Saturday, July 21, 2012

SUPREME COURT CONSERVATIVES CONVERT DEMOCRACY TO OLIGARCHY

The Constitution of the United States makes the Supreme Court of the United States the only one of three branches of the federal government which is not democratic. Its nine members are not elected, but nominated, and usually approved by the Senate. Nor is it demographically representative of the people. Until recently, its justices were white men; today, it has one black man and three women, one of whom is Hispanic. Curiously, it has no Protestants though they constitute a majority of the population; instead, it has six Catholics and three Jews. The majority in the 5-4 decisions of the Roberts Court are all Catholics.

Analyses of the decisions of the Roberts Court overwhelming favor private corporations over the government, then state government over the federal government, then state or federal governments over individuals. The recent decision in the Affordable Care Act case is a possible exception proving the rule (maybe, depending how the denial of the applicability of the commerce clause in this case plays out in future cases).

Meanwhile, the members of the Supreme Court operate without any restrictions on their public or private behavior; no code of ethics restricts their associations or limits their conduct which might indicate the fact or the appearance of improper conduct. Thus, Associate Justice Anton Scalia accepted an invitation from Vice President Dick Cheney to go hunting, denied that their friendship would influence him in any matter before the Supreme Court, and was indignant that anyone would imagine him capable of susceptibility to the corrupting influence of friendship. Other conservative justices and he have attended expense-paid trips to lavish resorts for conferences sponsored by business or right-wing organizations, but deny any impropriety or any appearance of it (though the appearance is in the eye of beholder, not in the eye of the beheld). I do not trust this right-wing bloc on the Court to avoid impropriety, the appearance thereof, or politics uber alles.

One case and one case alone indicates the pro-corporatist political activism of this five-man, Catholic majority: Citizens United. Recent, pre-Obama legislation placing some restrictions on campaign contributions have reflected the wishes of a majority of Americans to control money in elections. This Supreme Court decision now equating money with speech and thereby giving money Constitutional protection under the First Amendment establishes as the law of the land the old, cynical adage that “money talks.” Everyone knows that the one-person-one-vote principle now gives way to another: big bucks matter more than small change.

My conspiracy theory is that the 2012 election will be, if the 2008 election was not, the last democratic national election involving a presidential contest. If unlimited funding, voter disenfranchisement, and voter intimidation succeed in winning one-party control of the White House and Congress, not to mention more governorships and state legislatures, Republicans will improve, expand, and intensify the means of this success in future elections. Corporate and fat-cat contributions to Republican candidate coffers will become political tithing supporting economic interests and thus a cost of doing business.

Two results are readily foreseeable. One, a Republican President and a Republican-controlled Senate will be able to appoint more Supreme Court justices who view their job more politically than judicially, and who will thereby reinforce Republican rule and corporate interests. Two, an increasingly dominant Republican Party fueled by its Tea Party caucus at federal and state levels will have a good chance of proposing and approving Constitutional amendments which “take the country back” to a minority-based government no longer reflecting the “consent of the governed,” but controlled by fundamentalist ideologues, the white, and, most influentially, the wealthy. Thus, the Supreme Court under institution-loving, individual-loathing conservatives will effect the transition from democracy to oligarchy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

WHY ROMNEY DODGES DISCLOSURE

I begin with Iraq in early 2003, before we attacked and invaded the country. Almost everyone accepted the argument that it had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). It began with a simple premise—Saddam Hussein refused to admit international inspectors into his country—and ended with a simple inference—obviously, he did so because he had to keep them from finding his WMDs. I did not accept the argument, and, some time before the war began, I put my disbelief in writing to friends with whom I corresponded about national security matters. Six months or so after we failed to find WMDs, analysts discovered what I had argued: Saddam had to fake that he had WMDs because only the threat that he possessed them deterred his enemies both foreign and domestic. He gambled on this bluff and lost.

I move on to Willard Mitt Romney and his refusal to disclose his tax returns and his business records with Bain Capital. Unlike Saddam, Romney really does have something to hide. His tax returns will reveal enormous amounts of money, probably an aggregate far greater than $250 million, obtained and deposited in various dubious, but certainly, legal tax-avoiding ways. Romney will turn out to be a clever and crafty but unscrupulous moneymaker without regard for doing his share for his country. Likewise, his business records will show him significantly involved in out-sourcing jobs as well as off-shoring money during the period in which he has repeatedly claimed inactivity in Bain Capital’s affairs. Either one would do lasting damaging to his campaign because it would fulfill the depiction of him as a businessman gaming the system in his interest but against America’s.

Although continued concealment of his tax returns and business records is proving damaging Romney is refusing the advice of many Republican wise men to disclose them. Republican apologists try to suggest that the Democrats would never be satisfied with any number of tax returns. I can think of two obvious numbers: either the number his father released (12?) or, better, the number he released to McCain (22?). As for his business records, he should release all those for the years in which he was Bain’s leader, real or nominal.

