RSS Contributor Archives: Speaker Jack

Updates: Steam Engines, Headnotes and 91%

mmw_SPrailroadThe Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1868 and Section 1 of that amendment begins this way:

“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (bold and italics mine – JA)

Those are the “due process” and the “equal protection” clauses of the Constitution.  Look at the date of the amendment and consider what the amendment says and you’ll be quite clear about its intent: This was entirely about protecting and advancing the condition of former slaves.  In the wake of the Civil War many southerners did whatever they could to retain their former advantage, this to the extreme disadvantage of former slaves, now free in name only, so this amendment was both clear and necessary.

Eighteen years later a lawsuit appeared on the docket of the Supreme Court.  Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad was a tax jurisdiction case that tested the provisions of then-new California laws against those of the federal government.  The case was decided in favor of the railroad and, oddly, that turned out to be the least important thing associated with this lawsuit.

The court reporter for the Supreme Court was Mr. J. C. Bancroft Davis.  He, like other court reporters of his day, was far more than a stenographer for the cases presented before the court.  Back then the job of court reporter was a most prestigious position and Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis was actually paid more money than Chief Justice Morrison Remick Waite.

Recordings of the proceedings were made with up to-the-moment technology, ink pen and paper, and Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis had the good fortune to be allowed to publish his recordings of the proceedings and collect royalties for his efforts.  Along with his best efforts to record the case by hand, he was allowed to publish what were called “headnotes”.  These are comments of the court reporter and were not part of the court’s opinions or rulings, nor intended by the court as legal precedent.  Indeed, headnotes were not even from the court proceedings, but were solely the comments of the court reporter.

Here is what Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis wrote in his headnotes to the publication of the proceedings of the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case:

The defendant corporations are persons within the intent of the clause of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States  .  .  .  “

Corporate “personhood” was not tested before the court in this case; remember that this was a simple tax jurisdiction issue.  That makes what followed Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis’ writings the strangest part of this case:  Davis’ headnotes, his editorial opinion, has been cited as precedent for all of the efforts to give corporations the same rights as flesh and blood human beings ever since.

That’s right: A constitutional amendment that was designed to protect former slaves was and is being used to give artificial personhood to inanimate corporations.  It is what is allowing billions of corporate dollars to influence our elections and bend legislation and regulation to the desires of those same corporations.  It is what drives huge cash contributions to political candidates and influences voting in Congress.

Right now 91% of Americans want universal background checks and registration for all gun sales.  Legislation to accomplish that is clumsily being cobbled together in Congress but getting our corporately influenced legislators to do the will of the people is proving to be really difficult.  And to reemphasize the insanity causing that, the engine driving congressional intransigence is based not on the decision of a court, but on an editorial opinion of one court reporter.

That strange and damaging precedent was set one hundred forty five years ago and we are still feeling its effect, perhaps now more than ever.  Likewise, the decisions we make today will be felt by our descendents one hundred forty five years from now.  That is to say, just as sure as the flow of impact from Mr. J.C. Bancroft Davis’ headnotes to us, there will be an impact of what we do today on our great-great-great-grandchildren when they are adults just like you.

You can be passive and do nothing; that is your right as an American.  After all, you have the right to vote, but not the legal obligation.  You have the right to appeal to your elected officials to act as you prefer, but that is not a requirement of citizenship, either.

On the other hand, you might want to close your eyes and envision the America you want for your children, your grandchildren and, if you can see that far, for your great-grandchildren.  Likely, if you do nothing, that’s not what they’ll inherit.  Indeed, unless you speak up, the vision of people who want a very different America from the one you want will be the America of tomorrow, because those people will be the only ones talking.

Perhaps you really do have something to say to your legislators.  Go ahead.  Tell them.  Now.

Updates: Human Being 101 – No, Really

Human Being 101 – No, Really



83% of Americans – including NRA members – want universal background checks before gun ownership changes.  That means mandatory background checks before sales at retail stores, at gun shows, private sales and even when Grandpa tearfully hands his lovingly preserved hunting rifle to his grandchild.  We want to ensure that the recipient of the firearm isn’t a homicidal maniac.


