Monday, July 22, 2013

A confederacy of eunuchs

Due to re-districting we were to get a new Representative in the 2012 election. Although he would be new to us, he was a long time member of the House and his "new territory" now included us. To get an idea of what to expect, I attended a luncheon to hear him speak. It was a surprising and enlightening experience. Traditionally, Congress persons display a certain amount of restraint when speaking of their colleagues, regardless of their obvious stupidity or venality. 

However, in an unexpected departure from the usual "let me introduce myself" script, this gentleman took the gloves off and bluntly stated that a goodly number of his fellow representatives were less than bright. He frequently employed "clowns" as a descriptor and generally lamented the ignorance with which they approached legislation.

Although he artfully avoided specifying individuals or party, there seemed little doubt that he, like many in the "beltway", had come to the same conclusion: the arrival of the Tea Party contingent has been nothing short of a national disaster. (He may well have adopted this "no-name" strategy in conformance to Noam Chomsky's warning that "ridiculing the tea party shenanigans is a serious error.”)

Unsurprisingly, the congressman's public and scathing view was, and is, shared by the establishment elite. His case was further buttressed by a host of recently published and similarly themed books ("It's Even Worse Than It Looks", by Mann & Ornstein, "Do Not Ask What Good We Do", by Robert Draper, "Beyond Outrage", by Robert B.Reich, and "The Party is Over", by Mike Lofgren). 

Rarely have so few been so demonized by so many.

In any event, it's apparent that the (real or feigned) respect House members at one time showed each other, at least in public, has been thrown over for a newer, more aggressive, in-your-face approach. Long gone are the carefully researched position papers and informed debates which provided a rich mix of facts, history, and (occasionally) accuracy.  It seems important to figure out why this has developed and if, in fact, a functioning government is still possible.

If one studies what the House was been in the distant past and what it has evolved into, it's impossible to overlook that this body has lost (or given up) much of it's power and authority. The growth of the executive branch (the Imperial Presidency) is one factor. Back in '96 a Republican Congress and a Democrat President worked long and hard to create the first welfare reform package. Contrary to forecasts of terrible consequences, the new programs worked well. 

Yet, in one day, an Executive Order by the current President re-established the old, failed programs. Other signs of House (and Senate) weakness has been the abdication of the power to declare war, which was followed by a threat to unilaterally raising the debt ceiling, and, most recently and flagrantly, the refusal to implement part of the Obamacare package. (Under Article II, Section 3 he is required to implement the entire bill; not revise, amend, or line-item veto as the spirit moves him.)

While the Executive Order has been increasingly utilized to usurp powers constitutionally granted to the House (and Senate), the greatest loss of power has been though Congress' voluntary abandonment of authority to "regulatory agencies." 

Figuring that some issues were just to tough, complex, or time consuming, the country has had foisted upon itself the EPA, FDA, TSA, USDA (with 20 sub-agencies within it), the Dept.of Commerce (with 17 sub-agencies), Dept. of Defense (with 32 sub-agencies) and the list goes on and on. 

Each agency is staffed by unelected individuals, many with their own agendas, who dictate new regulations that carry the force of law. It's understandable that so much work has to be delegated, but to give agencies powers that were specifically meant to be held by Congress is a cynical dodge. Elected officials can be dumped for passing bad legislation; unelected bureaucrats cannot...many cannot even be fired.

Then, of course, there is "party discipline." Sam Rayburn of Texas, Speaker of the House for many, many years, gave each incoming freshman representative of his party one piece of advice: "If you want to get along, go along." And they did. Those that didn't faced many difficulties: in committee assignments, in getting their legislation to the floor, in receiving party re-election funds, and they're chances of becoming targets should redistricting become an issue.

Unfortunately, this approach worked, and worked well. As a result, many constituents found that the views they wished their midwestern representatives to promote in D.C., took a back seat to the views favored by New England party leaders - many of them with substantially different interests and goals. The "house of the people" became a house held hostage. Matters reached a new low in representative government when the other party, under Newt Gingrich, adopted the same process.

