Martin Dyckman, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 24

Martin Dyckman

Martin Dyckman: Spreading fake news, a dangerous bell that can’t be unrung

So Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a Northwest Washington restaurant. Imagine that.

Actually, someone did. The fake “news” then raced around the internet like chicken pox through a kindergarten.

But who could possibly believe such trash?

Actually, people did. The restaurant and its neighbors were besieged with death threats.

And Sunday, a man from North Carolina barged into the restaurant with an assault weapon to search for the children he believed were being held there. He reportedly fired at least one shot as everyone fled.

No one was hurt — this time.

The nation is on notice now that the clamor over fake “news” on the internet is more than much ado about nothing.

Our nation abounds with fools who are willing to believe anything they see, no matter where they see it, especially if it caters to their prejudices.

Internet fakery contributed to Clinton’s defeat — to what extent, we may never know.

The worst of it is not personified by Edgar M. Welch, the 28-year-old from North Carolina who took the sex ring slander seriously and whose two children may have to visit their father in prison for a long, long time.

No, the worst of it is the people who have duped so many folks like him. They belong behind bars even more than he does, but can’t be put there.

Where they definitely don’t belong is in public offices like that of the president-elect’s national security advisor-to-be, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

Both he and his son, Michael G. Flynn, have used Twitter and other social media to spread some of the lurid stories associating Clinton with sex rings and other crimes. On Nov. 2, for example, the general posted this to Twitter:

“U decide — NYPD Blows Whistle on New Hillary Emails: Money Laundering, Sex Crimes w Children, etc. … MUST READ!”

You decide?

Flynn attached a link to his source, truepundit.com, which is to the internet as the National Enquirer is to print. The defamatory article is still featured on its site.

After Sunday’s alarming event, Flynn’s son, who was said to be on Donald Trump‘s transition team, took to Twitter to defend the slander that had provoked it.

“Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story …” he said.

Hours after Mike Pence insisted that the younger Flynn had “no involvement in the transition whatsoever,” the transition spokesman admitted in effect that he had been, but was no longer involved.

Both Flynns should have been fired.

What will deservedly remain a story is that Trump chooses advisors with such base instincts and execrable judgment. The possibility that the Russians originated these libels makes the national security adviser’s irresponsibility all the more ominous.

If somebody puts out the false news that North Korea is preparing to invade the South, would the national security adviser retweet that, saying U decide?

Trouble is, Trump’s own instincts are as bad, or worse. He plays Twitter like a pipe organ without a care as to whether what he tweets is true. His apologists would have us believe that it’s like shooting the bull over beers in a bar, that he doesn’t care that much whether what he says is true. Nonsense. He cares. He lies deliberately, knowing that the bigger the lie, the more people will swallow it.

There wasn’t a speck of evidence or truth in his Twitter claim that he would have won the popular vote but for 3 million illegal voters. To their credit, most of the media finally called the lie on that one.

But that bell can’t be unrung. There are doubtlessly more than 3 million fools who will go on believing it, and other Republicans are counting on them to help sell more voter suppression schemes to compliant legislatures and gullible courts.

“The long-running Republican war against the right to vote has now gone national at the instigation of President-elect Donald Trump,” observed a New York Times editorial.

Vice President-elect Pence, who surely knows better, was on ABC Sunday defending Trump’s “right to express his opinion.” When host George Stephanopoulos challenged the truth of it, Pence replied, “I don’t know that that’s a false statement, George and neither do you.”

This is the same deplorably deceitful diversion as Michael T. Flynn’s tweet, “U decide” and his son’s claim that the “Pizzagate” lie will remain a story until it’s proven false. The bigger the lie, paradoxically, the harder it is to prove to some people that it’s false. But that’s beside the point. If Trump or Pence have any evidence of anyone voting illegally, let them produce it.

They won’t—because they can’t. Indeed, in Michigan, Trump’s lawyers opposed a recount, saying that “all available evidence” shows that the election “was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

At least truth still matters somewhere, if only in courtrooms.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: On Jeb Bush’s relevance

Aiming to regain some relevance in the Republican Party, Jeb Bush argues that it should show voters that it stands “for a few a big ideas” rather than only for things to vote against.

Regrettably, four specific ideas that he proposed in a Nov. 24 Wall Street Journal op-ed are not simply big but bad.

“Republicans should support convening a constitutional convention to pass term limits, a balanced budget amendment and restraints on the Commerce Clause, which has given the federal government far more regulatory powers than the Founders intended,” he wrote.

By far the worst is the notion of calling a constitutional convention to pass anything. The Constitution obliges the Congress to call one upon the request of 34 states, but it says nothing about how delegates would be chosen or whether the agenda could be limited to any one issue or set of issues. The uncertainties are so potentially dangerous that this method of amendment has never gone far.

A convention could call for scrapping the entire Constitution, replacing it with we know not what.

The Constitution itself is the product of a convention that was called to revise, not replace, the feeble Articles of Confederation.

That was progress. In the current sour national mood, would a convention respect what’s good about the Constitution — the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary? Or would it reward the authoritarian instincts of an incoming president who has no respect for any of that?

