Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dear Washington Post: Ron Paul Is NOT a Champion of Civil Liberty (Updated)



[This article is now on Huffington Post.]

Washington Post "factchecker" Josh Hicks gives Ron Paul high marks for consistency. Hicks claims that Paul's proposals and voting record are 100% consistent with his political rhetoric. This conclusion, however, is woefully incorrect.

Ron Paul (along with his many fans) describes himself as a champion of civil liberties. Paul also embraces an extremely narrow conception of federal power. These two positions, however, do not always co-exist peacefully.  Consequently, Paul has sponsored legislation that would imperil the very civil liberties he claims to endorse.

Consider for example Paul's sponsorship of the We the People Act. This bill, if passed, would have dreadful consequences for the protection of civil liberties. The proposal would prohibit the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from deciding cases challenging state laws that implicate:

1. the free exercise or establishment of religion;

2. the right of privacy, including issues of sexual practices, orientation, or reproduction; or

3. the right to marry without regard to sex or sexual orientation where based upon equal protection of the laws.

The proposal would also prohibit the federal courts from issuing rulings that "interfere[] with the legislative functions or administrative discretion of the states." Also, the bill, if passed, would "negate[] as binding precedent on the state courts any federal court decision that relates to an issue removed from federal jurisdiction by this Act."

Let's sort through the legalese. The bill would curtail civil liberties in several ways. First, it would remove all cases involving freedom of religion and the establishment of religion from the federal courts. This could harm liberty in a couple of ways. For example, if a state infringed an individual's or church's right to exercise religion, the federal courts could not intervene to redress the wrong. Only state courts could do so. On the other hand, if an individual claimed that the state had unlawfully subjected him or her to religious practice (say, by mandating that a student pray a Christian prayer in school or profess a belief in god), that individual could not pursue redress in the federal courts.  Because states still violate these constitutional rights, Paul's proposal would allow these practices to remain in place, unless state courts sided with plaintiffs.

The bill's most dangerous provision would strip the federal courts of jurisdiction in right of privacy cases. The Supreme Court has held that the Constitution establishes a right of privacy. This is great example of libertarianism. Unless individual behavior harms another person or the public, then the government needs a pressing reason for regulating it. Although the right of privacy protects individual liberty, Paul would keep the federal courts out of this important constitutional area.

As a consequence, federal courts could not decided the constitutionality of state laws that unlawfully regulate (or even prohibit) the use of contraception, restrict or ban abortion, or that deny marriage to same-sex couples. States could also ban adult consensual oral sex, anal sex, premarital sex and a host of other practices that fall within the right of privacy without any check from the federal courts.

Furthermore, the portion of the bill that would negate the applicability of any precedent prohibited by the statute would mean the immediate demise of Roe v. Wade -- a case that Paul the purported libertarian opposes. It would also mean that many other important rulings, such as cases protecting parental rights, family privacy, the right to marry, and the right to refuse medical treatment would suddenly lose all value as precedent in cases challenging state laws.

Moreover, the bill's vague language that would prohibit federal courts from issuing any ruling that would interfere with the "legislative functions or administrative discretion of the states" could enable dangerous restraints on civil liberty. For example, if a state legislature banned women from voting, the bill could prevent a court from enjoining the statute. While a court might find this law unconstitutional, it could not enjoin enforcement of it. Enforcement of rights, however, is essential to liberty itself. Without remedies, rights have no value.

Finally, even though Paul's opposition the War on Drugs and various practices involving the US military (like indefinite detention, etc.) is clearly rooted in libertarianism, his preference for state protection of rights would imperil liberty. So, while Paul opposes the federal government's War on Drugs, Paul is silent with respect to similar wars being waged in the states. This silence is striking in light of the fact that states prosecute most crimes in this nation. As president, however, Paul would not question impediments to civil liberty in the states. This omission, though consistent with his extreme views of federalism, make it impossible for him wear the libertarian label. Ron Paul is not a champion of liberty. The Washington Post is wrong.

Note: Some of this discussion is drawn from a previous article on Dissenting Justice, Five Reasons Why Ron Paul Should NEVER Become President.

UPDATE
One interesting thing about the We the People Act is the selective exclusion of only certain issues from federal court review. Paul chooses the right of privacy and the religion clauses. In so doing, he is picking the very clauses involved in progressive liberties cases with which the religious right vehemently disagrees. This is rather convenient for a Republican candidate. Paul's selective libertarianism would be a boon for social conservatives.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New York Times and Washington Post Articles on Congress and Wealth: Simplistic Statistical Analysis

Yesterday, the New York Times and the Washington Post published articles reporting a dramatic difference in wealth among members of Congress and the general public. Both articles show a widening wealth gap. While wealth among the general public has declined in the last two decades, it has risen for members of Congress (see Dissenting Justice analysis).

The articles both question whether wealthy individuals can properly lead the nation. The subtext, which is not so subtle in the New York Times article, implies that simply being a member of Congress creates wealth. And many readers have concluded that corruption, inside deals, insider trading, and other improper conduct explain the wealth among members of Congress.

Although these articles raise important issues, they fail because they do not analyze important issues that could explain the wealth disparities. Instead, the articles only isolate one factor for examination: the wealth of persons inside and outside of Congress. These populations, however, have many characteristics -- especially the general public.  The articles, however, do not control for any other factors that could account for a wealth disparity.

For example, a good statistical study of this issue would control for race, gender, age, educational achievement, investment behavior, and other factors that correlate with wealth (see previous article on Dissenting Justice). It is unclear whether members of Congress have greater wealth than persons with similarly situated individuals outside of Congress. Because of this failing, the articles leave the impression that membership in Congress alone explains the wealth gap.  This problem could erode the public's trust in government, which is already suffering according to opinion polls.

The Washington Post and New York Times should update these articles with more sophisticated statistical analysis. The articles both raise important questions. But, they fail to establish a solid factual foundation for engaging in an informed -- or useful -- dialogue.

Note: An updated version of my earlier discussion of this issue is now on the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

NYT Article on Congress and Wealth: More Context Please



The New York Times has published an interesting article on the wealth disparity among members of Congress and the average person in the US. The article reports that the median net worth of members of Congress is $913,000. The article does not provide the spread or the average net worth, however. The article also reports that the net worth of nearly one-half of the members of Congress exceeds $1,000,000.

The median net worth of members of Congress increased 15 percent between 2004 and 2010. The median net worth of Americans, generally, declined 10 percent during the same time period.

The article demonstrates that members of Congress have been insulated from the harmful impact of the economic downturn. The most damning analysis in the article, however, suggests that members of Congress might benefit from "inside" information when they invest money in securities. One study cited in the article concludes that investments made by members of Congress tend to outperform the market (it is unclear which market the study analyzed). Another study, however, found that the investments of members of Congress perform worse that the general investing public.

The Article Needs More Context

Although there are weaknesses in the article, it is probably safe to say that members of Congress are wealthier than the average American. The article, however, lacks a lot of information that could put this data into a more informative context.

Race, Gender and Congress

The biggest failure of the article is the omission of an analysis of the personal characteristics of members of Congress. Congress is disproportionately white and male. In the United States, these two characters correlate strongly with wealth.

There are 44 African-Americans in the House of Representatives and none in the Senate. There are 26 Latinos in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. There are 74 women in the House of Representatives and 17 in the Senate. Two of the African-American House members are nonvoting delegates, as are two of the Latino members.

There are 13 Asian-American, Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian members of Congress. 11 are in the House, of whom 2 are nonvoting delegates; 2 are Senators. There is only one Native American in Congress -- a member of the House of Representatives.