Then 2010 rolled around and enough citizens, aggravated at the apparent unresponsiveness of their representatives, threw many of them out and ushered in the Tea Party. A delicate balance had been disturbed and the both parties, used to newcomers adjusting to them, failed to realize that these "clowns" - these yahoos - actually believed in what they had declared and weren't interested in compromises. 

It is questionable whether the Tea Party will linger, prevail, or fail. Members of both parties are working against them and the "fascism" so feared by Chomsky may soon be stomped out. But for a brief period they have served as reminders that doing the people's business is serious business and that "a promise made is a debt unpaid."

For a brief period this collection of vagabonds has added a dose of virility to a confederacy of eunuchs.

Monday, July 15, 2013

"Three of These Things Belong Together"

Among The Muppet Show's recurring features was a variation on the above question. The show's creators used one of two songs to introduce these segments: "One of These Things" or "Three of These Things Belong Together." As in the simple challenge shown below, the answer is obvious.

Unfortunately, as we get older we are frequently required to make distinctions between things that aren't so clear cut…distinctions of a moral or ethical nature. Because ours is an age where many of these concepts are viewed as "inoperative," decision making becomes a problem. In fact, decision making could entail charges of intolerance or of being judgemental. 

Either because of, or in spite of, parental upbringing, education, religious affiliation, or philosophical bent, the "true path" has become an intellectual absurdity and righteous decisions are largely decided by hitching on to either "the popular opinion" or the opinion of the broadcaster(s) whose views are most congenial to ours. Despite a divided polity, decisions must be made and, perhaps, if we look at decision makers who shaped history, and, in a break from conformity, get a glimpse of the "right road."


Martin Luther King, Jr.

Edward Snowden


In the selections shown here, "Three of These Things Belong Together" - which one doesn't?

Socrates aggravated the leaders of Athens through "impiety" (refusing to honor the gods of the day) and by espousing "the view that it is not majority opinion that yields correct policy, but rather genuine knowledge and professional competence, which is possessed by only a few." Citizens of Athens, chosen by lot, convicted him and sentenced him to death. But in accordance to his philosophy of obedience to law, he refused and drank the hemlock.

In Socrates case, there were strong views on both sides as his conviction passed by about 30 votes (there could be several hundred on an Athens jury) and few seemed convinced that he would actually be put to death. (It was not uncommon for prisoners in similar situations to "escape"  - helped by financially well off friends like Crito...many felt that would occur.)  But in accordance with his philosophy of obedience to law, he refused and drank the hemlock.

Gandhi was already well known throughout the world when he adopted a campaign of "non-violent resistance" against the British government to gain independence for India. He combined this approach with hunger strikes undertaken while in prison. (The hunger strike was not a new approach but one which goes back in Indian history to 750 B.C. It was eventually outlawed in 1861.) But Gandhi re-instated it and, the British government, well aware of his international following and fearful of his death and subsequent recriminations, generally held him for short periods. But no one doubted his commitment. 

In his acts of disobedience it was not Gandhi's aim to break the law, but to go to prison as a demonstration of how strongly he felt over the injustices he had been protesting. In fact, the more dreary the jail, the better the support. With that in mind Gandhi wrote a letter (which auctioned off at $178,000 recently) to a British lord pleading that " is unthinkable that when India’s millions are suffering from preventable starvation and thousands are dying [while] the huge place in which I am being detained with a large guard around me I hold to be a waste of public funds. I should be quite content to pass my days in any prison...’

