Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Impeach the Entire Supreme Court!

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Imminent Domination

In the 1950s, white Southerners angry over Brown v. Board of Education put up signs and billboards saying "Impeach Earl Warren", the Chief Justice at the time. Now, I'd like to see signs saying "Impeach the entire Supreme Court!" My ire is due to a number of recent decisions, including, but not limited to Kelo v. City of New London.

I don't fully go along with Akerman that "the Constitution serves as a list of government abilities, not government limitations: that is, what the government can do, not what it can't."

The Constitution doesn't mention regulating the nation's airspace or highways, yet few would argue the federal government shouldn't have this power. The Framers simply didn't imagine that one day man would soar higher than the eagle or race across America in a horseless carriage at 70 miles an hour or greater. The government's power to regulate airplanes and automobiles comes from the "necessary and proper" clause.

Of course, the "necessary and proper" clause cannot be used to justify a government action that is banned elsewhere in the constitution. I believe in a "living" Constitution that is flexible enough to adapt with the changing times. But to interpret the "eminent domain" clause as allowing the government to take private land from one owner and award it to another owner for private, as opposed to public, use is to stretch the Constitution to the breaking point.

Quite frankly (and here is where I have decidedly libertarian sympathies), I have never been comfortable with the fact that the government has the power of eminent domain at all. It is, alongside the draft, the most coercive power in the goverment's arsenal. Private property is one of the most important pillars of democracy and capitalism. Remember that Thomas Jefferson's initial statement in the Declaration of Independence of the things governments were set up to protect, echoing John Locke and other Enlightenment philosophers, was "life, liberty, and property" (emphasis added). The concept that a man's home is his castle and that property rights are inviolable predates any modern conception of government and is one of the most important values for any capitalistic democracy to uphold.

Akerman's point about "public use" versus "public purpose" is right on target. Public necessity may indeed dictate that a homeowner's right to his land is trumped by the community's need for a new hospital, road, library, or school. These things directly serve the public. A private business directly serves only itself. It's hard to imagine that the Founders intended to allow the government to take away a hard-working citizen's property to award to some private business. They would be rolling in their graves if they knew how this clause was being twisted by this degenerate court.

Therein lies the rub: Why was it that conservatives (William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas, plus moderate conservative Sandra Day O'Connor) on the court were opposed to this decision, while liberals (John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Steven Breyer, plus moderate conservative Anthony Kennedy) on the court were for it? How is it "liberal" to infringe on the sacred liberty of private ownership of the land? I can't for the life of me figure this out.

What upsets me most is not that the court ruled that this particular example of the use of eminent domain was ok, but that they failed to set any standard for a government using this power. In Monday's two rulings on the use of the Ten Commandments on public property (more about that later), the justices set a standard: one kind of use is kosher, but a second kind is not. The Supreme Court, with this Kelo v. City of New London case, ruled that pretty much any use of the power of eminent domain by the government is ok, no qualifications need be met. This is a horrible perversion of the intent of the framers, as well as the literal meaning of the "eminent domain" clause. In effect, the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 majority, has declared open season on private property in America.

Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in her dissent,
"Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory... Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result."

Multi-million dollar homes contribute too much in property taxes for a local government to tear down. No, it is the homes of the lower and middle classes that are now declared fair game for unscrupulous businessmen and the politicians they own.

How sickeningly ironic that it is the conservatives on the Court who are framing the argument in terms of protecting the poor, and the liberals who are championing Big Business.

Perhaps Suzett Kelo's lawyer Dana Berliner put it best: It is a "dark day for American homeowners. Every home, small business or church would produce more taxes as a shopping center or office building. And according to the Court, that's good enough reason for eminent domain."

A dark day, indeed.

Of course, in North Carolina, they've been doing this for a long time. Despite the fact that state law does not allow for local governments to use eminent domain for economic development purposes, not one judge at any level has found anything wrong in Guilford County forcing homeowners to move to make way for a new airport runway for the exclusive use of FedEx, a private company. North Carolina: always behind the times... except when America regresses.