Blacks and Latinos are consistently poorer than whites in the US.  Furthermore, the wealth of blacks and Latinos has decreased much more sharply than the wealth of whites during the current recession. Women-headed households are also the poorest in the nation - especially households headed by women of color.

This racial and gender data provides a useful setting for thinking about the wealth data of members of Congress. Of course, several persons of color and women in Congress also possess great wealth (e.g., Nancy Pelosi, who is white, and Ed Pastor, who is male). Nonetheless, members of Congress could have disproportionate wealth because they are disproportionately white and male.

Other Relevant Personal Factors

Age

Other factors are relevant to this discussion. Members of Congress are not young. The median age in the House is 50; in the Senate it is 62. The median age in the US, however, is roughly 37.  Accordingly, members of Congress have had more time to accumulate wealth than the average person living in the US.

Former Employment

Members of Congress are also drawn from high-income professions. Most members of Congress are lawyers. Public servants/politicians and business professions rank second and third behind lawyers. There are also 17 medical doctors in Congress.

Educational Attainment

Members of Congress also have greater educational attainment than members of the general public. 92 percent of the House and 99 percent of the Senate have a bachelor's degree. 36 percent of the House and 55 percent of the Senate have law degrees. 18 members of the House have earned a Ph.D. 24 members of Congress have medical degrees. These numbers are up substantially from statistics in 1969.

By contrast, 87% of the US population above the age of 25 has a high school diploma, but only 30 percent of that demographic has a bachelor's degree. Less than 3 percent of that demographic has a doctoral or professional degree. If the entire US population were included, the percentages would, obviously, decline. Because wealth and education correlate strongly (in both directions), it is not surprising that members of Congress possess greater wealth than the average person in the US.

Wealth and Politics

Political scientists have for a long time debated the relationship between money and electoral success. According to conventional wisdom, wealthier candidates, or those candidates closely connected to wealthy individuals and corporations, enjoy more electoral success than economically disadvantaged candidates.

Several studies have challenged this conventional wisdom. Some research indicates that higher individual wealth or massive campaign donations do not influence election outcomes. Other research, however, presents a more qualified conclusion. It appears that wealth might give candidates an advantage if they are not well known or do not receive media attention. These candidates can purchase advertisements to acquire name recognition (Stephen J. Wayne, a professor of Political Science at Georgetown University, has written on this subject. See, Wayne, The Road to the White House).

Once inequality of name recognition subsides, however, some research finds that money does not substantially impact election success. This data, nonetheless, implies some connection between money and political success.

Summary

This essay does not contest the suggestion that the members of Congress can use their status as members of Congress to generate personal wealth. But this hypothesis requires more analysis than the NYT article provides.

Other explanations, such a race, gender, age, educational disparities, employment background, and pre-existing wealth (that relates to electoral success) likely explain a lot or all of the wealth disparities among members of Congress and the general public. These issues are extremely important points for public debate.

Update


Another important factor is likely investment risk tolerance. Investment in risky assets generally provides higher returns over the longterm. Studies have shown that wealthier folks, men, whites and higher educated investors have higher risk tolerance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dear Newt Gingrich: Judicial Supremacy Does Not Exist

Adam Liptak of the New York Times has written an article on Newt Gingrich's views of the federal courts. The article basically contains the same information as an earlier report by the Washington Post (see analysis on Dissenting Justice). There is, however, an additional point.

Gingrich condemns what he calls "judicial supremacy." By that, I suspect that he means (the article does not explain, but this is a well known debate among legal scholars) the notion that the Supreme Court has the last word on questions of constitutional law. Gingrich cites to Cooper v. Aaron for that proposition. Decided in 1958, Cooper arose out of the standoff over desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas. State officials argued that they did not believe segregation was unconstitutional, and they claimed that states could nullify rulings of the Court. The Supreme Court, however, said that its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas stated a constitutional principle, and that the Supreme Court's doctrine on the constitution is binding and controlling as constitutional law.

Many commentators argue that Cooper went beyond Marbury v. Madison (which established judicial review), and in many ways, this is a reasonable observation. But if Gingrich is really concerned about activist and imperialist judges, he could have pointed to much earlier precedent. In the early 1900s, the Court began to apply a very rigorous standard of review in cases challenging various economic and labor regulations. This infamous period is known as the Lochner era (named for Lochner v New York, a 1905 case that struck down a New York labor law in the baking industry). During the Lochner era, the Court invalidated over 200 laws - much more than during any other 3-decade period.

The Court would continue its conservative approach until the New Deal era, when it struck down several pieces of popular legislation that FDR promoted to deal with the impact of the Great Depression. Roosevelt's critiques of the Court, the terrible state of the economy, the popularity of economic legislation, and personnel changes on the Court led to a major shift in direction. The Court suddenly began applying a more relaxed standard and overruled the restrictive case law from the Lochner era.

The overruling of Lochner disproves the entire idea of judicial supremacy. While Supreme Court interpretation of the Constitution binds state and federal governments, its rulings do not end the debate over the meaning of the Constitution. Instead, the Court responds to politics, public opinion, social conditions, social movement activity, and other factors outside of mere judgment. Indeed, the involvement of the president and the senate in the appointments process ensures that the Court will reflect majoritarian or at least mainstream values.

Gingrich's rant on judicial supremacy is uninformed. It is also simply a reflection of his own ideological commitments. He limits his criticism to liberal opinions -- not conservative rulings that coincide with his own ideology.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Obama and Gay Issues

The Politico has an article on President Obama and his "pitch to gay voters." The article discusses the sometimes tumultuous relationship between Obama and the LGBT social movement community. The article quotes many commentators who discuss what Obama can do to energize LGBT voters. Some commentators encourage him to endorse same-sex marriage. Others point out that he has done more to advance LGBT rights than any other president. I have responses to both of these observations.

Same-Sex Marriage: Do Not Expect An Endorsement

First, on the subject of same-sex marriage, I doubt that Obama will publicly endorse same-sex marriage before the 2012 election. Things could change, but if public opinion remains relatively constant on this issue leading into November, Obama's position will remain the same ("I do not support it, but I do not support laws banning it"). If his opinion evolves, it could become "I support it, but I believe this is a matter for states to decide" or simply "This is a matter for states to decide."

Why all of the doubt? Most opinion polls show that a majority of the public opposes same-sex marriage. While opposition is the highest among conservative voters, liberals and moderates also oppose marriage equality. Some recent opinion polls (see Politico article) show that a slim majority of the public approves of same-sex marriage, but these polls contradict the results of most other surveys.

In order to win the election, President Obama needs black and Latino voters to come out in droves and support him again. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority of white voters since 1964; this statistic applies to Obama as well.

Black and Latino voters were instrumental in delivering several key states to Obama, including Florida, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio, and North Carolina. Same-sex marriage is not a key issue among these voter.

Also, it is unclear whether (and doubtful that) LGBT voters constitute a swing vote in any tough race for Obama. Moreover, pro-LGBT voters probably will not run from Obama if he does not support same-sex marriage.

Politics is about strategy more than ideology. If Obama believes he can win without endorsing same-sex marriage -- which was true in 2008 -- he will decline to do so.

Obama Has Done More For LGBT Rights Than Any Other President

Commentators who defend Obama often argue that he has done more for LGBT rights than any other president. The claim has some validity. During his presidency, Obama has encouraged and secured the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  The Department of Justice has stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act and now considers it unconstitutional. Also, Obama has advocated extending federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. Pro-LGBT individuals should certainly applaud these developments and Obama for overseeing them.

Nevertheless, the observation regarding Obama's contributions to gay rights bothers me for two reasons. First, this argument discounts the role that social movement actors played in generating these changes. Presidents do not simply change policies to help disadvantaged groups because they are benevolent. Instead, they respond to pressure from and changes in the political climate caused by social movement activity.

