Balkinization  

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Is the United States a proper member of the Community of Democracies?

Sandy Levinson

Anne Applebaum had an interesting column in the Washington Post, tellingly titled "Democracy in Trouble," detailing a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Krakow, Poland, on the 10th anniverary of the Community of Democracies founded by Madeline Albright. As Applebaum notes, the Bush Administration was not much interested in it--though support for "democracy" was a major theme of that Administration, and one of the former-President's favorite books was Natan Sharanksy's ode to democracy--and it has basically been revived by Poland. I have no desire to question the Secretary of State's commitment to democracy. Rather, as could be easily predicted by anyone familiar with my oeuvre, I continue to be amazed--and, of course, often enraged--by the complacent assumption that the United States is the kind of democracy that other countries should try to emulate. It's not only that the Constitution under which we operate is so distinctly anti-democratic in so many ways (which helps to explain the fact that no country that has drafted a constitution over the past four decades has looked to the US Constitution for inspiration), but, as noted in my previous post, that a number of the American states are truly dysfunctional in their inability to exercise effective governance. Could anyone, regardless of his/her place on the political spectrum, be optimistic about the American future, that the country is indeed "headed in the right direction"? The difference between me and most people who read Balkinization is that my pessimism derives from our Constitution more than the particular defects of given political "leaders," whether one thinks of Presient Obama, Sarah Palin, or anyone in between.

It may be, of course, that the majority of the American public is schizophrenic (or teenager-like) in assuming that one can have public services without having to pay for them through taxes, which raises yet more fundamental questions about whether "democracy" should be our mantra. In any event, it would be refreshing if Joe Biden, who has just lectured Iraqis on the need to "reason together" and overcome their ideological divisions, would turn his formidable talents (I am not being sarcastic) to considering whether the United States does not itself need fundametnal reform. After all, early in January 2011, he may well be asked to rule on whether the Senate can change theh filibuster by a simple majority vote. What he decides may well be be the single most important act of his vice presidency (as distinguished from the "advice," which is without legal force, that he may be giving the President.

Comments:

After all, early in January 2011, he may well be asked to rule on whether the Senate can change theh filibuster by a simple majority vote. What he decides may well be be the single most important act of his vice presidency (as distinguished from the "advice," which is without legal force, that he may be giving the President.

Or not if the GOP gains a simple majority in the Senate.

Indeed, Sandy, will you still be complaining about the filibuster if the voters elect those crazy Tea Party candidates and loans the Senate to the GOP?
 

"no country that has drafted a constitution over the past four decades has looked to the US Constitution for inspiration"

Our system of judicial review in which rights are deemed so fundamental that simple legislative majorities cannot override them in fact has been a guide for many countries in the last few decades.

This seems a pretty important aspect of our constitutional system. As to our "democracy," our system of free speech, due process (flawed as it might be), religious freedom and equal protection of law (flawed as it might be) is not TOO bad as a model, is it?

Ditto our federal system and checks/balances, even if they can be tweaked some (e.g., you want a unilateral Congress? fine, but it parliamentary supremacy isn't so great).

Of course, this underlines that "democracy" can't be used simplistically. Not letting a majority pass a law banning homosexuals from having sexual relations is not quite majority rule, so might not be deemed democratic (if such and such country wants to "democratically" have a "kill the gays" bill, what's wrong with it, one might add? the people have spoken!), but it is "republican" under our system.

Sure, we have lots of problems, but then, we aren't out there banning head scarves or having near total bans of abortion, to cite certain democracies in Europe.
 

"unicameral"
 

Well, let's see. Our voting standards don't measure up. The Carter Center, which has monitored elections in 70 countries, always chuckles when asked if it could certify U.S. elections as free and fair. Uh, no. Not all of them. Probably not most of them. Florida's 2000 Presidential election is not alone. Just a prime example.

Then there's our historic disenfranchisement of women, African Americans, anyone who didn't own real estate, and the poor.

Then there's our longstanding and current exclusion of same sex couples from the fundamental right of marriage. A right also denied to mixed race couples well within living memory.

Then there's the fact that we don't follow our own Constitution. Declaring war. Adhering to treaties ratified by the Senate, such as those against torture. Little things like that.

Then there's our practice of letting certain people be above the law because of money or status or family connections. Shrub's comfortable stay defending the Texas border against threats that never came, for instance.

Or our recent ghastly history of our highest elected official lying to the people on everything under the sun. Saddam had nukes. Saddam was behind 9/11. We don't torture. The list goes on and on.

No, I don't think we'd end up a shining example of democracy.

Perhaps that's why Shrub took to using "freedom" instead of the D word. "Freedom" is soft and happy. "Democracy" implies obligations, standards, practices.
 

What makes you think that Biden's ruling on the filibuster will matter more than Nixon's, Humphrey's or Rockefeller's?
 

Joe wrote:-

“Our system of judicial review in which rights are deemed so fundamental that simple legislative majorities cannot override them in fact has been a guide for many countries in the last few decades.”

I beg leave to doubt whether Joe can properly describe judicial review as “our [US] system” since I rather think the prerogative writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari and prohibition were something inherited from English law. If Joe would care to look at the 53 other countries in the Commonwealth (comprising a third of the population of the world) which also took substantial parts of their law and procedure from England, he might find that judicial review is alive and well – and far more effectively used – not only in the UK, but also in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, etc, etc.

Further, because most countries in the world have signed up to charters of human rights which embody evolving standards of decency, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, certain rights are rather more effectively protected in many countries than they are in the USA, particularly since the death watch beetle of originalism started to infect the benches of the US Court system.

After all, which jurisdiction applying contemporary standards as opposed to those prevalent at the time of your founding fathers could find that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment?

Nice company the USA keeps – 5th in the death penalty table after PR China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia!

Part of the problem may be the recent US aversion to its judiciary using foreign decisions as a guide to a developing international human rights consensus.

We routinely look at Canadian, Australian, South African, New Zealand human rights decisions – see for example HJ (Iran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 31 (07 July 2010) a case on the proper test for the application of the 1951 Refugee Convention to persons claiming asylum because they fear persecution by reason of their sexual orientation.

The Court was referred to decisions from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States and Canada.
 

"...no country that has drafted a constitution over the past four decades has looked to the US Constitution for inspiration"

I just beg to differ. If we take a look at the Philippine Constitution, it's basically patterned after the US Constitution. Unless... we don't count Philippines as a country.
 

Joe wrote: "Sure, we have lots of problems, but then, we aren't out there banning head scarves or having near total bans of abortion, to cite certain democracies in Europe."

It might be helpful to point out that all European countries bar one permit abortion. The exception is tiny Malta with a population of under 500,000 who are 98% Roman Catholic and where the Church has disproportionate influence on public affairs. All other EU states permit abortion under varying conditions, the majority upon request. Ireland, again a country where the RC church has much influence on politics, is the most restrictive but Irish "abortion tourism" to the UK is very common where in practice we have abortion on demand. Spain and Portugal have just liberalised their legislation.