Thou Shalt Not Worship False Idols

The Supreme Court also ruled on two separate cases involving the placement of the Ten Commandments in public places. They came to opposite conclusions on each case. The Kentucky case (actually 2 separate cases from two different counties) involved copies of the Ten Commandments being placed on the walls of courtrooms along with other "hisorical" documents. The Court deemed it unconstitutional, 5-4. The Texas case involved a monument of the Ten Commandments on a 22-acre park that includes 16 other monuments and 21 historical markers. Only the Ten Commandments display was religious. The Court ruled it constitutional, 5-4.

Why would the Court would rule differently on such similar cases? The reason: only one justice, Steven Breyer, voted diffferently in each case. Breyer voted that the Kentucky desplays were unconstitutional, while the Texas display was constitutional. All other justices voted that either both displays were constitutional or both unconstitional.

So, what was the reason Breyer cited for his vote? The displays in Kentucky were originally by themselves and other historical documents were only added recently to fend off lawsuits, so the intent behind hanging them was obviously religious. However, Breyer noted, the display in Texas had been there for 40 years before anyone filed a lawsuit to have them removed, so somehow, that made it acceptable. Is there a statue of limitations on constitutionality? If a law has been on the books long enough, can it be immune from being ruled unconstitutional? Not that a plausible case can't be made for upholding the Texas display, but Breyer's judicial reasoning troubles me.

As in the eminent domain case, O'Connor provided the most compelling judicial reasoning. Explaining her vote that both displays were unconstitutional, she wrote, "It is true that many Americans find the Commandments in accord with their personal beliefs, but we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment." She added that religion has historically in America been "a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat. Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"

Why, indeed?

The Culpability Quandary

The Supreme Court also issued a unanimous ruling on Monday in MGM Studios Inc. v. Grokster, to the effect that companies that develop file-sharing software are criminally liable for any illegal acts that customers might use their products to commit. This is a drastic departure from previous law, as well as an affront to common sense.

In 1984 in Sony v. Universal City Studios, the Court ruled that the VCR manufacturer was immune from liability for illegal acts done by consumers using their product, because the VCR had other, legal uses. File-sharing services and software can certainly be used for illegal purposes, as well, such as downloading copyrighted music or movies illegally. Yet it can also be used to legally share media content.

The Court came to this decision by claiming that the majority of files shared were illegal and that Grokster was "inciting" users to break the law. So, if 50.0001% of a product's users are misusing a product, the manufacturer is liable? And,of course, intent is notoriously difficult to prove.

This decision reversed the Ninth Curcuit Court of Appeals, which had thrown out the case against Grokster, reasoning that, as the software merely enables users to share files and Grokster and StreamCast cannot track users and so, cannot monitor to prevent illegal use of their software, the companies were not liable.

Would any judge in America find Ford Motor Company guilty for being an accessory to a bank robbery because its product was used in the commission of a crime? Would Budweiser face criminal charges for a drunk-driving death? Would Smith and Wesson be found an accessory to a murder because they produced a hunting rifle a man used to shoot his wife?

The high court, like the rest of America, seems to have fallen prey to CSDS: Common Sense Deficiency Syndrome. Individuals are responsible for their actions. If I choose to use a product with legitimate legal purposes for illegal purposes, I alone am responsible for my actions. Is that such a hard concept for the justices to grasp?

No More Deep Throats?

The justices saw fit to finish off their term by being "accessory" to the slow strangulation of freedom of the press. I am referring to the case of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine. Both reporters were contacted by "high-level Bush administration sources" who revealed to them the identity of an undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame, in order to get back at her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, for criticizing the administration's use of discredited information in the rush to war in Iraq.

Neither Miller nor Cooper compromised her identity, though Cooper did write about it, after her cover had already been blown by columnist Bob Novak, who was willing to break the law to help a Republican administration. Yet Novak, who broke the law by revealing the identity of an undercover agent, has not been charged, while Miller and Cooper, who broke no law, are being held in contempt of court for refusing to reveal the identity of their anonymous source. Tell me how that makes any sense.

