Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Appeal for Repeal

of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, for preventing the rights of the people from lapsing into the custodianship of someone who might not respect those rights.

It's a melancholic thing to consider, so soon after another successful presidential election, that the 22nd Amendment prevents our presidents from being elected to more than two terms in office. This is a matter of some serious urgency, now, given the current laws and circumstances of our great country.

The 22nd Amendment codified into law the convention, established by George Washington and adhered to by 150 years of presidents, of limiting the president to a maximum of two four-year terms. After Franklin D Roosevelt was elected to four consecutive terms, the people were motivated to ensure that no one man would be allowed to stay in office for more than two terms.

Of course, FDR was president during extraordinary times in our nation's history. It would not have been prudent to oust him after just two terms, in 1940, with the nation in the early stages of a fragile economic recovery from the Great Depression and FDR promising to keep the United States out of World War II even as it exploded across Europe. By the time the election of 1944 rolled around, replacing FDR and his administration in the White House was unthinkable—we were at war in Europe and in the Pacific and the future of global civilization was hanging in the balance.

In the years after the Roosevelt administration, perhaps in part in reaction to the evidence—presented in stark relief by both allies and enemies of the United States in World War II—that a single unchecked individual with a tyrannical inclination could wield massive influence and power over entire continents, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment, and it was ratified by the necessary number of States in 1951.

The 22nd Amendment was the right thing for the country at the time it was proposed and ratified, but just as the Constitution is not written in stone, and must be amended and reinterpreted to keep pace with the changing times, so too must we revisit, modify, or do away with some of those changes as our society continues to evolve.

The terrorist attacks on the United States of America on the morning of September 11, 2001 brought about a paradigm shift in the scope and authority of the federal government, forever changing the way Americans think about and relate to the national state. 9/11, and the way we responded to it, effectuated legislation to reflect that new understanding and relationship. I believe the time has come to amend the Constitution to bring it more in line with our post-9/11 twenty-first century American reality.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act—the USA PATRIOT Act, for short—was signed into law by President George W Bush on October 26, 2001. The Act was designed to make it easier for the FBI and other police agencies in the US to surveil, charge, and convict people suspected of committing, or planning to commit, terrorism. In order to keep the vast majority of law-abiding citizens safe from the threat of terrorism, the Patriot Act necessarily plays a little fast and loose with the Bill of Rights, especially the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. Some critics have said that the Patriot Act, as applied by law enforcement agencies and the government, has infringed on some suspects' constitutional rights, mostly in terms of unreasonable searches and warrantless surveillance by the government.

Some of the Patriot Act's harshest initial critics, however, have come to see that the safety and security benefits that the Patriot Act has for the vast majority of citizens outweighs whatever harm it does in temporarily waiving the rights of terrorism suspects. President Obama, for example, a former constitutional law professor and one-time president of the Harvard Law Review, once opposed the Patriot Act on civil liberties grounds, but came to believe that the benefits of the Act outweighed the risks, and voted for its extension when he was in the Senate and also, as President, signed a four-year extension of the Act in 2011. Despite controversy that nothing had been done to limit the Act's more liberties-infringing provisions, President Obama recognized that no matter the consequences on the individual liberties of terrorism suspects, the Patriot Act was too valuable a tool for ensuring the safety and security of Americans to allow the law to expire.

The Military Commissions Act was passed in 2006 to provide a legislative framework for the anti-terrorism policies already being practiced by the Bush administration, the Department of Justice, and the government's various enforcement agencies. In order to keep Americans safe, it was necessary to keep the trials and charges of people that the Administration deemed “unlawful enemy combatants” a secret, by trying them in military tribunals rather than in civilian courts. The Act also made it easier for government agents to obtain crucial intelligence from detainees by making it harder to later prosecute and convict those agents of war crimes. While some critics claimed that the Act was retroactively forgiving and endorsing physically coercive interrogation techniques, Congress and the President found that concerns about civil liberties were outweighed by the safety and security that the Act bestowed upon the vast majority of Americans. The Act was renewed in 2009 as part of that year's National Defense Authorization Act and signed by President Obama amid concerns that despite some tweaking, the Act might be enforced in such a way as to infringe on the rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, signed by President Obama on December 31, 2011, received some attention from civil liberties watchdog groups, as well. Some critics claimed that the bill explicitly allowed for the indefinite detention of US citizens and non-citizens without charge or trial, and that the NDAA effectively upended the Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of Americans to due process.