Just this week, our budding dictator called for revoking the citizenship of people who burn the flag. Never mind that it’s the approved method for disposing of one that’s tattered or soiled.

Could a convention abolish the Electoral College? No, because there are not 38 states that would ratify such an amendment.

Would convention delegates be elected or appointed by the state legislatures, which are so badly gerrymandered as to be essentially unrepresentative? If delegates were to be elected, would the Koch Brothers and their big-money allies effectively buy themselves a convenient Constitution?

Bush’s suggestion of a convention as a means to term limits looks like a deep knee-bend to Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has already told Trump to forget about that one.

“We have term limits now. They’re called elections,” says McConnell. For once, I agree with him.

Senate elections can be brutally competitive—we’ve just seen some—except in the most extremely red or blue states. Everywhere, party primaries can and do dispose of seemingly entrenched senators. Indiana’s Richard Lugar comes to mind. As The Washington Post has noted, 64 of the 100 senators have been there less than 10 years, and slightly more than half the 435-member House are new since 2008.

House elections are not nearly as competitive as they should be, but that’s because of gerrymandering. The federal courts are finally showing signs of doing something about that.

The term limits initiative that Bush’s buddy Phil Handy foisted on Florida in 1992 ranks as the second worst mistake — behind secession — the state ever made. It did little to promote more turnover. It made the Legislature worse, dumbing it down and leaving it weaker against the lobbyists, its leadership and the executive branch.

If it weren’t for term limits, Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd—widely disliked but still powerful—could not have said, as he did in 2004, that his members were “like sheep, waiting for someone to tell them what to do.”

The damage works this way: Having only eight years to make their marks in the House or Senate, new members must follow the leaders or their bills won’t be heard and they will never become committee chairs.

In older, better days, legislators could dare to be independent in the knowledge that they could outlast unfriendly leaders. That was true of some who went on to become speakers and Senate presidents themselves. But now, in the House, a future speakership can be nailed down by a freshman who has not yet shown any good judgment or any other leadership quality.

“If you’ve sided with the wrong people, you’re in the doghouse or in the mid-tier, you are more likely to get attracted to any open county commission seat,” departing Sen. Daniel Webster told the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas in 2008.

Klas calculated that only 31 legislators remained from the 83 who had been elected when term limits disposed of their predecessors eight years earlier. But only five of the 83 had been voted out of office before their time ran out.

Although term limits have increased competition for open seats, they seem to be discouraging opposition to incumbents. Potential challengers wonder, reasonably, why they should invest time and money against an incumbent rather than wait for his or her enforced departure. The result: some incumbents could not care less what the voters might think of their deeds in Tallahassee.

What’s most wrong there, as in other state capitals, is the redistricting that leaves too many seats safe for one party or the other, giving the voters no effective choice. Of the 120 Florida legislators voting on new districts during a special session in October 2015, nearly a third—50—were elected without any primary or general election challenge.

As for Jeb’s other dubious reforms, I know of not nation that hogties itself the way a balanced budget amendment likely would, giving extreme power to minority voices in event of an emergency. History suggests an alternative: elect Democrats. Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress balanced the budget and generated a surplus.

As for the Commerce Clause, it was perhaps the single most important provision the Founders established to knit together the 13 independent states into a functioning economy. There is already a check on the Commerce Clause: It’s the Supreme Court, as the court implied in rejecting the clause as a justification for Obamacare, which it upheld only under a different provision, the power to tax.

The future of our country is already uncertain enough in the hands of an unqualified and irrational president-elect. We hardly need a constitutional convention, or any of Jeb Bush’s other bad ideas, to make things worse.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times.

Martin Dyckman: Our ‘flawed’ Electoral College, mistrusting the people

When the news flashed on Facebook before the election that Queen Elizabeth II had offered to take us back, some people failed to recognize it as one of Andy Borowitz‘s deft satires from the New Yorker.

And some, I’m sure, now wish it were true.

Afterward, a friend in Britain wrote to offer refuge — many thanks, Bob, but not yet — and remarked that “there must be a flaw in a system which produces such an outcome.” He was “rather surprised at how many people failed to vote.”

That flaw is the Electoral College. For the fourth time in our history, and the second in 16 years, it has given the presidency to the candidate who polled fewer votes — significantly fewer in this case — than his principal rival.

That is hard to explain — actually, it’s indefensible — even to our own people. How can a country that calls itself a democracy tolerate it?

The founders didn’t trust the people.

“Your people, sir, is nothing but a great beast,” Alexander Hamilton is supposed to have said to his bitter enemy, Thomas Jefferson.

“The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God,” Hamilton told the Constitutional Convention in 1787, “and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second…”

So they created a republic, not a democracy. In particular, they didn’t trust the people to elect a president. They meant for the less populated states to have an outsized influence. That had a lot to do with protecting slavery.

There is still no guaranteed right to vote, though it can no longer be denied on account of race, color, gender, or to persons over 18.

In the Federalist papers, Hamilton remarked that presidential selection was the least controversial aspect of the pending Constitution.

It would be “made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station … A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.”

 The electors have long since been reduced to ceremonial functionaries (do you know or even care who yours are?), but the mechanism and the malapportion persist. Wyoming’s three electors each represent 187,922 people. A California elector speaks for 677,354. The Wyoming voter has more than three times the weight of one in California.

