Tag Archives: the rule of law

Comment Of The Day: “The Infuriating, Incompetent, Border Wall Debate”

Zoe Brain weighs in with a typical (for her) carefully researched and detailed comment—two, actually, that function as one— regarding border walls as a matter of science and practicality, an obviously deserving Comment of the Day. Even if Zoe’s quoted experts were 100% correct on a factual basis, and they might be, it does not necessarily mean that a wall/fence/some kind of barrier would not have value. I particularly object to this statement from the first of the experts:

The whole situation needs to be addressed, and building a wall is a feel-good solution that is being pushed more because it pisses off Democrats than because it is a practical solution.

That’s anti-Trump bias, flat-out and undeniable, and untrue. President Trump did not propose a wall while running for President to piss off Democrats. He obviously believes a wall is necessary, and if Democrats showed that they would support a wall, he would not suddenly declare that he didn’t want a wall. At this point, he wants a wall because he promised one, and because he believes that he must fulfill that promise to keep faith with the people who elected him. There is no question, however, that the reverse is true. Democrats are willing to cause all sorts of collateral damage to deny the President a political victory and to signal to their open-borders base that they really don’t want the flow of illegals into the U.S. to stop. They could trace DACA for the wall, which would be effective, pragmatic, traditional politics. Trump would agree to that. A biased statement like the above makes me doubt the starting point of any analysis.

I also object to what follows this statement,  a random list of alternative ways to spend the same amount of money. Playing that game with 5 billion dollars is intellectually dishonest, because one could easily find that amount by cutting all sorts of wasteful expenditures. NPR and PBS cost about a a half billion dollars, for example, and there is no excuse whatsoever for taxpayers to pay for commercial television and radio. It also assumes that it will be any easier getting more practical or realistic measures funded, because, again, Democrats only talk about “comprehensive immigration reform” so people can imagine whatever they want. The last time they seriously discussed stemming illegal immigration, they were talking about fences and walls. What that party has been promoting since is a “path to citizenship” for anyone who illegally enters or stays in the country and who doesn’t break other laws, and sometimes even for the ones who do. This is a message has the effect of increasing illegal immigrants, of course. 

It doesn’t take a genius, an expert, an engineering degree or a lot of thought to conclude that there is a lot wrong with a border wall as long as the one proposed. However, at this point, a giant sign in multiple languages that reads, “To those who are tempted to enter the United States without following the appropriate procedures and laws, STAY OUT. You are not welcome. Your children are not welcome. We mean it.” The Government of the United States of America.

Sending that message alone is worth 5 billion dollars.

Finally, this statement (By Zoe’s Expert 1) is fatuous and dishonest:

At the same time, set up a program to accept people as economic refugees under temporary visas contingent on locating a job and keeping out of trouble. Spend some time on outreach in Central and South America to counteract rumors and misinformation about immigration to the United States. This comes back to the point about simplifying the immigration system. If you can’t explain it to a Guatemalan peasant, then saying “obey the law” is meaningless because he cannot understand the law. For that matter, you can’t understand immigration law. Immigration lawyers don’t understand immigration law. The f*cking INS doesn’t understand immigration law – ask any immigrant.

Illegal immigrants can understand THIS much: There are procedures and laws governing who is eligible to enter the United States, and if you are tying to storm the border, sneak across the border, get into the country on false pretenses and scatter, or get a temporary visa and then violate it, you’re breaking the law. I don’t think that’s too hard to “understand.”

Here is Zoe Brain’s Comment of the Day on the post, The Infuriating, Incompetent, Border Wall Debate: Continue reading

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The Infuriating, Incompetent, Border Wall Debate

Those entrusted with arguing for particular contentious public policy options have an obligation to do so competently and honestly. Few things in the public arena are more infuriating tha watching the wise and responsible point of view go spinning down in flames because its advocates are inarticulate, confused, repulsive (thus letting the Cognitive Dissonance scale take over), illogical, addicted to rationalizations,or stupid.