While those sorts of issues will no doubt be settled in various federal appeals courts in the years to come, it's important to remember that even though the NDAA, the Military Commissions Act, and the Patriot Act appear to, in certain cases, supersede and therefore invalidate the rights guaranteed by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, President Obama has promised that the most controversial provisions of these acts will not be used against American citizens. He has personally guaranteed it, and put it in writing in the form of various signing statements. Our rights are secure, no matter what the various laws say, because President Obama has said so.

This isn't just about legislation, though. President Obama has also taken personal responsibility for authorizing drone strikes in foreign countries, making decisions about which of our individual enemies will live or die, something the New York Times called the President's “kill list.” There is a data center being built in Utah, run by the National Security Agency, that will function as the nation's primary intelligence-gathering resource, and will house the details of every cell phone call, text, e-mail, internet search, and browsing history of every person in the country, to build a trackable, personalized digital fingerprint of everyone through their interactions with the digital world. The center will also focus on code-breaking, as the NSA attempts to use the next generation of supercomputers to fight internet data encryption being used by people who are potential national security threats.

We were all taught, growing up, that the government doesn't create or grant our fundamental rights, but that the government is there to respect and protect those rights. In a post 9/11 America in which we have necessarily centralized power and handed the custodianship of our fundamental rights into the authority of one man, currently President Obama, we can't very well afford to be forced to replace that one man every four or eight years. We have been incredibly lucky with Presidents Bush and Obama—we granted them unprecedented access to upend our rights, and they have not abused that power. Why roll the dice again so soon, with a new president, if we don't have to?

Most everyone has heard Benjamin Franklin's oft trotted-out quote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” That was a different time, and practically an entirely different world. If the liberties that we are “giving up” are being guarded by someone we can trust, someone who has already proven through one four-year term that we can rely on him to protect the rights of American citizens and at the same time keep us safe, the only way we could truly put those rights and liberties at risk would be to force ourselves to put someone else in charge. We have charged President Obama with the awesome authority to contravene our most sacredly held rights, and he has not seen fit to do so. Whoever the next president is might not have the same healthy respect for our fundamental rights. We must repeal the 22nd Amendment so that, at the very least, we can put off the day when we have to enshrine that authority in another individual.

The 22nd Amendment, once a well-intentioned bulwark against tyranny and the threat of a creeping cult-of-personality megalomania in the White House, is now an anachronistic hindrance to true liberty and security in modern America. The First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution are what is at stake, here. Do we really want to sacrifice all of those, and the rights that they protect, because of the pesky and antiquated Twenty-Second Amendment?

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have no stake, personal or financial, in the outcome of any effort to repeal the 22nd Amendment, nor any connection to a potential future Obama reelection campaign effort, and have no other motive than the public good of my country. Repeal it now.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vote for someone who doesn't claim the authority to kill you. Builds character.

On Monday, September 17, the Obama administration won a court battle to maintain their authority, under the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, to indefinitely detain without charge or trial anyone that the administration determines to be an enemy of the state, specifically including citizens of the United States. The Obama administration believes, as did the Bush administration, that it has the authority to kill, without due process, any US citizen that it determines (privately, of its own accord) to be a terrorist threat.

Barack Obama and the Democrats and the Republicans passed the NDAA. Mitt Romney supports the NDAA. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, the Democrats, and the Republicans passed, supported, or reaffirmed the Patriot Act, and will do so again in the future. The federal government, over multiple administrations, has failed to respect the right of its citizens to due process as outlined and guaranteed by the Constitution. Failure to respect the rights of the citizens to due process effectively invalidates the other rights recognized by the Constitution, including those specified in the first amendment.

Instead of discussing these relevant facts, Mitt Romney will try to tell you that he loves capitalism, the middle-class, and freedom, more than Barack Obama does. Barack Obama will try to tell you that he loves capitalism, the middle-class, and freedom, more than Mitt Romney does. They will try to feel their way to your vote, and as long as you vote for one or the other of them, you are allowing yourself to be swayed by a carefully constructed "vision" of our future that you are perfectly allowed to appreciate, but one that entirely ignores the fact that on the actual matters of hard substance, the two parties rarely disagree. They appear to disagree, because of their competing "visions," but they don't actually disagree, not in practice.

