Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day







Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December 29, 2014

Those on the rightward fringe apparently believe that life is one vast conspiracy, that the government or others of the establishment are lying to them constantly. The truth about the world and, most importantly, the keys to happiness are simple and within reach of all if only the veil is lifted. Or, perhaps more accurately, there is an industry devoted to helping disaffected people to think along those lines.
For whatever reason, I have been the recipient of emails since mid-November that are aimed at that fringe. They include these titles: Tea Party Politics, Tea Party Bulletin, Survival Joe, Liberty 24/7, Conservatives United, The Right To Bear, 2d Amendment Insider, Preserve Freedom, Patriots and Politics, and Patriot Health Report. Others (Investor Insider, Gold Silver Central, Natural Health Online, and Health and Wellness Today), probably derive from the same sources. The total of these messages, over forty-four days, is 269, six per day.
There are two themes to many of these communications. The first is the grabber, which may play on paranoia: "What will you do when the government barges into your home and SEIZES your guns TOMORROW. . . and FEMA tries to cram you into one of their camps like sardines?" or on partisanship: "This Former Marxist Destroys Liberal Ideas in Just 4 Minutes (VIDEO)" or on anti-government suspicion or resentment: "At this moment, a shocking cover-up involving Obama, Congress and the FDA is threatening the lives of over 45 million Americans. . . including you."
The second is a commercial pitch: subscribe to a newsletter or buy a book, often to learn health secrets. For example, drawn in by this headline, "Welfare Fraud is a Huge Problem & this Shocking Interview Proves It (VIDEO)," you are led to "Weird Trick Restores Your Vision." You can cure all known vision limitations by means of the weird trick, knowledge of which is suppressed by the establishment, which makes money from exams, surgery, glasses, etc. Other health tricks, alleged to cure Alzheimer’s, shed weight, cure diabetes, etc. appear repeatedly.
I’ve clicked on a number of the links to commercial pitches; each of them is presented by a "video" (text which someone also is reading). As shown by the preceding item, sometimes there is an element of bait and switch. Another example is found on Tea Party Politics. It begins, "Fellow Patriot, Obama's sinister new agenda is unfolding. There's a reason why he's disarming millions while hoarding enough ammo for a 30 year land war. Sandy Hook's got nothing to do with it. It's way darker than that. . . and it's all explained in this controversial video. . ." That sounds like something to do with gun control. However, the pitch is about a supposed food crisis, and the solution is to buy an "aquaponic" system which will grow food without soil as well as raising fish. Result: buyers will eat while others starve during the troubles ahead.
Some messages go directly to the commercial pitch, without anything seemingly relevant to the page. One 2d Amendment Insider leads off with "The Eyecare industry is FURIOUS at this woman who stumbled upon a ground-breaking system to restore anybody's vision to 20/20 in as little as 2 weeks!" and then gives us the same "weird trick" video described above.
Survival, in one form or another, is a recurring theme. On Patriots and Politics, we can buy a "Fight Fast Pen." It is, we are told, a real pen, "but it also doubles as a very nasty tool to protect yourself and loved ones." Conservatives United offers the "Stinger Spy Pen," apparently a different device. Tea Party Politics will tell us how to build an unregistered AR-15. It also offers a "killer throwing knife" and throwing instructions. Following the warning about seizing guns and FEMA camps, Survival Joe ("Helping the average Joe prepare for the coming crisis") advertised "The Complete Survival System" (a book).
Apart from self-defense, there is advice to buy gold to avoid the "dollar crash" or a collapse of the investment markets. On Conservatives United, I learned of an "underground bank account" (also "secret" and "hidden") which allowed someone to turn $27 into $886,000 in four years. It turned out, after much evasion and repetition, to be about Bitcoins. Apparently the pitch hadn’t gone on long enough, so then we were touted to a book denouncing Obamacare and another on keeping our information secret.
In some of the ads the anti-establishment theme is underscored, and the sales pitch ramped up, by telling us that we must act quickly, because the government or some other evil force will shut the offer down.
The "videos" seem to go on forever. The one for aquaponics was described as "very short," but ran more than thirty minutes; one about Alzheimer’s was described as taking five minutes but went on for forty; Bitcoin, etc. lasted for about forty-five. I’ve have had the patience only to listen to a few to the end, but they all seem to move at a snail’s pace. It would be amazing if many people were able to stick with one of these tedious, repetitious pitches long enough to learn how to buy whatever is on offer.
Apparently these advertisers think that conservatives are very patient and have little to do, in addition to being anti-establishment and gullible.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


December 16, 2014
The right continually bleats about how exceptional America is or, as Fox’s Andrea Tantaros puts, how awesome we are. Rush Limbaugh worries that we do not emphasize American exceptionalism enough. Therefore, he has assumed the burden of properly indoctrinating our youth in that belief through a series of "Rush Revere" books. There are three so far, each subtitled "Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans." The notion of education of the young by Rush is a bit frightening, but he is indeed illustrating American exceptionalism; what other country would have, as a major political influence, anyone so aggressively, deliberately ignorant?
If one needed another example of our negative exceptionalism, consider torture. The Senate released a study of our record on that subject, which ought to give the right pause. Instead their reaction has been to defend the practices (Cheney would "do it again in a minute"), or complain that reporting on — and criticizing — a practice the whole world knows we indulged in is going to cause a backlash from terrorists, or claiming that it’s a plot to distract attention from Benghazi or the IRS or whatever the latest faux-scandal might be.
Sadly, a poll showed that over half the population approves of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," with only 30% disapproving. The column by Andy Borowitz [90] disclosing that Cheney will lead a "torture-pride" march slips from humor to near-reality.
How have we reached this state? One explanation is offered by Andrew Bacevich:
Since at least 1940, when serious preparations for entry into World War II began, the United States has been more or less continually engaged in actual war or in semi-war, intensively girding itself for the next active engagement, assumed to lie just around the corner. The imperatives of national security, always said to be in peril, have taken precedence over all other considerations. . . .
. . . The size, scope, and prerogatives accorded to the so-called intelligence community — along with the abuses detailed in the Senate report — provide only one example of the result. But so too is the popular deference accorded to those who claim to know exactly what national security requires, even as they evade responsibility for the last disaster to which expert advice gave rise.
. . . As long as the individuals and entities comprising that [national security] apparatus persist in their commitment to permanent war, little of substance will change. . . .[91]
There’s not much likelihood of a major alteration of governmental, political or popular attitudes toward the national security state. Even Mr. Obama’s diplomatic recognition of Cuba, a modest step away from the Cold War, has met with opposition. The Washington Post expressed disapproval because Cuba still isn’t living up to our standards which, in the current context, is more than a little tone-deaf.

________________
 
90. http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/cheney-lead-torture-pride-march 91.http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/12/09/torture-report-highlights-consequences-permanent-war/MdEpEx2ilVexZuECsJ88TN/story.html

Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 6, 2014
Conservatives — and I use the word only as a contemporary political reference — pretend to be the strong ones in our society: aggressive, macho, stand-and-fight types. Why then are they afraid of so much? Ebola, ISIS, Iran, terrorists, immigrants (including children), liberals, progress, health care, the theory of evolution, all put them into panic mode; each of the above threatens the society if not our very lives. It’s amazing that they find the courage to go out of the house.
Of course there is one thing they are not afraid of: climate change. I don’t mean that they are unafraid of any discussion of the issue; that too causes panic. It’s the effects of climate change that they are sanguine about. Of all of the threats we allegedly face, the one which is supported by scientific research, by hard facts, is the only one which causes them no concern. That brave attitude soon will be underscored by the appointment of Senator James Inhofe as chairman of the Senate committee dealing with the environment. The committee which ought to be doing something about global warming will be headed by the author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. Our future is threatened by doing something about the major threat to our future; that’s conservative logic. 
Who is behind the "conspiracy"? Here’s an interview of Inhofe:
That's some hoax, I countered. But who has engineered such a scam? Hollywood liberals and extreme environmentalists, Inhofe replied. Really? I asked. Why would they conspire to scare all these smart people into believing a catastrophe was under way, when all was well? Inhofe didn't skip a beat: To advance their radical environmental agenda. I pressed on: Who in Hollywood is doing this? The whole liberal crowd, Inhofe said. But who? Barbra Streisand, he responded.[86]

Conservatives’ insouciance regarding the fate of the planet is, of course, the product of another, their greatest, fear: the federal government, which might take away their freedoms. Of course, it’s the freedom of corporations to make money which they have in mind. Take Inhofe as an example; his state, Oklahoma, set a record for high temperature, and suffers from drought.[87]   However, here is his priority: "We must continue to work to increase exploration and production of natural gas and oil . . . .Unfortunately, however, many current environmental regulations are not grounded in science. [Oh, so we should, after all, rely on science? Never mind.] As a result, they usually do harm and put undue restrictions upon the freedoms of many Americans. . . .[88] 
Wikiquote has a collection of Senator Inhofe’s penetrating observations, including this one, xreferring to his book: "Well, actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God's still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous."[89]  It will be comforting to reflect on that as the sea rises around us.

