Saturday, August 08, 2009

Irrelevance of Ethnicity

Tibor R. Machan

CNN has just notified me by email that "Sonia Sotomayor [was] sworn in as U.S. Supreme Court justice; first Hispanic on high court." I signed up to receive notification of breaking news but the notification should not have made any mention of the lady's ethnicity. Or sex. Or race. Or height. Or indeed anything over which Justice Sotomayor has no control whatsoever unless it could be an impediment to her ability to serve in the new job she got.

I am, as some readers will recall, of Hungarian background. But this is not some achievement for which I should receive credit or blame or even be noticed, certainly not when it comes to my profession or how I am to be dealt with my the legal system. In personal matters it may have some significance. If I were to go on one of the cyber-dating web sites and I filled out a form about me, I might mention having been born in Budapest just in case some appealing potential partner had a yen for Hungarian food or music or something else associated with the country. But this is because in such matchmaking contexts one isn't mainly concerned with achievements or accomplishments but with tastes and preferences. And there is nothing wrong with having such a yen but everything with attaching some kind of moral or political importance to it. One might have a preference for a date or even mate who is tall or dark skinned or light, or one with a predilection for mountain climbing or bowling. Others who don't fit the bill will not be candidates. But to prefer someone with ethnic attributes of a certain kind for high office is political misjudgment. That Justice Sotomayor is a Hispanic should have absolutely nothing to do with her qualification for a place on the court, any more than my being of Hungarian extraction should have anything to do with whether I am qualified to vote in a political election.

This is why it disturbed me that CNN thought it important to mention Justice Sotomayor's ethnicity. I don't want to seem picky and, yes, there are times when where one comes from or where one has been raised as a child can be of some relevance to what kind of work one is doing. In my case, for example, since I do a good deal of writing in English, and given my origins I am not as fluent in English as my work might require me to be, it could be important to know that I will probably need some editing help with what I write, something that native speakers tend not to.When I was a young refugee here in the states and knew that I wanted to teach at the college level, I made sure that I had a great many chance practicing my new language, the third in my case. I always believed that it would be best not to obscure my message, in the classroom or elsewhere, by having too heavy an accent, so I used mimicking disc jockeys and learning the lyrics to popular as a way to prepare myself. (Yes, I never had the idea of receiving bilingual instructions in the various subjects I took--that was something that became a demand of later generations of immigrants.)

The idea that one should be color blind in one's interactions with people isn't something that applies universally, to all relations with others, either. Casting a movie about African slave revolts cannot be done without paying attention to color. Nor need one ignore color or ethnicity or other idiosyncratic attributes in others when it comes to one's personal aesthetic tastes. Some like the features of Asian or black or Mongolian potential mates. But when one has a clear job description to apply, these have no place in one's decision. Being a justice of the United States Supreme Court has nothing at all to do with what one's color or ethnic background happens to be and the fact that at one time it did is something very regrettable, the source of much injustice in history and should be completely erased in our selection procedures.

Of course, all that business of legally mandated affirmative action is what prolongs reaching this objective and does not in any way remedy the injustices of the past. Those injustices were perpetrated by and on people in the past. Those not being discriminated now have no business asking for remedies of such past injustices, any more than if some people in 1850 who robbed a house could have their ill gotten gains returned to their rightful owners by having their great grand kids pay compensation to the victim's great grand kids. If any such procedure would apply, it would have to be done with meticulous care, tracing the causal relationships from the event in the past to losses o harm claimed from them by those in the present. To try to skip this by some wave of the hand that says, "Well, we will just add to the benefits received by the grandchildren (or worse, people of similar race or skin color), never mind which individuals caused the harms to the grandparents" is a species of just the sort of racism that brought on all the problems and ought to be wiped out.
Democracy, When I Like the Outcome

Tibor R. Machan

Many moons ago California had a referendum, as only California can have them, promoted by the Democratic operative Bill Press, urging huge taxes on oil company incomes and profits, just about when the massive oil spill occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel. (I think it was immediately following the spill that Press imagined he could get the voters to lay in on Big Oil!) Alas, the voters went against Press's people and for Big Oil, but, of course, Mr. Press & Co., immediately cried foul. Clearly democracy was only a valid method for reaching public policy decisions when it favored what Mr. Press & Co., the Democrats, in other words, wanted. Anything else had to be corrupt, not bona fide democracy.

