We can imagine Texas Governor Rick Perry reciting the founding spirit of America. "Life, Liberty, and, uh, uh..."
In a sense, he wouldn't have been that far off. Happiness was almost an afterthought among the elite in the British colony that became the United States of America. Thomas Jefferson is often said to have been adapting the thoughts and philosophy of John Locke's "Life, Liberty, and Property" when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
Locke actually didn't write that in just that way. He did seem to believe it, though. He wrote about the role of government in protecting "life, liberty, and estate." And he did see protection of property as a prime function of law.
Scholars who deny that Jefferson was basing the beginning of the Declaration on Locke may have a point. Three weeks before Congress adopted most of Jefferson's work, having taken out any suggestion that slavery was wrong, George Mason wrote into the Virginia Declaration of Rights something fairly close about inherent rights: "the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."
Supposedly, it was Benjamin Franklin who encouraged Jefferson to leave out the property part. He felt property to be a construct of society rather than an inherent right. So Jefferson wrote the Reader's Digest version, the Declaration as we learned it in school.
Consider the words:
"All men are born equal. The Creator has given us inviolable rights: life, liberty, and happiness!"
We remember those words, right? Okay, if you sense some difference, you might get a gold star. This was actually a paraphrase spoken by an ally of the United States in World War II. That would be Ho Chi Minh, who later led an insurgency backed by communist China against the United States in Vietnam.
The adaptation of the beginning of the United States Declaration was not accidental. A few days after the Ho Chi Minh speech, the Vietnamese were explicit about that phrase. The Proclamation of Independence of Vietnam was adopted after the occupation by the Empire of Japan was ended.
The compatriots of the entire country,
All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
This immortal statement was made in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. In a broader sense, this means: All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.
- Ho Chi Minh, in Vietnam's Proclamation of Independence, September 2, 1945
Ho Chi Minh, in fact, conferred with US agents from the OSS, the precursor to the CIA, a few days before reading the new proclamation to a huge, cheering crowd in Hanoi.
Vietnam has had some history since the war ended for the United States. They invaded Cambodia to end the bloody reign of terror that Pol Pot and his merry band of thugs ran. They then left that country to its own self-government. They have experimented with a form of free enterprise that surprised some of us. There is a degree of freedom that is greater than we would have expected at war's end.
A normalized relationship between the United States and Vietnam was announced in 1995. When John McCain helped celebrate that normalization, he emphasized the trading partnership between the two countries.
It is that trading partnership that brought President Obama to Vietnam. The mission was to create jobs in both countries by increasing trade.
During the visit, Obama pointed out that the relationship between the two countries had some precedent. He suggested Vietnam's own Proclamation of Independence, and Ho Chi Minh's speech, as having been inspired by the US Declaration of Independence.
It seemed like an unremarkable observation, one firmly rooted in historical fact. The reference to the US Declaration was explicit, part of their own Proclamation.
The reaction back here in the United States was pretty much nothing, Nothing, that is, except in what many of us see as the unhinged right.
This came from PJMedia:
President Obama hailed hard-core communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh today as a pretty open guy who was actually inspired by the Founders.
- PJMedia, July 25, 2013
And the American Thinker:
There is still some leftover admiration among lefties for the "agrarian reformer" Ho Chi Minh, who created the Vietnamese Communist party and was dictator of North Vietnam from 1951 to 1969.
- The American Thinker, July 27, 2013
And, of course, Fox News:
It may come as some unwelcome news to the families of the nearly 60,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War that the whole thing was just a misunderstanding.
- Fox News, July 26, 2013
You can read and re-read the President's remarks without finding anything suggesting that Ho Chi Minh was "a pretty open guy" or that the Vietnam war was "just a misunderstanding." You will not even be able to discover any "leftover admiration among lefties for the 'agrarian reformer' Ho Chi Minh."
In fact, President Obama was six years old during the Tet Offensive of 1968. He was 11 when the last U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam. If there was leftist admiration on his part, it started way early. Eleven would be the age most of us admired cartoon characters.
