Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Rick Santorum Enigma



Cellophane, Mister Cellophane
Shoulda been my name
Mister Cellophane
'Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I'm there.
—Amos, “Mister Cellophane,” from Chicago


As we head towards next week’s Iowa caucuses and the kickoff of the 2012 campaign in earnest, the same question keeps popping into my gulliver: 

Why can’t Rick Santorum gain any traction?

Actually, Hannity posed that very question to Santorum himself a month or so ago, so I can’t claim any originality there.  But for those of us who fancy ourselves conservatives, it’s a serious question worth considering.

I suppose I have some sympathy for the old William F. Buckley philosophy of supporting “the most conservative candidate electable,” and if you subscribe to that school of thought the very fact that the former Senator hasn’t gained more momentum by now renders the question of why irrelevant.  But as I began this blog back in July, if we cede the discussion to the center/left in the interest of just winning elections, we may as well pack up and go home.  To that end, I am more inclined to fight the fight that needs fighting, and heed the words of Ronald Reagan, who encouraged us to stick to “certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency,” and to “raise[] a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues[.]”

So, what’s not to like about Senator Santorum?


I understand there isn’t going to be a perfect candidate.  But Santorum appears to lack some of the warts that afflict the rest of the GOP field.  He hasn’t shown a tendency to melt down during national TV debates like Governor Perry.  He isn’t prone to factual gaffes and (fairly or unfairly) subject to criticism as a fringe extremist like Representative Bachmann (for the record, I like her a lot and don’t see her as a fringe extremist, but it’s unrealistic to ignore the fact that many peg her that way).  He doesn’t have the national security blind spots and affinity for nutball conspiracy theories like Representative Paul.  He doesn’t display the often overbearing intellectual ego (arrogance?) that I fear may make Speaker Gingrich a paralyzingly polarizing nominee. 

And most importantly, Santorum doesn’t have a history of flip-flopping on issues for political expediency as do Gingrich and Governor Romney.  This is particularly important with Obamacare, which will surely be a centerpiece of the campaign discussion.  Gingrich’s and Romney’s past support for the Massachusetts program that was the model for the universal mandate will severely handicap them in a debate with Obama like an 800-pound anchor chained to their ankles.

If the idea is to present a party of bold colors distinguishing our guiding principles from those of the Democrats and the Left, what is needed is the most consistently conservative candidate we can find.  Substantively, Senator Santorum has been as or more consistently conservative across the spectrum of issues than any other candidate on the menu.  I don’t like to divide conservatism into subsets (social conservative, fiscal conservative, etc.); you are either a conservative or you aren’t.  But I will do so here for ease of discussion.  Consider the following:

Reducing Government

For you Tea Party types and other fiscal conservatives, Santorum has your hymnal, and he’s singing away.  He supports a cut, cap, and balance amendment to the Constitution limiting federal spending at 18% of GDP.  He wants to eliminate agricultural and energy subsidies, and de-fund EPA and Planned Parenthood, and also United Nations programs that are contrary to U.S. interests.  And he wants to reform—not eliminate—Social Security and Medicare.

Santorum supports massive reforms to the tax code, including eliminating the alternative minimum tax, death tax, and tax on repatriated income.  He would reduce income taxes to two brackets—10% and 28%--and reduce the capital gains tax to 12%.  Although not an executive function, Santorum support immediate de-funding and repeal of Obamacare.  He wants to eliminate strangling government regulations that are hindering the growth of business in the U.S., and phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  And while his advocacy of dissolving the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is a bit more over-the-top than is necessary—that’s another post—his underlying notion that the federal courts have gotten too big for their britches is spot on.

Defense

Santorum understands that we are not engaged in a war on terror, which is a term so P.C. that it wholly fails to explain what’s really going on.  We are—whether we like it or not—in a war with radical Islam.  The threats from jihadists and from a potentially nuclear-armed Iran are real, and for Santorum must be dealt with pro-actively.  Santorum is a strong supporter of Israel and secure borders.  While he has tended towards a more Bush-like nation-building policy than I’d like, the Paulian alternative of passive isolationism is far more dangerous.

Social Issues

Santorum is more solidly and consistently conservative on social issues than any candidate in the field with the possible exception of Ms. Bachmann.  Senator Santorum understands—and lives—the idea that the traditional family and the sanctity of human life are at the core of what has made this a great nation.  He is as pro-life as they come, supporting the elimination of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and during his time in Congress he sought to ban partial-birth abortions.  He wrote the original Federal Marriage Amendment, and as President would direct the Justice Department to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.  You could argue, I suppose, that his social positions make him subject to charges of anti-gay bigotry; I submit, however, that anyone who is going to hang their voting hat on sexual orientation issues isn't going to vote for anyone in the GOP field anyway.

