Friday, April 28, 2006

Life, Liberty Property...And Language?

(This is another sort of "recycled" post, comprised of some comments I made in a class concerning language and immigration. The notion was posited that it is the responsibility of governments to "protect" and "promote" linguistic minorities. My comments follow.)

I just wanted to offer a few observations on the topic of government and the protection/promotion of linguistic human rights (LHR).It seems to me that anything that comes down from the UN, especially anything of a cultural nature, is a bit difficult from a sovereignty standpoint.

The difficulty, as far as I see it, comes in the terminology, namely the use of "protect" and/or "promote."Now, when I see the word "protect" used, I assume that this posits a negative rights standpoint as far as the government is concerned. What I mean is that the rights that people have intrinsically should be protected from the incursion/denegration from other actors in the society.

This, naturally, arises from an entire view of the role of government as protector of the natural rights of the citizenry, namely (to use John Locke's words) life, liberty and property. Beyond the protection of these rights, in a minimal state, the government can play no positive role; the actors in the society are left to themselves to perpetuate their culture without aid from the state.

When, on the other hand, I hear the word "promote," this denotes a more utilitarian, activist concept of the function of government in the field of rights. Promotion can mean a lot of things: the facility of institutions, the passage of legal protections and the provision of public funds. In my opinion, government enters dangerous territory (especially when it refers to culture) in taking an extremely activist role in such matters. Why do I think this, you ask?I believe that rights, at least the ones protected by the state, should derive from the rubric of life, liberty and property. These rights denote that the state should not be allowed to kill you, detain you or steal from you.

Can LHR be derived from any of these basic negative rights?Here again, I suppose this descends from one's understanding of "stealing." In the strictest sense (and the one that formed the spirit of much of law in the eighteenth and nineteenth century era of state-building), the only referent here is tangible assets. Is this proper?

As I said before, that comes with one's definition of the proper role of government.I guess the real issue is are LHR on the same level of rights as life, liberty and property? Should rights be categorized as such? And, if so, what responsibility should any state have for protecting them? If they don't protect them, can/should coercive, forceful action be taken against them?

(If you are interested in this topic further, check UNESCO's page on the subject for all of the official UN documents. Also useful is this page maintained by a professor of language and linguistics at the University of Essex.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Illinois And The Fine Art Of Jiggery-Pokery

This will be a short one, just two more recent examples of the "culture of corruption" in Illinois politics, especially in Cook County.
  • When they say culture, perhaps it was in a literal sense. Illinois has been called a "petri dish for corruption" by the National Association of Attorneys- General. So, how are the fine people of Illinois supposed to take this assertion by a bunch of government lawyers. Well, people of Illinois, consider the case of Wisconsin AG Peg Lautenschlager. I am sure she would be the first to down Illinois for being on the make, but, well, explain this away, top law enforcement officer in the state (be sure to watch the video). We don't mind corruption...means you don't have to bother with the forms.
  • Hey, this is abuse of the system...civil servants getting away with flouting the law like that...oh, wait, this sort of deal makes that look like a sort of a fringe benefit. Were there kickbacks, brown-envelope jobs, payola...well, it got done, didn't it?

And the beat goes on...

(Oh, this is what jiggery-pokery means).

Friday, April 21, 2006

In The Good Old Summertime...

...there will be more posts.

I am currently engrossed in the end-of-year rush and feel like an academic air-traffic controller. I have projects, presentations and suchlike to finish. It always gets done, but the pressure is on.

Fear not, kind reader. The summer frees me up for more independent reflections and ability to publish in this space.

On the agenda are continued ruminations on impeachment of President Bush (we are taking the long route, naturally, so expect discussions of history, law, precedent, allegations and just war theory), immigration reform (at the behest of reader Eric Schneider), the nature of sovereignty and the proper role of government (an underlying theme of much of my thinking, but we will handle these directly), continuing coverage of politics in Illinois, Wisconsin and beyond and other topics of interest to me (and you, hopefully).

Read the piece below. Ahh, bad government at its worst.