Among the 16 smallest states and the District of Columbia, Hillary Clinton actually won more electors — 39 — than Donald Trump, who had 29. But those 29 were eight more than his winning margin. The eight small states that he won have barely one percent of the U.S. population, but they accounted for 10 percent of his electoral votes.

Another feature of that founding flaw is that it discourages turnout in any state where the vote isn’t expected to be close. If that Wyoming voter is a Democrat and the California voter is a Republican, their votes don’t matter at all. With direct election, every vote would weigh the same. The presidential campaign would not be confined to a dozen or so “battleground states,” those that neither side can take for granted.

So, what can we do about this?

For one thing, we could amend the Constitution. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has introduced a bill to do that. But this will likely be the last you hear of it. Amendment requires a three-fifths vote in each house (not two-thirds as I erroneously wrote recently) and approval by three-fourths (38) of the states. Democrats are short of even a majority in those categories and Republicans are quite unlikely to favor reform.

That’s because every candidate who won the popular vote and lost the election was a Democrat:

— Andrew Jackson, 1824. With four candidates splitting the electoral vote, the House had to decide and gave it to John Quincy Adams instead. Jackson spent the next four years railing about a “corrupt bargain” and wiped out Adams in 1828.

— Samuel J. Tilden, 1876. He led by some 250,000 votes, but a Congressional commission awarded the electors from Florida and two other disputed states to Rutherford B. Hayes, who promised to withdraw federal troops from the South and end Reconstruction. That really was a corrupt bargain.

— Al Gore, 2000. Florida’s famously fouled up vote-count was decisive for George W. Bush by the official margin of 537 votes

— Hillary Clinton, 2016. Her national popular vote margin and her electoral vote deficit are both larger than Gore’s.

There’s another remedy, simpler and more feasible than a constitutional amendment. The Constitution leaves it to the legislatures to determine how electors are chosen.

Under an active proposal called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, states would instruct their electors to vote for whoever wins the popular vote. Ten state legislatures and the District of Columbia have already agreed to this, but it’s effective only when states representing 270 electoral votes, the majority, have joined. The 11 account for 165, more than halfway there.

But it’s hard to see where the remaining 105 electoral votes could be found. All 11 present members of the compact voted for Clinton. The other states she carried would add only 47 more votes, and most of them have Republican legislatures, as do most of Trump’s states.

What would it take to persuade the Republicans?

A reverse of 2000 and 2016 could do it: A Democrat loses the popular vote but wins 270 or more electors. That’s a long shot, but it’s not inconceivable. A moderate Republican in the mold of George H.W. Bush could hold the Democrats to narrow victories in the swing and safely blue seats while winning by large margins in the others.

Trouble is, it’s hard to imagine a moderate being nominated by the GOP in its present mode. If the popular vote is to prevail in the near future, the Democrats may just have to nominate stronger candidates, show a more compelling sense of purpose, and run better campaigns than they did this year and 16 years ago.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Richard Corcoran brings wisdom to reign in Tallahassee lobbyists

On one of my earliest days covering the Florida Legislature, I was walking along the main hall a few feet behind Jack Lee, the lobbyist for Associated Industries, when a document dropped out of his portfolio. He didn’t seem to notice, so I picked it up, intending to return it to him.

I barely had time to realize that it was an amendment form for a Senate bill, neatly typed in the proper places, when he turned and snatched it from my hands with an unprintable curse.

I had assumed that legislators wrote their own bills and amendments. How naive.

Note, though, that I have identified him as the lobbyist for Associated Industries. Although it was the most muscular business lobby in Tallahassee, it made do with just Lee. So did nearly all the heavy hitters.

They worked together, of course, whenever something came along, like Gov. Reubin Askew‘s proposed corporate income tax in 1971, to threaten their common interests. They were all watching from the galleries as it passed one house and then the other. They were confident that they wouldn’t lose.

“They lied to us!” one of them shouted out as the Senate’s tote board signaled they were wrong about that.

Much has changed about lobbying, rarely for the better, in the ensuing 45 years. On the positive side, lobbyists now must report what they are paid and spend. Gift-taking restrictions put at least one restaurant out of business. But the worst of it is that the lobbyists now routinely work in teams — often very large teams.

Where there only a few hundred in the 1960s and 1970s, there were 1,914 registered during the 2016 session. That’s nearly 12 for each legislator. They represented 3,893 principals ranging from charities, cities, and trade associations to America’s largest corporations.

AT&T, for example, boasted 71 lobbyists last spring. Associated Industries, host to a lavish party before every session, hired 45.

Each lobbyist, in turn, had other clients. Ronald L. Book, whose influence is legendary, had 101.

How do the various teams keep from stumbling over one another? How do they keep from crushing legislators under a press of bodies? Considering how the Legislature is often a multi-ring circus, with simultaneous action in multiple committees or on both House and Senate floors, how does one person represent 101 interests?

To ask those questions is to see the wisdom of incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s proposal to ban lobbyists from sending text messages to representatives while they are in committee or in session.

