Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Libertarian... Hmmm...

I haven't forgotten about your request to define Libertarian (at least for me). I've just been very busy. I'm working on it and will post soon. Trickier than it looks.

But why do I think you've asked me to put a "Kick Me" poster on my back, and I've agreed to do it? ;-)

- Steve

Monday, August 30, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What is a Libertarian?


Starting a new subject here...

When you have time, I wonder if you would define what you consider the concept of "libertarianism" to mean. Personally, I find the term to be fascinating.

I have in my collection a number of excellent reference books. Starting with my encyclopedias and dictionaries, I found libertarianism to be absolutely absent from my Britannica, as well as most of the dictionaries. Curious, that. I also have three or four compendiums on philosophy. Once again, the term is not even mentioned in them. Curiouser and curiouser...

I had decided to first see what I could learn about this term from bound volumes - and got essentially nowhere. So, reluctantly, I headed for the Internet. Wikipedia has a brave, confusing article on the term - with an external link to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

On reflection, I found this to be rather significant. "Bound volumes" (of reference) may constitute, if you will, a measure of a particular concept's gradual evolution. For instance, my 1944 Webster's cites libertarianism only briefly under the heading of "liberty". The term is then entirely excluded from the 1956 and 1969 editions. What this indicates, to me at least, is that the term had little or no common application at least up to the 70's. On the other hand, the Wikipedia and IEP articles are fairly extensive, which indicates perhaps that the term has only recently come into vogue.

I'm genuinely curious as to what you think the term means - and I don't mind telling you why. You have on more than one occasion identified yourself as a "libertarian". It seems to me this means you are guided (more or less) in your political thought by a specific set of principles. What are they?


P.S. This might be fun.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I'm Getting Old...

I was reading some notes about the lifestyle and attitudes of the college graduating class of 2014 (18-year-olds this year). Some selected observations to consider (some are original):

- They have never considered it unusual to find Korean-made cars on the Interstate, let alone parked in the driveway next door.

- They are used to quick and easy access to 500 channels of digital television, of which they only watch a handful, because there is nothing on worth watching.

- They are 'digital communicators' in the extreme and have never (or very rarely) created a hand-written letter or note using cursive script. E-mail is too slow. And they roll their eyes at the thought of using 'snail mail'. 'Stamps' are a dance move.

- They always have a cell phone with them, but do not wear a watch because they get the time from the phone. They don't know that pointing to your wrist was once a request meaning “what time is it?”. And they have never used a telephone with a cord connecting a handset to the base unit. Or had to untangle the cord. “Rotary Dial phone? What's that?”

- “Dirty Harry” is an unknown character, but they do recognize the same man as being a great movie director.

- They never worried about what the Soviet Union was doing around the world politically. And thinking that 'Russia' has ever had nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles aimed at the U.S. seems laughably unlikely. As a matter of fact, Russians and Americans have always been living together in Space.

- American has always had soaring levels of trade and huge budget deficits. China has always been and economic powerhouse and threat.

- The phrase “venti half-caf vanilla latte” not only makes perfect sense, it's a part of normal, daily statements on the street corner.

- They don't know of a world where Buffy has NOT always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other bloodsuckers at Hemery High.

- Their classmates all have at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority to them unless it involves "real" aliens from another planet.

- They have never seen John McEnroe play professional tennis.

- Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause. (And are to be quickly discarded in favor of a different ribbon, just as soon as the next popular cause comes along.)

- Gene Roddenberry, the father of 'Star Trek', has always been dead.

- DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.

- They have lived more of their life under Democratic presidents than under Republicans.

- Computers have always had at least a CD-ROM disk drive. And usually a DVD player. They have no idea what a “floppy disk” is.

- Czechoslovakia has never existed. Germany was never split into East and West.

- They're never seen a manned U.S. rocket launch that didn't use solid fuel propellants.

- Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall.

- Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

- American companies have always done business in Vietnam.

- Exposure to 'Witchcraft' had nothing to do with the comedic lives of Samantha and Darrin, but was all about being 'Charmed' while Harry Potter went to school.

- Kurt Cobain and Nirvana is on the classical 'oldies' radio station. “Stairway to Heaven' is considered 'easy listening music. This is fine because they don't listen to radio anyway - their music is downloaded and viral to its core.

- Their parents' favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as movies. And the next theater always has a flick staring their parent's comic-book hero.

- They don't remember when Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Dan Quayle or Rodney King were in the news.

- Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties.

- They probably assume that their parents' complaints about Black Monday had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street.

- 'Movie Animation' means Pixar or Dreamworks.

- Since they were born, the Dow Jones average has never been below 3500. Since they started elementary school, it's never been below 7000.

- “Barney” has always meant a purple dinosaur, never Barney Google or Barney Fife. Beethoven has always been a dog.

- Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.

- Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis.

- The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.

And, like all the generations before them, the class of 2014 considers themselves to be permanently 'hip', 'edgy', and 'in-the-know' on all the things that really matter. They have fast and easy solutions at their fingertips for each and every problem. And if - somehow - their ideas don't work in the Real World, it's not their fault - (a) their solution was sabotaged, or (b) they had good intentions, so the results don't really matter.

They are riding the waves of a fully-computerized technology-based culture that relies on iPhones and Blackberries for instant communication with others, they require rapid access to trivial and meaningless anecdotes 24/7, they demand quick-and-easy answers to any question - and they don't have a clue there is a huge difference between information and knowledge.

Once again, we are painfully reminded that a generation comes and goes in the blink of an eye. And despite their wishes and increasingly frantic efforts, they are, just like the rest of us, getting older and older...

And so it goes.

- Steve

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If You're Fishing for a Climate Change Skeptic, Don't Bait Your Hook Genuine Science


I call your attention to the fact that it is always easier to make an accusation than it is to verify it. The real damage occurs when people begin to accept accusations as facts without taking the extra time to discover if they are really true or not.

Back in February, on a short list of major problems with climate science, you posted this:

"To make matters worse, and proving this was not an isolated situation, the same thing happened again, aka AmazonGate, where the IPCC published and promoted claims of the impending endangerment of some 40% of the Amazon rainforest. (Bizarrely, even the WWF's own report on the Amazon forest doesn't support this conclusion. You'd think the IPCC's peer-review process would have caught that...)"

Let's take a closer look at "Amazongate" and see what we can learn about facts and accusations - and specifically, yours. I'll warn you, this is going to be a long post.

First mention of this "controversy" appeared at the website of British blogger Richard North, and was later carried as an article in The Times. Mr North had uncovered a supporting reference in the IPCC's 4th assessment which seemed a little fishy.

In the 2nd Volume (take note: by Working Group II) of the 4th IPCC Report, "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability", under chapter 13, "Latin America", Mr. North found the statement that "40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation...".

Reference for this conclusion was listed as "Rowell and Moore, 2000" ("Rowell, A. and P.F.Moore, 2000: Global Review of Forest Fires. WWF/IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, 66 pp. - as it appears in the reference section).

As noted, the Rowell and Moore publication is a product of the IUCN: The International Union for the Conservation of Nature. While it is an excellent report (you can download it here), its authors, Andy Rowell and Peter F. Moore were characterized as "green campaigners". From Mr. North's article:

"Thus, the IPCC is relying for its assertions that "up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation" on a free-lance journalist/activist and a specialist in policy and analysis relating to forest fires in Australia, Asia and South Africa."(my emphasis).

