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Member since: Sat May 15, 2010, 03:48 PM
Number of posts: 7,569

Journal Archives

Libertarianism deconstructed in three simple sentences . . .

. . . from a Facebook comment by my friend, Frank Dana:

Libertarianism is a great idea in exactly the same way flying cars are a great idea. They make sense as long as you assume that conditions for everyone else will be different, because you're the only special person for whom those rules apply. And even then, you still have to hope nothing goes wrong for you.
Posted by markpkessinger | Sun Mar 3, 2013, 04:40 PM (1 replies)

Link to integrated audio & transcript of Supreme Court oral argument in Voting Rights Act case

This is an audio recording, along with a transcript, of the oral argument before the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, the case involving the Voting Rights Act that is now before the Court. Below the audio link, I've provided a little background on the case and some of my reactions.

(NOTE: click on "Expanded player," and you will see a rolling transcript which you can scroll through. You can click on any portion of text and select "Play" from the pop-up the appears. Or you can search for text, and in the search result window, click on a result and again select "Play." And there's a third tool: in the lower right-hand pane of the expanded player, you can select the buttons next to each speaker's name, and color-coded sections will appear on the audio progress bar showing where in the recording that speaker can be heard. It's really worth listening to the entire 75 minutes, though.)


Shelby County, Alabama, a predominantly white county with a long and troubled history of attempting to find ways of discouraging minority voters from exercising their right to vote, has asked the Court to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the section of the law dealing with enforcement measures designed to intercept instances of attempted voter suppression before they occur. Section 5 provides that voting districts in states that have a documented history of such attempts must clear any changes to their voting rules with the Federal Elections Commission. They can be released from such Federal oversight if they go for a period of 10 years without any attempts to change voting rules that are deemed by the FEC to be attempts to suppress minority participation in elections. Shelby County argues that the problem the Voting Rights Act sought to address has been resolved. They argue that the problem was specifically one of attempts to interfere with actual voting and/or voter registration. Since those specific issues have been addressed, the county argues, there is no longer a need for Federal oversight of changes to their voting rules, and continuing to be under such oversight represents an intrusion upon the state's sovereignty. They further argue that Section 2 of the Act, which provides citizens the right to sue if they have been discriminated against in the electoral process, is an adequate remedy, and that the prior oversight, again, is no longer necessary.

The counter argument (which is more borne out by the historical record, I might add), is that the problem the Act sought to address was not the specific tactics used to interfere with voting (i.e., literacy tests as a condition of voter registration), but was rather the larger problem of attempted discrimination in general in the rules governing voter participation (i.e., last-minute changes in the locations of polling places, severely restricted voting hours, etc. -- indeed, many of the tactics we saw in the most recent election cycle), and that since such attempts are still occurring, Section 5 is still very much needed. The counter argument contends, correctly I believe, that the reason the problems are not occurring in Alabama today are _because_ Section 5 continues to work. They point out that Alabama has continued to have many proposed rule changes that have been successfully challenged under Section 5, which would indicate that attempts to discriminate are still very much in play. As for Shelby County's suggestion that Section 2 ex post facto litigation is a sufficient remedy, the counter argument is that federal litigation is prohibitively expensive and thus out of reach for many voters who might be discriminated against, and that in order to ensure that people's ability to exercise their right to vote is honored, it is important to head off discriminatory practice before they occur.

One thing that really struck me as I listened the various justices as they questioned the lawyers. The conservatives, Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Kennedy (Thomas, as per usual, had nothing to say), all based their questions on abstract theoretical bases, whereas the liberals, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor, based their questions on what was actually happening on the ground. Abstract theory, of course, is a great way to shield oneself from what happens in real-world, practical application.

Scalia's comment that Section 5 creates a "racial entitlement" is possibly one of the most vile things I've ever heard a Supreme Court justice say. (ThinkProgress reported yesterday that in the lawyers' waiting room, which has a live audio feed to the proceedings, there were audible gasps when that comment was made.) Justice Roberts, quite disingenuously, suggests that the operative question is whether residents of southern states are more racist than those in northern states. That isn't the proper question at all. The proper question is whether the states that have been identified as falling under Section 5's federal oversight provisions have had a greater history of attempted voter discrimination than the states not so identified; and the answer to that is an unequivocal yes.

