Monday, December 31, 2012

Seidman and Krugman: Voices of Reason


Two stellar pieces appeared on the same page of today's New York Times: Paul Krugman addresses the problem of trying to sound balanced when the situation is unbalanced; Louis Michael Seidman, a professor of constitution law at Georgetown, addresses the issue of being hidebound by the Constitution.

Speaking of the efforts by the CEO of Starbucks to encourage "bipartisanship" by having employees write "Come together" on coffee cups,  Mr. Krugman says, "It's true that elected politicians have been unable to 'come together and compromise.' But saying that in generic form, and implying a symmetry between Republicans and Democrats, isn't just misleading, it's actively harmful."

He then details the huge, and likely hurtful concessions made by Mr. Obama, rejected by the Republicans. "In return, the Republicans have offered essentially nothing. Oh, they say they're willing to increase revenue by closing loopholes--but they've refused to specify a single loophole they're willing to close. So if there's a breakdown in negotiations, the blame rests entirely with one side of the political divide..Given that reality, think about the effect when people like Mr. Schultz respond by blaming both sides equally."

This is the point I was trying to make about Mr. Douthat's article, yesterday. He is another one of those kumbya types trying to smooth over the nasty reality of Republican intransigence.

"What they're actually doing is rewarding intransigence and extremism," Krugman observes, because they are refusing to place the blame where it belongs.

Professor Seidman argues in a provocatively titled article, "Let's Give Up on the Constitution," that the words on parchment have outlived their usefulness, and more harm than good now accrues from any belief in this document as a sacred text. 

He outlines a long history of Presidents and government officials on a variety of levels violating the Constitution, from Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, to decisions like Brown v Board of Education (outlawing segregated schools), to Miranda v Arizona (requiring "Miranda rights" be recited to citizens arrested)  to Roe v Wade (legalizing abortion)  to Bush v Gore (handing the election to Bush before a recount).  For many of these decisions, the immediate need for going beyond what was written in that document or frankly defying it (since slavery was accepted in the Constitution) was thought paramount to the national good. In the last case, it was simply convenient for the "orginalists" to ignore the Constitution when it suited their political convictions.

Today, with Antonin Scalia the real power on the Supreme Court, espousing "originalism" we have a recipe for disaster. 

"Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional politcal system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what  James Madison might have done 225 years ago."

It is the legal equivalent of, "Just ask what Jesus would do."

All thinking ceases, in the face of this level of ethical analysis.

Seidman concedes, "This is not to say that we should disobey all constitutional commands...What would change is not the existence of these institutions, but the basis on which they claim legitimacy. The president would have to justify military action against Iran soley on the merits, without shutting down the debate with a claim of unchallengeable constitutional power as commander in chief."

He goes on to address the fears that many have raised about ensuing chaos if we change our approach to the Supreme Court or the Constitution: "The deep-seated fear that such disobedience would unravel our social fabric is mere superstition...The country has successfully survived numerous examples of constitutional infidelity." 

He points to Britain which has no constitution but holds together by traditions, accepted modes of procedure and engaged citizens. 

It is strange, Mad Dog observes, that Britain, which has a state religion does not try to justify its policy and governmental decision by reference to a "Good Book" or sacred scripture, but the United States has a Supreme Court which makes every decision thumping the good book of the Constitution, insisting "All the answers are in here. Every question is answered in the Good Book."

"What has preserved our political stability is not a poetic piece of parchment, but entrenched institutions and habits of thought and, most important, the sense that we are all one nation and must work out  our differences, " Seidman avers.

That is actually a scary thought, and I hope Professor Seidman is wrong about that, because if he is correct, just look at the Tea Party Republicans who currently hold sway in the House of Representatives. These are the people who believe 47% of our nation is compromised of parasites, freeloaders who want to suck the blood out of the the hard working 53% and most especially the upper 1%. These are not people who think of our nation as a whole people, but who believe the nation is a system of castes, and they believe themselves superior,  in the ruling caste, who live in walled communities, who keep their  children separate and apart,  free of despoliation by the hoi polloi; these are the people  who vacation among people of their own station and who believe other Americans are the enemy. 

I think a less radical approach might work, and I've spelled it out in terms of changing the composition of the Supreme Court with the president appointing a new justice every two years, only the 9 most recent justices voting. At least that way we could assure the Constitution is seen as a living document, not a holy book.



Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ross Douthat: Getting the Balance Wrong





Audi Alteram Partem

--Hear the Other Side



Ross Douthat instructs us in today's New York Times, "Shake yourself free of the toils of partisanship, and let your mind rove more widely and freely...And whenever you're tempted to hurl away an article in disgust, that's exactly when you should turn the page or swipe the screen and keep on reading, to see what else the other side might have to say."

