Ben and I used to be editorial writers at the same conservative-leaning newspaper in Southern California. And, in a strange and ironic twist, Deregulator also worked at that paper. Though we're all out of the official "voice of the newspaper business" these days, I'm guessing our combined experience as editorial writers approaches 25 years.
So surely Ben and Rick would be as surprised as I was to read how The Washington Post has done a public about-face on its editorial page on the question of treating Christmas Day Knickerbomber Umar Abdulmuttalab as a civilian criminal rather than an enemy combatant. An editorial board does not make such a decision lightly because it reveals a lack of serious pre-writing thought.
Granted, for a left-leaning American paper, you won't find one more supportive of America's war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and battle against terrorists, in general. In fact, you won't find one that comes even close. So I was actually a little surprised that The Washington Post at first agreed with the way the Obama administration let Abdulmuttalab quickly lawyer up after his capture in Detroit. But, Scott at Powerline notes, The Post has reconsidered:
The Post writes that it "originally supported the administration's decision in the Abdulmutallab case, assuming that it had been made after due consideration. But the decision to try Mr. Abdulmutallab turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a crime-and-punishment model."
This is a remarkable admission. The Post is basically saying that it initially agreed with the decision because the Obama administration is so packed with experienced, wise, intelligent folks ... that it just had to have come to a proper (and not lefty ideological) policy position. What White House is The Post watching?
The same White House that blew the biggest political opportunity for Democrats in a generation by employing crude, brute political force in Congress, insulting voters and wholly misreading the mood of the public?
The same White House that decided to close Gitmo with all the "due consideration" one can employ by the time the second day of one's term rolls around? How's that decision working out so far?
The same White House that pretended the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court in New York City was solely the call of Attorney General Eric Holder — who himself bungled his dubious explanations that he gave the matter "due consideration" before announcing it while Obama was flying out of the country on Air Force One?
We could go on all day with this. And I love that excuse by The Post, because it an apply to almost anything.
"I originally supported Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's decision to shack up and adopt 458 kids from around the world, assuming it had been made after due consideration. But the decision to shack up and adopt all those kids turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process, but a knee-jerk default to a celebrities-can-do-whatever-they-want model."
"I originally supported the Packers' decision to release Brett Favre, assuming that it had been made after due consideration. But the decision cut Favre turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a we-want-to-lose model."
"I originally supported the administration's decision to mock angry American voters as 'teabaggers' and 'Astroturf' dupes for corporate front groups, assuming that it had been made after due consideration. But the decision to mock the voters turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to an arrogant model."
"I originally supported Saturday Night Live's decision to book Ashley Simpson as a musical guest, assuming that it had been made after due consideration. But the decision to book Ashley Simpson turns out to have resulted not from a deliberative process but as a knee-jerk default to a they'll-never-know-she-lip-synchs model."
Scott at Powerline takes some other, more substantive shots at The Washington Post's turn-around that are worth reading.
The seismic events of the last few days ends, in some respects, the phony war of the first year of Obama's presidency. As is the case in truly fracturing democracies, the opposition simply does not and cannot accept the fact that it is out of power.
...But the truth is that these forces have also been so passionate, so extreme, and so energized that in a country reeling from a recession, the narrative -- a false, paranoid, nutty narrative -- has taken root in the minds of some independents. Obama, under-estimating the extremism of his opponents, has focused on actually addressing the problems we face. And the rest of us, crucially, have sat back and watched and complained and carped when we didn't get everything we want. We can keep on carping if we want to. But it seems to me that continuing that... is objectively siding with the forces of profound reaction right now.
The prescription: Physician, heal thyself.
Troubling news from Fairbanks, Alaska, where tempers are flaring in the drive-thru lane.
The Associated Press reports a man who hit a Taco Bell manager in the face with a double-decker taco has been sentenced to one day in jail and one year probation.
This was no random taco assault. The assailant, Warren Strickland, claims Taco Bell miscreants spit in his food because they couldn't get his $1.49 taco right. The manager accused him of lying to get free food.
Strickland also has to pay a fine and -- constitutional lawyers, take note -- is banned from Taco Bell for a year.
Next time, Warren, just throw it on the ground.
Mark Helprin has a new piece in Friday's Wall Street Journal warning against repeating the mistakes of the past while reacquiring some old habits as the country emerges from the Great Recession:
How things will turn out is anyone's guess, but it would be nice if, as in the quiet during and after a snow storm, Manhattan would reappear to be appreciated in tranquility; if cops, firemen, nurses, and teachers did not have to live in New Jersey; if students, waitress-actresses, waiter-painters, and dish-washer-writers did not have to board nine to a room or like beagles in their parents' condominia; if the traffic on Park Avenue (as I can personally attest it was in the late 1940s) were sufficiently sparse that you could hear insects in the flower beds; if to balance the frenetic getting and spending, the qualities of reserve and equanimity would retake their once honored places; if celebrity were to be ignored, media switched off, and the stories of ordinary men and women assume their deserved precedence; and if for everyone, like health returning after a long illness, a life of one's own would emerge from an era tragically addicted to quantity and speed.
Two news items in California, both outrages committed in the name of environmental and species protection at the expense of real people and genuine prosperity.
• First item: "'Two Gates' proposal for delta is put on shelf"
According to the Modesto Bee and the Associated Press, the U.S. Interior Department has put the brakes on a pilot plan that would have placed two removable gates in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta aimed at preventing the threatened delta smelt from getting mulched by water pumps. Under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act, federal courts have drastically slashed the amount of irrigation water delivered to farmers in the drought-plagued Central Valley. The result? A government-made dust bowl.