Over 65% of us believe that climate change is both real and that human beings are contributing to it in significant measure.  Two out of three Americans believe we should be taking action to stem the tides that trash our coastal cities and the drought that is scorching our fields and limiting our agricultural yields.


99% of Americans believe public education is both right and necessary for the future welfare of our children and our nation.  67% believe we need to expand pre-school education because studies have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that early childhood education leads to greater success in life.  Not surprisingly, parents in America want that for their kids, regardless of their present economic situation.


Over four out of five Americans believe in a strong national defense, while at the same time they believe that we cannot and should not engage in continuous war.   Over 90% of Americans believe that we spend far too much on military hammers, toilet seats, and unnecessary hardware and want to see a substantial reduction in those expenditures and a lot of common sense applied to the Pentagon’s activities.


Just short of 100% of Americans believe that we should stop granting tax exemptions to the world’s most profitable entities, like big oil, big finance and big anything with idyllic island locations to park their billions of dollars tax-free.


The frog boil of healthcare cost escalation that has run concurrently with a worsening of medical outcomes relative to the rest of western civilization has at last caught the attention of the majority of Americans.  They want the system fixed, not more scary slogans.  They want reasonably priced healthcare and world-class outcomes.  They want an end to the one out of two personal bankruptcies that are caused by catastrophic medical bills.  In short, they want what so many other western countries provide.


Q.  What do all of these situations have in common?


A.  Congress refuses to act in accordance with the will and desires of the majority of Americans.


Now, why is that?  The people we send to Washington to represent us are privy to the same information as the rest of us.  They certainly aren’t so bereft of intelligence that they don’t get it.  So, what explains the refusal of congress to do our will?


Turns out that it’s all about Human Being 101 and its first imperative, preservation of self.  To see how that works, you have to step through a logic tree.  Here is how it works:


  • Politicians very often act like people, in that they focus on self-interest, which for them is to get elected and then stay in office.
  • A successful campaign requires lots of television and radio advertising, which is hideously expensive, so candidates must raise a lot of money.
  • It is very difficult to raise anywhere near enough money for a successful campaign through small, individual contributions, so candidates must solicit big contributions.
  • By far the biggest contributions come from corporations and big money individuals who can contribute unlimited “soft money” to SuperPAC’s, which will air lots of television advertising for its candidate.
  • The money from all of those people and corporations is necessary for the next election, too, so politicians, once elected, refrain from actions and votes that might be objectionable to the big bucks contributors.
  • Sometimes, that puts politicians at odds with the vast majority of Americans, as they vote in favor of the interests of people who are their big contributors, and against the will and interests of those who are not.


At root, if We The People want our will to be done, like the issues listed above, we have to remove the core driver of our political dysfunction.  We cannot change human nature and politicians will continue to do what is in their self-interest.  What we can do is to demand change to political fund raising, the engine of our national political dysfunction.  Until we do that, we’re just swatting at symptoms.




Editorial note: The statistics presented in this essay are approximate due to time limitations for sourcing.  However, they are spot-on correct in their meaning.  You can look it up.  JA

Updates: Your Part

Your Part


You detested the negative, misleading and outright false TV and radio ads that you endured for what seemed like decades, although it was only for this election season just ended.  Sadly, it lasted for six painful years.  Over that period of time you and the rest of us collectively held congress in ever-lower esteem, such that it was down to 11% approval by the time you voted.  That resulted in a few seats turned over in both the House and Senate and a few of the blazing hair-on-fire radicals were made available for other employment.

America continues to be faced with a hornet’s nest of really challenging problems.  We would still have debt and deficit issues even without President Bush having started two unfunded, unnecessary wars, cut taxes and passed an unfunded drug program.  It took the concerted effort of several presidents and congresses to engineer the Wall Street meltdown that led to the massive unemployment that persists today.  And Social Security and Medicare still would eventually have shortfalls, although the beginning of the shortfalls would have been much later had our economy been strong.