Like David Brooks, Douthat has made a living playing the role of the dispassionate, rational, approachable conservative.  The New York Times publishes these two as if they represented a lively conservative movement, as if they are the William F. Buckley, George Will ilk of amusing, thought provoking, waspish foil to smug liberalism.
The problem is, these are conservatives who do not represent a conservative wing, because they are the only extant surviving members of the species. They are the last two Dodos, and even Dodos were not all that benign.

Their pitch is, come let us reason together. Let us be Civil. 
We saw what that approach got us in the first Presidential debate, where Mitt Romney rolled over Jim Lehrer's civility with a Panzer tank and crushed any hope of a restrained, reasoned discussion in the first three minutes.

As for an interesting conservative backbench:  Charles Krauthammer is so pathological, just watching him on television one thinks of that deranged general in Dr. Strangelove who rides the nuclear bomb to its target like a cowboy on a wild horse.  George Will has the capacity to be amusing, but he is really nothing more than an old lady gossip, incapable of discerning when he has been fed the wrong answers at his Old Ebbet's Grill lunch. For me, the quintessential George Will appeared in 1981, when the AIDS epidemic was fresh,  and he published a story about how AIDS will never infect heterosexuals--it was destined to be a queer disease, promulgated and requiring anal intercourse with disruption of normal rectal tissues.  One can only imagine where he got this line, but the fact is, he did not have the intelligence or training to ask hard questions before publishing this stuff as received truth.  It was, like so much else which conservative belief is based upon, wishful thinking. 

In light of these circumstances, it is difficult to read and engage "other side" because the other side so rarely has anything reasonable to say.  

Consider the "gridlock" in Congress over the Fiscal Cliff. This is not a case of if only the Democrats would give a little and the Republicans would give a little...The Republicans, virtually every last one of them, have become so extreme, there is no room left for governing. They have purged, driven away or exiled any Republican who even verges on moderation.  

The House of Representatives Republicans have en masse, bound themselves to a pledge to never raise taxes, which is to say, to simply not govern. As long as you have a party dedicated to this kind of intransigence, how can you "hear the other side?" The other side is saying, "No government. Kill Medicare by converting it to Coupon Care and call it "saving" Medicare. Kill Social Security and call it fiscal responsibility. Never ask millionaires to pay more taxes. Spend only on defense, let everything else take care of itself.

Imagine if Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens had taken Mr. Douthat's counsel:  Let's just listen to the other side and allow slavery to persist. Economic forces will eventually make it go away. Or maybe we should listen to the plan of phasing out slavery on a timetable which would end slavery by 1900. 
Imagine if Martin Luther King, Jr. and the leaders of the Civil Rights movement had taken the advice that Southern whites were not ready for integrated schools and we risked raising expectations of Blacks which could never be met, expectations for equal opportunity in education, employment and housing and that would cause a violent backlash.

All these reasonable conservative ideas were given a hearing and discarded. 
But at least there was room in some of these discussions for a shift in opinion. One side had not dug in.

When you listened to the debate on the floor of Congress in the movie Lincoln  (which was presumably historically as accurate as Doris Kearns Goodwin could make it) and heard the shock from the Democrats of the 1860's( who were the conservative party then,) when you heard them say there could never be a place for Negroes voting, or for women voting or for interracial marriage or for any sort of multiracial society, you have some idea of the sort of problem we have today, as we look across the aisle and see the face of fanatic opposition. 

The other side wants to drown government in a bathtub.

They are, at best fanatics, at worst anarchists. 

How do you expand your mind to listen to that?

In his masterful Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln wrestled with the existential idea of "why" the Civil War had come about. If it was God's will, why? The best he could come up with was the rather Old Testament notion that a vengeful God required a deep and abiding wrong be paid for with blood. The wrong that was slavery could not simply be phased out and patted on the head told to go away.   No, the murders and enslavement, and wrecking of families and lives ruined had to be atoned for.

 So each drop of blood drawn by the bondman's whip had to be paid for by a drop of blood drawn by the sword, as Lincoln reckoned.

I think we are in the same place now, with respect to the Tea Party Republicans. There is no reasoning, no compromising with those who "think" like these fanatics. You have to simply oppose them with whatever tools you have. 

Our system of government is designed to thwart action, with checks and balances meant to prevent action rather than to expedite it. 

Until 2014, there are no elections to expunge the fanatics. So what do we do until then? The Tea Party has its foot rammed on the brake of government. 

We can only jam our foot on the accelerator and hope the car moves forward. If it remains, wheels spinning in place, we can only point to the root cause of the problem and hope the American people can see the truth, not the half truth of Mr. Douthat, but the full truth, in full light of day. 

We are still stuck with the Tea Party of 2010. The Radical Tea Republican Party has the power to send us back into recession, to reverse the slow progress we have seen emerge.  

The only question is:  Can we find a way to overwhelm the fanatical right?

Currently, I see no path forward, other than attempting to shame the fanatics. 

Not a good bet.



