Politics

The Supreme Court Rules On Campaign Finance

From NPR’s “Watching Washington” Blog:

The Supreme Court Scrambles Politics — Again

Many people will hear about Thursday’s landmark Supreme Court decision freeing corporations to mount political campaigns and say the court has blown up politics as we know it.

By bringing corporations (and by extension, labor unions) back into the electioneering fray, the court has restarted a spending war Congress had tried to restrain over the past generation — most recently with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, best known for its co-sponsoring senators, John McCain (R-AZ) and Russell Feingold (D-WI).

So long as they do not give to candidates directly, corporations can spend whatever they wish to support or oppose candidates for president or Congress. They are free to exercise their rights of free speech under the First Amendment. Just like citizens. Their rights cannot be suppressed on the basis of their “corporate identity,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy.

The ramifications for this year’s congressional elections and the 2012 presidential contest are sure to be profound. What does it mean, for example, for an investment bank such as Goldman Sachs, which had the cash to pay $16 billion in compensation to its employees for 2009, when a major issue before Congress this year is a tax on those bonuses? (Read the whole column here).

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has launched an online petition against the decision. The text reads:

Unlimited corporate spending on campaigns means the government is up for sale and that the law itself will be bought and sold. It would be political bribery on the largest scale imaginable.

This issue transcends partisan political arguments. We cannot have a government that is bought and paid for by huge multinational corporations. You must stop this.

From The Courthouse News Service:

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court today killed a central part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and ruled that corporations may spend as much as they wish to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress. The 5-4 vote left intact limits on corporate gifts to individual candidates (read the whole story here).

Following the decision, George Will declared the ruling as a radical defense for freedom of speech. In reply, E.J. Dionne argues that will amount to a corporate take over of politics.

Also see here for the story on the Court’s ruling on campaign finance reform from RealClearPolitics.

Coakley: Faithful Catholics Shouldn't Work In Emergency Rooms

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“Ken Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don’t want to do that.

Martha Coakley: No we have a separation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Ken Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Martha Coakley: (…stammering) The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

A charming sentiment from Martha Coakley running for the Senate seat in Massachusetts.  For this gem, I award Ms. Coakley the second American Catholic Know-Nothing Award.  If I were living in Massachusetts, I would be out next Tuesday to cast my vote against this bigot.

At Least I Know I'm Free: A Myth That Unites

I was talking with a relative recently who was telling me about an incident a while back where the maintenance staff at the building he worked at had gone on strike and were picketing the building. Emails had gone out from the building management telling people not to get into arguments or cause incidents with the picketers, and it became a source of quite a bit of topic around the office. My relative was amused to hear expressed several times the sentiment, “That’s what makes our country different from the rest of the world. Here, they have the freedom to hold a protest like that.”

It if, of course, true that they have the freedom to picket their employer here. However, that’s not necessarily a contrast with the rest of the developed world. They could do the same in thing in Canada, or the UK or France or Germany, etc. There is, as my relative pointed out, a tendency at times for Americans to assume that because our country was very consciously founded in order to secure certain freedoms, that this means that people who don’t live in the US don’t have the same freedoms. Obviously, some don’t. One’s freedom of political and economic expression is severely limited if you live in North Korea or China or Cuba or some such nation. But there are many other countries in which people enjoy basically all the same freedoms that we do.

This American tendency to assume that we are the only ones to enjoy the freedoms outlined in our Bill of Rights is something which very much annoys many people who consider the US to be dangerously nationalistic, or who would prefer that we see the US as just one other region, not better or worse than others. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Humpty Dumpty Defines Conservatism

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll 

For whatever reason, adults on the internet often fall into relabelling each others politics with all the glee that second graders find in saying, “Am not!”, “Are too!”, “Am not!” 

Sometimes, it gets downright silly, as in this comment:

Hah! Nobody has yet addressed my basic point – American arch-liberals, direct offsprings of the Enlightenment, are under some illusion that they are “conservative”. Couldn’t be more wrong. As for me, I’m an old-style Christian Democrat with not much time for rights-based individualism, the so-called separation of church and state, lassez-faire liberalism, or muscular nationalism. I’m a corporatist, I’m fully on baord with Bendict’s world political authority, and I’ll take Catholic social teaching over American Calvinist economics any day, thank you very much.
 
Who is supposed to be the conservative again? 

Now, let’s think for a moment on what “conservative” means, if you’re not Humpty Dumpty. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Philip Hamburgers New Book is a Rare Find

Michael McConnell, a Law Professor at Stanford, offers this in a First Things review of Philip Hamburger’s new book titled Law and Judicial Duty:

Hamburger traces the development of modern conceptions of the law to the realization, in Europe and especially Britain, that human reason rarely provided clear answers to moral questions and therefore that an attempt to ground law in divine will, or a search for abstract reason and justice, would inevitably lead to discord. As a result, “Europeans increasingly located the obligation of law in the authority of the lawmaker rather than the reason or justice of his laws.” The task of judges, then, was not to seek after elusive notions of justice and right reason but to enforce the law of the land. Natural law shifted in emphasis from moral content to legitimacy and authority, and increasingly to an understanding of authority based on the will of the people.

