Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Greatest Emerging Threat To Freedom

What is an emerging threat to freedom and why is it critical to address it in today’s society?

The greatest emerging threat to freedom is the persistent insistence that we face an emerging threat or even multiple emerging threats to freedom coupled with the various, odious, un-American proposals supposedly designed to avoid or defeat it or them. Our failure to address and answer this question insures the the threat will continue to grow.

Thus, the most dangerous emerging threat to freedom is - us.

This post is an entry in the blog contest responding to the new book, New Threats to Freedom edited by Adam Bellow. The contest is open to all and further information can be found here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Virginia's Shame Continues: Salute To Treason

The new Governor of Virginia’s salute to the treasonous Confederacy shines a bright light on the historical litany of Virginia’s shame.

The Civil War in America began in South Carolina, on April 12th, on Sullivan’s Island at Ft. Sumter. That was 1861 – 149 years ago. But that conflict’s root cause - the shame of Virginia - began long before then. In April 1607, the first English Christian colonists arrived on this continent. They established their settlement in Virginia and called it Jamestown. That spring, 403 years ago, marked the beginning of the end for the native population of North America. The Indians, however, were not the only ones destined to suffer the consequences of European Christian expansion. Only a dozen passed before these original white Christian Virginians decided to adopt racial slavery as their preferred mode of manual labor and as the means of accumulating personal fortune. Slaves would become, legally, just another form of real property in Virginia, another measure of a man’s wealth. The first Negro slaves were forcibly brought to Jamestown 391 years ago, in 1619. The importance of Christianity in the history of slavery in America cannot be underestimated.

Virginia’s everlasting shame was codified in 1705, 305 years ago. Here is part of what the 1705 Virginia Slave Code said:

"All servants imported and brought into the Country...who were not Christians in their native Country...shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion...shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resist his master...correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction...the master shall be free of all if such accident never happened."

Modern Americans may need to read that twice. Note the designation that servants “… who were not Christians in their native Country…” become slaves, once in Virginia. Notice too the legal codification of “All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves” as real estate. Virginia law thus made no distinction between a Negro slave and… a barn or a stable or a cabin or a grand manor house – human beings, already personal property, now regarded as real estate.

Take note also that the Virginia Slave Code of 1705 gave a malevolent double legal protection to slave owners. First, it specifically exempted them from all sanctions for any action they took in “correcting” a slave considered to “resist his master.” It even detailed the ultimate such “correction” - the actual killing of such a slave - putting this murder beyond the purview of the law. For the Virginia slave, his master was now his God. Second, the lawmakers of Virginia, not content to safely place slave owners outside any jurisdiction of the law, felt compelled to classify a slave owners corrective action – even to the point of murder – as just an “accident” – literally, “as if (it) never happened.”

Of the original 13 United States none had a larger slave population than Virginia. The first official count of slaves was in 1790. The initial US Census, mandated by the new Constitution, showed Virginia’s slave population had grown from a tiny boatload in 1619 to a total of 292,627 in 171 years. Already, 29 Virginia counties had more slaves than free white people and 17 more counties had nearly as many slaves as they did free, Christian whites. In April 1861 Virginia was still the state with the most slaves. In only 70 years, the total of slaves in Virginia had zoomed to 490,865, an amazing growth rate in light of the then 50-year ban on the importation of new slaves. In fact, the entire South had somehow managed to explode its slave population despite the half-century since the slave trade was legally ended. The US Census of 1790 showed the total number of slaves in the new United States to be 694,000. Seventy-one years later, at the start of The Civil War, according to the 1860 US Census there were almost 4 million Negro slaves in the seditious states that treasonously seceded from the Union.

Throughout the history of Negro slavery in North America – first in the colonies and then in the United States of America – Virginia led the way. They were the first to have slavery. Then, the first to declare human beings to be real property. Then, to have the most slaves at the birth of this republic. And finally, to have the most slaves when the issue of slavery broke the United States of America to pieces. The Civil War remains to this day our most costly war. It dwarfs two World Wars, and numerous other conflicts, with more than 600,000 killed.

Today, Virginia’s new Governor either doesn’t know the history of his state and his nation or he purposely, perhaps seditiously, chooses to deny it. To acknowledge and honor rebellious terrorists he only adds to Virginia’s shame.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Obama: End The Supreme Court's Conservative Shift

The time is now to nominate a strong, decidedly liberal Justice to the Supreme Court. Unlike Congress and the Chief Executive, the makeup of the Court does not change every two, four or six years. The Supreme Court is a co-equal branch of our government. The Presidential responsibility for making nominations may be the most lasting aspect of any President's time in office. Surely President Obama knows, a failure to grasp that opportunity, to be true to the principles of those who elected him because they believed he shared those principles, is plainly unacceptable. Especially now, after the disciplined, unanimous and fiercely partisan opposition of the Republican Party to practically every legislative and policy position of this administration, any effort to placate Republicans on a new Supreme Court appointee would be a betrayal of the 70 million Americans who voted for Barack Obama to be President.