Not only that, but if you read through the article itself (I have), as Mr. North pointed out, you find no reference at all to the 40% Amazonian forest sensitivity figure.

Mr. North concluded:

"In all, then, the IPCC claim is a fabrication, unsupported even by the reference it gives, which it should not in any event have used as it is not a primary source."

Now this is the kind of accusation which really resonates in the denialist blogosphere. It perfectly fits the claim that climate science and global warming are being used by alarmists to further a radical, environmental agenda. But is that actually true?

Along comes George Monbiot, who wrote in a July 6th Guardian article:

"There is no doubt that the IPCC made a mistake. Sourcing its information on the Amazon to a report by the green group WWF rather than the abundant peer-reviewed literature on the subject, was a bizarre and silly thing to do.

...But far from “grossly exaggerating” the state of the science in 2007, as North claimed, the IPCC – because it referenced the WWF report, not the peer-reviewed literature - grossly understated it. The two foremost peer-reviewed papers on the subject at the time of the 2007 report were both published in Theoretical and Applied Climatology.

...The first paper, by Cox et al, shows a drop in broadleaf tree cover from approximately 80% of the Amazon region in 2000 to around 28% in 2100 (Figure 6). That is bad enough, involving far more than 40% of the rainforest...

So what does the second paper say? Betts et al go even further(2). In their model runs:

“By the end of the 21st Century, the mean broadleaf tree coverage of Amazonia has reduced from over 80% to less than 10%.” "

Mr Monbiot goes on to note that both papers were actually cited elsewhere in the IPCC AR4 report. And indeed they are. Here is the link he provides, which leads to a list of references supplied by Working Group I (keep that in mind).

BTW, the papers are:

1. PM Cox et al, 2004. Amazonian forest dieback under climate-carbon cycle projections for the 21st century. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 78, 137–156. DOI 10.1007/s00704-004-0049-4

2. RA Betts et al, 2004. The role of ecosystem-atmosphere interactions in simulated Amazonian precipitation decrease and forest dieback under global climate warming. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 78, 157–175. DOI 10.1007/s00704-004-0050-y

Back came Richard North with a July 29th response in The Guardian: " Response to George Monbiot: Why 'Amazongate' matters", in which he writes:

"That he (Monbiot) claims that there is research which supports the general thesis, is not the point. Apart from the fact that its meaning and value is arguable, the fact is that Working Group II of the IPCC did not refer to this work and did not call it in aid of its claim."(my emphasis).

In essence, what Mr North continues to claim is that the original Rowell and Moore reference still matters because it was included in the report in the first place. And, crucially, Working Group II (not WG I) - the group responsible for the section covering the Amazon forest, failed to mention the relevant, peer reviewed literature. In other words, even though peer reviewed literature did exist to support the "40%" claim, Working Group II was not aware of it - a fact which exposes their claim as a fabrication.

However, possibly what Monbiot, and certainly what North didn't realize, is that Working Group II really did cite the appropriate literature. Here is a link to page 253 (references) of Working Group II's report (Chapter 4) on Ecosystems, which is entirely the appropriate place to cite these papers. Note that the "Betts, etal" (and later, on page 255, the "Cox, etal") papers are clearly cited.

But wait, there's more. Remember, the IPCC report had quoted the figure of 40% of the Amazonian Forest's sensitivity to reduced precipitation, where as the Betts and Cox articles appear to support an even higher figure. Why is this?

Well, even before the Monbiot article, on June 20th, The Times had already published a correction of the North article, along with an apology for running it. From the correction:

"In fact, the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence. In the case of the WWF report, the figure had, in error, not been referenced, but was based on research by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) which did relate to the impact of climate change. We also understand and accept that Mr Rowell is an experienced environmental journalist and that Dr Moore is an expert in forest management, and apologise for any suggestion to the contrary."

and perhaps more to the point:

"In addition, the article stated that Dr Lewis’ concern at the IPCC’s use of reports by environmental campaign groups related to the prospect of those reports being biased in their conclusions. We accept that Dr Lewis holds no such view – rather, he was concerned that the use of non-peer-reviewed sources risks creating the perception of bias and unnecessary controversy, which is unhelpful in advancing the public’s understanding of the science of climate change. A version of our article that had been checked with Dr Lewis underwent significant late editing and so did not give a fair or accurate account of his views on these points. We apologise for this."

So now let's look back and again consider Mr. North's less substantial accusation that the 40% figure had to be a fabrication because: "the fact is that Working Group II of the IPCC did not refer to this work and did not call it in aid of its claim..."

Is this accusation credible?

No, it isn't - and for reasons which Mr. North, had he been a more responsible journalist, could easily have discovered. Here's why:

First of all, peer reviewed papers dealing with Amazonian Forest sensitivity to lower precipitation were appropriately referenced by Working Group II in a related chapter. STRIKE 1. Secondly, the 40% figure cited was actually backed up, as the Times Correction states, by published, peer reviewed research from IPAM (Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia) STRIKE 2.

Finally, the reference to Rowell and Moore had to be a typo. Why? Well, every single author and reviewer on Chapter 13 were drawn from institutions in South or Central America - and without doubt would have been familiar with the work of IPAM. Not only that, but many, if not all of them would almost certainly have previously cited IPAM material, if not collaborated with that institution first hand. Thus, since they had access to and knowledge of the IPAM material, they had absolutely no reason to fabricate the 40% figure and back it up with the wrong reference. STRIKE 3*.

So, after a patient examination of all the facts, "Amazongate" goes up in a puff of smoke, and turns out to be nothing more than an effort by a biased, right wing blogger to manufacture a controversy out of a mere typo. I want to conclude this post with a few important observations...

First of all, no matter how many times you repeat it, a lie is still a lie. This is something we should have learned back during the Red Scare and the McCarthyism of the 50's. Somebody makes an accusation, others pick it up, add to it, and the whole thing gets repeated over and over until it acquires the semblance of fact. Everybody's saying it, so it must be true - no?

The sad truth is, this is a game played with a stacked deck which favors the accusers. They make the accusations, and a credulous American public with a short attention span buys into them. Not necessarily because we are ignorant, but because we are intellectually lazy.

Now if those right-wing sources we rely on for judgements about climate science were really interested in the truth, they would have researched this phony controversy, as I have, and concluded it amounted to absolutely nothing. But Steve, they're not interested in the truth. All they really want is a means to discredit the science and the scientists which fairly calls their political views into question. Facts don't matter to these people.

Steve, it took me over half a day and well over a thousand words to refute a single accusation which took you only a single paragraph and a few seconds to make. This is the kind of odds the establishment of climate science is up against. I can't tell you how many times I've asked myself, "What's the point?". If you are so determined to believe these false accusations that you will not do this research yourself, why should I waste my time doing it for you?

I decided to create this post, not specifically to refute "Amazongate". I could have done the same thing with any of the other accusations you made in your earlier posts. My point here is to demonstrate that should you have the desire, you have the means to check these things out for yourself.



* note: If you question this conclusion, I'll go back and check academic references and resumes. However this process is very time consuming and in my opinion unnecessary in view of the fact that it is no more plausible to believe an expert physicist would not know about Einstein's work than a South American climate scientist would not know of IPAM.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Yep, Poor Prop 8

Chris, I *did* read the ruling. All of it.

As I tried to say, I agreed with the principle behind the challenge to the amendment by the gay activists. I also pointed out that the presentation in support of the amendment was bungled (by focusing on so-called 'wisdom' and reasoning behind it). Knuckleheads, one and all. I am surrounded by well-meaning buffoons on all sides.

