For anyone who hasn't paid attention, Mayor Bob Filner of San Diego has made his professional home a mansion of disrespect for specific women that has ranged from verbal to physical harassment.
He made a general announcement that women hired by his office would be more productive if they did not wear undergarments. He forced a wet kiss on one after she turned down his sexual advances. She turned her head and still got a glob of saliva on the cheek as his mouth missed hers. Another found herself in a headlock.
He has been called to resign so many times, headlines can now be copied from templates. Just change the name of whomever has gotten past a limit this morning. Last week's headline was surprising. He announced that, instead of resigning, he would take a few days off and go in for therapy. That would fix his behavior for sure.
This week's headline is one that has to be causing most readers to shake their heads in disbelief. Mayor Filner never received sex harassment training, lawyer says
The thrust of the story is captured succinctly by Steve Benen.
Yes, Filner's lawyer is saying exactly what you think he's saying -- the mayor may have sexually harassed women, but the city of San Diego bears responsibility because it didn't tell the mayor he shouldn't sexually harass women.
Let's see if we can connect the dots here.
Until 1937, bills in Congress were not that complicated. Congress spends money, Congress pays for it. Period.
In 1937, paying the bill for what you spend became two operations instead of one. First Congress spends money. Then Congress votes on whether to pay the bill for what it spends.
During national emergencies like war or economic downturns like the Great Depression or even the short term recessions that have come every once in a while since then, that meant borrowing to pay the bills after Congress spends the money.
During good times, that meant paying it back.
Good times of peace and safety were rare for a while.
During the cold war and perpetually impending nuclear conflagration, the emergencies were never-ending. In 1969, President Johnson managed to get a surplus and retired some debt. Bill Clinton did the same in the prosperous years at the end of his second term. President Bush turned all that on its head with tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy.
But mostly it was always crisis time.
The two step process of Congress spending money, then paying the bills when they came, was Mickey Mouse, but kind of innocuous. It was pretty much uncontroversial. Of course you pay what you owe.
It stayed that way until President Obama was elected. That election made Republicans mad. That would be mostly "mad" as in "mad as hell" but with a touch of "mad" as in "madness." In the last few years, as the President showed his uppity arrogance by having the gall to get re-elected, the definition of "mad" has gone a little more toward the crazies.
So mad and mad Republicans started decoupling generating bills and paying for them. Since voters have mostly gone against them of late, Republicans have been holding the pay-our-bills process hostage. If America doesn't embrace the principles Americans rejected in the last election, Republicans will stop paying any bills. And, of course, the economy will sink really fast. Faster than the popularity of the GOP.
One of the things that should have eased the strain was Obamacare. The Congressional Budget Office projected that Obamacare, with its financial reforms, will reduce enough costs, both to individuals and to the government, that the deficit will go down. Lower deficits are what conservatives want, right?
The reduction-of-cost prediction looks like it's coming true. New York and California both report health care costs are going down fast. In New York, companies have committed to rates that are half of what they were.
From the New York Times:
State insurance regulators say they have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York. Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to shop for health insurance for as little as $308 monthly. With federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower.
- New York Times report, July 16, 2013
But Republicans are committed in a different direction. They want to kill off Obamacare more than they want just about anything. They are very mad and they are increasingly mad, if you get their drift.
The latest from a lot of them in Congress is simple. If you don't kill off Obamacare, we'll stop paying any bills and that will kill off the economy.
Nice little economy you've got there. Shame if anything happened to it.
And here is where the dots get connected. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) threatens on behalf of Republicans to stop paying bills if Obamacare is not killed. Here's how he puts it.
Well, the one who’s threatening to shut down the government is the President and his Democratic allies. What they’re basically saying is, unless the government funds ObamaCare, they won’t support it. They’re basically saying that unless we fund ObamaCare, they are willing to shut down the government.
- Marco Rubio, on Fox News, July 31, 2013
The law that Obama got passed over a Republican filibuster, got through the Supreme Court, the law that is lowering healthcare costs and covering everyone, the law that the Congressional Budget Office says will help balance the budget, that Obamacare law, must be repealed, and must be repealed by President Obama and Democrats. If it isn't Republicans will kill the economy and it will be Obama's fault.
That's how abusers often justify misbehavior. It isn't their fault.
The Mayor of San Diego and Republicans in Congress are not the same, of course. In one case, we are looking at a history of sexual harassment and disrespect. In the other case, we're looking at shutting down the economy.
The only thing they have in common is the age old excuse of abusers.
It's not their fault.
"Look what you made me do."
Of the humanitarian groups dealing exclusively with poverty, the largest is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Never heard of it? They do tend to work behind the scenes, focusing on research and policy.
The problem with such groups is that they operate without a track. People in need bump into some path that leads to help. Or some project catches the eye of someone with resources. A lot of good gets done that way. A lot of people are helped. But there is little data that shows just what works, what doesn't work, and what that doesn't work can be made to work. So the good that is done is haphazard.
Not quite 4 years ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation joined with the Pew Charitable Trust in a major project. It was a natural fit. Pew focuses on public policy, largely on a state and local level. It seemed like a good idea to make an effort for the public good with eyes open instead of walking blind.
So, in late 2009, the Health Impact Project was born.
Their newest report may be startling to some folks. It's sort of like Supply Side in reverse, except it is based more on data than on speculative ideology. The findings parallel the real life experience of the European community.
