The signing of the US Constitution

Scenario:

“So, Thomas, do you think we need to add that clause to prevent wardrobe malfunctions on the currently-non-existent nationally broadcast television, also known as the Nipp-Slip Addendum?”

“Of course not, Benjamin. People aren’t stupid enough to read every little detail of this thing to the letter. I mean, I can’t even read this letter.”

“Yeah, wtf is that? Is it a Q?”

“No, wait. I think it’s an S with a really long tail attached. Yeah, definitely an S.”

“Right, I see it now. Definitely an S.”

“God, that Adams is such a dickhead with his signature.”

“Yeah, really. What a dick.”

[…End Scene…]

Is the great division between Republicans and Democrats one based on differing interpretations of the Constitution? No, probably not. But examples are quickly at hand to show how they both manipulate the document to pursue their own political agendas, thereby manifesting these ideological rifts. No doubt each side is guilty. But as my own political beliefs lie with the middle-left, I am obliged to take a position. And in this case, I am most happy to do so, screaming out a massive ‘What the fuck?!‘ to my neighbors on the right for their mock-worthy belief in a purely textual reading of the Constitution. Let me try to be more reasonable and explain how I have arrived at this blogging juncture.

Browsing the usual news outlets, I came across a ludicrous story on the Huffington Post, called Scalia: Women Don’t Have Constitutional Protection Against Discrimination. [Did I just give away the milk for free?] A recently published interview from a stupidly-obviously-named magazine, California Lawyer, details Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s thoughts on the extent of the 14 Amendment’s reach regarding civil rights in the US.  He argues that the Constitution, in its most literal sense, does not prevent discriminatory legislation on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. His statement begins reasonably enough and, upon first reading, is acceptably progressive with one particularly fraught aspect of these Constitutional debates. “[I]f indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society,” he says. There is no disagreement from me on this point; he is right, in my own view. The Constitution is an instrument to guide progression; a tool made of malleable substance; a careful, but not strict, blueprint. Like a parent’s warnings to drive more carefully, phone home very night, or avoid eating junk food: these are pieces of advice intended to be interpreted, whether we may be making a mistake or not. So when he accepts that society may have different viewpoints than the American Ancients, it seems a little too obvious to be a basket on which politicians score cultural points. Right? Right.

Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court (in)Justice

Ah, but I spoke too soon. Immediately after making this (perfectly rational) statement (that I wish other Republicans would believe too), he plays the conservative fiddle, espousing traditional rhythms sweet on far-right ears. The Post quotes him (with my own emphasis), “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that.” Oh dear, Mr. Scalia. Well, the fight for appropriate behavior is not lost yet. Add something like ‘that was then, this is now‘ or ‘at least we now accept that these quote-unquote minority groups are intrinsically protected.Don’t just leave it there!

And then he went on: “If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. […] Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.” To me, the last line is the death sentence to the American political system and shows Justice Scalia’s deep misunderstanding and underestimation of the structure of the American government. Essentially to claim that the court is not responsible for taking initiative and making plain what is an obvious intention of the malleability of the Constitution is despicable. Making such impractical and downright discriminatory statements, while devaluing his own position and its authority, Justice Scalia does nothing less than to threaten American-style democracy at its core. This is not an hyperbolic statement. He undermines his own political base by making these statements, which suggest the unraveling of every precedent-setting court decision providing a better America. Whether the ruling was for beneficial for one party or the other, we all win with this system.

Critics are right to move forward, such as Marcia Greenberger: “In these comments, Justice Scalia says if Congress wants to protect laws that prohibit sex discrimination, that’s up to them. But what if they want to pass laws that discriminate? Then he says that there’s nothing the court will do to protect women from government-sanctioned discrimination against them.” Jack Balkin, a legal scholar, disagrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation of history and instead finds that there was some protection clauses inherent in the formation of the 14th Amendment:

“First, The central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to guarantee equal citizenship and equality before the law for all citizens and for all persons. It does not simply ban discrimination based on race. The fact that the word race is not mentioned in the text (as it is in the fifteenth amendment) was quite deliberate.