The really crazy part of all of that is that instead of solving these problems or making them incrementally better during President Obama’s first term, congress did next to nothing.  And our national problems are like most problems, in that if nothing is done to fix them, they get worse.  Here is a very recent example of why our problems aren’t getting solved.

John McCain and Lindsay Graham labored tirelessly to invent a scandal over Susan Rice and her preliminary announcement of events in Benghazi, Libya.  They continued their bombastic accusations from their perch in the fact-less ignorance tree right up until the time they were forced to listen to someone in the know tell them what actually happened.  These senior senators were practicing obstructionist behavior, that of distraction via non-issue.  That causes gridlock and – get this clearly – does not solve our problems, any more than hundreds of filibusters do.

So here we are ready to start the second Obama term, once again with a divided congress.  Did I mention that our approval of congress is about 11%?  The reason that we disapprove of congress is because of the obstructionism that ensures that nothing gets better.  It is so strange, then, that we sent most of our legislators back to Washington.  We seem to disapprove of congress but we approve of our individual legislators.  Are you seeing a disconnect?

I don’t mean to imply that we should have thrown them all out.  What we should have done is to throw out all those who have shown us that they are far more interested in their own agenda than ours, like the knuckle draggers who held the world hostage over our debt ceiling last year.  The obstructionists should have been shown the door, every one of them.  We and our 11% approval congress are at odds with one another, and our part in that is that we have rehired many of the obstructionists and sent them back to exert their dysfunction on America.

There is still something we can do to get America moving forward.  Call your senators and congressman and tell them you want progress.  Tell them that you want them to solve this fiscal cliff craziness, for example.  Write them letters telling them that if they continue to obstruct that you will campaign vigorously for their removal in 2014.  Tell everyone you know to do the same.  Your legislators in Washington want to protect their careers, so all of us together just might get through to them that it’s in their interest to recognize that we are more important than their brainless pledge to Grover Norquist.

The election of 2012 is over, yet you still have a part.  You’ll always have a part.  You got up and voted.  Now, don’t go back to the couch.

Want more on the fiscal cliff?  Click here.

Updates: It Isn’t About The Message

Here are some comments made by political pundits following the election.


“The Republicans will have to change their messaging if they are going to appeal to Latinos.”


“Mitt Romney had to pivot to the center in order to attract independents.”


“Republican candidates have to stop saying things like, ’A woman’s body has a way of shutting that down [in cases of rape],’ and ‘[Pregnancy from rape] is God’s plan.’”


All that “how to win elections” talk is completely misguided, wrong-headed and even dishonest.  It seems to say that all that matters is winning an election and, therefore, that manipulation of the message and of voters is what is important.


To which I say, “Nuh-uh.”  What is important is not the pivot to the center, the crafted messaging and avoiding making stupid, physiologically erroneous statements.  All that pivoting and messaging is about attempting to fool people.  It is the beliefs and the values of the candidates as indicators of what they would do that is important and however you dress up those rape related statements, it’s clear what these goofballs would do.  Fixing their words to be more palatable would leave them just as radical.


Mitt Romney has shown his true value to America, that of being a finely honed example of disingenuousness.  John Huntsman called him, “a perfectly lubricated weather vane,” and that makes him useful and instructive about this messaging business.


Romney was “severely conservative” during the primaries, telling far righties what they wanted to hear.  If the principles he espoused at that time are his core principles, then what are we to make of the opposite views he declared during the general election campaign?  He pointed his messaging weather vane in whatever direction he figured might be to the liking of his then-current audience, even lying about his previous statements, leaving us to wonder what his actual principles (other than getting elected) might be on issues like abortion, healthcare, the auto industry bailout, Libya, a date certain for our troops to leave Afghanistan and so many others.  That left us clueless about what he might do if elected.


