Random thoughts about the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, Civil Rights, and ObamaCare

Fellow Weasel Watcher Greg, at Rhymes with Right, came up with a good poster likening every woman’s right to have a gun to a black woman’s right to sit anywhere she wants in the bus.  That poster, combined with a discussion I had with some young ‘uns about the Bill of Rights got me thinking about the expression “Civil Rights,” which is something the Left bandies about freely.

Lately, the Left has taken to calling government control of American health care a Civil Right. We all know that’s wrong, but it’s worth understanding precisely why it’s wrong.  I’m still trying to organize my thoughts here, so please bear with me as a waffle my way through this.

United States Declaration of Independence

The beginning of any discussion of civil rights must be the Declaration of Independence:

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.

This single sentence is the “whereas” the precedes the Constitution.  Without this acknowledgement of God-given human status and dignity, the explicitly listed Rights in the Bill of Rights are meaningless.  These unalienable rights are the abstract predicates that justify a citizen’s more concrete “right” to have certain areas of functioning upon which the government cannot impinge.  Unless we acknowledge that humans — all humans — are equal and deserving of Life, Liberty, and the ability to make their way in the world, all the other bulwarks against government overreach are meaningless.

Second Amendment

Which gets us to the Bill of Rights.  What exactly is it?  I mean, we all know what’s in it, but I don’t think most people stop and think about what it is.

The Constitution is a contract between the People (acting through their state-elected representatives) and the government.  Its sole purpose is to describe what form the federal government will take.  It’s a rather dull document that’s given over to defining the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch, and then apportioning power and responsibilities between the three of them.

The main body of the Constitution has nothing to do with the People, and everything to do with defining a functioning government.  Thus, while it seeks to make sure that the executive can’t overwhelm the legislature or that the courts can’t overwhelm the executive, there’s nothing in it about whether the government as a whole can overwhelm the citizens under its rule.

What the Founders realized in the wake of the Constitution’s ratification is that creating a government is not the same as protecting the People’s declared rights under that government.  “Rights” aren’t things that the government gives people and that it can take away from people.  Things that the government can “giveth and taketh away” are merely privileges.  Rights, on the other hand, belong to the People outside of the government.  Rights have nothing to do with government control over people, and everything to do with the People’s right to control government.  They preexist the government and will continue to exist long after the government is gone.  Rights are independent of government.

That rights are independent of government does not mean that the government cannot use its aggregated power to destroy those rights.  That they are destructible, despite being unalienable, is what concerned the Founding generation and what led them to create the Bill of Rights.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution recognize that the rights described are fundamental rights that transcend government, but that a tyrannical government can nevertheless destroy these fundamental rights.  Rather than assuming that a beneficent government will automatically protect these rights, the Founders erred on the side of caution and warned the government that it had (and has) no power to touch rights that exist in the People, irrespective of the government.

Combined, that extraordinary sentence in the Declaration of Independence and of the first ten amendments to the Constitution create a bright line of human inviolability into which government cannot intrude.  For example, from the Declaration of Independence, we have a controlling principle that explains why, even though sitting in the front of the bus isn’t set out explicitly or even implicitly in the Bill of Rights, it is still a fundamental Right that is a necessary predicate to the Bill of Rights.  Rights must be applied equally to all humankind, because humankind is created equally.

Freedom to speak, worship, and assemble are unalienable rights.  The right to be armed, for whatever the heck reason you want, is an unalienable right.  The right to have your home free from American troops in an unalienable right.  The right to be protected from torture and coercion aimed at forcing you to convict yourself out of your own mouth is an unalienable right.  The state has the right to execute you if a properly constituted trial finds you guilty of a capital crime, but you have the right to an execution that is neither cruel (death by torture) nor unusual (death by bizarre forms of torture).  There are other unalienable rights.

Let me say again what these rights are:  They are a bright line of human inviolability and power that the government, despite its concentrated strength (police forces, armies, taxing powers, etc.) cannot attack or abridge.

Once one understands the difference between Rights (which are unalienable) and privileges (which depend on the government we elect) we can see why it’s so ridiculous when the Left describes health care as a “civil right.”  It’s not.  True civil rights recognize that citizens and the government are adversaries:  the government constantly attempts to impose itself on the citizens, and the citizens have as their bulwark the Declaration and the Bill of Rights to protect them from this government overreach.  Good health is not a matter of government overreach — except, of course, when the government uses health as a means of undermining the Bill of Rights.

This then, is the problem with ObamaCare: Rather than upholding a civil right, it is created to undermine people’s civil rights.  Its death panels contravene the unalienable right to Life.  Its abortion and contraception mandates directly impinge upon the unalienable right to freedom of worship.  It’s proposed requirements that doctors ask prying questions about guns infringes upon the unalienable right to keep and bear arms.  And Justice Roberts’ decision to the contract, its penalties for inaction are a direct infringement to people’s liberty.

As I said, this is a work in progress, so I don’t have a rousing or neat conclusion.  I’m not even sure what to do with these thoughts, but I did want to get them down while they were still swirling in my head.  Please feel free to add to or refine upon what I’ve written.