The questions and comments of Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan both stand out as exceptional, in my view, although Justices Ginsburg and Breyer are quite impressive as well. When I think of the racist and bigoted things that were said by right wingers during Justice Sotomayor's confirmation process impugning her intelligence, I find her performance here to be all the more gratifying.

Posted by markpkessinger | Sat Mar 2, 2013, 04:18 PM (1 replies)

(1) Yes, Scalia's an asshat; and (2) No, we shouldn't call for his impeachment . . .

. . . at least not on the basis of what is likely to be his ruling in the case involving the Voting Rights Act, how ever vile his reasoning. Look, it goes without saying that the man's statements in this case (among many others) were utterly despicable. But, leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that impeachment doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell in the House, consider this: if we were to go down the path of impeaching a Supreme Court justice based on his ideologoical stance, it would set a dangerous precedent -- a precedent Republicans would seize upon at the first available opportunity in order to remove a more moderate or liberal justice whose rulings they disliked. Do you really want to open up that can of worms?
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Feb 28, 2013, 09:10 PM (9 replies)

Call to action re. Jennifer Rubin's hateful WAPO column about 1st Lady's Oscar appearance

I would like to encourage as many people as possible to contact the ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, of The Washington Post (ombudsman@washpost.com), to express their disgust and outrage at the hateful column by Jennifer Rubin regarding Michelle Obama's appearance at the Oscars. For a journalist at a major daily to spew such garbage as Rubin did in her column, while certainly protected in a legal sense, is beyond the pale ethically speaking. Here is an excerpt from her column.

<. . . . >
She declared of the Best Picture nominees, “They reminded us that we can overcome any obstacle if we dig deep enough and fight hard enough and find the courage within ourselves.” Alas, none of the films nor her aides reminded her to mention the military, not those personnel behind her nor those serving overseas, an odd omission for the White House that nevertheless was pleased to have them arrayed behind her like, well, set decoration.

She did have time to give a crumb to the gay community, applauding the movies that inspire us ”no matter who we are or what we look like or who we love,” adding that “they are especially important for our young people.” (Except when they contain gruesome violence, traffic in stereotypes or use gratuitous profanity, I guess.) Real heroes, such as our servicemen and servicewomen, inspire us, too, I would think.

It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation. Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband’s election). I’m sure the left will holler that once again conservatives are being grouchy and have it in for the Obamas. Seriously, if they really had their president’s interests at heart, they’d steer away from encouraging these celebrity appearances. It makes both the president and the first lady seem small and grasping. In this case, it was just downright weird.

No one, it seems, gets within a mile of the White House with any sense of restraint. No one there would dare suggest nearly half the country didn’t vote for him and doesn’t much like him and might want to be left to their small daily pleasures. (Greta Garbo said it best.) And no one there is apt to explain that the White House, the military and the first lady (not this one in particular) are institutions bigger than the Obamas and their e-mail list.

< . . . >
Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Feb 26, 2013, 08:12 PM (3 replies)

I took great delight in making some consverative/libertarian types' heads spin today . . .

. . . particularly those who are constantly bewailing the evils of "big government" or "government intrusion," by directing them to this NY Times article, which reports on the Supreme Court's refusal to hear a challenge to a federal law that authorized intercepting international communications involving Americans, and pointing out which Justices were NOT among those refusing the appeal.

[font size=5]Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Surveillance Law[/font]
[font size =1 color="gray"]By ADAM LIPTAK
Published: February 26, 2013[/font]

WASHINGTON — In a 5-to-4 decision that broke along ideological lines, the Supreme Court on Tuesday turned back a challenge to a federal law that authorized intercepting international communications involving Americans.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that the journalists, lawyers and human rights advocates who challenged the constitutionality of the law could not show they had been harmed by it and so lacked standing to sue. Their fear that they would be subject to surveillance in the future was too speculative to establish standing, he wrote.

