Friday, August 22, 2014

Who rules America? Part 2

Who rules America?

"The public be damned!"
— William H. Vanderbilt, railroad magnate, 1882 
A shattering new study by two political science professors has found that ordinary Americans have virtually no impact whatsoever on the making of national policy in our country. The analysts found that rich individuals and business-controlled interest groups largely shape policy outcomes in the United States.
This study should be a loud wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans who are bypassed by their government. To reclaim the promise of American democracy, ordinary citizens must act positively to change the relationship between the people and our government
The new study, with the jaw-clenching title of "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," is forthcoming in the fall 2014 edition of Perspectives on Politics. Its authors, Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, examined survey data on 1,779 national policy issues for which they could gauge the preferences of average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest groups and business-dominated interest groups. They used statistical methods to determine the influence of each of these four groups on policy outcomes, including both policies that are adopted and rejected.The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a "non-significant, near-zero level." The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.
The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.
The authors also say that given limitations to tapping into the full power elite in America and their policy preferences, "the real world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater" than their findings indicate.
Ultimately, Gilens and Page conclude from their work, "economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence."
Rich individuals and business interests have the capacity to hire the lobbyists that shadow legislators in Washington and to fill the campaign coffers of political candidates. Ordinary citizens are themselves partly to blame, however, because they do not choose to vote.
America's turnout rate places us near the bottom of industrialized democracies. More than 90 million eligible Americans did not vote in the presidential election of 2012 and more than 120 million did not vote in the midterm elections of 2010.
Electoral turnout in the United States is highly correlated with economic standing: The more affluent Americans vote in much higher proportion than the less affluent. A study by Ellen Shearer of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern found that 59 percent of 2012 voters earned $50,000 or more per year, compared to 39 percent of non-voters. Only 12 percent of non-voters earned more than $75,000, compared to 31 percent of voters.
Ordinary citizens in recent decades have largely abandoned their participation in grassroots movements. Politicians respond to the mass mobilization of everyday Americans as proven by the civil rights and women's movements of the 1960s and 1970s. But no comparable movements exist today. Without a substantial presence on the ground, people-oriented interest groups cannot compete against their wealthy adversaries.
Average Americans also have failed to deploy the political techniques used by elites. Political Action Committees (PACs) and super-PACs, for example, raise large sums of money to sway the outcome of any election in the United States. Although average Americans cannot match the economic power of the rich, large numbers of modest contributions can still finance PACs and super-PACs that advance our common interests.
If only they vote and organize, ordinary Americans can reclaim American democracy and challenge the politicians who still echo the view of old Vanderbilt that the public should be damned.
Lichtman is distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington.

Study: You Have 'Near-Zero' Impact on U.S. Policy

A startling new political science study concludes that corporate interests and mega wealthy individuals control U.S. policy to such a degree that "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." 

The startling study, titled "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," is slated to appear in an upcoming issue of Perspectives on Politics and was authored by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin Page. An early draft can be found here.
Noted American University Historian Allan J. Lichtman, who highlighted the piece in a Tuesday article published in The Hill, calls Gilens and Page's research "shattering" and says their scholarship "should be a loud wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans who are bypassed by their government."
The statistical research looked at public attitudes on nearly 1,800 policy issues and determined that government almost always ignores the opinions of average citizens and adopts the policy preferences of monied business interests when shaping the contours of U.S. laws.
The study's findings align with recent trends, where corporate elites have aggressively pursued pro-amnesty policies despite the fact that, according to the most recent Reuters poll, 70% of Americans believe illegal immigrants "threaten traditional U.S. beliefs and customs," and 63% believe "immigrants place a burden on the economy."
The solution, say the scholars, is a reinvigorated and engaged electorate.
"If policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened," conclude Gilens and Page.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I’d Like to Think…

