Author Archives: Katherine Revello

The Modern Zenger Trial: Can Truth Be Discriminatory?

The origins of freedom of the press in America can really be traced back to 1735 and the trial of John Peter Zenger.

Zenger, the editor of a small newspaper in colonial New York, regularly printing material derogatorily portraying royal governor William Crosby. For the crime of printing negative comments grounded in fact, Zenger was put on trial for treason.

Central to the trial was the question of whether the truth could be libelous. Under the standing law, the answer was, yes. But Zenger, with the help of his lawyer Andrew Hamilton, was acquitted, thus setting a precedent for press freedom that would later be enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

Today, this case is significant not only as a hallmark for civil liberties, but because its precedent is being quickly eroded by evolving legal and cultural standards.

The question no longer revolves around whether the truth is libelous, but whether it is discriminatory. In the new political lexicon, discrimination is no longer a gauge for assessing the good, bad and mediocre, but a synonym for hatred and bigotry.

Obviously, the truth is discriminatory. It is a rejection of everything besides the basic laws of nature. But the empiricism of reality has become less important than the feelings and dignity of certain groups of people. This was behind the rationale of the Supreme Court majority in their Obergefell ruling. It is what drives the social justice agenda, with all its obsequious grovelling before “microaggressions” and “political correctness.”

Those who still cling to objective reality will recognize the same fascistic driving force behind this as was in the despotism of Crosby and his royal masters. Now, just as then, the adherents to an ideology that cannot survive on its own merits, must rely on force to bring others around to their way of thinking.

Less than a week after the nation-wide legalization of same sex marriage, the ACLU has already withdrawn its support of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, stating that it is too often used by Christians as a tool for discrimination. The pre-Obergefell record is one where Christian business owners being successfully sued for refusing services that directly contradict their beliefs, where gay hotel owners faced the threat of being boycotted for hosting an evangelical presidential candidate. Tt is not irrational to indulge in a bit of prognostication and foresee a future where merely to profess belief in certain values will make individuals targets, a la Zenger.

In his defense, Hamilton railed against holding speech hostage to the petty egos of governing officials:

But when a ruler of a people brings his personal failing, but much more his vices, into his administration, and the people find themselves affected by them either in their liberties or properties, that will alter the case mightily; and all the things that are said in favor of rulers and dignitaries, and upon the side of power, will not be able to stop the people’s mouths when they feel themselves oppressed.

Lest he too be accused of treason, he was forced to explain that by this he meant no criticism of the king.

Though it is not so much personal vices as ill-conceived notions of tolerance and dignity that stand a threat to the people, this is a reaction that is far too similar to what conservatives and Christians face for living their beliefs in the politically correct America of 2015.

History seems to be repeating itself, changing slightly of course to fit the exigent issues of the day. The only question is, will modern day Zengers stand up against the cultural gatekeepers?

John Roberts Falls Victim to the Slippery Slope

When public officials want to gift themselves new powers, they usually justify their expansive actions with their favorite platitude, “for the greater good.”

Conservatives, in their turn, respond with the proverbial warning of the slippery slope.

The problem, of course, is the dynamism of American politics means the powers one party invests themselves with are then available for the next majority, which seizes the precedent and continues to expand federal jurisdiction. In this way, central power burgeons exponentially.

Perhaps the best modern example of this phenomenon is the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11 to protect the nation’s security. The always grasping hands of federal power destroyed the restraints placed on the security state by the original legislation and created bulk data collection, disturbing not only in its total disregard for civil liberties, but also in its parallelism to George Orwell’s omniscient Big Brother.

This sort of slow creep usually happens primarily through regulation. But in a stunning display of hypocrisy demonstrated by subsequent opinions issued last week, Chief Justice John Roberts demonstrated that this can happen in any part of the government.

Roberts, in writing the majority opinion in King v. Burwell, hypothesized on the intent of the legislature and President Obama in passing the Affordable Care Act and then allowed his decision to be influenced by this outcome:

“A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

He gave the Court transcendent powers of interpretation. This was not a case of statutory or Constitutional interpretation; it was a case of assessing the intent of politicians and yielding to them.

Then, in his minority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, Roberts denounced the powers which had been integral to his rationale of only a day before:

“But this Court is not a legislature. Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be.”

Like other legislators who grant themselves powers and then later have them used against them by their political opponents, Roberts is a victim of his own hubris. There is some small sense of justice that the consequences of his unconstitutional actions came back to haunt him so quickly. Unfortunately, it does nothing for the irreparable damage done to the original intent of the Constitution.

Majority Decision in King v. Burwell Eviscerates Separation of Powers

According to the Fabian socialist-based government in George Orwell’s 1984, war is peace and freedom is slavery.

