Saturday, April 28, 2012

Credit where it's due...

In a brief return to political matters...  What won’t the candidates be discussing during this election season? Campaign finance, surveillance, patent reform…are among a few issues that candidates are sure to avoid. What else....?  This mini-slide show shows just a few. In fact, the matters discussed at sciencedebate.org are (in my opinion) more important -- and here you can vote for the top science issues facing America in 2012.

Put aside preconceptions. Give a read to this thoughtful interview from Rolling Stone to get a sense of where the President is coming from and how he thinks.  It's very insightful, whatever side you might be on.

Example: President Obama said a top priority was to get the US exporting again.  Since then, exports are up 34% and on target for his hoped-for doubling. Ford, GM and - yes - Chrysler are now selling top quality, world class products around the world at record-breaking profits. Companies that Obama’s opponent wanted to let go extinct.

But in fairness... let’s keep some balance here and give credit to the other side as well.  Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has a lot to be proud.  His one significant accomplishment as governor - the health care law that he shepherded into place in Massachusetts - after which President Obama modeled his national plan, appears to be working and is 67% popular in that state. Even conservative media admit progress. Way to go, Mitt.

(Though let’s give equal credit to Newt Gingrich, who largely crafted the Republican Alternative health care plan of 1995, on which Mitt modeled the Massachusetts plan and on which Obama... why is it that even when we reach consensus on a good idea, it can never be pleasant, or at the same time?)

== Is experience in government relevant? ==

Alas, there are other issues. For example, is experience in public service relevant in your qualifications to be president?  People used to think so. As recently as 2008, Republicans touted Senator John McCain’s long military record, followed by many productive years in Congress, as evidence that he grasped the elements of government from several directions and knew how to get things done.  Now watch as the murdochian meme of hating all government, all the time, reaches its fruition with Mitt Romney’s record of public service, the skimpiest in 100 years. One term as governor of a northeastern state... period.  That’s it.  Not even an additional day as mayor or dog catcher.

Now, Rachel Maddow has her own axes to grind. Hardly a detached nonpartisan, hereslf.  But the facts deserve a look. Only then recall what Maddow doesn’t mention.  That Romney got a lot done during that one term, creating a model for sensible health care reform for the entire nation. Come on. Rachel, try to be fair.

All right, I admit I was being a bit sardonic there.  Moreover, it is legitimate for Republicans to repudiate their own proposal of 20 years. “We’ve changed our minds” is a fair enough thing to say.

Still, the ironies come thick and rich and we citizens have a right to chuckle over them.  Picture this distillation offered by one member of my blogmunity: "The president was lambasted by his opponents for getting a congress (controlled by his party) to pass their (the other party's) version of a bill on an issue both parties had been debating for decades."

Okay, you can change your minds.  But why be so angry that the other side went ahead and passed your bill?  It’s the anger that’s dishonest.  Indeed, it is foul.

== Why We Need Whistleblowers ==

In his first television interview since he resigned from the National Security Agency over its domestic surveillance program, William Binney discusses the NSA’s massive power to spy on Americans and why the FBI raided his home after he became a whistleblower. Binney was a key source for investigative journalist James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired Magazine about how the NSA is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah. The Utah spy center will contain near-bottomless databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency, including private emails, cell phone calls, Google searches and other personal data.

Hey. Did I ever say the odds were in our favor?  Look at 6000 years of human history.  Our exceptional approach - dividing power so that we can sic mighty elites upon each other, so they won't prey on us - has always been a creaky, nervous bet. It mostly worked for the last two centuries, but only because people kept upping the ante on reciprocal accountability, the transparency and competitive processes that give us positive sum games.  It is what's worked and it might continue working...

...but to do that we must keep pushing hard, dynamically and vigorously, evading the traps.  (For example the meme spread by Fox that the uber-aristocracy and only the uber-rich are trustworthy, eliminating all other, competing elites.)

watchdog-wolfThere are many ways to let government see more (as the NSA will inevitably do) and yet keep a choke chain on the watch dog, so it never thinks that it's a wolf.  These methods would take some work and good will and a political process that's not frozen by culture war.

But it could still happen...

71 comments:

zoukboy said...

But Dr. Brin, the health care reform bill is NOT a "good bill."

The fact that a consensus was reached by representatives bought-and-paid-for by corporations does not make it a "good idea." In fact it is a giveaway to the insurance companies.

Yes, let's do criticize the Republicans for their "foul" and "dishonest" anger, as you put it, but we must also criticize the Democrats' wrong-headed caving to corporate interests which acts to the detriment of their constituents.

Tony Fisk said...

...and where does that place your vote?

zoukboy said...

Mine? I will vote for the President because there is no viable alternative that represents my interests. In fact, at this point it doesn't even look like there is an alternative - viable or otherwise!

Robert said...

There's credit where it's due... and then there's lying so hard that people go "What the fuck?"

Romney is taking credit for "saving" Detroit in that he said "let them go bankrupt" and that's what they did. You know, I kind of get the feeling a Romney bankruptcy would have had the unions utterly crushed, their pensions raped and ransacked, and everything in Detroit outsourced to China. But that's just my take on it....

