“Well written and an interesting perspective.” Clan Rossi --- “Your article is too good about Japanese business pushing nuclear power.” Consulting Group --- “Thank you for the article. It was quite useful for me to wrap up things quickly and effectively.” Taylor Johnson, Credit Union Lobby Management --- “Great information! I love your blog! You always post interesting things!” Jonathan N.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Egyptian Court: Declaring a Legislature Unconstitutional

In 1803, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Madison v. Marbury, which established the authority of the court to declare a law to be unconstitutional, and thus invalid. A basic principle underlying this authority is that a constitution is on a level superior to a statute. An entity established in a constitution to interpret it can thus invalidate a law passed by another body established in the constitution. Invalidating that other body itself would be an entirely different matter, as it would involve one constitutional body dissolving another of equivalent grounding.

Accordingly, the constitutional court in Egypt overreached on June 14, 2012 in declaring the parliament dissolved. To treat a legislative body as akin to a law established by such a body evinces a category mistake with respect to level. Whereas a law is subject to decisions by governmental bodies, the latter themselves are subject to constitutional amendment rather than governmental action (including that of the judicial branch of government). General speaking, basic law such that creates governmental bodies (whether in constitutional language or not) trumps that which is created by those bodies. Put another way, a court must take the existence of the extant government institutions as a given.

By loose analogy, the Egyptian court was treating a sibling as if it were an offspring. Whereas brothers and sisters of the same generation are “on the same level,” their kids are on another level. One does not treat one’s brother and nephew similarly. So too, sibling governmental institutions should not treat each other as if they were that which they produce.

The judicial breach in Egypt was particularly suspect because the justices had been appointed by Mubarak, whose last prime minister was running for president against the candidate of the opposition party, which dominated the parliament as a result of a democratic election. Fittingly, that party disputed the court’s ruling and its authority to dissolve the legislature. Saad el Katatni, the Parliament’s majority leader, accused the military-led government of orchestrating the ruling. Although it was politically suspect and thus not credibly judicial, my point is that for the justices even to have thought that a court could dissolve another governmental body points to a basic ignorance concerning the difference between a constitution, governmental institutions, and laws.

A constitution (or basic law) creates and thus is superior to governmental bodies, which in turn make, execute or interpret (and thus are superior to) laws. That this basic hierarchy was somehow lost on the Egyptian justices suggests a basic incompetence that nullifies the court’s decision as that of a constitutional court. In other words, the decision can be interpreted as a coup rather than a judicial ruling merely on account of the ignorance. The error is that glaring, and yet somehow the jurists presented the ruling as legitimate nonetheless.

Faced with the real likelihood that the nescient democracy was being snuffed out by the partisan power-play made under judicial auspices, Egyptian citizens of all stripes had to decide whether to put a democratic Egypt above even partisan advantage. I suppose the matter of democracy in an autocratic context depends ultimately on how badly the body politic wants political self-determination, for the forces that are dominant in the status quo do not just go softly into the night. Rather, they have to be shown the door more than once, until they finally get the message.

See related essay: "Egypt's Generals: Boundary Issues"


David Kirkpatrick, “Forces Surround Parliament in Egypt, Escalating Tensions,” The New York Times, June 15, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/16/world/middleeast/blow-to-transition-as-court-dissolves-egypts-parliament.html?_r=1&hp

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

JP Morgan Chase on the NY Fed's Board

The New York Fed allows private bankers to sit on its board, even while it crafts bank policy and puts together financial industry bailouts. "There's a conflict of interest here. You serve two masters. You can't draw this extraordinary salary from JPMorgan Chase and, at the same time, say, 'Oh, I'm out here acting in the public interest.' You can't do both." So said Elizabeth Warren, who came up with the idea that became the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act of 2010. Referring to Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan who presided over a $2 billion trading loss, she added, "He says he wants to take responsibility. Then show some responsibility. Show you get it. Putting Wall Street bankers on the Federal Reserve Board is like finding the guys who torched the entire town and putting them on the fire advisory board. It makes no sense." 

The full essay is at "JPMorgan: An Unethical Monstrosity?"