In his acts of disobedience it was not Gandhi's aim to break the law, but to go to prison as a demonstration of how strongly he felt over the injustices he had been protesting. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. adopted a similar tact and in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" observed that' "…there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all…One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust. and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

Which brings us to the Snowden situation. An interesting one in that some I'd expect to lead the prosecution are his strong advocates (e.g., the Progressive Change Campaign Committee). Others, normally staunch supporters of the whistle-blowing school, suggest he might deserve lengthy prison time (e.g., Dianne Feinstein). So, no "popular opinion" dominates - yet decisions must be made.

Now I've been unrelenting in my criticism of both the PATRIOT Act and the formation of Dept. of Homeland Security. But as terribly structured and operated as they are, they are supported by law. 

Snowden's actions were a well-deserved blow to a government that has become increasingly indifferent to public concern. However, in his unsuccessful attempts to find asylum in a foreign land, the country's attention is directed on the pros and cons of his actions rather than on those of the government. As such I believe he, the law, and the country would be better served should he surrender. 

Final "One of These Things" doesn't belong quiz: Thomas More or Dietrich Bonhoeffer? 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hockey sticks and their consequences

Ever since its introduction into the global warming debate, the "Hockey Stick" chart has been used to demonstrate an unusual acceleration in an otherwise fairly constant and predictable measurement. Statisticians and probability mongers seek elegant answers for their infrequent occurrences - and usually will point out that the phenomenon is not sustainable. Much like the "sand pile' demonstration, and complexity theory, the exponential move up is followed by a dramatic "crash."

The first three charts below are ones I have chosen to illustrate the point. All involve economic metrics and their performances over time. What is similar to all is the early upward gradualism of the move, followed by a dramatic spike up, and, eventually, a chaotic plunge.

The fourth graph, however, taken from Visualizing Economics (a truly fascinating site for economic issues that date back millennia), shows the growth (?) of per capita income over 2000 years. If you connect the green dots, it, too, is in a hockey stick formation.

Here's another version (this going back another 1000 years):

Unlike the preceding charts which demonstrate a gradually rising trend, these measuring man's economic "progress," are very disappointing over very long periods.

Consider this: world per capita income in 1 C.E. was $467; in 1000, $453; in 1500, $566, in 1900, $873. So far, a really dismal demonstration of human progress. But in 1950, a substantial jump to $2113; followed in 2000 by an incredible, $6005. 

In 1900 years incomes increased a pathetic 87%. 

in the following 100 years the increase is a staggering 687%.  

As poor as the progress was in the first 1,950 common era years, Gregory Clark In his book, "A Farewell to Alms" suggests that:

"Life expectancy was no higher in 1800 than for hunter-gatherers: thirty to thirty-five years. . . . average welfare, if anything, declined from the Stone Age to 1800."

It gets worse:

"The poor of 1800, those who lived by their unskilled labor alone, would have been better off if transferred to a hunter-gatherer band."   

What makes the numbers for this period even more remarkable is that the world population went from 1.6 to 6 billion, a 375% increase. This would seem to indicate that four times as many people are now living at least twelve times better than their "year one" ancestors. The question on the table is not whether this growth can be sustained (it can't), but can any meaningful future growth be anticipated?

Or are we in for a violent contraction? Or, even worse, a reversion to the mean?  I don't pretend to know, but I'm very skeptical that the world's current personal, financial, agricultural, and political regimes are capable of instituting and maintaining fiscal discipline and balance. And if they are capable, do they have the courage?

On the contrary, most indications point towards continued hard times. But just as I'm sure the common man of the "Dark Ages" didn't realize his age was "dark," nor that the common man of the Renaissance realized his was an age of reemergence ("I've been down so long. it looks up to me"). The Age of Enlightenment? A popular descriptor which indicated that although poverty and starvation still ran rampant, man now had explanations for their frequent occurrences.

Few of us can state with authority where we are...although we have just recently finished with an annual celebration in which speakers of all stripes (and stars) assure us that "The best days of America are still ahead."  Baloney... or as Claire Booth Luce put it "...his global thinking is, no matter how you slice it, still 'globaloney.'"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Competing views on liberalizing immigration - which will prove more accurate?

