Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Settled Law 2018

Today, The Weekly Bystander features a guest post  by Rudy Costello, a friend who has been a lifelong student of American history and politics. His article on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court first appeared this morning as a letter to the Connecticut Post.

Fred Scott
   With President Trump's announcement of his Supreme Court nominee the stage is set for some real political theater. The leading actors will be some familiar names: Diane Feinstein, Dick Durbin,Richard Blumenthal and Patrick Leahy, the leading liberals on the Senate Judiciary Committee .  Iin supporting roles we will see Corey Booker and the flamboyant Kamala Harris both of whom will be auditioning for bigger roles in 2020.

   With the likes of these characters what can we expect? Hysteria about conservative attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade ? A "high-tech lynching" [in the words of then nominee Clarence Thomas during his nomination hearings], or a Democrat staging of a three-ring circus? On the other hand there is Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the lonely Republican in the field of deep blue New England.While not on the judiciary committee she has voiced her pro choice concerns about "settled law'and judicial precedent as it pertains to a nominee who might show any hostility to Roe v. Wade.

   It should be noted that historically some settled or established law resulting from Supreme Court decisions have been overturned by one method or another.Two landmark cases stand out.One was the infamouus case of Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857 and Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.The former ruled that Americans of African descent were not citizens and could not sue in federal court.It also stated that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories of the United States. That judicial precedent was overturned by the passage of the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution.

  In Plessy the Supreme Court advanced the " separate but equal doctrne" which in effect legalized "Jim Crow" state segregation laws. This case became the precedent for over fifty years of settled law throughout the South and many parts of the North as well. For those senators concerned about established law and judicial precedent today, how would they have approached a nominnee during the 1950's who wanted to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson?

 Well, it was overturned. In 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education the Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal' precedent as it applied to segregation in public schools.That Court decision led to the passage of the civil rights legislation of the late 50's and the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  Cleary, this idea of settled law is a ruse as it pertains to Roe v. Wade. It's a political ploy to ramp up the Democrat liberal base, demonize those who are pro-life, and use judicial nominations as a way to promote an idealogical agenda.

  Decisions by the Supreme Court are settled law for the time being. How better off are we as a nation that the Dred Scott and Plessy decisions are now just unfortunate footnotes to our history. Roe may be overturned some day; however, if and when will depend on the merits of a case brought before the Court. Until then no prospective judicial nominee can force the issue.

 There are issues besides abortion that are just as important as the Senate deliberates on this nominee.Nevertheless, tune in on the committee hearings; it most likely will be political theater at its worst directed by Chuck Schemer.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Summer Film Viewing 2018

Lately I been watching some really good films based on classic American novels. I know that calling a film or book a classic is the proverbial “kiss of death”, and will often dissuade people from watching or reading. For many, “classic” means old, old fashioned, out of date, and irrelevant.

Nevertheless, a good film adaptation can make a great book spring to life on the screen, and become a classic in itself. For example, a good actor or actress needs only a facial expression or a glance to convey what it takes a novelist pages to describe. A good film director can convey in one scene what the novelist took a whole chapter to describe.

Moreover, in viewing the films below it becomes apparent how important the casting director is in putting a film together. Everyone knows the story of how Humphrey Bogart was not the first choice for the lead in Casablanca, and that even Ronald Reagan was considered for the part. Is it possible to imagine anyone else in the role today?

Here are four films recommended for Summer Film viewing. 

Moby Dick. Herman Melville’s masterpiece of Captain Ahab’s doomed pursuit of the great white whale was brought to the screen in a 1956 color production by director John Huston. The film stars Gregory Peck as Ahab, Richard Basehart as Ishmael, Orson Welles in a cameo as a fiery preacher, and a great supporting cast. I saw this film when it first came out and can still vividly remember characters like Starbuck from whom the coffee chain derived its name, and the magnificent cannibal chief and harpooner Queequeg. In addition to the incredible finale, who could ever forget Ahab’s nailing of the gold piece to the mast?

The Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane’s realistic portrayal of ordinary soldiers before and during a single battle was originally published in 1895. It has become the model for all subsequent novels about warfare. It was brought to the screen in 1951 by director John Huston, who had a great interest in American history. True to the novel, the film sees the Civil War through the minds and eyes of the ordinary men who fought. Audie Murphy, the most decorated hero of WW II, stars along with a fine supporting cast. The final charge, capped as it is by conversation between victorious soldiers and their defeated captives, is extremely moving.

The Magnificent Ambersons. Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize novel of a prominent Midwestern family at the dawn of the twentieth century was brought to the screen by Orson Welles in 1942. Completed a year after his groundbreaking film, Citizen Kane, this film shows Welles at peak directorial form with dazzling cinematography and splendid performances by a great cast that includes Joseph Cotton, Anne Baxter, and Tim Holt.

Dodsworth. Sinclair Lewis’ best-selling 1929 novel was brought to the screen by director William Wyler in 1936. Walter Huston, in what some consider to be his finest performance, plays a wealthy industrialist who sells his business and sets off with his wife of 20 years to discover Europe, and re-discover themselves. Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor co-star. “Selected as one of the most important films of all time by the Library of Congress.”

Some people look down their noses at film adaptations but watching these films has led me to re-read these novels that I had read long ago in my high school and college years. I have found that these authors were great story tellers and that their writing is still alive despite the passage of years. In the four films mentioned above the filmmakers were remarkably faithful to the novels. In the case of Dodsworth the fine acting and directing actually improved on the novel by eliminating a great deal of tedious descriptive detail.