“Scalia argues that the fourteenth amendment was not intended to prevent sex discrimination. That’s not entirely true. The supporters of the fourteenth amendment did not think it would disturb the common law rules of coverture: under these rules women lost most of their common law rights upon marriage under the fiction that their legal identities were merged with their husbands. But these rules did not apply to single women. So in fact, the fourteenth amendment was intended to prohibit some forms of sex discrimination– discrimination in basic civil rights against single women.

“Moreover, the Constitution was subsequently amended. After the nineteenth amendment, the common law coverture rules made little sense. If married women had the right to vote, why did they not have the right to contract or own property in their own names? If we read the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of civil equality in light of the Nineteenth Amendment, the guarantee of sex equality should apply to both single and married women. The conservative court during the Lochner era thought as much in a case called Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, decided immediately after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.”

Aka the Supreme Court is good. Undermining it is dangerous. And, according to how our government is set up, is illegal to not have a Supreme Court making these kinds of calls. So really, strict constructionism of this form makes strict constructionism impossible and anarchistic.

The itch this story caused days ago was only made worse when I read a similar one, entitled Mike Lee: Federal Child Labor Laws Are Unconstitutional, also from the Huffington Post. A Utah-based and Tea-Party-backed Senator, Mike Lee, has recently claimed that laws implemented to protect children (and essentially ensure that they are educated to a certain age) are not Constitutionally founded:

“Congress decided it wanted to prohibit [child labor], so it passed a law–no more child labor. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to that and the Supreme Court decided a case in 1918 called Hammer v. Dagenhardt. In that case, the Supreme Court acknowledged something very interesting — that, as reprehensible as child labor is, and as much as it ought to be abandoned — that’s something that has to be done by state legislators, not by Members of Congress. […]

“This may sound harsh, but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh. Not because we like harshness for the sake of harshness, but because we like a clean division of power, so that everybody understands whose job it is to regulate what.

“Now, we got rid of child labor, notwithstanding this case. So the entire world did not implode as a result of that ruling.”

This is simply ludicrous. Child labor was a very contentious issue prior to its eventual regulation/ban. The National Child Labor Committee formed in 1904 and attempted to get legislation through that would abolish child labor altogether. One law did pass via them, but it was inevitably struck down by the Supreme Court on the basis that even a child had a right to contract their own work.  While further attempts were made for Congress to abolish the institution, it was not until the Great Depression that child labor was eventually done away with. This was a direct result of the great competition between children and adults for jobs and the lowering of pay wages for adults as a result. FDR added additional restrictions to forms of child labor after.

Senator Mike Lee

In any case, it is illegal now, so why the hell even bring it up? This is a non-issue and should not even be addressed by our legislators, particularly as dredging it up as a states issue and size of government dispute. In fact, it shows how out-of-touch and backwards these tea-party newbies stances on strict constructionism are. So, we should read the Constitution literally in order to allow individual states to make decisions on whether children can work? The framers of the Constitution purposefully left out that children shouldn’t work in order to secure states’ rights?

ThinkProgress will help me tell why this whole nonsense stinks:

“The Constitution gives Congress the power “[t]o regulate commerce…among the several states,” and to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” this power to regulate commerce. Even ultraconservative Justice Antonin Scalia agrees that these powers give Congress broad authority to regulate “economic activity” such as hiring and firing. Which explains why the Supreme Court unanimously overruled Hammer v. Daggenhardt in a 1941 decision called United States v. Darby.”

Both Congress and the Supreme Court have the authority to ensure the best interests of all by overruling state decisions and asserting national policy. So basically, and make sure you read this Mr. Lee since you clearly didn’t before, the US Supreme Court took over this decision because it was vital to America as a whole, a statute that needed to be unanimously defended against individual state arguments. Senator Lee admits child labor is wrong. If the US government had not protected it federally, the institution could still continue. So to address both Justice Scalia and Senator Lee: the Supreme court is necessary, the Constitution is malleable, and people need to let what happens happen.

It is not as though these two believe and preach every single detail in the Bible. It’s adaptable, right, or at least enough to create moral lessons and account for changes in culture and economic ability? If not, I want to know where is that race of giants, the one that survived the Great Flood? And I certainly hope there’s no wool mingling with linen in those Justice robes…according to Leviticus 19:19, it’s a no-no.

