Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Local Control" For Conservatives Is A Principle Failure

It has long been a part of conservative dogma that laws should come from lawmakers "closest to the people," meaning local governments should have the most control. But that is apparently only true for conservatives when the federal government passes laws that apply to everyone, not for state governments that do the same thing--as long as the state laws align with some other element of conservative dogma.

In Oklahoma, there is now a ban on local governments regulating fracking, and in Alabama local governments can't set their own minimum wage. In Arkansas there is a new law that stops local governments from giving equal rights to people based on sexual identity and orientation. There is no outcry from conservatives claiming these (and other) state mandates to local governments should be invalid based on their principle of local control being left unopposed.

This is just one of the supposed principles that conservatives claim for themselves that falls apart for them when applied in real life. It should be embarrassing for them to so easily watch their principle evaporate, but it's apparently only embarrassing for those of us who must watch from the outside.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On Scalia: The Motivation For Evil Is Not Its Vindicator

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has resulted in some people looking to praise him even though they disagreed with him generally. I find this hard to understand because it gives more weight to a person's personality or stated purpose for something rather than the actual results. It's similar to people who are supported with the claim, "At least they fought for what they believed in," which is not a virtue--not by a long shot. People can believe literally anything. Literally anything. What a person is fighting for is what should be judged, not the "integrity" used to do the fighting. With this logic, the absolute worst of humanity's behaviors can be justified or mitigated by "believing in them" enough. What a truly disgusting ideal.

There are so many issues on how to see any particular judge or justice that it's impossible to outline them here. But one of the things I remember about Scalia when I've read some of his rulings and writings is a fairly consistent claim that his personal views are not interfering with his conclusions. It seems to me that someone who makes such claims as often as he does is actually doing what he's claiming not to do. (The "the lady doth protest too much, methinks" line comes to mind as something similar in play with him.)

Perhaps I can wrap up some other thoughts more briefly with a reference to the iconic blindfolded Lady Justice. The image is to convey the supposedly laudable ideal that justice should be "blind." I find this to be a completely wrong-headed idea, at least given the way it's taught. What would be much better is an image of Lady Justice with a patch over one eye in place of the blindfold and the other eye looking carefully through a magnifying glass Sherlock Holmes style. No law can ever be written that would cover every action in which humans engage, and taking a close look at the details of any given case is utterly necessary for justice to be considered in play. To be purposely blind to this fact is to be anti-justice, in my opinion. No two actions are ever identical and will in a large number of cases have unforeseen and relevant circumstances to consider not covered in the law. The idea of "extenuating circumstances" is part of this problem, but it doesn't nearly cover everything, and so are legal contradictions that have to be sorted out regularly.

Why is this important? Because Scalia was one of those people who claimed that original intent was paramount. This might seem like a good idea at first, but as mentioned above, no laws can ever be written that can cover every relevant element. There needs to be some method of adaptation within the judicial system without having to rely on legislatures to overcome their political and personal handcuffs. Judicial discretion should be in play, but not if it's based on trying to figure out how 18th century life lines up with 21st century life and then trying to guess what people who have been dead for over 200 years would think about it. We should not be giving power over our lives to those who are dead, just like we should not want power over the lives of people who come centuries after us. It's nuts to think that's rational.

For this reason (and what I see as Scalia's twisting himself into mental knots in order to make sure people are treated as outsiders to the very judicial processes meant to protect them), I don't see Scalia in a positive light. To do so would be an enabler in the same way psychologists use that term. What he's done has harmed millions upon millions of people and that's not nothing. Abstractions do not exist in the law; real people have to live with what's decided. If anyone wants to claim that he's just doing what he thinks is best, I see that claim as untenable as saying the same thing about Jenny McCarthy, those who burned witches and sacrificed virgins, and those who claim slavery was something positive for slaves. Some people have claimed Scalia was a "nice guy" among similar claims. A person's temperament when ruining the lives of uncountable millions of people is not a valid mitigator of evil. The old story about a wolf in sheep's clothing is entirely relevant here.

Finally, what I think is a messy but more level-headed alternative is to set up cases with a checks and balances system that mirrors the House and Senate, with a jury being the "House" and the judge being the "Senate." Both the jury and the judge would have to agree on the outcome of a case for it to "pass" and agreed upon sentence be imposed. This way judicial discretion would be mitigated with any potential biases put in check, and the jury wouldn't be able to be too biased either. It would result in a lot fewer guilty verdicts, but I think the overall outcome would be much better. If a ruling(s) ends up being offensive enough, the legislature can pass laws directly on point to the issue(s) in play.

Friday, February 5, 2016

New Attacks on Bernie Sanders Part of Status Quo Defense

Story: Sanders under fire from Senate Democrats

People tend to support the status quo even if it's awful, especially people in power. It's a similar mindset at work when people who are enemies within a group (i.e., familes, religions, countries) come together to fight an enemy from outside that group, sometimes saying "it's none of your business" or something similar.

This human failing has a name: Status quo bias. It is just one of quite a few biases that stop us from being rational and move away from what we're doing, even when it would be overwhelmingly positive to make changes.

I think this fear is also tied to a tendency we have to keep connected to the past in some fashion. We find meaning and support from linking where we are today with what we think happened in the past. We do this with religious texts, people & families, constitutions & laws, social traditions, etc. This impulse also leads us astray by giving too much weight to expired circumstances. What we did before were decisions not only misinformed by our many biases, but falsely point to what we should do now because we're not taking into account that conditions have changed, as they always do.

In order to improve how we and our descendants live, we must embrace rational changes based on the best information we have about our current conditions and minimize as much as possible the power of our biases to give us comforting false answers.