This seems to me a profound explanation of how and why we understand law today the way we do. It simultaneously shows you what is wrong with the modern conception of the law and what is right.

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A Question About "Culture Wars"

In his great work of literary history, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, C.S. Lewis devotes a passage to what he describes, with a certain savageness, as “that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation.” For Lewis, the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants, that led to bloodshed all over Europe and to a seemingly permanent division of Christians from one another, “could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure.” Instead, thanks to the prevalence of recent invention of the printing press, and to the intolerance of many of the combatants, deep and subtle questions found their way into the popular press and were immediately transformed into caricatures and cheap slogans. After that there was no hope of peaceful reconciliation.

Is Lewis’ claim valid? If not, why not? I, for one, think there is something to his claim. This point is applicable to an extent, despite the obvious differences, to fundamental political differences. What do we find in political discourse: gross generalizations, demonizing the other size, presuming the worst of the other side, reducing people to their political views, assuming others’ intentions for them, projecting the words or actions of one person within a greater movement onto the whole movement, and the list goes on. Is such an analysis valid; if, no, again, why not?

I Want One Of Them Stimulous Jobs

There is something in me which, when it sees to related numbers, wants to immediately do a calculation, so when I saw a news story stating that the $215 billion in stimulous money given out thus far had resulted in 640,329 jobs, my first question was, “How much is that per job?”

Answer? $312,339.44

Not too shabby, eh? I’d like one of them jobs just fine.

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The Bi-Partisanship Fallacy

There’s a school of thought which greatly admires “bi-partisan” approaches to solving political problems. The idea of representatives and senators putting aside their differences to “reach across the aisle” and work together seems admirably, if only because our social training all points towards the importance of compromise in order to get along with others.

However, I’d like to question whether there are often pieces of legislation which are genuinely bi-partisan.

Some legislation is essentially non-partisan. Instituting a national alert system to help track down kidnapped children, for instance, is hardly something which has a major political faction aligned against it.

In other cases, there’s legislation which applies to factions within each party — a result of the fact that our two major political parties include sub-factions which disagree with each other on major issues. For instance, “bi-partisan” immigration reform might draw support both from the business faction within the GOP and the pro-immigration faction within the Democratic Party, while being opposed by labor focused Democrats and immigration focused Republicans.
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Let's find the fallacy!

Yesterday The Nation‘s John Nichols wrote a rather scathing piece about President Obama: the piece is entitled “Whiner-in-Chief” and the first line reads, “The Obama administration really needs to get over itself.”

Of course, I tend to agree with perspectives like that. :-)  But near the end of the piece Nichols tries to argue that the country isn’t as divided as the White House thinks, and along the way, he makes a heckuva non sequitur:

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What He Said

Here’s Prof. David Post at the Volokh Conspiracy describing politics through an analogy to sports (the easiest way to explain anything to me):

I then said something like – “but it does seem like the overall level of defense is improving all over – I see so many great plays these days . . .” before I recognized how stupid a comment that was.  Of course I was seeing more great defensive plays than I had 10 or 20 years before – because 10 or 20 years before there had been no Sportscenter (or equivalent).  In 1992 (or whenever exactly this was), I could turn on the TV and catch 20 or 30 minutes of great highlights every night, including 5 or 6 truly spectacular defensive plays; in 1980, or 1960, to see 5 or 6 truly spectacular defensive plays, you had to watch 20 or 25 hours of baseball, minimum.  [That’s what ESPN was doing, in effect – watching 10 or 12 games simultaneously and pulling out the highlights].  It was just my mind playing a trick on me; I had unconsciously made a very simple mistake.  The way in which I was perceiving the world of baseball had, with Sportscenter, changed fundamentally, but I hadn’t taken that into account.  Without thinking about it, I had plugged into a simple formula:  Old Days:             5 spectacular plays in 25 hours of baseball watching. New Days:          5 spectacular plays in ½ hour of baseball watching. And I had reached the obvious (and obviously wrong, on reflection) conclusion that the rate of spectacular playmaking had gone up.

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Signs and Portents

Gallup Party ID

The first in an on-going series.  I have never been interested in sports, much to the quiet chagrin of my late father.  Other than hockey in my college days, I can’t recall ever spending any money to see a sporting event.  On the weekends no sounds of athletic contests emanate from the McClarey household TV.  I suspect that my strong interest in politics takes the place of sports for me.  I am endlessly fascinated by it, pay close attention to all news regarding politics and have familiarized myself over the years with a fair amount of the technical aspects of the craft.  For political junkies like me our season is about to begin.  Next year’s congressional elections are just a little over a year away and I think looking at the political tea leaves as they stand now might be amusing to those of our readers who share some portion of my passion.