And according to the democratically-conscious Chief Justice John Roberts Supreme Court, a fee is a tax and state means federal.

The Court’s 6-3 ruling in King v. Burwell upholding the legality of subsidies in states that refused to set up a federal exchange is hardly shocking in consideration of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, but it is nevertheless disheartening.

Even as Jonathan Gruber’s important role in the construction of the legislation becomes more evident, the Court bent over backwards to accommodate the legislature’s supposed oversight in using imprecise language.

Gruber, of course, revealed the unspoken secret of the law- that is was written so states that failed to set up exchanges would be taxed without receiving any of the benefits, a scare tactic meant to raise the specter of public anger and force Republican governors into complying:

Roberts, however, in affirming the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the subsidies were legal, went to great lengths to ignore the public record of fact and accommodate the stated intent of the administration, claiming in his opinion:

“we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

There is absolutely no legal rationale in this decision; there is instead sycophantic sophistry. Yet, the Court’s decision to interpret the Act in a way that clearly goes beyond the plain language of the statute does not respect the role of the Legislature; it supersedes it, continuing a precedent established by the decision to call the individual mandate a “tax,” despite the clear insistence by the Obama administration that this was not the case.

The Court’s decision by itself is troubling, but the majority’s rationale is even more so because it is a complete evisceration of the separation of powers and vastly re-interprets the meaning of judicial review, which was established as the primary responsibility of the Court in Marbury v. Madison.

There has been much talk of the King v. Burwell ruling being purely about statutory interpretation. This was obliterated by the centrality of Congressional intent to Robert’s ruling.

But, the Court’s guidance by statutory interpretation is in itself problematic. In Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton explained the necessity of the chief judicial body being guided by the Constitution above other duly enacted laws:

“A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges as, a fundamental law. It, therefore, belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents..”

The original intent of the judicial branch, as laid out by Article III and further defined by Marbury v. Madison, is strict Constitutional interpretation. Its articles and clauses are the lodestone for the justice’s rationale. But the introduction of case law and precedent caused the Court to drift away from its purpose.

The Court’s two rulings upholding the ACA are a tidal wave, pushing the power of the justices into new territory. They have invested themselves with interpretive powers that too closely mimic those given solely to the legislature.

But then, maybe James Madison was merely imprecise in his language when he laid out the carefully delineated system of checks and balances in the Constitution.

 

Populism, Racism and the Left

Somehow, as seems to be the case with every tragedy that occurs in America, the tragic murder of nine people in South Carolina by a racist murderer has been hijacked for political gain. Any Republican who doesn’t publicly repudiate the Confederate flag as a symbol of segregation and oppression and call for its immediate removal from South Carolina government grounds is a Jim Crow-loving racist, or something.

Never mind that the flag flies on the grounds of a memorial for confederate soldiers or that the law requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to be removed. Facts are an impediment to political grandstanding and are therefore run over by the brute force of emotionalism.

What is now known colloquially as the Confederate flag has become a symbol of rebellion and individual sovereignty to many. To many others, it is a symbol of hatred and oppression. There is truth to both of these things. But, what is frequently overlooked in the contention is the incontrovertible fact that it’s merely a piece of cloth which cannot be imbued with any emotion, negative or positive.

Whatever emotional overtones people choose to place in the flag does nothing to change its composition as a piece of material. It is not the flag that is harmful; the real danger is in bigots who transfer their monomaniacal hatred into the flag as a banner. To pretend otherwise diminishes the responsibility of criminals in their actions, and this is an insult to their innocent victims.

Since certain actors, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has decided to use this tragedy as a fundraiser, insist on creating a national polemic out of this issue, it is important to counter their inanities with facts.

The sometimes-radical sovereignty attached to the Confederate flag is often attributed to right wing populism. But, left wing populism, which has existed in the South for a much longer time, has a much richer and more mainstream vein of racism running through it.

First, it is worth mentioning that what is today known colloquially as the Confederate flag is but one of many iterations used throughout the Civil War. The Southern Cross design resembles both the flag flown by General Lee’s North Virginia army and the Second Confederate Navy Jack. (For a more complete history, see radio host Buck Sexton’s explanation.)

Second, though the Confederate flag does not fly before South Carolina’s state house, it did under the tenure of Democrat governor Ernest Hollings. Various other Democrats, including Bill Clinton, have flown the flag as a sign of Southern pride throughout the recent decades.

Again, the flag in itself is innocuous; unhinged maniacs, even though they adopt it as a symbol, are solely responsible for their actions. But since Democrats insist on making this a populist issue, it’s important to point out their hypocrisy.

The Dixiecrats, and their most famous member, 1948 presidential contender Strom Thurmond, are known for their belief in segregation. Their party platform, which interestingly also called for social and economic justice, flatly states, “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.”

