The right to free speech may begin and end with the First Amendment, but there is a vast middle where our freedom of speech is protected by us — by our capacity to listen and accept that people disagree, often strongly, that there are fools, some of them columnists and elected officials and, yes, even reality-show patriarchs, that there are people who believe stupid, irrational, hateful things about other people and it’s okay to let those words in our ears sometimes without rolling out the guillotines.
The trouble, I think, is when ostracizing a viewpoint as “beyond the pale” becomes not an end but a means to an end; that by declaring something unsayable, we make it so. It makes me uncomfortable, even as I see the value of it. I for one would love homophobia to fully make it on that list, to get to the point where being against gay marriage is as vulgar and shameful as being against interracial marriage. But it isn’t. Maybe it will be. But it isn’t. And kicking a reality-show star off his reality show doesn’t make that less true. Win the argument; don’t declare the argument too offensive to be won. And that’s true whether it’s GLAAD making demands of A&E or the head of the Republican National Committee making demands of MSNBC.
The bottom line is, you don’t beat an idea by beating a person. You beat an idea by beating an idea. Not only is it counter-productive — nobody likes the kid who complains to the teacher even when the kid is right — it replaces a competition of arguments with a competition to delegitimize arguments. And what’s left is the pressure to sand down the corners of your speech while looking for the rough edges in the speech of your adversaries. Everyone is offended. Everyone is offensive. Nothing is close to the line because close to the line is over the line because over the line is better for clicks and retweets and fundraising and ad revenue.
April 8, 2014
April 7, 2014
Writing in the Daily Beast, Nick Gillespie looks at the terrifying prospect of a 2016 presidential contest between yet another Bush and yet another Clinton:
For partisan and media elites, ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past,’ which means with these two candidates likely to lead the race in 2016, the future doesn’t look so different.
As if we need it, here’s extra proof that contemporary politics is more thoroughly exhausted than adult actress Lisa Sparkxxx must have been at the end of her record-setting roll in the hay at the 2004 “Eroticon” in Warsaw, Poland.
The Washington Post reports, “Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.” For once, I found myself agreeing with Jesse Jackson. Can’t we just “stay out the Bushes” this one time at least?
On the other side of the aisle, it’s a given that Hillary Clinton is not only the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the only possible Democratic nominee anyone can name with a straight face (sorry, Joe Biden, but this just ain’t your century any more than the 20th was). “There was a Bush or a Clinton in the White House and cabinet for 32 years straight,” notes Maureen Dowd at The New York Times, whose headline writer adds, “Brace Yourself for Hillary and Jeb.” As it was, it shall always be. About the only cause for optimism is that there’s no Kennedy in the mix.
At least Lisa Sparkxxx participated voluntarily in her own screwing. For the large and growing plurality of Americans who identify as independent, there’s seemingly no way to opt out of the compulsive-repetitive disorder among legacy media types and partisan string-pullers. What is it that Faulkner said in Requiem for a Nun (1950)? “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Who knew that he was talking about politics in the goddamned 21st century, not Yoknapatawpha County after the Civil War?
April 6, 2014
Peggy Noonan attempts to look at Obamacare apart from the daily battles over details:
As I say, put aside the argument, step back and view the thing at a distance. Support it or not, you cannot look at ObamaCare and call it anything but a huge, historic mess. It is also utterly unique in the annals of American lawmaking and government administration.
Its biggest proponent in Congress, the Democratic speaker of the House, literally said — blithely, mindlessly, but in a way forthcomingly — that we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. It is a cliché to note this. But really, Nancy Pelosi’s statement was a historic admission that she was fighting hard for something she herself didn’t understand, but she had every confidence regulators and bureaucratic interpreters would tell her in time what she’d done. This is how we make laws now.
Her comments alarmed congressional Republicans but inspired Democrats, who for the next three years would carry on like blithering idiots making believe they’d read the bill and understood its implications. They were later taken aback by complaints from their constituents. The White House, on the other hand, seems to have understood what the bill would do, and lied in a way so specific it showed they knew exactly what to spin and how. “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan, period.” “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor, period.” That of course was the president, misrepresenting the facts of his signature legislative effort. That was historic, too. If you liked your doctor, your plan, your network, your coverage, your deductible you could not keep it. Your existing policy had to pass muster with the administration, which would fight to the death to ensure that 60-year-old women have pediatric dental coverage.