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Irving Kristol, 1920-2009

And so we lose another giant. A self-identified liberal “mugged by reality”, Irving Kristol, commonly heralded as the godfather of ‘neo’-conservatism, has died. Hillel Italie gives an account of his life for RealClearPolitics.com:

A Trotskyist in the 1930s, Kristol would soon sour on socialism, break from liberalism after the rise of the New Left in the 1960s and in the 1970s commit the unthinkable — support the Republican Party, once as “foreign to me as attending a Catholic Mass.”

He was a New York intellectual who left home, first politically, then physically, moving to Washington in 1988. … his turn to the right joined by countless others, including such future GOP Cabinet officials as Jeane Kirkpatrick and William Bennett and another neoconservative founder, Norman Podhoretz.

“The influence of Irving Kristol’s ideas has been one of the most important factors in reshaping the American climate of opinion over the past 40 years,” Podhoretz said.

Among the host of publications he is credited as founding and/or editing was Commentary magazine (from 1947 to 1952); The Public Interest (from 1965 to 2002) and The National Interest from 1985 to 2002.

Kristol’s life, along with that of his fellow “New York intellectuals” Irving Howe, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer, was the subject of the 1998 documentary, Arguing the World. In July 2002 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush, the highest civilian honor in the United States. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

A Public Option: the Left's Waterloo?

Blackadder has had a couple very interesting posts lately arguing that a public health insurance program wouldn’t sound the death-knell to private insurance companies (and hence competition for the consumer) which many have been arguing it would.

What I find interesting is the vehemence of the left regarding a public option… consider this quote from a WaPo story today: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

I Really Hate This Part…

If I’ve seemed a bit reclusive on all the recent fuss over the health care bill, town hall meetings, etc., it’s because the debate over the current reform package has now entered the phase of American politics that I really don’t like. There’s an early stage in which ideas are discussed and bills are drafted. People try to put coallitions together, compromises are discussed, and various groups push their policy recommendations. That’s the realm I find interesting, and in my small corner of the blogsphere, I enjoy participating, in a strictly informal fashion, in the debate.

But then there’s a point when an actual bill (or bills) are on the table, and the democratic melee is let loose. Over the last week I’ve been reading Alessandro Barbero’s The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, and in light of that it strikes me that there’s a certain Napoleonic-battle aspect to all this. A month or two ago we were staring at maps and discussing the merits of different formations, but now everything is shrouded in smoke while innumerable combatants in this democratic struggle (most of whom, on both sides, honestly have a fairly rudimentary understanding of the overall debate) slug it out until we find out which side will hold the field and which will break and run.

In a democratic republic, this is a necessary part of our political process. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Clout and Catholic Education

Too often, Catholic education, particularly at the high school level, seems to be valued not so much for its moral and religious content as for its prestige in the community, or for its ability to produce graduates who get into the “right” colleges and get higher-paying jobs later on.

In my experience, Catholic high schools tend to be known in their communities as 1) schools rich kids attend, 2) a way to escape poor-quality public schools, 3) athletic powerhouses, or 4) institutions whose graduates enjoy disproportionate wealth and influence — the quality Chicagoans famously call “clout.”

Just today, in fact, I heard someone refer to alumni of a local Catholic high school as a “Catholic mafia” that allegedly dominates local business and politics. Although this characterization is probably not entirely justified, many alums of this particular school do seem to end up in positions of influence in the community.
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Basing Victory on Failure

It is one of the interesting contradictions of politics that political factions sometimes rely on the problems they seek to eliminate for their existence. For instance, it has been widely noted that while it is generally part of the Democratic set of ideals to reduce economic disparity, while Republicans tend to be accepting of it, Democrats are most successfully elected in areas with high economic disparity and Republicans are most successfully elected in areas with economic homogeneity. One might imagine that this is because those who actually experience inequality see the folly of their actions and switch to become Democratic voters, and perhaps there’s some level of truth to this, but still it seems odd that the Democratic hold on a region strengthens as its inequality increases. In other words, they do better if their goal of creating a more egalitarian economy fails.

I was reminded of this reading an article this morning about a group of newly elected Democrats in the House who are from some of the nation’s wealthiest congressional districts. (Democrats now control 14 out of the 25 richest congressional districts in the country.) These congressmen are worried about a provision in the pending health care legislation which would fund much of the new spending with a tax increase of 1-5.4% on income groups making $350k/yr or more.

I don’t have an objection in principle to taxes that hit the rich harder than the poor. As was observed about the reasonableness of robbing banks (if one is going to be a robber): That’s where the money is. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

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