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Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful -- like something any one of us might experience in our final moments.
- Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, U.S. 9th Circuit Court, July 21, 2014
Alex Kozinski is a conservative Reagan appointee with a penchant for controversial language. His statement was part of a dissent. Judge Kozinski wanted to put a legal hold on an execution. His fellow jurists on the 9th Circuit Court went the other way, refusing to review the death penalty decision of a lower court.
The sentence in the case has quickly become famous. It became the third botched execution in recent weeks. It was expected to last for ten minutes. But Joseph Wood struggled to breathe for an hour after lethal drugs were administered by the state of Arizona. The entire procedure took about two hours. Descriptions of the gasps and snorts are graphic. It must have been ghastly.
Joseph Wood is not an ideal poster child for abolition of capital punishment. Before committing murder, he was the classic abuser, habitually beating the girlfriend who provided financial support during his long periods of unemployment.
When she finally had enough and left him, going to live with her parents, he went into a stone cold rage. He showed up at the little auto shop where she worked for her father. He waited for the father to finish a telephone call, then smiled and shot him to death.
He walked through the shop until he found his estranged girl friend. As she pleaded for her life, he was heard explaining it all to her. "I told you I was going to do it, I have to kill you."
Then he pulled the trigger of the gun he had pressed against her chest.
Before the execution of Joseph Wood began, he turned and smiled at the family of the two victims. His final statement was that he had found Jesus. There was no apology for the family, but the murderer hoped they would all be forgiven.
The reaction of the family is understandable. In my heart, I do believe it would be close to my reaction if I ever found myself in their place. The brother-in-law of the young woman:
This man conducted a horrifying murder and you guys are going, "let's worry about the drugs." Why didn't they give him a bullet? Why didn't we give him Drano?
Other executions, botched or otherwise, have similar stories of brutal crimes. How can some sort of retribution be far from our thoughts?
The bloodless answer Mike Dukakis gave in 1988 may have cost him an election.
"Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?"
"No, I don’t, Bernard, and I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don’t see any evidence that it’s a deterrent and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime."
I think of a fictional account of a fictional President pondering whether to save a murderer slated for execution. He asks the survivor of a murder victim for his opinion. Your mother was killed in the line of duty, wasn't she? The young aide answers yes. Would you want her killer executed? The young man says no, he would not want the killer to be executed. The fictional Commander-in-Chief nods. Then the aide continues: I'd rather kill him myself.
My own journey on the issue has been a slow one. I was swayed by a crooked governor. 13 convicted murderers on death row were exonerated by evidence discovered after their very fair trials. During that time, another 12 inmates were actually executed. Governor George Ryan (R-IL) suspended all death penalties pending a careful study. He eventually commuted all death sentences in Illinois.
The idea of executing innocent people is, and ought to be horrifying. As the possibility went to plausibility, it was enough to convince me. I could not think of a way to execute the unmistakably guilty without eventually executing innocent people.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing for the Atlantic Monthly, presents the case of the youngest person executed in the United States, George Junius Stinney. In retrospect, it is clear he was railroaded. The fact that the kid was black carried the day in 1944. Two little white girls, whose bodies were later found, had spoken with the youngster and his sister shortly before they disappeared. That was enough.
Today we can say those days are behind us. In a sense we would be right, but only in the sense that all past is the past. We face new demonstrations of bigotry, some subtle, every day. As Coates puts it:
The "Hey Guys, Let's Not Be Racist" switch is really "Hey Guys, Let's Pretend We Aren't American" switch or a "Hey Guys, Let's Pretend We Aren't Human Beings" switch. The death penalty—like all state actions—exists within a context constructed by humans, not gods. Humans tend to have biases, and the systems we construct often reflect those biases.
The anger that reacts against injustice is often what impels us along the arc of the moral universe. It is part of what bends that arc toward justice. If not channeled, it becomes the violence itself.
So, yeah, if my family was victimized, I would want to kill those responsible. Personally. Slow, torturous death would not be a flaw, it would be a feature. I wouldn't want to be deterred by process, or by appeals, or by the microscopic possibility that I might have the wrong guy.