The program is unique in that the bill that was signed four years ago, on March 23, 2010, is not the law, or rather program, that now exists. Parts of it have been changed or delayed 30 times. It is telling that the president rebuffed Congress when it asked to work with him on alterations, but had no qualms about doing them by executive fiat. The program today, which affects a sixth of the U.S. economy, is not what was passed by the U.S. Congress. On Wednesday Robert Gibbs, who helped elect the president in 2008 and served as his first press secretary, predicted more changes to come. He told a business group in Colorado that the employer mandate would likely be scrapped entirely. He added that the program needed an “additional layer” or “cheaper” coverage and admitted he wasn’t sure the individual mandate had been the right way to go.
Finally, the program’s supporters have gone on quite a rhetorical journey, from “This is an excellent bill, and opponents hate the needy” to “People will love it once they have it” to “We may need some changes” to “I’ve co-sponsored a bill to make needed alternations” to “This will be seen by posterity as an advance in human freedom.”
April 5, 2014
Ace on racism and the unofficial deciders on who is a racist and who is not:
Karl Lueger was the mayor of Vienna at the turn of the century, whose populist politics were often riven with anti-semtism — so much so that he was cited as an inspiration by none other than Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.
However, there’s a debate about how anti-semitic he actually was, and how much of an anti-semite he pretended to be for the sake of political positioning.
Lueger is famous for an answer he once gave on this issue. He was asked how he squared that fact that many of his policies were anti-semitic, while he counted many Jews among his close friends.
“I decide who is a Jew,” he said, apparently creating his own definition of Judaism.
This flexible opinion on “who is a Jew” permitted him to both debase himself (and Vienna) with populist politics of hatred while simultaneously carving out a space for himself to consort with the Hated Other, as he might choose.
Similarly, today, White “liberals” have decided to sell out liberalism to the leftist, totalitarian goons of the Progressive Speech Police. They’ll join the Progressives’ hate campaigns against free speech and free thought — but only when those campaigns are directed towards non-liberals.
Playing to the Progressive mobs just like Luegar played to the Vienna ones, White Liberals reserve themselves the power to both traffic in hateful intolerance, and except themselves and their friends from the claims they otherwise inflict on others.
They, and they alone, will decide who the Racists are.
In the case of the campaign to get Dan Snyder to rename the Washington Redskins (because it’s an offensive, racist epithet), Ace points out that some racist terms are more equal than others:
Obviously no one names a sports club after something they think is substandard, or shoddy, or weak, or useless. People always object to the Redskins name by using the same example — “Well, what would you say if someone named his baseball team the New York N*****s, huh?”
But that’s stupid. No one does that. No one would do that. Because “N****r” is inherently a demeaning term, and a hateful one, and no one — no one — names their sports clubs after things they hate.
They name them after things they respect, or wish to emulate, or wish to associate themselves with. Thus the large number of teams named after great cats, and bears, and stallions, and even the gee-whiz technology of the 50s (jets, rockets).
And as for clubs named after types of people, all those people have a positive association; in football, especially, a martial-themed sport if there ever was one, those positive associations all have to do with virility and deadliness in battle:
You do not see “The San Francisco Coolie Laborers” in the lists of any sports teams, nor the “Boston Drunken Irish Wife-Batterers.” All team names are tributes to the group in the nickname.
Some team names implicitly specify a race/ethnicity — Vikings, Fighting Irish. There is no commotion over this — people understand that when someone names a team the “Vikings,” they mean it a positive way. They are speaking of the fury of the Northmen — and not, for example, their propensity to rape and reduce much of Europe to a constant Twilight in which civilization could never advance too far before being pillaged and raped into rubble.
Nor does anyone seriously think “the Fighting Irish” is really about the Irish’s well-known tendency to over-indulge in alcohol and then get their Irish up. (Oh, what a giveaway.) And that one really does actually step right on up to the line of being a slur against the Irish — but we understand the intent behind it is playful, and positive. (Mostly.)