You can suggest the French phrase "liberty, equality, fraternity" was inspired by Jefferson's words without implying any admiration for the guillotine or the French Reign of Terror.
You can point out that the one time third stanza of the German anthem with "Unity and justice and freedom" was inspired by Jefferson without expressing any über alles for Hitler.
You can assert that the Canadian Charter of Rights includes a guarantee of "life, liberty, security of the person." And you can say that without becoming at all polite.
It's hard to avoid the obvious. These folks do not hate Barack Obama because they object to what he says and what he does.
They object to what he says and what he does because they hate Barack Obama.
Reza Aslan believes the New Testament account of Jesus is flawed, biased toward a presentation of a pacifist. Jesus, he says, was a Zealot, agitating against the Roman occupation of Israel.
I have not read his book, entitled Zealot: The Life And Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I get an idea of his reasoning from brief television interviews and from my loved one, who has, for over a week, been reading and quoting him.
She and I often seem to have a sort of paranormal sensitivity about timing. Neither of us quite knows how the other does it. She interrupts when I am desperate for interruption. I interrupt when she cannot afford to be interrupted.
From her interruptions, I have gotten a sense that Reza Aslan sees Jesus as a very brave, empathetic figure, angered at oppression, willing to take mortal risks on behalf of the poor, the outcast, those with no voice. He does not see Jesus as a divine figure. He does not write from the perspective of a religious devotee. In this, he is joined by many scholars.
I saw him interviewed for ten minutes of pure cringe.
I try not to mix my sympathy for the difficulties of news interviewers with too much contempt for their ignorance. So many are so young and so empty minded. Sometimes it is hard. They are often well coiffed, expensively dressed, highly paid people who make up in appearance what they lack in knowledge or effort. They are provided with notes that they read on air with a level of comprehension you would be hard pressed to find outside of a situation comedy - or a newsroom.
I listened to one talk about Washington life around the Potomac. He pronounced it POT-uh-mic. A friend heard a commentary on the upcoming film Elysium (which was pronounced as ellis-EYE-am). It sounded faintly like "Ellis Island."
Dana Perino makes frequent appearances as a Fox News political expert. Back when she was the Press Secretary for President George W. Bush, she was asked about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those of us who were scared out of our minds in 1962 may recall it as 6 days during which the world almost died in nuclear fire. She had no clue what it was.
She later educated herself, she said, by asking her husband what the Cuban Missile Crisis was. Cuban Missile Crisis? President Kennedy? Khrushchev? Castro? End of the all life on earth? Never heard of it.
Sometimes, you can kind of tell when a television personality has no clue. A guest disposes of a line of questioning so completely, it has to be abandoned, and yet the interviewer keeps asking similar questions. It becomes apparent the television personality is trapped by a script and has no independent knowledge to lead the way out of it.
Thus, for almost 10 minutes, poor Lauren Green of FOX News asked the same question over and over, world without end, amen. Her guest was the same historian my wife now loves to quote - Reza Aslan.
She kept reading from her notes variations of the same theme. How dare he write such a book! He was, after all, a Muslim. He kept slowing down as he answered, as if carefully enunciating so she would finally get it. This was but one of his answers. If you read it slowly, word by word, you can get a sense of how carefully and patiently he was answering the question yet again.
I'm not sure what my faith happens to do with my twenty years of academic study of the New Testament.
It's pretty clear that there are those who actually do not like the book who are unhappy with its general arguments, that's perfectly fine, I'm more than willing to talk about the arguments of the book itself.
But I do think it's perhaps a little bit strange that, rather than debating the arguments of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.
- Reza Aslan, Historian, July 26, 2013
Lauren Green helplessly persisted, reading from a series of attacks by Fox News personalities and others. "What do you say to that?" was the repeated question. And the patient answer, a little more enunciated each time, was the same answer with different phraseology.
At one point, she quotes Taylor Kane. Or it might be Taylor Cane. Or Taylor Kaine. Taylor Caine, maybe? Nobody seems to be able to find him. Real Clear Politics just substitutes [A critic].