Friday, December 28, 2012

Peyton Place, New Hampshire and Rape




From The Phantom Speaks Blog. Used with Permission


Hard on the heels of the news out of Newtown, Connecticut is today's summary of the week's news in the Sunday New YorkTimes, with an extraordinary story by Jeffrey Gettleman about the ordinary viciousness of life on planet Earth, this one focused not on America, but on the huge central African nation of Congo.  He reports on the rampant raping of women by young men carrying AK-47's in what are called militias. "What's the strategic purpose of putting an AK-47 assault rifle inside a woman and pulling the trigger? Or cutting out a woman's fetus and making her friends eat it?"
As chilling is his simple observation about cruelty not directed at women: "I met a pair of soldiers who had chained a chimpanzee to a corroded railway tie, leaving the animal in a pile of its own feces, staring up at us with rheumy eyes as the soldiers howled with laughter."

Police and pundits alike are quoted, decrying the murder of "innocence" at Newtown. Presumably, they meant, the murder of "innocents," that is, six year old children. But, no, they often extend their remarks to include the adults in this "idyllic" town where adults moved to raise their children in a protected environment, where children could grow up feeling safe from predators.

Of course, there is no such place on earth, not Norway, not small town America.

Wherever there are people, particularly young male human beings, you will find savagery lurking. 

Right next to the story about Africa, where young men stride about villages grinning, with babies squirmy in death throes on their bayonets, is a story about crowds on New York city streets, where people walk among each other, reading cues, and never colliding. There is another about the aging of Japan, where the first grade class in Nanmoku has just a single student this year. No fear of mass murder in that school. In fact, enrollment in the whole school system there is down from 1,250 to 37 over the past 50 years. Japan does not have a problem with young men and guns or bayonets, presumably because it has so few young men. But it did once, and they were as vicious or more vicious than any on the planet--just ask the women of Nanjing. 

The authors of Freakonomics, have suggested the drop in the murder rate, which began in the United States about 20 years after abortion was legalized resulted from the reduction of unwanted children, so fewer young men were around 20 years later to rape and shoot. 

That may apply to the everyday ghetto violence, but what do you think about the mass murderer? As Chris Rock has noted: When you hear about a man who grabs a lady's pocket book, hits her over the head with it, and runs away--Black man. When you hear about a man who walks into a school yard with an AK-47 and mows down six year old children--White guy.

Young, white guy. The people who shoot "randomly" do not typically emerge from the angry underclass, the poor, the spat upon. They seem to come from among the comfortable, from among those to whom much as been given.  And they seem to slaughter after planning, and that planning is designed to protect them from being injured, interfered with. Like the lions and predators on the nature shows, they do not attack other lions--they go after the young and the defenseless, where there is less risk of injury to the predator.

Grace Metalious wrote a brave, infamous, by today's standards quite mild pot boiler about 50 years ago, about a New Hampshire village which appeared, on the surface, to be picturesque, quaint, sexless and all "innocence" but which, below the surface was roiling with lust, greed, avarice and rape. It was called Peyton Place.  It was a decent book, and it made her famous, and she was not saved by that fame. She is buried in a pretty cemetery near the towns she described. But the violent emotions she described were not buried with her. 
There are twenty somethings growing up not five miles from her grave, who put in Congo with an AK-47 in their hands would be just as vicious as any native. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Politics of Rape



A report about a gang rape of an Indian woman, who was not only raped but bludgeoned and is currently dying  came across NPR this morning. Just a week ago,  a report in the New York Times about rape in Congo, by boys and men of the militias which terrorize the country side described, graphically, the prevalence of rape in that African country. In Haiti, a twenty something volunteer was raped and the head of the organization for whom she was working tried to press charges, but the Haitian government made that nearly impossible. The first step of simply having her examined, having specimens taken, giving her drugs to prevent pregnancy and HIV and syphilis and gonorrhea were delayed for days. During all this time she was not allowed to bath, because she might wash away the evidence of rape and the consistent refrain from the male officials was she was probably just asking for it.

The same act may well have different origins and meanings.  The rape by invading armies of soldiers visited upon the vanquished people of a nation which has waged war on the comrades of the rapists may be an expression of a different rage than the rape committed by the boy soldiers of the Congo or by the village rapist in Haiti.

When the American female reporter covering the Egyptian revolution strayed into Tahir Square, where demonstrations were in full throat, she was raped. Why? Was this rage against a representative of the West? Was this rage against a Western woman who had the folly to stray into the province of the male Islamic ego?

Why do men of some cultures seem to fear women so? There must be some connection between insisting on covering women completely and the attitude that those who are not completely covered are inviting rape. As if, women are so seductive it gives them a power to corrupt men which is so potent they ought to be raped at the first indication they might exert that power over men. The idea of rape as self defense.

Apparently, if you are an Afghan woman and raped, the shame is yours.

Google rape, and politics and you see sites in Norway and England which claim Middle Eastern men do all the raping in  Nordic countries. Just can't keep their hands off the white women. Right wing sites in Scandinavia say Scandinavian women are never raped by Scandinavian men, only by men of Middle Eastern origin.