This President has the opportunity and the responsibility to stop the historical shift of the Supreme Court farther and farther to the right. This movement toward a more conservative membership is not a new development for the Supreme Court.

Here's a question: Who was the last newly appointed Justice who was more liberal than the Justice he or she replaced? Take a minute to think about that.

Byron White is the answer. White was named to replace Charles Evans Whittaker, a Justice who was so far to the right he would outflank even today's most conservative Justices. Whittaker resigned after an emotional breakdown and White was named to take that seat. When was this? Byron White was nominated by President John F. Kennedy and confirmed by the Senate in April 1962. Since then, 48 years ago to the month, each and every new Justice named to the Supreme Court has been more conservative than the one replaced. A half-century of inexorable conservative shift. The time to put an end to this is now.

After White's 1962 confirmation there have been 25 other Supreme Court nominees, resulting in 18 new Justices. Included among them have been 3 new Chief Justices. Each of the Chiefs has been successively more conservative. Warren Burger succeeded Earl Warren and was subsequently succeeded by William Rehnquist. As openly conservative as Chief Justice Rehnquist was, in his short tenure thus far his successor, the current Chief Justice John Roberts, has been dramatically more so. There are no umpires in the Chief's seat.

You might point to Justice White's successor to refute the Court's rightward move. Ruth Bader Ginzburg, a stalwart on this Court's liberal side, succeeded Byron White. But, as with all politics, time and distance influence measurement. By contemporary standards Justice White would be the most liberal judge on today's high court. So, Ginzburg, although a liberal herself, has actually been more conservative than her predecessor. Even the Court's first black Justice, the renowned Thurgood Marshall, did not make his seat on the Court any more liberal than it had been before him. Marshall replaced Justice Tom Clark, the man President Truman called, "My biggest mistake." If you can't imagine a Justice more liberal than Thurgood Marshall, remember that Justice Clark wrote the majority opinions in the Court's landmark decisions to ban Bible reading in public schools and to extend the exclusionary protections of the 4th Amendment to the states. How many votes on today's Supreme Court would either of those opinions manage to get?

Since Kennedy named Byron White to the Court, 7 nominees have failed to gain a seat there. Some nominations were withdrawn after the nominating President saw that confirmation would be impossible. Others were voted down in the Senate. A failed nomination is also nothing new in our history. There have been 29 failed Presidential nominees to the Supreme Court beginning with William Paterson, nominated by George Washington in 1793, and going all the way to Harriet Miers who was unsuccessfully nominated by George W. Bush in 2005. Of these nominees who failed to enter the Court, 15 were either withdrawn or the Senate took no action on them. But 14 nominees have gone all the way to a vote in the Senate where they were rejected. The first was John Rutledge in 1795 and the last to meet such a fate was Robert Bork in 1987. It is important to take note that perhaps the two most popular Presidents ever, George Washington and Ronald Reagan, both had Supreme Court nominees rejected by the Senate.

President Barack Obama has an historic opportunity to halt the nearly 50 year conservative shift in the Supreme Court. He was elected by voters who expect him to do just that. The last two Republican Presidents, Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger each nominated the most openly right-wing Justices available. The Elder's legacy will be forever linked to Clarence Thomas and the Younger is responsible for Justice Alito and the Chief Justice John Roberts. The Presidents Bush took principled stands. We expect nothing less from this President.

If we are to really get a change we can believe in, it must come in the Supreme Court. President Barack Obama needs to stand up and proudly nominate a strong, decidedly liberal nominee to replace Justice Stevens. Any nominee who is less should not be confirmed.

"Media Entertainers" - Small Audience, Little Influence

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... I was in the broadcasting business. I have some experience with ratings for radio and television. I know something about the size of audiences for media personalities and their influence on public life and policy -- or lack of it.

I am amused and puzzled at how much attention is paid these days to entertainers like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Keith Olbermann. The crew at MSNBC -- really only Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, since the others on that NBC owned channel can hardly be said to be politically off-center by any reasonable ideological measurement -- actually has an historically small viewing audience and is not seen as a real threat even by its right-wing competitors. Of course, those same right-wing entertainers, mainly found on the FOX NEWS cable channel and various radio stations, have similarly small audiences when measured against the industry as a whole and particularly past broadcasting personalities who put on similar type programs.

