Monthly Archives: August 2010

Quote (& Chart) Of The Day

From Ezra Klein:

“The revenue loss over the next 75 years just from extending the tax cuts for people making over $250,000 — the top 2 percent of Americans — would be about as large as the entire Social Security shortfall over this period,” write Kathy Ruffing and Paul N. Van de Water at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Members of Congress cannot simultaneously claim that the tax cuts for people at the top are affordable while the Social Security shortfall constitutes a dire fiscal threat.”

There are a whole host of issues with this approach, but I might consider this option… AS LONG as we change the name from “Social Security” to “Welfare From The Rich To Old People”.

Might as well call it what it is, right? Trying to refer to this program as “insurance” is getting tired.

Quote Of The Day

The Economist’s Babbage, on computing education:

That, for me, sums up the seductive intellectual core of computers and computer programming: here is a magic black box. You can tell it to do whatever you want, within a certain set of rules, and it will do it; within the confines of the box you are more or less God, your powers limited only by your imagination. But the price of that power is strict discipline: you have to really know what you want, and you have to be able to express it clearly in a formal, structured way that leaves no room for the fuzzy thinking and ambiguity found everywhere else in life. The computer is an invaluably remorseless master: harsh, sometimes to the point of causing you to tear your hair out, but never unfair.

As many bloggers and blog-readers are internet-adept nerds, I suspect that his piece will resonate with you as it did with me. As many of you may know, I’m an electrical engineer. But what many do not know (though it may hardly surprise) is that in college I chose to minor in philosophy. I did this because I’d had some exposure to philosophy in high school, and because I thought it would be a good way, being in the School of Liberal Arts, to meet women. Sadly, philosophy was not quite as blessed with the fairer sex as I’d hoped.

What am I waxing self-referential? Because computers, engineering, mathematics and philosophy are fundamentally similar. All work as systems of basically fixed rules, where you “build” products based upon the inputs and structure of your system. In engineering, it is materials and the laws of nature. In computers and digital electronics, it is all a complex structure for deciding rules for how to make transistors turn on or off. In mathematics, as in philosophy, it is starting with premises (or mathematical axioms) and deriving from those premises and the laws of logic/math a conclusion.

What weaves these disciplines together is not the inputs and structure — it is the mental process of working within the structure. Much of the educational system involves teaching a student what to think. Math and philosophy teach a student HOW to think, and for students less suited to the abstract, subjects like engineering or computer science provide a much more tangible feedback loop than math.

Though I hadn’t realized it in advance, engineering and philosophy are not so unnaturally paired. In fact, I had signed up for one class without realizing I hadn’t completed the prerequisites, and when I spoke to the professor to drop it, he cautioned that often engineers to very well in philosophy, because we’ve already internalized many of the rules. When I later took a class on “Introduction to Logic”, I exactly saw his point: everything we were doing was a slight variant on what I’d covered in digital logic courses 2 years before.

Sadly, I think this is a portion of education that is widely overlooked. These are the very building blocks of reason. These are the skills that can help humans weed the truth from the bullshit. A good grounding in logic and critical thought might help see through corporate marketing campaigns — and of the bread and circuses of American politics. It makes one wonder if there’s a reason these subjects are neglected – it makes us all better subjects.

The New Prison Ray of Death

Some things you just cannot make up:

A device designed to control unruly inmates by blasting them with a beam of intense energy that causes a burning sensation is drawing heat from civil rights groups who fear it could cause serious injury and is “tantamount to torture.”

The mechanism, known as an “Assault Intervention Device,” is a stripped-down version of a military gadget that sends highly focused beams of energy at people and makes them feel as though they are burning. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s department plans to install the device by Labor Day, making it the first time in the world the technology has been deployed in such a capacity.

Maybe this is the sort of thing that Ray Bradbury had in mind when he assessed that government was too big. I’d certainly rather have tax dollars going toward exploring space than coming up with new way to control inmates likely in jail for violating drug laws.

Even Death Penalty Supporters Urge Ohio Gov. Strickland to Spare Kevin Keith

Its one thing when anti-death penalty activists petition a governor to pardon or commute a sentence of an individual scheduled for execution but quite another when death penalty supporters agree. Kevin Keith is scheduled to be executed by the state of Ohio on September 15th for the 1994 murders of 2 adults and 1 child; a crime he has maintained he did not commit. Despite exculpatory evidence which points away from Keith and despite Gov. Ted Strickland’s (D) own public comments where he said he found “certain aspects” of the case “troubling,” the parole board voted 8-0 in favor of executing Keith.

Fortunately, the parole board’s decision is non-binding; Gov. Strickland or perhaps SCOTUS can still do the right thing and halt the execution until the more ‘troubling’ aspects of this case can be fairly reconsidered.

According to this article in The Guardian, among those who are urging Gov. Strickland to halt the execution are more than 30 former judges and prosecutors including former Ohio Attorney General and death penalty supporter Jim Petro (R) and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Herbert Brown.