"That’s like having a Democrat writing a book about why Reagan wasn’t a good Republican. It just doesn’t work." And then, of course, "What do you say to that?"
Whoever wrote the list of questions was really bothered by the idea of a Muslim writing about Jesus.
Look. I like the idea of people writing about Jesus. I like Christians writing about the Messiah. I like those of other faiths writing about Jesus. I like questions. I like skepticism. I even like hostile examination.
I have a well thumbed copy of The Passover Plot from two generations ago. In it, Hugh Schonfield tries to make the case that Jesus, with secret accomplices apart from his disciples, tried to fake his own death, but didn't anticipate being jabbed with a spear and died on the cross anyway.
Reza Aslan presents a picture of Jesus that is appealing but which, so far, I see as incomplete. He detects militancy where I perceive peace. I may know more when I read ... you know ... his book. In the meantime, I know his work only vicariously. I enjoy the readings and interpretations of the one I love.
I like almost anything that gets people to take another look at the central message of Love in the person of God on Earth. I like taking another look myself. And another and another. With every look, life in those days becomes more real for me. And seeing Jesus in the context of that life makes his presence more real for me in this life.
There is a part of me that welcomes even the ineptly hostile Fox interview. I do try to nurture that in my own soul.
But I confess that the contrast of reason by a skeptic against persistent challenge based on intolerance gives me some heartburn. My own experiences color my vision. The tribalism, the indignation, the defensiveness, the anger at an outsider daring to contemplate Jesus, all combine into a lot of what drove me away from the faith for many years.
My bet is that this is what drives many away from a faith that ought to represent acceptance, love, and the intrinsic worth of every child of God.
Add the inadvertent comparison of President Reagan to the Son of Man, and you have a stereotypical picture of the Republican Party at prayer, complete with the Holy Ghost of Supply Side.
It is a perfect storm of cringe, although with a ray of hope. There is some evidence that Christians, particularly younger followers of Jesus, are turning away from that storm and more toward the one who calms the storm.
My experience has been that examination of history, consideration of argument, and openness to others, tends to strip away superficial constructs. It strengthens the hard core of our faith.
And, the calm demeanor of those who remain patient in the face of bigotry provide a living example of how Jesus guides us.
We have much to learn from those who do not believe.
From Smithsonian Magazine
The newest casino in Vegas was a 40-foot trailer in a vacant lot. Inside, gamblers in shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps fed quarters into video-poker machines. Outside, weeds sprouted through the sun-scorched pavement of a forlorn stretch of Bonanza Road near Three Star Auto Body and Didn’tDoIt Bail Bonds. A banner strapped to the trailer announced that this was the “Site of the Famous Moulin Rouge Casino!”
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Government Tightening Its Belt Just Like a Family (8:40) - Click for Podcast
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Christians Learning How to Walk Without Strutting (7:21) - Click for Podcast
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Antonin Scalia - Still the Most Sophisticated Justice (7:42) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
When the Supreme Court ruled against the Voting Rights Act, the logic was two pronged.
The most entertaining, in a gallows sort of way, was that it wasn't needed any longer.
Justice Antonin Scalia pushed hard on this during oral arguments, pointing out that a near unanimous vote for protecting voting rights was an argument against protecting voting rights. It was the sort of dazzling logic we have come to expect from this notable jurist. If too many legislators vote for it, as a protection against racist threats to voting rights, it is evidence of the absence of racism. And if there is an absence of racism, there should be no voting rights law. Quod erat demonstrandum.
Actually, Justice Scalia went a step further. Since everyone who voted in favor of protecting voting rights could see that everyone else was voting against racism, they all knew racism was dead. But they voted for protection anyway. Since they were obviously not really voting to protect against a threat they could see was no longer there, the overwhelming vote was caused by something not mentioned. So the law protecting voting rights was a form of racial entitlement.
Antonin Scalia is a self-described originalist. He believes the original intent of each part of the constitution should prevail. It should prevail even against the actual text of the constitution.
So, what Justice Scalia, and four of his colleagues, seem to believe is that the founders wanted the court to consider overruling any law that would prevent discrimination if preventing discrimination was supported by too many legislators. It would be difficult to find that reasoning in the Federalist Papers, but that is how today's originalists swing.