Rob H., who took the high road and deleted an e-mail earlier in which he was about to bitchslap a conservative friend on his anti-Clinton views... and decided friendship is more important. Especially as said friend lives in Massachusetts, which means his vote is wasted anyway.

Ian Gould said...

Zoukboy, I wonder how many of the estimated 30 million Americans who will get health insurance for the first time agree with you assessment of the Act?

David Brin said...

It was the best that could be passed amid Culture War. In order to pass it, he needed to get the insurance industry aboard. In a sane nation, that would not have been necessary, but it was.

zoukboy said...

Ian Gould: Ask me, I am one of them! :-)

Dr. Brin: Yes, I agree, but wouldn't it be better to say that than that it was a "good idea?"

David Brin said...

This posting was drenched with irony.

Paul451 said...

Ian,
I don't think Zoukboy is criticising the idea of healthcare reform, or even the idea of universal healthcare. He's criticising the Democrats for leaning so far towards the Republican position.

Given that the Republicans voted against their own plan, decrying it as a monstrous socialism, then why continue to offer the horrible kludgey Republican plan? Why not just design a proper universal healthcare system?

AHA wasn't "the best that could be passed". The Democrats missed a trick. The Republicans were going to claim any reform was monstrous socialism, so why not be monstrously socialist? The Dems were going to take heat during the phase-in no matter what they did. But by pushing through a Republican/corporatist plan, they also estranged their own base without gaining a single centrist vote. They could have used Republican blind opposition to, ironically, pass all the stuff they wanted, not the stuff they thought was being more-than-fair to the other side. The general political damage is exactly the same, except a) you re-energise your own base, and b) you actually introduce a good system.

(ntaYo dotel: Witty anagram of Yottondale.)

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

Obama does not change the narrative of corporate owned media. That's why his Republican health care reform plan was the best Obama would give us. He agreed with that plan almost from the start (witness his secret deal with Big Pharma that ended up knocking out the public option).

David's question though about why it is that we can't be bi-partisan even when the facts show bi-partisanship, i.e. the Republican/Romney/Obama health care plan is answered this way: The Republicans decided, at the party leadership from the moment Obama was elected, to follow a strategy that goes back to the Jacksonians after John Quincy Adams cut the deal the Jacksonians wanted to cut with Henry Clay and led JQA into the presidency: The Jacksonians, forming what later became known as the Democratic Party (what an irony!) opposed EVERYTHING (nearly so) JQA endorsed, even policies the Jacksonians had originally endorsed themselves. It was oppose, oppose and oppose so more.

Then, after three years of this, in the election of 1828, they ran against JQA as a do-nothing and failed president. It worked. Jackson won handily in 1828 over JQA.

The strategy worked for Republicans in 2010, but their yahoo-laden policies and statements are weighing them down. They don't have the military hero and charismatic leader like Andrew Jackson. They have...Mitt Romney, who has tied himself in knots and contradictions that even low information voters notice when dealing with him, as opposed to the twists of an entire political party.

Obama should win, barring a severe drop in the economic performance of the US, or an invasion of Iran by Israel that does not go well. That frees up folks like me in CA to POTENTIALLY vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party. So, Zoukboy, and Paul, if you live in a solid Blue State, and it looks good for Obama in October, we can all vote Green and let Obama and his corporate Democratic Party candidates know we are tired of being kicked and being the object of their disdain. As David Frum famously remarked: The Republican Party leadership fears their base. The Democratic Party leadership hates their base.

Paul451 said...

Mitchell,
I'm in Australia. Preferential voting. So I can vote Green, or for as many minor single-issue parties as I wish, and my vote isn't "wasted", even if the major parties are a dead-heat. We also have compulsory voting. (Although the conservative party does still whine about voter fraud as an excuse to introduce vote-ID schemes.)

It's a good system. You should advocate for a referendum in California to adopt it. I think you guys call it Instant Run-off Voting, and if you get that, add in some form of mandatory attendance at a polling place (to at least offset the current anti-voter-rights campaigns.)

SteveO said...

Paul et al.

Pluralistic voting is about the worst system you can devise. Preferential voting, rank-ordering candidates, whatever, is better than a way to elect someone with less that 50% (or 30% or less if you have a viable third-party candidate) of the people thinking the person can do the job...

Moral of the story, in a pluralistic system, be wary of voting your conscience, when the alternative is unconsionable. (ref Florida, 2000)

Ian Gould said...

"AHA wasn't "the best that could be passed". The Democrats missed a trick. The Republicans were going to claim any reform was monstrous socialism, so why not be monstrously socialist? ?"

Because they would not have gotten enoguh Democrats to support such a bill - especially not of the insurance industry were actvely lobbying against them.

Paul451 said...

SteveO,
Pedantically, they're all "pluralistic", regardless of the counting system. The US is just the simplest type of plurality voting, first-past-the-post/winner-takes-all.

(Although I just noticed that Louisiana and Georgia have IRV/preference voting. How have people there coped with that?)

Paul451 said...