I’d like to think that if I stop paying attention to the crimes and conspiracies of the US government abroad, those crimes and conspiracies stop.  They don’t.
I’d like to think that as a vocal person, as an occasional voter, as a sometime letter writer, and as a teacher, my impact on my “democratic” form of government is made, and felt.  It isn’t.
I’d like to think that the police across the vast country of America are like Sheriff Andy and Deputy Fife, with a single bullet tucked away in a vest pocket, and reason and respect ruling the day.  That’s a fantasy in 2014.
I’d like to think that the 14th Amendment was well intentioned, and wouldn’t be abused to centralize the federal government any further.  That’s incorrect.
I’d like to think that the presidents are elected by small-r republicans, who understand what self-government might mean, and are in agreement that money doesn’t grow on a tree in Washington, DC.  They aren’t!
I’d like to think that the standing military and its associated spy agencies since 1947 exist to protect the country, not just to expand and protect its metastasized bureaucracy.  But it’s not true.
I’d like to think that despite not having declarations of war, USG interventions since WWII in Korea, Vietnam, Central and South America, the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East have been a net benefit for the people and economies there, and here, and have successfully promoted ideals of liberty abroad.  Unfortunately, only devils and idiots believe that, and I have my doubts about the devils.
I’d like to think I own my own property, rather than leasing from banks for decades and local tax revenuers in perpetuity.  But I’d be wrong.
I’d like to think that just because my farm is surrounded by GMO corn and soybeans and broilers that I can maintain a small oasis that isn’t touched by it.  But that’s not really the case.
I’d like to think that if an orphaned fawn or raccoon or possum comes my way, I may take care of it without breaking the law.  But I would be a lawbreaker.
I’d like to think that if I exercise my Constitutional rights in a traffic stop, I won’t anger the policeman or deputy.  Instead, he or she will likely become perturbed, impatient and frustrated with me.  I’d like to think I will remain calm and polite.
I’d like to think that helping my neighbor out directly instead of going to long, wrong way of contacting a government agency, filling out paperwork, and ensuring both of us are now the naked object of local, state or federal government scrutiny is the better course.  I’d like to help directly.
I’d like to think that young people are interested in issues of history, justice and strategy.  Given the numbers of youngsters I know – oddly, in the age of handheld boredom control devices – who play chess and monopoly and aren’t afraid to ask a question of an adult, I believe there is hope.
I’d like to think that modern infotainment is beneficial to liberty.  In fact, given the number of survival and sustainable living “reality” TV and the popularity of dystopian (often subtle) anti-state themes on the small and big screens, I think we have many anonymous, yet very effective Tom Paines about us.
karen head shot benchI’d like to think that the central state is more frightened of us than we are of it, and given the domestic surveillance state’s rampant paranoia, I’m very possibly correct on this.
I’d like to think that the state exists solely because we are voluntarily dependent upon it, accidentally and mindlessly integrated into it, and circumstantially frightened of it.  Well, so did Etienne de la Boetie, and he was absolutely brilliant.
I’d like to think that the work of the Mises Institute with its global reach and dedication to liberty and peace has inspired millions at every level of society, touching transcending religious and cultural cliques.  Well, it certainly has!
I’d like to believe that peaceful emancipation from the state is possible, one thought and action, one person and one family, one neighborhood and one town at a time.  And I do!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

STUDY: You Have ‘Near-Zero’ Impact On U.S. Policy

A startling new political science study concludes that corporate interests and mega wealthy individuals control U.S. policy to such a degree that "the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy." 

The startling study, titled "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens," is slated to appear in an upcoming issue of Perspectives on Politics and was authored by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin Page. An early draft can be found here.
Noted American University Historian Allan J. Lichtman, who highlighted the piece in a Tuesday article published in The Hill, calls Gilens and Page's research "shattering" and says their scholarship "should be a loud wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans who are bypassed by their government."
The statistical research looked at public attitudes on nearly 1,800 policy issues and determined that government almost always ignores the opinions of average citizens and adopts the policy preferences of monied business interests when shaping the contours of U.S. laws.
The study's findings align with recent trends, where corporate elites have aggressively pursued pro-amnesty policies despite the fact that, according to the most recent Reuters poll, 70% of Americans believe illegal immigrants "threaten traditional U.S. beliefs and customs," and 63% believe "immigrants place a burden on the economy."
The solution, say the scholars, is a reinvigorated and engaged electorate.
"If policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America's claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened," conclude Gilens and Page.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

