Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Supreme Court Rules Rick Scott Ignored State Laws, Acted Unconstitutionally

Almost two weeks ago the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Governor Rick Scott acted unconstitutionally in holding up state regulations.

Travis Pillow wrote the following for The Florida Independent:
Gov. Rick Scott suffered a legal setback Tuesday when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that an effort to hold up new state regulations was unconstitutional, but the practical effects of the decision are still unclear.

As part of his efforts to “hold government accountable” and crack down on “job-killing” regulations, Scott issued a temporary freeze on new regulations in one of his first formal acts as governor. Executive order 11-01 also created the Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform (aka OFARR), which was charged with reviewing new and existing rules to ensure they did not exceed legislative authority or stymie job creation...

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion, joined by five justices, supports the petitioners’ argument that Scott did not have the power to hold up the rulemaking process by requiring new rules to be approved by the office.

In their arguments before the court, Scott’s lawyers held that he was acting under the “supreme executive power” granted to the governor by the state constitution, and argued that because the heads of executive agencies serve at the pleasure of the governor — meaning he can fire them if he disagrees with their decisions — he could assert authority over how they conduct rulemaking. Tuesday’s opinion, however, holds that “the power to remove is not analogous to the power to control.”

Scott’s advisers said Tuesday’s ruling failed to show proper deference to the executive branch, and that if there was any way the governor’s efforts could conceivably be ruled constitutional, the court should have allowed them to stand.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Scott said, adding that he felt his executive order was in line with his power to supervise the heads of executive agencies.
The laws are pretty clear regarding the rule-making process.

From the Florida Department of State:
Rulemaking is a multi-step process that includes:
(1) Drafting the rule or rule amendment;
(2) Approval of the rule or rule amendment by the appropriate agency official;
(3) Publishing a Notice of Proposed Rule Development in the Florida Administrative Weekly;
(4) Publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the F. A . W.;
(5) An opportunity for public participation by means of notice, a 21-day public comment period, and public hearing, if requested by an affected party or at the discretion of the originating agency;
(6) A hearing before the Division of Administrative Hearings on the validity of a rule may be
required if a proper petition challenging the rule is filed by a substantially affected person;
(7) If necessary, changes in the rule or rule amendment by the originating agency following the
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, based on comments and materials received during the public
comment period or hearing, or in response to comments or objections from the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee. Notice of these changes must be published in the F. A . W. at least 21 days prior to adoption and shall be filed with J.A.P.C. If no changes are made or only technical changes are made, the originating agency shall notify J.A.P.C. of that fact at least 7 days before adoption;
(8) Preparing the rule or rule amendment for adoption with A.C.S.;
(9) Filing the rule or rule amendment for adoption with the A.C.S., which becomes effective 20
days after filing, or at a later date specified in the rule.
Rick Scott, and only one of the justices, believed his "supreme executive power" allowed him to circumvent the law - notably step five regarding public participation - and decide what rules can and can't take effect.  Scott believes that because he is the governor, he can do anything he wants.  His logic asserts that since he was elected by a plurality (not a majority) of the people and because he appoints these agency heads, he has essentially the same power those people hold.  Rick Scott still believes he is a CEO of his own company but that is far from reality.  Every Floridian should find it appalling that Scott wants to avoid public participation.

Scott still doesn't understand why the courts ruled against him and his legal team are trying to figure out how to circumvent.  Scott wants to hold up any agency from acting by requiring them to contact his bureaucratic office for approval and if they don't do so, they can't proceed.  Sounds like he is trying to usurp power from the legislation to establish his vision.

That doesn't stop conservatives from trying to push the idea that Rick Scott is the popular governor he thinks he is - while most polling agencies place Scott's approval rating in the mid-30s range and showing wide-spread disapproval for him (although a slightly higher approval rating for some of his policies), conservatives are trying to find any way they can to paint the governor in a positive light.  Conservative pollsters McLaughlin & Associates peddle their push poll as proof many Floridians like the policies of Rick Scott but haven't quite warmed up to the man, but if you look at their questioning you would understand why their numbers are what they are.  