Same-Sex Marriage in the States of Washington and Britain

 Reporting on the objections of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church to David Cameron’s “contentious plan to legalize same-sex marriage” in the E.U. state of Britain, the New York Times unwittingly followed the European tendency to compare a state in the E.U. with the entire U.S. rather than to a state therein. “In some ways,” the Times contended, the debate in the E.U. state “mirrors arguments in the United States swirling around President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.” Actually, Obama’s support was not at the time very relevant even in the U.S., as the “action” was occurring in particular states (as in the case of the E.U.).
On the of the Times’ report, the Huffington Post reported that the U.S. state of Washington would have a referendum on gay marriage on the ballot in November, 2012. In total, 247,331 Washingtonians signed the petition, passing the minimum of 120,577 needed. Gov. Chris Gregoire, David Cameron’s counterpart, had signed a bill into law the previous February legalizing same-sex marriage. Essentially, the referendum moved the matter from representative to direct democracy. Were a “one-size-fits-all” decision to be reached for the entire U.S., justices rather than an electorate would be the decision-makers. While possibly giving the rights of a minority a “leg up” on majority rule, moving the issue from the people of Washington to apply one decision on the U.S. as a whole was not a given at the time.

Therefore, to relate the thrashing out going on at the time in Britain (and France) to Obama’s campaign stance on the issue rather than to what was going on in the American republics evinces something more than just a category mistake (i.e., treating a state in the E.U. as equivalent to the entire U.S. rather than to a state therein). The dynamic at the level of the E.U. and U.S. is different than that which occurs in a state. Democracy being relatively fort (strong) at the state-level, the juridical protection of the rights of the individual may paradoxically be stronger at the empire-level. Iowa is a notable counter-example, however, on account of the action of the Iowa Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. Perhaps it could be said that majority rule is stronger at the state level and thus more in balance with judicial decision. If so, the E.U. principle of subsidiarity and the U.S. principle of residual sovereignty (marriage being in the realm of the states’ sovereignty though equal protection being a relevant U.S.-level juridical principle) should not be relegated in a race to a central state at the empire-level. At the same time, the U.S. and E.U. need enough power to maintain themselves. Treating a state in the E.U. as if it were equivalent to the entire U.S. (i.e., essentially another E.U. within the E.U.) distorts or ignores these dynamics of federalism.


Alan Cowell, “Churches Challenge British Government Over Same-Sex Marriage,” The New York Times, June 12, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/13/world/europe/churches-challenge-uk-government-over-same-sex-marriage.html?_r=1&ref=world

Chris Gentiviso, “Referendum 74, Washington State Anti-Gay Marriage Measure, Qualifies for Ballot,” The Huffington Post, June 12, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/referendum-74-washington-state-anti-gay-marriage-measure_n_1591687.html?ref=topbar

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Property Taxes: Property at Risk

Thirty years after Californians shrank their property taxes by passing Proposition 13, the same question faced the people of North Dakota as they voted on whether to eliminate their property taxes entirely. In an interesting twist, the debate on the tax incorporated a human-rights dimension that is rarely brought into debates in the American republics.

In addition to pointing to the budget surplus enjoyed by the Government of North Dakota at the time as well as to the unpredictableness of the tax and its inconsistencies, the proponents of a constitutional amendment to prohibit a property tax argued that it is contrary to the concept of property ownership. Beyond property rights, however, the advocates pointed to a human right to shelter irrespective of wealth or income. “I would like to be able to know that my home, no matter what happens to my income or my life, is not going to be taken away from me because I can’t pay a tax,” said Susan Beehler, a member of the group that was pushing for the amendment. The American republics are as it were joined at the hip, so it is no surprise that, Jim Cox, a representative in the Pennsylvania legislature’s lower chamber chimed in by declaring, “No tax should have the power to leave you homeless.” The implication is that having a home is a human right that even a government ought not be able to take away.

There is reason for concern as long as one’s house is subject to one’s wealth. For one thing, a large part of one’s net worth is in the equity-value of one’s house—such value being subject to the wax and wane of the market. According to the Federal Reserve, the medium amount of home equity dropped to $75,000 from $110,000 in 2007 (adjusted for inflation). More generally, the economic crisis of 2008 left the medium American family in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s. Medium family income fell to $45,800 in 2010 from $49,600 in 2007 (adjusted for inflation). With less of a cushion, should a homeowner lose his or her job, less home equity would translate into more difficulty in getting a loan (or being cut off from even being able to borrow to survive a brief period of unemployment). 

