Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The next president will be . . . Marco Rubio

November 12, 2015

Unknown-5News flash: The Rational Optimist blog can now call the next presidential election for . . . yes, Rubio.

We’re told Trump and Carson are “frontrunners” for the GOP nomination. I don’t know what that means when we’re talking 25% or so in polls. Last I checked it takes 50+% of convention votes. No way either guy can reach that. Especially when dividing the “outsider” vote between them. But even if those votes all went to just Trump, or Carson, it still couldn’t plausibly produce a convention majority.

imagesThere are really two contests. One is an outlet for folks to vent anger and disaffection, and mouth off for candidates who push their buttons. The ones Trump pushes are obvious. And Carson’s persona as the antithesis of the stereotypical politico is working for him. He’s also got a “magical negro” thing going, as inoculation against the idea that Republican Obama-hatred is race-based.

But the second contest is a presidential election. And when it comes to that, most voters will put aside their emotive responses to the likes of Trump and Carson, and get serious. And neither man can be taken seriously as presidential material, unless something has radically changed in the American mindset. Indeed, for all the Trump and Carson ballyhoo, voters are too timid for anything truly radical. After all, we’ve seen high levels of voter disaffection before, with Congressional approval ratings scraping 9% (and who are those clueless 9%?). Yet the Congressional re-election rate continues to exceed 90%!

So while Trump and Carson “lead” the polls, with meaninglessly anemic pluralities, the real battle is among the more conventional and serious candidates. Unknown-3Initially Bush seemed the man, just on general principles, and hence he’s raised a gazillion dollars. Proving yet again that money doesn’t “buy” elections. No amount of advertising can sell a product people don’t like, and Bush seems to be the lackluster Edsel of this campaign.

Unknown-1Marco Rubio has the pizzazz Bush does not, and is brightening as Bush fades. Rubio is attractive and articulate. And it isn’t flash without substance. While much of the Republican party seems mired in ruinous ideological fetishism, Rubio embodies what a relevant and truly progressive twenty-first century Republican party could be, tackling the country’s real problems with sensible approaches that emphasize the empowerment of people rather than government (in contrast to Democratic “progressives,” who are not my idea of progressivity).*

Bernie Sanders, for all his humorlessness, is another non-serious candidate. Admittedly, unlike Trump’s and Carson’s, his supporters wouldn’t flinch from actually making him president. But they can’t stop Hillary Clinton’s remorseless juggernaut. She’ll be the nominee.

With a presidential electorate fairly evenly divided between the parties, elections are decided by the swing voters who are actually the least engaged and informed and who vote impressionistically, with their gut, for the candidate whose persona they’re most comfortable with. They’re not ideological. images-1And between Clinton and Rubio, Rubio has the better story. Clinton personifies the poisonous political divisiveness of the past couple of decades; Rubio might offer a fresh start.

Watch for a smear campaign on Rubio’s personal finances. But against Hillary Clinton? Really? With her history of dishonesty, scandals, misjudgments, and massive conflicts of interest? (Declaring in the recent debate her pride in the enmity of pharmaceutical companies – which have given her millions!)

Unknown-4Overheard from an unsophisticated middle-American conversation: “Hillary is shifty. Like a car salesman.”

So on January 20, 2017: “I, Marco Rubio, do solemnly swear . . . . “

* For example, hostility to free trade and technological advancement, and intolerance of divergent views.

Charter Schools: How Democrats Betray Blacks

November 1, 2015

Unknown-6“Draining” is the word of choice. As in “draining money from public schools.” As if charter schools hurt public education – a sinister plot (“corporate” of course) to do just that. As if public education is great for everybody – including ghetto blacks.

Some folks hate the idea of profit-making business. As if that’s not the very thing that’s given us our prosperous lives. Generating the wealth we can spend on . . . well, stuff like public education. But never mind. Profit is evil; it’s greed. Surely we don’t want that corrupting our kids’ education.