But racism has played a much more integral part of populism in the South. Rooted in the belief that new powers threatened traditional way of life, American populism, which has been almost exclusively to the left until the conservative resurgence of the 1970s, is almost constitutionally racist. Whether against the threat of cultural upheaval from European immigrants or racial integration, or directed against the Oriental railroad builders, populist oratory by famous and influential national figures like Huey Long, William Jennings Bryan and Father Coughlin contains overt racial messages.

Modern Democrats, of course, are not responsible for the excesses of their ideological forebears. But, by ignoring this past, and putting the spotlight wrongly on Republicans, they err. Racism is not right or left. It is a collectivist ideology, evil because it judges groups on meaningless characteristics rather than individual merit.

 

 

 

Political Correctness, Statism and the Rule of Law

Modern government embodies nothing so much as Don Quixote. It assumes a mantle of morality- protecting the rights of the minorities who cry discrimination and disenfranchisement- and rides off to the rescue without bothering to look at whether the societal giants it tilts at are monsters or just windmills.

Unfortunately, it is real people, many of them business people just trying to live according to their own view of morality, who are hurt by the government’s chivalric histrionics.

This is the result of statism, a perverse twisting of natural law and individualism, which bestows consciousness upon government.

Social contract theory recognizes, in a state of nature, individuals have inherent rights, but are engaged in a constant battle to protect these and their property as there is no overarching organ that has the authority to punish man’s transgressions against his fellow man. This, John Locke explains in the “Second Treatise on Government,” makes men “willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates.”

The reciprocality of rights — an understanding that the individual desire to live in security ought to engender respect for the same feeling in another — is explained in “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” by Adam Smith: “Every faculty in one man is the measure by which he judges of the like faculty in another.”

These dual ideas do not abrogate the absolute nature of rights. They act as a sort of sluice-gate, ensuring a smooth flow, so that the free exercise of liberty impedes no man with honest intentions.

This, however, requires total neutrality — a government that is value-judgment blind. It has a strict code of justice and reacts to actions that violated its tenets. It does not wring its hands about social consciousness and the plight of the disenfranchised. Government, in order to mete out just reparations for wrongs done must derive resources from somewhere and prioritize need, and since it’s a public entity, this means taking from one group in order to provide for another.

Essentially, government is cognizant. It functions as an individual because crafts legislation with a specific outcome in mind, which means it has a purpose, or will. It has become a living being.

Now, like any other sentient creature, it is bound and compelled by natural law, the first rule of which is to survive and the second rule of which is to thrive.

But, in such a system, there is no redress of grievances. There is only power in the executive, legislative and judicial branches concentrated in the hands of a biased authoritarian figure whose consciousness—dreams, desires, failings—have been transferred to government’s organs. The legal process is now a sham, a personal tool. Rule of law does not exist because all individual are not equal before the law. There are groups whose attributes make them more deserving in the eyes of the government, thus putting them in greater standing with the law than others.

The inevitable end result: rapaciousness, death and suffering on a mass scale. Stalinism and Leninism and their evils are not perversions of some greater ideological good, as modern democratic socialists like to claim. They are the inevitable end result of such thinking.

This is not rational self-interest. This is barbarism, a state of anarchy. But, it is moral. Property rights are the true heart of natural law, and the heart of property is the concept of “I.” Statism transfers self-identity from its rightful place- the individual person or business, whose excesses are checked by discretion in the hands of neighbors and consumers- and places it into an all-powerful entity that cannot be held accountable because it has a monopoly on force.

While America has not yet reached the point of Stalinist purges, nor is it anywhere close, there is no doubt that political correctness has abrogated equal justice and led to certain groups being viewed differently in the eyes of federal regulations. This is a softer tyranny, yes, but just as dangerous to anyone who believes in natural law and individualism.

Donald Trump and Media’s Treatment of Presidential Candidates

When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president earlier this week, America let loose a collective snort of derision. For years, as Trump has flirted with running for the nation’s highest office, it has seemed as though the media mogul has been stumping with the sole purpose of generating publicity for his brand. While some charge, with some merit, this is a degradation of the democratic process, it is certainly a brilliant P.R. move.

Trump’s serious as a candidate in the eyes of the electorate contrasted with the negative media coverage coming from the right in the past days is interesting. Trump’s face painted with clown makeup was plastered on the cover of the New York Post. In an article title “Witless Ape Rides Escalator,” published in National Review Online, Trump was described as having the “worst taste since Caligula.”

Some, talk radio king Rush Limbaugh among them, have pointed out that left wing media never savage their nonserious candidates.

But surely, the willingness of right-leaning pundits to call out the shortcomings of politicians, regardless of their party identification, is a good thing. It speaks to the consistency with which conservatives approach their ideals. They stick to one standard, regardless of whether the person with whom they disagree might otherwise hold the same beliefs.