Numbers can be boring, but you can look them up. Yes, Olbermann and Maddow have more than a million viewers and the FOX NEWS group grabs about two to four times that many. By far the biggest audience for political entertainment belongs to Rush Limbaugh. Although his ratings change from time to time, it is generally agreed that Rush Limbaugh has between 16 and 20 million listeners. However, instead of boasting about "talent on loan from God" and some of his other frequent and adolescent self-worth estimates, Limbaugh ought to be humbled at his historical irrelevance in his own field. That assessment may surprise and upset some people -- "Dittoheads" they're called. But, giving Rush Limbaugh every one of his 20 million listeners, rather than the smaller numbers often reported, that means he reaches at most 6% of the American people. I think its fair to say that God might want to do a little better, especially considering His past experience on-the-air.

More than 70 years ago, back in the 1930s when the United States had only 122 million people, less than 40% of its current 308 million, a priest named Charles Caughlin (a priest long before that designation carried the negative weight of recent revelations) had twice the number of radio listeners Rush Limbaugh has now. Father Caughlin regularly reached some 40 million Americans. That's hardly a contest: Caughlin 33% of the American people, Rush Limbaugh 6%. Check Caughlin out. You'll find his show business style quite different from Limbaugh, but their content and approach to those in political power is strikingly similar. While Caughlin was sure Franklin Roosevelt meant the end of Western Civilization, as we know it, Rush Limbaugh feels the same way about Barack Obama. If Obama is really worried about the effect of right wing entertainers, especially Limbaugh, he might want to remember that FDR was elected President of the United States four times in a row from 1932 to 1944.

Another long ago favorite, Walter Winchell, also had many more listeners 60 years ago than Rush Limbaugh has in 2010. Plus, in his later years Winchell, with his trademark hat, was a TV hit -- quite the opposite of Limbaugh's failed attempt to make it on television. Walter Winchell was also in more than 2000 newspapers, at a time when newspapers were the major source for Americans to get their news and information. In terms of political leaning and ideology, Rush Limbaugh, Charles Caughlin and Walter Winchell are three peas in a pod. The right wing radio entertainers have been warning us of impending socialism for nearly 80 years. So, what separates these men besides the size of their listening audience? The answer is, the attention paid to them by others especially other media. In their day nobody, particularly other media, except those who tuned-in cared one way or the other about Caughlin or Winchell.

This same question applies to all the modern right wing media entertainers -- Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, and the lesser-known but equally outlandish performers who populate the radio airwaves -- people like Michael Savage, Laura Ingram and Neal Boortz. These are all great entertainers, excellent "air personalities" and performers. But the question is: Why does anyone pay serious attention to anything they say? For that, I have no quick answer. My guess is we are easily bored and just as easily, albeit temporarily, entertained. That doesn't say much for those who invest themselves in entertaining us with what are often factually incorrect or entirely made-up political positions. And, let's face it -- that doesn't say much for us either.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Commander-In-Chief Test: Failed?

The American Revolution was inspired and led by civilians, not by Generals. Later, our Constitution was likewise conceived and written by civilians. We have no history of military control over our political institutions. The Founders entrusted the President with the power to command the entire military of the United States because they realized it was - and always would be - essential to a free representative republic that there be absolute civilian control of the violent potential of the state. This ideal separated the new United States from all past empires and all contemporary Great Powers of the Eighteenth Century. A President leading armies in the field was never the vision of the Constitution. But a republic free from the threat of tyranny required a heavy civilian hand hard upon the neck of the armed forces. The primary responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief is to lend weight to that hand, to firmly apply pressure, never giving the beast a chance to run wild.

Contrary to popular belief, and recent Executive custom, the Constitution conveys only three powers to the President of the United States that are entirely his and not subject to review or reversal. They are: Commander-in-Chief; oversight of members of the cabinet; and the issuance of pardons. These specific yet diverse authorities are all included in a single sentence, in Article II Section 2: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment."

Some might say that the Executive Order should be counted here as well. However, no such Executive authority is granted by the Constitution. Such a power will not be found anywhere within the document. Andrew Jackson invented it to continue his punishment of those Cherokee Indians who suffered the misfortune to remain alive while he was President. When the Supreme Court ruled Jackson's order out of order, his only response was to mock the Court's helpless inability to enforce its decision. Pity the poor Cherokee. Ever since, the Executive Order has been a source of continued Presidential shame. Lincoln fairly gutted the Constitution during The Civil War via the Executive Order. Woodrow Wilson and later FDR used them to defy recalcitrant Congresses during their war years, much the same as Lincoln had. The Executive Order might better be called what it is - rule by decree.