Ian,
"Because they would not have gotten enoguh Democrats to support such a bill"

I believe AHA only passed in the lame-duck session after the 2010 loss. The "blue-dogs" had largely lost, and no longer needed to worry about lobbyists. It's the only reason AHA passed at all, because they had already lost. So given that, why not just use the situation to get what you want.

LarryHart said...

Mitchell J Friedman:

Obama should win, barring a severe drop in the economic performance of the US, or an invasion of Iran by Israel that does not go well.


Now that the GOP primaries have alienated both women and Latinos, the Republicans seem to be betting their entire roll on the strategy of voter suppression. At this point, I think it's thier only chance. I also (sadly) think it might work.

Carl M. said...

IRV isn't much better than plurality voting. Most of the preferences are thrown out. Approval voting (counting the overvotes) is better. Better yet is range voting: the system used by Olympic judges. More information on the ballot. Zero incentive to betray your favorite. Not immune to gaming, but 100% gaming simply reduces to honest plurality voting.

It worked for the Vikings. This is an old idea, with sound replaced by numbers.

rewinn said...

May I suggest that the real political battle will be over Congress and the statehouses?

First, the voting is such that the House goes Democratic and there is a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, then Obama wins in any rational scenario. Without them, why would we not expect more gridlock?

Second, state government is where the "conservatives" (...if we may call them that; a good argument may be made to the contrary...) have basically suspended democracy in much of Michigan, and are working night and day to turn Wisconsin into a corporate-owned state. Federal action is important of course but the laboratory of the states is seeing a lot of toxic chemistry these days.

Third, there is the obscenity of elected state court judges; you can probably buy yourself a majority on a state supreme court for less than the cost of a federal House seat.

Anyone who feels unenthused, but merely dutiful, in voting for Obama/against Romney may find local races more fun.

P.S. Washington State's "top 2" primary gives you the chance to vote Conscience in the Primary. I've said it before and it's still true; there are Federal Representative district here that are so conservative that a Libertarian could make it into the general election. If they'd only try seriously, which probably means finding a handy millionaire or two. This is where we'd find out if the Koch's are sincerely libertarians, or merely funding CATO as cover.

Paul451 said...

Carl,
Range/approval voting systems are more prone to strategic voting than IRV, and more prone to counter-intuitive outcomes. IRV is also easily implemented. Ballots are no more complex than a first-past-the-post ballot, merely listing candidates with a square to mark for each.

"IRV isn't much better than plurality voting."

Pedantically, it is plurality voting. Guy with the highest count wins.

Jumper said...

Voter disenfranchisement is not the only strategy they have. (And note that the local elections boards were also taken over by the Michigan czar.)

Here's how they do it in Tennessee:
http://www.bbvforums.org/cgi-bin/forums/board-auth.cgi?file=/8/82018.html

Robert said...

Leave it to xkcd to strike hard and fast to the point of a matter.

Don't forget to Mouse-Over to see what Randall's inner thoughts on the subject (Ann Rand) are. =^-^=

Rob H.

rewinn said...

@Jumper - that's very ... interesting!

Stealing elections through technical means may not affect the Presidential race, but if the big action is on the lower end of the ticket, that may be enough. There will be no national outrage over individual House or Senate races, but their impact on budget and Supreme Court makeup are decisive.

LarryHart said...

Jumper:

Voter disenfranchisement is not the only strategy they have. (And note that the local elections boards were also taken over by the Michigan czar.)


You are right--I was too specific. There are plenty of other ways of cheating besides vote suppression.

My point is that cheating is the only way the GOP can win. And unfortuanately, I still think it may work.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Local races are definitely the place to watch. In a case of regional irony, one of our local representatives introduced a bill that would gut the teacher's union. Funny that he is a former police captain and member of SHOPA, the police union! Goose -- gander -- sauce!

TheMadLibrarian
spessen opmewm: german coffeecake topping

David Brin said...

Much discussed at the "Transhumanism" talks at TedX DelMar yesterday - brain-computer interfaces, which are starting to mature.... or IMmature! See for example Brainball! a special table uses magnets to move a ball AWAY from you the more RELAXED you are. (You wear a brain wave monitor.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBeGv_x4Tbs

Similar, the Star Wars Force Trainer. Really cutely edited. Hey the music was from Empire Strikes back... which I loved. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MFOduNUE8U

Tony Fisk said...

Brainball: all you have to do is plant the suggestion that 'they' are coming for you.
*what!?*
Balls sidle closer.
*Huh!??*
Balls are definitely moving.
"NOOOOO!!"
Does an Indiana Jones down corridor...

BCRion said...

Speaking of health care reform, and the founder's intent of the US Constitution argument against, an interesting article from Slate:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_best_policy/2012/04/affordable_care_act_the_supreme_court_and_the_constitution_harvard_law_professor_einer_elhauge_shows_how_the_founding_fathers_supported_mandates_.html

Short version: In the 1790s, Congress passed laws, signed into law by either Washington or Adams, forcing ship owners to buy medical insurance for their sailors, abled-bodied males to buy firearms, and sailors to buy hospital insurance for themselves.