The smartphone is another of those negative developments since the 1960s. The lobbyists don’t use theirs just to coordinate with other members of their teams and flash warnings when something unfriendly pops up. Each team has a designated leader to watch what’s coming up. There are services that monitor all the bills and amendments for them. Then the team members assigned to their respective lawmakers can use their iPhones, Androids, or BlackBerrys to pull their strings without ever being seen.

If Corcoran prevails, as he surely will, the lobbyists will have to go back to doing that the old way — by sending written notes into the chamber or sitting in the gallery to wag hand signals. It works, but not as effortlessly, efficiently, or secretly. We reporters loved to scan the gallery for those signals or stand by the chamber doors to see who was handing notes to the sergeants at arms.

There’s a lot else to like in the reforms that Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is expected to propose. One of the most significant would require a lobbyist to report each bill, amendment, or appropriation that he or she is trying to influence.

So when some turkey appears as if by magic in an appropriations committee conference report, it will be evident who put it there.

Corcoran is not so likely to get approval for a constitutional amendment requiring ex-legislators to wait six years, rather than only two as now, before lobbying their former colleagues.

For one thing, nearly everyone in the term-limited Florida Legislature is either thinking about becoming a lobbyist later or has at least thought about it.

For another, a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each house, and that is a bridge very, very far.

But it will be fun to see who votes how.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper formerly known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina

 

Martin Dyckman: Remembering the broad, deep integrity of Janet Reno

On the next to last morning of our nation’s most dreadful campaign, my wife questioned whether it’s possible to be a politician without losing one’s soul. As I started to name those I knew who had kept theirs, word came that my old friend Janet Reno had died. I rested my case.

Her integrity ran broad and deep.

Reporters liked to write about the little things, such as carrying change to feed Washington parking meters while she was attorney general or refusing to haggle over the price of a new red truck because she didn’t want to take favors.

And there were the big things, like taking the blame for the disastrous FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco.

That was representative of the fullest measure of her character, which was an unflinching candor. No matter what she said, you knew she wasn’t shading PR spinning anything.

That trait served Florida especially well in 1972, when she was staff director for the judiciary committee in the Florida House of Representatives. It was tasked with creating a modern and efficient judicial system to replace a century-old hodgepodge that confounded even lawyers trying to figure out in which courts to file cases.

There were so many people with turf to protect — including circuit judges jealous of their prestige, lesser judges who wanted to keep their sinecures or become circuit judges, municipal judges and justices of the peace who didn’t have to be lawyers, elected constables independent of the elected sheriffs, and legislators with friends in all those places — that the Constitution Revision of 1968 skipped over that area altogether.

The Legislature tried again in 1970 but the voters, wisely, saw that plan as insufficient improvement and rejected it.

A rare combination of circumstances presented the chance to try again if the amendment could be put on the ballot at a special election in March 1972. Gov. Reubin Askew, House Speaker Richard A. Pettigrew and the judiciary chairman, Rep. Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, were enthusiastic. It was D’Alemberte who had chosen Reno, a fellow lawyer and friend from Miami, for his staff.

There was Dempsey Barron, the judiciary chair in the Senate, to contend with. A rough-edged conservative from Panama City, he was equally committed to court reform, but he wanted it his way. Compromising with him — on that or anything — would be difficult.

Barron did not suffer fools gladly, and he had no use for anyone, fellow legislator or not, who might try to finesse him.

But he respected people who could speak bluntly to him and not back down.

That’s where Reno saved the day. She became Barron’s de facto staff director as well as D’Alemberte’s, partly because the Senate was cheap about hiring employees. She also captured and held Barron’s respect with her plain-speaking — and by not showing  fear of him as others at the Capitol sometimes did.

“It would not have passed both houses without her,” Pettigrew told me on the day she died.

After that success, Pettigrew ran for the state Senate, against a powerful veteran there, and Reno helped him campaign to such an extent that she neglected her own campaign for the Florida House.

“She thought that it was enough just to be a Democrat,” Pettigrew said.

It was a familiar mistake — one that came home again with far larger consequences just this week.

The Republican who defeated her — a first-time event in Dade County — was as surprised as she was.

But for that, she might have gone on to be governor or a U.S. senator. Instead, she returned to Tallahassee to help Pettigrew rewrite the state criminal code. Not long after, Dade State Attorney Richard Gerstein hired her and she succeeded him, by Askew’s appointment, when Gerstein retired.

Reno laughed as much as anyone when Askew, who was tone-deaf to innuendo, was asked why he had chosen her over others and replied, “She stacks up better.”

When Parkinson’s disease finally took her life Monday morning, I thought it was a pity that she did not live to see the first woman elected president. It turned out to be a blessing that she did not live to see what happened instead.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Supreme Court vacancy makes GOP Senate just as bad as Donald Trump

It’s in our genes here in America that the losers of an election congratulate the winners and we all move on. That’s more than good manners. It’s the survival instinct of any democracy.

Donald Trump‘s contempt for that disgusts Republicans as well as Democrats and independents.

But look closer. There are 54 members of his party who are already denying the outcome of an election — the last one. And, like Trump, they’re threatening to defy the results of the next one.

I’m talking about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the 53 sheep in his fold. Although President Obama was re-elected for a four-year term, the Party of No declared it over three years, one month and 25 days after his inauguration.

