Category: Politics

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Sometimes the Parties Can Work Together and Even on an Environmental Issue

Given how often we see the utter dysfunction of Congress, when I see a sign of Congress working, it merits calling out. According to the Washington Post, “The Senate has passed a much-anticipated bill proposing broad reforms to an existing chemical safety law — one which environmentalists have long argued puts the American public at unnecessary risk of exposure to toxic substances.” The law, the TSCA, is about 40 years old and requires so much proof of harm that even a substance like asbestos was difficult to regulate let alone ban. Thus “The bill, dubbed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, [and which] has been in negotiations for more than two years and finally went to a vote Thursday night, where it passed with bipartisan support” is a big step forward. The Post details that some groups dislike parts of the bill, and the House version is less broad, but it too has bipartisan support. If al goes well and the final version has teeth, that would mean both houses and the parties can fix a bill like this one, and that is a great sign.

As a general note, I am curious about the proof standard at issue. If folks who follow this area know what it is or have thoughts on what is should be, please share.

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Exploration and Exploitation – Ideas from Business and Computer Science

One of the key reasons I joined GA Tech and the Scheller College of Business is that I tend to draw on technology and business literature, and GA Tech is a great place for both. My current paper Exploration and Exploitation: An Essay on (Machine) Learning, Algorithms, and Information Provision draws on both these literatures. A key work on the idea of exploration versus exploitation in the business literature is James G. March, Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning, 2 ORG. SCI. 71 (1989) which as far as I can tell has not been picked up in the legal literature. A good follow up to that paper is Anil K. Gupta, Ken Smith, and Christina Shalley, The Interplay Between Exploration and Exploitation, 49 ACAD. MGMT. J. 693 (2006). I had come upon the issue as a computer science question when working on a draft of my paper Constitutional Limits on Surveillance: Associational Freedom in the Age of Data Hoarding. That paper was part of my thoughts on artificial intelligence, algorithms, and the law. In the end, the material did not fit there, but it fits the new work. And as I have started to connect with folks in the machine learning group at GA Tech, I have been able to press on how this idea comes up in technology and computer science. The paper has benefitted from feedback from Danielle Citron, James Grimmelmann, and Peter Swire. I also offer many thanks to the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal. The paper started as a short piece (I think I wanted to stay at about five to eight thousand words), but as it evolved, the editors were most gracious in letting me use an asynchronous editing process to hit the final 18,000 or so total word count.

I think the work speaks to general issues of information provision and also applies to current issues regarding the way news and online competition work. As one specific matter, I take on the idea of serendipity which I think “is a seductive, overstated idea. Serendipity works because of relevancy.” I offer the idea of salient serendipity to clarify what type of serendipity matters. The abstract is below.

Abstract:
Legal and regulatory understandings of information provision miss the importance of the exploration-exploitation dynamic. This Essay argues that is a mistake and seeks to bring this perspective to the debate about information provision and competition. A general, ongoing problem for an individual or an organization is whether to stay with a familiar solution to a problem or try new options that may yield better results. Work in organizational learning describes this problem as the exploration-exploitation dilemma. Understanding and addressing that dilemma has become a key part of an algorithmic approach to computation, machine learning, as it is applied to information provision. In simplest terms, even if one achieves success with one path, failure to try new options means one will be stuck in a local equilibrium while others find paths that yield better results and displace one’s original success. This dynamic indicates that an information provider has to provide new options and information to users, because a provider must learn and adapt to users’ changing interests in both the type of information they desire and how they wish to interact with information.

Put differently, persistent concerns about the way in which news reaches users (the so-called “filter bubble” concern) and the way in which online shopping information is found (a competition concern) can be understood as market failures regarding information provision. The desire seems to be to ensure that new information reaches people, because that increases the potential for new ideas, new choices, and new action. Although these desired outcomes are good, current criticisms and related potential solutions misunderstand the nature of information users and especially information provision, and miss an important point. Both information users and providers sort and filter as a way to enable better learning, and learning is an ongoing process that requires continual changes to succeed. From an exploration- exploitation perspective, a user or an incumbent may remain isolated or offer the same information provision but neither will learn. In that case, whatever short-term success either enjoys is likely to face leapfrogging by those who experiment through exploration and exploitation.