__________________



86. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/03/inhofe-barbra-streisand_n_6261874.html
87. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/06/3125531/inhofe-winter-climate-change/ 

88. http://www.inhofe.senate.gov/issues/energy-environment

89. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/James_Inhofe


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December 1, 2014
A fatal shooting which occurred recently in Cleveland has received less attention than the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Twelve year old Tamir Rice was wandering around a park area carrying and sometimes pointing a toy gun. Someone nearby called 911 and reported that the boy was pointing the gun at people; the security video, which filmed the boy for an extended time, shows one such incident.[84]  The caller, although stating that he was frightened, said twice that the gun probably was "fake," and that the person holding it might be a juvenile. The dispatcher made a point of determining whether the person with the "gun" was black or white. After being asked three times, the caller said, quietly and reluctantly, "black."

The dispatcher sent a patrol car to the area, omitting the caller’s references to age and fake gun. The boy had been seated at a table in a gazebo but, just before the police car arrived, started to walk toward the street. He was alone, although the later police report claimed that he was with others. The video shows the police car driving up, at considerable speed, onto the park grass, in between the boy and the sidewalk, and as soon as it is at a stop, the passenger door opens and Tamir falls to the ground. Some news reports have stated that the officer fired within two seconds of opening the door; it looks to me like it was less than a second. The police report claimed that the boy was pulling the gun from his waistband. The video isn’t clear enough to determine whether that is true or not, but the story about others being present makes one suspicious, and so does the sequence.
The driver got out and the two cops wandered around the car, pointing their guns two handed, apparently afraid that the mortally wounded boy would jump up and attack. It was a ludicrous parody of a dangerous confrontation, something copied from TV. An FBI agent, on an unrelated case, came by and attempted first aid; the policemen had not. When one of them reported the incident and asked for medics, he described the twelve-year old as a "black male, maybe 20." Tamir died the next day.     
Under the circumstances, one could blame the boy for acting irresponsibly or the parents for allowing him to wander around with a gun which someone might think real, but many of us were out and about at that age with cap pistols or bb guns without being shot down. One could, more logically, blame the manufacturer and seller of the gun; it does look more real that the old cap pistols. More importantly, these are different times: we are in more danger from nervous police than before, so selling replica guns is inviting disaster.
Also in Ohio, a man who had picked up a pellet gun for sale at a Walmart, and then wandered around the store with it, was shot and killed by police after a 911 report claimed he had pointed the gun at shoppers. The surveillance video does not show that, but again shows police firing as soon as the man was encountered.[85]  Like Tamir, he was black. The store has removed such guns from its shelves. Better late than never.
_____________________

84. Reports and videos are here:
http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2014/nov/26/cleveland-video-tamir-rice-shooting-police;
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdAYPQd1H1A

85. http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/sep/25/ohio-shooting-walmart-video;
http://www.whio.com/news/news/special-grand-jury-selected-john-crawford-case/nhRwM/

Friday, November 21, 2014

November 20, 2014
President Obama has been accused of being a socialist. Absurd as that charge is, it is part of a long tradition; any progressive initiative is sure to be called "socialist," implying something profoundly un-American. Despite the inanity of the charge, it works; as Edmund Wilson said, "The surest way to shake an American reformer and make him back down has always been to accuse him of socialism."[79]  It has been suggested that public opinion is changing in a way that would deprive the label of its sting, but this is based on the opinions of younger voters, so any effect may lie in the future.[80]
Bernie Sanders might run for the presidency. He is a socialist, and would face widespread denunciation and misrepresentation. However, if he were able to get his actual views across, and to point out that they are not subversive of anything other than the rule of the rich, he might do well, and rescue "socialism" from contumely.
The need for a little socialism was underlined by a report that 29 of America’s 100 largest corporations paid more to their CEOs in 2013 than they did to the federal government in taxes. Included are 7 of the 30 largest corporations: Boeing, Chevron, Citigroup, Ford, J.P. Morgan, General Motors and Verizon. All seven were profitable, together reporting $74 billion in pre-tax profits in 2013, but together, they received $1.89 billion in refunds.[81]
Another indicator is the increasing concentration of wealth at the top. Thomas Piketty has shown that about 71% of is wealth owned by the top 10% of the population, about 34% by the top 1%.[82]   A paper by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman carries it a step further, showing that the top .1% holds over 20% of wealth, the top .01% over 11%. "At the very top end of the distribution, wealth is now as unequally distributed as in the 1920s. In 2012, the top 0.01% wealth share (fortunes of more than $110 million dollars belonging to the richest 16,000 families) is 11.2%, as much as in 1916 and more than in 1929. . . . Wealth is getting more concentrated in the United States . . . .[83]
Something needs to change. Let those who have nothing better to do fuss about labels.
_________________

79.
Murray Kempton, Part of Our Time, p. 140
80. http://www.alternet.org/economy/every-treasured-progressive-reform-abolition-slavery-has- been-called-socialism
81. http://ourfuture.org/20141118/corporations-paying-more-to-their-ceo-than-they-do-in-federal- taxes

82.
Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century; see chart p. 348.
83. A link to the study is here:
http://www.nationofchange.org/2014/11/18/now-richest-01-percent/.  The quote is from the paper’s Abstract. Charts follow p. 46.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Monday, October 27, 2014

October 27, 2014
Among, no doubt, many others, there are two ways to illustrate the excessiveness of the ebola panic. The first is by satire. Andy Borowitz, online at The New Yorker, has mocked the media-fed fear with columns entitled "Man Infected with Ebola Misinformation Through Casual Contact With Cable News," "Some Fear Ebola Outbreak Could Make Nation Turn to Science" and "Study: Fear of Ebola Highest Among People Who Did Not Pay Attention During Math and Science Classes." In the last of those, he noted that, "when a participant of the study was told that he had a one-in-thirteen-million chance of contracting the virus, his response was ‘Whoa. Thirteen million is a really big number. That is totally scary’."[75]
On a more somber note, consider the contrast between the demands for action about ebola and the complacency regarding gun deaths. A Republican Congressman, Jason Chaffetz, complained about the appointment of an "ebola czar," asking "Why not have the surgeon general head this up?"[76]  Apparently he was unaware that we don’t have one. And why do we not? Because the NRA, and therefore Republicans (and some timid Democrats), oppose President Obama’s nominee because he has indicated support for such modest gun-control measures as an assault weapons ban, mandatory safety training and limits on ammunition sales.[77]
One American has died from exposure to the ebola virus; roughly 30,000 people are killed annually by guns.[78]  So the hyped panic about one will continue, as will the inaction on, and far greater menace from, the other.
_____________________
75. http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/study-fear-ebola-highest-among- people-pay- attention-math-science-classes?intcid=mod-most-popular
76
. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/10/24/1338909/-Rep-Chaffetz-demands-surgeon-general- head-Ebola-efforts-Thanks-to-Republicans-there-isn-t-one#
77
. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/us/senate-balks-at-obama-pick-for-surgeon-general. html? _r=0; 
http://www.thenation.com/blog/178888/why-nra-blocking-obamas-surgeon-general- nominee
78. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2013/09/19/u-s-has-more-guns-and-gun-deaths-than-any- other-country-study-finds/;
http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01 /16/16547690-just-the-facts-gun-violence-in-america?lite

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 20, 2014
David Brooks wrote an odd column on October 16, entitled "The Case for Low Ideals." Ostensibly he was offering advice to those who might approach politics burdened with high ideals, but his notion of "low ideals" seems really to be the absence of ideals. In any case, his use of the term "ideals" is confusing.
The 2008 campaign, he tells us, "was based on the idea that people are basically innocent and differences can be quickly transcended. It was based on the idea that society is easily malleable and it’s possible to have quick transformational change. It was based in the idea of a heroic savior (remember those ‘Hope’ posters)." That’s a peculiar and tendentious reading, and an idea is not exactly synonymous with an ideal, but never mind. The point he was trying to make, I think, is that politics should be conducted in an atmosphere of compromise and accommodation. As an abstract principle, that is perfectly sensible.

