Remembrance of Things Past

giver

How persistent is memory, politically speaking? Machiavelli argued that “the memory of ancient liberty,” possessed by republican peoples, is tenacious, presenting an obstacle for a ruler bent on tyrannizing those long used to self-government. In chapter 5 of The Prince, he counseled harsh measures like wiping out the entire population as the only sure mode to exterminate the remembrance of things past. Instead of Carthage-scale eradication, the society in The Giver has found a new mode—seemingly kinder and gentler—by which to neutralize memory, thereby creating a pliant citizenry.

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Justice Sutherland’s Uncertain Trumpet

I still remember the thrill of reading Justice George Sutherland’s dissent in Home Building Loan Association v. Blaisdell.   In that case the majority of the Court allowed Minnesota to extend the time that homeowners could protect their mortgages from foreclosure even against the  terms of their contract. The decision flew in the face of the text of the Contract Clause, which provides that “No State shall impair the obligation of contracts. “ The Court’s reasoning was essentially that the emergency of the Depression justified the abrogation. Justice Sutherland wrote a devastating dissent, showing not only did the constitutional text prohibit Minnesota’s action but that the Framers foresaw the need to protect creditors precisely in times of emergency. In a course where almost all my fellow students celebrated the Warren Court, Justice Sutherland was my hero.

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The SEC and the Cascade of Evasions

SECA recent WSJ editorial, The SEC as Prosecutor and Judge, comments on the SEC’s hints that it will be shifting its enforcement of insider trading laws from the courts to administrative adjudications:

A year after vowing to take more of its law-enforcement cases to trial, Securities and Exchange Commission officials now say the agency will increasingly bypass courts and juries by prosecuting wrongdoers in hearings before SEC administrative law judges, also known as ALJs. “I think you’ll see that more and more in the future,” SEC Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney told a June gathering of Washington lawyers, adding that insider trading cases were especially likely to go before administrative judges.

Ceresney undoubtedly thinks this will be efficient — not to mention advantageous in avoiding those pesky critters known as judges and juries.

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Return to the Barbaric

The President’s use of executive power outside and above the bounds of the Constitution is well known at this point. In policies ranging from the railroading of creditors in the auto bailouts, to Obamacare by waiver, eliminating key work provisions in the 1996 welfare reform legislation, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and to the informed suspicion that he will unilaterally legalize 5 to 6 million illegal immigrants, this President has entered a new realm of abuse of power. Resulting from the stress he’s placing on our constitutional order have arisen significant interventions that attempt to underline how and why we have arrived at this new dimension of executive power, even in the case of Congress there is an attempt to reclaim its authority, if only in a pusillanimous manner.

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The Sharing Economy as an Economy of Freedom

The so-called sharing economy has arrived. In this economy, the services sector has grown as information technology connects individuals who wish to provide services, such as transportation or gardening, with those who wish to buy them. Companies in this economy, like Uber and Airbnb, help match buyers and sellers but do not tend to employ the latter. Rather, people who provide services deal directly with their clients. By giving people more opportunities, the sharing economy also expands liberty.

Regulators and incumbents have already tried to prevent the disruptive entry of these new providers. A prime example is the battle against Uber. But a recent article highlights a set of social critics who dislike the sharing economy as a whole, and not just particular industries within it. Opponents of the sharing economy – and everyone quoted in the article who does not participate in this industry is a critic – presage attempts to regulate it by imposing burdensome work rules.

The article sketches the lives of a few people who make their living in this world. Although their stories are vivid, the article does not capture analytically the three great advantages of the sharing economy.

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The Case Against CIA [REDACTED] John [REDACTED]

CIA

I used to think I wanted the job security of the tenured professor but now I think what I really want is to run the CIA. Nothing, but nothing, gets those guys fired. John Brennan, for one, has retained his position after presiding over a formal, frontal assault on a coordinate branch of government. He has kept it after further mocking the principle of the separation of powers by redacting a Senate report on CIA interrogation practices so thoroughly that even already public material is blotted out.

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Contraceptives, Immigration, and the Great Libertarian Convergence

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A plausible interpretation of America and the world at the moment is that the imperatives of the 21st century global marketplace are so powerful they trump anything religious and political leaders say or do.

Techno-economic change does not, to be sure, trump anything and everything that nature might do. We recently had the near-miss of the stormy sun disrupting our electric grid and plunging us into the 18th century, and experts think there’s a 12 percent that could still actually happen over the next decade. That’s a lot more scary, if you think about it, than the possible long-term effects on the climate of anthropogenic global warming, although I’ll admit there’s an inconvenient truth or two there, too.

There’s also, of course, the disturbingly successful indifference of Putin and ISIS to the market, and the maybe more disturbing agility by which the Chinese manage to be both authoritarian nationalists and techno-cagey capitalists.

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More on the Indictment of Rick Perry

I have looked a bit more deeply into the Governor Rick Perry indictment.  Unfortunately, the new information I have uncovered does not quiet my concerns that the indictment was improper.  Quite the contrary.

The basis of the indictment is that Government Perry threatened to veto an appropriation passed by the Texas legislature for a public corruption unit on the ground that the head of the unit had committed a crime.  Perry wanted the head of the unit to resign before he would approve the appropriation.

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Madness in Mesopotamia

President Obama’s order for air strikes that are to last “several months” against the northern and eastern edges of the Islamic State In the Levant (ISIL) is a small part of a political effort to promote a “more inclusive” Iraqi government in Baghdad. This undercuts the missions that American air power could accomplish in short order – namely strengthening Kurdistan, America’s only ally in the region beside Israel, and saving the masses of refugees now fleeing ISIL. Nor is it part of any strategy for dealing with ISIL.

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The Indictment of Rick Perry

The indictment of Governor Rick Perry seems, at first glance, to be a political lawsuit without a substantial legal basis.  The lawsuits stems from the Governor’s threatening to veto and then vetoing funds to a public corruption unit based on the head of the unit having committed the crime of driving while intoxicated.

According to news reports and the prosecutor’s statement, there are two charges in the indictment: “Grand jurors in Travis County charged Mr. Perry with abusing his official capacity and coercing a public servant, according to Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor assigned to the case.”  The first claim is that Governor Perry improperly vetoed the funds passed by the Texas legislature.  The idea seems to be that it was improper for the government to veto funds based on the head of a unit having committed a crime.  The second claim is that he attempted to coerce the head of the public corruption unit to step down after her arrest for drunk driving by threatening to veto the funds unless she resigned.

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