The European Convention on Human Rights leaves a margin of appreciation to member states on social policy until a consensus develops. Thus some states permit gay marriage, others presently only offer civil partnership.

Where there is presently most controversy is the place of religion in the public sphere. The problem is that of the distinction between a "no religious test" approach which is that of the UK since the abolition of the Test Acts or the "strictly secular" approach exemplified by France.

For example, until recently all state schools in Italy had to have a crucifix in every classroom and all courtrooms in Luxembourg likewise, while France bars any religious symbol in state schools. Here in the UK we permit female Muslim and male Sikh police officers to wear adapted uniforms to accommodate their religious belief while in France that would be unthinkable at present.
 

Rachelle wrote:-

"I just beg to differ. If we take a look at the Philippine Constitution, it's basically patterned after the US Constitution. Unless... we don't count Philippines as a country."

I suggest a reading of the Constitution - in particular Article XIII covering social justice and human rights.
 

"It might be helpful to point out that all European countries bar one permit abortion."

It might be helpful to point out that most European countries only permit abortion in the first trimester. As well as restricting the reasons for it, and having a considerably more comprehensive system for confirming the rules are actually being followed.

The Right to Life movement would consider importing most European nations' abortions laws to be a great step forward.
 

It's nice to have Mourad back; hope he stays a while.

As to judicial review, it is not spelled out in our Constitution. As my late ConLaw Prof. Thomas Reed Powell said, "It grew'd like Topsy." Perhaps subsequent constitutions adopted elsewhere might spell out judicial review.

By the way, our Constitution's supremacy clause does not allocate such supremacy to the judiciary over the executive and legislative branches. How have subsequent constitutions adopted elsewhere handled this?

And I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned our Second Amendment: how many subsequent constitutions adopted elsewhere addressed the right to arms? I understand Iraq's constitution does not provide a comparable right.

As to the Philippines, the U.S. history there over many years doesn't shake too well, does it? I wonder if Mark Twain's soon to be published posthumous autobiography will provide more details on U.S. adventures in the Philippines (beyond the mass killings under Teddy Roosevelt reported on the Lehrer News Hour yesterday).

On balance, though not perfect, our Constitution continues to engage us both historically and hysterically at times without too much violence. (Tea parties are not yet violent.) And that First Amendment is still great, despite Citizens United.
 

"no country that has drafted a constitution over the past four decades has looked to the US Constitution for inspiration"

This is primarily because countries have been opting for proportional parliamentary systems to appease political minorities as the price of peace. Of course, this often leads to political paralysis as we see in Iraq.
 

Bart,

Thanks, you made my day with the hilarious contention that proportional representation leads to political paralysis -- which is, of course, totally different from having a minority refuse to allow bills to even come up for debate.
 

C2H50H said...

Bart, Thanks, you made my day with the hilarious contention that proportional representation leads to political paralysis -- which is, of course, totally different from having a minority refuse to allow bills to even come up for debate.

The filibuster is a Senate rule, not a provision of the Constitution.
 

With respect, Mourad, Brett is correct that several European countries have much stricter rules than ours respecting abortion, and what of Ireland, where merely traveling outside to get one was a major controversy a few years back? I also was not aware that a country like Poland has even first trimester abortion allowance, except in special circumstances. In fact, in "The Abortion Myth," the author (from Australia, as I recall), discussed the stricter limits in the UK, where (at least until fairly recently) doctors had more control than in this control to veto it.

Also, I know and deeply respect our British precedents, but what of parliamentary supremacy? For instance, I was thinking of Canada's fairly recent move of allowing courts to overrule legislative enactments, the override of "judicial review" in that case a supermajority that according to locals I have read discuss the matter is rarely if ever used.

When we say "judicial review" here, the understanding is that we are particularly talking about rulings that Congress can't override except by constitutional amendment. In fact, your reference to "charters of human rights" seems to me to be in some fashion influenced by just that. That is, our Bill of Rights seems to be a model there -- this includes a court that restrains many countries, like our SC restrains many states.

I'm not trying to place our experience above the European experience, since I surely do understand that there are various protections there we can learn from. I think of South Africa, who however did gain some inspiration (and unlike some conservatives, feel fine about quoting our court rulings to show it) from the U.S., having its courts protect some basic right of housing.

[see, Daniel Farber, "Retained by the People," citing Gregory S. Alexander, "The Global Debate Over Constitutional Property: Lessons for American Takings Jurisprudence," 2006). The book also notes Germany has determined fetal rights require a balance in abortion rights more restrictive than the U.S. practice]

I am not claiming superiority here; I'm trying to balance Prof. Levinson's felt need to go to the opposite extreme. For instance, reference was made in one comment about past voting practices. Well, they have been greatly changed since the days when blacks and women could not vote; our voting system is flawed, but rules still provide suffrage rights that warrant respect.

As to Shag's comment about the 2A, in fact, I have read some about the UK experience. I believe it might have been a work by Joyce Lee Malcolm. But, it has been a while. Perhaps, Mourad can provide a bit of comment, given his special knowledge.
 

Bart,

Sure, and political paralysis due to the refusal of a minority to participate in governing through a "Senate rule" is completely different from political paralysis due to proportional representation.

I get you. *chuckle*.

Seriously, with our current political situation, and a political process incapable of dealing in a meaningful way (whether through de-regulation or re-regulation, and whether through cutting spending or raising spending) with any of the problems we face, a declining industrial base, a degrading environment, a crumbling infrastructure, a concentration of wealth and power, a breakdown of the financial system, two unending and apparently pointless occupations, can we not agree that our democracy, as currently constituted, is not functioning at anything like an adequate level of efficiency?

"Paralysis" is exactly what's happening here, and you have the lack of self-awareness to criticize proportional representation in other countries. That's just comedy gold.
 

I agree with prof. Levinson with respect to the known extent of the quantum of democracy in the US constitution. The prof's recent post about the MD state constition afforded opportunity to review the US constitutional conventions in the late 18th century and MD's participation, as well as the integration or absence of various principals in founding of the republic in a span of ~3 decades around that time. The US constitution appears most strongly, to this reader, as an instrument for fostering leadership. In the modern milieu of samizdat communications, the politics of leadership have become inverted, and the voice of central government diffuse amid the din; an interesting flux in which to return to some of the 'principled' argument of the founders. Call it the internet as the cooling saucer, paralleling the US senate's service in the function of the US congress.
 

I wonder if Mark Twain's soon to be published posthumous autobiography will provide more details on U.S. adventures in the Philippines

While Twain was willing to call a spade a spade, and imperialism imperialism, I doubt he had any inside information.
 

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Brett and Joe:

You are quite correct that the gestational limits vary within Europe: for example the UK has 24 weeks, Sweden 18 weeks, Spain 22 weeks, Slovenia 10 weeks - but in most countries, those limits apply to "abortion on demand" - for example after 10 weeks, in Slovenia, there is a procedure to obtain authorisation later than 10 weeks from a commission.

