Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Trumpocalypse 10: So long, 14th Amendment.

Scott Walker Says He Would Support Article V Convention To Amend Constitution, said the innocuous-seeming headline on Madison.com, written by editors and reporters who bemoan fake news and the fate of newspapers while contributing to their own demise by completely failing to report on real news, by which I mean "did they ask follow-up questions and possibly see what it was Failed Presidential Candidate Scott Walker doesn't like about our US Constitution which is only The GREATEST CONSTITUTION IN THE WORLD?"

They did not.

Instead, the article simply and blandly quotes what appear to be press-release type quotes about how popular the move to amend the US Constitution is among Republican governors, who want to reign in the federal government despite the federal government being entirely controlled by their party.

I'm not a political reporter, of course, which means I have a memory, Google, and the desire to use them instead of just hacking away until I get my paycheck, so I googled "ALEC Article V Amendments."

You may remember "ALEC," which was kind of a big deal before the Democrats decided that they would simply blame 'fake news' for their continuing to lose elections.  "ALEC" is the "American Legislative Exchange Council" and it is essentially a lobbying group for extremely conservative reform.

ALEC has up on their website right  now an application for a Constitutional Convention which it summarizes this way:

The federal government has steadily consolidated its power while eroding state control in ways that are clearly inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Foreseeing this possibility, our constitutional framers created a method for states to introduce amendments to the U.S. Constitution through an Article V Convention. This draft model policy serves as an application to Congress to call an Article V Convention limited to proposing amendments to that will impose fiscal restraints on the federal government; limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and limit the terms of office for federal officials and members of Congress.

Now, keep in mind, none of those things are in and of themselves particularly conservative, or bad. Laws which affect both parties equally (like Virginia's stripping of gubernatorial power) can come back to bite you. Remember when the Democrats were mad that GOP senators were stalling things with filibusters? Bernie filibusters all the time, and that Texan legislator won national acclaim for filibustering a Texas abortion law. The "filibuster," by the way, is the ultimate domination of a minority (1 person, or at the most the number of people that 1 person represents) over the majority (us.)

ALEC has also set out, in a 56-page brochure, (available on PDF!) some helpful guidelines for states to call for an run an Article V convention. They include tips like "Don't make applications [for a convention] too general" and "Don't make applications to specific."

It's harder to find out what, exactly, ALEC wants the states to want the US Constitution to say. Back in August 2016 the NY Times published an article about the push for a convention, proving that reporters can report. It noted that the push arose from the fact that the GOP controls most state legislatures. The level of Democratic control of state legislatures is as low as it was at the time of the Civil War, which means the last time the Democrats were this unpopular, it was because they supported slavery.

One big thing ALEC is pushing is a 'balanced budget amendment.' This, too, is not an automatically bad thing. Thomas Jefferson wanted one, but Jefferson also wanted to prohibit the US from printing paper money. (Nor is consistency a hobgoblin in Jefferson's mind: he later busted the budget buying the Louisiana territory.)  Balanced budget amendment talk became big when pushed by a Taxpayers group beginning in the 1980s when Reagan was elected. It should be noted that whenever there is a Republican president, as there has been 20 of the last 36 years, there is nothing that keeps that Republican president from refusing to sign any budget that is not 'balanced.' Same goes for when the GOP controls Congress. The Republican push for a balanced budget amendment is the equivalent of a dieter asking you to lock his refrigerator so he can't raid it.

Then again, under most proposals, you could still raid the 'fridge under a Balanced Budget Amendment, since most proposals would require a budget to be balanced unless 3/5 of Congress -- less than that needed to override a presidential veto -- voted to UNbalance it.