In fact, White Liberals currently on their jihad against the name “Redskins” make an exception for other teams with Indian nicknames — Braves, Chiefs, Indians, all okay. Not racist, the White Liberals have decided, although it’s unclear how they’ve come to this conclusion.
All three names, after all, do reference a specific race — Native Americans — just as surely as “Redskins” does, and for the exact same reasons.
But White Liberals know the difference. White Liberals can tell you who the Racists are.
April 4, 2014
In Slate, Will Saletan digs through the data to find the next set of targets:
Some of my colleagues are celebrating. They call Eich a bigot who got what he deserved. I agree. But let’s not stop here. If we’re serious about enforcing the new standard, thousands of other employees who donated to the same anti-gay ballot measure must be punished.
More than 35,000 people gave money to the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that declared, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” You can download the entire list, via the Los Angeles Times, as a compressed spreadsheet. (Click the link that says, “Download CSV.”) Each row lists the donor’s employer. If you organize the data by company, you can add up the total number of donors and dollars that came from people associated with that company.
The first thing you’ll notice, if you search for Eich, is that he’s the only Mozilla employee who gave to the campaign for Prop 8. His $1,000 was more than canceled out by three Mozilla employees who donated to the other side.
The next thing you’ll notice is that other companies, including other tech firms, substantially outscored Mozilla in pro-Prop 8 contributions attributed to their employees. That includes Adobe, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and Yahoo, as well as Disney, DreamWorks, Gap, and Warner Bros.
Thirty-seven companies in the database are linked to more than 1,300 employees who gave nearly $1 million in combined contributions to the campaign for Prop 8. Twenty-five tech companies are linked to 435 employees who gave more than $300,000. Many of these employees gave $1,000 apiece, if not more. Some, like Eich, are probably senior executives.
Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them.
A National Review editorial on the Mozilla CEO’s short tenure after being outed as a supporter of a Californian anti-SSM ballot initiative:
In 2008, Barack Obama and Brendan Eich both were against gay marriage. Senator Obama averred his support for the one-man/one-woman view of marriage, while Mr. Eich, a cofounder of the Mozilla web-browser company, donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8 — a California ballot initiative that had the effect of making Senator Obama’s avowed marriage policy the law in California, at least until a federal court overturned it on the theory that California’s constitution is unconstitutional. Barack Obama inexplicably remains, as of this writing, president of the United States of America, but Mr. Eich has just been forced out as CEO of Mozilla because of his political views.
The various tendencies that operate under the general heading of “gay rights” have had an extraordinary run of it in the past several years, in both the political and the cultural theaters. We now have a constitutional right to commit homosexual acts (Lawrence v. Texas), while Facebook offers at last count 56 different gender options to its users (trans with or without asterisk, genderqueer, neutrois, and two-spirit among them). Having won the battle in California, the sore winners are roaming the battlefield with bayonets and taking no prisoners. Mr. Eich’s donation had been a matter of public record for some years, but Eros is a jealous god, and he will have blood from time to time. Mr. Eich’s elevation to the chief executive’s position provided occasion for critics within his firm and without to make an example of him.
Again, it is in this case a matter of culture. The nation’s full-time gay-rights professionals simply will not rest until a homogeneous and stultifying monoculture is settled upon the land, and if that means deploying a ridiculous lynch mob to pronounce anathema upon a California technology executive for private views acted on in his private life, then so be it. The gay agenda of the moment is, ironically enough, to force nonconformists into the metaphorical closet. If through the miracle of modern medicine you end up with five sets of mixed genitals, you’ll get your own section in the California civil-rights statutes; cling to nearly universal views about marriage for a few months after it’s become unfashionable, and you’re an untouchable.
Unless, that is, you’re the anti-gay-marriage candidate that all the pro-gay-marriage people voted for in 2008, in which case you get a pass, apparently on the theory that everybody assumed you were being willfully dishonest for political reasons. (That assumption provides a relatively rare point of agreement between homosexual activists and the editors of this magazine.) There simply is to be no disagreement, no dissent, and no tolerance for other points of view.