50,000 FOIA Requests You’ll Never Be Able to Make From the FBI

"Last week, the FBI got back with their initial response, and it's disturbing, to say the least," explains MuckRock, which published their findings on Monday:
There's over five hundred pages, each listing fifty plus damaged/destroyed documents. And again, this is the initial response.
At MuckRock, we believe that digitization is an important component of promoting transparency, both in ensuring dissemination of information, and guaranteeing the long term survival of documents. Incidents like this - and the staggering loss to both history and accountability they incur - are regrettable examples of why.
There were so many documents, it took almost an entire year to put the request together.
This flood took place last April. It’s not the first time water damage has ruined FBI documents. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, the FBI experienced what Salon described as a “huge and still unquantifiable loss of records” that “between 8,000 and 9,000 cardboard boxes, each capable of storing hundreds of documents from investigations and cases spanning at least two decades” were lost.
You can click here for the 500ish page list, but it's not exactly light reading. MuckRockMuckRock
Zenon Evans is a staff writer and editor.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cynic’s Dictionary

Cynic—one who no longer believes in the comforting  illusions and protective half-truths that most others naturally use unreflectively  to get through their lives.
administration, n.—an abstract concept to disguise a concrete problem of government;   an administration of 4.4 million people, such as the U.S. has attained, has been found to be incapable of administering to 310 million citizens, though it is comforting to know that every group of 70 people has an administrator looking after them.
aristocracy, n.—the rule of a state by its ablest and usually richest people; where this is not allowed, as has happened in the U.S. since the popular election of the Senate and the formation of the civil service, there is established the unshatterable illusion, since disproven by experience,  that anyone is fit to govern.
beetle, n.—despite those clinging to a contrary belief fostered by the Bible about the primacy of man, beetles are the most popular species by far in Nature’s design, for which J.B.S. Haldane once said the Creator had “an inordinate fondness;” of all known species, 75 per cent are insects, and 60 per cent of those are beetles.
bureaucracy, n.—lit., government by desks; usu. the body of bureaus, offices, and petty administrators whose task is to create an ever-larger leviathan of inefficiency, intrusiveness, insufferability, and inertia so that only those laws that increase their power are carried out.
capital, n.—1. the prime seat of government, as of a state or nation, usually situated as far as possible from the largest city and most populous areas, in the hopes that most people will not know and have little influence on what goes on there, and the rubes in the neighborhood will not understand. 2. the primary coinage by which the capital functions, usually distributed with acute generosity to those  in charge there, including the lawmakers as well as the lawwriters, who meet in the lobby.
Christian, n.—one who professes to believe in the New Testament of the Bible, at least insofar as it is compatible with his current life, which may not necessarily contain any of the virtues therein described, but believes it does, or ought, to pertain in all its admonitions and strictures to his neighbors.
civil service, n.—the system of government administration that replaces the graft of  cronyism and the corruption of nepotism with the inefficiency of bureaucracy and the lethargy of job permanency.
commonwealth, n.—a group of states with a presumed common interest, though not necessarily in sharing wealth in common; in the U.S., an appellation chosen by certain states (Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia ) to give the illusion that somehow wealth is common to all its citizens, or at least that is the goal its leaders proclaim, though patently this does not pertain.
compromise, n.—an arrangement by which two parties agree to agree, each side giving up nothing it holds dear but trying to convince the other that its future is dark and stormy indeed; it is not a device much used in modern politics because both sides nowadays seem to be convinced of the unalterable faultlessness and exactitude of their differing positions.
congress, n.—generally  a meeting for a common purpose, sometimes legislative, from L. con (with) and gredi (step), therefore a body that works in harmony; in U.S. politics, cap., a meeting of politicians in Washington, sometimes legislative, that never works in harmony.
Congress consists of one-third, more or less, scoundrels; two-thirds, more or less, idiots; and three-thirds, more or less, poltroons–Menken
conservative, n.—in politics, one who wishes to conserve his superior position, and his superior positions, as one would fruit cooked to a jamlike consistency;  see also neoconservative, paleoconservative.
corporation,  n.—the  fictitious contrivance devised by American robber barons (and baronets and knights below them) in the 19th century to put responsibility on the public for  any failure of private greed; in later centuries, the device by which, and for which, the nation was ruled through such fronts as the Congress and the Presidency.
debt, n.—an ingenious device cooked up in the early days of capitalism so as to promote the work of bankers and others  of wealth by convincing others of the counterintuitive truth  that owing money is the successful way to ultimate riches; the device has been used by modern American governments largely to make wars by vast expenditures of public money with the promise of ultimate riches, behind curtains that assure that the accumulated expenditures remain illusory.