While most articles focus on the Balanced Budget aspect of ALEC's Article V push (which was said to be almost near its goal in 2014, so perhaps even now people, including me, are being alarmist about, but since we were asleep at the switch on the Trumpocalypse, maybe it's time to be a bit alarmist about things again)  ALEC also wants an amendment to limit terms in the federal government. Did the Founders believe in term limits? Maybe, maybe not: Washington stepped down after two terms and every president honored that right up until FDR decided to honor the will of the people, after which the Republicans decided that the will of the people was bunk and proposed the 22nd Amendment. (The GOP controlled Congress at the time.)

But the amendment nobody seems to mention is the "Government Of The People" amendment. In this amendment. ALEC proposes to amend the Constitution to let states nullify federal laws they do not like. Nullification, too, is not a new concept: Jefferson and James Madison argued states had the right to nullify the Alien & Sedition Acts, but in 1809 the US Supreme Court said states can't nullify federal laws, what with the US Constitution saying federal laws are the 'supreme' law of the land.

Nullification was perhaps most famously argued on behalf of the states that would form the Confederacy, arguing that the states could nullify federal attempts to make African-Americans people, not property. Nullifcation has also been used, though, to try to help that cause: Wisconsin argued it could nullify the Fugitive Slave Act: Wisconsin state courts had freed a slave, finding the Act unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court reversed.

The GOP spent most of the last 6 years trying to undo Obamacare, but let's not forget the GOP's state- and federal attacks on equal rights for people, voting rights for minorities, and other fundamental areas of our society. The Amendment would let individual states -- controlled by Republicans and an increasingly-conservative judiciary (Scott Walker in Wisconsin has promoted judges who were or are members of the "Federalist Society," an extremely conservative legal group) -- nullify any laws they found inconvenient or unlikeable. Including, say, Medicare or Social Security? Possibly.  Such a move would make the United States also more balkanized, more like the European Union than like the United States; it would certainly weaken the federal government, which may sound good to some people at some times but should sound terrible to all people at all times, as it is the federal government, not the states, which have secured equal rights to people, extended the vote to women, provided for a base level of care for our elderly and disabled (shamefully low though it is, it's there), modernized commerce with the US highway system, got us to the Moon, and otherwise turned the United States from a backward, agrarian dependency to the only remaining superpower.

For now.

Snow Days

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book 89: I don't think Disney will be adapting this one any time soon.

I've always been a fan of the 'funny animal' genre of comic; back in the 1980s one of my favorite comics was "Captain Carrot And His Amazing Zoo Crew," which is more or less the antithesis of what people want out of comic books, if I judge correctly most other comics on the market.

"Funny animals" are animals that are basically people, animals that are basically human except they may or may not wear pants.

One thing I've always wondered, though, is why, if animals became like people, they would mimic people exactly  or as exactly as they can? I started thinking about that again when I watched part of Zootopia with Mr Bunches (he didn't like it, and I can say it wasn't all that great seeming, frankly), but it holds up with any 'funny animal' book or comic or movie: the animals always seem to form themselves into a semblance of human society, with slight alterations: a giant sentient chicken might, for example, have a house that resembles a coop.

Mort(e) solves the "why do animals act like humans" solution somewhat simply, and also may help explain why it would be that if a mouse suddenly became sentient and walked upright and had opposable thumbs and the like, he might act more like a human -- and along the way, Mort(e) is a very good book.

Mort(e) is about an animal uprising, told (mostly) from the perspective of a former housecat.  In the first chapter, we experience life through Mort(e)'s eyes, back when he was called "Sebastian" and was a cat in a household of a mother, father, and two kids.  The chapter is actually fairly convincing; it feels like the dim recollections of a cat, or I guess it feels how I imagine that must feel.  (My own explanation for why 'funny animals' act like humans is that we, as humans, have shortcomings in our imagination: we can't conceive of what it would be like to have a nonhuman brain in a nonhuman, or mostly nonhuman, body, and so we ultimately will always fall short of truly imagining a nonhuman society; when we imagine how a housecat looks at life, we are a human imagining how a human would imagine a housecat looks at life.)