Sidebar: IMHO, Someone should consider bringing impeachment proceedings against elected and appointed officials for refusing to 'defend' the state constitution, regardless of their personal feelings in the matter. But that's another matter entirely.

Let me say here that I disagree with the amendment itself *and* the ruling. Neither should have been necessary. IMHO, were it not for an activist judiciary 'finding' (inventing) rights out of thin air, it never would gotten this far. Oh well.

Nonetheless, a claim was made. The state court 'found' a 'right' in the State Constitution. The public disagreed with the court's ruling and took the correct legal approach to change the State Constitution in ways more to their liking. This lead to another challenge; throwing the California amendment against the U.S. Constitution. A (lower court) federal judge decided - for whatever reason - to overturn a legally implemented state constitutional amendment. Whether he did so in response to a mismanaged defense is not the point... he should have kicked it upstairs as being "above his pay-grade". Period. And the case should have been argued SOLELY on the merits of whether or not amending the State Constitution on this subject was within the rights and responsibilities of the citizens of California. Period.

I am reminded of Prohibition and where the U.S Constitution was amended, and, later, when the populous wished to change their decision, they had to amend the Constitution again. I fail to see why this procedure should not be followed in this case, just because it happened at a state level. (IMHO, they chose this path because the activists *knew* that winning their case in the court of public opinion was unlikely. And its much easier to influence a single judge, or small panel of judges, than it is to convince the populous as a whole of the correctness of your position.)

I won't argue that some kids are well-treated when raised by gays. There are some who are well-treated when raised in a traditional household. There are some who are well-treated in single-parent households. And, in all of those scenarios, there are also some children who are horribly abused. Yes, children should be nurtured and cared for. More power and kudos to anyone who does that, regardless of lifestyle. But that is not the point, either.

This is a Constitutional issue. It has a special focus on States Rights and Consent of the Governed. It strikes directly at the core question of "Who Decides"? *THIS* is the issue that needs to be resolved at the highest levels. It's not about what is best for the children or best for society or - for that matter - whether or not the concept of equal protection under the law applies in this case... It's about who has ultimate CONTROL over what the law *IS*. And that is a dangerously slippery slope indeed.

I strongly dislike that something as contentious as gay marriage is the lightning rod. It could just as easily have been abortion or illegal immigration. But here we are. Having this issue clouded by personal activities which do not belong in the courtroom is distasteful, to say the least. We cannot always choose our preferred battleground; this one is before us and the storm clouds are gathering.

Chris, I believe the future of the country is at stake. We've already had the Kelo decision from SCOTUS striking at the very core principle of private property rights. This decision will likely be just as far-ranging. *I* am fearful for *my* rights, too. And it would appear 'minority' rights (there is no smaller minority than One) are being relegated to the back of the bus, again - cast aside before the altar of political correctness.

The tyranny which exists under an unaccountable ruler (even if it's just a 'judge' and not a monarch) invariably leads to destruction.

And so it goes.

- Steve

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Despair is a sin"

I titled this post with the old cliche lest we both fall into the pit with our eyes closed.

Like you, I grow increasingly tired of the finger-pointing and meaningless drivel coming from all sides. Yes, we have an economic disaster looming, the likes of which has never been seen. The Great Depression will be fondly remembered by some as a time, "we all pulled together". Hogwash. You are correct in that the root of the problem is a societal change in attitude. It will be difficult to recover. Yes, as you pointed out, we got here by going for faster and cheaper... on promises that tomorrow will never come and that actions have no consequences.

Sadly, we can't go back to The Good Old Days of an 'industrial' lifestyle, anymore than we can turn back the clock or stop the rain. That means a new approach will be needed. Technology marches ever forward, and we must change with the times or perish.

I humbly suggest we consider going back and embrace that which truly got this country off the ground - a spirit of rugged individualism and a desire to Be Left Alone. No looking to some Big Brother to fix our problems that we ourselves caused with our bread-and-circus machinations. No requests of our government other than to provide for an even playing field where the same Rules apply to all. Where the political class does thing out of a sense to protect the rights of the minority - and there can be no minority smaller than the individual: a minority of one. A county that abandons individual rights and responsibilities does so at its peril - the tyrannical rule of the mob is not far behind. We need a rebirth of belief in something beautiful and value in each person, but also something special that is larger than themselves - a country where each can achieve his heights according to his own competence. And without trying to rig the game in anyone's favor.

I admit, it's a childish dream. But I dream of a time where the Best and Brightest willingly step forward to do what they can to address the issues at hand. Not out of a desire for self-promotion, or personal aggrandizement, but because they CAN DO THEY JOB. And then, once the job is done, they graciously step out of the public eye and return to their own tasks, leaving the next problem to someone else.

Sure, this is a dream where there *IS* a bit of "from each according to his ability", but there is no demand to distribute the results of such successes "to each according to his need". I only ask that the producer of True Wealth be allowed the courtesy of deciding what to do with what they have created, as opposed to allowing some bureaucratic functionary to make those decisions according to HIS whim and personal desires.

I believe that, when the capable are left to themselves, they will achieve greater things than we can imagine. Then, having done so, the table will be set for all to reap the rewards of a new age, a new time. Arising tide raising all ships, if you will. However...

As long as we focus on trying to find new masters to make our decisions and provide for our every petty desire, we will discover that the plantation we willingly build for our own slavery will be darker than any hell-hole ever envisioned by any doomsayer (including myself).

And the mob will one day look up at the world they have built for themselves and scream: "But I didn't *know*!"

I believe we - as a people, a country, a species - can rise above where we find ourselves today. But we will fail if we work to keep those around us - who are better able - from passing us by; we would be surrounded by midgets. Instead, I would rather do what I may to lift those around me to whatever heights they can achieve; whereupon, I will be surrounded by giants. In the battle for existence, I won't as many 'big and effective guns' on my side as possible, rather than try to win with a multitude of the barely competent. I'd rather march to battle behind someone who knows how to win, instead of just ambling along as part of a rag tag bunch that only worries about out-numbering the opponent.

We can climb out of this hole, if we have the will to do what it takes. That doesn't mean it will be easy, or even pleasant. But, then, doing the Right Thing rarely is.

Let us cast aside our despair. Step back and look again at the picture with new, fresh eyes and will see the silver lining within the dark clouds. We will see that we are so blessed with riches, that our despair is driven by our childish immaturity always wants more.

Fear not. Better days are ahead.

- Steve

I despair, again


The reason why I have lost interest in the issue of illegal immigration is that I've come to view the current debate as all form and no substance. Opinion makers in and out of Washington weigh in on treatments for the symptoms but not the disease. I consider this to be characteristic of today's American political landscape. We have become a people afflicted with a national case of attention deficit disorder. What we want are the quick fixes and the easy answers - as if some social phenomena, evolved over generations, are no different from a leaky faucet or a loose floorboard.

Just over 40 years ago, as a young man of 18 living in the proto-typical town of Marion, Indiana, I could have easily quit school and gone to work at any one of a dozen big factories. A determined man who took this course would not have gotten rich overnight, but with hard work and a little common sense could have bought a home and a couple of cars, started a family and eventually sent his kids to college. Health care? Such a man would probably have been covered from day one - 100% that is, with no deductibles or co-pays. And when he got married, his wife and kids would have been covered too - at no additional cost. Steve, most of even the smallest local businesses offered some form of health insurance. Not that it really mattered that much - in those days a guy without health insurance could visit a doctor and afford to pay for it.

