Friday, April 29, 2016

What Would Socrates Do?

I've been thinking, as I'm sure most of you have, about the coming presidential election. As you are probably aware, I've been backing Ted Cruz since day one. He is the only candidate with an actual record of standing on the principles of the Constitution (unlike Hillary Clinton who actually stands on the Constitution - couldn't resist a little dig - Hillary does respect the fifth amendment, at least).

So at this point in the race it looks like the election will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton has so far received 55% of the Democratic vote, and Trump has gotten 41% of the Republican vote (so much for the "will of the people"). If these things do not change, and given recent polls, and recent election history, I'm calling Hillary Clinton our next president by a landslide.

For her part, Clinton has already started maneuvering her positions to take away as much of Sanders' power at the convention. And Trump long ago ceased caring about his constituency or positions (which is why his base has been eroding, or as he would say, which is why he's being cheated out of what's rightfully his).

But that's not what this post is about. What I'd like to address is, if you are a Cruz or a Sanders supporter, what do you do when faced with a Clinton/Trump ballot? Quite a number of my friends subscribe to the "you must vote with me or "X" will win (where "X" is a candidate they know I don't like). However, this to me is political blackmail - it is using a negative consequence ("X" will win) to try to make me do something I don't want to do (vote with them). It is a fact that if you will always vote for someone you don't like over someone you do like, then you will always get a candidate you don't like, and will never get one you do like.

So let's talk about some of the principles involved. I am not trying to convince you to vote one way or the other, I am telling you why I will vote the way I will, and why I don't want to listen to the same old arguments of people trying to influence me to vote for their candidate, for whom I do not want to vote.

1. Vote for the lesser of two evils. This is based on two fallacies. First, that there are only two choices, and second, that choosing an evil is good.

In voting for president there are more than two choices. At this point someone will no doubt chime in with "Oh, but Mike everyone knows that only one of the two big parties will win." That's only true if everyone follows the "vote to keep 'X' out of office" strategy. There is nothing preventing large numbers of people from voting for a third party, or even writing in the candidate they like. So, faced with a myriad of choices, why should I vote for evil, even if it is less than another evil choice?

2. Don't vote like Onan. If you recall, in Genesis 38, Onan neglects his duty to produce a child for his sister-in-law by spilling his semen on the ground. I've heard the term used to describe voting for a candidate who has no chance of winning (aka is not one of the big two parties).

The fallacy here is that your vote matters more if it is for one of the two parties than if it is for someone else. In reality, your vote counts as... ready for this? One vote, regardless of who you vote for. When you look at it from a mathematical perspective it is one vote. From a philosophical perspective we could say that only one vote actually counts - the one that puts the winning candidate in the lead. But I think that's a pretty negative view, and doesn't do justice to the democratic system of elections. If my vote counts for little it's because there are so many other votes, not because it doesn't count.

3. Don't let perfect be the enemy of "good enough." The problem is, who defines "good enough?" There is a problem in ethics called "The Trolley Problem". It goes like this. There is a trolley going down the tracks. five people are on the track ahead and will be killed. If you pull a lever, the trolley will be diverted to a different track on which there is one person, who will be killed. Do you pull the lever? Don't be too hasty to pull it - with minor changes to the description of the scenario you will say "no."

Socrates said "it is better to suffer evil than to do evil." Likewise, the "correct" answer depends on whether the pulling of the lever is cooperating in evil (explore the variations on the problem if you think the answer is obvious). The principle on which the lever can be pulled (or not pulled) is called "double effect" and I find t interesting. You can read more about it here.

You may say "well, neither candidate is going to kill people" but that's not true. Abortion kills a million Americans a year. A(nother) war could kill millions. Foreign policy and/or immigration policy could allow thousands to die from terrorist attacks. The things many people think will kill people (elimination of entitlements or an environmental policy) are unlikely to have much of an effect, but it's something to think about. So it is literally a matter of life and death. Don't think I don't take that aspect seriously.

But if I say "candidate A will get us into a war and not really change anything else" and conversely "candidate B will get us into a war and make things worse" why should I participate in electing either of them? It's the trolley problem, with a third option. I could yell "stop" and hope the trolley stops. The odds are as small as my voice (e.g. my vote), but at least I will not have contributed directly to the deaths of millions.

4. It's fine for you because you have the luxury of not having your vote matter. Yes, I live in NJ, which is a heavily "blue" state. No matter how I vote (one might be cynical and say no matter how everyone votes) my state will throw it's measly 14 electoral votes behind Hillary Clinton (I also think "winner takes all" policies are the worst abuse of power in the political system).

So, does this mean that my vote counts for less, and therefore I can throw it behind whomever I choose? I don't see it that way. As I said above, my vote counts for one vote, no more no less. I take voting just as seriously as if I were the only one voting, which is precisely why I will not vote for someone whom I do not like.