Justice Alito also rejected arguments based on the steps the plaintiffs had taken to escape surveillance, including traveling to meet sources and clients in person rather than talking to them over the phone. “They cannot manufacture standing by incurring costs in anticipation of non-imminent harms,” he wrote of the plaintiffs.

< . . . . >

In dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the harm claimed by the plaintiffs was not speculative. “Indeed,” he wrote, “it is as likely to take place as are most future events that common-sense inference and ordinary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen.” Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined his dissenting opinion.

< . . . . >

Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Feb 26, 2013, 05:12 PM (3 replies)

My posts are automatically adding a "YouTube catcher" link

...it just started doing this today. Anybody know what this is all about?

Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Feb 14, 2013, 04:19 PM (2 replies)

Did anybody else see PBS/Frontline's GOP hit piece "Cliffhanger?"

I watched it last night, and was frankly appalled and outraged at what I perceived as being little more than an establishment GOP hit piece against President Obama. This "documentary" -- if indeed you can even call it that -- accepted establishment Republican talking points regarding the debt and deficit as if those points were indisputable facts in a very obvious effort to smear the President and Democrat. It also was clearly trying to portray the Tea Party element of the party as being the source of all its problems, thus creating the appearance that it is only establishment Republicans who are "serious" about the issue. It was simply disgusting -- something worthy of Fox News or Breitbart.com, not PBS.

Here's a link, if you can stomach it: http://video.pbs.org/video/2334346348
Posted by markpkessinger | Thu Feb 14, 2013, 10:01 AM (7 replies)

An idea for how to undercut GOP arguments against raising the minimum wage

First, I can't take credit for this idea. A friend of mine mentioned it earlier today on Facebook.

So, as we all know, the GOP always argues against any rise in the minimum wage because (so they allege) small businesses will be unable to afford it, and it will thus reduce those business' ability to create new jobs (which, of course, we all know is a bogus talking point). As my friend and I were talking about it, I made the point that if a business really cannot afford to pay someone $9/hour, then perhaps the owner should reconsider whether he really has a viable business in the first place. But my friend came up with something that was better still: raise the minimum wage (ideally to $12 or $15 per hour), and then provide tax breaks (or even direct subsidies) for those tiny, mom and pop operations for which the rise would create a genuine hardship (obvioualy, some sort of criteria, or measure of hardship, would have to be devised, but that really wouldn't be all that difficult), and at the same time perhaps eliminating tax breaks and other subsidies given to large businesses that are already hugely profitable.

Now, the more I thought about this, the more I liked it. I think a proposal like this would be hugely popular with the public. It would manage to do four things: (1) provide an incentive for small businesses to hire new employees; (2) would help samll businsses which may struggle even with paying the minimum wage; (3) provide much needed economic relief to workers at the bottom of the economic scale; and (4) create a significant economic stimulus by providing a greater level of disposable income to a group that will be most likely to spend it, and who will begin spending it almost immediately.

But above all -- not to suggest that items 1-4 above don't make for a powerful argument in their own right -- it would place Republicans in a very awkward position, given their rhetoric about how raiising the minimum wage would hurt small businesses and inhibit job growth. I mean, they would have to be pretty creative in trying to come up with a rationale for opposing it, wouldn't they? (Although they would surely try.) Whadday'all think?

Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Feb 13, 2013, 06:11 PM (4 replies)

Did anybody else find the President's remarks on climate change/energy policy contradictory?

After making such a bold statement about doing something about climate change, he then turned around and talked about speeding up new oil and gas permits. It struck me when I heard him say it, then I kind of forgot about until reading this article on Alternet, which put into words what had struck me initially:

[font=5]Obama's Contradictory Energy Policy: Combat Climate Change and Speed Up Drilling[/font]

Obama’s call that we “must do more to combat climate change,” received a standing ovation. But what did he propose we do? His ideas are a mixed bag. He called for “market-based solutions” but didn’t elaborate on what that would mean. Certainly leveling the playing field for renewables by getting rid of mammoth subsidies for Big Oil would be a start. The president urged Congress to take action and said he would use executive actions to get the job done if Congress won’t. Of course the president doesn't have to wait for a Congress that has failed to take any meaningful action on climate change, writing for Grist today, David Roberts wrote about what actions the president could take right now.