Jim Petro in a letter to Gov. Strickland:

“I am gravely concerned that the state of Ohio may be on the verge of executing an innocent person”

Justice Herbert Brown in another letter:

“There is a mass of exculpatory evidence, suppressed evidence, faulty eyewitness identification and forensic reports that support legitimate claims of innocence”

Innocence Network President and Clinical Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School Keith A. Findley, while likely biased against the death penalty also wrote to persuade the governor:

Like so many of the wrongful conviction cases, tunnel vision by police, prosecutors, and even courts appears to have played a central role in Mr. Keith’s case and his ultimate conviction.

[…]

The evidence of these pernicious effects of tunnel vision, coupled with the compelling new evidence in Mr. Keith’s case, suggests that Ohio might be on the verge of executing an innocent man […]

Keith’s defense team, in a statement following the parole board’s decision points out that Gov. Strickland signed a bill into law which prohibited some of the very techniques investigators used against their client. Unfortunately for Keith, the banning of these faulty procedures came too late.

Yes, the case of Kevin Keith is indeed troubling. Maybe if a few thousand more can petition Gov. Strickland, he will be even more troubled to the point to where he will end this madness (click here to sign the petition).

In other troubling death penalty news, a federal judge has denied Troy Davis’ innocence claim despite 7 of 9 eyewitnesses recanting their testimonies against him.

Ron Paul Breaks With Son Over Mosque

This is one of the Texas congressman’s best appearances since the heyday of his presidential run. I’ll admit my enthusiasm for him has waned mostly due to his son and a lot of the people who have associated themselves with Paul. Paul himself, however, is consistently a voice of reason over the irrationality and hatred of both political “sides.”

Failbook: Facebook Bans Anti-Prohibition Group

It’s beginning to be really easy to hate Facebook. While Google has stuck to its libertarian principles of free exchange of information by not cooperating with Chinese censorship, Facebook has become more and more creepy:

The people behind the “Just Say Now” marijuana legalization campaign (oft-Boinged Salon contributor Glenn Greenwald is one of many political thinkers on their board) want Facebook to back off its decision to pull their ads from the social networking service.

This is what Facebook’s PR says:

It would be fine to note that you were informed by Facebook that the image in question was no long acceptable for use in Facebook ads. The image of a pot leaf is classified with all smoking products and therefore is not acceptable under our policies. Let me know if you need anything further.

One key indicator that you are dealing with unapologetic authoritarians is when you’re being harshly reprimanded for violating regulations and rules that are unpredictable, undefinable and more than likely not even known by the person touting them. That appears to be the case with Facebook’s policies:

But the group points out that Facebook’s ad policy doesn’t ban “smoking products,” just “tobacco products.” Also, Facebook does permit alcohol ads, even ads featuring images of alcohol products and packaging, though alcohol ads that make alcohol consumption “fashionable,” “promote intoxication” or that “encourage excessive consumption” are banned. Just Say Now calls Facebook’s action censorship.

Perhaps Facebook goes by the old Jack Webb Dragnet school that pot consists of “marijuana cigarettes.”

There’s alot of faux outrage out there, as the Cordoba Crowds in NYC have shown us. Given the extensive cost to normal livelihoods by the continued prison construction and law enforcement funding required by prohibition, Facebook does deserve to be boycotted for trying to silence a group like Just Say Now.

Just Say Now’s Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake.com, is also on the side of liberty in her fight against punitive immigration laws. Check out an appearance she did that I posted at my website Voice of the Migrant. She’s also a cancer survivor and all around political superhero. Give her support and take it away from Facebook.

“Thank God for the Constitution”

A great comment from Obdicut, which I found in the jungle of my last post’s comment thread:

Michael, I’m sorry posting this has led to the stalkers having one of their uber-bizarre meltdowns in the thread.

It’s a well-reasoned piece. I too, as an atheist who is against extremist religion of all forms, including Islam, supported “Draw Mohammed Day”, and now, seeing the level that the anti-Muslim bigotry has risen to in the US, feel embarrassed that I didn’t see this coming.

I would like to also note that Charles recently pointed out an old post of his, back in the ‘old days’ on LGF where it was definitely still mainly focused on being anti-Jihad, where he was very disturbed by some of those leading the anti-Jihad fight. Even though the commenters at that time mainly chose to ignore it, he was still, back then, warning that there were bigots and crazy people involved in the anti-Jihad campaign– for whom it wasn’t anti-Jihad, but rather anti-Muslim.

I wasn’t a member of LGF back then. I only became one after the election, when Charles really started getting disgusted with the insanity breaking out on the right-wing, but the narrative he presents– someone shocked by 9/11, shocked by the spread and ferocity of Islamic extremism, casting about for sources and ideas in combating it, and then realizing that many of those sources and ideas have little to do with combating Islamic extremism and everything to do with combating everyone outside a narrow scope of white protestants– rings true for me.

Islamic extremism is still a potent and deadly force in the world, but the main thing that this ‘controversy’ over the mosque has taught us is that those who have been, po-faced, claiming they just want moderate Muslims to speak up are utter liars. They do not even believe in the concept of moderate Muslims. They are anti-Muslim, and, in so being, are anti-American; thank god for the Constitution.