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A Little History That May Help Understand Current Politics

The current politics around the race to be the Republican candidate for President, ISIS, online speech, campus speech, technology, labor, and more have stuck me has angrier and a bit more irrational than I am used to, so an old essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter, caught my eye. I offer it as a quick historical perspective on some of our current issues and approaches to them. Hofstadter writes quite well, so it is another example of good style. But he shows that the “paranoid style,” as he calls it, rises across the range of political views and has done so for some time. Here is his opening:

American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant. (emphasis added)

That he calls out that the style can show up for any party and is not about being crazy is excellent. He goes on to admit that the term is “perjorative,” because he wants to ensure we know that although it “has a greater affinity for bad causes than good. [] nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style. Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content.” Wow. He knows someone may say well what about true or false, and he swipes that issue aside, so that he can get to his point, “I am interested here in getting at our political psychology through our political rhetoric. The paranoid style is an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent.”

In two paragraphs, Hofstadter explains the idea, the scope, and why one should read more. Damn fine work. Plus he goes on to show show McCarthyism, early populism, fears of Masons and Illuminati (yes Illuminati), and fear of Jesuits fit his idea. To be clear, Hofstadter thinks that something different–including the felling of “dispossession” as Daniel Bell put it–explains what happened with the right in the 1950s. And he offers that mass media allows for greater, easier demonization. Nonetheless, I think that his summation fits for a range of views today:

Norman Cohn believed he found a persistent psychic complex that corresponds broadly with what I have been considering—a style made up of certain preoccupations and fantasies: “the megalomaniac view of oneself as the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph; the attribution of gigantic and demonic powers to the adversary; the refusal to accept the ineluctable limitations and imperfections of human existence, such as transience, dissention, conflict, fallibility whether intellectual or moral; the obsession with inerrable prophecies . . . systematized misinterpretations, always gross and often grotesque.”

As Hofstadter put it, this view allowed him to “conjecture” that “that a mentality disposed to see the world in this way may be a persistent psychic phenomenon, more or less constantly affecting a modest minority of the population.”

The real punch came as he connected the modest minority to more. He said, “But certain religious traditions, certain social structures and national inheritances, certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties.” That is the idea that worries me. According to Hofstadter, part of the problem may be “a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise.” Furthermore, when groups are shut out of “the political process” even if their demands are “unrealistic” or unrealizable,” “they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery.” The idea is to at least be open to other views and seek compromise. Still I am not sure what the response to being shut-out and unable to observe the machinery should be. I can understand that some will argue the process itself is corrupt, and it may be corrupt. I don’t think that submission to the Paranoid Style is the way to go. Nor is simply saying that the system will work correct. To riff on Hofstadter, if the Paranoid Style is on the rise and going mainstream for any issue, we should note it, and be open to the claims and facts. It may be that we missed a sea change that has not only style but substance, often a dangerous substance, as is the case when in “an arena for angry minds.”

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China, the Internet, and Sovereignty

China’s World Internet Conference is, according to its organizers, about:

“An Interconnected World Shared and Governed by All—Building a Cyberspace Community of Shared Destiny”. This year’s Conference will further facilitate strategic-level discussions on global Internet governance, cyber security, the Internet industry as the engine of economic growth and social development, technological innovation and philosophy of the Internet. It is expected that 1200 leading figures from governments, international organizations, enterprises, science & technology communities, and civil societies all around the world will participate the Conference.

As the Economist points out, “The grand title is misleading: the gathering will not celebrate the joys of a borderless internet but promote “internet sovereignty”, a web made up of sovereign fiefs, gagged by official censors. Political leaders attending are from such bastions of freedom as Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.”