Update: In Time, Nick Gillespie says there’s both good and bad aspects of this event.
Welcome to the brave new world of socially conscious… web-browsing. In the past, consumers might patronize certain businesses (Whole Foods, say, or Ben & Jerry’s) whose stated missions extended beyond increasing shareholder value and avoided others that might have politically objectionable CEOs or reputations for being anti-abortion (Domino’s Pizza, say) or public positions opposed to certain forms of birth control (Hobby Lobby, for instance). Now we’re boycotting free products such as Firefox and demanding companies dance to the tune called by customers. I think that’s a good thing overall — but it may end up being just as difficult for consumers to live with as it will be for corporations.
Whether you care about gay marriage or politically correct web experiences, Eich’s resignation shows how businesses respond to market signals. “Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech,” writes Mitchell Baker, the organization’s executive chairwoman, in announcing Eich’s stepping down. “And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”
Just as the Internet has empowered consumers to find cheaper prices, more-extensive reviews, and a wider variety of goods than ever before, it’s also made it easier for them to call out companies for all sorts of dastardly actions, screw-ups, and problems. I like that OKCupid’s intervention wasn’t a call for government action to limit people’s choices or ban something. Indeed, OKCupid didn’t even block Firefox users from its site — rather, it politely asked them to consider getting to the site via a different browser.
April 3, 2014
If Scotland votes in favour of separation from the United Kingdom this September, it will kick off a period of vast political uncertainty on both sides of the border:
The potential negotiations are all frighteningly close. In just six months time difficult discussions between the Scottish government and Whitehall could be getting under way. David Cameron would lead for the Rest of UK, but only as a weakened Prime Minister contemplating a legacy centred on the loss of the Union. His Westminster opponent Ed Miliband would have to contemplate the loss of many Labour MPs from north of the border. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage would presumably be jumping up and down shouting “bye-bye Scotland, close the door behind you” and stressing that England should be for the English. That view would, I suspect, be very popular after the Scots had raised two fingers at the English in the referendum.
In Scotland, once the Nationalists had woken up with a massive collective hangover, there would be bedlam too, with Salmond the victor and head of government demanding to lead for the Scots in negotiations on oil and so on. But should one man be allowed to create a separate state and dictate its constitution? Shouldn’t a wider group of founding fathers and mothers come up with a plan that Scottish voters can then be asked to approve? To help, the better Scottish MPs and peers at Westminster would very quickly have to go home to try and prevent Salmond turning the whole exercise into a massive vanity project. They would also have to stand for seats in the next Scottish parliament elections, or retire and pipe down.
All this would be taking place against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and intense emotional turbulence.
In such extraordinary circumstances, it is unlikely that English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would put up with Scottish MPs trying to carry on as normal and then standing for election in 2015 as though nothing had happened. The Members of the Scottish Parliament would say that they now spoke for Scotland. The English, Welsh and Northern Irish at Westminster would be justified in saying later this year to those MPs from Scottish seats: what are you still doing here?
Jonathan Rauch looks at the implications of the McCutcheon decision of the US Supreme Court this week:
The 5-4 ruling along the usual conservative-liberal lines, while not unexpected, has broad implications. Like it or not — and assuredly, progressives do not like it — the era of effective limits on contributions to federal politicians is drawing to a close. Want to write a million-dollar check to support a candidate? Chances are that now, or someday soon, you can.
For four decades, since the campaign finance reforms of the 1970s, limits on big-dollar, direct gifts to politicians have been the beating heart of the progressive paradigm. Before McCutcheon, donors could give only $2,600 to an individual candidate in any one election cycle — and they could only give an aggregate of $48,600 to all campaigns. (Here’s the whole list of contribution limits.) In McCutcheon, the court struck down the aggregate limit, reversing its own prior holding in the seminal 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo.
A calamity for the 1970s paradigm? Yes. A calamity for progressives? Maybe not. There is a way forward, a potential win for both freedom and political accountability, though it requires progressives to hold their nose and swallow hard: raise contribution limits. A lot. A whole lot. Like, allow contributions of up to $1 million for presidential campaigns and up to $200,000 and $50,000, respectively, for Senate and House campaigns. (In 2012, an average winning Senate campaign spent $10.4 million, and a winning House campaign spent $1.6 million, according to Vital Statistics on Congress.) At the same time, as part of the deal, close the wide gaps in today’s rules requiring the disclosure of donations.
