What Fresh Hell Is This?

March 23, 2018

More On State Rep Cris Dush's Impeachment Legislation

Yesterday, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued a statement in response:
As Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, I am very concerned by the reported filing of impeachment resolutions against Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania related to the Court’s decision about congressional redistricting.

Threats of impeachment directed against Justices because of their decision in a particular case are an attack upon an independent judiciary, which is an essential component of our constitutional plan of government.
Do we need to bring yinz up to speed?

Here's a brief description of what's brought us to here (interestingly, it's from Dush's impeachment memo):
On January 22, 2018, the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania issued a per curiam Order (“Order”) in League of Women Voters of PA, et. al. v. The Commonwealth of PA, et. al., No. 159 MM 2017, holding that the Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011 (“Act”) “clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” and, on this sole basis, struck it down as unconstitutional. The Court further enjoined the future use of the Act in elections for Pennsylvania seats in the United States House of Representative commencing with the upcoming May 15, 2018 primary election.

The Court in its Order mandates that if the Pennsylvania General Assembly chooses “to submit a congressional districting plan that satisfies the requirements of the Pennsylvania Constitution, it shall submit such plan for consideration by the Governor on or before February 9, 2018.” The Court further held that “[i]f the Governor accepts the General Assembly’s congressional districting plan, it shall be submitted to this Court on or before February 15, 2018.”
This is The Order that so offended Cris Dush.

The Opinion that followed presented the conclusion reached by the PA Supremes. The first paragraph reads:
It is a core principle of our republican form of government “that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.” In this case, Petitioners allege that the Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011 (the “2011 Plan”) does the latter, infringing upon that most central of democratic rights – the right to vote. Specifically, they contend that the 2011 Plan is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. While federal courts have, to date, been unable to settle on a workable standard by which to assess such claims under the federal Constitution, we find no such barriers under our great Pennsylvania charter. The people of this Commonwealth should never lose sight of the fact that, in its protection of essential rights, our founding document is the ancestor, not the offspring, of the federal Constitution. We conclude that, in this matter, it provides a constitutional standard, and remedy, even if the federal charter does not. Specifically, we hold that the 2011 Plan violates Article I, Section 5 – the Free and Equal Elections Clause – of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
 Article 1, Section 5 of the PA Constitution reads:
Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.
And the Court builds to its conclusion by taking a deep look at that clause and what it means.  Like this part:
Thus, Article I, Section 5 guarantees our citizens an equal right, on par with every other citizen, to elect their representatives. Stated another way, the actual and plain language of Section 5 mandates that all voters have an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation. (page 100)
Then a few pages later we read:
Although our Court has infrequently relied on this provision to strike down acts of the legislature pertaining to the conduct of elections, the qualifications of voters to participate therein, or the creation of electoral districts, our view as to what constraints Article I, Section 5 places on the legislature in these areas has been consistent over the years. Indeed, nearly 150 years ago, in considering a challenge to an act of the legislature establishing eligibility qualifications for electors to vote in all elections held in Philadelphia, and specifying the manner in which those elections are to be conducted, we recognized that, while our Constitution gives to the General Assembly the power to promulgate laws governing elections, those enactments are nonetheless subject to the requirements of the Free and Equal Elections Clause of our Constitution, and, hence, may be invalidated by our Court “in a case of plain, palpable and clear abuse of the power which actually infringes the rights of the electors.” Patterson , 60 Pa. at 75.