His formula for achieving this is "low idealism," which seems to describe his preferred attitude of the voter, rather than of the official:
[L]ow idealism starts with a tone of sympathy. Anybody who works in this realm [politics] deserves compassion and gentle regard. The low idealist knows that rallies with anthems and roaring are just make-believe, but has warm affection for any politician who exhibits neighborliness, courtesy and the ability to listen. . . . [T]his kind of idealist has a full heart for those who serve the practical work of legislating . . . . Believing experience is the best mode of education, he favors the competent old hand to the naïve outsider.
However, tucked into the first ellipsis is this: "The low idealist understands that those who try to rise above the messy business of deal-making often turn into zealots and wind up sinking below it." That seems to denounce high idealism in the officeholder as well.
Returning to the voter, Brooks thinks that the low idealist, in looking for a leader, wants "not the martyr or the passionate crusader or the righteous populist. He likes the resilient one, who maybe has been tainted by scandals and has learned from his self-inflicted wounds that his own worst enemy is himself." I haven’t noticed a tendency on the part of voters to favor those tainted by scandal, but perhaps his low idealist would. "He likes the person who speaks only after paying minute attention to the way things really are, and whose proposals are grounded in the low stability of the truth." What might those proposals be? He doesn’t say; he seems to be advocating a content-free politics: elect a nice, friendly representative, and sit back; all will be well. "Low idealism . . . holds that people can be improved by their political relationships, so it ends up with something loftier and more inspiring than those faux idealists who think human beings are not a problem and politics is mostly a matter of moving money around." I don’t know what the last two phrases relate to, but again here is an empty politics: "something loftier. . . ."

If Brooks’ notion of a voter is theoretical, his view of government is minimalist and reactionary: "The core functions of government are negative — putting out fires, arresting criminals, settling disputes — and much of what government does is the unromantic work of preventing bad situations from getting worse." Perhaps that conclusion follows from this presumed characteristic of his preferred voter: "The low idealist is more romantic about the past than about the future." That person "believes, as Samuel Johnson put it, that ‘The happiness of society depends on virtue’ — not primarily material conditions." Government shouldn’t make people’s lives better on the low moral plane of physical well-being. No, its task is to raise the tone; "better laws can nurture virtue. Statecraft is soulcraft. Good tax policies can arouse energy and enterprise. Good social programs can encourage compassion and community service."
His borrowing of the title of one of George Will’s books is ironic. Mr. Will has moved so far to the right that he may now share Mr. Brooks’ preference for a minimal state but, when he wrote Statecraft as Soulcraft, in 1983, he hadn’t reached that point. He then declared his "belief in strong government, including the essentials of the welfare state" and stated that the values of the conservative tradition "are threatened less by 'big' government than by abdication by the government."[74]
Idealism, if naïve, can be a poor foundation for governing (or for voting, whichever it is that we are talking about), but the problem we face at the present isn’t a surfeit of idealism, but the dire effects of ideology; not high and noble aspirations but a cramped, rigid, uninformed, often deliberately ignorant philosophy of government and of society which issues primarily in servitude to the wealthy. If Mr. Brooks truly is concerned about the influence of attitudes and mental states, and about whom voters should support, he might direct his attention there.
______________________

74. Quotes from Statecraft as Soulcraft pp. 12, 22.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

September 27, 2014
There are so many football games on television now that we often get down to the third, or fourth or fifth-string broadcast crews. Listening to those announcers, especially the color guys, brings to mind the word "bloviate," which then makes me think of political commentary. Here’s a definition: "To talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way."[64]  I especially like this one: "To discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner. To pretend to understand technical subject matter and sell it to others even dumber than oneself."[65]  The latter perfectly describes some color commentators: they have only a rudimentary understanding of the game, but feel compelled to demonstrate that by offering analysis of every play.
However, that is only a temporary, if repeated annoyance; in politics, inflated, empty talk is dangerous, because it influences attitudes and votes. Consider the following examples on Fox "News" and/or by its pundits:
Up to May 2, Fox ran 1,098 segments that "included significant discussion of Benghazi, an average of roughly 13 segments each week.[66] Having found a faux-scandal, it has blabbed about it continuously.
Andrea Tantaros personifies the phenomenon. She has become a star on Fox, having the necessary ability to have an uninformed opinion on every subject. As to Obama’s speech in ISIS, she observed, "I'm very deeply troubled by what he will say." As Stephen Colbert put it, "I couldn't have agreed more, because I also have not seen it and I am furious about what I think it will be."[67]  Ms. Tantaros also managed to find Obama at fault in the Ray Rice/NFL scandal: "I wanna know, where is the President on this one?"[68]  So, If he says anything, he’s wrong, but if he fails, in her view, to say something soon enough, he’s wrong. She claims that the government is pushing single motherhood, that it wants mother and child on the dole.[69]  Attorney General Holder has been Obama’s "cover-up guy." He’s "one of the most divisive, polarizing, controversial, dangerous men in America — unethical." "He ran the DOJ much like the Black Panthers would. That is a fact."[70]
However, she has stiff competition. Lindsey Graham, an expert at bloviating, has outdone himself in his panic over the threat posed by ISIS: "I think of an American city in flames because of the terrorists’ ability to operate in Syria and Iraq." "This is a war we’re fighting! It is not a counter-terrorism operation. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home."[71]
Religion offers many opportunities; Here’s Mike Huckabee’s contribution to Middle East theory: "I’ve got good news for all the dispirited and disquieted Christians in America who somehow are afraid that the Sons of Ishmael who are challenging us now in the Middle East will overwhelm the Sons of Isaac," Huckabee said. "Let me assure you, I have read the end of the Book! My dear friend, we win!"[72]
Without using the term, H.L. Mencken described bloviation, using a speech by President Harding as his foil:
It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean-soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm . . . of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.[73]
It’s Fox.

However, bloviating isn’t limited to the political right; arts reviews are perhaps the outstanding, although less sigificant, manifestation. Every week the Friday The New York Times provides a comical example of the genre. Consider this from September 26, describing a series of paintings (the one shown is all red): "Irony is now obscured by a veneer of sincerity that can seem almost apologetic. The nine paintings suggest dilutions of quasi-abstract, expressionistic, visionary styles by a painter long dead and best forgotten. Among their generic illusions are cataclysms of light, watery darknesses, a trail of sparkles worthy of Tinker Bell and a red-on-red orb so dry with pigment it looks like velvet. . . . A barely discernible back story confirms that the resemblance to generic emo-painting is intentionally superficial. . . ."
Alas for the English language, clear thinking, responsible politics and the culture.

_________________________

64. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/bloviate  


66. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/fox-news-benghazi-segments-study


67. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/stephen-colbert-andrea-tantaros-obama-statement

68. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/andrea-tantaros-ray-rice-obama

69. http://mediamatters.org/video/2014/01/07/foxs-tantaros-obama-administration-wants-women /197473; http://mediamatters.org/video/2014/09/10/fox-host-blames-lower-marriage-rates-on-obama- p/200718

70. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/andrea-tantaros-eric-holder-black-panthers (video)

71. http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/lindsey-graham-meltdown-obama-isis;
http://www.salon.com/2014/09/15/americas_most_terrified_senator_lindsey_grahams_never_
ending_doomsday_visions/ See my note of 8/24/12 for more examples of political bloviating.