We are these days witnessing the same thing across the country. Mr. Obama & Co. want health care reform and they insist on doing it their way. As they spread across the land taking their plans to various communities, people are gathering to hear them and in lots of places they are not liking what they are hearing. So they protest, sometimes showing visible outrage with what they are hearing. And, yes, some of these meetings are attended by people who have been urged to show up by organizers who would like them to make it evident that they oppose the administration's plans.

Many of them probably took a leaf out of Mr. Obama's own book about how to organize communities to achieve exactly what these protesters and their own organizers have in mind. (Mr. Obama was famously involved in leading people in various communities to organize people so that they can more effectively promote their agendas.) But turn around is not fair play by any means, not if one listens to Mr. Obama's cheerleaders in the media, the likes of Paul Krugman, Gail Collins, and Charles M. Blow, all of them writing on the Op Ed page of The New York Times denouncing the protesters and whoever may or may not have had a hand in organizing them.

Why is it Democrats who finds it so intolerable when democracy doesn't go their way? Why can only those results that support their own "ideological agenda"--a term Mr. Obama & Co. like to deploy when they wish to besmirch the opposition--manage to be democratic, while when the vote or the meetings go against them, something must have undermined the democratic process? My guess is that many of these folks really do not want democracy at all. They have their plans, in which they have full confidence whether Americans across the country agree with them, and only when the majority likes those plans will majority rule--or even just minority participation--be something that's acceptable to them.

Mind you, it is not my point to insist on carte blanches for democracy, not by any means. I am in full accord with the implication of that famous example of misguided democracy provided by the lynch mob. However the majority might insist on hanging someone, if no due process was followed in convicting him, it's a no go. Democracy itself isn't sufficient. It must be guided by principles of justice, which is what due process brings to the table. Limited democracy, applied by restricting the process to matters open for a vote, is the ticket, not the bloated, illiberal sort so many enthusiasts want. An that is how democracy is supposed to work in a free country. Some rather few matters can be up for a vote, yes, but not everything. The Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution precisely in that spirit. No majority support for forcing people to worship in a given way can be legitimate; no majority support for shutting down disagreeable editorialists--and, by extension, community organizers--is legitimate. Not even majority support for taking people's property unless, again, due process has been in play.

Maybe Democrats should abide by the spirit that gave rise to the principles of their party. Even the Bush administration took it to heart not to roundly denounce the protesters of its policies by impugning their commitment to the democratic process.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Taxation Without Representation

Tibor R. Machan

Over the last year there has been an immense accumulation of national debt. Now in principle this is nothing new--the practice of funding projects with borrowed money is quite old but the scale has never been this huge. (Some may argue that war time debts were of greater percentage of the national budget but this is not war time.)

While Democrats are well known to be the routinely big spenders, Republicans aren't far behind, especially during the George W. Bush presidency. So my points have nothing to do with partisanship--plague on both your parties, I say. At this time, however, it is Republicans in Washington who are pointing fingers about the incredible national debt and how this will have to be paid for by our children, grandchildren, et al. But even the Republicans are silent about one of the colossal obscenities of all this, namely, that we have here a practice that runs smack up against one of the quintessential American principles, namely, "No taxation without representation."

I am not sure why hardly anyone is saying anything about this in the mainstream media but it is really quite gross: the people who will carry the burden of all this irrational spending aren't the ones who are voting for it or voting for the people in Congress who are voting for it all. No. The process of dumping all this debt on those who aren't even alive yet, not to mention cannot vote, is so out of line with the American political tradition that it simply baffles me that few commentators make mention of that fact.

For my money all taxation is extortion, a policy suitable to monarchies but not free societies. To pay for the job--a limited job at that--that government is supposed to perform, nothing coercive must be undertaken. No robbery, no burglary, no theft, no extortion, Nada. But this seems not to phase too many people, and certainly very few if anyone in the mainstream media. Yet the practice of extorting money from citizens is not consistent with the theory of rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence, nor indeed with the Bill of Rights (the 5th amendment, in particular). Yes, late in the day taxation was "authorized" by, well, those who wanted to do it. That's like bank robbers deciding that robbing banks is just fine. But it isn't of course. In the past it made some sense because the country "belonged to" the king or czar or some other despot. Because of this fiction, taxes could be levied on--rent could be collected from--those working within the ruler's realm.