Now, we can still argue that the Affordable Health Care Act is a bad idea, but you can never say that it's unprecedented in US history when the founders themselves did essentially the same thing!

David Brin said...

dbrin@sbcglobal.net

David Brin said...

Sorry. Quick keys acting up. 99.99% of the time it is a huge help. tap a button and things I type a lot just pop into place...

sociotard said...

Re: Sailors required to pay for insurance

True, but that was a very direct application of the interstate commerce clause. Merchant sailors are most often engaged in interstate commerce, so it was deemed acceptable for the federal government to regulate them.

Right now, the government is hoping that they get to use the commerce clause to just about anything, the way they do with drug laws.

Robert said...

And yet in today's America, cross-state travel is very common. This is not just among the rich and middle-class, mind you - migrant workers will often cross state lines moving from agricultural zone to agricultural zone. Educational and employment opportunities can cause people from all walks of life to cross state lines. So then, how do you pick and choose, when ANYONE could end up crossing state lines?

You don't. Thus the mandate. What's important here is the historical basis behind a health insurance mandate... which means the conservative members of the Supreme Court can't claim "our Founding Fathers didn't intend for this..." when it appears that yes. They did.

Besides. It becomes a slap in the face of Republicans, which I consider a good thing. It removes their veneer of "removing Obamacare because our Founding Fathers wouldn't intend for this" and reveals it to be "we are throwing a hissy fit because America chose a Democrat as president and we are going to hold our breath until we're blue in the face and pass out until we get our way."

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Journalist Tim Kavanaugh asked some very good questions in a now-posted interview I gave to Reason TV. Some fascinating topics, like whether we will ever "uplift" other species to full sapience.

But first, Tim got me to aim friendly-but-sharp criticism at some current dogmas that rule libertarianism, keeping it marginalized down at 1% of the vote.

So I reminded folks that Adam Smith despised conniving oligarchs as the truest enemies of freedom and markets. 6000 years of history show they harm competitive enterprise far more than civil servants do.

Oh, I poked at them, but dig this; do other movements have the guts to invite new ideas and re-appraisal? A rare trait on the left and vanished on the right. Drop by and "like!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCouYdxesKI

sociotard said...

So then, how do you pick and choose, when ANYONE could end up crossing state lines? You don't. Thus the mandate.

The problem with that line of thinking is that it leads to the slippery slope of "the federal government can regulate anything it wants". One of the little axioms that the Constitution is built on is power should be divided. Not just divided between the three branches, but between the Federal and State levels.

Sometimes, I wonder if the Canadians didn't have the right idea. Where the US tried to say "these are the federal powers, and everything not specified belongs to the State", the Canadians said "these are explicitly State powers, but whatever isn't specified can belong to the Federal. It may be more effective at preserving State authority.

sociotard said...

Of course, part of the problem is that we took away the old protection of state rights: having Senators chosen by state legislatures. Senators whose job depends on the pleasure of state government are less likely to pass legislation that erodes state authority.

sociotard said...

Re: Reason TV interview

So, would the 1000 draftees serve under the IGUS

Robert said...

Here's an interesting commentary article how the Romney Campaign seems to be embracing the Bush economic themes while Obama is going increasingly Clintonesque on us.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

IGUS might loosely supervise the 1000 citizen "Eye Guys" ... and provide them with services and travel and backup. But I envision them able to operate even independent of IGUS.

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

Sometimes, I wonder if the Canadians didn't have the right idea. Where the US tried to say "these are the federal powers, and everything not specified belongs to the State", the Canadians said "these are explicitly State powers, but whatever isn't specified can belong to the Federal. It may be more effective at preserving State authority.


The US Constituion was designed to govern an alliance of independent States. The US itself has sort of morphed into a Nation comprising several sub-units called "states". It might simply be that the one is not suited to the other.

But in the specific area of ObamaCare, do you really see it as a states' rights issue? Because the only right I see states demanding is their right to oppose the president politically. "Why should we (Republican governor and/or legislature) be forced to engage in a plan that benefits our political opponent?"

sociotard said...

But in the specific area of ObamaCare, do you really see it as a states' rights issue?

Yes. Having a mandate or not is a State issue. Or, if it is not, it raises the question of what are solely state issues. I read an article about the supreme court case going on now, and one of the judges asked the advocate "if the government can do this, what can't the government do?"

Again, I firmly believe there should be some division between power between the state and federal levels. I wouldn't mind an amendment to reestablish the issue. Perhaps, some rule that every 50 years the division would be revisited and renegotiated.

David Brin said...

"Bill Nye, the harmless children's edu-tainer known as "The Science Guy," managed to offend a select group of adults in Waco, Texas at a presentation, when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun."

Some shouted and stormed out.

And yes, it's come to this.

http://www.thinkatheist.com/profiles/blogs/bill-nye-bood-in-texas-for

http://www.thinkatheist.com/profiles/
blogs/bill-nye-bood-in-texas-for

David Brin said...

oops that was 3 years ago....

David Brin said...

oops that was 3 years ago....

Ian Gould said...