As to those three powers a President does legally have, no one has ever sought to challenge the power of the pardon although many have questioned the worthiness of its beneficiaries. Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson was impeached for his exercise of oversight of his cabinet. After the Senate failed to convict him, no President since Johnson has needed to worry about that again. Over time these two Presidential powers have come to be seen as absolute.

The Commander-in-Chief designation is quite another matter. While we have had many Presidents who served in the military; some in combat and some who were Generals; only two Presidents have led American forces into battle as Commander-in-Chief. George Washington donned his old uniform and personally commanded 12,000 federal troops in Western Pennsylvania, as they put down the Whiskey Rebellion in the late summer of 1794. Ironically, our first President then pardoned the rebellion's leader, a man known as Tom The Tinker.

Twenty years later, on August 24, 1814, James Madison briefly commanded about 5,000 US soldiers against the invading British army at the battle of Bladensburg. While Washington's stint in the field had been a success, Madison was humiliated in defeat. The British went on to burn down the Capital and the White House before finally losing the war for many of the same reasons they lost the American Revolution almost 40 years before.

No one has posed a challenge to an American President as Commander-in-Chief since 1814 unless you count the occasional insubordinate General officer. Despite this longtime acceptance of Executive authority many have questioned the Commander-in-Chief credentials of those who sought the Presidency. In fact, some candidates have been declared to be outright incompetent. In the election of 2008 much was made about the so-called "Commander-in-Chief test." The Constitution was of no help in that debate. There is nothing in that document - certainly nothing about a 3am phone call - that guides us in even recognizing the qualities needed for the job. We are left to make that judgment ourselves. Nevertheless, Barack Obama's principle opponents in that election, Hillary Clinton and then John McCain, both claimed a special knowledge that Obama had failed this nonexistent exam. The American people overwhelmingly disagreed.

While in principle no Commander-in-Chief test may exist for candidates, the President of the United States, once in office, is most certainly faced with one. Wars are matter of policy, but civilian control over the military is a matter of high principle. The foundation of America's freedom is civilian control and the President is the sole guardian of that sacred trust. No task he faces is of greater consequence.

It is with great disappointment that I have unexpectedly come to see the sad truth that President Barack Obama is failing the Commander-in-Chief test.

Recent events in Afghanistan now highlight how badly our current Commander-in-Chief has loosened the bridle. The stampede begins. Reports are widespread, from many sources around the world, that General Stanley McCrystal has lost control of the American Special Forces in Afghanistan. Our own men in uniform are not following the commander's Rules of Engagement. Substantial elements of American fighting forces, plus private soldiers who are hired assassins in the direct employ of the United States government, and are unknown and unaccountable to the public, are now apparently operating beyond the effective control of the Commander-in-Chief. The chain of command in Afghanistan is broken. That means the constitutional chain of command, which Harry Truman dramatically demonstrated ends in the White House not in the Pentagon, no longer exists. The Commander-in-Chief is not in command.

If absolute civilian control over the world's mightiest military machine has been lost, whether surrendered voluntarily or involuntarily, the Constitution will have been abridged in a manner even Andrew Jackson or Abraham Lincoln could not have imagined. There is still time for repair. Barack Obama's term of office is four years. We are barely a quarter way through. But his current failure conjures up the worst fears of our Founding Fathers. Without a stout, firm, unflinching Commander-in-Chief who is without doubt in complete control of the US military complex, we stand in jeopardy - as Benjamin Franklin painfully predicted - of losing our republic and our freedom.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Gore Vidal has probably been misquoted more times than anyone since Jesus. Nevertheless, and no matter how he said it exactly, it was Vidal’s opinion that the United States has only one political party, and that that party has two right wings. One wing may be less right than the other, but still both swing and flap from the same side. Thus the Vidal quote (or misquote) – “We have a one-party system with two right wings.”

Actually, we have a no-party system in the United States running from an obsolete single-wing formation.

The elected portion of the federal government consists of 435 Members of the House of Representatives, 100 Senators and a President and Vice-President. Of these 537 office holders none are actually chosen by state and local party organizations that have anything at all resembling a disciplined, central connection to a similarly organized and disciplined national political party. You may think they do – because across the country they call themselves Democrats and Republicans while a compliant media agrees - but they don’t and they know it.