After Cordoba Controversy, It’s Time To Look In The Mirror

Building off of Stephen’s post on Jon Stewart revisiting his past transgressions, I thought it would be worth exploring how my own previous writing and those of others across the political spectrum provided an opening for the pure ugliness of Newt Gingrich, Pam Geller, Michelle Bachmann and the like in the wake of the “Ground Zero Mosque.”

In 2006, we saw a similar explosion with the 2006 acquisition of several American ports by Dubai Ports World. Like the construction of Cordoba House, it was a normal occurrence that had the misfortune of coming after an explosive controversy in which the role of Islam in Western society was at question: the violent eruption in the wake of the Jyllands Posten Mohammed cartoons published in Denmark.

The controversy over Cordoba House has the misfortune of coming only months after a militant Islamist website posted that Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, risked ending up “like Theo Van Gogh” after airing a very, very tame cartoon about the depiction of Mohammed which skewered the absurdity of the controversy more than anything to do with Islam itself.

Like the Danish cartoon controversy, the South Park controversy really irked people from across the political spectrum. Dan Savage, the uber-liberal gay rights activist from my hometown of Seattle, promoted “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” As much as I loved the concept when it first popped up, I have to admit that I’m rather ashamed of it now. Dan Savage may feel the same way, as the post is no longer available on The Stranger website where it was originally posted.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who I respect greatly and whose life story gives her every justification to hold her home religion in contempt, does exactly that. As much as I do respect her, her column on the South Park controversy retrospectively seems like an urging of precisely the reactionary fear mongering we’ve seen against Cordoba House:

Another idea is to do stories of Muhammad where his image is shown as much as possible. These stories do not have to be negative or insulting, they just need to spread the risk. The aim is to confront hypersensitive Muslims with more targets than they can possibly contend with.

I linked to Ali’s column when it was first written. If I had known that this mentality would have led to attacks on mosques throughout the country or modern day lynch mobs, I wouldn’t have done so. I’m not going to endorse such views in the future.

The same goes for this speech on Real Time by Bill Maher, which I cheered greatly when it aired but that I am now much more unsure of:

Muslims are a full 1% of the American population. Their beliefs range from secular traditionalism (observing Ramadan but infrequently attending mosque just as many Christians observe Easter and Christmas) to donning the nijab and living according to a rigid Koranic doctrine. In the last decade, we’ve seen a great level of intellectual output from Americans with Muslim backgrounds – Khaled Hosseini, Irshad Manji, the aforementioned Ali – and  unless we really want to completely alienate our Muslim fellow travellers, it would be best for all of us, including me, to rethink how we approach these issues.

In moderating his approach, Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs seems to be on the right path. A critic of jihadism during the Bush years, he broke from the right when he began to see people he respected joining up with Nazis and unapologetic racists. Having seen both sides, LGF is now a great staple in the building up of the pluralism necessary for a society in which we can all cohabitate. Let’s move away from the hate of the Pamela Gellers and into something more constructive.

Jon Stewart Has Earned My Respect

I used to think that Jon Stewart was another garden variety left winger but lately, I’ve found him to be perhaps the most reasonable political commentator anywhere. Whether the issue is the controversial South Park episode featuring the prophet Mohammed, Obama’s about face on civil liberties now that he is president, or this most recent ground zero mosque controversy, Jon Stewart, a comedian is the voice of reason as many other pundits take one extreme view or the other.

In this Daily Show segment below entitled “Extremist Makeover – Homeland Edition” Stewart does something that I’ve seen very few pundits do publicly: admit he was wrong. In observing the overreactions of this mosque controversy in which many on the right want to deny freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and property rights to a religious minority out of fear, Stewart realizes that he too overreacted in the wake of the Columbine Massacre when he and others on the left condemned the NRA for going ahead with their scheduled convention in Denver (near ground zero for this tragedy). From there, Stewart plays excerpts from then NRA President Charlton Heston and admits that Heston was right and he was wrong.

Stewart:

If you replace ‘NRA’ with ‘Muslim community’ and ‘Second Amendment’ with ‘First Amendment’ he [Heston] is still right.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Extremist Makeover – Homeland Edition
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Jon Stewart has earned my respect for his intellectual honesty even as others (*cough* Wayne Allyn Root *cough*) have lost it.

Copyright Absurdity

This story isn’t really that significant, but it’s a case in point of copyright absurdity:

Madonna is being sued for using the name “Material Girl,” a reference to her hit 80s song, in her juniors clothing line designed with her daughter Lourdes. Clothing maker LA Triumph says it’s been using the name to market clothes since 1997. LA Triumph contends it makes similar clothes for the same market and claims it’s now at “a risk of being subsumed by Madonna’s profile, obvious worldwide notoriety.” Madonna’s line launched earlier this month with Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen as its face. The singer hasn’t commented.

As you may know, pop singer Prince found himself losing ownership of his own name when he left his record label, becoming an unpronounceable symbol and “The Artist Formerly Known As.” Comic book creator Alan Moore has had his creations made into several different films (The League of Extraordinary, From Hell, Watchmen), not one of which he has supported or even watched, according to interviews.

