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April 2018

How thoughtlessly we ban core First Amendment activity: first to prevent corruption, then to corruptly silence dissenters

The case of Brinkman et al v. Budish et al illustrates how easy it is for lawmakers and reformers to go overboard, once they are given any leeway to restrict lobbying, political contributions, or political advocacy. The original reason for laws that did this -- restrictions on campaign contributions, and laws against "revolving doors" that let the legislators who govern an industry look forward to well-paying jobs as that industry's lobbyists --  was to fight what looked like bribery of politicians by big businesses. Even that, important as it is, should never have been an acceptable reason to allow any restriction on what the First Amendment was principally designed to protect.

But once we allowed those laws to be passed, essentially as an exception to the First Amendment, we seemed to quickly forget the reason for the narrow exception, and came to believe that lobbying, politicking, and contributing to political campaigns were inherently suspect activities that should always be regulated. And that all noncompliance is not just a regulatory offense, but morally criminal. Thus we've had laws against "bribing" officeholders with campaign contributions used against people contributing to ballot initiatives, or even just directly advocating for them, or for or against a candidate. 

In  Brinkman,  a "revolving door" law was used against a former legislator who did unpaid lobbying, and did it for a group that advocated broad principles and issues -- less taxes and spending -- instead of for a business or an industry. And that's where a federal court drew the line and said that such laws had gone too far.


POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS A THING OF THE PAST. AND THE FUTURE.

By John Crouch in the Brown Daily Herald , Brown University, Providence, R.I., 1991

"Because I do not learn their words, I am called a heretic."

--St. Jerome

I once tried to compile a history of "PC." As a Southerner, I knew that the highest form of history is genealogy, so my inquiries first led me to some ancestors who were Presbyterian Covenanters. They were having some differences with the Puritan Commonwealthmen, led by Oliver Cromwell. Each of these sects had an exclusive contract with God, stating that the other was headed for a bad place and should be expedited there. (Think about it: these covenants were not contradictory, but complementary. God knew what he was doing.) After a pitched battle, Cromwell suggested that everyone should come together and cooperate with him in an exciting new broad-based ecumenical venture known as Persecuting Catholics. He offered my forebears exciting public service jobs as military policemen in exile. They agreed, and in return he deferred his natural inclination to confiscate their heads. 

Soon they were in Ulster, doing the Lord's work. Then it was off to Barbados to practice their techniques on rebellious slaves, and then to Maryland, to do it to the Indians and Catholics. In time they settled down and became highly useful members of the community, raising tobacco and sailing to Africa to buy slaves. In occasional fits of public-spiritedness they would lynch a papist or two, but they mostly minded their own business for six generations until some outside agitators built Washington, D.C. in their neighborhood.

A more recent forefather of PC and related irritations was Horace Mann '19, who dominated the debating societies of Manning Chapel. These groups combined the functions of class discussion sections, dorm unit "workshops", the student government, and the Herald letters page. Kathleen Kendall, a rhetoric professor, wrote that Mann proved his points with "overstatements," "name-calling," "sophistry," "chest-thumping chauvinism," and "an abundance of star-spangled prose ... No one challenged his sweeping generalizations or lack of pertinent evidence." Doubtless the alumni pined for the grand old days of discipline, morality, and western culture.

Then again, Brown's administration didn't set a very mature example for Mann. They once fined him for violating their ban on Independence Day observations. This holiday was considered disruptively democratic, divisive, and deeply offensive to the Federalist community, which always felt left out.

Brown has a venerable tradition of expelling the politically incorrect, including President Bennie Andrews '70. Wildly popular, he was especially admired for his success in exhorting students to fulfill their human potential by volunteering for the Spanish-American War (once fabulously PC). So the trustees were especially shocked when he began advocating silver coinage. A man who believed in that could be neither sane nor moral, so they had to banish him before he poisoned the whole community. 

PC flourished in Athens at the same time the Spartans were perfecting communism, so I hardly think either idea can have permanently "died" in the past year. It is true that, like Stalinism and McCarthyism, it had lost its real power before mainstream liberals began anathematizing it, or even giving it a name. (Four years ago, "PC Person" was a classist, fattist, WASPist, smartist term for a typical scholar at Providence College.) But while political circumstances change quickly and unpredictably, human nature changes too slowly to measure. Like some observers of political savagery in past decades, I would blame PC's inhumanity not on the counter-culture, communism, anti-communism or fundamentalism, but on certain strains of the human personality: control freaks, conformists, trendies, groupies, and opportunists. At least in my experience here, the intolerance that provoked so much resentment and ridicule was practiced not by political activists, but by encounter-workshop facilitators and a few administrators. Likewise, it should be obvious that Dartmouth's persecution of conservative journalists, and the Brown administration's rudeness toward liberal protestors and union organizers, relate not to the politics of left and right but to simple institutional self-interest.