A lower court charged them with contempt of court, an offense punishable with jailtime. Despite the fact that courts have already found a right to lawyer-client, doctor-patient, and priest-layperson confidentiality, the Supreme Court found no such right inherent for reporters and anonymous sources. Oftentimes, the only way a whistleblower will come forward with information is on condition of anonymity. Would Mark Felt have contacted Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about Watergate without being able to conceal his identity behind the pseudonym Deep Throat? What would have happened had Nixon been able to subpoena the two reporters and force them to reveal their source's identity? It is entirely possible Nixon's crimes might not have seen the light of day until long after he finished his second term.

This is the kind of case that previous Supreme Courts would have salivated over. The Court has a duty to decide major issues of Constitutional import. By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court has let the lower court ruling stand, to the detriment of all Americans.

The Next Supreme Court Justice

This Supreme Court has made a number of horrifically short-sided and misguided decisions in recent years. So, as the parties sharpen their knives for confirmation hearings for a new Supreme Court Chief Justice to replace Rehnquist (assuming he retires), it makes sense to look at who among the justices deserves promotion. The answer is blatantly obvious: not one. Every one of the Supreme Court justices has been implicated in faulty or downright disingenuous judgment in either Kelo v. City of New London or in Bush v. Gore, the two cases of recent times that will be grouped with fellow travesties of justice Dred Scot and Plessy v. Furguson by future historians.

Of course, the President could simply appoint an outsider to be the new Chief Justice, but that seems unlikely. Though no one on the Court deserves the honor, Sandra Day O'Connor seems to be the least of all possible evils. Her sound judicial reasoning and lucid opinions in Kelo v. City of New London and the Ten Commandments cases are what we need on the Court. She would make a fine Chief Justice, though her advanced age might make her tenure a short one.

Democrats shouldn't get too worked up over one of the current conservative justices being appointed Chief Justice. The position is largely ceremonial and devoid of any real power. Rehnquist would simply be replaced by a fellow conservative. Of course, that would open up a seat on the Court. As president, Bush is going to appoint someone with right-of-center views. But it would only be one right-winger replacing another. The balance of power in the Court would remain unchanged. The Democrats should save up their energy for when a liberal justice retires and Bush tries to appoint a right-winger. The Democrats really risk being seen as obstructionists if they block a qualified, not-too-far-from-the-mainstream conservative appointed by a conservative president to replace an outgoing conservative.

As that is the case, lawmakers shouldn't worry so much over a nominee's position on issues like abortion and the death penalty. Instead, they should question any future nominee: What is your position on eminent domain? On company liability for consumer law-breaking? On the place of religion in the public sphere? On freedom of press? These are the issues that will determine the future of America, indeed whether the freedoms we take for granted will have a future in America.

Addendum, June 29: For those keeping score at home, as of July 8, it will have been one full year since the Supreme Court ruled that "United States courts have jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of the detention of foreign nationals captured abroad in connection with hostilities and incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay," and that holding them without allowing access to American courts was "in violation of the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States." In the year since then, not one "enemy combatant" at Guantanomo has been given access to U.S. courts. No move has been made on the part of the Bush administration to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling. Of course, as Andrew Jackson said when Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the forced expulsion of the Cherokee from their land (perhaps America's most egregious abuse of "eminent domain"), "Justice Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it."

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Kelo v. City of New London

By: Michael Akerman

This post will mark at least the 10th time I've said "This is bad. Bad bad" today.

