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Archive for the ‘Crappy laws’ Category

So I heard about this story on the way home. Back in November, Tyndale House Publishers (They publish Bibles and other religious materials) sued to enjoin the HHS from imposing its mandates upon it, and this interesting exchange took place at the hearing:

Benjamin Berwick [DOJ Flunky]: “Well, your honor, I think, I think there are two distinct ideas here: One is: Is the corporation itself religious such that it can exercise religion? And my, our argument is that it is not. Although again, we admit that it is a closer case than for a lot of other companies. And then the second question is, can the owners–is it a substantial burden on the owners when the requirement falls on the company that is a separate legal entity? I think for that question precisely what their beliefs are doesn’t really matter. I mean, they allege that they’re religious beliefs are being violated. We don’t question that. And we don’t question that that is the belief.

Judge Reggie Walton: But considering the closeness of the relationship that the individual owners have to the corporation to require them to fund what they believe amounts to the taking of a life, I don’t know what could be more contrary to one’s religious belief than that.

Berwick: Well, I don’t think the fact this is a closely-held corporation is particularly relevant, your honor. I mean, Mars, for example–

Judge Walton: Well, I mean, my wife has a medical practice. She has a corporation, but she’s the sole owner and sole stock owner. If she had strongly-held religious belief and she made that known that she operated her medical practice from that perspective, could she be required to pay for these types of items if she felt that that was causing her to violate her religious beliefs?

Berwick: Well, Your Honor, I think what it comes down to is whether there is a legal separation between the company and—

Judge Walton: It’s a legal separation. I mean, she obviously has created the corporation to limit her potential individual liability, but she’s the sole owner and everybody associates that medical practice with her as an individual. And if, you know, she was very active in her church and her church had these same type of strong religious-held beliefs, and members of the church and the community became aware of the fact that she is funding something that is totally contrary to what she professes as her belief, why should she have to do that?

Berwick: Well, your honor, again, I think it comes down to the fact that the corporation and the owner truly are separate. They are separate legal entities.

Judge Walton: So, she’d have to give up the limitation that conceivably would befall on her regarding liability in order to exercise her religion? So, she’d have to go as an individual proprietor with no corporation protection in order to assert her religious right? Isn’t that as significant burden?

The correct answer, for those who didn’t pay attention in class, is “HELL YES, IT IS A SIGNIFICANT BURDEN!”

Corporations are private property. Even if you own publically traded stock, it is still private property. Why do people own private property? To do with it as they wish. If I can’t act through a corporation I own in a manner consistant with my Constitutionally protected beliefs, then how, exactly, do we still have a First Amendment?

I think the Judge understands that as it applies to personal services corporations, which are extentions of their owners, the government model becomes completely disconnected from reality, which is why he issued the injuction.

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Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat’s recent piece on a Washington Senate Bill that would permit the local Sheriffs to enter the homes of assault weapons owners to ensure that their weapons are “properly secured” got some traction this weekend.

Of course, when he contacted sponsors of the 8 page bill about this provision, one of the sponsors, state Senator Adam Kline said:

“I made a mistake,” Kline said. “I frankly should have vetted this more closely.”

Except that it doesn’t appear to be a mistake at all.

Senator Kline was a sponsor of an assault weapons bill in the 2009-2010 session which contained the EXACT SAME  PROVISION.  From Bill 6396:

(5) In order to continue to possess an assault weapon that was legally possessed on the effective date of this section, the person possessing the assault weapon shall do all of the following:

 (a) Safely and securely store the assault weapon. The sheriff of the county may, no more than once per year, conduct an inspection to ensure compliance with this subsection;

 And from a bill he sponsored in 2005, Bill 3475:

(5) In order to continue to possess an assault weapon that was legally possessed on the effective date of this section, the person possessing the assault weapon shall do all of the following:

 (a) Within ninety days following the effective date of this section, submit to a background check identical to the background check conducted in connection with the purchase of a firearm from a licensed gun dealer;

(b) Unless the person is prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, immediately register the assault weapon with the sheriff of the county in which the weapon is usually stored;

(c) Safely and securely store the assault weapon. The sheriff of the county may, no more than once per year, conduct an inspection to ensure compliance with this subsection;

Senator Kline didn’t “make a mistake”.  Senator Kline has trouble with understanding the meaning of the words “…shall not be infringed.”  Senator Kline has a HISTORY of supporting gun registry, and warrantless searches of the homes of law-abiding citizens.  Senator Kline doesn’t like freedom, and as such isn’t fit to hold office. (Nor is his co-sponsor in this endeavor, Senator Kohl-Wells.)  It bears noting that these bills are almost identical, further demonstrating that this wasn’t a mistake; it was deliberate.
This bill would violate Sections 2, 7, and 24 of the Washington Constitution and the 2nd and 4th Amendments of the United States Constitution.  The repeated sponsors of this bill are not fit to hold office. 

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Welcome Ace of Spades readers! Come for the scratched Proggie, stay for The Asterisk* and The Error of NEED.

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“How You Like Me Now?”

I confess, I was having a hard time getting too worked up over the leaked DOJ White Paper describing the legality of the Administration policy for assassinating American citizens abroad who are supposedly actively working against our interests. But then I was asked by a serious person I take seriously to write about it “from a lawyer’s perspective”.