PS. In movie theaters this summer you will find the usual collection of movies directed toward a very young audience. However, one of this year's films that would seem to be for small children is actually for adults, especially the older ones. Won't You Be My Neighbor is a documentary about Fred Rogers, the legendary creator and star of the longtime children's show, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. This fine film dispels the myths about Fred Rogers and reveals the true humanity of this man whose long-running show has become a "classic" in its own right.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Fourth of July: Independence Day


First American Flag
Every July 4 we celebrate Independence Day, the anniversary of the promulgation of our famed Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Most of us have heard the famous opening lines of the document,
We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
However, few have ever read the entire Declaration and even fewer have any understanding of the nature of the actual grievances that led the colonists to sever their ties with England and seek independence. Most readers don’t get past the following words.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
King George III of England was one of the nicest, most benevolent rulers that England ever had, but the Declaration portrayed him as a tyrannical despot. However, the real conflict between England and her American colonies was not between Monarchy and Democracy but between the rights of the British people represented as they were by their own Parliament, and the rights of the American colonists represented as they were by their own colonial assemblies. In this conflict no one was a greater supporter of the rights and authority of the British Parliament than the King.

For the most part the Declaration of Independence does not complain about violations of individual human rights but concentrates on what it claims has been a systematic attempt on the part of the government in England to violate the rights and privileges of colonial representative assemblies.

The founding fathers believed these assemblies that represented the leading citizens and property owners in the various colonies were the sole bulwark against monarchical tyranny on the one hand, and democratic anarchy on the other. They claimed that the King and his colonial governors have repeatedly refused to put into operation laws passed by these assemblies.
He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. 
He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operations till his assent should be obtained; 
He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature,… 
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
In some cases the English government has even gone so far as to dissolve some of these representative assemblies and leave particular colonies without any form of self-government. The legal system, military defense, and tax collection have been taken out of the hands of the colonial representatives. Here are some examples:
He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers 
•He has made the judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. 
•He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. 
•He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.
• He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.

In the end the Declaration claimed that it came down to a contest between their own local representative assemblies and a faraway legislature that did not represent them. Because they had come to deny the authority of the British Parliament, they never used the word Parliament in the document.

There are elements in the Declaration that might seem offensive to modern ears. Jefferson and others in America opposed the efforts of a reforming British government to permit religious toleration of the large Catholic population in newly conquered Canada. For them Catholicism went hand in hand with despotism. The Declaration also complained about attempts on the part of the British government to prevent colonization of Indian territory. Indeed, it claimed that England was encouraging the native tribes.

Nevertheless, the leaders assembled in Congress insisted on their rights as Englishmen to govern themselves. They wanted government to be as close to home as possible. They would make their own laws, vote their own taxes when necessary, and be responsible for their own legal and military systems. They did not want to be governed by a faraway government that had little concern for their interests or welfare.

It was true that the founders were men of property and status. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Franklin were not common men. Democracy would come later. For the present they wanted to protect their right to self-government. The British government had declared itself “invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.” To resist, they were prepared to risk all that they held dear.
“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”


Friday, June 29, 2018

Income Equality 2018

I have long suspected that the statistics used by progressive advocates to complain about income inequality in America were either flawed or misrepresented. In the June 25 edition of the Wall Street Journal an opinion piece co-authored by Phil Gramm, a former chairman of the Senate banking committee, and Robert B. Ekelund, Jr., a professor emeritus in economics at Auburn University, bore out my suspicions.

The authors cite a new study prepared by the Cato Institute’s John F. Early, a former assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics that provides the “most comprehensive accounting to date of how taxes and government payments affect income distribution in the U.S. Apparently, the traditional statistics used by the Census Bureau do not take into consideration about $1 Trillion dollars in annual government spending.

The value of Medicaid, food stamps, the earned income tax credit and about 85 other Federal government programs is not included. Also, state and local income supplements are not included in calculations of income. On the other hand, reductions in income due to all sorts of taxes are not factored into income distribution statistics.

Here is the authors' conclusion.

“The most surprising finding is the astonishing degree of equality among the bottom 60% of American earners, generated in part by the explosion of social-welfare spending and the economic and wage stagnation during the Obama era.”

In 2013 the income of the bottom 20% in this country amounted to only 2.2% of total earned income but when other forms of income and taxes are factored in, its share jumped to 12.9%, a six-fold jump in earnings. Similarly, the next 20% saw its share of the nation’s income jump from 7% to 13.9%.
When we get to the middle class in the next 20% or third quintile, their total income was not far from their earned income. Primarily wage earners, this group took home only 15.4 % of the national income, not much more than those in the two quintiles at the bottom.

The real inequality, however, is in the fact that this group had to work for most of its income while those in the lower quintiles did not. In fact, many of these middle income families had to work two or more jobs to just stay even with those in the lower quintiles.

Not surprisingly, when taxes are taken into consideration, even the well to do in the top 20% saw their share drop from “57.7% of earnings to 39.3% of consumable income.” I suspect that a society in which the top 20% make only 40% of the consumable income is unprecedented in American or even world history. Even in Communist countries like the former Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, the disparity between rich and poor was much greater.

Based on these new statistics it would appear that income inequality is not the great problem that progressives make it out to be. According to the authors, a much greater problem is the discontent in people who have to work hard to have the same spendable, after tax income of people who do not work at all.

Rather than Russian collusion or Hillary Clinton’s lackluster campaign, Senator Gramm and Professor Ekelund believe that it was this discontent in the middle class that led to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. The headline above their article was "How Income Equality Helped Trump." The Gramm/Ekelund article was adapted from their forthcoming book, “Freedom and Inequality.” Progressives will never stop complaining about income inequality, but it was income equality that did them in in 2016.