Michael Denton

Enjoys living below sea water, eating road kill, and complaining about how bad astro turf is in comparison to what LSU plays at home.

Supreme Court Term in Brief Review

This wasn’t the most fascinating of terms. Much of the speculation around the Court centers around cases it hasn’t received yet: namely, Obamacare and gay marriage. The most controversial case, I think, was decided much earlier in the term (Synder v. Phelps, 8-1 that the First Amendment protects the Westboro Baptist Church from being sued in tort for infliction of emotional distress when their speech involves matters of the public interest). But there are a few worthy of note. But there are a few cases of note, even though they may not be the headline grabbers.

(I’ll also apologize to all legal scholars for this not being close to Bluebook format. I tried to water it down for a general audience and so I may be guilty of gross oversimplification)

ATT v. Concepcion-the Court by a 5-4 margin enforced the agreement to arbitrate found in the AT&T customer contract and therefore a class action had to be dismissed. This decision could significantly curtail class actions, as customer agreements can now include arbitration agreements in order to protect companies. However, the ATT agreement was one that was very favorable in the sense that ATT would pay costs and some attorneys fees in many situations. Thus, one can speculate about whether an agreement which provides much less incentive for lawyers to prosecute in arbitration would also be upheld (Scalia’s opinion suggests it would).

Wal-Mart v. Dukes: another class suit was brought down, this time because its theory was based on a “culture of discrimination” against women. The class alleged that Wal-Mart discriminated against women, but the Court found that without a policy and without more evidence that the decentralized business culture demanded discrimination that the claims were too individualized to make up a class.

Expect both Wal-Mart & ATT to have a slight impact on politics. These cases together could curtail class actions, which are the bread and butter of many plaintiffs attorneys. As plaintiffs attorneys make up a significant funding wing for the Democrats, I would expect Obama to have to formulate some kind of policy response in order to please them, though I doubt he has the political will to fight the GOP on it. More likely he will use Wal-mart (which grabbed more headlines) and Citizens United to paint a picture of the Supreme Court as conservative judicial activists (as the NYT has done already) and thus appease his base.

Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom PAC v. Bennett-the Court continued to signal a strong distaste for campaign financing laws, striking down a scheme whereby public funds are given to match private funds given to candidates. Although more money is theoretically more speech, the Court held the opinion that this law in essence punished people who exercised their first amendment right to engage in political speech through political donations. It becomes harder and harder to imagine a scheme which the current Court would uphold.

Finally, Brown v. Enterntainment Merchants Ass’n saw the Court strike down a California law which restricted the sale and rental of violent video games to minor. This case saw an odd alignment with Scalia, Kennedy, Kagan, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor as the majority, with concurrences by Alito & Roberts with dissents from Breyer and Thomas. In brief, video games were found to be protected speech, and for purposes of the First Amendment no different from say violent literature (and Scalia analogizes to Dante’s Inferno). Alito & Roberts concur, but only because the statute was vague. Altio’s concurrence notes that video games may be fundamentally different b/c the act of simulating violent acts is different from say merely viewing or imagining them. Alito is quickly becoming a strong dissenter in many First Amendment cases, suggesting a unwillingness to embrace the vast First Amendment protection the other justices promote (See, e.g., US v. Stevens, Synder v. Phelps). Also of note is that Archbishop Chaput weighed in against the decision based on his personal experience in the aftermath of the Columbine tragedy.

I know I said finally, but I should add one of the cases earlier in the term that has upset many: Connick v. Thompson. In this case, the court held the Orleans Parish District Attorney office was not liable for the offense of one of its prosecutors who withheld evidence in a murder trial (which had a death penalty conviction). It makes for a sensational headline, but in reality all the Court said was that one example of a Brady violation is not sufficient to make a case for systematic indifference to constitutional rights, which is the theory the plaintiff proceeded under. One imagines that a plaintiff could easily meet this burden if other examples were shown (which in Olreans parish would only present a difficulty in deciding which examples to use). Also of note is footnote 21 and the accompanying text of Ginsburg’s dissent, in which she bashes Tulane Law school for its poor curriculum, something well known to all those who attend LSU Law. ;)

Eliminating Marriage

By now, everyone knows that gay marriage is coming to the Empire State. Obviously, there’s very little good to be drawn from this. To me, there is very little hope of reclaiming the tide. The ideology that accepts gay marriage is so tied into acceptance of divorce and contraception that it would take a much more radical shift to turn the tide. While this could happen (and I have faith in the new priests coming that they can effect this at least within the Church), rebuilding culture takes time and seems likely that the pendulum will have to swing all the way before it will swing back.