For me, it is the province of the legislator to draw the line and I believe it should be somewhere between the two extremes of conception and birth. What no-one really wants to see is the abortion of a viable foetus. With proper health education and free access to healthcare there is no good reason why late-term abortions should be necessary save in very rare cases. Likewise nobody should want a return to the back street abortionists.

The USA (or its states) may have very different problems to those we have in the UK. Availability of free health care and free advice many be a major difference.

In the UK there is a great deal of emphasis on practical sex education in schools and in most senior schools free condoms are made available. There is TV advertising aimed at teenagers pointing out that the "morning after pill" is available on demand in pharmacies and health centres.

In the absence of consensus each ECHR country has its own margin of appreciation on the issue and I wonder whether this is not an issue for legislators rather than judicial determination.
 

If one wants to comment on the new DOMA ruling, try Volokh Conspiracy, allowing comments on the subject.
 

C2H50H said...

Seriously, with our current political situation, and a political process incapable of dealing in a meaningful way (whether through de-regulation or re-regulation, and whether through cutting spending or raising spending) with any of the problems we face, a declining industrial base, a degrading environment, a crumbling infrastructure, a concentration of wealth and power, a breakdown of the financial system, two unending and apparently pointless occupations, can we not agree that our democracy, as currently constituted, is not functioning at anything like an adequate level of efficiency?

Actually, the problems are the anti-democratic features of our current government which were grafted on over the past century or so.

1) An almost completely unaccountable bureaucracy which has imposed nearly 150,000 pages of regulations (dwarfing the US Code) without a single vote of our elected Congress and not subject to the veto of our elected President.

2) A court created due process entitlement to any charity promised under the law even if the Congress or state legislatures cannot or choose not to fund it.

3) The absence of any constitutional checks on the borrowing and spending compelled largely by runaway entitlements leading inexorably to national sovereign insolvency.

4) Constitutional checks and balances meant to check transient majorities of the elected branches from infringing upon the rights of the citizenry through legislation which now perversely protects the non-democratic bureaucracy and entitlements from answering to our elected representatives.

I agree that America is progressively losing its republic with every passing day. Just not for the reasons which Sandy cites.
 

Bart wrote:-

”Actually, the problems are the anti-democratic features of our current government which were grafted on over the past century or so.”

I wonder whether the most anti-democratic feature of the present system is the elections process under which only the super-rich can afford to aspire to the office of Senator of the United States and whereby just about every legislator has to start worrying about replenishing the campaign coffers to pay for the TV and Radio messages from the moment of election, such that almost every legislator is in hock to donors with special interests from the moment of election.

Taking the “people’s house” first, might it not be desirable to have a rather longer election cycle, say 5 years? Might it not be desirable to introduce campaign finance reform?

In our system, there is a maximum amount each candidate may spend on election expenses. The amount is slightly higher in rural areas and it is based on a fixed sum per candidate (currently £5,483 plus 4.6p per elector in urban seats and 6.2p per elector in rural seats). Each candidate also gets free postage on mail shots to electors. There is no candidate TV or radio advertising.

Candidates win or lose elections based on the number of volunteers they can muster to canvass the voters in person. There is also some very limited funding for the parties based on the number of seats they are going to contest in the election ad those parties have a regulated number of TV campaign spots.

Those with an interest might care to look at this note:

UK House of Commons – Spending Limits on Parties and Candidates in General Elections

I don’t know how workable such a system might be in the US context but a system of this kind does have the advantage of ensuring that a candidate is in hock to the supporters who turn up and campaign on the ground rather than to those with the ability to fund campaigns.
 

Bart wrote:-

” 1) An almost completely unaccountable bureaucracy which has imposed nearly 150,000 pages of regulations (dwarfing the US Code) without a single vote of our elected Congress and not subject to the veto of our elected President.”

It is all too easy to complain about the bureaucracy of government. Senators and Patricians in the days of Augustus complained incessantly about the imperial bureaucracy answerable only to the Emperor composed of freedmen, Greeks and others outside the political classes. The political classes and the public have been complaining about bureaucrats ever since.

While there is a lot of truth in “Yes Minister”, the fact remains that whenever there is some kind of perceived crisis, the cries go up: “the Government should do something” - or ”the government should have already done something”.. You had this during Hurricane Katrina and you are having it again over the Gulf oil disaster.

The complexities of today’s world mean that that the bureaucracy is essential. One must have regulation to ensure health and safety at work – for miners, for workers on oil platforms – to take but two recent examples. And the state has to be proactive and ensure prevention of the avoidable – or would Bart have us go back to the bad old days of the Industrial Revolution where children worked 12 hour shifts in mines and factories, where employers would neglect safety in the name of profits because human life was cheap and easily replaceable. I would hope that even Bart might not wish that.

So the problem is not the fact of having a bureaucracy but that of making it effective and accountable – and that is a problem common to all western democracies. The USA already has a good system of Committee oversight of the executive branch which is one area where the UK and other democracies are seeking to emulate US practice – but that does not mean that oversight cannot be improved.


Some possible options:

1. The executive provides the political heads of the various departments and the ultimate way of controlling the departments is for the elected branch to be able to demand the resignation of the political head of each department (what in the UK and elsewhere we call the doctrine of ministerial responsibility).

2. Get rid of the spoils system. Limit the number of political appointees to 3 or 4 persons within each department – those who are politically accountable.

3. Provide for better scrutiny of delegated legislation. Not just ex post facto judicial review. We have masses of the stuff too, but a difference may be that Regulations can only be issued by authority of primary legislation and are subject to various scrutiny levels which involves laying them before the legislature to have them approved either by positive or negative resolution.
 

As to Mourad's last point, the "legislative veto" technique that was declared unconstitutional in INS v. Chada is an interesting one.

Soon to be Justice Kagan wrote in "Presidential Administration" of the increased power of the President in the administration of federal policy, leaving open two primary checks: judicial review and legislative oversight.

The latter is suspect these days given gridlock and partisanship that limits the potential value of a check that seems more theoretical than real in practice. In practice, the President has greater power, especially given legislation can give them broad discretion [a subject of a new lawsuit over the Arizona immigration law -- it is not as much the letter of the immigration statutes but executive discretion that might decide the question]

Unrestrained delegation is a troubling matter, one that the now deceased Prof. John Ely Jr. argued was a possible violation of our protection of a republican system of government.

How other nations, like the UK, handle these problems very well can be instructive. As usual, we welcome Mourad's insights for that reason, and in general.
 

Joe – thanks for the encouragement.

In the UK, when we speak of delegated legislation we are generally referring to Statutory Instruments made by a Secretary of State or Minister pursuant to an Act of Parliament.