No summer break for the intellect, ever. Blessing or curse? You decide.

George, Judy and Rod: Jail, Trouble, Lucky

Well, it has been quite a few weeks in Illinois politics indeed.

This past Monday, after a thirteen year investigation and a five month trial, former Illinois Governor George Ryan (R) was found guilty on all counts in his federal indictment.

This would be a big story by itself, but the added bonus of it coming down in a gubernatorial election year makes the speculation (at least for me) that much more dastardly.

For Ryan himself, good riddance. My grandfather said that he met George Ryan in 1960 when he was a Kankakee County Supervisor and did not trust him from that moment. Oh, if the rest of the state would have had the same experience. He rose through the ranks of the legislature and the Illinois G.O.P. to the rank of Secretary of State under Governor Jim Edgar. After Edgar decided to call it quits and not seek re-election in 1998, Ryan ran and beat a rather un-electable Democrat, Dawn Clark Netsch. He, at that time, at least seemed like the "devil we knew."

Illinois politics has a funny effect on people. No matter who the are or what they say, that ol' culture of corruption is a tempting mistress and most fall prey to her whims. We all knew that the new governor was a Springfield hack who would have his snout in the trough just like the rest of them. What was not counted on was that this corruption would get people killed.

No need to recount the whole story here (if you want me to, I will in subsequent posts), but the "licences for bribes" scandal exposed a web of racketeering, mail fraud and lies that all centered on Ryan, who decided not to run for re-election in 2002. This was the point when I realized that this would become serious, that there was much more at play that the normal downstate corruption that is endemic to state government in Illinois.

George Ryan is an egregious offender and liar who deserves the worst that can be given him. He joins the growing list of Illinois governors who have been convicted, forced out of office or in general acted in an extremely shady manner. I am thinking of Otto Kerner and Dan Walker here.

As for the "blow-back" from this on the governor's race, Topinka may well feel it soon. She was in state government while all of this was going on (she has been the State Treasurer since 1994). Could she have done anything to stop Ryan and his dealings? Officially, maybe not. But as a leader in the GOP in Illinois, she certainly could have appealed to him from a party standpoint. Could it hurt her chances in the election? Maybe, just maybe.

Blago, of course, wasted no time in linking the two, saying that something could have been done. What does this mean for the incumbent governor? It is a sort of a late Easter present that he has not let go wasted (as the above article makes plain). This is just the sort of thing that he needed to portray his opponent as a Springfield insider who was anxious to support her friend George Ryan (although Blago is no outsider by any means and Topinka has not been friendly with Ryan for a while. Wonder why...)

My advice for Blago is the old favorite "timeo danaos et dona ferentes," which loosely translates as "beware of Greeks bearing gifts." In this case, it might not be Greeks but the Irish in the form of Patrick Fitzgerald, the dogged prosecutor who I think might get a nod for U.S. Attorney-General one day (or not; he's a little TOO good at his job. But, here again, people said that about Elliot Spitzer). It is never good to be in Fitzgerald's radar, but it seems that Blago might be just there now.

Apparently, there were some interesting fund-raising methods that Blago may have had a hand in. In this investigation, there is constant reference to "Public Official A." This investigation, undertaken by Fitzgerald and his office, has not identified this mysterious official, but all signs point to Blago.

The election is in November. Seven months is an eternity in politics (remember the 1992 presidential campaign?) Anything can happen and I hope it does. Politics is my favorite bloodsport.

When it comes down to real issues, though, don't kid yourself. We are just deciding which lunatic will run the asylum for the next four years. Barring that, engross yourself in these people and their curious ways. It is better than the zoo and the animals act thousands of times stranger.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Shannon's (Crash) Landing

No, no. I did not crash land (at least in any literal sense).

Rather, a situation was brought to my attention that underlines much of what I think is wrong with bars/music venues today.

I come to find out, through my good friends/best damned band around The Wanderers, that a regular hang-out and show venue for them (and by implication, all of their crowd) has, shall we say, shifted paradigms. I am speaking of Shannon's Landing in Lansing, Illinois.