But the country has changed from being ruled by a monarch to being governed by those who were selected by the citizens and this simply does not authorize anyone to expropriate a huge portion of our resources. Government must find a voluntary way to fund itself, no different from the dentist, shoe maker, golf pro or taxi driver. None of these people doing vital work have the authority to extort money. If they cannot find willing customers, they must find some work that people are willing to pay for. Anyone benefiting from the tax system is getting tainted funds.

Never mind this radical, albeit very true, doctrine of how to pay for legitimate public services. Assume that the way it was left by the American framers is kosher enough. Taxation is permissible provided those being taxed can vote on the policy. No taxation without representation, in short.

But this has now been totally subverted, so we are now moving back toward the time when governments owned the country and even us. And some of the major legal theorists advising the Obama administration, such as Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein, explicitly advocate just this viewpoint: Government owns everything and grants us the privilege of spending some of its money!

Well, maybe in time we will resume the more progressive public policy whereby government will promote the protection of individual rights instead of violating them.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Conspiracy Anyone?

Tibor R. Machan

Some questions about the release of two employees of Al Gore by the North Koreans and some other questions about the three persons who are still in custody in Iran.

First, what were these two ladies doing so near North Korea that they could be captured? Was this something innocent? Was their job to end up where they were captured and why so? No, these are not rhetorical questions on my part. I really don't understand and have heard no one address the issues. (Of course, there is also the question of just how much responsibility does a government have to rescue people who have negligently been exposed to such capture.)

Second, why would North Korea deal so readily, smoothly with Bill Clinton? And with Al Gore? Is there something afoot here we are nowhere near privy to? Maybe the objective is to give these American public figures something to brag about, somehow to endear themselves with the American public at a time when some of the current administration's plans are in trouble. Nothing like an emotionally pregnant event to get a lot of people to forget about public policy blunders. It is also possible, is it not, that North Korea finds the Clinton-Gore entourage more sympathetic to its socialist system than, say, some private, politically neutral party in America. I am sorry but I just will not accept that North Korea has suddenly become a friend of the United States of America and has nothing but good will up its sleeve. After all, why capture these people anyway? What have they done that deserved threatening them with 12 years of incarceration by officials of a system that has no conception of due process of law? And then why just let it all go?

Third, once out of reach of the North Koreans, why were the two women giving North Korea thanks? Have they been guilty of anything for which they have been generously forgiven? What's that? To all appearances they were being used criminally, in ways no human beings may be used by other human beings.

Fourth, I am always inclined to compare these kinds of events with what might have occurred at the time the Nazis ruled Germany. What if a similar thing had happened and Hitler "graciously" handed back some kidnapped journalists to some ex-president of the US? Would this have played out similarly? I doubt it. But then it seems like the current American government is giving a pass to North Korea for its totalitarian practices, for the famines its policies have produced and the deaths and misery they have caused. Or are we, perhaps, witnessing some cosiness between the Obama Administration and the glorious goals of a socialist government such as North Korea?

Then there is the not yet resolved Iranian fiasco, involving the three Americans who are said to have wandered into Iran from Iraq by accident. How does one do this? Why would one be so near that border and fail to realize that such carelessness could be deadly?

When back in 1974 I decided to visit communist Hungary, where I still had relatives, for the first time since I was smuggled out from there in 1953, I didn't simply take a sloppy walk and end up behind the Iron Curtain. No, I called the American embassy first and asked whether it would be safe to visit and was told they haven't lost an American there in 40 some years. So it seemed safe, even for an ex-Hungarian who, by that country's laws was still regarded a citizen and eligible for being drafted into the military there. Knowing this I made sure that some journalists in Vienna, the closest major Western city to Budapest, would be aware of my visit and start making hey if something happened to me. Even then I was hauled down to the police station and interrogated about my visit and my escape 20 years ago. I was in the hot seat for some three hours answering questions most of which I couldn't make sense of. But that was it, no further hassles.

The bottom line is, I don't see why these five Americans placed themselves in harms way. So I am tempted to consider some kind of conspiracy theory, especially seeing how the Iranians and North Koreans have been treated with kid gloves, not a harsh word, nothing. Go figure.