February 2004
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Day February 19, 2004

Rhode Island Tries to Resurrect WWI-era anti-sedition penalties…

Thanks to Eugene Volokh for posting on Rhode Island’s new Homeland Security bill, which includes some fairly draconian provisions which resurrect WWI-era anti-sedition laws and pave the way for a new wave of Palmer Raids.  The proposed legislation is basically straight out of the Sedition Act of 1918 or the Smith Act (still on the books!).  This stuff is pernicious, and took literally years for the effects of spurious convictions to be reversed.  

The case of Rose Pastor Stokes comes to mind, who was sentenced to three ten-year terms in prison for writing a letter to the newspaper which stated:  “no government which is for the profiteers can also be for the people, and I am for the people while the government is for the profiteers.” It took two years and another trial to overturn the conviction. And this all occurred during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, today a liberal icon. Imagine what would have happened with Ashcroft and Rehnquist running the show… 

The manifest abuses which occurred under these laws have partially been curtailed by Supreme Court decisions which establish limits on the power of the government to restrict speech and thought.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing in Schenck v. United States, established the “clear and present danger” test:

But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done…. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force…. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.

And Justice Harlan, writing in Yates v. United States in 1957, established the difference between “abstract doctrine” and “advocacy calculated to induce immediate action.” 

Interestingly, the new Rhode Island Homeland Security bill (11-43-11) contains no recognition of “clear and present danger.”  It simply says that if you write, talk, or publish anything which advocates the overthrow of the government, it’s a felony.  Now, I’m not here to defend the forcible overthrow of anything – although I’d be happy to rent George W. a U-Haul and even drive it back to Crawford for him – but come on, we’ve recognized the difference between saying something and doing something for fifty years.   

LATE BREAKING UPDATE:  The Rhode Island ACLU actually won – the governor is withdrawing the bill!  I’m leaving this post up anyhow, because I think everyone needs to be on the lookout for this kind of thing.  Those who do not remember the past are (apparently) condemned to watch it in re-runs….

More Lies About the Economy

You know the stuff you’re hearing is bad when ordinary folks like me (who aren’t economists) can read things like the 2004 Economic Report of the President, and daily Administration press briefings, and smell a rat.  The blogsphere is just humming this week with discussion of Bush’s “fuzzy numbers,” which is great since the economy is the issue upon which Kerry can win in November.  

Scott McClellan (who must have the worst job in the Administration, having to say this stuff every day) keeps saying that the recession existed before Bush took office, even though that’s clearly wrong.  It’s not really all that important, of course, because it’s not really clear what we could have done to prevent the recession, but it is interesting that Bush is trying to take credit for ending it.  For which, again, there’s no real evidence, since the Administration keeps telling us that the 2001 tax cuts ended the recession.  This despite the fact that no evidence has ever been found that tax cuts directly stimulate corporate growth.  So naturally, being the curious person I am, I looked at the relevant section of the 2004 ERP, and the argument seems to boil down to:  “giving people bigger tax refunds will encourage them to spend more” and “giving businesses a break on depreciation.”  Apparently, the tax cuts also “increased incentives for business investment” by lowering tax rates on “personal capital income.”  (The latter is apparently code for reducing capital gains and dividend taxes).  In other words, straightforward 1980’s “trickle down” or “supply-side” economics.  The tax cuts have absolutely no direct effect on corporate growth, and the grand experiment of the 1980’s pretty much demonstrated that supply-side economics didn’t necessarily yield job or economic growth so much as it yielded higher investment income for the top 1%.  

Don’t even get me started on Lesson 5 in the ERP:  “Strong productivity growth raises standards of living but means that much faster economic growth is needed to raise employment.”  After showing two graphs that demonstrate (a) productivity has risen faster as we came out of this recession than the average of prior recessions, and (b) non-farm employment has strongly lagged the average of prior recessions, the lesson says nothing about the effects of outsourcing and job migration overseas.  Nothing.

Latest Gallup Numbers: Kerry & Edwards lead Bush by double digits

If you haven’t subscribed to Gallup’s email service, I recommend it.  Today’s alert shows Bush trailing both Kerry and Edwards by double digits in a hypothetical election held today.  The poll, conducted Feb 16-17, shows Kerry leading 55% to 43%, and Edwards leading 54% to 44% among “likely” voters.  Among registered votes, Kerry is leading 51% to 46%, and Edwards in a dead heat with Bush (49% to 48%, with a ±3% margin of error).  By all indications, the jobs issue is starting to really work against the Administration here, especially Bush’s retraction of the idiotic statement claiming that the economy will add 2.6 million new jobs this year.  

As the AP wire story points out, Bush is the nation’s first MBA president, and the jobs prediction was not endorsed by either Treasury Secretary Snow or Commerce Secretary Evans, both of whom have been more “compliant” than Paul O’Neill ever was.  Things must really be getting bad within the Administration if Karl Rove and Scott McClellan are the only ones cooking up economic policy and press releases….

Will Chicago follow in San Francisco’s footsteps?

Balta reports today that Chicago mayor Daley is open to a San Francisco-style protest on the issue of same-sex marriage.  Daley can’t do it alone, however, since marriage licenses are issued by Cook County.  But Daley has signaled to David Orr, the Cook County Clerk, that Daley will support the issuance of marriage licenses.  If this happens, buckle up and hang on – Chicago ain’t San Francisco, and Daley is not typically a “left wing” mayor.  We could be witnessing the beginnings of a civil rights campaign with real legs.  Sure, it’s going to get ugly, but passing the Federal Marriage Amendment is going to be a lot harder than the Religious Right thinks.  The polling numbers would seem to suggest that it’ll be a tough fight, but a slight majority isn’t nearly enough.  

For the FMA to become part of the Constitution, it needs to pass both houses of Congress with a 2/3rds super-majority, and then ratified by the legislatures of 75% of the states.  The method of ratification can be vote of the legislature, or by state convention.  Only one amendment in history has been ratified by state convention:  the repeal of Prohibition.  Another method is to circumvent Congress and for state legislatures to call a Constitutional Convention, which can propose amendments.  The proposed amendments still require 75% ratification by states.  This method has never been taken; the only Constitutional Convention we’ve ever had is the original in 1787.  Notably, the FMA is being pushed through a fairly “standard” path – votes in both houses of Congress, and then state ratification.  My prediction is that the FMA will never be ratified, even if it passes both houses of Congress (which is far from certain).  It will only take 13 states to block ratification, and by my count, anywhere from 13 to 17 states would likely not ratify.  

For my part, it’s time for another civil rights movement in this country.  Between the Patriot Act, the FMA, and the slow erosion of existing rights via the Rehnquist Court’s “procedural” attacks, it’s time to demonstrate that our rights matter and that Americans will protect them.  The “war on terror” is not an excuse for giving up ground on our most fundamental freedoms.  

The Nerdiest Thing ever…

 Thanks to American Footprint:  the nerdiest thing I’ve ever seen.  A computer mod, used as a marriage proposal.  Make sure you scroll down and check out the pictures of the internal wiring, wrapped in white with fake pearl strings.