LGBT social movement actors have been among Obama's most vocal liberal critics. They have also managed to influence public opinion on LGBT issues. Accordingly, it is not surprising that Obama has modified and taken a stance against antigay policies.

The observation about Obama's contributions to gay rights is also troubling because it is ahistorical. In the past, the changes that have recently occurred with respect to LGBT rights were not imaginable. The LGBT rights movement did not even become a major political player until the 1980s. Also, public opinion on LGBT rights has evolved over time, in part due to the activism of LGBT political actors and individuals.

Accordingly, a president in 2012 should definitely be able to check off more individual accomplishments in this area than, say, a president in 1950. But that does not imply that the contemporary president is bolder or more committed on the subject. Instead, this gap simply reflects the evolving political and social climate on this subject.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Newt Gingrich: Latest GOP Candidate With Horrific Ideas for Federal Courts

Conservative and liberal observers have criticized comments that Newt Gingrich made regarding federal courts.  The Washington Post reports that Gingrich told reporters during a conference call on Saturday that he would seek to abolish courts that issue decisions he views are improper.

Gingrich has also repeatedly criticized federal judges who, adhering to well established Supreme Court precedent, enjoin public schools from sponsoring religious activity:
“Are we forced for a lifetime to keep someone on the bench who is so radically anti-American that they are a threat to the fabric of the country?” Gingrich asked.
“What kind of judge says you’ll go to jail if the word ‘invocation’ is used? If this isn’t a speech dictatorship, I’d like you to show me what one looks like.”
The Constitution permits the removal of federal judges through the impeachment process. Otherwise, they have lifetime tenure. Gingrich's comments, therefore, reveal his distaste for the Constitution, which the president is obligated to uphold.

Gingrich has also said that he would like to force judges to come before Congress to explain their rulings. Unlike other governmental actors, judges, already explain their rulings in opinions. Gingrich's proposal is unnecessary. It also would allow for abusive violations of the separation of powers. Gingrich mistakenly believes that judges should be accountable to Congress, rather than the Constitution.

To support his dangerous ideas, Gingrich cites to Thomas Jefferson, who, in 1802 led his party's decision to abolish numerous new judgeships that the lame-duck Federalist-dominated Congress created following Jefferson's victory over John Adams. But Jefferson's actions are hardly model behavior.

Encouraged by Jefferson, the new Democratic-Republican Congress suspended the operation of the Supreme Court to prevent it from deciding the constitutionality of the repeal of the new judgeships. Jefferson later asked Congress to impeach Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, who criticized Congress for repealing the judgeships.  Although this history is an embarrassing low-point in the treatment of the Court by the president and Congress, Gingrich invokes it as support for his own partisan agenda (Note: This history provides the background for the landmark decision in Marbury v. Madison).

GOP Candidates' Dangerous Ideas for the Court
Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and other Republicans have criticized Gingrich's ideas regarding the courts. Gingrich, however, is not the only Republican candidate who has dangerous views concerning the federal courts.

Rick Perry, for example, wants to abolish lifetime tenure for judges. This plan would undoubtedly make them more vulnerable to partisan control. Perry also wants to give Congress the power to overrule Court decisions by a 2/3 vote. Although Congress can already reverse the Court's interpretation of statutes by simply passing new legislation, reversing the Court on Constitutional matters requires a constitutional amendment, not a vote of Congress.

Although Ron Paul has criticized Gingrich, Paul has also advanced some dangerous proposals for the Court. Paul, for example, has introduced a bill called the "We the People Act." If passed, this bill would prohibit federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from deciding whether state or local laws violate the "the right of privacy, including issues of sexual practices, orientation, or reproduction. . .or. . .the right to marry without regard to sex or sexual orientation where based upon equal protection of the laws." Paul's proposal would divest the federal courts of the power to protect extremely important liberties against state infringement.

Paul's proposal would also prohibit any court ruling that "otherwise interferes with the legislative functions or administrative discretion of the states." This broad prohibition would effectively negate judicial enforcement of the Constitution and federal statutes, to the extent that state law conflicts with these provisions.

Gingrich Fading
Although Gingrich's ideas are dangerous, it seems that his openness in expressing them has frightened voters. Although Gingrich soared to popularity among GOP voters after Herman Cain left the race, it appears that voters are now taking a second look, and he is falling in the polls. In other words, even conservative voters are rejecting his extreme views.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Does Romney's $10,000 Bet Tell Us: NOTHING

Mitt Romney has received a lot of criticism for making a $10,000 wager during the recent Republican presidential debate. Romney made the bet during a dispute with Rick Perry over the details in a book Perry had authored.

To most of the media, the substance of the Perry-Romney debate is irrelevant. Instead, media accounts have focused primarily on the amount of money Romney wagered. Although Romney has received criticism across the political divide, Democrats, in particular, have tried to exploit the matter.

The DNC has argued that the amount of the wager proves that Romney is "out of touch" with most Americans, obviously alluding to his vast wealth. This argument is a loser. First, saying that a candidate is "out of touch" is an ambiguous statement. It is unclear what it means to be "out of touch" or to be "in touch."  President George W. Bush, for example, was commonly portrayed as someone who could sit down and have a drink with the "average" American. He and his family, however, are extremely wealthy.

Furthermore, if wealth or high income makes a candidate unfit for office, then the DNC should question President Obama as well. In 2010, the Obamas reported income of nearly $1.8 million.  In 2009, they reported income exceeding $5.6 million. This certainly places them among the highest tier of income earners. Also, Hillary and Bill Clinton have made massive amounts of money since Clinton left office in 2000.

Rather than using wealth as a litmus test, I encourage the Democrats and the media to focus on substance instead. It is a much more compelling way to evaluate a candidate.  Given the current status of the media and politics, however, hoping for substantive analysis is a fantasy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Every Murder Victim Has A Story: Update on Joseph Alonzo Sharps Case

17-year-old Joseph Alonzo Sharps, Jr. was murdered on November 8, 2010. His death was the subject of a Dissenting Justice article last year. Although Sharps's death did not generate an abundance of media attention, due probably to his race and class, a number of bloggers and some reporters covered the story.

The murder was incredibly tragic, especially because, by all accounts, Sharps was a young, ambitious and friendly child, who was shot in cold-blood for no reason whatsoever. Sharps's best friend De'Onte Bilbro was severely injured during the shooting.

Today, testimony began in the trial of Kwan Kearney, the individual accused of killing Sharps. Homicidewatch.org, a blog that helps bring desperately needed attention to DC murder victims, has published a report of the first-day of the trial, which includes some chilling testimony by Larnell Allen.  Allen is a second defendant who has accepted a plea agreement:
“As soon as [Kearney] pulls the gun he fires,” Allen said of the run-in between Sharps, Bilbro, Kearney, a 14-year-old, and himself. “I withdrew my gun from my hip and I fired. It’s like backing him up. One fires, we all fire.” (boldface added)
That shooting killed 17-year-old Sharps and seriously wounded then-18-year-old Bilbro. Families of the two young men were in court Tuesday, both in the audience and on the witness stand. Bilbro, too, took the witness stand, describing for jurors how he and his best friend were walking home from a nearby gas station, when three guys walked towards them on the sidewalk.
“I looked to see who I was walking past and the tallest one said ‘Whatchya reaching for?’” Bilbro remembered. “Joe said, ‘We ain’t reaching for nothing.”
That’s when the shots rang out, Bilbro said, he fell to the ground injured. His left leg lay up against his stomach; he later learned that his femur had been shattered. Still, he got up and ran across the street thinking that he could go get help. But once across the street, his leg crumpled under him and he fell, again.
He called his mom on his cell phone.
"Mom,” Dorothea Bilbro told the jury her son said when she picked up the phone. “I’ve been shot. Around the corner.”
She jumped in her car and drove around the corner. “I saw Joe and I saw De’Onte,” she remembered. She checked on her son, then ran to his best friend.
“This is Ma Bilbro,” she said she told Sharps. “You’re going to be alright.”
Sharps died moments later.