In this 111th Congress all 435 seats in the House are filled by candidates who were elected as either Democrats or Republicans. Nowhere in America did a single Congressional district think to send an Independent or minor party candidate to Congress. Parties must mean a lot then, right? Well, actually not. You see, not one of these Congressmen – male and female alike - got to be candidates as the appointed choice of a national political party. Most of these Congressional hopefuls were not put up by their parties for election, but rather they were elected by primary voters who in many places did not even have to be registered party members to vote in those primaries. Neither party officials nor actual party members chose them.

As a result, many Members of Congress from the same party hold differing views on the same issues. Nationwide, neither Democrats nor Republicans running for Congress supported the national party line because no such party line existed. Congressional candidates answer to no national party leadership until after they are elected and seated in the House. And for many, who are by then Members of Congress, it’s too late to impose meaningful party discipline. As sitting Members they owe nothing to any national party organization, especially their election.

In the House of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans are far more likely to be loyal to self-appointed cliques; semi-official caucuses or even undisclosed, hidden personal alliances than they are to be willingly subservient to any national party or Congressional leader. In effect, in the House of Representatives, the national parties serve at the pleasure of their membership, not the other way around.

It’s far worse in the Senate. In that body sits 100 senators each with a personal and permanent, statewide constituency, a local organization of the sort that used to be known as “machines.” Each senator has been at some point an individual primary election winner and – rather than represent their affiliated political party in their state – they often become that party simply by virtue of their position as a senator. With a six-year term, serving longer than even a President, to whom then do these US senators owe political allegiance? To themselves.

And our quadrennial Presidential candidates are all the winners of long and bitter campaigns capped by vicious primary battles. These mainly independent, individual personalities enter the race for President for personal reasons not necessarily having any ideological or party application. Most plan and raise funds for their election race years in advance. They are certainly not the handpicked representatives of any national party organization. Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower have the Democrats and Republicans picked their Presidential candidates in the storied smoke filled backrooms. Party bigwigs do not choose our Presidential candidates. They are determined by a series of state primaries, separate elections decided on separate issues, with some so personal as to be completely non-political.

So it has been for more than half a century that when the Presidential candidates finally emerge from the pack of those seeking the nomination, both of our major political parties become mirrors for that particular candidate rather than having that winner represent the already well-established views of that party. It’s the party that changes from election to election to fit the candidate. The definition of the party awaits the winner. Which is the chicken and which the egg? In some years the parties’ choices are radically different and the results are as unlikely as going to a steakhouse and ending up eating a veggie plate.

In the end, we get an elected federal government made up of Democrats and Republicans who for the most part disagree with each other as often as they disagree with the other party. And frequently, in Congress, we have small groups of Representatives and Senators from different parties who actually have more in common with each other than they do with any sense of what is supposed to be their own national party. It can be these blocks of cross-party votes that often control key legislation – all of it outside the so-called, accepted two-party party system. And usually, as Gore Vidal envisioned, both wings wave decidedly to the right in a single-wing formation.

On top of all this we inevitably have a President and Vice-President who are just as much in disagreement with many of the members of their own party in Congress as those members may be with themselves. We find ourselves with a government of Alfonse & Gaston, Laurel & Hardy, Martin & Lewis, all searching for the Marx Brothers.

While we like to think it is so, our two major political parties do not run our federal government. That government is in the hands of people with at best a loose affiliation to whatever they call their national political party. In the starkest of realities this accounts for why the current huge Democratic Party majority in the House and a super-majority of Democrats in the Senate means very little in terms of getting anything done. A Democrat in the White House apparently makes no difference at all. Our no-party system seems ideally designed to produce no-government.

It doesn’t have to be this way and it isn’t elsewhere. Here’s how the British do it. To be a candidate for Parliament in Britain you must be chosen by the official party organization in a Parliamentary district. After such a selection has been made, the national party organization has a binding veto. They must approve each and every candidate selection. When a British political party issues a platform, a statement of its beliefs and programs, a promise of what it will do if it forms a government, all its Parliamentary candidates support all of it without exception. If they don’t, they never get to run for election.

Unlike our Democrats and Republicans, there are no moderates or radicals in the same British parties. There are no conservatives and liberals within the same party. No blue-dogs, yellow-dogs or “mavericks” in England. Of course independents can and do run for Parliament in Britain, but never as a candidate of the established political parties. When a Parliamentary leader wants to rally his members there are no questions that all of them will vote the party line. Because there really is a party line and everyone knows full well what it is. If they disobey they risk severe punishment even expulsion from the party and from Parliament. Imagine that in our Congress. How could a Joe Lieberman earn a living?