One of the great things about being at GA Tech is the community of scholars from a wide range of backgrounds. This year colleagues in Public Policy hired Milton Mueller, a leader in telecommunication and Internet policy. I have known his work for some time, but it has been great getting to hang out and talk with Milton. Not surprising, but Milton has a take on the idea of sovereignty and the Internet. I can’t share it, as it is in the works. But as a teaser, keep your eye out for it.

As a general matter, it seems to me that sovereignty will be a keyword in coming Internet governance debates across all sectors. Whether the term works from a political science perspective or others should be interesting. Thinking of jurisdiction, privacy, surveillance, telecommunication, cyberwar, and intellectual property, I can see sovereignty being asserted, perverted, and converted to serve a range of interests. Revisiting the core international relations theories to be clear about what sovereignty is and should be seems a good project for a law scholar or student as these areas evolve.

0

Centralizers: Uber vs the Others (Lyft, Didi Kuaidi, Ola, and GrabTaxi)

Uber is looking to raise more than $2 billion; Lyft, Didi Kuaidi, Ola, and GrabTaxi have formed a global alliance to counter Uber. Where or where is the disruptive scrappy tech savior? Answer: It existed briefly and the next phase is with us. In The New Steam: On Digitization, Decentralization, and Disruption I argued that [T]his era of disruption and decentralization will likely pass and new winners, who will look much like firms of old, will emerge, if they have not already.” I was building on the ideas Gerard Magliocca and I explored in our work on 3D printing. Although some technologies have helped decentralize production and distribution, to think that centralized players would all go away or new ones not emerge is a mistake. I was focused on safety, stability, liability and insights from Douglass North.

As I said in the paper:

Douglass North captures a paradox that goes with transaction costs. Greater specialization, division of labor, and a large market increase transaction costs, because the shift to impersonal transactions demands higher costs to: 1) measure the valuable dimensions of a good or service; 2) protect individual property rights; 3) enforce agreements; and 4) integrate the dispersed knowledge of society.26 Standardized weights and measures, effective laws and enforcement, and institutions and organizations that integrate knowledge emerge, but the “dramatic increase in the overall costs of transacting” is “more than offset by dramatic decreases in production costs.” Digitization forces us to revisit these issues.

Uber’s success and the response of the other players raises another point. Although I think that society will favor centralized players in the long run, because that allows for some regulation; the process of centralization may also occur for simpler reasons. When one big player starts to break away from the pack, the rest may co-operate or consolidate to keep pace. There may be one winer or a handful. Either way, as Seattle now allows Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize and calls for more regulation continue, the former disruptors will be seen as the new centralized power and treated as such. The reasons offered for that treatment are what draw my interest and where legal theory has and will see some action.

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Can We Tolerate Tolerance?  

This is the third in a series of occasional short essays about free speech in America. Earlier installments can be found here and here.

We live in a tolerant society. Of course, that is an exaggeration. But when it comes to so many flashpoint issues – ranging from blasphemy to race-hate speech – we are far more tolerant than almost all other nations, so much so that we are routinely criticized for being too tolerant. It is our badge of honor . . . and dishonor.

Professor Mark Lilla

Professor Mark Lilla

Mindful of the events in France and Denmark earlier this year, I wonder: Will we continue to tolerate toleration if our world takes a terrible turn? My question has less to do with what is being tagged as the “terrorist’s veto” than with a more complex problem, and one therefore even more difficult to resolve. This problem occurred to me when I first read an eye-opening essay by Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books, an essay entitled “France on Fire.” Here is a very brief excerpt:

“For the past quarter-century a political and intellectual culture war over the place of Islam in French society has been bubbling along, and every few years some event — a student wears a burka to school, riots erupt in a poor neighborhood, a mosque is attacked, the National Front wins a local election — renews hostilities.”

