Squalid Scalia

An online definition of squalid goes as follows:

(of a place) Extremely dirty and unpleasant, esp. as a result of poverty or neglect.
Showing a contemptible lack of moral standards.

I apply it to Justice (ha!) Antonin Scalia, in general but with regard to today’s arguments concerning same-sex marriage.

Reportedly, Scalia asked Ted Olson, a conservative arguing in favor of supporting the overturning of Prop. 8 in California (thus arguing in favor, more broadly, of same-sex marriage), “When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriage?” (This is a paraphrase.) Then he offered a couple of dates when this might have (not) occurred. Olson’s answer was a question, “When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit mixed race marriages?” Scalia’s answer was to tell Olson not to answer questions with a question. Ah, the highest court in the land. High on what, who knows?

Scalia positions himself as an “originalist.” He likes to go back to the original text of the C. itself, and to founders’ intent. Grudgingly, he agrees to look at amendments. By the way, wouldn’t founders’ intent require cloning? Yeah, sure, there are letters and the Federalist Papers, but still, those are incomplete. We’d have to have live cranial video of what the founders were thinking when they signed the C. Even cloning wouldn’t cut it because, for the sake of argument, let’s assume we could bring a Founder back to life. First question: How’s it going? Second question (for Jefferson): “What gives you the right to own slaves?” Third question:”What was your intent when you …?” So, Big Tom gives us an answer: “My intent was to . . .”. Why would we believe his account?

But of course one good rhetorical answer to Scalia’s question is not the question Olson asked but an imperative: “Show me when and where the Constitution explicitly prohibited same sex marriage.” Scalia would then have to talk about, well, obviously, back then, gay people didn’t get married, yadda, yadda. Yeah, fine, but show me where that gets us into the text of the Constitution, Moe. (He reminds of Moe in the Three Stooges.)

This is all a rhetorical (in the negative sense) exercise on my part because, in part, Scalia’s mind is squalid, not to mention made-up. It is dirty and unpleasant as a result of neglecting reason in favor of politics. He’s just a GOP hack. He shows a contemptible lack of moral standards. It is immoral to go on hunting trips with Cheney (also unwise) and then claim there is no conflict of interest when you hear (but not listen to) a case involving Cheney. Etc.

Please know I don’t think much of the rest of the Court, either. With the exception of Ginsburg, they all seem like robed clowns too much taken with themselves. And poor Justice Thomas has become a smoldering boulder of self-loathing. Breyer is a gasbag. So is Kagan. Kennedy sits his ass on the fence, guaranteeing no one respects him.

Still, Scalia is a cut below–especially with his lame “originalist” posturing.

The GOP Adjustment as Rhetorical Problem

Adapt or wither: that seems to be one major piece of advice the GOP is receiving. However, I did hear at least one “progressive” radio-host advise, “Please don’t adapt!”

Adapt to what? Allegedly, changing demographics, contrary attitudes toward some social issues, and the perception that the GOP chiefly represents “wealthy interests.”

If the problem(s) were seen in rhetorical, not strictly political terms, I might advise the following:

1. Define the “immigration problem” as “an immigration problem”–not as a problem of race and not as a threat to “culture.” If you think immigration-processes should be more orderly and consistent, then work with Democrats to make them so. Or don’t adapt and keep making the issue more about race and culture, and keep intimating that Latinos are “taking our jobs.”

2. Don’t swallow this business about “a changing America” whole. African Americans have made up 10-12 % of the population for a very long time. This isn’t a change. They vote largely Democratic because you, GOP, have basically pushed them to do so and because you have treated the first Black president like dirt. You can still play traditional rough politics and treat him with respect.

And if I were you, I’d have somebody confess that the Southern Strategy has always been about race, and I’d have the official confessor apologize.

3. When it comes to politics and governing, stop defining “gay marriage” as a religious issue. Treat it as a religious issue in your respective religions. If your church doesn’t want to host gay marriages, then it need not do so, obviously. But otherwise marriage is a civil matter, even if some couples–gay and straight–behave uncivilly after they get married. The U.S. isn’t a theocracy. I’ve met Tea Party people who agree with me on this, by the way.

4. Stop running the trickle-down con. People are catching on that’s it complete economic bullshit. More than that, there’s concrete evidence from Clinton’s 8 years that modestly raising taxes on the wealthiest helped the economy without hurting (as if!) the wealthy. Romney tried to run the Reagan con again, and enough people didn’t go for it (apparently) for you/him to win. It’s a pathos-move that’s quit working, and it never made logos-sense.

