Rick Scott Unmasked as Serpent King

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3/30/15 Tallahassee, FL:

In a stunning revelation uncovered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission today, it was discovered that two-term Governor Rick Scott is actually a writhing mass of dozens of snakes living inside a suit of human skin.

“I still can’t believe it,” said Nick Wiley, Executive Director of the FWCC. “Pets kept disappearing from homes around the Governor’s Mansion. We figured it was nuisance gators, but now, I’m not so sure.”

Wiley was treated for a snake bite on his wrist after trying to wrestle Governor Scott into custody. “Yeah, one of the snakes in his forearm was a water moccasin,” he said waving a bandaged arm. “Hurt like hell, but the Paramedics had anti-venom in the ambulance and administered it within a couple of minutes.”

Wildlife conservation agents assigned to the Everglades National Park reported early Monday that the population of invasive exotic snakes now threatening native wildlife throughout the region were highly agitated in the wake of the arrest. “It’s creepy,” said Agent Sable. “They’ve been lashing out at tourists, airboats, even attacking passing traffic on Alligator Alley. It’s like they know, somehow. I mean, we’re used to weird shit happening in Florida, but this is going too far, you know?”

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), was less surprised. “It all makes sense now. For the longest time, we assumed Governor Scott’s steadfast denial of Climate Change was just evidence he was beholden to the same old Republican special interests in the petroleum, coal, and natural gas industries. But it’s been getting out of hand the last few years.  With Miami sinking beneath the flood waters, he actually banned people in his own administration from even using the words Climate Change. We thought he’d gone insane. But it was all part of the plan to allow the effects of global warming to expand the territory he needed to grow, strengthen, and train his serpent army in preparation for the coming war. I mean, what other explanation is there? You’d have to be a complete idiot to actually deny climate change at this point.”

Former Republican Governor turned Democrat, Charlie Crist, who lost a narrow race to regain his old office to Gov Scott only last year, had this to say about the discovery. “This just confirms everything we’ve been saying about Governor Scott from the beginning.  His vision of a reptile-dominated future is out of step with the people and manatees of Florida.”

Governor Scott’s human suit has been DNA matched to a man reported missing from Ocala in August, 2009. The name of the victim is being withheld until authorities are able to contact his relatives.

Red Light Bandits

redlightcamerasChicago. Couple things. First, we love you, really. Your city is vibrant and beautiful. Your downtown is a jewel of the Midwest, and your arts, music, and comedy scenes are the envy of everyone not living in NYC or LA.

So it’s with that in mind that I’m disappointed to have to explain some very basic concepts to you in regards to your red-light cameras.

First of all, they’re an enormous waste of money. They’ve brought in so little of their projected revenue that it’s causing a budget shortfall, which will mean taxes either have to go up or services need to be cut. Not good politics there.

Second, study after study have proven that they do not increase public safety, and indeed have actually increased the number of accidents in the vicinity of the intersections they are mounted at.

Third, they are flagrantly unconstitutional. A picture of a car proves absolutely nothing. A vehicle is not capable of committing a crime. A car is not a sentient being able to weigh moral decisions. So ticketing a car is nonsense. What you need to do is ticket a driver. But, since your pictures do not include a driver, you have no proof of who was actually operating the car at the time of the alleged violation.

Without an officer present to verify the identity of the person you’re claiming has broken the law, you have exactly zero evidence that they have done what you’re accusing them of. Evidence is kind of a big deal when it comes to proving guilt. And as the accuser, the burden of proof falls on you. It goes along with a little principle we have here in the U.S. of innocent until proven guilty.

Further, we have another bedrock legal principle here in our great land guaranteed in our Constitution which pertains to this situation. All citizens have the right to face their accuser in court. So unless you’re going to rip down these cameras, imbue them with sentience and the power of speech, and put them up on the witness stand where attorneys for the defendants have the opportunity to perform a cross-examination, you’re failing on this count as well.