For a long time, conservatives have been fighting against economic data. Almost a century of real life experience has shown that government deficits, big big deficits, are not at all a bad thing during economic downturns. In fact, during hard times, government should be looking for ways to increase deficits.
Those deficits produce debt. That debt has to be paid back. The time to do that is during economic upturns, times of prosperity.
The danger during hard times is that recession can turn into something close to depression. That's why massive deficits are needed. They avoid that danger, and boost economic activity when we desperately need economic activity. Recession gets cut off, people get put back to work, and good times arrive.
The danger during prosperous times is inflation. That's why government should reduce debt. Paying back during good times dampens that inflation, and the good times are protected.
Conservatives fight against that idea. They appeal to common sense, even when common sense doesn't actually make sense. It seems right that government should tighten up during hard times. That's when families start to cut back. Shouldn't government do the same? The data and a ton of experience say no. But people often don't vote on a hundred years of economic history.
In Europe, austerity has hit a lot harder than anyone in control on that continent ever anticipated. Economists warned about it, but voters went with common sense. So recession turned into deep recession, and now near depression. And recession persists long past the anticipated expiration date. Cut backs have been piled on top of cut backs. It has hurt a lot of people. A lot.
A new European official report now confirms it was all for nothing. Deficits are worse than ever before and increasing. All those cuts hurt the economy enough to reduce tax revenue. And so those deficits actually increased as the result of all that saving through pain.
That makes the new report here in America from the Health Impact Project especially pertinent, the study project put out by the two major humanitarian groups. The report now tells us something similar about government spending on poverty, something that has to remind us about the terrible European experience.
It seems that when emergency food and nutrition programs are cut back, other expenses tend to skyrocket. The greatest increase is in health care. As it turns out, when people don't get enough food, health tends to deteriorate. They get sick. The report found that when austerity is adopted as a policy to cut food costs, when little kids and the working poor are cut off from help with food, health care costs go up a lot.
Diabetes adds up to be a big contributor to those increased health costs. But other illnesses do their part, too.
This is not a new trend. The story has been the same for a long time. People who can't afford health care get emergency room care, and emergency room care gets paid for by the rest of us. It's more expensive than early treatment, and early treatment is more expensive than preventative care. Nutrition lowers the cost of preventative care. Help folks with food, and every rung on the ladder gets less expensive.
Perhaps health care costs could be lowered by ordering hospitals to turn away those without finances. But then, someone would have to pay for the increase in burials. One discovery during the Great Depression was that public health required removing bodies of those who occasionally died along roadsides.
So we're kind of back to Economics 101 in emergency food care. Cutbacks are not just wrong, they are wrong headed.
Will this new documentation do any good? Probably not. Congress has already cut Supplemental Nutritional Aid Programs by over 20 billion dollars. They are looking to eliminate more. The plan is to kick 5 million people out of nutrition assistance programs. A lot of them are little kids. Many more are working people who still need help with food.
The new effect will be more expense.
But then, the actual motivation was never really reducing deficits, was it? The idea, at least for a lot of Republicans, is simply to exercise their anger against the poor.
This hostility is occasionally revealed in public statements. But even when expressed only discretely, it is a continuing foundation of conservative policy direction.
This strain of angry ideology is a little different from your grandfather's conservatism. It is remarkably different from the Republican Party of my youth.
Back then, people who harbored such feelings for those struggling to get out of poverty were not called conservatives.
They were known as sociopaths.
Listen As You Go -
Government Tightening Its Belt Just Like a Family (8:40) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Christians Learning How to Walk Without Strutting (7:21) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Antonin Scalia - Still the Most Sophisticated Justice (7:42) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
For fiscal conservatives, as distinct from paleozoeics who just don't like people of darker hues or lower wealth, reducing deficits and eliminating government debt is not a process calculated to achieve some set of benefits. It is a self-contained virtue, a value unto itself.
Austerity is worth the price in pain, if it reduces debt. Besides, if families have to tighten their belts during hard times, then government should as well.
It is an easier sell if deficit hawks have a few helpful facts to make the sale. Benefits are easier to promote than virtue. Fiscal conservatives want to present a reviving economy with conservative policies.
Not the American economy, of course. The European economy has been in the grip of austerity for several years and so conservatives have pointed to the star in the east. Europe demonstrated factual truth. Virtue was proven at last.
And there was the academic proof. This wasn't the sort of thing climate change deniers produce: low level weather announcers and retired hobbyists. This was a study conducted by intellectual giants.
Kenneth Rogoff is a former governor. Not of a state, nothing that mundane. He was on the Board of Governors of the IMF, the International Monetary Fund. He was one of those who giveth and taketh away from heads of state. And heads of state stood whenever he entered a room. That sort of governor.
He teamed up with Carmen Reinhart. She was not quite the center of power that Rogoff was, but the respect she had won in academic circles went beyond awe. Harvard, international research groups, foreign policy councils became her domain. One group, at which she was a Senior Fellow, regularly produced Nobel Prize winners. When she spoke, experts in economics froze where they stood and listened, hanging on every nuance.
Rogoff and Reinhardt put together the mother of all economics studies. It was the definitive work.
Together, all their figures and derivative calculations came down to final proof. A survey of 20 industrialized countries over several decades produced a measurable pattern. Whenever national debt reached 90 percent of annual gross domestic product, economic growth would fall off a cliff. They had the proof.