There’s alot of disagreement about copyright laws and I’m not sure what the consensus is at TLP, if there even is one. I’ll voice in by saying that the current copyright laws work for executives of corporations who distribute creative work and not those who actually create it.

There is an effort to combat this in the comic book industry, with a rise in “creator-owned” enterprises. A few of these include the Powers series by Marvel (written by Brian Michael Bendis), Bone by Jeff Smith and the Criminal series by Marvel (written by Ed Brubaker). DC also has its own line of creator owned series, which you may have heard of, called Vertigo.

The internet revolution has greatly reduced the concentration of power in the music industry away from the record labels, and the labels have used the artificial protection of copyright laws to try to stop change by prosecuting fans who download, artists who distribute their own music, etc. The freedom of information that the internet provides works for small time artists, but artists who sign with larger labels in hopes of obtaining wider distribution will continue to be selling their own creative rights away.

“Hallowed Ground”

A friend of mine who I worked with at a hip-hop magazine years ago was a big influence on me turning toward libertarianism. He said this on the mosque fiasco:

The next person who tells me Ground Zero is ‘hallowed’ or ‘sacred’ ground, is getting punched in the balls. If it really were special, it would be more than a hole in the ground NINE YEARS after the fact. Build the goddamn mosque. If you want to honor the people who died on 9/11, assimilate Islam and turn it into the same hollow facade every other ideology in this country is.

Also, I’m sure I’m not the only person who has become far less comfortable talking about this topic than I was years ago. The debate over Islam and America has gone beyond ideological and geopolitical terms and taken on dimensions of immigration, nationalism and assimilation.

Counterpoint: Civil Disobedience Or Not, Nullification Is Unconstitutional

In his post that started this debate, Brad Warbiany makes this point about the idea that the individual states have the power, or at least the right, to make declarations as to the Constitutionality of Federal laws:

Nullification is the civil disobedience of Federalism. Is it legal? No. After all, the Supremacy Clause and judicial review see to that. But it wasn’t legal for Rosa Parks to sit at the front of the bus, or for black students to sit at a “Whites-only” counter at Woolworth’s. Sometimes, the law is a ass. Sometimes, you need to disobey to make a point.

(…)

Viewed this way, nullification is less about disobedience as it is about changing policy. Nullification is a tactic in a wider strategy. It is a way to register unhappiness with federal dictates without necessarily going full-bore and threatening secession. Further, it is a way to demonstrate, by direct example, that changes in policy are preferable to the way Washington demands.

Taking this view of nullification, I don’t necessarily disagree with Brad on the value of state’s, and their citizens, weighing in on what they believe to be a usurpation of Federal power. After all, this is something that has a long and noble history in America. When President John Adams persuaded Congress to pass The Alien and Sedition Acts, Thomas Jefferson, who at that point was serving as Adams’s Vice-President, and James Madison worked together to draft and ensure the passage of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which were resolutions passed by the state legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky to condemn laws which Adams’s opponents viewed as both unconstitutional and near-dictatorial.

The resolutions — which you can read here, here, and here — are interesting in themselves because they contain one of the first post-ratifications statements by American leaders of what they believe the Constitution to mean, as this excerpt from the Kentucky Resolution of 1798 shows wonderfully:

2. Resolved, That the Constitution of the United States having delegated to Congress a power to punish treason, counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States, piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offences against the laws of nations, and no other crimes, whatsoever; and it being true, as a general principle, and one of the amendments to the Constitution having also declared, that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people,”—therefore, also, the same act of Congress, passed on the 14th day of July, 1798, and entitled “An Act in Addition to the Act entitled ‘An Act for the Punishment of certain Crimes against the United States;’” as also the act passed by them on the 27th day of June, 1798, entitled “An Act to punish Frauds committed on the Bank of the United States,” (and all other their acts which assume to create, define, or punish crimes other than those so enumerated in the Constitution,) are altogether void, and of no force; and that the power to create, define, and punish, such other crimes is reserved, and of right appertains, solely and exclusively, to the respective states, each within its own territory.

3. Resolved, That it is true, as a general principle, and is also expressly declared by one of the amendments to the Constitution, that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people;” and that, no power over the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press, being delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, all lawful powers respecting the same did of right remain, and were reserved to the states, or the people; that thus was manifested their determination to retain to themselves the right of judging how far the licentiousness of speech, and of the press, may be abridged without lessening their useful freedom, and how far those abuses which cannot be separated from their use, should be tolerated rather than the use be destroyed; and thus also they guarded against all abridgment, by the United States, of the freedom of religious principles and exercises, and retained to themselves the right of protecting the same, as this, stated by a law passed on the general demand of its citizens, had already protected them from all human restraint or interference; and that, in addition to this general principle and express declaration, another and more special provision has been made by one of the amendments to the Constitution, which expressly declares, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” thereby guarding, in the same sentence, and under the same words, the freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press, insomuch that whatever violated either throws down the sanctuary which covers the others,—and that libels, falsehood, and defamation, equally with heresy and false religion, are withheld from the cognizance of federal tribunals. That therefore the act of Congress of the United States, passed on the 14th of July, 1798, entitled “An Act in Addition to the Act entitled ‘An Act for the Punishment of certain Crimes against the United States,'” which does abridge the freedom of the press, is not law, but is altogether void, and of no force.

