Sunday, April 12, 2015

Libertarian Thinking Reveals

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune self-identifies as a libertarian, so his hesitation on Rand Paul is instructive in a commentary reprinted in the Akron Beacon Journal today. 
In fact, exposing ourselves to libertarian thinking is usually good for us, as individuals and as a body politic, since only libertarians preserve in 2015 aspects of our framers perspectives on politics that are too disruptive or uncomfortable for either Democratic or Republican party insiders to make salient.
Try this short quiz, called the World’s Shortest Political Quiz, created by libertarians and experience the category disrupting power of engaging with this perspective on politics. 
Chapman’s analysis of Rand Paul highlights both the ways that Paul will inject game-challenging ideas into any debate and the ways Paul has already moderated his views to reduce his disruptiveness (or, as some see it, to pander to constituencies who do not share his views). 
Chapman starts by listing his libertarian credentials as a ‘strong preference for free markets, civil liberties, personal autonomy, limited government and a foreign policy of restraint,’ in order to conclude that he…
‘…should not be a tough sell for Paul. He sounds pretty libertarian when he says, in reference to the National Security Agency, “the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business.” He shows a refreshing open-mindedness on criminal justice by envisioning an America where “any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed.”'
Then Chapman notes that Paul’s audacity includes statements designed to court new voting blocks, to broaden his appeal by attempting to expand the scope of libertarian thinking to include ideas Chapman argues are less about being libertarian and more about winning an election.  He notes, approvingly, that Paul challenges far right Christians on the one hand, but then panders to them on the other.
‘…He dared to tell a Faith and Freedom Coalition audience, “I can recall no utterance of Jesus in favor of war or any acts of aggression.” 
But Paul sometimes sounds anything but libertarian. He rejects same-sex marriage, which he attributes to a “moral crisis.” He denounced the DREAM Act, which offered citizenship to some young foreigners brought here without authorization as children, as “the Washington elitists’ roundabout way of giving amnesty to illegal immigrant students.”’
And then Chapman provides us with some analytical insights worth thinking about…in relation to Rand Paul, but also to help us better understand politics in general.  He concludes that the strategic posturing (bullshitting?) that he observes in Paul (which is not unique to Paul) is an attempt to ‘balance his commendable pronouncements with lamentable ones.’ 
For Paul, Jesus is the Prince of Peace and there really is an (unjustifiable) elite war on Christianity and needs to be a (justifiable) war on Islam.  Paul calls for deregulation and debt control by willfully misinterpreting both scientific and budgetary data—commendably standing for libertarian principles of limited government...framed lamentably to attract the attention of far right Republican activists.
Then another powerful insight occurs.
‘Paul’s casual regard for facts is an admission that the truth does not adequately vindicate his views.’
This is why both the liars and the bullshitters in (or seeking) power today are so dangerous.  This is why education matters.  It is not always easy, in an age where highly paid PR experts craft messages that mislead by design, to sort out who to believe. 
So, Chapman hits on the bedrock principle we cannot lose sight of:  when we do see elites demonstrating a ‘casual regard for the facts’ this tells us something important about their enterprise and their willingness to be phony despite the consequences for democratic decision making…and we need to make sure this is salient in our evaluations of elites.  It tells us that the data—whatever it is, whatever it says—does not adequately support the perspective being articulated.
Chapman closes out this exemplary commentary by noting that wisdom, meaning here good leadership in a democracy, is grounded in our capacity to challenge our own assumptions as vigorously as we challenge others, particularly as new information becomes available (which is all the time in politics). 
It is ironic that democracy depends on good leaders who are willing and able to see conflicts as the crucible, engaging alternative perspectives with curiosity and creativity, with the open mind and open heart of one driven to understand the real world we all live in together.
‘Paul’s casual regard for facts is an admission that the truth does not adequately vindicate his views. It also reflects a tendency, common to the fervent ideologues, of ignoring evidence that undermines cherished beliefs. 

There is nothing wrong with adopting a broad outlook that incorporates certain basic principles for their inherent value or practical utility. Ideology can be a useful framework for making sense of how the world works. 

The trouble comes when it hardens into dogma. Wisdom requires a continual willingness to question one’s assumptions in light of new information. The alternative is what Karl Rove celebrated when he mocked a White House colleague for being “in what we call the reality-based community,” which Rove says is made up of those who imagine that “solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” 

Paul has never given the impression that his convictions are susceptible to refutation. He comes across not as someone whose judicious study of discernible reality led him to his political philosophy, but as someone who first found a political philosophy and then learned only enough to confirm his chosen views.’

Thursday, April 2, 2015

What is it about 'love your enemies' you do not understand?

