The panel is interesting for a number of reasons, but I post about it largely because it illustrates so well the problem of “damned statistics.” Not being a statistician myself, I can only express my frustration at the way some people toss about numbers as if the act itself were sufficient to prove their point. For what it’s worth, I think Gail Heriot and Diana Furchtgott-Roth win this encounter hands down, but then, I agree with their side of the issue.
In light of my recent posts on Arizona SB1062, the bill that Gov. Brewer vetoed the other day, I feel I need to be clear: I don’t hate gays or lesbians. I am not a homophobe. As the saying goes, I have friends (and relatives) who are gay or lesbian. I wish them well and, for the most part*, support them in their quest for equal rights. My religion challenges me to love all people. I try to do that. Most of the time I succeed.
No, my posts—and posts like them on other subjects—come from a deep-seated belief in the value of religious liberty and from an ongoing frustration with those on the left who label my side, the conservative/religious side, “haters,” “deniers,” “misogynists,” “fascists,” “homophobes,” and “racists,” among other things. I know in my heart that I’m none of those things, and I’m confident that all or the vast majority of the conservatives/religious people I know are not. Thus, I’ve made up my mind to push back whenever I see those on the other side of an argument cavalierly throw around such evil epithets posing as reasoned argument.
I want to stress the word “cavalierly.” I am not a Pollyanna. I realize there are people–people on both sides of the aisle–who are, in fact, haters, deniers, misogynists, fascists, homophobes, and racists. When they act out on those traits, they should be called out. That said, it seems that the best way to do that is on a case-by-case basis rather than to label an entire groups of people unfairly and, generally, for political purposes.
That is all.
*I support traditional marriage, again not out of any animus towards the LBGT community but out of a belief in the nature and purpose of marriage that I won’t go into here. I do support civil unions.
I don’t care which side you are (were) on in the recent outcry over Arizona’s SB1062, but I assume you are interested in the facts of what the bill did and did not do. From what I’ve read, the bill was badly misrepresented. And in the process, its proponents were labeled haters and homophobes, while Jon Stewart called the bill repugnant–even though SB1062 did not even mention same-sex marriage or homosexuality and even though it essentially copied laws that are already on the federal books and on the books of 18 states.
In fact, the proposed law would have come into play if, say, the government attempted to force a small business to provide birth control. It would have applied to a government’s attempt to compel a business to pay for abortion services for its employees. If you can think of a case where the government–state or federal–might impose a burden on someone’s sincere religious belief, the proposed law would apply. Yes, it could have come into play had a baker refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
But the bill WOULD NOT have decided the case. The bakery would still have to pass GO. The owner would still have to demonstrate that he or she was acting out of a sincere religious belief. The same-sex couple would still be able to argue that the baker’s belief was less than sincere and did not justify refusing them service. And a court would ultimately have to decide between the two parties—based on the rules set out in the proposed law. In other words, the bill did not create an exception, so religious people could discriminate willy nilly. It simply sets the standards by which a court would adjudicate such a case.
Don’t believe me? Here, for your reading pleasure, is the best description of the proposed law I’ve read. It’s written by 11 prominent law professors, some of them Republicans, some Democrats; some of them support same-sex marriage, some don’t. Nine of them felt that Gov. Brewer should have signed the bill. Two were unsure. Among the 11 are Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard and Michael McConnell of Stanford, two of the brightest lights in the legal academy.
You can read what they wrote at the link–without any filtering by the press or Comedy Central or by me. The following are three key paragraphs:
SB1062 would amend the Arizona RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] to address two ambiguities that have been the subject of litigation under other RFRAs. It would provide that people are covered when state or local government requires them to violate their religion in the conduct of their business, and it would provide that people are covered when sued by a private citizen invoking state or local law to demand that they violate their religion.
But nothing in the amendment would say who wins in either of these cases. The person invoking RFRA would still have to prove that he had a sincere religious belief and that state or local government was imposing a substantial burden on his exercise of that religious belief. And the government, or the person on the other side of the lawsuit, could still show that compliance with the law was necessary to serve a compelling government interest. As a business gets bigger and more impersonal, courts will become more skeptical about claims of substantial burden on the owner’s exercise of religion. And as a business gets bigger, the government’s claim of compelling interest will become stronger. (Emphasis supplied)
A few paragraphs later, the 11 law professors summarize the bill’s impact as follows:
So, to be clear: SB1062 does not say that businesses can discriminate for religious reasons. It says that business people can assert a claim or defense under RFRA, in any kind of case (discrimination cases are not even mentioned, although they would be included), that they have the burden of proving a substantial burden on a sincere religious practice, that the government or the person suing them has the burden of proof on compelling government interest, and that the state courts in Arizona make the final decision. (Emphasis supplied)
Did you catch that? Those who are refused service by a business can still sue. Those who are sued can assert the defense of sincere religious practice. And the courts get to sort it out–just like they would have done prior to the bill becoming law. The only difference is that the evidentiary rules governing that courtroom exercise would be codified.