I figure Rick Santorum must be doing something right as a conservative to provoke the kind of vulgar, profane, and frankly just gross vitriol the radical Left spews about him on the Internet.  Of course, the bright lights of national scrutiny may yet reveal some skeleton of which we're not aware--but that hasn't happened yet.  If what you want is someone who will draw a sharp contrast from the current administration, who will represent the conservative position in bold colors and not pale pastels, I submit he’s worth a second look.  

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Editor's Note: I hope everyone had a terrific Christmas, and is taking some time to spend with family.  I remain on vacation through the end of the year.  Thanks for sticking with me, and here's to a safe, prosperous, and tide-changing 2012.  RDW

Friday, December 16, 2011

Getting Rid Of Professional Career Politicians



“Let’s just say you’ll pay me because it’s in your interest to pay me.”
—G.D. Spradlin as Senator Pat Geary in The Godfather, Part II


A few days ago one of you suggested that we eliminate full lifetime salaries for Congress.  While members of Congress don’t actually get full lifetime salaries (they do have a retirement pension plan), the point is a good one, and worth expounding a bit.

Our Founders were not professional career politicians.  George Washington tried to decline his salary as President.  And prior to the 1850s, Congressional salaries were largely limited to a modest per diem paid only while Congress was in session.  The country was set up with the citizen-legislator in mind; people engaging in temporary public service for the sake of public service.

The problem today is our system incentivizes people to do things to get re-elected, instead of to do what needs to be done.  As a result, the District today is populated almost exclusively by professional politicians, in it for perpetual personal profit, rather than any genuine desire to engage in public service.  They like the wealth, the trappings, and the power of the office, and they want to keep them.  Of course the easiest way to do that is to promise to give things—preferably by taking them from someone else—to the voters who elect them, and to the special interest groups who fund their campaigns.  Both sides of the aisle are guilty of this.  And so we have this sort of unholy symbiosis where a dependent recipient class continues to vote for the career politician, who in turn gives more and more government freebies and services to the recipient class, and so on, and so on.   

That, ultimately, is why the Beast is as engorged as it is today.

You’re not going to get rid of the government-benefits addicts.  So to correct this problem, you have to get rid of the professional politician.  You could just say throw out all the incumbents, and I have some sympathy for that view.  But without systemic changes, we’d just end up replacing them with different faces who sooner or later would succumb to the same corruption.  No, to make any real fix we have to change the system itself so it doesn’t provide so much personal incentive to remain in office forever for its own sake.  Let me offer some suggestions.

1.         Term Limits

The easiest step, and the one in my judgment most likely to have an impact, is to impose term limits on Congress.  I appreciate the benefits of continuity, and that there is a certain amount of expertise that’s helpful in the legislative process.  But nobody needs to remain in Congress forever.  Daniel Inouye (D-HI) has been in the Senate for 48 years.  Seven Senators have been in office 30 years or longer.  In the House, John Dingell (D-MI) has been in office a ridiculous 56 years (by my count some 174 House members—and the current POTUS—hadn’t even been born yet when Dingell took office).  John Conyers (D-MI) has been in office 46 years.  Another 20 (10 Republicans, 10 Democrats) have been in office 30 years or more.

Even the office of President is subject to term limits.  I would suggest that something like four terms for the House (eight years total) and two terms (twelve years total) in the Senate would go a long way towards curbing the abuses of office and removing the incentive to act as a professional career politician.  

2.         Limit Pay, Benefits, and Profit from the Office

Members of Congress make $174,000 a year (senior leadership positions make a little more).  That’s more than three times the median U.S. income.  They also receive health benefits, and with a minimum five years of service, qualify for the same retirement pension as other federal employees, which can be as high as 80% of the member’s final salary.  Pretty nice work, if you can get it.  And according to a USA Today piece, somehow a lot of these long-term Congressmen have managed to accumulate sizeable net worths:

Congressman
Tenure
Estimated Net Worth
John Dingell (D-MI)
56 years (House)
$3.2 million
Dan Inouye (D-HI)
48 years (Senate)
$3.2 million
Charlie Rangel (D-NY)
40 years (House)
$1.2 million
Pete Stark (D-CA)
38 years (House)
$3.9 million
Henry Waxman (D-CA)
36 years (House)
$1.1 million
Ed Markey (D-MA)
35 years (House)
$1.4 million
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
34 years (Senate)
$3.9 million
Nick Rahall (D-WV)
34 years (House)
$2.4 million
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
33 years (Senate)
$2.1 million
Carl Levin (D-MI)
32 years (Senate)
$1.7 million
James Sensenbrenner (R-WI)
32 years (House)
$18.7 million
Tom Petri (R-WI)
32 years (House)
$28.1 million
David Drier (R-CA)
32 years (House)
$8.5 million
Barney Frank (D-MA)
32 years (House)
$3.2 million
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
30 years (Senate)
$3.2 million
Ralph Hall (R-TX)
30 years (House)
$1.1 million
Hal Rogers (R-KY)
30 years (House)
$3.7 million
Of these only Stark (banking), Hatch (law), Rahall (family), Cochran (law), Levin (law), Sensenbrenner (family), Dreier (family/real estate), Hall (law), and Rogers (law) appear to have had significant means of generating wealth prior to entering Congress, suggesting that half or more of these long-term millionaires accumulated their estates while serving in Congress.

Where are the 99% when you need them?

Following their tenure—if they ever leave—it is common for members of Congress to take private sector jobs and/or accept lucrative honoraria, trading on the stature conferred by having occupied a public office.

If you’re interested solely in public service, it shouldn’t take a giant pay and benefits package to attract you, and you certainly shouldn’t still be profiting from the office after you’ve left it.  I submit that an annual salary pegged at, say, double the median should be quite sufficient.  Allow members to contribute to an IRA during their tenure, but they don’t need a federally-funded full pension.  And while it is difficult to restrict members from seeking employment after they’ve left office (particularly if you’re going to limit how long they can stay in office in the first place) it seems like a heavy tax (say, 50%?) on honoraria income would at least allow the public to share in the post-office benefits generated by virtue of the public office itself.  While we’re at it, we might consider requiring all Congressmen to place all investments into a blind trust during their term in office, so we can avoid the ugly insider-trading issues publicized by 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago.

3.         Limit Lobbyist Perks

Lobbying—attempting to influence a Congressman’s vote on particular legislation or issues—is a long-standing practice in the District, and a solid argument can be made that it is an essential part of our First Amendment right to petition the government.  Indeed, how on earth can my Representative represent me if I’m not allowed to tell him how I think he should vote on an issue and why?  But the potential for abuse is rather obvious, and unfortunately the temptation is simply too great.  Although professional lobbyists are prohibited from giving money or “gifts” to lawmakers, there are few restrictions on what private citizens and organizations can do. 

I would suggest three things to help draw a bright line to distinguish communication from bribery.  One, restrict all in-person communication with a member of Congress or their staff to the Capitol grounds or the Congressman’s D.C. or home office.  Two, prohibit anyone other than immediate family members from directly or indirectly giving anything of value to a sitting member of Congress or their staff.  Period.  Three, restrict expenditures of campaign funds to the payment of expenses directly and demonstrably related to the Congressman’s election campaign itself that are incurred within a Senator’s home state or Representative’s home district during the 12 months preceding an election.

These are not complex solutions, but I submit they would go a long way towards eliminating the incentive to hold office for its own sake (and thus the incentive to legislate to buy votes, instead of to further the best interests of the country). 


Just some thoughts.

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Editor's Note:  Taking some time off for the holidays, so posting may be sparce between now and the end of the year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

P.C. Strikes Again



“I don’t like your style, your politics, or your sense of humor.  I don’t like what you say, or how you say it.”
—J.T. Walsh as Sergeant Major Dickerson in Good Morning, Vietnam


I’ve said before I am no big fan of the First Amendment.  But if you’re going to have it, it’s got to apply equally to everyone, right?

Right?

Well don’t look now, but the dark forces of Political Correctness are on the march again.

It seems that the TLC cable network—ostensibly, “The Learning Channel,” which brings you such quality educational programs as Sister Wives (which, according to their website, explores the joys of polygamous households), Long Island Medium (a “reality” show tracking a psychic/palm-reading mom), The Virgin Diaries (which “takes you inside the lives of adult virgins who reveal the challenges, truths, and anticipations of losing their virginity”)—is running a series called All-American Muslim.  All-American Muslim, as I understand it, is a day-in-the-life kind of thing chronicling what I’m sure are the riveting daily lives of five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan (what’s the over/under on whether they’ll have any discussion about Islamic views on homosexuality, or the treatment of women in predominantly Muslim countries?).  Members of a group called the Florida Family Association complained to Lowe’s Home Improvement—among others—about the company’s sponsorship of the show, claiming that the program is “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”  Rather than deal with the flak of fighting about it, Lowe’s elected to stop advertising on the program.

Allah forbid.

