Does the Constitution protect corruption?

August 27, 2014

The Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that campaign contributions are a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.   On April 2, the Supreme Court ruled, in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, that Congress does have the right to legislate against corruption in campaign financing, but, as Jill Lepore pointed out in an article in The New Yorker, only against certain forms of corruption.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the five-to-four majority. “The right to participate in democracy through political contributions is protected by the First Amendment, but that right is not absolute,” he began. 

040614newcoletoonCongress may not “regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.”  But there is “one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances,” he explained: “preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

That said, the Court’s understanding of corruption is very narrow, Roberts explained, echoing a view expressed by Justice Anthony Kennedy in McConnell v. F.E.C., in 2003: “Congress may target only a specific type of corruption—‘quid pro quo’ corruption.”

Quid pro quo is when an elected official does something like accepting fifteen thousand dollars in cash in exchange for supporting another politician’s bid to run for mayor of New York.  The only kind of corruption that federal law is allowed to prohibit is out-and-out bribery.  The kind of political prostitution that the Moreland Commission was in the middle of attempting to document—elected officials representing the interests not of their constituents but of their largest contributors—does not constitute, in the view of the Supreme Court, either corruption or the appearance of corruption.

via Zephyr Teachout’s Anti-Corruption Campaign.

The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April, 2013, to investigate corruption in New York state.

The commission was given 18 months to do its work, but in March of this year, Gov. Cuomo shut it down.  He said it was supposed to investigate the legislative branch, not the executive branch.

In the meantime, the commission made a series of preliminary recommendations, including closing loopholes regarding limited liability laws, mandating disclosure of outside spending, instituting public finance and creating an independent election-law enforcement agency.

As Lepore noted, these recommendations, except maybe for public campaign financing, would have had little effect in the light of Citizens United and McCutcheon.

 Zephyr Teachout, who opposes Gov. Cuomo in the coming Democratic primary, is a law professor who says the Supreme Court’s decision is contrary to the intention of the authors of the Constitution.  Even if she’s right, this doesn’t change anything.

Maybe it is necessary to amend the Constitution, as was done after the Supreme Court ruled that slavery was protected by the Constitution and later when the Supreme Court ruled that a federal income tax was unconstitutional.

Theodore Roosevelt on politeness

August 27, 2014

TRpoliteness

Clothes really do make the (police)man

August 26, 2014

MAD

What you wear affects the way people perceive you.  I remember once somebody in one of these Robocop get-ups got on an elevator with me.  I smiled pleasantly and asked, “How’s it going?”  I found that there was a human being underneath the visored helmet and the other gear, and we had a brief but civil conversation.

What you wear also affects, in a mysterious way, the way you feel.  The time when I went through Army basic training was the first time I wore boots rather than shoes on a regular day-to-day basis.  I’m not an especially aggressive person, and I wasn’t back then, but there was something about wearing boots that made me feel that, if I wanted to, I could kick the world down.

Hat tip for the MAD magazine drawing to Bill Elwell.

Badges and guns: Links & comments 8/26/14

August 26, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Two Years of Collecting Data on Police Killings by D. Brian Burghart, editor of the Reno News and Review, for Gawker.

Killing of civilians by police is a serious national issue which is being covered up.  Nobody knows how many Americans are killed by polilce in a given year, still less what justification is given for them.  No doubt some of them, and maybe most of them. were necessary to protect human life.  But this information ought be available.  Police are the servants of the people, not their masters.

What Black Parents Tell Their Sons About the Police by Jasmine Hughes for Gawker.

Whatever the number of Americans killed by police in any given year, it is no doubt less than the number who die from other specific causes, such as auto accidents.  That is not the issue.  The issue is that so many law-abiding Americans, especially black Americans, live in justified fear of the police.

What I Did After Police Killed My Son by Michael Bell for Politico.

This is not just a problem of black people.  Michael Bell’s blonde, blue-eyed son was shot in the head by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with his hands handcuffed behind his back.  He campaigned successfully for a law calling for independent investigations of all killings by police.   That’s a good law.  So would be a law requiring videotaping of police interactions with the public.