The accumulated debt of the United States hovers around 70%. Europe's percentage is even higher. So alarm bells went off everywhere. Countries had to avoid that 90% wall of fire.
All this went counter to 80 years of mainstream economics. In essence, economists had concluded that deficits during hard times are good. The bigger the better. Powerful deficits put economies back on track. When good times are produced and prosperity has arrived, then deficits have to be paid back.
- Governments should spend like crazy when the economy is hurting.
- Governments should pay it all back when the economy has healed.
Government is not a family, such economists point out. When government thinks it's a family, people suffer. Real people.
The Rogoff and Reinhardt study demonstrated that mainstream economics had been wrong, completely wrong. 80 years of policy went out the door.
Austerity became the international policy of the combined European economy. The belt was tightened, then tightened again. Benefits were cut. Programs to feed kids, unemployment, public utilities. Everything was reduced or cut. Public spending was slashed to a minimum. Conservative policy makers looked for more cuts. When they couldn't find them, they cut programs nobody wanted to sacrifice.
Republicans pointed to Europe as the model. They fought against an economic stimulus program the Obama administration had proposed to revive the American economy. They only succeeded in reducing it.
Then the bottom started to disappear from the wheel barrow.
The European economy began to worsen. Unemployment rocketed upward. Parts of Europe are in worse shape than the US experienced during the deepest depths of the Great Depression. The European recession extended. It went on, the curve downward would pause every once in a while and cheers would ring from policy makers. Prosperity was about to arrive. Then the markers would go downward again.
Meanwhile, the little stimulus the Obama administration managed to put together in the face of Republican foot dragging did get the economy sputtering closer to recovery.
Today, the European economic recession is the longest ever experienced since recessions began to be called recessions.
But at least the European cliff predicted by the Rogoff/Reinhardt study had been avoided.
Um. About that study.
Economists began to get a little suspicious. The closer they looked, the stranger the data got. Years of extreme growth during high rates of government debt had been left out. So had periods of little or no growth during low levels of debt.
You can prove all kinds of things by putting evidence through a strainer, picking and choosing only what supports you. Religious conservatives do that all the time with scripture.
Then a couple of college students re-ran the spreadsheets. And all the numbers came up with different totals. All the ratios were off. Curves turned upside down.
It turned out the two movers and shakers who had turned economic learning on its head had gotten the columns wrong. Rows were omitted from sums. Function keys (F-5 especially) were not pressed in the final iteration. The addition was wrong.
When missing data was supplied and the sums were recalculated, all the ratios that supported the Rogoff and Reinhardt thesis disappeared.
Now, when you mention Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, economists go into raucous laughter. Rogoff and Reinhart are the Abbott and Costello of academic life. The conservative academic proof suddenly disappeared.
And so fiscal conservatives are left with virtue. Deficits are bad.
Just because they are.
You see, government should tighten its belt during hard times. Kind of like families do.
This week, fiscal conservatives who pay attention have to be feeling like the proverbial Christian Scientist with appendicitis. Official figures came out about progress on those deficits. Was all that suffering worth it?
Official figures showed Monday that the debt burden of the 17 European Union countries that use the euro hit all-time highs at the end of the first quarter even after austerity measures were introduced to rebalance the governments’ books.
- Associated Press Report, July 22, 2013
So all that virtue, deficit reduction for its own sake, regardless of who gets hurt, who is unemployed as a result, which children suffer, no matter how much the economy goes down, deficit reduction as a good thing in and of itself - that deficit reduction has not resulted, not even from all that sacrifice.
Just the opposite. The sacrifice has increased the debt.
We have to admit that there are many Republicans who will never know that deficits can't be cured the way Europe is trying to do it. Some Republicans will live their entire lives without being aware of what can be found in publications everywhere.
But other Republicans, those who pay attention to facts and don't just repeat what they thought was true 5 years ago or last year or last month, are left with very little.
- Austerity during a recession now has no credible academic backing.
- History does not support austerity during a recession.
- Austerity during a recession makes the recession worse.
Austerity during a recession makes the recession last longer.
- Austerity during a recession increases debt.
So what are Republicans, the honest ones, able to tell us?
Government should tighten its belt, and take on the same policy a family will take on.
And if that policy doesn't work, government should do it anyway, just like a family would keep following a personal financial strategy that doesn't work.
And if that policy is destroying whatever economies are putting it into practice, government should do more of it. Just like a family would plow its future into the strategy that has never worked and is destroying every other family that is trying it.
Government, say conservatives, should work like a family.
If that family has been ingesting too much of its supply of bath salts.
Justice Scalia spoke to a gathering of the Utah State Bar Association, meeting at an exclusive resort. He apparently defined himself innocently enough as something pretty much everyone knows. He is a self-described "originalist."
"I believe that texts should be read to mean what they were understood to mean when they were adopted."
The controversy is generated by what goes beyond mere analogy. He analyzes pre-WWII Germany's judicial philosophy as the equivalent of anyone who disagrees with his judicial philosophy. He doesn't quite say that liberal judges brought on the Holocaust, but he mans the ramparts to make sure liberals don't introduce it here.
Justice Scalia's reputation, as the most brilliant of the bright lights that grace the Supreme Court, has dimmed in recent years. At least among those less disposed to accept his judicial values.