So other than rebuilding our culture from the ground up, what political strategies are there to pursue? Trying to fight state by state is one option, but this presumes that states under DOMA can be allowed to not recognize gay marriages from other states. This means we have to put our faith in the court system, and that seems dubious to me. The population size of New York, as well as its mobility, means the issue of full faith and credit will come to a head sooner rather than later. There’s the federal option, but I see no desire from the GOP to fight this fight, particularly from the libertarian wing of the party.

The only other option I see is eliminating the secular institution of marriage altogether. This makes a lot of sense. What exactly is the government’s interest in marriage anymore? Currently, government and society is exerting a lot of resources on this institution: the number of laws and divorce courts, not to mention divorce lawyers is tremendous. But what is government getting back? Love & commitment might be nice values, but you can have a ceremony and make your commitment without a government seal of approval for the commitment (& the break-up). When it was only hetereosexuals allowed to marry, the argument could be made for children (ie we want to provide a good environment for the creation & raising of children), but with gay marriage that’s no longer viable. Perhaps you could still argue family (as gay couples can do IVF & surrogacy) but what effect marriage has in this is dubious, particularly with the liberalization of divorce laws. Another argument for marriage was to protect women from being left penniless in a divorce, but as stay at home moms dwindle and as economic opportunities for women continue to grow, this justification is weaker, especially with the popularity of pre-nups that create separate property regimes anyway. So why is government still in this business? What goods are secured through marriage that cannot be secured without secular marriage?

The main goal for pushing this from a Catholic perspective is simple: protecting our priests from persecution. Although the New York Republicans supported gay marriage because they felt the protections for religious were strong enough, it’s only a matter of time before a priest is sued, have their license to perform marriages, or even arrested for denying marriage to a gay couple. There’s no room in the ideology of the gay rights movement for religions to continue to grant marriage only according to their “hetereosexist” traditions. If government gets out of the business, then priests and other religious will be protected.

There’s also the added benefit of giving marriage back over to religion. If government continues to stay in the marriage business government will continue to be a vehicle for forcing social changes, changes that are often for the worse. Government will no longer be able to impose new visions on the country. Instead, people can have whatever ceremonies and whatever commitments they want (this probably would include bigamy, but you have to figure government will permit this next anyway). In this scenario, the Church will be better able to discuss its version of marriage if it doesn’t have to fight against a government-imposed narrative.

Still, it seems a sad day when government’s marriage is so diluted that we have to give it up entirely, so I’d like to see what people here think. Are there still reasons for government to provide the institution of marriage in a world of gay marriage? Or would it be better for the government to get out of it entirely?

The Catholic Response to the Death of a Murderer

An already busy weekend concluded with the surprise announcement by President Obama that Osama Bin Laden had been killed on Sunday morning, May 1 by a team of American forces in a compound in Pakistan.

There’s a lot to be digested, and a lot of questions for what this means for an already uncertain future in the Middle East. However, as the crowds pour into Lafayette Square with jubilation, it is important to remember how this day began. It began as Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, which this year saw the beatification of John Paul II, an event which marked the holiness of the man. One cannot think about the holiness of John Paul II without recalling his powerful forgiveness of his would-be assassin. For Catholics, this day began as a testament to the powerful force of God’s love and mercy.

So it should it end the same way. Bin laden did much evil. He killed scores of innocents, contributed to the starts of several wars, and used religion to create a culture of hatred. For Americans, we watched as our brothers and sisters were killed, wounded, or separated from their families. If anyone deserved to be riddled with American bullets, it was he.

But “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” has no “but” clauses. The culture of life that John Paul II spoke from womb to tomb; the dignity and beauty of God-given human life is not diminished by one’s sins. God’s mercy and love has no exceptions; as Christians our mercy and love are to have no exceptions.

Simply put, God loved Osama Bin Laden and extended His mercy to him. It is our duty as Christians, as witnesses to the love of God to extend our forgiveness to Bin Laden and pray that he accepted that mercy and that we will be with us in paradise. The celebration around his death ought to make all Christians uneasy; even more so the many declarations that they hope Osama is burning in hell.