In practice, it doesn't matter if Barack Obama thinks gay marriage is okay, and it doesn't matter that Mitt Romney disagrees with him, because they're in absolute agreement that their administrations should have the legal right to stuff people--gay or straight or married or not--in prison without charge or trial, should they will it. In practice, it doesn't matter if Obama wants to pay for your birth control or if Mitt Romney doesn't want to use federal funds to pay for your abortion--not as long as both believe in the authority of the executive administration to assassinate citizens and non-citizens alike without public charge or trial. In practice, it doesn't matter whose "vision" makes you feel good inside, or nauseates you to your core--not as long as both visions quietly share the same despicable foundation.

Every election cycle, the media and the politicians tell us that this is the most important election of our lifetime, and that this time, it's serious. Don't vote for that third party candidate that you actually believe in--the stakes are just too high to mess around with any of that sort of integrity, this time. You must vote for either the Republican or the Democrat because their competing "visions" of the future are so stark that this election is a referendum on the foundational principles of this nation, and you must decide which of these two candidates makes you feel America more.

Republicans will tell you that a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Obama. Democrats will tell you that a vote for a third-party candidate is a vote for Romney. They both will tell you that nothing less than the fate of our nation is at stake, and that you're putting your nation at risk by voting for the other guy, or failing to vote for their guy. All they care about is keeping Washington a see-saw affair, ensuring that every two or four or eight years the balance of power will swing back to their side, and they'll get to drive the bus for a while.

A vote for a third party is an absolute waste, if you think about it strictly in terms of winning and losing elections. Your candidate will not win, if you vote for a third party. Who cares?

Don't worry about the Future of the Nation. Don't worry about the State of Our Ideals. Don't worry about the Competing Visions of Our Future. These are pointless concerns, and so far beyond our control that if you stop to think about it for a second, it is quickly revealed as farce.

A vote for a third party is throwing your vote away, but only if you imagine that a vote for one of the two top candidates has any actual meaning beyond codifying your willing participation in a meaningless shell game. A vote for a third party is an act of integrity that says: I reject your farce. I reject your manipulation. I reject your empty rhetoric.

For that matter, staying home and not voting at all, probably, is a similar act of integrity--but I think action is almost always a more powerful statement than inaction. Staying home allows them to call you apathetic. It lets them say that you don't care, that you've opted out. It allows them to believe that you've given up your rights.

A vote for a third party is a statement. It may well be a statement uttered alone, in the dark, with no one but yourself around to listen--not unlike overlong blog posts, one could say--but a statement nonetheless. It isn't meaningless, not if it has meaning to you.

Maybe you think your vote for either the Republican or the Democrat has meaning, and that's all well and good. Act with purpose and reason and meaning, by all means! But I'm tired of hearing how meaningless it is to think and act--and vote--otherwise.

"No party holds the privilege of dictating to me how I shall vote. If loyalty to party is a form of patriotism, I am no patriot. If there is any valuable difference between a monarchist and an American, it lies in the theory that the American can decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn't. I claim that difference. I am the only person in the sixty millions that is privileged to dictate my patriotism."

--Mark Twain.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Dumbest Controversy In The History Of The World (This Month)

On July 21st, Newt Gingrich posted a note on his website explaining his opposition to the building of a "mosque near ground zero in New York." You can find it here: http://bit.ly/ayitFh

About a week later, my grandmother, who has a habit of forwarding various bits of mostly harmless silliness to the entire extended family, e-mailed a link to that note along with a warning that we not "be fooled and sucked in" by the apologists for thinly veiled Islamic jihad.

Ordinarily, I let my grandmother's more nonsensical e-mails slide right on by, but Newt gets under my skin on a good day, and this note was hardly Newt on a good day. I responded to the e-mail, at about four in the morning, by adding my commentary to Newt's note. I won't bore you with the whole thing, but a couple of points are worth repeating here.

Newt: The proposed "Cordoba House" overlooking the World Trade Center site – where a group of jihadists killed over 3000 Americans and destroyed one of our most famous landmarks – is a test of the timidity, passivity and historic ignorance of American elites.

Me: The proposed building is 13-15 stories tall. When One World Trade Center, or Freedom Tower, is complete, it will stand 1,776 feet above street level—the top floor reaching the same height as the top floor on the former WTC buildings, with an additional 400 feet of spires and parapet. EVEN TODAY, the incomplete Freedom Tower is already 26 stories tall, twice as tall as the proposed height of Cordoba House. "Overlooking" is an interesting word to choose for a building that will stand 10% as tall as the building to which it is being compared.


Newt: Today, some of the Mosque's backers insist this term is being used to "symbolize interfaith cooperation" when, in fact, every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest. It is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way.