 Sounds a lot like what I used to hear growing up,  from white men--those colored just can't keep their hands off white women. Got to string them up as a warning to the others.   Of course, nobody mentioned the rape of black slaves by their slave owners, but looking at any black from the Carolinas, Georgia or Alabama and you see blue eyes, light hair: American Blacks resemble white slave owners more than they resemble the Africans from Africa. 
And there was the case of the Central Park Jogger, where five Black boys were convicted of raping a white woman, wrongly, based on the familiar bias. 

What of the  men raping women of their own color--rape is what? A weapon? A form of torture? A terrorist tactic? But what strategic purpose does rape serve in the civil war in Congo?

How do we, as Americans, deal with stories of rape in cultures we do not understand?

Are we simply seeing the unleashing of restraint in the breakdown of law and order, like looting when the lights go out and the power fails? Is all that stands between women in our nation and rape, the power grid and armed force?

Are we seeing attitudes from distant cultures arriving here in the USA? Or are our rapists home grown and needing no inspiration from abroad?

The same act of violence against women likely has different origins in the minds of men, from an act of self assertion (the man who feels this is the only way he will have access to a woman who may otherwise reject him) to sheer hostility toward a woman because she is a member of a hated group, to an attempt to defile an entire nation, to a simple expression of power by men who fester in an underclass.  The woman in India was a medical student. Did those men who rape her come from an uneducated underclass? This may be a semester course we are talking about. 

All I know is I am mystified. Are these men who rape the same men who shoot school children?  If not, why not?

We clearly cannot look to our politicians for answers--those enlightened souls who assure us that women who were "legitimately" raped shut down their bodies so they don't get pregnant, or that pregnancies resulting from rape are "God's will."

Who has answers on this which are dispassionate, reasoned, informed and useful?


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Limiting Supreme Court Justices Terms




For at least 6 years law professors at Duke, Cornell and George Washington University Law School have tried to interest the public in the problem of our Supreme Court, its dysfunction, its arrogance borne of immunity and its radicalization.

Various proposals have been advanced, most of which do not require amending the Constitution, but "simply" require an act of Congress, which means, of course the Senate and the House.

One idea which appeals to Mad Dog is simply allowing each President two Supreme Court justice appointments per term, allowing 4 for a two term President. The 9 most recently appointed justices can vote on cases. Any can write an opinion.

The disadvantages of this approach have been well recited:  1. "Whipsawing" the court, bringing it from conservative to liberal to conservative, as the cycles in Presidential elections occurs.  2. "Politicizing" a Court which is supposed to be above politics, deciding cases on the basis of where the law leads them rather than what they think the law ought to be.

As for "politicizing" the court, this could hardly be a more naive argument: The Court has demonstrated since its inception, through Dred Scott (slaves are property, not people) and Brown vs Board of Education (segregated schools are inherently unequal) to  Citizens United (corporations enjoy rights to finance elections)  to District of Columbia vs Heller (2nd amendment guarantees individuals the right to own guns) to Florence (strip searches of any citizen arrested, before arraignment or trial, to protect the jailers are legal) to even Bong Hits for Jesus (principals, as authority figures, can exert their authority to enforce their own political views on students) to the decision to end the vote counting in Florida and give the Presidency to George W. Bush, the court has demonstrated consistently the sort of decisions they make are made in territory where the law ends and personal philosophy and political belief rules--a court of authoritarians will predictably always find for those in power and against those underdogs, whom the founding fathers meant to protect.

As for "whipsawing" the court, i.e. creating change in the court too quickly for the good of country, is this better than the current system which allowed Richard Nixon 4 appointees and Jimmy Carter none? Is the current system, which has implanted four radical conservatives on the bench who are likely to serve 20 more years, on average, better than a system which would predictably replace justices every 2 years?

And, if the President had this power, would it not be more apparent and visible to the voters the importance of the President as a man who appoints Supreme Court justices?

The business of the Senate comes to a halt every time a Supreme Court justice comes up for appointment, because the Senators know this appointee, unlike any elected official may serve, immune to all law and review, for two or three decades, influencing the direction of the country far more than any bill they may vote on over the course of their own personal lives in the Senate. With two new justices every 4 years, there would be time for a natural correction and turn toward another path.

What is needed, if we can agree on the value of this approach is a media and marketing campaign in the media to force Congressional action. I have been in email connection with these professors of law, all of whom have said the virtues of the new system are obvious, the dysfunction of the current systems is obvious--all that is needed is a concerted effort on the part of citizens. 


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas2012



As we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace,  we can think about messages and their impact.

Mad Dog's religious education has been, by design, non traditional, and his touchstones have been "Jesus Christ Superstar,"  "Why I am Not A Christian" (Bertrand Russell), a variety of TV specials starring Charlton Heston (a lifetime member of the NRA), Michael York and others,  and various excerpts from the New and Old Testaments, assigned in school.