Even though Obama gave some lip service to renewable energy, he also kept up his support for natural gas and said that he would cut red tape to speed up new oil and gas permits, an idea that seems to run counter to doing “more to combat climate change.” The president continues to cling to tired notion of "all of the above" energy policy, which won't cut it in the climate change age in which we've now embarked.

He did however say he wanted to create an Energy and Security Trust to “shift cars and trucks off oil for good.” We'll see how that works out. The president stopped short of mentioning the contentious issue of tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Seems to me he's attempting to conflate two issues that may be working at cross purposes: real action on climate change, and the desire to keep energy prices low.
Posted by markpkessinger | Wed Feb 13, 2013, 06:08 AM (3 replies)

NYT/Nocera says gun advocates have a point regarding violent movies

I responded with two comments that were posted to the site, which appear below the excerpt

[font size=5]The ‘Die Hard’ Quandary[/font]
[font color = gray]By JOE NOCERA
Published: February 11, 2013 [/font]

< . . . . >

What got me thinking about “Die Hard” — and guns in the movies more generally — is, of course, the furious gun debate since the killings in Newtown, Conn. On one side are those who believe we can cut down on gun violence by, among other things, banning the assault weapons that always seem to be used in mass shootings.

On the other side are the Second Amendment absolutists, who argue that the real problem is the culture, soaked in so much violent imagery that it is virtually impossible to avoid. They add that a ban on assault weapons would be the beginning of a slippery slope that would ultimately lead to a ban on weapons of every kind.

It’s not that I don’t want to see a ban on assault weapons. I sincerely do. But after poking around the world of gun-crazed movies and other media, I have to say, the Second Amendment absolutists have a point. For instance, when you ask a spokesman for the M.P.A.A. about the real-world effect of gun imagery in the movies, he actually pushes back by claiming that “there is a predominance of findings that show there is no consistent or convincing evidence that exposure causes people to be more violent.”

This is, quite simply, untrue. “There is tons of research on this,” says Joanne Cantor, professor emerita of communications at the University of Wisconsin, and an expert on the effect of violent movies and video games. “Watching violence makes kids feel they can use violence to solve a problem. It brings increased feelings of hostility. It increases desensitization.” Every parent understands this instinctively, of course, but those instincts are backed by decades of solid research.

< . . . . >

Read full article.

Here is the first comment I left in response:

Mark Kessinger New York, NY

Other countries have violent movies and video games, too, but don't have the problem of gun violence. Perhaps we need more research, more hard data, to establish what, if any, link there might be between playing violent video games or watching violent movies and a tendency to resort to the use of firearms to solve a problem.

As for the "tons of research" that the article suggests exists establishing a link between violent movies and a tendency towards believing violence is a real option in solving problems, how about pointing us to some specific studies, so we can evaluate the methodology, and make a determination as to whether such studies do indeed support such a claim. Off the top of my head, several questions immediately come to mind about these alleged studies: (1) how is "violence" defined; (2) are such studies merely correlative, or have their data sets been subject to far more rigorous statistical analysis that would help eliminate the possibility of some third factor the study has not considered; and (3) can the studies explain why such films and video games seem to have such a significantly larger impact upon Americans than upon other Western cultures.

Until such questions are answered, using specifically cited studies the methodology of which is available for scrutiny, this discussion is little more than a distraction designed to steer the public away from taking meaningful and needed action in the area of stronger regulation of gun sales and purchases.

And here is my second comment:

Violent movies and video games are not unique to American culture, yet American culture has a unique problem with gun violence. In trying to determine the root of that problem, does it not make infinitely more sense, is it not a far better use of resources, to focus our scrutiny on those aspects of our culture that are unique -- such as our lax gun laws and the availability of weapons designed to kill large numbers of people quickly -- rather than those that are not unique to us?

Posted by markpkessinger | Tue Feb 12, 2013, 03:09 AM (12 replies)
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