Uncommon Sense

May 11, 2022

Judicial Activism Unchecked

In the 1960’s, the real conservatives of the time railed against “judicial activism” which basically meant that courts were legislating from their benches. Well, if that were true, those prior justices were pikers compared to the current Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS).

There are a number of checks on judicial power, the Congresses ability to legislate, etc., but one of the foundational checks on judicial power is the principle of stare decisis.

Stare decisis is a legal doctrine that obligates courts to follow historical cases when making a ruling on a similar case. Stare decisis ensures that cases with similar scenarios and facts are approached in the same way. Simply put, it binds courts to follow legal precedents set by previous decisions. Of course, following this principle, like so many things involving the SCOTUS, is voluntary. (Unlike all lower courts, for example, SCOTUS has no ethics code.)

Just to be complete, a precedent is a principle or rule established in a previous legal case that is either binding on or persuasive without going to courts for a court or other tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. (Source: Wikipedia)

Now, here’s the kicker: if the wording “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start” in the leaked Alito opinion remains intact in the final opinion, it basically creates a precedent that precedent no longer exists. It would effectively kill off the legal doctrine of stare decisis as a check on judicial power. All that would be necessary for the court to take off in any direction it wants is to declare that all of the precedents are flawed.

This is not a scare tactic. The court has been blowing off precedents in droves lately. In the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which declared that corporations had the right to donate unlimited amounts of money to political entities, but not candidates or parties, and that money was a form of political speech and so is protected under the First Amendment, the court actually sought out such a case and ignored a great many precedents in ruling on it. Same goes for (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby) which added to the concept that corporations are legally people with the right of free speech, to include that they have religious rights.

Some basic impossibilities are involved here. In the Hobby Lobby decision, the religious beliefs of a corporations owners were decided to be in play. While this may be the case for private corporations, what about pubic corporations? Are not all of the shareholders co-owners of the corporation? Would not any action in this arena therefore require a poll of the shareholders? Have you heard of such a thing?

In Citizen’s United decision, what is this “person” who has these political rights? Is it the owner(s) or just the CEO? Is it the Board of Directors? And, wouldn’t those people also have personal political rights? So, they are creating a class of citizen that isn’t in the “one man, one vote” class. These citizens have multiple votes and multiple channels of free speech. Could not the corporation grant the CEO a “bonus” (for performance, of course, wink, wink, nudge, nudge) which then gets donated to this or that candidate (which the corporation cannot do directly)?

Talk about creating an unnecessary nest of snakes. A fiction created in the 19th Century to facilitate corporations (actually to privilege them) is being turned into an über-citizen creation device. The SCOTUS has been pro-business in the extreme for a long time and we have no reason to believe they will not continue on that path. So, this is by far not the limit of their activism; they are just getting warmed up.

May 4, 2022

Contraception Could Come Under Fire Next If Roe v Wade Is Overturned

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:20 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I just saw a piece in The Guardian with the title above: Contraception Could Come Under Fire Next If Roe v Wade Is Overturned.

D’ja think?

The conservative wet dream of getting Roe v Wade overthrown being accomplished, they will roll out the rest of their agenda. They are not known for sitting on a lead. Buckle your seat belts, y’all, women’s reproductive rights are going to be under a full-scale attack very, very soon.

April 27, 2022

Respect is Earned, No?

In the ongoing drama between liberals and conservatives, we seem to be imposing our own definitions on each no matter what they have been historically. This can all be resolved by a quite straightforward expedient.

First, I invite you to read this.

I find Benjamin Cain a quite profound thinker and I think he is spot on in this article. We are in a situation politically in which a number of foxes have glued a few feathers on themselves and have gotten quite a few of the chickens to claim: “No, they are really chickens, silly!”

But liberals are operating from a humanist perspective and, as Mr. Cain suggests conservatives are arguing from an animalist perspective. Now, I am sure some people will think it insulting to call conservatives “animals” but that is not what is being said. It is saying that theu have a perspective of animals. They believe that the strong prey upon the weak (often eaten them before they have died) and that if you are at the top of the social pyramid, it is because you are a top predator, er, top competitor. They believe in charter schools because they think that their children are naturally superior and they need a structure in which to compete and show how superior they and their schools are. The limp-wristed liberals think that every child is entitled to a quality education. Conservatives think that their children are entitled to an education superior to that of the hoi polloi, and if, through a voucher system, they can get the whole population to help them pay for that all the better.

Conservatives use terms like “it is a dog-eat-dog world” showing that they are Social Darwinists (the survival of the fittest in society). Yet, we live in a country established along liberal lines, giving equal rights to people when the conservatives are more likely to claim you have all of the rights you can earn.