Me: Imagine this is actually true. [And by the way, it's not. Also, they've since changed the name from 'Cordoba House' to 'Park51' to tone down the reference.] Who cares? Georgia is named for King George II of England, and he was an asshole that we ended up overthrowing, and somehow we didn't find it necessary to change the name of our state because of how insulting it was to live in a state named after a tyrant. You know why? Because we weren't, and hopefully aren't, a bunch of petulant 6-year-olds. And while I'm no apologist for any religion, ever, but for what it's worth, the Caliphate of Cordoba wasn't all bad. The philosophy and literature of the ancient Greeks were preserved through Arabic translation during this time, and helped introduce Europe to a good deal of the ancients' work. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church of the time is a touch notorious for attempting to keep the work of the ancient Greeks out of the public sphere of knowledge—though it's also worth noting that the Muslims tended to avoid translating the more overtly political texts of the Greeks, as they didn't quite jive with what Islam was all about, so that's a bummer. Oh, and they introduced the region to toothpaste, and deodorant, according to Wikipedia.


Newt: Finally where is the money coming from? The people behind the Cordoba House refuse to reveal all their funding sources.

Me: The first time you see a "Newt for Prez 2012" sign, I want you to ask, does Newt agree 100% with the feelings of every individual who donated to his campaign?


Newt: America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.

Me: Again, assume this nonsense is actually true. Imagine that the people behind the center really are the jihadist-boogeyman-under-the-bed (or is it in the closet?) that Newt makes them out to be. Do we best combat this "Islamist cultural-political offensive" by playing into their stupid, willful ignorance and sink to their level, where we fight them on their own hateful terms? Can we win by displaying the same level of fear and intolerance that we claim to be railing against? Or do we stand a better chance of winning by standing upon the same moral high-ground that made us the greatest experiment in individual liberty in the history of the world? A giant Muslim YMCA that doesn't even really qualify as a mosque, built two and a half blocks and around the corner from the World Trade Center, is a testament not to what makes this country terrible, but what makes this country great. It says, we are bigger than your hatred, we are bigger than your ignorance, we are bigger than your religion. It sends a message to the world that our foundational values mean more to us than anything, even 3000 lives, even "famous landmarks."


Newt: Sadly, too many of our elites are the willing apologists for those who would destroy them if they could.

Me: It is Newt, and this line of thinking, that would destroy that which is most important and fundamental about this country. Let them build their mosque. We will be stronger for it.

The best part about Newt's bit of hysteria is his central, grade-schoolish point – "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." – or, put classically, "Nyah, nyah, wah, wah, nyah, nyah, nyah. Also, thhhbbbthhpbbth."

Newt Gingrich would like to see the United States lower itself into a moronic quid pro quo with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a theocratic monarchy where it is illegal to practice any religion besides Islam, gender equality is regarded as a quirky Western oxymoron, and a government ministry determines what is acceptable for Saudis to publish and view on the internet. Newt, a man never shy about his Christianity who has gone so far as to convert to Catholicism, evidently missed the part of the New Testament where Jesus shunned the old brutality of eye-for-an-eye in favor of a morality exhibited not by demanding that those with whom you disagree capitulate to the way you see the world or else face your wrath, but a morality revealed to, and compelled in, others by example and leadership.

But Newt is a political hack with delusions of ascendancy to the White House—I expect him to say these sorts of things, just as I expect the vast majority of the politically aware public to dismiss him out of hand. Shows what I know.

I assumed that this insipid nonsense, an emotional appeal to feelings of fear and sadness and entirely devoid of logic, reason, and even an actual argument, would simply go away. Instead, it turned into the most important thing in the history of the world, this summer. I have spent a goodish amount of time over the last few days trying to remember a "controversy" just plain dumber than this one. I have been unable to think of one.

This mosque controversy stands out because there is absolutely no legal, or even logical, argument being made by the opponents of the center as to why it shouldn't be built. The anti-mosque drive is based entirely on emotion, on feelings—on ethereal notions of what feels right, and what feels wrong. It's like President Obama's 2008 campaign for the White House, but for Palinistas. Stephen Colbert couldn't have scripted it any better.

There's a good reason that the arguments against the proposed Islamic Community Center have been entirely emotion-based: there is not a shred of legal rationale available to oppose its construction. If you believe otherwise, you are wrong. Park51's opponents largely acknowledge this fact. The only legal questions at issue are those of the local zoning ordinances variety, which have been sorted out by the local officials in New York City responsible for such things.