"Department of Interior officials say the project had to be put off so experts could review the science underpinning the project," the AP explains. Meantime, unemployment in some areas tops 40 percent as fields go fallow. Thank goodness for El Niño!
Modesto Bee columnist Jim Boren wonders why Reps. Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza, the two Central Valley Democrats who represent the area hurt most by the drought, continue to support President Obama's agenda. Reconsidering their support, Boren writes, is "probably the only leverage Costa and Cardoza have with an administration that has gone back on its word on finding ways to help San Joaquin Valley farmers get increased water supplies."
Maybe so. I can think of a few other questions: Where are Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein? Where is Nancy Pelosi and why do Costa and Cardoza remain loyal to her? What took them so long to become active on the issue? And why do the people continue to vote for those clowns?
• Second item: "Environmentalists sue over state attack on moth"
This one is a bit more complicated. The state agriculture department is trying to stop the light brown apple moth from infesting berry crops, which are a huge economic driver for the Golden State. (California strawberries alone are a $1.8 billion industry.)
The Sacramento Bee reports that two Northern California groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday to stop the agriculture department from using a chemical pheromone to disrupt the male moth's pursuit of the female. According to the story:
A lawyer for the Pesticide Watch Education Fund out of Sacramento and San Francisco and the Davis group called Better Urban Green Strategies (BUGS) said he doesn't know for sure what sort of environmental threat the substance called pheromone might present. Rather, attorney Donald B. Mooney said, the state's exemption of itself from California Environmental Quality Act review is an abuse of the process.
"All the lawsuit seeks is that they comply with CEQA before they initiate the program," Mooney said.
Now, CEQA is a nightmare law. How bad is CEQA? The law is so onerous that even Jerry Brown criticized it in a speech last year. (Don't worry, Brown didn't renounce his green fanaticism; he was just pandering to the crowd.) So the lawsuits are certain to delay any effort to control the spread of the moth.
State agriculture officials say the pheromones pose no threat to public health. Trouble is, the state may be exaggerating the threat of the moth.
"We're talking about a pest that is a superficial feeder. It just causes light scarring on fruits and doesn't really affect ornamental plants at all," Jeff Rosendale, owner of Soquel Nursery Growers, explained to MetroSantaCruz.com for a 2007 story about the controversy. "The berry growers haven't said there's a really big problem and the apple growers haven't said anything. I don't think we'd even know it was here if it hadn't been discovered by a retired entomologist."
Given the high economic stakes, however, agriculture officials and regulators don't want to take any chances. So either the state is overreacting with an expensive program yielding mixed results and placing onerous additional burdens on growers and sellers, or environmentalists are putting California's multi-billion dollar berry crop at risk with their CEQA lawsuits. In any event, farmers take a hit, the economy continues to suffer, and consumers lose.
George Will, The Washington Post:
On Thursday... the Supreme Court, in a gratifyingly radical decision, substantially pushed back the encroachments that the political class has made on the sphere of free political speech. This was radical only because after nearly four decades of such "reform" the First Amendment has come to seem radical. Which, indeed, it is.
Eugene Volokh, UCLA Law School and the Volokh Conspiracy:
Corporate money has already long been in politics; the most influential actors in most political campaigns are corporations. I speak here of media corporations, such as the one that owns the New York Times.... The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision simply means that other corporations, and unions, will enjoy much the same First Amendment rights that media corporations have. My guess is that most business corporations will not exercise those rights to nearly the same extent that media corporations have.
(Also see Volokh's interesting post speculating further on the effects of Citizen's United on the mainstream media.)
Richard Hasen, Loyola Law School and the Election Law Blog:
Though the decision deals with federal elections, expect state and local corporate and union spending limits to be challenged, and to fall, throughout the country. There are many responses to Justice Kennedy's reasoning. He wrongly assumes that corporations or unions can throw money at public officials without corrupting them. Could a candidate for judicial office, for example, be swayed to rule in favor of a contributor who donated $3 million to an independent campaign to get the candidate elected to the state supreme court? Justice Kennedy himself thought so in last year's Caperton case. And yet he runs away from that decision in today's ruling. Justice Kennedy acknowledges that with the "soft money" limits on political parties still in place, third-party groups (which tend to run more negative and irresponsible ads) will increase in strength relative to political parties. And that possibility raises the real chance Congress will repeal the "soft money" limits, thereby increasing the risks of quid pro quo corruption.
Allison Hayward, George Mason University:
The Court finally took the issue of whether the Constitution protected independent spending by corporations head on. Good for the Justices. Notwithstanding the fact that this ban has been in federal law since the 1940s, and lived on with a wave to past court decisions that paid insufficient attention to the constitutional rights being burdened, the Court stepped up. No doubt some will call this activism. I think it was the responsible course to take.
Lyle Denniston, SCOTUS blog:
While the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom are far from absolute, any time a legislative or other government body attempts to curtail those freedoms, the effort starts with a decidedly negative outlook. Such restrictions come with the heaviest burden of proof of necessity that any governmental act must put forth in order to win judicial approval. And, on Thursday, the Court simply made that burden a good deal heavier in the realm of curbs on political speech, in the form of spending money on campaigns, or otherwise.