The question is why Romney is stonewalling that advice. My hunch—call it the Nixon hypothesis, if you want—is that he knows that disclosure at any time will be damaging. I note that McCain has not said that he has seen Romney’s tax returns and that they contain nothing discreditable. McCain’s silence on this subject is some evidence of damaging information in them. And his recent claim that Palin was a better candidate than Romney seems to be a signal of disaffection with Romney, if not a warning.

Romney’s strategy has boxed him in. Disclosure before the end-of-August Republican convention would make the convention unhappy, possibly to the point of denying him the nomination. After all, Republicans do not like him, and disclosure might lead them to believe that he cannot even defeat Obama on account of the discrediting information in those documents. Without the nomination, of course, he cannot win the election. But once he secures it, he can hope either to continue concealment and overcome the resulting Democratic criticism, Independent doubts, and Republican discomfort; or to make a disclosure and count on continued anti-Obama sentiment to retain support from Republicans, especially Tea Party members. The latter hope is a long shot, for they would then realize that they had been snookered by a wheeler-dealer, would probably respond with the anger at the betrayal, and would not vote in his favor in the necessary numbers—which is how Nixon’s strategy played out and led to impeachment.

Whatever Romney does now, he has lost the election, even if he wins the nomination.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

THE TEA PARTY DECLARES ITS INDEPENDENCE ON THE FOURTH

The Las Cruces Tea Party declared itself independent of the theme of the City’s Fourth of July parade, of state history, and of America’s core values.

The Fourth of July Committee set the theme for parade floats: New Mexico statehood, which began on 6 January 1912. Before this date, no state existed, so no state history existed, only pre-territorial and, from 1850 to 1912, territorial history. Moreover, the territory encompassed areas outside current state borders, including, until 1863, parts of Arizona. The parade theme set clear limits to celebrate the state’s centennial as part of the national observance of American independence.

Disrespecting the Committee and disregarding the limits of the theme, the LCTP secretly decided to make a float displaying all flags of “state history” since the arrival of the Spanish in the area. Its biased selection disguised its real purpose: to fly the rebel flag and thereby make its partisan statement expressing opposition to the federal government.

Departing from state history, the LCTP perpetrated its fraud with a bogus claim. A rebel flag did fly over the Palace of Governors for two weeks. But it was a military flag of a small unit of rebel troops, not the official flag of a legitimate territorial government. After Union forces ousted this small unit from Santa Fe and routed a larger unit at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in 1862, rebel flags still flew over rebel-occupied areas in the southern part of the territory. However, their flags never were government flags and never had legitimacy in the territory (or, technically speaking, anywhere else).

Despite its limit-breaking, theme-violating, history-faking float, the LCTP has the freedom of speech to express its loathing for the federal government, which, ironically, guarantees all citizens the right to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution. But having the right to free speech does not mean that the free speech is right. In exercising its free-speech right, the LCTP, which pretends to patriotism, displays its subversive inclinations.

In response to the prominent display of the rebel flag in the city’s parade, City Council should investigate this smear on the city and the offense to most of its citizens. For its Fourth of July Committee, through its parade judges, acted suspiciously by disregarding both fair play and its theme, to honor the LCTP float as best in the parade. The City should have the award and prize revoked, and the judges rebuked. Its report to its citizens should note the important differences between core American values and contrary core rebel values symbolized by the rebel flag.

Independence Day celebrates, not independence from Britain, but the Declaration of Independence. Issued when the success of the rebellion was in grave doubt, it boldly declares America’s core values. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The first truth is the equality of all people. The second truth is the equal endowment of each man and woman with those “unalienable Rights.”

The rebel flag represents none of these values or rights. Despite its different symbolic meanings to many people, it has one inherent and inescapable symbolic meaning: a way of life imbued with racism, embodied in slavery, and defended by the doctrine of states’ rights. Generally and always, the doctrine of states’ rights excuses discriminatory state abuse or neglect of its residents.

From the beginning, states wanting to expand individual rights and benefits have done so without invoking the doctrine of states’ rights, but states wanting to restrict or prohibit them have invoked it, first to preserve slavery, then to resist civil rights for minorities, women, and others. For the Tea Party, states’ rights is a rallying cry for limiting, denying, or suppressing the rights of, and benefits for, millions of people, particularly pregnant or pregnancy-prone women, non-heterosexually inclined people, and the unemployed, impoverished, or unhealthy.

Thus, in all states in which the Tea Party has achieved political influence since 2010, it has sought, on bogus or trivial claims of voter fraud, to disenfranchise thousands of citizens, mostly minorities, the poor, seniors, and students. Yet it claims—its hypocrisy is egregious—that the federal government is destructive of the ends of government: the security of individual rights, and everyone’s “Safety and Happiness.” In truth, the Tea Party is loud only about an abstract liberty (or freedom) disconnected from those ends; quiet about equality, life, or the pursuit of happiness; and mute in its disregard of the “consent of the governed.”