Wait. Allow Senate candidates to hit up victims — sorry, donors — for $200,000 at a time? Legitimize contributions of a size that virtually guarantees special attention from office-holders? Why should progressives conceivably support that? Because the old means no longer serve the desired ends. As of now, the case for low contribution limits has all but evaporated — even if you believe, as I do, that the limits once made sense and that the Buckley court was correct in upholding them.
One of the reasons those of us north of the border are often shocked at US political spending is that Canadian election campaign limits are a tiny fraction of the US numbers. You could run a national political campaign and candidates in every riding (308 in the last election) for less than the cost of seven average US senate races. This may explain the limited success of US campaign tactics (and tacticians) periodically imported from the US.
April 1, 2014
Finally, someone has come up with a way to settle the debate over climate change: Put the people on the wrong side of the argument in cages.
A writer for the website Gawker recently penned a self-described “rant” on the pressing need to arrest, charge and imprison people who “deny” global warming. In fairness, Adam Weinstein doesn’t want mass arrests (besides, in a country where only 44% of Americans say there is “solid evidence” of global warming and it’s mostly due to human activity, you can’t round up every dissenter). Fact-checking scientists are spared. So is “the man on the street who thinks Rush Limbaugh is right. … You all know that man. That man is an idiot. He is too stupid to do anything other than choke the earth’s atmosphere a little more with his Mr. Pibb burps and his F-150′s gassy exhaust.”
But Weinstein’s magnanimity ends there. Someone must pay. Weinstein suggests the government simply try the troublemakers and spokespeople. You know, the usual suspects. People like Limbaugh himself as well as ringleaders of political organizations and businesses that refuse to toe the line. “Those malcontents must be punished and stopped.”
Weinstein says that this “is an argument that’s just being discussed seriously in some circles.” He credits Rochester Institute of Technology philosophy professor Lawrence Torcello for getting the ball rolling. Last month, Torcello argued that America should follow Italy’s lead. In 2009, six seismologists were convicted of poorly communicating the risks of a major earthquake. When one struck, the scientists were sentenced to six years in jail for downplaying the risks. Torcello and Weinstein want a similar approach for climate change.
This is a great standard for free speech in America. Let’s just agree that the First Amendment reads, “Nothing in this clause shall be considered binding if it contradicts legal practices in the Abruzzo region of Italy.”
The truth is this isn’t as new an outlook as Weinstein suggests. For instance, in 2009, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman insisted that “deniers” in Congress who opposed the Waxman-Markey climate change bill were committing “treason” while explaining their opposition on the House floor. (That same year, Krugman’s fellow Timesman Thomas Friedman wrote that China’s authoritarian system was preferable to ours, in part, because it lets “enlightened” leaders deal with climate change.)
March 31, 2014
Paul Wells exhausted his supply of italics and exclamation marks in this breathless tale of inside
baseball the federal Tory party:
“Today I am writing to direct your full attention to the Confidential Memo I received today from Dimitri Soudas, the dynamic new Executive Director of the Conservative Party hand-picked by Prime Minister Harper,” Sen. Irving Gerstein wrote in a letter to Conservative donors dated 16 days ago.
Soudas had written to Gerstein — Confidentially! — to make a “new, urgent and pressing request” to raise $1.23 million within 90 days, a “critical need” that was “essential in keeping our Conservative Majority in power — and keeping Stephen Harper as Canada’s Prime Minister.” Well, like you, I’m sure Gerstein dropped everything upon receiving this Confidential Memo from dynamic hand-picked Dimitri — or DHPD as he’s known in tippy-top Conservative circles — so he could rush that memo out to donors. Nancy! Cancel lunch at the wading pool. We’ve got a red-ball from Hand-Picked Dimitri! Start licking the envelopes — this one’s a Code Seven!