Unknown-1Actually, I’ve always found rather better the services provided by profit-seeking businesses, competing for the consumer’s dollar, than by government. To survive, such businesses must satisfy their customers. Government bureaucrats, not so much. Would you find a nightly chocolate on your pillow on a government-run cruise ship?

Unknown-3Charter school detractors say they perform worse on average than public schools. But as I noted recently, former NY Education Commissioner David Steiner explained that charter school data is pulled down by a proliferation of what he called “mom and pop” operations, whereas larger, professional – “corporate!” – ones tend to perform admirably.

Meantime, some public schools do not. And, 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, they’re too often schools serving inner city blacks — still separate and unequal. There are many reasons. One is that schools are funded, to a great degree, by property taxes, which favors white suburbs over black ghettoes. In the latter neighborhoods, charter schools are realistically the only hope. Steiner noted that Harlem kids in charter schools are seven times likelier to reach college.

Unknown-4So you might think the Democratic party, which owes its very viability to black votes, would champion charter schools. But of course there’s that ideological hostility to anything smacking of business or profit. And the party’s subservience to teacher unions, desperate to protect their near-monopoly. At recent Democratic national conventions, around one in eight delegates have been teacher union members.

Those unions have managed to convince most white Democrats that charter schools somehow threaten public education – the “draining” argument. And most white kids go to public schools that are pretty good; and the affluent ones can afford private schools. They see little to gain from charter schools.

But, again, things are very different in disadvantaged black neighborhoods where public schools do poorly, and charters – even if they didn’t actually outperform – would at least provide a spur of competition forcing public schools to raise their game. Yet blacks continue to vote Democratic, against their interests, somehow overlooking the party’s betrayal on this critical issue. When will they wake up and rebel? Why don’t Republicans stress this issue more?

Unknown-5Speaking of “draining money” – Dale Russakoff’s recent book, The Prize, chronicles what happened to the whopping $100 million Mark Zuckerberg donated to fix Newark’s failing public schools. What happened was . . . not much. The money basically went down the drain, and the public schools are as bad as ever. Reform efforts were defeated by a combination of factors, prominently including the entrenched interests of the status quo. One might conclude the system is (as bureaucratic systems tend to be) impervious to real change. But meantime Newark charter schools are doing great.

And here in financially struggling Albany, the city aims to blow a whopping $196 million to build literally the costliest high school in history. That works out to about $90,000 per high school student! One weeps to think what even a tenth of that amount could do to improve actual education – which a palatial building will not.

That’s what I call draining money from public education.

What Is “Socialism?”

October 20, 2015

imagesBernie Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist.” The word “socialist” has gotten much use in the past century. “Nazi” was actually short for “National Socialist.” Not that Sanders uses the word in the same sense as Hitler.

There’s a lot of effort to sugar-coat it, to persuade voters it’s nothing to fear. Sanders says it means nothing more than economic fairness. UnknownHumpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.” One caller on a radio forum chirped, “Do you like the fire department, the police, military, run by government? Why, that’s socialism!”

Well, no. That’s simply government. Not everything government does is “socialism,” so that if you like government doing anything then you must be a socialist.

Time for some Political Science 101.

Why was government invented in the first place? Philosopher Thomas Hobbes explained: in a “state of nature” your neighbor could bash your head in and grab your food, or wife. Unknown-2Imagine people getting together to discuss this predicament. The answer is for each to give up his* freedom to bash a neighbor in return for others giving up theirs. Now you can devote less time and effort on self-defense, and tending your wounds, and more on getting food or nookie. But this system of law (the “social contract”) needs an enforcer. That’s government.

But notice this is a faustian bargain. You give up your right to use violence, to government – which can now use it against you. That’s a terrible power, and you want to be very careful it’s limited. And while we have found many other worthy functions for government (like fire protection, mentioned by that caller), government doesn’t work by voluntary cooperation, but through its ultimate power to put non-cooperators in jail. Unknown-3With all the talk these days about “corporate power,” remember that no corporation can put you in jail.