I would likely be the one who wants to pull the switch. I can see myself as the one who hopes the killer suffers at least as much as his victim. Two hours to die? Good.
The same would be true if a victim of murder was from a family down the street. The same might even be true if the family was in the same courtroom while I deliberated guilt or innocence.
That rage inside of me is a large part of why I have to be against the death penalty.
From the Dallas Observer:
As they've been doing on each third Saturday for months, advocates for the open carrying of firearms gathered -- semiautomatic weapons in tow -- at Dealey Plaza over the weekend. As usual the demonstrators, who call themselves Come and Take It Dallas, handed out literature and preened with their armaments of choice.
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Money from Haley Barbour went into a campaign to demonize and vilify you as a racist.
It goes to show that there are elements within our own party that have to be purged. There are elements within our own party that have no business being Republicans.
- Radio interview, July 18, 2014
The Mississippi food fight that was once a Republican primary has also become a crucible, a sort of lab experiment that provides insights about the inner workings of the ascendant Republican right.
The loser of the Republican primary for United States Senator is understandably upset. State Senator Chris McDaniel got more votes in the first round. He not only came out ahead. He was substantially ahead. But he fell a little short of a majority. There had to be a runoff.
No problem. Polls showed Republicans in Mississippi intended to elect Chris McDaniel by a substantial majority when a head-to-head vote was taken.
The victory was widely anticipated by the most conservative wing of a party that has no non-conservative wing. Incumbent US Senator Thad Cochran has been elected 6 times. He is one of the most conservative members of the Senate. Chris McDaniel and his supporters say Thad Cochran is not conservative enough.
State Senator McDaniel has had a history of statements, votes, and actions on race and slavery and women. He spoke before an enthusiastic audience at a neo-confederate event. He has earned his place to the far right of movement conservatism.
And he was about to give the far right a trophy by winning Mississippi.
Then, to the shock of Chris McDaniel supporters and the profound surprise of everyone else, Chris McDaniel lost.
McDaniel cried foul. Thad Cochran had won by campaigning in mostly black areas, asking black people to vote in the Republican primary.
National Republicans have been making a show of appealing to minorities in recent months. Their efforts have included showcasing black politicians who have forcefully reminded voters of Abraham Lincoln on the one hand, and racist Democrats of the past on the other. The awkward fact that those racists pretty much all migrated to the Republican party has been kind of put on the back burner.
Many of us felt that the minority effort was aimed more at white people of good will than at black people. The Cochran win has been awkward for the GOP. When it comes right down to it, the conservative wing of the most conservative party did have a point.
Their case of election fraud hinged on one argument. The national outreach effort is a polite fiction for polite company. In reality, meaningful numbers of black people would never, could never, be genuine Republicans.
To many of us, that seems to be a conclusion that needs little more than observation. How many C-PAC pro-slavery conference discussions do we need?
Racism, to conservatives, is primarily a rhetorical weapon. It is no more than an arrow in the quiver of the enemy. It is the perennial false charge, unfairly made against good, solid American people, many of whom have best friends who are black. It is a double edged sword, one to be turned against those liberals whenever the opportunity comes. After all, only racists play the race card, accusing good folks of racism.
The featured speaker at pro-confederacy conferences, rousing cheers from those longing for the good old days, lights up another leg on the path to the future. Accusations of racism are not only to be themselves condemned. Those using them are to be banished.
We who predict the eventual demise of the Republican party depend on the party continuing to shrink. Our argument hinges on the hardest of hard bitten conservatives driving out those who are insufficiently fervent. As less conservative conservatives leave and the party becomes smaller, it becomes even less tolerant. So those less hard than the hardest are encouraged to leave.
That is why the choice of words strikes a chord. Mississippi provides a glimpse into what will come.
"There are elements within our own party that have to be purged."
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Sheriff Claude Screws was more than a little ticked off at Bobby Hall. The reason is largely lost to history.
In those days, it didn't really matter. In Baker County, where Claude Screws was Sheriff for twenty years, even incidental disrespect toward any white man or woman by any black person was informally considered a capital offense.