Besides, becoming a candidate for national office contains an expectation of scrutiny. Presidential nominees open themselves to a bevy of questions in order that their shortcomings and hypocrisies be exposed; an individual flawed in character or policy preferences is a detriment to the nation’s welfare.

And Trump certainly has plenty of shortcomings. He did, after all, propose wiping out the national debt in the 1990s by assessing a one-time 14.25% tax on individuals and trusts with a net worth over $10 million.

That being said, there is of course the old adage of their being no such thing as bad press. Trump, who, according to research compiled by FiveThirtyEight has a net favorability rating of -32%, benefits every time his name is discussed in the press. Even negative coverage is a lightning rod for his campaign. The mere repetition of his overbearing arrogance and ridiculous, often xenophobic statements is enough to make him seem more mainstream and liked than he actually is.

So, what responsibility does the media have in this situation? The question of candidate coverage is an ever-present one. Each cycle, candidates who seem to be underdogs complain that they remain this way chiefly because they get little recognition in the news and are excluded from party-sponsored debates. Rick Santorum’s unlikely rise in the 2012 primary lends some credence to this argument.

However, the media making strategic calculations about candidate access to press has already been tried with the Equal Time Rule of the FCC’s disastrous Fairness Doctrine. The problem is, though seemingly done in the name of fairness, these kind of decisions mask the real political consciousness media adopts. Double standards may be applied, but, since the media controls the coverage, its hard for the public to know whether “fairness” is actually the standard since other stories that might be important are not covered, meaning they tend to fade into oblivion.

But an activist role, where the media picks and chooses what stories to cover based on their assessment of a candidate’s seriousness is equally troublesome. Again, the media is infused with a consciousness that has the power to shape and influence political outcomes.

What’s the solution? As with many things in a democratic system, the discretionary power of the individual. With most media models driven by ad revenue, page clicks or viewership is the literal lifeblood of a news organization. Especially where politics are concerned, pundits have a right to make coverage decisions as they see fit. But that doesn’t mean people have to accept spin they find unfair.

The coverage surrounding Trump is a tremendous example of this. It is likely much of the negative press aimed at Trump is driven by personal dislike. Frankly, there’s a lot to dislike. If this sentiment resonates with public opinion, there’s nothing wrong with it. But, if it doesn’t, individuals need to take their consumer power somewhere else so media elites don’t become the equivalent of campaign strategists.

The Continuing Importance of Magna Carta to American Civil Liberties

June 15th marked the 800 year anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Signed by King John in a meadow at Runnymede in an attempt to quell a rebellion amongst his barons, the charter was violated almost immediately. Not a single of the articles within it is in effect today.

Nevertheless, this is perhaps the single most important historical document in the Western tradition, particularly in America.

The Sons of Liberty, which counted famous Founders Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren and Patrick Henry amongst its ranks, commemorated the refusal by colonial Massachusetts’s legislature to rescind a letter circulating throughout New England that protested the taxes mandated by the Townshend Acts with a silver bowl. Etched into one side is a liberty cap, a torn up general warrant, a Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta.

Sons of Liberty

Image Source: http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/sons-of-liberty-bowl-39072

 

This piece of history, sadly now obscure, reveals just how important the Founders considered Magna Carta. It seems anachronistic now, that Revolutionary era rebels would uphold a defunct charter passed in a nation whose government they considered tyrannical.

But Magna Carta is the fountainhead of what are now termed “civil liberties.” The charter first officially recognized recognition that rule of law was a concept more concrete and equitable than the whim of a “divinely inspired” monarch. Under the charter, the king’s power was to be checked by a group of 25 barons. Anytime four agreed that some monarchical action violated the provisions laid out in the charter, they were to “petition to have that transgression redressed without delay.”

The king then had forty days to rectify his offense before the matter was brought before the entire council, which had power to seize the king’s affects until he took action to correct his transgression. Further, the right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” roughly analogous to the power granted the council of barons, is guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution.

Property rights, the foundation for individual liberty, were also protected. Magna Carta re-enforced the idea that property was inviolable and held by the person who owned it. Considering feudal society, where serfs were essentially slaves and even lords held their land on condition of the king’s good graces, was entirely based off patronage, this is a significant shift. Nevertheless the surety that “no constable or other bailiff of [the king] shall take corn or other provisions from anyone without immediately tendering money therefor,” is one example of an edict that reaffirms property being subject to equitable rule of law. This was made further sacrosanct in the American Constitution. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of the people to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,” against warrantless searches and seizures.