I see him as the most sophisticated justice on the Court. I trace his sophistication to its roots in fifth century Greece. He is the intellectual descendant of the philosopher Gorgias.
Gorgias was a member of a generally well regarded school of thought advanced by Gorgias' mentor, Protagoras.
Protagoras believed that truth was elusive, but that we could come closest to it by engaging in rigorous argument. He did not see truth as intrinsic to any one side of any argument, and so he trained his students to argue either side of any controversy, looking for whatever truth could be found in either. The idea was that nobody could claim to actually see the truth. Not about anything.
Scalia's main thrust in Utah could have been lifted from Protagoras. It is the inability of mortal beings, including judges, to interpret how changing times interacts with law that necessitates staying with what those who wrote the Constitution actually intended.
The goal of Protagoras and his followers was to teach students the foundation of a successful life. One point of criticism against them was that they charged for teaching. In fact, they charged enough so that only the aristocracy could afford to send their sons for lessons in success. However, there was a degree of social acceptance of the idea that the aristocracy exclusively deserved the keys to success. They were best at governing, right?
Protagoras may not have been entirely pleased with his influential follower, Gorgias. Gorgias kind of went to extremes to argue positions pleasing to the aristocratic patrons who paid the bills. He began to argue more and more unpopular positions, even those that defied normal reasoning, to show that truth was possessed by nobody.
He authored a treases of sorts, On Nature of the Non-Existent. He pretty much argued that nothing exists.
Such manipulations of logic contributed to a social pushback that sent the entire philosophy of Protagoras into disrepute. These people would argue anyside, or every side, of anything, anything at all, if the money was right.
For me, what finally pushed the aging Antonin Scalia into much the same category was another talk he gave outside the courtroom. This was in the form of an interview. In response to a question about the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, Justice Scalia suggested that if police were found to have been torturing a prisoner, they would be on constitutionally sound ground.
Cruel and Unusual punishment, you see, would not apply to a prisoner who was not convicted of some crime. A prisoner who has not been convicted in a court of law is presumed to be innocent. And if you torture an innocent prisoner, there can't be any punishment, cruel or otherwise. After all, there would be nothing to punish.
I wrote at the time that Justice Scalia's form of original intent required some mental gymnastics.
There you have it. Justice Scalia's version of Original Intent demands of us:
- that we disregard clear language in the law and instead discern what was hidden in the minds of the ratifiers, and
- that we regard those ratifiers essentially as idiots.
Since then, the arc of the Scalia universe has been bent noticably. Conservatives remain comfortable, but the farther away from the rightmost corner of society we go, the more the idea that his opinions are wrong has been replaced by concern that he has become unhinged.
His comments during oral arguments, especially, seem to have been lifted from some late night radio talk show in the old confederacy. But his written opinions are noticeably weaker, often lapsing into the pattern of an old Phil Donahue audience member. "But Phil, where will it all end?"
His concern during marriage equality arguments became a hybrid, mixing his concern about original intent into a broader concern that, if equality were allowed in one place, it might have to be allowed everywhere. We can only hope.
During Voting Rights arguments, he put traditional judicial deference to legislative prerogatives on its head. His concern about Voting Rights was that too many members of Congress had voted for it. Something very wrong with something so many agreed on. It was up to the court to take action.
In fact, I think Justice Scalia's mental dexterity has been growing since the famous Bush v Gore decision of 2000. That decision transformed Governor Bush into President Bush without the bother of counting votes that had been missed. It also was a rare decision in its don't try this at home provision: warning that it must not be used in future judicial decisions as any precedent. Just this once, you understand.
His ability to take any conclusion, and find some logical path to reach it, puts him squarely in the tradition of Protagoras and his pupil, Gorgias.
They were the original Sophists. Their philosophy of success though creative argument, the ability to torture logic enough to arrive to any desired conclusion, became the virtual synonym of intellectual dishonesty. It came to be called Sophistry.
Justice Scalia, the court's intellectual gymnast, has honed Sophistry into the most sophisticated reasoning you will find in any court.
Listen As You Go -
Where Rules Only Apply to Ordinary Citizens (5:02) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Voting rights are back in court again. This time in Pennsylvania, at the state level. And the most compelling testimony so far has not come from election officials. It has not come from any Democratic voter blocked from voting. Not from a minority voter facing new obstructions. Not from a statistician or election analyst.
In fact, it has not come from anyone actually in the courtroom.
A life long Republican, someone who had voted enthusiastically for John McCain and against Barack Obama in 2008, had to testify by video camera. Medical problems keep her from traveling too much. That's why she couldn't make it from Reading, PA to Harrisburg.
Two women testified in court Monday via pre-recorded videos. The first, 71-year-old Marian Baker of Reading, said she hasn’t missed voting in an election since 1960. She said she suffered from a broken leg and other debilitating injuries that make it difficult for her to walk and stand. She can make it to her polling place just three blocks away, she said, but worries her legs won’t hold up during an inevitably lengthy wait at the nearest PennDOT center in Shillington. Last time she renewed her license, she said she waited four hours just to get inside the building, and another 90 minutes to get through the process. She said when she called to request an accommodation, a PennDOT representative told her she’d just have to show up in person and press her luck.