I want to extrapolate from that essay (at once insightful and provocative) in order to outline a phenomenon that may be hurling our way, a phenomenon related to toleration and dissident speech.

Before I do, however, let turn to the glorious side of the toleration equation by way of a well-known case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). Recall the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ flag-salute case, the one with that liberty-inspiring majority opinion by Justice Robert Jackson. In words that should be fixed in every lawmaker’s consciousness, Jackson declared: “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.” The judgment in that case affirming First Amendment freedom is all the more amazing given that it was rendered in wartime and involved a religious sect that was then very much hated in various quarters of American society. (See Shawn Francis Peters, Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (2000).)

The (Hypothetical) Problem

Against that backdrop, imagine the following scenario. Assume that the editors of a respectable libertarian magazine elected to publish several satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in order to make a First Amendment point and to take a stand against the “terrorist’s veto.” Assume thereafter that the Charlie Hebdo incident replayed itself in Cincinnati (the headquarters of my hypothetical magazine). Ten people who work for the magazine are murdered and two Muslim extremists take credit. Both of the terrorists are later killed in a shootout with police that also results in the deaths of two local police officers.

Here is where I begin to extrapolate from Professor Lilla’s essay. Now assume the following additional scenarios, replete with a few quotations from the Lilla essay”

  1. The Governor of Ohio calls for a moment of mourning with heads bowed on the day following the tragedy (say, the time is 11:00 a.m.);
  2. A “noticeable number” of Muslim public high school students in Cincinnati refuse, on religious and political grounds, to bow their heads;
  3. “And not only that. Some [tell] their teachers that the victims got what they deserved because no one should be allowed to mock the Prophet”;
  4. “Others celebrate the killers on social media, and circulate rumors that the entire crisis was manufactured by the government and/or Zionist agents”; and
  5. The parents (some of whom work for state and local governments) of some of these Muslim-American students speak openly (though not at work) to defend their children and endorse the positions they took.

Note that the Muslim-Americans in the above scenarios were otherwise peaceful and law abiding. And some Muslim-American leaders sought to counteract the messages of the violent extremists among them. That said, let me stir the pot a bit more with a few more scenarios and related questions:

  1. So far as government entities are involved, how far are we willing to go to accommodate (culturally, statutorily, and constitutionally) the religious views of the more observant and separatist Muslim-Americans who harbor what we would see as extreme views concerning homosexuality, female purity, and Jews and Israel?
  2. Finally, let me again from quote Professor Lilla to raise a final question: Some “students and their parents demand separate swimming hours or refuse to let their children go on school trips where the sexes might mix. . . . There are fathers who won’t shake hands with female teachers, or let their wives speak alone to male teachers. There are cases of children refusing to sing, or dance, or learn an instrument, or draw a face, or use a mathematical symbol that resembles a cross. The question of dress and social mixing has led to the abandonment of gym classes in many places. Children also feel emboldened to refuse to read authors or books that they find religiously unacceptable: Rousseau, Molière, and Madame Bovary. Certain subjects are taboo: evolution, sex ed, the Shoah. As one father told a teacher, ‘I forbid you to mention Jesus to my son.’” Does our commitment to religious freedom extend that far so as to accommodate the genuine religious views of those who hold them?

Let me be clear: I do not mean to demean Muslim-Americans as a class, nor do I wish to be understood as saying the above scenarios mirror the sentiments of most Muslim-Americans . I trust they are not. Then again, I may disagree with some of them, and sometimes vigorously, on several of the issues flagged above. But I also believe in toleration, and the ever-present need to be sensitive to the plight of minorities of all ideological, political, and religious stripes.

So where does that leave us?

Testing Our Tolerance Read More

6

Rather v. CBS Contracts Story Omitted from Redford’s “Truth”

Robert Redford’s latest film, Truth, dramatizes the last stand of newsman Dan Rather, longtime face of CBS News until fired for a controversial 2004 broadcast about President George W. Bush. The film, which debuted this week at the Hamptons Film Festival in Long Island, New York and opens October 16, is based on the book by Rather’s producer, Mary Mapes, and is therefore biased.  It is nevertheless a rich story, with Redford playing Rather and Cate Blanchett portraying Mapes (all pictured nearby).  The true story culminated, moreover, in a fight between Rather and CBS about contract interpretation, although neither the book nor the film delves into this important topic.