72. http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/mike-huckabee-promises-christians-sons-isaac-will- defeat-sons-ishmael

73. http://www.deadlineartists.com/contributor-samples/h-l-mencken-%E2%80%93-gamalielese- %E2%80%93-baltimore-sun-%E2%80%93-3721/

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 30, 2014
Some years ago, William H. Gates, Sr. coauthored a book entitled Wealth and Our Commonwealth .[57]  Its message was that the estate tax, hated by many of the wealthy and their sycophants, is important not only for revenue but because "concentrations of wealth and power distort our democratic institutions and economic system and undermine social cohesion." Gates’ choice of the word "commonwealth" is interesting. Four of our states [58] are called commonwealths, a reflection presumably of the original meaning of the word: "Body politic founded on law for the common ‘weal,’ or good."[59]  However, dictionaries tell us that "commonwealth," meaning public welfare or the general good, is "archaic" or "obsolete."[60]   As with definition, so with politics: the notion of cohesion, of social solidarity, of our being in it together, has become quaint; the country is divided, with no sense of the common good or common welfare.
Even the term "common" is suspect. David Brat, who made news by defeating Majority Leader Eric Cantor, declared, clumsily but emphatically: " ‘Common’ - anything I'm against. United Nations. Common everything. If you say common, by definition you're saying it's top-down. I'm going to force this on you. That's what dictators do."
The conservatives on the Supreme Court are equally dismissive of anything that smacks of common interest. In McCutcheon v. FEC , Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the plurality of four,[61] noted that the dissent disagreed with his focus on rich individuals’ right to speech (spending) because, according to Roberts, "it fails to take into account ‘the public’s interest’ in ‘collective speech’." Note the ironic quotation marks. Of the eight times the word collective appears in the plurality opinion, it is in quotes seven times, as if a collective or common interest were a foreign — or socialist — concept.
It wasn’t always so. Tony Judt described the change which took place in the Eighties: a shift from "the pursuit of public goods to a view of the world best summed up in Margaret Thatcher's notorious bon mot : ‘there is no such thing as society, there are only individuals and families’." Meanwhile, in the United States, Ronald Reagan declared that government "was no longer the solution—it was the problem."[62]
Reagan’s political philosophy contrasts sharply with that of a more notable Republican: "The object of government is the welfare of the people." Or, again: "The National Government belongs to the whole American people, and where the whole American people are interested, that interest can be guarded effectively only by the National Government. The betterment which we seek must be accomplished, I believe, mainly through the National Government."[63]
That view of government is not the only issue on which Theodore Roosevelt differed from Mr. Reagan and his even more regressive acolytes. Consider the matter of common interests: "I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind." Imagine a Republican member of the 2014 House saying that.
Present-day conservatives would be shocked by Roosevelt’s views on working people and on capital: "Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." That harks back to an even earlier form of Republicanism: "If that remark was original with me," TR said, "I should be even more strongly denounced as a Communist agitator than I shall be anyhow. It is Lincoln’s."
The contrast is equally great as to the influence of money:
[O]ur government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. . . . For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.
TR’s desire to control capital would be baffling to those who believe in the unregulated market:
The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; . . . The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.
It would be anathema to those who think that taxation is a Marxist plot:
The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and . . . a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes . . . .
Property, capital and business are important and are entitled to proper protection but, again, the common interest is paramount: "The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it."

In a sense, its inaccurate to state that the contemporary Republican Party follows Reagan, as its views are well to his right. However, it’s apt in that Reagan led a shift in attitude that his followers called a revolution, more accurately a reaction. It is too much to expect Republicans to rediscover a better path so long as they win elections. If that ever ends, through demographic change or the end of gerrymandering, they may rediscover the virtue, if only politically, of thinking about the common good.

____________________


57.
Gates and Collins, Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes
(2002)

58.
Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia

59.
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

60.
Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English language (1989); Compact Oxford English Dictionary (2002)

61.
Justice Thomas concurred only in the result.

62.
Judt, Ill Fares the Land , pp. 96-97 (2010)
63.
All Roosevelt quotes are from his "New Nationalism" speech, August 31, 1910.
http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/new-nationalism-speech/

Monday, August 4, 2014

August 3, 2014
A recent report indicated that the chances of a Republican takeover of the Senate stand at 60%. I find this baffling. The news media are not good at showing the backwardness and obstructive tactics of the Republicans in Congress, but certain facts are difficult to ignore. Instead of dealing with important problems, the House has voted, prior to going on vacation, to sue the President. Apart from the waste of valuable time, the proposed suit is absurd, as it is based on the complaint that the President has delayed the implementation of part of the Affordable Care Act, which the House Republicans hate and have voted more than fifty times to repeal. As political theater, this certainly falls in the category of farce, especially when accompanied by such comic lines as "Our freedom is in peril, my friends."[50]
The proposed suit is ironic in another way. Obama is accused of arrogating power, but G.W. Bush embraced a theory — the "unitary executive" — which allowed him to ignore or negate any part of an act of Congress he disliked and otherwise to act as he wished. "Through the use of presidential signing statements, executive orders, and memoranda, the Bush administration has often governed unilaterally when faced with political and/or constitutional obstacles."[51]
Other items in the news are illustrative of Republican thinking, and ought to give any voter pause: a prominent Congressman declared, "Climate change occurs no matter what," and that proposed power—plant emissions standards are "an excuse to grow government, raise taxes, and slow down economic growth;"[52] the Senate was blocked by an Oklahoma Senator from acknowledging that climate change is real;[53] a candidate for the Senate opposes an increase in the minimum wage and talks of impeachment and nullification of federal laws;[54] another Congressman won’t "assert where [Obama] was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t [sic] beat the same for him."[55]
However, these are bits and pieces. A Republican platform provides a considered and comprehensive statement of principle and policy. Some time back I looked at the Iowa platform; this time let’s consider this year’s product of the Texas GOP.[56]
To give Texas Republicans their due, there are a few progressive planks:
— "We urge the repeal of the USA Patriot Act and spying on law abiding Americans must stop immediately. We support court ordered warrants on an individual basis in cases directly involving national security."
— "Texans should have the right to recall their elected officials."
Oddly, they oppose initiative and referendum.
— "We oppose the use of signing statements by the President to circumvent the law."
I wonder if that plank was in the platform during the Bush years.
— "We encourage the development and use of wind energy, coal-fired plants, solar, and nuclear power, and bio-sources without government subsidies."
At least part of that is progressive.
There are a number of points that are fairly debatable, but the document is overwhelmingly reactionary.
1. It embraces the limited/local theory of government with a vengeance:
— "We strongly urge the Texas Legislature ignore, oppose, refuse, and nullify any federal mandated legislation which infringes upon the states' 10th Amendment Right. All federal enforcement activities in Texas must be conducted under the auspices of the county sheriff with jurisdiction in that county."
— "We further support abolition of federal agencies involved in activities not originally delegated to the federal government under a strict interpretation of the United States Constitution."
Those destined for removal include the Department of Education, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and the Department of Energy.
2. The platform is resolutely reactionary as to economic matters:
— "We believe Congress should repeal the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 thereby abolishing the Federal Reserve Banking System." Until then, "We call for the removal of the ‘full employment’ part of the Federal Reserve System's current dual mandate."
In other words, fight inflation, but never mind about unemployment.
— "We support the return to the time-tested precious metal standard for the United States dollar."
— "We support the repeal of Sarbanes Oxley legislation. . . . We support the immediate repeal of Dodd Frank legislation."
Let Wall Street drag us down again.
3. The federal government isn’t the only target:
— "We support the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and the removal of United Nations headquarters from United States soil."
— "We support United States withdrawal from the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank."
— "We oppose foreign aid, except in cases of national defense or catastrophic disasters, with Congressional approval."
4. Of course government should not be involved in the public welfare, despite the preamble to the Constitution, a document they otherwise revere:
— "We support an immediate and orderly transition to a system of private pensions based on the concept of individual retirement accounts, and gradually phasing out the Social Security tax."
— "Welfare reform should encourage partnerships with faith based institutions, community, and business organizations to assist individuals in need. The current system encourages dependency on government and robs individuals and generations of healthy motivation and self-respect."
— "We demand the immediate repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, [Obamacare] which we believe to be unconstitutional."
Besides, it’s socialistic, and has no place here:
— "Socialism breeds mediocrity. America is exceptional. Therefore, the Republican Party of Texas opposes socialism in all of its forms."
5. Voters (who might be the wrong kind) are not welcome:
— "Full Repeal of the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution - Return the appointment of United States Senators by the state legislatures."
— "We urge that the Voter [sic] Rights Act of 1965, codified and updated in 1973, be repealed and not reauthorized."
This is accompanied by proposals making voting more difficult.
6. Not surprisingly, Texas Republican don’t like taxes; they would
— "Adopt a balanced budget by cutting spending without increasing tax rates or adding new taxes and capping spending with a percent of GDP as calculated prior to 2009."
In addition, they "believe the most equitable system of taxation is one based on consumption," so they support:
— The "Fair Tax" [i.e., sales—tax] system", and
— "A Flat Tax". None of those nasty progressive rates.
Also,
— "We support the abolishment of property taxes, but in the interim, property taxes should be paid on the price of the property when it was initially purchased."
And they urge:
— "Abolishment of estate taxes or the ‘Death Tax’ as it's more commonly [argumentatively?] known",
— "Abolishment of capital gains taxes",
— "Abolishment of franchise and business income taxes", and
— "Abolishment of the gift tax."
However,
— "We strongly oppose any cut in the defense budgets and troop levels at this time."
7. As to the environment, the EPA goes, and
— "We support land drilling and production operations including hydraulic fracturing."
— "We oppose the implementation of any cap and trade (a.k.a. "Cap and Tax") system through legislation or regulation."
— "We support the immediate approval and construction of the Keystone XL" pipeline.
— "While we all strive to be good stewards of the earth, ‘climate change’ is a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives."
— "We believe current evidence is not conclusive on the cause of climate change; we reject the use of this natural process to promote more government regulation of the private economy."
8. Are they pro—labor? Not quite:
— "We oppose the Employee Free Choice Act (card check) . . . We also encourage the adoption of a National Right-to-Work Act."
— "We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed."
— "We urge Congress to repeal the Prevailing Wage Law and the Davis Bacon Act."
— "We urge the Legislature to resist making workers' compensation mandatory for all Texas employers."
9. Of course, they love guns:
— "[W]e strongly oppose all laws that infringe on the right to bear arms. We oppose the monitoring of gun ownership, the taxation and regulation of guns, ammunition, and gun magazines."
— "All federal acts, laws, executive orders, and court orders which restrict or infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms shall be invalid in Texas, not be recognized by Texas, shall be specifically rejected by Texas, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in Texas."
— "Firearms and ammunition manufactured and sold in the state of Texas are not covered under the Commerce Clause (Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution) and therefore are not subject to federal regulation."
This copies a model act known as the Firearms Freedom Act (FFA), which is popular with the gun crowd.
— "We call for truckers working within the state of Texas to enjoy the full benefits of the Texas Concealed Handgun License law irrespective of unreasonable and intrusive federal regulations."
Even Texas law is suspect; they want to remove from the state Constitution this phrase: "the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms, with a view to prevent crime."
10. Running through the platform are references to religion, or to be slightly more specific, "Judeo—Christian" religion:
— "We support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America's legal, political, and economic systems."
That historical illusion is an example of the emphasis on religion throughout. 
— "We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the 1st Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state."
— "We oppose any governmental action to restrict, prohibit, or remove public display of the Ten Commandments or other religious symbols."
— "[W]e urge Congress to withhold Supreme Court jurisdiction in cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights."
I wonder how they propose to protect religious freedom or the Bill of Rights.
— "The Republican Party of Texas will protect the rights of commercial establishments to refuse to provide any service or product that would infringe upon their freedom of conscience of [sic] religious expression as stated in the 1st Amendment."
That sounds like an extension of Hobby Lobby, as does this:
— "Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values."
As if anxious to demonstrate the perils of mixing religion and politics, the Texas Republicans set forth a theory dear to the religious right which bedevils American policy toward Israel. This plank begins with a secular, if debatable claim:
— "We believe that the United States and Israel share a special long-standing relationship based on shared values, a mutual commitment to a republican form of government, and a strategic alliance that benefits both nations."
There follows another relatively neutral statement of principle:
— "Our foreign policy with Israel should reflect the right of sovereign nations to govern themselves and have self-determination. In our diplomatic dealings with Israel, we encourage the continuation of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but oppose pressuring Israel to compromise their [sic] sovereignty or security."
Then comes the religious punch line:
— "Our policy is inspired by God's biblical promise to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel . . . ."
The Bible is used by the right to justify various positions, such as disbelief in the dangers of climate change, but most of those positions could and would be held in any event, because they conform to anti—government, pro—property rights biases. American policy toward Israel also probably would be generally supportive without the religious factor, but it is especially dangerous in that context. We need to conduct foreign policy on a rational basis. However, that isn’t likely to be forthcoming from the right, for whom reason, and science, are elitist.