Predictably, there is now much hue and cry from the Left.  Russell Simmons—to much fanfare from CNN—has bought up the ad space left by Lowe’s, and has called for a boycott.  California State Senator Ted Lieu called Lowe’s decision “un-American” and “naked religious bigotry,” and apparently is considering legislative action and an investigation into whether Lowe’s has violated California law (query how, or even what business this is of the California legislature, given that Lowe’s is headquartered in North Carolina, it made its decision after complaints from a group in Florida, TLC is headquartered in Maryland, and the show is filmed in Michigan).  Michigan State Representative Rashida Tlaib—a Muslim legislator who has been among the most vocal in criticizing "racist" efforts to ban foreign law from Michigan courts (which she obviously reads as being directed at preventing the application of Sharia)—has complained directly to Lowe’s.  And Michigan Congressman Keith Ellison has condemned Lowe’s for “uphold[ing] the beliefs of a fringe hate group and not the creed of the First Amendment.”

Is that so?

I’ve been studying my copy of the First Amendment.  It reads, in its entirety, as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

My copy seems to be missing the part that says it only applies when who you’re worshipping or what you’re saying is acceptable to the Left. 

To be sure, Muslims are free in this country to practice Islam free from restraint by Congress or the States (subject, of course, to the usual compelling state interest restrictions applicable to any constitutional right).  But notice that Lowe’s isn’t Congress or a State, and Lowe’s hasn’t restrained anyone from saying anything or anyone from practicing their religion.  Lowe’s hasn’t made any statement critical of the show or calling for TLC to cancel it.  Lowe’s hasn’t made any comment about Islam or Muslims.  Lowe’s hasn’t done anything to attempt to prevent Muslims from practicing their religion.  Lowe’s isn’t banning Muslims from its stores.  All Lowe’s did was elect to discontinue its sponsorship of the program in an attempt to avoid controversy.

Who’s not upholding the creed of the First Amendment, Congressman Ellison?

Nobody in this case is discriminating against Muslims, or impairing their First Amendment rights.  But apparently for these folks on the Left not only does the First Amendment guarantee Muslims the right to the free exercise of their religion (and TLC the right to the free exercise of speech in running the show), it also gives them the right to compel Lowe’s to pay for it, even if they conclude that they either no longer support the show’s content, or that they just don’t want the hassle associated with it.  Interestingly, it never seems to occur to these folks that the same First Amendment behind which they so love to hide grants Lowe’s the same right of free expression and practice, which includes the right not to participate in someone else’s speech or practice. 

How DARE Lowe’s bow to outside pressure to drop its sponsorship of a Islam-centered program?!?!

Isn’t it funny that these are the very same corners from which the cries came pressuring Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding to drop its representation of the House of Representatives in defending the Defense of Marriage Act?  These are also a lot of the same folks who will pour money into the ACLU to sue to make sure a 7-year-old can’t put up a Santa display in a classroom, or a Catholic college can’t hang a crucifix.

I’m not necessarily defending or agreeing with the opinion expressed by the Florida Family Association—I haven’t seen All-American Muslim, and I have no intention of doing so.  I have no idea whether it’s dangerous Islamist propaganda, or simply mindless drivel.  Nor do I care.  What I do care about is the continuous push to shove Islam down our throats in the name of political correctness, and I’m sick to death of the eggshells upon which we are forced to trod lest we offend any Muslim anywhere about anything. 

The fact of the matter is that Lowe’s has every right to make its own decisions whether, where, and how to advertise.  It is absolutely free to sponsor programming or not as it sees fit, and that includes the freedom to pull its advertising for any reason it chooses, whether it be good and righteous, immoral and bigoted, or no reason at all.  You have the right to speak and practice your religion, but you don’t have the right to force me to help you do it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Justice Denied


Kid:                Who kills Prince Humperdinck?  At the end, somebody’s gotta do it.  Is it Inigo?  Who?
Grandpa:       Nobody.  Nobody kills him.  He lives.
Kid:                You mean he wins? 
—Fred Savage as the Kid, and Peter Falk as Grandpa in The Princess Bride


The older I get, the less ardent I become in my support for the death penalty.

But this one pisses me off.

On Wednesday Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced his office was abandoning the death penalty case against former Black Panther and convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, after the Supreme Court declined to review a 2008 ruling from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals that Jamal’s sentencing was improper.  Although Jamal will spend life in prison, he now avoids the death penalty to which he was originally sentenced.