Majority rules, as long as the vote is close enough. If too many people are for it, it must be wrong.
The other tine of the two pronged Supreme Court logic was the relatively new idea of Sovereign Equality. Those who wrote the foundational law of the land wanted all states of the country to be treated equally. No law can be constitutional if it applies only to certain states.
Constitutional scholars might get hiccups over this. The entire electoral system of voting, as original debates make clear, was to protect slave holding states by giving slave owners more control over the government. You won't see the term "Electoral College" in accounts of the original debate. That description came later. But you will see a lot of discussion about protecting slavery by giving more power to slave states. That part of the Constitution may, to those not invested in Scalia reasoning, be the deliberate treating of one section of the country differently. On purpose.
More directly, those who wrote and passed the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution had an original intent. The Amendment that protected voting rights of all citizens included a provision that gave Congress all necessary powers to pass whatever legislation was needed to enforce voting rights. That same Congress then passed all sorts of laws that applied only to southern states.
Now if I own 50 cars, and I tell you I'm going to wash my car, you might wonder which car I mean. Maybe I even mean all 50 of my collection. You could speculate for a long time, employing some breathtaking conservative reasoning.
Or, you might get the bright idea of watching to see which of my cars get the soap and water. If I start washing the nearest red car then I take the rest of the day off, does it make sense to say I intended something other than to wash my dirty red car? Or does action immediately after the statement tell us the original intent?
It seems as if the original intent of those who passed the Fifteenth Amendment was not the idea of Sovereign Equality. Unless, of course, they were out of their minds. As soon as they passed the Fifteenth Amendment, they went on to Reconstruction, Freedmen's Bureau's, and red cars. All but the red cars applied only to southern states.
But today's Court has spoken. There is, we now know, no reason to believe those sections of the country that were required to submit voting changes for review are at all likely to discriminate in the future.
Besides, fair is fair. All states should be treated the same. Not necessarily all people within those states, but then you can't have everything.
Well . . .
Actually, the court was not that specific. Neither was the part of the law the court ruled against.
It is true certain huge sections of the country were covered by the pre-clearance requirement. Those sections had a history that put them under that requirement. And there was a way a state, or even part of a state, could get out of that category. If you, as a state, could demonstrate that you had a clean record for at least ten years, you were free at last, free at last.
The court didn't rule against the concept of pre-clearance. They said the requirements were slipshod. You could hold a state or county responsible for recent history, if it was documented. But you couldn't hold a geographical area hostage to it's long forgotten past, which is to say Civil War days or even Jim Crow times.
But the perception was that the law had become the roach motel in reverse. Sections could come out but they couldn't be put in.
So Texas and Mississippi and Florida and a dozen or so other states immediately passed laws to make it harder to vote. Not harder for everyone. Just ... you know ... undesirables. North Carolina is about the most radical so far.
Photo ID laws were only one new requirement. Those who drive automobiles had nothing to worry about. They already had IDs that would count. But laws were passed then revised, then shifted around for everyone else. Other government IDs would be okay, then they were no longer okay. College issued photo IDs were fine, then they weren't. Other Photo IDs would count, then they wouldn't. All within a few days.
Offices where substitute IDs could be gotten were closed or restricted to partial days. Early voting was shut down. The number of polling places was reduced in minority areas. Provisions that had been in effect for a hundred years were eliminated - that included rules that had said those waiting in line on time to vote had to be allowed to vote if lines were so long the time ran out. Those rules were changed. Now if you get there on time, but you have to wait in line and the line is too long, well too bad.
And on and on. All this was happening in celebration of the Supreme Court decision.
But the reverse roach motel theory, states coming out of pre-clearance but never going in, wasn't entirely correct.
The section in which the Voting Rights Act itself put specified sections of the country into pre-clearance was gone. But there was another section the court had not mentioned.
If a state or part of a state behaves badly toward some of its citizens, keeping them from exercising their voting rights, the courts, in absence of the legislature, can put them into pre-clearance.