And barely two weeks later it has all turned to ashes, because three days after Hand-Picked Dimitri sent his Confidential Memo to Irv describing the urgent, pressing, critical, essential crisis menacing Stephen Harper’s very future and — as if this even needed saying! — the Commonwealth’s along with it, Hand-Picked Dimitri reportedly drove his life partner Eve Adams to a riding-association meeting in Oakville-North Burlington, where Adams is not the incumbent MP, and waited outside in the hall while she made enough of a scene to get herself kicked out. Then he fired the guy who wrote to the party complaining about her behaviour. What a coincidence.
This latest uproar is more of a sensation in the Queensway bubble than in the real world, where most people had the luxury of not knowing who Soudas is. It contributes to the feeling that Harper’s majority mandate has been snakebit. Lately when the PM sticks in his thumb he has not managed to handpick many plums: Mike Duffy, Nigel Wright, Marc Nadon, Soudas. Tonight it emerged that Justin Trudeau swore at a charity boxing match. The PM’s spokesman said the incident spoke poorly of Trudeau’s judgment.
Victor Davis Hanson explains why the drop in trust — specifically the peoples’ trust in government — is on a steep downward trajectory:
Transparency and truth are the fuels that run sophisticated civilizations. Without them, the state grinds to a halt. Lack of trust — not barbarians on the frontier, global warming or cooling, or even epidemics — doomed civilizations of the past, from imperial Rome to the former Soviet Union.
The United States can withstand the untruth of a particular presidential administration if the permanent government itself is honest. Dwight Eisenhower lied about the downed U-2 spy plane inside the Soviet Union. Almost nothing Richard Nixon said about Watergate was true. Intelligence reports of vast stockpiles of WMD in Iraq proved as accurate as Bill Clinton’s assertion that he never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.
Presidents fib. The nation gets outraged. The independent media dig out the truth. And so the system of trust repairs itself.
What distinguishes democracies from tinhorn dictatorships and totalitarian monstrosities are our permanent meritocratic government bureaus that remain nonpartisan and honestly report the truth.
The Benghazi, Associated Press, and National Security Agency scandals are scary, but not as disturbing as growing doubts about the honesty of permanent government itself.
March 30, 2014
BBC News charts the unlikely rise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin:
On 16 August 1999, the members of Russia’s parliament — the State Duma — met to approve the candidacy of a prime minister. They heard the candidate’s speech, they asked him a few questions, and they dutifully confirmed him in the position.
This was President Boris Yeltsin’s fifth premier in 16 months, and one confused party leader got the name wrong. He said he would support the candidacy of Stepashin — the surname of the recently sacked prime minister — rather than that of his little-known successor, before making an embarrassing correction.
If even leading Duma deputies couldn’t remember the new prime minister’s name, you couldn’t blame the rest of the world if it didn’t pay much attention to his speech. He was unlikely to head the Russian government for more than a couple of months anyway, so why bother?
That man was a former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, and he has been in charge of the world’s largest country, as president or prime minister, ever since. Few realised it at the time, because few were listening, but that speech provided a blueprint for pretty much everything he has done, for how he would re-shape a country that was perilously close to total collapse.
Just 364 days previously, Russia had defaulted on its debt. Salaries for public sector workers and pensions were being paid months late, if at all. Basic infrastructure was collapsing. The country’s most prized assets belonged to a handful of well-connected “oligarchs”, who ran the country like a private fiefdom.
The once-mighty Russian army had lost a war in Chechnya, a place with fewer inhabitants than Russia had soldiers. Three former Warsaw Pact allies had joined Nato, bringing the Western alliance up to Russia’s borders.
Meanwhile, the country was led by Yeltsin, an irascible drunkard in fragile health. The situation was desperate, but Putin had a plan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of the Council of the Federation on March 27, 2014 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
“[E]very Ohio political candidate has escaped from a lunatic asylum and all Ohio ballot initiatives are the work of Satan”
P.J. O’Rourke finally made his mom proud by filing a brief of Amici Curiae to the US Supreme Court:
Ilya Shapiro, with a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, is Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at Cato and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review. He often files amicus briefs, especially in cases where constitutionally guaranteed rights are imperiled. But these briefs are serious in tone even though Ilya is funny in person.