My Dad worked as a white collar employee in the personnel department at the Marion RCA plant. I myself worked summers there while I was in high school and later on between semesters at Indiana University. The plant was constantly expanding. I can remember many occasions when management had to go out into neighboring communities on recruitment drives. Imagine that. Today, when any factory announces a few precious job openings, you always see hundreds, if not thousands of applications for every one position. In those days however, just about anyone who wanted to could easily have worked at least 20 or 30 hours of overtime a week - no matter what factory he worked at. I know, I was there. And by the way, you were too.

How did it all end? Back in 1987, Thomson SA, a French company, bought RCA. Eventually, due to the high cost of labor, the closed the Marion plant and moved most of its operations to Mexico. Isn't that ironic! Today we sit around complaining how illegals from Mexico are stealing our jobs. Here's a case over twenty years ago where they didn't even have to bother with coming up here to get them. A French company courteously shipped the jobs down to them.

What happened at RCA also happened to just about every other big factory in Marion - usually by the same scenario. And this in turn has been repeated in just about every city and town across America.

Now you can talk all you want about your housing bubbles, the CRA and sub-prime lending. You can finger the Barney Franks and the George Bush's for stupid government policies. Make the whole thing as sophisticated as you want, with all the dastardly villains a man could care for. But the reason why nobody can pay for or sell a home in Marion is a lot simpler than that. Steve, it all happened because the factories left town.

Steve, there has to be an incredibly important lesson in all of this. Today, we live in a dramatically changed America. Those blue collar jobs which constituted the bedrock foundation of our economy have all but disappeared. We still need TV's and computers and lawn mowers, but now we pay other nations to build them for us. This can't go on.

Blame? Sure, why not. Republicans are going to blame the unions. It was the greedy unions who literally priced their own people out of jobs. Democrats on the other hand are going to blame corporate America: the WalMarts, the Targets, and so on. None of this really gets to the essential truth that a successful society, like ours, will eventually achieve a standard of living so far above the rest of the world's that it cannot be sustained indefinitely. Sooner or later, someone hungrier than us is going to work harder for less.

When that happens, we begin to substitute the real wealth of manufacturing for the phony wealth of borrowing. And that is exactly what is happening now. You can rant all you want about how taxes are too high or too low. You can claim government spends too much or too little. But if you can get high enough above this whole charade, you begin to see that most of government taxing and spending is nothing more than a massive, communal effort to maintain a standard of living which is no longer possible. Sooner or later its going to catch up to us, and we'll be hauling our dollars in wheel barrows down to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread.

OK, let's build our fence along the border - and not let so much of a mouse in. Lets send all the illegals back home and start over. Steve, the only thing this is going to do in the long run is force businesses to bring them all back into this country by way of a "guest worker" program which already exists. Oh and, *surprise*, that program is actually counter-productive - not just for the businesses which would find themselves paying more for labor, but for you and me too - average citizens who would inevitably foot the bill.

So, send them back, or give them amnesty and keep them here. Whatever. As a moral question, I would favor amnesty. These are the same, hungry people who are doing the jobs most Americans don't want anyway. At a minimum, they just might teach us how to get by with a whole lot less: a skill all of us are going to have to learn in the coming years.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Alas, Poor Prop 8, I knew him well...


It now appears that no path to the Supreme Court exists for Judge Walker's Prop 8 ruling. The substance of the issue may of course arrive at the Supreme's doorstep in a year or so, but not in the form of an appeal of this ruling. Only the State of California, as represented by Governor Schwarzenegger and its relevant officials (each named in the suit), have the legal standing to appeal the decision - and they have decided to let the ruling stand. Erstwhile proponents of Prop 8 are trying to figure out how to either gain standing, or ally with a county agency with (a theoretical) existing standing. But by all accounts they are fighting a losing battle.

Sure, lets "agree to disagree", but I still think you should take a few moments to read through the first 30 or 40 pages of the ruling.

Documents like these never fail to impress me. The ruling runs to 138 pages and is a marvel of objective logic, impartially applied. You may not agree with judge Walker's decision, but its hard for anyone to say he didn't thoroughly consider every detail of testimony, as well as the applicable laws and legal precedents.

One thing which really stands out is the poverty of evidence which the Defendant "Intervenors" presented on behalf of the State. What it consisted of was almost entirely the testimony of David Blankenhorn, the founder and president of The Institute for American Values. As a witness, Mr. Blankenhorn was particularly ineffective. From Judge Walker's ruling:

"Blankenhorn noted that marriage would benefit same-sex couples and their children, would reduce discrimination against gays and lesbians and would be “a victory for the worthy ideas of tolerance and inclusion.” Tr 2850:12-13. Despite the multitude of benefits identified by Blankenhorn that would flow to the state, to gays and lesbians and to American ideals were California to recognize same-sex marriage, Blankenhorn testified that the state should not recognize same-sex marriage. Blankenhorn reasoned that the benefits of same-sex marriage are not valuable enough because same-sex marriage could conceivably weaken marriage as an institution." (my emphasis - jeesh, I could have emphasized the whole thing!)

How ironic. Defendants here seem to have put up a better witness for plaintiffs than for themselves. Mr. Blankenhorn clearly enumerated several, compelling reasons why the court should not consider an "equal protection" exception for Prop 8, while his only reason for an exception was that same sex marriages would simply change the nature of the marriage contract - and this, without being able to adequately explain how this mere change in nature is supposed to weaken it. An impartial observer would most likely conclude that if Mr. Blankenhorn was really serious about strengthening the marriage contract, he would have fought tooth and nail against Prop 8.

One more thing. I've enjoyed our posts on this issue, but before we bury it, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention one other detail.

Personally, I don't have a problem with social conservatives expressing the view that traditional marriage generally benefits society, while same sex marriages harm it. Naturally, I don't agree with this line of thinking, but neither do I consider it dishonest. Like you, I grew up in a traditional family and can't imagine what it would be like to have had either two moms or two dads instead.

In my heart however, I think what our children and our society need most today is loving, stable relationships - and Lord knows they are hard to come by. Steve, I guess I'm just not a big fan of gay sex. But I am a huge fan of people who live up to their commitments to each other and their responsibilities as parents. If they happen to be gay, well, what of it? What every kid needs most today is not just a roof over his or her head, but also a shoulder to cry on when they are sad and someone up in the stands to shout "hooray!" every time they make a basket or catch a line drive.



Campaign follies - one more

One more thing... No more automated calls of any kind. Only LIVE people. And they can only talk about themselves and what they think. No one can speak for anyone else.

That means if Newt, Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi, the President, Howard Dean, Michael Steele, et.al. - whoever - want to encourage me to vote for their chosen candidate, THEY have to call me personally. Live. No recordings. Ditto for all campaign workers. Heck, it applies to the Candidate themselves! Tell me what YOU think, not why someone else is endorsing so-and-so.

That would cut down on the calls a LOT.

- Steve

Campaign Follies - response

I agree with your post. I've been getting those calls, too. Both sides. Typically, at the most inconvenient moment of the day.