As Mr. Cain summed it up in that article:

Nevertheless, by tolerating conservatism as an outlook that’s supposed to make sense as a viable option within modernity, as opposed to regarding conservatism as a radical, reactionary repudiation of modernity itself, liberals are inviting foxes into the henhouse.

How should liberals handle this massive confusion or fraud which is “conservatism”? They might begin by dropping the face-saving formulations, cutting through the conservative’s sanctimonious and obscurantist salesmanship, and speaking more bluntly about the political and economic options and stakes.

To wit, it’s only humanists versus animalists. Period.

April 2, 2022

What Harm Does It Do?

Filed under: Politics,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:19 am
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I hear a plea from Christians who wish to be “just left alone” and who address their religion with the question “what harm does it do?” Of course these people are posting to atheist discussion sites and commenting on posts, too. If they just wanted to be left alone . . . never mind.

Allow me to address the question in the title of this piece.

Quite some time ago a rabbi wrote his views on abortion to the New York Times including a comment that goes to the heart of the issue. He concluded an eloquent letter with a simple observation that “abortion is an immensely complex spiritual issue. No one truth emerges from the sacred texts or religious conscience. Thus, how can we ever consider the mandating of a single position by the state?” Any idiot with two brain cells to rub together recognizes this as being true. Combine it with the knowledge that there are over 40,000 sects of Christianity alone (worldwide), which implies that each of them thinks the others somehow got it wrong, supporting the idea that “No one truth emerges from the sacred texts or religious conscience.”

And yet “Good Christians™” in the state of Texas are passing anti-abortion laws based upon their meager understanding of scripture (and, of course, their racial proclivities). And Texas is by far not the only state doing this.

So, what harm can be done? The harm that laws are being made that apply to non-Christians and Christians alike that are being based upon a very small set of interpretations of what they think is scripture, scripture supposedly shared with the other 40,000+ sects of Christianity . . . but not. (Apparently Christians want political power to enforce their doctrines. Consider the example of the Catholic Church striving mightily to get birth control not to be covered under Obamacare. Of course, over 95% of Catholic women in the US had used artificial birth control in their lifetimes. The Catholic Church was trying to get our government to enforce doctrines it, itself, could not enforce. Oh, and to Hell with everyone else, aka non-Catholics.)

And this behavior is not new, Christians have been doing harm since before the religion was made official. Take for an example, a story from the Gospel of Mark (gMark). gMark tells us the story of Jesus arriving at a destination by boat and meeting the “Garasene demoniac.” And when he had gotten out of the boat, there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who lived among the tombs; and no one could bind him any more . . . no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out, and bruising himself with stones. (Mark 5: 2-5, RSV) Clearly the author of gMark believed that mental illness was demon possession. In this case, the man is described as being possessed of an “unclean spirit.” But then the demons possessing the man begin to bargain with Jesus, and they persuade Jesus to transfer them into nearby pigs. So he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. (Mark 5: 13, RSV) Now, if you consider this story to be literally true then 2,000 pigs ended up drowned and the owner of the herd was probably bankrupted, his livelihood destroyed. But worse. If you have ever seen an animal, like a pig, which has drowned, the carcass of the pig creates gases as it decomposes and so those 2,000 dead, bloated, rotting pigs would all be floating where the wind would drive them ashore. Now that area of Palestine had a heavy representation of gentiles, aka Greek-leaning folks, but surely there would be a congregation of Jews there, otherwise why would Jesus have come? To Jews, pigs were unclean animals to start with, and now they are dead and rotting on the shores of their community . . . polluting the air and the water of the lake for many, many weeks to come. This is not just a calamity for the owner of the pigs, but for all of the communities that shared access to the lake. And, wouldn’t you expect there to be some backlash against the Jewish community because it was their holy man who caused all of the mess!

Might we not question Jesus’ judgment in bringing about this catastrophe? (This is just one of the points of reference that lead one to the conclusion that Jesus was not God. God would have known better and seen what would happen.) The people of the region “asked” him to leave. How he managed that without a coating of tar and feathers is unknown.

So, what harm does it do? I don’t really think Christian apologists want to ask that question, because the list of harms (witch hunting, inquisitions, the burning of “heretics” at the stake, crusades, holy wars, etc.) is thousands of years long.

March 19, 2022

Russia-Ukraine War?

Filed under: Politics,The News — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
Tags: ,

The title of this piece is a variant of myriad article titles I have read over the past week. But this is not a war. In war you have armies, generals, battles, etc. Have you heard the name of a Ukraine general or army group mentioned? And battles described? Plain and simple, this is an invasion and only an invasion. Those headlines should be . . .