Putting aside the pundits and the politicians, about whom it must be assumed only ever do or say anything just for the sake of their own ratings, publicity, or page-views, is there something to be done for the 60% of the American public who are against the building of the fallaciously named Ground Zero Mosque? Probably not.

The fact that this is a nonacademic discussion makes engaging people who are opposed to building the mosque pointless. How do you convince a person that what he feels is wrong, that his visceral reaction to a set of circumstances is just incorrect? Nor would I want it to be that easy—if someone else's mind is so easily changed, what does that say about my own convictions and core beliefs? There is, however, something to be said for pointing those who seem to be blinded by emotion in the general direction of the light of reason.

People will be offended by anything, for any reason, at any time. As has been said many times before, and perhaps said most loudly by some of the very people decrying the "Ground Zero Mosque," no one has any right to not be offended. That we have no right to not be offended is one of the tenets of freedom of speech and expression, if not the very lynchpin of what it means to live in free society.

A woman without a headscarf. A woman in a headscarf. A person with red hair. A nativity scene in the public square. McDonald's. An animated Santa Claus pretending to be an animated prophet inside an animated bearsuit on an animated cable television program. A guy wearing the wrong school's colors. A guy wearing the wrong skin color. Any word or concept or situation or proposal in any conceivable context is going to offend someone, somewhere. Sometimes, things offend lots of people all at once.

It is not at all interesting that people are offended. It happens every second of every day on every corner of the planet. If you are offended by this proposed building, it proves only that you have the ability to have an unthinking, emotional reaction to something that some politician or pundit somewhere desperately wants you to have an unthinking, emotional reaction to. It is manipulation at its most base, and "discourse" at the absolute lowest common denominator.

Not to go too big picture here, but for me, anyway, the fun part about being a human individual is the ability to transcend my base instincts. I have immediate, emotional reactions to things all the time--so do my cats. My emotional reaction to a proposal to build any house of worship--be it a church or a mosque or a temple or a spaceship riding the wake of a comet--is one of immediate opposition. I am, as Christopher Hitchens would say, an antitheist, and rather relieved that no evidence exists to support the idea that some god somewhere actually exists, especially given how monstrously conceived said god might be, according to the various monotheisms.

That said, being a person capable of rational thought and empathy and not a complete narcissist or totalitarian, I can move past my feelings and logically conclude that if someone wants to build a house of worship for themselves and their like-minded fellows to hang out in, I'm in no position to be offended by it, and have no standing whatsoever to deny them the right to do as they see fit.

If anyone has made it this far, I'll close by posing the following worst case scenario:

Instead of just a couple of retarded Somali Muslim pirates getting it into their little heads that a sort-of-mosque sort-of-in-the-neighborhood of the World Trade Center symbolizes Islam's total global victory, it turns out every single Islamic jihadist on the planet believes Park51 to be a symbol of the coming submission of America to the will of Allah. There are high-fives and AK-47's fired into the air and much rejoicing.

Have we so little regard for ourselves and our principles that the delusions of psychopaths make us pink in the face with rage, that we walk around slapped and embarrassed and feeling the self-defeating impotence of "being offended"? We have the rule of law! We have the Constitution! We have a system based on the principle that people should be allowed to think, believe, and speak as the see fit! Our free society is designed to abide the delusions of disturbed human beings because liberty posits that people will behave irrationally, and allows for it. It is a tyrannical impulse that drives this controversy, an emotional impulse that must be overcome in the name of human freedom. We must be that shining beacon in the night that our founding ideals have always demanded of us, but our baser impulses and emotions have seemingly always prevented us from actually achieving.

Don't let Barack Obama's waffling, or Nancy Pelosi's baiting, or Sean Hannity's self-righteousness, confuse the fact that they're pandering to the lowest common denominator, attempting to tease out and manipulate emotions that don't even belong in the conversation. The three of them, and all the rest of the politicians and the pundits, are betting that most of us cannot escape the morass of our basest instincts. Yes, you can.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Listener Generated Content

On Monday's brilliant episode of The Bob and Abe Show, which you can find right here, we discussed the controversy that was ginned up last week when Rand Paul went on the Rachel Maddow show and shared his views on the constitutionality of one part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Miraculously, this has generated an e-mail from a listener--a listener that neither Abe nor Bob has ever met! Here's the e-mail, from a gentleman who is called Jeff:

The article at the link below argues the libertarian case and Rand Paul's position better (or maybe just clearer) than you did. While I agree with much of the article, I disagree with your arguments in the Rand Paul podcast. From the article: "Ideally, government’s role is to foster an environment in which individuals can pursue happiness in any manner they please — provided they do not impede other individuals’ rights to do the same." The key word in that sentence is "rights". What is the definition? It obviously varies from person to person. For example, I would say that I have a "right" not to be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, sex, etc. by any public or private party.