Unfortunately, most of our public policy controversies fall into this category. There might have been an intelligent social policy debate to be had over whether marriage should be extended to same-sex couples, but one the opponents resorted to religious dogma or straight-up bigotry, the argument was lost. Affirmative action is on the way to extinction in part due to blatantly hypocritical, pretzel-like arguments from its advocates: in a holiday discussion, an Asian-American woman told me that she did not support the lawsuit against Harvard for res ipsa loquitur discrimination against Asian students because the suit was being pushed by racists.

Oh.

Bye!

The debate over  tightening security at our boarders is literally a no-brainer—of course the U.S. should take necessary measures to prevent illegal immigration—that is increasingly brainless. Give President Trump the prize for starting it down this route. Either intentionally or because the man simply cannot express himself with precision, he initially framed the need to enforce our immigration laws with the confounding statement, “They (that is, Mexico) aren’t sending us their best people.” Well, yes, I guess it would be nice if a better class of illegal immigrants breaking our laws and defying our procedures was getting into the country to steal as many benefits of U.S residence that they can, but in truth it doesn’t matter whether illegal immigrants are the best people or the worst people. I don’t care if every one of them is a candidate for sainthood; it’s not up to foreign citizens to unilaterally decide who lives in the United States, and they have no right to defy our sovereignty. That’s it. That’s enough. It would be nice if no terrorists could gain access to their hunting ground through the porous enforcement Democrats and cheap labor-loving business interests have inflicted on us, but it would be no less imperative to enforce out borders if there were no terrorists. There is no valid, sensible, logical or honest argument from any perspective that we should allow people who come here a) to do so and b) to avoid enforcement of the laws they broke as long as they don’t break other laws. Continue reading

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When Doing The Ethical Thing Is Ugly But Necessary: AG Sessions’ Retracts One Of Those Obama “Dear Colleague Letters”

By the way, “when doing the ethical thing is ugly but necessary” both refers to Sessions’ action and my writing this post…

 In March 2016 , President Obama’s Justice Department sent another one of the administrations patented (well, not really) “Dear Colleague letters” like the one that was used to bully colleges and universities into punishing male students for alleged sexual assault in the absence of sufficient evidence. This one was sent to state and local courts, urging them <cough>to review their procedures regarding fines and other punishments issued to the indigent  to ensure that they were consistent with “due process, equal protection and sound public policy.” The Justice Department’s 2016 release linked the letter to its description of a $2.5 million grant program to help agencies develop strategies that reduce unnecessary confinement of those who can’t pay fines and fees.” The letter said in part,

“Typically, courts do not sentence defendants to incarceration in these cases; monetary fines are the norm. Yet the harm caused by unlawful practices in these jurisdictions can be profound. Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape.”

The letter also outlined “basic constitutional principles” regarding fee and fine enforcement. They included: Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day #4: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day, the fourth on the post about the Great Cake Controversy ,responds to #3, by Extradimensional Cephalopod.

The four COTD’s cover a great deal of legal and ethical territory and if not the full spectrum of positions on this difficult topic. Ryan’s three predecessors can be read here:

After you read #4, I’ll ask you which of the COTDs come closest to your own opinion. If the answer is “none of them,” by all means try for #5!

Here is  Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on the post Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought:

EC,

I hate to answer for the baker, so I hope you don’ mind if I respond with how I would answer.

What if I walked into the shop and asked for a wedding cake for no reason at all? Nobody’s getting married; I just want the cake. Is it against his religion to make that style of cake for anything other than weddings?

It would not be against my religion, no.

One thing I want to point out about your line of inquiry here is that you are divorcing the mechanical action of making a cake from the purpose of making a cake. A cake is a cake, and apart from any purpose, it remains a cake with no further meaning than a configuration of confectionery molecules. But the purpose for making the cake defines the context. If you wanted me to bake you a cake so you could bury it in your backyard, I wouldn’t have any religious objections to that, but I would certainly object to having the fruits of my labor just thrown away. Just as I would object if you wanted me to write you a book so could use the pages of the book as toilet paper.