Education for the brainwashed generation

I know I’m just grumpy, but this promotional mailing from Ithaca College rubbed me the wrong way:

Ithaca flier

Ready to write environmental wrongs.  Ithaca College will turn your academic passions into unforgettable experiences — and make you ready for the adventure of your life.

I know that the first sentence is meant to be a clever pun, but it’s not.  At first glance, I thought it was a typo or blatant grammatical error.  On second reading, I thought Ithaca was promising to teach students how to plan to create environmental wrongs.  On third reading, I realized that Ithaca is offering to teach students how to “list” environmental wrongs, although I suspect there’ll be a fair dollop of creative writing (i.e., anthropogenic climate change) thrown in.

The whole thing — with the smug girl and the promise that documenting, or making up, environmental wrong is the “adventure of your life” — made me queasy.

Am I overreacting?  I probably am.  But as Kurt Schlichter said about Lena Dunham’s and HBO’s vile, nihilistic show Girls, we need to know what’s out there, because it is out there, and it’s aimed at our children.

Watcher’s Council submissions for January 31, 2013

Here they are:

Council Submissions

Honorable Mentions

Non-Council Submissions

What difference does it make? As Bill Whittle explains, it makes a big difference

Every time I watch a Bill Whittle video, I think to myself “This is incredibly good.  It can’t get better than this.”  And every time I’m wrong, because Bill Whittle’s astounding gift for powerful, honest insight and analysis keeps growing.

Whittle reaches the top of his game — again! — in this video “What difference does it make?” in which he rips apart Hillary’s loathsome statement dismissing the deaths of four men who died, not just on her watch, but because of her watch.

Pro-Life versus Get-A-Life

If you’d like to see a wonderful, fascinating compare-and-contrast photo essay, you’ve got to read Zombie’s Walk for Life vs. Roe v. Wade birthday party: Abortion showdown SF. To begin with, I love Zombie’s writing style, which is an invigorating blend of erudition, true humanism, and snark.  Additionally, the post is a very useful reminder that, while most pro-Abortion people believe abortion is a personal issue, the Left fully understands that it is yet another way to break familial bonds in favor of state control.

Tipping point idea: Put a sunset provision on all federal laws

(To win over the electorate, conservatives have to be seen as a party with fresh ideas that benefit all Americans. This is the first in a series of Tipping Point posts, promoting ideas that will appeal to all voters, while becoming signature initiatives for conservatives and Republicans.)

United States Code

Did you know that the Code of Law of the United States (USC), which contains all the operative federal laws affecting your life is around 200,000 pages long and that, if one doesn’t count case annotations, it takes up about 6 feet of shelf space?  And did you know that the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which contains all the rules that agencies have enacted in order to apply thid federal law, occupies four times as much shelf space as the USC itself.  In other words, in the absence of a page count, one can be reasonably sure that the CFR far exceeds 800,000 pages.

Code of Federal Regulations

America’s common law has always held that “ignorance of the law is not excuse.”  That’s all well and good, but do you actually know your federal law?  I didn’t think so and, in all seriousness, nobody else does either.  We all know the big laws — don’t murder people, don’t cheat on your taxes, don’t download music without permission — but the devil for everyone is in the details.  The result is that citizens who believe they are law-abiding, may suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of a federal investigation.

The previous sentence implies that federal employees do know all this law.  They don’t.  They are reasonably conversant with the law in their area of expertise, and therefore do have that advantage over the ordinary citizen who cannot hire 24/7 legal counsel.  Otherwise, no, they don’t know it any better than you do.

What actually happens at the federal level is that a person or business comes to the government’s attention because of citizen complaints, political vendettas, or because the person or business is engaging in a specifically identifiable, but hard-to-prosecute illegal activity.  When that happens, the government looks at the person’s or business’s activities and then, through legal research, tries to see if those activities match anything prohibited under the federal laws and rules.

Al Capone at Alcatraz

Sometimes, this random approach to federal law is a good thing.  For example, back in the 1920s everyone knew that Al Capone was a mobster responsible for all manner of crimes.  The problem was that he was too wily for law enforcement, and they could never make any charges stick.  Some bright person in the federal government suddenly realized that, if the mountain won’t come to Mohamed, Mohamed must go to the mountain — and to that end, rather than trying to mesh Capone’s violent and offensive actions with some criminal law, decided to bring the tax code to Capone.

Capone was duly prosecuted for tax violations, and went to Alcatraz for seven years.  Although this wasn’t a long sentence, considering his terrible crimes, it was long enough that, by the time he came out, his rivals had taken over his criminal syndicate, leaving him with nothing but mental decline from the syphilis he acquired during his glory days.

Certainly we can celebrate laws that bring dangerous criminals to heel.  As often as not, though, the labyrinth of federal laws operates, not to haul in wily criminals but, instead, to trap the unwary.

