BANG-BANG! Michigan’s Military-Municipal Complex – Some Counties Out of Control?

Is your local government armed to the teeth? Many in Michigan are.

A recent editorial in U.S. News & World Report cited the drama writer’s principle known as “Chekhov’s Gun” — if they have it, they must use it:

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” — Anton Chekhov

True in fiction and, sadly, in real life. Ferguson, Missouri comes to mind.

Michigander’s take note, many of your trusted men and women in blue are dangerously over-armed with much more than rifles hanging on a wall, and based on the recent Task Force on 21st Century Policing report, our President has just put the hammer down on their quasi-military activities and questionable armament purchases.

The 103 page report concludes with 15 pages of detailed recommendations and action items designed to foster community trust, reduce the use of force, encourage outreach, improve training, and a slew of other common sense measures, but the point that’s grabbing the most attention simply reads:

RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement agencies should create policies and procedures for policing mass demonstrations that employ a continuum of managed tactical resources that are designed to minimize the appearance of a military operation and avoid using provocative tactics and equipment.

ACTION ITEM: The Federal Government should create a mechanism for investigating complaints and issuing sanctions regarding the inappropriate use of equipment and tactics during mass demonstrations.

bayonet knife

Military bayonet knife

If you seek a militarized peninsula, look around you.

For those of you who live in one of the following counties, be warned, your police departments are weaponized at a military level: Barry, Berrien, Clare, Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Genesee, Kent, Newaygo, Oakland, Ogemaw, and Wayne, along with other counties similarly Ramboed-up to a lesser degree.

Among the newly banned military gear are weaponized vehicles and aircraft, camouflage uniforms, grenade launchers, bayonets, and .50 caliber and higher weapons and ammunition.

Grenade launcher-toting police forces can be found crouching in Barry, Berrien, Ottawa, and Wayne counties. At $720 a bang, Barry County is the winner with five of the devices — they could easily wipe-out a smallish township or two, but clearly lack the fire power to hit Kalamazoo or Battle Creek. That’s a relief! And for those old school militants, bayonets can be found in the police departments of Berrien, Clare, Clinton, Eaton, Genesee, Ingham, Kent, Newaygo, Oakland, Ogemaw, and Wayne. After all, if you can’t shoot ‘em, close-quarter disembowelment is always an option.

From air compressors to wrenches, most of the military gear is truly innocuous, but there remain more than a smattering of dubious acquisitions. MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected troop transports) were procured by Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Eaton, Livingston, Monroe, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oakland, and Saginaw counties, with the latter county vowing to dispose of the menacing vehicle in the wake of a thorough shaming on late night comedy shows last year.

Camouflage purchases were harder to pin down, as the bulk of the listed clothing does not specify whether it’s camo or not, with the exception being “trousers, snow camouflage”, of which Oakland County felt the need for 240 pairs.

While we’re on the topic of Oakland County, it’s worth mentioning that they are somewhat of an outlier — but in a rather weird sort of way. Either they have a rogue purchasing clerk with a fascination for military gadgetry, or an imminent coup is in store for the tony upscale community. Let’s assume it’s the former. Of the 238 page report, much of it was devoted to Oakland County acquisitions related to vision technology — with over 5 pages of itemized night vision goggles, 7 pages of infrared illuminators, 11 pages of reflex sights, and 400 infrared transmitter units. Couple that ominous collection of creepy gear with their attainment of 2,950 three-point assault slings (used with assault rifles), and 40 ammunition vests — and well, it looks like they’re preparing to do battle with ISIS. Who knew Oakland County was such a hotbed of crime?