For ten years.
There are limits. You can't just prove a state is discriminating. You have to prove it is deliberate. Think of it as a stand-your-ground law of voting suppression. If they keep you from voting "accidentally" it's constitutional.
The federal government, in the person of Attorney General Eric Holder, announced this week that court cases are being prepared to ask the court to put some states back into pre-clearance. Texas will be the first.
That seems like a good starting point. Republicans who control the state government of Texas are dealing dirt toward Hispanic citizens like crazy, working very hard to keep them from being able to vote.
And lots of documentation exists. Republicans in the Texas legislature have not been discrete about what they want to do and why they want to do it. They talk on record. They write to each other and to others. They send email messages.
It's been kind of like Anti-Hispanic Tourette Syndrome.
Texas Republicans are mad as hornets about the prospective lawsuit. Lots of talk about "Federal interference in our elections" and such. Reminds me of fifty years ago.
Republicans do like to talk about going back to traditional times, the good old days.
When it comes to voting rights, it looks like conservatives have something in mind that may be closer to Bull Connor than Leave it to Beaver.
Ten years ago Bill Frist of Tennessee became Republican Leader of the United States Senate, replacing Trent Lott. Lott regarded it as a personal betrayal. "If Frist had not announced exactly when he did, as the fire was about to burn out, I would still be majority leader of the Senate today."
That "fire" forced Lott to resign. Here is what Trent Lott said at the birthday party celebrating Strom Thurmond at age 100.
When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either.
- Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), December 5, 2002
I remember hearing those remarks on television. I have to admit I wasn't paying much attention. I was attending to some chore or other and I just had the television on in the background. I wasn't even sure of what I had heard. There wasn't any immediate news coverage. I wondered if I might have heard it wrong.
It sounded as if the one chosen by Senate Republicans to lead them had just endorsed a segregationist candidacy from more than half a century before.
A few days later, news outlets discovered the story. Conservatives were enraged at Lott's remarks. The debate about whether he needed to go was heated, but brief. Within a couple of weeks, Trent Lott had resigned.
The Republican Party of those days is pretty much gone. It is not your father's GOP. The latest is from a Republican leader serving on the Judiciary Committee where he is assigned to the Border Security Subcommittee. People listen to what he has to say on immigration, and he has a lot to say.
He was apparently establishing his good will on immigration when he talked about how you should only pick the best of the litter when breeding dogs. He suggested that making it hard to get in to American meant that only the best people would make it.
You want a good bird dog, and you want one that's gonna be aggressive? Pick the one that's the friskiest, the one that's in games the most -- not the one that's over there sleeping in the corner. You want a pet to sit on the couch, pick the one that's sleeping in the corner. That's -- so, you get the pick of the litter, you got yourself a pretty good bird dog. We got the pick of every donor civilization on the planet because it's hard to get here, you had to be inspired to come.
- Steve King (R-IA), May 21, 2013
Dog breeding as a model for immigration. That's a different way of looking at it. Now, in an interview with Newsmax, Representative King gets personal. This is how they look, this is how they act, this is how they are, this is why we have to get rid of them.
Undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children and grew to adulthood in America are still little people. Small, but physically fit. The fitness comes from hauling more than half their own weight of illegal drugs through desert terrain into the United States. Millions of drug dealers, whose physical appearance can be described kind of comically, through analogy.
For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that, they weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.
- Steve King (R-IA), July 18, 2013
So they are small folk, kind of silly looking, calves bulging to the point of absurdity, and mostly drug mules - millions and millions of drug mules. Breaking Bad on ... well ... Steroids.
Some Republicans are voicing disagreement with Steve King's remarks. Immigrants are not dogs. They are not to be seen as a a hoard of drug smugglers. John Boehner feels that the language was wrong.
What he said is wrong. There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language.
- John Boehner (R-OH), Speaker of the House of Representatives, July 23, 2013
Eric Cantor, ever the competitor, goes beyond John Boehner's honest disagreement. He doesn't just disagree. He strongly disagrees. He doesn't just advise that policy differences be discussed without hateful language. He finds the remarks inexcusable.