Buried in paperwork

In addition to keeping a sword of Damocles over every citizen’s head, the plethora of unknown and unknowable federal laws has two profound effects on American society as a whole:  The first effect is that American’s are unable to rely on their legal system when they conduct their every-day activities.  The law, instead of being a reliable framework that allows people to plan for a stable, legal, and profitable future, instead becomes an arbitrary and capricious force, stifling economic activity.

If it will cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars to assemble the legislative information necessary to start a new business that won’t potentially land me in jail, I might decide that no business is worth that kind of start-up cost.  Nor is starting up a new business worth the risk that if, despite knowing the the laws that affect my business, I can still be undone by other areas of legislation and regulation that seem to touch upon my activities only marginally.

Struggling with paperwork

The second effect of laws and regulations that run into the millions of pages is that people lose their respect for the law.  Law should be seen as both the infrastructure for a stable, civil society and the lubricant that enables people to rub along next to each other without resorting to violence.  These basic functions only work, however, if people are capable of knowing the law.

What has happened in America, though, is that federal law has become an impenetrable maze that allows loopholes by the thousand for those rich enough or well-connected enough to exploit all those openings.  At the same time, federal law has becoming a meaningless background buzz for the ordinary citizen, who suddenly becomes aware of it only if he or she is unlucky enough to get trapped by one of its random, unknowable prohibitions or mandates.

What’s really tragic is that so many of these laws and regulations are useless or outdated.  To the extent that they have no current purpose, they exist only as traps for the unwary.  Until the trap is sprung, no one cares about these superfluous laws and rules and, if the trap springs in the government’s favor, the government has no incentive to purge them from the books.

Presidential candidates periodically announce that they’re going to trim back the CFR (I recall Al Gore getting this task in the 1990s), but it’s a boring job, so it never comes to anything — and meanwhile, Congress just keeps passing more and more laws, and the agencies enact more and more regulations.

Sunset

That’s where the idea of a Constitutional Amendment inserting a sunset provision in all federal laws (and their accompanying regulations) comes into play.  The Sunset Amendment would mandate that all federal law and their accompanying regulations automatically expire twenty years (or some other set time) after they go into effect.  The only way to preserve the laws and regulations would be for Congress to act affirmatively to vote on each law and reinstate it before it expires.

Three things should happen:  First, legislators will think twice about enacting laws that they’ll have to review again (and fight about again) in twenty years time.  Second, legislators will take more care writing the laws, since they and their aides will be tasked with wading through them and learning about their effects, along with working on current matters.  (Imagine if a Sunset Amendment had been in place when Obama’s Congress enacted all 2000+ pages of ObamaCare.)  Third, rather than undertaking the tedious work of reviewing patently irrelevant, obsolete, or failed laws, Congress will simply allow them to lapse without any discussion.

Of course, a Sunset Amendment would have to include a clause dealing with those laws and rules that are already on the books.  A practical approach would be to require that a specific number or percentage of laws and regulations would have to be reviewed and, if necessary, re-voted every year after the Amendment’s passage, for a set number of years, until each existing law and regulation has been voted upon or been allowed to expire.

Although cleaning up Federal laws and regulations is an issue that all Americans should embrace, and a burden that legislators should willingly shoulder as part of their job (not to mention a reasonable amount of work considering their salaries and pensions), it especially behooves Republicans and other conservatives to push for a Sunset Amendment.  The whole notion of “smaller government” makes sense only if we clean up old laws, in addition to enacting fewer, and less onerous new laws — and then we make sure that the law books don’t get cluttered up all over again.

If you think this is a good “sticky” issue to help Americans reach a tipping point that turns them towards smaller government, please take this idea and run with it:  talk about it on Facebook or Twitter; post it at your blogs (feel free to reprint this whole post, although I’d appreciate attribution); contact your Senators or Congressman; and bandy it about at the water cooler.  Good ideas make a difference only if people spread them around and then act upon them.

(Thanks again to Mike Devx for coming up with this good idea.)

 

Watcher of Weasel’s winners and the forum

I have been remiss, since I haven’t yet posted the winners for last week’s Watcher’s Council vote.  Before I do, though, I’d like to encourage you to check out this week’s forum, which sees the Weasel Watchers (plus some friends) try to look into the future and predict whether the Republican party will still be around in a few years.

And now for the winners:

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

Conservatives need to create powerful, “sticky” messages that lead the electorate to a tipping point

All the talk lately is about talking.  Tune in to any conservative outlet, and you’ll see that the politicians and thinkers are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to get voters to support conservative values.  Conservatives are talking about their lack of a clear narrative.  Conservatives have an ideology, and a good one at that, but ideologies don’t sell.  It’s the stories about those ideologies that sell.  It sometimes seems that conservatives are so hamstrung by the fact that the plural of anecdote isn’t data, that they too often stop making any effort at all to use anecdotal stories to sell their ideas.