While some would like to characterize this armament ban as federal government over-reach, they may want to consult the database on local police militarization before making that claim. Be sure to set aside a few hours for your state — the database, courtesy the Detroit Free Press, is vast.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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Michigan Bill Would Prevent Job Seekers From Knowing They are Scabs

This week, Rep. Amanda Price (R-89) introduced House Bill 4630, co-sponsored by Rep. Gary Glenn (R-98). The proposal is to amend Public Act 150 of 1962 which laid-down employer rules for dealing with replacement workers during a labor dispute, commonly known as “scabs.” Price’s amendment would eliminate the portion of the law that requires employers to inform applicants for replacement work that they would be, well…replacement workers.

strike 2

It’s something you’d think any earnest person would want to know before making their employment decision. After all, who would want to cross a picket line on their first day of work?

If this all sounds familiar, Democracy Tree reported when Price introduced identical legislation back in 2013. That bill passed in the House, was reported favorably out of the Senate Committee on Reforms, Restructuring, and Reinventing in early 2014, but failed on the Senate floor. The current body of lawmakers is even more conservative than the 2013 GOP dominated legislature, giving this retrograde legislation a more favorable consideration the second time around.

The language of both bills is identical. The Senate Fiscal Agency described it this way, back in 2014:

CONTENT

The bill would repeal a section of Public Act 150 of 1962 that prohibits employers from recruiting or advertising for employees to replace striking workers, without notifying potential employees that the employment is offered to replace employees involved in a strike.

Public Act 150 of 1962 governs solicitations for employment. Section 3a prohibits a person, partnership, agency, firm, or corporation, or its agent, from recruiting, soliciting, or advertising for employees, or referring people to employment, in place of employees involved in a lawful strike or lockout, without adequate notice to the person and in the advertisement, that there is a strike or lockout at the place where employment is offered and the employment offered is in place of employees involved in the strike or lockout. The bill would repeal Section 3a.

Another attack on organized labor — we are not surprised, nor amused.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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Aramark CEO Spends $800 Thousand on Air Travel

Aramark, the company that Michigan hired to save money on prison food services, seems to be making a pretty penny off the deal, propelling CEO Eric Foss to the head of the jet-setter class. Foss spent nearly $800,000 flying across the nation last year in the corporate jet — an amount far exceeding that of other members in his peer group of the top 100 executives in the country.

corp jet

The private food vendor justified the expense claiming it was an efficient use of funds. Company spokesperson, Karen Cutler, explained to Bloomberg:

“Aramark’s board of directors established a policy in the best interests of the company for the CEO to use a company plane for all air travel for security and safety purposes — as well as to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of conducting business. Use of the plane is properly monitored by internal audit and the general counsel to ensure full compliance with all regulations.”

Foss brought down $33.8 million in compensation last year, of that $1.1 million was in the form of perks, including his liberal use of the jet. The average cost of CEO air travel perks in the U.S. is $272,180 — but then, Aramark isn’t your average company.

While the Aramark rap sheet of improprieties and corner-cutting contract breaches continues to grow at corrections facilities, public schools, and sports venues across the nation, they are reporting robust earnings, with the latest quarter’s profits clocking in at $59.8 million as compared to $12.9 for the same period last year. And the driving force behind their success? The lucrative North American market, which grew by 6 percent during the quarter, driven by sales cresting at $2.5 billion. The Michigan Department of Corrections is responsible for a tidy portion of those revenues under its $145 million 3-year contract with the vendor that, halfway through, is proving to be a dubious public policy gamble.

The newly appointed Director of MDOC, Heidi Washington, has been an outspoken critic of the quality of food service under Aramark. She didn’t mince her words in emails outlined in a Detroit Free Press report on the vendor based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

“At times I felt like Lansing thought I was just being too difficult and too demanding because I was always complaining,” Washington told a contract manager in one of the e-mails, in March of 2014. “However, I think everyone knows that’s not the case.

“Bottom line is lay down with dogs, get up with fleas.”

Gov. Snyder’s 2015 Criminal Justice Special Message on proposed MDOC reform measures carries a decidedly different tone from the past when it comes to privatization. The only direct mention of public-private partnership is for re-entry vocational training for inmates — an area where the support of the private sector is necessary if Michigan is to reduce the state’s cost of housing 43,000 inmates at $35,000 each per year. However, vague language in the report did leave the door open for possible future privatization schemes.