Doug Kendall, the Constitutional Accountability Center:
The Court sweepingly rejected limits on corporate electioneering expenditures on constitutional grounds. The only ways to truly "fix" the Court's ruling in Citizens United are to change the Constitution to expressly permit restrictions on corporate campaign spending or fight a long-term battle over the future of the Supreme Court, eventually producing a ruling overturning today's profound error. Only the latter option is plausibly successful.
Fred Wertheimer, Democracy 21:
Today’s Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case is a disaster for the American people. It will unleash unprecedented amounts of corporate “influence-seeking” money on our elections and create unprecedented opportunities for corporate “influence-buying” corruption.
Jacob Sullum, Reason:
The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United... is a decisive victory for First Amendment rights, much more dramatic than most people expected when this case got started. ...(T)he Court rejected the very notion that the First Amendment allows the government to discriminate against speech by groups of people organized as corporations....
Instead of prolonging this chilling effect by issuing another ruling that narrows BCRA's speech restrictions with uncertain practical consequences, the Court chose to throw out the restrictions entirely, along with the misbegotten, dangerous logic underlying them.
Bart Gall, Institute for Justice:
The Founders’ crucial insight was that politicians, under the guise of acting in the public interest, will always attempt to censor effective political speech that could negatively impact their power and chances for re-election. Thus, it is them, not corporations or other speakers, from whom Americans need protection. Accordingly, the Founders, in language that could not be clearer, enshrined within the First Amendment the requirement that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.”
By striking down federal restrictions on corporate speech in Citizens United, the Supreme Court has demonstrated that it understands the meaning and importance of this simple command. If this understanding continues to elude “reformers,” then perhaps it is not the public’s mental prowess they should be questioning.
How in the world will the republic survive the Supreme Court's decision today? Sen. Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who favors free speech except when it matters, vowed (in so many words) to unleash a terrible vengeance in retaliation.
"In the coming weeks," Feingold said, "I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible." (Trust me, that's as much a threat as it is a promise.)
And New York's Chuck Schumer assailed the court's "activist and far reaching decision," which, he claims, "opens the floodgates and allows special interest money to overflow our elections and undermine our democracy." Schumer, who knows a thing or two about special interest money, and his colleagues would have Americans believe that the court's modest decision Thursday fundamentally alters the way campaigns are financed in America. But all of the hemming and hawing about "opening the floodgates” ignores the reality that the floodgates have always been open. The flood of money and influence-peddling had simply flowed through different channels to the same destination.
As Roger Pilon counsels at Cato's At Liberty blog, let's all take a deep breath and dispel one big myth about what the justices did and didn't do: "(C)orporations still cannot...contribute directly to campaigns." More importantly, Pilon writes, this business of curtailing the First Amendment in the name of preventing "corruption" should be put away once and for all.
Half of our states, states like Virginia, have minimal campaign finance laws, and there’s no more corruption in those states than in states that strictly regulate. And that’s because the real reason we have this campaign finance law is not, and never has been, to prevent corruption. The dirty little secret — the real impetus for this law — in incumbency protection. How else to explain the so-called Millionaire’s Amendment, which the Court struck down in 2008. That little gem in the McCain-Feingold “reform” package exempted candidates (read: incumbents) from the law’s strictures if they were running against a self-financed “millionaire,” who could not be prohibited from spending his own money campaigning. Thus, the nominal rationale for the incomprehensible edifice we call “campaign finance law” — to prohibit corruption — suddenly disappeared if you were running against a millionaire. Well, the Court, fortunately, saw right through that. And a majority on the Court saw the light in today’s decision, too. The First Amendment is not a “loophole.” It’s the very foundation of our democracy, and we are the stronger today for this decision.
Today’s Court overturned the will of the people as expressed through Congress and the president — typically a hallmark of “judicial activism” charges lobbed like hand grenades by conservatives. And it departed from the Court’s own long-expressed understanding of the Constitutionality of such laws. Departing from precedent is not not activist.
Two points. First, Justice Kennedy discusses the weight of precedent on this case at considerable length in the Court's majority opinion. Down a couple of espressos and have at it!
Second, Joel forgets -- as many conservatives have conveniently forgotten when it suited them, too -- that the judiciary is a co-equal branch and that the will of the people must be reasonable and constitutional to prevail. The bottom line is precedent should not be binding always and evermore if a decision is wrongly decided or misapplied. Otherwise, we'd be stuck with Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson.
My old boss John Temple, the man who dreamed up RedBlueAmerica.com and who is responsible for unleashing the vaunted Boychuk-Mathis juggernaut upon the world, is moving to the fever swamps of Honolulu in the godforsaken climes of Hawaii to become editor of a new publication called Peer News.
Here's how John spins this grim development on his blog:
Today Pierre Omidyar, founder and chairman of eBay, announced that I’m going to become the first editor of Peer News, a Honolulu-based local news service that will produce original, in-depth reporting and analysis of local issues in Hawaii.
Pierre and Randy Ching co-founded Peer News Inc. in 2008 “with the goal of empowering citizens and encouraging greater civic participation through media.” I learned of the project in November when a friend pointed out Pierre’s blog post about his search for an editor. He wrote: “We believe that a strong democracy requires an engaged society supported by effective news reporting and analysis. And, we believe that this can be done in a profitable, sustainable way.”
