Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grading the Contendahs: 2012 GOP Pres Candidates (Part 4)

Okay, kiddies, now that we're a mere 5 months to New Hampshire and Iowa, the race for the GOP Presidential nomination is in full-swing.  Heck, we even have our first drop out.  That's right, we no longer have Tim Pawlenty around to ignore.  Too soon? No, just no one cares?  Ouch.

In the interim, we have the entrance of GOP Savior No. 1,387 - Rick Perry.  Waiting in the wings are grossly unpopular in his home state, Chris Christie, let's end Medicare, Paul Ryan, and the poor man's Tim Pawlenty, George Pataki.  Not exactly a thrilling list for sure.

Okay, so let's start grading the contendahs:

Rick Perry: He's been in for what, a week?  Well, he's become the frontrunner, and has turned into a rich man's Michelle Bachmann.  He's just as nutty, but has been elected to state-wide office, and doesn't have a creepy husband.  On the other hand, he advocated for the end of Social Security and Medicare (which he has since retracted), his "Texas miracle" is based on minimum wage jobs, and he's a bit too Bush-like.  In fact, I'll go ahead and call him a poor man's George Bush.  Still, the Tea Party is basically all of Bush's diehard supporters, so that isn't a bad thing.  Also, because Perry can be "folksy," the media will like him, and he won't get completely crushed against Obama.  Overall, not a bad pick for the GOP Primary voter.

Mitt Romney: Mittens is still the flip-flopping, extremely creepy and weird guy he always was.  To be honest, I think he's done, because everyone knows who he is, and if they were going to vote for him, they would've done so before.  Some would argue that Bachmann loses the most by Perry being in the race because Perry appeals to the same base of voters.  I disagree.  Mittens loses his biggest cache - the frontrunner status.  Without it, is there any reason to pay attention to the Mittster?

Michelle Bachmann: Here's the thing about Michelle Bachmann, even though she's nuts, and even though her husband is a little bit flamey (though totally not gay, allegedly), she still has a strong appeal to the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party (also known as the average GOP Primary Voter).  After all, she was on the ground first.  Perry's presence hurts her, but she won't go down without a fight.  At the same time, being elected to a statewide office is actually an important step in running for President, and so go down she will.  Now, I can see Bachmann on the ticket, but if Perry is the nominee, this is less likely.

Ron Paul: Like Bachmann, he has deep levels of support, though he's not as crazy.  The problem with Ron Paul is that the faction he appeals to isn't big enough in the GOP and he has no crossover appeal.  Also, everyone knows who he is.  If he was going to be the nominee, he'd be up big by now.

Herman Cain: Recently, a Tea Partier told a Latino Democratic Congressman from New Mexico (which is 45% Latino), who's parents held elective office in the United States, to get out of public office to make room for an American.  I mention this because no matter how conservative Herman Cain is, he is still an African American, and thus, still suspect to a significant portion of the GOP.  So Cain will make waves, but he won't get the nod.

John Huntsman: There is no way in hell John Huntsman will take the GOP nomination.  None.  He believes in evolution, agrees with scientists on Global Warming, and used to work for Barack Obama.  But, I'm getting the feeling that he's okay with that.  Given the anger with Obama from the Left and the Center, I think that Huntsman is setting himself up for an independent campaign.  And I'm not alone - Nate Silver thinks so too.

As far as the other candidates in the race are concerned, I don't see any of them going anywhere. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Quick Primer on Constitutionality

One thing I keep hearing as an attorney is about how x is unconstitutional (when it really is constitutional), or how I hear y is a great program and that there's no reason for it to be unconstitutional, and so on.  So, let's lay down a few laws about I think is constitutional and what's not.

First the framework - the Constitution of the United States of America is an amazing document that lays out what the Federal Government and the State Goverments can and cannot do, and lays out our various freedoms.  As this document is based upon the work of John Locke, the Constitution is generally concerned with life, liberty and property, plus a few protections actually spelled out (freedom of religion, speech, due process, equal treatment, etc.)

Now, let's consider this for a brief moment - virtually every part of your life, your property and your liberty are regulated in some way, shape or fashion.  So, if the Constitution is supposed to protect those things, what gives?  Well, because government couldn't effectively function without regulating your life in some way, courts will allow the government to interfere with your rights if it has a good reason. 