50.
Tom Rice, R—S.C., reported in The Seattle Times.

51.
"Rethinking Presidential Power — The Unitary Executive and the George W. Bush Presidency" www.users.muohio.edu/kelleycs/paper.pdf

52.
http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/monitor_breakfast/2014/0730/Paul-Ryan-Climate-change-occurs-no-matter-what-video  

53.
http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/213559-inhofe-blocks-climate-change-resolution#ixzz38rsE2rxl  

54.
http://www.salon.com/2014/07/30/iowa%e2%80%99s_joni_ernst_the_todd_akin_of_2014/ ;
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/joni-ernst-iowa-nullification-states-laws

55
.
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/stve-king-obama-not-raised-american-experience  

56.
http://www.texasgop.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014-Platform-Final.pdf  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 15, 2014
The Supreme Court continued its run of controversial decisions with Hobby Lobby,[1] which involved religious objections to the requirement, of regulations under the Affordable Care Act, that health insurance policies include all of the methods of contraception which have been approved by the FDA. The plaintiffs, corporations and their owners, claim that four specified methods of contraception involve destruction of a fertilized egg which is, in their view, equivalent to abortion, which they reject on religious grounds. They "have no objection to the other 16 FDA-approved methods of birth control."
  The majority opinion, by Justice Alito, is superficially less ideological than others in the recent series. It is based on a statute concerning the exercise of religion which arguably applies and, rather than merely declaring that corporations are legal persons, which has led to so much criticism, it cites another statute which so states. However, it still manages to get everything wrong. There are two issues, religion and corporate law, and other considerations.
 A. Religion
 The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was adopted by Congress in 1993. It was a reaction to a decision of the Supreme Court, Employment Division v. Smith,[2] which upheld a refusal by the State of Oregon to award unemployment benefits to two men discharged by their employer for ingesting peyote. That act took place in a ceremony of the Native American Church, which used peyote as part of its ritual. State law prohibited use of drugs, with no exception for religious use. The Court upheld the Oregon law, and the denial of benefits, on the ground that a law of general application, which makes no attempt to single out religion, is valid and does not violate the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom, even though it has a collateral effect on religious practices.
RFRA was designed specifically to overturn Smith, and to mandate that such cases be measured against an earlier standard, which subjected any impact on religion to strict scrutiny. The operative section of RFRA reads as follows:  
(a) In general. Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.
(b) Exception. Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person— (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.[3]
Legal recourse is afforded for violation of RFRA: "A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government."[4]