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I was browsing HuffingtonPost.com today and found a delicious link to a Washington Post report by Mary Jordan, “The Hillary Effect“. Of the 182 legitimate envoys to the US (meaning that we actually acknowledge their presence), twenty-five foreign ambassadors are female, five times more than were present in the late ’90s. [Is 25 of 182 something to be proud of?] Analysts attribute this increase to the visibility and favorable opinion much of the world holds for current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her very public battle with Bam for the Democratic Presidential nomination, her efforts on behalf of women rights as First Lady to hubby Bill and her all around sex appeal, helped to keep her in the world’s spotlight and provide a platform or starting point for consistent career achievement. And she does a damn fine job as Secretary, staying out of Washington’s cock fights while pulling the strings of other world powers to ensure Bam’s policies succeed.

Little credit is awarded to the other women who have filled her role previously, though: most recently (cuckoo) Condaleeza Rice and (the fantastic) Madeleine Albright, our first female Secretary of State and one of the world’s most brilliant minds. I realize the last decade passed quite fast, but to forget two of our most important political figures altogether. Why pretend that this time is a “game changer?”: this past decade of US diplomacy has given birth to today’s prominence of female envoys. Why would foreign countries now try to stay abreast of gender politics, especially when Hillary’s whole campaign meant to make gendered authority irrelevant? Things like this change over time (women’s suffrage only became legal in Liechtenstein in 1984), and go in cycles: women may not be in those same positions forever. Period.

But does the nomination of women to these ambassador positions signify real progress or rather mollification? Statements like this trouble me: “Some American diplomats said the appointment of a woman can be a visible way for a country to signal that is modernizing and in step with the United States.” Sure, allow child labor, support the punishment of rape victims and amass uranium stockpiles for use against our disliked neighbors. But remember to send that girl to Washington, then the Americans can pat us on the back for our adoption of Western-ideology.

NO!

If you do not believe that things can be so simple, look to the countries themselves that sent the female ambassadors.

“Eleven of the 25 female envoys in Washington are from Africa. Four are from Caribbean nations. The others are from Bahrain, the Netherlands, Croatia, Kyrgyzstan, Singapore, Oman, Colombia, India, Liechtenstein and Nauru, an eight-square-mile Pacific island with only 14,000 people.”

None of the biggies (though no less important). Where are these modernized countries already “in step with the United States?” Where is (papa bear) Britain? Where is (freedom fries) France? Wo ist (David Hasselhoff?) Deutschland? Even our own program of Foreign Service, which I would love love love to enter into, is out of step. While more than half of new recruits are female, only thirty percent are mission leaders. Only after State Department policy shifts in the 1970’s were women allowed to retain their jobs after getting married. One of the many benefits of the feminist movement.

This cracks me up...look at her face

Of the women ambassadors they interviewed, several seem to play into the system of token gendering. Because of (ludicrous Oxford-esque) “male-female seating patterns, [Ambassador Chan] often gets prime spots, including next to George W. Bush and Henry Kissinger.” Is that really something to brag about (not just the George Bush part, but the whole system that is attached with it)? Many women also feel that they bring lesser discussed issues to the fore, such as poverty, education, discrimination and female marginalization. But I think they are just playing another part, which probably contributes to their own marginalization.

Fight with the big dogs. Tackle any issue you care about. Smoke a cigar with the boys and then slap your secretary on the ass. Do what you have to do. Your role as an ambassador is to represent your country’s best interest and push them forward. Gender is irrelevant. You need not to say that your gender “opens doors” for you or that “[P]eople are curious to see [you].” This should be a non-issue.

The world needs a new (game-changing) feminism humanism. One that emphasizes our joint duty to protect the interests of one another. Not as males or females, but as people. Until we all stop playing the games of gender, fighting it or performing it, we can never go beyond it. Come on, people: man up androgynate yourself!