Consider this "question" - the poll asks respondents how they feel about Rick Scott's policy of "reforming the state pension system so that state workers contribute to their own retirement, just like workers in the private sector."

Public workers already contribute to their pensions as part of their compensation package.  Just because it is not part of their take-home-pay does not mean they do not pay for their retirement -  just consider recent passage of legislation that decreases public worker pay shifting that money to their retirement.

Why would anyone trust a polling agency that touts "working with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to help him win a majority in Congress?"

Monday, August 29, 2011

All-Republican Court Upholds Tax On Small Businesses

A $5 entrance fee to Texas strip clubs is constitutional and not an improper restriction on nude dancing, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Lower courts had called the so-called "pole tax" an improper burden on the free expression of nude dancing and a violation of the First Amendment.

The fee has been imposed on clubs that allow nude dancing and serve alcohol since 2007 to raise money for sexual assault prevention programs and health care for the uninsured.

But the all-Republican Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously, said the fee is too small to be considered a burden on free expression, and the state has a legitimate interest in trying to curb the secondary effects of potential violence associated with adult entertainment and alcohol.

To avoid paying the fee, strip clubs could simply not serve alcohol, Justice Nathan Hecht wrote for the court.
Notice the hypocrisy? An all-Republican court ruled it is okay to impose a small tax on a business because they do not approve of that type of business. Had this been a "pump tax," where customers had to pay a five dollar charge to access a gas station, I am sure the GOP court would rule the small dollar amount was improperly restricting business.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Charlie Rangel and Laura Ingraham Fight!

I am generally not a fan of Charlie Rangel but I agree with him in that Laura Ingraham was giving a speech and was less interested in any kind of response given by Rangel.  Rangel has also been criticized for his "pretty girl" comment but I think it is legitimate considering the argument Ingraham made earlier regarding the word "plantation" - she wanted to know what words conservatives are allowed to use regarding black people but when Rangel calls her a "pretty girl," she has a fit calling it condescending.  Rangel was simply pointing out that Fox News brings in attractive women of zero substance to make arguments on the Republican's behalf - if she had a problem with comments regarding gender, she should have set up parameters for the interview stating comments like the one Rangel made were unacceptable.  Rangel could have countered asking just what words Ingraham would have liked him to use to describe her.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rick Perry Enters The Race! Where Is Captain Invincible?

It appears that the GOP field has gotten a little more crowded - not really seeing that Tim Pawlenty decided to drop out of the race because of his third-place showing in the Iowa straw-poll this week - with Texas Governor Rick Perry joining the race.

While Jon Stewart pointed out that everyone seems to be overlooking Ron Paul (second-place winner in the straw poll) and declaring the front-runners to be Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and now Rick Perry, I think the assessment is somewhat correct. While I somewhat like Ron Paul, I think he is unelectable because everyone, including the GOP, has written him off as a kook and the GOP establishment, including the Republican brass at Fox News, do not want his perceived image to sully their other right-wing candidates - mainly Perry and Bachmann.

Anyway, I figured I would offer this little gem from the 1983 Australian musical comedy and superhero film, The Return of Captain Invincible, featuring Rick Perry singing the song "Bullshit," which is appropriate seeing that it pretty much sums up his campaign and politics.  My favorite part comes around the 20-second mark.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mike Huckabee Exploits 9/11 For Cash

From The Huffington Post:
Mike Huckabee set pundits ablaze last week when his "Learn Our History: TimeCycle Academy" released an educational animated video for kids about the 9/11 attacks, in time for its 10th anniversary.

Critics mostly aren't happy that the former governor of Arkansas is trying to profit from the deadliest Stateside attack, nor are they pleased that the video associates terrorism to Islam.