That’s mighty strong language. Stronger, some would say, than the laws that a few states have passed since March challenging the Federal Government’s authority to require Americans to purchase health insurance. However, it’s worth noting what Madison and Jefferson were not doing, because as Madison acknowledged in his defense of the resolutions, there is no Constitutional authority granted to the states that would allow them to nullify a Federal law:

Nor can the declarations of either [the citizens or the legislature of Virginia], whether affirming or denying the constitutionality of measures of the Federal Government, or whether made before or after judicial decisions thereon, be deemed, in any point of view, an assumption of the office of the judge. The declarations, in such cases, are expressions of opinion, unaccompanied with any other effect than what they may produce on opinion, by exciting reflection. The expositions of the judiciary, on the other hand, are carried into immediate effect by force. The former may lead to a change in the legislative expression of the general will; possibly to a change in the opinion of the judiciary; the latter enforces the general will, whilst that will and that opinion continue unchanged.

And if there be no impropriety in declaring the unconstitutionality of proceedings in the Federal Government, where can be the impropriety of communicating the declaration to other states, and inviting their concurrence in a like declaration? What is allowable for one, must be allowable for all; and a free communication among the states, where the Constitution imposes no restraint, is as allowable among the state governments as among other public bodies or private citizens. This consideration derives a weight, that cannot be denied to it, from the relation of the state legislatures to the federal legislature, as the immediate constituents of one of its branches. . . .

Considering that this was written by a man who was both one of the principle authors of the Constitution and one of the authors of the Resolutions, it seems to me that it is fairly persuasive evidence that, whatever else the Tenth Amendment might mean, the Founders never intended to give the individual states the power to nullify state laws.

So, basically, that leaves “nullification” (and personally I don’t like the word because of it’s historical associations with secessionists and segregationists) in the category that Brad would put it; a method by which the citizens can, through their state legislatures and the Courts if necessary, petition Congress for a redress of grievances.

However, when nullification is discussed today, it isn’t the “civil disobedience” variety that Brad favors that’s being advocated. In his new book, Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century Thomas Woods essentially argues for a full-throated right on the part of the states to ignore Federal laws if they choose to do so:

Nullification is Thomas Jefferson’s idea, articulated most clearly in his Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, that if the federal government passes a law that reaches beyond the powers delegated by the states, the states should refuse to enforce it. Jefferson believed that if the federal government is allowed to hold a monopoly on determining what its powers are, we have no right to be surprised when it keeps discovering new ones. If they violate the Constitution, we are “duty bound to resist,” to quote James Madison’s Virginia Resolutions of 1798.

Now this is a vast simplification of the argument that Woods makes, you can get a better idea of what he means in this interview:

I have yet to read Woods’ book, and still want to, but it’s fairly clear that his argument suffers from the fact that there just isn’t any historical support for his idea that the Constitution grants states the right to essentially break Federal law by ignoring it if they believe that it is unconstitutional. Any reliance on the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, for example, is easily rebutted by Madison’s own admission that the Resolutions were expressions of opinion rather than something that had the force of law.

History after the Resolutions doesn’t really provide any support for Woods’ argument either. The most notable example came during the Nullification Crisis of 1832, when South Carolina purported to declare a Federal import tariff unconstitutional and took steps to prevent Federal agents from collecting tariffs on goods entering through the Port of Charleston. Though the matter was resolved, it set the nation down a road toward secession that resulted in the bloodiest war in American history. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ten Southern states used the doctrine of nullification, and the related concept of interposition, to attempt to resist efforts desegregate school and refuse to enforce the Court’s decision. In Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court held that such efforts were unconstitutional:

Article VI of the Constitution makes the Constitution the “supreme Law of the Land.” In 1803, Chief Justice Marshall, speaking for a unanimous Court, referring to the Constitution as “the fundamental and paramount law of the nation,” declared in the notable case of Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177, that “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” This decision declared the basic principle that the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution, and that principle has ever since been respected by this Court and the Country as a permanent and indispensable feature of our constitutional system. It follows that the interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land, and Art. VI of the Constitution makes it of binding effect on the States “any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” Every state legislator and executive and judicial officer is solemnly committed by oath taken pursuant to Art. VI, cl. 3, “to support this Constitution.” Chief Justice Taney, speaking for a unanimous Court in 1859, said that this requirement reflected the framers’ “anxiety to preserve it [the Constitution] in full force, in all its powers, and to guard against resistance to or evasion of its authority, on the part of a State . . . .” Ableman v. Booth, 21 How. 506, 524.

No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his undertaking to support it. Chief Justice Marshall spoke for a unanimous Court in saying that: “If the legislatures of the several states may, at will, annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery . . . .” United States v. Peters, 5 Cranch 115, 136. A Governor who asserts a [358 U.S. 1, 19] power to nullify a federal court order is similarly restrained. If he had such power, said Chief Justice Hughes, in 1932, also for a unanimous Court, “it is manifest that the fiat of a state Governor, and not the Constitution of the United States, would be the supreme law of the land; that the restrictions of the Federal Constitution upon the exercise of state power would be but impotent phrases . . . .” Sterling v. Constantin, 287 U.S. 378, 397 -398.

