Free speech and “activist” judges

I am so tired of conservative complaints about activist judges.  Once again, the “conservative” majority of the court has struck down a piece of legislation by the duly-elected representatives of the people (in this case, the Arizona legislature) and replaced their own judgement.  Now, sometimes that needs to be done, e.g., Brown v. Board of Ed, but let’s just not pretend this conservative jurists have any genuine interest in deferring to elected bodies when those elected bodies pass laws they don’t like.  In this case, it strikes me as a particularly tortured reading of the 1st amendment:

In its first campaign-finance decision since its 5-to-4 ruling in the Citizens United case last year, the Supreme Courton Monday struck down an Arizona law that provided escalating matching funds to candidates who accept public financing.

The vote was again 5-to-4, with the same five justices in the majority as in the Citizens United decision. The majority’s rationale was that the law violated the First Amendment rights of candidates who raise private money. Such candidates, the majority said, may be reluctant to spend money to speak if they know that it will give rise to counter-speech paid for by the government.  [emphasis mine]

“Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. Justice Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.

Seriously?  They might not want to spend money because that affects the amount of public money their opponents receive and that’s somehow a 1st amendment violation?  Please.  Unfortunately, Arizona’s law was a particularly thoughtful way of public financing:

But supporters of campaign finance regulation worried that the decision represented a first step in a broader legal assault on public financing.

States and municipalities are now blocked from using a method of public financing that is simultaneously likely to attract candidates fearful that they will be vastly outspent and sensitive to the avoidance of needless government expense.

Short version: First amendment prohibits wise government expenditures on fairer elections but allows unlimited corporate spending.  Urggghh.

Gay marriage and the rules of the game

Nate Silver writes about NY’s new gay marriage law:

But the type of leadership that Mr. Cuomo exercised — setting a lofty goal, refusing to take no for an answer and using every tool at his disposal to achieve it — is reminiscent of the stories sometimes told about with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had perhaps the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment of any recent president.

It’s also a brand of leadership that many Democrats I speak with feel is lacking in President Obama.

I think Yglesias‘ response is spot-on:

This is all true. Still, I would say that the bigger difference isn’t so much about the leadership style as it is that Cuomo won. Suppose that the New York State Senate operated according to the rules of the United States Senate and a bill failed unless it secured a 60 percent supermajority. What would people be saying about Andrew Cuomo now?

Exactly.  The United States Senate is a uniquely dysfunctional legislative body.  The political world we’re looking at right now would be dramatically different if Obama could have approached his first two years with a 50 rather than 60 vote majority Senate.

The Constitution and modern policy debates

Every now and then, Time magazine can still surprise with a unexpectedly thoughtful article.  Here’s a nice piece I just finished reading about the Constitution.  Makes a nice argument that slavish adherence to the founders gets us nowhere in today’s debates:

People on the right and left constantly ask what the framers would say about some event that is happening today. What would the framers say about whether the drones over Libya constitute a violation of Article I, Section 8, which gives Congress the power to declare war? Well, since George Washington didn’t even dream that man could fly, much less use a global-positioning satellite to aim a missile, it’s hard to say what he would think. What would the framers say about whether a tax on people who did not buy health insurance is an abuse of Congress’s authority under the commerce clause? Well, since James Madison did not know what health insurance was and doctors back then still used leeches, it’s difficult to know what he would say. And what would Thomas Jefferson, a man who owned slaves and is believed to have fathered children with at least one of them, think about a half-white, half-black American President born in Hawaii (a state that did not exist)? Again, hard to say.(See the top 10 American political prodigies.)

The framers were not gods and were not infallible. Yes, they gave us, and the world, a blueprint for the protection of democratic freedoms — freedom of speech, assembly, religion — but they also gave us the idea that a black person was three-fifths of a human being, that women were not allowed to vote and that South Dakota should have the same number of Senators as California, which is kind of crazy. And I’m not even going to mention the Electoral College. They did not give us income taxes. Or Prohibition. Those came later.

Of course, it does start with that classic “people on the right and left” balance.  In reality, only people on the right try and insist that whatever their political preferences are follow necessarily from what the founders believed.

Chart of the day: boys vs. girls

Here’s some results from an interesting Gallup poll (via Economix blog):

A recent Gallup poll asked Americans which sex they would prefer if they could have only one child. About 40 percent said they would prefer a boy and 28 percent would prefer a girl, with the rest saying they had no preference or opinion on the question.