So I read it, and I find myself in what seems to me to be an odd place with regard to it: opposing another lawyer who I respect a lot…Mark Levin. Earlier this week, I was listening to Mr. Levin when I was driving home from work, and he was talking about how he thinks that the media that is actually talking about it (as the usual suspects have been expectedly silent on the matter) is wrong, and that as a Constitutional scholar, he has no problem with it. As I listened with a measure of surprise to him talking about it, I wondered what it was that was in the white paper that left him so unconcerned about it (because I hadn’t yet read it). My takeaway was that the conservative media’s opinion on it tries to take war off the battlefield and put it in the courtroom, which is what we expect the left to do, with the abortive attempt to give Kalid Sheik Mohammed a civilian trial, and to have civilian proceedings for GITMO detainees as well, and because these al-Qa’ida leaders, US Citizens or not, are trying to kill us.

I remain unconvinced, largely because in this case, Mr. Levin is wrong. (And with this statement, my chance to ever have him sign my copies of Men In Black, and Liberty and Tyranny go straight down the toilet.) And someone needs to say so, even if he is unlikely to take notice, or care.

Why is the estimable Mr. Levin wrong?  I’m glad you asked.

First, the KSM trial, and a lot of GITMO detainees are NOT citizens.  I know it has been Demcong policy for decades to devalue the worth of citizenship, spearheaded by their constant attempts to give away many of the benefits to those who have not earned it, or made any attempt to lawfully attain it, and bolstered by their constant cultural attempts to balkanize us with “identity politics” and the inevitable hyphens that accompany it, and their moral relativism, which stubbornly maintains that there is nothing exceptional about being American, and there is nothing that makes our culture better than anyone else’s, despite the sometimes frantic attempts people from other nations will make to come here, and live and breathe FREE.  But if the essence of American conservatism is an appreciation of the freedoms we have guaranteed to us, then it also means that citizenship means something. 

This isn’t a new idea, and it isn’t even a uniquely American idea.  In the Bible, the Apostle Paul was a Roman citizen.  His ministry was offensive to Rome, and in some cases, breached the Pax Romana…an offense worthy of death for those who weren’t citizens.  But in Paul’s case, it meant that he had rights that not every person who lived in the Roman Empire had.  Among those were the right of a citizen to not be summarily executed on the authority of a government functionary.  And today, nations recognize that citizenship affords rights and privileges, and these are not casually given away to those who do not have that status.  Heck, even Mexico treats its citizens much differently than non-citizens.  Don’t believe me?  Try to sneak into their country along their southern border.  Accepting the idea that any citizen can be targeted for assassination on the say so of the President, or “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government”, even within the framework of the test set forth in the White Paper is unacceptable because it further cheapens the concept of citizenship.

Mr. Levin is also wrong with his argument that to oppose the practice and adhere to the idea of due process is trying to drag war into the courtroom the same way that leftists would like.  Resistance to an assassination protocol for American citizens is distinguishable from an abortive and ill-conceived attempt to try KSM in Manhattan if for no other reason than KSM is NOT an American citizen, and as such does not have the same due process rights as a citizen.  While there are instances where a representative of the government may end up killing a citizen without due process, those situations are NOT necessarily ones where death of that citizen is the reason why that action is taken.  Suicide by cop doesn’t happen because the cop has marked the citizen for death.  It happens because that citizen (or not, in some cases)  does something to deliberately put someone else in danger, and the police have to act in order to protect the public, or themselves.  A U.S. citizen who is on a battlefield shooting at our forces could likewise expect that they are going to be killed, but again, the difference is that there was not a mission planned and dedicated to the sole purpose of ending that citizen’s life.

The White Paper itself sets forth the following test for determining if it’s ok for our federal government to snuff a U.S. citizen in a foreign country:

“In the view of these interests and practical considerations, the United States would be able to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen, who is located outside the United States and is an operational leader continually planning attacks against U.S. persons and interests, in at least the following circumstances:

(1) where an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States;

(2) where a capture operation would be infeasible—and where those conducting the operation continue to monitor whether a capture operation becomes feasible; and

(3) where such an operation would be conducted with applicable law of war principles.”

Of course, this standard raises all manner of questions that should be asked.  “Who is “an informed, high-level official”?  A Cabinet Officer?  A member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?  A czar?  The Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service?  The Senate Majority Leader?  The standard as it is set forth in the White Paper is incredibly nebulous.  The Imminent Threat standard as set forth in the White Paper raises questions as well.  On page 7, the White Paper makes clear that this requirement “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”  While this was followed by a somewhat unconvincing argument that such a burden would reduce American defensive options, the explanation really goes off the rails at the end.

(what constitutes an imminent threat “will develop to meet new circumstances and new threats….It must be right that states are able to act in self-defense in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack.).”

Got that?  We use the word “imminent” without defining it, claim self-defense without having to prove what we’re defending against, because we think that people who don’t like us are going to do something bad, somewhere, at some time.  Sure.  That’s certainly enough to allow government to deprive a citizen of their right without due process.