I share those beliefs, and when we began talking I became excited about the opportunity to work as a member of their team. I’ve collaborated with many great people in the newspaper industry over the years, but my new colleagues come at these challenges from a fresh perspective and with a record of accomplishment in the online world. I’ve enjoyed my freedom since the Rocky Mountain News closed last February. I’ve been writing here and elsewhere, speaking, consulting, traveling and learning new skills. But as I wrote in a column for The Wall Street Journal last summer, "I genuinely miss being part of a larger entity with a purpose." That I now will have the opportunity to help build one from scratch, to create a new news culture with such talented partners, makes me very happy.
Okay, okay, I guess that qualifies as extraordinarily good news.
Peer News is worth watching closely as old media companies struggle to survive and nonprofit groups experiment with different models in places like San Diego, Washington D.C. and Seattle. In this sluggish and uncertain economy, it's heartening to see some new media capitalists venturing boldly into the marketplace with experimental for-profit models of their own.
And, oh by the way, unemployed journos: John's hiring. "Hawaii experience or background is a big plus." Hmmmm. I'm a California guy who mostly writes opinion on state and national issues, but I do make a killer chi-chi...
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a key provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" law that restricted corporate campaign contributions to election campaigns.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission centered on a challenge to the FEC's 2008 ruling that prohibited showing "Hillary: The Movie" on cable television during Clinton's presidential primary campaign. The FEC said the movie was essentially a campaign ad -- one financed by corporations in a manner outlawed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
We should be thankful for the court's decision today, and not just because it bumps the "news" that John Edwards is the father of Rielle Hunter's love child. The McCain-Feingold law was and is an unconscionable assault on free political speech. As I wrote in the Scripps-Howard column when the Court heard rearguments in September:
The Supreme Court has said repeatedly that Congress may, in fact, abridge freedom of speech if there is "a compelling state interest" and "a narrowly tailored remedy." But there is no justification for McCain-Feingold's restrictions. The rules have become so complicated and far-reaching that the government in March actually suggested that under current law it could ban other media, including books. That way madness -- and tyranny -- lies.
Eliminating the corrupting influence of money from politics has been the stated goal of campaign finance reforms for at least a century. The reforms Congress passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal and again with the McCain-Feingold law of 2002 have, of course, done no such thing. Instead, campaign finance reform has empowered bureaucrats, courts and political incumbents.
The Court didn't go as far as I would have liked, but did go further than I expected, overturning at least two precedents (Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and parts of the court's very first decision on McCain-Feingold, McConnell v. FEC).
As many courtwatchers expected, the mercurial Justice Anthony Kennedy was the court's swing vote in the case. "If the First Amendment has any force," Kennedy wrote for the majority, which included Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, "it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech."
Brother Mathis is unhappy with the outcome (and, yes, his headline is overly provocative). He writes: "Big corporations (and, to be fair, big labor unions) will now rule the discourse to an even greater degree."
On the contrary, corporations and unions -- both of which are in a bad odor with most voters, depending on party -- will remain as subject to scrutiny and equally as adept at avoiding it as ever. The court ruled, with only Justice Thomas dissenting, that McCain-Feingold's disclosure requirements remain in force. And yet even with those requirements and myriad rules and restrictions, the current campaign-finance regime hasn't prevented Big Oil, the Military-Industrial Complex, Big Labor, the Trial Lawyers and sundry K Street moneymen from acquiring elected officials as their wholly owned subsidiaries. What it has done, rather, is create an elaborate regulatory charade that rewards insiders and raises significant barriers to outsiders.
Nobody should expect today's decision in Citizens United v. FEC will alter the fundamental inequities of the reigning "reforms." But to the extent that one fetter to political speech is now lifted, that is reason for celebration.
Jonathan Adler at the Volokh Conspiracy notes the court's rationale for upholding McCain-Feingold's disclosure requirements: "While disclosure requirements may also burden political speech, Justice Kennedy explained, such requirements may be justified by the government’s interest in ensuring that the electorate has information about spending on elections and campaigns, and the specific disclosure requirements at issue are constitutional as-applied to Citizens United. The opinion also includes a substantial discussion of stare decisis, and why such considerations counseled overturning prior precedents."
No doubt that's why Nick Nyhart of the Public Campaign is so dour: "This decision will force candidates for Congress to spend even more time dialing for dollars and attending gala fundraisers instead of focusing on the challenges facing our country. It will increase members of Congress's fear of political reprisal for votes cast or policy decisions made that may be in the best interests of their constituents but are opposed by deep-pocket lobbyists. Congressional schedules will be pitted against the calendar of campaign fundraisers."
But Ilya Shapiro, writing at the Cato Institute's blog, dismantles the tired old argument by Nyhart and others that the First Amendment doesn't really mean what it says. "Today’s ruling may well lead to more corporate and union election spending, but none of this money will go directly to candidates — so there is no possible corruption or even 'appearance of corruption.' It will go instead to spreading information about candidates and issues. Such increases in spending should be welcome because studies have shown that more spending — more political communication — leads to better-informed voters."
My friend Doug Bandow adds at the American Spectator's blog (answering Khabalox): "No one likes 'special interest' spending on elections. But if the government is going to have the power to tax, regulate, and destroy individuals, companies, and industries, they must have the right to influence who gets elected to the government."
Finally: Joel and I are supposed to be talking to Steve Hayward on the podcast this weekend, but maybe we really ought to be talking to his better half.
Republican Scott Brown has won the special election in Massachusetts to fill the seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy. Brown -- who, contrary to the opinion of certain execrable MSNBC talk show hosts, is no rabid right-winger -- serves two purposes, and two purposes only: He stops the Obama-Reid-Pelosi health care catastrophe and he blocks the Waxman-Markey cap-and-tax nightmare.