Well, that’s kind of interesting.  And it turns out, that it is driven entirely by men preferring boys.


I’m going to unapologetically admit that if I could only have one child, I would want a boy.  Not because I think boys are better, but simply because I think it is more likely (though, far from a given) that any given boy will share common interests with me, and there’s nothing more satisfying than sharing common interests with your kids.  For the same reason, I would expect women to prefer daughters.  I actually find that non-result more interesting.

On a quasi-related note, Kim and I were were watching some of the “Toddlers and Tiaras” marathon on TLC yesterday afternoon.  I think Kim summed it up best in two ways.  First, “you just can’t stop watching; it’s like a train wreck.”  Indeed.  Like much reality television, I’m convinced much of the enjoyment comes from watching such horrible people and feeling better about your self.  Secondly, and apropos of this post, “those women should not be allowed to have daughters.”  In a perfect world.

Anatomy of a right-wing media freak-out

Interesting story in Slate about how some totally obvious (to the natural and social-scientifically literate) by Al Gore led to a right-wing media freak-out.  The author of the story posted a video in which Al Gore said the following:

Here’s my transcription of the segment of Gore’s speech that conspiracy theorists found so controversial:

You have to have ubiquitous availability of fertility management so women can choose how many children to have, the spacing of the children. You have to lift child-survival rates so that parents feel comfortable having small families. And most important, you have to educate girls and empower women. And that’s the most powerful leveraging factor, and when that happens, then the population begins to stabilize and societies begin to make better choices and more balanced choices.

I’ll make this crystal clear, since there are a few conservatives who read this blog…

1) More people = more resource use = more pollution and more global warming.

2) Educated and empowered women = smaller families = fewer people = less pollution and less global warming.

2a) Nice added benefit– it’s great for women!

Alas, what do we get from right-wing media?

The headlines were sensational: “Al Gore branches out into population control theory” (Watts Up With That), “Have Less Kids! Gore Pushes Population Control” (Fox), “Gore promoting fewer children to curb pollution” (Daily Caller).

A couple of options.  A) They’re not smart enough to understand how this works.  B) They are so pathologically driven by hatred for Al Gore that, even if they were otherwise smart enough to care how this works,they can’t under the circumstances.  c) The idea and implications of working to empower women in developing nations as an important and far-reaching policy goal is just way beyond them.  I’m sure I’m missing a few, but it’s pretty pathetic any way you look at it.

Was Bristol Palin raped by Levi Johnnston?

Wow– according to her memoir, it sure sounds like it.  From the Post:

While Palin does not accuse former boyfriend Levi Johnston of rape in “Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far,” her account of the night she lost her virginity certainly sounds nonconsensual. Palin writes that she got so drunk on wine coolers provided by Johnston during a camping trip with friends that she has no recollection of having sex. Afterward, she was distraught.

“Levi wasn’t even there to help me process — or even confirm — my greatly feared suspicions,” she writes. “Instead of waking up in his arms . . . I awakened in a cold tent alone.” Palin realized that she had lost her virginity only after a friend told her what happened.

She doesn’t use the word “rape” anywhere in her book, but what she describes seems to be just that.

She writes that she felt her virginity had been “stolen” and that she “tried not to vomit” when she found out what happened.

Palin describes being devastated as she confronted Johnston: “ ‘You knew I didn’t want to have sex until I was married!’ I whispered. ‘How could you?’ ” She also writes that Johnston apologized.

If Palin’s story is accurate, then what she appears to be describing is a nonconsensual — and likely illegal — assault. She doesn’t say whether she was unconscious, too incapacitated to give consent or just unable to remember what happened the next morning. But, by the account she gives, what took place in the woods near Wasilla that night sounds a lot like what Alaska rape lawdefines as sexual assault in the second degree, when the “offender engages in sexual penetration with a person who the offender knows is . . . incapacitated or unaware that a sexual act is being committed.”

Wow.  Going to be really curious to see what comes of this.   Even if Bristol Palin doesn’t realize that what she describes in her book is legally rape, surely some of the editors, etc., had to.   If this happened as alleged, Bristol Palin has my utmost sympathy and I certainly hope Levi is prosecuted.  A high-profile prosecution in a case like this might also make more young men aware that having sex with a woman who is not even in a mental state to consent is having sex without consent, i.e., rape.

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