Today (June 23, 2005, though this post probably won't go up until tomorrow (ADDENDUM: Okay, two days from the ruling. Whatever. I got sidetracked)), the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a local government could rightfully seize private property for use by a private entity (as eminent domain). What this means is that anytime a small farm is producing less tax dollars than, say, a Wal-Mart (generic symbol of corporate America) would, the local government can force the farmer to sell his land to Wal-Mart (at "market value"). Let me remind you what the 5th Amendment to the Constitution says:

...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

What this means is that the government can only take private land for public use, and only if the private landowner is justly compensated. I've read people mentioning that the amendment doesn't prohibit taking private land for private use, which is true, but also false: it's been decided time and again that the Constitution serves as a list of government abilities, not government limitations: that is, what the government can do, not what it can't. This means, in fact, that if an act of government is not allowed specifically or generally in the Constitution, it is not allowed at all.

Justice Thomas, in his dissent, also points out that the amendment states the land can be purchased for public use, not public purpose. The founders were very careful about this: elsewhere in the document, they use "general welfare" to include any purpose that makes the publics' lives better. No, this statement allows only for the lands to be owned by the government and used by the people. All the people, not just some. These uses include roads, public schools, parks, and the like. Not shopping malls and superstores.

The Supreme Court ruling effectively adds "or private" immediately after "public" in the above quotation. I find it interesting to point out that the people who supported this ruling (that is, those in the majority opinion) were two liberal justices and three moderates, and those against were decidedly conservative justices. Of course, that's not really the issue here: it's less liberal v. conservative (though that does play a significant role) and more libertarian v. authoritarian (hint: the authoritarian won).

At any rate, this ruling creates a de facto governing power for the corporations, by the corporations. This trusts the local and state governments to make the right decisions about eminent domain (reminding you that local and state officials are surprisingly secure in their incumbancy, almost regardless of their actions) when they're being pressured by very rich lobbying groups. This is not a safe ruling. This is not a wise ruling. This is a ruling that allows a few very rich people to take the land that people have poured their heart and soul, their whole lives, their very existence into owning and maintaining.

Addendum, Jun. 25: The blogosphere, by the way, is abuzz with people against this ruling. No one seems to like it (which is good). There are plenty of people who point out that public policy has been drifting this direction for years (which is true), but even they do not agree with the ruling. Expect (or hope, at least) to see a Constitutional amendment on this issue within a short time.

Sadly, and by My Hand,
Michael Akerman

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Why "Non" Doesn't Really Mean "No" and A New Photoblog!

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Bonjour! Parleyvu Francaise? Thought not. Nah, me neither. Not very fluently, anyway.

Anyway, I recently returned from 22 days in Europe. I was in Paris when I started this post, I tinkered with it Brussels, and I'm finishing it up here almost a month after starting it because, unfortunately, the abundance and inexpensiveness of internet cafes in Europe really doesn't live up to the hype. Plus, the home computer has broken since I got back on June 8 and my computer is still in the shop. I had thought to set up a "travelblog" for daily entries while in Europe, but again, the internet cafes are pretty expensive and hard to find. Anyway, I have started posting the pictures I took in Europe on a Photoblog!

"2005: A European Odyssey In Pictures" will chronicle my exploits in Europe in May/June 2005. On it you will find professional-quality photographs, mixed in with my own trademark irreverent commentary. It's like being in Europe... with a particularly quirky tour guide. It's still a work in progress, but I think I'm getting the hang of it. Go check it out; I update it frequently. Don't be a stranger now, y'hear?

I guess a brief recap would be in order. So, without further ado,


I left RDU on Tuesday, May 17 and flew to London Heathrow via JFK in New York. I stayed in London until Saturday, May 21. I then took the chunnel (or Channel Tunnel, to those not in the know) to Paris. In Paris, I stayed with my cousin Ryan who teaches at the American School in Paris. She lives in the Abbesses (pronounced "Abess") neighborhood of Paris. It's about halfway up Paris' largest hill. At the top is the famous Sacre Coure church and the Montmartre district where Picasso and Dali and a bunch of other starving artists lived back in the late nineteenth century (About a block down the road from Ryan's apartment is the apartment where Vincent Van Gogh lived with his brother Theo!). Her apartment building dates back to the 18th century, so I like to imagine Voltaire or Balzac calling it home. Oh, yeah... at the bottom of the Moulon Rouge and the red light district of Paris. (Not that I had any reason to go down there, of course!)