What “socialism” really means is government performing not only its social contract function, via a legal system, and communal functions like fire protection, but also economic functions; in the lingo, “owning the means of production, distribution and exchange.” What, in a market economy, is done by people individually or, more commonly, grouped together in businesses. A purely socialist economy doesn’t even allow that.

Now, of course, just as we don’t have a purely market economy, and America actually is already partly socialist, so too one can imagine a socialist economy that isn’t pure but is still partly capitalist. But that doesn’t negate the basic dichotomy between the socialist and market economic concepts. Though you can have a mix, socialism means government taking the place of private business activity.**

images-1Sanders’s “democratic socialism” is really something of an oxymoron, because it is, once more, the essence of socialism to supplant private activity. And the more pervasive government becomes, in running society, the harder it is to be democratic. While a market economy entails numerous non-government institutions (importantly, businesses and corporations) as independent power centers, a counterweight to government power, a socialist economy undermines that power dispersal and concentrates power in government hands.

And so it has indeed been the experience that countries with basically socialist economies have not been what we would recognize as democratic. The two ideas are fundamentally incompatible. This is one key reason why the world so decisively turned away from socialism in the late twentieth century.

The other reason was that it just didn’t work. While the idea of socialism is purportedly to give ordinary people better economic outcomes, in practice it did the opposite. Government has proven itself incapable of creating wealth, as does a market economy of enterprises competing with each other to give consumers better products and services at better prices. You can redistribute till the cows come home, but without a market economy creating wealth in the first place, people will be poorer. Whine all you like about the unfairness, the “harshness” of capitalism fueled by greed, but the ordinary person is still better off than under socialism.

Unknown* One is supposed to use gender-neutral language nowadays. But of course women don’t bash anybody.

** Socialists talk of “common ownership.” However, in reality that means nobody except government owning anything.

Hollow Hillary’s Trade Terrors

October 11, 2015

Republican presidential candidates are falling over themselves pandering to a right-wing activist base that dominates party primaries – exemplified by Scott Walker advocating a northern border wall. Though he quit, so maybe that out-crazied the party’s crazy wing.

unknown-12The Democratic party has likewise been captured by a left-wing activist base, which explains Hillary Clinton’s disgraceful attack on President Obama’s TPP (Pacific nation trade deal), even though she advocated the concept while Secretary of State. It’s one of the few really good things Obama has achieved. That a big trade deal could be concluded at all in today’s complicated world is almost a miracle. Failure to approve it would be yet another blow to America’s tattered international credibility, while China’s role is growing. Recall how our friends all ignored Obama’s plea to shun China’s new regional development bank.

imagesAnd it’s a good deal for America – the benefits to our consumers through lower prices on imports will vastly outweigh any jobs lost – and that furthermore will stimulate more spending on other things, creating new jobs, making up for the ones lost. It’s good for the world too, making people in other countries more prosperous. A more prosperous world, with wealthier trading partners, is also obviously good for America.

But none of this registers with the anti-trade – frankly, anti-market – anti-economic-growth – Democratic left wing which Hillary feels she must coddle. At one time it was actually the Republicans who were the protectionists, while Democrats were for free trade, recognizing that protectionism was a scam to protect businesses from economic competition, and free trade benefited the broader public. UnknownDemocrats’ newfound hostility to trade trashes the good of the many for the interests of a few. How did they get their heads so far up their rears on this issue?

Hillary, trying to justifying her betrayal on the TPP, claimed its provisions are too cushy for pharmaceutical companies. Funny that when the deal was announced, pharmaceutical stocks plunged because those companies were seen to be screwed.

Things We’re Not Allowed to Say

October 7, 2015

imagesBlacks can say the N-word. Whites like me cannot. Not even in my own blog, nor even when talking of its offensiveness (as Christopher Hitchens once learned when a TV interview was abruptly terminated).

Issues of who can say what were a key topic at a 9/26 Skidmore College symposium with a panel packed with intellectual rock stars (Marilynne Robinson, Anthony Appiah, Orlando Patterson, Phillip Lopate, etc.).