Take jaywalking, for instance.  State governments can actually prohibit you from walking across the street where you want, and when you want. Why? Because people are dumbasses and will get themselves killed by oncoming traffic.  Also, jaywalking laws don't take away your liberty as much as ask you for a few seconds of your time.  Because its a low level right (seriously, you don't need to cross the street that fucking badly), Courts will allow this one if the government has a reason for it.

As you go up the ladder of rights, reasons need to get better and better.  Say you want to forcibly sterilize women who have mental disabilities because you don't want them to have kids with mental disabilities - woah, woah, hold up there mister.  That kind of regulation crosses too many lines, because you're fucking with someone's ability to have kids - a major part of the right to life and liberty.  There have better be a damned good explanation for that. 

There are also some areas where the Courts won't buy the government's argument.  This is especially true if the regulation has to do with anything race-based.  Thanks to 100 years of segregation and Jim Crow laws, anything that remotely touches on race comes with a "you better have all your ducks in a row, Government" warning label.  With gender discrimination, the level isn't quite as high, but its close.

There is also another intervening factor - the Constitution actually gives the government the right to do stuff.  As you might expect, if the government has the right to do something, then fuck all rights.  Conscription, for instance, affects the right to life, liberty, property and a whole host of other rights, but the Courts let it through because Congress has the right to pass laws to create armies and navies.  Civil rights laws are explicitly allowed because Congress has the right to affect interstate commerce (which is basically everything) and have the right under the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to pass laws to guarantee equality. 

But when faced with what's constitutional or not, the issue is 1) how important is the right affected by the law; 2) how good is the government's reason for the intrusion; and 3) does the Government have an explicit right to intrude on your rights?  So, when the Courts say something is unconstitutional, its generally because they've done that analysis.  Now, they're not always right, but they all follow this general framework.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Environment, Economics and Externalities

Recently - okay, earlier today - the guys at Two Cathedrals (a great blog by the way) put up a post equating environmental protection with patriotism.  As much as I like the blog, I think the post missed the point.  Environmental protection isn't important because it protects democracy, but rather, when democracies protect the environment, its evidence that the democracy is working.  Sort of a chicken and egg kind of a thing, I know, but bear with me.

First of all, let's clarify something - for all of the many benefits of the market system, the market fails repeatedly at environmental protection.  In a typical market transaction, a buyer and a seller come together, have a meeting of the minds and then money changes hands.  Now, the environmental degradation in the use or the manufacture of the product isn't really a part of the transaction, because often the environmental effects hit someone who isn't even part of the transaction.  With SUV's, for instance, the seller and buyer both knew that SUV's were dangerous to the environment, but went ahead with the sale because the seller wanted to make money, and the buyer wanted a kickass Escalade for under $50k.  The guy living in the South Pacific who ends up having to leave his home because of rise of the oceans gets screwed, but he isn't part of the deal.

The thing is, we know all of this.  There are lots of examples of industry screwing the environment - whether its out and out dumping of toxic chemicals, or selling products that are environmentally unfriendly - and the people on the outside are the ones who get screwed.  This documentary on HBO about Ford and illegal dumping is particularly depressing.  In authoritarian regimes and malfunctioning democracies these horrific acts of degradation are ignored because they stand in the way of "progress" or money making at the hands of the economic elites.

In functioning democracies, on the other hand, the other guy, the one who suffers from the externality that the buyer and seller ignore, has power to go to the government and say, "Hey, hey, I'm fucking dying over here man!" And not only can he say this, but someone will actually listen to his complaints, and act on it because its the right thing to do.  Thus, environmental protection isn't so much a necessity of a functioning democracy, but a symptom of a functioning democracy. 

By the way, those who argue that the market can cure all ills without government intervention forget that the market is a human invention, with all of humanity's foibles.  For instance, it turns out that owners of hybrids are bigger douchebags than drivers of Hummers because hybrid owners feel like they've done enough good by owning a hybrid.  This carries over to lots of other areas as well - we humans have only so much altruism in our hearts.  Also, keep in mind, that if the market was going to stop environmental degradation without governmental interference, it would have done so already.  Instead, economists created the concept of externality to specifically address environmental degradation.