5. Look, we all know all politicians have to be data-deniers sometimes. Politicians lie. They deceive. But when it comes to data about evolution, global warming, dirty water, dirty air, and running out of fossil fuels, you all need to grow up.

6. When both you and the Democrats discuss budgetary issues and government-intrusion issues, you have to stop pretending the military is beyond enormous. It’s a data-thing. Empiricism.

7. If the question of abortion were as simple as you want to make it, a lot more people would agree with you now. If the question weren’t in large measure about women and their right to control what happens to their bodies, a lot more people would agree with you know. If you really want fewer abortions, support education and contraception. Or: don’t adapt.

Or–don’t adapt, as your progressive “friend” suggested.

Is Republican Atavism Becoming a Liability?

Because Republicans seem almost always to know how to beat the Dems, I feel as though the safe answer to this question is “No.” After all, until the Southern Strategy stops working in presidential elections, etc., one would be rash to suggest that atavism of the racist kind were becoming a liability.

That said, please consider this quotation from Rick Santorum, from a TV interview in the past 48 hours or so:

“I think that could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved. It already happens, of course, with the camaraderie of men in combat, but I think it would be even more unique if women were in combat.”

Obviously, he’s arguing against placing women in combat-situations. Problem: In most war-related deployments, all women and men are already in potential combat-situations. One may be driving a supply-truck in a convoy and get attacked. Is there any evidence that women, because they are women, are performing poorly in the military? I haven’t seen any. In other words: moot point?

Second, such an observation belongs to a broader pattern of Santoromesque views on gender and sexuality: If a woman gets pregnant, no matter the circumstances, she must give birth–even to the extent of being forced to give birth. Two gay or lesbian adults who want to get married must be prevented from doing so . . . because . . . because . . . ? Because Rick’s a conservative Catholic, even though the Constitution isn’t. Rick, go to Mass, but when campaigning, please talk about the economy, nuclear weapons, health-care, foreign policy, global warming (yes, it’s real), clean water, the public infrastructure, and so on.

Third, something may be unique or not. There are no degrees of uniqueness. Fourth, when did “camaraderie” become a problem in the military?

Fifth, all of this seems like tired material (“moot point”). The U.S. is clearly getting more and more comfortable with “gay marriage,” and why wouldn’t it? Who in the hell cares what sexuality the married couple down the street is? They do, of course, but aside from that, why spend any time worrying about it or making “gay marriage” illegal or talking about it in a presidential race? Why not merely ask to borrow their lawn-mower? Rick’s entitled to his personal view on the matter, but that’s it.

Unencumbered once again by data, I hesitantly hereby opine that old-time GOP rhetoric like this–designed to pump up the bass on the base, I gather–seems to be getting much less effective.

But we’ll see. Never underestimate that base, and never overestimate the Dems. Santorum strikes me as dim, boring, and reactionary, in no particular order. But I’m just one data-free person, although not unique.

Outlawing Words

Apparently Tennessee’s Senate has passed a bill that outlaws the mention of students’ and other persons’ being gay and that outlaws speaking (and writing?) the words “gay” and “homosexual” in public schools. I wrote “apparently” because apparently I’m still in shock that such a measure would pass, even in the Epoch of Wedge Issues. The passage of the bill brings up so many rhetorical and political issues:

(the story)

1. If you were a student or teacher in such a school or a member of another group in which a word had been outlawed, what would your first move be? That’s right. Invent another word. So you could say, “I just read this terrific novel that concerns happy and thespian culture.”

2. Has the concept, “conservative,” now lost all meaning vis a vis Republicans? I mean, what about conserving free speech? I realize that some forms of intimidating speech and some forms of attire are allowed to be limited on a school campus, but literally outlawing words in all contexts? This seems both legally, politically, and rhetorically . . . absurd. Radical, not conservative.

3. When does a wedge-issue become a self-inflicted wedgie?
So the cynical ethos of such a bill is to attract your base (which may be most base indeed) to you because you are creating a spectacle in which you are appearing to stand up in defense of something. But is there a point at which even the base can recognize absurdity? I guess not. Otherwise, we would not have the spectacle of Palin, Bachmann, and Trump. I can’t think of anyone as (both) popular and absurd on the Demo side, but I’m sure one will come to me. I suppose some conservatives think of Nader as that person, but I don’t think one can fairly accuse Nader of using wedge-issues. A terrier, he seems to pursue issues until the culture catches on and does something about them: DDT and seat-belts, for example.