I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable.
- Eric Cantor (R-VA), Republican House Whip, July 23, 2013
When I was a small child, my grandfather would sometimes tease me and my siblings with mock anger. "Am I going to have to speak to you children?" We would laugh. He sometimes followed up with "If you're not careful, you may find yourself spoken to."
Republicans today remind me of my grandfather in several ways.
Ten years ago, Trent Lott was forced to resign from his leadership role. In his remarks, he did not characterize anyone's physical appearance. He did not generalize about drugs or much of anything else. He obliquely endorsed a blatantly racist platform from 54 years before.
This year, Steve King attacked an immigrant ethnicity on the basis of physical stature, general appearance, and supposed criminality. He has encountered disagreement, strong disagreement, attacks on his language, and the content of his comments.
Trent Lott found himself expelled from any leadership for years.
Steve King finds himself spoken to.
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.
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Where Rules Only Apply to Ordinary Citizens (5:02) - Click for Podcast
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It was before a lot of parents of today's adults were, themselves, adults,. I read about some CEO who was stopped by a security guard as he got to a checkpoint while going into his office building. Just a few weeks before that, another guard in another building was fired, quite publicly, for not allowing the head of another company to bypass security procedures.
But this executive was different. He sent an aide back to get his company identification and waited with the guard until it arrived. He went out of his way to praise the security officer for enforcing the rules, no matter who tried to violate those rules, "even me."
The writer of the article, those decades ago, contrasted the two approaches. The earlier guard had been fired for not respecting the head of a corporation enough to ignore the rules. The later guard at the second company, doing pretty much exactly the same thing, was publicly praised. He offered the two incidents as examples of two styles of management.
Styles of management? I remember thinking that one executive was intelligent and fair, letting his employees, and the world at large, know that he would not insist on a standard for his workers that he himself would not expect to follow. The other simply demonstrated that he was a royal jerk, putting his own sense of self-importance ahead of what could have been a simple small incident of responsibility.
We all can remember times in which we were jerks, living for a moment of self-puffery, forgetting a larger picture. I won't go into personal examples. There are too many, and I would rather not be remembered for them.
But, over time, we learn from the reactions of others. We find a collective sort of maturity, a sort of crowdsourcing of feedback. It isn't peer pressure, exactly. It is more of a backdrop.
Sometimes we must answer a higher call and go against it. Going against the crowd requires courage, and courage involves some conscious effort. We'll take a stand against bigotry or injustice or some predominant group opinion after giving an issue some thought.
But the default - the point of departure - is what we are taught, in large ways or small, by others. It informs our day-to-day conduct.
The problem our "bad" executive experienced may have been a separation from that sort of feedback. It may have been easier to give in to a propensity toward jerkdom when surrounded for years by those whose livelihood depended on producing on demand the smiles and sounds of enthused agreement. Yes, yes, your awesomeness. It could be that the absence of occasional disagreement promotes an inner moral decay, an atrophy of the soul.
That may be why adults can become spoiled children, and why the head of a corporation can become Lord of the Flies.
I was thinking of that old story from long, long ago as I read about Fiordaliza Hernandez, a security guard at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Earlier this year, Hernandez was enforcing a rule outside an exclusive, every elite, highly expensive Delta Sky 360 Club.
The Delta Sky 360 Club is an area reserved for those with season tickets and their guests. You need identification to get in. One fellow without the identification insisted on admission. She told him the rule - he needed identification.
He explained that he had forgotten his club ID. She told him he needed identification.
He told Fiordaliza Hernandez that he was a club owner, a very important guy. She said he needed identification.
He identified himself as James Dolan, the owner of the New York Knicks and head of the company that owns Madison Square Gardens. She said he needed identification.
Incredulous, he asked if she recognized him. He was her employer. She insisted on the ID.
So, naturally, he fired her. She was sent home. He explained later: "I have to get new security in this building! I have idiots working here!"
I believe the clinical term that would apply to Mr. Dolan is "brat."