There is a huge volume of such legislation. There were 3,499 SIs published in 2009. If you would like to sample a few Link to OPSI SI page. You will see at the head of each instrument the date it was made and then the date it was laid before Parliament. The principal Act will determine the procedure which takes place in Parliament. Uncontroversial instruments are subject to “negative resolution”. That means that the instrument is on the table for a certain number of days in which period any member may move a resolution that the instrument be not approved. More important delegated legislation requires a “positive resolution”, i.e. it does not come into force unless approved by resolution.
The House of Lords Delegated Powers Scrutiny examines all bills with delegating powers which allow SIs to be made before they begin their passage through the House. That is principally to ensure that sensitive issues are dealt with under the positive resolution procedure rather than the negative resolution procedure.

The House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee considers every negative and affirmative SI (or draft SI) laid before Parliament with a view to determining whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to it on any of the following grounds that it:
- is politically or legally important or gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House
- may be inappropriate in view of the changed circumstances since the passage of the parent Act
- may inappropriately implement EU legislation
- may imperfectly achieve its policy objectives

There is also a joint committee of both houses which reviews delegated legislation and a committee of each house which makes recommendations for regulatory reform.

All the committees are pretty active and operate in a bipartisan manner. They have a heavy workload but some measure of legislative control is better than none.
 

Mourad said...

Bart wrote: ”Actually, the problems are the anti-democratic features of our current government which were grafted on over the past century or so.”

I wonder whether the most anti-democratic feature of the present system is the elections process under which only the super-rich can afford to aspire to the office of Senator of the United States and whereby just about every legislator has to start worrying about replenishing the campaign coffers to pay for the TV and Radio messages from the moment of election, such that almost every legislator is in hock to donors with special interests from the moment of election.

Taking the “people’s house” first, might it not be desirable to have a rather longer election cycle, say 5 years?


Hell no! After the last year and a half where Congress enacted an agenda against the express wishes of their constituents, I am beginning to wonder whether a 2 year cycle is too long between electoral accountability.

Might it not be desirable to introduce campaign finance reform?

In our system, there is a maximum amount each candidate may spend on election expenses. The amount is slightly higher in rural areas and it is based on a fixed sum per candidate (currently £5,483 plus 4.6p per elector in urban seats and 6.2p per elector in rural seats). Each candidate also gets free postage on mail shots to electors. There is no candidate TV or radio advertising.


The British system of censorship would be a blatant violation of our First Amendment.

The only real reform which might work is substantial public financing of elections to even the field, but politicians avoid this when they can (See Bush and Obama) and a majority of our voters do not want to pay for election campaigns. Thus, we are pretty much stuck with our imperfect system.

Candidates win or lose elections based on the number of volunteers they can muster to canvass the voters in person.

So do ours. GOTV is far more important that TV and radio ads in the final equation.

Bart wrote: 1) An almost completely unaccountable bureaucracy which has imposed nearly 150,000 pages of regulations (dwarfing the US Code) without a single vote of our elected Congress and not subject to the veto of our elected President.”

It is all too easy to complain about the bureaucracy of government.


A bureaucracy is necessary for conducting ministerial functions. However, I am discussing how our bureaucracy has taken the primary legislative role from our Congress. This is a direct assault on our Republic.

The complexities of today’s world mean that that the bureaucracy is essential. One must have regulation to ensure health and safety at work – for miners, for workers on oil platforms – to take but two recent examples.

We agree that some measure of regulation is necessary, but undoubtably disagree about the scope. Let's leave that aside and get back to the issue - should our elected Congress or an unaccountable bureaucracy make the decision as to which regulations are necessary?

I have no problem with the bureaucracy assisting Congress by studying problems and then offering Congress advice and proposed regulations. However, I am utterly opposed to my elected representatives in Congress delegating their responsibility to legislate to a bureaucracy which is unaccountable to me. To do so changes our Republic to an bureaucratic autocracy.
 

Bart:-
As you know only too well, the Bill of Rights 1689 provided:-

“That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament”

The first amendment to the US Constitution greatly enlarged that provision:-

“Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The introduction of the freedom of the press into the text suggests the mischief aimed at was the same as had bedevilled the UK in Jacobean times – the propensity of the powerful to use the libel laws to stifle free political debate.

But I question whether the Founding Fathers had it in mind to grant a licence to skew electoral results by means of unlimited expenditure of money. I think that continuing judicial glosses on what is by now a very old document have gone way beyond the original intent. So if the First Amendment gets in the way of fair elections to the extent I believe it has – resulting in the greater part of congress being either oligarchs themselves or beholden to oligarchs, then I suggest something needs to be done – but it is not for me to suggest how.

The consequence of the oligarchical majority of congress is unsurprising: the USA has one of the lowest rates of taxation as a percentage of GDP of the developed world. It is presently at something like 28.2% which puts the USA on a par with Bolivia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Papua New Guinea, Romania or Trinidad & Tobago. Contrast: the UK 39%, the Netherlands 39%, Norway 43%, Belgium 44%%, Sweden 48% or Denmark 50%.

And the consequence? According to the US Census Bureau 35.9 million people live below the poverty line in America, including 12.9 million children. 26.1 % of African Americans, 25.6% of Hispanics, but only 8.2% of non-Hispanic whites. Those figures have probably worsened of late.

I first saw West Side Story on stage in 1960 or thereabouts, but 50 years on one refrain still seems valid:

GIRLS: Life is all right in America
BOYS: If you're all white in America
 

Mourad:

But I question whether the Founding Fathers had it in mind to grant a licence to skew electoral results by means of unlimited expenditure of money.

The founders had no problem with private parties financing speech to their hearts' content. Indeed, our Revolution was made possible by a system of privately financed newspapers, broadsheets and pamphlets that spread very one sided news, opinion and propaganda up and down the colonies.

Our Founders would have found the idea that Congress could pick and choose which private parties would be allowed to exercise political speech on the grounds of balance to be an appalling tyranny. The First Amendment meant precisely what it said.

The consequence of the oligarchical majority of congress is unsurprising: the USA has one of the lowest rates of taxation as a percentage of GDP of the developed world.

In reality, our tax system is far more progressively punitive than yours in the EU. Our wealthy pay a far higher percentage of our general taxes than does yours. If that "oligarchic" Congress of ours adopted EU tax rates, we would have to raise the income taxes on our working class by multiples.

And the consequence? According to the US Census Bureau 35.9 million people live below the poverty line in America, including 12.9 million children. 26.1 % of African Americans, 25.6% of Hispanics, but only 8.2% of non-Hispanic whites. Those figures have probably worsened of late.

The "poverty rate" is an arbitrary government construct which has no relationship to actual poverty and does not count all the transfer payments and negative income tax payments our lower income groups receive.

The price the EU pays for artificially raising the cost of labor in the name of socialist egalitarianism is a permanent chronically high unemployment rate.

GIRLS: Life is all right in America
BOYS: If you're all white in America


Bugger off and tell it to Barack Obama. When the Brits elect a Muslim like yourself as PM, you let us "racist" (sic) Yanks know.
 