Strange Twists
This case involves some strange twists that indicate the level of violence among youth who live in concentrated poverty within the District of Columbia. Kwan Kearney was arrested for killing another youth prior to his arrest for killing Sharps. His brother, Eric Kearney was slated to testify for the defense in the other case. Last month, however, Eric Kearney was murdered.

Prosecutors believe that Kearney was murdered because he revealed that another individual, who is currently incarcerated, was going to testify for the prosecution. A friend of that individual allegedly killed Eric in order to silence him from broadcasting information about the witness.  The death of Eric Kearney delayed Kwan Kearney's trial for the death of Joseph Sharps.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Newt Gingrich: Poor Kids Will Only Do Work If It Is "Illegal" (Text and Video)

Newt Gingrich, the GOP presidential favorite du jour, made some interesting (translation: idiotic) comments about the plight of poor kids during a campaign rally earlier today. As reported by The Hill, a conservative political blog, Gingrich made the following statement during his speech (see video below):
Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. . . .They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of "I do this and you give me cash" unless it's illegal.
As you can discern from this quote, Gingrich is a brilliant sociologist! He is so familiar with sociology and poverty, that he has never heard of the "working poor" -- millions of Americans who work daily but who cannot escape poverty. Also, this learned social commentator is unfamiliar with the struggles of unemployed poor folks who continue to seek legal work in this sluggish economy.

Gingrich has a simple solution to the complex problem of generational poverty:  Since the law requires poor kids to go to school, the schools could employ them as "assistant janitors" to "mop the floor" or "clean the bathroom" or in various other positions.  I wonder why great minds never thought of this before Newt did.

Searching for the Romney Antidote
It is almost laughable that the GOP continues to search for the "not-Romney" candidate. Mitt Romney is too moderate to capture the attention of rightwing voters, who will have tremendous power during the Republican primaries. Nevertheless, Romney is the only GOP candidate who seems to have an elementary grasp of basic facts related to government and the economy.

Conservative favorites Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain have imploded due to their deep ignorance and personal failings. Now, conservatives hope that Gingrich will defeat Romney.

Fortunately, Gingrich has an uncontrollable urge to speak. Thus, he he will undoubtedly continue to spew ignorance throughout the campaign season. After Gingrich self-destructs, will conservative icon Sarah Palin take the plunge? Tune in!

Newt Video



Note: It is fun watching The Hill post negative news about Gingrich. This is possibly an effort to bolster Romney.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Needs To Expand Its Tactics

Occupy Wall Street is a new social movement that seeks to challenge the highly imbalanced distribution of wealth in the United States. Beyond this basic message it is unclear what the movement -- which has spread across the country -- wants to accomplish. Nevertheless, the movement has generated a lot of energy among progressives and captured media attention.

Not all of the attention, however, has been positive. Instead, the media has reported conflicts between various "Occupy" protesters and police. One of the most dramatic media reports involves a campus police officer at the University of California at Davis employing pepper spray against peaceful student protesters.  Municipal officials in various other locations have also sought to eject the protesters from the public spaces.

New Strategies Required

Although it seems abundantly clear that some of the police measures have violated either federal or state rights of the protesters, members of the Occupy movement will probably need to rethink its strategy in order to remain relevant. To date, the group's most visible strategy has involved the physical occupation of certain geographic spaces. Indeed, the name of the movement reflects this primary mobilization strategy.

Maintaining the occupying strategy as the single or even most prevalent tactic, however, could doom the movement. Although the protesters certainly have the right to assemble and engage in speech activities, it is unlikely they have the right to occupy public spaces indefinitely. Indeed, the Constitution allows government officials to use reasonable "time, manner and place" restrictions on public expression - so long as the restraints are unrelated to the content of the speech. Accordingly, the movement's primary strategy -- physical occupation -- is on a collision course with the government's ability to place certain restraints on protest activities. If the movement cannot engage in its primary protest strategy, then it is effectively silenced.

To avoid this inevitable defeat, the Occupy movement should move beyond this limited approach and engage in broader strategies. This could include having speeches and rallies (not simply occupying space), articulating concrete agendas, lobbying lawmakers, adopting media campaigns, and other strategies commonly used by successful social movements. Broadening the group's activities could also generate interest among individuals who do not have the luxury of spending time away from work and other responsibilities in order to occupy various locations of power. Until the movement adopts additional social movement strategies, it will likely dissipate without influencing public policy or politics.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Washington Post Column Suggests a Conflict Between Feminism And Domesticity



Emily Matchar's column in the Washington Post suggests a conflict between feminism and "domesticity."  Such a conflict is artificial.

Matchar's column is personal. It begins with a listing of her plans for the holiday season:
I’m planning on canning homemade jam this holiday season, swept up in the same do-it-yourself zeitgeist that seems to have carried off half my female friends. I picked and froze the berries this summer, and I’ve been squirreling away flats of Ball jars under my kitchen sink for months. For recipes, I’m poring over my favorite food and homemaking blogs — the ones with pictures of young women in handmade vintage-style aprons and charmingly overexposed photos of steamy pies on windowsills.
Matchar contends that her personal story defines a new generation of women, who subscribe to the "New Domesticity":
Around the country, women my age (I’m 29), the daughters and granddaughters of the post-Betty Friedan feminists, are embracing the very homemaking activities our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shucked off. We’re heading back to jam-canning and knitting needles, both for fun and for a greater sense of control over what we eat and wear.
Matchar then explores whether this development is a positive step for women or whether it spells a defeat for women's equality. Matchar asserts that the New Domesticity is a positive move that allows women to make decisions about their lives, such as choosing the ingredients for the foods they eat.

Although I enjoyed reading the article, I believe the question it seeks to answer presents an artificial conflict. Feminism was never meant to extricate women against their will from "domestic" life. Instead, feminism seeks to empower women to make choices that benefit them and their families.

Furthermore, I quarrel with the description of some of the activities in the article as signs of "domesticity." Choosing to can food, sew buttons on shirts, or cook meals does not relegate an individual to a life of domesticity. Indeed, feminists were not concerned with domestic activities as such but with the unquestioned assumption that domesticity was the natural place for women. The women in Matchar's article clearly have choices.

Well, now I am going to watch football and finish the last slice of White Chocolate-Dried Cherry-Toasted Pecan Bread Pudding (along with a cream sauce) that I made for Thanksgiving (pictured above). Just call me Mr. Domestic.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Jonathan Chait Asks: "When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable"



Jonathan Chait has written another critique of liberals. In a recent New York Magazine column, he asks "When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable"? Unreasonable, of course, means criticizing President Obama for taking rightwing or centrist positions.

Several others have written this jaded analysis before. The details are quite mundane (see relevant commentary on Dissenting Justice).

But here is a not-so-mundane response to Chait. With respect to US history, I believe that "liberals" became "unreasonable" when they demanded full suffrage and emancipation for blacks in the early 19th Century. Thankfully, some folks in US history had courage.

Chait's essay is just another strained analysis by political moderates, who are so threatened by progressive criticism that they feel a constant need to defend so-called liberal politicians and condemn the Left.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

President Obama Signs Three New Free Trade Agreements

Although President Obama campaigned heavily against free-trade agreements like NAFTA, he just signed three more into law. The agreements cover US trade relations with Columbia, Panama and South Korea.