Back in May I had planned an immigration follow-up that would have picked up with the Progressives' successful realignment and transformation of American politics. Their major legislative accomplishments included the passage of four Constitutional amendments: the 16th initiated an income tax; the 17th (and most dreadful) provided for the direct election of Senators; the 18th instituted Prohibition; and the 19th which gave women the right to vote. 

I had planned on going into some detail on each of the four (all finalized while professor Wilson occupied the White House) came into being. But with the recent Immigration bill passed by the Senate and its imminent arrival in the House, I thought I'd revisit (and update) some thoughts I had on the issue back in 2006.  

At that time I was reading Samuel Huntington's 1996 "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order." Huntington's book was a response to his one-time student, Francis Fukuyama, and his 1992 tome, "The End of History and the Last Man."  Fukuyama, energized by the fall of the Soviet Union, felt that the result indicated an "unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism" - a victory that would be repeated throughout the world. 

Both books stirred considerable interest and controversy. Fukuyama's thesis opined that civilization had reached a point where "there will be more and more governments that use the framework of parliamentary democracy and that contain markets." Specifically, Fukuyama stated "I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States."

Huntington's contention was that, while certain ideological issues might be agreed upon, it could only be accomplished through political order and that only through an "authoritarian transition." Without this transition, conflicts would always exist and the primary disputes would revolve around cultural and religious conflicts. Huntington's "modernizing dictatorship" would only rule until political order and a rule of law, resulted in successful economic and social paradigms. Then, like Cincinnatus, the dictatorship would withdraw leaving the resulting community to its own devices. 

To simplify then, "Fukuyama wants to see America actively promote democracy abroad [and at home]. Huntington, on the other hand…warns about the potentially disastrous effects of an arrogant and naive democratic imperialism [at home and abroad]."

One of Huntington's chapters (and one which is relevant to today's effort) is is his  chapter on "The Hispanic Challenge." In it he attempts to demonstrate that this is not just another immigrant group ready for American enculturation, but a high a hurdle that will severely test contemporary America. He stated his reasoning clearly:

"No other immigrant group in U.S. history has asserted or could assert a historical claim to U.S. territory...History shows that serious potential for conflicts exists when people in one country begin referring to territory in a neighboring country in proprietary terms and to assert special rights and claims to that territory."

A major change in immigration law is one of those and consideration should be given to whose scenario is more likely to play out: Huntington's or Fukuyama's. What kind of communities would develop? We have been told repeatedly of the "strength" that accompanies diversity. Maybe, does it also bring with it comity, brotherhood, and mutual trust...essential traits in a vibrant community? 

Harvard's Robert Putnam has studied "civic engagement", most notably documented in his best seller, "Bowling Alone." His studies revealed neighbors in greatly diverse communities were much less likely to trust one another, were less likely to volunteer, less likely to work on community projects, and found that virtually all measures of civic health were lower in more diverse settings.

And, quoting the 2007 New York Times: "…there is little reason to believe that the racial, ethnic, religious and linguistic antagonisms that have eroded support for social welfare programs in the United States are likely to abate any time soon. Indeed, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants a year from Latin America seems to be sapping support for public welfare."

Currently, there has been a clear pattern of newcomers adopting a form of self-segregation in the big cities of Florida and California. This also occurred toward the end of the 19th century and the early 20th as European immigrants flooded the big cities of the Northeast and Midwest. It took time (more in some places, less in others), but there was a gradual assimilation among those who wished to attempt it and those willing to consider it.

The important factors were, first, that the immigrants wanted to become part of the larger community and, second, that although their traditions, religions, and folkways could remain in tact, they were expected to embrace the American ethos: "a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment."

Among the Hispanic communities there are those who don't easily buy into the Franklinian view. Among them are MEChA and the Mexica Movement. MEChA (Chicano Students Movement - established in the '60s), envision the repatriation of most of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah. 