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
Alex Tabarrok rifs on that theme at Marginal Revolution when he asks Did Obama Spy on Romney? He answers his own question:
No. Some people claim that President Obama didn’t even know about the full extent of NSA spying. Indeed, I imagine that President Obama was almost as surprised as the rest of us when he first discovered that we live in a mass surveillance state in which billions of emails, phone calls, facebook metadata and other data are being collected.
Who knows? As Tabrrok reminds us, the NSA listened in on Angela Merkel’s phone calls. What if Romney called her during his 2012 campaign? In any case, he’s certainly right when he says that “Men are not angels.” Nevertheless, Tabarrok doesn’t think the NSA forwarded any tapes on to the Obama campaign. Still, “Men are not angels,” right?
Did the NSA use the information they gathered on Mitt Romney and other political candidates for political purposes? Probably not. Will the next president or the one after that be so virtuous so as to not use this kind of power? I have grave doubts. Men are not angels.
The Nixon administration plumbers broke into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to gather information to discredit him. They busted into a single file cabinet (pictured). What a bunch of amateurs.
The NSA has broken into millions of file cabinets around the world.
Nixon resigned in disgrace. Who will pay for the NSA break-ins? (Emphasis added)
Another two thumbs up for Robert Caro’s book The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. It easily ranks among the top 5 books I’ve ever read, a mesmerizing study of power in the hands of one man, the New York state and City parks commissioner. A parks commissioner!
This passage caught my attention today:
If a commissioner [of another department resisted his attempts to circumvent the law], Moses used the public rather than the private smear. “Mr. Moses told me . . . that he was able to control the press of New York City, so as to hold me up to such obloquy that I would not be able to stand it,” W. Kingsland Macy had testified a decade before. The smear technique that had been used then was used now–frequently.
In the hands of a man for whom the press acted as a gigantic sounding board, repeating and amplifying his words, the smear was a terrible weapon–particularly when those words were as caustic and cutting as Moses’. . . . (469)
How bad was it? How deep in Moses’ pocket were the press? This deep:
Mrs. Sulzberger [daughter of the founder of the New York Times, wife of the publisher in the 1930s] believed that Moses came “close to our ideal of what a Park Commissioner should be”; the Times evidently believed so, too. Its reporters and editors may never have been directly ordered to give Moses special treatment but, during the Thirties as during the Twenties, they were not so insensitive as not to know what was expected of them. Moses’ press releases were treated with respect, being given prominent treatment and often being printed in full. There were no investigating of the “facts” presented in those press releases, no attempt at detailed analysis of his theories of recreation and transportation, no probing of the assumption on which the city was building and maintaining recreational facilities and roads. The Times ran more than one hundred editorials on Moses and his programs during the twelve-year La Guardia administration–overwhelmingly favorable editorials. (461)
The more I read about Calvin Coolidge, the more I like him. Next on my reading list is Amity Shlaes’s biography, Coolidge. But for good reading on this special day, his speech commemorating the 150th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence is worthy of your time and thought, especially this paragraph.
About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
I’m of so many minds on immigration that I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to explain my position to you. I am clear on one thing however: As with the vote on Obamacare, no lasting good and lots of trouble will come from rushing the current incarnation of immigration reform through the halls and chambers on Capitol Hill. In case you’ve not read the latest, here’s quick update. Though the Corker-Hoeven amendment to the so-called Gang of Eight bill only amounts to about 112 pages, those “pages” are interspersed throughout the existing 1,000 page plus bill, making it an essentially new, 1,200 page bill. The amendment was added to the bill late Friday.
As I said, I’ve always opposed rushing these monstrosities–speaking of size rather than content–through the legislative process. They need to be read and understood first or bad things will almost certainly happen later. My feelings about this issue have increased 10 fold as I read–make that listened to–Robert Caro’s 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, a page-turner about the man behind New York state’s parks and parkways system. (For the uninitiated, New York parkways are essentially well-groomed freeways.) Trust me, this is easily one of the most interesting books you’ll ever read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Moses grew up an idealist to become a man of great vision. He truly worked wonders throughout New York state from the early 1920s till the 1960s. That said, he did it all by chucking his idealism in favor or raw, virtually unchecked power. He decided that to get things done, he first needed to accumulate power or make friends with those who already had it. He learned the tricks of what would become his trade at the feet of New York governor Al Smith and Belle Moskowitz, Smith’s right hand woman. And one of those tricks was taking advantage of the bill drafting process–advantage, that is, of the fact that most legislators don’t read what they vote on.
With that background, let me quote from Chapter 10: The Best Bill Drafter in Albany.
Once, no reformer, no idealist, had believed more sincerely than [Moses] in free and open discussion. No reformer, no idealist, had argued more vigorously that legislative bills should be fairly debated, and that the debates should be published so that the citizenry could be informed on the issues.