In answering the question of how elections must be made equal, we stated: “Clearly by laws which shall arrange all the qualified electors in to suitable districts, and make their votes equally potent in the election; so that some shall not have more votes than others, and that all shall have an equal share in filling the offices of the Commonwealth.” Id. Thus, with this decision, our Court established that any legislative scheme which has the effect of impermissibly diluting the potency of an individual’s vote for candidates for elective office relative to that of other voters will violate the guarantee of “free and equal” elections afforded b y Article I, Section 5. (page 109-110)
And then finally we get to this:
By placing voters preferring one party’s candidates in districts where their votes are wasted on candidates likely to lose (cracking), or by placing such voters in districts where their votes are cast for candidates destined to win (packing), the non-favored party’s votes are diluted. It is axiomatic that a diluted vote is not an equal vote, as all voters do not have an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation. This is the antithesis of a healthy representative democracy.(page 118)
It's this sentence above that, it seems to me (a non-lawyer, to be sure) to be at the core of the argument:
It is axiomatic that a diluted vote is not an equal vote, as all voters do not have an equal opportunity to translate their votes into representation.
If I am reading this right (and again, I am NOT a lawyer), they're saying that by gerrymandering the districts into heavy Republican and heavily Democratic districts in order to (more or less) guarantee an outcome, the legislature diluted the voting rights of the R-voters in the D-zones and the D-voters in the R-zones. And that collective dilution is what conflicts with the Free and Equal Elections Clause.

But of course, because it gets in the way of the Republican snowflakes' hold on legislative power, any act making sure that everyone has an equal chance to elect their representatives is an unconstitutional power grab.

Your GOP at work, ladies and gentlemen.

March 22, 2018

Join the "March for Our Lives – Pittsburgh" This Saturday!

Please join in with Pittsburgh’s children and youth on March 24th!
You can R.S.V.P. and keep up-to-date on the march at their Facebook event page here and the national website here.
Follow them on Twitter: @M4OL_PGH   Follow them on Instagram: @m4ol_pgh
You can also print out the above flyer or share it on social media.

Smoking rocks? Head full of rocks? Completely stoned?

Even after watching Blue Mountain School District, PA's Superintendent David Helsel on video, I still had to look for a reputable news account to make certain this wasn't some elaborate satire.

Via PublicSource:
In Schuylkill County’s Blue Mountain School District, Superintendent David Helsel told lawmakers that maintenance staff — currently only one employee due to a retirement — are also trained as armed security and have been carrying firearms for five years. 
The district does not plan to arm teachers, but Helsel said he believes each district should be able to make its own determination to have a trained and clearly identified armed staff. He also explained that each classroom has a five-gallon bucket of river stones to be thrown at an armed intruder that breaks through the door. 
“They will face a classroom full of rocks, and they will be stoned,” Helsel said.
No. The children will be shot. Multiple times.

Watch it and weep here:

State Rep Cris Dush Lashes Out Against Statewide Checks And Balances

We have something of a follow up to this week's Toomey Letter.

From The Hill:
A Pennsylvania state representative has introduced resolutions to impeach four of the five state Supreme Court justices who voted to override congressional district maps they said were unfairly gerrymandered on partisan lines.

The resolutions, introduced by state Rep. Cris Dush (R), accuse Justices Kevin Dougherty, Christine Donohue, Debra McClosky Todd and David Wecht of misbehavior in office.

In a memo to fellow House members, Dush said the ruling overriding Pennsylvania’s U.S. House district lines amounted to an overstep of judicial authority under the state Constitution, which lays out the path by which a bill becomes a law — in this case, a bill to delineate the district lines after the decennial Census and reapportionment process.
Here is the memo. After describing the order from the State Supreme Court, it reads:
This Order overrides the express legislative and executive authority, found in Article IV, Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, concerning the Governor’s veto authority and the General Assembly’s subsequent authority to override such veto. Article IV, Section 15 clearly lays out the path a bill must take to become law.

The five Justices who signed this order that blatantly and clearly contradicts the plain language of the Pennsylvania Constitution, engaged in misbehavior in office.

Wherefore, each is guilty of an impeachable offense warranting removal from office and disqualification to hold any office or trust or profit under this Commonwealth. I would ask you to please join me in co-sponsoring this legislation.
By the way, the five justices who so offended snowflake Dush are Democrats - Dush, of course, is a Republican. The

From WHYY we learn that "[Dush] hasn’t introduced a resolution for the court’s fifth Democrat—Justice Max Baer—because while Baer agreed the 2011 map was unconstitutional, he didn’t want to redraw it on an abbreviated timeline."