Multiple courts around the country, including in your neighbor to the north, have realized these very arguments and banned the use of red-light and speed cameras permanently, and it’s probably only a matter of time before the federal courts do the same.

So, in review, your red-light cameras  are utter failures as the revenue-generating machines they were sold to you as,  actually impair public safety, and are unconstitutional abridgements of our civil rights. I think it’s time to realize your mistake and back away slowly, and for everyone who has been fleeced by one of these mechanical highwaymen to tell you exactly where you can shove your tickets.

Arrest the 47

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There will probably never be a week in politics more perfectly tailored for the immense talent and piercing intellect of Andrew Sullivan and his recently defunct blog, The Dish. I would simply kill to read his unique mix of wit and histrionics that would inevitably flow from the twin dragons of the Hilary Clinton email uproar and the Senate Republican’s letter to Iran.

But, since we’re robbed of Andrew, somebody should say something. So, here goes…

On the topic of the Clinton email “scandal,” I’m afraid I just can’t work up enough energy to give a shit. The Clintons have always played their cards close to their vest, so the fact they tried to keep a bunch of ostensibly personal emails private doesn’t come as a big surprise to me.

What many people and even the reporters who first broke the story seem to have missed is that while it’s true that maintaining a private email system and server is against State Department rules now, that regulation was not implemented until August 2013, months after Clinton had already resign from her position as StateSec.

So unless someone can point out where what she’d done was actually a violation of policy or law at the time she did it, then I really don’t see what the big deal is. Okay, it runs counter to the sort of assumption of government transparency I’d like to see, but so long as she publicly releases those emails related to her work as StateSec in a timely manner as she’s promised, I really don’t care that much. A little shady? Sure. A scandal? Please.

Now, Monday’s release of an open letter to the leaders of Iran, penned by forty-seven Senate Republicans, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.

For many years now, the State Department and our diplomatic corps, along with the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have been diligently working towards a multinational agreement with the aim of limiting Iran’s nuclear program to only peaceful civilian purposes of power generation and scientific and medical research in pursuit of the United State’s long standing policy of supporting nuclear non-proliferation.

Amazingly, these talks have been making significant progress over the last couple of years. Many watchers believe a breakthrough is on the horizon.

When along came Bibi.

Last week, in what many people saw as a deliberate affront and a direct challenge to the Executive Branch, Senate Republicans invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the threat posed to Israel by the 5+1 talks and the potential of an agreement with Iran that would avert the need for yet another costly, destabilizing war in the Middle East.

As a foreign leader, Bibi’s invitation to speak on matters of U.S. foreign policy towards a different country, coming as it did from the House Majority Leader instead of the actual leader of the American Government, was very unusual. According to our Constitution, setting and conducting foreign policy is the exclusive domain of the Executive Branch, and has been since the founding.

The reason for this is very simple. When dealing with foreign governments, America must speak in a clear, unified voice if we are to maintain trust and credibility. Other countries need to know that our democracy will abide by our agreements, even through the sometimes tumultuous transitions between administrations, otherwise what is the point of negotiating with us at all?

Further, like squabbling siblings, our parties and branches of government must keep our fights in house, otherwise we risk one being played against the other by foreign governments eager to extract more favorable terms and concessions, weakening our bargaining position.

This is why the principle of Executive supremacy in foreign policy was codified into law through the Logan Act all the way back in 1799. This Constitutional principle has been on the books for more than two centuries, and was signed by several of the Founders themselves. In short, it’s not fucking news to anyone who has even a passing interest in our shared history or the proper functioning of our government.

Which is why Monday’s letter to the Ayatollahs running Iran is such a huge deal. With negotiations proceeding at a pace and a light at the end of the tunnel, forty-seven Senate Republicans, led by freshman Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas sworn in less than two months ago, wrote an open letter explaining to the Iranian regime that any agreement entered into between the U.S. and Iran could be nullified the moment a new, presumably Republican, administration takes control of the White House.