“I am calling for commonsense reforms to ensure that our jails and prisons are used efficiently and appropriately to best serve the public interest and reduce the cost of incarcerating so many people.”

It appears that at least some Republicans in this administration are beginning to understand that privatization isn’t the magic panacea they once thought.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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Senate Considers Repeal of Michigan’s Prevailing Wage Law

“Prevailing wage laws are the best deal for taxpayers. A PWL keeps construction costs down by promoting a high-skilled, high-quality construction workforce that completes jobs on time, the first time.” — Frank Manzo IV, Director, Midwest Economic Policy Institute

Tomorrow the Senate Committee on Michigan Competitiveness will be meeting to discuss a package of bills to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law. GOP lawmakers consider this legislation so important that they were the first three bills introduced in this legislative session back in January — not by coincidence, on the same day Gov. Snyder delivered his 2015 State of the State address, where he emphasized the importance of promoting trades education. The three-bill package, SB-1, SB-2, and SB-3 ,would reverse fifty years of wage policy requiring contractors that receive state funds to pay workers at a union-scale rate. Repeal would impact only about 5 percent of construction jobs because the Depression-era federal prevailing wage law applies to all work drawing federal dollars, yet GOP lawmakers insist the savings would be vast.

The Anderson Economic Group claims the state’s prevailing wage law costs Michigan $224 million per year, but study after study catalogued at FairContracting.org refute those findings, citing backend higher costs as a result of employing under-skilled workers. A University of Utah study that looked at the fallout from the repeal of Kentucky’s prevailing wage law found numerous unintended and costly pitfalls:

“Lost skills and lost experience means greater risk of accidents, greater risks of work interruptions, greater risks that work is not completed on-time and greater risks that the work is done poorly requiring rebuilds and higher downstream maintenance costs.”

Other GOP-dominated states are also pushing for repeal of their laws. The Wisconsin Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform tabled similar legislation late last week, but the measure could still find its way to the Senate floor without committee approval. They were using numbers provided by the Koch brother-backed Americans for Prosperity which conjured the wild estimate of $300 million in savings to be had. However, the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition disputes that figure, stating that wages are not driving-up construction costs, but building materials are.

Back in Michigan, Sen. Steve Bieda (D-9) explained to the Detroit Free Press “I think we’ve made a really strong case of why we need prevailing wage. It’s about worker safety and quality of work. You’ll be opening up projects to fly-by-night operations. I think it’s a shortsighted approach and an assault on working people.”

The data backs-up his claim. The comprehensive Kentucky study looked at a number of factors, among them the unintended costs involved when employing under-skilled workers at a lower wage. Disability costs alone spiked at an alarming rate.

Prevailing wage law states fewer disabilities

Prevailing Wage Law States Have More Experienced and Safer Construction Workers

A repeal of Michigan’s law does not sit well with Gov. Snyder who has expressed concern that it would conflict with his emphasis on trades education and would drive skilled workers out of the state. He’s been fairly clear he intends to oppose the measure — as recently as last week the governor’s spokesperson, Dave Murray, said “He didn’t support it in his first four years, and he doesn’t support it in his second term.” Doubters have been citing his flip-flop on right-to-work back in 2012, but as a lame-duck governor, he is much less likely to make any effort to politically appease this legislature.

The whole exercise smacks more of union-bashing than a serious attempt to shave labor costs. There is some concern that lawmakers will launch a petition drive for a ballot question to repeal the law. That too is political risky business in the wake of the voter spanking the legislature got over their goofy roads proposal last week.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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MICHIGAN: Prop 1 Down, What’s Next?

“Michigan’s citizens are counting on us to find a real solution that will finally fix our crumbling roads and damaged bridges.” –Rep. Tim Greimel

Adopt a Pothole enlargement

Sure, Michigan needs a workable roads plan, but after last week’s rout, where only 19.9 percent of voters gave the nod to the bipartisan mash-up known as Prop 1, it’s going to be one tough row to hoe.