As day turned to night on January 29, 1943, Sheriff Screws and two other officers of the law were drinking and talking. Most of the talk focused on Bobby Hall. The sheriff told the other two that he was going to get Hall. A bartender overheard the conversation and urged the three to leave Bobby Hall alone.
Instead, the three went to Bobby Hall's home and arrested him for stealing a tire. Evidence was later found that the arrest warrant did not exist on the night of the arrest. Hall was handcuffed and taken away. Before they arrived at the Baker County jail, the officers beat the handcuffed prisoner with their fists and with an eight inch solid bar blackjack. They beat him until he was dead.
They got off. Not unusual in those days.
Sheriff Screws ran for the State Senate in 1958 and won.
Shirley Sherrod, a cousin of Bobby Hall, was not yet alive when the killing occurred. She was born in 1948. She remembers hearing of the murder as a lynching. Conservatives have described her memory as a lie because no rope was actually used during the killing. It seems conservatives are capable of fine distinctions.
In 1965, Shirley Sherrod's father was murdered by a white farmer, shot in the back. She was a teenager by then. A white grand jury ruled the murder should not be pursued. A cross was burned on the family lawn.
In 1984, Shirley Sherrod was working for the US Department of Ariculture. She met a white farm couple who were being ... well ... pretty much screwed over by banks. She made peace with her feelings and fought hard. She helped that couple save their farm. She won on their behalf. She also won their friendship. The story was significant for her because she had to overcome her own resentments toward white people.
In 2010, she told her story to a rural Georgia chapter of the NAACP. They laughed with her as she described the mental convulsions of discovering that her own attitudes needed healing.
A noted conservative, Andrew Breitbart, posted on the internet a heavily edited, severely distorted video of her speech. His false version had her boasting of finally being able to deny help to a farm couple because they were white. The NAACP group was shown applauding, not because of her winning an inward struggle, but because she had used her position to hurt white people.
Fox News promoted the Breitbart story. Others picked it up. The national NAACP was fooled, and condemned her speech. The Department of Agriculture fired her.
Fortunately, the speech had been recorded by a member of the audience. The real and unedited version was eventually posted. The white farm couple appeared on television, angry that their friend, Shirley Sherrod had been smeared. The government apologized. The NAACP apologized.
Breitbart, before dying of a heart attack, went on to post heavily edited videos of others. A couple of University professors here in St. Louis lost their jobs. They were made to seem to say things they did not actually say.
Andrew Breitbart has gone to the Great Beyond. But breitbarting lives, having become a bit of a conservative art form.
CBO Director Doug Elmendorf is occasionally breitbarted by the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and others.
Self-proclaimed Christian historian David Barton even breitbarts the founding fathers, editing documents to mean the opposite of what they actually say.
Now the slice and dice video distortion technique is being used by conservatives on each other.
Conservatives hate taxes. If they say "No new taxes" then reluctantly agree that some taxes sometimes have to go up, they become clones of elder Bush being taken down by Pat Buchanan. Conservatives hate taxes like crazy, especially taxes on the job creators, which is to say the fabulously wealthy.
Here's what one conservative said, trying not to over-promise:
So everybody assumes that if you're going to hold spending - I'm not saying I'm going to cut spending, I'm saying I'm going to hold spending flat. So hey, if we employed everybody in the state government this year that we have with this spending, we can do it next year spending the same amount of money.
- Tom Foley, candidate for Governor of Connecticut, June 12, 2014
That strikes me as a silly promise, whether by a candidate for President or someone running for Governor. Inflation does go up. No business, household, or government can make such a promise.
But that's what he said. He promises to hold spending flat. Cutting spending is left up in the air.
Connecticut's Legislative Minority Leader, John McKinney, also wants to be the Republican candidate for governor. He wants it so bad, he does a little editing for a campaign ad. Here's what Tom Foley didn't really say.
I'm not going to cut spending.
- Tom Foley's words, edited for radio by John McKinney
Somewhere in the hereafter, at a location uncertain, Andrew Breitbart nods approvingly, wishing only that the distortion was directed at some liberal.
The Immigration crisis is about violence, strength, and character. What sort of country are we prepared to be?