- Philadelphia Intelligencer, July 16, 2013
The amount of official help this voter has gotten is not unusual in states where voting is administered by Republicans. In some jurisdictions, state workers have been ordered not to help anyone without IDs to find out where they can get them. One worker in Ohio was fired for suggesting that withholding voting information was wrong.
Many of us who drive are unaware that some voters don't carry photo IDs and that it isn't all that easy to get a substitute ID. For all the talk about having to produce a photo ID to cash a paycheck, enter an office building, or frequent a library, most such examples are simply not true.
The only times I recall showing a photo ID in the last couple of years were the several times I gave blood. I did offer to show my driver's license when I renewed my library card last year. The worker chuckled and told me they don't do that unless a patron insists. "Do you insist?" she smiled.
It is easy to go through life without a photo ID, if you are within walking distance of life's necessities or if you are retired or if you use public transportation to get to work.
And who are not licensed to drive are the very people least likely to have an easy way to jump through any additional hoops to get a photo ID. Conservative lawmakers have gone through some lengths to make it even harder.
Republicans in Pennsylvania have parroted conservatives elsewhere, insisting new photo ID requirements are needed to prevent voter fraud. In fact, a Republican city commissioner in Philadelphia, Al Schmidt, claimed to have found over 700 instances of voting irregularities. Wow. Sounds pretty convincing.
A closer examination of those 700 instances shows that the commissioner actually looked for 7 categories of irregularities, 6 of which could not be prevented by any sort of voter ID requirement. When cases that would not have been affected by IDs were discarded, simple discrepancies found to be innocent, circumstances looked into, and backroom counting practices separated out, the 700 cases were whittled down to a hard core of 1. That would be one. A single case of voter fraud over several years of elections in all of Pennsylvania.
In court, advocates for photo IDs have, so far, made two admissions. One is that there is virtually no voter fraud in Pennsylvania that would be prevented by new photo IDs. The other is that a substantial number of legitimate voters would be kept from voting. But those advocates insist their actual motivation has nothing to do with restricting legitimate voters or gaining any partisan advantage. Party is not a consideration.
Outside of court, Republican officials are sometimes more candid, their words captured in unguarded moments. In 2012, Pennsylvania officials were allowed to suggest falsely in statewide advertising that voters needed new photo IDs to cast their ballots. This is Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman Rob Gleason earlier this week talking about whether that photo ID campaign had an effect:
Yeah, I think a little bit. We probably had a better election. Think about this, we cut Obama by 5 percent, which was big. You know, a lot of people lost sight of that. He won, he beat McCain by 10 percent, he only beat Romney by 5 percent. I think that probably photo ID helped a bit in that.
- Rob Gleason, July 16, 2013,
Interviewed by the Pennsylvania Cable Network
And this is Mike Turzai, who leads Republicans in the state legislature, right after laws were passed that those without photo IDs would not be allowed to vote.
Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.
- Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania GOP House majority leader, June 23, 2012
Our reaction to voter suppression laws, intended to gain political advantage, depends on how we look at voting rights.
If we see the issue as the right of a political party to own all the votes that supporters want to cast, we may divide along partisan lines.
If we regard voting as a right owned by individual citizens, the rights of political parties will not matter as much as the right of Marian Baker and those like her.
Lots of news going on right now: filibuster negotiations that may influence the future of lawmaking in the United States, abortion rights being curtailed by midnight legislative maneuvers, mortgage foreclosure safeguards overturned by stealth, voting rights obstacles thrown at the working poor, iffy dealings in Egypt, and a host of other vital developments.
But we keep rehashing the Trayvon Martin killing. And we should. The case invites attempts to divine some larger meaning. And humanity seeks meaning.
A man is adjudged to be innocent until declared guilty by a jury after a fair trial. That is the law. The law does not prevent me, or anyone, from having an opinion apart from the determination of a jury.
O. J. Simpson was guilty, most probably of unplanned murder as he was caught in the midst of some vandalism. That is my opinion.
Those who assaulted Reginald Denny were guilty, regardless of whether they were caught up in a mob mentality. That is my opinion.
John Warnock Hinckley was guilty of attempting to assassinate a President, regardless of the unwillingness of the jury to wade through the evidence to a conclusion about mental competence. That is my opinion.
Little Caylee Anthony was murdered by the mother to whom God and human society entrusted her well being. That is very much my opinion.
And an armed adult murdered a teenager in Sanford Florida in the belief that he was doing society a favor.
I find unconvincing each of the variations of the defense story. I do not find it plausible that a youngster with no history of violence circled around to ambush a larger man who gave the appearance of stalking him. Details detract from the already slim likelihood of the narrative. Trayvon launched his ambush without first setting aside his candy and soda? He attacked this stranger while shouting "You're going to die tonight"? Really?
I find impossible the notion that the teenager spotted a weapon that was still holstered behind the larger man.
I do not see any way that a man quite used to patrolling the alleys and hidden pathways of his little complex needed to step away from his vehicle to read one of only three street signs in the community, because he had become unfamiliar with the area he had patrolled at night for half a year.
What does strike me as likely is that an adult vigilante, angry with each passing day that young black intruders, "punks," seemed to "always get away," decided on independent action. Unlike the teenaged victim, the armed adult did have a history of violent behavior.
I find it more plausible that he drew his weapon as he approached and that he did so with deadly intent. This was one perpetrator who would not get away.