The next question is “Who is it who is monitoring who decides if capture is feasible?”  This is a fair question, if only because this administration has proven to not necessarily be inclined to give much credence to the military’s recommendation on various operation that it has been tasked to accomplish.  I’m not sure that there is much incentive for the “informed, high-level official of the U.S. government” to consider an option that isn’t as easy as using a Predator drone and smoking the citizen.

Finally, if this is “to be conducted with applicable law of war principles”, aren’t we back to bringing the war into the courtroom, just as Mr. Levin wants to avoid?  Hasn’t one of the main arguments against the war in Afghanistan been the rules of engagement that have hampered and even endangered our soldiers?

The White Paper also goes to great lengths to point out that the policy applies to “senior operational leaders of al-Qa’ida or an associated force”.  Who decides who is a senior operational leader?  Who decides what is an associated force?  And why is this process not subject to some kind of oversight?

While the White Paper lays out a legal foundation establishing the legality of this practice sufficient enough to give cover to a Wise Latina Woman or Laney Kagan, I cannot support it, not only for the reasons stated above, but also for the reasons not stated by Mr. Levin, or the authors of the White Paper.

I discussed this for a while with a friend who believes that this policy is just fine, because guys like Al-Zwahiri have “committed treason” against this country, and acted in a fashion that is inconsistent with citizenship by plotting to kill Americans.  My problem with this is that Treason is actually the only crime set forth in the Constitution, and the standard of proof is specifically set forth in the Constitution, in Article 3, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

While treason is punishable by death, unless you are killed in the act of committing it, the state may only impose this penalty if you are convicted of it.   While this standard was drafted before the due process requirements of the 5th and 14th Amendments, it comports with them.  And, unless you are a naturalized citizen, a conviction for treason will NOT result in the loss of your citizenship, as only naturalized citizens may be involuntarily stripped of their citizenship.  The only way for a natural-born citizen to lose their citizenship is by renunciation according to 8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(5).

Finally, my last objection is my lack of trust in government.  Government has proven to us time and again that there is no power that it won’t abuse at some point.  And we currently have an executive branch that doesn’t respect the Constitution as it is, whether it is determining for itself whether or not Congress is in recess for the purpose of making appointments, or by brazenly declaring that the President decides who is “entitled” to Second Amendment rights.  I would have trouble trusting a different administration with such a nebulous authority to abrogate basic Constitutional rights, let alone one that believes that the President can determine who is entitled to exercise Constitutional rights.  Citizenship means more than that, or we have allowed them to render it worth little or nothing at all.

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Facebook is both a blessing and a curse.

I love the fact that I can converse with people from all walks of life who, in their own way, “get it”.  The downside is that occasionally, I encounter people who think they do, but then either dodge the question or downplay the fact that they don’t know understand what they are claiming to fix.  Their answers are rooted in their good intentions, but like those they elect, they do not understand what they are breaking in the name of fixing.  Take this conversation with “Bill”, which is of course, not his real name.

 
Bill: Randy [the person whose wall it was], you set up the same straw men that the Republicans do. (And, re Gover Norquist, a man whose only line is never to raise taxes but never proposes a solution to current problems, is a whiner not worthy of the attention he unfortunately currently receives.) Yes, there are contradictions in our country, we have probably always been that way. The current stalemate in Washington is ridiculous and unfortunate, but that makes it incumbent on all of us to find solutions instead of simply trying to tear each other down. If you think the deficit is a problem, what is your solution? Should we cut expenses, and if so, what expenses? If you think social security and medicare are handouts, are you proposing that we all give them up (including yourself), and if so, what are you proposing for the poor, that they simply do without? These are serious questions, and the rantings of most people today (especially in Washington and on Sunday morning shows) contributes nothing to their resolution.
 
 
Me:  Find for me the part in the Federal Constitution that says it is the federal government’s job to take money from people who earn it, so that IT may decide WHO to help with it, HOW to help them, and TO WHAT DEGREE.

Your bonus question is to explain the morality of a government that allows its elected officials to empower and enrich themselves by fomenting Greed’s ugly and retarded sister, Envy, with notions such as “fairness” that require someone else to provide for you, and the idea that “Sometimes, You’ve just made enough.”

While we’re waiting, in answer to your question:

Yes. End Social Security and Medicare both. Not only did the Federal Government never have the authority to engage in such largesse, but the decades of mismanagement of BOTH programs have conclusively demonstrated that the Federal Government is simply incapable of being trusted to simply use the money it compells from us for the purposes for which it was collected in the first place.

Then follow with massive cuts to the EPA…its jurisdiction should be the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, MCTA, RCRA, and the Model Toxics Control Act ONLY. Strip it of its rule making authority.

Department of Education? Gone. Department of Energy? Gone.

Repeal the 16th Amendment. It has far exceeded the original scope and purpose, and has fed the beast that has engaged in gross usurpation and overreach for more than a century.

Repeal the 17th Amendment. This one amendment has done more to destroy federalism and the separation of powers than any other aspect of the federal government, as it took one of the parties in the federal power sharing arangment right out of the equation, making it much, much easier for the federal government to completely ignore the status of states as co-equal sovereigns with the Federal government, allowing the Feds to usurp state powers and impose unfunded mandates in return.

That would be a start.
 