The measure that politicos and policy wonks alike touted as the best compromise, resulted in the biggest flameout of a constitutional ballot question for Michigan in 67 years. Zachery Gorchow of Gongwer News Service offered no fewer than 23 reasons the proposal tanked, explaining “Why 23? Because I couldn’t think of a 24th.” Here’s a 24th to add to the mix: Democrats felt they were being talked down to, like children being urged to swallow their medicine, with the school funding and EITC as the spoonful of sugar.

Lesson: Progressive voters pride themselves on more than just their sense of compassion and fairness — they also place a premium on their relative intelligence. Whether the proposal was good or bad becomes moot when the campaign message takes a swipe at the electorate’s ability to sift the facts.

Nonetheless, it’s time to put the pedal to the metal and forge a plan B. Democratic lawmakers seem to be the new standard-bearers for the cause.

Rep. Jim Townsend (D-26) has expressed an interest in floating a 2016 ballot measure for a graduated income tax in the state, premised on the notion that Prop 1 failed because it was a regressive tax — an argument made by many. Townsend told Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio that “People in the middle class are tired of paying taxes into a system that’s not fair. People at the bottom and the middle are paying more than their fair share of taxes, while people at the top are not paying their fair share.” He estimates a graduated tax could bring in an additional $700 million in revenue. To be sure, not nearly enough, but it would be a promising start.

Michigan’s Democratic House Leader Tim Greimel introduced legislation last week (HR-80) calling on House and Senate members to stay in Lansing during their scheduled summer break to work on an alternative fix for transportation infrastructure. The resolution makes it clear that Michigan residents demand lawmakers do their job and find a viable means to repair the state’s crumbling roads. The text is well worth reading:

 “Whereas, The Legislature developed a proposal to create a long-term funding solution for roads that would have raised more than $1.3 billion. However, Michigan voters resoundingly rejected this proposal by the largest margin of any Michigan ballot measure since the current state constitution was adopted in 1963; and

Whereas, The rejection of the legislative ballot proposal was not a rejection of the dire need to fix our roads. A recent EPIC-MRA poll indicated that 81 percent of those polled want the Legislature to work on a proposal to fix the roads as soon as possible. It is clear that the Legislature must take action, and soon, to attend to the roads problem; and

Whereas, Legislators were elected to represent the best interests of Michigan citizens and to solve problems on their behalf. A full-time legislature should work full-time and not take eight weeks off for summer “vacation” when urgent problems demand well-thought-out solutions. There is no time to waste as our roads continue to deteriorate at a growing cost to the citizens of Michigan. We must start the wheels of government in motion in the direction of good roads.”

There are some who firmly believe that the public’s failure to acquiesce on Prop 1 will result in a perceived mandate for this (decidedly less than august) legislative body to further rob education funding and municipal revenue sharing to shore-up the state’s failing road system. However, Michigan voters may have an unexpected ace in the hole — surprisingly, in the form of their governor, Republican Rick Snyder.

Since a roads funding victory is at the top of his to do list, albeit for self-serving reasons, he will likely be a discriminating player in the game. As a lame duck governor, and a possible GOP vice-presidential pick, Snyder certainly understands that his attractiveness as a potential running mate lies in his ability to balance-out an otherwise extreme right-wing ticket — something he can’t do if he’s seen to be repeatedly looting the School Aid Fund to service corporate tax breaks, while caving to Tea Party interests, and unable to fix the roads without putting seniors and working poor out on the street. Snyder is very sensitive to criticism on these points, as he should be.

For the governor, a politically digestible plan B is critical to protect both his legacy and his potential future in public office. The FiveThirtyEight blog charted his record alongside other White House hopefuls and found him waaaay too moderate to survive a presidential primary himself, leaving him as the perfect partner for a viable contender fond of using stronger, if not vicious, GOP rhetoric.

Snyder has a compelling incentive to keep the roads issue debate civil and moderate as an example of his moderate statesmanship skills.