Though blind justice, where each individual is equal in the eyes of the law, is lacking from the caste-system of punishments laid out in the Magna Carta, it nevertheless marks the first instance where now widely accepted Western ideals of liberality entered into government. The 800-year old document, arcane though it may be, is worthy of careful study and reverence, especially in America, which clearly owes so much of its federalistic philosophy to its precedence.

Rick Santorum: The Barry Goldwater of the 21st Century

Barry Goldwater has the unique distinction of being the most important loser in modern politics. After his failed 1964 bid for the White House, his conservative platform worked its way into a position of dominance in the Republican party, eventually leading to the landslide victory of Ronald Reagan.

The American political landscape is frequently defined in terms of pendulum-like swings between dominance of left and right ideologies and attitudes towards government.

And, after milquetoast nominee after milquetoast nominee running the primary gambit on the right, it’s time to ask, has the next Goldwater moment come?

The 2012 election cycle saw the unlikely rise of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum from dark horse socially conservative candidate to winner of the all-important Iowa caucus. Santorum, a social conservative, thought subject to a media interrogation that would have made Torquemada proud, would go on to win 11 primary states before dropping out to attend to the health of his youngest daughter.

Could Santorum have ultimately gone on to win the election? It is, of course, impossible to say. However, this may be an ancillary detail to a larger political truth.

Where Santorum stood alone as a true conservative in the 2012 race, he is joined this cycle by a bevy of right-wing candidates, representing exponential growth in conservative messaging compared to the last cycle.

Where the trend in 2012 was towards moderation and centricity, ostensibly to earn the all-important independent vote, candidates this cycle are actually scrambling to produce conservative credentials, or spin their actions into something that looks to be anti-establishment.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz labels the Constitution as his standard on his campaign website. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul claims to be running to “restore liberty to ourselves and future generations.” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio highlights the family as the most important part of society. Jeb Bush, though not an official candidate, positions his Right to Rise PAC as an opportunity “to move up the income ladder based on merit, hard work and earned success.”

All these are examples of traditional conservative messaging. And, where, even as recently as the 2014 midterm elections, messages such as these were labelled as being too divisive and a danger to Republican victory, they are now becoming the early standard of the 2016 race.

Santorum, then, really ought to be looked at as a Goldwater for the 21st century. Where his 2012 rival candidates sought to distance themselves from conservative “extremism,” Santorum braved a faux media storm and rode an unlikely wave to early success.

True, Santorum differs from Goldwater in two significant ways. He did not lose, he withdrew, and he did so at a much earlier stage of the electoral cycle.

However, the fact that some part of his messaging resonated with enough of the GOP’s voting populace is significant. It was a channel for the frustrations for conservatives in the populace at a time when the GOP and the media told them they were “whacko birds.”

The 2014 election was a wave for the right. Yet, despite a clarion voicing of desire to see government adopt more limited stances, the Republican leadership has continued to blunder their way through legislation, continuing to disparage their conservative members and ultimately frittering away every advantage they’ve had.

At this early stage of the game, especially now that the advent of the Internet and the Citizens United decision have made it easier for average people to participate and influence elections, conservatism seems poised to dominate the presidential debate, making another 1980s style right-wing victory seem likely.

Rick Santorum, rather than being laughed off as an unserious candidate without policy distinction, should be given some credit in helping to make this possible.

Clinton-New York Times Scandal Highlights Inanity of Political Endorsements

It seems every day brings news of yet more sordid exploits in which the Clintons are prominently featured.

The latest revelation from the Washington Free Beacon lays out a possible endorsement-for-hire scandal in which a charity owned by the New York Times received $100 thousand from the Clinton Family Foundation in 2008, the same year the paper endorsed Hillary as the Democratic nominee for president.

While the paper, which was reportedly considering endorsing Barack Obama, unquestionably engaged in some shady ethics, the question is, should they really be condemned, or is the centrality of endorsements in the American election cycle really the problem?

Why is the editor of a major newspaper qualified to endorse a public servant of any kind, be they federal representative or notary public? Surely not because their position as “government watchdog” gives them some special insight into what kind of policy is best for the nation and which candidates are most likely to support that legislation. That would suggest the papers, who wear their accountability role  as a badge of honor, have an agenda and perspective.

Of course, there is no such thing as true editorial objectivity. The problem with the Times’ endorsement of Clinton lies not in the timing of the donation, but in that they were not honest about it at the time.

The Times, by possibly allowing money to their decision, essentially sold their editorial integrity to the Clintons. Their voice became, not their own, but a puppet, malleable in the hands of the highest bidder. This is problematic because, in the democratic process, a vote is an act of expression.

When the individual relies on endorsements of a candidate as a judgment of worth, he or she engages in intellectual collectivism. Their voice is no longer a representation of their needs, wants or interests, but an echo of the endorser’s. And, since endorsements, particularly when voiced by prominent public figures and officials are ultimately done in the name of the needs of some disenfranchised group, they are ultimately hollow, self-perpetuating rhetoric.