That’s when Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and the Republicans refused even to give him a hearing.

The Republicans, frustrated and embarrassed by the failure of McConnell’s pledge to make Obama a one-term president, now hold that Supreme Court vacancies during a president’s last year are for the next president to fill.

That is unfounded anywhere in the Constitution or Senate rules, and it’s in direct conflict with the most recent precedent. Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed in February 1988, the last year of Ronald Reagan‘s term, by a unanimous vote.

Now, the Republican senators are making a threat scarcely less irresponsible than Trump’s. They’re saying they won’t confirm any Hillary Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court.

This is how John McCain put it in an unguarded moment during a talk show interview on behalf of Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who’s in well-deserved danger of losing his seat.

“I promise,” McCain said, “that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up. I promise you. This is where we need the majority, and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.

“This is the strongest argument I can make to return Pat Toomey, so we can make sure there are not three places on the United States Supreme Court that will change this country for decades.”

To put it the other way, it’s the strongest argument for subtracting Marco Rubio in Florida, Richard Burr in North Carolina, Toomey in Pennsylvania and every other Republican incumbent — including, sad to say, McCain himself — from any future Senate majority.

I have always respected McCain for his service and suffering as a prisoner of war, as a senator who often sought bipartisan compromise on campaign reform and other issues, and — until his inexplicable choice of a running mate — as a candidate for president.

But this is too much. He’s saying that even if a majority of the American people elects Hillary Clinton, the Senate owes those voters no respect. That’s power politics at its worst.

It didn’t take McCain, and others, very long to see that they needed to pull the foot from his mouth. He’s now promising to consider any nominee she sends up fairly. But not necessarily to vote for him or her, no matter the qualifications. What they’re really saying is that if she doesn’t send them more Antonin Scalias, they’ll let the court stay short-handed.

“There is talk,” writes Joe Klein in TIME, “of blocking all Supreme Court nominees until the court withers down to a seven-person bench with a conservative majority.”

The Republicans have controlled the Supreme Court since Ronald Reagan, and the country is worse off in many ways for it. This election is indeed a referendum on the court. Since the Republicans are preparing to ignore it, they deserve to forfeit the Senate as well as the presidency.

The Democrats will pick up Senate seats, perhaps enough for a majority, but not enough for the 60 to break a filibuster. So there’s talk of using the so-called nuclear option, a loophole in Senate rules, to eliminate filibusters against Supreme Court nominees. This has already been done with respect to lower-ranking judicial vacancies, although senators can still single-handedly block nominees from their states.

To do that for the Supreme Court will require a Democratic majority or at least 50 seats with Tim Kaine casting the vice president’s tiebreaker.

Since both parties have used — and abused — the filibuster, neither is comfortable about trashing it.

But a less drastic remedy is possible. At the outset of the next term, when a simple majority can change Senate rules, the Democrats could — and should — provide that the Senate would be deemed to have consented to a nomination once 60 or 90 days have passed without an up-or-down vote.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” wrote the former British Parliamentarian Lord Acton in 1887.

American conservatives are particularly fond of that familiar phrase, but those in the U.S. Senate don’t seem to think that it applies to them. It’s time for the voters to remind them that it does.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Cowards who stand aside

“Once to every man and nation

“Comes the moment to decide

“In the strife of truth with falsehood

“For the Good or Evil side

…..

“Then it is the brave man chooses,

“While the coward stands aside”

American poet James Russell Lowell wrote those words in 1844 during the intensifying crisis over slavery.

They speak to us again.

Donald Trump is a uniquely evil candidate for president. It is indeed a moment to decide.

Evil?

I don’t wield that adjective casually.

Trump’s gross sense of sexual entitlement, as he boasted in the Billy Bush tape, isn’t even the worst of it. We already knew about that aspect of his sleaziness, a misogyny bordering on perversion.

But just as it appeared it couldn’t get any lower than that, it did.

The cornered hyena struck back by threatening to prosecute and imprison his opponent if he wins.

And that didn’t end with the debate. He’s been feeding it like raw meat to his howling mobs, reveling in their chants of “Lock her up.”

There has never been anything like that in American politics.

It’s what foreign tyrants like his darling Vladimir Putin do — that is, when they’re not simply killing their rivals. It’s what Fidel Castro, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Augusto Pinochet did to theirs. The list is long: Zimbabwe, Iran, North Korea, Turkey, and others.

“Republicans should not be okay with @realDonaldTrump threatening to jail his opponent after the election,” wrote Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. “That is not who we are.”

Flake was an early and honorable critic of his party’s putrid nominee. He didn’t wait for the sewer to overflow.

But far too many other Republicans still pretend for public consumption that Trump is fit to be president.

They are the cowards who stand aside.

That Trump is morally and mentally unfit and unworthy in every respect for the presidency is only part of the problem.

The other is that he has laid bare and energized the ugly underside of American society. We host a virulent racism rooted in the original national sin of slavery. There is angry intolerance for the diversity reflected in our founding motto, e pluribus Unum — from many, one. There is hostility especially to the give-and-take political process upon which our democracy depends.