Amid a heated 2004 presidential election, on a CBS 60 Minutes broadcast of September 8, 2004, Rather questioned President Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. Rather implied that Bush exerted political influence to avoid that era’s military draft by entering the Guard, and then receiving special treatment to skip military duties. A media melee followed Rather’s show. Bush supporters challenged its accuracy, the authenticity of documents used, and Rather’s journalistic integrity, which many believed was compromised by bias against President Bush.

After investigation, CBS disavowed the broadcast and, two weeks later, an emotional Rather apologized for it on national television. But CBS and Rather disagreed on the overall journalistic quality of the broadcast and what to do about it. Rather identified important accurate facts in the broadcast, obscured by the firestorm, and urged a defense of those whose reputations, including his and Mapes, the broadcast imperiled.

For its part, CBS emphasized the journalistic lapses and wanted to let it go at that. Believing CBS was most interested in the politics of good relations with the White House, as Bush was running for reelection in a heated contest against Senator John Kerry, Rather retracted his apology and claimed CBS fraudulently induced it. The day after President Bush won reelection, CBS told Rather it planned to remove him from his coveted spot as anchor of the CBS Evening News—a stinging rebuke. Rather’s last broadcast as anchor was March 9, 2005.

During the next 15 months, through May 2006, CBS kept Rather on its payroll, paying his salary of about $125,000 per week ($6 million annually). CBS gave him irregular appearances on CBS programs covering less significant stories, and his former television profile diminished. He rarely appeared on the network’s big-time shows such as 60 Minutes. Worse, CBS prevented him from pursuing jobs with competing networks or other media. Rather claimed that CBS marginalized him by giving him limited staff and editorial support; rejected most of his story proposals and aired those it accepted at off-peak times; denied him the chance to appear as a guest on other programs; and generally prevented him from refurbishing his reputation. Read More

0

FAN 56.1 (First Amendment News) Constitutional & Criminal Law Experts File Brief Defending Gov. Rick Perry — First Amend. & Other Defenses Raised

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 10.46.47 PM

This morning an amicus brief was filed in the case of Ex Parte James Richard “Rick Perry” (App. Ct., 3rd Jud. Dist.); this is how it opens:

Amici are an ideologically diverse coalition of experts in the fields of constitutional and criminal law—including former judges, solicitors general, prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, constitutional litigators, and professors on both sides of the aisle. They represent virtually the entire political spectrum and have no personal or political stake in this case. They submit this brief for one simple reason: They are committed to the rule of law, and do not wish to see the law tarnished or distorted for purely partisan political purposes.

Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry

The case, recall, involves Texas Governor Rick Perry and his threat to veto a bill if a state political official did not do what he asked. He then vetoed the bill. A grand jury thereafter indicted the Governor and charged him with two felonies.

One count alleged that the Governor violated Texas law when he vetoed a bill that would have funded the continued operation of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

The other count alleged that the Governor violated Texas law by “threatening” to use his veto powers if a government official did not resign her post (this in connection with his call  for the resignation of Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, who had been convicted of drunk driving).