Our yodeler seems not to be enchanted with America's election of African-American Barack Obama as a sign of a response to Mourad's quote of a West Side Story refrain. That thin air in Colorado, inhaling clients' fumes and wafting wisps of you-know-what-is-legal-there surely has had some impact upon his grey cells. So my advice to our yodeler is to "bugger on" - but do so only within the borders of CO.
 

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In his original post, Professor Levinson wrote of the assumption:-

”...that one can have public services without having to pay for them through taxes...”

Morel likely it is that there are a substantial number of Americans, typified by poor dear Bart, who are so anxious that marginal tax rates as a percentage of GDP be kept to the levels of the less developed world (see my comment above for the figures), that they are prepared to countenance levels of deprivation in the USA which most of the rest of the developed world would find unacceptable.

”As many as 3.5 million Americans are homeless each year. Of these, more than 1 million are children and on any given night, more than 300,000 children are homeless.” [from Top Causes of Homelessness in America]

”76 percent (10 million) of client households served are food insecure, meaning they do not always know where they will find their next meal. 36 percent of these client households are experiencing food insecurity with hunger, meaning they are sometimes completely without a source of food. 79 percent (11 million) of households with children served are also food insecure. [from Feed America Report 2010]

Bart concludes with this in relation to my extract from West Side Story (an American musical):

”Bugger off and tell it to Barack Obama. When the Brits elect a Muslim like yourself as PM, you let us "racist" (sic) Yanks know.”

Since Bart refers to my religion I would just remind him that social justice is not exclusive to Islam. It is divinely commanded in the Christian tradition too.

Or has Bart forgotten the 7 corporal works of mercy from his childhood catechism - the 1st of which is to feed the hungry and the 4th of which is to shelter the homeless.

Perhaps dear Bart should take steps to acquire some semblance of a conscience and start devoting his professional skills towards achieving social justice rather than the defence of intoxicated motorists. It might stand him in good stead on the day of judgment - see Matthew: 25-34.
 

Shag:- while I understand Colorado repealed its sodomy laws in 1972, I'm not sure I would want to encourage poor dear Bart to "bugger" anyone or any thing.

But it is worth observing that Bart seems not to know that we do not elect our Prime Minister - we elect individual MPs. We do of course have Muslim MPs and Ministers - and Judges for that matter.

I wonder if Bart would have a problem with that.

Sorry to all about the repeated deletions - there seems to be a new glitch in the editing software which I haven't worked out yet.
 

Mourad:

I merely wanted to make sure our yodeler would be protected from the Mann Act.
 

Re: Mark Twain

jpk,

I don't think Twain had "inside information" in the traditional sense on America's Philippine ventures. He did publicly challenge American imperialism at the time. But Twain had private thoughts that he did not wish to have revealed during his lifetime, e.g. his posthumously published "Letters from the Earth," which was most revealing on many subjects (including religion) that perhaps Twain felt his public was not ready for. His "Autobiography" hopefully will reveal matters of interest that he did not wish to be publicly revealed for 100 years following his death, much, much longer than was the case for his "Letters from the Earth." Just imagine what Twain might have said during his lifetime if he had a blog available. Volume 1 is due in November. I hope I live long enough to read it as well as Volumes 2 and 3 when they are to be published, before the Twain and I may meet elsewhere, wherever that may be, in the afterlife, if there is an afterlife.
 

The NYT has an article about the release of Twain's "unexpurgated autobiography"

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/10/books/10twain.html?hp

As to the Philippines Constitution, it seems like a mix of the U.S. and what might be called the post-WWII "social justice" model, which protects various positive rights and social justice concerns.

The fact the U.S. can serve as "a" model doesn't mean we are the only model. Also, the constitutions of various states in this country can serve as a model, particularly since they are more liable to have provisions like Art. XIII.

Prof. Levinson might be upset that a Constitution in 1987 could have a legislature modeled so much on ours, though the 2/3 rule for war and other provisions are interesting.

http://www.chanrobles.com/philsupremelaw1.htm
 

Joe:-

I agree with your view of the Philippines Constitution. But I wonder how long it will last.

Since, I have a personal preference for evolution rather than revolution, I think one could with profit contrast the evolution of human rights in the former colonies of British North America which are today known as Canada with the situation in those former colonies which are now part of the United States. Since I have grown to mistrust long documents, I would just how much could be achieved by a simple one line amendment to provide:-

“that the guarantees of the constitution are to be interpreted and applied using a purposive construction in accordance with contemporary understanding and reflecting the common understanding of civilised nations for which purpose the Supreme Court may regard as persuasive authority any relevant judgments of the Supreme Courts of other common law jurisdictions .”

Then again, perhaps with the right sought of judicial appointments, a future Supreme Court might well just decide to do that anyway.
 

Mourad:

If you are going to cite statistics about the United States, you might want to avoid baseless interest group propaganda like the nonsense you just noted.

Or has Bart forgotten the 7 corporal works of mercy from his childhood catechism - the 1st of which is to feed the hungry and the 4th of which is to shelter the homeless.

The United States in general and conservatives in particular donate far more heavily to charity than do the dependent citizens of the EU. My favorites are the local food closet providing food for my neighbors, the Red Cross to provide disaster relief the Salvation Army to provide assistance to the alcohol and drug addicted, and Goodwill to provide clothing and household goods to my neighbors. A far better use of my money than anything for which I pay taxes.

Perhaps dear Bart should take steps to acquire some semblance of a conscience and start devoting his professional skills towards achieving social justice...

"Social justice" is simply the marketing term socialists use to abuse the government monopoly on the use of force to steal from Peter to pay their preferred Pauls. It is a cousin to common theft.

"Social justice" has nothing to do with charity, which is the voluntary sharing of one's wealth and possessions to help the needy.
 

Shag,

May you live long enough to read all volumes.

Twain remains relevant. He was over 100 years ahead of his time. On some points, sadly, considerably more.
 

Re my post above - in the antepenultimate line for "sought" read "sort"
 

Bart writes:-

"Social justice" is simply the marketing term socialists use to abuse the government monopoly on the use of force to steal from Peter to pay their preferred Pauls. It is a cousin to common theft.”

I do not know whether Bart adheres to one of the wilder fringe groups among those who call themselves Christians, but within the mainstream, the concept of social justice is well-established.

The quotations below are taken from the front page of the Catholic Social Teaching of the Office for Social Justice of the Archdiocese of St Paul & Minneapolis

”The moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation. We are called to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor. The "option for the poor," is not an adversarial slogan that pits one group or class against another. Rather it states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community.

The option for the poor is an essential part of society's effort to achieve the common good. A healthy community can be achieved only if its members give special attention to those with special needs, to those who are poor and on the margins of society.

Human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency – starting with food, shelter and clothing, employment, health care, and education. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities -- to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.

The economy must serve people, not the other way around. All workers have a right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, and to safe working conditions. They also have a fundamental right to organize and join unions. People have a right to economic initiative and private property, but these rights have limits. No one is allowed to amass excessive wealth when others lack the basic necessities of life”.