'Oh, I poked at them, but dig this; do other movements have the guts to invite new ideas and re-appraisal? A rare trait on the left and vanished on the right."

When did libertarians last come up with a new idea?

As far as I can, the libertarian agenda has been pretty much set in stone for the last 20-30 years.

Tax cuts are not a new idea.

Education vouchers are not a new idea.

The gold standard is not a new idea.

Evwen the bits of libertarianism I agree with: drug legalization, free trade, open borders are no new ideas.

These ideas have been presented to the electorate again and again and rejected again and again.

BCRion said...

"True, but that was a very direct application of the interstate commerce clause. Merchant sailors are most often engaged in interstate commerce, so it was deemed acceptable for the federal government to regulate them."

And health insurance isn't? Pretty much anyone who travels to another state ever for any reason is at risk of needed emergency medical care there. It's not really something you can opt out of should you go to another state. Should the burden then only fall on those who decide to enter another state?

More prevalent was the requirement that all men had to purchase a firearm. This sounds like the government forcing you, under penalty of law, to participate in the economy (an effective tax). Yes, it was for "the common defense and general welfare", but considering the percentage of the economy that is health care and its associated costs, one can make a similar argument for the "general welfare" of the nation.

Jumper said...

The interstate commerce clause just seems like reaching, to me. I can go broccoli on that. "Anyone can commit murder, therefore it's okay to arrest everyone proactively."

jmhenry said...

Obama: "First of all, we're a nation of laws. So in some cases, really irresponsible practices that hurt a lot of people might not have been technically against the law. They might have been the wrong thing to do, but prosecutors are required to actually build cases based on what the law is. ... I think there's still possibilities of criminal prosecutions."

Well, that's somewhat of an improvement from his confused statements before.

Still, at least one whistleblower thinks there's still a heck of a lot of foot-dragging in the Obama DOJ on this issue.

In any case, good on the interview for asking this important question.

Further, Obama sings the praises of Dodd-Frank, which would have been an excellent opportunity for the interviewer to talk about how "too bog to fail" and the moral hazard created by the bailouts is worse than ever. (More here on this point.) Missed opportunity there.

***

That was a GREAT interview with William Binney on DemocracyNow.

You say: "There are many ways to let government see more (as the NSA will inevitably do) and yet keep a choke chain on the watch dog, so it never thinks that it's a wolf."

Well, we are already supposed to have a "choke chain" -- it's called the U.S. Constitution. But it is routinely violated by our elected leaders, with almost no accountability.

So, what happened when it was discovered that the Bush administration, in collusion with the telecoms, were spying on Americans without warrants? Two years after that revelation, the Congress voted to give those telecoms retroactive immunity (which both Obama and McCain voted for, by the way). And efforts to get some accountablity are routinely resisted.

While the NSA aspires to create its dream of "total information awareness," the government -- including the Obama administration -- has fought to make sure that information flows only one way: toward the government.

Paul451 said...

David,
"oops that was 3 years ago...."

Happened in 2006. So 6 years old. It was three years old by the time the now also three year old article was published about it.

David Brin said...

jmHenry you keep missing the point. I am almost completely indifferent toward what the govt knows about me. I cannot prevent it and I would rather it be made legal, so we can observe them watching. Folks like you and the ACLU mean well. You sense that we need to control the watchdog...

...and you keep hollering at the parts of the Patriot Act and other changes that (a) cannot be stopped and (b) don't threaten us!

I care far more about what the govt (or other elites can DO to me. And to prevent malignant action, I want the ability to LOOK at THEM! My safety is not enhanced by (pathetically) trying to blind elites. It is enhanced by stripping them naked so that I am not blind.

David Brin said...

Interview of me by George Dvorsky, on io9, is more about science fiction, science and the daunting challenges and amazing opportunities in front of us. Piddling things like... destiny.

http://io9.com/5906672/david-brin-on-the-need-to-restore-optimism-to-science-fiction

http://io9.com/5906672/david-brin-
on-the-need-to-restore-optimism-to-
science-fiction

jmhenry said...

jmHenry you keep missing the point. I am almost completely indifferent toward what the govt knows about me.

Actually, Mr. Brin, I do understand what you're arguing. I wasn't arguing against surveillance, or for making the government "blind." I was actually reinforcing your point: that the government constantly conducts its surveillance (1) in violation of Constitutional checks, and (2) by ensuring that information flows only toward the government.

Standing up against warrantless wiretapping isn't "pathetic." No more than it's "pathetic" to stand up against, say, the police bursting into your house and searching your home without a warrant.

Accountability through sousveillance seems interesting, and I understand your argument there. At the same time, I don't see what's wrong with insisting accountability for unlawful surveillance through the rule of law (like Obama is fond of saying, we're a nation of laws).

David Brin said...

Well, yes, I suppose continuing to fight delaying actions on that front can do a little good.

Still, I find all this quibbling over arbitrary lines in the sand to be barely worth my attention. What pragmatic difference is it going to make if the govt can cross-correlate a thousand phone conversations without a warrant... or they keep a battalion of "judges" on tap to approve warrants on an assembly line?