(The exception to this might be Watership Down, a book which I only vaguely remember as being very good. I should re-read that. By this point, the only thing I remember about Watership Down is that it was about rabbits, and I remember my mom saying she hated the book because of the rabbits screaming. I don't remember any rabbits screaming?)

At the end of the first chapter, Sebastian grows larger, has his front paws turn into hands, and begins to be sentient, able to think critically and learn and act and talk (in English.)  He [SPOILER ALERT!] shoots the dad that was in the family and wanders off to find his best friend, a neighbor's dog named "Sheba."

From there, the book unfolds as a war on humans, with the war being actually caused by ants, led by their nearly-immortal queen, Hymenoptera Unus.  We meet her in the second chapter, and Mort(e) truly gets good whenever the ants are front and center: we get a solid look at how the human-ant war (a war that only the ants seem to realize is a war until it's too late) started and how it developed to its current state, where Hymenoptera Unus has managed to develop a way to disperse hormones in the air that cause all animals to mutate into more-or-less human types, with hands (animals with hooves don't get hands, to their shame) and ability to talk and reason, and these animals become the infantry in the ants' fight -- backed by "Alphas," ants that are the size of humans and can walk on their hind legs.

It's the ants in Mort(e) that are really the high point of the book: the way their society is described, their history, their communication, and the like, really does seem alien, while the ants' reasons for the war are all too human: They are disgusted by how humans act and think, seeing us as the kind of mindless disgusting bugs we think of them.

Sebastian, as I said, starts out to find his friend, and soon falls in with a military organization known as the "Red Sphinx" (their emblem, a sphinx, is of course a lion with a human head) run by "Cul De Sac," a bobcat who was chosen by the ants to lead them.  Rechristening himself "Mort(e)" to get rid of his slave name, "Mort(e)" becomes an elite commando. (The name itself was chosen from when Sebastian, newly aware, read a book of old stories, Le Morte De Arthur, but he put the (e) in parentheses so that he could be Mort, a regular guy, or Morte, death. Just goes to show there are literary hipsters even among forcibly evolved animals.)

The reason the animals mimic humans is actually part of the theme of the book -- the animals must struggle with their new lives while coping with the ongoing effects of their old. One, Wawa, is Mort(e)'s predecessor after Mort(e) retires, and she in particular is an interesting character, having been raised as a dogfighter before the war, and wanting desperately to be part of a pack; another, Bonaparte the pig (apparently a callback to Animal Farm, which I never read and I'm not going to so don't bother telling me to) was the only one of a group of pigs trapped in a barn to gain sentience, thereby avoiding being cannibalized by the dominant boars in the barn (the rest of his story is terrifying and strange, so I'll not spoil it.)

Religion and the way societies evolve is the other theme of the book, but that only slowly develops out of the rest of the story until it becomes apparent that religion is in fact one of the things the book is concerned about (it's not in any way a religious story, but does deal with how and why people believe the things they believe.)

One of the questions the book works on is whether the way our, or any, society shapes up is inevitable: Do we adopt the structures of our society, including religion and prejudices and war and fear because they are the natural end result of our being a certain way (able to think, self-aware, tool-using) or are they forced on us by higher powers demanding our allegiance and testing us to see if we are worth it?  It's an interesting idea, sort of a reverse engineering of the anthropic principle: the universe is the way it is because that's the only way a sentient people could make it be.

Even without those questions Mort(e) is a very very good book, gripping and interesting, and Sebastian/Mort(e) is one of the more interesting characters in any book I've read. Well worth reading.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Quotent Quotables: Even after reading it I'm not sure whether I totally liked the book...

But I know I don't like this:

Cynthia Jalter took my shoulder and turned me toward her, then drew her hair back and leaned forward. Her features were arranged in a special shape, a shape I recognized. She put her face against mine. A kiss.  The sticky part of her face found mine, and they oscillated together.

- As She Climbed Across The Table, Jonathan Lethem.

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