So, dear Bart, if you think of social justice in the terms you express, perhaps you had better tell the Most Reverend Archbishop that there is heresy being preached in his Archdiocese - and for that matter throughout Christendom.

Methinks it is much more likely that you are the odd one out - as per usual.
 

Bart writes: "Social justice" is simply the marketing term socialists use to abuse the government monopoly on the use of force to steal from Peter to pay their preferred Pauls. It is a cousin to common theft.”

Mourad: I do not know whether Bart adheres to one of the wilder fringe groups among those who call themselves Christians, but within the mainstream, the concept of social justice is well-established. The quotations below are taken from the front page of the Catholic Social Teaching of the Office for Social Justice of the Archdiocese of St Paul & Minneapolis


This is the Catholic left, not the mainstream of America.

I would remind Catholics who worship the state of the teachings of Jesus:

"Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

What does the Quran teach of charity? I am confident it has nothing at all to do with government redistribution of wealth or a government welfare state.
 

The passage to which poor dear Bart partially refers is Mark 12:13-17 and reads as follows in the King James version:-

”And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.”

Paraphrase: ” If taxes are demanded of you by the civil authority – pay up!” - a doctrine also to be found in Romans 13.
 

Bart writes:-

What does the Quran teach of charity? I am confident it has nothing at all to do with government redistribution of wealth or a government welfare state.

Sorry, Bart, Islam has one of the earliest versions of capital redistribution of wealth. It is called Zakaat and it is compulsory for every Muslim.

The tax is levied as 1/40th per annum of one’s capital, excluding such items as one’s primary home, car and professional tools. In Islamic states, Zaakat is paid to a Zaakat Authority which uses it for charitable purposes.

Individual charity is, of course, also encouraged, preferably in secret. Among relevant hadith (sayings of the Prophet):-

"Charity is a necessity for every Muslim." He was asked: "What if a person has nothing?" The Prophet replied: "He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity." The Companions of the Prophet asked: "What if he is not able to work?" The Prophet said: "He should help the poor and needy." The Companions further asked: "What if he cannot do even that?" The Prophet said: "He should urge others to do good." The Companions said: "What if he lacks that also?" The Prophet said: "He should check himself from doing evil. That is also an act of charity."

Further, pious Muslims have since the earliest times endowed hospitals and institutions of learning by the establishment of waqfs or trusts. In Islamic jurisprudence waqf is the detention of specific thing in the ownership of waqif and the devoting of its profit or products "in charity of for the relief of the poor or other good objects"

By the 11th century, every Islamic city had hospitals supported by waqf trusts as well as schools and higher educational institutes. Many such trusts exist today.

Bart should remember that an important principle of Islamic theology is that everything belongs to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust.
 

Mourad said...

BD: What does the Quran teach of charity? I am confident it has nothing at all to do with government redistribution of wealth or a government welfare state.

Sorry, Bart, Islam has one of the earliest versions of capital redistribution of wealth. It is called Zakaat and it is compulsory for every Muslim.


Thanks for the lesson. I considered Zakat to be the equivalent of tithing to the Christian Church, but forgot that the church and state are one in Islam.
 

I considered Zakat to be the equivalent of tithing to the Christian Church, but forgot that the church and state are one in Islam.

Wow. I really expected you to go the whole "All zakat goes to terrorism" route, but then you just turned it into an anti-theocracy zinger.

Either you're slipping or I've entirely overestimated the depth of your crazy.
 

A respite from the current version of the Crusades at this Blog is available at today's (7/11/10) WaPo in Susan Jacoby's "The Spirited Atheist" feature with her "Summer reading for infidels" outlining 10 books, including "The Bible According to Mark Twain" which may include much of Twain's posthumously published "Letters from the Earth." Alas, if only Adam and Eve had partaken fruit of the Tree of Life instead of the Tree of Knowledge they'd still be with us.

By the way, I miss George Carlin.
 

Shag – I agree that the minutiae of whether Zakaat is equivalent to a Tithe is of supreme irrelevance to the topic, particularly since Tithes as a charge on land in English law were finally brought to an end in 1977.

What is not of irrelevance is that taxation as a percentage of GDP is much lower in the USA than in the other advanced countries and that measures of social deprivation such as homelessness and food poverty are very much higher. I argue that the latter phenomena are the consequence of the former.

I think there is broad consensus in Western Europe as to the need for government to have a social justice agenda to protect the most vulnerable and acceptance that this calls for levels of taxation which are higher than in the USA.

In the USA this consensus is lacking seems to be lacking. Calls for “smaller government”, or “less federal intervention” or “fairer taxes” or whatever are really all a disguise for the fact that many people feel that they have no responsibility for the indigent and that their earned or unearned income or capital should not be taxed for social justice programmes.

Bart asserts that there are charities to which he contributes:-

My favorites are the local food closet providing food for my neighbors, the Red Cross to provide disaster relief the Salvation Army to provide assistance to the alcohol and drug addicted, and Goodwill to provide clothing and household goods to my neighbors.”

All very commendable I’m sure, but rather snacking of Lady Bountiful during the Great Depression ladling out for the homeless a nourishing soup made from the vegetable peelings and other leftovers from the glittering dinner parties held thrice weekly in her Belgravia home.

No doubt dear Bart’s Colorado residence also has a shrine containing a small effigy of Mammon before which he regularly burns a $10 bill in the hope that his deity will keep the Feds away from taxing the professional fees of his DUI practice so as to feed the hungry and house the homeless.
 

Social justice in my view works best secularly, with no proselytizing, whether sectarian or political. Many social justice messages noted in various sectarian venues have secular roots as well.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

Mourad:

Bart asserts that there are charities to which he contributes:- “My favorites are the local food closet providing food for my neighbors, the Red Cross to provide disaster relief the Salvation Army to provide assistance to the alcohol and drug addicted, and Goodwill to provide clothing and household goods to my neighbors.”

All very commendable I’m sure, but rather snacking of Lady Bountiful during the Great Depression ladling out for the homeless a nourishing soup made from the vegetable peelings and other leftovers from the glittering dinner parties held thrice weekly in her Belgravia home.


The Lady Bountiful character was a woman of means who devoted much of her wealth to helping the poor and orphans. Your distortion of the character into a version of Marie Antoinette is revealing on two levels;

1) The distortion demonstrates how socialism is always more about hatred of and the leveling of the rich rather than raising the poor.

2) At the same time, your distortion of the Lady Bountiful character reminds one of any number of wealthy leftist politicians who hold ostentatious press conferences discussing how they just enacted some legislation to loot some group or another to help the little people before jetting off to a billionaire's mansion for a dinner party where they ridicule those who bitterly cling to their faith and guns while opposing "enlightened progressive policies."
 

Bart:-

Lady Bountiful was a character is a Restoration comedy of 1707. But in English usage the term is now one of derision denoting the ostentatious participation by the upper classes in minor charitable events - such as the soup kitchens run by socialites during the Great Depression where, as like as not, the husbands were the mine-owners who had laid off the workers in the first place.
 