Aside from touring Paris, I took side trips out: 1 day at Versailles, a 4-day trip to Normandy in Caen and Bayeux, and 5 days touring the Benelux countries in Brussels and Amsterdam. On May 30, Memorial Day back in the States, I went on a guided tour of the D-day beaches. Omaha Beach was disappointing. I could have been standing on Wrightsville Beach or Nags Head, as there was no indication that the battle for the fate of Europe had been fought here. All in all, it is an ordinary looking, if overly-touristy, beach. Pointe-du-Hoc and Longues sur Mer were cool, though. So was Bayeux with its magnificent cathedral and tapestry. I have more to say about all of these things, on my Photoblog!

A Lackluster Defense

By now, I'm sure everyone is aware that the French electorate rejected the proposed EU Constitution in a referendum on Sunday, May 29 while I was in Bayeux in Normandy in France. Encouraged, the Dutch did the same in their referendum. Now all the Euro-skeptics and scoffers are chortling with glee: "See, look, told you the European Union was a pipe dream. Once again, a triumph for clear-eyed realism over whoolly-headed, naive idealism." Reminds me of the people who dismiss global warming as a myth every time it snows. In the long run, their foolish shortsightness leads them astray.

First, why did the French vote against the E.U. Constitution? There's more than enough blame to go around. Perhaps the bulk of the blame should go to the "Oui" campaign led by the French government. First of all, the matter shouldn't have even been put to the people in the first place. Referendums, especially on the national level, are pointless anyway. In a representative democracy, the people can't vote on every issue, so they elect leaders to do the deciding for them. A politician can either do the right thing or whatever the politically-popular thing to to do at that moment might be, but either way, the leader makes the decision. He or she then has to face the consequences of that decision at the polling place. That is how the people have input into the process in a representative democracy like France or the U.S.

It seems to me that referendums are a cowardly tactic that politicians use to avoid making the difficult decisions that come with leadership. So, French Prime Minister Jacque Chirac can say, "Well, I would have signed the E.U. Constitution, but my people didn't want me to." This is self-serving nonsense, compounded by the fact that Chirac and the "Oui" supporters gave a very lackluster defense of the treaty. If you want the people to vote a certain way, you try to convince them that it is in their best interest to do so. At this, Chirac and his allies failed miserably, precisely from lack of trying. I arrived in Paris 8 days before the referendum. "Non" signs and posters were everywhere abundant. Not until the Tuesday before the referendum did I see a single "Oui" sign. The "Oui" camp made a last-minute effort, with "Non" and "Oui" signs almost reaching parity by Referendum Sunday. But it was too little, too late.

Now, after 10 years with him at the reins of power, most French seem want Chirac to step down; indeed, many French voted against the referendum as a vote of no confidence in Chirac. But, it appears the French people are out of luck. Looks like they'll have to settle for a new prime minister in de Villepin, a man who has never held elected office, a mere reshuffling of the deck chairs as the ship of state goes under.

Chirac apparently has no principles that cannot be jettisonned if they prove unpopular. He has taken a new tone since the referendum, dismissing the E.U. Constitution he so recently advocated as being "Anglo-Saxon free market capitalism" and "destructive of France's social system" (neither of which I would find to be a particularly bad thing, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

Of course, Chirac was not the sole reason the referendum failed. Overwhelmingly, businessmen supported the E.U. Constitution as being good for business. Yet, in the face of loud and vociferous opposition from the working classes, the business leaders of France lost their resolve. In the end, business support was timid.

So not only were the loudest voices in opposition to the Constitution, there were few prominent champions of a "Oui" vote, none of them articulate. What struck me the most was that there was a complete lack of articulate spokespersons for the "Oui" camp. I couldn't help but compare the referendum for the E.U. Constitution with the state referendums for the U.S. Constitution. People are conservative. By that, I mean not in a political sense, but merely that people get comfortable with the status quo and dislike change, no matter how necessary. It seems doubtful that the U.S. Constitution would have passed if it had not been for the Herculean efforts of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and others who swung public opinion around in favor of the constitution by the power of their arguments. There were no Hamiltons or Madisons in France last month, only scared, tired old men who saw the coming defeat in the pre-referendum polls and resigned themselves to their fate.