IMHO, this time around Conservatives smell blood in the water and are circling in vast numbers. That shouldn't be necessary, but horn tooting is the order of the day. *sigh* I am reminded of similar calls I received during 2008, - from liberals, surprise, surprise - which devolved in many cases to "It's all Bush's fault, so vote for me!" Same song, just circling in the opposite direction. *sigh*

Why not open the window for candidates to apply FOR ALL ELECTED OFFICES by the first Tuesday in August (but they cannot 'campaign' until August). Primary elections on first Tuesday in September. Runoffs (if any) on 3rd Tuesday in September. Full Campaigns to start on first Tuesday in October. General Election on first Tuesday in November. All other "campaigning" - including phone calls, signs, TV spots, etc. are prohibited outside those dates... except for special elections, which have a similar, and very tight, schedule to follow.

It might not be perfect, and the candidates hardly better, but at least the nonsense would be over quicker.

Oh... and Caller ID should be provided by telephone companies - as a public service - at no charge during campaign season... then, we'd all know when to avoid answering the phone.


- Steve

Campaign Follies


You will have to forgive me, but my "tipping the hangman" post was prompted mostly by the ridiculous robo-calls I have been receiving from Republican candidates - larded up, if you will, by the truly moronic and tasteless flyers I have been receiving in the mail. Somehow, I, a flaming, tree-hugging, free-swinging liberal, got put on some Republican mailing list. The year before last I even got a signed "best wishes" pic from John and Sarah. Jane, as staunch a conservative as ever walked the Earth, got bupkis from them.

This is not to say we libs don't have our fair share of hypocrites and ne'er do wells. Its just that lately, to my eye and ear, the conservative stuff is wailing the tar out of the liberal stuff when it comes to cheesy, hard to swallow promises. I even got a robo-call from some dude running for a minor, Paulding County office which led with his promise that he would do "everything in his power" to put a stop to illegal immigration - which made me stop and wonder how much power the office of dog catcher can bring to this issue.

My take on this is at least the liberals this year have paid us the courtesy of lying by omission. Cons on the other hand are lying by, well, lying. Not much to base your vote on I know, but if you have to vote for a liar, at least you have the opportunity of voting for a good one.

Nathan Deal's robot called me the other day and explained why his Republican primary opponent for Governor, Karen Handel, was about the only person in the universe capable of making Jabba the Hut look like Billy Graham. Apparently, Ms Handel favors giving money to promote gay sex between adult men and boys as young as 13. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, at least according to this tele-marketing R2D2. Imagine that. If this is the character of his campaign against a fellow Republican, what will he use against his Democratic opponent, napalm?

At age 60, my experience with American political shenanigans covers a lot of ground. I'm willing to concur that liberals in many past election cycles have trotted out the worst and most outrageous lies imaginable. The campaign of Hubert Humphrey (an otherwise decent fellow) was one notable example. They set the bar high - but these days conservatives seem to be clearing it with relative ease.


Prop 8 closure - paging SCOTUS!

I guess we're just going to have to agree-to-disagree on this one.

First, the presentation of the case was completely bungled. For purely political reasons, the state AG refused to defend his own state's legal defined constitution - and that's his JOB for heaven's sake! And that's only part of the problem with how this case was mismanaged from all sides. It's a mess, to be sure. And to allow a poorly managed presentation in a lower federal court to be used as justification for overturning a state constitutional amendment is dangerous (no, it's not that same as overturning a state law).

Second, it is the function of the court to protect the legally defined rights of individuals. THAT aspect of this case, for those who disagree with the amendment as written, is CORRECT. If an injured party believes its rights or legal protections are in danger, they have the right (and obligation) to ask the courts to address their complaint. I have no qualm with that position. But you need to go to the proper venue.

Short form: I think constitutional questions need to be handled at higher levels than was done in this case. I believe its the responsibility of the SCOTUS to properly rule on *all* conflicts between a State Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. That's where such issues will end up anyway. SCOTUS refusing to hear the case means the amendment stands as is. Simply, lower courts should have the Good Sense to stay away from issues of conflict between State Amendments and the U. S. Constitution. That doesn't mean it has happened that way in the past, but that was the idea in the beginning.

Now, if this was the case of a state LAW conflicting with the U.S. Constitution... a different matter. Precedence of existing rulings on constitution grounds have their place. But there has been no constitutional ruling on gay marriage, *other* than the California Amendment to its own state constitution to prohibit it. Q: How can a state constitutional amendment be "unconstitutional"? A: Only if it is in *direct* conflict with the U.S. Constitution. Why are we wasting time in lower courts? (because one side sees an advantage, and that is wrong, too).

The correct venue for such a ruling belongs to SCOTUS, not a U.S. District court, and definitely not a lower federal court. If a law should be set aside (enjoined, suspended, stayed, etc.) it makes sense to go through the process of dong that in the fastest method. But a constitutional issue? You *know* it's going to go up the line, regardless of the ruling at lower levels - it only makes sense to go where the ruling belongs.

This issue needs to be addressed by SCOTUS. Regardless of the ruling there, one side (or the other) will be dissatisfied. *BUT* there are procedures which may be followed (by the citizenry) to overturn the ruling of SCOTUS. This is Consent of the Governed in action. The purpose of the 13th and 14th amendments were in response to slavery and have (through SCOTUS rulings) been applied in other areas as well. Those are the rules; that's how our system is supposed to work.

If there is a need to implement a national policy on gay marriage, then go through the LEGISLATIVE process to do it. If you can't do it legislatively, DO NOT try to circumvent the rules by using the judiciary to get your way. The ERA Amendment (whether a good idea or bad) failed, its saving grace is that they tried to follow the rules: gay marriage is no different from the ERA, abortion, flag burning, and other so-called 'moral' issues. IMHO, right now - just like all other issues affecting marriage - the legal control is in the hands of the states.

But, as I said, we're just going to have to agree-to-disagree on this one. Nice posts on both sides.

- Steve

Tipping the Hangman

A short response (for a change) -

I've always felt that the BEST kind of elected official was the guy that didn't want the job. He just stepped up to do something that needed to be done out of a sense of civic duty. His full intention was to 'serve his time' (or 'giving back' in the popular parlance), and then return as quickly as possible to dealing with matters directly impacting his own (private) life. The last thing on his mind would be creating a 'career' out of 'public service', and certainly he didn't approach the job with the intention of providing favors friends (and himself). I think they used to be called 'statesmen' or something like that, and are quickly becoming extinct. Pity the EPA and PETA don't see the value and trying to preserve THAT particular species.

Anyone that pursues elective office - regardless of party affiliation - on that specific principle (few and far between as we've seen) typically gets my support until proven otherwise. But the pickings are slim. Sorting through the chaff and chad for these 'pearls of great price' is time-consuming and usually fruitless. *sigh*

- Steve

Prop 8 - (sigh) - again


With all due respect, I'll have to admit I'm not impressed by your last post on Prop 8. It seems to me you are simply using a lot of words to re-formulate a flawed line of reasoning.

If you accept that State governments do not have the right to pass legislation which violates the Constitution, which seems a rather self-evident premise, than you must also recognize the legitimacy and purpose of some legal forum which enforces that premise. Logically, shouldn't that forum be a Federal court and a Federal judge? Where and who else would you suggest, The People's Court and Judge Judy?

You seem to be saying there are exceptions to the Constitutional mandate of equal protection, but your application of this notion to the ruling on Prop 8 is unconvincing. Once again, the State of California could not provide any evidence that an exception to this mandate was called for. If they had, at least Judge Walker would have had a basis for kicking this can down the street. But they didn't. For heaven's sake, read the transcript - or Judge Walker's accurate summary of it.

