Progressives Take Some Getting Used To…

A decade ago I’d never heard of progressives. But I was younger then, with all my senses about me. Now I’m pushing fifty, half-deaf and increasingly blind. After several years of having my readers tucked into my collar (a look I know Kim will miss), I’ve finally opted for progressive lenses which allow me to have my specs permanently on my face. Somehow this seems like a step forward. It is actually more convenient than whipping my glasses on and off all the time. If only I can figure out how to use these things.

I wasn’t really prepared for my new glasses to have a learning curve. While it’s cool that I can see everything somewhere, I can no longer see anything anywhere. This is sort of the the optical version of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. My optician tells me I’m an “eye looker”. That is, when I want to look at something I move my eyes. Apparently this is wrong. I need to become a “head looker”. The result is that I now find myself swirling my head in a circular motion trying to find the optimal focal point in my lenses for whatever I’m looking at. I’m a human bobble-head doll.

Everyone tells me I’ll get used to this. Eventually my brain will adjust to my new lenses and my head will auto-align to the right position without me swearing first. Once again, I find myself seeking a new normal. I’ve learned to balance again without my vestibular nerves. I consider a day with minimally achy joints to be pain free. I accept that a loud high pitched whine from one ear is silence. And now I’m learning to accept that the world is no longer viewable askance.

When will my android body be ready? I guess getting older is all about how you look at it. Then again, with these new glasses, everything is all about how I look at it.

Catch XXII

I’ve written before about how the current Senate rules are paralyzing and likely unconstitutional. Specifically, because invoking the filibuster no longer requires more than a statement of intent to effectively block most any legislation, thereby creating an environment whereby the legislative branch of our government is prevented by its own rules from accomplishing pretty much anything substantive. And no, this is not a partisan issue. It is currently hampering Democrats, but as I previously pointed out, Republicans were hog-tied by the same thing during the Clinton and Bush years.

Senator Tom Udall is now proposing to finally take a stand. He believes there is ample precedent for a freshly seated Senate to revisit and remake its rules by simple majority, and is promising to do so when the new Senate convenes in 2011. That’s another year of an inert Congress, but at least it is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. I sincerely hope he succeeds in this effort, regardless of the outcome of the 2010 elections.

The graph below is more than a little telling. Note that the current rules allowing a filibuster to be just a declaration, rather than requiring actual debate to happen, were adopted in 1975. The result has been an explosion of its use across both parties to constipate the Congress. I’m stymied that anyone could claim this has been a good thing; I’m confounded that anyone could claim this was the intent of the Constitution or of the Founding Fathers; I’m borderline apoplectic that this is a self-imposed impediment.

As the old saw goes, “Doctor! Doctor! It hurts when I do this…”

The Slippery Slope

One of the more frightening implications of the Scott Brown Senate victory is that voters were mainly motivated by his position on terrorists. During the campaign, Brown was widely quoted as saying:

“I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation – they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime… In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.”

Further, a poll run during the campaign found that voters favored Brown’s position over his opponents assertion that accused terrorists have constitutional rights by 61% to 29%. To me, this is far more terrifying than some kid with PETN tucked in his tighty-whities.

Mind you, I’m not particularly concerned with the likes of the so-called Fruit-of-the-Boom bomber. He was caught red “handed” and is guilty beyond any measure of reasonable doubt. His conviction is assured pretty much regardless of how it’s handled. Although I would argue that these are the cases we absolutely should be trying in civilian court while affording the accused a full slate of rights under American jurisprudence. They are slam dunks. Why not show the world we are a moral and just people while still exacting our vindication?

Rather, the slippery slope comes in when you consider that what we are talking about here is revoking the rights of people accused of a crime. And not all the people accused will be so clearly guilty as a man with a pant-load of undetonated explosives. From a legal standpoint, it immediately begs the question of who gets to level the accusation. The police? The FBI? The military? How about your neighbor? What is the burden of proof for the accusation? We pretty much have to accept there is some burden of proof lest we open up the door for those so empowered to use that accusational ability for less than noble purposes. And once there is a burden of proof to meet, we’re back to requiring a trial or judicial process of some sort, which gets us cleanly back to square one.

Moral clarity is easy to achieve at the extremes. It is a waste of time and resources to provide due process to a man trying to board a plane wearing a suicide bomb. It would also be the height of judicial silliness to revoke your rights because your neighbor accused you of “terrorist activities” because you launched a few bottle rockets from your back yard on Independence Day. But the vast majority of cases are not so clear-cut. The majority are in the gray. It’s easy to want to strip the rights of an acknowledged Al Qaeda operative from a foreign land, but what if your son was facing an accusation you felt was unjust? Would you then be so willing to sacrifice his rights to a fair trial? Would that clarity you were so confident of when you cast your ballot to assuage your need for safety be so brightly lit in your mind?

Part of what defines us as a model democracy for the world (at least for a wee bit longer) is that we are a nation of law. Blackstone’s formulation, a bedrock principle of law in England, imported and adopted as a foundational element of American justice states, “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

As a nation, we puff our chests at every opportunity to assert how we would die for our freedom, and yet we repeatedly demonstrate that we will sacrifice our freedoms to avoid the risk of dying. It’s time to man up.