From the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article IV, Section 15 reads:
Every bill which shall have passed both Houses shall be presented to the Governor; if he approves he shall sign it, but if he shall not approve he shall return it with his objections to the House in which it shall have originated, which House shall enter the objections at large upon their journal, and proceed to re-consider it. If after such re-consideration, two- thirds of all the members elected to that House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent with the objections to the other House by which likewise it shall be re-considered, and if approved by two-thirds of all the members elected to that House it shall be a law; but in such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the members voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journals of each House, respectively. If any bill shall not be returned by the Governor within ten days after it shall have been presented to him, the same shall be a law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the General Assembly, by their adjournment, prevent its return, in which case it shall be a law, unless he shall file the same, with his objections, in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and give notice thereof by public proclamation within 30 days after such adjournment.
On the other hand, there's something called Judicial Review where the judiciary has the authority to overturn what it has deemed as an unconstitutional law. This has been the case for a long long time in Pennsylvania.  Take a look at this page from the "Report of the...Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Bar Association" (1900):
In the earlier history of the states, the courts were rarely called upon to declare acts of the legislature unconstitutional. In our Commonwealth for the half century following the Constitution of 1790 there is not a single instance where a statute was determined to be unconstitutional - but there was a uniform consensus of judicial opinion...that the judiciary must have the power of declaring a statute to be of no force, if enacted in disregard of the higher law of the Constitution.

In the minutes of the Council of Censors in 1784, the committee appointed to point out the defects in the Constitution of 1776, inter alia reported:
Your committee conceives the said Constitution to be in the this respect materially defective, referring to the power of the legislature to remove judges:

Because if the assembly should pass an unconstitutional law and the judges have virtue enough to refuse to obey it, the same assembly could instantly remove them.
This indicates that the men who took part in forming our government had a very definite opinion that an unconstitutional law was no law - and that the test of virtue in a judge would be his refusal to obey it... (p 266)
That was written 117 years ago about stuff that had happened a hundred years or so before that. I would like to emphasize the example that the Council of Censors used - what is described then is exactly what Representative Dush wants to do now. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, je pense.

The State Supreme Court found the Act that protects your party's Congressional districts to be unconstitutional, Representative Dush. It's no longer the law. Get over it. It's not an impeachable offense simply because you don't like it.

It's amazing to me that an elected official proposing legislation to limit a state's judiciary's authority does not know the history of that state or that judiciary.

[Full Disclosure: Twenty years or so ago, I had a temp job (as a runner and copy-guy) in the same law office where Justice David Wecht was then employed as an attorney. We had minimal contact then and other than my bumping into him 4 or 5 years ago downtown (where we shook hands and exchanged a few pleasantries) we've had no contact since.]

March 21, 2018

Meanwhile Outside....

Gee, I wonder how the science deniers will be reading this State of the Climate report from NOAA:
February 2018 was characterized by near to cooler-than-average conditions across a large portion of the Northern Hemisphere land, while much of the Southern Hemisphere land had warmer- to much-warmer-than-average conditions. The most notable cool temperature departures from average were present across North America, where temperatures were 3.0°C (5.4°F) below average or lower for some locations. The most notable warm temperature departures from average were present across parts of the southeastern contiguous U.S., western Alaska, northeastern Africa, the Middle East, and Russia's Far East, where temperatures were 2.0°C (3.6°F) above average or higher. Much of the world's oceans had warmer- to much-warmer-than-average temperatures, with near- to cooler-than-average conditions across the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean, southeastern Pacific Ocean, eastern Indian Ocean, and across parts of the Atlantic Ocean. Record warmth was limited to small areas across the eastern contiguous U.S., southern Argentina, the Middle East, Russia's Far East, New Zealand, and scattered across all oceans. However, no land or ocean areas experienced record cold temperatures during February 2018. Regionally, Oceania and Africa had their fourth and tenth warmest February on record, respectively, while Europe had its coolest February since 2012.