But some cultures and ideologies may prove more PC-resistant than others. By "culture," I mean something we each help shape, not a genetic heritage that pre-determines us. Many people presume there is a certain inviolable space around individuals, and that all are equally human. In cultures that take such ideas seriously, certain rules develop: People are to be persuaded only by reason, and not manipulated, lied to, or forced around at gunpoint. People are given the benefit of the doubt, and not charged with unworthy motives or mental infirmity without proof. But at the same time, they are seen as ultimately responsible for their beliefs, having reason and free will. At times, concepts of "gentlemanliness" and "sportsmanship" have been current (and it is worrisome that our new less-sexist language has no words for them yet). They advise that an unfair advantage should not be pressed, that abandoning the moral high ground only hurts you in the long run, and that no disagreement may break the bonds of civility and charity. Where most people are willing to defend such standards, the PC might abandon their own tactics as counter-productive. In such a culture, Horace Mann went on to show that one can outgrow PC in the course of a mentally active life.

Our present culture, though, admires a no-holds-barred 100% dedication to one's chosen cause, fad or crisis, overriding all rules and distinctions, by any means necessary. So we should be grateful for our PC education -- it's probably excellent preparation for success in American politics, media, and business.


Yes, Virginia, "You, too, will meet the secret police!"

-- So Jello Biafra sang on his Spoken Word Album, which he gave me several copies of when my ACLU chapter had him come speak to an unexpectedly huge and raucous crowd at my college. But I never thought we would actually have entirely secret police in Virginia, where the Bill of Rights was invented. 

Virginia bill to keep officers' names secret would be first in the nation, experts say

By Gary A. Harki and Patrick Wilson, The Virginian-Pilot

Jefferson is why the modern world values equality, democracy, and human rights

By John Crouch

On his 275th birthday, Thomas Jefferson is in danger of getting run out of town on a rail, his statues teetering on a slippery slope which we had been told would become dry and level as soon as Robert E. Lee was cast down it. We already knew he was a slaveowner and probably a race-mixing unwed father, but lately we’ve been confronted with the inhumane cruelties that slavery involved even at Monticello, and some are calling him a rapist and a child molester because Sally Hemings was a slave and was 16 when she first became pregnant.

But without Jefferson, we would not have today’s movements for racial equality and other human equality, we wouldn’t have had the Civil Rights movement and its imitators, and even Abolitionism would have been very different and less popular. Now, it’s well known that he is where Americans think we get most of our ideas about liberty. But what we forget, in these days when we’re focused on a mostly false opposition between liberty and equality, is that he is much more uniquely, and crucially, the source of our beliefs in equality, democracy, and universal human rights. As the author of the Declaration of Independence, as the founder of the Democratic Party, and as a powerful, lifelong agitator for expanding political liberty and equality.

Without him the American Revolution, and the American idea, would likely have been about defending the hereditary rights of free-holding Englishmen. Perhaps inspiring enough to achieve independence, perhaps not. But not much of an inspiration to the rest of the world, and far less appealing to Christians and philosophers than declaring our independence by announcing:

"That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

This ideology and theology of radical human equality was not Jefferson’s invention: it had colorful, eccentric champions during the English Civil War and Commonwealth era (1640s-50s), Quakerism seems consistent with it if not based on it, and Hobbes and Locke used it in different ways as a starting point for their philosophies. The idea had recently been expressed in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and in George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights. But Jefferson put it at the top of America’s founding document, its public statement of what its war was about, where everyone read it or had it read to them.

And Americans would not have their wide and deep belief in equality and democracy if it were not for the ongoing work of Jefferson and the political party he founded, which was always the democratic party even when it was still named “Republican” or “Antifederalist.” Even when it fostered and exploited racism, it did so using democratic rhetoric that ultimately arcs towards equality for all. Even now and in the days of Woodrow Wilson when it seems like the more elitist and “Progressive” party, it pays truly valuable lip service to democracy and believes it can reconcile all such contradictions; it contains multitudes with more consistently, democratic impulses, which they carry with them to other parties if they leave the party in disgust, fear and sorrow. Even the Whigs and the modern Republican party inherited more from it than from the old, aristocratic Federalists.

Lately both the elitist Progressives, and a few loud, immature, shallow Libertarians, like to pit liberty and equality against each other. They envision a wealthy and antisocial Individual exercising individual liberty for his own amusement and benefit, at the expense and indulgence of a democratic government that seeks to constrain him for the common good of the many and the poor. But that wasn’t the situation in Jefferson’s time, nor for most of our history, nor today. Jefferson and generations of his contemporaries feared governments that suppressed individual rights in order to suppress the majority and subvert or prevent democracy. They saw absolutist governments create privileged elites, not equality. They knew that democracy can’t function as democracy if individuals aren’t free to express their actual beliefs, spread news, and try to persuade each other and their representatives. Nor without the other freedoms in our Constitution. And they fought for individual liberty not because it let them do selfish things or express their unique selves, but to be free to do what they thought was their duty to God and to society.