All of this has left Mad Dog mightily confused, but Mad Dog has always liked the idea of trying to solve problems among men without resort to clubs or guns.  This approach depends, of course, on two sides of a disagreement which are influenced by a population of relatively dispassionate citizens.  Howling mobs tend to facilitate the more violently inclined leaders, whether they are Roman functionaries, like Pontius Pilate or elected thugs, (Hitler, Stalin, you provide the name.) 

As has been often observed, Gandhi, had he been protesting against Hitler and the Third Reich, would have quickly become a nameless number, just another statistic.  And Gandhi might have gone that same way, had it not been for the existence of newspapers and mass communication in the 20th century.  For Jesus of Nazareth, the closest thing to mass communication was a mount from which to preach a sermon to those within earshot. His message would have been lost,  were it not for the willingness and determination of disciples or at least reporters to spread the word.

So, in that mode, I would think our 21st century version of the Gospels may be the blogosphere.  Getting the thought out to the world, seeing if it resonates, all a part of the message.

We've opened the gifts, stuffed the wrapping paper into the recycle bin and tomorrow, I expect tomorrow, the world will be pretty much the same, although for one day at least we've talked about the narcotic of hope, the power of hype and the possibility of change.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Present from the Supreme Court: NRA Rules






http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2012/12/jeffrey-toobin-second-amendment


Jeffrey Toobin, in the New Yorker blog, recounts the history of the Supreme Court in its opinions regarding the 2nd Amendment, with no less a conservative than Warren Burger saying the whole idea of a individual American citizen's right to bear arms is an absurdity, explicitly contradicted by the "because" clause which begins the amendment.

The link to his very concise article is above.

Our country of 300 million, stretching across an entire continent, comprised of people from thousands of different cultures, who speak hundreds of languages as their native tongue, who worship in different institutions, or not at all, has always been seen as a chimera which is in imminent danger of blowing apart. 

Closely linked to this fear is the fear of change: We have held together, just barely, for so long, and the visible symbol for our divisions can be seen in the red and blue states displayed on the maps on election night.  

So, we do not change easily or quickly. We fear and we quake at the idea of tampering with our institutions and we only do change when the pressure to change builds to the exploding point, and even then we fear to change.

So, Martin Luther King was correct to say we have to change now, when he was advised the people were not ready for a multi racial society. Lincoln was correct when he pushed through the 13th amendment before the new Congress could convene.  The Supreme Court was right when it forbade school segregation and affirmed one man one vote.  

Almost every time there has been the call for substantial change, the reply is, not now, too soon, too dangerous. 

And now we face the need to change the Supreme Court. Not just because of Antonin Scalia or even because of Antonin Scalia and Alito and Thomas. These are individual problems, unique personalities, why change an institution because a few flawed people have poisoned it?  

The answer has to be, the problem is not Mr. Scalia but the fact there can be an Antonin Scalia. We need to recognize there will always be Scalias who can slip onto the bench and and we need a way to check their power and balance their unbalanced minds.  To institute a new system for the Court, a system which would bring change to the court as we bring change to the executive branch and to the legislative branch would ensure a sort of cleansing, or if that sounds too much like "ethnic cleansing" then a renewal, a refreshing, a healthful cycle. 

Jefferson wrote about the importance of our government undergoing "a little revolution now and then."  We need to remember that.

Clearly the number of Americans with psychopathology has been underestimated--you can see it in the blogs and letters to the editor predicting revolution and blood in the streets if we ever try to take their guns away.  But this is an argument for change, not against it. 

Opinions about the need for mental health care in addition to gun control only serve the interests of those who opposed gun control--these mental health murmurers simply deflect attention from the practical solutions. And, of course, there is the problem of motivation--so many who argue for mental health efforts would stand to gain financially from federal dollars flowing in that direction. And, truth be told, there are no mental health solutions for the shooters. They are too good at hiding their disorders, and even those who are well known are uncontrollable, unless you propose locking them up in some deep and maximally secure hole.  No medication, no psychotherapy works for these deeply damaged psychopaths. Whenever you see a Congressman saying, "Let's let the experts handle this," know that Congressman has not clue about how ineffectual any of those experts are.

No, we need to change the institutions which underlie the pathology in our national organism. We need to change the Supreme Court.

Merry Christmas, one and all.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Case For Packing the Court




Mad Dog is not a scholar of the Supreme Court, nor is he a historian of 18th century America, but he does live in the state that gave us Noah Webster, and he is a citizen, so he feels qualified to comment.

When the founding fathers were dreaming up this thing called a Republic, based on the idea of democracy, there was, no doubt, a great deal of worry the whole thing was folly and would not work. While there was an intellectual, economic elite who wore silk stockings,ruled over plantations and quietly fathered mixed race children, who could be trusted to govern, there must have been plenty of illiterate rabble who populated the streets of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, whose very presence worried the landed, moneyed gentlemen.  So the founding fathers hedged their bets: They set up an electoral college to stand between the will of the hoi polloi and the Presidency; they set up a Senate, elected not directly by the people,  but by their representatives; and they set up a Supreme Court, who would serve as long as they exhibited "good conduct," which is widely taken to mean, for life.