Not oil. Not a daddy complex. Not profits. Not weapons of mass destruction. Here's the real reason we invaded Iraq.
Gun Safety - the Personal Amplifies the Principle (4:37) - Click for Podcast
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Unregulated gun violence advocates will continue to win - until they don't.
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Watching the hordes of seemingly ordinary people screaming at busloads of little kids, it is a struggle to keep in mind that rumors, misinformation, and the ancient blessing/curse of fear can combine into a perfect storm. But the search for mitigating factors can only go so far before it overlaps into excuse mongering.
It is true that those swept into an ugly tsunami of emotion are not representative of the national ideal. The likelihood is they are not representative of citizens at large. We can hope.
And we do see counter demonstrations, people of good will showing up in a testimony by presence that hatred of the helpless does not represent the heart and soul of the nation.
There are occasional absurdities in the mix. A congressional candidate who organized one protest offers emotional personal sympathy for the kids he reluctantly opposes. He saw the fear in their faces as they rode by.
I was able to actually see some of the children in the buses and the fear on their faces. This is not compassion. When you have a rule of law and a secure border and citizenship and an immigration and naturalization process that works, you don't see this.
- Adam Kwasman (R-AZ), July 15, 2014
When told the kids were local school children on their way to a YMCA summer camp, he fumbles for a response. He is sure he saw facial fear. It must be because those local kids share the fears of adults at the waves of scary immigrant children.
Conservatives sense a political or ideological opportunity. The President is responsible, they reason. He supports a bi-partisan Dream Act that would offer a way to citizenship to those who were brought here as small kids, then raised here as Americans. The logic balloons into a case of false but completely predictable global rumor, a rumor with appeal to anyone in economic destitution. If you send your kids to America, they will become Americans.
Facts do tend to get lost in the shuffle. If the global rumor theory held true, other countries in Latin America with similar economic conditions would experience a similar exodus of kids on their way here. But only those few countries with a surge of violence and with corrupt or non-functional governments are increasing the flow.
Reporters backtrack some of the stories and verify. Rather than children fleeing from an unhealthy general environment, they discover specific, credible threats against individual kids. Parents who have already lost sons or daughters who were targeted and killed by gangs, react when their surviving children are then targeted.
The evidence so far does not fit economic motivation. As parents send their children on a potentially deadly journey with a strong possibility those children will not survive, it turns out to be less because of opportunity and more because of desperation. The possibility of death on the journey is outweighed by the near certainty of death at home.
A procedure advanced by a Republican administration, passed by Congress, then signed into law by President Bush, mandates investigation into immigrant claims of physical danger. The process is slowed by a shortage of legal staff and judges to hear cases. President Obama asks for millions to recruit and hire those needed to speed up the process. His request combines those millions with the billions Congressional conservatives have demanded to increase border security.
Congressional conservatives say no.
Demands to increase border security are themselves misplaced, at least in these circumstances. The arriving children are not caught by border agents. They seek out those agents and surrender. Increasing border security would be effective only if we want to give these children the opportunity to surrender multiple times.
The bottlenecks are in adjudicating claims of violent threats, and the need to feed and shelter those kids in a safe and humane environment.
Conservative arguments against following the law approach tragic-comedy. One Congressman who has visited the centers now holding children says he has a way of cutting through established procedures. You don't need complicated hearings and investigation to find out who should go and who should stay. The Congressman can pretty much tell by looking.
It’s very heart-wrenching as a father to see that — mothers with their babies. I also saw some 17-year-olds that I thought looked more like a threat to coming into the United States.
- Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman, House Homeland Security Committee, July 13, 2014
Other Republicans insist that they regard pretty much all of the influx of children as dangerous gang members.
We can hope the national character is not reflected by such proposals. The mobs and the public officials who react to them do say something about individual character.
Two conservative members of the United States Senate suggest the cheapest solution of all. Forget all those namby pamby procedures. Push aside any concerns about law and justice here, and the violence where the children grew up. Just put every little kid on a plane back where they came from.
If they are met on the tarmac by the same gang members they were running away from, well death is part of life, isn't it? If a few kids, some as young as 8, are killed, we should take the long view.