Bear with me for a second. In an extreme discrimination hypothetical, a green humanoid person would be discriminated to such an extent that the person would not have access to private businesses (non-profits and for-profits). Now lets go back to the quoted sentence above and apply it here. How can a person pursue happiness in any manner he pleases if that person is denied access to private enterprise? Imagine if you had to grow or kill all your food. Imagine if you had to supply your own water, build your house...the list goes on. My point is that my right to access the free market as a consumer or producer trumps any right to choose which group of customers to serve.


As Jeff points out, the article that he links to does a helluva job outlining the libertarian principles at the core of Rand Paul's position. I highly recommend taking 5 minutes and giving it a read.

At the core of a lot of the more interesting discussions we've had on the podcast over the last year is a question that has been argued by many people through many ages. What, exactly, is a right? How one answers that question, and how one settles the constitutional issues that arise in corollary from answering that question, serves as the foundation upon which one builds a theory of the role of government.

That question, however, is of practically no consequence to a discussion within the framework of the US Constitution. Listen:

The Constitution of the United States rather succinctly defines the powers granted to the federal government. Our federal government is given its authority by the Constitution, and the government's power is strictly limited by that document. Any action taken by government that is outside the boundaries of power and scope established by the Constitution is therefore illegitimate.

It is important to note that the Constitution places absolutely no burdens, limitations, or boundaries on the action or inaction of citizens or any non-governmental institutions, associations, or entities of any kind. Absolutely none whatsoever. The Constitution was not designed to define or authorize or limit anything besides the scope of the federal government, and therefore has absolutely nothing to say about interpersonal interaction between or among non-governmental agents--including its citizens.

The Constitution only even recognizes the rights of private citizens inasmuch as it denies the federal government the power to infringe upon certain of those rights. It doesn't define or limit or authorize the rights of individuals--it says explicitly only what the federal government can and cannot do.

The Declaration of Independence, which has precisely the same binding legal authority as this here blog-post, says that humans have, among others, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Neither the Declaration nor the Constitution codify these rights into law--they merely acknowledge the existence of such rights and establish that the federal government cannot legitimately infringe upon them.

Before you even go there, let's talk about the 14th Amendment, which made the logical--and constitutional--leap of applying the same limitations on rights-infringement upon the state governments as already existed at the federal level. It said federal and state law must apply to all citizens equally, and that the rights of the people cannot be infringed upon without the due process application of those laws.

Again, even in the oft-cited 14th Amendment, the Constitution is only laying out the specific and limited powers of government, and not the rights of citizens, or the interactions among those citizens. The Constitution was written in such a way that it compels absolutely nothing of a citizen--it merely limits governmental power. If you can find a passage that suggests something to the contrary, send it my way. More to the point, the Constitution has absolutely nothing to say about the rights of citizens as they relate to other citizens. Not a word.

Therefore, a person may believe that he has the right to not be discriminated against by his fellow citizen for any of an endless number of specific classifications--race, religion, height, weight, acne, intelligence--and that person may well have a moral claim, but he certainly doesn't have a Constitutional claim.

This is the heart of why Rand Paul is 100% correct from a Constitutional perspective. The Constitution does not give the federal government the legal authority to regulate the private affairs of the citizens--it merely places limits on federal power.

The genius of the Constitution is as apparent in the silence between the notes as it is in what it actually says. As Jeff said, the definition of rights is likely to vary a great deal from person to person. The Constitution allows for these individual differences by utterly ignoring the problem. I'll say it in one final way--the Constitution is about the relationship between government and citizen, not citizen and citizen.

Hopefully we can agree that we are not, therefore, having a discussion of Constitutional import. I only make such a big deal of it because that is the crux of what got me so upset about this whole controversy in the first place--Rand Paul was giving his opinion on the Constitutional legitimacy of one part of the Civil Rights Act, and all anyone wanted to hear was that he thinks discrimination is totally cool, despite his constant cries to the contrary.

Moving right along. Jeff's basic point, slightly rephrased, seems to me to be the following: if a producer wants the privilege of access to the free market in order to sell his goods or services, than that producer gives up the freedom to choose to whom he sells his goods or services. Along those same lines, how can an individual consumer pursue happiness "in any manner he pleases" if he is not given unfettered access to purchase goods or services from anyone he chooses?