I find it quite believable that the man was surprised at the ferocity with which the kid fought for his life, fought in self-defense once he saw the gun.
The story as presented by the killer makes sense only in context of what he knew at the time and felt would be believable to the officers questioning him. The hooded figure he had targeted was a thug, a criminal, who could not have been there for any legitimate purpose, that the neighborhood intruder had gotten a form of street justice that an all too forgiving, politically correct, system of law was not prepared to render.
His story was consistent with that initial assumption. It did not fit at all the candy bearing young man the victim later turned out to have been.
I believe the verdict of the jury was partially correct on the facts. In my opinion, the man was not guilty of second degree murder or manslaughter. This was no spontaneous act. The neighborhood vigilante was motivated by a frustrated rage that had been building for a long time.
As I see it, this killing was premeditated, going beyond any charge that was contemplated.
Here is the point. I am glad that I live under a system in which the rule of law often prevails, a rule of law that prevents my belief from making it into the courtroom without evidence. In which the law holds that my opinion, in itself, is no evidence at all.
Had I been on the jury, I am sure, at least as sure as anyone who was not in the courtroom can be, that I would have voted against the second degree murder charge. I suspect I would have pressed for a manslaughter conviction. But I cannot be certain of that.
I am not happy with the injustice that is often intertwined with our system of justice. I find it hard to avoid anger at the losses of Nicole, Caylee, and now Trayvon: that they are without any voice, that there is no reckoning for their killings. In Florida, at least, the law needs to be tightened so as to prevent an affirmative defense with no burden at all on the defendant.
But I am even less happy at those who are just as obviously innocent and who are convicted. Ryan Ferguson, here in Missouri, comes to mind.
While I am sometimes angry at juries who let the guilty go free, I am stunned at those who favor continuing wrongful convictions, keeping the innocent in captivity. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster comes to mind.
It is a legal Sophie's Choice, this balance of red hot injustice. I would rather have a few more Nicole Simpsons, Caylee Anthonys, and Trayvon Martins go unavenged, their gloating murderers celebrating with their lawyers, if it would free one or two of those who are so clearly innocent.
When it comes to those who are obviously guilty, I very much want to live in a nation of laws.
I want those laws to keep my angry opinions, and those like mine, out of court and away from any jury.
The McCarthy era is important to me beyond what I read in history books or see in old videos. There were little known acts of courage. I think of a young Methodist minister speaking out from the pulpit in a very rural, very conservative parish. The resulting storm of protest against that preacher, my father, did not make much of an impression on me. I was too young at the time.
Edward R. Murrow acted out a more prominent act of courage when he spoke out against Joe McCarthy in March of 1954. McCarthy was given time to respond. He attempted, as I understand it, to enlist a substitute to rebut Murrow. A youthful William F. Buckley, Jr had demolished over-confident faculty members in debate at Yale after he authored a critical book about the University. CBS and Murrow would have none of it. They were less interested in the evils of the Communist state as represented by the USSR, which was beyond dispute, than in McCarthy's abuse of the struggle against it.
McCarthy accepted and began with an expansion of his vital, critical role in fighting the evil threat, and how he had endured vicious attacks for his noble work:
Now, ordinarily--ordinarily--I would not take time out from the important work at hand to answer Murrow. However, in this case, I feel justified in doing so because Murrow is a symbol,a leader and the cleverest of the jackal pack which is always found at the throat of anyone who dares to expose individual Communists and traitors.
- Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), April 6, 1954
Senator McCarthy went on to an attack of Murrow's background, including his sponsorship of international exchange student programs in the 1930s and his onetime membership in a labor union, the Wobblies, a popular nickname for the Industrial Workers of the World was called.
Every time I listen to that segment of the, I am struck by one segment early in Senator McCarthy's presentation.
Now, of course, neither Joe McCarthy nor Edward R. Murrow is of any great importance as individuals. We are only important in our relation to the great struggle to preserve our American liberties.
- Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI)
It seemed to me to be a defiant contradiction against a stereotype nurtured at the time by American media. America was supposed to be about the primacy of the individual. The Soviet state was supposed to be about the complete unimportance of the individual except as cog in state machinery.
American justice, as an ideal, should be about individuals. The guilt or innocence of an individual, how we judge an individual incident, should be about that individual and that case. Nothing else should matter.
Public issues should be about policy, and should be distinct from individual legal cases.
Of course, as a matter of practicality, there is an intersection between public interest and individual cases. This was common in Jim Crow days, as one murder case after another resulted in "not guilty" verdicts, in defiance of the facts of each case. The de facto public policy was made apparent. It was completely legal for white vigilantes to kill black people and those who might sympathize with black people.
Multiple instances of jury nullification in the old South made new Civil Rights laws a necessity.
In the Zimmerman acquittal, the injustice is easier to see than what went on in the minds of the jurors. Did they see something not apparent to most of us?
The great Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing for Atlantic Monthly, believes the public policy implications come from the negligence of law enforcement authorities in the hours, days, and weeks following the killing of Trayvon Martin.
... it's worth remembering that what caused a national outcry was not the possibility of George Zimmerman being found innocent, but that there would be no trial at all. This case was really unique because of what happend with the Sanford police. If you doubt this, ask yourself if you know the name "Jordan Davis." Then ask yourself how many protests and national media reports you've seen about him.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic Monthly, July 14, 2013
Ta-Nehisi Coates believes the jury pretty much got it right. It's possible that the strange burden of proof in Florida makes that true.