Not all Trump supporters harbor these hatreds, but those who do will not fade away with his defeat. He seems, in fact, to be setting himself as up as a third force in American politics, subsuming the tea party in an authoritarian movement that most of us hoped could never happen here.

The Republican Party bears enormous blame for this. Although conscientious Republicans were instrumental in passing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts of the 1960s, it was a series of their presidential candidates — Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan — who exploited Southern resentment to infect their party with racism and move it far to the right.

There has been an endless parade of Republican politicians making their way into government by denouncing the very same political system at whose trough they feed.

This is the paranoia upon which Trumpism feeds.

Who in the GOP spoke out to denounce Trump in the four years he spent subverting President Obama‘s administration with the birther myth? I can remember only Colin Powell defending the president’s legitimacy. Other Republicans were happy to see someone with Trump’s celebrity doing their dirty work for them.

Now they are shocked — shocked! — someone so vile is their nominee.

Give credit to those who refused, early and honorably, to wallow in the sewer. They include the former presidents Bush, Jeb Bush and his friend and adviser Mac Stipanovich, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and others who couldn’t stomach Trump’s demonization of Hispanics and Muslims, and also marked him — accurately—as not conservative.

The good news, according to USA Today, is that more than a fourth of elected top Republicans — governors and members of Congress — are now refusing to endorse his candidacy.

But the bad news is that nearly three of four of these so-called leaders still refuse to repudiate his candidacy despite his contempt for women and his threat to become a tyrant. Denouncing his gross behavior and his dirty mouth isn’t enough. He is unfit in every way for any office, let alone the highest in the land. No politicians who pretend otherwise are fit for office themselves.

As has been written, Marco Rubio would rather debase himself — and his office — than risk alienating the tea partiers who put him into the Senate. It figures. He’s been nothing but an opportunist throughout his career, which has been defined by winning offices he hasn’t earned and puts to no good use.

Rubio is hardly alone, of course, in putting his own welfare ahead of his country’s.

Rubio and all other Trump apologists deserve to be defeated, every one of them. For our country’s sake, they must be. For the Republican Party’s own sake, they must be.

The cowards should be pushed aside.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

 

Martin Dyckman: Donald Trump pick Charles Canady could bring ‘dog whistles’ to SCOTUS

martin dyckman
Martin Dyckman

What sort of Supreme Court justices would Donald Trump appoint?

For an insight, consider the case of Kathy Johnson v. Omega Insurance Co., decided by the Florida Supreme Court Sept. 29.

One of his prospective nominees was on the wrong side of that.

The business model of an insurance company is to take as much of the policyholder’s money as possible and pay back as little as the law allows. To use a currently familiar phrase, its “fiduciary responsibility” is to the stockholders, not the policyholders.

It sometimes takes an expensive court case like Johnson’s to put the relationship in a better balance. That’s what the Florida Supreme Court did when it ruled, 6-1, that an insurance company had to pay the legal fees and costs she racked up in proving that a sinkhole was responsible for the major damage to her home in Marion County. It ultimately cost $213,465 to repair.

Omega Insurance denied her claim on the basis of an engineering firm’s finding that the damage owed to something other than a sinkhole. Johnson hired lawyers to file suit. They hired another engineering consultant, who opined that yes, it was a sinkhole, and that Omega’s report was badly done.

When a third consultant confirmed the sinkhole verdict, Omega gave up and agreed to pay for the damages, but not for Johnson’s yet-to-be-decided attorney fees or some $100,000 in court courts. The trial judge ruled Omega should pay those too. The 5th District Court of Appeal disagreed.

At Tallahassee, the Supreme Court chastised the 5th District for not paying attention to what it had already said in such cases.

“We have consistently explained that the purpose of this statute is to provide an adequate means to afford a level process and make an already financially burdened insured whole again, and to also discourage insurance companies from withholding benefits on valid claims,” wrote Justice C. Fred Lewis.

The need is “deeply rooted in public policy,” he explained.

Indeed it is. Otherwise, insurance companies would have a compelling incentive to deny claims on the basis of “evidence” that hapless policyholders couldn’t afford to contest.

Omega argued that it should be on the hook for Johnson’s fees and costs only if it had deliberately acted in what lawyers call “bad faith.” Not so, countered Lewis.

“It is the incorrect denial of benefits, not the presence of some sinister concept of ‘wrongfulness,’ that generates the basic entitlement to the fees if such denial is incorrect,” Lewis wrote, quoting from an earlier decision.

The national significance in this is that the solitary dissent was by Justice Charles Canady, the Florida Court’s most conservative member. He is among 21 people Trump has said he would consider for the nation’s highest court.

Canady’s dissent — which Lewis wrote extensively to rebut — turned on technicalities. He argued that the court didn’t have jurisdiction to hear Johnson’s appeal. The merits of her case didn’t matter.

Justice Ricky Polston is the court’s other frequent conservative dissenter, but even he broke with Canady this time, concurring only in the majority’s result but not in its reasoning. He didn’t say why.

Both of them dissented in April when the majority agreed to stay Florida’s latest anti-abortion law, a 24-hour waiting period, while the court decides whether to hear an appeal on the merits.