Let us dispense with a couple of myths about Senator-elect Brown. He was not the Tea Party candidate. Yes, Tea Party organizations supported him to the tune of around $300,000. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more. To argue that Brown is the first Tea Party "victory" is to overestimate the fractious and disparate Tea Party movement's influence.
Scott Brown is not a conservative. Do not confuse his appeal to conservatives as being properly conservative. He's a Republican. Worse, he is a Massachusetts Republican, meaning he's part of an embattled brood with which just over one-in-10 Commonwealth voters identifies. Sure, he might qualify as conservative for the Massachusetts electorate. But do not think for a minute that Brown is another Jim DeMint or Jon Kyl.
Forget the stupid, calumnious campaign attacks -- none of that stuff should be taken as factual anyway. Brown voted for MassCare and he supports some form of cap-and-trade, just not the Waxman-Markey bill. He's generally pro-choice, but opposes late-term abortions. In most states, he's a moderate or perhaps even a liberal.
I predict with metaphysical certitude that many of the people who supported Brown's campaign and cheered him Tuesday night will be denouncing him as a RINO by Labor Day. But as long as he blocks the two worst elements of the Obama agenda, as our own Poochucker put it so beautifully, "he can be as RINO as he wants to be for all anyone cares."
The question then becomes what Brown's victory means for Republicans this year. Knowing the GOP, the party bosses will completely misinterpret the results and continue to confuse mere opposition with advancing an agenda of their own. Republicans do opposition exceptionally well. After all, they've had so much practice at it. Opposition might even propel Republicans back into the majority. But this is a populist moment. Shrewd Democrats are as likely to exploit the public's mood as Republicans. It would be foolish for Republicans to assume that just because voters oppose Obama's more hubristic policy initiatives, they therefore support Republicans and their ideas. The problem is, nobody knows what the hell those ideas are.
The "I Have a Dream" speech gets all the attention, but a friend of mine suggests today is a good day to take a few minutes to read -- or re-read -- Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." He's right. An excerpt:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
Now is always the time to fight injustice.
Every mid-winter in the Shetland Islands, the residents celebrate their Nordic heritage (the islands changed hands between the Scots and Vikings for centuries early in the fist half of the last millennium) with a fire festival, commonly called "Up Helly Aa" by the locals. It's celebrated in just about every Shetland town, including Scalloway, where my wife's mother was born and her uncle now lives.
The festival — which was first held after the Napoleonic wars — celebrates the end of the "yule season," and has evolved to include a procession of torch-bearers wearing festive garb. Some wear Viking outfits. Some just wear special T-shirts. And some even dress like a Vegas-era Elvis). A good time is had by all — and good times are valuable in such a harsh climate in winter. At the end of the procession, a painstakingly built replica viking galley in the harbor is set ablaze in a spectacular display.
Why am I writing about this? Patience ...
Every Up Helly Aa festival has a leader, the Guiser Jarl (pronounced "geyser yawr-el"), who is something like a grand master in an American parade. The Guiser Jarl selects his court, what's called the Jarl Squad. It is a great honor to be picked for the Jarl Squad. And in Scalloway, one must at a minimum be a resident of the town for at least five years before being picked. Then the Guiser Jarl must like you and award you the honor — at which point you start growing your beard, to the consternation of many a Jarl Squad wife. There are some exceptions, though. And my wife's brother, Buzz, was one of the exceptions.
My wife and her brother spent many a summer of their youth in Scalloway, and continued to visit Shetland often in their adulthood. Buzz, who lives in Alaska, is a long-time friend of this year's Guiser Jarl in Scalloway, Michael Pottinger. So he is one of a great minority of Americans tapped to be a member of Scalloway's Jarl Squad. It was so exceptional, Buzz was featured in a news story about this year's Up Helly Aa on a Scotland TV station.
(NOTE: The Up Helly Aa in Scalloway was special this year because last year's was cancelled. Michael Pottinger's then-one-year-old son took seriously ill and had to be flown to Edinburgh on mainland Scotland for treatment. And the town decided it would be better to not have the festival in 2009 than to pass over Michael's time as Guiser Jarl).
My brother-in-law, Buzz, comes in on the news-clip video at about the 1:30 mark.
I post this here for posterity, and because I think it's cool. And because it makes my home-town Tournament of Roses parade seem downright ... well ... gay. Oh, and that "lucky wee fellow" the Scot news reader mentions at the end of the clip? He's not referring to Buzz ... but to Michael Pottinger's now-healthy son.
Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen offers some grim ruminations on the geopolitical implications of the Haiti earthquake:
Very rapidly, President Obama needs to come to terms with the idea that the country of Haiti, as we knew it, probably does not exist any more.
In what sense does Haiti still have a government? How bad will it have to get before the U.N. or U.S. moves in and simply governs the place? How long will this governance last? What will happen to Haiti as a route for the drug trade, the dominant development in the country's economy over the last fifteen years? What does the new structure of interest groups look like, say five years from now?
Is there any scenario in which the survivors, twenty years from now, are better off, compared to the quake never having taken place?
Perhaps the president can ponder some of those questions on the plane trip to Massachusetts this weekend.
Jerry Brown, who isn't "officially" running again for governor of California (even though he is), is as corrupt as the next pol. That isn't to say Brown takes bribes, or trades favors for campaign contributions. It is merely to point out the obvious: He is happy to dive into the rough and tumble of politics and he isn't above dishing dirt about his enemies. The difference between Brown and most politicians is that he's so unabashed about it.