When a candidate truly has ideas that correspond to the ideology of a particular person, their own appeals and legislative actions will resonate. Endorsements suggest that the average voter is not smart enough to make such an assessment on their own; they suggest that voters need to be enlightened by the smarter elites of society. In reality, the voter should give credence to no voice other than their own, since, even if someone else does have similar interests, can empathize with the harsh reality of daily need, they cannot mirror perspective.

As a tool of contrast, endorsements may be useful. When a rational case is laid out along lines of thought that are alien to one person’s worldview, the contrast in thinking may be intellectually expansive. But this cannot replace the analysis of a candidate’s past actions and present promises necessary to make a truly informed vote.

Only individual volition can chose to do this. And it can only truly do so by considering wants and thoughts that are unique, determined by past experiences, present needs and future goals.

Public Opinion Divorced from Scope of Government Power in King v. Burwell

The Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell, which will decide whether healthcare plans purchased in states that use the federal exchange are eligible for subsidies, is being characterized as a simple matter of statutory interpretation.

At issue is wording in the Affordable Care Act that clearly states tax credits apply to individuals enrolled in an exchange “established by the State.” However, a ruling against the Obama administration would mean a loss of an average $4,700 in subsidies per person in the thirty-four states that rely on the federal marketplace.

The government argues it is not the actual words of the statute that matter, but their intent, meaning the definition, and thus the tax breaks, should apply to federally purchased plans.

Opponents take a more literal approach, arguing the interpretation of the statute must be limited to the specific meaning of the words written in the legislation as passed.

The problem with the Supreme Court looking beyond textualism and to intent is twofold. One, it gives the Court legislative powers. While statutory interpretation is well within the purview of the justices, the Constitution must be the root of that interpretation.

Secondly, judicial decisions that give deference to the motives and intent of various governmental organs make the law a living creature. It becomes malleable. Substantively equitable rule of law relies on strict interpretation of statutes. The American ideal of justice is very much tied into this idea. The introduction of empathy into judicial rationale makes law a living entity with a survival instinct. History shows that these types of states end in despotism.

Besides, this kind of legal construct require taking the government at face value. Yet, the ACA was crafted to punish states that did not set up exchanges, the assumption being that once residents realized how much more their plans would cost without the subsidies, governors would bow under the furor of public outcry.

Nevermind how utterly insulting this is to the complexity of the democratic political process and the voting rationale of the average citizen, it clearly suggests a legislative emphasis on state exchanges..

But, one has to ask oneself, does any of this even matter? Sadly for those who believe in strict Constitutional interpretation and the rule of law, public opinion suggests not.

A recent Washington Post-ABC poll revealed that, while 54% of those surveyed oppose the ACA, 55% do not want the Court to rule against the government.

ACA poll

The wording of the question is in itself problematic, as the phrasing about low income families being “helped” by subsidies introduces bias. However, it is striking that the question does not take into account the issue of what courses of action the branches of the federal government are granted by the Constitution.

The emotionalism of budgeting is a powerful argument, much more so than the dry rationale of pundits concerned with maintaining the proper balance of lawful government power. It is often the focus of polling, which in turn is often a justification behind public policy pushes, which creates and perpetuates an ultimately hollow legislative process.

Obama administration officials are already threatening that if the Court does not rule in its favor, the American healthcare system will descend into “utter chaos.” While many state governments ignored the threats of such sophistry, whether the Court will do so remains to be seen.

 

Crowded Early Presidential Field is Healthy for Democracy

Though the 2016 election is approximately 16 months away, the list of declared presidential candidates is already lengthy.

On the right, George Pataki, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry have announced their candidacy. The left’s field is smaller, limited so far to Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Linc Chafee and Bernie Sanders, but may soon grow, as prominent national figures on both sides of the political aisle have announced they will soon announce their candidacy.

With the 2012 Republican primary carousel still prominent in the mind of many voters, the herd of declared and exploratory candidates is already wearying. To many, it promises intense intra-party bickering, the inundation of the airwaves with attack ads and wasted money on campaigning.

All of these things are frequently characterized as yet another example of a broken system.

But, this view is narrow and shallow; it does not take into account the complexity of national politics.

Impassioned pundits will often wax poetic about federalism and the devolution of power. But, the emphasis on localism that is such an important part of the American political lexicon is never translated into the language of the electoral system.

Diversity in small communities demands power be kept at a level where people’s stake in the outcome makes it more likely they act and debate prudently. This is exactly how the primary system works.

A political party is a community which people join of their own volition and act in to an extent they deem appropriate for their interests.

