Friday, July 18, 2014

Violating the Constitution: Impeachment in American History

The Founding Fathers wished to establish a strong central government, yet limit the capacity for the abuse of power. Their goal was to separate power among the branches of government and avoid partisanship in critical issues, particularly in matters such as impeachment. Borrowed from their English forebears, the impeachment process is a tool for the removal of public officials from power as a part of the “checks and balances” system of federalist government. It ensures both continuity and accountability of office holders as a check against those attempting to sway the balance in their favor.

Framing the Process

Under Article II, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment. If the House passes articles of impeachment, responsibility to try the charges and remove those guilty then passes to the Senate. The Senate must concur with a two-thirds majority for a conviction of guilt. The process applies only to the Executive and Judicial branches; Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution outlines the procedure for removing members of Congress. While punishment is restricted to removal and disqualification from holding office, removed office holders can face civil or criminal trial for crimes they committed while in office. Article II, Section 4, reads:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The ambiguity of the latter part has perplexed legal scholars and political analysts since inception. Interpretation includes crimes that threaten national security, as well as non-criminal actions derided solely for their political unpopularity. The issue centers on what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.” With impeachment not a criminal proceeding, as it is strictly a means for the removal of officeholders, there is debate whether one must be guilty of a criminal offense for its occurrence. Many argue that such a broad interpretive context politicizes the process, despite the attempt by the Founders to do otherwise. In Federalist Paper no. 65, Alexander Hamilton expressed the sentiment thusly in 1788:

The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”

The flexibility of “high crimes and misdemeanors” has had mixed results over the course of U.S. history, as what constitutes an indictment of wrongdoing has been re-interpreted to correlate with circumstances of the time. However, the majority agree that any violation or abuse of the public trust injurious to society as a whole is an impeachable offense.

Famous Cases

In 1797, the House voted to impeach Senator William Blount despite his earlier expulsion from the Senate. However, the Senate dropped the charges against him, citing his removal from office as due punishment. It set the precedent with regard to the limitations of action Congress could take against its members. Blount was the first ever expelled from the Senate under the Constitution. Nevertheless, the majority of impeachment proceedings have involved judges. The most famous – Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in 1804 – involved charges of political bias. Defenders argued that Chase’s actions, while extreme and immodest, were not impeachable. Many regard his acquittal by the Senate in 1805 as preserving the independence of the judicial branch.

In the history of the United States, four Presidents – John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and William Clinton – have faced impeachment. The resolution against Tyler in 1843 never passed the House, while Nixon resigned in 1974 before a near guaranteed impeachment and conviction by the full Congress. The only two ever impeached by the House – Johnson in 1868 and Clinton in 1998 – were eventually acquitted by the Senate following bitter partisan trials. President Gerald Ford, who succeeded Nixon upon his resignation, later issued a controversial pardon for any offenses Nixon may have committed while in office. At the time, many criticized it as a politically motivated bargain struck between the two; scholars and historians have since concluded that it promptly restored the integrity of the Presidency during a critical period in U.S. history.

Given the current administration’s numerous scandals over the past 5 ½ years that have been more the rule than the exception – and that thus far outweigh those of its four predecessors combined – could another sitting president face the same fate? With falling poll numbers and failing policies plaguing President Obama and Democrats in general, the prospect exists should Republicans gain control over the full Congress – and has the leadership and votes in place to pursue it – following the mid-term election in November.

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Friday, July 4, 2014

Denying Access to a Singular Belief

On a lazy Sunday night while flipping channels on the television, I came across The Matrix on a basic cable channel. Watching for a bit, I noticed a line of dialogue had been changed from “my own personal JESUS CHRIST” to “my own personal JUVENILE DELINQUENT.” When did “Jesus Christ” become censorable wording? Why must politically correct sensitivity favor those bothered by such words without consideration to those who hold them in reverence? As the United States has gradually transformed into a more secular society away from its religious roots, it increasingly seems to be losing its tolerance for them as well.