Steve, States can't go around passing legislation (or amendments) willy nilly which violate our constitutional rights. The 14th ammendment was passed specifically to address this issue. I can't think of any sounder application of it than Judge Walker's.

But setting aside the legalities for a moment, its pretty obvious to me that Prop 8 itself represents the kind of unnecessary government intrusion into our private lives which seems to rankle you so. Stand up for your principles, man!


How much should you tip the hangman?


While considering this year's crop of louts, buffoons, hustlers, frauds, and clodhoppers running for office this year, I was suddenly stuck by the most stunningly sick joke expressed by American politics, which is that people actually pay money to get this riff-raff elected.

It is as if the highest priced item on the menu at a restaurant was bits of garbage from the dumpster out back - or the most expensive show on Broadway was three hours of gibbering baboons. Or, after being mugged and violated, asking the mugger to wait while you go to the bank and get him some more money. Or how much, exactly, should a condemned man tip the hangman?

Steve, this is money you could be using to improve the world, or at least to buy a new circular saw.

How is this possible? After combing the back alleys, saloons, and off-track betting parlors, and dragging from them a preposterous collection of side-show freaks, how can they ask us with a straight face to pay money we have honestly earned to get these nitwits elected?

It makes no sense. It is black comedy on a scale so vast it warps the boundaries of reality. Of the money we "contribute", a good half of it magically disappears into the pockets of "political consultants" recruited from the ranks of unemployed carnival barkers. Most of the rest is then spent to fabricate and broadcast the most absurdly implausible lies they tell on one another. If anything is left, the balance is used for hush money to keep the candidate's embarrassing peccadillo's quiet.

Steve, its grand, side splitting humor that anyone not confined to a mental institution should actually spend the few minutes it takes to vote for one of these mountebanks - especially when this represents time one could be spending in more useful pursuits. Like clipping toenails for example. But to up the the ante of this farce by voluntarily paying for it transcends mere humor.

After they're elected, they will steal enough from us. Why can't we just leave it at that?


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Judges should not legislate - follow-up #1


My Main Point is there is a HUGE difference between overturning a State Law and overturning a State Constitutional Amendment. The California state courts 'found' a right to gay marriage in the state constitution - the people decided to add-to the constitution, which is their right. Doesn't make the decision Right or Wrong, but those *are* the rules.

Remember, too, that the U.S. Constitution is primarily a negative instrument - it defines what the government may NOT do. One of the key points is the founding principle that the federal government may NOT do is impose its will upon the states (or its citizens), *EXCEPT* where that authority is expressly granted to Congress. To my knowledge, I can't see where authority on defining or regulating marriage is granted to Congress. Sorry. Besides, that the responsibility in those cases is granted to CONGRESS, *not* the Judiciary. My whole complaint is that this is a legislative issue, not a legal one. I'm *not* saying that the situation doesn't need to be addressed - I'm saying it's not a Federal Judge's job to do it without clear Constitutional guidance.

And, NO, I don't see the 14th's "equal protection" clause as a valid argument. There are numerous situations where laws (state and federal) specifically prohibit allowing certain things under the law: holding elected office, getting a license, etc.; I pointed out several situations in my post. And unless specifically granted to Congress, authority for those controls pass down to the states. And when who has the control is not "clear", it passes to the states by default. And the citizenry, has ultimate control over that entire process through the ballot box (including an Initiative process, as in California).

The federal judge's ruling in this case to overturn a State Constitutional Amendment has a far greater scope than appears on the surface. It's arguable, under that ruling, that *any* state cannot regulate, certify, allow/disallow, "marriage" in *ANY* way: the ages, number of participants, participants gender, the species that are involved... ANYTHING and EVERYTHING goes! This is clearly one of those 'unintended consequences' situations waiting to explode - and, No, I'm not over-stating the situation: think about where this *could* go.

The history of Prohibition provides an example of how to (properly) overturn an Amendment you don't want - this time, it's happening by judicial fiat, and it's Wrong. Please don't misunderstand me: there *is* a legislative path (related to the 13th and 14th) which would have justified this ruling, but that hasn't happened.

IMHO, the federal judge should have set aside (or even dismissed) the case under the idea that over-turning a legally implemented state Constitutional Amendment is outside *his* jurisdiction. In other words - kick it upstairs (where its going to end up anyway). Trying to guarantee the decision *he* wanted, in spite of opposition of the citizens of the state, is the source of the judge's error. Clearly, he was more concerned with achieving a particular outcome than he was in doing his job - ruling in accordance with the law.

If management of an issue is not specifically (and clearly) granted to Congress via the Constitution itself, then control passes to the states. Period. That doesn't guarantee the state legislators (or their citizens) will exercise that power correctly or like everyone desires... but those are the rules. Please re-read my post with this perspective in mind.

And re-consider the phrase: "Consent of the governed".

- Steve

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Regarding Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling in Perry vrs Schwarzenegger, its hard for me to believe that you, of all people, would be offering this kind of opinion. You claim to be a champion of individual rights. When did you change your mind?

The principle you are using to argue against the ruling is precisely the same principle which Prop 8 sought to undermine. To wit: does the government have the right to tell private citizens who they can marry? Steve, what you are saying is that the State of California has the right to define what constitutes marriage. Coming from a man who is constantly railing against government imposed social engineering, this is a breathtaking contradiction.

Before we go any further, lets get Judge Walker's constitutional argument out of the way. Section 1 of the 14th amendment clearly states:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Simply put, Judge Walker ruled that California was depriving same sex couples of equal protection.

Suppose, for example, the State of California passed a law which made it illegal for midgets to drink beer. Would the State have the constitutional right to enforce this law? Obviously not. This would be denying midgets the same treatment under law as any other Citizen. By extension, if couples of the opposite sex have the right to enter into the legally protected institution of marriage, wouldn't denying couples of the same sex this right be denying them equal protection? Judge Walker thought so. I do too. And so will the Supreme Court in a few years - despite its right leaning composition.

Now what constitutes "legal protection"? The first most obvious example of course is taxation. Married couples who file jointly are entitled to a lower rate of tax than they would be if they filed separately as single persons. I'm going to also point to just a few other legally protected rights which married couples enjoy: visitation rights at hospitals, rights of survivorship in matters of marital property, divorce law (including custodial rights) - not to mention legally condoned discounts on things like health insurance and club memberships. I'm sure I'm leaving out a great deal more than I'm including.

Now is it "right" or "proper" to deny same sex couples the same marital rights as opposite sex couples? I agree with you that this is a moot point - and entirely irrelevant to the constitutional issue. However the State of California tried to run this race off the track and offered in a rather lame defense of its legal standing the evidence that same sex marriages are harmful to society in a number of ways. Although the right wing media are castigating him for ruling on this evidence, it was not Judge Walker's idea to consider it in the first place. If you want, you can go to Judge Walker's ruling and read, under "Findings of Fact" how the Prop 8 defendants failed, in court, to establish any factual basis for promoting the the passage of this legislation. By the way, I've read through some of the testimony on this evidence and agree with Judge Walker that the testimony of behalf of the defendants is not only pathetic - but in some cases actually buttresses plaintiff's case.

Steve, I think what you are forgetting here in your zeal to censure the Federal Government is that State Governments have the same dangerous tendency to interfere in our private lives as the Federal Government does. As a mental exercise, ask yourself if the 14th amendment was passed as a way of increasing either federal power or the power of individual citizens. If your answer is the former, all you are really saying is that the Federal Government, acting on behalf of the constitution, has no standing to enforce it. That, frankly, is crazy.