These Supreme Court justices did not originally have as much power as they do now--the idea of a court over ruling the laws of the Congress evolved, but it was all very comforting to think there would be a check on the passions of the mob, some cool headed, rational men who would say, "NO, this is something you cannot vote on."

And there is at least one occasion when the court actually led the nation to a better place: Brown vs The Board of Education, where the court said "separate but equal schools" are inherently unequal. The court saw the truth on the ground and called a spade a spade. These segregated schools are the foundation for a segregated society, and all that had to end.

But, except for that, the Court has, over history, at least the history which is big enough and important enough that even an unschooled, unsophisticated citizen like Mad Dog can know about it, over history, the Court has actually played a damaging role in our nation's history.

The first and most notorious case, of course, was Dred Scott, where the Court said Dred Scott, a slave, had no standing before the Court because he was not a man, a human being, but property who or which belonged to another man. You cannot vote on that, the Court said. So be it.

Then, when the nation teetered on the brink of financial ruin and economic collapse, the Court said "No" to the New Deal. Franklin Roosevelt threatened to "pack" the court with justices who could see the danger, but he was rebuffed--he could not find enough support in the legislature. His threats did seem to chasten the court, which became a little less obstructive.

Now, in the space of 5 years, the Court has handed down Citizens United, and District of Columbia vs Heller, Florence vs Board of Freeholders, not to mention Bong Hits for Jesus, in which it has ruled:  1. Corporations, or rather their CEO's and board of directors are entitled to spend all the money they wish to buy elections 2. The 2nd amendment guarantees the right to own any firearm to any individual, whether or not he is a member of a well regulated militia 3. Any citizen may be strip searched by his government whenever he or she is arrested, before any charges are brought or a judge has been informed 4. Freedom of speech may be abridged in the case of students who are within sight of a school principal, whether or not the student is in schoo,l and whether or not the student is speaking out against an act which has been imposed upon the student as a political expression of the principal.

In each of these cases, the harm done the nation has been either profound or only narrowly averted by the vigorous exertions of its citizens.

Reading the Constitution, Mad Dog is stunned by how little is said about the nature and composition of the Court.  No specific number of justices has ever been mentioned and, in fact, the number has varied through our history. The nine justices we have had since the early 20th century is simply tradition, not Constitutional law.

It would not require an amendment to the Constitution for the Congress to pass a law which would allow the President to appoint a new justice for each 4 year term of his Presidency. (Or, if you really wanted to be radical, he could appoint one a year for each year of his Presidency.)  But in any case, as has been suggested by others, this would mean the court would not be locked in until justices like Scalia, Alito, Roberts and Thomas die. 

Some have proposed only the most recently appointed nine justices could vote on cases.

The argument against this is it would make the Supreme Court "political." But one can hardly argue the Court is not political now. When you can predict with near perfect accuracy how four of the justices will vote on any case, given only a paragraph's description of the case, in any case with any significant social/political impact, then you have an extremely political body.

And it is a perversion of politics and democracy to have in place the legacy of vile reactionary thought,  from discredited Presidents,  whom the country has disavowed by voting,  and who continue to poison the wellsprings of democracy with residual lifelong appointments. It is as if the fields have been sown with salt, so they may never yield life sustaining crops again.

The argument has been advanced that we would be opening ourselves to a payback, when, as we always see, the cycle returns to a more conservative President who would appoint conservative justices,  and then we would never have a Brown vs. Board of Education. But this court, like many before it, will be conservative through many Presidential cycles and with the current lifetime death grip it has, the country will be unable to move forward. This is not stability; this is stagnation verging on ossification.

Yes, the court would cycle from liberal to conservative as Presidents come and go, but it would at least cycle.

And, we would, most importantly, be admitting the obvious fact that the Supreme Court is, like the other two branches, political.  And all political bodies are expected to be responsive to the world around them, and to be aware of the needs and competing demands of the people. We have only to look at the smug countenance of Antonin Scalia, to see the outcome of our current system: Here is a man who knows nobody can wrest his power from him. He can continue to sit back and watch as the people elect a new President, as the voters elect new representatives, and whatever the President and the Congress may say or do, it is only Mr. Scalia's opinion which matters in the end. He is the umpire and despite all the replays and all the evidence he has got it wrong, it is still in power. What he rules is final.

We have more than one broken branch. We have two broken branches. It is time to set the fracture in the one branch which most people can see needs fixing.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Facing 2013: Hope and Cringe



One of the few nice things about getting older is you see things come round again, and this time you know what they are.