In other words, if nullification of the type Woods advances actually existed, we would no longer live in a Federal system, but in something more closely resembling the Articles of Confederation. Since the Constitution was written to replace the Articles, it’s clear that the Founders never intended to give the states the power to decide for themselves what the Constitution means and to randomly choose to ignore Federal laws based on that interpretation. Therefore, Woods’ nullification is little more than a professorial fantasy.

In closing, I don’t necessarily object to the kind of “civil disobedience” nullification that Brad favors. Let’s just not pretend it has the force of law.

The Fabric Of Society

What makes a prosperous, first-world, liberal society tick? How did America become the world’s great superpower? What is the fabric that keeps this together? Below are the answers as I see them, from the three main American schools of political thought.

The Progressive

The progressive believes that the fabric of society is government. He does not necessarily believe in state ownership of the means of production, but rather that the environment of strong institutions (educational/social/legal) are the underpinnings of great societies. He believes that humanity is best self-actualized when working within a regulated framework where “fairness” and “equality of opportunity” is enforced from above to at least a necessary degree. He may or may not be envious of the rich, but his desire for progressive taxation is more due to the fact that he sees society as having a big role in creating the conditions for the rich to obtain their wealth, and that it is their duty and moral responsibility to give some of that wealth back to the system to ensure that the same conditions exist for others.

To the progressive, the fabric of society tears when we shed our collective institutions for the messy profit-driven market. The market’s goal is not the common good. The progressive doesn’t believe that the market will adequately supply what the progressive defines as public goods, such as education, infrastructure, care for those who are not valuable to the market (old/disabled/etc), and a fair regulatory system protecting “tragedy of the commons” like the environment. Thus, without strong institutions to restrain the influence of the market and channel societal output in socially-responsible ways, society will be unable to achieve its peak.

The Conservative

The conservative believes that the fabric of society is the shared social and cultural norms of society. Whether or not he claims that America was founded as a Christian nation, he remembers that America was founded, by and large, by Christians who instilled in their offspring the moral framework to exist within a society. To the conservative, humans are naturally weak and prone to temptation, and the moral, social, and cultural rules that society follows are necessary to keep people on the right path. To a conservative, the power of America is borne out of the traditions of economic freedom as defined by the Constitution and the morality inherited from the Puritans who first populated America. He believes that to continue America’s greatness, we should revere and continue following those traditions as part of our shared cultural identity.

To the conservative, the fabric of society tears when those social norms are lightly disregarded. Gay marriage becomes a threat to a society based upon traditional marriage and nuclear families. Immigration becomes a threat not because immigrants are other races, but rather because they come from weaker nations without the rich tradition and morality of America, and thus may try to import their former country’s weaknesses into ours. Removing religion from the public sphere is a threat because society rests on continuance — if not of Christianity on a personal level — of the social morality underpinning that Christian faith, and thus godless hedonism calls into question the very underpinnings of society. People casting off traditions may unknowingly cast off traditions that are important to the future of society, and the world may not know it has occurred until the damage is already done.

The Libertarian

The libertarian believes that the fabric of society is freedom. He believes that humans are naturally strong yet cooperative individuals, who will work together towards shared goals when it is in their interest and will be tolerant of others’ goals so long as they don’t infringe upon him. He knows that some people are not content to leave people alone, and sees that the role of government in society to enforce negative rights from those who would meddle in freedom. He believes in the “emergent order” and the “invisible hand”, and that if people are largely left to their own devices to work for their own ends, the end result will be a common benefit to all. He sees America as a nation founded on a “light touch” of government, and attributes America’s success to letting people live, work, and earn freely.

To the libertarian, the fabric of society tears when people — rather than freely choosing cooperation — are forced into cooperation by government. He sees forced virtue as a tool to create resentment and acrimony between people who would normally be tolerant of each other, and sees income redistribution as legitimized theft. He believes that government should expand protection negative rights to those most in danger of oppression by the majority, but believes that when government creates positive rights for minorities it creates jealousy and destroys the common bonds of humanity. He believes that as the government grows more powerful, it becomes more profitable to attempt to control the government than to create value which improves the society in general. When government takes over, he sees all struggles become man vs. man, rather than humanity working individually and/or cooperatively towards improving standards of living.

City of Atlanta Agrees to Pay $4.9 Million to Kathryn Johnston’s Family; Vows to Change Police Culture

Ernie Suggs of The Atlanta Constitution reports:

Four years after rogue APD narcotics officers killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during an illegal raid of her home, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has offered her family a $4.9 million settlement.

[…]

Reed said the resolution of the case is an important healing step for the city and the police department, which was nearly ripped apart because of the shooting.

As a result of the incident, several police officers were indicted in federal and state court on charges and were later convicted and sentenced for their actions,” said Reed, adding that the Narcotics Unit has been totally reorganized.