During the 2008 Democratic Primaries, free trade became a major campaign issue. Hillary Clinton and Obama exchanged very tough words over the subject as the primaries reached the Midwest. Although Obama faulted Clinton for participating in the process to enact NAFTA, leaked communications between his economic team and members of the Canadian government revealed that Obama privately assured Canada that his tough talk on trade was merely campaign rhetoric.

Although Obama initially denied any allegations of double-talk, he later conceded that language in political debates can become "overheated." Several articles on Dissenting Justice cover this issue (see below).

For more coverage, see:

What Happened to the Thunderous Liberal Opposition to Free Trade?


Don't Blame the Current Economic Conditions: Obama's Softer Position on NAFTA Emerged Almost a Year Ago


Chill Out, Canada: Despite Tough Campaign Rhetoric Obama Will Not Touch NAFTA

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Washington Post Asks: "Is Occupy Wall Street Overblown?" UPDATE

Media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement has increased sluggishly. Undoubtedly, the lack of media attention has deprived the public of meaningful information about the movement and the means to scrutinize its activities.

For these reasons, I was surprised to read Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza's article which asks: "Is Occupy Wall Street Overblown?"  Cillizza implies that the movement is probably overly hyped. He reaches this unstated conclusion after analyzing a recent Pew study which shows that only a small percentage of the public is following the protests "very closely":
Just 17 percent [of respondents] said they were following the protests “very closely”. Independents — at 19 percent — were keeping the closest eye on the “Occupy” efforts while just 12 percent of Republicans did the same.

Only 17 percent of self-identified Democrats said they had were [sic] watching the protests closely, a somewhat surprising number given the party’s recent embrace of the motives and goals of the “OWS” crowd.
"Very closely" is probably too high a standard to measure the importance of any movement's relevance to society at any given moment. This is especially true with respect to embryonic movements like Occupy Wall Street.

My examination of the Pew study adds additional context.  The five stories that respondents said they were following most closely include (in descending order): the economy, the death of Steve Jobs, the 2012 election, Amanda Knox, Afghanistan, and Occupy Wall Street. Yet, the study finds that only 7 percent of recent news coverage related to the Wall Street protests. Not surprisingly, only 7 percent of respondents listed the protests as the most important news story. The scant media coverage makes it difficult for the average member of the public to follow the protests closely.

The study also finds that the public is less concerned with the Wall Street protests than it was with the Tea Party in 2009, during the early stage of its development. Pew finds, however, that media coverage of both movements was roughly equal during their developmental stages.  Cillizza seizes upon this data to bolster his argument about the irrelevance of the protests.  But neither Pew nor Cillizza recognizes that the Tea Party protests were often violent and rancorous -- factors that invited public attention and which undoubtedly led to a subsequent surge in media coverage.

Final Word: A Tip for Organizers

Although I believe that Cillizza's column does not provide nearly enough context to help readers appreciate the Pew study, I also believe that participants in the early Occupy Wall Street movement must quickly cohere around a marketable and distinct message. At the moment, the group has apparently resisted developing a political platform or policy agenda. The lack of specific demands or proposals will likely deter media coverage and hinder growth in public attention.

Historically, successful social movements have utilized creative frames to express and market their messages. They have also developed public policy agendas that they wish to implement through the political process. Furthermore, successful social movements have raised the awareness of not only potential movement participants but of the public at large. Unless the budding Occupy Wall Street movement begins to utilize some traditional social movement mobilization techniques, it will probably dissipate without effectuating any meaningful social change.

[Note: I write and teach in the area of Law and Social Movements.]

UPDATE
Two new surveys suggest that Cillizza's article was shortsighted. First, a Time magazine survey finds that a 54 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Also, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 37 percent of respondents "tend to support" the movement; only 17 percent "tend to oppose" it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Another Civil Rights Champion Dies: Paula Ettelbrick, 56

Another civil rights champion has died. Paula Ettelbrick, a lawyer and activist, succumbed to cancer this morning.

Although Paula's work focused primarily on LGBT issues, she viewed justice in very broad terms. As a result, she championed reforms related to gender, poverty, sexuality, race and many other concerns.

I had the pleasure to know Paula professionally and personally. Her work as an attorney and scholar inspired and taught me. The world has lost a great woman.

Paula's death occurred in the same week that legendary civil rights veterans Derrick Bell and Fred Shuttlesworth died. I hope that people who value justice will study the work of these individuals and become inspired by their tireless efforts. Social change is not an easy project. It requires courage, commitment and honesty. These three champions of equality prove that point.

Urvashi Vaid has a great tribute, which you can find here: Paula Ettelbrick and Feminist Leadership.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Obama's Debt-Reduction Plan: Has The Lion Found Courage?

Early reports of President Obama's debt-reduction bill reveal signs of courage in the proposal. According to the New York Times, for example, Obama has promised to veto any bill that does not include a tax increase. Also, the plan would increase taxes paid by the upper .03 percent of taxpayers. It would also allow the Bush-era tax cuts (extended by Congress during the Obama administration) to expire. Furthermore, conceding to the demands of liberals in Congress, Obama's plan does not include a change to the minimum age needed to qualify for Medicare or Social Security (see also, this article in the Washington Post).

Obama has frustrated many of his supporters by repeatedly conceding the center in his negotiations with Republicans and conservative Democrats. This proposal defies Republican threats and manages to deliver something that is worthy of support -- at least as the details have emerged so far.

I suspect that this plan has a lot to do with Obama's reelection bid than a sudden passion for more progressive economic policies. Well, politics is not for the faint of heart of the idealistic. Stay tuned for more updates.

UPDATE: Yes - he is in full-blown campaign mode. Too bad he does not exhibit such passion and leadership too often.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Game Time: Name One Leading Country That Follows the Tea Party Model of Government

The Tea Party and conservative Republicans -- including Ron Paul -- continue to scream about the perils of the national government. Anything that comes out of Washington is horrible, oppressive, and -- undoubtedly -- unconstitutional.

They seemingly want the nation to return to the type of country it was under the Articles of Confederation. Well, the Framers believed that this was a bad idea. So, as much as the conservatives lament the passage of a imagined fantasy land when the states, as provided by the Constitution, were all-powerful, history has involved an expansion of federal powers. And each generation has inscribed this expansion in the Constitution.

After the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation, the next expansion in federal power came with the Civil War. Although conservatives want the states alone to determine the scope of important rights (e.g., Paul saying the states should decide abortion and sexual orientation issues), the Fourteenth Amendment explicitly limits the power of states with respect to substantive liberties, due process, equal protection and privileges and immunities. The Constitution also expands federal power with the Sixteenth Amendment, which gives Congress the power to tax income.

Conservatives have blatantly lied about history. Although they argue that the country was always -- until recently -- one of a very limited national government, the historical record shows that people in each generation of American history have generally favored more government due to the benefits that it brings to the People.

Rather than debating "whether" the government has a role in our lives, we should work together to identity issues that are suitable for governmental support and involvement. Instead, conservatives basically abhor anything at the federal level -- except for the military. While many liberals tend to think that a government-private sector collaboration is inherently suspicious - even though some of the most heralded liberal policies (like Medicare) involve a partnership with private entities.

This stalemate is extremely frustrating - particularly for those of us who have actual knowledge about history. The stalemate is also troublesome because it wastes precious time that we could spend mending the poor state of the country. And -- yes -- the government has a role in this as well.

So, here is a challenge to conservatives: Please name ONE (just one) country that has relative wealth, a democratic government, a good healthcare system, an educational system that provides basic early education for all residents, and a system of government that at least formally values due process, equal protection and civil liberty --- while at the same time having a central government that provides no services to the public -- except for national defense, that does not spend money to assist states with social services, and in which the people believe that government services are unhelpful, wrong, harmful to society, and a sign of totalitarianism.