However, this does not guarantee unity of interests. Though there are overarching principles that bind party members in office and the electorate together, that does not mean they think alike in regards to particulars. So long as these differences are real and legitimate, there is a need for debate, not only so that the merit of ideas becomes evident through contrast, but in order to find which approach is most prominent since action has to be consensus drive to some degree.

The American political system is unique in that parties are bifurcated primarily not on values or ideas, but their belief in the strength of government. Yes, values are a hugely important part of a given party’s constitution, but they are more informed by what societal entity should take responsibility for a given need.

When this is the chief dichotomy and there are only two major parties, a host of beliefs that are similar at a macro level and different at a micro level must necessarily arise. And this is a wonderful thing because it forces debate over real and substantive matters. Ultimately, this cannot but help to strengthen personal ideologies and the political class, in turn making government more sound and more efficient.

In practice, this is obviously a flawed system. Sophistic rhetoric and venial platitudes often come to the forefront in debate, but this does not change the basic fact that substantive discussion is necessary. It is the responsibility of voters to weed out the serious, meritorious politicians from the bloviating, self-seeking hacks.

Long exposure to the public is the dominant tool through which this is accomplished. The primary system with its debates and campaign speeches exists to serve this function. And rather than looking upon this as some necessary evil where the failings of democracy are flouted, voters should see this as a system that empowers their voices.

Elon Musk and the Questionable Good of Government Subsidies

To many, technological visionary Elon Musk, who has promised to birth such marvelous feats as “space internet,”  embodies the American spirit of entrepreneurial innovation.

While the federal government traps itself in the quagmire of over-regulation and bloated spending in green energy and interstellar research, Musk’s endeavors in commercial space flight and driver-less electric cars seem to be the rallying point for advocates of free market solutions to society’s exigent crises.

However, the delineation between private and public sectors is not so clear cut. Recently, $465 million in low-interest loans from the Department of Energy have led to the questioning of Tesla’s real merit. And, of course, much of SpaceX’s success is due to its contract with the government to launch supply missions to the International Space Station.

All of this begs the question: what is the proper relationship between private business and the government?

Congress does have some interest in business since Article I, Section 8 gives the legislature the authority “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” However, to suggest that the government then has any interest in underwriting the success of innovation by using taxpayer money to subsidize services politicians deem to be in the nation’s “general welfare” is obviously an over-extrapolation of a very limited power.

The Obama administration’s electric-car subsidy debacle has incontrevritably proven what happens when government becomes a venture capitalist. The underwriting of green-energy companies ended in taxpayers seeing red. One by one, the government’s pet investments, most infamously Solyndra, folded to an unwritten universal economic truth- market demand cannot be artificially stimulated.

Tesla, however, managed to survive, pay back its loan and is now estimated to be worth $12 billion. The fact that is survived while other electric car company failed is perhaps a testament to Musk’s ingenuity and somewhat invalidates questions of the company’s true merit.

But, if Tesla’s model really is that good, free market principles dictate it should have been able to survive without government support. Could it have? Impossible to say because the subsidies cast a pall over market functions, ultimately making trends harder to analyze.

SpaceX presents a similar problem for the delineation between private and public markets. While questions about the desirability of electric cars to average consumers exist, there is no doubt that most people have no needs serviceable by space flight.

Yet, there is scientific good, the benefits of which to the lifestyle of the average American cannot be tangibly measured, in exploration.

The contract SpaceX has with NASA is helping to fund other research and missions. And Musk’s ultimate aim, incredible though it seems, is to one day open up mining colonies on Mars. Just four years ago, Newt Gingrich was mocked in a GOP debate for suggesting such a possibility. Today, one of America’s preeminent thinkers is actively working to make this a reality.

At the same time, other byproducts, such as the “space internet” Musk suggests could provide fast, cheap access to the web for people around the world, present a free market solution to supposed problems the government is threatening to regulate into parity.

It would be an interesting upending of centuries of state-capitalism, to see government contracts subsidize market innovation. If anyone is poised to do so, Musk is that person. Should he succeed, the monopoly of government force over economic powers will be irrevocably severed.

But the question of morality still remains. And while it’s easy to run away with fanciful dreams of science-fiction made reality, the government, since it is funded by the hard-earned money of its citizens, owes it to them to ground its decisions in practicality.

The ultimate outcome, and the morality of the degree to which it is underwritten by public dollars, remain to be seen.

Mercantilism in Campaigns: Good or Bad for the State of Politics?

Branding is an important part of presidential politics. A candidate needs a unique platform and must be able to communicate it clearly and quickly.

Thanks to the wonders of modern production, this need increasingly manifests itself in branded campaign merchandise.

In many ways, there is a lot of good in political merchandise. For non-moneyed supporters, the purchase of campaign goods is an equitable exchange of value. Their purchase of a t-shirt or bumper sticker not only helps in publicizing a campaign, but gives the supporter the intangible pleasure of asserting their ideology and annoying those who do not agree.