Although many of the court’s decisions are unanimous, dissents by Canady and Polston are common on questions of access to the court by individuals doing battle with corporations. The stock conservatism of either justice would appeal to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies that appear to have the Trump campaign’s attention.

They dissented also when the court overturned the Republican Legislature’s congressional redistricting as a violation of Florida’s constitutional “fair districts” amendments.

Canady’s name, in particular, is a dog whistle to the anti-abortion lobby. As a member of Congress, he claimed credit for crafting the emotionally laden phrase “partial birth abortion.”

He was one of the managers the House appointed to prosecute its unsuccessful impeachment case against President Bill Clinton.

On the infrequent occasions when the court overturns a murder conviction or reduces a sentence from death to life, Canady and Polston usually dissent. In one case, however, they voted as the condemned man wished: to let him die. The liberal justices ordered a new trial.

It would be difficult to find a more sanguinary opinion than the dissent they filed in March 2014, when the majority upheld the Jacksonville murder conviction of Michael Yacob but reduced his death sentence to life in prison.

Florida’s law requires the court to review every death sentence for “proportionality” — in other words, does the condemned person deserve execution as much as others?

Writing the dissent, Canady agreed that “the death sentence in this case is not proportionate.” But he argued that Florida’s Constitution bars the court from considering proportionality because the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t require it.

That point of view could become the majority’s following the mandatory retirement of the court’s four most liberal members by January 2019. Gov. Rick Scott‘s hand-picked nominating commission will select all the finalists.

The Canady dissent shocked Chief Justice Jorge Labarga into writing an extensive rebuttal.

” … Unless an edict is handed down by the (U.S.) Supreme Court declaring that comparative proportionality review is inconsistent with proper capital sentencing review, I will continue to make a proportionality review in every case in which I am called upon to place my judicial imprimatur on a sentence of death. It is my fervent hope that this Court will also continue to do so as a body,” he wrote.

With Canady and other like-minded Trump appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court, his hands could be tied.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Now is no time for exalted idealism

Your vote is a terrible thing to waste.

That lesson was demonstrated 16 years ago, when his contested margin of 537 votes in Florida made George W. Bush president of the United States.

From that came the invasion of Iraq and the present turmoil and bloodshed in the Middle East, the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito and much else that Al Gore would not likely have done.

It could be said, though that those 537 votes were less responsible than the 138,067 votes that were wasted on 12 candidates who didn’t have even a remote chance to become president.

Yes, there were many times as many Floridians who never showed up. But that happens in every election. Here, we’re talking about people who deliberately threw their votes away. Some did so to make a point; others were simply clueless.

Ralph Nader got 97,488 of their votes to run a far distant third behind Vice President Al Gore. To this day, many people blame Nader for what followed.

But then you could also blame James Harris, the Socialist Workers Party candidate, who polled 562 votes—more than Bush’s margin– or Pat Buchanan, the isolationist, who got 17,481, or the Libertarian ticket that drew some 16,000.

One of my sons voted for Nader. I had tried to persuade him that it wasn’t a good time for exalted idealism.

“Dad,” he said, “this is my first vote. How can you ask me to vote for someone I don’t like?”

I woke him on the morning after with the news that Bush was ahead by the thinnest possible margin.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

In Tallahassee two weeks ago, I met a professional man who said he had voted for Donald Trump in this year’s Florida Republican primary because he didn’t want Jeb Bush to win.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Perhaps Bush would still have won in 2000 had Nader not been on the ballot, but that seems unlikely. Few Floridians who thought Gore wasn’t liberal enough would have preferred Bush.

Now, the polls suggest a possible replay of 2000 — a critically tight race in Florida that could be tipped one way or the other by people who so dislike the major party candidates as to waste their votes on the Libertarian or Green Party tickets.

Some of these may be young, first-time voters, flush with idealism, who want to see the world as they think it ought to be rather than as it is.

But this is the way it is: The next president will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. If you vote for anyone else, or don’t vote at all, you are voting, in effect, for the one who will win.

And Nov. 9, it will be too late to say you’re sorry.

We’d be far, far better off with a runoff system. It would give those idealistic voters two chances: one, to vote with their hearts; two, to help decide which of the plausible candidates actually will win.

A runoff would also be less help to extremist candidates like the current Republican nominee.

A runoff no longer requires a second election. Methods and technology now enable voters to rank their choices. Maine voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to adopt this for their state elections. It would set a wonderful example.

The second great reform we need is to nullify the Electoral College. It was intended to be a bulwark against demagogues and other untrustworthy candidates. As a New York Times headline put it, “Trump is the man the founders feared.”

The firewall fell when Americans soon insisted on choosing the president themselves rather than through surrogates. We’re lucky, perhaps, that it has taken so long to have a nominee who is as unprepared, unfit and unworthy as Trump showed himself to be in the debate Monday night.

But the archaic mechanism of the electoral system remains, dictating that candidates spend virtually all their time and attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. Unsurprisingly, this depresses the turnout nearly everywhere else.

According to data posted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the 2012 turnout of voting-age population averaged nearly 63 percent in 10 swing states but only 54.8 in the others. (Florida’s was 61.37 percent.) Nationally, it was not quite 57 percent.