For those who may not be familiar, let’s review the facts as recited by the Third Circuit (taken essentially verbatim from the lower court ruling to the same effect):

“On December 9, 1981, between three thirty and four o’clock in the morning, Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner made a traffic stop of a Volkswagen driven by William Cook, Abu-Jamal’s brother, on Locust Street between 12th and 13th Streets, in Philadelphia.  Officer Faulkner radioed for backup assistance, and both men exited their vehicles.  A struggle ensued, and Officer Faulkner tried to secure Cook’s hands behind his back.  At that moment, Abu-Jamal, who was in a parking lot on the opposite side of the street, ran toward Officer Faulkner and Cook.  As he approached, Abu-Jamal shot Officer Faulkner in the back.  As Officer Faulkner fell to the ground, he was able to turn and fire at Abu-Jamal, striking him in the chest.  Abu-Jamal, now standing over Officer Faulkner, fired four shots at close range.  One shot struck Officer Faulkner between the eyes and entered his brain.”

The Court went on to note that backup officers who responded within one minute of Officer Faulkner’s radio call arrived to find Jamal sitting on the curb next to the body.  Officer Faulkner’s service revolver was found with one spent casing, and the bullet that struck Jamal was ballistically matched to that gun.  A second .38 purchased by and registered to Jamal was found next to Jamal with five spent casings.  Although the bullets that killed Officer Faulkner were too mutilated for a specific match, fragments had barrel markings consistent with the make of Jamal’s gun.  Four eyewitnesses saw Jamal stand over the wounded Officer Faulkner and shoot him in the face, with three of them positively identifying Jamal as the shooter (the fourth saw the shooter from behind).  A security guard and police officer at the hospital heard Jamal say twice: “I shot the m-----f-----, and I hope the m-----f----- dies.”

Jamal was convicted by a unanimous jury in just three hours.

Over the last 30 years, Jamal has had some 17 appeals, including multiple trips to both the State and federal Supreme Courts.  Not one has upheld any complaint regarding the guilt phase of Jamal’s trial.  Yet, despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Jamal became the subject of a virulent protest movement that claimed Jamal was railroaded because he is black and Faulkner was white (my wife and I had the misfortune of running into a parade on his behalf in Philadelphia about 12 years ago, and its participants bore an uncanny resemblance to the aimless, unwashed, tattooed/pierced mobs now comprising the “occupy” movement; not exactly poster children for credibility).

But in 2008 the Third Circuit, relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Mills v. Maryland, ruled that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was “objectively unreasonable” in approving the Court’s instructions regarding Jamal’s sentencing.  Pennsylvania’s sentencing system at the time required the jury to impose the death penalty if it either (a) unanimously found at least one of a series of statutorily-defined aggravating circumstances was present, or (b) unanimously found one or more aggravating circumstances that outweighed any of a list of statutorily-defined mitigating circumstances. 

The Third Circuit overturned Jamal’s death sentence based on an argument that the proximity of the word “unanimously” to the discussion of considering mitigating factors, and the Court’s repeated emphasis on the need for unanimity, could have confused the jury into believing that it could not consider a particular mitigating circumstance unless there was unanimous agreement as to the mitigating circumstance itself.  Here’s the actual text from the relevant part of the verdict form (the Court's instructions were to the same effect), and judge for yourself whether it’s subject to any confusion:

(2) (To be used only if the aforesaid sentence is death) We, the jury, have found unanimously
            [  ] at least one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstance.  The aggravating circumstance(s) is/are     .
            [X]  one or more aggravating circumstances which outweigh any mitigating circumstances.  The aggravating circumstance(s) is/are    A.
            The mitigating circumstance(s) is/are    A.

The aggravating and mitigating circumstances found by the Jamal jury (indicated by the “A”s) were that he killed a police officer acting in the line of duty, and his lack of a significant criminal record.  After the verdict the jury was polled—very common practice—and each affirmed that they were in agreement with the verdict.

I don’t see that the form is subject to much confusion, and I’m not sure I care.  The language of the form and the Court’s instructions tracked almost verbatim the Pennsylvania sentencing statute—the trial judge followed the law, as he was supposed to do.  And the unanimity requirement is included to protect the defendant!!!!  Had that language not been there, Jamal would surely have been complaining about its absence.  Furthermore, the Mills case forming the basis of the Third Circuit’s decision was decided in 1988, six years after Jamal’s sentencing trial.  In other words, Jamal’s death sentence was overturned based on jury instruction standards that did not exist at the time of his sentencing.