The agenda was the interplay between ideology and belief. Patterson, a Harvard sociology professor, discussed the cultural legitimacy of beliefs, especially about groups. He noted that using group stereotypes is actually a biologically-wired survival tool – quick judgments could mean life or death for early peoples – but today, of course, it’s a no-no.

Patterson cited Lawrence Summers, whose words about women’s under-representation in science got him ousted as Harvard’s president – “rightly so,” Patterson said, to my surprise.



Because Summers was making an almost indisputable evidence-based point, about differences in how male and female brains work, that actually echoed claims by feminists who were lionized for it. Thus a perfect example of some being allowed to say what others aren’t.

This epitomized liberal censorship – their talk of “free expression,” “open inquiry,” and “academic freedom” is too often hypocrisy when they really mean freedom of expression only for themselves and views they favor.



Patterson discussed Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous 1965 report on black family breakdown (which Patterson, author of award-winning books on slavery, later blamed on slavery – even though black marriage rates through the Jim Crow era and even the Depression were no lower than for whites, and only plummeted a century after slavery’s end).

Anyhow, said Patterson, Moynihan-style attempts to connect behavior to cultural differences became seen as illegitimate – the “Typhoid Mary” of sociology.



Indeed, some denied that black single parenthood was even a problem, calling it not an inferior but merely a different family model (despite mountains of data showing how much better children do with two parents). Patterson labeled all of this “crippling” for sociology.

The 1980s finally saw a “slow, cautious return” to a more honest ethos. But you were still supposed to emphasize racism to explain sociological differences, with cultural explanations remaining suspect (except respecting racial IQ test disparities). More generally it was now okay to talk about culture, “but only what’s nice about people’s culture.”

Patterson ended by decrying what he sees as a “new victimism” (referring to police-versus-blacks issues), exemplified by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s much-discussed book addressed to his son, telling him his black body is an object of hate – “child abuse,” Patterson said.

Jim Sleeper (author of Liberal Racism) commented on the role here of “moral self-justification.” He made an analogy that while communism was bad, anti-communism also sometimes entailed bad things – and the same is true of anti-racism.



Epistemology (how and what one knows) loomed large in the discussion; in particular, what one chooses to know. Here again, liberal censorship. Patterson spoke of how information on black family breakdown was in effect whitewashed, and Jim Miller (former Director of Liberal Studies at the New School for Social Research) told how, when surveyed, his certifiably politically enlightened students mostly said they would not want to know hypothetical scientific data showing a group’s cognitive disability.

Relevant to belief differences entwined with knowledge differences, David Steiner, former (2009-11) New York State Education Commissioner, talked of attitudes toward charter schools. In Harlem he saw “tears running down the cheeks” of parents whose kids lost out in lotteries to attend charter schools – knowing those schools meant a likelihood of getting to college seven times greater. But a different narrative is evident in Baltimore where no charter school alternative for comparison exists because teacher unions have succeeded in protecting their monopoly and demonizing charters. Steiner wondered whether black Baltimoreans are cognizant of how bad their public schools are.



(I got to chat with Steiner afterwards. He said that nationwide, public schools outperform charters – because the latter are dragged down by results in a proliferation of what he called “mom and pop” schools, while larger, more professionally run charters do much better. One might add that inner city public schools tend to do much worse than national averages.)

Again, the headline topic was the interplay of ideology and belief. Patterson alluded to the problem of what it really means to “believe” something. People can “believe” in Heaven yet cry at funerals. Self-interest and self-regard are also distorting factors. I suspect O.J. Simpson believed himself innocent. Then there’s politics and ideology. China has bitterly denounced Japan’s recent adjustment of its pacifist strictures as a “return to militarism” – while China bullies its neighbors over territorial claims and its military build-up way outstrips Japan’s. Yet do Chinese authorities believe their rhetoric? Possibly.

A second session began with a talk by Yale Professor Seyla Benhabib which I think was about public versus private selves (not the scheduled topic) but was so encrusted with academic-ese that I got little from it. She tossed in some irrelevant bombs denouncing “neoliberalism” (a derogatory term by lefties for what is really a return to classical liberal principles) and how everything today is all about money, yada, yada, yada.