After all, life is filled with little trade offs.
It’s impossible for you to have been more wrong, Rick. Your call for inflation, the destruction of the dollar, the failure of the U.S. economy to rebound. Rick, it’s impossible for you to have been more wrong. Every single, every single bit of advice you gave would have lost people money, Rick.
Lost people money, Rick. Every single bit of advice. There is no piece of advice that you’ve given that’s worked, Rick. There is no piece of advice that you’ve given that’s worked, Rick. Not a single one.
Not a single one, Rick, not a single one. The higher interest rates never came. The inability of the U.S. to sell bonds never happened. The dollar never crashed, Rick. There isn’t a single one that’s worked for you.
- Steve Liesman, Senior Economics Reporter for CNBC, July 14, 2014
Steve Liesman is a Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist known for his coverage of the Russian Financial Crisis of 1999.
Rick Santelli is a former Hedge Fund Manager known for his angry diatribe against people struggling to saving their homes in 2009.
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When Starbucks requested gun owners to leave their weapons elsewhere, it made headlines. The impact on gun control efforts will be pretty much nothing.
Individual Republican controlled States continue to pass laws that deprive commercial outlets of the right to make such bans mandatory. The local corner store can't violate my second amendment rights. Neither can a national chain.
Chipotle made the news when the chain of Mexican grill restaurants asked patrons to leave any guns at home or in their cars or anywhere but at one of Chipotle's outlets. The impact on gun control efforts will be near to zero.
Most voters, in fact the overwhelming majority of voters, regard gun safety as something that government ought to insist on. The numbers are unmistakable.
But, while most voters are for gun safety in principle, it is one of many issues. War, environmental regulation, taxes, jobs, Obamacare, and a thousand other issues are also important. Some voters will show up to vote. For some, gun safety will even be the straw that breaks a vote away from a Republican.
For enough gun enthusiasts to matter, guns are not an issue in principle. It is a matter of principle. And more. It is an issue that is personal. Very.
So when Chili’s asks customers not to show up with weapons on display, it makes for a news report. But it matters not at all.
A display of a different kind may be seen at the headquarters of the National Rifle Association. It is an exhibit of the wording of the second amendment.
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Well ... not all of the second amendment. The part about a well regulated militia is left out.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The anti-regulatory arguments themselves tend to fall apart upon close examination.
Demanding that the government regard gun ownership as something never to be regulated, just in case government becomes so strong it needs to be overthrown, is a contradiction. A government so strong and tyrannical that violent resistance is required is not likely to respect any rights at all.
Demands that government never track gun ownership because government might be too weak to protect citizens is a contradiction. A government too weak to function is not likely to threaten anyone.
Arguments for the constitutional right to carry arm-shoulder missiles to the edge of airport landing fields will strike most of us as absurd: Antonin Scalia being one of very few possible exceptions.
But such arguments are not the point. The NRA has come to regard members as tools in a larger battle. The organization has become answerable to gun manufacturers.
Not to put too fine a point on it, a corporate sponsor of the National Rifle Association is less likely to be concerned with preventing gun violence than with making sure gun violence comes with weapons from the right manufacturer.
When Target asks visitors to please come in without weapons, it is because displays of firearms in a family-friendly environment makes that environment unfriendly to children. When ostentatious displays of massively destructive weapons drive startled customers to flee with their children, it becomes bad for business.
When Sonic asks customers not to brandish weapons that can kill other patrons, the impact on gun control efforts will not amount to anything but a news story. Sonic and Target and Chipotle and Chili’s and Starbucks don't really control many votes. But their actions are a reflection of something that might be more.
When a parent hustles a child away from a family shopping trip because some dimwit wants to make a show of a favorite deadly weapon, that parent, and the spouse of that parent, and relatives and friends and those attending the same PTA meeting may change priorities a little.
Gun safety may become something more than what we endorse in principle. Votes get affected when the issue gets personal.
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From Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass to Blanche Bruce and Edward Brooke, African Americans have a long history of involvement with the Republican Party.