As the San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci reports:
Bronstein, in the account on Brown's gubernatorial candidacy, reported that "earlier this year Brown himself called me to plant a possible story about Newsom selling a condo for a suspiciously high price in a distressed market."
"I thought, Come on, really?,'' writes Bronstein. "But while to some people a request like that might speak to pettiness and self-absorption, to me it shows he's still got that perfect paradoxical mix: He's a dreamer who knows how to reach for the sky with one hand but who isn't above keeping the other in the deepest political weeds."
Brown didn't deny the allegations, and quipped that one of the numerous books about him was titled, "High Priest and Low Politician."...Read it,'' he told the hosts. "They're trolling for stuff on me all the time. The public record is the public record, and it comes out."
"Some people pretend they don't do that. But they hire their henchmen....and they whisper, whisper into the ear of the various reporters. And you find out that most of these reporters' stories derive from the opposition campaign. That's kind of the dirty little secret of the news media,'' he told KGO.
"Most of the political news is dug up by the oppositon research teams and then handed over to the media, and then put out as though the journalist found it and it's news. When it's really just part of the ongoing war between the candidates,'' he said. "If you're not prepared for it, you gotta get out of it."
Asked if he has "henchmen,'' Brown said, "No, I don't..but the others do....look, anything anybody can say, I'll say it..hopefully with some discretion and some good taste."
The takeaway? Jerry Brown does his own wetwork. Pass it on. And watch your back.
Pat Robertson, televangelist and erstwhile presidential candidate, said something stupid yesterday about the earthquake in Haiti. The press, being lazy and addicted to cheap controversy much the way Joel Mathis is addicted to cheap vodka, breathlessly reported what Robertson said. Then a million pundits and bloggers poured forth with righteous indignation as pundits and bloggers are wont to do.
No, I'm not going to link to any of it. And neither should you.
Let the record show that Infinite Monkeys imposed a media blackout on Pat Robertson before anyone heard of Satan's Caribbean holiday, demonic Halloween candy, or other such rot. You can only do so many Pat-Robertson-is-an-idiot-so-please-shut-up posts before they start to fall flat.
I'm violating our four-year-old ban to remind people of it, and to encourage others to adopt the same policy. Instead of condemning Pat Robertson -- whose influence extends no further than the TV screens of a few hundred thousand dowagers and shut-ins in a vibrant country of 350 million people -- we should be ignoring him.
We used to talk about "public servants" without sneer quotes or sarcasm, but it's hard to do that now. With special privileges and gold-plated retirements, state government employees in California, New York and elsewhere have become a protected class of citizen. Steven Greenhut, late of the Orange County Register, writes in the February issue of Reason how our public servants became our public masters.
Greenhut focuses largely on the massive unfunded liabilities taxpayers are incurring through public employee pensions. (Not surprising, since he has a terrific new book out on the subject.) It's a bipartisan scandal that threatens to bankrupt cities and states. And what's worse, public officials are completely blasé about it.
Here's Greenhut's telling of what happened a couple of years ago in Fullerton, California:
In the midst of California’s 2008–09 fiscal meltdown, with the impact of deluxe public pensions making daily headlines, the city of Fullerton nevertheless sought to retroactively increase the defined-benefit retirement plan for its city employees by a jaw-dropping 25 percent. What’s more, the Fullerton City Council negotiated the increase in closed session, outside public view. Under California’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, even legitimate closed-session items such as contract negotiations are supposed to be advertised so that the public has a clear idea of what’s being discussed. But the Fullerton agenda for that night only vaguely referred to labor negotiations.
Four of the five council members—two Republicans and two Democrats—seemed to support the deal. But Republican Shawn Nelson, a principled advocate for limited government, didn’t appreciate the way the council was obscuring not only the legitimately secret details of the negotiations but the basic subject matter. He called me at the Register (where I worked at the time) and, without revealing details of the closed session, shared his concerns about the way the public had not been alerted. After I wrote about the secret, fiscally reckless deal, the recriminations came down in a hurry: on Shawn Nelson.
Not surprisingly, the liberal council members were furious that the public had been informed about what was going on. But some conservative Republicans, including a prominent state senator, Dick Ackerman of Irvine, were angry as well, because Nelson’s willingness to talk embarrassed a Republican councilman whom the GOP was backing for re-election. When I later bumped into Ackerman at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, he laid into me about Nelson’s supposed violation of the Brown Act. Some officials and bloggers actually called for Nelson to be prosecuted. Local union mouthpieces and fellow council members portrayed the whistleblower as a common criminal, even though he was merely acting in the spirit of the open meetings law and showing the kind of fiscal responsibility you would hope to see in public officials.
In its embarrassment, the city council voted against the deal at the last minute, but only after council members publicly chastised Nelson, accused me of libel, and vowed to come back for more when the timing was right. One Republican councilman couldn’t figure out what the fuss was all about, given that the council enhances public employee pay and pensions all the time.
The anecdote appears early in the piece. The whole story is teeming with such outrages. Take your blood pressure meds before reading.
Greenhut is a diagnostician. He offers little in the way of prescriptions and is coy with his prognosis. "Bigger government means more government employees," he writes. "Those employees then become a permanent lobby for continual government growth. The nation may have reached critical mass; the number of government employees at every level may have gotten so high that it is politically impossible to roll back the bureaucracy, rein in the costs, and restore lost freedoms."