So Rutgers Professor Jackson Lears chimed in with an equally off-topic anti-capitalist rant. I was glad Jim Miller (“Liberal Studies,” remember!) called him on it, saying such burblings are empty because their devotees have no alternative to the economic arrangements they condemn (save perhaps a Soviet style command system, and we know how great that worked).

Lears shot back calling Miller’s comments among the most bizarre he’d ever heard, and that in thirty years he’d never been associated with the Soviet Union (something I doubt). Lears said the alternative system is “social democracy – it’s that simple – social democracy.”

Social Democracy

The alternative to free market capitalism

A catch-phrase totally devoid of substantive content. Might as well say the alternative is pie-in-the-sky.

The End of the Man on the White Horse

October 2, 2015

imagesThe Man on the White Horse is a hoary staple of the political imagination. The hero, with integrity, ideals, and vision, the leader who will put things right. We all fall for it, at different times. And then wind up disillusioned.

Exhibit A is, of course, Barack Obama. I didn’t vote for him (my 2008 evaluation seems prescient now) yet grasped what his election meant to so many – who hoped he’d be a transformational leader. He is not that; not even an effective one.

But this is not just about Obama, it’s larger than him. The hopes we put in political leaders seem systemically doomed to disillusionment.



I was prompted here by reading about Indonesia’s still fairly new president, Joko Widodo. Seemed a really good guy, decent, honest, able. It was hugely encouraging that he beat a military blowhard cut from a mold that’s proven awful elsewhere. Alas Widodo so far seems a lackluster president and disillusionment is fast setting in.

I’ve written of Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, who also raised great hopes and started strongly. His administration is now floundering. And of a wonderful election in Sri Lanka unexpectedly throwing out an autocrat; but the new administration is floundering there as well.



And I wrote of Narendra Modi, with potential to lift India from its daft economic policies. But he seems to be operating on the theory that just being Modi will energize India’s economy, without his actually doing much; certainly not anything politically hard.

images-2Yet another Man on a White Horse who will probably go out on a donkey.

Now many U.S. voters are bedazzled by some truly ridiculous candidates (Trump, Carson, Sanders – yes, anyone labeling himself “socialist” today is ridiculous), imagining they could somehow march in and set the country right. How very silly.

*     *     *

The syndrome does appear systemic. Francis Fukuyama’s recent book, Political Order and Political Decay (see my commentary) sheds some light.



In past epochs leaders had scope to be more radical and achieve big things. But modern states do not allow for Napoleons or Bismarcks.

There are two big factors. The first is political structure. Some see today a concentration of political power, undermining democracy (the false notion of “buying elections”). But the greater truth is exactly the opposite. Advanced modern democracies disperse power so widely that nobody can get very much of it, including presidents. Proliferating opportunities for some interests to block others produce what Fukuyama called a “vetocracy.” So a president does not run the government, he’s merely an administrator. Obamacare was really just a modest tweak of our healthcare system, not a fundamental overhaul.

And voters may profess anger at the status quo but actually vote very conservatively to lock it in, timorous toward any real change, lacking imagination, and suckered by tired old formulas. Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Juncker famously said, “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected once we’ve done it.” So Brazilian voters last year confirmed a dysfunctional statist model, rejecting a classically liberal alternative, and the nation’s rot predictably deepens.

The second factor is the nature of government itself in advanced modern states, its sheer hugeness and complexity, forming a political interest and power center in its own right which is also, by nature, highly resistant to any reform or change.

Unknown-1The combination of these two factors makes any major policy effort like trying to turn around the Titanic. (Worse – the Titanic’s captain could change its course, slowly.) Already six decades ago, Truman said, “Poor Ike. He’ll sit there and say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ and nothing will happen. It won’t be a bit like the army.”