But, while there are myriad meritorious free-market principles on display here, can such a transaction go too far, say, when complex political issues are encapsulated in pithy t-shirt slogans or highlight a candidate’s perfunctory personal attributes?

Rand Paul, whose campaign has capitalized on his opposition to the Patriot Act, is currently selling t-shirts that take a somewhat facetious jab at bulk data collection:

On the other side, Hillary Clinton supporters can purchase a t-shirt made to look like one of her trademark pantsuit jackets:

Those who bemoan the state of money in politics can surely find cause for alarm here. And they may be right, not because votes are being bought, but because American politics requires substance beyond that which can be screen-printed and worn on someone’s chest.

Modern campaigning, with its emphasis on partisan politics and “gotcha moments” divorced from context, is already insulting to the intelligence of the average voter. The veniality of merchandized politics runs the risk of making it more so, especially if this is the sum total of engagement the average voter has with candidates and issues.

On the other hand, when people are made free to decide for themselves what political choices are most advantageous for their interests, they are also made free to act superficially, to disregard serious political discourse. Individualism, then, would dictate, that the risk of degradation to the health of the body politic presented by certain actors is something that must be combated by attention and volition.

After all, capitalism and democracy share the same strengths and weaknesses. Chiefly, their virtue lies in their organic nature. Only a plurality of individuals with united vision have the power to direct greater definitions of right and wrong. And this does not infringe on the rights of dissenters.

So, when it comes to mercantilism and political messaging, the ultimate affect upon broader political health is something for the American people to decide by individual discretion. And that’s a wonderful thing.

 

Unemployment Rate Becomes Political Football

Somewhat unsurprisingly given the intense polarization that exists today, the announcement of the drop in November’s unemployment rate has become a political issue, as both sides of political leadership claim it supports their position in the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that during November, the unemployment rate fell to 7.7% from 7.9%. The labor force added 146,000 new jobs last month, but the number of unemployed individuals remained at 12 million.

The BLS stops counting individuals as unemployed after 27 consecutive weeks of joblessness. Essentially, this means the unemployment rate fell because the labor force shrunk.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, who has been vocal about the need to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans, stated the number proves the economy is improving, but a tax hike on middle class families could reverse the progress.

“There is no doubt our economy is moving in the right direction. The only question is whether Republicans will jeopardize the progress made so far by forcing a $2,200 tax hike on middle class families,” said Reid in a statement released on Friday.

But Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner believes the economic recovery promised by Democrats is progressing too slowly.

“Any job creation is welcome news, but the jobless rate in this country is still unacceptable. Today marks the 34th consecutive month of unemployment above eight percent,” said Boehner last Friday.

January 1, the so-called fiscal cliff, marks the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. This will trigger a return to the higher income tax rate of the Clinton era. On the same day, automatic spending cuts will also go into affect.

Democrats, led by Reid and President Obama, want to extend the cuts for families making under $250,000, but let them expire for people making above that rate.

Republicans are seeking to extend the tax cuts for all Americans.

Rhode Island’s Ongoing Christmas Tree Controversy

For the second consecutive year, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee is refusing to call the state’s Christmas Tree a Christmas Tree.

Championing secularism, Chafee is insisting on calling the tree a ‘Holiday Tree’ because he believes that one religion shouldn’t be promoted over another in the Rhode Island State House.

“I did what the previous governor did, called it a Holiday Tree. So this goes back to the 90’s,” said Chafee, whose position has once again, been met with outrage by Rhode Islanders who have pointed out that changing the name does not change the symbol.

Chafee further enraged Rhode Islanders last week when he announced the state’s tree lighting ceremony a mere half hour before the actual event in order to stop protestors from attending. During last year’s ceremony, chaos broke out when protestors began singing “O Christmas Tree” over a children’s chorus.

However, Christmas loving Rhode Islanders have been invited to attend the Fall River, MA tree lighting ceremony by Mayor William Flanagan.

” We just feel all Rhode Islanders were gypped. They didn’t have an opportunity to go to their state house lighting of the tree and enjoy the tradition,” said Flanagan, who also believes Chafee is bowing to political pressure in his characterization of the tree.

But Chafee’s statement that no religion should take precedent in state buildings is undermined by a recent announcement that the state will hold a Menorah lighting ceremony to celebrate the beginning of Chanukah.

Doreen Costas, who protested the “Holiday Tree” controversy last year by holding a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in her office, has pointed out the hypocrisy of this statement, because unlike a Christmas tree, a Menorah is an actual religious symbol.

“If we have a Menorah in the State House, what are we going to call it – a candle with sticks?” said Costas.

For Chafee, the controversy shows no sign of abating.

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