MEChA, an organization with members on high school and college campuses, boasts among its membership, some politicians of note. Best known is Cruz Bustamante who finished second to Arnold Schwarzenegger in California's gubernatorial recall election. Another former member is Antonio Villaraigosa, one time Speaker of the California State Assembly and, until recently, mayor of Los Angeles.

The Mexica Movement came into being in the '90s and rejects all European borders as being false. The group lays claim to the land mass stretching from Central America north up to, and including, Canada. Therefore, anyone of European descent living on the North American continent is an illegal alien and trespasser. 

The Movement "is committed to a long-term liberation-by-education methodology which seeks to "change hearts and minds" by educating people of the civilized achievements of Indigenous people before 1492, and of the genocide and land/resource thefts committed by Europeans since that date."

Once the transition of power has taken place, and following a period of "civilized negotiation," the remaining white population, in addition to making reparations, would be repatriated to Europe. Subsequently, the national language and alphabet would be re-codified to more closely represent those embraced by earlier indigenous cultures.

Many of these issues were raised in 2006, although they never really became part of the debate. For those who claim that the current bill is "tougher" than its predecessor, the case is clearly made by noting that the current proposal stipulates a wall will be built. 

The 2006 legislation, favored by then Mexican president Vincente Fox (also the former president of Coca Cola's operations in Mexico and Latin America), contained a stipulation that no wall could be built without prior consultation with the Mexican Government (on various occasions, Fox referred to the U.S. as "the 'northern territory' or 'united North America'").

(To demonstrate some of the existing disparities in perspective that will have to be accommodated, Fox's latest endeavor is to have the U.S. legalize marijuana, at which point he would consider entering the business. His efforts are, of course, humanitarian: "This country's incredibly serious problem -- violence, crime and drugs -- can be solved by legalizing drugs. Trying to solve it with repression or violence just fosters more violence.")

It could be argued that, relatively speaking, these are small organizations with little "clout" and little hope of seeing their goals achieved. However, there is little dispute that many of those goals are shared by large portion of the several  Hispanic communities. 

These is no doubt at all that their combined numbers are significantly larger than those of the gay community. Yet that group has been notably successful in gaining support, mainstreaming their positions, and seeing them passed into law. Those groups originally pursuing same-sex marriage was even smaller, yet they, too, have prevailed. 

It may have once been true that it took significant numbers marching in the streets or creating civil unrest to get the public's and the politician's attention. It was evident in the pushes for Prohibition, Women's Suffrage, Civil Rights, and to End the War. Things move faster now - while the internet is given much credit, it should also receive much disdain. The "net" can be (and is) used by truth tellers and propagandists alike. 

And while much, much more is written, there are fewer and fewer original sources. Both the print and electronic media have fewer and fewer "feet on the ground." Organizations like Snopes are essential to provide a modicum of restraint on some of the blatant misrepresentations that crop up daily. Almost every blogger, myself included, depends on multiple sources (which we have come to rely on) to provide material for our scribbling. If our sources are tainted, so, too, are our posts. Therefore, the importance of checking the veracity of advocacy blogging.

At one time controversial initiatives that entail major societal realignments might have taken many years to work through the system…as well they should. Laws of longstanding can't be cavalierly dismissed because a new generation, or an emerging constituency feels they are "outdated" or contrary to those embraced by a dissimilar society. For the most part, existing laws have a robust history of consideration and debate. Because of that, laws, good and bad, have a tendency to remain on the books for years. It is important, then, that suggested changes, especially those of major proportions, merit careful consideration. 

The current debate on this proposed legislation appears to be less about principle and national and societal impact, and more about currying the electoral favor of the petitioners.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Roberts Rules and the Death of Civility

With little to do and plenty of time in which to do it, I serve as recoding secretary for several local groups. This shouldn't be interpreted as a big deal as I happen to have a always been a fairly proficient note taker and the concentration required prevents me from nodding off.  I also learned that if there's a board you wish to remain a member of, let them know you'll take this position; nobody will challenge you for it…and, if necessary, meetings will be planned around your schedule. 