Therefore, housing viewed as not just a property-right, but moreover as a human right (i.e., not to be homeless), is incompatible with the precariousness that goes with treating one’s house as not only a commodity subject to market forces, but also a significant part of one’s wealth. A vicious circle can be engaged that leaves one as though drowning in a whirlpool without a life-preserver.  If nothing should have the power to leave one homeless, our concept of housing must go even beyond our concept of private property to be based in a doctrine of human rights—a concept rather foreign in North America. Paradoxically, a constitutional amendment that would remove one’s house from the government’s (as well as any private company’s or bank’s) grasp would proffer citizens more security (and thus happiness) than even a full-fledged notion of private property (rights), for the right of property—unlike a constitutional amendment—depends on government and is thus subject to eminent domain. To be sure, a competitive market is well-suited to distributing non-necessity commodities, but human rights trumps even economic efficiency (or its ideology). I find it odd that this notion is so foreign in the American states, while it is almost taken for granted in the European states.


Monica Davey, “North Dakota Considers Eliminating Property Tax,” The New York Times, June 11, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/us/north-dakota-voters-consider-ending-property-tax.html?_r=1&hp

Binyamin Appelbaum, “Family Net Worth Drops to Level of Early ‘90s, Fed Says,” The New York Times, June 11, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/business/economy/family-net-worth-drops-to-level-of-early-90s-fed-says.html?ref=todayspaper

Monday, June 11, 2012

Warming Oceans: Humanity’s Death-Wish

Released in 2012, a study published in Nature Climate Change found an "anthropogenic fingerprint" (human influence) on the warming oceans. The study, "Human-Induced Global Ocean Warming On Multidecadal Timescales," is based on observations of rising upper-ocean temperatures. The researchers used improved estimates of ocean temperatures to examine the causes of our warming ocean. The warming is explained only when greenhouse gas increases are included in the models.

                Scientific evidence now points to human air-pollution as a major cause of warming oceans.  HP

Lead author and climate scientist Peter Gleckler said in the press release, "The bottom line is that this study substantially strengthens the conclusion that most of the observed global ocean warming over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities. Although we performed a series of tests to account for the impact of various uncertainties, we found no evidence that simultaneous warming of the upper layers of all seven seas can be explained by natural climate variability alone. Humans have played a dominant role." According to oceanography expert Nathan Bindoff, "This paper's important because, for the first time, we can actually say that we're virtually certain that the oceans have warmed, and that warming is caused not by natural processes, but by rising greenhouse gases primarily." He added, "We did it. No matter how you look at it, we did it. That's it."

Lest it be supposed that shorter winters and warmer water for swimming represent a net-gain for the human species, arctic monitoring stations were measuring over 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is higher than the 350 ppm that many scientists consider the upper limit of “safe.” It turns out that the loss of coastal real-estate is the least of our worries; humanity, acting like an unstoppable virus, may be making the air unfit for human consumption. In other words, our economizing (and our related zest to consume and reproduce) may spell the eventual end of the species, rather than a technological utopia of effortless living.

Assuming a general knowledge of the findings discussed here exists in human society, the campaign by polluting industries and their sycophants in government for deregulation can be interpreted as a species’ death-wish. The question is perhaps whether the species will continue to allow itself to governed by that instinct, which at the species level is oriented to what can be termed specicide

Even if we have the technology to get the oxygen and CO2 back to levels that can sustain the species, the greed-fueled instinct, if allowed to stay in charge at the level of the species as a whole, could continue to undermine the species itself, even bringing it to extinction through the suicide of the species. This is not to say that such an end is consciously intended by the forces dominated by that instinct, but such an end can nonetheless occur down the line, and sooner rather than later if the scientists are correct. Of course, the same popular arrogance that is so dismissive of them is also within the specicidal instinct of the species. 

Perhaps it is self-hate (i.e., humanity's hatred of human nature) even more than greed that is motivating the sordid instinct to dominate all others in directing the species. If so, the resulting specicide can be interpreted as the species' own verdict on itself. More particularly, it could be the species' verdict on the instinct. To the extent that it hates itself, self-hatred is driving the human race. As self-hatred enervates or weakens a thing (or person's instinct), it a curious thing that a self-ashamed, and thus weakened instinct can nonetheless direct the species. In other words, how is it that that of the species not fueled by the instinct is somehow beguiled into viewing the instinct of denial and greed as somehow strong and thus as incapable of being taken down from its dominance? 