The Black Republican section of the GOP website is a wonderful place to visit. It is part of the outreach program launched by Reince Priebus shortly after the last national election. It would have been difficult, not impossible, to admit that the Republican Party has wavered between hostility and indifference toward minorities for more than a generation. It isn't only minorities that have been put off. Any person who is not committed to white supremacy has to have been offended.
The leader of the Republican Party had to offer something different.
So he made a promise on behalf of the Republican Party. The "Republican National Committee vows to be much more serious about outreach to African-Americans than ever before."
Than ever before? Well, okay. The past is ambiguous and it's the future that matters. Right?
Still, the turnaround, or the amplification of effort, or the much more serious than ever continuing outreach, has had a rough several months. Rand Paul has been the one faltering light in the darkness. He should be recognized for valor in confronting black students in his own awkward way.
Black candidates have carefully explained that Civil War era Democrats were for slavery while Lincoln was a Republican. And Dixiecrats were for segregation forever while Republicans were for civil rights now.
There was that best forgotten migration of "racial conservatives" to the Republican Party after Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights, and anti-discrimination, and Voting Rights bills passed. And there is the current season's voting suppression efforts.
But as black Republicans point out, Democrats foster a plantation mentality. And besides, Party of Lincoln. Black people, or at least a lot of black people, are conservatives where it counts: in their hearts. Sooner or later outreach will work.
The delightful Black Republicans section of the GOP website remains a respite from the strife, a center of outreach in a racial storm.
This is a place where African Americans can come together to share why they are conservatives and what events, people or philosophies shaped their political thought.
Outside the wonderful outreach section of the official Republican internet presence, Tea Party people are angry as angry can be. Money is flowing to a legal challenge to one of the most conservative members of the United States Senate. Thad Cochran of Mississippi narrowly beat back a challenge from even more conservative Chris McDaniel.
Senator Cochran survived by appealing to non-traditional participants in Republican primary elections. He asked black voters to help him win. And so he won.
Chris McDaniel cried foul. He refused to concede. In fact, he promises to go to court over the vote.
Thanks to illegal voting from liberal Democrats, my opponent stole last week’s runoff election, but I’m not going down without a fight.
- Chris McDaniel, in a mass email, July 2, 2014
Slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, housing, voting are issues that echo into today's reality. For all the sleight of hand, everyone knows how the shell game has been played. Racial Conservatives have moved from one shell to another, from the Democratic Party of old to the Republican Party of today and tomorrow.
Plantation, conservative at heart, Party of Lincoln. The arguments vanish in the wind as outraged conservatives make a new case for truth. It is the truth that was already apparent.
Black people voting for a conservative Republican? In substantial numbers? Enough votes to swing a primary election? All declaring themselves to be genuine supporters of the Republican Party?
Conservative Republicans make their case, loud and strong. The Mississippi primary vote was a fraud. Meaningful numbers of black people would never, could never, be genuine Republicans.
From WFPL News in Louisville:
“I won’t get into the debate about climate change," said Sen. Brandon Smith, a Hazard Republican. “But I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.”
Smith owns a coal company on Earth.
The average Martian temperature is -81 degree Fahrenheit, but the committee was just getting warmed up.
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It can sound kind of silly. It's supposed to. That's the essence of a reductio ad absurdum argument, the bottom of a slippery slope. The idea of such arguments is that taking an opposing position, carrying it to what may be a logical conclusion, and showing that that conclusion is absurd, tends to discredit that opposing position.
You can counter that argument in a couple of ways. One way is to show that the absurd logical conclusion is not actually absurd.
Last year, the Supreme Court struck down just one part of the Defense of Marriage Act, the law that denied recognition, rights, or benefits to same sex married couples. Federal benefits had to apply to every legally married couple. The Supreme Court also declined to overturn a lower court ruling that California's anti-gay-marriage law was unconstitutional.
They were limited rulings. The other 49 states were not affected. And the federal government had no obligation to recognize gay marriage itself.
But Justice Antonin Scalia, in a dissent that was mostly diatribe sprinkled with angry name-calling, applied a reductio argument. The Supreme Court rulings, if applied universally, would logically result in absurdity. Gay marriage would be recognized in every state and territory of the country. That meant the ruling itself was absurd.