We, in the United States, have no real party line, no actual party ideology, because we have no real national political parties. The overriding political ideology at work here seems to be little more than – “In The Grand Scheme Of The Universe, We Get What We Deserve.” What we get is a Congress – in fact an entire federal government – that too often just doesn’t work.

You don’t have to be Gore Vidal to know that in a single-wing formation, a bird with two right wings can’t fly.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Nearly 100 years ago President Woodrow Wilson pegged the Senate filibuster for exactly what it was. Wilson asserted that the filibuster served only to enable "a little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own," to debase the Senate and turn it into "the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action."

Who is to blame for the filibuster? The answer is: those who are the Senators. A glance in the mirror is all it takes to see the enemy of democracy, the obstructionists, those who would willingly disable the Constitution. The filibuster is a creature of the Senate; wholly its own creation; thriving only at the pleasure of those who sit in that chamber today. Nothing in the Constitution mentions the filibuster or for that matter any rule or regulation governing the proceedings of Congress. Those who are the Members make their own rules. The Constitution is clear on that. They may change them at any time. And the procedure allowed for that change is really quite simple.

If you are being told that decades of Senate tradition are difficult to overcome, you are being purposely misled.

Here is exactly what the Constitution says about proceedings in the Senate. Article I, Section 5: “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”

That’s it. Nothing more. Not a single word. Filibuster? Invented by Senators for Senators.

In March of 1975, the second appointed Vice-President of the United States, the never elected Nelson Rockefeller, made a courageous ruling from the Chair in his constitutionally mandated position as President of the Senate. Here is how the Constitution makes this designation in Article I, Section 3: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”

Rockefeller ruled that each Senate – which is to say each meeting of this body following an election or every two years - is a separate body and is not bound by the rules of previous Senates. That means that each new Senate must either pass a complete set of procedural rules for itself or take affirmative action to subscribe to previous rules previously established. Further, Rockefeller ruled specifically that Senate Rule 22 – which is the filibuster rule – could be overruled, could be changed, could be altered or even eliminated altogether by a simple majority vote of those senators voting. He was the President of the Senate. Such was his perfectly constitutional ruling. Rockefeller’s dramatic declaration was indeed challenged, by senators from the right and from the left, by Republicans and by Democrats, by conservatives and liberals, by Southerners and those from other parts of the country as well. But when it came to a vote, the forces of reform – those who supported the Rockefeller ruling - won the day by a vote of 56-27.

However, the very same victorious senators then immediately turned around and agreed to negotiate with the defeated forces of the filibuster. Why? Why would the winner offer to settle? Losers settle. Winners celebrate, don't they? After all, they had already won the procedural battle. The President of the Senate was on their side. Game over. Who is to say why, but its true - they did. And so a modification to Rule 22 was passed reducing the number of votes necessary to stop a filibuster from two-thirds of all senators to three-fifths. In essence, after March 1975 it now took 60 senators to halt a filibuster instead of 67. And yet the Rockefeller ruling remained – and remains to this day – in place. A majority of senators may – at their pleasure – send the filibuster flying full force into the fires of Hell. The filibuster could be, as Chuck Berry might say: “Gone like a cool breeze.” All thanks to the legacy of Nelson Rockefeller.

That was 35 years ago. Now, in 2010, we see a federal government stymied by obstructionism in a Senate where using Rule 22 brings the entire Congressional system to a grinding halt. The Congress has been rendered impotent. Nothing the House passes matters because no bill can avoid Rule 22 when it reaches the Senate. And so, no legislation actually gets passed by the Congress as a whole and nothing at all gets sent to the President for signature. Also, the Executive branch cannot operate at full capacity because so many of its appointees require Senate approval and those appointments, like all other procedural matters, cannot reach the floor for a vote… because of Rule 22. Yes, that "little group of willful men."

It is time for the current Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, to rise up from his decades of legislative slumber – himself a nearly lifelong Member of the Senate – and his more recent Executive depression and take the Chair in the United States Senate – which is his constitutional duty – and, in the spirit of Vice President Rockefeller, Biden must declare Rule 22 as void. Pitch it into the dust bin of history. The Vice President should stand for the Constitution. A procedural rule that eliminates the possibility of tie vote in the Senate must be unconstitutional in the first place. How could the Constitution entrust the breaking of a tie vote - “…unless they be equally divided.” - to the Vice President if no such vote total is allowed?
Mister Vice President, we have a crisis. Step up and be counted. Take the mantle of Rockefeller and the myth from Jimmy Stewart. Its time to be the man!