The purpose of making a wedding cake is for it to be displayed and consumed at a wedding. If you aren’t going to use the cake for a wedding, ontologically speaking, could it even be a wedding cake?

Do I have to show him a marriage license?

I wouldn’t require that. My general standpoint would be to take people at their word. That being said, if I knew you and you were known for pranks, were opposed to marriage in general, and nothing I knew about your recent activities hinted at a wedding, I might want some actual proof that a wedding was occurring.

I’m an atheist; will he refuse to acknowledge my marriage because you can’t have marriage without a god? Does only the Christian deity count for a “real” marriage?

Since I’m Catholic, I’ll just toss out what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage. Marriage is universal. Historically, marriage permeates pretty much every culture. Marriage is an institution that has, for the most part, united a man and his wife to the children they bear together. Marriage does not require a profession of faith, because it is a foundational institution of mankind. That is why eating, drinking, and shelter don’t require a profession of faith. They are also foundational aspects of the human condition. So, there is no objection to two atheists marrying.

Where the religious context comes into view is with the nature of that marriage. Catholics profess that Jesus elevated the institution of marriage to a sacrament. This means that a valid marriage between baptized individuals cannot be dissolved save by the death of one of the two parties. But that does not mean every marriage is sacramental. If one of the two parties is not baptized, the marriage is still a valid marriage, but it is not a sacramental marriage. Thus it could be dissolved, and either party would be free to re-marry.

A funny oddity of terminology crops up in Catholic teaching. Since a valid, sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved, but since parties can licitly separate for serious reasons (abuse, abandonment, adultery, addiction), a Catholic can be married and divorced at the same time…

I would argue that the artistic quality of the cake has nothing to do with who is getting married, or if there’s even a marriage at all–at least, as far as religion is concerned.

I agree with you to a certain extent, here. The artistic quality is its own concern. It is the teleological purpose of the cake that is the true contention. So that raises a question: if I bake a cake that I do not intend to be used at a wedding, but looks just like a cake that I do intend to be used at a wedding, is it a wedding cake? To use some technical terms, there is the essence of a thing, and there are the accidents of a thing. The essence of a thing is what is essential to a thing being that thing; accidents are just features that particular thing has that are not essential to a thing being that thing. The essence of a chair is something to sit on. Accidents of a chair are having one leg, or three, or four, having a back, not having a back, etc. So what is the essence of a wedding cake, and what are the accidents of a wedding cake? I think the only essential difference between a wedding cake and a non-wedding cake is the intent for which the cake is made. The only part I waffle on is the cake-topper…

On a separate note, I assert that religion ultimately must be subordinate to the law of the land.

I’m uncomfortable with how you phrase this, so let me toss out what I think about this, and let me know if it does or doesn’t conform with what you’re thinking. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day #3: “Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought”

And now there are FOUR Comments of the Day on the post about the Great Cake Controversy. This is a record number for a single Ethics Alarms post. It is a true ethics conflict: which should have priority in a pluralistic society, the right of all citizens to be treated equally under the law, and to have the government ensure their right to the pursuit of happiness, or the individual right to act and live in concert with one’s sincerely held religious beliefs, and to not be forced into expressive speech, part of the right to liberty? This part of the controversy doesn’t even include the ethical question of whether either party should have allowed this to be come a legal dispute.

When I post the fourth COTD, with was a response to #3, I’ll include links to the other three and include a poll for readers to register their opinion regarding which comes closer to their own view

Here is Extradimensional Cephalopod’s  Comment of the Day on the post Back To The Bigoted Baker: It’s Complicated…More Than I Thought:

There’s an obvious question here (well, several) that occurs to me: What if I walked into the shop and asked for a wedding cake for no reason at all? Nobody’s getting married; I just want the cake. Is it against his religion to make that style of cake for anything other than weddings? Do I have to show him a marriage license? I’m an atheist; will he refuse to acknowledge my marriage because you can’t have marriage without a god? Does only the Christian deity count for a “real” marriage?