Obviously, the $4.9 million will not bring Kathryn Johnston back but it is good to see that her family will receive the settlement without having to continue to fight the City of Atlanta in court. I’m also hopeful that the city and the APD are truly making changes to prevent another tragedy such as this from ever happening again.

In a 13-0 vote, the city council ratified George Turner as the APD’s new Chief of Police. With Turner’s firing of two cops who lied and falsified documents regarding the Johnston case, he told the city council that he has higher standards for the department in his charge.

The article continues:

Councilwoman Felicia Moore told Turner Monday that she questioned whether he could reform the department’s culture of silence regarding police wrongdoing that the Johnston case unveiled because he was a product of that culture.

“That culture needs to change,” she said.

Turner responded that he had had already began to reform the Office of Professional Standards to make it more accountable.

“Since being in this role, I have terminated nine employees, specifically those employees who have not lived up to the standards,” Turner said during a committee on council meeting Monday morning.

The article also reports that Turner also said that arrest quotas were at least partially to blame for the botched raid and said that such a metric is not only illegal under state and federal law but also said that what the community really wants from the police is a department “that is accountable, that has high integrity and that gives a good day’s work.”

Police Chief Turner is saying all the right things; we should expect nothing less from any police department in America. Time will tell if these changes will be meaningful or not.

If Turner is successful in changing the APD’s culture for the better, the people of Atlanta will be much better served. It’s just too bad that it took such a terrible, preventable tragedy for such changes to be implemented.

Hat Tip: The Agitator (who else?)

Related:

The Next Phase of the Kathryn Johnston Saga Begins
Third Police Officer Sentenced in Kathryn Johnston Case
How To Create A Police State
A Kathryn Johnston Update
Breaking: Two Officers Surrender In Johnston Death
Police Culture is the Problem
Did Kathryn Johnston Follow the Four Basic Rules?
More Details in the Kathryn Johnston Case

Quote Of The Day

Here:

My alternate plan would be to cut everyone back to 32 hours a week, cut their pay by 20%, AND save energy on Friday. By “alternate” I mean alternate to my base case of sending them all home permanently and waiting to see how long it takes for anyone to notice.

Since I was reading in Google Reader, my first thought was that I’d hit TJIC’s blog, not Coyote’s. But then I realized there were no calls to violence.

Another Critique of the ACLU: Social Segmentalization

I did a critique as well as a defense of the ACLU for TLP not too long ago, but another aspect of the ACLU’s approach to defending civil liberties seemed worthy of analysis. Here goes.

On my Facebook feed this evening, I found this snibbet:

Every student deserves the opportunity to attend school and learn free of fear; however, this is not the reality for many LGBT young people in schools across the country. Jamie [Nabozny] experienced the kind of antigay verbal and physical abuse in his school in rural Ashland, Wisconsin, in the late 1980s and early 1990s that can only be described as the stuff of nightmares.

I know what you’re thinking. Michael, I thought you were a liberal. Or a libertarian. Are you about to become a conservative and attack the ACLU for supporting gay people?

No, not at all. What I will criticize the ACLU for is its segmenting the problem of school intimidation into being a “gay” thing instead of it becoming a larger social issue. Children have to face bullying in many of America’s schools that goes way beyond the jabbing that adults have to face, often with adults showing little compassion and instead speaking down to them.

I can attest to this myself. During the zenith of Seattle’s race-based quota system, I found my family relocating to the central part of Seattle, after living in northern Seattle. The cultural shock was extreme. While I’ve become far more knowledgeable of urban culture (I hesitate to say “black culture,” because it’s really more of an urban attitude that represents all colors), the bullying is still extreme in retrospect. The incidents were numerous: buying a pair of shoes I saw a cool kid wearing, that cool kid taunting me for copying him and hitting me upside the head with a metal object, causing my head to bleed and being falsely accused of sexual harassment by a girl in one of my classes I didn’t even know or ever talk to.

There was also bullying in the suburban school I had been to before, as there is everywhere. It was just more extreme at the inner city school. With incidents like Columbine and Virginia Tech, bullying really needs to be addressed on a large scale. Schools can’t have teachers on the payroll that could literally abuse a child and still be protected by a union. Teachers also should be made aware from day one that that kid in the back who is silent and sits alone at a lunchtable isn’t an antisocial troublemaker. He’s scared shitless. Chances are that most of the bullying he’s experienced will be summed up in his adult years as little more than childishness, but at the time, that’s certainly not how he feels. Having an arm around him and someone actually listening to him will change his life.

I certainly was that scared little boy, and I’m a straight white male. As long as public schools perpetuate more as prisons and forms of societal control than places of education, alienated young men will be produced. Utopia, being non-existent and likely impossible, is a very long way off but problems will never be solved with the ACLU approach of “school is hell for LGBT youth.” School is hell for youth period. Do something about it.

On Islam and the Middle East, Where is Pat Buchanan Coming From?

When I first heard Pat Buchanan talking about Palestine and Israel as a politically naive teenager, I thought he was a conservative who broke from the path because he thought the Palestinians had been mistreated. Things are obviously a lot more complicated than that.