Group of men talking

This past weekend, National Review hosted an emergency summit devoted to conservative messaging:

Nearly every speaker advised that [conservatives] “make the case” for conservatism, that their leaders find a better way of communicating the superiority of limited government and traditional social values. The country is prepared to hear it, they said, it’s only a matter of explaining it–an admittedly difficult task when the latest national election proved that more people are interested in a message of government-provided security and spoils.

After attending a part of this summit, James Taranto noted that Democrats went through this same soul-searching after the 2010 election.  The president, they said, needed to send out a better message.  The greatest orator since . . . well, ever, was falling down on the job and failing to communicate.  They did win in 2012, but was it the message, or something else?

Obama won re-election, but would anyone really describe the 2012 Obama campaign as a clinic in exegetical politics? Did Obama lay out a compelling case for his principles? Far from it. In fact, his clearest ideological statement was “You didn’t build that.” His supporters spent weeks insisting he didn’t say that.

What Obama did do successfully was vilify his opponent (“not one of us“) and make narrow, often fear-based appeals to particular interest groups. His campaign also demonstrated a mastery of technology for identifying voters and coaxing them to the polls.

Taranto suggests that conservatives stop agonizing about “messaging” and start focusing on winning.  This is one of those rare occasions where I part ways with Taranto’s conclusion.  I agree with him that Obama won, not because he sold voters on his vision, but because he was able to turn Republicans into heartless, greedy, misogynistic monsters.  The thing is that this vilification was the message — it just wasn’t a positive message about Obama.  Instead, it was a negative message about Romney and the Republicans.  In other words, Dems did a great job messaging.  Conservatives simply missed it, because they were looking for soaring rhetoric, while Progressives were actually serving up trash talk.

Group of students talking

The reason the Democrat’s trash talk message worked so well is because it fell on fertile soil.  The Left knew that it couldn’t sell Obama — his record did not speak for itself — but Leftist strategizers also knew that for decades the Left had created an intellectual atmosphere in which it was easy for people to believe, all evidence to the contrary, that Romney was an evil, soulless man, and that a Republican America would be, as Ted Kennedy so memorably said about Robert Bork,

a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy….

That none of this came to pass during any Republican ascendency is irrelevant.  Kennedy’s message has stuck for two generations, forever tarring Republicans with the “evil” brush. The cultural bias the Democrats have created against conservativism reached its tipping point in November 2012 when a president with a disastrous economic record rather handily got reelected. Relying on decades of indoctrination and sophisticated modern social networking, Democrats spread a message that stuck:  Republicans are evil.  Everything else, whether from the Left or the Right, was just chatter that people ignored.

Older women talking

It’s the tipping point that matters.  Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference back in 2002, long before social networking websites had appeared on the scene. In a way, though, our modern age’s manic social networking makes Gladwell’s points even more relevant than they were ten years ago.

Gladwell’s thesis is a simple one:  Ideas are like viruses.  Most of them float around, affecting a pocket of people here, or a pocket of people there.  Given specific circumstances, though, the virus reaches a tipping point and suddenly explodes out of the pockets, and becomes dominant.

After looking at studies that explain the explosive spread of certain ideas (including product popularity) Gladwell came up with a list of three must-have factors that will cause an idea to go viral.  The first is what he calls “the Law of the Few,” the second is “the Stickiness Factor,” and the third is “the Power of Context.”  The factors are surprisingly uncomplicated.

The Law of the Few says that studies show that there are specific people in society who are information, idea, and style vectors.  Whether they have a vast network of contacts, a reputation for sharing useful wisdom, or the innate gift of salesmanship, these few people exercise a disproportionate effect when it comes to dispersing ideas.  When they talk, other people — lots of other people — listen.

Family talking

Do we have anybody like that articulating conservative ideas?  I’m not so sure.  Gladwell’s point is that these people spread their ideas because of their ability to connect directly with other people.  All of our conservative talking heads are just that — talking heads on TV or the radio.  Conservatives, perhaps true to their commitment to individualism, do not have networks of people on the ground (i) who are themselves networkers, (ii) who are viewed as reliable information sources, or (iii) who can sell anything to anybody.

In a way, the internet has made things even worse for conservatives.  While it’s increased information dissemination, it’s also increased information ghettoization.  We don’t talk to our neighbors about politics anymore.  Instead, we go to a like-minded blog and enjoy the feeling that we’re not alone.  But by doing so, we delude ourselves into believing that there are more like-minded people out there than a walk in the community and a talk in the park would reveal. Facebook is more of a marketplace of ideas than the blogosphere, and I can tell you that my liberal friends used it aggressively for political networking, while my conservative friends did not — it part, because conservatives didn’t have any “sticky” messages to disseminate.

The Stickiness Factor?  That’s what it sounds like:  it’s a message that doesn’t just amuse or intrigue people for a mere minute.  Instead, it sticks with them and, even more importantly, makes them act.  During the Bush years, the Dems came up with a great one:  No War for Oil.  The fact that this slogan had little relationship to the facts, or that a ginormous number of people stuck it on the back of their gas-guzzling SUVs was irrelevant.  Those four words convinced too many Americans that the Republicans were fighting wars on behalf of Standard Oil.