Then, the Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby case sent liberals into delusional hysterics. From the beginning – at least, for anyone who truly believes in the U.S. Constitution – the one and only reaction to the case should have been that religious freedom had to be tested and, ultimately, upheld in the first place. As stated in their argument, Hobby Lobby – despite conflicting with the owner’s religious beliefs – already provided 16 of the 20 federally mandated contraceptive methods because it would violate those same beliefs not to provide such health-related benefits. The four they objected to are, in their opinion, non-health related for use more as birth control (i.e. an “aborticide”) than anything else, and, thus, opposed on religious grounds. In its certiorari petition to the court, the Obama Administration even suggested as such in citing the FDA concerning intrauterine devices (IUD), Plan B and ella that “may prevent the [fertilized] egg from attaching (implanting) in the womb (uterus)” – thereby ending the life of the unborn at conception in opposition to religious beliefs held by Hobby Lobby’s owners.

Whether you agree with that argument or not, religious freedom nevertheless has been a fundamental right of Americans as guaranteed in the Constitution since the founding of the United States. Is it a contentious precedent for business entities in terms of the “separation of church and state” – simply meant as no establishment of a state religion, rather than no religion in governing – as some contend? Perhaps, but millions of Americans still conduct their lives based around their religious beliefs; that fact cannot be easily trumped in favor of acquiescence to values that conflict with them. Doubly, it is hypocritical to single out and condemn one company for making a business decision based on moral grounds while praising numerous others for the same simply because the latter aligns with personal ideology.

Furthermore, employer-based health insurance never has been a guaranteed entitlement in the first place. Rather, it always has been an incentive benefit designed to attract employees. Forcing employers additionally to provide what employees believe they are entitled to – especially something that violates particular beliefs – eschews the generosity of what already is given freely to them. And not all companies are equal in that generosity even still today. Therein lays the rub. Despite the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), universal still does not equate to complete healthcare coverage. In fact, the ACA is anything but affordable, universal or complete; in many instances, access to healthcare has been made worse and more expensive in terms of rates and deductibles for fewer services than in the pre-Obamacare era. This is particularly true concerning the “you can keep your doctor” lie, as many insurance plans continue to dump doctors from their rolls to comply with mandates of the law.

As it is, the massive overhaul of the entire private healthcare industry has failed to address, tweak and fix the flaws of the old system while creating new ones in their wake. The Hobby Lobby case never would have occurred if not for Obamacare and its penalty-laden mandated healthcare coverages forced upon employers – which, as successfully argued, in part violate the religious beliefs of the company's owners. As alternatively proposed, a system tailored around individual choice and personal responsibility should have been, and still can be, implemented. Most notably is the example of the Health Savings Account (HSA), in which employees are free to use for whatever purpose whether to pay insurance premiums or doctor visits and employers would be mandated to pay into unconditionally. Under such a system, employees would have more choice in their healthcare decisions in choosing their own private insurance – with whatever desired or needed coverages, including mandated requirements for pre-existing conditions, contraceptives and prescription drugs – while essentially maintaining employer-based insurance coverage upon which employers would have no say.

It is distressing, if not poignant, that in the midst of this controversy, in which Christians have been attacked with
liberal exaggerations and outright lies concerning women’s health rights, President Obama hailed intolerant and repressively anti-women Islam on the occasion of Ramadan. Think there is a “war on women” in the U.S., as alleged by those on the left who ironically inflict and exploit it? Try protesting healthcare access and contraceptive coverage under sharia law, let alone obtaining it. Although agnostic and by no means religious by any measure myself, all of this should be troubling, and a wake up call, to anyone endowed with an ounce of common sense – clearly lacking in liberals who attacked SCOTUSblog, an independent blog that covers the Supreme Court, on social media for the Hobby Lobby decision as opposed to the actual U.S. Supreme Court – and tired of the “tolerance” hypocrisy continuously displayed by the liberal agenda. 

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sacrificing Horatius Triumphant

To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods.”

In recent days, pictures from various news outlets and on social media have shown the atrocities committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These include several of children who had been beheaded. Let me state that again…BEHEADED CHILDREN. If that description alone does not churn your stomach, you are no better than the monsters who did it. Perhaps worse. Even al-Qaeda – which carried out the worst terrorist act in modern history with the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001 – called them “too extreme” when cutting ties with them. Although the “blame Bush” crowd has tried, this is not the time for such nonsense or even accurate; if anything, blame President Obama for withdrawing troops and support from Iraq before ensuring its security, and failing to follow General George S. Patton’s standing orders of constant advance against the enemy. There is little doubt that a comparable situation could occur in Afghanistan, especially with Taliban and al-Qaeda resurgence.