So when I was thirteen, and Mr. James McFall, who taught "Star Science"--which was a special science course for "star students" at my junior high school--when he expressed horror at the idea that a black boy might dance with a white girl at one of our school dances--even if there was no touching involved, I thought him peculiar, but I had no category in which to place him. 
Why is he so upset about that
And when Mr. McFall shook his head and laughed in dismay at the bonehead bureaucrats up there in Rockville: The people who chose names for high schools decided to name the new high school in Bethesda, Walt Whitman, I just blinked at him, uncomprehending. 
"You know," he confided, looking around to be sure our conversation would not be overheard. "You know what he was, don't you?"  
"A poet?" I said.
"A queer," he said. "Queer as a three dollar bill."
"Oh," I said, uncomprehending.  I did not see Mr. McFall's point. 
Whitman was not a poet I liked very much. I would have preferred Emily Dickinson. But I couldn't see being queer had much to do with anything.

Now, we have people who say we should respond to the killings of six year olds at Newtown by arming teachers.  And, as Gail Collins has noted, what next? We just had a shooting at a church--should we arm the ministers next?  And how about when the shopping mall massacre occurs--arm shoppers? 

Has an armed citizen ever shot a shooter who has planned in advance, who takes everyone by surprise, is clad in armor and loaded for the kill? 

But that doesn't stop the head of the NRA from laying out a plan which has never worked in the past.

And we hear, every day, from Jim Demint or some other demented Tea Party Congressman or Senator that all we need to do to right our financial ship and sail right is to "cut spending."   What exactly does that mean?  Just scrap Medicare? Forget Social Security?  

These are the hollow me. Seen them before, still seeing them.  That's their story and they are sticking to it.

Lucky for U.S., they are not the only Americans.

 Among the 300 million of us, there are Gail Collins, Charles M. Blow, Barack Obama, Maud, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Paul Krugman, Barney Frank, Hendrick Hertzberg, The New York Times (most of the time), the New Yorker (almost always), Jill Lepore, Elizabeth Warren, the voters of Hampton, Rye and Portsmouth,  New Hampshire,  who gave Mr. Obama majorities in their towns.

So Merry Christmas, and bless us, the above named, but not the others.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tea Party Rules





Scrolling through Wikipedia's list of Tea Party Republicans in Congress, Mad Dog was surprised to see names from 37 states--it's not just Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and South Carolina--there are names from Michigan, Maryland and lots of blue states. New Hampshire has a Congressman named Bass who is a Tea Party man, and a senator, Kelly Ayotte.   From the little pustules of Connecticut, West Virginia, California, Tea Party Republicans have been sent to Congress.

Clearly, these are representatives of  some of the  people who believe any taxation is an anathema, which is to say, any government is an anathema.  Of course, many of these same people are ardent warriors and they love defense spending. If conversations with local New Hampshire tea party enthusiasts are any indication, many of them live on Social Security, Medicare and military pensions, with Veterans Administration health care, and they see no contradiction in their loathing of all things government and their own feeding at government teats. 

And there are, apparently, enough of them in the current Congress to block any action on a budget compromise--so they can get what they want: No government. Tea Party loyalists can paralyze the government as they please. They have been elected and they can do what they please.

Here is the speech I'd like to see Mr. Obama give:

Last November, over half of the nation voted for me and my promise to move this country forward with vigorous government, with taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and with appropriate cuts in government spending. But pockets of the country sent representatives to government as part of a newly radicalized Republican Party. That new incarnation of the party of Lincoln would hardly be recognizable to Lincoln today.
It is a party which is dedicated to the proposition that no government is better than even moderate government. It is a party which believes taxing even the richest 1% of Americans is government tyranny and unacceptable.  They have enough numbers in the House of Representatives to paralyze the government and they are doing just that. There is really nothing my administration or my government can do without a willing partner on the other side. That is the nature of the checks and balances written into the Constitution. The underlying assumption of the Constitution is that the people's representatives will provide a government which does more good than harm. They Republican Party is currently dedicated to doing the opposite.  It is dedicated to the destruction of the government and of all the things it does to provide health care, security and economic stability for the people.
So, I will take a vacation, enforced upon me by the intransigence of the Republican Party. When I return, I will  keep the executive branch functioning. When, and if ,the legislative branch can come to its senses, the members of Congress know where I live. I'm right down Pennsylvania Avenue, ready to work, whenever they are.  God help the United States of America.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guns and The Constitution: An Honest Solution




Okay, here is a modest proposal to end the debate about the 2nd amendment and to allow for different laws for gun control and gun liberty throughout this vast nation:

1. Let us recognize the 2nd amendment of the United States Constitution does not give the right to the nation's people to own hand guns, hunting rifles or any sort of arm except for members of each state national guard (militia) and these people may possess and use military weapons in and from their own homes. (More on this later.)

2. Given this absence of a universal, national right to keep and fire weapons, the states are free to pass whatever laws they may desire. Texas can require elementary school principals to keep and bear arms to protect their students. South Carolina may permit legislators to pack heat in the state house and Arizona may arm private citizens who are members of vigilante posses run by Sheriff Arpaio.  But New York might ban all weapons within a fifty mile radius of the Empire State Building and Maryland might outlaw guns in Baltimore,  while permitting them in Frederick and Chincoteague;  and Washington, DC might ban guns altogether.