I have learned that bickering and focusing on these matters serves as a lovely distraction, keeping us occupied while surveillance spreads by a thousand means and hardly anyone pushes to other reaction, sousveillance, that might actually make a very real difference.

sociotard said...

And health insurance isn't? Pretty much anyone who travels to another state ever for any reason is at risk of needed emergency medical care there. It's not really something you can opt out of should you go to another state. Should the burden then only fall on those who decide to enter another state?

People do have to change health insurance if they move to a new state.

More prevalent was the requirement that all men had to purchase a firearm. This sounds like the government forcing you, under penalty of law, to participate in the economy (an effective tax). Yes, it was for "the common defense and general welfare", but considering the percentage of the economy that is health care and its associated costs, one can make a similar argument for the "general welfare" of the nation.

Those were State Regulations. State. Not Federal. State. There is nothing in the Constitution preventing States from requiring all men to buy firearms, or guns, or gummy worms.

There is, however, the line that says that all powers not specifically enumerated to the Federal Government belong to the states. In order to require men to buy guns or health insurance, they have to bend words in that little tiny section so that it is legal for the federal government to do so.

Here's the question I want you to answer:
Are there any powers that State governments should possess that the Federal government should not possess? If so, what are those powers?

Ian Gould said...

"Those were State Regulations. State. Not Federal. State. There is nothing in the Constitution preventing States from requiring all men to buy firearms, or guns, or gummy worms."

Actually according to the article cited it was a Federal law, not a state law.

Ian Gould said...

http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/102620/individual-mandate-history-affordable-care-act

"IIn 1792, a Congress with 17 framers passed another statute that required all able-bodied men to buy firearms. Yes, we used to have not only a right to bear arms, but a federal duty to buy them. Four framers voted against this bill, but the others did not, and it was also signed by Washington. "

sociotard said...

Huh. I was wrong. That is interesting. I'll have to check and see if that one ever went up against judicial review. If it didn't, we might not know if it was constitutional.

sociotard said...

Okay, I looked it up. The article refered to the Militia Acts of 1792. These acts didn't just force people to buy guns. Actually, it was a draft. Every able bodied man was drafted into a nearby militia and, yes, ordered to buy a firearm.

This did not use the interstate commerce clause. The Draft is usually interpreted as being constitutional because of the directly declared power to raise armies.

Again, those framers in that congress did care about limitations on federal power. They didn't think the Fed could just order people to buy anything. They had to link it back to the Constitution.

I suppose this means that we could get instant constitutional socialized medicine by drafting all persons into an army reserve of some kind that would never get called up. Odd, but possibly constitutional.

Ian, you are Australian, correct? I'll tweak the question for you, since you aren't in my country. Do you think there should be a clear seperation between the federal and state levels? What powers should go to which level, and how should that line be maintained?

Ian Gould said...

Sociotard

Firstly, a geenral comment. There's an assumption that the United states is an anomaly in that it was a union of preexisting states with sovereign powers. In point of fact, Australia - where several of the colonies were effectively independent states prior to Federation - is an even more extreme example.

Despite this, Australia is far more centralized than the US and I can't say we're any the worse for it.

State governments control schools and the police here, for example, and I don; seen any evidence that local government control of their US equivalents improved their performance any.

Then too Australia is small enough - six states, two territories - that we can indulge in what's called "Co-operative Federalism" where the states and the Federal government operate by consensus and effectively pool their powers.

So if there's a perceived need fro a perceived need for a consistent national approach to an area where the states have jurisdiction, one state develops template legislation which the other states then adopt.

(To complicate matters further, New Zealand frequently sits in on the Ministerial councils that develop the co-operative approaches.)

To be honest, having looked at various jurisdictions around the planet in some detail (former government policy work, remember) I see little reason to decide a priori that most government functions are best performed by a particular level of government.

The assertion that government functions are best performed at the lowest possible level sounds pretty but there's precious little empirical evidence to support it and plenty of counter-examples.

Paul451 said...

Sociatard,
Re: Australia and state's rights.

If you're curious, our equivalent of the commerce clause is notably more generalised: "S.109 When a law of a State is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail, and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid." But apparently was intended to be used sparingly and immediately, ie, it was intended to ease the transition between the original six colonies and the new Federation, not to be used as a general bludgeon by the Fed against the states. Yet it has always been interpreted by the High Court in the broadest terms.

Personally I wish someone would get creative with Section 92 ("On the imposition of uniform duties of customs, trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free.") "Absolutely free", there must be something a clever lawyer and an few activist Justices can do with that.

[The earliest version of Federation of colonies was "Australasia", which was to include both New Zealand and Fiji. And further to what Ian said, most of the states making up Australia were as independent as New Zealand is now. Colonies with full autonomy. In other words, sans Federation, they would have evolved into regular countries.]

(gove aswaym: When governments exceed the supposed limits of their authority. ("And if the Sky gove aswayn, would not the Sun cleave to anger, my Prince?" Lady Macbeth. ActI, SceneIV.)

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

"But in the specific area of ObamaCare, do you really see it as a states' rights issue?"