Invasion of Ukraine by Russia

March 17, 2022

Making Tradeoffs

In Ryan Holliday’s daily blog today he stated “Life has always required making tradeoffs. Life has always placed certain restrictions on people. Life has always included people who face the problem and people who run from it, people who prioritize their own wellbeing and people who look out for the common good. Life, as Seneca would say, has always been in the habit of shattering, as (Michael) Dell writes, our ‘cherished ways of life.’”

Living in a society, instead of a small band/family, requires myriad tradeoffs from all. The saying is “you have to go along to get along.” For example, in this country we have, collectively, decided to drive our cars on the right side of the road. This is a safety measure. (I remember being in a cab in Vienna long ago, on a circle road and cars were lining up opposite us waiting for the light to change. But there was no dividing strip or even painted line about how far one could go. So, there were maybe eight-ten lanes and there were eight-nine cars lined up in opposition on each side of the intersection to one another. The light changed and then everyone rushes forward, jockeying to get into a position to get through the tangle ahead of the others. Madness! I can still remember the fear I felt in being a part of this . . . although, I am sure, the cabby was a veteran and knew what he was doing, still, a little enforced order would have been welcome.)

Driving on the right side of the road is not to be found in scripture anywhere. It is not god ordained, it is a rule we made up so we could get along easier. Anyone claiming that such a rule is an impingement upon their personal freedoms and doesn’t apply to them will be looked upon in horror and disdain. We were taught over and ever in my youth that “ignorance of the law is no defense/excuse.” I think we might need to add “you don’t get to pick and choose which laws you will obey and which you will not.”

Living in a society involves myriad such tradeoffs. I give up some freedoms I might want to claim and I get, in return, something like security.

For example, and again collectively, because banks weren’t the most stable organizations in our society, we decided to provided universal account insurance (within limits, e.g. type of account, amount of money in it, etc.). So by regulating banks (requiring certain rules be followed), the banks could have this insurance, which is reassuring to the bank’s depositors and “good for business.” No longer do you have to fear that a bank “run” will close your bank and you will lose all of the money you kept in it.

We have collectively decided to tax ourselves to provide national defense, lifting that burden from the individual states. Collectively we have decided that all children must receive a minimum education, for the betterment of society. (When I was young, this was about making “good citizens” (hidden message “out of immigrants”). We tax ourselves so as to provide all children this same education. Well-to-do parents can supplement the educations of their children without limit, but public education provides a common experience for all proto-citizens.

Well, all of these things used to be true. But much of the above now seems to be under attack. Ranchers in the West seem to be claiming that they have sovereign powers over land owned by the public, and are willing to shoot first and ask questions later. Parents are claiming the right to tailor their children’s public school curriculum, a recipe for chaos if there ever was one. I don’t see how public schooling would then provide a common experience if every child get’s their own parent-approved “special” curriculum.

National and state legislators are beating their drums for special rules for religion-based organizations to allow them to violate anti-discrimination laws that we passed so that all of us could “go along to get along.” They are defending what they claim are God-given rights to unfairly discriminate. And of course, they are cherry-picking those rights in the extreme. None of these “reformers,” for example, is trying to get Jesus’s rule that divorces should be illegal set in stone anywhere. And, the rules have always been “if you want to play in my sandbox, you play by my rules” in this country. You can’t go investing in the stock market, for example, freely using insider information. You will be arrested and put in jail. But these people are clearly claiming that they want to make up their own rules.

If you are going into business, you can’t also claim special treatment. All of the free-market economists would be screaming bloody-murder, I am sure. (Yes, I am being sarcastic. Those folks only say what they are paid to say.) The religious are claiming that they get to play by their own rules in business, without clearly stating what their own rules are. They are using a smokescreen of toleration of religion (it is almost a taboo to ask them to justify their beliefs) to exercise their personal likes and dislikes and they are being taken seriously. Hey, if you don’t like the rules of the game, don’t play! Can you imagine the reception you would get in a casino if you insisted on the rules of any of their games be changed . . . mid-game? (Security! Escort this customer to the curb, please.)

And this is the reaction we should have to all of the efforts to change the rules of the game to make our society less stable. We should show them the curb.

March 16, 2022

Don’t Say Gay . . . WTF?

So, no references to the Gay Nineties? No readings from books with the word gay in the title?

And, isn’t the Florida state legislature a state government and doesn’t the First Amendment to the Constitution state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; . . ?” And didn’t the fourteenth Amendment extend the rights and obligations of citizens and governments to the states? (Amendment XIV, Section 1, All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or 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.)

So why the fuck is the Florida State Government infringing upon the right of free speech (not the teacher’s, they are employees and have limited employee rights) but the students? They are usurping the power of what words may be used to speak. Granted it is a pandering appeal and a distraction, but WTF?