 See here re video of Gov. Perry’s Aug. 16, 2014 press conference

See here re Feb. 23, 2015 Defense’s objections to bill of particulars & amended indictment

Counsel for Gov. Perry on appeal: Tony BuzbeeDavid Botsford & Thomas R. Phillips (Appellant’s brief here)

Now, 18 noted constitutional and criminal law experts are rallying to Gov. Perry’s defense in an amicus brief filed  in a Texas appellate court by James C. Ho, Prerak Shah, Bradley G. Hubbard and Eugene Volokh. The brief in support of an application for a writ of habeas corpus makes two basic arguments:

  1. “Count I of the Indictment Should Be Dismissed, Because it is Both Unconstitutional and Barred by Legislative Immunity,”
  2. “Count II of the Indictment Should Be Dismissed, Because it Criminalizes Speech Protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The 18 who signed onto the amicus brief are:

  • Floyd Abrams (First Amendment lawyer)
  • Michael Barone (Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute)
  • Ashutosh Bhagwat (UC Davis law professor)
  • Jeff Blackburn (Founder and Chief Counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas)
  • Paul Coggins (former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas)
  • Alan Dershowitz (Harvard law professor)
  • Raul A. Gonzalez (Former Justice, Texas Supreme Court)
  • James C. Ho (Former Texas Solicitor General & former Chief Counsel to U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution)
  • Daniel Lowenstein (Emeritus UCLA law professor)
  • Michael W. McConnell (Stanford law professor)
  • John T. Montford (Former District Attorney for Lubbock County, TX)
  • Michael Mukasey (Former U.S. Attorney General & former federal court judge)
  • Theodore B. Olson (Former Solicitor General of the United States)
  • Harriet O’Neill (Former Justice, Texas Supreme Court)
  • Nathaniel Persily (Stanford law professor)
  • Kenneth W. Starr (Former U.S. Solicitor General & former federal court appellate judge)
  • Johnny Sutton (Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas), and
  • Eugene Volokh (UCLA law professor)

The two statutes under which Gov. Perry was indicted are reminiscent of the old Soviet Union — you know, abuse of authority. The idea of indicting him because he threatened to veto spending unless a district attorney who was caught drinking and driving resigned, that’s not anything for a criminal indictment. That’s a political issue. — Alan Dershowitz (Aug. 18, 2014)

Free Speech Claims

James C. Ho (lead counsel)

James C. Ho (lead counsel)

The amicus brief argues that Count II of the indictment — that Gov.Perry violated the law by “threatening” to use his veto powers if a government official did not resign — violates his free speech rights under the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.  “[H]e has every right to do just that,” they contend.

Core Political Speech: “A political official,” they add, “has the right to threaten to perform an official act in order to persuade another government official to engage in some other official act. That is not a crime—it is core political speech. See, e.g., Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 707 (1969) (‘What is a threat must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech.’).”

Parade of Horribles: “The consequences of allowing Governor Perry to be prosecuted under this law would be both far-reaching and devastating. The prosecution’s theory of the case would criminalize a vast swath of constitutionally protected—and exceedingly common—political speech.”

Facially Invalid: “The vast amount of protected speech that would be deemed criminal under the prosecution’s theory reveals another fundamental problem with this Count: the statute is unconstitutionally overbroad and therefore facially invalid.”

Government Speech?: “[T]he speech of elected officials at issue here is simply not government speech as defined by the Garcetti line of cases. Indeed, common sense demands that it not be government speech. Does the special prosecutor truly believe that the Legislature could, with a veto-proof majority, prevent the Governor from saying anything at all on particular topics? Of course not—yet that is precisely what the Legislature could do if Governor Perry’s speech were deemed government speech.”

 After offering various other free speech challenges, the authors of the amicus brief point out that

Last year, President Obama threatened to issue various executive orders if Congressional Republicans refused to pass comprehensive immigration reform. . . . The President later followed through on that threat. To be sure, those executive actions are highly controversial and are currently the subject of litigation. But no one could seriously argue that President Obama’s political statements regarding those actions are unprotected by the First Amendment and subject to potential criminal prosecution. So too here.

Mincing no words, the brief urges: “This Court should announce—right now—that it is unconstitutional to prosecute Governor Perry for his protected political speech.”