Yes. Having a mandate or not is a State issue. Or, if it is not, it raises the question of what are solely state issues. I read an article about the supreme court case going on now, and one of the judges asked the advocate "if the government can do this, what can't the government do?"


I've heard the "brocolli" argument. But even one of the Justices (Kennedy, I belive) made the counterpoint that the mandate to purchase insurance is quite intertwined with the other mandate that companies provide insurance without regard to pre-existing conditions. And they're both intimately connected to the fact that hospitals are (even now) required to provide certain types of care to the uninsured anyway, even if they can't pay for it.

Whichever Justice it was seemed to indicate that there was a quite specific problem that ObamaCare and its mandates address quite specifically. It's not simply a case of the government randomly inflicting mandates on the public.

I think the pertinent question is whether the federal government has the power to act as an insurance company of last resort--whether this is accomplished by a "Medicare for all" system or by a "private insurance for all" system seems irrelevant to the question. The mandate is just a mechanism for implementing the "private insurance for all" option. And since Medicare hasn't been ruled unconstitutional in over 45 year, it's a bit late to be screming that a federal role in insuring a vulnerable population is beyond the pale.


Again, I firmly believe there should be some division between power between the state and federal levels. I wouldn't mind an amendment to reestablish the issue. Perhaps, some rule that every 50 years the division would be revisited and renegotiated.

Note that I'm arguing that health care, by its nature is a special case, not that the fed should have unlimited powers. On the broader philosophical issue, I agree with you more than I disagree. I just think that ObamaCare is a poor place to make the stand, for pragmatic reasons AND philosophical ones.

LarryHart said...

sociotard:

Are there any powers that State governments should possess that the Federal government should not possess? If so, what are those powers?


Trivial examples come immediately to mind. State governments have the responsibility of licensing drivers, licensing doctors, licensing lawyers, licensing marriages, etc. I'm not sure what would happen if the fed tried to usurp that role, but it doesn't seem to come up.

If I'm not mistaken, corporations are chartered at the state level as well. I'm not sure that's a good thing, as corporations clearly engage in interstate commerce (as well as global commerce), but there you have it.

Perhaps more to your point, I seriously believe that if California or Orgeon or any State decides to legalize marijuana or to allow physican-assisted suicide, the federal government shouldn't be interfering in that decision. I actually oppose the use of the interstate commerce clause the way it has been invoked to restrict marijuana grown for personal use on one's own property (which is not really "commerce" at all). But given the fact that the USSC is just fine with the interstate commerce clause being invoked that way, I find it hypocritical that they might make a stand against ObamaCare.

Ian Gould said...

"The earliest version of Federation of colonies was "Australasia", which was to include both New Zealand and Fiji."

I believe at one point we also tried to nick Malaya and Singapore.

rewinn said...

"...we took away the old protection of state rights: having Senators chosen by state legislatures..."

The collapse of "states rights" is generally seen as a good thing.

Over 200 years ago, our great Nation was a loose federation of States and citizens might well feel more connection to their State than to the Union. There really was such a thing as local commerce.
That approach died with the Civil War and the internet killed it even deader.

You want evidence? Now-a-days, how many people would refuse a great job offer because they want to stay living in Oregon, not Washington? Vermont, not New Hampshire?

How many economic transactions can you carry one WITHOUT some element of it crossing state lines? Maybe if you pay cash at a garage sale ... but any credit/debit transaction goes through several states at the least, as does every transaction involving medical care.

Structurally, our Constitution can support both a highly-centralized and a highly-decentralized approach; it's that flexible. It is an historical accident that the Commerce Clause has turned out to include just about everything and the Third Amendment has shrunk to include nothing, but so what? The Supreme Corporate may invalidate Congressional enactments based on limitations that it discovers in the Constitution, but such limitations are founded only in the personal political philosophies of the currently sitting "justices", not in the plain text of the federal Constitution. That text, and the continually-increasing volume of court opinions, can be mined for snippets that support ANY political philosophy at all, and it should surprise no-one that a body of clerks whose job it is to go quote-mining can come up which whatever may be necessary. (And, where necessary, they can just make stuff up, as in the head-note that initially established court personhood.)

Now, none of the above addresses whether or not Romneycare/Obamacare is wise policy or not, only whether it is constitutional. That the Supreme Corporate may rule that it is unconstitutional is merely a matter of the political calculations of the currently sitting majority.

jmhenry said...

What pragmatic difference is it going to make if the govt can cross-correlate a thousand phone conversations without a warrant... or they keep a battalion of "judges" on tap to approve warrants on an assembly line?

(1) That sounds like a really good argument for reforming the process by which the government obtains warrants. If you really care about accountability, then why would you simply throw your hands up and claim that seeking judicial review of government surveillance is useless? Adding that extra layer of protection, even if subject to abuse, is better than abandoning it entirely.

(2) Those who advocate for legal accountability and judicial review for surveillance ought to be celebrated by those who want transparency, not called "pathetic" for their efforts. In a response to a critique of your book, you praise NGOs as serving the "Enlightenment method." But now you scorn one such NGO -- the ACLU -- as "pathetic," simply for seeking greater transparency of how the government conducts surveillance. Amazing.