Self defense in Florida law puts very little burden of plausibility on the defendant. It is an affirmative defense. In most states, that puts some burden on the defendant to show the defense has some plausibility. In Florida, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, not only the facts of the case and the applicability of law, but also what is virtually impossible to prove in even the most egregious cases.
This case seems egregious. To believe the defense narrative, one must believe that a man who armed himself with a loaded gun got out of his vehicle to read a street sign and was then ambushed by a teenager who neglected to leave his skittles and soft drink behind. "You're going to die tonight" from a kid with no history of violence and, moments later, "You got me" reduce still further the believability of that story.
In most jurisdictions, the defense would have had to show some degree of likelihood that such a narrative was true.
When an affirmative defense is presented, putting the burden exclusively on the prosecution leads to obvious injustice. In other times and places, it has been because of confused or willful juries. That is what happened after the almost murder of Reginald Denny in California and the almost assassination of President Reagan in Washington.
In Florida, a close reading of the jury instructions and a brief review of case law seem to show a different standard. It seems as if, in the absence of witnesses, a deadly aggressor in Florida will go free if he is the only survivor.
In the Middle Ages, a similar standard of winner-takes-law was employed. A fight to the death was more fair back then. Rules were enforced. Guns were not to be brought to a skittles fight. The question is whether we want to go back to those times.
Back then it was called Trial by Combat.
And there is our public policy issue.
Listen As You Go -
Radical New Farm Bill - Robin Hood Inside Out (4:03) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Republican Dilemma - What To Use Against Hillary (7:17) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
The House of Representatives has passed what has already become the most famous agricultural legislation in the last half century.
The cutting off of food for those struggling to get out of poverty is the primary point of contention.
The cobbling together of such programs as price stabilization for farmers with breakfast for little kids and emergency nutritional provisions for families in need was a constructive joining of interests. Those in need represent a weak legislative constituency. They are without a voice in the offices of law makers. Joining them to agricultural interests gave them a natural ally.
The result is palpable. In my lifetime, death by starvation went from a measurable social problem to a point near vanishing.
Latent Republican hostility toward those surviving in poverty became manifest. Compassionate conservatism is a phrase not heard in a while. War on poverty became an overt war on the poor.
One Republican, during debate, referred to emergency food for families and breakfast programs for children as "some extraneous provisions" that ought to be segregated from consideration for agribusiness.
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CN) responded on behalf of food recipients. "These people are not extraneous."
Segregating programs to feed people was not the only accomplishment of conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Even after eliminating all food programs, the final House bill was actually larger than the farm bill passed by the Senate. House Republicans added additional provisions to push more money to huge agricultural businesses. The outlay was expanded to 195.6 billion dollars.
Farm Bills last for 5 years. They have to be renewed. The next renewal date was set for 2018. You know, five years from now?
Feeding of those in poverty was not the only part that was eliminated. The expiration date was also cut out of the bill. The Christmas tree for big business was made permanent, everlasting, eternal.
Only after passage was the public informed that all the additional pork was locked in. Forever. Sugar subsidies, the new "shallow loss" provision that guarantees agribusiness will never suffer substantial losses, and a host of other programs for agricultural industries are now to be made permanent.
One addition that was proposed was heartening. Members of Congress would be prohibited from personally benefiting from all the additions to the bill. None of those billions in additional payments would go directly to any member of Congress.
That amendment was voted down.
In Response to John Myste's Catholic Core Argument on Obamacare Not Irrational
I merely object to the notion that A. The Catholic argument against this is completely irrational, as if it were pointless and merit-less, and B. the arguments in rebuttal to the Catholic argument should essential dismiss the catholic argument as irrational. I responded to this thread, but my response is not specific to it. It is more an overall reaction to arguments I see everywhere.
The idea of freedom of religion coexisting with secular law is in conflict. You cannot serve two masters.
The Catholic objection is not tantamount to denying a religion freedom to sacrifice your first born to Moloch.
- John Myste, July 8, 2013
The terms that I used were "inconsistent", "mystical", and "paranoid".
Here's just one inconsistent aspect in this case: allowing exceptions for Catholics on the matter of contraception and abortion because of their religious beliefs, but not allowing exceptions for various other groups who do not want to be forced to act against their beliefs. We do not need to use extreme examples like sacrifices to Moloch to make the case against T. Paine's position here. We can simply point out that we are all taxed and that most or all of us object to something that our government does with that money, either on religious or moral grounds. Secular law and freedom of religion as T. Paine understands it are incompatible, as you admit.
The mystical aspect in this case: T. Paine's claims that abortion is murder (and thus is wrong and should be illegal) according to God and natural law. He has failed to prove both
- that his god exists and has this position and
- that natural law is a legitimate concept and supports his position.
These are faith-based claims, even though T. Paine likes to say that science is on his side.
My claims are not faith-based, since I merely present my own concept of personhood and argue for its relevance, recognizing that not everyone values particular qualities of life precisely as I do. I do not assert that "personhood" is a purely factual concept pre-defined by God or natural law, such that we must all recognize the zygote as a person and defend it accordingly. Unlike T. Paine, I do not raise my beliefs on this matter up to the level of absolute, cosmic truth.