I would argue that the artistic quality of the cake has nothing to do with who is getting married, or if there’s even a marriage at all–at least, as far as religion is concerned. If I asked someone to draw me a picture of a bird, they don’t have to know anything about me in order to make it. Their art doesn’t have anything to do with me, and they are not expressing any objectionable ideas. They’re not endorsing me in any way by taking me on as a customer. Therefore, this isn’t like refusing to make a swastika cake. This is like refusing to sell a cake to Nazis. (Yes, Nazis should be able to buy cake like anyone else. Preventing them from doing so is just bullying, and won’t teach them anything except more hate. How will they learn how to appreciate different people if only other Nazis talk to them?) Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/27/17

GOOOD MORNING!

(he said through gritted teeth..)

1. I received a nice, polite e-mail from a new reader here who accused me of engaging exclusively in “partisan/political rants.” “Further,” he wrote,  “everything you say appears to be entirely one-sided (right/conservative/republican is good, left/liberal/democrat is bad).”

The man is an academic, so one might expect a little fairness and circumspection, but then, the man is an academic. His description is in factual opposition to the contents of the blog (I’m trying to think of the last Republican leader, conservative or otherwise, I designated as “good”), but I know from whence the impression arises: the fact that the entire American Left, along with its sycophants and familiars, the universities, show business and the news media, have gone completely off the ethics rails since November 8, 2016. I don’t know how else I am supposed to address that. It would have been nice, for balance’s sake, if a conservative cast of white actors in, say, a hit musical called “The Ray Coniff Story” had stepped out of character and harassed, say, Chuck Shumer, but this didn’t happen. If it had, I would have treated that breach of theater ethics exactly as I did the cast of Hamilton’s harassment of Mike Pence. (I would not, however, have been attacked for doing so by my theater colleagues, and no, I haven’t forgotten, and I’m not forgiving.)

If a GOP figure working for CNN as an analyst, say, Jeffrey Lord, had used his connections at the network to forward debate questions to Donald Trump and then lied about it when he was caught red-handed, I would have eagerly written about it in highly critical terms—but the Republicans didn’t cheat. Donna Brazile and the Democrats did. 

If Hillary Clinton had been elected President and Donald Trump and the Republicans formed an anti-democractic movement called “the resistance,” tried to use a single Federalist paper as a rationalization to change the rules of the election and then pressured performers not to allow the new President the privilege of a star-studded, up-beat inauguration to unify the nation, and if a large contingent of Republican Congressmen had boycotted the ceremony, saying that they did not consider Hillary as “legitimate President,” Ethics Alarms would have been unmatched in expressing its contempt and condemnation. If conservatives were trying to limit free speech according to what they considered “hateful,” a step toward dictatorship if there ever was one, I would be among the first to declare them a menace to society. They haven’t advocated such restrictions, however. Progressives have. The Mayor of Portland has called for a “hate speech’ ban. What party is he from? Howard Dean said that “hate speech” wasn’t protected. What party was he the Chair of? I forget. What was the party–there was just one— of the mayors who announced that citizens holding certain views should get out of town?

“Need I go on? I could, because the uniquely un-American, unfair and destructive conduct from Democrats, progressives and the anti-Trump deranged has continued unabated and without shame for 10 months now.  That’s not my fault, and I don’t take kindly to being criticized for doing my job in response to it. I have chronicled this as unethical, because it is spectacularly unethical, and remains the most significant ethics story of the past ten years, if not the 21st Century to date.

And the reluctance and refusal of educated and usually responsible liberals and Democrats to exhibit some courage and integrity and vigorously oppose this conduct as they should and have a duty as Americans to do—no, I am not impressed with the commenters here who protest, “Hey, I don’t approve of all of this! Don’t blame me!” as if they bear no responsibility—is the reason this execrable conduct continues. It is also why I have to keep writing about it.