Girls whispering

In 2012, the Democrats announced that Republicans were “waging a war on women.” Again, data was irrelevant. It sounded good, especially when Democrats Alinsky-ized Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

The Progressive penchant for ignoring facts undoubtedly makes it easier for them to come up with the pithy slogans and posters that sweep through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and email chains before ending up on tens of thousands of bumper stickers that subliminally drill into every driver’s head. People could laugh when reading “Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot,” never mind that George Bush was a highly educated, accomplished man with an academic record better than or equal to his opponents’.

Conservatives used to have pithy sayings (“Live free or die,” “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” “That government is best that governs least”), but we don’t seem to have come up with any clever ones lately.  As you may recall, during John McCain’s failed candidacy, his slogan — “Country First” — managed to leave supporters cold, while allowing opponents to mumble about racism.  I doubt that we’ll ever get another “I like Ike,” but we can certainly do better than Romney’s “Believe in America,” which sounds more like the beginning of a fairy tale than it does a rousing call to the ballot box.

And finally, there’s the Power of Context, which at its simplest level means that a message has to capture the zeitgeist.  People have to be primed and ready to receive the message.  In 2012, Americans, fed on decades of anti-capitalist education and entertainment, were more than ready to believe that Romney was a dog-abusing, woman-hating, religious nut who wanted to enslave poor people and blacks.  Thirty years ago, people would have laughed at this message.  Last year, there were too many people who thought it made a good deal of sense.

Couple talking

Democrats are masters of leveraging context or, as Rahm Emanuel said, “never letting a crises go to waste.”  Just as the Pentagon has shelves full of war scenarios that they’re ready to break out should one geographic region or another blow up, it’s quite obvious that the Progressives also have shelves full of battle plans.  Economic crisis?  Let’s nationalize!  Crazy person goes on a murderous rampage with a gun?  Let’s jettison the Second Amendment.  Woman in Mississippi isn’t near an abortion clinic, so she decides to give herself a do-it-yourself abortion?  Malign pro-Lifers as murderers.  Islamic terrorism against Americans?  Blame Americans or video-makers.  There’s a playbook.

On the other side of the aisle, have you ever seen conservatives do anything but be caught flat-footed when a crisis arises?  Conservatives instantly go into ad hoc mode.  There’s a virtue to having sufficient flexibility to deal with an actual, as opposed to theoretical situation, but the person without a plan always looks unprepared and, therefore, helpless.

It’s not enough for conservatives to talk about talking, or to send each other messages about messaging.  If they want to be the zeitgeist’s master not its slave:

  • They must come up with a message that matches the mood of the time, whether it’s pro-conservative or anti-Progressive;
  • They must shape the message so that it gets stuck in people’s minds and drives them to action; and
  • They must make a deliberative effort to get the message to conservative networkers (i.e., information purveyors, and salesmen), rather than hoping that the message will magically disseminate itself.

We have a good message — we just have to sell it.

People applauding

And in that vein, here’s an idea from Mike Devx, one that would work marvelously well on Facebook. It would appeal to people on both sides of the aisle, and it would give a campaign advantage to Republicans if they would loudly embrace it:

I’ve wondered at times why laws aren’t required to have a “sunset provision,” meaning every law would expire at a certain time after passage. The law would have to be re-passed by whatever legislature passed it in the first place, or else it goes on the dustbin of history. Perhaps the default should be twenty years to the date after passage. But you could specify a non-default expiration that would be allowed to be LESS (not more than the default).

Same thing perhaps for regulations. It might keep the tsunami of laws and regulations under control. And the bad ones or the controversial ones would be guaranteed to be re-fought. Or the laws whose time may have come and gone — such as affirmative action to redress a wrong — would get re-fought and resisted because we have done enough.

UPDATE: If you like the idea of a Sunset Amendment, I’ve developed it at greater length here.

Sotomayor reminds us that affirmative action is terribly unfair

Justice Sotomayor

Justice Sotomayor came to San Francisco and inadvertently made the case that affirmative action terribly unfair — and, moreover, that people are right if they believe, not that it gives qualified minorities a chance, but that it handicaps non-minorities at the expense of any minorities, qualified or not.

Let me unpack that first sentence.  All of us would like to see bright, hard-working kids succeed.  We have an innate sense that it is “fair” that those who work hardest get opportunities.  We approve of scholarships that reach out to poor children, enabling them to get the benefit of their own hard work and intelligence.

What we don’t like is a system that says to completely ordinary kids who make no specific effort:  “You!  Yeah, you.  Although you are undistinguished in all relevant ways, you’re going to get a leg up simply because of your race.”  In the old days, that sentence, more fully written, read “Although you are undistinguished in all relevant ways, you’re going to get a leg up simply because you’re white.”  Looking back now, we realize how heinous it was to spread opportunities unevenly simply because of race.