In the meantime, Greimel remains more focused on the essential matter at hand. Without scolding voters over their landslide rejection of Prop 1, he is looking for real solutions to the state’s dire roads problem:

“Michigan’s citizens are counting on us to find a real solution that will finally fix our crumbling roads and damaged bridges. They expect us to get to work – not take a vacation – and we owe it to them to stay in session until we create a comprehensive road funding plan that is fair to everyone.”

There has been much talk about how GOP operatives have cleverly leveraged Prop 1 as a means to divide and conquer progressive voters. That may be attributing too much credit to their otherwise sophomoric organizational skills. Michigan’s GOP leadership has been laboring under a greater ideological schism than their erstwhile partners across the aisle.

But, they sure know how to get under the skin of some Democrats. Credit where credit’s due.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of (some) Campaign Finance Restrictions

With all the buzz about the recent high court same-sex marriage arguments, a little something to celebrate slipped through the media cracks. The marriage equality decision is weeks, if not months away, but another ruling on a case Democracy Tree reported on in January of this year came down in favor of placing limits on certain kinds of campaign contributions in judicial elections that will affect a majority of states — including Michigan.

Judicial campaign finance

Yes, this Supreme Court actually got something right. The case they ruled on, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, presented far-reaching ramifications for campaign finance ethics within the nation’s judiciary — the one branch of government which, to varying degrees, remains insulated from much of the direct corruption of the monied few, emphasis on the word direct.

The case stems from the failed candidacy of Lanell Williams-Yulee who, after losing her bid for a county judge seat, was publicly reprimanded and ordered to pay a fine for violating Canon 7c(1) of the Florida Judicial Code of Conduct which stipulates that a candidate “for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds.” In the course of her campaign, Williams-Yulee had signed a letter sent to voters in which she personally solicited campaign contributions. Citing First Amendment protections, she challenged the finding, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled against her.

Under rules found in 30 of the 39 states which use elections for selecting judges, Michigan among them, judicial candidates are strictly forbidden from personally soliciting direct campaign contributions — all fund-raising must be conducted indirectly through a campaign committee. Michigan takes it a step further, prohibiting candidates from even directly seeking political endorsements.

These rules may seem meaningless in the face of the overwhelming influence of third-party issue ads in judicial races — dark money, that often goes unreported. The problem is particularly acute in Michigan where judicial races are dominated by so many shadowy contributors. The compelling reason to keep this restriction on judicial campaign conduct is both principled and practical. It is simply incorrect to believe that all third-party advocacy is necessarily welcomed by judicial candidates, or that implicit quid-pro-quo exists in abundance. Therefore, maintaining the barrier acts as a protection for judicial impartiality, albeit a flawed one.

And, late last month the Supreme Court agreed, ruling against Williams-Yulee, thereby keeping judicial campaign conduct rules in place, barring judges from personally soliciting campaign funds.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente explained the importance of the ruling:

“It’s an important recognition of the difference between the two political branches and the judicial branch. The court’s position is articulated as recognizing the compelling need to protect the integrity of the judicial system, and to promote the public confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the judiciary.

In the judicial branch we are not accountable to the will of the majority, or to popular opinion. Judges must feel free and the public must believe that judges make rulings not based on who has contributed or who is threatening to remove them from office if they do not like an opinion.”

Pariente’s last point is particularly resonate in several states where political operatives and lawmakers have recently made efforts to remove judges over dissatisfaction with rulings enforcing state-level constitutional requirements for adequate school funding, and on courts overturning bans on same-sex marriage.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion:

“Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money.”

The ruling opens speculation that Roberts has an eye on his legacy at this point in his tenure, and seems to be moderating his more strident stance on campaign finance as was found in the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions. Apparently the concept that money is speech does have its limits. In a piece titled “Keeping Up Appearances”, the London-based Economist put it this way:

“Chief Justice Roberts is clearly considering the legacy of his court. The majority opinion in Williams-Yulee is, more than anything else, a sign of his fervent desire to cultivate the appearance of impartiality in America’s judiciary, including and especially its highest court.”