But board meetings now differ significantly from those I was a member of years ago….and therein lies today's homily. If you have taken the time to watch any of the televised coverage of our representatives in session, you'll have noticed that each is given a specified period of time in which to make his point. The same holds true for hearings in which individuals are required to answer specific questions. 

If you've witnessed this, you may or may not have noticed several other features. First, members never address other members directly; rather, they will make the reference by saying. "My good friend from Alabama has stated…" or "the gentleman from Montana has overlooked…" The only direct contact between two individuals is when a member addresses the "Chair." 
"If it pleases the Chair, how much time do I have remaining?' "The gentleman from Kentucky has one minutes and 14 seconds remaining."

In formal floor debate, each side is given a pre-agreed time in which to make its case. Each leader may select as many or few advocates as he wishes, restricting each to a set time limit. Or he may choose to use all the time himself. There are many additional rules regarding "points of order," "yielding time back," "yielding for a question," etc. 

Obviously, this formality is essential so that members with other scheduled appointments may honor them. Similarly, the entire body has other business which must be addressed. But, more important, it gives the recording secretary ample time to transcribe every word spoken as precisely as possible. This is vital since this is what will be entered into the Congressional Record - and remain there forever. 

(Unfortunately, the scoundrels of both houses have made it possible for each member to edit and revise his utterances of that day so that any unfortunate slip of the tongue, or lurch into the truth, can be quickly expunged. Little wonder chroniclers have a difficult time accurately recounting the history of events that determine our future…or rewrite our past.)

So, many of these rules are written and adhered to for the convenience of the recorder and the sake of accuracy (little known fact: at the Constitutional Convention, except for Madison's private journal, minutes were specifically FORBIDDEN so that participants could speak their minds without fear of retribution).

When I joined my first board (a small credit union), these Roberts Rules prevailed but we addressed "Marty" rather than "the Chair" and Marty asked Jim (rather than the "gentleman from Circulation") how he felt about raising the dividend. The meetings ran well, all agenda items got covered, and we were generally through in the specified hour.

But the world has changed and many, even among the most carefully tutored, act as if board meetings, like The View, are open forums in which one might speak at any time on any subject without first appealing to anyone. Interruptions abound, one-on-one debates are common, courtesy is abandoned, and good will takes flight. All these pathologies can be grouped under a single heading: crosstalk. And it creates a nightmare situation for the recording secretary.

While much that occurs does so in anger or frustration, there's generally a cohort of cooler heads who group together and seek solutions. Unless the secretary is monitoring that group an important fact or an informal concession might be missed. Subsequently, the issue is reiterated (minus the contemporaneous input that shaped it) with some displeasure vented over the secretary's lack of attention.

But in my groups, we're not discussing events of monumental importance; nor do we make decisions that cannot be reconsidered and corrected with little effort in a minimum amount of time. And if things do get rowdy I can always pull out "the book" and ask that order be restored. 

Things are quite different on the national media stage, though, where major confrontations occur daily, many of them live or video recorded. Quite a few occur on those news channels with easily identified (though occasionally denied)  ideologies featuring well-known spokespeople agreeable to the prevailing ideology. However, since the audiences could be classified as a "home town crowd," and the moderators "home town umpires," there are few hard questions and little cross-examination. The result is a back-slapping "aren't we swell" sixty minutes of tripe.

On increasingly rare occasions, though, an enterprising program manager will bring together well prepared antagonists and let them go at it. Unfortunately, these mini-debates too often breakdown into serial interruptions by one or both parties - the situation is even worse if each side has more than one advocate. In the political area, each side has its credible and well mannered advocates; each also has a rich collection of well-versed, blood-thirsty cretins. 