But here’s the thing that really gets me.  The argument is that the instruction could have confused the jury into not considering a mitigating circumstance, but nowhere in the 48 pages of the Third Circuit’s opinion (with concurrence) or the 200+ pages of the District Court’s opinion is there any suggestion of any particular additional mitigating circumstance the jury failed to consider, such as Jamal was on drugs, or Officer Faulkner was participating with Jamal in a felony.  There isn't even any indication that Jamal has offered one.  Yet although no one appears even to have argued that the jury actually missed something in Jamal’s favor, because of a dubious technical failure to comply with a Supreme Court opinion that hadn’t yet been handed down, Jamal’s sentence is overturned.

This isn’t a case of actual innocence.  Four people saw Mumia Abu-Jamal shoot Daniel Faulkner in the back, then stand over the wounded officer and shoot him in the face (meaning Jamal was almost certainly looking Officer Faulkner squarely in the eyes when he pulled the trigger).  Jamal himself proudly admitted the crime to two others.  Jamal and his gun—which contained exactly the number of spent casings as shots that hit Officer Faulkner—were found sitting next to the dying officer.  There is neither a question whether the guy did it, or whether the jury missed a mitigating factor that would somehow have outweighed these facts.  Yet despite his undeniable guilt, through a 30 year war of attrition, Jamal has finally managed to bleed the system the system dry of time, money, and patience.

25-year-old Officer Daniel Faulkner wasn’t guilty of anything.  But he didn’t get 30 extra years for endless appeals.  Nobody granted him clemency based on a technicality.

And now, apparently, he won’t get justice, either.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

NAACP Takes Voter I.D. Issue Global



Andrew:         What do you need a fake I.D. for?
Brian:             So I can vote.
—Emilio Estevez as Andrew Clark and Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson in The Breakfast Club

I wish I were making this up, but I’m not that clever. 

Continuing a theme struck by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz back in June, the NAACP is crying that GOP-backed voting laws are “designed to restrict or limit the ballot access of voters of color.”  At issue are rules requiring I.D. to vote, restrictions on voting by felons, and limits on registration and early voting periods.  A lot of this is same-old, same-old, but the NAACP is taking this Quixotic quest against imaginary racism to new depths:

They’re appealing to the United Nations for help.

That’s right, the NAACP is pre-emptively asking the U.N.—that beacon of support for democracy and bastion against corruption—to intervene in the 2012 U.S. elections.  Maybe next they’ll petition for statehood recognition.

The self-defeating irony here would be comic if it weren’t so damn dangerous.  The only “enforcement” mechanism the U.N. has to bring to bear is the imposition of massive global economic sanctions against the U.S.  Is that really what you want to do right now in the midst of a lengthy recession/depression/pseudo-non-recovery?  Who do you expect would be hurt the most by such an action? 

Alex, I’ll take “the very same low-income blacks who are allegedly being disenfranchised” for $1,000, please.

As I’ve previously discussed here, there is nothing racist or discriminatory about asking people who want to vote to demonstrate that they are who they say they are, and that they’re eligible to vote, which is all voter I.D. and registration rules do.  Frankly, I can’t believe there’s even any controversy about this:  if you’re going to have rules about who can and cannot vote (you have to be 18, you have to be a U.S. citizen), why would you not have some mechanism in place to enforce them?  The only real reason to oppose such rules is if you are interested in cheating.

The argument, of course, is that such rules effectively disenfranchise blacks because blacks disproportionately lack the required identification.  To support this argument, the NAACP continues to whip the tired horse that is the 2006 report of NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, which claimed that as many as 25% of voting age blacks don’t have a current government-issued photo I.D.  A few things are worth noting about that report:

  • It purports to extrapolate national figures based on a telephone survey of a grand total of 987 participants, that also “weighted” the results “to account for underrepresentation of race,” but the report doesn’t say how.  In other words, they extrapolate from an extremely limited sample that, in some undisclosed way, deliberately skewed minority data.
  • It is unclear how these 987 participants were selected.  The report says they were selected at random, but we do not know from what pool (a phone book? tax rolls? arrest records?) or in what geography (were these people selected nationwide, or all in Queens?).  Nor do we know what mechanism was used to ensure randomness.
  • The report claims its 987 participants were all voting-age U.S. citizens—how do they know from a phone call?  What do you suppose the odds are that someone here illegally will say “yes” when asked by a stranger in a random phone call if they are a citizen?  I guess we’re just to take them all at their word, which is really what voter I.D. opponents are advocating as the benchmark for voting.
  • 135 participants said they had both a U.S. birth certificate and a naturalization certificate, which the study says is likely due to their confusion between the two.  Such confusion in itself reinforces the point above, but giving them the benefit of the doubt, do we really want people voting who are that easily confused?  I’m just saying.  How many more confused the question do you have an I.D. with do you have an I.D. on you right now as we’re talking on the phone?
Most importantly, however, and the point that continues to be lost is that this report and those who rely upon it are asking the wrong question, which is whether people have an I.D.  When an alleged 25% of blacks say they don’t, the NAACP and others then cry that requiring an I.D. to vote is racism, as though white people are simply born with the requisite papers while people of color aren’t.  The salient question isn’t whether blacks have I.D., because no one inherently has it; even white people have to get off their ass and go down to the DMV to get one.  The question is whether black people can get I.D. if they need it.