District Courts around the country took the rational portion of the Scalia rant and came to a judicial conclusion. The slippery slope was indeed substantive. But what was at the end of that slope was not at all absurd. So, one state after another has found its anti-equality marriage laws overturned.
Thank you, Justice Scalia, for every sarcastic word of your emotional diatribe.
Showing that the absurd logical conclusion is not absurd is not the only way to deal with a reductio argument. Another approach is to demonstrate that an absurd logical conclusion is not logical.
Conservatives are exploring a slippery slope argument supporting the proposition that President Obama is a tyrant, or at least a tyrant in the making. The President vows to use the full expanse of Presidential authority to implement policies in the face of congressional inaction.
Enacting laws is the role of both houses of Congress. If the President can get away with this, there is no end to it: Confiscation of arms by executive action, oppressive regulation by executive action, taxing the wealthy by executive action, imprisoning political opponents by executive action.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has promised to file legal action against the President. Only the legislature can pass laws.
It is reductio taken to absurdum. How is the argument to be answered? So far, a rejoining question has sufficed. Supporters of Speaker Boehner have been reduced to a sort of absurdity when asked for any action by President Obama that is not supported by federal law or the Constitution itself.
In some cases, the reductio argument is overtaken by events. This occasionally happens in the ever-continuing abortion debate. One reductio argument has to do with equating abortion to murder. Should a woman who experiences a miscarriage be investigated for possible homicide? Every once in a while an anti-abortion opponent introduces proposed legislation that would do just that. Fortunately, such efforts are quickly disowned by more traditional anti-abortion advocates.
A race down the slope of a different sort was suggested by this year's Republican candidate for governor of Texas.
Since the beginning of time, residents of Texas have been able to find out whether corporate neighbors are storing vast amounts of dangerous chemicals, including explosives. All they had to do was to contact the Texas Department of State Health Services.
The libertarian argument about government regulation is that, ultimately, it is unneeded. It is in the interest of businesses to be good citizens. Depending on the Dante level of anti-government theory, a libertarian can argue for extremely limited government or for no government at all.
Some residents of the Texas city of West might disagree. A massive ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Company damaged or destroyed 150 buildings, injured 160 people, and outright killed 15. There have been several near misses across the state as fires near massive storage areas holding explosives have happened near schools and residences.
So the reductio ad absurdum argument acquires more than a theoretical interest to some residents. How limited do you want government? What if the Department of State Health Services was no more? What if the department was no longer able to obtain that information for residents?
Greg Abbott is not just the Republican candidate for governor. He is also the Attorney General of Texas. So when he ordered state agencies, including the State Health Services Department to no longer release that sort of information, it kind of put a crimp in the flow.
When he was asked about it, Abbott came up with what you might call the Nosy Neighbor Principle. Residents don't need that sort of information from government. They could handle it themselves by driving around a neighborhood, knocking on the doors of friendly business owners, and simply asking what hazardous substances, including chemicals and explosives, they store.
If citizens want to avoid arrest for trespassing, they can write letters instead.
Greg Abbott pointed to a Texas law that requires companies, upon written request, to furnish information about certain hazardous substances.
As it turns out, business do have to furnish such information. But they also have a choice. They can send the information to the private residents who ask for it.
Or they can, instead, just forward the requested information to the Health Services Department of the State of Texas.
That would be the same Health Services Department that Attorney General Greg Abbott, Republican candidate for Governor, just prohibited from providing information to anyone.
The Latin word, I believe, is absurdum.
Parallels between America and ancient Rome stop at an unrealized dream.
Can Missing E-Mail Messages Be Defended? Really? (5:03) - Click for Podcast
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We've heard the excuses. Can we defend all those lost emails? Well, yes, actually.
Ben Franklin Is Not a Tea Party Candidate from Oklahoma (5:52) - Click for Podcast
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I never thought of him as a comedian until I came across a bit of history a few months ago. Then, a Tea Party candidate in Oklahoma again reminded me of Benjamin Franklin last week, and how he faked out an unethical rival, and made him deny his own death for years.
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