Bill: BiW, I appreciate your clear statement of what you think needs to be done. What you state goes to the heart, I think, of what separates those who want an extremely small federal government and those who think the federal government can and should play a role in helping certain citizens of this country. If that is what the Republican Party thinks should be done, then I would appreciate the Party so stating instead of simply talking about “cutting spending” without being clear what it truly wants. The reason they don’t do that is that they know most Americans don’t want that and thus so stating these goals is political suicide (as well as the fact that I think no politician, of whatever stripe, ever really wants to cut spending). However, the simple fact is that the majority of Americans don’t want this to happen, so all the GOP in the House is doing now is being confrontational without making any positive suggestions for what can be done to the current situation. So, I pose the question to you: if Social Security and Medicare are not going to end, if the Departments of Education and Energy remain, as well as the 16th and 17th Amendments, then what do you suggest, or will you simply emigrate?
 
Me:  Actually, what “goes to the heart” of what separates those who want LIMITED GOVERNMENT and those who confuse welfare with charity is an understanding that the federal government has a very short list of powers enumated to it, with the rest of those powers being reserved to the states, which are smaller, and far more accountable to those who are most impacted by their policies, or to the people themselves, along with an understanding that the blueprint that has been totally distorted by more than a century of progressive meddling was the product not just of a careful study of the nature and history of government, but of the nature of man, and more importantly, a recognition that governments would be run by men who are by their nature susecptible to corruption by the opportunities that power and the money that follows it afford.

If you want your state to be extraordinarily generous with your wages, if the state constitution permits it, knock yourself out. The Federal government DOES. NOT. HAVE. THAT. AUTHORITY. PERIOD.

I can’t speak for the Republican Party, largely because of the fact that for most of my lifetime it has been a major disappointment to me. Many in it are afflicted with the same brand of incumbentitis as the Dims, and subscribe to the notion of “cutting spending” not because they believe in, or even understand the blueprint, but because those they rely on for votes understand on a visceral level that it is an essential component of what is required to deflate the government back into the confines of its PROPER sphere of influence, even if they do not understand or don’t bother to demand that the next steps also be part of the equation they are being sold at election time.

No, the reason they don’t do that is that they have no interest in relinquishing power than they were never meant to have in the first place, and because too large a portion of the population has had little or no actual instruction in the law and the philosophy that informed the law in the first place, so that they willingly trade their own sovereignty, and the accountablity that comes with it to a government that redistributes the wealth of others (after a not insignificant handling fee is subtracted, of course).

Actually, their current response is to recognize that no matter the perceived goodness of the Left’s intentions, welfare states aren’t free, and you cannot keep borrowing money in order to simply give it away. Well, some of them realize this, anyway. The rest are just as lost as the Dims, and will continue to be enacting new entitlements and “benefits” for their dependents even as the furniture is being reposessed from beneath them.

You aren’t paying attention, which is why it is difficult to take your question seriously. Social Security WILL end. It is going broke, and with current spending being what it is, Uncle Sam will not have the financial wherewithall to “save ” it when that day comes in just a few short years. Medicare was already on that same path BEFORE Obamacare raided it for 60 Billion Dollars it could ill-afford to lose. Most of the bureaucracy will be equally insolvent as montization of the debt results in hyperinflation, and interest payments on the debt exceed discretionary spending, even if the government is unwise enough to attempt confiscatory tax policies.

Now that’s TWO questions of your that I’ve answered. I believe you owe me some answers. Go back, re-read my prior comment, and answer the questions I asked you.
 
Bill: BiW, thanks for your interesting response. Not being a Constitutional lawyer, I cannot say where that document permits Congress the powers it has used, however, the final arbiter of that power, the Supreme Court, has upheld the New Deal and similar spending authority and thus these activities are not therefore unconstitutional. Whether that is “moral” or not, and whether fairness is the basis for government activities is not an easy question to answer. Because government is a creation of an imperfect species, homo sapiens, it is itself imperfect and always will be. Democracy is the least bad system because it entails the most compromise. It appears we both have a dim view of the capabilities of the Democratic and Republican parties to really address these issues. I doubt that either Social Security or Medicare will simply disappear, numerous economists would disagree on that point, and, even if they ran out of money, they would be numerous ways to restructure them to ensure their viability, even if in a different form. And I certainly doubt that the Republicans, if they were to come back into office, would do much to cut back or eliminate these programs (any more than they would eliminate the government giveaways to corporations and other of their supporters, as the Democrats do for unions and their supporters). Given that state of affairs, I tend to concentrate on what MIGHT be doable: a vastly simplified federal tax system, careful reductions to the federal budget (such as military spending, subsidies and tax benefits to large corporations, big agro, oil and gas), simplification of federal regulations, an end to the drug wars (with legalization and regulation of drugs) and so forth.Me: The court was acting under duress. Look up “The Switch In Time That Saved Nine” and FDR’s court packing scheme.

As for the morality that was the basis of our law, I suggest reading Blackstone.

And as far as cutting military spending goes, it is actually one of the Federal Government’s legitimate duties. 
 
Finally, we aren’t a democracy. The much maligned “old white guys” who drafted the blueprint had some very unflattering observations about democracies, which is why they set up a republic, so we could be a nation of laws and not men.