The NAACP says that for many it’s simply too onerous to get a photo I.D.  The $15 to $45 is just too expensive for many of the poor.  That States like Tennessee and South Carolina are offering free I.D.’s doesn’t really help, you see, because even then poor blacks don’t have and can’t afford the necessary underlying documentation required to obtain the free I.D. 

Really?

Tennessee, just by way of example, exempts from the I.D. requirement indigents who cannot obtain the requisite documents without paying a fee.  Further, under the instructions for obtaining a free voter I.D., Tennessee explicitly tells its residents that if they cannot obtain a birth certificate, they can speak with a service center manager who will work with them to identify alternative documents to prove citizenship (Texas takes things like school records and even inmate cards).  But even where free I.D. isn’t available, the cost simply isn’t that great.  In my home State of Texas, an I.D. costs $16.  That’s a grand total of 31 cents a week, or a little more than four cents a day

Furthermore, photo I.D.—or the kinds of underlying documents necessary to get one, such as birth certificates, passports, hospital records—are routinely required for all kinds of activities and services in modern American society.  You want to board an airplane?  Good luck without an I.D.  Many merchants require I.D. to use a credit card or write a check.  A lot of downtown buildings in major cities—including government buildings like courthouses—require photo I.D. to even walk in the door.  And in places like uber-racist/Tea Party hotbed New York require these kinds of I.D. to get food stamps.

The fact of the matter is that there is nothing difficult about getting the appropriate I.D., and we require it all the time in all sorts of contexts without raising charges of racism.  As I’ve said before, to make that claim is in itself racist, because what you’re saying is that blacks are children for whom we have to make special exceptions or dumb things down because they just can’t satisfy the rules applicable to everyone else.  You perpetuate a culture of victimhood, incompetence, and dependency, where society expects less of blacks and ultimately they come to expect less of themselves.

I’ll issue the same challenge to NAACP that I made several weeks ago to Representative Andre Carson (D-IN) after his Congress-wants-to-lynch-black-people rant:  name names.  Identify even one actual live human being who is eligible to vote and wants to vote but cannot because they cannot obtain the appropriate I.D.  And when you do, I’ll issue a second challenge:  why don’t you spend half the energy and effort you did on the U.N. to actually help that person get the I.D. they need?  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remembering Pearl Harbor



"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
—George Santayana, The Life of Reason


Seventy years ago today, aircraft and submarines of the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the United States naval base and associated army airfields at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  The attack resulted in the near-destruction of the United States’ Pacific Fleet, and over 2400 servicemen killed.

Below is the text of Franklin Roosevelt’s December 8, 1941 address to a joint session of Congress (while I am no fan of FDR, this speech is undeniably one of the finest pieces of American oratory of all time):
“Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph -- so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.”
I do not expect that we will again see Zeros and Kates screaming out of the clouds over a U.S. naval installation.  But it is folly to think that we do not face threats (in no particular order, see Iran, Pakistan/Afghanistan, Venezuela, Russia, China).  As we remember the events of that day and sacrifice of those lost, we would do well to keep in mind that, as President Kennedy would say 20 years later in addressing the nation on TV concerning the Cuban missile crisis, freedom always has a price:

“[T]he greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.  The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are.  But it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world.  The cost of freedom is always high, and Americans have always paid it.  And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

We must remain ever-vigilant so that we are prepared to defend ourselves and our interests against those who would attack our freedom or threaten our way of life.  Anything less ignores the lessons of December 7, and renders to waste the price so dearly paid for them.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Confederate Flags Are Not Racism


Trouble with the world is we're too busy to think about it all right
Why is there a rebel flag hanging from the state house walls?
Tired of hearin' this shit about heritage, not hate
Time to make the world a better place
            —Hootie and the Blowfish, Drowning


Byron Thomas is my new hero.

Young Mr. Thomas is a 19 year old freshman at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort.  According to an Associated Press piece published Sunday, Mr. Thomas has been at the center of a brouhaha with the University over his dorm room d├ęcor, to-wit: a Confederate flag.  In a spasm of misguided political correctness, school officials asked Mr. Thomas to remove the flag from his dorm room window after a number of other students complained, presumably assuming that the flag was racist and therefore offensive.  But here’s the rub:

Byron Thomas is black. 

