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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sara & Michele's 19th Constitutional Dilemma

Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann pose a problem for progressives. Dedication to women's rights and free speech have been deep commitments for us. But we wouldn't be human if we listened to either of these harridans and didn't wish for repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

That provision, ratified in August, 1920, was hailed as the culmination of decades of struggles for the suffrage movement in this country.

During her much publicized speech in which she praised the founding fathers for their supposed dedication to the slavery problem, Bachmann neglected to mention the additional absence in the original Constitution of votes for women. How the founding fathers could have ignored the founding mothers is something Originalists do not seem to have learned.

On the other hand, maybe the founders were right after all. The record of women in politics has had it's blemishes long before Sara and Michele's emergence.

Even before they achieved the Constitutional right to vote, many states had accorded the privilege. The first woman elected to Congress was Jeannette Rankin, Representative from Montana. Her long career is noteworthy for her votes against declarations of war in World War I and World War II. Two mistakes.
The Eighteenth Amendment, known as Prohibition, was ratified in 1919. It's passage was the achievement of the temperance movement, which was dominated by women activists allied with religious leaders (WCTU). This too proved to be a bad mistake.
After getting the vote in 1920, women proceeded to elect Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover.
It should also be mentioned that Paris Hilton, Snooki, Lindsay Lohan, and almost all Kardashins have the vote.
No, I am not advocating repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment. But wait, Sara & Mich', be careful. Tea parties may not always permit dainty china.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pope John Paul II, miracle worker

It was recently reported that Pope John Paul II has passed the first step toward sainthood. He has been “beatified” based on “proof” that he performed a miracle. A nun who claimed to be suffering from Parkinson’s Disease was “cured” after praying to him to intercede.

At first this struck me as rather anachronistic, a throwback to an earlier age when people believed in miracles. And then I thought again — more kindly this time.

For one thing, sainthood is merely the Church’s Hall of Fame. The rules for admission are similar. There is a 5 year waiting period from the end of the applicant’s career before eligibility. The requirements are stringent, demanding exceptional works in the chosen profession. A “miracle” is kind of like winning the batting title, home run record, career .300 average or 300 wins for a pitcher.

For another thing, Pope John Paul II seemed to be a kindly old man. He had a grandfatherly smile, and looked the way I thought a pope should look.

Unlike a majority of popes throughout history, he was not Italian. He was a Pole, his birth name was Karol Józef Wojtyła and although he lived under Nazi occupation at a time when many Poles were virulently anti-Semitic and cheerfully collaborated with the Nazi efforts to solve the “Jewish Problem”, he has been given a pass from the Bnai’ Brith, a watchdog group that checks into such things. The young priest, Father Wojtyla, was credited with acts of kindness toward and even saving a number of Jews.

When he became the pope, he had to deal with the controversial issues that beset all Catholic leaders. His philosophy was conservative, so he made gays and abortion rights advocates queasy.

But he was known for issuing a string of 100 apologies to make up for centuries of “mistakes” made by or ratified by or at least tolerated by the Catholic Church.

He apologized to Galileo Galilei for calling him a heretic for claiming that the earth revolved around the sun, which was contrary to Catholic dogma.

He acknowledged that the Inquisition may possibly have gone too far in torturing and executing innocent people.

He apologized to Jews for the blood libel, pogroms, and silence of the Church during the Holocaust and to Muslims who were killed by Crusaders.

He was sorry for burning Protestants, sorry for the Church’s violation of womens’ rights.

He apologized for Catholics who participated in the slave trade, and for Spanish Catholics who forcibly converted native South and Central Americans, killing and exploiting many.

These were the real miracles he performed and are the acts for which he should be remembered.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Slick Barack"?

In the always shifting high stakes political hold em game, President Obama seems to be making some clever bets. On the other side of the table the playas seem confused. 

That's enough of stale deadens metaphors, whew. 
 It is interesting. Obama's poll numbers are up. The schizo electorate spanked him in November and he surprised by "getting things done" during the lame duck session. What he got done was to take hold of The Center while Republicans as a result of their win, lost the center and were pushed further toward the untenable extreme Right. Hahaha.