14

Tribute: A Liberal in the House of Harry Jaffa (1918-2015)

Harry Jaffa (credit: Ohio State University)

Harry Jaffa (credit: Ohio State University)

1-14-15: 1:03 a.m. My mind races. How does one pay tribute to someone with whom one disagreed on several important issues? – issues about life and law and other things that matter. That question confronts me as I sit down to pay tribute to Harry Jaffa, someone who taught me much and always treated me kindly.

It’s rather late. I page through my tattered copy of Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Lincoln Douglas Debates (1959). I first read it in 1968 or thereabouts. It’s by Harry V. Jaffa, the noted conservative political philosopher. He died recently. I found out by way of a New York Times obit by Robert McFadden. (Jaffa died on the same day as Walter Berns, another political theorist.)

I stare at the black-and-white pic of the young Jaffa taken years before I met him. I peer into his distant eyes. What was he thinking at that moment in 1959 / in that bookstore / next to his newly released book / finely clad / grinning confidently / with a book of the poet C.C. Cummings lingering behind his left shoulder?

* *  * *

“Since the first and most successful enterprise of the Fathers was to produce disobedience to an ancient established order, it would have been peculiarly difficult for them to inculcate reverence.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 3.35.05 AMI marked that passage – one from a chapter titled “The Teaching Concerning Political Moderation.” It is one of many such markings.

I think more and more about Professor Jaffa as I glance at the row of books in my library bearing his name. Formally speaking, I never studied under him, though I did know him. We met in the 1970s at Claremont College where he taught with the noted constitutional historian Leonard W. Levy (1923-2006). I read Levy’s books, too, though I was never one of his students. But I knew both men rather well. Levy was quite liberal (my stripes), Jaffa was quite conservative. Both strong personality types and both friends (as far as I know).

The Students of Strauss

When I first encountered Professor Jaffa, the philosopher Leo Strauss had recently visited Claremont. Back in those days Jaffa was friendly with many of his colleagues who, like him, had been students of Strauss. There was, for example, Martin Diamond and Allan Bloom. Of them he wrote this in his Crisis book: “I owe much to the enthusiastic interest of Professors Allan Bloom . . . and Martin Diamond . . . .”

That was in the days before the name “Strauss” became politicized. It was also before Jaffa parted company (sometimes fiercely) with so many of his former friends and colleagues, including Diamond and Bloom. There was still peace in that valley, that intellectual oasis where so many young students like myself came to learn how to read and appreciate the great works of Western political thought.

I studied under other students of Strauss (Michael Ormond and Thomas S. Schrock) and thereby came to read many works by the famed University of Chicago scholar – works such as Strauss’ Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952), Natural Right and History (1953), On Tyranny (1963), and The City and Man (1964), among other books.

photoOf course, one of the mainstays of my liberal education back then was History of Political Philosophy (1963), a collection of thoughtful and carefully crafted essays on noted political philosophers from Plato to Dewey. Strauss and Joseph Cropsey edited the volume. There was a long essay in it on Aristotle written by Jaffa (removed in the 3rd edition at H.J.’s insistence, I believe). I studied that essay and learned much from it, so much that I set out to read more by him. In time I came to Crisis of the House Divided, which I spent many an hour savoring . . . but never as required reading.

Somehow I came to meet Professor Jaffa personally, though I do not quite remember how. By 1974 I knew him well enough to solicit something from him to publish in my law school’s law review. It was titled “Equality as a Conservative Principle,” 8 Loyola, Los Angeles, Law Review 471 (1975), reprinted in Jaffa’s How to Think About the American Revolution (1978).

Our Dialogues

In the years and decades that followed, from time to time I visited Professor Jaffa at his home with his wife Marjorie. They were routinely gracious. The talk: almost always about Plato or Aristotle or Machiavelli or Hobbes or De Tocqueville or Lincoln or Churchill or Strauss or the Declaration or the Constitution. I steered away from partisan politics. Why? Well, because what I admired about him, what was most important to me, were his talents as a teacher, someone who had carefully studied the great thinkers and was committed to teaching others how to appreciate their words and thoughts. Ideas mattered more to me than ideologies, so I veered away from Republican-Democrat talk, though I listened nonetheless when Jaffa ventured off into those worlds. Sometimes even that talk gave me pause, made me rethink a few of my own views. Then again, sometimes not.