Overall, the combined global land and ocean temperature for February 2018 was 0.65°C (1.17°F) above the 20th century average of 12.1°C (53.9°F) and the 11th highest February temperature in the 1880–2018 record. This value was also 0.57°C (1.03°F) cooler than the record high set in 2016 and was the smallest February temperature departure from average since 2014. February 2018 also marks the 42nd consecutive February and the 398th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average. The global land temperature of 1.01°C (1.82°F) above the 20th century average of 3.2°C (37.8°F) was also the smallest February land temperature since 2014 and the 15th highest in the 139-year record. Averaged as a whole, the global oceans had their lowest February temperature since 2013 and the seventh highest February temperature on record.
My guess is that they'll read this part:
February 2018 was characterized by near to cooler-than-average conditions across a large portion of the Northern Hemisphere land...
And simply skip this part:
...while much of the Southern Hemisphere land had warmer- to much-warmer-than-average conditions.
In order to "prove" that the planet is "actually" cooling down.

They'll take this:

Which shows a definite upward trend in red lines and focus instead on this:

In order to "prove" that global temperatures "actually peaked" three years ago.

This is how they'll skew the data - if they bother to write about it at all.

Meanwhile, despite the snow outside my window on the first full day of Spring, it's still getting warmer outside. The science says so.

March 20, 2018

My FIFTY-THIRD Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again - a constituent of yours who writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

I'd like to step away from asking you about any of the many Trump scandals now facing the nation and turn instead to a more local story - Pennsylvania Congressional redistricting.

The Hill reported that you referred to the recent State Supreme Court ruling striking down the Congressional Redistricting Act of 2011 as a "blatant, unconstitutional, partisan power grab that undermines our electoral process." You also refused to reject the idea of impeaching members of the State Court for that reaching that decision. The State Supreme Court in striking down the act, however, said that it "clearly, plainly and palpably violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." It was from that point alone (which is to say, by relying only on state law), they found the Redistricting Act to be unconstitutional.

The United State Supreme Court, only yesterday, refused to overturn the State court's decision.

So here are my questions: Given all of the above, do you still think that the State Supreme Court decision is unconstitutional?  Do you still think it appropriate for state legislators to discuss impeachment for deciding that the then-current redistricting plan unconstitutionally favored one party (yours) over the other?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.


March 17, 2018

In Case You Missed It - A Four Star General Speaks Out Against Trump. Again.

Let's list (some of) the man's accomplishments:
And so on.

To be sure, this is not the first time he's spoken out against the porn star-boffing vulgarity.  Here he is in August of 2016:
My public comments in the media on national security since leaving active service have tried to steer clear of partisan debate. I am not registered with either political party. I have worked with loyalty and genuine respect at very senior levels for both President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton.

The shameful reaction by presidential candidate Donald Trump to the mother and father of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan prompts me to state publicly that Trump should never serve as our commander in chief. The decorated Capt. Khan, who was killed in action in Iraq at age 27 while bravely defending his soldiers during a suicide attack, is the best America offers. His grieving parents were understandably outraged at the degrading notion that America should have a religious screen, legally denying immigration status to Muslims.

Trump’s cruel cultural jab at Ghazala Kahn as a grieving Gold Star mother is simply the final straw. In my judgment, Trump, if elected, would provoke a political and constitutional crisis within a year. He has called for the illegal torture of enemy detainees. He has called for the deliberate targeting and murder of civilians as retribution. He has questioned whether the U.S. should actually fulfill our defense obligations under the NATO pact. These NATO obligations are a U.S. Senate-ratified treaty that Trump should know is the highest law of the land.
And here he is in March of 2016:
Known for his direct talk and unvarnished opinions, McCaffrey had a blunt description of the current political landscape: "I must admit that 10 years ago, if you tried to describe the situation with an aging socialist, with a possibly indicted competent Democrat, against someone who can be kindly characterized as a braggart and buffoon, it would be hard to believe that this would be the situation." Being personally familiar with numerous public figures and politicians, he stated that "generally speaking I am very empathetic to political leaders. We get better than we deserve for the most part," and he added, "I know Hillary Clinton quite well and she is very competent."
This time we simply cannot say we got "better than we deserve" with Trump. Maybe we got exactly what we deserve OR we deserve better than we got, but we can't say the pussy-grabbing charlatan is "better than we deserve."