In an unrelated story, a law enforcement agent in Iowa lost his job after he asked police to stop and ticket an automobile he observed speeding. They discovered the car contained Republican Governor Terry Branstad. An internal investigation was launched against the complaining officer. The investigation ended with a letter sent to the offending agent:
After careful consideration, it is apparent that your employment with the Iowa Department of Public Safety has been counterproductive to the best interests of the department. Your actions and deportment represent behavior that is unacceptable and warrants discharge.
Makes you wonder just how isolated from ordinary rules of behavior some business and political leaders have gotten.
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.
When a political office is burglarized, you would expect it to involve something significant.
Watergate was not about tapes. That was merely the evidence that resolved who was telling the truth. In popular imagination, that part of the popular mind that remembers such things, it was about breaking and entering.
The Watergate Hotel was the home of some of the most elite of Washington's elite. It also was the extreme high end of office locations. And it was where the Democratic National Committee was housed.
The little group assigned the task of breaking in had some experience. They had broken into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Ellsberg had taken a classified Pentagon report to the New York Times and other newspapers. It was was little more than an historical essay about the decision making that had gotten us into the Vietnam war. Classification has always erred way beyond the side of caution. Putting a social studies lesson into a top secret file was kind of silly.
The break in at the office of the psychiatrist was to find a record of Ellsberg's treatment. They broke in, but couldn't find the file. The President's guys were disappointed. Apparently, leaking the report would have been less - I dunno - damaging? Embarrassing? Less of something, I guess, if a counter documentation could be released showing Ellsberg was a little crazy. That part has always seemed a bit weird to me. My imagination tries to get wrapped around it:
Yeah the documentation that was leaked shows we should never have gotten into Vietnam. It was all a mistake. It is a tragedy. But guess what! We have stolen records to prove the guy who leaked the documents is a bit nuts.
The break in at the Watergate makes more sense. The goal was to wiretap phones and leave other listening devices. In flowerpots, perhaps.
Nobody knows why, but there are a lot of candidates for motive. It could be President Nixon or his campaign just wanted to know ahead of time what Democratic candidate George McGovern might be planning day by day during the long hot summer of 1972.
More likely, the Committee to Re-Elect the President, lovingly called CREEP, was concerned about some past criminality. Speculation often centers around gazillionaire recluse Howard Hughes. An unspecified bit of nefarious financial dealing is suspected.
It has since come out that President Nixon, before he became President, when he was still candidate Nixon in 1968, was afraid President Johnson might be able to get a peace treaty between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. If peace broke out, Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee that year, could win. So private citizen Nixon arranged for a secret message to South Vietnam. If they would turn down all peace efforts and keep the war going until after the election, Nixon would see to it they got a better deal.
The technical word for what Citizen Nixon was doing at the time is treason. So it could be that President Nixon wanted to know if Democrats had found out.
Or it could be some other secret.
When Ron Zeigler, President Nixon's Press Secretary called the Watergate break in a "third rate burglary" that was being blown all out of proportion by the lefty biased media, nobody was buying it.
Third Rate Burglary? Really?
So now, more than 40 years after Watergate, when desks in the Capitol Building, desks belonging to staff members of Congressional Representatives, were broken into. Folks suspected something was up.
Is it possible people are working in the U.S. Capitol who have a key to my office, who have no legal rights to be here in the United States? Well, that’s possible. That’s very unsettling.
Yeah, that's the ticket. It was some undocumented member of the janitorial staff. They really ought to use e-verify, you know.
Republican offices were hit. Important Republican offices. Three chairs of high level committees. Money was taken. It was less than $1000 in total. Important papers were in those desks, not taken, but the information was sensitive. The desks were hit in separate incidents over time.
Last week, Capitol police were able to narrow it down. They made an arrest.
It was the top legislative staffer on the committee of Michele Bachmann.
Turns out all three Republican chairmen have a history of rocky relationships with soon to be Ex-Representative Bachmann.
Nobody knows why this fellow spent his after hours time rifling through desks of sometime opponents. Not yet.
Could just be the money. Not much for a Legislative Aide, but it's possible. It really could have just been a routine burglary.
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.
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