How "Non" Pulled it off

By contrast, the "Non" campaign did many things right. They didn't have articulate spokesmen, but they did have one advantage the "Oui" camp did not: they were adept at sowing fear. I was struck by the similarity between the Bush '04 and Non '05 camps. Both won through fear-mongering. But who are these "Non" voters anyway? The success of the "Non" camp is how they were able to bring together both the far right and the far left in an unholy coalition.

The smaller of the two factions was certainly the right wing contingent: The people who voted for the xenophobic Le Pen in 2002, the right wingers were nationalists and nativists. A principled nationalist case could certainly be made that the E.U. Constitution was the first step down the road to a superstate that trampled on French sovereignty (the E.U. Constitution would have created an E.U. Foriegn Minister, meaning that the E.U. nations would have had to coordinate their foriegn policy, for example).

However, I never heard that argument being made. The right-wing argument was always that the E.U. was expanding too fast. Turkey is set to begin acession negotiations for joining the E.U. in October. They are expected to take at least 10 years to meet all of the free market and human rights reforms necessary to join. (If you ask me, the more respect for reasonably free markets and human rights spread in that part of the world, the better.)

But.... here's what really offends the European right-wingers.... the Turks are Muslims! The fact that Turkey is a secular parliamentary democracy is irrelevant in this view, as is the fact that the E.U. Constitution doens't mention Turkey and has nothing to do with Turkey's acession talks. Europe is Christian (and you better believe the right-wingers are pissed that the E.U. Constitution doesn't make Christianity the official religion of the E.U.). Turkey is Muslim. Turkey has a higher birthrate than western Europe, so if you let Turkey into the E.U., Turkey will soon become the master of the E.U. and all of Europe will be presumably be absorbed into a reconstituted Ottoman Empire, as the evil heathens undo Charles' Martel's victory at Tours in 732. Of course, the Turks will have help, as more than 10% of French are Muslim. About the only thing missing from this paranoid conspiracy theory is either a call for a new crusade or setting up concentration camps. One gets the feeling we've been here before. I feel sorry for the poor Turks: they simply want the economic benefits that come with E.U. membership.

So, now that we've taken care of the right-wing xenophobic freaks, let's examine the left-wing entitlement addicts, the largest faction of the "Non" camp. I was really puzzled when I saw that most of the "Non" signs were being distributed by the French Communist Party and when I found out that most Socialists planned to vote "Non" despite the fact their party was officially in support of the constitution. Why would leftists be against the E.U. Constitution?

Turns out that the leftists aren't worried about the "Turkish Menace" as much as they are concerned about the "Polish Plumber". The symbol of the "Polish Plumber" became the centerpiece of the leftist Non campaign. Poland and a number of other Eastern European nations have joined the E.U. in the last several years. They have committed themselves to reforming their old Soviet-era state-managed economies for free market economies along the American and British model. The French and Germans, viewing themselves as the natural leaders of Europe, had assumed that the new E.U. countries would model their economies after the highly regulated socialist economies of France and Germany.

The real question is, would you? The Franco-German system appears to be a sweet deal for the worker: mandatory 35 hour work week, 1 month of vacation a year, very generous workers and pension benefits. Due to France's low birthrate, young couples are actually paid to have kids! Sounds too good to be true, you say? Of course it is. There is a happy medium of regulation, and economies that exist with less or more regulation are vulnerable. The French unemployment rate has hovered around 10% for the last 10 years since Chirac came into power. The German unemployment rate is even worse. Why is unemployment so bad? At least in part because businesses are not confined to staying in France. If the newer nations of Eastern Europe have fewer restraints on business so that it is cheaper to do business there, businesses will move there. It is a fundamental law of economics. So, France has two choices: it can either figure out a way to stay competitive, or it can remain in denial and watch the unemployment rate continue to rise ever higher. The French have chosen the latter.