In Praise of Moderates
Since thinking through the logic of their position would bring pause (and move them closer to the perspective of our founders)...we can only conclude that they are not concerned with the logic of their position.  Perhaps not concerned with logic at all.  When partisanship runs this deep and everyday folks do not or cannot call it out as an extreme fringe view that is a threat to democracy and the rule of law, it is harder for already precarious democratic institutions to function.  Where are the Christian moderates?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Jon Stewart on the Daily Show does it again.  Classic.  Must see.  Click here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Considering Religious Freedom Restoration Act Sound Bites

What is the logic of the courts on this type of question so far?
Indiana Court of Appeals denied a state police officer’s request to be exempt from working on a riverboat because of his religious objections to gambling.
Two reasons.  First, religious liberty, while important, is not absolute.  It must be weighed against other rights.  Second, “Firefighters must extinguish all fires, even those in places of worship that the firefighter regards as heretical.  Just so with police.”

The US Supreme Court found unanimously that the Arkansas Department of Corrections must accommodate a prisoner’s religiously-based exemption to the no-beard policy.
“The unanimity turned on the fact that no third parties were required to bear the cost of the requested accommodation.”

The US Supreme Court said employers cannot be required to accommodate employee religiously-based requests for days off.
“The First Amendment…gives no one the right to insist that, in pursuit of their own interests others must conform their conduct to his one religious necessities.”  That is the  “Constitution allows for special exemptions for religious actors, but not when they work to impose costs on others.”

US Supreme Court denied a request by an Amish employer seeking to not pay Social Security taxes on behalf of his employees.
“When the followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.”
Governing Logic/Constitutional Principle:  Religious liberty cannot be protected by shifting a burden to third parties.

Indiana RFRA Likely Violates State and Federal Constitutions
RFRA violates this principle by granting religious liberty special status, putting it above “parallel compelling state interests such as public health and safety, equality, and other fundamental liberties.”
No language in RFRA prohibiting the shifting of costs to third parties, thus violating “Article 1, Section 4 of the Indiana Constitution, a provision that prohibits the law from preferring religious over non-religious policies and practices.”

RFRA creates a legal way to shift costs…violates US Constitution, Establishment Clause…government endorsement of religion.

Does State RFRA Mirror 1993 Federal RFRA?
Not unambiguously.  Many who voted for the law no retract on the basis of disagreements about how it has been applied, including treating corporations as individuals with religious liberty.

No.  Federal and most other state RFRAs “provide that in order to pass constitutional muster the alleged burden…must be ‘in furtherance of a compelling government interest.’”  Whereas the Indiana RFRA says it must be ‘essential to further….’  This raises the standard, making it more difficult to justify a burden, thus easier to claim religious exemptions…particularly to claim religious exemptions as a defense against charges of discrimination.

No.  The definition of ‘person’ in the Indiana RFRA “differs substantially” from the definition in the Federal statute. 

Is Indiana RFRA ‘hardly radical’?
Broad language invites confusion and litigation, encouraging landlords and corporations to break the law on the assumption that they have a religious justification…and “the public will then be asked to bear the cost of their employer’s, their landlord’s, their local shopkeeper’s, or police officer’s private religious beliefs.”

[Excerpts pulled from a letter to Representative Ed DeLaney (Indiana House) signed by 30 law professors specializing in these areas of law.]

Monday, March 30, 2015

When our moral convictions conflict with the law
Consider this...usually, when we speak about the sacrifices needed to live up to our own moral convictions we mean our own sacrifices...not compelling others to sacrifice for our moral convictions (which seems both cowardly and immoral).
Politifact analyzed Pence’s claims here.  Find them to be ‘half-true.’
Here is the Akron Beacon Journal article from today.  This article quotes Pence making these two comments.
“This is not about discrimination.”  Here claiming that this law is not related to efforts to roll back gay marriage and gay rights in Indiana, as critics have charged.
“Look, the issue here is still is tolerance a two-way street or not.”  Here claiming that this law is an effort to push back against groups securing rights by insisting that these groups have to tolerate hostility from groups that already had these rights.
In the first quote, which represents Pence’s overall strategy of response, he claims that this law has nothing to do with anything other than religious freedom.  In my view, this is spin and a classic illustration of what philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt’s calls bullshit:  he is not lying; but he is fundamentally misrepresenting his intentions.  
He is being phony and fake, as his second quote reveals.  

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mediation-Related Cartoons
My students submit their weekly Reflection Papers on blogs they created on Tumblr and by this point in the term they are required to include embedded hot links and images.  Here are three images they included this past week.  We are reading Getting to Yes.