Is there any solution that might be palatable to libertarians? One possible answer appears in a related piece by Bill Eggers and John O'Leary titled "Five Reasons Why Libertarians Shouldn't Hate Government." I found plenty to dislike and disagree with in it, but one point made perfect sense to me: "Until small-government types better master the nuts and bolts of the public sector—how to design policies that work in the real world and how to execute on large public undertakings—their initiatives to downsize government will continue to disappoint."
By the way, just as Dan Weintraub left the Sacramento Bee to start his own Web site with nonprofit foundation support, Greenhut left the Register last autumn to launch an investigative journalism site in Sacramento under the aegis of the Pacific Research Institute. CalWatchdog.com is live and making trouble. Check it out.
Petitions for more than 60 ballot initiatives are circulating in California today, and just about every one of them has no business going before the voters.
About a month ago, I'd mentioned a couple of measures I thought worthy of ridicule. At the time, our friend Khabalox asked in the comments: "What's the problem with (the) proposal to make it illegal for holders of public office to knowingly deceive the public? Seems like a good idea to me."
I replied: "I'm glad you asked! Briefly: Lying to the public is bad, but the title and summary are open to interpretation and there are First Amendment implications that the author clearly hasn't thought through. I'm working on an op-ed on it right now. Not sure where it will appear, but all will be explained in time."
The time is now. The place is the Sacramento Bee. The piece is about the whole farcical initiative process, not just one farcical initiative. Go read it. (But, for the love of God, avert your eyes from the mugshot.)
Gumby creator Art Clokey has died. The animator and filmmaker had a rough childhood but lived a remarkable life and left an indelible legacy for several generations of kids. He was 88.
If you came of age in the 1980s, you will likely remember a short-lived Gumby revival and, of course, Eddie Murphy's take on the character in the Silver Age of Saturday Night Live. This is what I remember most, though...
"If you've got a heart, then Gumby's a part of you." Rest in peace, Art Clokey.
tip o' the cap to the funnily-named Baldilocks. Her blog is consistently good reading, from an interesting perspective (conservative Black woman who happens to share common tribal ancestry with Mr. Obama). But this is what caught my attention just now:
Organizers expect hundreds of local Muslims to join a silent protest Friday in Detroit outside the hearing for Flight 253 terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
"This is people from all over Southeast Michigan coming together and saying we're against terrorism. Our message is going to be louder than the message the terrorists have sent. The masses will be speaking," Majed Moughni [told the local news agency]...
Good luck, Mr. Moughi
SELF-PROMOTION ALERT! Christine Flowers, the Daily News columnist, is substitute hosting the late shift at the Big Talker 1210 this week -- and she's graciously invited me to come on the show during tonight's 10 o'clock hour to discuss our competing views of the indiginities to be suffered in the name of airline security. You already know my take: the TSA can't be trusted not to abuse intrusive powers and there are limits to how much privacy travelers should sacrifice to fly around the country.
Her take? Here's her recent column:
Like mandating full body scans at security checkpoints. Sure, the ACLU (Attempting to Create Loopholes Union) calls it a violation of our "privacy." But terrorists don't have privacy rights, and the rest of us can probably deal with having a snapshot of our undies taken if it saves lives.
So: That should be fun!
Wry Mouth posts a short screed on the Obama Administration's alleged support of taxing "Cadillac" health insurance plans, catty-corner from Joel's blog.
The key seems to be this: to provide for the General Welfare of the people, it is important to strike a balance in insurance options for the general public. There is such a thing, you see, as having too much healthcare coverage, just as there is such a thing as having too little. The surest course to general contentment, goes the reasoning, is to make some options less desirable. That way (I guess), everyone picks the one or two options the government is prepared to support. It makes things less confusing.
Call it the "Fast Food Menu" approach to governance. So long as you stick with the numbered Meal Plans, you can get by fairly easily.
The petty humiliations, the routine deceptions from airline employees desperate to rid themselves of troublesome travelers (“Oh, they can definitely help you at the gate!”), the stress-position seats, the ever-changing rules for what can and cannot be in your carry-on, being charged for food that the Red Cross would condemn if it were served at Gitmo: Air travel is the most expensive unpleasant experience in everyday life outside the realm of words ending in -oscopy.
All Internet lists exist to prompt arguments, spark controversies, share a bit of knowledge, and generate lots of links. Ken Denmead -- a.k.a. GeekDad at Wired -- has contributed the best and the worst of the new decade with his "100 Quotes Every Geek Should Know," a document that at once delights and appalls. I mean, he includes Roy Batty's last three words in Blade Runner but not the immortal lines that precede them? Seriously? And he will rue the day he chose a couple of pedestrian lines from Real Genius.
I would note, too, that not all of Denmead's selections are from sci-fi or fantasy films. There are even a couple of song lyrics. Fine. But with such a broad criteria, where's Apocalypse Now? No, not the obvious one. Any self-respecting geek ought to know you can't land on one-quarter or three-eighths of Venus. That's dialectic physics!
The comments on the piece are lively and there are some excellent suggestions. (And it's really not such a bad list... I guess. De gustibus non est disputandum and all that.) One I would have liked to have seen from the endlessly quotable Army of Darkness: "It's a trap, get an axe!" I use that one all the time.
Well... what say you?
I confess that after the (successfully thwarted) Christmas Day airline bombing attempt, I intentionally avoided reading anything about it - particularly after I heard rumors of new rules being proposed by the TSA. You see, I travel a LOT for my job and didn't need my holiday ruined thinking about how much more miserable my next trip was going to be. Further, my family is getting ready to take an international vacation in a few weeks, increasing my potential travel-related anxiety considerably.