My Spanish ancestors fought similar Islamic fundamentalists centuries ago, and they were as fanatical then as now. They are not “misunderstood”; they hate and seek to destroy non-Islamists and Western society as a whole. Theirs too is a real war on women, where it is considered rights of men to brutalize, mutilate, rape and put to death women for not obeying their husband, family and societal rules that dictate behavior. The only way to confront such evil is to annihilate them before they can annihilate you – something we have failed to do with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and innumerable terrorist sponsors and organizations around the world. If you disagree with that strategy, thank the architects of the United States that we live in a country that allows it; if that does not satisfy, then continue living with rose-colored blinders securely in place while screaming about pseudo oppression and self-righteous entitlement…but think of those beheaded children whose voices have forever been silenced. Where is the call to arms for them?

The United States may not have been born of perfection, but we have come a long way in two centuries. If we are no longer willing to sacrifice for the good of so many, who will? The Useless Nations? Russia, China or Iran? (Seriously…IRAN???!! They are as much a contributor to the world’s problems rather than a solution.) Maybe the hipster doofus in a penis thong and fedora spouting end-of-the-world climate change nonsense unless we have a meaningful dialogue about redistribution while living under the protective umbrella of innovative capitalism! Despite our domestic differences, international infamy and exaggerations of demise, the United States is still the world’s last, and only, beacon of hope. At least, we were once not that long time ago, holding the bridge against fearful odds.

©2014 Steve Sagarra

Friday, June 13, 2014

Motorists Assist Revenue

As many cities and municipalities across the nation, including the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County, continue to confront budget challenges – no doubt due to their own fiscal waste and mismanagement – critics frequently cite traffic citations as a means from which they illicitly generate revenue in order to close the gaps. Politicians and police persistently counter those claims that any citations are in the name of “public safety,” the revenue generated from them negligible and secondary to any other concerns.

When visiting the City of St. Louis, three main options, all fee-based, exist for parking: garage, lot or metered. Garage and lot parking can cost anywhere from a dollar an hour to $20 per visit. As for metered parking, the Parking Commission, a division of the Treasurer department, oversees approximately 10,000 parking meters whose operation and cost depends on the day of the week. Monday through Saturday parking meters are in operation from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., with the exception of “multispace” meters that are in effect 24-hours a day; on Sundays and certain city holidays, all metered parking is free. Currently, the city is field testing new meters that will allow the use of cash, credit cards and even your mobile phone to pay for parking. With the number of violations in the hundreds of thousands each year, parking fees combined with fines that range from $10 to $100 create a steady revenue source for the city.

Compiled from information provided by the Parking Violations Bureau (P.V.B.), the City of St. Louis municipal court system and alleged violators themselves, data shows an inordinate number of vehicles ticketed despite parked legally at the time. The majority, but not all, were parked at meters on weekends during free periods; yet, they have been cited for a variety of alleged violations of city ordinances that include fire lane violations, parking near a mailbox and general prohibited parking. According to alleged violators, the qualifying justification for issuing the ticket was not a factor present at the time; categorically, the fine schedule and appeal procedure is as puzzling, if not more, to these violators as the infractions for which they have been cited. As outlined by the P.V.B., a parking ticket must be paid within 15 days of issuance to avoid additional fees; if the ticket is not suspended or payment is not received within those 15 days, the fine increases by 100% the original amount; after 45 days, the fine increases 300% of the original amount. Despite being in the process of appealing the citation, a number of those ticketed have had their fines double and triple between the date of issuance and a scheduled appeal hearing. Some see it as an unfair practice with only one purpose:  revenue generation, through a means city officials know that most will just pay.

Now, the use of red light and speed cameras has raised questions in both the city and county. Are these simply for public safety, or further means to raise revenue thinly justified by it as critics contend? Like the city, a handful of municipalities in the county currently face legal challenges over their red light cameras; a similar battle has been taking place across the state in Kansas City. While the courts continue to debate their constitutionality – the most recent concerning the city’s red light cameras – several members of the Missouri General Assembly have introduced legislation not only to regulate but also to outright ban the use of either. Co-sponsored by Representatives Bryan Spencer (R-Wentzville), Ron Hicks (R-St. Peters) and Michael Frame (D-Eureka), House Bill 1533 would prohibit automated traffic enforcement systems; similarly, House Bill 1557 and Senate Bill 746, would exempt from the license point system any violations resulting from such systems. More intriguing, Senate Bill 540, introduced by Senator Joseph Keaveny (D-St. Louis), seeks to raise the fine for seat belt violations from $10 to $50. There is no indication whether the increase would go toward a seat belt safety education fund, or simply into municipal coffers as a non-moving violation that many motorists simply would pay rather than dispute in court. All would take effect starting August 28, 2014; presently, none are scheduled for hearing or on the respective legislature calendar.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Days of Future Past: A Study In Time Travel