This would be the honest approach to the problem, so there's not a snowball's chance it will ever see the light of day. 

It would require the justices of the Supreme Court to actually read the 2nd amendment, which would be something akin to the second coming of the savior--much hoped for, not expected in our lifetime.

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be abridged."

Which, put into 21st century English is: 1. We are going to explain here, as we do nowhere else in the Constitution, the reason we are granting this special right having to do with weapons.  2. The reason we are allowing certain people to keep arms is because they are part of a well regulated militia--not just any Syrian hothead group, mind you, but a militia regulated by, who else?, the government, the only thing which can regulate anything.  3. And this militia is necessary to preserve the state, the free state. 4. So, of course, we are talking about military weapons only here, for this one purpose.

Given that plain English, you got the right for some people to keep AR-15's in their homes, so they can grab these and run down to the town square and fire at the Redcoats or the Commies or whoever else is threatening the free state.

But you beer swilling, inbred killers, who want your hunting rifles to hunt, or your hand guns to shoot anyone who crosses your threshold without your expressed permission, (and maybe even if they have your permission, you might plug them,) well those hunting guns, those hand guns, those target practice guns, none of those is guaranteed you by the national Constitution, so go besiege your state legislatures and get those politicians to vote you your rights--they will only apply as long as you remain in your own snakepit of a state.

There now, isn't that better? We are now: 1. Honest about the Constitution 2. We can allow local cities and states do what they want to do. 

And we can choose where we want to go, knowing the local laws and customs.

 Is there any doubt what sort of laws Texas and Arizona will pass?  And they are welcomed to those guns down there. 

And the rest of us will have fair warning, if we want to plan our conventions or trade shows or vacations in those exotic,  God fearing,  gun toting places.




Grover Norquist: The Chauncey Gardiner of Our Time



President "Bobby": Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?
[Long pause]
Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President "Bobby": In the garden.
Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President "Bobby": Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
Chance the Gardener: Hmm!
President "Bobby": Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.
[Benjamin Rand applauds]
President "Bobby": I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.
--"Being There"  (The Movie)

Listening to the pundits on TV this morning, I was struck by a memory of a women I interviewed years ago. She had been a highly visible ambassador and a cabinet secretary and she was a constant presence on talk shows. It became clear to me, after a few minutes, she was deep into Alzheimer's. She was careful to keep all her answers in generalities, and could not answer questions which required any detail, like, "What did you have for breakfast this morning."  You'd get, "Oh, the offerings of the kitchen are altogether pleasant."

Two weeks later I saw her interviewed on a Sunday morning talk show, and she answered in the same lovely, general phrases, and nobody seemed to suspect she had no clue where she was or who was in the studio with her.

And now, I see pundits, Congressmen and Senators interviewed who say we have to cut "entitlements" by cutting expenditures on Medicare and when asked how to do this we hear vague generalities about, "improving competition,"  and "streamlining" and gaining "efficiencies" and eliminating "fraud and abuse," and I know I am looking at people who do not have a clue. They are, like Grover Norquist, great on images and phrases. They want to drown government and its inefficiencies in a bathtub, but they have no clue what that actually would mean.

These are the empty men and women, with brains of mush, who appear on our TV screens and get paid big bucks for looking and sounding presentable. We make them into what we need and we follow them over the brink.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where Is Mr. Obama's Thaddeus Stevens?




As Mr. Obama dickers with Mr. Boehner, he may well imagine himself in the position Abraham Lincoln found himself, trying to horse trade and wheel and deal to get the 13th Amendment passed into law,  but, of course, nothing Mr. Obama is looking at approaches the historic importance of the 13th amendment.  They are just talking about money, and who should pay what, not about the idea of whether or not our nation believes one man can regard another as property, not a human being, whether or not our government can regard human beings as property.

So the stakes are not as high in Mr. Obama's current dealings with Mr. Boehner.

But that should mean, Mr. Obama cannot be forgiven for giving up important principles, sacrificing less important principles for an over riding principle when the only principles here are: Can we get the Republicans to disavow their pledge to Mr. Grover Norquist and actually agree to govern?

Giving in on lowering the threshold to $250,000 for the 39.5% tax rate is caving in. Giving on on cost of living raises on Social Security is caving.
Who is playing the Thaddeus Stevens role of sitting in the kitchen with the President, looking across the table and saying, "We need a real leader. Someone who will lead. That means saying, 'No,' when you have to"--who is saying this to Mr. Obama?

Now, if you can just get Mr. Obama on the phone, Mad Dog will be happy to say it.
Maud, might say it. She's a fan of Thaddeus Stevens.
Will Joe Biden say it? Will Harry Reid? (And could you hear him if he did?) Will Tom Harkin? Will Nancy Pelosi?  Is there a Democrat, male or female on Capitol Hill or in the White House with any balls?