Mourad:

Once again, we stumble across a fundamental cultural difference between our two countries.
 

Bart,

Actually, what you stumbled across was another lack in your education. The term "Lady Bountiful" implies charity of one whose ostentatious charity costs them little or nothing -- exactly like the charity you boast about above.

the concept of the relationship between rich and poor, as illustrated in your comments, is far closer to feudalism than to anything that belongs in a democracy.

Which is, actually, apropos of the subject at hand. The US is far closer to a feudal society today than it is to a democracy. We have the feudal lords of politics, of the Press, of industry, of retail, and so on.
 

Apropos Shag, Glenn Greenwald recently posted a Carlin video and I found Susan Jacoby's books on freethinkiners and "wild justice" (revenge) quite interesting. Not so much her most recent books.

As to social justice, public policy is a necessary component, and private morality influences good public servants. Such morality need not be primarily influenced by what is usually defined as "religious," but it can.
 

C2H50H said...

the concept of the relationship between rich and poor, as illustrated in your comments, is far closer to feudalism than to anything that belongs in a democracy.

Go tell Gates and Buffet to keep their money. Those damn feudal overlords are counseling the wealthy to give away half of their money to charity.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

Bart wrote:-

”Those damn feudal overlords are counseling the wealthy to give away half of their money to charity.”

Actually, C2H50H had a point. Both in feudal times and during the industrial revolution, the top stratum of society would, as it were, seek to buy its way to salvation by devoting a portion of their ill-gotten gains to the relief of the poor.

Now we have in part a post-industrial society which permits entrepreneurs to make vast piles of money without grinding the poor into the mud and it is laudable that people like Bill and Melissa Gates, or Warren Buffet wish to devote part of their wealth to charitable causes.

But that is, with respect, a distraction. Bart wrote:-

”Once again, we stumble across a fundamental cultural difference between our two countries.”

Indeed there is. I would say that the difference is reflected in the UK consensus which imposes a duty on government to provide homes for the homeless and to ensure that children do not go hungry. That consensus seems to be lacking in the USA.

Insofar as I understand anything of Bart’s politics: he is content that the poor should remain homeless and the children hungry and he opposes the idea of the state taking his dollars and using them to promote a more just society.

It comes as no surprise to me that those of Bart’s persuasion also support gun ownership – after all they may increasingly have need of them when the poor get desperate. Did not one of the founding fathers observe that the tree of liberty from time to time requires nourishment with some blood?

History tells us that in the absence of progress towards a more equal society, one day the “have nots” of the USA will resort to violence against the “haves” in the American Revolution Part II.

Since I believe in evolution rather than revolution, I would hope that Bart and others see the error of their ways and a reform consensus develops before the petrol bombs start.
 

Our yodeler, based upon his personal finance/income comments at this Blog over the years, is what my late father used to refer to as "A capitalist without any capital." Our yodeler's attack on Bill and Warren (no, I don't know them personally) as feudal overlords counseling the wealthy on charitable giving reminds me of Jack Benny's radio persona as a cheapskate (aka libertarian?) demonstrated by the following schticks:

1. Benny was confronted by an armed robber who said "Your money or your life." Benny silently stared for a long time and the robber repeated the threat, to which Benny responded: "I'm thinking! I'm thinking!"

2. Benny was told, regarding his wealth, "You can't take it with you." Benny quickly responded: "Then I won't go."

Alas, if your yodeler were to strike it rich with his upcoming (aka upchucking) work of friction on Pres. Obama in the manner of his idle [sick!] Glenn Beck, then he could counsel the wealthy in the manner of Jack Benny, thus undoing the charitable efforts of Bill and Warren.
 

Shag:-
I think Bart’s connection of Gates and Buffet as akin to feudal overlords was what passes for repartee in poor dear Bart’s syllabus.

I had a dream of a court somewhere in Colorado:

Clerk: “Good morning, Your Honour, there’s another brief from Mr De Palma on your desk!”
Judge: “Another brief! On such a beautiful day? Is there anything to it, Mr Beadle?”
Clerk (grinning): “The usual, Judge.”
Judge: “I have to go over to the Club. Pass me the red stamp on the left end of the rack would you?”
Clerk: “The one which says “File and Forget”, Judge?
Judge: “That’s it” [sound of vigorous apposition of a stamp]. There you are, Mr Beadle. Now where did I put my new putter?”

As for dear Bart’s projected literary efforts – we may yet be lucky.

Clerk: “Good morning, Your Honour. Nothing from Mr De Palma."
Judge: “Praise the Lord! Why the smile? What’s happened Mr Beadle?”
Clerk: “Well, Judge, its actually No 5 on your docket this morning. Seems some drunk lobbed a Coke bottle filled with 4 star gasoline mixed with Daz detergent and stoppered with a burning rag into Mr De Palma’s office. Seems like the mixture kinda resembles Napalm.”
Judge: “Oh dear. And Mr De Palma?”
Clerk: “He’s in the County Accident Room.”
Judge: “Nothing too trivial I hope. Well, I cannot possibly hear cases, 1,3, 6, 7 and 8 without the benefit of Mr De Palma’s argument. Postpone everything to 2.30 pm.“
Clerk: “Yes, Judge”
Judge: Oh, Mr Beadle, have a word with the prosecution in Case No 5, would you ? Tell them I want to hear them at 2.30 pm and that I will expect them to have reached agreement with the Defendant on some form of non-custodial disposal. The man should be given a medal not time.”
Clerk: Yes Judge.
Judge: “Let my brother judges know about poor Mr De Palma’s sad accident, won’t you, Mr Beadle. Tell them I’ve cancelled my morning list and I’ll be in the back room of the Wig and Pen Tavern and the first two orders are on me!”
Clerk: Certainly Judge. I suspect you may have company.”
 

This is an interesting new side of our Mourad - revolutionary socialist.

Comrade, if you have any sort of objective knowledge of our history, you will note that our society including our poor have never had much use for leftist bomb throwers. They either end up dead, in prison or as professors at our universities - in each case they are of no consequence.

As a side note, our Second Amendment and the People's right to keep and bear arms it guarantees is in part intended to provide for the common self defense against riot. I would strongly recommend that your suggested revolution avoid well armed communities such as mine.
 

Poor Bart writes:-

”Comrade, if you have any sort of objective knowledge of our history, you will note that our society including our poor have never had much use for leftist bomb throwers.”

But then, America hasn’t much history of its own to speak of. The rather longer history of the civilised world suggests the inevitability of revolution when the inequalities become oppressive.

But there one has poor Bart’s vision: So keen is he on the worship on Mammon, that he is resolved to stop any redistribution of wealth in the name of ”One Nation Toryism” or some other reasonable variant of right wing belief.

He is content to leave the homeless without shelter, the children hungry and to allow the development of a two nation America of the ”Have’s” and the ”Have not’s”.