2. I’m still awaiting the apologies and acknowledgement of my predictive abilities from all of my friends who chided me for suggesting that the Confederate flag and statuary-focused historical airbrushing mania would shoot down the slippery slope to threaten the Founders and more.  Continue reading

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The Joe Arpaio Pardon

To nobody’s surprise, I hope, President Trump  pardoned the former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff, a hero to many conservatives and anti-illegal immigration proponents (there is no ethical justification for not being anti-illegal immigration), who was facing up to 18 months in jail for criminal contempt of court, for defying a judge who had ordered him to stop profiling Hispanics.

As I wrote earlier, the President had no good ethical options in this situation. It was a binary choice, and whichever choice he made would be arguably unethical in one respect or another. Let me repeat what I wrote about this question just two days ago, before the President acted:

Let’s see:

  • Arpaio did defy a judicial order. Should a law enforcement official be treated especially harshly when he does this?

Yes.

  • The judicial order related to Arpaio’s practice of assuming that individuals of Hispanic descent were more likely to be violating the immigration laws in his jurisdiction than other citizens. Since his jurisdiction was rife with Hispanic illegals, was this an unreasonable assumption on his part? No. Was it still discriminatory? Sure. Is the balance between profiling, which in such situations is a valuable law-enforcement tool, and the importance of equal treatment under the law a difficult one legally and ethically? Yes. Does a sheriff have the right and authority to ignore the way this balance is decided one legal authorities define it?

No.

  • Is the determination of this balance often polluted by ideological biases, in this case, against enforcement of immigration laws?

Yes.

  • Do Donald Trump, and his supporters, and those Americans who may not be his supporters but who agree that allowing foreign citizens to breach our borders at will without legal penalties is certifiably insane, believe that Arpaio’s position on illegal immigration is essentially correct and just?

Yes.

  • Nonetheless, did his ham-handed methods give ammunition to open-borders, pro-illegal immigration, race-baiting activists like the one who told the New York Times,

“Trump is delivering a slap in the face to dignified, hard-working people whose lives were ripped apart by Arpaio. Arpaio belongs in jail, getting a taste of his own medicine. Trump wants to put Arpaio above the law, showing they are both about white supremacy.”

Yes.

  • Is sending Arpaio to jail a political imprisonment?

Yes, although he made it easy to justify on non-political grounds.

  • Are political prisoners the ideal objects of Presidential pardons?

Yes.

  • Would pardoning him send dangerous messages (it’s OK to violate judicial orders you think are wrong; the ends justifies the means; Presidents should meddle in local law enforcement, “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice”) as well as defensible ones ( judges and elected official enabling illegal immigration are a threat to the rule of law; Joe is an old man with a long record of public service who deserves mercy even though he was wrong…)

Yes.

  • Will such a pardon, especially as the news media is again spinning to make the case that Trump is sympathetic with xenophobes and white nationalists, further inflame an overly emotional debate that needs to be calmed, not exacerbated?

God, yes.

  • Is the most responsible course for Trump to stay out of this mess?

YES!

  • Will he?

Of course not.

Sure enough, Democrats, Trump-haters like Senator John McCain and my echo-chamber Facebook friends are denouncing the pardon as if the President had loosed Hannibal Lector on the world. In doing so, they really look ridiculous,  and might as well be wearing  “I hate Donald Trump and will scream bloody murder no matter what he does” in neon on their heads. Especially for Democrats, who have argued that non-violent criminals shouldn’t be imprisoned at all when they are young and black, the argument that an 85 year old man’s under-two year maximum sentence is an outrageous object of Presidential mercy and grace—that’s what a pardon is, you know–is the height of partisan hypocrisy.