If you would know the Harry Jaffa I knew as a mentor and a friend, read his Crisis or his Thomism and Aristotelianism: A Study of the Commentary by Thomas Aquinas on the Nicomachean Ethics (1952) or his book with Allan Bloom, Shakespeare’s Politics (1964), or his essay “The Case for a Stronger National Government,” in A Nation of States: Essays on the American Federal System (1963) edited by Robert A. Goldwin.  There is, to be sure, more, but I will lay my cards there.

∇ ∇ ∇

In these ideologically torn and tormenting times, it is ever more difficult to be objective and open-minded. Friends flee. Few wish to be Socratic, open-minded, and receptive to reconsidering their gospels. Such one-directional thinking wars with the basic tenets of philosophy, properly understood. But if the ideal of liberal education still means something, and if our commitment to being an open society still stands, then it is only just to be fair — even if it means cracking open the doors of our partisan minds enough to see what we would not otherwise see. There is, after all, no truth in blind denial.

I hope I have answered the question with which I began. However that may be, kindly permit me to close with a few words by Leo Strauss, from his Liberalism: Ancient & Modern (1968):

“Liberal education, which consists in the constant intercourse with the greatest minds, is a training in the highest form of modesty, not to say of humility.”

Indeed.

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The 100 Year Bloom?: Wealth Inequality in the U.S.

The debates around Piketty’s analysis of wealth gaps will persist, but a recent paper by Emmanuel Saez (U.C. Berkeley) and Gabriel Zucman (London School of Economics) indicates that wealth disparity in the U.S. has hit the levels of about 100 years ago. As the Economist Espresso edition reports, the study finds that “In the late 1920s the bottom 90% held just 16% of America’s wealth; the top 0.1% had a quarter.” From the Depression until “well after” World War II, the middle class share went up. Since the go-go 1980s that tide reversed and now “The top 0.1% (160,000 families worth $73m on average) hold 22% of America’s wealth, just shy of the 1929 peak—and almost the same share as the bottom 90% of the population.” (The Economist link has a nice chart from the paper. The chart captures the trend well. I was unable to get the image from the paper, however.).

I have to wonder whether the intersection of wealth disparity, race and police tensions, health security, job prospects, lack of food, and perhaps other factors explain what seem to be larger examples of unrest and revolutionary impulses from all ranges of political interests all around the world. And, the general sense of rejecting all institutions (a millennial impulse if lack of joining a party is a signal) can still lead to the short term alliance of enough people to cause revolution (their cause is change and rage and unleashed energy against the unjust), the aftermath of which is rarely bloodless. Once the common enemy goes, the energies of the one truth turn on each other. The show Survivor is much more real: eliminate those who are strong and helped you win, for they may threaten your vision. In other words, I sense much anger out there (and it may be founded) on many fronts. I see lex talionis (eye for an eye), but that is not justice. The law is supposed to mediate our impulse to revenge, and yet the law lies behind the changing tides of wealth. The unarticulated sense of injustice and disenfranchisement can eat the system from the inside. And even those gaining the biggest benefit right now will not see that the bottom is falling out from under them.

Not all 100 year blooms are pretty or benign. Reorganizing a country or the world so that baseline well-being goes up and is shared by most, if not all, seems like a blip in historical terms (I am trying to think of an extended era, more than 100 years, when wealth disparity was not high). But it may be that if we don’t start to fix these problems, the desire for those blips will become real and travel with high costs: depressions, starvations, revolutions, and wars.

It may not take much to prevent the fall. Who knows? Maybe the Jam’s That’s Entertainment captures an odd, sad, equilibrium that barely satisfies.

Waking up at 6 A.M. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking ’bout your holidays

If that is gone, well…