(3) Wanting judicial review -- and legal accountability for unlawful spying -- can't be any less feasible or "pathetic" than, say, a program giving random citizens security clearance to walk around the halls of the NSA or CIA. Why would the government ever allow such a thing? Of course, if it did, there is still the question of accountability for wrongdoing. But even in those rare occasions when information finally flows "our way," there is still no accountability (seven years now, and there's still no accountability for warrantless spying). But there's plenty of punishment for those who expose government crimes and corruption.

(4) In order for accountability through sousveillance to work, the citizenry has to actually push for that accountability. But, as we saw with the NSA scandal and revelations of torture, even when information finally flows our way, no one gives a damn. There's no real pressure from the citizenry for press the Obama administration, for example, to hold torturers accountable, or to hold those who broke surveillance laws accountable. Why would any of this change in a sousveillance society, if people are equally apathetic? Before sousveillance can be effective, people have to at least give a damn about revelations that come out. Otherwise, the government will still have nothing to fear.

sociotard said...

Now, none of the above addresses whether or not Romneycare/Obamacare is wise policy or not, only whether it is constitutional. That the Supreme Corporate may rule that it is unconstitutional is merely a matter of the political calculations of the currently sitting majority.

Granted. Just because a policy is wise does not make it constitutional, and vice versa. I guess what I'm asking is that an ammendment be passed to expand federal powers if wise rather than twisting words until they break.

LarryHart said...

rewinn:

Over 200 years ago, our great Nation was a loose federation of States and citizens might well feel more connection to their State than to the Union.


According to Thom Hartmann, the confederate president, Jefferson Davis, actually was conflited about the Civil War. He did not necessarily want to destroy the Union, but ultimately, his first loyalty was to his home state of Virginia.

Ian Gould said...

I forget the source but somone said that the Civil War is why we now say "The United States is..." rather than "The United States are..."

BCRion said...

"People do have to change health insurance if they move to a new state."

I think you missed my point. Suppose I don't have health insurance. If I go skiing in Colorado (not my state of residence) and get injured being in need of emergency care, the hospital is obliged to cover the costs if I can't. This behavior forces insurance costs up outside my home state. By simply visiting another state without insurance, you risk being engaged in interstate commerce, much as those sailors were.

Now your question. I tend to take a more expansionist view when it comes to federal versus state rights. As a pragmatist, I see little advantage to states having distinct rights from the federal government, other than to serve as "laboratories for democracy". It's very different story for individual rights, which should be protected, but I digress.

States should have the autonomy to do what they want so long as it does not contradict federal laws or the US constitution. That said, the states do have one trump card: the constitutional convention. It's the one check on federal power. Never been used because it's very risky, but the option is still there for the states if things do get out of hand.

Tony Fisk said...

Over 200 years ago, our great Nation was a loose federation of States and citizens might well feel more connection to their State than to the Union.

Robert E. Lee was approached by *both* sides. He told them, both, that he'd see how his state (Virginia) voted.

Regint isrie: alternate form of the Requiem Mass (aka Dies Irae)

Jumper said...

I really liked your 12:09, sociotard. Do you mind if I quote you? Perhaps some legislator might like to sponsor a bill such as that...

LarryHart said...

Ian Gould:

I forget the source but somone said that the Civil War is why we now say "The United States is..." rather than "The United States are..."


Yes, I used to wonder why the Civil War-era movie was called "The Birth of a Nation" when I thought that happened in 1776. However, the Civil War was when "The United States" was affirmed as considering itself a nation state rather than an alliance such as the UN or NATO (or more contemporary at the time...the OAS).

I've also heard that that was when the common expression changed from being "THESE United States" to "THE United States".

Damien Sullivan said...

I've never heard of IRV being used in Louisiana and Georgia... *searches* "The state of Louisiana has been using instant runoff voting for some overseas absentee ballots for federal and state elections since at least the early 1990s." Pretty minimal.

"Range/approval voting systems are more prone to strategic voting than IRV, and more prone to counter-intuitive outcomes. IRV is also easily implemented. Ballots are no more complex than a first-past-the-post ballot, merely listing candidates with a square to mark for each."

This is exactly backwards. With IRV you have to rank the candidates, and the US generally doesn't have ballot machines for that. With approval voting you just mark by each name, and we do that already for some multi-winner elections. Range voting would seem to need new machines, but can actually be faked up with the right ballot (and a limited range.)

Every voting system invites some strategy, but the strategic form of range voting is approval voting, and with approval you're semi-honest: it's never a good idea to rank your top choice under a more strategic option. With IRV, as with plurality, you can be better off lying about your preference. And IRV looks bizarrely unstable in simulations if there are 3+ significant candidates. As it happens, Australia which uses IRV, has two major party coalitions. So much for nurturing 3rd parties...

Anyway, even range voting leaves you electing single winners out of a district. I want real proportional representation for the House. Open party list, nice and simple.


As for the mandate... the gov't could raise taxes and buy private insurance for people. I don't see a difference.