Sunday, January 31, 2010


The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations - even non-profit corporations - can spend any amount of money they want to try to influence national attitudes on issues of public interest, most particularly in elections. The result of this sort of unleashing of third-party advocacy ads - advertisements that have nothing to do with selling any products or services to anyone - can be seen in the decision of CBS to sell a commercial in the Super Bowl telecast to a corporation called Focus On The Family. Their commercial message features a popular college football player, Tim Tibow, and is openly anti-abortion rights. To sway public thinking on abortion rights - that's the only purpose for this non-profit organization to pay $2.5 million or more for this commercial. Focus On The Family has nothing - let me repeat that - they have NOTHING to sell to the American people. No burgers, no fries, no beer, no stocks, bonds or mutual funds, no cars or computers. And Focus On The Family certainly isn't in the dating business.

The Court has ruled. The "right to spend" has been established. But the "right to buy" is still somewhere off in the distance floating, adrift in the unknown. CBS is not required by law or regulation to sell time to Focus On The Family - or to any advertiser... not Coke, Apple, E-Trade, MacDonald's... not anyone. It's entirely up to them. An advocacy ad is treated like any other at CBS - or so they say - and somehow, without comment, this anti-abortion ad seems quite acceptable for CBS on Super Bowl Sunday.

CBS didn't accept everyone who wanted to buy a commercial in the Super Bowl. They refused an ad from a gay male dating service. I've seen the ad. It's pretty funny. Three guys are watching what we are to assume is the Super Bowl. One team scores a touchdown and two of them react as any fans might - jumping up and down, arms raised in the air, shouting, smiling... you've seen it all before. But then, they reach for the chips and their hands touch. Kaboom! Magic strikes. The next thing you know they're locked in an embrace, kissing (although we do not see their faces or lips)... and the third guy in the room is in obvious shock. It is a funny commercial, well within the tradition of funny Super Bowl commercials. Finally we see the corporate logo and ID and we, the viewers, discover this is an advertisement for a gay male dating service.

CBS won't run this commercial. They turned it down. It doesn't meet their standards. We don't know what those standards are. CBS has not made them public. But, talking babies who sell stock... well, they're just fine. And a famous college football player who thinks abortion is against God's wishes (how do he know?)... as far as CBS is concerned that's also a good commercial to broadcast.

I have no dog in this silly race - the one pitting Focus On The Family against a gay male dating service. I'm not in the target market for whatever either of them has to offer. I only want to point out that an absence of a "right to buy" can make a "right to spend" meaningless.

Perhaps you don't care about this one. But what happens when CBS, or any of the networks or any of the thousands of radio and television stations across the United States, decides which corporate ads supporting certain candidates for public office they will run and which they will reject? Take a look at who owns the media and tell me if you don't know already that this will happen and if you can't figure out whose ads will get on the air and whose will never see the light of day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


CBS has sold commercial time in the Super Bowl to fast food companies selling hamburgers, companies who sell beer, and a Christian advocacy group called Focus On The Family. What could they be selling? The content of the Focus On The Family ad is openly anti-abortion rights and features a famous college football player, Tim Tibow of the University of Florida, previously best known for wearing Bible citations prominently displayed on his glare protectors – those little black pasties some players wear on their cheeks under their eyes to keep the sunshine out. It is estimated that the cost for this 30-second commercial will be at least $2.5 million. Who is really paying for this? The buyer is saying that “a handful of generous friends” are making this ad possible. Focus On The Family is, naturally, a tax exempt, non-profit religious organization. So, in a very real sense you can say that you are helping to pay for this little piece of television propaganda. Since your taxes have to make up for the taxes Focus On The Family doesn’t pay, yes you are footing the bill for them and adding to the revenue at CBS.

As a former broadcaster, I do not feel that advocacy ads (that’s the phrase now in vogue for what is otherwise “propaganda”) have any place in commercial broadcasting. When I was the General Manager of a radio station I had a strict policy that all advertisers had to use their commercial time to sell whatever product or service they offered to the public. The only exception I made was at Christmas when advertisers were allowed to use their time to extend holiday wishes to the listening audience. Other than that – if you sold burgers, your commercials had to be about burgers; if you sold cars, they had to be about your cars… you could say anything you wanted about your business and nothing about anything else… you get the idea.

There were times when certain advertisers wanted to “hitch a ride” on timely issues of public interest. For example, years ago we had a series of terrible child murders and a large, chain operated fast-food company wanted to use its commercials to advertise their donations to a fund for the affected families. I rejected this idea. In the spirit of disclosure, I should add that my station was alone in my city in refusing to run these commercials. I didn’t reject this company making donations. I applauded their good intentions. I just wouldn’t let them use their “generosity” as part of their commercials to influence my station’s listeners. They were selling food – not charity. Some people disagreed with me. I thought I was right then, and I still do.