Your mistake isn’t unusual, but it can be corrected. Start with The Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and Blackstone’s Commentaries.
 
Bill:  BiW, thank you for reminding me we are a republic. You cite worthy material to re-read, and your points are well taken, however, I don’t see how they help address the current political situation. We have to work with the system we currently have. I suppose one could just oppose everything and just hope the system collapses of its own weight (a tactic I sometimes think the Republicans now follow), but that is highly unpredictable and quite destructive. I would rather discuss what are the actual policies that we should pursue as a nation, rather than debate the “morality” of the past 100 years. That seems to me a more worthwhile, if harder, course to follow.
 
Me:  Or you could discover that many of the problems we have are the result of deviations from the blueprint undertaken by people who claimed to know better.
 
Much like today.
 
Welfare states do not work. The evidence clutters up the 20th century. Math also provides evidence, and nature of man also makes it clear…just watch what is going on with Greece. Keep doing what the Dims are doing here, and you’ll have front row seats here.
 
Bill:  Well, given that you seem to distrust both the Dems and the Reps, doesn’t seem like much can be done. Are there any countries in the world today that you think are doing it right?
 
Me:  Sure there is “much to be done”. It starts with educating people and weening them off of the error of believing that for every “problem”, government has a solution, and then SHOW them every point where government has gotten it wrong, which means dismantling a lot of myths that are taught to them by the “educational” system.

At the same time, you work to elect people who know better at your state and local levels. The change will come last at the Federal level, but it WILL come. Either when the current band of brigands spends themselves into irrelevancy, or if they give free reign to their beast’s rapacious appetites, and they reach a little too far into our pockets and lives and draw back bloody stumps, or we dodge both of those, and the pendulum swings back when the hippies aging badly die out, and their progeny reject their legacy because it has made Americans poorer in spirit and poorer financially for their excesses.And no, no country is doing it right. Canada at least is pursuing reasonably intelligent tax policy at the moment, and is enjoying a measure of economic prosperity because of it, but they are far too wedded to the hallmarks of the welfare state to be as successful and free as they could be. Their immigration policies are also destructive, and over the last thirty years, have largely disproved the “vertical mosaic” theory that they embraced in the 1960s._______________________________________________________________

 Asking  questions without ever listening to the answers.  Assuming that what has never worked before will work now.  Because they are the ones imposing it.  Much like the Obama cheerleaders who discovered with their first paychecks of the new year that they now have some skin in the game too.One complained to me that he could do better with his money than the government could.  I said “Welcome Brother!”

 

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Gun Control doesn’t fix the problem, which is PEOPLE. What it does do is make masacres like this more likely, especially in “gun free zones”, which if you think about it, are the ultimate expression of gun control. Laws that say “you can’t have a gun here”. Obviously, that only disarms people who are inclined to follow the law.

And before anyone starts hyperventilating, I’m NOT advocating that kids carry guns to school. What I am suggesting is that we allow those who we entrust with keeping our kids safe while they are in the school’s custody the ability to actually DO SO, because when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.

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A friend of the family is in town this week from Michigan to attend a conference on the growing crisis of the lack of critical thinking in public schools.   The topic came up at breakfast this morning, and I realized that it is a mutli-pronged problem.  The example that our friend cited comes from her own experience teaching, where she can stand in front of her own class, and make a statement on the topic, only to be greeted with the inquiry “What page of the book is that on?” 

Arguably, this is not a new condition in public schools.  My own father, who was a science teacher for 27 years, noted from his own experience that critical thinking took a serious hit in the disciplines of math and science when it became too easy to get the answers.  In his opinion, pocket calculators were a prime example of how this had happened, because the goal became about simply answering the question, and little or no thought was placed in the process of arriving at the answer.  For my own part, at that stage in my academic career, I fell prey to the same kind of thinking, but largely because math and I weren’t friends at the time, and while I loved some of the concepts of science, the math underlying much of it was a frightful bore to me.  As a result, I had no interest in showing my work, because that would require me to actually work through the process and THINK about what I was doing and why. Later in life, when I had been employed by a retail bank for a few years, and gotten accustomed to working large figures in my head in a rapid fashion, I think he was somewhat relieved by the fact that even though we weren’t close companions, at least math and I had made peace with each other.  Although he never really let go of his despair over the state of critical thinking in education, largely because he witnessed the increasing institutionalization of it, I do think that he could see evidence that despite the worsening of this state of affairs, people could still overcome this institutionalized flaw in our system if they were willing to make the effort, and if necessity stepped in to become a brutal teacher.  At this point, I miss ribbing him about his own blind spots, but I wonder more about what happened to his slide rule.  I really need to ask my Mother sometime.