Were I a Catholic, and had I had this point brought up to me, I would consider it a troublesome issue, much akin to a dilemma faced by a soldier obeying orders in Nazi Germany.
I understand that, but it is not a problem that can be eliminated. There will always be someone who believes that the government is forcing him to do something immoral. Making an exception for someone simply because he fervently disagrees with the law is bad policy that flirts with anarchy. Claims need to be backed by convincing evidence.
One last point:
T. Paine and others like him would have us believe that they care far more about what God wants than what the public or the law wants. They will fight to the end to protect their beliefs and freedoms! Yet we can expect that very few of them will end up being fined or imprisoned for breaking secular law to serve God. It is very revealing that these people, who believe both that legalized abortion is legalized mass murder and that it is a significant transgression against God, tend to do nothing more than vote for and fund Republicans.
If they don't care as much about their beliefs or deity as they would have us believe, then I certainly can't take them seriously enough to consider making an exception for them.
In addition to his thoughtful contributions here, Ryan also writes for his own site, devoted to the logical examination of political, religious, and social arguments. Please visit Secular Ethics.
The text you quoted concerned my overall experience with debating T. Paine, not with any specific argument that he was making at the time. However, the mystical claims do show up in most cases.
You can make counter arguments; explain why this is OK to you, and why it has precedent in our history. None of these points do anything to solve the problem presented: business owners believe they are being forced to finance murder.
And others resent being forced through taxes to finance a murderous military. We can't eliminate the resentment, but we can dismiss legal arguments on the basis of precedent, as you said. T. Paine never did explain how making exceptions for his religious beliefs is fine while making exceptions for others is not, so he failed to defend his side.
What do you want from us, exactly? Silence?
Ryan, July 4, 2013
I agree with you that the law should not be changed to accommodate Catholicism. I would not care for that. For me, God's law will always be trumped by secular law, and must be, until we agree on one and only one God.
I merely object to the notion that the A. The Catholic argument against this is completely irrational, as if it were pointless and merit-less, and B. the arguments in rebuttal to the Catholic argument should essential dismiss the catholic argument as irrational. I responded to this thread, but my response is not specific to it. It is more an overall reaction to arguments I see everywhere.
Were I a Catholic, and had I had this point brought up to me, I would consider it a troublesome issue, much akin to a dilemma faced by a soldier obeying orders in Nazi Germany.
The idea of freedom of religion coexisting with secular law is in conflict. You cannot serve two masters.
The Catholic objection is not tantamount to denying a religion freedom to sacrifice your first born to Moloch.
The question of what a human is and why that matters is a difficult one and different people have different answers, and I daresay, they are mostly faith-based, whether the “answer” is supplied by an atheist or a priest or a withered sage on his way to sainthood.
I believe the Catholic objection was politicized and is used primarily as an attempt to win the argument against Obama Care. I also believe it has merit and brings up a troublesome predicament for our democratic, religion-tolerant, political design. Again, if someone “knows” that abortion, at any stage, is murder, then I can see how they would object to supplying insurance to pay for it, or to supplying their employees with insurance to pay for murder. They could construe this as insuring that their employees have the ability to murder babies as needed.
Again, I don’t think the argument should change the law, and I am quite certain there are plenty of other precedents prior to the introduction of Obama Care in existence. Neither of these facts make the Catholic core argument irrational.
John Myste's contributions to debate at Fair And UNbalanced are limited by an intense schedule. We are grateful for his generosity.
Ryan is also a valued contributor. His thoughtful reactions are a concise reflection of his own site. Please visit Secular Ethics.
Listen As You Go -
...it just didn’t occur to white school administrators that treating black students “equally” by requiring them to swim every day for weeks in the winter in Chicago in P.E. class would present all kinds of hair and skin problems for the black students (my mother for example).
Much of the discussion focuses on whether the notion of White Privilege is offensive, or ought to be, to conservatives. The post attempts to separate malicious intent from systematic effect. An ostensible equal requirement may not always reflect equal treatment.
We can find dozens of examples in everyday life that have nothing to do with race. Occasionally, one generous member or another of my workplace will bring in donuts or brownies or cake. Everyone shares. Equal treatment, right?
Except some folks cannot participate. Diabetics and a few others are wise to enjoy the treats vicariously through others. It's a sacrifice, a nod toward health. A gift of milk and cookies will not be equal to those who are lactose intolerant.
Such inequities are received in good natured acknowledgement. They are part of adult life.
It gets a little more serious when job interviews are not offered to those whose names on resumes have "ethic" names, or when cabs do not stop, or streets are not quite as maintained.
When photo identification is demanded of voters, the lack of equality between those who routinely have such ID's in the form of drivers' licenses and those who ride buses to work may not be apparent to most citizens. After all, doesn't everyone have a license? It does occur to those politicians who benefit from keeping opposing voters away on election day. The laws have every appearance of neutrality but they make for an unequal society.
One argument against the term "marriage equality" or even marriage equality itself is that equality has already been applied. Any adult can get married. The restriction that it must be to someone of the opposite gender applies equally to all.
This does not not always seem intended as snide commentary. Some conservatives are convinced they are embracing true equality by applying the same restriction to all.
La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
- Anatole France, 1894
All things considered, I don't mind giving up donuts.
I would get a little irritated if some politician made it illegal for me to marry the one I love or made it harder for me to vote.
All to be equally applied, of course.