This is a difficult teaching to be sure, especially for those who lost a loved one due to Bin Laden. But the Church has never claimed that its teachings were easy. Instead, it has offered the grace and sacraments to live it out, as well as pointed to the examples of extraordinary human beings who lived it out. Today, the Church named a man blessed who knew deeply about the costs of love and forgiveness. So Blessed John Paul II, pray for us. Pray that our country can use this moment to emerge more unified. Pray for the world that we may escape an era of fear and hatred and violence. Pray for us that in this time, we can follow your example and use this moment to witness to the love & mercy poured out by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Obama’s Fool: Bart Stupak

It seems that Bart Stupak has done another interview with a version of events about how last year’s Obamacare debate really went down. Of course, Morning’s Minion has done a piece explaining the virtues of this stalwart pro-life defender.

I’m one of the few people here who would have voted for the healthcare bill before the Hyde language was omitted, I thought it would be interesting to look at Stupak’s claims. Most of the stuff if how poor Stupak has to deal with angry people and how Obama really can be trusted on abortion. This isn’t really terribly interesting (except if the bishops really do view Obama as the most pro-abortion president ever, as this would cause much grief to many on the left), though I find it amusing that Stupak takes this position as Obama appears to be willing to shut down the federal government to preserve funding for Planned Parenthood. No word yet if Stupak trusts Obama to keep America out of messy and poorly thought-out wars.

What is interesting is that Stupak claims that really the Republicans are to blame for the lack of protection against abortion spending in the bill:

Was it unpleasant talking to Rahm? Everybody thinks he’s just a screamer and shouter and would just wave his fists around–

No, Rahm doesn’t scream and shout at me, ’cause he knows better. I’ll just tell him to go to Hell and move on. No, no. rahm and I had a couple of good conversations. The executive order came up in the conversations we had a few weeks before it ever came.

But, to be honest with you, I’d been working with some of the Senate Republicans on trying to find some way to do a technical corrections bill. And actually, truth be known, the Republican leadership in the Senate pulled the rug out on me on that on Thursday night, the Thursday before that Monday [when the final vote occurred]. Most people don’t realize that.

Anyways, long story short, I always thought we would have some statutory language. It wasn’t until Thursday before the vote that when the Republican leadership on the Senate side said no go … and the reason was that it would pass.

Health care would have passed the Senate with Hyde language?

Yeah. It would fly though the Senate. So they weren’t interested in getting health care passed, they were interested in killing it. So every suggestion, every legislative proposal I had–and I knew I had to get to 60 votes in the Senate–I was led to believe up to that point in time they’d work with me. And they pulled the rug out that Thursday before. Remember, they went home that Thursday night, or that Friday night there. They weren’t around that weekend when we voted on the health care bill.

It’s helpful here to remember the situation. The House & Senate must pass identical bills. Any alterations to the Senate bill would have sent the bill back to the Senate. The Senate’s bill lacked the statutory language of the Hyde amendment, and therefore if the House had insisted the whole bill would go back to the Senate. At that point, the Democrats’ majority had been reduced to 59 as Scott Brown was elected from Mass. and promised to vote with the rest of the party to filibuster the bill.

What makes Stupak’s latest version of the events surrounding Obamacare so implausible is the idea that with the Hyde amendment language, the Senate would magically have 60 votes. What vote? The Republicans in the Senate had all voted against the Senate bill and Brown was elected in part b/c of his opposition. Even if Brown was amiable to the language, the Hyde bill would not make a difference to him, as he’s not exactly a pro-life politician. The only Republican for whom this language made a difference was Rep. Joseph Cao-but Cao was in the House, not the Senate.

Yet Stupak is here claiming that the GOP stopped working on the Hyde language b/c the language would help it get the 60 votes in the Senate. But what Republican would have switched his vote just b/c of the abortion language? As Minion points out ad nauseum, most Republicans were against healthcare reform in itself, not only because of abortion. Other than Cao, the conflicted congressmen were all Democrats.

Now, perhaps the GOP didn’t want the Hyde language b/c that made Obamacare more likely to pass the House, but that’s not Stupak’s claim. Nor is he saying his technical corrections bill would fly through the Senate. He specifically claims Obamacare would have flown through the Senate with the Stupak language.