We oldies have seen this before. 1994. Clinton takes a licking after his and Hillary's health care crash. Newt becomes the Speaker of the House. He steers shapely Right. "the Contract With America" gave Clinton the opening to move to the Center, reduce deficits, fight crime, boost entrepreneurism (later known as "the dotcom bubble"). Newt sputtered as the economy improved and Slick Willy got re-elected. 

It may be Deja vu all over again. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Obama Haters

I have something to add to my last post.  Trying to understand why the hatred of Obama is so vicious, I think I made a fundamental ... (sorry) ... basic error. I ascribed the attitude to irrational fears about the Constitution, which is thought of as scripture by a certain portion of the illiterati that dominates talk radio and cable commentaries.

Now, my thinking has, please pardon the expression, evolved. I noticed that Mr. Obama's uniqueness lies not in his political philosophy or his policies. Let's face it: he is not simply our first African American president.  That in and of itself would be enough to set certain segments of the American electorate to boil their teapots.

But he is more than that. He is of mixed race heritage: an African father and a liberated midwestern latter day hippie intellectual white mother.  As I have noted previously, his mom, Ann Dunham, was a product of the 1960's, a true believer in the notion that a better world could be created if people gave up biases based on race and gender.

I think that this fact blows minds of many whites, especially in the south and midwest ... and Alaska.  It is the worst nightmare of those who were on the wrong side of the civil rights movement.  The white supremacists always feared that "integration" (remember that notion) might result in mixed "mongrel" races. 

That the races have been mixing ever since the beginning of time was an inconvenient fact ignored by the racial purists, many of whom have never accepted the outcome of the Civil War, much less the Supreme Court opinions, government policies, and societal evolution that resulted in people like:

Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, Derek Jeter, Blake Griffin ... and Barack Obama.

As Churchill noted about the Nazis, certain attitudes are so extreme and wrongheaded that they leave no ground for debate. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Take this Constitution from my cold dead hands

From the perspective of The Left, the virulent hatred of Obama and so- called Obamaism and ObamaCare is puzzling.

He and they seem so moderate, so centrist, so tame. What are the lions of The Right getting so worked up about? Is it Gays in the military (which was delayed until a consensus of military brass including Defense Secretary Gates approved)? The threat (unfulfilled) to close Guantanamo? The continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Okay, he is a Black Man. But not exactly a Jesse Jackson. His wife and children are also black, but they seem more into fashion, vegetables, and puppies than radical politics. Compare Michelle to Hilary.

Which of his policies are Marxist? Bailing out banks, General Motors, homeowners? Giving insurance companies an enormous pool of additional customers? What’s so revolutionary, so dangerous to right wing values in all of that?

The New Yorker this week contains a piece that made me nod in recognition and say, “Oh, now I get it.”

Jill Lepore, in “The Commandments ... The Constitution and its worshippers”, was about the analogy between constitutional originalism and biblical fundamentalism.

The common article of faith in the two belief systems is that change is bad. The authors of both documents are viewed as infallible and their products immutable.

So, when some of us got all gooey eyed hearing the ringing words about time for change we can believe in, many others were terrified to the point of rage by the same words and images.

To those of us who have been appellate court opinion watchers all of our professional lives, the originalist issue is ludicrous, some new clothes for an old emperor.

Back in the golden (or dark - depending on your perspective) age of the 60's and early 70's, the Warren court (and later, even the more timid Burger court) issued a series of opinions that marked serious change in constitutional interpretation. They struck down a hundred years of segregation, defined an array of rights for the accused, ended school prayer, recognized abortion rights and womens’ right to equality.

The backlash was immediate and vicious. The Right, from “The Minutemen” to “The John Birch Society” to William Buckley and Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, ranted about liberal judges who were twisting the constitution to fit their own agenda. Legal scholars then molded this complaint into the originalist doctrine — no interpretation, just reading.