Of course, this kind of “easy answer without ever working through the analysis” has now branched out into so much of knowledge, and it probably is the single greatest downside to living in the information age.  The sheer amount of knowledge available to each and every person today is nothing short of astonishing, and the ease with which it can be obtained is breathtaking.  If you had told me even 10 years ago that I would be able to do a web search with my phone for detailed information on virtually any topic imaginable, and be able to get thousands of links back in a fraction of the time that it took to get 20 with my desktop computer then, I might have accepted it without ever comprehending what that meant.  This is a genuinely unprecedented development in human history.  I can remember when getting basic facts on an unfamiliar topic of event meant going to encyclopedias, or to the library, to comb through various tomes on any given subject.  Now, in a few keystrokes, I can obtain information on topics that might not have even been covered in the most exhaustive encyclopedias, but instead might have only been found in a handful of journals or trade publications.  However, the drawback of this ease is that people seem to spend far less time evaluating the quality of the information available.  Facts are conflated with opinion, conclusions are accepted without the application of logic or serious questioning.   And ease is only part of the problem.  Standardized testing has led to a condition where understanding is not considered a core component of intelligence any longer.  And this is revealed in almost any conversation you might care to have today.

“Science is the only reasonable basis on which to make law and policy.”

“Why is that?”

“Because it is based on facts that are immutable and unchanging.”

“Really? ”

“Absolutely.  What’s the matter with you?  Are you stupid or something?”

“No.  But if science is based on immutable and unchanging “fact”, perhaps you could explain to me why it is that we no longer think that all matter is made up of just four elements, or some combination thereof, or why it is that Lamarckism is no longer considered the basis of evolution, or that phlogiston is no longer an accepted scientific concept?”

At this point in the conversation, I’m confronted with one of three reactions.  A blank stare (sadly this is the most common one), a sheepish look, because the speaker just realized that the very history of their “unchanging” bedrock torpedoed the idea of its stability and unchanging nature, or anger, because they don’t like being confronted with the idea that their “truth” is fluid, and they don’t like the fact that others are aware of this.

Still, the area where this self-inflicted handicap hurts society the most is in the area of politics.  I was reminded of this again this week, when a Facebook friend, who went to the same junior high and high school I did (albeit four years before I did) posted a status on his wall about how Romney and Ryan don’t dare cut FEMA now, and gloating about how the tongue has the power to destroy.  Clearly, the last week’s political meme about how Romney “just doesn’t care” and his statements about how he would cut FEMA are proof had reached their saturation point.  This was based on some statements made by Romney in the aftermath of Katrina, which had been revisited in the pages of Esquire, and then used in a sloppy hatchet piece by the New York Times [no link, because they don’t deserve the traffic], in which even it was forced to admit, reluctantly, at the end, that Romney had never actually said any such thing.  I commented to point this out, offered proof in the form of a link to a story explaining this, and then pointed out that the sequester that is looming in DC does contain a significant cut to FEMA.  The responses were tepid, and didn’t offer contrary facts.  And then one of my former teachers weighed in.  While many of his remarks were disappointing, they were also revealing, and illustrate the underlying point of this piece better than any other example I’ve encountered recently.

Teacher:   THEY ALL HAVE PRIORITIES WHICH ARE NOT BEST FOR THIS COUNTRY. THEY ALL HAVE THEIR HANDS IN THE POCKETS OF THE LOBBYISTS. THAT IS HOW THEY GET THEIR MONEY TO GET REELECTED. WE NEED TERM LIMITS.

Me:  >>>THEY ALL HAVE PRIORITIES WHICH ARE NOT BEST FOR THIS COUNTRY.<<<

That would be a feature, not a bug. Not to be a pedant about it, but the Federalist Papers do a fairly good job explaining this. That’s one of the reasons for a bicameral legislature. However, because we tinkered with the blueprint, one of the checks and balances no longer exists, because the States, which were always intended to be co-sovereigns, no longer have their intended voice in Congress. Now you have one house that represents small groups of the populace, and a house that represents larger groups of the populace. Hence the avalanche of usurpation of authority by the federal government, unfunded mandates, runaway spending…you get the point.

>>> THEY ALL HAVE THEIR HANDS IN THE POCKETS OF THE LOBBYISTS.<<<
Are you a member of AARP? The NEA? The MEA? The UAW? The NRA? Then you are part of the lobbyist “problem”, which again, is a feature, not a bug.

>>>THAT IS HOW THEY GET THEIR MONEY TO GET REELECTED.<<<
That, and soft money contributions, and illegal foreign credit card donations to the President’s campaign that aren’t widely reported on, and $50,000 a plate dinners, and online contributions tied to promotions like winning a dinner with the President and his wife, and….

>>>WE NEED TERM LIMITS.<<<

We have them. They are called elections. What we need is an electorate that is informed and engaged enough to actually retire our elected officials when keeping the job becomes more important than actually representing thems what sent ’em. But between being against spending (except for that which our own districts benefit from) and idiotic tropes about Big Bird, Binders, and American Idol episodes, we tend to get the government we work for. The best reform we could enact is real criminal and financial penalties for self dealing with government contracts, which would land Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters inmate numbers, and for trading on information gained in the course of their representation, which would be insider trading and a severe financial crime for anyone else who did it. In the long-term, it isn’t really a fix, because being people with access to power and money, they will always find a way to profit from what they know and what they do, but given the fact that Charlie Rangle keeps getting re-elected with his blatant failure to disclose assets and evade taxes WHEN HE SITS ON THE COMMITTEE THAT WRITES THE TAX CODE, I’m not encouraged that this could happen. It does, however, illustrate my point about why people who “don’t have the country’s best interests at heart keep getting re-elected.” He, and others like him keep promising the goodies to their constituents, and because he delivers, he keeps going back.