In the event that the poor rise up to seek justice, he well armed and ready to resist. He is fully prepared to out Herod, Herod and indulge in a spot of slaughter of the innocents from the fastness of his Colorado Wolf’s Lair.

What a charming example of America’s right wing pseudo-aristocracy!

Will somebody please send for a tumbril.
 

Just for the record, Bart, you are sadly in error to characterise me as a socialist. I am a Liberal:-

”A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes; a Liberal Government tries, as far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do as he wishes. It has been the tradition of the Liberal party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the place where people can do more what they please than in any other country in the world...It is this practice of allowing one set of people to dictate to another set of people what they shall do, what they shall think, what they shall drink, when they shall go to bed, what they shall buy, and where they shall buy it, what wages they shall get and how they shall spend them, against which the Liberal party have always protested.” Sir William Harcourt, Liberal Statesman, in The Times 31st December 1872.

My party’s politics are firmly rooted. We believe in personal liberty and part of that necessitates government intervention to provide a minimum level of welfare. It is the party of Asquith and Lloyd George. The party which laid the foundations of our modern welfare system and of our national health service.

The party which today is in coalition with the Conservatives and determined to reduce the top down centralism which was characteristic of the “Poodle” Blair/Brown years and to restore individual liberties.
 

Contrast the biblical "The meek shall inherit the earth" with our yodeler's side-armed aside:

"As a side note, our Second Amendment and the People's right to keep and bear arms it guarantees is in part intended to provide for the common self defense against riot. I would strongly recommend that your suggested revolution avoid well armed communities such as mine."

Does this suggest that the "militia" intro to the Second Amendment has more current meaning than Justice Scalia asserted in Heller? The "federales" should take note of our yodeler's community, especially with the potential highness resulting from its thin air, adult beverages and smoke gets in their eyes medical benefits that may affect their aims.
 

Is our yodeler the spokesperson for his well armed community? Or might such well arming constitute the community's common self defense response to our yodeler's rantings?
 

Mourad:

Do you believe in the government directing the economy to redistribute wealth?
 

Bart,

Government by its very nature cannot help but redistribute wealth, very significantly by protecting the wealth of people who have far more than they could ever accumulate or keep in the absence of government. Which in your case is, I estimate, roughly 0, since you live off legal fees.

If a democracy comes to the point where some property owner has to protect property rights with a gun, then that democracy has devolved into anarchy, in which case your treasured second amendment rights are worth exactly as much as the difference between how much ammunition you have compared with those you are fighting.

None of your other rights are worth anything in the absence of government.

Intelligent wealthy people understand all this, of course. It isn't an accident that most of those who have acquired their vast wealth primarily through their own efforts (even if not necessarily honest ones), like Gates and Buffet, see things in a more liberal fashion than those who inherited vast wealth, such as the Koch's, Scaife.
 

C2H50H is entirely correct to say that government cannot help but to redistribute wealth and in more way than most people think.

For example, is it not the case that a lot of congressional lobbying is undertaken to ensure that Federal tax monies are spent in a particular location? Any sizeable Federal institution will provide local employment and benefit the economy or a particular location.

In the UK, the government was persuaded quite some years ago to relocate many large government offices outside London in an effort to distribute government employment more evenly across the country. So, for example, my driving licence and car registration documents, are now dealt with in Swansea, my old age pension is administered in some place in the North East, my passport is issued in Liverpool.

It’s not just the direction of facilities which can make a difference. How many private industries depend critically on obtaining government contracts?

In the UK central government supports various programmes which are actually administered by local authorities. Many such funds are distributed with reference to measurements of need – for example, by reference to the percentage of elderly people, or children under five, in a particular local authority’s area.

I’m none too clear how this is accomplished in the US system, but I have heard references to a “matching funds” principle which seems a little crude.
 

C2H50H:

Laws protecting everyone's rights to the property they own is not redistribution. Indeed, such laws are meant to prevent private redistribution of wealth through force.

Mourad:

If your government was limited to basic necessities like security and infrastructure, the corruption inherent in the location of government employees and the choice of which private companies receive tax dollars would be far less of an issue.

Once again, do you support direction of the economy to redistribute wealth?
 

Bart,

And how will your "re-distribution-less laws" be enforced without taxes?

Argue, if you like, about whether the costs, as you would like them to be, would be equitably distributed, but don't try to pretend that such costs do not produce a redistribution of wealth.
 

Bart writes:-

”Laws protecting everyone's rights to the property they own is not redistribution. Indeed, such laws are meant to prevent private redistribution of wealth through force.”

Stuff and nonsense. Just about every nation state in the world has legislation permitting the state and its sub-divisions to acquire private property for public purposes by compulsion. The right protected is that of receiving just compensation. Most nations have also some mechanism to limit the right to acquire by compulsion to cases whether the procedure is shown to be necessary or desirable in the public interest.

”If your government was limited to basic necessities like security and infrastructure, the corruption inherent in the location of government employees and the choice of which private companies receive tax dollars would be far less of an issue.”

But my government is not so limited and nor do the people of this country –nor indeed of any western European nation - wish the functions of government to be so limited. Nor do I believe that a majority of the citizens of your country want the functions of government to be so limited.

The idea that there is corruption inherent in the location of government employees is ludicrous. The location of such offices in areas of high unemployment is beneficial to the national economy and to the local economy of the receiving location and occurs for precisely the same reason why many large corporations place their data processing and other back office functions away from the high rental and high labour costs of areas where they locate their front offices.

I don’t give a monkey’s where the government locates the office block that pays my pension. I can call it free of charge when I need to and we have a nationwide clearing system that means the payments arrive on precisely the day they are supposed to wherever one lives. The lower the unit cost of processing, the better I am pleased – as every taxpayer should be. That’s not corruption, that’s good government.

I think the problem may be in your system where lobbyists and legislators are allowed unduly to influence the decisions on location of individual facilities (aka “pork”).
 

do you support direction of the economy to redistribute wealth?

Mr. DePalma, YOU support the direction of the economy to redistribute wealth. The primary difference is that you disagree about who the ultimate recipients should be.
 

I think one can leave poor dear Bart to await the arrival of the tumbril and ignore his ”let them eat cake” approach to poverty.

But I do think that there are serious issues to be considered about the way the Federal Government distributes money to the States.

I know that the USA uses the “block grant” system just as the government does in the UK.

But I understand that there is a major difference in the US system which skews the allocation of funds. As I understand the problem, US programs allocate by state and each state gets a guaranteed minimum irrespective of its population so that, for example, under the State Homeland Security Grant Programs and Critical Infrastructure Protection Grants for 2004 Wyoming received $35.3 per person and California receives $4.7 per person.

Since the allocation of Federal funds between the states is a pretty basic bone of contention it might not be beyond the wit of federal and state legislatures to achieve a distribution formula for all grants which governs the allocation to the states based on population but weighted for the relative poverty of the inhabitants of each state.
 

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