"You, probably like me, are frustrated that so many kids don't have a clue about the real American history and how great a country we really have," Huckabee told The 700 Club's Pat Robertson last week, adding that the video aims to show that "American history is very positive, that this is a good country."

A preview of the cartoon shows nearly two minutes of an animated retelling of 9/11 with patriotic maxims, dramatic music and strong portrayals of al Qaeda. At one point, an animated Osama bin Laden throws his hand in the air, proclaiming, "death to the Americans."

The full video costs $9.95 plus shipping and handling, and comes with a money-back guarantee with four gifts. Huckabee co-founded Learn Our History, whose goal is "to make learning history fun for kids," according to the company website.
Here is an idea: Everyone purchase this movie and then take advantage of Learn Our History's return policy.  You get your money back plus you get four free gifts.  Not only would you bog down the corporation's staff while they process your orders and subsequent returns, you would also hit their bottom line because they would have to return your money and give you additional products to compensate for your dissatisfaction.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tea Party Bus To Travel Until "Setpember"

Here is another treat - the Tea Party Express seems to have a hard time spelling the month of September.  This is particularly funny since they typically evoke September 11th whenever they can!

Granted this may be the error of the printer but you would think somebody would have caught this before it went on the bus, like when the printer sends back the proofs of the graphic for the customer to sign off of.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Queen Of Rage"

Here is a treat:

I don't see why teabaggers are upset about this picture and caption. They love the rage rhetoric and this is exactly what Michele Bachmann looks like - actually, she looks crazier. This just happens to be a good picture of her.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hypocrisy Of Republican Criticisms Over S&P Downgrade

Nelson D. Shwartz and Eric Dash wrote the following for The New York Times:
The day after Standard & Poor’s took the unprecedented step of stripping the United States government of its top credit rating, the ratings agency offered a full-throated defense of its decision, calling the bitter stand-off between President Obama and Congress over raising the debt ceiling a “debacle.” It warned that further downgrades may lie ahead.

In an unusual Saturday conference call with reporters, senior S.& P. officials insisted the ratings firm hadn’t overstepped its bounds by focusing on the political paralysis in Washington as much as fiscal policy in determining the new rating. “The debacle over the debt ceiling continued until almost the midnight hour,” said John B. Chambers, chairman of S.& P.’s sovereign ratings committee.

Another S.& P. official, David Beers, added that “fiscal policy, like other government policy, is fundamentally a political process.”

Initial reactions from Congressional leaders suggested that S.& P.’s action was unlikely to force consensus on the fundamental divide over spending and taxes. Politicians on both sides used the decision to bolster their own long-standing positions...

Even as the ratings agency insisted on Saturday that its move shouldn’t have come as a shock, it reverberated around the world. Officials from China to Europe scrambled to assess the downgrade’s impact on the already troubled global economy, and political leaders in the United States sought to frame the issue in their favor.

Republican presidential candidates on Saturday seized on the downgrade as a new line of criticism against President Obama, suggesting that ultimate responsibility rests in the Oval Office.

“It happened on your watch, Mr. President,” Representative Michele Bachmann said. “You were AWOL. You were missing in action."

She had also stated that the "president has destroyed the credit rating of the United States."

Rick Santorum echoed Bachmann: “I understand the U.S. Treasury is going back to Standard and Poor’s to say that a two trillion dollar mathematical error by S&P contributed to the downgrade, so, in addition to blaming President Bush for all of its problems, now the White House is blaming S&P – but this happened on the President's watch – and he has to deal with it.”

“We need new leadership in Washington committed to fiscal responsibility, a balanced budget, and job-friendly policies to get America working again,” Former Ambassador to China John Huntsman said.

“America’s creditworthiness just became the latest casualty in President Obama’s failed record of leadership on the economy,” said Mitt Romney in a statement. “Standard & Poor’s rating downgrade is a deeply troubling indicator of our country’s decline under President Obama. His failed policies have led to high unemployment, skyrocketing deficits, and now, the unprecedented loss of our nation’s prized AAA credit rating.”

