Saturday, December 28, 2013

Situational Politics: No Sauce for the Gander

As I have observed friends and acquaintances of a liberal political bent, I have concluded that most "progressives" have little in the way of true political principles.  They hold to their often-incoherent policies with a fervor that they seem to regard as principle, but then don't want to extend the same "principles" to anyone with different ideas.  (All conservatives are evil and/or stupid, so I guess we're undeserving of that consideration.) 

A prime example of this phenomenon is the Democrats' recently resorting to the "nuclear option" in the Senate regarding the Republican minority's filibustering President Obama's judicial nominees.  It wasn't that long ago that the Dems, also in the minority in the Senate, were holding up many of George W. Bush's judicial nominees by using the same tactic, yet, at the time, they claimed the filibuster was a time-honored tradition and necessary to keep "extremists" off the bench.  Naturally, there will come a time when we once again have a Republican president and Senate majority, and the Dems will undoubtedly be clamoring to reinstate the filibuster for votes on judicial appointments; as usual, their "principle" is only valid in their eyes when it promotes their policies.  

Personally, I think it's wrong in all situations for the Senate not to give an up-or-down vote to the president's judicial nominees.  The right to nominate judges is a natural consequence of winning an election; I believed it during the Bush Administration, and I believe it now during the Obama Administration.  But it's even more wrong to change the rules to suit the ends of one party over the other.  For generations, it was the practice of the Senate simply to consider a nominee's objective qualifications and temperament for the bench and vote accordingly.  Now, however, the federal judiciary has become a major policy-making organ -- principally because it can, and largely because a pusillanimous Congress generally does not address social issues that might impact its members' viability for re-election.  With judges making decisions according to their own political preferences -- often reversing directly democratic measures or state-constitutional amendments using the catch-all justification of "equal protection under the law" -- it's no wonder the confirmation process has become so contentious.  One president's appointments can have a huge impact on policy for an entire generation.

Recently I heard a fellow church member aver that the courts are indispensable in protecting individuals and minorities from the "tyranny of the majority," stating that we Mormons were once an oppressed minority -- and wouldn't we have liked fair treatment in the courts of Missouri in the 1830s?  It's a false analogy, of course: the Mormons had legal rights that were being trampled on in Missouri, and the authorities there refused to enforce or vindicate those rights.  That simply isn't the same thing as asking the courts to create rights that have heretofore been unrecognized under the Constitution, and which, by any reasonable view of the democratic process, lie within the purview of the Congress and state legislatures.  (A better analogy, and one directly pertinent, would be the polygamy cases of the late 1870s, in which the Mormons asked the courts to invalidate, on 1st Amendment grounds, the laws passed by Congress outlawing plural marriage.  The Supreme Court in those cases paid great deference to Congress, as it rightly should have done, carving out an exception to the "free exercise" clause for religious practices that were repugnant to the general population.  It isn't at all clear that either Congress or the Supreme Court would act in a similar fashion today: one, Congress probably wouldn't take action, and, two, in any case the Supreme Court wouldn't defer to Congress in almost any matter involving policy.  The "tyranny of the majority," indeed -- if anything, the reverse is true.)

I fully understand the motivation for acquiescing in, even encouraging, the courts' charting the social path for the country, given the reticence of our entrenched, self-interested Congress in taking up controversial issues and the snail's pace at which change would otherwise take place.  However, the fact that an insular and dictatorial political elite can initiate rapid social change does not guarantee, in any objective sense, that the changes will be for society's good.  I mean, transformative social change happened very quickly in Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany, Maoist China, Kim Sung-Il's North Korea, Pol Pot's Cambodia, the Taliban's Afghanistan, Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, and the mullahs' Iran; however, the history of those regimes makes clear that not all social change constitutes social progress.

My point is that there's safety in preserving the democratic process, and in allowing social change to happen at the same rate as changes in public attitudes, as reflected in the actions of elected officials, the people's representatives.  The people who applaud judicial policy-making now will be the first ones clamoring for impeachment of judges who establish policies they disagree with, but what logical argument will they have to limit judges' discretion at that point?

In closing, I mention that my current manager at work, a very kind and perceptive person, is gay and married his partner years ago in Canada, after which they adopted a number of children together.  My opinion of same-sex marriage, conceptually, has pretty much taken a 180-degree turn as the result of having gotten to know him.  The New Mexico Supreme Court recently held that same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited in the state, which is sort of a moot point because the state legislature could easily have passed a bill to achieve the same end, and without fear of an electoral backlash.  The same isn't true in Utah, where a federal district judge recently ruled that a state-constitutional amendment effectively barring same-sex marriage in that state.violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  It would be nice for each state to be able to decide the question for itself, although the issue of non-uniform recognition of marriages performed in other jurisdictions is ultimately insoluble and practically invites federal pre-emption.  (Such pre-emption, when it happens, will undoubtedly come in the form of a Supreme Court holding; far be it from Congress to stick its neck out when the courts will do its dirty work!)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Life goes on....