Given Pat Buchanan’s proclamation that America is “a country built by white people” and his writing of an entire book called The Unnecessary War, a historical revisionist screed based on the absurd premise that Winston Churchill led Adolf Hitler into war, his declaration that there are “too many Jews on the Supreme Court” and his fear of “losing White America” (all of which is the tip of the iceberg for Buchanan) my own suspicions have arisen about where Buchanan is coming from. It seems as if he shares Mel Gibson’s ideology and sees the Palestinians as victims of another war started by the killers of Christ. Why else does he consistently stick up for one oppressed group but no other (like gays, for instance)?

As a person who generally thinks that freedom of religion is good and that people should be able to believe whatever it is that they want, I generally agree with Buchanan in this video:

However, politics does make strange bedfellows and it is easy, especially if governed by principle, to end up associated with a group you have little else in common with based on one or two issues. (This is an eternal curse for libertarians.) Buchanan, as an intellectual conservative, seems to know enough about history to find common sympathy with Muslims who are in conflict with Jews. He’s not the first European anti-semite to do so.

If you find yourself agreeing with Buchanan on policy towards Israel or Muslims, don’t. Read Edward Said’s Blaming the Victims instead, which was co-written by Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky (both of which are most definitely not harboring anti-semitism). If you find yourself in agreement on the insanity of many politicians’ responses to the building of a Muslim community center two blocks from Ground Zero in NYC, don’t. Read Christopher Hitchens’ article on the subject instead.

Pat Buchanan is apparently a really nice and cordial fellow, but he carries with him some wicked and nasty ideas and prejudices.

Democracy Is A Referendum On The Economy — This Is A Defense Of Democracy?

While I regularly disagree with Ezra Klein, I believe that honestly one of the main differences between him and many libertarians is that he still has faith in the political system. He’s smart, he understands incentives, he just refuses to take the next step and start understanding public choice theory and the malincentives rampant in the political sphere (or thinks they can be fixed).

Today, though, he went off the rails. Here is his defense of the political system, regarding political science’s understanding of it:

First, campaigns don’t matter as much as we think. I take that as a good thing: Democracy shouldn’t be overly reliant on whose political consultants are better at spinning the truth into advertisements and attack mailers.

Okay, here I partially agree with Ezra. Advertising is a distinct activity independent of the quality of what is being advertised. If Ezra’s argument was that voters are able to see through the spin and BS to understand the actual qualities of the candidate, I would consider that a great thing. Sadly, Ezra’s next three paragraphs explain that the advertising is not insignificant because voters see through it, but rather because they don’t make decisions on candidates or policy anyway.

Second, “elections writ large depend more on performance than on policy — that is, they depend more on how things are going (for which the incumbent party is on the hook) than on specific policies, bills, legislation, etc.” That’s a bit unfair to incumbents, who aren’t totally responsible for conditions, but it’s nevertheless a fairly decent way for voters to make decisions.

So you’re saying that voters don’t make decisions based upon candidates or policy, they make decisions on conditions like the economy and national conditions. When things are good, they keep the incumbent, and when things are bad, they throw the bums out. How can you possibly square this with the belief that any election is a mandate for policy? I.e. if voters threw the Republicans out of office due to the war and the economy in 2008, can you claim that the voters actually wanted the Democrats to enact healthcare reform?

The argument that Ezra is making is that voters are simple and driven by macro events, while Washington is driven by micro activity (bills, policies, etc). And the argument that voters are making decisions based upon overly-simplistic reasons is used as a defense of democracy?

Third is that voters don’t approach elections with strong views on policy issues. Instead, they look to the political leaders they already trust to tell them what their views should be. If President Romney had proposed ObamaCare before a mostly Republican Congress, it would’ve gotten an easy majority of Republicans — both in Congress and in the country — and almost zero Democrats. Party affiliation drives policy opinions, and not the other way around.

Okay, so the argument here is that Americans voters trust “the guy I’d like to have a beer with”, rather than actually knowing or caring about his policies. And that American voters are tribal and protect “their own”, whether it’s R or D. Further, rather than voting for what they believe, they wait for those in power to tell them what to believe, and vote accordingly.

And again, this is a defense of the system? If voters make their decisions based purely on trust and tribe, why in the world should their decision empower our leaders to do anything?

The political science take on elections is sometimes accused of being nihilistic, as if doubting the importance of campaigns is like quoting Nietzsche and dressing in black. In fact, it’s fairly optimistic: Elections are driven by the real state of the country, not the money candidates spend to advertise to voters. You could say that it would be better if people made their judgments based on the policy Congress was passing to change conditions rather than the conditions themselves, but when you really look into how people decide which policies they support, it’s actually not clear that a more policy-centric process would be an improvement. Conditions are what voters know best, and so it’s good that they rely on them.

Ahh, I see. So the argument isn’t that voters should make decisions based upon policy, because the argument is that voters are too stupid and easily-led to have any reasonable understanding of policy. Thus, they vote purely as a referendum on who’s in power, not whether replacing the group in power will result in better or worse policy.

Ezra clearly explains why democracy doesn’t work, while trying to defend democracy. When Ezra finally realizes this, he might just make a political switch.

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