But a few days ago Assignment Editor Ben, knowing how much I travel, asked that I write a post about how a libertarian with anarchist sympathies deals (copes?) with significant amounts of air travel in a post-9/11 world. Several others have written posts and articles about the new policies, how we should react, how we shouldn't react, who's to blame, etc. There have been several posts on this very blog (and on Joel's) analyzing the event and its aftermath from various angles. I'm going to try not to retread most of that analysis. Rather, I'm going to write two posts that focus on my personal experiences - this one, the first, describing my experiences from September 11, 2001 through my last trip just a couple of weeks ago, and the second after my family and I return from Europe describing what, if anything, has changed. Throughout, I will try to explain how someone (myself) who is so rigid in his beliefs about liberty can endure constant government manhandling without going completely insane.
Please click read more below for the first portion of my story.
With apologies to James Taranto: Life imitates South Park! The AP reports that a Japanese whaler plowed into the Bob Barker, part of the growing fleet of vessels operated by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. You know, the Whale Wars people. This wouldn't have happened if Stan Marsh had been at the helm, you may rest assured. Besides, how do we know it was a really whaling ship and not those scurvy dogs from The Deadliest Catch?
(Warning: The clip contains language commonly heard among sailors and is not safe for work.)
"Ain't nothin' gonna stop us!" Although it's mighty tempting to crow about this week's high-profile Democratic departures (including Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter), I hope John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP leadership have seen "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"...
Barack Obama's health care "reform" is on the cusp of passing. It is, as more than one pundit has proclaimed, "the greatest social achievement of our time." And what are the Democrats who fought hard for this historic legislative triumph doing? They're making a hasty retreat for their ships standing by, that's what.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced Tuesday he would retire rather than seek a fourth term in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. Dorgan had planned to run again, you understand. But then a publisher offered him a two-book deal and there is a fortune to be made lobbying for energy interests -- or, as Dorgan put it, "I would like... to work on energy policy in the private sector" -- that he decided it was in everyone's best interest that he bow out. And the likelihood that Dorgan would be trounced by more than 20 points at the hands of a Republican candidate not even officially in the race? That had nothing to do with it. Nope. No sir. Besides, he also wants to teach. So there's that.
Sure enough, the Washington Post is reporting that five-term Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut will announce his retirement on Wednesday.
As the Post's Chris Cilizza notes, Dodd's departure, although highly satisfying to people like me, is not necessarily good news for Republicans. "Without Dodd as a foil, Republicans chances of taking over a seat in this solidly blue state are considerably diminished," Cilizza writes. "Former Rep. Rob Simmons and wealthy businesswoman Linda McMahon are battling it out for the Republican nod but either would start as an underdog in a general election matchup with (State Attorney General Richard) Blumenthal."
I missed this item, which dropped on New Year's Eve while everyone else was chugging bubbly, awaiting the big disco ball to drop in Times Square and anticipating Kathy Griffin to drop the F-Bomb on CNN again. According to the AP: "The Transportation Security Administration on Thursday dropped its subpoenas it had issued to two Internet writers in its effort to find the leaker of an airline security directive.... The TSA said the investigation is 'nearing a successful conclusion and the subpoenas are no longer in effect.'" Background here and here. I guess this means the TSA can go back to dropping the ball on airline security now.
All travelers flying into the U.S. from foreign countries will receive tightened random screening, and 100 percent of passengers from seven terrorism-prone countries will be patted down and have their carry-ons searched, the Obama administration was notifying airlines on Sunday.
All passengers from countries on the State Department’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list – plus all passengers from Nigeria, Pakistan and Yemen, will receive “full body pat-down and physical inspection of property,” the official said.
The countries on the State Department list are Cuban, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
“All international passengers will be screened and the majority of passengers will be screened using threat-based or random measures, the official said. “ These are designed to be sustainable measures that are a significant increase in our security posture.
This isn't racial profiling as such -- not all brown people will be stopped and patted down before getting on a plane to America -- but it does appear to be an intermediate step toward the kind of profiling that conservatives have been demanding for a long time. If you're Pakistani (or a Nigerian or Yemeni, etc.) you're getting patted down no matter what happens. I need more time to reflect and read before posting a more complete response, but I'm not sure that this intermediate profiling step is all bad. "State sponsor of terrorism" of list is more solid -- and specific, and narrow -- a criteria than "all dark-skinned people are scary." Still, it is a step and we should be aware of the road we're on. (And we should note the irony that our first black president is taking that step when George W. Bush didn't.)
Unless I'm missing something, though, it's kind of difficult not to notice that Saudi Arabia isn't on the list of countries isn't it? Seems like an enterprising reporter ought to be asking questions about that.
Still, there does to be some "fighting the last war" thinking going on here. It's true that the failed Christmas Day Crotch Bombing was almost-committed by a Nigerian coming to the United States on an overseas flight. But the planes that hit us on 9/11, lest we forget, all originated from domestic airports. And the stringent security measures now being announced don't seem to take that into consideration. I suspect there's some political weighing of the scales going on here.
I don't think we'll get all the way to full racial profiling during the presidency of Barack Obama. But I do predict that before his first term is over, we'll see these measures used domestically -- and on a wider array of foreign-born residents. I'm just not an optimist.
*UPDATE: The NYT reports that Saudi Arabia is on the list. Makes sense.