So far in 2016, half of the post-convention campaign events have been in only four states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina. Nearly nine in 10 have been there and in seven other “battleground” states. More than half the states have been ignored; Texas, California, and New York nearly so, except as sources of campaign money.

(See http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/)

Repealing the electoral system by constitutional amendment is not a promising option.

There is, however, a practical and simple way to get around it. Under model legislation known as the National Popular Vote agreement, state legislatures would instruct their electors to vote for whomever wins the most votes nationwide. The Constitution gives them that power. The agreement binds those states that adopt it only when enough have done so to account for 270 electoral votes. States representing half that number have already on board.

Had that been in force 16 years ago, Florida’s hanging chads, “butterfly ballot” and infinitesimal margin wouldn’t have mattered. More to the point, Americans almost everywhere else would have been more motivated to vote. And the legitimacy of the outcome would not have remained forever in doubt.

Now, more than ever, is no time for any more wasted votes.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

Martin Dyckman: Thinking of voting for Donald Trump? Do yourself a favor and ask why

“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,

“The reason why — I cannot tell;

“But this I know and know full well,

“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.”

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have their liabilities, but his are so much more numerous and serious than hers that the race should not be nearly as close as it seems to be.

Why is he even competitive? More depends on the answer to that question than rested upon on the outcome of any presidential election that I can remember.

If you’re for Trump because you agree with what you think he stands for, or if you just can’t bear to vote for any Democrat, or if you simply admire his chutzpah, well, so be it.

But how can you be sure what he stands for? There have been no consistent themes in his message other than the undercurrent of intolerance that breeds violent words and physical assaults at his rallies.

Or perhaps you think he speaks for those “who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change.”

Those are Hillary Clinton’s words. She spoke them in sympathy with fully half of Trump’s supporters right after that ill-chosen — but accurate — description of the other half as a “basket of deplorables.”

The media has largely — and, I believe, intentionally — overlooked the kind words she said.

Trump has not proposed the slightest remedy for a government that shafts working people because it is controlled by wealthy investors and by corporations like the one charging $600 for a lifesaving drug.

Clinton would cut them down to size by ridding the country of the curse of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that sold you and I and all ordinary Americans out to the power of big money.

Trump never mentions that.

Clinton is capable, qualified, intelligent, and experienced.

Trump is the most morally unfit, unprepared and untrustworthy candidate ever to seek the presidency. He’s made a life’s work out of stiffing people who work or invest with him, or trusted in ventures such as his misnamed “university.” He is exuberantly ignorant of everything a president should know. He’s a narcissistic bully whose expressed admiration for tyrants like Vladimir Putin is fair warning of how a President Trump would abuse power.

And yet the race is competitive.

So if you’re thinking of voting for Trump simply because you don’t like or trust Clinton, please do yourself, your children and your country a favor. Ask why.

Is it because she voted for the Iraq War? Well, Trump supported that too.

Is it because of her emails?  Nothing about that even remotely justifies electing someone like Trump, who won’t reveal what are surely some highly damaging tax returns, rather than someone like Clinton, whose finances are an open book.

Is it because of Benghazi? The blame really belongs to the gang of Republican hypocrites in Congress who cut funding for embassy security.

Is it because she isn’t charismatic like Barack Obama? Because she’s not an aw-shucks candidate like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush?  Well, this isn’t a contest for Homecoming Court or first place on a reality show. The presidency is deadly serious business. Charisma is nice, but not indispensable. The “likability” issue reeks of misogyny.

Or is it simply because she’s your Dr. Fell? You don’t like her, but you don’t know why?

In that case, I’ll tell you why. It’s because that vast right-wing conspiracy is a fact, not a figment of her imagination. Professional propagandists and right-wing hacks have been after the Clintons for more than 25 years, never distinguishing between valid criticism and slander. The right wing abhors progressive senators and presidents whom they can’t control. They have had an effect. What’s amazing is that she perseveres.

The Citizens United decision, one of the Supreme Court’s worst ever, was about her. Let’s not forget that.

As the case went to the court, the question was only whether a professional propaganda shop named Citizens United could legally distribute a video attacking Clinton during her 2008 presidential race. It was a question of whether the campaign finance law applied to that kind of material.

In an act of staggering judicial activism, John Roberts recast the question into whether there could be any limits on a corporation’s spending on behalf of or against a candidate.

And now Trump’s new deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, comes to his campaign straight from Citizens United. The Washington Post characterized Bossie as “the Captain Ahab of Clinton haters.”

Google him. He’s vile.

There’s more. According to Yahoo.com/news, Trump’s questionable charitable foundation gave $100,000 two years ago to Bossie’s Citizens United Foundation, which that same year filed a lawsuit against the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Yes, the same attorney general who’s pursuing Trump University on behalf of the victims whom Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi, chose to ignore right after getting a $25,000 contribution from the same Trump Foundation.

Citizens United says the lawsuit, which has been thrown out of court, was to try to stop Schneiderman from getting at donor information and had nothing to do with the Trump dispute. So they say.

It would be poetic justice if Hillary Clinton became the president whose Supreme Court appointees overturned the Citizens United decision.

And that’s a powerfully good reason to vote for her.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

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