To be blunt, I’m not sure if Stupak is delusional or dishonest here. I imagine a little bit of both, but this is yet another version of Stupak’s story that doesn’t quite mesh with the plain reality that was before him. The best scenario is that he expected the GOP to work with him to get the corrections bill through that included the statutory language, but I don’t know why he would think that. The GOP may have been willing to do so if abortion was the only thing on the plate, but the GOP wanted to defeat Obamacare. There were other things that had to be in that technical corrections bill for the bill to be passed, and the GOP was not interested in having those pass that would pave the way for Obamacare.

In the end, the GOP is not responsible for Stupak’s language not being in the bill. It’s Pelosi’s, Nelson’s, and Obama’s. I am perfectly willing to concede that the GOP could have bent over backward to change the language by giving up the fight against Obamacare in order to provide better protection against abortion funding, but even had they done so, the language would not have changed. Pelosi and Obama didn’t want that language changed and weren’t going to let the bill come before the House in any other form. In the end, Stupak’s choice was still the same: to stand strong against Obamacare’s lax protections against abortion funding or provide Obama political cover. Stupak chose the latter.

So since we honor April’s Fools tomorrow, today we should honor Obama’s Fool: Bart Stupak.

UPDATE after the break

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Libya and Just War

President Obama, winner of the Nobel peace prize, has thrust the United States into yet another war. I know from facebook and twitter that many of Obama’s liberal supporters are shocked and upset with the decision. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone. As I noted out in the run-up to the election, Obama never was a peace candidate, much less a proponent of just war theory. Instead he uses roughly the same calculus for war as Bush did, though as Douthat points out he uses a more multilateral approach once he’s made that calculus. Obama’s position as a peace candidate was grounded more in not being a Republican than being a believer in peace, and it is the fault of those advocates for peace that they didn’t do the basic research to see that truth. I am curious to see if this has changed the minds of many of the more “liberal” Catholics who voted for Obama, but I have not seen anything from them yet.

Since most of our attention was on Japan, I think most Catholics and Americans are still feeling a little whiplashed by the quickness. It’s so difficult to determine whether this action was just b/c there is so much confusion and secrecy both about our true intents towards Libya as well as the actual situation in Libya. The Vatican hasn’t been able to offer much guidance either. It is true that Pope Benedict’s neutral statements are far less condemnatory (if they are condemnatory at all) than JPII’s during the buildup to Iraq, but the key word there is “buildup.” There was very little buildup, and very little opportunity for debate and dialogue before the war was begun. It is true that the Vatican is more comfortable with a multilateral, UN-endorsed war than a unilateral war but it is not certain whether the Vatican approves.

So we’ll need to rely on the sources of just war doctrine ourselves to determine whether this was a just war. I confess that I don’t feel comfortable enough with the facts of Libya to say for certain, but I find it very unlikely that this is a just war. Don did a post a few days ago with different just war standards, and just for the sake of brevity let’s assume that there are two different approaches to just war: the Thomistic approach and the current approach.

Under the Thomistic approach, there are 3 requirements in the Second Part of the Second part, Question 40: (1) that the war be declared by a legitimate sovereign; (2) that there be a just cause; and (3) there must be an intention of advancement of good. Catechism 2309 has a more detailed description (I would argue that they simply explain further what Aquinas is saying rather than raising the requirements, but that may be an argument for a different time) in which the aggressor nation (i.e. the one to be attacked) must be inflicting lasting, grave, and certain damage, all other means must be exhausted, there must serious prospects of success, and the use of arms must not produce greater evils than the evils sought to be prevented. Let’s look at the Libya situation in detail

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How Obama Spends His Time

This is a time with many crisis. A President has to chose where to put his efforts carefully. He could focus on the civil war in Libya. He could look towards Bahrain and the battles there. He could drum up relief for Japan in the wake of the tsunami. He could look to help Japan fix its nuclear reactor and ensure that such danger cannot be repeated here. He could work to reduce gas prices. He could create jobs. He could negotiate to ensure the government doesn’t shutdown due to a lack of a budget.

With all of these options, what is our fearless leader doing? He’s clowning around with ESPN discussing his “barack-etology” and why he thinks Kansas will win it all.

How insensitive and ridiculous is this? Even if you were in the throes of the Obamessiah movement in 2008, how is this justifiable? Look, I’m a huge sports fan. I understand the need for Obama to not spend every second on the presidency and take some time for sports. I don’t even mind that he spends time to fill out a bracket if he did it privately.