This portends well for the upcoming marriage equality ruling. Even the most conservative justices don’t wish to see their legacy on the wrong side of history.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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The Michigan Prop 1 Money Trail — A One-Way Street

The Michigan roads proposal is paved with cash, but it flows in mostly one direction. Regardless of how voters feel about the content of the bipartisan compromise, in the interest of complete transparency, they should additionally know a thing or two about the campaign spending, both for and against the ballot measure.

Prop 1 mailer

Carl Levin comes-a-courting via pricey personalized mailer

In this case, it’s the Prop 1 proponents who enjoy the considerable largess of a broad array of financial backers, leaving opposition spending in the dust. This particular ballot measure is unique in its bipartisan origins, an oddity also reflected by the similarly bipartisan battle lines.

The non-partisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network reports that those promoting a “yes” vote on the roads measure have outspent the opposition by a factor of over forty-four to one. Safe Roads Yes spent $8,658,349 attempting to persuade voters to approve the ballot question. They were largely bankrolled by MITA — the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, who dropped $5,571,230 on the cause as of April 23rd.

Rich Robinson, director of MCFN, describes the meager opposition landscape:

Three committees that have registered to oppose Proposal 1 have raised a total of $195,527. The Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals has raised $172,555, of which $161,535 was contributed by Paul Mitchell III, who self-funded $3.56 million while running unsuccessfully in the 4th Congressional District Republican primary in 2014. Concerned Taxpayers of Michigan has raised $12,092. Citizens Against Middle Class Tax Increases has raised $10,880, of which $10,000 was contributed by the political consultant John Yob of Grand Rapids.

Democracy Tree demurs on suggesting how readers should vote, but we certainly encourage folks to get out and have a say tomorrow. Ballot initiatives in off-season elections typically draw lower voter turnout, often attracting those who favor the proposal. Polling on Prop 1 indicates a possible rout, with 61 percent against the proposal. Their reasons for the thumbs-down are: no new taxes, wasteful government spending, and distrust in Michigan’s government.

Even lawmakers, many of whom were responsible for cobbling-together the plan, are loath to weigh-in on it, with only 31 percent responding to an Associated Press survey. Presumably they don’t want to get pegged for its defeat, or victory. A chicken-shit response over a chicken-shit proposal — how apropos.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

MLive provides a calculator to determine how much Prop 1 will cost you.

View all proponent contributors HERE, and opponent contributors HERE — a very short list.

 

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Michigan Lawmakers Resolve to Gut the 14th Amendment

GOP Lawmakers Cherry Pick the Bill of Rights on Marriage Equality

Bill of Rights 2

It must hurt — the mental machinations and intellectual inconsistencies necessary for Michigan’s GOP lawmakers to, time and again, churn-up conspiracy theories about federal government overreach. Tinfoil hatters are nothing new, but their numbers have swelled under Tea Party influence. Borne out of irrational fear of various “agendas”, mostly conjured out of thin air, the far right finds this brand of self-inflicted paranoia irresistible.

As the U.S. Supreme Court considers oral arguments on the issue of same-sex marriage, Michigan lawmakers have proposed a concurrent resolution decrying the anticipated court ruling against those states where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized. Federalism is employed as grounds for discrimination:

“Whereas, This arrangement of federalism best meets the needs of the states which often vary in customs and values and which are in a position to best understand the needs and desires of their own citizens. Altering wrongs on the part of government is much more easily accomplished at the state level than at the federal level.”

