Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Senator Milquetoast

It’s good that U.S. Senator Gary Peters has spoken out against the President’s anti-immigration Executive Order. But sadly, the voice is muffled.

“As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, my top priority is ensuring we’re doing everything we can to keep Americans safe. But I am also proud to represent vibrant Muslim and Arab American communities that are integral to Michigan’s culture and our economy.

The first sentence is pure political muffery: “my top priority… doing everything… keep Americans safe.” What is missing is a clear point of view, what he (or his office) thinks. The second sentence is little better: he’s “proud to represent.” yeah yeah yeah. This is indirect speech, at a distant from a straight forward presentation of the case.

There are big, legitimate issues of national security involved. This is the natural forceful lead. And it’s powerful, as Mother Jones demonstrates.

In the second paragraph Sen. Peters compounds his wishy-washiness.

“One of America’s founding – and most sacred – principles is the freedom of religion. I am extremely alarmed by President Trump’s executive order that effectively implements a religious test for those seeking to enter the United States…

The shift to First Amendment issues has a nice ring to it, but again one may ask whether it demonstrates a grasp of the actual Constitutional issues involved with the Executive Order. If anything the focus on Freedom of Religion plays into the cultural push of the President’s order, namely that of privileging Christian America. Immediate feedback from Trump supporters indicates their approval of the action. So rather than change opinion the appeal to the First is a sign of political boundary making. It is a lost opportunity.

And then finally there is a return to muffery with the final sentence:

 “While I support continued strengthening of the refugee screening process, I remain opposed to the suspension of the refugee admissions program.”

This is the sound of a man trying to have it both ways. “While I….” Oh, be direct. Know what time it is, and what the issues are. In the days ahead the battle needs far more direct, far clearer expression of ideas. Now is no time to waffle.

— Originally published at Written and Noted.



Filed under: Michigan, Washington, , , ,

New Year’s Catch Up

This is a holding post, if only to highlight some of the adventure that makes up our politics.

First, we have the Secretary of State working diligently to make our ballots “SAFE.” This will require more attention, but for now, let’s be clear that the problems at hand are those of book-keeping, or perhaps a fear of Zombie voting. More on this in a bit.

Second, there was the report Friday from the New York Times on the role high quality teachers make in educational outcomes. This only highlights the contradictions within the Republicans in Michigan, do they go for cheap or quality? Then again, considering this is the home of K-Mart, as well as  the first hypermarket (that’s you, Meijer), we probably already know the answer.

Then there is the “who, me dysfunctional?” act of Rep. Justin Amash. This too needs explication. While the forty percent defection rate from conventional GOP stances merits some recognition, it is one driven more by ideology, the difference is not that his party is too conservative, but not conservative enough.

Last on the local note, there is the departure of GRPS Superintendent Bernard Taylor. There was one story for the media but inside the stories are more that he was handed his hat. Meantime, there is a noticeable sigh of relief arising from the schools.

Filed under: Horace Mann, Uncategorized, Washington, , , , , ,

A cheer or two for political courage

The President was in Toledo Friday, making one more stop on a victory tour for the auto bailout. By most accounts, the program has succeeded in its basic goals: safeguarding workers, communities and suppliers in the great auto meltdown of a few years ago. Manufacturing is now up. GM has added a third shift at Hamtramack, and even Chrysler is showing life.

A presidential win, that not only goes to Obama but to his predecessor, as well.

Still, folks dislike the deal. For them talk of saving industry, suppliers, communities cannot overcome the actual cost — estimated at $25 billion. These issues, the reluctance and the push back can both be found in Megan McArdle’s writings at The Atlantic, here in this blog cited by Lowry in The National Review, but also in a more measured published response, where McArdle admits

The worst fears of many critics—including me—were overblown. The government did not simply leave the bloated legacy costs intact in order to protect its political friends.

What the current debate highlights more than anything else, is the uncertainty of that initial decision, and the continuing skepticism about government action generally. This continuing debate driven in part by the ascendency of the Tea Party only further highlights the political courage of those who stood up, as odd a mix of political bedfellows as you will find: Virg Benaro, Mike Cox, Thaddeus McCotter, and our own David LaGrand.

That political courage takes place amidst uncertainty accounts for why so many go silent. Practical calculus paralyzes. We may believe but we muffle our voice. As with all things political, it is one part rashness, one part calculation of benefit and one part driven principle.

All this comes to the fore with the other current instance of political courage in our midst, that of Rep. Justin Amash. His co-sponsoring of the War Powers Resolution certainly belongs in the category of political courage. And then he adds to it with the success of his Amendment to protect Freedom of Information Act requests at the Homeland Security Agency.

Like those who stood up for the auto bailout these are actions whose actual outcome is uncertain (will hindsight prove him right? Wrong?), but that is the substance of political courage. And like those who came before, Rep. Amash moves with that mixture of principle (moral and philosophical) coupled with a mix of political calculation and political rashness.

And let’s be clear: political courage deserves its honor.

Filed under: Economy, Politics, Washington, , , , , , , , ,

Young gun

In the wake of the Tucson shootings, it is rather expected that we should hear of calls for increased regulation of firearms. The proposed legislation is modest, limit the size of ammunition clip. The reactions in the local press are more interesting, not least that of our congressman, Justin Amash.