All euphamism aside, the place has turned into another example of why I hate bars and many of the people who go to them.

Apparently, the place has decided to "raise" its image by introducing brighter lights, flat-screen televisions, new dress for the staff and have removed the dart board.

In other words, they have turned a really great place (it overlooks a runway at an airport) in a unique location into another brightly lit, safe hang-out for the post-collegiate and miserable suburban yuppie crowd that seems to be taking things over everywhere in the southern suburbs of Chicago (my ancestral home).

Why is this bad, you ask? Isn't it good to change sometimes?

Well, as the old saying goes, change for the sake of change is the philosophy of the cancer cell.

The management has apparently made it clear that The Wanderers and "those types of people" who listen to them are no longer welcome no matter that they usually make for a financially successful evening for the establishment.

What this says is that spending power no longer is the great equalizer, at least as far as bars are concerned. Drinking culture in the United States, at least public drinking culture, can be seen to be more egalitarian than in, say, Great Britain where pubs often catered to certain classes of clientele (and moreso after the middle class began to do their drinking at home). Public places of entertainment, including bars, should openly welcome all paying customers that do not destroy property.

This should be even more apparent to these bar owners when they consider the regular crowds and the revenue brought in by a live music act, especially one that has the history of crowd-rallying of The Wanderers (I know this from first-hand experience).

Where does this leave us? With another unique neighborhood spot turned into a brightly lit Denny's with a bar; a place that is safe for granny and the kids and not filled with "those people" who might scare off the parish gentry. Just another "Irish" bar that has completely forgotten the sociocultural function of the pub in Irish society (as a site of local unity rather than a continuation of the divisions that the rest of society makes all too clear).

This is also a paean of the death of the "neighborhood tavern" in general. A place where people could go with their friends, where they know you, to drink and relax (with other adults, mind you) and maybe, just maybe, take in some local live music. A complete evening's entertainment and all should be happy, right?

Not right. This is a blatant case of judging a collective book by its cover. You, bar owner, are a business. That means, in the simplest sense, that you are in a pursuit to turn a profit that is greater than your losses. What you are not is a judge of the social acceptability of your patrons or their friends. You are also not imbued with the power to judge, from the mere sound of a band playing, that their fans MUST be "those types," unacceptable and therefore out of line with the "corporate philosophy (a term that I think is bullshit. The philosophy of corporations is to be profitable. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying)."

I close by saying that I hope that the owners of this newly purged establishment get exactly what they hope for. Kids and old people are notoriously bad tippers and don't drink as much as a crowd there to see a band. Why don't you also ban smoking, just to make it complete. Hell, it's doing wonders for local bars in Madison. It would go over like a house on fire in your brave new tavern world.

Or, in a more poetic end, maybe one of those planes will misjudge the runway JUST enough...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

On Wisconsin! On Ice!

I'd like to take this opportunity to wish the UW-Madison Men's Hockey Team the best in the playoff match against Boston College.

We all know that Bucky will bitch-slap the goofy accents right out of those New Englanders.

And, even if we lose, we can still drink you under the table, grind the table into sawdust, mix into an old-fashioned and drink it (all with the sawmill in the backyard).

It is a long bus ride back to Boston, especially with the sting of loss in one's nostrils and nursing the bottle welts that you will doubtless recieve in Milwaukee tonight.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Know When To Hold 'Em, Know When To Fold 'Em...

...and know when to not bring up an issue.

No, seriously, thanks to everyone for the comments. I appreciate them.

My standpoint is basically that of a peronal rights issue when it comes to abortion, not really a moral one.

Is this because I have no morals? Possibly.

Is abortion morally wrong? Yes, if you think that ALL killing is wrong. Even then, it still might be.

Should there be a law banning it? Absolutely not. People need to have these decisions in hand, not the government.