But to do this so publicly just sends all the wrong messages, both to those at home and abroad.

March Madness is Just Madness

I’ve become the sports guy here at TAC, so I figured I should say something about the impending college basketball tournament for the national championship, affectionately known as March Madness. While I enjoy the annual ritual of filling out a bracket and watching as my predictive skills are demonstrably obliterated, I’ve never fully bought in to the Madness. To me, March Madness is the dumbest way to determine the national champion in college sports.

And yes, I think it’s dumber than the BCS. By far. Basketball is not a single-elimination sport. If the teams are evenly matched, or even kinda close, the game comes down to the execution of a single minute. While that’s very exciting, it’s not a great indicator of overall strength. It’s like shootouts in hockey or soccer. They’re exciting and fun to watch, but it’s not the sport. You can be good at hockey without being good at shootouts. The skills are different. Similarly, the skills needed to win over  season of basketball can’t be summarized in a single elimination tournament.

This is why we see all these upsets and Cinderellas. George Mason was never the 4th best team in the country, but they made it to the Final Four b/c on a neutral court, if you play decently you have a chance to win it at the end. It’s ridiculous for teams in the Big East to slog through a rough conference schedule only to be plopped on neutral court with a team from Colonial conference in a single elimination. You’ll note that the NBA has best out of 7 series for a reason; namely that any team can beat another team on one night, but it’s harder to beat them 4 out of 7 times unless you are the truly superior team. So if we’re looking to discover the best team in college basketball, the Madness is not the way to do it.

What makes this more frustrating is that there is a more sensible way to conduct the tournament. College baseball uses a regional system. All the conference winners still get to go in a 64 team field. However, the 64 teams are divided into 16 regionals, with the #1 seed in each regional hosting their regional. This rewards teams for success in the regular season (unlike the Madness, where Ohio St. has the toughest regional with no reward). In the regional, there are 4 teams each and they play double elimination. The winner of the regional then faces another regional winner (hosted by one of the two) in a separate double elimination (ie. regional winner 1 must beat regional winner 2 twice, even if regional winner 2 lost once in the regional). They then move on to the College World Series in Omaha, where there are two more regional like rounds, and then the final is another double elimination.

Not only does this best represent baseball by forcing teams to have the depth to withstand double elimination tournaments, it rewards good teams. Moreover, it allows smaller teams to have more games (instead of just getting offered up as a sacrifice to Duke). There’s no reason basketball can’t do this; in fact, it would expand the games available to sell to TV networks.

So enjoy the madness, but just remember that the madness isn’t necessary. There’s a way already out there that’s a lot more sensible that crowns the best team in the sport, not just a buzzer beater.

The Only Winners in Wisconsin are the Packers

Yesterday, the Republicans in Wisconsin edited the unions bill to make it non-fiscal, thus eliminating the Wisconsin procedural requirement that all senators be there. Thus, since there was quorum the bill in its new form was passed by the State Assembly and is expected to be approved by the Senate today.

It’s hard to fault the Republicans for ending this mess. It had to end, and if they weren’t going to abandon the bill it was best to figure out a way to get it passed and move on. That doesn’t change the fact that their bill is in clear violation of Catholic Social Teaching by stripping the workers of their right to unionize on benefits.

In the end, this episode underscores just how dysfunctional our democracy is. Democracy is based on different ideas interacting and challenging each other. Today however, ideas don’t mix; we are left with mindless slogans about empty ideas left to do battle not on the merit of the idea but rather the brute force of the quantity of supporters. In Wisconsin, the Democrats abandoned debate and vote in favor of grinding the process to a halt. The Republicans shattered the rights of workers in order to no longer discuss issues with the unions. Neither side showed any interest in a true debate or an attempt to compromise. In this case, we all lost.

Snyder v. Phelps

This morning the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Snyder v. Phelps. The case involved the Westboro Church, which is infamous for its protests at military funerals. The media publicizes the anti-homosexuality aspect of their protests, but the Church chose the Snyders also because his family was Catholic and his parents divorced and they view the Church as a monstrosity that encourages idolatry.