On Jefferson’s birthday, we remember that he was far from perfect on issues of liberty and of equality. But he worked to expand both of them, and so should we.


"Investigating" citizens who lobby against you (AKA "petition for redress of grievances") has a long and un-American history

"At the behest of the Roosevelt administration in 1935, the U.S. Senate established a special committee to investigate lobbying activities by opponents of the ... Public Utility Holding Company Bill. Chaired by Hugo L. Black (D-Ala.), the “Black Committee” expanded its mission into a more general probe of anti–New Deal organizations and individuals. The committee used highly intrusive methods, notably catch-all dragnet subpoenas, to secure evidence. It worked closely with the IRS for access to tax returns and with the FCC to obtain copies of millions of telegrams. When the telegram search became public information, there was a major backlash from the press, Congress, and the courts. Court rulings in 1936, resulting from suits by William Randolph Hearst and others, not only limited the committee’s powers but provided important checks [on] future investigators, including Senator Joseph McCarthy."

New Deal Mass Surveillance: The “Black Inquisition Committee,” 1935–1936

 

David T. BeitoJournal of Policy History,Volume 30Issue 2, April 2018 , pp. 169-201

Other formats, publication info and abstract


How "Snowflakes" Cause Police Shootings, Lynchings, Witch Burnings ... But Only Because Our Culture & Institutions Encourage Them

Not the Onion. Not "Reno 911". This is why hypersensitive "snowflakes" are such a serious problem. They make completely innocent, ordinary people get treated like dangerous criminals. In the old days it led to witch burnings, then lynchings, and nowadays police shootings. I was reminded that "snowflakes" are so deadly when I saw a timely article about lynchings, including some men and boys who were lynched for "frightening" white women and girls. One was a Leesburg, Virginia teen who put a bag over his head to startle a white friend. Another is merely reported to have "acted peculiarly."

These days, as a Charlottesville, Va. area farmer recently explained, it's "Nervous white women in yoga pants" who "see something, say something" when they see a black man where they don't expect any to be. Over 12 times, "police would 'happen by' and sometimes even question me five or ten minutes after I got a strange look from a passerby ... I know to smile and give them the non-threatening black guy kind of thing, but all it really takes is for one of us to have a bad day and I could end up another tragedy in the street." 

But back to the lady in this incredibly credulous news story and viral youtube craze. She saw four people in different places doing stuff like walking down the street or sitting in their cars, and just KNEW they were a gang of sex-slaver kidnappers. And she still hasn't been evaluated for paranoid schizophrenia. She's too busy being lauded as a hero on Facebook for "surviving" it and "raising awareness." Got 2900 likes, 5200 shares so far.

 THAT WAS MY ORIGINAL FACEBOOK POST. BUT HERE'S MY LATER CAVEAT.

I had a great post ready to go, but I thought I had better listen to her whole miserable 13-minute video about it first. There were a couple key facts the original news article, though sympathetic to her sick crusade, left out, which make her fears about the first guy subjectively reasonable.

  1. He was walking behind them and she slowed down so he'd pass them, and he slowed down too. Either because he was a stalker, or because her family took up a lot of the sidewalk and he couldn't get past them without brushing too close, which would reasonably give offense and alarm.
  2. They U-turned, and he U-turned too. Either because he was a stalker, or because he wanted to ask her husband something -- which he, in fact, did. She doesn't say what he asked her husband.

After that, she was running on fear, and that's why she saw fellow-conspirators everywhere, including one guy who looked over her 5-year-old daughter like a man looks at a woman, as we used to say before it became dicey for a man to look at a woman that way. She saw him do that, although her perception may have been warped by her fear, and in my experience people often read way too much into what they think they see on people's faces and eyes.

And then she talked to people who specialize in working with sex traffic victims. And they, like all specialists in any particular social problem, saw that problem everywhere. Whatever she described,  they said it was something sex traffickers had been known to do.

So she wasn't actually the most dangerous, paranoid-schizo snowflake in the blizzard, but to apply her logic, she MIGHT'VE been, and we need to "raise awareness" about such people.

But while we're at it, let's raise awareness of the things we do that fan the flames, I mean fan the snow machines, and figure out how to do better.

"Reno mom reports close call with child sex traffickers: ‘Something’s not right'"

"Mom's Run-In with Alleged Sex Traffickers Goes Viral. But Nothing Happened."

"It could happen to you, whatever 'it' is."