Conclusion? Let's see who actually gets on the ballot and we'll see. If it's Trump/Clinton you can bet I'll be researching third party candidates. Worst comes to worse I can write in a name. Laugh all you want, I will do what I feel is right, as long as I have a country that let's me vote I will vote my way. I recommend you consider carefully who you will vote for, and why...

Now, here's a shiny video of why our voting system sucks:

and some alternatives to think about (I am not endorsing these candidates, just mentioning them)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Opposite Donalds

Another story from the Opposite Files. For newcomers, the opposite files are my record of double standards and hypocrisy. You can click on the link to see the whole list - and more are being added all the time.

Won't be held responsible for what supporters do.

Picture of Trump's wife posted by supporters
Trump holds Cruz responsible for what supporters do,

Friday, April 15, 2016

These Eyes

There are blue eyed people ad brown eyed people, right? Well, it's not that simple. You see, not all blue eyed people have 100% blue eyes, some have flecks of brown. And not all brown eyed people have perfectly brown eyes. There are even people with one blue eye and one brown eye. So, in fact, there is a whole spectrum of colors, and the term "blue" or "brown" shouldn't be applied to people's eye color.

In fact, since we have shown there really isn't any "blue" or "brown" we should allow people to choose what eye color they believe they should be. They could buy contacts to change their eye color, but even if they don't, if they identify as "brown" or "blue" or any combination of those or other colors, who are we to judge?

Therefore I'm petitioning to have the state remove eye color from all recognized identification. States that don't should be boycotted and given economic sanctions. Don't you agree?

Friday, April 8, 2016

We the People

With Antonin Scalia's death, the subsequent 4-4 split on the union case, and the twists and turns in the Little Sisters of the Poor case, I've been thinking about Scalia and his approach to constitutional law. Scalia was what is termed an "originalist". That means, when interpreting the constitution, the interpretation should be based on what a reasonable person living at the time of its adoption would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be.

Scalia defends originalism in this article:
“My burden is not to show that originalism is perfect, but that it beats the other alternatives, and that, believe me, is not difficult,” Scalia said.
Even the most ardent non-originalist will have to resort to historical inquiry at times to understand legal concepts like the writ of habeas corpus or cases of admiralty, he said. 
Scalia pointed to District of Columbia v. Heller, a 2008 Supreme Court case in which several D.C. residents challenged the District’s ban on handguns and restrictions on other firearms. Defenders of the law said the right to “bear arms” as outlined in the Second Amendment had an exclusively military meaning, but a 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court showed the meaning was different by looking at historical texts. 
The right to have arms for personal use for self-defense was regarded as one of the fundamental rights of Englishmen, Scalia said. 
The prologue of the Second Amendment, “a well-regulated militia being necessary for the defense of a free state,” could not be reconciled with the personal right to keep and bear arms unless one had the historical knowledge behind it. In England “the Stuart kings in had destroyed the people’s militia by disarming those whom they disfavored.” 
Critics of originalism exaggerate the difficulty of determining original meaning, Scalia said... But in most cases, especially controversial ones, the originalist point of view is clear, Scalia said. No provision of the Constitution guaranteed the right to abortion, homosexual sodomy or assisted suicide, and nothing prohibited the death penalty, he said. 
“All these questions pose enormous difficulty for non-originalists, who must agonize over what the modern Constitution ought to mean with regard to each of these subjects, and then agonize over the very same questions five or 10 years later, because times change,” he said.
...and there's the rub, and in my mind the best argument in favor of originalism, regardless of which side of which issue you are on. If the Constitution means what we think it ought to mean, instead of what it says, then we no longer have a republic. We have a "democracy" where only nine people get to vote. We are never more than several votes away from tyranny, and American citizens have no rights except those granted to them by five justices.

If, on the other hand, we fix the Constitution with regard to what it says, we have a republic, where rights are guaranteed b law. But what about cases where the Constitution is legitimately wrong? What about things it never mentioned?

First off, the Constitution is about limiting federal powers, not about being a litmus test for every law and every issue. Where it is mute, the states or the people have the right to decide for themselves. Making issues constitutional is a bad idea. Justice Scalia once said in an interview:
Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
And where the Constitution si flat out wrong we are still ot in a hole. Consider the nineteenth amendment. The states have the right, under the Constitution, to decide who can and cannot vote. At one point some states allowed women to vote and some did not. On this point the Constitution was mute. How was the issue solved? By installing judges and justices who magically found "implied" rights for women to vote? No, they went and ratified an amendment:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Had they not done so, and instead relied on justices to settle the matter, the rights of women would depend on the good will of five individuals, and that right could be overturned by a future administration installing justices who would magically find some different view.

Instead, we have a written amendment which guarantees women's rights regardless of what people think about it.

Today we have a runaway court, which finds all sorts of implied rights. If those rights are to be real, and not just the opinion of five people, we need to stop the tide of judicial activism and do things "the right way."