First, and foremost, term limits would be an admission that “We the People” are not worthy of the responsibility our forefathers entrusted us with. That might actually be true, but if it is, then all we can expect is the continued decline into tyranny, or idiocracy, neither of which appeals to me.

The conversation continued, before finally petering out, but I found it instructive in how the easy answer has ascended to a position of more reverence than one that requires having the knowledge, and applying it.  Knowing how this works, it becomes clearer why the default answer is deference to the “experts” or “professionals”, but as I was pointing out in my prior post, this is how we have gotten to the point where this also fosters the idea that as individuals, and as groups, we simply cannot “do” something with the same efficacy as these same “experts” or “professionals”, and therefore, we need to cede without further consideration, even more of the authority invested in us, and accept the conditions that these “experts” and “professionals” create for us. 

I am optimistic that more and more people are waking up to the fact that as a society, we have believed these lies for far too long, and that more and more people are refusing to accept the easy answer, but I also worry that the degree of institutionalization of this method means that it simply may not matter.  I see it with my son’s education currently.  He doesn’t bring home his textbooks, nor do his classmates.  The books stay at school.  They read the lessons, and answer questions.  The readings contain all the answers.  Ironically, the only class where I can see that he actually has to think about processes and apply them with the knowledge he has gained is his math class.  And I don’t have to see that the end result of this is a dependency upon authority…one that fails all too often.  We witnessed this dependency and failure in Hurricane Katrina, where people depended on authority, to their detriment.  Horrors took place in the city, and in the designated gathering places, because people depended on authorities, who were either completely unprepared for the scale of dependency they were faced with, or because they abdicated in the hour of need (think Superdome Rapes and Police Officers leaving the city during the hurricane.)  And then the extraordinary dependency after, which meant that enormous resources were sent to the region, and somehow squandered and frittered away, and as a result, much of it is not rebuilt or “back to normal” today, largely because of the idea that it was up to the “authorities” and “professionals” to do that.  Compare and contrast that experience to the neighboring state of Mississippi.  It too suffered catastrophic losses, both in terms of property and lives.  Yet it wasn’t a fixture of the evening news for days on end.  Blacks suffered there too, as did all other residents.  But if New Orleans suffered because Bush supposedly didn’t care about black people, did the rest of the Gulf Coast suffer because the media and the “experts” and the “professionals” didn’t care about Southerners?  Or did they rebuild and move on because they didn’t expect that other would lead the way, and provide the means and the resources to do so?

The saddest lesson of Katrina is being played out again in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  The idea that the Federal Government can and should be directing the bulk of the relief, with other monolithic “first responders” carrying out the remainder of the relief is again proving to be silly.  Much ado was made over the President’s 90 minute stop in New Jersey, hugging of one of the victims, pledge to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape, and to not leave anyone behind.    This, of course, begs the question, “Why, after the experience of Katrina, would there still be bureaucracy and red tape to deal with in the first place?”  I leave it to you, the reader, to study and contemplate on that answer, along with the question why a Federal Agency and one charity among so many qualified ones, would be the first place people would look to for assistance and relief, and why they would surrender their authority to them in the face of such destruction.  It’s a question that I’m confident many residents of Staten Island are asking themselves this weekend, as they shiver in the cold and dark, as they remain in their homes or what is left of them, to prevent looting of their remaining possessions.

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 Dignity: bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.

There is no greater indication of just how muddled we have become as a society as when those who have every reason to know better say things that might reflect their opinion, but don’t really make sense.

Friday afternoon, I was in my office, perusing an email thread that was sent to us because we are part of the Elder Law email list-serve, and I read this exchange:

Lawyer One:  This is a moral issue as well as a legal one.  What I tell my clients is that Congress, representing the will of the people, has set up our health care system so that we all are responsible to pay for our own long term care unless we are destitute, i.e., have less than $2,000 in assets.  Under the law he is required to pay for his own care because he can afford it.  If he chooses to take steps to make himself eligible, then he is asking the taxpayers to support him.  Does he want to do that?

Most clients with resources to pay for their own care choose to pay for it themselves.

Personally, I’d prefer a universal health care system, but that’s not what we have in this country.
Lawyer Two:  My somewhat obvious prejudice is for some sort of moral and ethical answer to this dilemma: health and long term care and death with dignity, so that people don’t have to waste their estate.  So, I aggressively want to find a solution because our political/social will has not matured to this point. 

I am getting the drift that there is no current answer.

There is so much fail in this exchange.  From the point of expecting that the taxpayer will pay for long-term care for those who can afford to pay for it themselves, to the idea that a person’s self-respect and bearing can be purchased, and that others should be compelled to purchase it for them, I see a breakdown in logic and a fundamental misuse of the language that is our stock in trade. 

There are some simple truths that are ignored by both officers of the court:

1) Only you can give you dignity.  That is why it is a display of self-respect.  I’ve seen people who have this in the face of sure and certain disdain of everyone surrounding them.  When it is real, no amount of disrespect and derision from others will change it.

2) Compelling others to buy it for you is unjust.  It is not charity, as charity cannot be compelled.

3) I’ve worn my copy of the Constitution out looking for where it is for the Government to provide “dignity” to anyone.  I can’t find it.