Liberal judges were accused of being result oriented which is a judicial sin. Judges are supposed to be philosophically neutral, objective, letting the chips fall where they may, even if they personally disagree with the result. The Law is the thing.

Over the next thirty years, Nixons, Reagans, Bushes, (and in California, a succession of similar governors) have appointed so-called conservative judges.

In this sense, conservative is a term of art, intended to be literal — their philosophy was to conserve the Constitution, based on the original intent of the founders.

Amazingly enough, this supposed insistence on strict interpretation and asserted revulsion against judges making law has led to results that conform to the political philosophies of the judges and those who appointed them.

The conservative judges proved to be just as result oriented as their liberal predecessors. In the last term the U.S. Supreme Court ruled struck down campaign contribution limits on corporations on First Amendment grounds --- although the Bill of Rights clearly was intended by and understood by the framers to apply to "The People", not businesses. The court also declared D.C.'s gun control law violated the Second Amendment, despite clear language and 250 years of precedent that its purpose was to insure "A well regulated militia ...." 

In law school I was taught that legal opinions were supposed to begin with the facts, proceed to defining the issues, and then an analysis of the law and precedents, followed by a ruling and explanation of the reasoning.  A corollary was that if the reasoning did not support the ruling, then judicial integrity required abandonment or modification of the ruling.  

Intellectually dishonest judges begin opinions with the ruling they wish to make. They relate the facts that support it and ignore or rationalize away those that diminish their view. The issues are defined in ways that insure the preferred result.  The reasoning consists of little more than rationalization, distinguishing opposing precedent without convincing analysis.

In a real sense, originalists are fundamentalists whose faith bars belief in evolution, whether as a science explaining the nature of the world, or as a metaphor for social progress ... that is, change. Their religion will not permit this.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Wikipedia reports that the word assassin was Arabic, which first referred to an Islamic sect of killers who targeted political and religious opponents. They also were reputed to do their evil deeds while under the influence of hashish.

This is interesting because modern American assassins seem to combine in varying mixtures the brew of political and / or religious zealotry with histories of troubled mental states which often involve self-medication by drugs.

Why is it that so many assassins are also poets?
Seung-Hui Cho, Va. Tech killer was an English major whose writing was central to his mental illness. Should any pretensions toward introspective creativity in our youth be a warning sign of a troubled mind?

The notion that possession of concealed weapons by more people make society safer is one that I would like to debate ... at ten paces.

How far is Tucson from Tombstone?

That is the town where the Earp brothers confronted the Clanton clan at the O.K. Corral back in 1880 or so. As I recall the legend, the Earps were town marshals who intended to arrest the gang members for violating the city ordinance that prohibited carrying of concealed weapons. So, maybe the pro gun people are right ... in an insane way.

Why haven’t those from The Right insisted that Jared Loughner be handled as they wish other “terrorists” to be: interrogated “forcefully” without reference to any Constitutional rights to root out the cause of his actions, whether he had help or is part of a greater conspiracy? Why do they not insist that he be transported to Guantanamo, tried in military court without access to other inmates or counsel?

How many will blame Loughner’s acts on “the government’s socialistic totalitarian policies” which naturally drive certain unbalanced and super sensitive souls to extreme acts?
This was the argument made by the extreme Right — including survivalists and white supremacists — about Tim McVeigh of Oklahoma City bombing infamy. He rationalized his “radicalization” on the events at Ruby Ridge and Waco.

This is not too far different from what was going on in the late 1960's / early 70's from The Left. Radicalized by Viet-Nam, freed from societal constraints by the prevailing anti-establishment rhetoric and counter culture, revolutionary cults like the SLA and Weather Underground (as well as parts of the extreme black liberation movement).

For those of us near the center, it is a bit hard to understand why the election of Barack Obama has stirred such hatred in extreme elements of his opposition. The anti rhetoric has seemed to be so absurdly hyperbolic that demogogic commentators who stirred up the rabble like Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh and others seemed to us to be comical characters that few could be expected to take seriously.

How naive we were.