The abandoning of his prior, polarized positions and then claiming a moderate middle left President Obama apparently perplexed and nearly speechless during the first debate.  If you weren’t perplexed by Romney’s pivots to moderate positions, perhaps instead you felt insulted by his apparent lack of respect for your intelligence, as though he assumed you lacked memory function.


Now that the Republicans have lost big, the hand-wringing over Latino voters has begun in earnest and the talk is all about the messaging that will be needed to attract them for the next election.  All of that misses the point.  What is important isn’t the messaging; it’s the meaning.


MESSAGE TO FUTURE POLITICAL CANDIDATES:  You need to understand that Latinos don’t care much about what you say about immigration reform; they care about what you would do about immigration reform.  They don’t care any more than any other Americans how you flap your lips about Medicare and Social Security; they care about what you would do about them.  What can they count on from you?  If you’re all about the hot air of your messaging, then all you are is a manipulator and Latinos are as good as any of us in sniffing you out.


This election was about many things, including voter disenfranchisement backlash, big money influence and the price to be paid for lying to Americans.  All that pivoting and crafted messaging and biological stupid stuff gets seen for what it is, sooner or later.


So, it turns out that Lincoln was right: You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.  Eventually, they will figure out who and what you are.  You may have had your way with them for a while, but if you have been dishonest with the American people they will swat you like they would an annoying housefly and flick you away.

Updates: Not Very Brave New World

Ed. Note: The following short essay was published immediately following the 2012 primary season.  It is re-published here because the Republican nominee for the office of President of the United States  has continued to tolerate the same hate and divisiveness, exactly as he did during the primaries; worse, now he’s lying about it.


During one of the Republican primary season debates Wolf Blitzer posed a question to the candidates about healthcare.  He imagined a young fellow who was significantly ailing and was in the emergency room of a hospital where they determined that he would die if not treated immediately.  Blitzer further said to imagine that this hypothetical fellow was without financial means and did not have healthcare insurance.  His question was about what the hospital staff should do.

After a couple of beats someone in the audience shouted, “Let him die.”  There were cheers from others in the audience.  And every one of the Republicans running to be the Republican party nominee for the office of President of the United States went silent.  Not a single one of them stood up to the hate, nor chastised the meanness of the shouted comment.  Not one had the spine to display compassion for a fellow human being.

They displayed that same kind of spinelessness at another debate when a gay serviceman was shown on video with a question about gays serving openly in the military.  Audience members booed him and once again these would-be leaders were silent.  Be clear that this soldier is a man who puts his life on the line every day to protect those very same candidates and audience members, yet the candidates displayed neither spine nor compassion for him or for others like him.

Those yelling the loudest today are the far right radicals and they are not conservative.  They are not even defenders of the Constitution.  They are short sighted and closed-minded bullies masquerading as patriotic, bible thumping Christians.  America is suffering through an aggravated case of absolutist minds and it is killing our democracy.

In the early part of the last century one of the hateful signs hung on the doors of some companies read, “No Irish need apply.”  There were signs all over the Jim Crow south that read, “Whites only.”  And for decades and perhaps centuries there was and, in some places there still is, a “gentlemen’s agreement” to exclude Jews.  That’s rapidly metastasizing to include Muslims.  It’s more complicated than this, but at root it is a discrimination against anything that is not “us.”
We are seeing a willful brain numbing that says that anything that is not just like “us” is wrong, unpatriotic, godless and perhaps evil.  How odd that is in a country that draws its strength from its diversity.  We’ve always had that schizophrenic duality, but now the hateful side, the Mr. Hyde personality, is dominating the landscape in a razed earth war against everyone and everything that is not just like him.  Worse, those who would be leaders are spineless against Mr. Hyde’s voice of hate and exclusion.

This is America, so the haters have the right to their hate and the candidates have the right to their cowardice.  The real questions are these:  How long will you tolerate the hate?  What are you going to do about it?  November 6 is a good time to take a stand.