He’s also self-effacing, saying, “There are people who know more about Constitutional law than I do, and there are people who are funnier than I am, but I do occupy the very small area of overlap in that Venn diagram.”
The Venn diagram seemed like the only proper approach to a law that would make you a criminal in Ohio for saying that Buckeye president William Howard Taft was so fat his wife had to grease the doorframe and tell him there was a banana cream pie in the Blue Room to get him into the White House.
The fight-a-laugh-with-a-laugh brief was Cato Legal Associate Gabriel Latner’s idea. He wrote the first draft. Cato Research Fellow Trevor Burrus added research. And more jokes. Then Ilya Shapiro took over. I was asked to read it and give it my endorsement because I am an expert on being run out of Ohio. Ask my mother.
Politico posted a condensed version of the brief, and I shared the byline with Ilya. On the Above the Law blog David Lat called it the “Best Amicus Brief Ever.” (Albeit that’s a low “bar” — notice how I casually toss in legal jokes now that I’m arguing a case before the Supreme Court.) And a lawyer friend of mine congratulated me on what he said was the first legal brief in history to go viral.
Ramesh Ponnuru discusses some examples of ridiculous state occupational license requirements:
Melanie Armstrong wanted to be an African hair braider, practicing a skill passed down from generation to generation. In Tupelo, Mississippi, where she lived, government licensing rules meant she had to take 300 hours of course work to start her salon: 300 hours, she notes, “none of which covered hair braiding.”
In testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee on Wednesday, Armstrong explained that her “ultimate goal” was to teach others how to braid. Getting the needed licenses to do that would have taken 3,200 hours. None of them taught students how to braid hair, either. That’s more hours than it would have taken her to get licenses to become a firefighter, emergency medical technician, hunting instructor, ambulance driver or real estate appraiser. It’s longer than it would have taken her to get licenses for all those things combined.
The subcommittee — led by New Yorkers Richard Hanna, a Republican, and Grace Meng, a Democrat — was considering the excesses of state occupational licensing. More and more jobs fall under these regulations. In the 1950s, according to one study, only about one in 20 jobs required a license. By 2006, about 29 percent did.
While Armstrong helped get her state to scale back the requirements for hair braiders, the trend is toward more stringent regulation. Patti Morrow, who runs an organization fighting licensing for interior designers, says, “These bills come back year after year like zombies.”
March 29, 2014
David Akin notes that Stephen Harper’s self-appointed task — to change the narrative from a Liberal view of Canada to a Conservative one — is still underway. He points to a recent speech by John Baird as proof:
Both his fans and his critics agree on one thing about Stephen Harper. He wants to transform the country, so Canadians will come to see his Conservatives and not the Liberals as the natural governing party.
By the election of 2015, he will have done much in that regard.
But to make that work endure, the Conservatives need history on their side. They need a narrative of Canada in which Conservative Party values are integral to the story. Voters who buy this history will then turn to Conservative leaders as the default choice in this century the way Canadians turned to Liberal leaders by default in the last century.
“As I reflect on Diefenbaker’s legacy,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said this week, “I realise that our past makes me optimistic about our future. What we can offer the world is more important, not less. More relevant, not less. I think that it is fair to say our country has defied the low expectations of ‘middle power’. We have defied it with the ambition of leading rather than following.”
Baird’s 2,000-word speech was a neat encapsulation of this Conservative view of our history. There was a brief mention of Dief’s Bill of Rights, but much talk about how the Chief stood up to Soviet communism, just as Harper is standing up to Russian imperialism today.
“We are builders and pioneers,” Baird said. “We are warriors when war is thrust upon us, and we are compassionate when confronted by catastrophe.”
Professional historians have been taking issue with Conservatives for this reading of history but their argument is a column for another day.
Today, it’s worth marking Baird’s speech as a manifesto, a rationale for the Harper government’s decision to spend millions marking the War of 1812, and millions more for upcoming First World War commemorations.
It is through the re-telling of these stories that Harper hopes Conservatives will be able to displace Liberals as Canada’s “natural governing party”.