From Draining the Swamp to Filling the Cesspool

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It is often said about a Presidential administration that you can garner much of their goals by the people that the President names to different Cabinet positions, organizational heads, and ambassadorial positions. In the second Bush Administration, there was a great deal of concern about A) the number of people from his father’s Administration that he tapped (especially his VP, Dick Cheney, who was Secretary of Defense under his father), and B) those that were involved with the military previously (such as Donald Rumsfeld, who was his Secretary of Defense). That the Bush Administration during its eight years ramped up military action (and, as a result, spending) in hindsight should come as no surprise to anyone.

After the stunning turn of the 2016 General Election, the GOP nominee now has the same issues facing him that 44 other men have had – deciding who would best push forward the agenda of his Administration. After mouthing platitudes about wanting to “unite the people,” why has the GOP nominee done exactly THE OPPOSITE of what he says he wanted to do? A simple look at those he has chosen for the different Cabinet appointments and political seats demonstrates that, instead of “draining the swamp” as he said he would, the GOP nominee is filling the cesspool that his Administration will become.

The problems began with his staffing of those members that DON’T have to go through a Congressional hearing to be able to take their seats. The choice of Steve Bannon, the former editor of the Neo-Nazi news site Breitbart.com, to be his chief strategist – along with former General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser and Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff – rang alarm bells for anyone who could rub two brain cells together. Bannon’s “fiery rhetoric” at Breitbart (which poked at Jews, women, and Democrats, just to name a few) indicated to many that the GOP nominee was going to try to run the country like he ran his campaign – short on facts, long on insults, racist, misogynous, and xenophobic rhetoric. He got Priebus out of the way from his duties as chairman of the Republican National Committee by making him his lapdog “directing” White House operations (you really think that Priebus could direct the GOP nominee to do anything?). Flynn very nearly ended his run with the GOP nominee’s Cabinet by continuing to push conspiracy theories, but his son took the bullet for him earlier this month over “Pizzagate” to effectively quiet many.

Then there South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who wasn’t smart enough to see her gentle execution by the GOP nominee for her opposition stance during the campaign. In taking the position of ambassador to the United Nations, Haley may believe she is “serving” the country, but if she looked up what normally happens in a time of strife, she may not have taken the position. Any time that there is a particularly noteworthy moment at the UN – a critical vote or an important discussion on a dire situation between the member nations, let’s say – the Secretary of State swoops in and takes the reins from the UN ambassador. The reason she was put there? South Carolina Lt. Governor Henry McMaster, a vehement supporter of the GOP nominee, will take over as Governor with Haley subserviently sitting in New York.

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If you thought this was bad, the worst was yet to come. It seemed that the criteria used by the GOP nominee was to identify what the job was of the department that he was choosing the Cabinet secretary for, then put the least qualified person into that position. Billionaire Betsy DeVos, the selection for Secretary of Education, has no qualifying degree from any school in the field of education. What qualifies her to be Education Secretary? The fact that she donated $1.8 million to the GOP nominee’s campaign and that she has advocated (re:  demanded) a shift from the public-school system to “voucher programs,” private and religious institutions. The purpose of the Department of Education is to set standards for ALL schools – to go in with the express purpose of destroying the very thing you’re supposed to be supporting is outlandish. (Add in that she is the brother of the founder of Blackwater, the heinous “mercenary” force that is supposed to be a “military company” that was used by the Bush Administration during the Second Gulf War, and she’s even more despicable.)

It doesn’t get better. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was unable to get a position on the bench in the federal court system 30 years ago because of his racial statements regarding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations. But now he’s been chosen to be the next Attorney General under the GOP nominee’s Administration.

The GOP nominee tapped on one of his former opponents, much like President Barack Obama did when he picked Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State in 2008, when he pulled Dr. Ben Carson into the mix despite Carson saying he wanted no part of a government position. So, what position do you think would be benefitting of a world-renown brain surgeon? Surgeon General of the U. S.? Nope. How about Secretary of Housing and Urban Development? Despite the efforts to portray Carson as someone who rose “from the projects” he would be now leading, the only relative experience that Carson has with the Housing Department is that he lives in one.