defense, n.—the act of resisting an attack from without, or the fortifications for such a purpose; cap., a modern American department not for defense of any substantial kind but for waging war (formerly, until 1947 and America’s embarkation on a series of  wars every year since then down to the present, the properly named War Department) on a scale so vast that it now acknowledges spending more than the next 25 countries in the world—combined.
democracy, n.—a system of government according to which a majority gets to decide the fate of a minority, regardless of the justice, truth,  morality, temperance, and common sense of the decisions, to which the minority has no recourse—-until of course it somehow becomes the majority.
dependency, n.—reliance upon others for what you cannot otherwise force from them; the chosen condition for those the state determines poor, or insufficiently wealthy, which no amount of free government money, housing, food, health care, child care, and counseling will alter, nor is it designed to, lest the dependent not vote Democratic.
dictator, n.—the head of a state whose people have chosen to do the bidding of a single man or cabal, in return for being relieved of the agony and uncertainty of having to think, learn, judge, and cast ballots.
economy, n.—the name given by economists for the state of material life at any given time, which they claim to study and understand, though no pronouncement from them has ever stood the test of more than a few month’s duration; its cumulative impact is said to be gross, as in “national product,” “national income,” “national debt,” and the like, and no one who has ever looked at the workings of economists would ever dispute that assessment.
emancipation, n.—the presumed release of  human beings from bondage by another, without necessarily securing their true  freedom but only allowing  the despotism of themselves as preferable to the despotism of others; in American history, cap., the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which freed not a single slave, nor was it intended to, but served eventually to give the Northern forces a supposed moral cause for the slaughter they visited upon their foes that they could comprehend better than the fight for the abstraction called the Union.
equality, n.—that impossible condition in which everyone is presumed to be the same as everyone else, in quality, degree, rank, value, and/or ability; in American politics, a pestilence visited offhandedly by Thomas Jefferson in an extra-legal document, referring to status at birth (“created equal”) that is patently untrue, which various charlatans have subsequently been pleased to refer to as if a condition of the Constitution (where it does not appear) in their quest to increase the power of central government, thus to try to create an equal distribution by government fiat —e.g., in income, rights, opportunity, education, marriage, love, etc.—of that which inherently does not admit of correspondence.
executive, n.—one who sees to the execution of laws, in the sense not of the termination of their lives, though that happens often enough by high-minded executives who disfavor their provisions, but of the carrying out of their instructions; in American government, cap., it is the branch of government that carries out in its own chosen ways (see Presidential Signing Statements) the laws passed by the Legislative until forbidden to do so by the Judiciary.
flag, n.—a piece of cloth of no particular value or interest, that, when it comes to symbolize a nation, regardless of that body’s importance, significance, affluence, or influence, takes on uncommon and indeed unnecessary grandeur and symbolism, somewhat as does the cross, the Romans’ instrument of punishment and torture that was so cruel and horrible that subsequent civilizations, though quite open to many other forms of punishment and death, banned it; in American terms, the “Stars and Bars,” the addressing of which requires from military personnel a salute to the brim of a hat and from civilians a clutch of the right side of the chest similar to that which a person suffering a seizure might make, although the burning of which, held by the highest court to somehow be an act of speech though no utterance of any kind need be involved, may be contrived by anyone anywhere without any prescribed forms of address.
Federal Reserve, n.—in U.S., a self-created collection of private banks that is allowed to serve as a central bank for the American government, whose interests are no more in the public welfare than public toilets and whose authority is no more federal than Federal Express.
Gettysburg Address, n.—a short address by Abraham Lincoln to a crowd in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863, in which he attempted to make “equality” a formal purpose of American government by claiming the Declaration of Independence as a founding document equivalent to the Constitution, the latter of which evinces no such purpose and indeed endorses slavery; as an example of successful deceit and duplicity, it is likely the most effective piece of rhetoric in American history, which has had much of that.
government, n.—an  arrangement of human affairs by which a few manage to operate their society with the sanction of the many, and miraculously  contrive  to convince them, without offering the slightest substantiation by way of proof,  that all other ways of ordering life bring anarchy and chaos, although historical experience has yet to show that those are in fact brought by any other agency than government itself.  G. “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” a phrase invented by an abolitionist preacher in Massachusetts and picked up by Lincoln for a short address (c.v.) in which he claims that this is the sort of arrangement that obtains in the U.S., although the Founding Fathers would have rejected all but the last part of the phrase, having a reasonable dislike and distrust of “the people” as the dangerous rabble that a proper government is formed to keep in check.