In a thinly-veiled, disparaging reference to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the resolution lays the groundwork for why we should ignore the Fourteenth Amendment altogether:

“Whereas, Generations after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, the United States Supreme Court began to embrace novel legal doctrines, most notably the Incorporation Doctrine which, contrary to prior court precedent, redefines the Fourteenth Amendment to be a constitutional watershed, one which makes every state and local law or custom subject to federal oversight, thereby proclaiming unto itself an authority never granted to it by the people. Beginning in the mid-1900s, the courts began to use the Fourteenth Amendment as a pretext for subsuming the long existing powers of the states, shaping society according to their own philosophies, and in the process, destroying federalism and rendering the Tenth Amendment all but meaningless.” [emphasis mine]

As an example of what happens when the high court treads on states’ sacred sovereignty, Senate Concurrent Resolution-12 cites the 1857 Supreme Court Dred Scott decision which denied citizenship and legal standing to African-Americans. Could they possibly have referenced a more inappropriate case in the service of their current battle to deny civil rights to LGBT citizens? (Of course, the resolution also neatly side-steps the second part of that infamous ruling — where the court circumvented federal government authority to regulate slavery in federal territories. Presumably that part was okay?)

The resolution boldly hijacks a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural speech, where he accused the high court of misappropriating power. SCR-12 contorts the meaning and intent of his words to make a case for state-sanctioned discrimination — talk about misappropriation!

Then, in the very next “Whereas”, lawmakers kick to the curb Article III of their beloved U.S. Constitution:

“Whereas, Among a free people, living in a democratic, constitutional republic, it is a grave injury to democracy itself that a single judge or court could, simply by decree, set aside or overturn the expressed will of the entire people.”

Apparently, the only part of the U.S. Constitution these lawmakers care to recognize when it comes to same-sex marriage is their overly-expansive interpretation of the Tenth Amendment conveying broad authority onto states. Fourteenth Amendment, among other inconveniences, be damned.

And what of the purported federal court power grab?

It’s very conditional — nuanced you might say. They were perfectly content with the Sixth Circuit’s ruling against same-sex marriage, and Citizens United, also fine of course, or that little squabble called Bush v. Gore — no problems there. Indeed, no “grave injuries to democracy” with those rulings — as long as one keeps that tinfoil hat securely cinched in place.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

See the House version here.

 

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Meet the New Queen of Angry White Male Political Porn

Democracy Tree doesn’t typically stray into dust-ups across the pond, but here we make an exception, because this story needs telling. 

Step aside Ann Coulter. Fox News babes, you can take a powder. There’s a new face for the angry white male political porn genre. Her name is Katie Hopkins, and she spews hatred and ignorance with the same gusto as in her former career as a British reality TV personality. She now writes for The Sun, a Rupert Murdoch tabloid known for its outrageously salacious content.

Katie Hopkins

Hopkins recently earned the condemnation of the United Nations over her commentary on the Mediterranean refugee crisis where men, women, and children have risked and lost their lives fleeing Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Egypt, and Syria, among other war-torn countries, at the mercy of human smugglers. Her words demonstrated the utter soulessness of her shallow kitten-heeled existence. This year alone, 1750 people have died attempting the crossing — thirty times the number of the previous year. The scale of the human tragedy should melt even the coldest heart. Yet, Hopkins opted to leverage these horrific events to further her own narcissistic thigh-flashing ambitions.

Here’s a taste of her latest vitriol from a piece she penned for The Sun titled Rescue Boats? I’d Use Gunships to Stop Migrants. The subtitle itself exercises even less subtlety than Kim Kardashian on a bad day: “NO, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in the water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad… I still don’t care.”

Oh, and she’s just getting warmed-up…

“Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look like Bob Geldolf’s Ethiopia circa 1984, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. Some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum-seekers shelling-out benefits like monopoly money.”

It was the word “cockroaches” that earned Hopkins the United Nations slam. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights points out that similar references were used by Nazis and during the Rawadan genocide:

“The Nazi media described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches. This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper. The Sun’s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author.”

Did Hopkins violate any laws? Zeid suggests she may indeed have.

“I am an unswerving advocate of freedom of expression, which is guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), but it is not absolute. Article 20 of the same covenant says: ‘Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.’”

Note also how Hopkins neatly conflates the term migrant with refugee. While it’s doubtful the former contestant from the British version of The Apprentice has a whiff of an inkling of a clue about international and European Union refugee law, that lack of key information doesn’t stop her from belching-out a hate-filled rant designed to arouse her equally ignorant readership. It’s pure Murdoch puffery.