But we can't very well call it the "free market" if a producer is required to do something he doesn't want to do in order to participate, can we? The consumer is presumably still given the freedom to choose from which producer he will purchase goods or services--why shouldn't the producer be allowed the same freedom to choose to whom he will sell? If the free market is to be truly free, producers and consumers must be allowed to choose with whom they will do business. The consumer's right to pursue happiness cannot trump the producer's right to pursue happiness, can it? Are they equal, or aren't they?

The consumer does not have a right to pursue happiness "in any manner he pleases" because that would imply that his rights extend so far as to encroach on others' exact same rights in the society. Put classically, an individual's right to swing his fist ends where another individual's nose begins.

How about a few illustrative stereotypes?

Should a Jewish delicatessen owner be compelled to sell sandwiches to a guy who walks in with a Swastika plastered across his forehead? Should a private hospital, owned and operated by the Catholic Church, be forced to provide abortion services? Should a black guy who owns a barber shop be required to provide haircutting services to a guy who walks in and pulls a Ku Klux Klan hood off his mulleted head?

No, of course not. The neo-Nazi can go buy his tuna with extra mayo on white bread from somebody who won't be morally horrified by his existence. The pregnant woman can go to a hospital or a clinic where there aren't nurses and doctors who believe that by performing said procedure they are committing themselves and their patient to eternal damnation. The KKK loser can get his cousin/wife to trim his bangs.

When an individual applies a rights claim to economic (or any other sort of) interaction with another individual, he is effectively making a concurrent claim that the other individual is duty-bound to serve him. This is a violation of the very right to which the claimant is appealing, and therefore invalid.

Allowing bigots the freedom to reveal themselves for what they are affords me the freedom to choose to not give them my business. If there is a restaurant owner who refuses to serve Latinos, I value my freedom to choose to eat down the street.

As I said on the show, morality can only really exist when people are free to be immoral. If a person is only "acting morally" because of an authoritarian dictate that commands him to, then he's not really moral--he's just an actor. Free society must abide private discrimination because a free society values liberty above all else--and liberty must be applied to all individuals in the same way. Coercion, even in the name of something so laudable (if illusory) as fairness, is antithetical to liberty and is precisely that which cannot be tolerated in a free society.

Thoughts, Legion?


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Barack Obama, sports fanatic.

Even as I begin to write this, I'm realizing it's hardly worth the effort. We the people are manipulated by politicians, the media, television, movies, religious or spiritual leaders, parents, friends, enemies, strangers, pets, children--the list goes on ad infinitum--on a moment-to-moment basis. There are benevolent, malevolent, and occasionally entirely neutral forces working on an individual's psyche at all times.

The dog barks because he wants to be walked. The priest infuses the tone of his voice with just the right touch of pity-plea and stern reproach before the collection plate is passed down the aisles. Billy Mays screams at you from the great infomercial set in the sky about the AwesomeAuger. The radio plays two or three songs every hour of every day for two months among a rotating mix of maybe twenty or thirty others. The President of the United States pretends to be a sports fanatic so that the sports-crazed public believes he's just like they are.

One cannot, for the most part, walk around worrying about such manipulation. It is a fact of life. A person would go insane trying to recognize, much less avoid the influence of, the hundreds of thousands of tiny manipulations foisted upon him every day. That said, recognizing the big instances are important to developing a healthy awareness of the way the world works.

My example here is hardly one of the big ones. Just one of the more annoying.

Barack Obama is on ESPN's SportsCenter all the time. He did an interview with Stuart Scott during the campaign. He fills out March Madness Tournament brackets in long-running SportsCenter segments--he even filled out a women's bracket this year! He talks at length about being a hardcore Chicago White Sox fan, despite the fact that when asked, he cannot name a single player that he has admired in his extended fandom.

"I'm a South-side kid."

The President was born in Hawaii. He spent much of his young childhood in Indonesia. He went back to Hawaii for high school. He went to college in Los Angeles and New York City. He finally made it to Chicago at 24 or so, where he hung out and organized some communities for a few years before heading back east for Harvard Law. He settled down in Chicago after that, at about 30 years old. He is not a South-side kid. He's a Hawaiian/Indonesian kid who spent his young adulthood in the three biggest non-Chicago cities on either coast. Assuming he picked up his White Sox habit upon his return to Chicago in the early nineties, Frank Thomas is the answer. In fact, Frank Thomas is the answer whenever somebody wants to know your favorite White Sox player no matter what the era in question is--and whether you're a fan or not.