But free and open debate had not made his dreams come true. Instead, politicians had crushed them. And now he was going to make sure that, with the exception of Al Smith and Belle Moskowitz, no one–not citizenry, not press, not Legislature–was going to know what was in the bills dealing with parks that the Legislature was going to pass. The best bill drafter in Albany set to work.
First and foremost, parks were land, and land was generally acquired by government through condemnation. But condemnation in 1924 was a slow process, since the state could not take title to property until a condemnation commission set its value. And since the property’s owner could appeal to the courts if not satisfied with the commission’s evaluation, he could delay the state further. He [the property owner] therefore possessed in his opposition to the state a weapon, even if it was a small one–and in the hands of the barons of Long Island, small weapons could become large.
So one clause within Chapter 122 of the Laws of 1924, “AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR the location, creation, acquisition and improvement by the state of parks, parkways and boulevards in the counties of Nassau and Suffolk,” a clause buried deep within the act, empowered the Long Island State Park Commission to acquire land by condemnation and appropriation “in the manner provided by section fifty-nine of the conservation law.” (173-174, emphasis in original)
And what was so bad about that you ask, apart from burying the clause “deep within the act”? Well, how he defined “appropriation” within the act, for one. Moses’s bill defined “appropriation” not as “allocating funds to such and such a project” much like any legislator would have understood the term then and now. No, Moses defined appropriation “in the manner provided by section fifty-nine of the conservation law,” a law passed by the New York legislature in 1884 for a very specific purpose and used little since and then only in remote forests to preserve them. And under that 1884 law, appropriation was a procedure, according to Caro,
. . . in which a state official could take possession of the land by simply walking on it and telling the owner he no longer owned it–and that if he wanted compensation, he would have to apply to the condemnation commission himself. (174)
Caro also says that the appropriation “method had never ben used anywhere for more than 30 years because of doubts about its constitutionality. But the Legislature had never gotten around to repealing section fifty-nine” (174).
Moses didn’t stop there. In section eight of the bill, he wrote that the parks commission “had the right to operate parks.” He waited until section nine to tell anybody that read that far that “the term . . . parks as used in this act . . . shall be deemed to include . . . parkways . . . boulevards and also entrances and approaches thereto, docks and piers, and bridges . . . and such other appurtenances as the . . . commission shall utilize . . . ”
Section eight also gave the parks commission the right to “acquire . . . real estate.” The wary legislator had to read section ten to learn that “the term real estate as used in this act shall be construed to embrace all uplands, lands under water . . . and all real estate heretofore or hereafter acquired or used for railroad, street railroad, telephone, telegraph, or other public purposes . . .” As Caro points out, the words “lands underwater” were significant because they effectively undercut any claims a group of his biggest opponents, the “baymen,” had to their “‘sacred’ bay bottoms.”
There’s more to the story. As Caro captures it, “almost every clause in the act contained a sleeper” (175). And each of those sleepers and later ones like them in other bills, ordinances, charters, etc. helped Moses reign over parks and parkways and baseball parks, etc. etc. etc. in New York state well into the 1960s.
For me–and for you, I hope–the lesson is clear: bill drafting is a pathway to power. The drafting of and amendments to bills that are then rushed through Congress without time for interested parties to read and digest what’s in them is a ticket to greater power for some and a recipe for disaster for the rest of us. Be wary. Be very wary of the current immigration bill–unless and until we and our elected representatives have had time to read it.
This led me to think of this, which led me to discover this, which discusses this.
Can we all agree that 4,500 federal laws and regulations with criminal penalties–not to mention the myriad criminal laws and regulations on the books in 50 different states–are maybe just a bit much?
Don’t think so? Then read the following, which is from the first link above:
The report [issued by Human Rights Watch on the life-shattering consequences of putting minors on sex registries for offenses — sometimes shockingly mild offenses — for the rest of their lives] begins with Jacob C., who was 11 years old when convicted of one count of sexual misconduct in Michigan for touching, not penetrating, his sister’s genitals. He was not allowed to live in a home with other children, was eventually put into foster care and was placed on a sex registry that was made public when he turned 18. He struggled to graduate from high school, and was shunned because of his registration status. And when he enrolled in college, he said, campus police followed him everywhere. He dropped out.
Now 26, the report says, Jacob’s life continues to be defined and limited by a conviction at age 11.
But at least we’ve been kept safe from him, right?
The story goes on to explain that even the most innocuous behavior–behavior typical of college and high school students virtually everywhere–can land you on the list:
Registries can also include ‘people who have committed offenses like public urination, indecent exposure (such as streaking across a college campus), and other more relatively innocuous offenses.’
Now what do you think? Hells bells, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the friends I had in high school who did things of that sort while at good old Powell High School. I may have done one or two of them myself, but my memory’s fading–thankfully.