The French voters, in voting "Non" to the E.U. referendum,were, in reality, not saying no the referendum but saying no the economic system that allows their jobs to be shipped to other countries and refuses to tolerate any country that overburdens its economy with red-tape. The French love their social benefits. When Chirac tried to make the 35 hour work week voluntary for some fields earlier this year, workers shut down Paris with strikes. The French seem not to realize that these entitlement programs are not a right, but a luxery they can no longer afford if they want to keep businesses in France and attract investment to remain competitive in the global economy. In the long run, these programs are unsustainable, because if businesses leave France, workers won't have jobs, so they won't be able to pay the high taxes that make the French social welfare system possible.

So, it seems that the voters of France voted against the E.U. constitution out of fear of losing their social benefits and government programs in a race to the bottom to stay competitive with less regulated economies. The E.U. Constitution, indeed the E.U. itself, became scapegoats for the larger issue of globalization. That is why the French speak with such venom about the "Anglo-Saxon free-market system." They see in it a fundamental threat to their way of life.

So, what comes next? The E.U. constitution, which was ratified by 10 nations, including by Latvia after the French and Dutch "Non" votes, is obviously dead. The E.U. will, of course, continue to function. None of the reforms of the E.U. Constitution were urgently needed. Only now, France has abdicated the leadership of Europe. With Britain set to take over the rotating E.U. presidency next month, with Chirac humiliated and forced to invite his popular free-market rival and likely sucessor Nicolas Sarkozy into his government, and with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder headed for near certain defeat in elections in September against the free-market Angela Merkel, and with the Eastern European nations still firmly committed to free-market reforms, it appears that within a year or two, Europe will be more or less unified around a free-market system and good relations with America. France may still hold to its rejection of free-market philosophy and may remain committed to making Europe a counterweight to America, but if it does so, it will do so alone.

Why Should We Care?

Perhaps you're wondering why I supported the E.U. Constitution. The Constitution was not perfect, not by a long shot. Our constitution is simple and short, taking only a good half hour to read. The E.U. Constitution was an ungodly 15 gajillion pages long, more or less. It was an unwieldy mess of articles designed to please every nation and special interest group. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the E.U. Constitution required every E.U. nation to ratify it before it came into effect. Otherwise, France's rejection could have been shrugged off. Yet, things rarely work out the first time they're tryed. Remember the Articles of Confederation? The League of Nations? You try things one way, you make mistakes and learn from them to make a better version. The E.U. Constitution was Version 1.0. It had a lot of bugs, and didn't run properly. Version 2.0 would then be a little better. Version 3.0 better still, and so on. Eventually, they would have gotten it right.

I support, not any given constitution or treaty, but the greater process of European integration. It seems to me that the era of nation-states is almost over. Nation-states will give way to larger region-states, like the E.U. Always it starts with economic integration. The E.U. Constitution was the first attempt at political integration. Eventually, it will succeed in creating a loose federal body of nations each of which will have essentially the same power as each American state does. We are seeing economic integration taking place in the Western Hemisphere, as well as in Souteast Asia. Eventually, though it may take 100 years or more, the world will be composed of region-states. Just as economic opportunity will lead to political integration among nations, it will among region-states, until we have a single, almost certainly benevolent, world government.

Yet the benefits of greater economic interdependence don't have to wait until then. The process of economic integration has already led to a marked decrease in wars in Western Europe. The first half of the 20th century saw two. The second half saw none. It is now inconceivable that France and Germany or Germany and the U.K. or Spain and Portugal or Italy and Austria will go to war again. That is the reason Winston Churchill supported European economic integration: to prevent future wars among Europeans.