Unfortunately, cretinism is at its zenith and audiences are more interested in heat than light. Their disinterest in constructive dialog is a result of never having been exposed to it (thank you, educators of America). Forty years of high school and college grads have been exposed to an ever diminishing amount of robust debate; instead they've been indoctrinated in ideologies determined by university headmasters who, chances are, were similarly indoctrinated.

Those multi-sided political confrontations you'll want to avoid will feature one or more of these noted personalities: one the right, take a pass on any confrontation that included Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Larry Kudlow, John McLaughlin, or Bill Kristol. On the left, ignore those with Jesse Jackson, James Carville, Barney Frank, Chuck Schumer, or Bill Maher. All share several aggravating traits: they cannot shut-up, they cannot listen, and they cannot accept the idea that, just perhaps, the other side might have some validity in their arguments.

Perhaps the most informative example of the type of debate I'm thinking of, and which were most enriching to me, were conducted on William F. Buckley, Jr.'s Firing Line. The one-on-one debates are very good. But the great debates were two-hour features with multiple well-versed advocates on each side and included opening statements, cross-examination, and closing statements. Sometime later, Buckley followed up the formal debates with two or more shows with many of the same participants, now unbound from the debate format and engaged in informal discussion.

Those were programs that presented the issues of the day in their most nuanced form. After watching, one should have come away knowing much more about the question at hand and realizing there was much more to it than the simplistic, formulaic answers that so frequently characterize today's debates. 

Finally, let's put an end to this never ceasing "why can't we just get along" whine that just never ends. As Madison emphasized in Federalist 10 (and elsewhere), the existence of "faction" was the key point in guaranteeing longevity for the ultimate document…every issue, but especially far reaching ones, were to be fought over fiercely and preferably from multiple angles. Only through multiply splintered parties (factions), could the Republic avoid a "tyranny of the majority."

Some fear we are approaching that moment…whether or not it's true would make for a great debate.

[Yes, I know. I use the masculine pronoun exclusively. Fifty-some years ago, Mrs. Ruth Rigsby told me it was perfectly alright; she was a great teacher, one of many, and never steered me wrong. And to quote that grand old fraud, Lillian Hellman: "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashion."]

[It is frequently asked why minutes are not recorded and transcribed later. That has been attempted but recorders can, and do, breakdown or run out of tape. Frequently, especially with large groups, it is difficult to distinguish one voice from another. Thirdly, in meetings with extensive crosstalk, it can be near impossible to extract the salient information from the unimportant noise. Finally, it's not common, but on occasion, in the heat of the moment, a participant may make an unseemly statement or indelicate observation that is best left in the conference room and out of the minutes.]

Friday, July 5, 2013

Nancy Grace and the Running Man

For well over a year I've been growing increasingly aggravated over the farce that is Court TV (now truTV), as well as its imitators and enablers (that includes you, O'Reilly). What promotes itself as vitally important programming in the public interest, is little more than a parade of modern day Madame Dafarges delightfully waiting for the next head to fall.

Chief among the beneficiaries is the lamentable Nancy Grace. Controversial, opinionated, and hard-as-nails, there is no pretense in Grace as she appears to make no attempt to be an unbiased observer. She is and was, first and foremost, a prosecutor. On several occasions the Supreme Court of Georgia has criticized her prosecutorial conduct. In one case a three-judge panel "criticized Grace for not following her obligations to disclose to the defendant's lawyer information about other possible suspects."

The Supreme Court of Georgia, commenting on Grace's conduct as a prosecutor, concluded "the conduct of the prosecuting attorney in this case demonstrated her disregard of the notions of due process and fairness, and was inexcusable." Additionally, the 11th Circuit "found it hard to believe that Grace did not knowingly use a detective's false testimony that there were no other suspects."