Nietzsche's question was essentially, how is it that the strong are so beguiled by the weak who are driven by an instinct to dominate that the strong defer to the weak in self-shame for being strong? It is the weak who should be ashamed of themselves for demanding power beyond what naturally corresponds with their innate strength. In terms of polluting industries (and their sycophants in government), how is it that the species even lets them in the room (not to mention to dominate the result) when regulation is being discussed and determined? If on some level the short-sighted and greedy vested-interest is ashamed of itself, it must be weak rather than how it appears to others of other instincts. It is the appearance here that is particularly problematic, as it is paralyzing (as well as specicidal). If indeed the non-specicidal instincts are stronger, this would have to be recognized before the species can regain control of itself from the hypertrophy of an over-aggrandizing faction that unconsciously hates itself and the species.


The Huffington Post, “Human-Induced Ocean Warming Study Addresses the ‘Dominant Role’ of People,” June 11, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/11/human-induced-ocean-warming-study-climate-change_n_1586532.html

P. J. Gleckler et al, “Human-Induced Global Ocean Warming on Multidecadal Timescales,” Nature Climate Change, June 10, 2012. http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1553.html

Murdoch in Europe: Newsprint as Personal Political Weapon

Testifying in Europe on June 11, 2012 about the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers—and thus Murdoch himself—over the state government of Britain, Gordon Brown accused The Sun of having undermined the state’s contribution to the war in Afghanistan. The newspaper caused “huge damage to the war effort,” he said, by suggesting that Brown’s administration “didn’t care about our troops.” The coverage was oriented, Brown contended, to his supposed lack of care about the troops rather than to what the troops were doing in Afghanistan.

The sensationalistic element of a media company that must sell advertising and thus maintain a large readership (or viewership) was nothing new. The most dramatic is not necessarily the most newsworthy from the standpoint of an electorate’s understanding of public policy. Brown pointed, for example, to a story in 2009 disclosing that he had misspelled the name of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan. Much more important was the question of why American and European states were in Afghanistan, and whether the effort was successful or futile. That is, the sensationalism of “human interest” aspects can distract the electorate from matters that are more salient in the decision of whether to support a policy, and thus a candidate.

What is particularly striking in the case of Murdoch is Brown’s revelation that the businessman had written in a private letter that he disagreed with Brown’s “management of the war effort”—as if Murdoch’s disagreement were relevant (Murdoch was not even a citizen). John Major, another former prime minister, said in his testimony, “It does seem an oddity” that, given the emphasis on “one man one vote, we should have one man who can’t vote with a large collection of newspapers and a large share of the electronic media outlets.” Major added that this was a particular concern to him because Murdoch had bluntly told him that if he didn’t change his policy pertaining to the state of Britain in the E.U. to Murdoch’s own position, “my organization cannot support you.” That is to say, Murdoch’s media companies were in the service of Murdoch’s own political ideology. “It’s not very often someone sits in front of a prime minister and says to a prime minister, ‘I would like you to change your policy,’” or else my media company will come after you. Rather than serving as a journalistic enterprise, The Sun was actually Rupert Murdoch’s instrument for his own political agenda. At least Roger Ailes at Fox was a citizen where he used his news network. Murdoch at The Sun went beyond even the problem of disproportionate political influence as a citizen.

If the problem is that a media company can be controlled by one person, the more fundamental problem may lie in the assumption that such companies should be privately held or owned. The journalistic responsibility to the public might be better served by requiring that media companies are non-profits with boards representing various elements in society. This is not to say that they are “stakeholders,” as being affected by the company does not in itself justify or legitimate being given authority on a board. Rather, societal control, if not ownership, might be more congruent than private property with the journalistic responsibility to the public discourse. The problem, in other words, may go far beyond Murdoch, being systemic or structural in nature.


Alan Cowell, “Former Prime Minister Contradicts Murdoch Testimony at Hacking Inquiry,” The New York Times, June 11, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/world/europe/british-hacking-inquiry-questions-political-heavyweights.html?hp

Alan Cowell, “Major Says Murdoch Sought Policy Shift,” The New York Times, June 13, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/13/world/europe/british-hacking-inquiry-sharpens-political-divide.html?ref=newsandnewsmedia