Militarized cops’ scary new toys: The ugly next frontier in “crowd control” by Heather Digby Parton for Salon.

The U.S. military is developing new technologies for crowd control, which no doubt will soon be available to police departments.   As Parton pointed out, they are designed for use against unarmed or poorly-armed crowds.  What does this say about how the military, and the police, see their mission.

 

Ferguson and the loss of social trust

August 26, 2014

Brian Kaller is an American who grew up near Ferguson, MO, and now lives in rural Ireland.  This is from a good article he wrote for The American Conservative.

When my acquaintances here in Ireland see images of Ferguson, they marvel at the ordnance—here most police don’t even carry guns—but they also tell me Ferguson doesn’t look poor.  They grew up here when this country had a fraction of America’s wealth—again, GDP-per-capita—but also a fraction of its crime rate.  Like people in many countries or historical eras, they were poorer than Americans today, but also less fearful.

Why they weren’t afraid has many possible answers, but I can suggest a few.  Most people knew their neighbors, including local police, and that web of trust cushioned the weight of the world.  They enforced most community standards through social pressure, without police.  Young males were usually occupied with physical labor rather than mischief.  Guns were unknown except for hunting in season.

Most people had the skills and infrastructure to provide the rudiments of life or themselves, rather than being financially dependent on strangers.  People’s perception of each other was shaped by their interactions, rather than a sensationalist mass media.

I use traditional Ireland as an easy example, but you could say all the same things about most traditional societies, or most American communities as recently as several decades ago.  Such communities—poor but scraping by, close-knit, self-reliant—are the rule in human affairs; they are what normal looks like.

Most Americans I talk to live far from family and do not know or trust their neighbors.  Most went deeply into debt to afford an education, car or house, and must travel long distances to buy food or get to jobs.  Their economic relationships—the means of getting food, water, clothing, warmth, and shelter—are vertical, to strangers in distant and possibly unaccountable institutions, rather than horizontal, to others nearby.

via Ferguson Falls Apart.

What he wrote is true of me.  I grew up in the 1940s in a small town on the Potomac River in which nobody locked their doors, and, if you left something valuable on your front porch overnight, it would still be there in the morning.  Very few people were actually poor, but most of us had few material possessions by the standards of today.  My parents raised my brother and me in a house that is smaller than the one I now live in by myself.

While my memories of that era are happy memories, I don’t think African-Americans my age would feel the same.   Schools and many other public institutions in Maryland were segregated, and lynchings in the South went unpunished.   White police treated black people no better than they do now, if that.  Maybe family and community ties were stronger; I wouldn’t know.

Anyhow, that’s not what Kaller is writing about.  He is writing about why we white people feel the way we do.

This weak social infrastructure makes most Americans highly vulnerable to crime, and they know it. In working-class neighborhoods like Ferguson, neighbors look with dread at the violence and social breakdown of places like East St. Louis, and fear it coming to where they live.  [snip]

Fearful and mistrusting people respond in all kinds of counter-productive ways.  They move further and further away from urban centers, to places where they are even more isolated.  They absorb themselves in specialized media that appeals to their fears, and their preparations for emergencies tend to involve guns. They demand more and more from governments they trust less and less, and surrender legal rights to police that are (a) heavily armed, (b) frequently attacked, and (c) human. All of which could work out just fine, as long as nothing ever goes wrong.

via Ferugson Falls Apart.

I think that’s true.  Hat tip for the link to Rod Dreher.

Life in the wired society

August 25, 2014

Oral-B, a Procter & Gamble company, this year launched its SmartSeries Bluetooth toothbrush — an essential appliance for what the firm calls “the well-connected bathroom”.

It connects to your smartphone, where its app tracks brushing tasks: Have you flossed? cleaned the tongue? rinsed? And highlights areas of the mouth visualized on the phone screen that deserve more attention.