In a 1994 appeal the Georgia Supreme Court reversed one of her convictions because, in her zeal, she had "exceeded the wide latitude of closing argument" by introducing crimes that were not at issue. As a capper, two individuals (both young mothers suspected of inadequate child care) subjected to Grace's aggressive interviewing style, committed suicide shortly thereafter (Grace settled the latter case out of court).

Although more telegenic and less strident, Jane Velez-Mitchell regularly takes the prosecutorial side of the televised cases. However, unlike Grace, she accomplishes this in a low-key, apparently thoughtful manner - as a result she is frequently asked to make guest appearances on other programs to give her view on current cases. She has authored several books and received numerous honors (her biography, as outlined on Wikipedia, reveals that she is partially Hispanic, an animal rights advocate, a vegan, a recovering addict, and a lesbian).

The third major player in these courtroom dramas is Vinnie Politan. Though more subdued than the others, Vinnie regularly sides with the prosecution. His background is not anywhere near as exciting or remarkable as those of Grace/Velez-Mitchell, and other than at one time being a lawyer and TV news personality, I can find nothing (other than his enthusiasm) that distinguishes him for his current role.

He does, however, present a wide variety of lawyer/guest commentators (unpaid?). Some, it has to be admitted, will occasionally make a case for the defense providing at least a modest nod toward even-handedness.

But what all three have in common was shown when the notorious Casey Anthony was found not guilty by a jury! (Can you imagine that? Twelve individuals, tried and true, disagreed with collective minds of the nation's self-appointed TV jurists.) The outrage they displayed that day, and which continues, was remarkable. And their audiences, by now convinced that Anthony was the devil-incarnate, were equally disturbed, angry, and vociferous. 

(This hate [and that IS the proper word] lingers as Anthony is regularly followed, filmed, critiqued, and denied a modicum of privacy - the things to which exonerated individuals are traditionally entitled.)

Shortly thereafter, insult was added to the collective injury when, after almost five grueling (and repetitive) months of examinations and cross-examinations, the penalty phase of Jodi Arias' case resulted in a hung jury. The most notable thing about that trial was the prosecuting attorney, a nasty little man who stormed up and down, yelled at every witness, and challenged every utterance; and, until the verdict was announced, became a minor rock star to a bevy of adoring middle aged women who, apparently with nothing better to do, traveled miles to witness his performances.

This post has been a longtime in the development stage and I'm brining it forward now because of the pro-defense drift taking place in the George Zimmerman trial in Florida. There has been a consistent insistence that this case should never have proceeded to trial; that it was butchered early by a seriously mis-edited 911 tape by NBC, followed by rallies and marches led by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and the presidential contribution "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

Regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of this case, a trial became inevitable…the media-generated beast had to be fed. Unfortunately, elements of the African-American community are not being shy in threatening repercussions should anything but a "guilty" verdict by reached. This may, of course, be a tactic aimed at influencing a verdict, but a group of local pastors is concerned enough to be working on post-trial efforts to maintain calm. These include, I understand, an appeal to members of the World Champion Miami Heat to make themselves available should it become necessary.

None of this is good. Neither side will "win." However, no one old enough to recall the case, can forget the aftermath of the Rodney King trial. That a repeat is even a remote possibility demonstrates that, despite advances in racial equality, there has been little progress in race relations. 

Sad to say, but speaking from a public safety perspective, a guilty verdict would, in the short run, be the better option…and everyone of those six jurors is well aware of this. A hung jury might seem appealing but might not the Trayvon partisans see this, too, as a miscarriage?

Perhaps we ought to adopt a system similar to that seen in the Schwarzenegger movie, "The Running Man." The arrested are just assumed guilty and, in a "trial by TV," the audience is asked to select an executioner. (The unarmed condemned does have an opportunity to survive, IF he can escape the onslaught of four sadistic killers). It would rid us of the Bread and Circuses/Nancy Grace contingent which adds nothing positive to the common good and, quite possibly, does irremediable harm.