I guess the point here is that Barack Obama is not a diehard White Sox fan, but he portrays himself as one. I'm not mad at him for not being a big-time baseball fan--he certainly has more important things with which to concern himself. Hell, I have more important things with which to concern myself than the Braves and my fantasy baseball team, and I'm a pizza delivery guy, for chrissakes, and he's the leader of the 'free' world. What concerns me is not that he can't name a single, solitary White Sox player, but that he wants us all to think that he really gives a shit about the White Sox.

I don't care if my president is a baseball fan or not. I don't care if he likes to play croquet or go horseback riding or windsurfing or missed the Super Bowl because he was too busy playing gin-rummy with Eleanor Roosevelt and Don Rumsfeld. I just don't want to be told a thousand times, over and over again, that he is something that he is not, solely because his handlers or perhaps he himself believes I will like him more if I think I can sit down with a Budweiser and my Baseball Almanac and yap ChiSox history with him.

SportsCenter, which is on ESPN, which is owned by Disney--a company with quite a history of mass manipulation, in case you missed it--airs Barack Obama stuff all the time. There are many stories out there about how Barack and Michelle like to watch SportsCenter together. He references the show in speeches. He is probably our first basketball playing president, and certainly more has been made of his athleticism than any before him. Oh, and he throws like a girl. (See video evidence above.)

We are a sports-obsessed culture. The Obama administration is using this obsession to manipulate the sports-loving public into believing that Barack Obama is just like them--that he cares about the same meaningless shit that they care about. It validates their nonsensical obsessions while at the same time reinforces an image of Barack Obama in their minds that is not connected with reality.

For the other half of the nation, the public not obsessed with sports, such revelatory comments are a godsend, assuming they recognize his misstep. He's not a jocky meathead like that last asshole, George W. Bush. He has more important things to worry about than overpaid pituitary retards throwing balls around at each other. 'Let him make the idiots believe what they want to believe--I know he's smarter than all that!'

Oddly, this is the same reaction most secularists have when Obama speaks about his faith. 'Oh, he just has to say that, we know better. He's not really that way, he's just pandering--he's just being a politician.' This shouldn't excuse his behavior--we should demand forthrightness and honesty, or at least be willing to call out those that we may hold in high esteem when they're lying, or letting us down, or perhaps more appropriately, revealing their true selves.

Speaking of W, those that hated him believed him to be an idiot. Believing W to be a moron who didn't know anything about the world or current events is akin to the quiet bigotry of deluding oneself into the belief that 9/11 couldn't possibly have been planned by a bunch of sand-dwelling Muslims simply because they're not sophisticated enough. Never underestimate your enemy--foreign or domestic. If W came off as a little bit dumb, it's because that's what W's people wanted us to think, because it best served their agenda. In much the same way, Barack Obama is designed to come off as just a little bit smarter than the smartest guy in the room, because it best serves his agenda.

Manipulation doesn't end when your preferred party takes over, and it's no less acceptable when it's being done by someone whom you may generally like or even occasionally admire.

In summation, I have to go to work now, and have not had the time to make all my points, but that's life in the world of always being too goddamned wordy.

Go Braves!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Six minutes that explain one reason why Paul Broun should be fired.

I've met Paul Broun. He's a nice man. He understands that the government is spending this country utterly into oblivion. He understands that a lot of what both parties are up to in Washington is in opposition to the best interests of the United States of America and we the people.

He believes that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, and that it's words must be taken literally and at face value, as illustrated in the video below. He wants a weekend in May--every year--to be devoted to reflectin' on the importance of the Christian Bible in the founding and subsequent history of the United States, and that goes double for you Jews, Muslims, and atheists.

There are a few reasons to like Paul Broun. There are a few glaring reasons to fire him, not least of which is the video below. Fire him and fire all of his idiot colleagues, no matter what.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

4.14 links and Whatnot

Like the banana, orange juice, and toast to go with that bowl of cereal over at the podcast, the links below are all a part of a balanced Bob and Abe Show diet.

Mark Steyn's rather excellent piece on Canada's distaste for free speech.

The Wikipedia entry on Constance McMillen's battle for her "right" to freak-dance to Little Wayne and Lady Gaga while grinding away prom night on her little girlfriend's tuxedo leg.

And then there's Hank Johnson. He kind of speaks for himself, doesn't he?