TAKE A MINUTE. THINK. AND GET BACK TO ME.

Ron Paul Supporters: Fighting Mad!

Related Post: Game Time: Name One Leading Country That Follows the Tea Party Model of Government

Huffington Post has reprinted my article, Five Reasons Why Ron Paul Should Never Become President. Although the article generated buzz on Dissenting Justice, it has caused quite a stir at Huffington. Over 450 persons, primarily fans of Paul, have expressed their opinion on the article (and the number of posts grows even as I complete this essay).

The responses generally fall into the following categories:

1. "This article is garbage, horrible, disgusting, terrible, blah blah blah blah blah."
2. This article completely misrepresents Paul (without citing to one word in the article that is an actual misrepresentation).
3. Paul does not oppose abortion; he just wants it to be decided by the states.
4. Paul is not a racist. He opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it is unconstitutional. Besides, it is no longer needed.

These posts are pretty silly. The first two categories are completely nonsubstantive. Perhaps these individuals are frustrated beyond all reason because it is highly unlikely that Paul, who first ran for president in 1988, will come close to winning the GOP nomination in 2012.

The third category distorts my blog post. Regardless of Paul's personal views on abortion, his belief that only the states should decide the issue would transform abortion from a constitutional right (which it presently is) and turn it into an option that women could exercise only subject to the laws in her state.

By contrast, constitutional rights apply throughout the country; states do not get to limit or expand them. Leaving this issue to the states implicitly means that it would no longer be a constitutionally protected right. There is no way to dispute this. It is a completely accurate statement of constitutional law.

The fourth category is dead wrong on the law. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the constitutionality of the civil rights legislation. Furthermore, Paul's arguments are simply a modern rehashing of the Dixiecrats' views in the 1960s -- regardless of whether he is a bigot or not. Also, many studies demonstrate that racial discrimination in employment continues -- despite the legislation. Removing it would free companies to do so without a legal deterrent. Finally, if the legislation is unnecessary, then why repeal it? If companies are no longer discriminating, then they should not worry about the existence of the law.

To their credit, other individuals (only a few) agree that the blog post fairly presents Paul's past statements. Nevertheless, they say this is precisely why they support him. In other words, they agree with Paul's positions on the issues without accusing me of some conspiracy to misportray him. At least these individuals are intellectually honest. I commend them.

To the rest: thanks for bringing attention to the article. As a result of your efforts, more folks than I ever expected have now read the article. Many have emailed me and thanked me for the post. Now, a lot more people have a clearer understanding of Paul and his ideas. I suspect a lot of them will also decline to vote for him.

Update: There is one additional strand of analysis from Paul supporters: As president, Paul could not implement many of his ideas that you find threatening because the president cannot enact or repeal legislation.

This is probably one of the most troublesome -- but easily refuted -- claims. Of course presidents cannot enact or repeal legislation. Nonetheless, they are influential in the legislative process. Conservatives know this; they describe the healthcare legislation as "Obamacare," rather than Congress-care.

Furthermore, the president is the legal head of the executive agencies. The agencies have a tremendous amount of power to interpret and execute federal statutes. Thus, Paul's view of statutory enactments and constitutional text is extraordinarily important. This is such a basic part of our political system. I am shocked that Paul's supporters would even make this style of argument.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Five Reasons Why Ron Paul Should NEVER Become President


[NOTE: I have published a new Ron Paul article on Huffington Post: Dear Washington Post: Ron Paul Is NOT a Champion of Civil Liberty]


[Related post: Ron Paul Supporters: Fighting Mad!]

Fans of Representative Ron Paul have recently begun to criticize the media. Paul's supporters believe that the media has unfairly neglected his perpetual bid to receive the presidential nomination for the Republican Party.

Perhaps Paul's supporters should reconsider their criticism of the media. For, if Paul actually received substantial scrutiny, his ideas would undoubtedly frighten most voters.

Paul is charismatic. He also comes across as a straight shooter. Some of his ideas -- like his opposition to militarism and the War on Drugs -- appeal to many voters, including liberals. His arguments about lower government spending and taxation sound good to folks who worry about budget deficits.

Paul's arguments, however, often lack an empirical basis. History has already demonstrated that many of Paul's proposed solutions will never work. Thus, while some of Paul's ideas sound solid in the abstract, they crumble once they are subjected to widely accepted theories about government and society.

Because Paul's ideas are faulty and dangerous, he would make a terrible president. Here are five reasons why Paul should never become president.

1. Paul would restrict abortion based on anecdotal "evidence," rather than science.
Ron Paul is pro-life. He says that he developed his views on abortion during his practice as an OB/GYN. Paul's official website states that: "[D]uring his years in medicine, never once did [Paul] find an abortion necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman." Paul's statement, however, is troubling for two reasons.

First, medical science -- as opposed to Paul's anecdotal "evidence" -- proves that abortions are sometimes necessary to protect the life of the mother. Second, Paul's statement also contradicts the constitutional test articulated by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and many subsequent decisions. According to established Court doctrine, states generally must make abortion available to protect the life and health of the mother. Even if Paul never witnessed a scenario where a woman needed a life-saving abortion, it is not difficult to imagine a situation where a woman needed an abortion to preserve her health.

Furthermore, conservatives have been trying to eliminate the health exception, which they believe amounts to "abortion on demand." According to the Supreme Court, however, a health condition means a psychological or physical condition which the doctor and patient decide warrants an abortion. While many Republicans want to limit abortion to life-saving procedures, Paul believes even this extreme exception is unnecessary based on anecdotes.

2. Paul has dreadful views regarding personal liberty and fundamental rights
Because Paul opposes abortion and everything done by the federal government (except the payment of his salary), he has proposed a bill called the "We the People Act." This bill, if passed, would prohibit federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from deciding whether state or local laws violate the "the right of privacy, including issues of sexual practices, orientation, or reproduction. . .or. . .the right to marry without regard to sex or sexual orientation where based upon equal protection of the laws."

Essentially, Paul wants to remove federal courts from the business of deciding whether state laws violate the federal constitution! Contrary to Paul's vision of government, the Constitution secures certain rights enforceable against the national government and states. The Supreme Court has an important role in protecting those rights against invasion.

In the context of fundamental rights, Paul, however, wants to transfer this important federal judicial role to state courts exclusively. Undoubtedly, many state courts would sharply curtail liberties currently recognized by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, this proposal would produce a system where the substance of federal rights varied state-by-state.

In addition Paul wants to "repeal" Roe v. Wade. Since Roe is a judicial opinion, rather than a statute, he really wants a constitutional amendment reversing the ruling. Regardless, Paul's horrific proposals would endanger several personal liberties secured by the Constitution, including the right to terminate a pregnancy.

3. Paul would threaten the independence of the federal judiciary.
Paul's proposals show a striking disregard for the independence of federal courts. Although public opinion and the actions of the political branches influence court decisions, the courts do not operate as representatives of the electorate. Instead, the Framers envisioned a court system that would operate as a check against unlawful action by the government.

Paul, however, would remove a lot of substantive issues from the jurisdiction of the courts (see above). The We the People Act, which Paul has proposed, would also prevent the federal courts from "issuing any ruling that appropriates or expends money [or] imposes taxes. . . ." Supreme Court precedent, however, already prohibits courts from imposing taxes or expending money of the states. So Paul's proposal is unnecessary.

But Paul wants more than this. He also wants to prohibit any court ruling that "otherwise interferes with the legislative functions or administrative discretion of the states." This sweeping passage would virtually negate judicial enforcement of federal law -- including the Constitution (not to worry - this is what makes the proposal unconstitutional).