New York in twain…

January 7, 2010

New York's (grand) Capital Building

T-shirts fly off shelves in New York City if they have our famous “I [Heart] NY” slogan on their breast. What further proof do you need to authenticate a trip to the Big Apple and the wild times had there but a Taiwanese-crafted polyester-blend tee, emblazoned with a pronoun, an acronym and an icon (possibly vulva or bovine inspired)? I cannot recall when the catchphrase was introduced, but you can see the success of the New York model…the idea is pervasive, the words are ingrained in all of us. Every place you visit has their own (possibly but likely not humorous) version of “I [Heart] NY”, attempting to situate themselves within economic and mental echelons of NYC. But their failure to do so is inevitable: making the comparison so plain, so obvious, their attempt pitifully assumes the role of the second-rate knockoff. The use of the slogan alienates them from its source. Like the t-shirt says, they are not New York and [Heart] somewhere else.

And then you watch an old movie you recorded on your VHS tapes in middle school and see (now former) Governor George Pataki advertising all the wondrous things New York State has to offer. You know, one of those commercials exported to the City and other states to encourage tourism. They hardly ever feature the City in those ads, instead preferring to highlight our fantastic skiing, the Erie Canal, and picture-perfect 18th and 19th century small Dutch towns. But look at the icon in the corner. “I [Heart] NY”. It’s the same thing as with bum-fuck Montana or any other place using the meat of the phrase. The idea of I [Heart] NY is alien to whatever bucolic utopia is being presented by Pataki. Though likely unintentional, the slogan is glued to the City, and it cannot be appended to everything opposite. “I [Heart] NY” really means “I [Heart] NYC,” and everyone knows it. The entire state cannot claim to be loved in the same way.

There are two New Yorks, don’t you know. There is the New York of the imagination (that movie-bred setting of all things trendy and active) and the New York of the rest of us (slightly less active with more manure trucks blocking the road). Unchanged since the days of the Constitution’s ratification, we have always been a diverse state. Listen to the range of accents that exist within our territory (from the dawg of NYC to the Syaturdays of Buffalo). What’s changed? According to State Senator Joseph E. Robach of Rochester, we are no longer a unified force. This idiot man has proposed that we hold a state-wide referendum in 2010 in which all sixty-two counties will vote YES or NO to this question: “Do you support the division of New York into two separate states?”

Shut the fuck up, Rochester.

The legislation adds this little tidbit:

“[t]here is a large degree of apparent support for dividing New York into two separate states, so as to separate the distinct social and political concerns between upstate and downstate New York.”

Notice there is no mention of economic concerns. Hardly surprising, I suppose, the Rochester microcosm is a model of failure to develop and adapt. Add barrels of snow to the list, and you are left with the disaster known as western New York. This lunatic Senator must be aware that the profits of NYC are the lifeblood of our state. The cycle busts (occasionally) and we blame the source, NYC. Fine. But when it booms again, we are all sitting pretty in our minivans, driving down the highways that NYC paid for.

Need I add that almost two-thirds of our entire population resides in NYC, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley. Why are we surprised that they get a lot of attention and money thrown in their direction. I take your point, Rochester, we need to spread money around like manure and encourage things to grow (in feet of snow). But let us not get extreme. Should we all share the same opinions and viewpoints? Should we play North Korea to NYC’s South Korea? Diversity, people!

And do we really want to be the only red state in the Northeast? Don’t deny it, you know upstate New York would be.

Officially, New York State is in the red this year for the first time, I believe, in our history. According to the New York Times, on December 30th our general fund will be $174 million in the negative with $1 billion in bills yet to be reconciled. No doubt we all, as one unified state, will suffer in some way from this. Let’s start again knowing we’re all in this “I [Heart] NYState” t-shirt together.

Post Script: Congrats Governor David Paterson on finally making a good political move. An ethics bill limiting career politicians. What took so long?

Post Post Script: Can anyone offer names for the (proposed) two New Yorks?