The exercise of religion is defined[5] oddly, vaguely and circularly: "the term ‘exercise of religion’ means religious exercise, as defined in section 2000cc–5 of this title", which states that the "term ‘religious exercise’ includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief."[6] That fails to tell us what the exercise of religion is but, by decoupling it from a system of religious belief, makes it open-ended; virtually any assertion could be religious under that definition.
 Faced with a statute so sloppily drafted, a court might refuse to apply it, for the reason that there is no way to know what is covered. This Court especially might be so inclined, having little respect for the ability of Congress to draft statutes clearly. (McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission provides an example of that attitude; see my note of May 13, item 11). However, this Court is nothing if not flexible; here the statute is a flawless statement of principle.
  Vague as the language is, it does include an implicit limit, by omission: it does not prohibit burdening religious belief, and does not provide judicial relief for such a burden. Those provisions are limited to religious exercise, or the exercise of religion. There is a savings clause which refers to belief: "Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief."[7] However, the government isn’t attempting to use RFRA to burden belief, so that is irrelevant. Even ignoring that, the clause provides no affirmative relief, so cannot be the basis of this action. As we shall see, that did not bother Justice Alito.
 At no point does the opinion question whether the objection by the plaintiffs to providing the four types of contraception is an exercise of religion. It simply assumes that the statute controls. Here is Alito’s summary of the holding:
Since RFRA applies in these cases, we must decide whether the challenged HHS [Health and Human Services] regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.
Buried in that conclusion is this formula: an objection, based on religious belief, to providing insurance which covers the use of a certain type of contraceptive is "an exercise of religion" which, by definition, is "a religious exercise," which in turn is "any exercise of religion." That is so inane that only a court focused on a result could avoid subjecting the claim and the statute to critical analysis. (Note that the reference here is to the owners; only later are the corporations brought into the picture).
 Alito, perhaps aware of the implications of his conclusion, rewrote the statute to avoid the religious exercise problem:
HHS and the dissent note that providing the coverage would not itself result in the destruction of an embryo; that would occur only if an employee chose to take advantage of the coverage and to use one of the four methods at issue. This argument dodges the question that RFRA presents (whether the HHS mandate imposes a substantial burden on the ability of the objecting parties to conduct business in accordance with their religious beliefs) and instead addresses a very different question that the federal courts have no business addressing (whether the religious belief asserted in a RFRA case is reasonable). [emphasis added]
This misreading of RFRA is not a momentary slip; at several points he either states the issue in terms of belief or runs together the concepts of belief and the exercise of religion.
 He also is mistaken in asserting that reasonableness is not a factor to be considered; it is the only protection against ridiculous, contrived "religious" claims and the only way to rescue the statute from absurdity.
 The Court did not make any determination as to whether the plaintiffs’ understanding of the effects of the four methods is factually sound. (Here again the statute helps the majority, for it too ignores the question of factual validity. However, that is just another reason to treat the statute with care, if not disdain: any assertion garbed in religious terms could be the basis for a claim, even if divorced from reality). The following is the information provided in the opinion as to whether the four methods amount to abortion; it simply describes a disagreement:
Although many of the required, FDA-approved methods of contraception work by preventing the fertilization of an egg, four of those methods (those specifically at issue in these cases) may have the effect of preventing an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus.
[footnote to the above] The owners of the companies involved in these cases and others who believe that life begins at conception regard these four methods as causing abortions, but federal regulations, which define pregnancy as beginning at implantation, . . . do not so classify them.
The argument seems to come down to this: the plaintiffs’ exercise of religion is burdened because, if Hobby Lobby provides compliant insurance, some of its female employees probably will make use of the contraceptive coverage; some smaller number of those may use one of the four disapproved methods; those methods may in some cases prevent development of a fertilized egg, and that, according to plaintiffs’ belief, is the equivalent of abortion and therefore immoral. This is too tenuous a connection to take seriously. In addition, it assumes that the practice of religion includes controlling the behavior of others.
  The other half of the test is that the burden to the plaintiffs’ exercise must be "substantial." Justice Alito found that the penalties which HHS could impose for failure to have a conforming policy are very large and therefore a substantial burden. Assuming that the opinion is accurate in describing them, the possible penalties are onerous indeed. However (leaving aside the postponement of the enforcement of employer penalties) we can pass that, because Alito has fastened onto the wrong consequence of the plaintiffs’ action. Even assuming belief to equate to the exercise of religion, the burden imposed by the law is the plaintiffs’ unwilling, innocent, indirect, hypothetical complicity in what they believe to be immoral behavior. That is no more substantial a burden than one we all face: living in an imperfect society in which choices are made that we oppose or deplore.
  The potential monetary penalties would be the consequence of flouting the law, not of religious exercise so, apart from their being speculative at this point, they are not relevant.
   B. Corporations
 The Citizens United opinion stirred much comment about corporate personhood, including assertions that the Court had invented the concept. Alito attempted to silence that by citing a statute which provides as follows: "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise . . . the words ‘person’ and ‘whoever’ include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals. . . .[8] He wasn’t altogether successful. For example, an e-mail from "The Pen" claims that "Alito says ‘corporation’ MEANS a natural ‘person,’ . . ." Alito didn’t say that, but the confusion is perhaps understandable. His attempt to find that corporations can have religious beliefs in effect merges, or confuses, the corporate entity and its human owners.
  As noted above, Alito’s summary refers to the religious exercise of "owners of the businesses." However, the desired result required finding that the corporations also were protected. This would require finding that corporations "exercise religion." However, Alito didn’t establish that.
 He began his analysis badly, by referring to legal personhood as a "fiction," not exactly the best way to defuse an argument. More accurately it is, as shown by the cited statute, a definition, which is in turn a matter of convenience in drafting. The effect is to include corporations in the rights granted to "persons," unless the context requires otherwise. The issue of whether a corporation can exercise religion certainly is one where the context should raise some doubt.
 Possibly because of that, Alito fudged:
But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. . . . When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people.
That isn’t altogether accurate, but it furthers his attempt to blur the line between people and corporations, and leads to this conclusion: "protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga, and Mardel protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies." That assumes that corporations exercise religion, the very point he supposedly is establishing. In other words, corporations must have these rights so that owners may be protected.
 However, that won’t work because, in some closely held corporations there may be religious disagreement between owners. Then the corporation’s alleged exercise of religion, presumably an extension of the majority owners’ views, may offend the other owners. So much for the pass-through, protect-the-owners theory. This shows that the supposed special case of the closely-held corporation is just so much rhetoric: if the minority owners in a closely held corporation may be ignored, so may shareholders in widely-held corporations; perhaps they too can engage in the exercise of religion.
 The statutes offer no assistance on this point, and could be interpreted as covering all corporations, of whatever size and makeup. Justice Alito limited his analysis to "closely held" corporations, but how much of a limitation is that? We don’t know, as no definition was offered. In the case at hand, each corporation was owned by members of a single family, but that isn’t offered as a test. Depending on the definition (there are several), the number of closely held corporations, and the number of employees, could be huge.
 C. The government’s position
 The decision was made easier, if no more convincing, by positions taken by the government. The most disadvantageous to its argument is the exemption for contraception coverage given to religious organizations, which are defined as follows:
For purposes of this subsection, a “religious employer” is an organization that meets all of the following criteria: (1) The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization. (2) The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization. (3) The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization. (4) The organization is a nonprofit organization as described in . . . the Internal Revenue Code . . . .[9]
The government argued that there is a legitimate distinction between a non-profit organization devoted to religious work and a profit-making corporation owned by religious people. The distinction is plausible and should have been upheld, but Mr. Obama made HHS’ task more onerous by granting that exemption, as Alito argued that it should apply to these plaintiffs.
  The other problem is the penalty schedule for non-compliance. It should not have been the measure of the burden, but the penalties are potentially so drastic as to make HHS look like a tyrant.
D. Scope of the decision
 Alito’s opinion is in part an exercise in duplicity. After referring repeatedly the four challenged methods of contraception, and noting that the plaintiffs had no objection to the others, he summarized the holding as follows: "Our responsibility is to enforce RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful. The contraceptive mandate, as applied to closely held corporations, violates RFRA." That could be read as abandoning the narrow focus of the opinion and calling all contraception into question, which is exactly what happened. The day following its decision, the Court issued orders in several cases in which all forms of contraception were challenged. Where the government had prevailed, the case was sent back with instructions to reconsider in accordance with Hobby Lobby; where the government had lost, its appeal was denied.[10]
  The obvious moral to the story is that we need an inclusive government health care program, such as Medicare for all. The employer-based system was past due for retirement even before this controversy.
____________________
1. Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al.
2. 494 U. S. 872 (1990)
3. 42 U.S. Code § 2000bb-1 (a), (b)
4. 42 U.S. Code §2000bb-2 (4)
5. 42 U.S. Code § 2000cc–5 (7)(A)
6. 42 U.S. Code §2000bb-1 ( c)
7. 42 U.S. Code § 2000bb–3. The operative sections refer to religious exercise or exercise of religion eleven times, belief zero.
8. 1 U.S. Code §1
9. 1 U.S. Code §1
10. http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/07/wider-impact-of-hobby-lobby-ruling/

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 1, 2014
The eagerness by some conservatives to reenter the Iraq quagmire is yet another instance of rewriting history, of at least of convenient forgetting. What’s worse, the media seem as determined not to learn as the ideologues. On June 23, Brian Williams introduced a segment on ISIS with these words: "eleven years after this US invasion of Iraq which was meant to make that country safe for democracy. . . ." Perhaps he was indulging in irony, but it didn’t sound that way. In any case, the media hardly have distinguished themselves regarding Iraq, eleven years ago or now, when they turn to the same fools who led us into the mess, treating them as foreign-policy experts.
There is an opposing, if hardly mainstream, point of view: the architects of the invasion of Iraq are criminally liable. One expression of that point of view was offered by Katrina vanden Heuvel: "At best a fool=s errand, at worst a criminal act, this great blunder helped set the stage for Iraq=s chaos today."[37]  William Rivers Pitt was more emphatic: "Let me put it plainly: these people do not belong on my television. They belong in prison, for the crimes of theft, torture and murder."[38]  The second part of each formula is perhaps a bit much, but the first certainly is true. As Pitt said earlier in the same piece, "The worst part is that they're all on my television again, trying to blame President Obama for the circumstances created by their own . . . decisions."
Ms. vanden Heuvel also contributed the perfect put down, advising William Kristol that "[w]e don=t need armchair warriors, and if you feel so strongly, you should, with all due respect, enlist in the Iraqi army."[39]  I=d second that without respect; none is due.