International law on refugees is clear as dictated by the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and as further amended to expand its scope in 1967 to define and protect refugees worldwide. That body of law itself is sufficient to offer safe harbor to those in need. Yet, the European Union, of which Hopkin’s nation is a member, took the extra measure to spell-out for affiliate states in exacting detail, through the Council Directive of 2004, their legal obligation to address this kind of humanitarian crisis.

refugee boat

The petition, “Remove Katie Hopkins as a Columnist“, is resonating with UK citizens, having garnered just under 300,000 signatures as of this writing. Not that Murdoch, and company, will take heed. Instead, they will likely be emboldened, interpreting this as a sign of success in awakening the dark souls of their docile readers.

It seems America has not cornered the market on the ignorance of the privileged white male (and female) exceptionalism.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Michigan Lawmakers Vote to Allow Toy Guns to Look Real

Michigan’s legislature is poised to enact a bill that should be of grave concern for parents who, unlike GOP lawmakers, will immediately understand the true danger of this proposed law.

airsoft gunz

Airsoft Toy Guns

Senate Bill 85 will make it difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement to distinguish between toy pellet guns and lethal firearms. The proposal previously passed in the Senate, and was just today approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) describes the legislation:

SB 85 maintains the prohibition on local gun safety rules for air guns or pneumatic weapons that were recently taken out of the definition of “firearm.”

I offered an amendment to require markings – like orange tips – to help distinguish between air guns and firearms. I also offered an amendment to allow schools to develop school safety laws regarding firearms. Both amendments were defeated.

Last December, the nation was outraged when a Cleveland Police Officer shot and killed a 12-year old who was playing with a toy gun. The child was shot within seconds of the officer’s arrival on the scene. Confusion caused by these toy replicas is a common problem, with police departments across the country regularly reporting trouble with determining the nature of a weapon. Just two weeks ago, St. Paul police were dispatched on a similar call, but thankfully they acted with discretion noticing the orange tip on the weapon, as reported by the South Washington County Bulletin.

A 16-year-old St. Paul Park male was stopped by police in the 1100 block of Portland Avenue after a resident reported seeing him with a gun March 6. As police approached he set the gun down. It was an Airsoft Pistol, clear plastic with an orange tip, and shaped like a Colt Model 1911 .45 caliber handgun. He was advised about the city ordinance on firing the gun in city limits. Police said he understood why he caused alarm and realized his mistake.

Another common occurrence is sightings of these weapons causing school lockdowns. Earlier this month, a New Jersey middle school had a lockdown incident triggered by an Airsoft gun. A few days prior, an elementary school in Kansas went into lockdown due to a child with the toy in his possession. And a couple of days earlier a Missouri school district had an Airsoft incident, but they didn’t go into lockdown because the problem has become so commonplace in their district. The Superintendent there explained that they have at least one Airsoft incident a year now.

Irwin described to Democracy Tree why this is so dangerous for Michigan:

This is part of a long-term trend to expand gun rights. Since we have very expansive rights to own and wield guns in Michigan, the opportunities or action in the legislature is limited to pushing a boundary that is already at its logical limits.

The crux of SB 85 is that it will prevent local governments from enacting gun safety regulations like orange tips on toy guns. It is regulations like this that can prevent the sort of tragic misunderstandings that have happened just recently. There was the incident in the Walmart and the prominent incident in Cleveland.

The Airsoft guns in the above photo were confiscated by me from my young son many years ago. They shoot little plastic pellets. My concern at the time was three-fold: I did not wish for him to grow up embracing a gun-loving mentality, the weapons look far too realistic, and conceivably the pellets could cause physical harm. My son is grown now, and not in the least deprived culturally due to my previous parental action. (It’s worth noting, the weapons came into his position through his friends. So, if they want them back, they’ll have to pry them from my cold dead hands. Sorry boys!)

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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