Then there’s Scott Pruitt, the Attorney General of Oklahoma, that has been nominated to take over the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite the factor that he’s currently SUING the EPA for its regulation of power plants, Pruitt is a known climate change denier who proudly touts this fact to anyone who will listen. Pruitt also is a longtime advocate of fossil fuel usage. That you would put someone in charge of an agency that is tasked with PRESERVING the environment whose main raison d’etre is to destroy the very department tasked with that cause, you’re not putting the best personnel into the position.

Pretty much look at any department and you can virtually smell the shit from the cesspool. Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services? A doctor who is looking to destroy the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood and advocated for not labeling food. Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao as Transportation Secretary? A carrot tossed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, her husband, for support in the Senate?

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Wilbur Ross and Todd Ricketts as Commerce Secretary and Deputy Commerce Secretary, respectively? Billionaires who bailed out the GOP nominee previously or an opportunistic hypocrite who was previously critical of the GOP nominee that owns the Chicago Cubs. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary? Formerly a part of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment firm the GOP nominee railed over through the entirety of the campaign. Toss in former Texas Governor Rick Perry as the Secretary of Energy (seriously, does he even have an energy idea beyond “drill here?”) and you have a Confederacy of Dunces that rivals a Marx Brothers movie.

In fact, you could say that there are two paths that the GOP nominee is going down. One is that he is creating the ultimate oligarchy, as six of his nominees to prominent positions in his cabinet have donated $12 million to his campaign. You could also say that the GOP nominee is forming a military junta, as he continues to fill major spots in his organization with people with lifelong military backgrounds, including former Marine Corps generals John Kelly (Homeland Security) and James Mattis (Defense), both positions that have traditionally been put in the hands of civilian oversight (Flynn is also a former general and Bannon has a military background).

And we’re supposed to give this a chance?

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The problem is that, once the process begins for those that require Congressional approval, there’s virtually nothing that can stop it. Due to the stupidity of the Democratic Party back in 2014 when they blew up the procedures to push through lower federal court justices, the GOP now just has to have 51 votes to end filibusters on Presidential appointees (this applies to everything outside of the Supreme Court) and move to a vote. When it was for their own good, the Democratic leadership was all for this change. Now it comes back to bite them in the ass.

If there is to be a check on the GOP nominee’s ignorance of choices, some help is going to have to come from some of the “renegade” members of the GOP itself. Virtually every choice is unqualified to be in the spot they were picked for – quite like their prospective boss – and should receive a negative vote in their respective committees. That’s not going to happen, so the Democrats must pick their battles wisely if they are to enact some changes out of the GOP nominee’s festering cesspool. Otherwise, the symphony of destruction is warming up…

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Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Break the Law

Two things we’ll establish from the start here. A long time ago (and I mean a LOOOONG time ago), I attended Butler University with the ambition of going to law school following completion of my undergraduate work. I enjoyed the pursuit of the truth, figuring out the “right” answer to an investigation (a court case) and, perhaps most of all, the debate that came along with the profession. Secondly, I’ve never had a particularly close relationship with religion; I’ve personally always believed that the separation of Church and State isn’t a flimsy one and, quite honestly, that religion doesn’t take science into its canon to be able to answer the myriad questions of life (“you have to have faith” isn’t an answer, unfortunately). Thus, the recent hubbub in the state of Kentucky has particularly intrigued me.

In June, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry in the United States. After heartfelt and legally well-thought oral arguments from both sides, the Court decided by the slimmest of margins (5-4) that states could not deny those that sought to marry someone of the same sex that ability, basically asserting that marriage, under the “pursuit of Happiness” clause in the U. S. Constitution, was a right. As expected, the Court broke along philosophical lines, with the four conservative justices dissenting, the four liberal justices concurring and Chief Justice Anthony Kennedy, famous for being the “swing” vote in many decisions in front of the Court, joining the liberal justices and even writing the majority opinion in the decision.

This set about a shitstorm that only reached its apex last month. The state of Texas initially decried the ruling and, for a period, refused to issue licenses for same sex couples. The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, decided that the ruling by a court superior to his own wouldn’t apply to his jurisdiction. Both of these states decided, after further review and a look at the costs of pursuing a lengthy legal battle, that the issue was settled and apparently have reluctantly begun to issue the licenses. Then, last month, an elected official decided to take the fight the ultimate distance.