The Court’s 8-1 decision with the lone dissent by Alito sided with the Westboro church in a limited opinion. Although the case might have some interesting effects for First Amendment law in general (the protection of the 1st against suits of intentional infliction of emotional distress even when directed at a private figure if the speech is directed at matters of public concern if I read it right), it questionable whether this is the last word. The Court did not have the opportunity to consider whether laws restricting the time, place, and manner of protests surrounding either military funerals particularly or funerals more broadly are constitutional. Legislatures seem keen to pass such laws, and in fact in Maryland such a law was passed after the Snyder funeral.

Discerning where the Court will go is difficult. I suspect such laws will be upheld. The majority seemed particularly concerned that juries would be unable to fairly determine whether conduct was outrageous in tort cases (like infliction of emotional distress), but this concern would not be applicable if there was a truly content-neutral regulations about the manner of protesting around funerals. Of course, the Court would be rightfully concerned whether such regulations were in fact truly content-neutral but I think a legislature could make a strong argument if the statute is written well enough. Moreover, Alito’s well-reasoned dissent provides the strong emotional basis for such laws: namely, families at funerals are innocent parties who are particularly emotional vulnerable, and the protestors are exploiting their grief to get air time in a most callous and unchristian way.

So like many times when the Court hands down a ruling, the verdict is that very little has been settled and more decisions are to be expected.

 

The Academy Awards and Deception

I had hoped to be able to write a post discussing the merits of most of the movies up for “Best Picture” before this Sunday, but my 3 month old made going to a movie in theaters most difficult. While I saw Inception, Toy Story 3, The Social Network, and even Winter’s Bone, I didn’t think I could write something without seeing King’s Speech or True Grit, both of which I am very eager to see.

Nevertheless, I was amused to see that after Colin Firth won the award for Best Actor that facebook lit up with a few statuses from female friends that were very pleased that “Mr. Darcy” won. If you don’t know, Firth played Mr. Darcy in the epic BBC adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. This ignorance would also require that you are a) male and b) have never been in a relationship with a female.

I thought this was interesting that people immediately associate Firth with his fictional character. I’ve one the same thing myself. For example, when in Saving Private Ryan the (spoiler alert I suppose) fake Saving Private Ryan is revealed, I exclaimed “oh wow! That’s Capt. Reynolds!” referring to Nathan Fillion’s role as Capt. Mal Reynolds in “Firefly.”

I bring this up because while all of us if pressed would acknowledge that Firth is not really Mr. Darcy and that Fillion is not really Capt. Reynolds, I think there is a level at which we truly believe that these people are the characters they play. This is a remarkable accomplishment. Even though we know that they’re not, even though we know the actors are trying to deceive us, we are in some sense deceived. We don’t act out against it; instead we celebrate the accomplishments. Those who fail to deceive us either through unconvincing performances or trite dialogue are regarded as terrible actors.

This is important because when acting was used as a counter-example in the Lila Rose undercover debate, I thought it was mischaracterized. Before you leave, don’t fear-this is not another Lila Rose debate post. Continue reading

What Would Bush Have Done?

As I watched the situation in Egypt descend into chaos and violence, I started to think about how Bush would have handled these situations. Bush’s foreign policy was predicated upon a belief that America had a duty to spread democracy. I wonder if Bush would have been more quick than the Obama administration to side with the protesters. Although I appreciate that the US has a very delicate situation here, I wonder if now we’ve acted too late and not presented the positive pro-democracy face we could have to the people of the Middle East.

I also wonder if we need to reevaluate our appraisal of Bush. After all, Bush was mocked for believing that bringing democracy to Iraq would help spark the fire of democracy in the Middle East. While I still think the Iraq war did not meet the requirements of a just war, it is hard today to say that Bush was completely wrong. We’ve already seen Iran’s people rise up (though they failed) and today we see the people of Yemen, Egypt, and Jordan protesting. I don’t know if they’ll be successful, and I don’t know how much our presence in Iraq has helped or hurt democracy in the Middle East.

But it does seem clear that the Middle East is seeking more and more to be democratic and that the United States may need to rethink its strategy and partners not only to improve its image in the area, but more importantly help the Arab people secure a free and democratic government.

Obamacare Ruled Unconstitutional

In the second ruling of its kind, a Florida judge has found the provision mandating individual health insurance to be unconstitutional. Even more interesting to me is that the judge found that the provision was inseparable from the rest of the bill, so that the whole bill is unconstitutional.