Thomas Friedman has what he calls the "McDonalds Theory of Globalization." It states that any two nations that have a McDonalds will not go to war with each other, the thinking being that any two nations that have enough economic ties to both have McDonalds will not risk their economic prosperity by attacking each other. It seems that greater economic and political interdependence leads to a world where wars are almost unthinkable, at least within the globalization system. It's not a utopia. But it's reason enough to support regional integration, as represented by the E.U.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Modern Sensitivocracy

By: Michael Akerman

Or: How Not to Raise Children (and Why Everyone is Still Doing it Wrong)

For once, I climb upon my bully pulpit with very little practical experience in the area of interest I'm proselytizing you about. No, wait, I do that every time.

Anyway, I was racking my brain to think of a topic; not so much racking, actually, as sitting at the computer pre-coffee. I remembered that I have been jotting my blog ideas down at Ta-Da Lists (incidentally, if some of the non-IVIC bloggers want to make a list for us all to share ideas on, comment), and that this had been one of them.

For years, it has seemed to me that each successive breeding of mankind is snottier and less well-behaved than the previous, as well as shorter (I don't mean shorter compared to me. I think they're literally getting shorter on average. And more rotund). I can't tell you without well-funded study whether or not children are actually becoming less apt at manners, but I can tell you why most of them who are rude find themselves in this position.

You see, the basis of any society is a system of bargaining on a grand scale. In ours, the system works most smoothly when everyone receives somewhat equal social standing, regardless of economic, political, or educational status. However, many, many people, starting in the 70s and culminating especially in the 90s, took this lesson to heart, then twisted it into a horrendous teaching of sensitivity, much like the terrorists mutate the Koran. Modern housewives are taught by the great TV Mind, taking the form of Dr. Phil, Oprah, or the talking heads of the news networks, that their children cannot be mistreated or their screwed-up lives will be on their mothers' shoulders, and Mom will be made a national laughingstock on whatever talk show is the flavor of the month, and that Mom should be a friend to their children, disregarding being a parent.

So, in prime American fashion, the mothers do what? Mistreat their kids, of course. To their credit, they mistreat them in a very nice way. They think that the safest way to avoid traumatizing their kid is to give in to their every whim (because, in this twisted, psychotic world, kids know what's good for them). I hope I don't need to point out that this is hardly good training for the the "Real World" (not the show), but it's not in the cards for today's moms to think about that. It's so simple: you just give in once, because you're busy, and you want to be your child's friend. Thing is, you're always busy. Soon, mom's giving in all the time. What's the harm? It makes little Billy happy (apologies to any little Billies reading).

This creates a very real problem: a coddled youngster who is used to getting what he wants. Of course, the worlds always had those.

Unfortunately, the last bastion of social training, the elementary school (middle and high are too late), has also, by and large, fallen victim to the sensitivocracy. Administration, in true bureaucratic form, has lost touch with the actual state of the schools, and decide things on the highly scientific "it could cost me my job" principle. This is why children can mouth off to their teacher, do a terrible job of schoolwork, generally ignore class altogether, and still be passed up the line to the next grade: administrators know that if they actually enforce their own rules, there will be angry mothers and fathers yelling at them, then at the School Board, then at the State Board of Education, et al, until they get whatever minor infraction stricken from their child's record and the administrator sacked.

So, it's left to the parents-who-still-understand to fix what the parents-who-don't broke. I have high hopes for our generation, of course: never has there been a more truly politically minded generations, even in the 60s, as the hippies were really just mimicking the thoughts of others (and the Greatest Generation was generally busy through their teenage years, whereas we live in relative leisure). Parents need to ask that the rules be enforced (contrary to popular belief, no, they weren't made to be broken) at their child's school. They need to teach their children that the world will not bow to their feet, and that life will not come easy. They need to teach themselves to hold back on the unnecessary: just because you can buy it doesn't mean you should. Perhaps most importantly, they need to stop listening unquestioningly to what the "authorities" on TV say.

Think about what I've said. It's vital to everyone's happiness and well-being.

~By my hand,
~Michael Akerman