If a state passes a statute that mandated racial segregation in its public schools, a decision by the Supreme Court that enjoined enforcement of that law would interfere with the "legislative" and "administrative" function of the state. It does not take much analysis to discover the danger in this proposal.

4. Paul wants to repeal historic legislation that was responsible for curtailing racial and sex discrimination in the workplace and for prohibiting racial discrimination in places of public accommodation.
Ron Paul opposes the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The legislation prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Paul believes that the legislation violates the Constitution. Specifically, he argues that Congress lacks the power to pass the law and that the law violates the rights of employers.

The Supreme Court disagrees with Paul; so does the public. Americans have decided that they want a society in which employers cannot use race and sex as a basis for exclusion. Contrary to Paul's assertion, this vision is absolutely consistent with the Constitution, via both the Commerce Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment.

Furthermore, Paul is simply rehashing the same arguments that Dixiecrats made as they struggled to maintain Jim Crow and white supremacy. People who lack knowledge of history might find Paul's statements about freedom to contract and association appealing, but they are simply a contemporary version of arguments that prevented women and persons of color from having economic opportunities. Paul would seek to reverse over five decades of social progress.

History proves that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was instrumental in achieving racial integration in southern schools. Until that act was passed, only about 1% of southern blacks went to school with whites -- despite the fact that the Supreme Court had decided Brown v. Board of Education ten years earlier. The legislation, however, tied federal funding for schools to antidiscrimination principles. The southern states sluggishly chose to integrate, rather than lose vital federal education assistance.

On the one hand, Paul opposes federal court enforcement of constitutional rights. At the same time, however, he opposes congressional remedies for racial and sex discrimination and enforcement of equal protection. Paul essentially wants to turn racial and gender equality over to the whims of the private sector and states. His ideas regarding civil rights are unsound, and they would undermine the nation's unfinished project of social justice.

5. Paul wants to erode the power of voters by repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.
Over the course of history, the American people have amended the Constitution to provide greater power to voters and to enhance democratic participation. The Fifteenth Amendment allows people to vote regardless of race (although it took nearly a century to make this a reality). The Nineteenth Amendment allows people to vote regardless of sex. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment allows persons who have reached the age of eighteen to vote. Furthermore, the Seventeenth Amendment allows individual voters of each state to elect US Senators directly. Previously, the Constitution delegated this authority to state legislatures.

Paul and many other conservatives want to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment. Although their arguments are not entirely coherent, most conservatives in this camp claim that repealing the Seventeenth Amendment would help protect the states against the national government. Others blame the growth of the national government on the inability of state legislatures to elect senators.

This position is flawed for several reasons. First, the Seventeenth Amendment is an important tool of individual liberty and democracy. Repealing it would contradict important values of American political life.

Second, the connection between the Seventeenth Amendment and growth of the federal government is sheer speculation; it is also incorrect. The government has grown because voters have decided that they need the government to deliver important services that states alone cannot secure.

Furthermore, most of the spending programs that Congress creates for the nation are voluntary. If states do not want to comply with federal regulations tied to spending programs, they can refuse the money. But state lawmakers do not want to anger voters by depriving them of important benefits, like school funding, healthcare, and safe roads.

Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment would undo a major element of America's move toward democracy. For this reason alone, Paul is unfit for president.

Final Thought
I applaud the efforts of Paul's fans to attract media attention for the candidate they support. This attention could lead to greater awareness of Paul's views among the electorate. If people actually hear the policies that Paul supports along with critical analysis, they will undoubtedly disapprove of his candidacy.

Please note: There are so many other reasons why Paul would make a terrible president. I hope to explore those issues in a future blog.

UPDATE:
I changed the first point (regarding abortion) to correct my inadvertent description of Paul as "pro-choice." I also made other stylistic changes. I regret any inconvenience.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Governor Perry's Dangerous Ideas for the US Constitution

Texas Governor Rick Perry recently entered the race to become the GOP's 2012 presidential candidate. Although many early reports regarding Perry have focused on trivial issues like his "Texas Swagger," some media are now beginning to give him serious scrutiny.

Today, Chris Moody, a Yahoo News blogger, analyzes seven ways that Perry wants to change the Constitution. Perry set forth these ideas in his book: Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington. He also mentioned them during interviews and while campaigning. If implemented, Perry's ideas would dramatically curtail the exercise of individual rights and liberties. They would also dramatically restrain the ability of Congress to engage in sound fiscal policy.

Perry wants to make seven changes to the Constitution:
Abolish lifetime tenure for federal judges by amending Article III, Section I of the Constitution.

Congress should have the power to override Supreme Court decisions with a two-thirds vote.

Scrap the federal income tax by repealing the Sixteenth Amendment.

End the direct election of senators by repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.

Require the federal government to balance its budget every year.

The federal Constitution should define marriage as between one man and one woman in all 50 states.

Abortion should be made illegal throughout the country.
If You Want to Destroy Liberty -- Kill the Courts

Perry's ideas would imperil individual liberty. Particularly frightening are Perry's proposals for the Supreme Court. The Framers of the Constitution created the Supreme Court to act as a check against the other branches of the federal government -- and as a guardian against state governmental infringement of federal law. Perry would water-down the Court's important role in two ways. First, he would seek to eliminate lifetime tenure for judges. He would also seek to empower Congress to reverse Supreme Court rulings by a 2/3 vote.

Critics of judicial power often argue that the Court is antimajoritarian because federal judges have lifetime tenure. A lot of academic research has demonstrated that these fears are highly overstated. Regardless, lifetime tenure immunizes judges from retaliation by the political branches. If judges were subject to reappointment or -- even worse -- elections -- to keep their jobs, this would diminish the extent of their autonomy from political institutions.

Perry's proposal for a congressional override of Supreme Court decisions is also dangerous. Presently, Congress can reverse the Court's interpretation of statutes by a simple majority vote (it is unclear from Moody's post whether Perry knows this). The Court's rulings on the meaning of the Constitution, however, are final, unless the Court later reverses them --- or, unless "the people" amend the Constitution.

Congress can propose Constitutional amendments by a 2/3 vote, but 3/4 of the states must ratify the proposal. Perry would allow 2/3 of Congress to reverse the Court's interpretation of the Constitution without the involvement of the states. This proposal, which would make the Court vulnerable to the whim of Congress, would erode judicial autonomy that the Framers built into the Constitution.

Direct Curtailment of Individual Liberty

Several of Perry' other proposals more directly restrain individual rights. Perry, for example, favors constitutional amendments banning abortion and same-sex marriage. These are fairly standard Republican positions.

Perry, however, also favors a repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment, which allows for the election of US Senators by popular vote in each state. Recently, several other conservatives have advanced this proposal. The Seventeenth Amendment gives voters the right to elect Senators; previously state legislators had that power. The Seventeenth Amendment expanded the representation of the American people in Congress, and it gave voters more power to influence the actions of their representatives. Perry, like other conservatives, wants to take this power away from the people and give it back to state lawmakers. This would represent a serious erosion of individual political power.

Fiscal Nightmare

Perry's remaining proposals are fiscally unsound. First, he wants to amend the Constitution to prohibit Congress from taxing income. This proposal appeals to people who believe -- without any evidence -- that taxation has ruined the country. Perry's idea would make the notion of a functioning national government virtually impossible. A balanced budget amendment, which Perry also favors, would have a similarly disastrous impact on federal fiscal policy (see prior blog post).

Final Thoughts

I am pleased to see that some media have begun to scrutinize Perry. His Texas swagger -- whatever that is -- should not even occupy space in public discourse. It is unimportant.