In 2004 CBS rejected an ad for that year’s Super Bowl from another advocacy group, The fact that they’ve sold time this year to Focus On The Family seems to show that CBS approves of anti-abortion ads – although the legal right to an abortion is the law of the land according to the Supreme Court – but they object to ads critical of the President (if the President is George W. Bush as he was in 2004) – although criticism of the President (no matter who he may be) is also perfectly legal and constitutionally protected, just like the right to an abortion.

CBS made a choice, twice. Good for them. That is what a responsible broadcaster should do. However, it is not CBS alone who is legally charged with making these decisions. Broadcasting on the public airwaves has been regulated by the federal government since 1934. There's nothing new here. Commercial regulation rightly belongs with the federal government. That is what a responsible FCC and Congress should do. It's the law.

The Supreme Court has declared that just about anyone can spend just about any amount of money they wish to express just about any opinion they happen to favor or to oppose any they don’t like. The Court has ruled that there is indeed a constitutional right “to spend.” Money talks. Freedom of speech. Someday, soon perhaps, you may see an advocacy ad supporting or attacking a candidate for public office, a bit of TV propaganda with a disclosure statement saying... "paid for by a few generous friends."Just like Focus On The Family. Maybe "a few generous friends" can swing an election. How will you feel about that?

There may be a right "to spend" but, as yet there is no constitutional right “to buy.” Just ask They had millions in cash ready to hand over to CBS for 30 little seconds. CBS said, “No. You’re not welcome.” Now, Focus On The Family wants the very same exact access to the very same program, to the largest television audience in America, on the Super Bowl, and CBS said, “Yes. Show me the money!”

It’s time for the FCC, or if necessary for Congress itself, to prohibit all third-party, non-commercial, so-called advocacy ads. The airwaves still belong to the public, despite the fact that we “license” them and persist in calling those “licenses” ownership. The FCC regulates many things on-the-air. Remember Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl? There were fines - big fines - for that mishap. The FCC bans pornography. I think “advocacy ads” or social propaganda – are more pornographic than an all too brief look at Janet Jackson's beautiful breast.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Nobody ever said the Constitution was right about everything, Remember human slavery? It took 76 years to get an amendment to the Constitution ending that. It’s too easy to forget that from 1789 until 1865 owning another human being as a piece of property was perfectly legal and entirely constitutional.

Now, many people are up in arms that the Supreme Court has ended limits on political spending by corporations, unions and just about anyone else. Check the 1st Amendment. If it protects your speech, doesn’t it also protect the other guy’s speech?

And, if a political contribution isn’t speech – protected by the 1st Amendment – what is it? The Court has ruled that nude dancing in a nightclub is speech. Isn’t spending your money to influence public discourse just as much an expression as pole dancing? Actually, that question has been rendered just as irrelevant as is any remaining strip club controversy. The Supreme Court has just ruled that Congress cannot limit political expenditures. As a result some people are crying out like Chicken Little – “THE SKY IS FALLING.” Of course they mean its democracy that’s falling. Corporations will now overwhelm political advertising, won’t they - perhaps, to the exclusion of the candidates themselves? Is the democratic sky really falling?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Federal election laws require that broadcast media, which the Federal Communications Commission regulates, is required to sell time to candidates and when they do sell that advertising they must offer the same amount of time, at the same cost, to all candidates for the same office. What the law does not cover is third-party political advertising – the sort the Supreme Court just ruled could not be financially limited. They may not be financially constrained, but who says Radio & TV has to run these political commercials?

Some of papa’s readers know papa once owned radio stations. There were times when I refused to sell time to advertisers – for various reasons. And there were times when those who were refused access to papa’s radio stations threatened to sue. Naturally they claimed I was interfering with their “1st Amendment rights.” They were wrong. There are no “constitutional rights” to buy advertising.

There is nothing in any FCC ruling that requires a radio or television station to sell time to anyone… except candidates for public office.

So, forget about the Supreme Court ruling. There is nothing to be afraid of. Democracy is not in danger. All we need to do to keep “the sky from falling” is for broadcasters to refuse to sell political time to anyone except a registered candidate for public office.

Or how about a 28th Amendment covering limitations on political spending? Our Constitution is still subject to amendment, isn’t it? So, start one rolling!

Anyone want to bet any of that stands a chance of happening?