“The senseless killings in Tucson should not be used as a political tool to impinge upon our constitutional rights.”

Entirely predictable.  Amash has always styled himself as a man of principle. if the principle espoused here is less that of the Constitution than of its peculiar libertarian interpretation.  And to judge from the comments at MLive, on the ground, the big issue seems mostly to be that of convenience  — you don’t have to reload as often when target shooting.  Hardly the stuff of the Founding Fathers.

As the Press also noted

Police chiefs from around the nation pushed to retain the assault weapons ban, but their voices were drowned out by a more potent lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association.

Rep. Amash represents a mixed district: rural, suburban and a large urban area.  In this last, in the city, the questions of violence and guns , as well as a host of other issues carry a weight far different than they do in his hometown of Cascade Township.  He’s a young gun.  The challenge ahead will be how to be a representative of all the district, how to be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of urban police, as well as the police of political correctness there on K Street.

Filed under: Community, Washington, , ,

Free Speech Follies

Saturday brought word of two interesting free speech clashes.  The first takes place in Nevada, where a challenge to state recusal laws was upheld. In the face of a conflict of interest that would otherwise bar an elected official from voting, the Appeals Court ruled that in wake of Citizens United case, voting could be considered an exercise of free speech.  The details from Saturday’s New York Times:

Nevada’s law requires elected officials to disqualify themselves, much as judges often do, when they are asked to vote on matters that touch on what the law called “commitments in a private capacity.”

In 2006, not long before an election, a member of the Sparks City Council, Michael A. Carrigan, disclosed that his campaign manager was a consultant to a business seeking to develop a casino, before voting its way in a land-use matter. The Nevada Commission on Ethics later ruled that the vote was improper and censured Mr. Carrigan.

The Nevada Supreme Court reversed that decision, saying it violated the First Amendment and citing the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Citizens United. “Voting by an elected public officer on public issues is protected speech under the First Amendment,” Justice Michael Douglas wrote for the majority.

Careful with your singing!

Meanwhile, in the state to the south, a different use of Free Speech was being invoked, as the State of Arizona shut down a Mexican-American ethnic studies program at the Tucson High School.  The conflict superficially follows the bitter division in the state over Hispanics and immigration.  The perceived problem is that the program is that it is in the business of creating “little activists.”  As the New York Times makes clear, part of the reasons lie in literature (aside: while Pablo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is no friend of such conservatives, it is well worth reading), and part in pique.  It also comes wrapped in a sympathetic irony: the author of the measure, the State Superintendent of Schools, Tom Horne, also was a marcher in the great Civil Rights struggles of the 60s.

Nonetheless, the intent of the bill was to shut down the Tucson program. The bill of particulars is plain:

Programs that promote the overthrow of the United States government are explicitly banned, and that includes the suggestion that portions of the Southwest that were once part of Mexico should be returned to that country.

Also prohibited is any promotion of resentment toward a race. Programs that are primarily for one race or that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of individuality are also outlawed.

On Monday, his final day as the state’s top education official, Mr. Horne declared that Tucson’s Mexican-American program violated all four provisions.

The good news in all this has been that the school board stands with the school.

Meantime those who care about the First Amendment can only scratch their head.  How is it that one type of speech focused on ethnic pride is prohibited, but another that seems to promote “honest graft” is sanctioned? Oh well, as they say, “see you in court.”

Filed under: Horace Mann, Washington, , , , , ,

How Convenient

There’s a good reason why the Attorney General appointed a special prosecutor this past Monday. After all, even the Department of Justice report on what happened with the firing of Margaret Chiara is confused.

As Ken Kolker in the Press makes clear, the nominal reason of a disrupted office hid a more complicated, and in ways, more normal story.

The dysfunctional West Michigan District was an open invitation for mischief. And it had been that way for at least a decade: civil servants at war with their political appointee bosses. Say this about the conflict it was non-partisan. Neither the Democrat Michael Dettmer nor the Republican Chiara escaped unscathed.

So when Kyle Sampson at DOJ stated asking for replacements, the West Michigan District was a natural.

As the church lady used to say, “how con-vee-nient.”

Convenient indeed.

Officially, the report concludes that Chiara was dismissed legitimately for administrative reasons. But the actual timeline gives pause to this easy conclusion.

The key date in all this is March 5, 2005, the date on which David Margolis puts Chiara’s name on the list of possible DAs to be replaced. Once on, she never left. Indeed, there is little evidence that Chiara’s mismanagement had risen to the actionable status by this date.

As the report details, the situation in the local office did get progressively out of control, but virtually all of it after the March 5 date. Chiara’s neck is on the block long before the conflict comes to its head. Indeed, the report investigates and dismisses the allegations. The very disruption made by these allegations thus becomes the rationale for the DoJ dismissal.

Were that all there is, the dismissal would be only a case of politically convenience. But there is one other item to consider.

Why did they think it would work?

The striking, all-too-obvious aspect of the entire affair is the assumption made by the internal accusers that news of Chiara’s sexual orientation would be actionable in Washington. In the bureaucratic knife fight, they acted on a view of who already staffed DOJ.

They believed that DOJ already had an operating (and impermissible) screen, a screen that corrupts the neutrality of the Attorney’s office necessary to its function, and to a civil society. And that’s the scandal, the one that does need clearing up by the special prosecutor.

Filed under: Michigan, Washington


August 2020