4. I suppose I’ve left the most obvious for last: why? Outlaw these words, these facts (here’s news: some people are gay) because you want to . . . ? Let’s assume this isn’t wedge-politics. If that’s the case, then those voting for the bill have another outcome in mind. What is it? “If no one talks about gay people and homosexuality in high school, then homosexuality will go away”: is that it? And is there ANY knowledge of teen-age and human behavior in the Tennessee Senate? If you want to insure that human beings in general and teenagers in particular will talk about something, tell them they mustn’t.

Gay, lesbian, homosexual, homosexuality. Outlaw words!

The Scopes “monkey” trial could sustain serious dramatic treatment. I don’t think this particular trial of words could. It calls for Beckett.

A Pseudocratic Style of Lying

Rawstory and other sites are reporting on an interview Christian Broadcasting Network conducted with Newt Gingrich. A highlight:

“There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate,” Gingrich said.

“What I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them,” he said.

This juxtaposition stands as an excellent example of pseudocratic lying–lying in the age of “truthiness.” The order of the statements is crucial. Gingrich leads with the assertion that his feeling passionate about his country led him to work too hard, and working too hard led him to cheat on his wives. (The timing of cheating-revealed is macabre, by the way: he presented his first wife terms of divorce while she was in hospital recovering from cancer, and he told the second wife about his cheating when she had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.)

But of course he hopes the lead–I was passionate about my country–will serve as mis-direction, even as he has made the calculation that he must also admit he did wrong.

One cannot prove that he is lying when he attributes his behavior to having felt passionate about his country, but Hemingway’s famous crap-detector would probably start making loud noises if fed the statement.

The greater problem is that we are drawn into such base, distasteful “information” because Newt is still thinking of running for president, is in a Party that pretends to be holier than thou, and must “inoculate the jury,” as it were. The last time around, he went on a minister’s radio talk show and did the same sort of quasi-mea-culpa.

I don’t want to think about Newt’s transgressions and his ghoulish timing, especially with regard to this subject, about which my general philosophy is “judge not lest ye be judged” along with a sprinkling of “who cares?” But, as Jacques Ellul noted, academics and others who fashion themselves as “current” and well informed are suckers for propaganda and for unseemly trivia masquerading as news.

Mis-direction, truthiness, unsavory spectacle, one mean, low-down man’s dogged yearning for power, falsehoodedness, lying-esque statements: welcome to the permanent pseudocratic fog. Remember the fog-machine in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?

Defending Marriage?

In this post, I want briefly to share some observations about the Defense of Marriage Act that the U.S. Congress passed. But first: from a site called “lectlaw,” here is an excerpt from an analysis of the Defense of Marriage Act:

This [“full faith and credit’] is a problem most properly resolved by invoking Congress’ authority under the Constitution to declare what “effect” one State’s acts, records, and judicial proceedings shall have in another State. Congress has invoked this authority recently on two other occasions; in the Parental Kidnaping Prevention Act of 1980, which required each State to enforce child custody determinations made by the home State if made consistently with the provisions of the Act; and in the Full Faith and Credit for child Support Order Act of 1994, which required each State to enforce child support orders made by the child’s State if made consistently with the provisions of the Act.

The second substantive section of the bill amends the U.S. Code to make explicit what has been understood under federal law for over 200 years; that a marriage is the legal union of a man and a woman as husband and wife, and a spouse is a husband or wife of the opposite sex. The DOMA definition of marriage is derived most immediately from a Washington state case from 1974, Singer v. Hara, which is included in the 1990 edition of Black’s Law Dictionary. More than a century ago, the U.S. Supreme Court spoke of the “union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony.” Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U.S. 15, 45 (1985).

DOMA is not meant to affect the definition of “spouse” (which under the Social Security law, for example, runs to dozens of lines). It ensures that whatever definition of “spouse” may be used in Federal law, the word refers only to a person of the opposite sex.

Probably to point out the obvious, the Defense of Marriage Act is mis-named because it does not seek to defend marriage. It seeks to offend (to attack) same-sex (same-gender?) marriage. Moreover, it doesn’t defend marriage against that which really threatens it; that is, assuming (for argument’s sake) that divorce is an obvious threat to marriage, as it dissolves marriage, then the Act should address those things that lead to divorce: precipitous decisions to get married; joblessness and poverty;and so on.