Considering the whole reason there was a debt ceiling "debacle" in the first place was because Republicans decided to tie the debt ceiling increase to spending cuts and then refused to negotiate on deficit-reducing measures like revenue increases such as closing tax loopholes.  Bachmann's response to the downgrade, criticizing the president saying he was "AWOL" is a misrepresentation of the facts (which is nothing new for Bachmann) - Obama has made countless efforts to negotiate a deal with Republicans and each time Republicans refused to work with the administration walking out of meetings opting to run to the press and talk about how the president was being so unreasonable for asking the GOP to compromise not even as much as the Democrats were willing to.

Also, if you consider the Republican criticisms and then look at Standard & Poor's reasoning behind the downgrade - "the debacle over the debt ceiling continued until almost the midnight hour" and "fiscal policy, like other government policy, is fundamentally a political process" - they were clearly placing the blame on the gridlock in Washington and not the economic policies of the administration.  Considering the debt ceiling has been raised numerous times under both Democratic and Republican administrations without any consequences, the Republican game of chicken bringing the United States of America on the brink of default was clearly the reason why S&P made their decision.  Had the GOP compromised with Democrats and closed tax loopholes and raised revenue none of this would have happened.

Friday, August 5, 2011

GOP Reason Obama Always Sidetracked From Jobs

Ben Craw wrote the following for The Huffington Post:
Now that the debate over raising the nation's debt ceiling has been temporarily resolved, the White House has pledged, once again, to "pivot" to jobs.

If the promise is giving you a sense of déjà vu, you're not alone.

In his very first address to Congress in February of 2009, President Barack Obama promised an agenda focused on job creation. Following every major subsequent event of his presidency -- be it a concerted campaign like health care reform or, much more frequently, an unwelcome crisis -- he has been forced to reiterate that he will now focus on jobs. Just how many times has he made the jobs promise?
Here is an even better question: What were the causes for such unwelcome crises and how many times have Republicans focused on employment?

The health care reform law can rightfully be considered a jobs bill - the costs associated with health care are enough to cripple the economy (pun intended), but things like the debt ceiling crisis was only a crisis because the GOP manufactured the entire situation.  Something as arbitrary as the debt ceiling limit became a point of contention for the Republicans, mainly to satisfy their base and to score some political victories - namely some additional cuts to the government, which will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the near future's employment scene.  And how about that whole FAA crisis (again manufactured by the right) - the GOP's standoff over a couple million dollars in subsidies cost the government nearly 35 times more and left thousands collecting no paychecks and job-creating projects on hold.

It seems that the only reason why the president has had to pivot back to jobs was because of the Republicans, who by the way promised last year that their sole focus when taking office would be jobs.  It seems every piece of legislation coming from the Republicans in congress deal with every other issue, from trying to kill Medicaid to fighting against homosexuality.

One big reason the Republicans are playing games with the employment situation is because they are looking for an issue to exploit during next year's election.  They would have an awfully hard time running against Obama if the economy was looking up - say what you want about the president, he has had some pretty major accomplishments these past couple years and the Republicans have been working hard to spin those in their favor, but the economy is typically a major sticking point with the electorate and can be enough to derail a successful campaign.

RNC Hypocrisy Over Medicare Cuts

Jason Linkins of The Huffington Post wrote the following:
Over the course of the debt ceiling negotiations, whenever news broke that entitlement cuts were being put "on the table," you could typically rely on hearing from all manner of parties who were opposed and/or concerned about the program taking a hit. Typically, you'd hear protests emanating from progressive circles -- Democratic politicians, liberal pundits, left-leaning blogs. But oddly enough, a new voice is keening in the wilderness today: the Republican National Committee. What now?