March 16, 2018

Torture Is Immoral. Covering It Up, Also Immoral

From the Washington Post:
President Trump on Tuesday chose CIA veteran Gina Haspel to be the spy agency’s next director, picking a woman who spent multiple tours overseas and is respected by the workforce but is deeply tied to the agency’s use of brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects.

Back to the WaPost:
Haspel was in charge of one of the CIA’s “black site” prisons where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harrowing interrogation measures widely condemned as torture.

When those methods were exposed and their legality came under scrutiny, Haspel was among a group of CIA officials involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogation sessions that left some detainees on the brink of physical collapse.
Torture and then covering up the torture.

Before we proceed, there's a necessary correction of the word "detainees" in that first paragraph. Propublica has it:
On Feb. 22, 2017, ProPublica published a story that inaccurately described Gina Haspel’s role in the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, a suspected al-Qaida leader who was imprisoned by the CIA at a secret “black site” in Thailand in 2002.

The story said that Haspel, a career CIA officer who President Trump has nominated to be the next director of central intelligence, oversaw the clandestine base where Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding and other coercive interrogation methods that are widely seen as torture. The story also said she mocked the prisoner’s suffering in a private conversation. Neither of these assertions is correct and we retract them. It is now clear that Haspel did not take charge of the base until after the interrogation of Zubaydah ended.
The New York Times, which also reported last year that Haspel oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and another detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, published a second story this week making the same point. It quoted an unnamed former senior CIA official who said Haspel did not become base chief until late October of 2002. According to the Times, she was in charge when al-Nashiri was waterboarded three times. [Emphasis added.]
The use of the plural "detainees" is inaccurate as she was only in charge during the waterboarding of one person, not more than one. This, however, does not change the fact that Haspell was in charge when al-Nashiri was waterboarded.

So that's still torture, just less of it.

We've written extensively about how torture is a war crime. Gina Haspel oversaw a prison where one human being was tortured. Even if she was just following orders, the Geneva Convention states:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture. (Part 1, Article 2, Sections 2-3)
She's a war criminal. Everyone in the chain of command above her is a war criminal.

Then there's the cover-up.

From Frontline:
When news of the ["enhanced interrogation"]program was first published in the Washington Post in 2005, Jose Rodriguez, who at the time ran the agency’s Counterterrorism Center, grew concerned that the videotapes might be made public.

“I was told if those videotapes had ever been seen, the reaction around the world would not have been survivable,” Jane Mayer, a New Yorker reporter, told FRONTLINE. “So the CIA is in a panic. They’ve got these red-hot videotapes on their hands.”

As Rodriguez later wrote in his memoir, in 2005, Haspel, then his chief of staff, “drafted a cable” at his direction ordering that the tapes be destroyed. Then, he said, he “took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit Send.”
Covering up the torture.

I don't think this will make much of a difference to Trump or his true-believers. He thinks he can just bring back torture by executive fiat as well as order the deaths of suspected terrorists' families.

Torture is immoral. Torture is illegal. Prosecute the torture.

March 13, 2018

My FIFTY-SECOND Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again - a constituent who writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

I'd like to ask you about this weekend's rally in Moon Township. During Donald Trump's speech he referred to an old appearance he'd made on NBC's "Meet The Press" by saying, "It's 1999, I'm on Meet the Press, a show now headed by 'sleepy eyes Chuck Todd.' He's a sleeping son of a bitch, I'll tell you." The crowd, as you probably already know, roared in approval.

This is not the first time he's attacked the Constitutionally protected news media. During the same speech he referred to "a certain anchor on CNN" as "fake as hell." He tweeted about the New York Times reporter who broke the story about Trump in discussions with a Clinton impeachment attorney as "a Hillary flunky."

And at this time I'd like to remind you of a letter I sent you almost exactly a year ago. Then, Donald Trump referred to the media with the Stalinist "enemy of the people."

So here's my question: Is any of this appropriate behavior for a sitting President of the United States? Yes or no?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.