Government has a role in a modern society. We cannot get rid of it. Yet it is a fundamental mistake to look to government for solutions to societal problems today. Once that was reasonable, but no longer. We need ways of addressing issues that bypass government. Unfortunately, those are far from obvious.

images-4Well — at least no one can have any illusions about Hillary as a Woman on a White Horse.

Telling It Like It Is: My Presidential Campaign Speech

September 12, 2015

Unknown-1My fellow Americans:

I didn’t want to run for president, but alas now I must. Mr. Trump supposedly “tells it like it is.” Unfortunately he – and other candidates – tell it like it isn’t. But I believe Americans can face reality.

This is a great country, but it wasn’t anointed by God to be that always. It requires work and even sacrifice. It’s not “morning in America” now – it’s getting late in the day.

Problem One: we face financial ruin. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were great programs, as long as three or four times as many people were working (and paying taxes) as collecting benefits. Unknown-2But that ratio is inexorably falling as lifespans rise. If nothing is done, these programs will swallow up the entire federal budget, leaving no money for anything else.

As a nation, we’ve actually been spending way more than our income for years, borrowing the difference (much from China). We could do this thanks to historically low interest rates. But at some point the debt’s size will outgrow what the financial markets can tolerate, causing our interest costs to balloon. Then we’re fucked.

Ignoring all this is the Obama administration’s seminal, historic failure.

Like Winston Churchill, I offer nothing but blood, sweat, toil, and tears. However, we remain a very rich people, who can afford to take care of the less fortunate. What we cannot afford is welfare for the better off. Social Security and Medicare will be phased out for higher income people. Taxes will rise too.

imagesSome of that money will go to infrastructure, on which we’re way behind, threatening our status as a world-class country. That spending will create a lot of jobs. I call the program “America Works.”

Another reality is that we cannot insulate ourselves from global economic competition. But free trade benefits more Americans than it hurts. No more stupid whining about “shipping jobs overseas.” If a product or service can be produced better and/or cheaper in India or China, that’s where it will be produced. American businesses that cannot match them will fail and won’t be able to employ anybody.

And did you know our rate of creation of small businesses (responsible for most job growth) is way down? images-1We’ve made it increasingly hard for businesses to operate, what with all the taxation and regulatory hassles. For starters, Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank must be repealed.

A lot of folks, concerned about inequality, think businesses make people poorer, with “profit” a dirty word. That thinking must end. It’s successful, thriving businesses, making money by producing things people want, that make everybody richer. Otherwise nobody has a job.

images-2But job skills that used to assure a good life increasingly don’t cut it in today’s world. The real inequality problem is not the 1% versus the 99%, it’s the well educated versus the less educated. I know, people have been yakking about education forever, and there’s no magic bullet. But a quarter of Americans dropping out of high school cannot be tolerated. A great expansion of school choice would inject a much needed competitive ethos. And we need a rethink on college costs, because subsidizing tuition only enables colleges to raise it.

On all these issues, I will work with both parties, seeking compromise and consensus. We must end the culture of partisan demonizing, and recognize that Americans of all political stripes all sincerely want what’s best for everyone, disagreeing only on how to achieve it. Nobody’s evil (or very few).

Unknown-3Foreign Affairs: no more “leading from behind.” That doesn’t mean rushing into wars. But President Obama got the balance wrong between caution and assertiveness, shredding American credibility and making a world much more disorderly and dangerous. America must take the lead and act resolutely to nip conflicts in the bud. There must be no reprise of Ukraine. And if we decide ISIS must indeed be fought, then Heaven help ISIS.

The UN, as a vehicle for international order, has long been broken, due to bad guy vetoes. I will push to create a new “League of Democratic Societies,” with strict membership criteria (like the EU’s), to assume the role the UN cannot.

One last thing.

On May 14, 1938, my mother stood on the deck of a ship as it passed the Statue of Liberty. She was a refugee from a murderous tyranny. America has always been the go-to place for people seeking better lives; and that’s been one of the key things that has made America great. images-3Because such people, willing to give up everything comfortable and familiar, with the ambition to start life anew, even risking their lives to get here – those are the best people. We need more of them.