The particular inappropriateness of flying the rebel flag in a Fourth of July parade is its inherent repudiation of the equality asserted in the Declaration of Independence. By parading the rebel flag on its float, the Las Cruces Tea Party declared its independence in favor of an apartheid America.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

DUMBING DOWN DEMOCRACY

The educational-corporate-political complex is giving much attention to the skill, not the substance, of reading; and to mathematics and science as if all three subjects constitute the be-all and end-all of education. Missing: the humanities (history, literature, philosophy) and social sciences (civics/government, economics). Only those with a cash-and-carry value system and large voids in their education deprecate the humanities, especially with the wit and wisdom of adolescents. (Have you noticed that almost every movie character either incompetent or unemployed majored in English, as if knowledge of Shakespeare or skill in writing precludes knowledge of, or skill in, all else?)

In the context of all K-12 academic subjects, consider the Affordable Care Act. Its most controversial issue has been its individual mandate, said to be an unprecedented extension of government authority into individual lives and thus an infringement of their freedom. The question has been whether the federal government can require individuals who do not voluntarily purchase health insurance to purchase it or pay a penalty or a tax (what is the difference?) for not doing so. Opinion has been divided and remains so after the Supreme Court rendered its decision.

Now ask mathematicians to get on their computers and scientists to get into their laboratories to answer that question. The request is absurd, of course, and intended to show the absurdity of the excessive emphasis on mathematics and science. For this question before the electorate, like many questions before it, has to do with issues of political philosophy, political economy, and American history. The facts of mathematics and science matter, but they do not provide the principles and values for judgment and decision.

Two articles recently appearing in The Daily Beast address these issues. Michael Tomasky’s column “Did Liberals Screw Obamacare?” (29 March) recalls the writings of John Stuart Mill, a mid-nineteenth-century English philosopher. Mills wrote, “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

Whether Mill is right about the “only purpose” of governmental power, he is right that one legitimate purpose is the prevention or punishment of harm done to others—a purpose which, in fact, underlies most of our laws. If we do not include in high-school civics and history classes some background reading of or about the political philosophies which have shaped our political and legal system, we shall lack relevant knowledge and be unable to bring it to bear on contemporary issues. Both subjects would teach that imposing costs on others by “free-riding” is one way of doing harm to them.

Einer Elhauge’s column “Don’t Blame Verrilli for Supreme Court Health-Care Stumble” (28 March) retrieves some pointedly relevant historical facts. Responding to the claim that the individual mandate is without precedent, Elhauge writes, “In 1790, the very first Congress (which included 20 framers of the Constitution, in case Justices Thomas and Scalia are counting), enacted a law requiring shipowners to buy medical insurance for seamen. The law was signed by another notable framer: President George Washington. Congress followed this with a 1792 law requiring all able-bodied citizens to buy a firearm, and a 1798 law requiring seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves. Today, there is a host of affirmative federal duties to buy things. For example, federal law requires corporations to hire independent auditors, and requires unions to buy insurance bonds in case their officers engage in fraud.”

So historical precedents abound. What I note about them is that they apply directly both to individuals (firearms) and to some businesses and unions (if some, why not all?). Even with a better knowledge of history, we may not know these particular historical facts or, in other cases, even the pertinent facts. But we can teach enough history in high school so that students know that there is wisdom in consulting the past and considering its relevance to current issues. As a famous Southern writer put it, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And we all know the adage about the learning the lessons of history to avoid its mistakes; or, I add, to learn what works.

Education is the societal transmission of knowledge and skills, attitudes and values, from one generation to another. So the curriculum changes as society changes. It has always had, and has rightly had, an important vocational purpose, thus today’s emphasis on mathematics and science as subjects increasingly important to individuals’ employment and country’s economy.

However, as debates over health care, an array of economic and political issues, and “culture war” or social “hot-button” controversies suggest, knowledge of the humanities and social sciences is indispensable to informed decisions by the electorate. If people do not understand the problems confronting the Constitutional Congress, they cannot understand the politics and principles which, according to the Constitution, shaped government, its components, and their powers. If people do not understand the basics of economics, they cannot understand issues about markets, regulation, taxation, or the role of government in relation to the economy.

Unfortunately, educational institutions, by focusing on and emphasizing technical subjects, are subverting the subjects which people need to make sensible decisions in the matters which matter most to them. Proficiency in mathematics and science is good for employment in many fields; competence in the humanities and social sciences is good for democratic citizenship by all people. My broad and continuing education, and my varied experience in policy analysis in technical fields persuade me that technical proficiency matters less than humanistic competence in deciding important issues.

Narrowing education to job training undermines democracy. Everywhere, business-affiliated organizations are pressuring politicians and educators to advance business interests and adopt business methods in education. At the local level, the common such mechanism is the school-business partnership. Invariably highly touted, it promotes a narrow, vocational view of the curriculum and supports programs and budget items for work and life-long employment. (Thus, for example, science labs and voc-ed facilities are more current in their equipment than classrooms in English and history are in textbooks.) However, such a vocation-oriented education does not comprehend all which matters to individuals and communities, and which affects their ability to make informed decisions as citizens in a democracy.

Indeed, such partnerships, by operating undemocratically, further undermine the larger public interest. By definition, they cannot represent the community as a whole and are unaccountable to it. Leading business and school officials thus act the autocrats in privatizing important decision-making and thus subvert democracy.