject to the procedures in each chamber that a standard bill would be subject to and in order for it to become law, both chambers must agree to the conference report without changes.

Presidential Actions

It’s not ironic that the last step of the legislative process is the simplest when compared to all the other previous stages of the process.  As both Chambers reach an agreement on a bill, it gets prepared into final form before being presented to the President.  Midnight on the closing day of the presentment, there are 10 days, excluding Sundays, that the President can either sign or veto the bill.  At the moment the President signs the bill, it becomes law.  Alternatively, if the President decides not to act on it in any way, the bill becomes law without a signature.

When the President decides to veto the bill, it’s returned to the chamber where it originated (H.R. to the House, S. to the Senate) giving them a chance to override the President’s veto.  A successful veto override requires support of a majority two-thirds of those voting.  A successful veto vote in one chamber then requires the other chamber to make a decision whether or not to attempt its own veto override, which also requires a two-thirds majority of those voting.  There have only been 110 veto overrides out of 2,572 total vetoes in U.S. history, the latest one overriding the President Obama’s veto on the 9/11 Victims Bill.

Bills enacted into law are published in the United States Statutes at Large housed at the Office of the Federal Registrar at the National Archives.