Kristy and Ryker (and Alexis), 11/29/13
1. Recently, a ballot measure in Albuquerque was voted down that would have established a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.  (Or, at least, it purported to establish such a ban.  I doubt it would have survived the lawsuit that surely would have ensued had it passed; I'm certain 95% of judges in the area would have been inclined to find some "constitutional" defect or another.)  I'm told that the measure over-reached to the extent of barring abortions of babies who are certain to die outside the womb, anyway.  Nonetheless, it speaks pretty loudly of Albuquerque that a majority of voters have no problem with their city's being Late Term Abortion Central.  I've never watched an entire episode of the recently concluded TV series Breaking Bad, but it occurs to me that the morally bleak Albuquerque it depicts isn't far from reality.  

2. I've always had the habit of "picking" at the tips of my thumbs, but in the last year or two I've taken it to extremes, tearing skin off even the pads of my thumbs, making them raw and causing them to bleed.  I don't know what sort of neurosis has driven this change, but the only things that keep me from doing it are (1) putting band-aids and rubberized first-aid tape on my thumbs, or (2) constantly "filing" the skin with an emery board to remove any asperities that I might otherwise pick at.  The first really isn't a solution, as it only prunes the skin and makes it an even more tempting target.  The second is inconvenient, but it works as long as I keep doing it; I may simply have to take an emery board with me everywhere.

3. It is a quirk of my personality that I've decided a dress shirt shouldn't cost more than about $12.00, and I refuse to pay more than that; needless to say, I don't buy designer shirts, and the shirts I buy have to be very deeply discounted before I'll spring for them.  (I laughed when Mitt Romney's wife Ann, in an effort to appear "jus' folks" [and not the mega-rich people she and Mitt were and are] during the 2012 presidential campaign, commented on how she shops at Costco and regards its Kirkland store-brand shirts as a great value at $17.99.  Somehow I doubt Mitt has really ever worn a Kirkland shirt, but I wouldn't even pay $17.99 for one!)

4. So the Obama Administration has, together with several European nations, entered into an agreement with Iran concerning its nuclear-weapons program.  Based on what I've read, it appears the bedrock purpose of the agreement was to relax economic sanctions on Iran -- which cannot help but have the effect of bolstering the fascist radical-Shiite government there -- and to make it infeasible for Israel (heretofore America's ally) to launch a solo strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, all without extracting any significant concessions from the mullahs.  If there's a point to it, it sure isn't to encourage democratic government in the Middle East or, evidently, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

5. I read an article recently that described current sociological trends in Japan.  It's long been evident that Japan is in a population nosedive, as the fertility rate has dropped well below "replacement" level, yet Japanese society doesn't allow immigration on any sort of scale.  However, the article I read cited polls showing that a significant number of Japanese adults not only aren't having children (or getting married), but aren't even interested in dating or in having a relationship with a member of the opposite sex.  Somehow I don't think the Japanese are becoming asexual (or significantly more homosexual), which suggests that something is taking the place of a lot of relationships -- and that "something" almost certainly involves ubiquitous pornography, the impossible fantasies it engenders, and the relative simplicity of "self abuse" compared to an honest-to-goodness relationship.  Many people have spoken out against the evils of near-universally available pornography, but few seem to have contemplated the possibility of entire nations dying out because of it.

6. I recently got a new pair of eyeglasses, my first in several years.  I decided to get plastic frames on this go-round, and it was only after ordering them that I remembered that the last time I got glasses with plastic frames was in 1978, when I purchased a pair to take with me on my church mission to Chile.  (I used them for a number of years after my mission when I took out my contact lenses.)  I like my new glasses, as they're certainly more comfortable than any of the metal-framed eyeglasses I've had in the intervening years; however, I've found to my annoyance that the relative thickness of the frame actually enlarges my "blind spots" while driving a car.  I have to turn around quite a bit farther to make sure the way is clear before changing lanes.

7. To my dismay, I'm getting the urge to buy yet another guitar, this one a made-in-Mexico Fender Telecaster, finished in "Aztec Gold" and offered by Guitar Center.  I still think the spice of life lies in being able to spend money frivolously on occasion, but I have absolutely no use for another electric guitar!  Even one that looks like this:

8. It appears that the Albuquerque 11th Ward (singles ward) is fading from memory.  The two "alumni" reunions (in March of 2011 and May of this year), combined with the sharing of photographs and videos, seem to have sapped most 11th Warders' desire to communicate with each other.  Perhaps we've put our "ghosts" to rest -- I certainly had more than my share -- and have realized that it's pointless to try to go back in time.

9. I have several obsessions -- principally jackets, shoes, and (in recent years) Adidas shorts.  I don't know how many jackets and coats I have, but the number is more than I can wear regularly.  I have about twenty pairs of shoes that I wear regularly, including three pairs of running shoes.  And I have about 16-17 pairs of Adidas shorts, all in different colors, that I wear to the gym on a rotating basis. 

10. Here's a recent photo of all of our grandchildren -- Kristy's six (Nicole, Zach, Alexis, Maddi, Hailee, and Ryker), Heidi's two (Kayla and Tyler), Devery's three (Mason, Noelle, and Leah), and Kiley's one (Joey).  Our house gets pretty lively when they all come to visit, but they are the biggest joy of my life.  The photo above shows Kristy holding Ryker at their house after Chris gave the baby a name and a blessing (an LDS priesthood ordinance).
Our grandchildren as of November 2013