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37. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/katrina-vanden-heuvel-where-is-the-accountability- on-iraq/2014/06/16/eba0ff24-f597-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html

38. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/24490-william-rivers-pitt-they-belong-in-prison-not-on- tv; see also http://www.huffingtonpost.com/h-a-goodman/neocons-should-be-held-cr_b_ 5514337. html

39.http://www.thenation.com/blog/180459/vanden-heuvel-tells-kristol-if-he-wants-war-he-should- join-iraqi-army#
 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

June 19, 2014
On our way home from Paris earlier this month, our taxi was unable to stop at the end of the de Gaulle terminal nearest our airline’s counters. We eventually discovered that there was a lockdown due to an unattended bag. Police armed with automatic weapons were all over the place. No doubt it was a potentially serious situation, but the scope of response and the length of the lockdown seemed excessive.
Closer to home, there is a situation in which the danger is not at all speculative: people carrying guns onto planes, or at least attempting to do so. According to the Transportation Security Administration, the number of firearms found at security checkpoints is on the rise nationwide. Through the first week of June, TSA found 892 guns in passengers’ carry-on bags at security checkpoints. That’s a 19 percent increase from the comparable period of last year, which set an annual record, at 1,813. A one-day record was set on June 4, 18 guns at various airports. For the week, 36 guns were found on carry-ons, 33 of them loaded. (TSA reports that, on average, about 80 percent of all guns intercepted are loaded). One might think that the experience of 9-11 would have had a dampening effect, if only because every flier knows that his person and carryon will be screened. Not so: numbers have gone up every year since 2009.[36]
This is unquestionably the result of the growing gun culture; an editorial in Wednesday’s New York Times described the problem:
The steady rise in guns at airport security . . . is . . . a vivid indication of the normalization of casual gun-ownership. Airports in states with lax gun laws tend to have the highest incidence of firearms at checkpoints. . . . When legislatures send the message that guns are acceptable just about everywhere, people bring them just about everywhere.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

May 13, 2014
    
Consistency and predictability are virtues in the decisions of the Supreme Court. Precedent is an important part of that pattern: when courts follow the holdings of prior decisions, both predictability and consistency are served. However, the Court’s recent decisions often have been predictable primarily due to the majority’s ideology. They also have been marked by an odd and specious form of the use of prior decisions: instead of applying their holdings, which is the legitimate form of precedent, the Court lifts quotes from opinions and pretends that they are statements of law. Often the quotes are taken from concurring opinions, which are not the opinions of the Court or, worse, from dissenting opinions.[25]  Statements are taken from majority opinions which are not necessary to the holding, i.e., obiter dicta and therefore do not qualify as precedent. The Court also does something which is superficially legitimate: it relies on its prior, but recent and unsupportable decisions. In other words, it creates precedent by being wrong repeatedly. The decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission demonstrates this trend.
The issue in McCutcheon is summarized in the Court’s opinion by Chief Justice Roberts:
The statute at issue in this case imposes two types of limits on campaign contributions. The first, called base limits, restricts how much money a donor may contribute to a particular candidate or committee . . . . The second, called aggregate limits, restricts how much money a donor may contribute in total to all candidates or committees . . . .
The base limit is $5,200 for contributions to candidates; the aggregate limit is $48,600. Therefore a donor — I’ll call him John Doe later on — could give the maximum to only nine candidates (totaling 46,800, with $1,800 left over for others). Contributions to political committees have various base limits, depending on the type of committee, but there is an aggregate limit for all non-candidate committees of $74,600. One plaintiff in this case, Shaun McCutcheon, wanted to be able to contribute the individual maximum to a larger number of candidates, and contribute to several non-candidate committees, in each case exceeding the maximum limit.[26]  Another plaintiff, the Republican National Committee, wanted to receive larger contributions. They sued to overturn the aggregate limits.
In Buckley v. Valeo (1974),[27] the Court had upheld individual and aggregate limits. In effect, the plaintiffs asked the Court to overrule that part of the Buckley decision which approved the aggregate limit; instead it simply decided that Buckley’s holding needn’t be followed on that issue.
The opinion is diffuse and repetitious, so I’ve tried to sort out the principles or alleged principles which underlie the decision:
1. Political money falls within the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, which includes freedom of association. The Roberts Court’s view is borrowed from Buckley, which has been characterized as holding that money equals speech. That isn’t entirely accurate, although the results of later cases lean in that direction. Here is what Buckley said:
[T]he present Act's contribution and expenditure limitations impose direct quantity restrictions on political communication and association by persons, groups, candidates, and political parties . . . . A restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached. This is because virtually every means of communicating ideas in today's mass society requires the expenditure of money. (emphasis added)
That, standing alone, didn’t quite bring money within the First Amendment, so Buckley engaged in some judicial slight of hand: "[T]his Court has never suggested that the dependence of a communication on the expenditure of money operates itself to introduce a non speech element or to reduce the exacting scrutiny required by the First Amendment." Ergo, because the Court hadn’t previously denied First Amendment protection merely because money was involved, money must be considered as a part of communication; restrictions on political spending now must be tested by their effects on such communication.
Buckley didn’t hold that all restrictions on political spending violate the First Amendment. It applied a balancing test, weighing the impact on protected speech against the evil to be combated, and found that a contribution limit, whether base or aggregate, "entails only a marginal restriction upon the contributor's ability to engage in free communication." The Roberts Court does not agree:
2. Even though John Doe may speak or write or work in favor of candidates, he also must be allowed to contribute as much money as he wishes. As Roberts noted, "Buckley observed that a supporter could vindicate his associational interests by personally volunteering his time and energy on behalf of a candidate." However, to the present Court, "[s]uch personal volunteering is not a realistic alternative for those who wish to support a wide variety of candidates or causes. Other effective methods of supporting preferred candidates or causes without contributing money are reserved for a select few, such as entertainers capable of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single evening." Might we note that contributing large amounts of money is reserved for a select few? That, it seems to me, is the overriding issue regarding money in politics.
3. "[T]he Government may regulate protected speech only if such regulation promotes a compelling interest and is the least restrictive means to further the articulated interest. See Sable Communications of Cal., Inc. v. FCC."[28]  However, Sable doesn’t support that statement. It didn’t involve campaign spending or contributions, or money in any way; instead, it dealt with a statutory prohibition on obscene or indecent telephone messages. The passage cited states: "The Government may, however, regulate the content of constitutionally protected speech in order to promote a compelling interest if it chooses the least restrictive means to further the articulated interest." (emphasis added) There is nothing in McCutcheon about regulating content.
4. "Our cases have held that Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. See, e.g., Buckley v. Valeo . . . ." Buckley does so hold. Unfortunately, that is the most positive statement in the present opinion, which proceeds to reduce the Buckley rule to near-meaninglessness.
5. Although the preceding rule was expressed permissively, this Court made it exclusive: contributions may be regulated only if the intent is to prevent corruption or the appearance thereof, and even then only if not too restrictive.
6. Controlling influence or access to officials is not a legitimate basis for regulating contributions. "We have said that government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford. ‘Ingratiation and access . . . are not corruption’," citing Citizens United v. FEC, [29]  which offered no authority for that sweeping conclusion.
7. It’s improper to look to the interest of the rest of us in fair elections. Aggregate limits, the Court says, can’t be justified by limiting the financial advantage of those who contribute. Why is that? "No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to "level the playing field," or to "level electoral opportunities," or to "equaliz[e] the financial resources of candidates." The Court cited Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, and Davis v. FEC.[30]  Bennett does so hold, but it cites as authority Citizens and Davis; the latter cites Buckley, so we are back to the source. "As we framed the relevant principle in Buckley," this Court tells us, "the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment." That part of Buckley dealt with limits on expenditures rather than limits on contributions, which it treated differently, so that comment is not precedent. Whether Buckley was correctly decided on the expenditure issue is another matter.
The Court nodded toward the public interest: "[W]e do not doubt the compelling nature of the ‘collective’ interest in preventing corruption in the electoral process. But we permit Congress to pursue that interest only so long as it does not unnecessarily infringe an individual’s right to freedom of speech . . . ." The phrase "we permit Congress" reveals arrogance and an inflated self-importance: it is the Court, not the First Amendment, which has been offended. Worse, it discloses a negative attitude toward democratic government: the Court is not interpreting the Constitution, it is deciding whether any given law, enacted by the people’s representatives, is inconsistent with the Court’s agenda, which has less regard for the rest of us than for those who can spend money on elections.