4) People do not value what they do not pay for. This is the most pointed truth of them all, and I have seen it played out again and again with people who have the means to pay for their own care who self-impoverish to become eligible for government paid long-term care, as they frantically gift away their entire estate not out of love of the beneficiaries, some of whom they believe to be undeserving, but only to get the care on someone else’s tab.

I find it offensive to suggest that it is somehow “immoral” that we don’t offer long-term care for everyone, paid for by others who are compelled to do so.  I resent the fact that I am increasingly expected to bear this cost, and in so doing, keep less of what I labored to make for the benefit of my own family, while the people who I am paying for can, with planning, divest themselves of everything they have, allowing their own families to keep more of this benefit while taking from mine.

My profession does not do anyone a service when it presumes to confuse that which is permissible with being moral.

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I almost pity the Solicitor General. Almost.

But liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan seemed skeptical of Clement’s argument that the government could have mandated individuals to buy insurance not in advance, but “at the point of consumption”, at the hospital for example. Is this just a “matter of timing?” Kagan asked.

The transcript is fascinating.  The Solicitor General must be using a whole box of Tucks&trade; Medicated Pads after today.

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While we dance around in a ring and suppose, the secret sits in the middle and knows.

-Robert Frost

In a week that was full of stories for those who could find them, perhaps the biggest was the airing of the tape of President Downgrade with his radical racist mentor and professor from Harvard, Derrick Bell. This was a coup not because it was more evidence of who the President is, but because it underscored the active participation of the Press in NOT reporting to the American people who he was at their time of choosing. But the bigger coup was in revealing this in a manner in which they didn’t even realize that the story being told was an indictment of THEM, not the radical divider currently putting his feet on the furniture at 1800 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And now that the narrative has shifted, and now that the Press tacitly admits the reason it wasn’t reported, the spin has begun. Now we are being told that Bell wasn’t such a bad guy. That he wasn’t really all that radical, and that he didn’t really have very much influence. But this of course epitomizes this administration, which has cloaked so very much in secrecy while claiming the highest level of transparency ever. The only truths of this administration of note are arrogance, failure, and excuses.

The arrogance started early. From the appointment of a tax cheat to the Secretary of the Treasury, to the expansion of czars with little or no Congressional oversight, to a willingness to diminish the Presidency by inserting himself into matters that had nothing to do with him (“I don’t have all the facts, but the police acted stupidly.”) to standing at the podium in foreign countries and offering apologies for America to people who did not deserve any such apology, to appointments without Congressional approval while Congress was still in session, and deigning to suggest to a prominent church leader that he himself did not understand his own churches doctrine, the President has revealed himself as possibly the most arrogant person we have ever had fill the position, which is quite an achievement considering the amount of failure and excuse that he has inflicted on us.

In the office where the buck once stopped with a more capable predecessor, he has offered up a startling amount of excuse and failure, along with empty bluster and bullying. Senator Obama was quick to blame his predecessor for a host of ills, whether it was high gas prices with a Democratic Congress, or a startlingly high unemployment rate that was significantly less than the percentage under his own term, even with his labor department fixing how the number was arrived at. Despite asking us for the job, and now asking for his contract to be renewed, no failure has been his fault. The power and majesty of the dumbest President EVER, George W. Bush has proven to be much stronger than the much-celebrated Obama mojo, as the evil BOOOOOOSH has managed to so screw things up, that no matter how much he can talk about finding someone’s “ass to kick”, and no matter what pressure he has no compunction about bringing from the bully pulpit he possesses, he simply can have no effect on things whatsoever. Every single thing plaguing this Administration, be it unemployment made worse by his own reckless and irresponsible spending, and increased regulations, a stagnant economy straining under oppressive regulations and intrusiveness, healthcare costs that continue to go up thanks to a planned takeover of the industry, and increased burdens imposed by the government, or sky-high gas prices that can be traced back to uncertainty from a foreign policy apparently determined to set the Middle East on fire, and domestic policies designed to all but shut down any domestic energy production on government land or in off shore drilling is the fault of his predecessor.

And now that a silly church that can trace its roots to the time of Christ won’t simply surrender its beliefs in favor of his doctrine, he finally has something to run on instead of his failure and our disappointment: the elevation of a government-granted entitlement to be provided by someone else to the status of a “right”, and the denial of it equated to a “War on Women”.

There are plenty of reasons to elect anyone else this November. And I’m afraid that right now, we’re so busy invoking our fallen and waiving that bloody shirt that we won’t be talking about these reasons every single day.

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While the religious have people there to reinforce their values, atheists, humanists and others who follow similar world beliefs argue that they do not. Thus, they wish to gain official recognition so that they can respond to their fellow non-believing soldiers’ spiritual needs.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Seriously, how much of a “spiritual need” can someone who knocks God off his throne and sits in his place have?

Oh, and it isn’t about having someone around to “reinforce your values”.  It is about having the comfort of the connection between you and your Creator at times of moral peril.  Its kind of difficult to pray aloud when you have a sucking chest wound.  There is no equivalency for athiests and humanists. (Playing a recording of “My Way” isn’t the same thing.)

Some days the ignorance of history is only outweighed by the self-centeredness of trivial people.

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