Yet that’s precisely what affirmative action does — spread opportunities unevenly because of race.  The government, rather than being magisterially even-handed, has taken sides.  Instead of funding scholarships for accomplished young people, it funds scholarships for racially appropriate people (emphasis mine):

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in town Monday to promote her newly released memoir, said she couldn’t talk about affirmative action because of a pending court case. In the next breath, she talked about what it had meant to her – admission to Princeton and Yale Law School and the launching of a legal career.

“I was given the chance to get to the start of the race and it changed my life,” the 58-year-old justice told a sold-out Commonwealth Club audience at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

When she entered Princeton on a scholarship in 1972 despite unspectacular test scores, she recalled, the school was in only its third year of admitting women and had barely a handful of minority students.

Isn’t that nice for Sotomayor?  She got into Princeton despite the fact that she didn’t qualify.  And doesn’t it just suck for the hard-working white or Asian kid who, in that same year, had spectacular test scores (not to mention good grades), but was nevertheless barred from Princeton because Sotomayor took her place?  If Sotomayor had been a brilliant student, it’s probable that none of us would have cared that she, a kid from a dodgy New York neighborhood, was granted admission over a kid from somewhere suburbia.  What grates is that Sotomayor hadn’t earned her place academically.

I recognize that Sotomayor’s opportunity came about in 1972, when affirmative action was meant to be a quick fix — a head start — to make up for the decades of discrimination that immediately preceded those first few years of affirmative action.  What rankles is that, two generations later, we’re still giving a hand up to mediocre people in the name of race.  In other words, we’ve institutionalized racism just as certainly as those Jim Crow people did.  We now frame it affirmatively, in that we boast that we’re pulling some people up, as opposed to pushing other people down, but it’s the same thing:  too often race, not merit, determines who gets to grab the educational and employment gold ring.

Sotomayor seems like a nice, hard-working woman, although I couldn’t disagree more with her approach to the law.  She also seems like someone who benefited from an inequitable program at a time that at least gave some credibility to the program, but who now seeks to use the extraordinary power granted to her to make Leftist Jim Crow laws a permanent part of America’s racist landscape.

________________________

*I’d originally written “economically disadvantaged children,” and then thought, “Why am I cluttering my writing with this lardy PC jargon?”  So I changed it to “poor children,” which makes the point just fine.

More thoughts on robots and the future

Robot

I wrote last week about the fact that the lapdog media is finally catching up with Obama’s claim that the problem with America’s economy is that ATMs are job destroyers, and that’s why our economy is a mess.  Many of you commented that, in your own industries, you’ve seen automation chip away at jobs so that a handful of people are doing what it once took dozens or even hundreds of people to do.  I agree completely.  Technology definitely destroys jobs.

What I was trying to say, though, is something different.  What’s unique about this ongoing recession/depression, is that the government has been working overtime to depress the new jobs that usually arise as a result of technology.  Absent government intervention, our transitions in the wake of a major technological change have usually been beneficial to the majority, even though there’s no doubt that a minority saw itself lost to history’s backwash.  For the first time, though, we’ve got a government so busy grieving for the minority who are becoming obsolete, that it’s enacted policies to ensure that the majority will suffer too.

I speak quite personally about this, because I’m a perfect example of someone who took modern technologies and spun off a new career.  My new career has been less profitable than my old one, but infinitely more enjoyable, not to mention a better match with parenting.

My graduating year from law school was one of the last years that saw new associates arrive at law firms that didn’t have desktop computers.  We had Word Processing departments, which would use primitive word processing machines (who else remembers old Wang systems?) to finalize briefs or, if they were particularly sophisticated, they had primitive software to do the same task.  To get a brief done, the attorney would hand write or dictate a brief, and then walk it over to a secretary, who would transcribe it.  It was a very time-consuming process.

Law books

Legal research was also done the old-fashioned way, which meant surrounding oneself with heavy books.  To research a legal question, you’d go to the Westlaw Digests.  You’d start by perusing the Decennial Digests (massive volumes that broke the law down into categories).  These were good, because you could do ten years worth of research in a single category.  If it had been nine years since the last Decennial Digest, though, you’d then have to go through nine years worth of annual digests, including the pocket updates stuffed in the back.  Once you had hand written a long list of potential cases, you’d head for the stacks and pull out volume after volume of case reporter.  You’d page through to your cases, and hope that at least some of them were on point.  Once you found them, you’d either write notes by hand, or you’d spend hours (and dollars) photocopying.

Both Westlaw and Nexis did have computer research available, but it had to be done on dedicated machines and it cost a small fortune.  It was much cheaper to pay an associate to do fifty or even one hundred hours of research, than to go onto Westlaw and spend a couple of hours writing and printing.  (Keep in mind that, back in those days, all connections were dial-up and were incredibly slow.)

Old desktop computers

Within a few years of my starting to practice law, the world turned upside down.  Lawyers got desktops and dedicated word processors became obsolete.  That’s when I fell in love with Word Perfect, which is still my favorite word processing software because you have the best control over the look of the final product.