Also bear in mind the nature of the author of the post. I am a bitter, cranky, eternally single libertarian who never plans on having anything to do with offspring of my own. I would never willingly saddle an innocent person with my severely defective personality. Perhaps it is best to take my opinions on these matters and ignore them. I realize that a lot of what I believe is kinda wacky (upon first hearing it).

So, here is another one for you (and something that I believe firmly).

I believe that you cannot truly own something unless you are able to sell it. This includes your body. So, this means that you should be able to sell yourself into slavery and prostitution should be legalized.

I think lots of things should be legalized, or have prohibitions removed from them.

Am I an anarchist? No, but I am running out of reasons not to be.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Thin End Of The Wedge? South Dakota's Abortion Ban

Let it never be said that I agree with much of anything said or professed by Rush Limbaugh. He did, however, make a statement long ago about abortion being the "next civil war." While this sort of hyperbole is out of line (and also a large part of Limbaugh's schtick), this seems like one of those issues that will just not go away and there is no solution in sight.

Then comes, at the end of last month, a development in South Dakota that forced the issue back to the fore. The South Dakota State Senate passed what would be the strictest anti-abortion legislation in the nation. Governor Mike Rounds (R) is expected to sign the bill into law. Basically (if you did not read the above links) the law would outlaw abortion in every case unless the life of the mother was demonstrably at risk.

There are, naturally, many issues involved here. First, this seems to challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that protects the right to access to an abortion from the interference of the government. In this way, there does seem to be a challenge from a state to a pronouncement of a federal branch decision. This introduces problems of federalism and the issue of the legitimacy of judicial review, a precedent in American and British jurisprudence, but not a constitutional power accorded to the Supreme Court.

As to these issues, I think that it should be the states and not the federal government that makes these decisions and this is based on my conviction that the idea of judicial review, as instituted in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision is counter to the spirit of the Constitution and its delineation of the powers of the judiciary and also the separation of powers that lies at the heart of the federal system (as defined in the Tenth Amendment). So, in summary, I do not believe that it is within the power of the federal government, owing to the shaky precedent of judicial review, to enact legislation that is beyond the purview of the powers outlined in the Constitution. In this sense, I agree that South Dakota has the right to make its own laws concerning abortion.

I do not, however, in any way agree with the text or spirit of the law as passed in South Dakota. These sorts of laws, aiming at prohibiting what the state (or its rulers at the time) feel to be deleterious or morally wrong, strike at the very heart of our conception of human rights. If we consider property rights, what does a person own without question? It can be argued that there is no justification for private property as we (and the framers of our system) understood it. O.K., for now let's take that as stipulated. So, what do we REALLY own?

The answer, and I think this is plain to see, is ourselves, our bodies and minds. If this is not the case, then we are slaves in theory and in reality. This is not the least not yet.

I believe, therefore, that while South Dakota may make such laws as they see fit, it is wrong to deprive people of sole province and dominion over the dispensation and condition of their person. People should be able to do whatever they want to their bodies, provided that it harms no-one else.

Then the issue becomes, if the foetus is indeed a "person," does this not require that it be protected from the above mentioned liberty of the person over, well, their person. I think not and it is because can a foetus truly be said to have full, conscious and abiding control over its person? This cannot be the case when it is dependent on another for everything. When they become viable apart from the mother, then they are indeed people and subject to the natural rights that are possessed by all people.

How can a baby have rights? It can have rights because it can suffer a wrong, such as neglect or abuse. Does this not then prohibit the killing of a foetus before it is born? No, simply because a foetus cannot survive without its mother but a baby, wether in it's parents care or someone elses, can.

Does this settle the issue. Of course not. It comes down to a matter of principle, and these can always be tricky.

One interesting "market reaction" to this law came from, of all places, the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The chief of the tribe wants to open up an abortion clinic on tribal lands, stating (rightly so) that tribal lands have a measure of sovereignty beyond that of the U.S. government or any state or locale. I say to that, good show. Way to react to a need and desire of the people that is taken away by the state.

May your venture flourish in these tough times where the rights to basic personal dominion are threatened by moralizing politicos who favor an exclusive religion from the inclusion of basic human rights.