Thank goodness of the courage of the Iranian people. To take such bold actions following the (fraudulent) election results from this previous Friday, which gave current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a resounding victory and another four year term. I talked a little bit about the election in a previous entry and described both my disbelief in the results and my disappointment in the Iranian people for submitting themselves to such scrutiny as Ahmadinejad’s actions will provide. I think I put it like this:

And THIS was Iran’s chance to tell the world truly what they think. And to tell us what to think on the outside. This election could have reintroduced the world to Iran, a modern country with more than just a narrow perspective. The promise of a revitalized (and, dare I say, better respected) Iran, starting over fresh with the energy of the Revolution but today’s mindset, was in this election. […] I am a little disappointed. When you have the chance to end such hateful rhetoric and actions, even if it is only every four years, would you sacrifice that chance and support hate?

Time would certainly prove me wrong about the strength of these great people! Days of domestic violence and civil strife (I know I have heard those two items together before) have plagued the country, leading to today’s revelation from the (irresponsible/tyrannical/biased) Guardian Council to recount disputed votes. In such a country as this, what a power the people hold. To add, the ayatollah has already confirmed Ahmadinejad’s victory…and, yet, the Iranian people press on still to seek justice. Well done.

It does not escape my judgment that this recount will do little to change the outcome of the election. While I am sure Mousavi had plenty of the vote, the election is NOT being redone. All those lost ballots will never be found, and the disenfranchised would-be votes for him will never be counted or submitted to the Council’s review. But pacifying these citizens is vital now to the stability of the government, I suspect. We shall see how things progress.

In the meantime, a narrative through headlines on the BBC:

  • June 16Iran clamps down on foreign media: The authorities announced tough new restrictions on foreign media, requiring journalists to obtain explicit permission before covering any story. Journalists have also been banned from attending or reporting on any unauthorised demonstration.
  • June 16- Seven killed during Iran protest: The reports said the deaths came after “thugs” attacked a military post. The radio report said the attack occurred at the end of the “illegal” rally as people were heading home “peacefully”. “Several thugs wanted to attack a military post and vandalise public property in the vicinity of Azadi Square,” the radio said referring to the site of the protest.
  • June 15- Tensions high in Tehran: Hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters have taken to the streets of the Iranian capital.
  • June 14- Iran reformists held after street clashes: Up to 100 members of Iranian reformist groups have been arrested, accused of orchestrating violence after the disputed Presidential election.

The fall of Iran?…

June 13, 2009

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Many news organizations are confirming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory in the Iranian Presidential election that took place on Friday, which will extend his tenure in office another four years. A Reformist and the main opponent to Ahmadinejad, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has already claimed the occurrence of voting irregularities, asking the Guardian Council to repeal the results. Mousavi believes there was a lack of election monitors at polling stations, resulting in the disenfranchisement of many Iranian citizens. The conservative-controlled Guardian Council, which vets Presidential candidates based on the uniformity of their Islamic law values, is unlikely to invalidate the results, particularly with the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s call for an end to the race.

Since his narrow defeat of the reformist candidates in 2005, Ahmadinejad has brought his country an unprecedented amount of publicity and, more often than not, criticism. His denial of the Holocaust, his consistent refusal to close Iranian nuclear research facilities, and his belief in Israel’s extermination (not to mention a particularly aggressive hatred towards the United States and “the west”) have all contributed to his being on the United States’ shit list. Within his own country he has attempted to do some good (decreasing dependence on oil, using oil money to assist home buyers and young couples, etc). But many of his ideas have entirely collapsed upon implementation.

And THIS was Iran’s chance to tell the world truly what they think. And to tell us what to think on the outside. This election could have reintroduced the world to Iran, a modern country with more than just a narrow perspective. The promise of a revitalized (and, dare I say, better respected) Iran, starting over fresh with the energy of the Revolution but today’s mindset, was in this election.

And it is now gone. All that promise is lost.

A report from the BBC tells the following in a day’s aftermath:

“On the streets of Tehran, police have sealed off Mr Mousavi’s campaign HQ, preventing his supporters from holding a news conference.

There have been reports of police deploying on the streets of Tehran and beating people with truncheons as small groups gather to protest.

One opposition newspaper has been closed down and BBC websites also appear to have been blocked by the Iranian authorities.”

I am a little disappointed. When you have the chance to end such hateful rhetoric and actions, even if it is only every four years, would you sacrifice that chance and support hate?