Yes, that's right. On the RNC's "Issues" page, under the oddly creepy headline, "Reach Out And Touch Medicare," the Committee wants to remind you that, "For The Record…It Was Obama Who Offered To Cut Hundreds Of Billions In Medicare During The Debt Debate." It's a pretty selective remembrance! The bipartisan Gang Of Six also sought steep cuts to Medicare -- $400 billion worth to recipients. Their talks broke down when Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) demanded further cuts. It wasn't good enough for another Republican -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- either. He wanted substantially bigger cuts as well. (And let's recall that Ryan is the author of a celebrated Medicare plan that reduces Medicare costs by not paying for Medicare anymore.)
This is nothing new - remember the "Senior Health Care Bill Of Rights" the RNC offered up during the health care debates when the Democrats offered up cost-saving changes to the system to help fund health care?

Republicans need to crawl back to the voters who have proven to be their most reliable constituency - seniors.  It seems the Republicans are constantly pandering to their base when they need to push a message that they are different from Democrats and that they stand for something of value when in reality they do not.  Over the years, this party has increasingly sold itself to the far-right but come elections they like to claim they are more centrist then the Democrats.  It is my opinion that the Democrats as a whole have become more centrist while the Republicans moved to the right.  Just look at what happened when the Democrats held a majority - they had a hard time getting enough votes because of the wide range of ideologies within their party.  The Republicans on the other hand would march lockstep with their party's orders.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Republicans Overreach With "Facebook Law"

Fermin Leal wrote the following for The Orange County Register:
A new law in Missouri aimed at protecting children from sexual predators prevents teachers from "friending" students or sending them private messages on Facebook.

The state's governor recently signed the controversial law that prohibits teachers from directly contacting students through the popular social network.

According to news reports, Missouri is the first state in the country to place such strict limits on Facebook communication between teachers and students. There are no current proposals in California for similar legislation, state officials said Tuesday.

Missouri's "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act" does allow some public communication between students and teachers on Facebook. Teachers can create public Facebook pages where students can discuss class assignments and lessons. Teachers can also post messages on students' public walls or message boards that others on the social network can see. The law goes into effect Aug. 28.
I see a couple problems with this law. One problem being privacy - any communication a teacher may have with a student must now be visibility to all eliminating any expectations of confidentiality.

Another problem I see with this is that this law is essentially restricting free speech by determining when, where, and how a teacher may communicate. I would consider this law to be unconstitutional.  The 1st Amendment specifically states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech."  States' rights proponents may argue that congress didn't make these laws - Missouri did - but since our form of government is a federal one, that argument is worth nothing.  Not only does this law "abridge" the free speech of teachers, it also infringes on the rights of students.

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) extended free speech rights to students in school. While the Supreme Court has amended that decision over the last forty years, it had only extended censorship of student speech at schoool-sponsored events and only if students promote illegal activities. Since Facebook would no be classified as a school-sponsored event, I can hardly see any restriction on student-teacher communications upheld by the courts - I would hazard a guess that even conservative judges would look to their pocket Constitution on this one and rule in favor of the teachers.

Finally, I think there is an ulterior motive for this law. Conservatives have been upping their attacks against teachers, whether blaming them for state fiscal problems or claiming they are indoctrinating children with liberal ideologies. This law essentially works to restrict contact between the student and the teacher outside of the classroom. Conservatives have worked hard to try and control the classroom material (see Texas Board of Education) and now they are trying to expand that control and prevent any additional communication outside the classroom so that their narrative is the dominant one.

Sadly, there is no liberal agenda in the schools.  Complaints from the right are blown out of proportion and using sympathetic media (exploiting the Spiral of Silence), conservatives push their agenda making them as bad as those they claim do the same.  In the end, students are the one to get hurt.  Accessibility to their instructors will decrease as teachers increasingly fear penalization for breaking the law.  Failure rates will most likely increase creating an unprepared generation, but not to worry because this will only create more fuel for the right's assault on education - they can insist the current system (the one they are whittling away) is a disaster that needs to be scrapped.