Book Review: Iran-Contra

Iran-Contra:
Reagan’s Scandal and the Unchecked Abuse of Presidential Power
by Malcolm Byrne
(c) 2014 by The University Press of Kansas

Return with us now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Communism was on its way out as the #1 Global Threat and Radical Islam was quickly climbing up the charts….

On October 5, 1986, a Sandanista soldier fired off his SAM-7 at a Fairchild C-123K cargo plane that had just crossed into Nicaraguan airspace from Costa Rica. He got really lucky – the missile hit, and knocked down the plane. Three of the crew died in the crash – but Eugene Hasenfus survived. He confirmed to his captors what documents found in the crash revealed: the plane was on a covert mission on behalf of the CIA to supply the Contra rebels with arms – in direct contravention of US laws.

A few weeks later, a news magazine in Lebanon published a scoop. Representatives from the Reagan administration had been meeting with Iranian government officials in an effort to purchase the release of a couple of Americans who had been kidnapped by Hezbollah. This was a big deal; the stated position of the American government was “We will never negotiate with terrorists”. And Iran, now that a theocratic Islamic government had kicked out our friend the Shah and then allowed a bunch of radicals to capture the staff of our embassy in Tehran, was considered the number one terrorist-backing government in the world.

This was all Very Bad News for the Reagan administration, especially when it was found that the profits from the arms sales to Iran were being used to pay for supplying the Contras without the knowledge – nevermind the permission – of Congress.
Continue reading

Advertisements

How Can Anyone Still Be Supporting This Guy?

It boggles the minds of some how Donald Trump still has support among the electorate. After all the things that have come out about him, from being beholden to foreign banks to the bragging about committing sexual assault, surely at this point his support should be in the single digits…. But there’s still a significant portion of America that still wants the least suitable major party candidate we’ve ever had to be President.

Why? What are they thinking? What can their reasons possibly be?

Let me try to put myself in their shoes.

I’m not talking about the Deplorables – those who agree with his racist and xenophobic demagoguery. One hopes that their numbers really are an insignificant component of his supporters. There are also the die-hard Republican loyalists. These people would vote for a dead squirrel if it was a GOP candidate. There’s nothing that can be done to convince them to vote otherwise. Nor can anyone really do something about the rabid Clinton haters. They’ve been brainwashed by the “Right Wing Conspiracy Machine” and have totally fallen for the Anti-Clinton line. Nothing you can say to promote Clinton as even just a worthy candidate will change their minds.

But that cannot account for all of Trump’s support. There’s got to be something more going on here.

Continue reading

Book Review: Ballot Battles

BALLOT BATTLES: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States
Edward B. Foley
Oxford University Press
(c) 2016

While all the hubbub over our elections and voting (so far) has to do with access to the ballot box, Foley argues that what happens after the votes have been cast is just as important.

A professor of constitutional and election law at Ohio State, Foley has chronicled all the disputed elections of national importance since the 1790s. Doctored ballots, bogus returns, stuffed ballot boxes, the works. And not just that sort of shenanigans, but cases where the result was so close that there absolutely had to be a recount. When the first count was done in Virginia’s attorney general election in 2013, the margin of victory was a mere 32 votes….

His style, as befits a law professor, is rather dry and tedious at first. It’s not an easy read, but you’ll get used to it after a while. The long slog through history is important to his thesis – disputed elections are not as rare as one would think (or hope), so we had better be prepared for the next one.

Foley notes that we do not have a standard system in place to resolve disputed elections. We’ve had them too often for it to be done on an ad hoc basis. Having a high office go unfilled while the recounting goes on and on deprives people of representation, and can even have the government come to a halt. The Senate election in Minnesota in 2008 wasn’t resolved for seven months – and that, according to Foley, was one of the ones that was handled properly.

Reading Foley’s accounts of recent disputed elections makes it clear (at least to this reader) that absentee or mail-in ballots (which some advocate as a way to increase voter participation) is most definitely NOT the way to go. Not only are those types of ballots the most susceptible to chicanery, they are also the most problematic when it comes to figuring out the voter’s actual intent. They depend on people accurately and completely following instructions. The 2004 gubenatorial election in Washington, which when the dust settled had a margin of victory of just 137 votes, should serve as a case study of everything that can go wrong with mail-in ballots.

Foley does propose a solution. Mandate an automatic recount whenever the margin of victory is below a certain threshold. Have rules and deadlines covering challenges and appeals. Select a tribunal (and he really does mean a panel of only three people) to supervise the entire process. He admits it won’t be perfect, but it’s better than the “playing-it-by-ear” that we have now. Given how partisan our politics have become, there’s no doubt that we will continue to have disputed elections for the foreseeable future.

On the Electoral College – 2

Last time, for those of you not paying attention or somehow reluctant to scroll down and see the last post, I discussed the Electoral College and its historical background, and how it means we don’t elect our president by a direct popular vote.

There are two things to keep in mind when contemplating a reform of the system. First, changing it would require a Constitutional Amendment. You’re just not going to get enough small states (the ones that benefit from the current system) to go along and voluntarily give up influence.

Secondly, though, nowhere in the Constitution does it say how a state must choose its electors. So if one wants to try to reform the Electoral College, the way to do it is in the selection process in the individual states.

There are a two proposals that have been getting serious consideration.
Continue reading