history, n.—that telling of events in the past that most of those in the present have no first-hand knowledge of, and generally depend on others, called  historians, who have no such knowledge either, generally recounting stories about kings and princes mostly corrupt or power-mad or both, and battles fought between two armies neither of which has any idea about why it is doing what it does but manage a good deal of mayhem and destruction in the process.
humanism, n.—that belief, fostered in the Renaissance when humans were most admiring of themselves despite ample evidence even then of their errancy, that the human species is primary in the eyes of God (man, followed by woman, followed by mammals, fishes, birds, insects), indeed in some senses the equivalent, as in “man the divine,” and is thus fit to rule over the other species as well as their habitats, a truth initially proved by the ability of European humans to conquer and occupy most of the known earth and later proved by the ability of humans to kill off species, including their own, and their habitats.
ignoramus, n.—the condition of ignorance given to the largest number of humans, most of whom are ignorant also of their condition but find that no impediment to acceding to positions of influence in nearly all professions and undertakings, particularly politics.
incumbent, n.—one who holds office and spends his greatest effort, time, and money trying to ensure that this condition will continue to exist so long as life and voice shall last.
Israel, n.— that modern state created in 1948 as an experiment  to assuage Ameri-European guilt over aspects of the war and Nazi atrocities by planting down in the midst of an Arab Muslim section of the Levant a foreign Jewish, mostly European, population, whose presence was never welcomed but successfully enforced by Israeli military might supported unquestioningly by the United States;  the experiment having proven itself a failure, with no neighboring state accepting of its imposition in over 55 years, and Arab populations both within and without the country increasing much faster than the Jewish, the logical solution would be for its dissolution, the achievement of which should  not be anticipated soon.
A Cynic’s Dictionary—II
justice, n.—the condition that the state promises to deliver through its courts and other administrative offices in return for loyalty, obeisance, and regular taxes, though there is of course no one other than the courts to assure that what is delivered is in fact just; in U.S. politics, cap, an officer of the Supreme Court who is appointed for life to assure that there is no recourse to decisions made no matter how foolish or ignorant.
labor, n.—the means by which the rich get richer while allowing the actual workers to have as little of the increased riches as possible.
labor union, n.—in certain democracies, a system by which workers make the ultimate surrender of their freedom to an organization whose leadership professes to look out for their interests immediately after looking  after their own;  it is most common in professions of civil servants, such as teachers, where it would rationally be illegal, as it provides these public servants with a means of ignoring the wishes and interests of the public as whole while steadily looking after private gain.
law, n.—a profession that teaches people how to bend, maneuver, and otherwise evade the laws or any jurisdiction, all under the rubric not of seeking justice—for that is not what the American system of jurisprudence, rhetoric aside, is all about—nor of seeking  truth and veracity as some other legal systems do, but of seeking the best possible case for either side that may be employing them regardless of the merit of the case, this process being overseen by another lawyer who has remarkably managed to be endowed with the gown of judgeship and with that impartiality and wisdom that had not been given him previous to his exaltation.
liberalism, n.—at one time a belief in freedom (Latin liber, free)in behavior or belief, as in “liberal toward artists,” but now meaning the freedom of centralized government to do whatever it wants, particularly in the establishment of a welfare (sic, q.v.) state.
machiavellian, adj.—behavior erroneously believe to have been sanctioned by Niccolo Machiavelli in his The Prince (1532), in which much cunning and conniving is urged upon a man of high office but nothing so wicked and malevolent as that of which the modern office-holder, who evokes his name, is capable.
Mammon—the highest god in the world’s most popular religion, to whom many temples have been built in  every major city but whose principal temple, even one might say cathedral, is on the oddly named Wall Street in New York City.
money, n.—that form of currency that is assumed to have worth, though there is often little enough to prove that claim other than the stubborn belief of those who have a good deal of it; though it is of no use whatsoever except when those who possess it part with it, for most people its amassment only instead seems to be their primary goal.
national security, n.—the purported purpose of the instruments of the federal government, even those whose actions and policies serve to threaten the nation’s security; in usage, the excuse by any agency for doing whatever it chooses to do, regardless of constitutionality or legality.