Never mind the fact there are five other nations involved in the negotiations, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, and never mind that a Republican President unilaterally pulling out of an internationally signed accord would break international law and damage American diplomatic credibility and clout for a generation or more, and just focus on the fact this scenario is exactly what the Logan Act and two centuries of tradition were intended to avoid.

Forty-seven U.S. Senators, almost the entire Republican Senate class, have used their positions in a deliberate attempt to sabotage ongoing negotiations between the State Department and a foreign government. The last time elements of the U.S. were at such odds over foreign policy happened over one hundred and fifty years ago, while the states were at war with one another and fighting for military supplies and economic assistance from France and England. Think about that. The last time the American Government didn’t speak with one voice on the international stage was during the Civil War.

This is unacceptable.

There comes a time in the life of all conservatives of conscious that we must deal with the uncomfortable reality that the party which claims to represent our values is in fact dedicated to undermining, even dismantling those institutions of government and the Constitution on which our nation is built and which have made it the strongest in the history of mankind.

For me, this realization happened very early in my political awareness, during the political witch-hunt conducted by Congressional Republicans against then President Clinton, culminating in the ludicrous and ultimately doomed spectacle of his impeachment proceedings.

But others have held on for much longer, through the Florida recount fiasco, the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, the explosion of our debt and deficit, the 2008 economic collapse, and then a succession of the most intransigent, mindless, stonewalling, useless, unproductive congresses in the long history of our country.

It’s my hope that this final, reckless attack upon the foundations of our system of government and our Constitution will be enough to push many more of my conservative brethren away from this party of arsonists before there isn’t anything left of American prestige and soft power.

Unlike the Forty-Seven Ronin of Japanese legend, these forty-seven Senators  will have no enemy to seek vengeance against, because they will have killed their own master.

4 Reasons Not to Get Upset About Tony Robinson and Why They’re All Bullshit

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In case you missed it, over the weekend police in Madison, WI kept up a growing tradition in the U.S. of not letting more than a few weeks pass without shooting an unarmed black teenager to death.

Tony Robinson, depending on who you choose to listen to, was either a loving son and attentive student on his way to business school, or a convicted felon and a danger to everyone you know and love. Only one of these representations can be true, because as everybody knows humans aren’t complex beings with multiple, even contradictory layers of behavior, personality, and beliefs, and of course we all totally had our shit together at 19 and never made any mistakes, so pick whichever one best fits your preferred narrative and discard the rest, as well as anyone who chose a different focus than you.

Anyway, as has become the custom after one of these tragedies, people on both sides of the cultural divide have taken to the streets and social media to make their opinions heard.  Here are some of the most popular arguments or statements made by the sorts of folks who tend to rally to support the status quo, and why I think they all fail on the merits.

1) Let’s wait for all the facts:

The main thrust here is instead of taking to the streets immediately, protestors should just hold their fire for days, weeks, or months until we know everything there is to know about the case and can form an educated opinion. Sure. Sounds reasonable, prudent even.

Here’s why it’s bullshit.

In the era of the 24 hour news cycle and viral content, nothing stays in the public conscious for very long. Days if you’re lucky, weeks at most.  As much as Mr. Spock would disapprove, it’s the initial intense emotional reactions to an event that captures public attention, not a dry reading of the news weeks after the fact. So to wait is to starve a story of the oxygen it needs to reach the public and create awareness of the issue at hand. Without awareness, there can be no change and the status quo remains intact.

I understand why otherwise smart, cautious people would want to hold tight before voicing an opinion when they don’t have all the facts. I certainly do under most circumstances. However, there’s a fault in this line of thinking, a tendency to try and see each individual case in isolation, separate and distinct from any similar cases that have come before, or will happen in the future. But in so doing, they miss the forest for the trees and effectively ignore the larger trends. And the larger trend is this shit keeps happening.

2) Officers have to protect themselves:

Again, here we have a perfectly reasonable sounding statement. In cases where the police meet physical resistance, or even violence, such as was allegedly the case with Mr. Robinson, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, the police need to be able to protect their own lives and the lives of the citizens they’re sworn to protect. Obviously, right?