Elect me and we’ll keep America great.

The Beautiful 14th Amendment, Birthright Citizenship, and Racism

August 30, 2015

In the question period after my recent slavery talk, someone asked, weren’t even Northern whites, after the Civil War, very racist?

images-3No! In fact, the so-called “Radical Republicans” then controlling Congress were the opposite of racist. Having fought a bloody war to free the slaves, they were determined to do right by them. Thus in 1868 they passed the 14th Amendment. Remember that an amendment requires two-thirds votes in each house of Congress plus ratification by three-quarters of states – hence a broad public consensus.

imagesIn the 1857 Dred Scott decision, the U.S. Supreme Court majority had stated that being “altogether unfit to associate with the white race, and so far inferior,” blacks could not be citizens, and indeed had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The U.S. Supreme Court. Actual quote.

images-1But in 1868, the nation decided, with the 14th Amendment, that those people – of a different race, their ancestors dragged here in chains, despised and subjected to the most brutal degradation – would now be citizens. We stipulated that everyone born on this soil is a citizen.

Wow. What generosity of spirit. (You won’t find this mentioned in Howard Zinn’s rancid book, A People’s History of the United States.)

Birthright citizenship was actually not an obvious concept at the time, nor is it even today, in many countries. This was a truly radical enactment.

But there was more:

images-2“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Equal protection of the laws – a concept at the very heart of the American idea. The Fifth Amendment had already applied it to the federal government, but the concern in the 14th was to protect ex-slaves, against injustices by state authorities. (And note that it extends the protection not just to citizens, but to “any person.”)

And still further, the amendment contains this little gem, in Section 2: if, in any state, the right to vote is denied to any citizens, “or in any way abridged,” its congressional representation shall be reduced proportionately!

images-4Here again the aim was to protect blacks (whose vote was given by the imminent 15th Amendment). But Section 2 of the 14th was never enforced. Why not? While certainly black voting was long “abridged” throughout the South, it is easy to envision the practical and political obstacles to implementing Section 2.

Nevertheless, the 14th Amendment is a thing of great beauty. It burns with a crystal flame. It embodies the essence of what this wonderful country is all about. Its enactment leaves me awestruck at the broadmindedness and high moral purpose of the Americans of the time.

So you might think this amendment would be held sacrosanct – especially by people who spout talismanic reverence for the Constitution. But no. In fact, I doubt the amendment could pass today. Some Republicans, including several presidential contenders, call for repealing part of it. What a sad contrast with the Republicans of 1868. (So Trump “says what he really thinks.” Unfortunately what he thinks is disgusting.)

It’s birthright citizenship they hate. This is how far their anti-immigrant hysteria has gone. It’s not madness enough to build a wall, nor even to try to deport 11 million productive residents. Now they want to deny citizenship to people born here. Think how crazy this is. If not every child born here is automatically a citizen, then what makes your child a citizen?

But all this, like almost all talk of amending the constitution for various pet causes, is empty posturing, given the high ratification bar which, again, requires a broad national consensus.

images-5But I am confident that America rejects the view of the narrow-minded, bigoted few who would desecrate the Constitution by punishing people for their ancestry.

The Speech Hillary Won’t Give

August 26, 2015

My fellow Americans:

I am going to level with you about the e-mail controversy.

I did not have inappropriate e-mail with that server."

“I did not have inappropriate e-mail with that server…”

No, really, this time.

There is a kind of personality that finds it hard to admit making a mistake, let alone wrongdoing. The ego gets in the way. And I have come to recognize this in myself. Well, the first step in fixing a problem is to see that you’ve got one.

Let me start with something obvious – America has bitter political divisions. And there is an unfortunate tendency to believe people you disagree with are not just wrong but wicked – which contributes mightily to government dysfunction. Alas, I now realize that I myself have fed this syndrome.