In the beginning, those desktop computers were stand-alones, so you still had to walk to your secretary’s desk, only this time you’d hand over a floppy, rather than a sheaf of yellow paper or a little tape recording.  Just a year or so later, with the firm’s four walls, those floppies were obsolete, as the firms had become networked.  Suddenly, you didn’t even need to stand up to send your secretary that pleading that needed to be finalized.  Instead, you just pushed a button.

Online legal research continued to be expensive, but Lexis and Westlaw now had software that enabled you to use your laptop to connect directly to those services.  This was another technological advance that meant you didn’t need to get up from your chair.  (Right now, I’m seeing, not only a technological trend, but a trend in lawyers getting flabby and gaining weight!)

Woman at computer

One day, I sat at my desk and realized that I was totally self-sufficient. I didn’t need a secretary, since I’ve always been a better typist and word processor than any secretary I ever had, and I didn’t need access to a law library, since my desktop had become a law library.  I also realized that home computer prices were dropping and that the case-reporting services were dropping their prices in response to the increased competition that accompanied increased demand.  Since I hated going to court, and loved doing research and writing, I quit my job and set up a home practice.

Floppies

As the years went by, having a home office became easier and easier.  In the old days, I still had to put my documents on floppies, or print them up, and then hand-deliver them to my clients.  Within a short time, however, either my clients got email, so I could just send an attachment, or they upgraded their network services so that I could connect from home and simply upload my work onto their systems.

The new systems made hoards of young lawyers unnecessary.  While it had once been cheaper to give a second or third year associate a fifty hour research job, it was now much cheaper to contract the work out to me.  With my on-line research, home computer and printer, and network or email connections, I was not only faster and better than a young associate, I didn’t force the firm to carry me during the dead times, nor did it have to pay any benefits to me.  Technology would have destroyed my old job, but instead it created a new job for me, and one that I liked much better.

In the Obama economy, though, I have no work.  If I were a young lawyer done out of a job by new research and writing technology, it would be impossible for me to set up my own thriving business (and it did thrive for many years), because there is no work to be had for anyone, whether in a firm or outside of it.  The old jobs are dying, but the economy is too regulated, taxed, and constrained to create new niches.

And that’s what I meant when I said only Progressives believe that robots are job killers.  Their belief is true only to the extent they’ve made it so.  I fervently believe that, in the normal, non-Obama world, even as technology kills many jobs, a free market, coupled with human initiative, can create many more (better ones too).

Over the next four years, will Obama be the only one celebrating?

In my latest newsletter (which you can view here and subscribe to here) I asked whether Republicans will be the only unhappy people over the next four years.  My starting point is that Republicans are deeply depressed right now, while Progressives are gloatingly triumphant.  Their man won.  Their agenda is the one he’ll enact.

The problem as I see it is that almost nobody — Republican or Progressive — is going to be happy with the outcome.  Unlike the Reagan years, which saw the economy soar, so much so that even the most embittered Democrats couldn’t complain directly about the economy (so they had to focus on inequities instead), Obama’s first four years have seen everything going negative:  the economy is perpetually saggy at home and disastrously bad abroad; the nation is more divided than ever before at this precise point in a President’s second term; nations that the U.S. had previously stabilized are collapsing; and there is, to borrow Carter’s term, a terrible malaise throughout the land.  More than that, it my money is on the fact that all of these trends will worsen with Obama’s policies.

Given that things are going to go from bad to worse, will any but the most die-hard Progressives be happy?  Right now, my Progressive friends (and I have many) are convinced that just a little bit more of the Obama magic will turn everything around — and then they’ll be happy.  But what if it doesn’t turn around?  Will they rationalize downwards what constitutes happiness?  That is, will we hear that it’s wonderful to be unemployed for so long, because you can do some serious navel gazing; and hey, isn’t it great that all those European and Middle Eastern nations are at war or heading to it?  I don’t think so, and here’s why.

I can say with a fair amount of certainty, because I’ve been on both sides of the political divide, that most Democrats and Progressives want wealth, security, and stability.  They’re just sufficiently foolish to believe that these things are best attained with an all-powerful state, rather than through maximum individual freedom within a legal framework that applies a few, clear laws equally to all citizens.  They might learn something when they realize that their ideology doesn’t achieve their ends.

But Obama….  His ends are very different.  I don’t think anything makes this more clear than what Jonathan Tobin noticed when he watched Steve Croft’s sycophantic 60 Minutes interview with Barry and Hillary.  Buried amidst the snowstorm of fecal matter, and the steady browning of Steve Croft’s nose, Barack Obama made one startling admission.  In defending his “lead from behind” approach to the Middle East, Obama had this to say:

President Obama: Well, Muammar Qaddafi probably does not agree with that assessment, or at least if he was around, he wouldn’t agree with that assessment. Obviously, you know, we helped to put together and lay the groundwork for liberating Libya. You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there.