I can hardly wait for someone to be fired for teaching critical race theory, which is only taught in a handful of law schools (note—law schools are graduate schools). The teacher can say in good faith that they had not been teaching “CRT” and then the prosecution will have to explain how that is the case. Also, then the constitutionality lawsuits will spring up. But all of this is distraction. Distraction from what we really need to be talking about, such as why are the rich people in this country trying so hard to impoverish the rest of us and why are politicians so eager to help them?

March 12, 2022

Christian Nationalism Contradictions

Something I read recently struck me as an oddity, namely: “One of the most glaring areas of the Christian crisis reveals (itself) in the growing problem of poverty. In a Christian-dominated society that supposedly regards charity as a principle, Christians divide harshly over the treatment of poverty.”

What the author is referring to is the professed dedication to the spirit of charity within the religion, but virulently opposition to government sourced charity, which they refer to as “welfare.” I argue that this distinction exists because in welfare, Christians do not get to determine who is worthy of their charity. Some of this can be logged up as racism, but other factors are involved. For example, after the Great Depression Roosevelt’s administration decided that the best way to combat the poverty of so many Americans is to give them small amounts of money, an unprecedented governmental approach. There first rollout of the effort was exceedingly slow and when investigated it turned out that before the money could be granted, the good Christian government workers had to be convinced that the recipients were suitably shamed and so spent time driving home this point to the already shamed applicants. When the “aid workers” were suitably retrained the money flowed much faster and people felt the “relief” those funds provided. (The amount of money involved was so small as to appall modern Americans as to how stingy/mean spirited the government officials were being.)

This is an oddity amongst a whole class of oddities involving “Christian” attitudes that conflict with Christian teachings. I put the first Christian in quotes to distinguish it from the stated beliefs of the religion in that here it represents the actual beliefs and actions of American Christians.

Currently the undercurrent of American Christianity wanting political power, in the form of a declaration that the U.S. is a Christian nation, is more prominent than at any other time in the recent past. So, were these folks to get their wish, what sorts of policies could we expect?

Certainly, those Christians would welcome the practice of so many “official” Christian nations, which is to have the government collect their tithes for them, funneling those into the coffers of the churches. But, I must ask, how would the Christian mission of charity manifest itself in this new Christian nation? The government could collect money from the many who have some to give to the poor. But wouldn’t that be “welfare?”

As I have mentioned in so many ways now, I don’t think these “Christian nationalists” have thought through what it is they actually want. I am gravitating toward the possibility their desire is a manifestation of conservatives wanting to use the big club of religion to bash the country into something more to their conservative likings. I don’t think it is a religious issue so much as a political (neoliberal/conservative) issue. Those people have already achieved the coup of convincing evangelicals that “voting Democrat” is the equivalent of “voting Satan,” so they had to move on to new efforts, for “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

March 8, 2022

Fox News Gets It Wrong Again . . . Way Wrong

The irony is the commenter was whiny about liberal disinformation, then followed it with this whopper! You have to read it to believe it.

View at Medium.com

March 6, 2022

You See Something New Every Day

I have been reading Michael Hudson’s book on the history of debt (. . . and Forgive Them Their Debts . . . ) and when lending with interest was being experimented with a distinction was often made between commercial loans and personal loans. The distinction was that interest could be charged on business loans because they were productive, that is they were being used to create profits. Since personal loans were not, they were not subject to interest. This distinction was not universal but common enough, and more often than not was made by the church in Europe and other places.

Fast forward to today and we see “big business” having enough power that they can use the Federal Banking system to make sure that they get loans with zero or almost zero interest, when the interest on personal loans, such as through credit cards, are typically in the double digit range, 11%-17%, etc.), home loans are still fairly low, near 5%, and car loans in the single digits. None of these is close to the near zero interest rates that big business is getting.

This is exactly the reverse of the church-sponsored distinction between business and personal loans.

I am reminded that in the early 1900’s when income taxes in the U.S. were being expanded, there was an unwritten principle that the rate of taxation of earned income, earned through the sweat of one’s brow as it was described, was to be taxed at a lower rate than unearned income, which is now called “passive” income, which is money earned by investing or loaning. The term unearned income has been banished by the oligarchs, who prefer the term passive income, being less negative sounding. Of course, now, the rich have gotten a tax rate on their “capital gains,” that is lower than what you pay on your income. In other words, money earned by the rich though investments is taxed at a lower rate than money earned by the poor and middle class through the sweat of their brows. There are arguments in support of this policy, but there are always arguments for immoral practices done in public. The rich can afford a wide variety of PR people, economists, and other academics to provide protective cover for their greed.

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