The first part may not be that important, as the Supreme Court will have the final say. However, it will be interesting to see what happens with the separability issue. I wonder if Obama will be encouraged by this ruling to start working with Republicans to put many of the positive/popular aspects of the plan (like not denying people with pre-existing conditions) into law such that they are not dependent on the individual mandate. If not, Obama is risking his legacy on getting a majority of Supreme Court justices to believe that’s it ok for the government to mandate people buy something with no way to opt out. That seems to me to be a very dangerous gamble, and considering the political capital Obama’s used on this reform, it would be wise for him to try to preserve what he can and keep as little in the hands of the judiciary as possible.

State of the Union Immediate Reaction

The president has just wrapped up his speech. Some quick thoughts:

  • I think it was better to not have everyone sit according to party.
  • I know we had this emphasis on a “new kind” of SOTU. I’m not buying it. To be sure, it had a theme which was good. But in the end, just “we can do it! Remember after Sputnik!” isn’t much of a theme, leaving us left with what the SOTU always is: a bunch of presidential policy proposals, or as Chief Justice Roberts put it, a political pep rally.
  • Very glad he addressed the BP oil spill. Oh wait…
  • He talked about the old world where hard work kept your job but that that world is gone. Could we at least give a thought to figuring out if we can restore that world before we forsake it? Or are we doomed to Wal-Marts?
  • I want to know how he’s going to simplify the tax code and the federal government. Good ideas, but the devil is in the details.
  • Not subsidizing oil companies is probably a long over-due reform, but good luck getting it through, especially since Obama has been so unreasonable with the drilling moratorium
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to go to school, but does giving everyone a degree mean automatic economic success? Shouldn’t we be looking instead to figuring out how to make four-year institutions more effective and less costly?
  • On illegal immigration, I had hoped to hear more than just how illegals who get an education ought to be allowed a path for citizenship. I suppose with the climate no more can be said, which is very sad in itself.
  • Why didn’t we spend all this money on the infrastructure 2 years ago when we needed immediate jobs? Now we have debt and no infrastructure; we’ve missed our opportunity and with the deficit I’m suspicious of too many infrastructure building programs.
  • I don’t think Obama has a clue how to rein in the deficit. He gave some good ideas, but not nearly enough to convince me he can get it done.
  • If someone could ban the cheap shots to random Americans stuck in the Chamber for those brief snap-shots, I would vote for them regardless of what they do.

Those are my thoughts at the moment. What do you think?

Is Mr. Smith in the Tea Party?

Now that college football season is over, Tito is going to make me write real posts again.

There was an interesting post a few days back from Stanley Fish comparing Palin’s vision of American to Frank Capra’s, particularly as embodied in his classic film (and my favorite movie) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The movie *spoiler alert* involves an young idealistic Boy Scout leader who is nominated to the Senate because the powers that be, including a sitting Senator and a large businessman, believe he can be easily manipulated to serve their interests. Mr. Smith stumbles into the corruption and attempts to expose him. His enemies mount a successful smear campaign for them, causing Mr. Smith to have to filibuster both to save his seat in the Senate and to expose the corruption. This is where Fish (who also mentions some other Capra works) comes in:

In each of these films the forces of statism, corporatism and mercantilism are routed by the spontaneous uprising of ordinary men who defeat the sophisticated machinations of their opponents by declaring, living and fighting for a simple basic creed of individualism, self-help, independence and freedom.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It describes what we have come to know as the Tea Party, which famously has no leaders, no organization, no official platform, no funds from the public trough. Although she only mentions the Tea Party briefly in her book, Palin is busily elaborating its principles, first in the lengthy discussion of Capra’s Jefferson Smith and then, at the end of the same chapter, in an equally lengthy discussion of Martin Luther King. These two men (one fictional, one real) are brought together when Palin says that King’s dream of an America that lived out “the true meaning of its creed” would be, if it were realized, “the fulfillment of America’s exceptional destiny.” A belief in that destiny and that exceptionalism is, she concludes, “a belief Senator Jefferson Smith would have agreed with.” (In the spirit of full disclosure, I myself became a believer in American exceptionalism the first time I visited Europe, in 1966.)

Exceptionalism can mean either that America is different in some important respect or that, in its difference, America is superior. Palin clearly means the latter:

I think however that the idea which Fish ascribes to Palin, namely that Mr. Smith stands for a lot of ideas of the tea party, is wrong. Continue reading

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