In August, a woman elected to the Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk of Courts office began refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples, citing that it conflicted with her “religious beliefs” in “God’s authority” (as if issuing a piece of paper would sentence her to fiery pits of Hell). The woman, Kim Davis, did take the right approach in that she didn’t issue ANY marriage licenses in the county, even to those of the opposite sex, but that wasn’t going to hold up for long (in fact, when a lawsuit was brought against her by the American Civil Liberties Union, it was filed by two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples). Davis went to the U. S. District Court, which shot her arguments down and ruled she had to issue the licenses.

Give Davis her due, she does have a true commitment to her beliefs. She continued to appeal the decisions up the ladder to the Appellate Courts for the Sixth District and, eventually, to the desk of Chief Justice Elena Kagan, the overseer of the Sixth District and one of the nine Supreme Court Justices who made the ruling back in June. Kagan filed Davis’ request for a stay on Monday morning; the full Court declined to issue a stay without any comment early on Tuesday, with the previous decision by the District Court standing and ordering Davis to start issuing same-sex couples licenses or face ramifications.

The ramifications are potentially significant, especially for Davis. Should she continue to defy the “law of the land,” Davis could be forced from the position that the people of Rowan County elected her to hold at the minimum and, at the maximum, could be jailed for her refusal to issue a piece of paper. As it stands at this time, the offices of the Clerk of Court of Rowan County are darkened as Davis considers her next step.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion over “religious freedom,” the right to exercise your religious beliefs in society, and Davis’ fight is only the most recent example of the discussion. I personally have never thought this was a problem – Can you worship openly? Can you wear a religious medallion or trinket without having your head hacked off? Can you openly have holidays that are religiously based? If the answer to these questions are “Yes,” then you’re not being subjugated and you have “religious freedom.” – and it really isn’t a problem now except for the fact that the laws of the U. S. aren’t in relation with the beliefs of some of those religious factions. When it comes to operating the government – be it local, state or national – religious beliefs have to be left at the door.

Many like to state that the “Founding Fathers” brought the concept of democracy and the United States as a God-ordained and religiously ruled governmental philosophy. Truth be told, there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. You need some examples?

“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.” George Washington, 1792

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”Thomas Jefferson, 1814

“The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.”James Madison, 1819

This is just scratching the surface. I could go on, but you get the point.

The oath that military members take upon enlistment says you will follow the orders of the Commander in Chief (the President of the United States) and defend the U. S. and the Constitution against all enemies “foreign and domestic” (maybe we’ll get into that one of these days). When you’re in the military, you don’t get to decide which orders you want to follow. You have to follow ALL orders (unless it can be proven that the order is an “illegal” one, a bar that is set very high and for good reason). Although Davis’ situation may not be as extreme as that of being in the military, as an elected official you also take an oath to uphold the laws of the United States and defend the Constitution.

Once an elected official takes that oath, they no longer have the right of refusing an action, order or law because of their religious beliefs because if you choose to serve in a public forum as an elected official, then you have to abide by the public law. . If the position is an appointed one, then there might be a different answer to the question, but that isn’t what has come up in any previous situation in Texas, Alabama or Davis’ situation in Kentucky. If we allowed for the “picking and choosing” of which laws people wanted to follow, the U. S. would descend into a chaos that would be unimaginable.

So what should be Davis’ potential punishment and the outcome of the case? I personally believe that jailing Davis would be the worst move possible in that it would only give certain groups a “martyr” to hang the hat of their cause on. A fine isn’t going to do any good either as those same groups would just head over to GoFundMe to start an ever-refilling account. There are only two actions that can be a just outcome for this case:  Davis can come out, state that she still holds her religious objections to same-sex marriage but will abide by the law and issue the licenses, or that Davis resigns her elected position in the Rowan County government immediately and a new person is elected.

There are some areas where the “religious freedom” argument can still be discussed. I am still personally debating the usage of the argument for individual businesses and, as of yet, have been unable to come up with a concrete answer for that situation. When it comes to Church and State, however, the concrete is quite firm in that never shall the twain meet. If we undermine that situation, then we move closer to a theocracy, something that U. S. citizens continually rail about with the government of Iran.