The flag at issue is depicted above: it’s the familiar red flag with diagonal blue stripes running corner to corner, and thirteen white stars within the blue stripes.  Contrary to popular belief, this was not the national flag of the Confederacy; that would predominantly have been the “Stars and Bars,” which was similar to the “Betsy Ross” version of the federal Stars and Stripes, with a blue field in the upper left corner, white stars in a circle within the field, and thick red and white horizontal stripes.  The flag at issue was the Battle Flag (strictly speaking, because it’s rectangular and not square it’s actually the Navy Jack)

Mr. Thomas says there’s nothing racist about the Confederate Battle Flag/Navy Jack, and he’s absolutely right.  The flag design was adopted by the Confederate Army as a means of distinguishing themselves because the Stars and Bars’ similarity to the Stars and Stripes proved confusing in the mayhem of combat.  As such, it was, as Mr. Thomas points out, a communication symbol, rather than a symbol of racism.

Yes, but it’s a symbol of the Confederacy, and the Confederacy was all about slavery.  Isn’t that racist?

Let’s be clear about something up front.  The institution of slavery is an ugly, deplorable part of our history.  But it is a fact, and ignoring it or trying to pretend it didn’t happen doesn’t erase it.  More importantly, to equate the Confederacy with slavery, or to say the Confederate Battle Flag is a racist symbol because the Civil War was all about slavery grossly oversimplifies things.

As Thomas Jefferson—who, yes, owned slaves, but also at least attempted in his time to introduce legislation to abolish slavery—observed in his autobiography, while the ownership of black slaves was largely a Southern phenomenon, the merchant traders in the North who actually imported them also had an economic stake in the practice:

“The clause [in the draft Declaration of Independence] too, reprobating the enslaving of inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, wished to continue it.  Our northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures; for though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.”  (emphasis added)

It is misleading to say that slavery was only a Southern thing (and, following from that, that a Southern symbol is inherently a symbol of racism).

Nor is it really correct to say that the Civil War was fought over Southern slavery, and thus a Confederate military icon is therefore a symbol of racism.  The seeds of the Civil War were sown in the very formation of the Republic, when the framers struggled with the tension between whether power in a consolidated union would be wielded based on population (which favored the industrial and more heavily populated Northern States), or based on individual States being represented as co-equal sovereigns (favored by the agrarian Southern States).  The bicameral (two-house) Legislative Branch ultimately embraced in the Constitution was an imperfect compromise, and by 1861 wealth and population concentration in the North had shifted the balance of power such that the Southern States faced the prospect of being dictated to by the Northern States. 

Yes, when it came time for secession the specific issue was slavery, but it could just as easily have been the prospect of a Northern-dominated federal government instituting oppressive environmental restrictions on the cultivation of cotton (EPA, anyone?), or mandating that individual citizens purchase minimum amounts of Northern textiles (Obamacare?).  The specific form of the dictation is less important than the fact (or threat of) the dictation itself.  And for the North it is worth noting that the Civil War fight wasn’t so much about slavery—Lincoln and the Northern-dominated Congress hadn’t done anything to force the South to end slavery—but about preventing the South from seceding.      

I can tell you that, as a white southerner, I don’t look at the Confederate Battle Flag and think about hating black people, and I don’t long for the days of sipping mint juleps on the back porch of the plantation house watching black slaves in the fields.  I see it as a symbol of Southern pride, and of State defiance against dictation from an overly-powerful central government; in that sense it has much in common with the Gadsden Flag.  Slavery is nothing to be proud of, but the Confederacy and its fundamental political underpinnings are an undeniable part of our history and our heritage in the South—sorry, Darius, but they are.  The fact that some groups like the Klan have hijacked the Battle Flag to promote their racist agendas doesn’t make the symbol itself racist, any more than their adoption of the cross or white linens makes those symbols racist.  Shall we boycott churches and weddings because they feature racist symbols?  To do that is ignore their real significance.

Mr. Thomas understands that.  Rather than knee-jerk into an ill-considered assumption of racism, Mr. Thomas encourages us to be more thoughtful before levying that charge.  He would have all of us in the South embrace the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of Southern pride, and by doing so, eliminate whatever negative connotation it may have.  Those who want to live in a post-racial world could take a cue or two from him.

While Mr. Thomas originally removed the flag after the university’s request, USC-B has since reversed itself, recognizing the importance of Mr. Thomas’ First Amendment rights.  Here’s hoping he puts the flag back up if he wants to.