More importantly, as the toothbrush’s website proudly announces, it also “records brushing activity as data that you can chart on your own and share with dental professionals.”

What happens to that data — whether it goes to these dental professionals, or your insurance company, stays with you or is appended to your data already owned by Facebook and Google — is a controversial question.

via Evgeny Morozov: How much for your data?.

The principle of financialization is that if anything can be done, it not only can, but should be done for money, and that the only standard of value is monetary.  Technology in the service of financialization applies this to your personal life.  Any information about you that is worth knowing is worth selling for money.

Now if personal data is a financial asset and nothing else, the individual person should have the exclusive right to sell it, just as the individual person should have the exclusive right to sell his or her own blood.   But is this how we want to live?

The digitization of everyday life, and the rapaciousness of financialization, risk turning everything — genome to bedroom — into a productive asset. 

As Esther Dyson, a board member of 23andme, the leader in personalized genomics, said the company is “like the ATM that gives you access to the wealth locked within your genes”.

This is the future that Silicon Valley expects us to embrace: given enough sensors and net connections, our entire life becomes a giant ATM.  Those refusing this would have only themselves to blame. 

Opting out from the “sharing economy” would come to be seen as economic sabotage and wasteful squandering of precious resources that could accelerate growth.

Eventually, the refusal to “share” becomes tinged with as much guilt as the refusal to save or work or pay debts, with a veneer of morality covering up — once again — exploitation.

It’s only natural that the less fortunate, under the burden of austerity, are turning their kitchens into restaurants, their cars into taxis, and their personal data into financial assets. What else can they do?

For Silicon Valley, this is a triumph of entrepreneurship — a spontaneous technological development, unrelated to the financial crisis.  But it is only as entrepreneurial as those who are driven — by the need to pay rent — into prostitution or selling their body parts.

via Evgeny Morozov: How much for your data?.

 Hat tip for the link to Daniel Brandt.

Black Panthers and the Second Amendment

August 25, 2014

Back in 1967, members of the Black Panther Party in California decided to exercise their right to carry loaded weapons in public.  California at the time had an open-carry law.  You can probably guess what happened.

Politeness as a life strategy

August 24, 2014

One of the secrets of what success I had in 40 years as a newspaper reporter was this:  Trying to be as pleasant and helpful as I conveniently could to everyone I met.

ALittlePolitenessGoesALongWay-23618This was not altruism or even compassion, but enlightened self-interest.   I never knew when I might encounter that person again, and might need them for information or even for a handy quote.

If I did favors for people, however minor, they might remember if I ever asked them for something.  And if I built up a backlog of goodwill, this would give me a buffer when I wrote something that offended someone.

This was in keeping with the Gospel injunction to cast your bread upon the waters, in hope they will be returned to you.

Even if there wasn’t a payoff, being pleasant to people did not involve any sacrifice of anything of vital importance, and led to a more pleasant life for me than being quarrelsome or contentious would have.

I was reminded of this when I read an on-line essay, How to Be Polite, by a writer named Paul Ford who follows the same life strategy.

Sometimes I’ll get a call or email from someone five years after the last contact and I’ll think, oh right, I hated that person.  But they would never have known, of course.  Let’s see if I still hate them.  Very often I find that I don’t.  Or that I hated them for a dumb reason.  Or that they were having a bad day.  Or much more likely, that I had been having a bad day.

People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things.  They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension.  They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing.  They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing.

The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same.  And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment.  I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy.  But it is.  Not having an opinion means not having an obligation.  And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.

via Medium.

I have a good friend who says that good luck comes to those who strike up conversations while standing in line.  What he meant was that the more you make connections with people, the more opportunities you are likely to hear about.   I think that’s true.

Unlike my friend, I still find it difficult to make small talk.  I wish I had known the following rule of thumb.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fyodor Dostoevksy on originality

August 24, 2014

tumblr_nab2fs6JT21r0o12to1_500

Correlation is not causation

August 23, 2014

xqOt9mP

I found this when I came across the Spurious Correlations web site.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 563 other followers