8. Corruption exists only if there is a direct exchange of money for favorable treatment. "Any regulation must . . . target what we have called ‘quid pro quo’ corruption or its appearance. . . . That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money." The authority cited for that is Citizens United. The question in that case was whether there could be different rules for corporations and individuals with respect to independent political expenditures. In holding that a corporation cannot be treated differently, the Court rejected a government argument that the distinction could be based on preventing corruption. Justice Kennedy, in the majority opinion, unnecessarily added this: "When Buckley identified a sufficiently important governmental interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption, that interest was limited to quid pro quo corruption." However, Buckley did not so hold. To be fair to Kennedy, the lead opinion in Buckley is not a model of clarity.[31]  It did mention quid pro quo corruption several times, but its holding on contributions makes no reference to that limitation:
In sum, the provisions of the Act that impose a . . . limitation on contributions to a single candidate . . . and a . . . limitation on total contributions by an individual during any calendar year . . . are constitutionally valid. These limitations, along with the disclosure provisions, constitute the Act's primary weapons against the reality or appearance of improper influence stemming from the dependence of candidates on large campaign contributions. . . . . (emphasis added)
Justice Kennedy also cited FEC v. National Conservative Political Action Committee[32] which, like Buckley, made several passing references to quid pro quo. He also cited his separate, non-majority, opinion in McConnell v. FEC,[33] which is equivalent to pointing out that he said the same thing once before.

9. Corruption occurs only in each specific case, not in the aggregate. "If there is no corruption concern in giving nine candidates up to $5,200 each, it is difficult to understand how a tenth candidate can be regarded as corruptible if given $1,801. . . ." Total contributions by Mr. Doe can have no corrupting effect. He may have the entire Congress beholden to him, but no big deal. That leaves, according to the Court, only one excuse for an aggregate limit. "[I]f there is no risk that additional candidates will be corrupted by donations of up to $5,200, then the Government must defend the aggregate limits by demonstrating that they prevent circumvention of the base limits." Buckley upheld the aggregate limit on that basis:
The overall $25,000 ceiling . . . serves to prevent evasion of the $1,000 contribution limitation by a person who might otherwise contribute massive amounts of money to a particular candidate through the use of unearmarked contributions to political committees likely to contribute to that candidate, or huge contributions to the candidate's political party. The limited, additional restriction on associational freedom imposed by the overall ceiling is thus no more than a corollary of the basic individual contribution limitation . . .
The Roberts Court does not agree:

10. It acknowledged that Buckley upheld both limits "as serving the permissible objective of combating corruption," and that the government in this case argued that "the aggregate limits . . . serve that objective by preventing circumvention of the base limits," citing Buckley. "We conclude, however, that the aggregate limits do little, if anything, to address that concern, while seriously restricting participation in the democratic process. The aggregate limits are therefore invalid under the First Amendment."
What about the contrary holding in Buckley? Although that decision "provides some guidance, we think that its ultimate conclusion about the constitutionality of the aggregate limit in place under FECA does not control here." Why not? "Buckley spent a total of three sentences analyzing that limit . . . ." Buckley is cited when convenient, but one of its holdings is dismissed because it is too succinct. But wait; there’s another reason: that "opinion pointed out that the constitutionality of the aggregate limit ‘ha[d] not been separately addressed at length by the parties.’" This is rich. Here the Roberts Court ignores a holding on an issue which was not "separately addressed at length by the parties," but it decided Citizens on a ground abandoned by the plaintiff and dismissed by agreement in District Court.[34]
Buckley, the Court tells us, had characterized the aggregate limit as a "quite modest restraint upon protected political activity." But Roberts "cannot agree with that characterization. An aggregate limit on how many candidates and committees an individual may support through contributions is not a ‘modest restraint’ at all." Why is that? We aren’t told. Instead, he added this: "The Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse." Leaving aside the fact that newspapers are protected separately in the First Amendment, the analogy doesn’t work: the government isn’t telling John Doe how many candidates he can endorse — unless, of course, endorsement equals spending.
Despite its summary dismissal of the aggregate limit, the Court didn’t seem very confident that it had made the right decision. It argued that the methods of evasion of the base limit suggested by the government and by the dissent were implausible. It claimed that the aggregate rule is unnecessary because other laws prevent circumvention. However, it wasn’t too sure of any of that, so it suggested adding other laws or regulations.

11. Congress doesn’t know how to draft a bill. "[B]ecause the statute is poorly tailored to the Government’s interest in preventing circumvention of the base limits, it impermissibly restricts participation in the political process." Roberts was attempting to say that limitations on First Amendment rights are subject to close scrutiny because those rights are so important. However, that principle, and the Court’s general attitude toward Congress, lead it to demand that statutes be drawn in exactly the way it would. (There is a hint of this in Shelby County v. Holder, the voting rights decision). This mistakes the role of the Court and invades the province of Congress; it edges up to a violation of the separation of powers. The opinion dwells at length on the mechanics of contribution regulation, again a matter of legislative discretion.
12. The government’s legitimate interest in elections is limited; it must not tamper with political parties. "When donors furnish widely distributed support within all applicable base limits, all members of the party or supporters of the cause may benefit, and the leaders of the party or cause may feel particular gratitude." Might "gratitude" not be the equivalent of corruption? If that gratitude buys widespread acquiescence in the donor’s aims, could that not be massive corruption? No: "That gratitude stems from the basic nature of the party system, in which party members join together to further common political beliefs, and citizens can choose to support a party because they share some, most, or all of those beliefs. . . . To recast such shared interest, standing alone, as an opportunity for quid pro quo corruption would dramatically expand government regulation of the political process." At that point, the Court aptly cited its decision in California Democratic Party v. Jones, [35] in which it essentially had ruled that the interests of political parties are more important than the interest of a state in fair elections.
13. The government may not favor some candidates over others. "For the past 40 years, our campaign finance jurisprudence has focused on the need to preserve authority for the Government to combat corruption, without at the same time compromising the political responsiveness at the heart of the democratic process, or allowing the Government to favor some participants in that process over others." The last phrase is ironic, as the true meaning of this decision is that is that moneyed interests are free to create such favoritism.
The entire series of decisions back through Buckley needs to be reconsidered, either by the Court, which is unlikely, or by Congress. The option of a Constitutional amendment is not appealing, but it may be necessary if we are to pry politics loose from the control of the wealthy.

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25. Justice Stevens described the "precedent" for the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: "the majority opinion is essentially an amalgamation of resuscitated dissents."
26. Given his actual contributions, the plan is somewhat difficult to take seriously.
27. 424 U.S. 1
28. 492 U. S. 115 (1989).
29. 558 U. S. 310 (2010)
30. Bennett: 564 U. S. ___ (2011); Davis: 554 U. S. 724 (2008).
31. Buckley was decided by a per curium opinion; apart from a jurisdictional issue, only three Justices concurred in all of its holdings.
32. 470 U. S. 480 (1985); the case involved independent expenditures, not contributions.
33. 540 U. S. 93 (2003)
34. See the dissent by Justice Stevens in Citizens.
35. 530 U. S. 567 (2000)