Tobin immediately honed in upon what’s so dreadfully wrong in that statement: Barack Obama is actually boasting about Libya, where al Qaeda has taken over and Obama’s own ambassador was brutally murdered, and about Egypt, which is in the increasingly vice-like control of a radical Islamist wannabe dictator who calls Israel (America’s ally) a nation of apes and pigs that should be wiped from the face of the earth.  As Tobin says:

Let me get this straight. President Obama is not merely bragging about a conflict in Libya that led to chaos not only in that country that produced the murders of four Americans including our ambassador. He is also saying that he thinks he positively impacted the outcome of the power struggle in Egypt over the last two years and actually thinks his “leadership” helped create a situation about which we are happy. So what he’s telling us is that he’s not merely pleased with what he did or didn’t do, but that he thinks the current situation in Cairo in which the most populous Arab country is now run by a Muslim Brotherhood government led by a raving anti-Semite is a good thing about which he can brag on national TV.

(You can read the rest of Tobin’s analysis here.)

Most Americans, including the millions of misguided Democrats, won’t celebrate the potential detritus of eight Obama years:  America’s economic collapse, Israel’s destruction, the Islamic takeover of the Middle East, and Europe’ ugly retreat to the 1930s.  Obama, however, has clearly signaled that he’s going to pat himself on the back for a job well done.

That’s the bad news.  The good news is that the future is not written in stone.  Things can change in an instant.  The winner can go down and the loser can suddenly take the lead.  Ever since the 2006 Winter Olympics, and Lindsey Jacobellis’ fatal hubris in snowboarding, I’ve always told my kids “winners never quit and quitters never win.”

The only thing that will absolutely and certainly defeat America’s future resurgence as a bastion of individual freedom and success is if we quit. No quitting, guys. Grieve, but come back fighting. (And to cheer you up further, I’m betting that Progressive/Obama overreach and hubris will work in our favor on the road back.)

The SAG Awards couture: Lumpy, Dumpy, Frumpy, and Tawdry

When it comes to clothes, I settled into my color palette in junior high school.  My favorite color is black; my next favorite is gray.  This is not because I’m a depressed person or into Goth.  It’s because I have absolutely no ability to match colors.

That’s where black and gray come in:  everything goes with them (except brown).  If I put on a black pair of pants, I can pair it with any color top I like.  This is a good thing because my approach to buying tops is as primitive as my color sense:  if I find a top in a fabric I like, in a design that doesn’t make me look plump, I tend to buy it in every color available.

I then wear those five or seven tops for years, right up until they disintegrate.  Once they’re gone, I hunt for another top that I like and buy out all the colors.  I’m not fashionable, but I always look neat, and my colored shirts always match those black or gray trousers.

Which brings me to the Screen Actors Guild (or SAG) awards for 2013.  The Daily Mail has a photo essay showing that the color du jour is black, with a fair amount of white thrown in.  Seeing the headline about black’s triumphant return to the fashion world, I expected to swoon over the various dresses and to wish that I too could have one. Oh, how wrong I was.  The color is good but the styles are awful, just awful.

Julianne Moore SAG Awards 2013

Julianne Moore may well be the worst.  She wore a white dress with abstract, almost 60s-style flowers embroidered around the bottom.  This would be okay but for the fact that the dress has a plunging decolletage that gives a frightening view of her flabby breasts.  Ignore the breasts, and she has no shape at all.  I guess that, when Moore received the invitation to the “SAG” Awards, she took that SAG part literally.

Nava Rivera SAG Awards 2013

Another peculiar costume in the breast department was Nava Rivera’s black dress.  It featured a peek-a-boo cutout (complete with chiffon overlay), that revealed the left half of her right breast, and the right half of her left breast.  She didn’t look voluptuous, she merely looked confused:  Am I selling my acting chops or did I leave the Victoria’s Secret store without putting my street clothes back on?

Jane Lynch, who proudly waves her lesbian sexuality around every chance she gets, opted for a black dress with a pleasantly classic line, except for the leather bondage theme.  Apparently she confused the SAG awards with the Folsom Street Fair.

Anne Hathaway SAG awards 2013

Anne Hathaway, who is a lovely and charming actress, looked like a Barbie doll run amok.  When I was little, I used to layer my Barbie’s clothes:  deep cut this over chiffon that, with a long overskirt complimenting a ridiculously short miniskirt.  I could have dressed Hathaway for pennies on the dollars she spent on her mix-and-match outfit, which included a long skirt, a short skirt, solid fabrics, sheer fabrics, and beaded fabrics.  I get dizzy just writing about it.

The other dresses I saw in the photo essay weren’t bad, but none were beautiful.  They all bespoke too much money, and too little taste.  Collectively,  all of these attractive, wealthy women looked like four of the seven dwarfs:  Lumpy, Dumpy, Frumpy, and Tawdry.

There are years when I look at these Hollywood costume photo essays and wish that, just for one night, I could live the glam life solely to wear a beautiful dress.  Looking at the women from this year’s SAG awards, though, I have to say I’m a lot better off with my current outfit:  black, straight-leg NYDJ jeans and a deep turquoise, round-necked, long-sleeved tee from Target.  Total cost (including the sale price on the jeans): $95.  I look classy, sleek, and comfortable.  Yay, me!