neocon, n., short for neoconservative (obs.)—that kind of conservative who believes in conserving nothing, especially despised governments and the lives of the young, and in the transformation of the world in its image of itself, which embodies about all the glories that politics is capable of; in recent years the neocon has elaborated on its name by adopting the con games (from confidence game, elaborate swindle) of pretending to find weapons where they did not exist and creating imaginary sins for unliked foreign leaders sufficient to justify their destruction.
optimism, n.—a mental aberration by which certain people believe (without evidence, which is the way with beliefs) that everything will turn out to be better on some tomorrow, the arrival of which is never doubted though it never occurs.
paleoconservative, n.—that kind of conservative whose ideas are so ancient that the stem “paleo-,” usually used for earlier geologic eras, is applied, with the suggestion that conservatism actually had a system of ideas having somewhat to do with the conservation of values and beliefs of an earlier, though not necessary a geologic, time.
politics, sing. n—the art of deluding the public for private gain, with its full biannual or quadrennial approval, the mysteries and inscrutabilities of which remain unknown and for the most part unexamined so that the superficialities and posturings may be regularly examined by a most incurious press.
reformer, n.—one who has come to the inevitable conclusion that the government he is under is dishonest, corrupt, insane, undemocratic, and insufferable, but has somehow come to the conclusion that he can change it.
religion, n.—the organized system by which the ignorant are  taught to believe in everything known about the unknowable and eternal omniscient deity, which is very little.
republic, n—a rare form of governance far removed from dictatorship and not far from anarchy, where a chosen few decide the laws for the unchosen few, who acquiesce in the belief that they might someday be the chosen, and often are, making a harmonious relationship rare in human affairs.
senate, n.—a body of deliberative purpose, usually to counsel, govern, or pass legislation; in U.S. government, cap., the senior assembly of the Congress, now subject to the voters of one of the fifty states, thus creating politicians not concerned so much with the affairs of the country as with the enrichment of their state, creating a sizeable barrel capable of being filled with expensive porcine products.
suffrage, n.—the right to vote, often taken to be an obligation, even a privilege, and thought desirable in a democracy, regardless of how useless it may actually be; its Latin origin tells it best, from suffragium, from subfragor—sub—meaning under, plus fragor—meaning noise, together being the condition of one out in a thunderstorm, or under a passing subway, that is to say,  one without thought, or one incapable of thinking.
What ass first let loose the doctrine that the suffrage is a high boon and voting a noble privilege?–Mencken
tribe, n.—the basic and original social grouping of humankind (averaging around 500 people), characteristic of homo sapiens life for 500,000 years, until recently, though no adequate substitute has been found; still the bedrock fact of life for many in Africa and Southwest Asia, though guilty decorum demands that fact be overlooked.
truth, n.—that quality of a thing that conforms to fact or reality, not necessarily an attribute of speech, particularly political speech, and thought by some to be an impediment to it; it is said to be the goal of philosophy, which is why that discipline in the hands of academics has existed forever and will never come to an end.
usage, n.—the current favorite style in speech or grammar, as opposed to other styles based on logic or other notions of correctness, or descriptive rather than proscriptive; as employed by the illiterate, often found on public radio, use—see also closure, a psychiatric term, employed by the illiterate to mean close or closing.
welfare, n.—once the good fortune of a person or group, now a task that is no longer an individual or even religious duty but exclusively given to the government, generally one centralized and bureaucratized, to perform, and usually to guarantee.
zeal, n.—an ardor given to young lovers and warriors in about equal amounts, doing great damage to others in either case; rarely found in those of superior intellect or inferior gumption.
And thus a cynic’s dictionary’s finally done,
Which may be ignored, but at their peril, by anyone.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Mythology of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s recent decision on prayer at government meetings reminds me that Supreme Court “season” is upon us, and for the next two months or so, we can expect to see the court decide on a variety of cases that can have profound impacts on the lives of citizens and non-citizens alike. The court’s decision in Town of Greece vs. Galloway has produced a lot of commentary on both sides, with much discussion about the dynamics between justices, and how Justice Kennedy must have been in a pro-prayer mood that day, since his decisions appear to be made on a variety of unknowable whims.
Nearly all of this commentary contains the assumption that it is perfectly normal, and probably laudable, that the Supreme Court has the power to decide the legality of virtually everything under the sun, from the death penalty to where local governments can build strip malls.
If there was ever any doubt that public schooling has been an immense success when it comes to conditioning children to blindly accept even the most implausible myths of governance, we only need look to the high regard in which most Americans hold the Supreme Court. The fact that nine modern philosopher kings are empowered to sit in judgment of every American law and custom, right down to whether or not a city council meeting, in a town virtually no American could find on a map, can include some bland prayer time. It troubles no school child that he is taught that democracy is the source of legitimacy for all governments one minute, and then the next minute is told he should fully trust nine lawyers in robes in Washington, D.C. to have the final word on law for 300 million Americans.