WARNING:  Do not read this unless you either have seen the latest X-Men movie or do not care to be spoiled. There will be spoilers contained herein; there might also be headache-inducing discussion of time-travel concepts as presented in various media. You have been warned…so have at thee! (Wait…that’s an Avenger, not an X-Men.)

Seems there is confusion concerning the timeline based on the events that occur in X-Men:  Days of Future Past. In my opinion, I felt the movie did an impressive job of shoring up some of the continuity issues encountered in the previous trilogy and spinoffs, while maintaining certain nods to them moving forward. As someone who has watched and read countless movies, television shows, science-fiction and non-fiction books, etc, I consider myself somewhat of an amateur time-travel expert (i.e. self-anointed). Thus, allow me to make sense of the matter with my own analysis/theories:

Let’s just get this one out of the way…X-Men Origins:  Wolverine has been ignored and is not canonical to the X-Men cinematic universe, and was disavowed almost immediately after its widely-panned release. At the very least, it is not a part of either the previous or current movie series. This minimizes one (minor) issue between it, X-Men 2 and DoFP:  William Stryker’s age in each time period. (This also would mean Deadpool is alive and kicking, without being a mutant-Frankenstein stuffed doll…roll sequel reboot for his character!)


In my opinion, this probably is the source for most of the confusion:  how time-travel works – at least, for someone’s “conscious” – in the X-Men cinematic universe is explained at the very beginning of the film. (I will allow that many people may have missed it, as it was stated rather quickly without extensive discussion.) Wolverine’s mind is sent back in time to his younger self; anything that he does as his younger self will affect the future. If you’ve ever seen the series Quantum Leap or the movies Somewhere In Time, The Butterfly Effect or Timecop, it’s the same fluidity concept of time:  events changed in the past warp and refigure events of the future, and whether someone’s physical or mental essence is sent back in time – like Bishop, who mind jumps back a few hours to warn the others when Sentinels arrive – they don’t create a new timeline but rather simply change the current one in the past. AGAIN, NO ALTERNATIVE TIMELINE IS CREATED. I mean, it’s in the title…THE FUTURE LIES IN THE PAST! There was also the assertion that if Wolverine succeeded in changing the timeline, his mind would return to his “present” self and only he would remember both the events of the dystopian and changed future (albeit, with some necessary memory updating à la Butterfly Effect or Timecop). If he failed to change the timeline, his mind would simply return to the dystopian future.

The Star Trek franchise – mind you, my all-time favorite – is notorious for using the alternate timeline concept quite frequently, which I feel is the reason for the confusion. Although there are multitudes of theories on time-travel, this is the concept most people are familiar with because it has been used in countless movies and television shows. The reason for this is that it presents the least paradoxical situation encountered with a singular timeline concept:  if you go back in time and kill your own grandfather before you are born, how can you go back in time and kill your own grandfather? [See Back to the Future] Theoretically, you can’t because you’re not killing your own grandfather; you’re killing the grandfather of an alternate version of you, who now will never be born or never existed in that alternate timeline in the first place. Theoretically as well, even if you again travel back in time in order to undo the change(s) to the timeline, yet another alternate timeline is actually created that, yes, is, and will be, similar to the timeline from which you originally came but it is not, and will never be, the original timeline. The original timeline either continues on without you or it blinks out of existence the moment you travel back in time – not to mention that the original you is now a person out of sync from any timeline, as this new alternate “original” timeline will already have an alternate you…who, by and large, is you. There’s no way for you to get back to the original timeline. [Think Prime Spock and Alternate Spock in the reboot Star Trek; even if Prime Spock were to again travel back in time to stop Nero at the point he first appeared in the past, yet another Alternate Spock – in every way similar to Prime Spock – would be created with Prime Spock now stuck in that alternate “original” timeline rather than returning to the original timeline. Start Trek: First Contact glosses over this idea when they return to the future; theoretically, they wouldn’t be returning to “their” future.]