Additionally, how does defining “husband,” “wife,” and “spouse” help to defend marriage? A divorced spouse by any other name is still a divorcee.

The problem (or a problem), of course, is that gay marriage (for example) is no threat to what has been conventional heterosexual marriage. How could it be? I’ve been married for almost 28 years, and not once has my (our) marriage been affected by the fact that any two other people (gay or straight) have decided to get married.

Notice, too, how out of balance a real “full faith and credit” issue is (parental kidnapping) vis a vis gay or lesbian marriage. There is some logic to the desire to make sure a parent can’t kidnap a child, go to another state, and avoid the law. There appears not be any logic to the fact that two adults can get married in Massachusetts and–somehow, some way–affect a heterosexual marriage in Kansas. Even if married heterosexual couple X were to hear about said marriage (highly unlikely), how would that affect their marriage?

I think we need a Defense of Logic Act or a Defense of Agreed Upon Facts Act or both.

Take a Letter, Scalia

The Huffington Post (and other outlets, so don’t kill the messenger’s messenger) reports that Justice Scalia doesn’t think the equal-protection clause of the 14th amendment applies to women. His view is that Congress would need to pass a law explicitly stating the discriminating against women is illegal; then the courts, or the Court, could support anti-discrimination measure related to women.

Here’s the clause:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Here’s one person’s view of Scalia’s stance:

Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, called the justice’s comments “shocking” and said he was essentially saying that if the government sanctions discrimination against women, the judiciary offers no recourse.

“In these comments, Justice Scalia says if Congress wants to protect laws that prohibit sex discrimination, that’s up to them,” she said. “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. And that’s a pretty shocking position to take in 2011. It’s especially shocking in light of the decades of precedents and the numbers of justices who have agreed that there is protection in the 14th Amendment against sex discrimination, and struck down many, many laws in many, many areas on the basis of that protection.”

I don’t know why Ms. Greenberger thinks the Justice’s comments are “shocking.” I mean, what isn’t Scalia atavistic about?

Strictly from a rhetorical standpoint, his view seems curious, as the language of the clause refers to “citizens” and “any person.” (By the way, that “any person” bit seems interesting with regard to non-citizens’ rights.) If American women are citizens and persons, then they seem to be protected, in theory, by the clause.

Of course, Scalia no doubt thinks that if a woman comes before a court and argues that she has been discriminated against because of her gender, the court can’t help her because “gender” isn’t specified.

Let’s get more specific–and personal: Some female members of my extended family were talking over the holidays about women’s not being able to apply for loans not so long ago–simply because they were women. –As late as the 1970s, they claimed. So even if a woman were making more money than her husband and enough to justify a loan, the bank was likely to refuse her the loan, so often (or almost always) the husband would apply for the loan. And the banks were more or less clear about why they were refusing the loan.

I suppose, but don’t know, that this sort of think is covered by this or that Equal Opportunity legislation, so that in banking advertisements one hears, there’s the bit about “an equal opportunity lender”–referring indirectly to times when both women and African Americans were denied loans only because of their gender, their race, or both.

Apparently, Scalia’s thinking doesn’t run in this direction, nor of course does he believe that women have a right to get an abortion–even though the Constitution doesn’t state that the government has the right to prevent a woman from getting an abortion.

Obviously, I’m out of my depth here: Wild Bill is he Constitutional scholar. As a layperson, however, I do find it interesting that Scalia’s faux-passive “I just read what the Constitution says and think about what the drafters meant” is too clever by three-quarters. He interprets the words as much as the next person by choosing--rightly or wrongly–not to include women among “citizens” and “any person.” It’s not as if he held a seance and had the voice of the Constitution say, from beyond, “I din’t mean women.”

And after all, aren’t people discriminated against because of something in addition to their being people? I mean, it’s not like chipmunks run banks and have a bad attitude toward people in general. People run institutions and may discriminate against persons because of social categories into which persons “fall.” And it’s not as if stuff hasn’t happened in history to establish vivid patterns of discrimination against people because of gender, sexuality, disability, and/or race. Nope, says, Scalia, not going to apply to women–wouldn’t be prudent.

So, according to Scalia’s way of thinking, why was it okay for the Armed Forces to discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens and persons in the first place? Because there wasn’t a law that said the Armed Forces couldn’t do that? Is the Constitution really that, well, useless? Inquiring laypersons want to know.

And, this just in from our news desk, Stephen Colbert (noted Constitutional scholar) has weighed in on Scalia’s view:

Colbert on Scalia