Here’s why it’s bullshit.

No one, anywhere, is saying the police shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves from harm. That is not the conversation that’s being had. It is a strawman argument being forwarded by people who don’t understand something called the Use of Force Continuum.

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This model of self-defense training has been in use among many Police and Department of Corrections groups at all levels of government since the 1990’s. Crucial to it is the idea of a proportional, phased response to the threat level an LEO is facing. An officer is, as a general rule, always expected to escalate to one threat level higher than they face. If somebody slaps you, shooting them dead is not a proportional response.

So, again as a general principle, if a suspect is trying to punch them, they can escalate to using their baton to neutralize the threat and force compliance. If they are facing a suspect with a baton, out comes the pepper spray or taser (if equipped). A knife or other potentially deadly weapon is met with a sidearm.

There are any number of exceptions, and the level of threat is entirely dependent on an LEO’s own perception of the situation. But here’s the problem. It is an indisputable fact that LEO’s across the nation apply higher levels of physical violence to minorities, especially African Americans, and apply it far more frequently than they do to white suspects.

For whatever reason or reasons, when faced with a black suspect, LEO’s perceive the threat to be higher, escalate to violence faster, and to higher levels on the continuum than they would otherwise. The end result is a far higher percentage of black suspects being injured or killed during their interactions with police. Nor does the state-sponsored violence stop there. Black suspects face longer prison sentences, and are disproportionately targeted for the death penalty, even when committing the same crime as their white counterparts.

Which is why the impulse to try and see each case in isolation is such a bad idea. It completely misses the larger trends, even if in a specific case an argument could be made that violence was justified such as in Ferguson. The folks who want to focus on the Justice Department failing to indict Michael Brown’s killer on civil rights charges have generally failed to read or appreciate the other bombshell the same people released that day; the DoJ report on systemic racism on the part of the Ferguson PD.

3) Why is no one protesting criminals:

I’ve heard this one a lot. Usually, it’s something along the lines of why aren’t people protesting black-on-black crime, or gang shootings, or criminals shooting police officers?

Here’s why it’s bullshit.

Because we should be holding police to a higher standard than criminals. I really have a hard time understanding why I have to explain this to adults, but here goes. When a criminal commits violence or takes a life, it is a tragedy, obviously. I would even go so far as to say that when a criminal takes the life of an LEO, the tragedy takes on a new dimension. However, the reason people don’t take to the streets to protest their crimes is because criminals are acting on their own. They do not represent anyone but themselves, and are acting without the sanction of the society they prey upon.

Police are an entirely different matter. When the police use violence, they are doing so as agents of a representative government. When the police take an action, it is our collective sanction that grants them the moral and legal authority to do so. We grant them exceptionally broad powers and discretion to work in our name.

When police kill, they do so as representatives of all of us. We all share in the responsibility for the behavior of the agents of our government. And since it is violence in all of our names, we have the responsibility as citizens to hold them to the highest standards of conduct.

4) People shouldn’t make it about race:

Usually this one comes across as a genuine concern that focusing on the race of the people involved will only stoke more racial animosity and ratchet up tensions unnecessarily, creating an atmosphere of mistrust. So we should just focus on the facts of the case and do our best to leave race out of it.

Here’s why it’s bullshit.

The fact white people across the country don’t seem to know there’s a racial problem within our law enforcement and justice systems is not a reason to pretend there isn’t one. What these cases have done is finally brought into the mainstream consciousness what black Americans have known for their entire lives. They are not treated equally by the police or the courts.

All of the statistics available point to the same systemic problem in municipalities across the country, even in ultra-liberal Madison Wisconsin. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable, embarrassing truth for white America to face, and it’s an even more difficult conversation to find ourselves in. But let’s be clear, protests, speeches and op-eds over the unfair treatment of the black community are not creating racial animosity, they are revealing it.

If you don’t like what the conversation is uncovering about America, the answer isn’t to stop talking. The answer is to do what you can to change our nation into the place you always thought it was.