The fact that Arpaio is 85 alone justifies a pardon by the standards Presidents have used since the beginning of the office. That his sentence is relatively short—many, many prisoners with far longer sentences have been pardoned by Trump’s predecessors–makes the pardon, if ill-considered, also de minimus, especially since there is no chance, literally none, that the old man, now out of office and retired, will have an opportunity to repeat the crime he was convicted of committing. A pardon is an act of grace by which an offender is released from the consequences of his offense, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s website. It does not say that the offender was not guilty, or that the law that was violated can be breached at will.  In 2013, President Obama pardoned Willie Shaw Jr., who was sentenced in August 1974 to 15 years in prison for armed bank robbery. Armed bank robbery is a lot more serious an offense than criminal contempt, but nobody argued that Obama’s pardon “demonstrates flagrant disregard for the rule of law in this country,” not even the most virulent anti-Obama Republicans. But that’s what Senator Diane Feinstein said Trump’s pardon of Arpaio was:

“Sheriff Joe Arpaio should not have been pardoned. He brazenly denied a federal judge’s court order to stop racial profiling and continued to do so until being convicted of criminal contempt. A pardon for that conduct demonstrates flagrant disregard for the rule of law in this country.”

By that a standard, any pardon is an insult to the rule of law. Does Feinstein endorse the brain-dead view of her fellow California Senator, Kamala Harris, who seemed to argue that criminals shouldn’t be pardoned? I suspect the standard they both embrace is that no conservative law enforcement official should even be pardoned for being over-zealous in enforcing a law that their party disgracefully has tried to have enforced as infrequently as possible.

This is the real hypocrisy of the critics of Trump’s pardon. Feinstein’s state is full of sanctuary cities that intentionally undermine and defy the rule of law, without a peep of protest from its two Democratic Senators. They want Arpaio to be immune from Presidential mercy, unlike the 534 draft- dodgers pardoned by Jimmy Carter, tax fugitive Marc Rich, pardoned by Bill Clinton afters ex-wife made large campaign contributions and donations to the Clinton Presidential Library, gangster union leader Jimmy Hoffa, and all the Confederate citizens and soldiers who took up arms against the United States.  They want him to be metaphorically hung up by his heels to appease their open-border, pr0-illegal immigration base, making the fervor to punish him purely political, and having little to do with respect for the rule of law, which their own position on illegal immigration proves that they don’t respect themselves.

Let me be clear. This isn’t a Rationalization #22 “it isn’t the worst thing” defense of the pardon. It is a “the attacks on this pardon are wildly disproportionate to its reality, and thus transparent political theater” indictment of the pardon’s critics. Almost every pardon can be called a rejection of the “rule of law,” if you don’t understand what the pardon power is, and politicians who have been undermining respect for  the very laws that Arpaio went over-board enforcing are the last people on earth who should make that argument. They are ridiculous in their hypocrisy.

Joe Arpaio was an arrogant, grandstanding bully and thug, and unworthy of his badge. I wouldn’t have pardoned him despite his age, but there were some good reasons for Trump to do so. It was almost worth doing just to prompt Trump’s foes and pro illegal immigration hypocrites into embarrassing themselves.

The larger ethical problem with this pardon is the one focused on by P.S. Ruckman on his Pardon Power Blog. He is correctly troubled by the fact that the usual process for Presidential pardons was not followed (Trump does not even have a pardon attorney on board yet), and that for a political ally like Arpaio to be the President’s first pardon (despite the fact that Obama didn’t pardon his first until well into his second year in office), sends a corrosive message:

Hundreds of persons have applied for clemency and have waited for years, some for 10 or 15. Imagine how demoralized they must feel now. Now, more gasoline will be poured on the classic misconception that clemency is only for famous persons, rich people, political supporters, insiders, the “connected.” It is, of course, a false narrative, but a powerful one. One that defames a wonderful check and balance and, in some instances, discourages politicians from doing anything. They err on the side of caution (they think) by showing mercy to no one, or to as few as possible.

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