If you want to move on to what I honestly believe is your real objection to the ruling, I'd be perfectly happy to do so.



Judges should not legislate

Prologue: A federal judge ruled that a California State Constitution Amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman is unconstitutional. He also held that the states do not have an interest in such legislation...

I really don't like jumping into the fray over the Gay Marriage issue as raised in California, but I feel I must. I do this only because I don't see anyone looking at this issue from any position other than whether or not “gay marriage” is right or wrong (morally and/or ethically). I do NOT think that is the correct issue.

It's about upholding the Rule of Law and the constitutional Separation of Powers.

I think the judge's decision is flawed. I also think it is a power grab of enormous consequence. We're talking about overturning, by federal judicial fiat, a duly implemented Amendment to a State Constitution. Not a law. Not a ruling. Not a bureaucratic regulation or invention - a (state) Constitutional Amendment. This is not an insignificant matter. It is arguable this federal judge is imposing his personal(!) view of the desirability of the Amendment upon the citizens who have demonstrated they wish to do otherwise. Herein lies a path to doom and destruction.

To begin: this issue has nothing to do with whether gay marriage is a good or a bad idea. I personally DON'T REALLY CARE what you do in your own home. My personal opinions and agreement with or disgust with private practices that do not directly interfere with *my* personal rights is immaterial from a political and/or legal perspective. Instead, the issue that is REALLY at the core has to do with the fundamental purpose and scope of constitutional law.

In the case of gay marriage, some states adopted (allowed) gay marriage either by legislation or through state judicial action. The legitimacy of those actions was not in question in this case, nor should it have been (State's rights). In California, the state courts had found a 'right' to gay marriage. However, in response to that ruling, and through the constitutionally legal Initiative process, the people of California amended their state constitution to forbid that. The trial should have been over the right of the citizens of the state to make such a decision. The California Amendment can *only* be overturned if it is clearly in conflict with the US. Constitution. (It isn't: the Constitution is silent on the matter. Sorry.) We're not talking about the way things ought to be or the way a vocal minority/majority would like it to be - we're talking about the Law.

Instead it became a trial over the “wisdom” of the amendment. The judge wanted to hear evidence that forbidding gay marriage had some legitimate state purpose, and part of his ruling is that the state has no such reasonable and legitimate end. Whether he is right or wrong about such ends is beside the point. The fact remains that those issues are clearly legislative matters. I have doubts that even the currently defined Supreme Court will be able to find such a foundation to justify that ruling overturning the Amendment. This is not about enforcing mob rule (e.g., 'democracy' in action). It *is* about the separation of powers and the relationship between the federal and state branches of government. The U.S. Constitution DOES NOT provide for the Federal Government to substitute its judgment for that of the state legislatures or state citizenry *EXCEPT* where Congress is explicitly granted such powers. The amendments where the Gay Marriage ruling must be grounded in Constitutional law do NOT mention equality of the sexes and genders.

It should be noted the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) *DID* cover this topic. But, for better or worse (arguable either way), the ERA failed of adoption by the states. If the ERA *had* become part of the Constitution, there wouldn't have been a question about the power of Congress, and a bit more about the power of the Supremes to *impose* acceptance of Gay Marriage upon the states over their objections, if any. But the ERA wasn't adopted: it didn't happen. Therefore, neither Congress nor SCOTUS has been given explicit power over the matter, as required by the principle of Separation of Powers.

*** A sidebar comment on the ERA itself - Through much of the early 20th Century ERA amendments were introduced in Congress by Republicans and rejected by Democrats. General Eisenhower was in favor of the ERA, as were many women's rights organizations. Other women's organizations wanted special provisions to allow work rules that would shield female office workers from heavy lifting, require nursing rooms, etc. Eleanor Roosevelt opposed the ERA on the grounds that women needed certain protections. The arguments tend to be sociological, not legal. Which, IMHO, is one reason (among many) why the legislation failed. The point: the ERA is not (was not) a Democrat vs. Republican or Liberal vs. Conservative issue. I raise this point to show that both parties have positioned themselves on either side of the ERA legislation from time to time as deemed politically expedient. ***

The U.S. Constitution grants specific powers to the federal government. All other powers, including matters such as slavery and racial equality, were left to the states. The states are free to adopt mutually inconsistent laws (one of the few things they don't avoid doing), unless Congress has been given (and exercises) jurisdiction. What one state may see as a virtue, another may see as a vice - and that's OK... IMHO, that is precisely what was intended by the Framers, with the issue of 'slavery' being the best example. I've read that John Adams (for one) personally hated the institution of slavery, but in order to form the Union, he agreed not to forbid it at a federal level so that those states which favored allowing slavery could continue to do so. The Civil War Amendments gave explicit authority to Congress over the states in certain matters. Those Amendments did NOT abolish state sovereignty.

The Nineteenth Amendment gave women the vote. The old joke went, "The boys went overseas to war and came back to find that they couldn't drink and women could vote." However, the Nineteenth Amendment still did not specifically take aim at or directly change divorce and alimony laws in the various states. It should be noted that by granting women voting rights, such laws were subject to change, and such changes did occur - but not through 'judicial' mandate.

Whether or not gay marriage is a good idea, whether or not the legal effects of marriage are achieved by a Civil Union, whether or not states have a legitimate purpose in allowing or forbidding gay marriage should NOT be a part of a federal trial before a federal judge. As this case wanders through the court system, the arguments *ought* to be more focused on following the established constitutional limits of the judiciary to pass judgment on legislative matters. It is not for the courts to debate the wisdom of allowing or forbidding gay marriage. That is a legislative matter. Period.

OK - Here's my Key Point - Once you begin to hand over purely legislative matters to judges appointed for life, you have abandoned the principle that governments derive their just rights from the consent of the governed. (It's arguable this was done long ago, and the current environment is just another step down a familiar and dangerous road. But set that aside for now.) We abandoned that particular governmental principle when we threw out rule by monarchy.

OK.. OK... I can hear the counter-arguments starting... Would it be inappropriate if a federal judge overturned a law preventing blacks to marry? Or preventing blacks from marrying whites? Why is it an overstepping of bounds when a federal judge overturns a law that tries to prevent two adults of any sort from marrying? Given that - according to some, but without objective proof - a tendency towards homosexuality is a genetic condition, just as skin color is a genetic condition, it seems odd to allow discrimination against the one (no matter how many people vote for it or desire it) and not the other...

#1 - There is a HUGE difference between overturning a LAW versus overturning an AMENDMENT to a State Constitution. Adding Constitutional Amendments - state or federal - is not supposed to be easy for that very reason. And it isn't.

#2 - Social engineering forced upon an unwilling populous is dangerous and painful, no matter how well-intentioned, especially when it comes from an unaccountable judge on the bench.

BUT - More importantly - that entire argument ignores the fact that the Civil War Amendments *gave* Congress specific power over the states with regard to race. The 14th and 15th Amendments were intended to accomplish that result. But the Civil War Amendments were not self-enforcing.

Let me take a moment to be perfectly clear - I am *NOT* in favor of segregation, but that I am very much against the Courts assuming legislative duties and trying cases on so-called “sociological evidence”. I believe that the law ought to be color blind - Period. Preferential treatment under the law in ANY direction is wrong. I strongly believe in the Constitutional separation of powers, and that no matter how good the result that comes from judicial legislation, it is a very bad precedent, and ultimately destructive.