The proposition that nine people should tell 300 million people what sorts of laws they should make is rather ludicrous on its surface, but the justification largely rests on the assertion that the judges are somehow above politics and make decisions based on nearly pure reason. Political scientists and most people with experience in the legal profession no doubt know this is nonsense, but the average American is far more likely to be accepting of the long-standing myth that the court is a sort of backstop that prevents “bad” American laws from being allowed to stand. “Sure,” they might say, “Congress and the president, which are infected by vulgar politics, can do many horrible things, but the Supreme Court will dispassionately evaluate them and decide laws strictly on their legal merits.”
This view of the court is of course hopelessly fanciful, and the truly political nature of the court is well documented. Its politics can take many forms. For an example of its role in political patronage, we need look no further than Earl Warren, a one-time candidate for president and governor of California, who was appointed to the court by Dwight Eisenhower. It is widely accepted that Warren’s appointment was payback for Warren’s non-opposition to Eisenhower’s nomination at the 1952 Republican convention. The proposition that Warren somehow transformed from politician to Deep Thinker after his appointment is unconvincing at best. Or we might point to the famous “switch in time that saved nine” in which Justice Owen Roberts completely reversed his legal position on the New Deal in response to political threats from the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Indeed, Supreme Court justices are politicians, who behave in the manner Public Choice theory tells us they should. They seek to preserve and expand their own power.
The court, jealous of its power, and reluctant to hand down decisions that might actually cause the court to lose prestige, is at times careful to reflect the majority opinion regardless of how atrocious it might be. To see this, we need look no further than Korematsu vs. The United States in which the court declared it perfectly legal to round up American citizens and throw them into concentration camps.
The court forever plays a careful balancing act with both the public and with other branches of the federal government in which if continually pushes the bounds of federal power without rocking the boat to the point of calling its legitimacy into question among the majority of the population. Naturally, Congress and the presidency, themselves committed to untrammeled federal power, have no problem with most of this on most occasions, except perhaps in the details.
Bizarrely, however, the court has even managed to cultivate a reputation as a limit on the power of government, and that justices will rein in the state because it is committed, however imperfectly, to the Constitution of the United States. This is wishful thinking in the extreme, however, since the Constitution is nothing more than what the Supreme Court says it is, and this has been well established since Justice Marshall first introduced judicial review into the court’s decisions. If the Constitution was designed to prevent rule by judges (which may or may not be the case), it has clearly failed in its mission. Moreover, the court acts to insert intellectual legitimacy into laws and policies that formed out of nothing more that interest group lobbying, political payoffs, and even outright corruption. Once these laws receive the imprimatur of the Supreme Court, they cease to be political acts, questionable in origin, and take on the life of perpetually established law and precedent.
The public’s deference to the court and its decisions is the key factor in the court’s immense power, and the myth of the court as the protector of what’s left of the Constitution is especially powerful. But, as Ludwig von Mises noted in Liberalism, as an agent of the Federal government, the idea of the court as a friend to limited government is an absurdity:
The tendency to impose oppressive restraints on private property, to abuse political power, and to refuse to respect or recognize any free sphere outside or beyond the dominion of the state is too deeply ingrained in the mentality of those who control the governmental apparatus of compulsion and coercion for them ever to be able to resist it voluntarily. A liberal government is a contradictio in adjecto. Governments must be forced into adopting liberalism by the power of the unanimous opinion of the people; that they could voluntarily become liberal is not to be expected.
Naturally, the court does not limit itself at all, but it knows it is nonetheless limited by public opinion at least as well as anyone else. The court’s strenuous efforts to maintain an aura of majesty and intellectual loftiness can be seen in its refusal to allow television cameras in its hallowed halls or any sort of direct observation by the public at large. The judges wear academic robes and sit on their high bench. They could just as easily do their jobs in business suits while sitting at the same height as everyone else. Of course, if that were the case, the justices would just look like the glorified county commissioners they are, and the court’s propaganda war against the public is essential in maintaining its near total immunity from any meaningful oversight from anyone at all.
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