Instead, the media needs to focus on Perry's ideas and proposals -- which he has detailed in a book and in numerous campaign speeches and interviews. Hopefully, Chris Moody's analysis of Perry's dangerous ideas for the Constitution will lead to even more analysis of his policy positions. This is not the time for Hee Haw journalism.

UPDATE

Chris Moody published the article scrutinizing Perry's views of the Constitution. This blog post has been amended to give attribution to Moody, rather than the Associated Press.

Friday, August 19, 2011

FYI: Recession Has Contributed Greatly to Federal Debt and Deficit

Even though the Republicans love to blame government spending alone for the deficit and debt, they are distorting reality (in other words - lying). As I have argued in prior posts, the recession has contributed greatly to the federal deficit and debt for several basic reasons.

First, tax revenue plunges during recessions because more people are unemployed and business activity declines. Consequently, individuals and companies have less tax liability. Also, during a recession, the government spends more money. The government has spent money to strengthen the economic safety net (extending unemployment benefits, etc.). It has also allocated money to rescue the financial system.

Increasing spending while taxes are falling will lead to a budget deficit. In order to pay the bills the government needs to borrow money. The tax cuts passed during the Bush administration has also contributed to declining tax revenue -- and consequently -- to the deficit and debt.

Although the foregoing arguments draw from basic economic concepts, Republicans refuse to acknowledge this fact in public debates. By emphasizing spending instead, they hope to gain political support for cutting social programs to assist the elderly and poor. Surprisingly, Democrats often fail to acknowledge the relationship between the recession and the national debt and deficit, even though that argument could help them rebut the Republican arguments about spending. In sum, both sides are miseducating the public.

For more on this issue, see:


Fiscal FactCheck (Factcheck.Org)

Debt Ceiling Deal: Preliminary Observations on the Deal AND Obama (Dissenting Justice)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blacks And President Obama: End the Love Affair?

Houston-based writer Michael Arceneaux urges blacks to end their love affair with President Obama. In an article published by The Root, Arceneaux contends that blacks treat Obama like a "boyfriend," rather than a president. He urges blacks to become more critical of Obama's policies and to accept reasonable arguments from other blacks who criticize the president.

Black support for Obama remains relatively high. While the overall public support for Obama has fallen below 40 percent (a number which shows erosion of happiness among Democrats), black approval ratings for Obama remain around 85%. Nevertheless, despite these high approval ratings, the economic conditions within communities of color are quite dreadful.

The recession has wiped out all of the gains in black wealth over the last 20 years, and black unemployment is about 3 times the rate for whites. Yet, Obama has agreed to a debt-ceiling compromise that will reduce government spending and make an economic recovery even more difficult.

Furthermore, while Obama frequently talks about the plight of the "middle class," he rarely mentions the poor or working poor in his speeches. When Obama wants to talk about unemployment and jobs, he travels to Ohio, but he does not go to East St. Louis or SE Washington, DC to hold a similar conversation. Although the disappearance of jobs in the industrial Midwest has definitely affected blacks, black urban poverty is a different social structure than poverty in the rust belt (see update below this blog post).

In the past, I watched with amazement the emotional reaction that Obama generated in people. I often described myself as a "designated driver," or someone who approached him soberly as a politician -- rather than a larger-than-life symbol of greatness and progress. When other blacks, however, criticized Obama, they often received condemnation. Persons ranging from Revered Wright, Tavis Smiley, Maya Angelou and Cornell West have received fervent criticism from blacks for either taking issue with President Obama or, as in the case of Angelou, supporting his competitor Hillary Clinton.

I believe that Obama raises a lot of complex issues for blacks. First, he is a symbolic figure of racial progress; accordingly, blacks feel happy about his presidency. Second, he is also often a victim of racism, which causes blacks to act defensively on his behalf (even exaggerating some claims in my opinion).

Despite these facts, racial allegiances should not cloud blacks' judgment about social and economic betterment. The fact that Obama is a symbol of progress means very little for persons who live daily in poverty, crime-ridden neighborhoods and whose children attend the most neglected schools in the nation. Moreover, defending Obama against racism from rightwing bigots will not change these substantive conditions of inequality.

So, I recommend a more sophisticated usage of race politics by blacks. Race remains important in American society -- as a battery of social statistics reveals. But an amorphous sense of racial pride should not render blacks silent in the face of policies that ignore their most pressing interests.

Unless blacks begin to treat Obama as a politician, then he will have no incentive to change his approach on issues related to race and poverty. If he can maintain nearly unanimous support among blacks simply by being a symbol of racial progress, then he need not take any political risks in order to deliver concrete -- rather than symbolic -- change.

UPDATE

I discovered an interesting proposal by Senator Gillibrand that addresses one of the issues discussed in this blog post: urban poverty. Gillibrand has proposed the Urban Jobs Act, which, if passed, would allocate money to help "at-risk" youth in Americas large cities obtain jobs. Gillibrand cites statistics showing the extremely high unemployment rates among black and Latino youths. The article does not mention whether President Obama supports the legislation. It also does not indicate that he had anything to do with proposing it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Donna Brazile Offers Obama "Four Options" to Get the Nation "Back on Track"

In a CNN op-ed, Donna Brazile offers President Obama "four options" to get the nation "back on track." Brazile is a staunch supporter of Obama. She is also a major Democratic Party insider. Brazile managed Al Gore's presidential campaign. She also currently serves as vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee.

Brazile encourages Obama to become a "bold executive" because congressional Republicans have unified to obstruct legislation and policies that many Americans support. Given her status as an ally to the president and an influential figure within the Democratic Party, Brazile has carefully framed her op-ed as offering advice for the president, rather than criticism. Nonetheless, her advice mirrors recent liberal and progressive criticism of the president that emerged following the debt-ceiling debates.

Here is a snippet from Brazile's op-ed:

Here are four options available to [Obama] right now:

1. Empower his Cabinet: A story on Thursday reported that the White House is going to begin releasing new job creation ideas each week. This is a good start, but President Obama needs to develop an economic action plan with his Cabinet that he can implement strictly through the exercise of executive power. This has the added political benefit of getting the president's bipartisan Cabinet members like Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on TV, making Republicans in Congress look even less reasonable. And speaking of executive power...

2. Don't be afraid to be an executive: If President George W. Bush used the argument of the "unitary executive" to justify warrantless wiretapping and torture, surely President Obama can wield executive power to put Americans back to work while Congress dithers on. There's a big toolbox available, and the president needs to get aggressive in using it.

3. Flex monetary muscle: During the debt ceiling debate, some legal scholars pointed out that while the Treasury is limited in terms of how much paper money it can print, there is no such limit on the minting of coinage. They jokingly recommended the government could mint two $1 trillion coins and deposit them in the government's coffers to help pay off the debt. While this certainly isn't a real option, it goes to show how much authority the executive branch has on monetary policy.

4. Acknowledge the bully pulpit has changed: Because of the ever-shortening attention span exemplified by Twitter and the 24/7 political news media, the power of the presidency as a mover of public opinion has been diminished. However, the president still has a lot of power to cajole public and private entities into action. Whether that's persuading banks to lend, corporations to hire, or public and private institutions to reorganize, the president needs to hit the phones. Even if cold calls have been fruitless before, persistence is a virtue.
My Take

I agree with the heart of Brazile's argument, and I have written a blog post with similar themes on Dissenting Justice. I also believe that if Brazile -- who is a close ally of the president and party insider -- is offering public criticism of (or "advice" to) Obama, then many Democratic Party leaders are probably unhappy with his style of dealing with Congress. In the future, I expect others to make similar arguments. It is unclear, however, whether Obama can or whether he will modify his negotiating style, which has proven ineffective for dealing with a highly partisan Congress.
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