The federal courts DID overturn laws that forbade blacks to marry whites. But they only did so citing the U.S. Constitutional Amendment that specifically forbids the states from denying anyone the equal protection of the laws, and it was recognized the intent of the Amendment was to establish the rights of the freedmen. If one had put to that Congress, or to the state legislatures that had to accept the Amendment, that this established the right of blacks to marry white, the results are not entirely determinable. Congress never acted on the matter.

That said, I think there is no question regarding the opinions of large majorities of the citizenry on the subject of same-sex marriage. You cannot reasonably infer that any legislative body adopting the 13th and 14th Amendments *ever* contemplated that issue. Of course we can get around this conflict fairly easily - all that is required is an Act of Congress clearly defining "privileges and immunities". They have not done so.

Consider: among other things, the individual states control “Licensing” for various professions. Doctors, Insurance Agents, Cars Dealers, Plumbers, Hairstylists, etc. Each state sets its own licensing requirements. In a similar fashion, each state can require particular provisions (e.g., insurance mandates) for certain products sold in their state. There is no question that the 'equal protection under the law' is not an issue. Such power - regardless of how beneficial such standardization might be - does not explicitly rest with the federal government; it's handled by the states.

*** Sidebar: We all know there is a LOT of political discussions about creating a federal statute for mandated health care insurance coverage which would take this control away from state regulators. No one (seriously) suggests that the Constitutional clause for 'Equal Protection' is THE reason we should do it. Instead, the argument (correctly) is over whether or not we want the federal government to have that specific wide-ranging power. ***

Another point, and closer to the gay marriage issue - Each state has its own laws on the minimum AGE for a couple to become married. Old TV/movie stories frequently used a plot-line device where a young couple had to “cross the state line so they could get married”. No one questioned the constitutionality of this arrangement - everyone accepted that each state could set its requirements as they saw fit. Under the federal ruling in the California case, could a young couple (regardless of gender groups) argue that prohibiting their marriage (which each person wanted), was a violation under equal protection? What about polygamy? And this scenario is just concerning a mere state LAW, not overturning a legally implemented (state) Constitutional Amendment.

One more: I won't go into detail here for obvious reasons, but could you argue, under the Equal Protection clause, that states should not be allowed to force membership in an 'approved' union before obtaining a job? Some states have “Right to Work” laws (Georgia is one); others do not. Is it morally and ethically correct to restrict one's employment options - and thus restricting their personal survival - in this manner?

Simply put: It is not for the courts to determine legislative matters. The point of legislation is that it is the proper expression of the consent of the governed. It is not for the courts to make those determinations. I can argue for or against the idea that the average judge is smarter than the average Senator. We can point fingers at various instances where the courts are better (or less) able to legislate than the Congress and/or state legislatures. Perhaps the world would be better off if we were all ruled by the best and the brightest; but that is not the world we live in. Besides, just WHO gets to decide on WHO to put in charge and over WHOM?

THE founding principle of this country is that our government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Judges should not and cannot attempt to manage our 'consent' for us. Those powers are given to legislatures. If laws are unjust, how can judges enforce them? That is a question of jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court has the authority to run its house as it chooses. But it does not have that same power over state courts. This, in my judgment, is the right way to deal with the issue. Leave it to the states and their legislatures. The same ought to have been done with abortion, and with school segregation and potentially assigned to other areas (social security and retirement). The CORRECT remedy to ending segregation was to clearly establish voting rights, which were very properly within the constitutional authority of Congress. When they *finally* got around to that, they did more to end Jim Crow than the court interventions ever did.

RIGHT NOW, Congress has authority over the states in matters of race. It attempted to gain such authority in matters of sex, but the ERA was not adopted by the states and is not part of the Constitution. Congress might assert such authority by defining "privileges and immunities" in an Act of Congress, but it has not done so. Until that time, I would say that the plea to allow or disallow gay marriage ought to be directed to the state legislature, or, in the case of California, directly to the people - who have already spoken on the matter. Right or wrong, the ball is, and belongs in, the people's 'court'.

In any case, such decisions should not be up to judges.

- Steve

Monday, August 2, 2010

LRA&H Cook Book - Lemon Upside-Down Cake in a Crockpot

Yeah it sounds weird - you use a crockpot? - but it actually works, and is quite good... Easy, too.

* Cake

1 box yellow or lemon cake mix
1 pkg. lemon pudding mix (instant)
1 pkg (8 oz) sour cream
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup water
4 eggs
2 tsp lemon juice

* Sauce

1 Tbl butter or margarine
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice - (or the juice from 1 or 2 lemons)

In a large bowl, mix together the cake ingredients and stir until well moistened. Spread batter in a lightly greased 3 1/2 quart slow cooker. Then combine sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour boiling mixture over the batter. Cover and cook on HIGH for 2 1/2 hours. Edges will be slightly browned. Turn heat off and leave in the pot for about 30 minutes with cover slightly ajar. When cool enough to handle, hold a large plate over the top of the cooker then invert. Enjoy.

- Steve

They Do It Right on Burbon Street...


Here's my idea of a fantastic weekender vacation. Run on down to New Orleans and get yourself checked into a room in the Burbon Orleans Hotel. Then head on over to The Acme Oyster House and down about three platters of oysters on the half-shell, along with a pitcher or two of ice cold beer. Try the Abita Amber - they have it on tap. Then, when your feeling good and mellow, check out the Preservation Hall for music like this:

Steve, if that's not enough to get your motor running you are beyond hope...


Sunday, August 1, 2010

LRA&H Cook Book


Left, Right, Across and Hold is now accepting entries for the official, LRA&H Cookbook! Anyone can submit as many recipes as they want and none will be refused - no matter how disgusting or repulsive. With full comprehension of this mind-blowing responsibility, may I, ahem, humbly submit this initial offering. I like to call it:


You will need:

4 or 5 eggs
2, 3, or 4 fresh jalapeno peppers (habaneros if you have a death wish)
about 10 or 12 slices of pepperoni
a couple of shakes of pepper
1 or 2 handfulls of colby/jack shredded cheese
some cilantro (fresh is best)

OK, here we go. Chop up the peppers and pepperonis and mix them with the eggs in a bowl. Throw in the pepper, cilantro and cumin. If you want, take a tightly sealed jar of granular garlic, shake it over the bowl and enough will dislodge itself from the bottom of the jar to add a little character. Then, get yourself a medium sized, COVERED skillet, spray the bottom of it with Pam and crank up the heat. Just before the Pam starts to vaporize, throw in the egg mixture, turn the heat way down and put on the cover. This is crucial. You want the eggs to cook slowly from the bottom up.

When the eggs are about half done, throw in the cheese (and put the cover back on, dummy). After the cheese melts, turn the omelette over on itself - let it cook on one side, then turn it over and let it cook on the other side. Oh and by now even the least perceptive reader will know you have to keep putting the cover back on between operations.

When the omelette gets to be a golden brown, take it out, feed it to the neighbor's dog that keeps you up all hours with his constant barking, then go down to Waffle House to get yourself some real food.

No, seriously. If you like hot food this omelette is just the ticket. We call it "China Syndrome Omelette" because it melts a hole in your colon like a runaway reactor core. But do try to keep that image out of your mind while you are eating it.

-Chef Christophe