So when the e-mail controversy began, I waved it off as just more political crap, a nefarious effort by my foes to cook up points against me – you know, “the vast right wing conspiracy.” Well, it is a fact that many people do hate me and my politics, and will do anything to bring me down. However – there’s a big difference between that and pursuing a legitimate issue. I have failed to recognize and respect that difference (until now).

Since 2009 federal regulations require all e-mails be preserved as part of an agency's record-keeping system

Since 2009 federal regulations require all e-mails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system

So let me be clear, once and for all, with no more defensiveness, self-righteousness, dismissiveness, political posturing, or legalistic hair-splitting: my handling of my State Department e-mails was wrong.

There. I’ve said it.

Let me be more specific. The key point is that in America we have a fundamental principle of open government; and that applies to communications by public officials on public business. I should have realized I was violating that principle by using a private server, under my exclusive personal control, for my State Department e-mails. And that it would look like I was hiding something. Me – Hillary – hiding something? Who could imagine such a thing? (You do understand irony.)

And then – then – after this thing blew up, and I was indeed accused of hiding something – what did I do? I erased all the e-mails that I – yes, I alone, with no oversight – judged to be personal. The nation was supposed to just take my word that they were personal. And then I had the server wiped clean, to make sure those thousands of e-mails could never be seen. Hiding something? Who, me? What was I thinking?

Me, who served on the Watergate committee, and well remembered the infamous 18-1/2 minute erasure on Nixon’s White House tapes.

Unknown-1Now, I have tried to explain before why I thought what I did made sense at the time. I could go through all that again, but you know what? To quote a certain Secretary of State, “What difference does it make now?” Because the bottom line is that for all my rationalizations, it was a big boo-boo, and if I could have a do-over, I’d do things differently.

Well. Whew. This has been hard for me. But I feel better now. Confession is cathartic. And the silver lining in making mistakes is that you can learn from them. Let me tell you, I’ve learned a big lesson – which I truly feel will make me a better person, and a better public servant, in the future.

images-1Let us now move forward and see what we can do about tackling together the challenges our nation faces.

So please, please, please forgive and forget, and give me power, you goddamned bunch of ingrates, saps and morons . . . is this mike still on? Oh shit.

The Big Apple Nipple Crisis

August 24, 2015

So it has come to this.

What do you get when you mash up a) prudishness, b) a nanny-state mentality, and c) politically correct gender neutrality?

Legislation to ban public toplessness – male and female!

Photo by Julie Jacobson, Associated Press

Photo by Julie Jacobson, Associated Press

The casus belli is the “desnudas” of New York’s Times Square – gals with breasts covered only with body paint who pose for tourist photos, for tips – which Bronx Democratic State Senator Ruben Diaz* (a pentacostal minister) wants to banish. Casey Seiler’s droll reportage in the Albany Times Union quotes Diaz: “If equality laws are in the way, let’s push for equality so neither men nor women can go topless in our streets.” He seemingly said this with a straight face.

Missing from the story is why this is a problem requiring legislative action and penal laws. Diaz says, “so families can enjoy New York.” Many members of families enjoy seeing breasts (I do). But seriously – okay, semi-seriously – if the concern is about children, I doubt that any, in today’s American culture, will truly be morally corrupted by seeing painted breasts. Indeed, it could be a good teaching moment. And if you’re Amish, or whatever, and really want to shield your kids’ tender eyes, why then, don’t visit Times Square. Which is, after all – hello – Times Square, for cryin’ out loud.

imagesIn the Twenty-first century, this story would have been ridiculous enough, without the added fillip of banning male toplessness too, in some brain-dead application of gender equality. Need I really explain (well, I guess I do) that it’s not invidious discrimination when laws make reasonable distinctions based on differing facts and circumstances? And that male and female chests differ? (Vive la difference.)

As to the latter point, please refer to an incisive and erudite discussion in my 8/14/14 blog post.

The Times Union also notes that NYC Mayor de Blasio “has convened a task force” to address the desnuda crisis. It’s reassuring that New York is so free of serious problems that public officials have time for nipple issues.

* Not Assemblyman Felix “Mr. Nanny State” Ortiz!


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