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January 2006 Archives

January 6, 2006

School Vouchers Struck Down in Florida

The only interesting element of this Florida Supreme Court decision was the pretense utilized. One would expect a state supreme court to pull out the trusty cudgel of “separation of church and state” as has happened so many times before. Though SCOTUS has ruled that some seepage of public money to religious schools is permissible under the Constitution, the Florida constitution features a so-called Blaine Amendment which was specifically designed to limit the impact of religious schools upon the public enterprise. This has been a reliable state weapon in the battle against meaningful school reform, but one wonders if the decision not to base the decision on a Blaine structure was based upon a fear that a federal court might find Blaine Amendments themselves constitutionally questionable. Perhaps it was better to not mention it.

Instead, the Florida potentates used an obscure clause in the Florida constitution to invent and define a new education right that did not exist last week. The state constitution requires that Florida provide a "uniform, effective, safe, secure and high quality system of public schools." The people of Florida are to understand that somewhere in those words is a mandate that the aforementioned system is the only one allowable. This flies in the face of all experience and is clearly not what the plain language means. The system described is a minimum, not a maximum.

And though it may be uncomfortable for the liberal establishment to admit, one must point out that the current system is Florida has done a poor job of being “"uniform, effective, safe, secure and high quality.” In November, a class action lawsuit was filed claiming that the chronic academic and discipline problems experienced by minority students in Pinellas County amounts to discrimination. Jeb Bush made the voucher program the centerpiece of an education reform plan that helped to get him reelected.

So, to review. Liberals recognize that Florida schools are of poor quality and therefore ineffective under the current structure. But efforts to reform them are not to be considered if they deviate from the current structure. This kind of intellectual bankruptcy is endeminc to the postmodern left. It is now left to Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature to exhibit more than the ritual hand wringing evident when local officials were stealing the 2000 election and when Terri Schiavo was dying.

January 7, 2006

Minnesota Boasts Eleventh-Highest Tax Burden

It says here that Minnesota’s state and local tax burden ranks 11th in the nation. Under the DFL’s logic, that must mean that we have the eleventh-best schools, roads and infrastructure. And here I was feeling that our roads were reprehensibly poor with their annual fissures. The roads in those low-tax states must be positively lunar. It’s hard to imagine a worse freeway interchange than the automotive garrotte at 394 and 94, but with less money those low-tax states must have moats and palisades at their freeway interchanges.

And what about those public school teacher salaries? Almost top ten, baby! Geez, and I know public school teachers who actually complaint about their salary.

January 10, 2006

That’s Why They Call Them “Confirmation” Hearings

All that vapid testimony from the 13 judiciary committee members yesterday was a grim reminder of what has become of rhetoric and public discourse in modern America. Even knowing the cameras are rolling and people are taking notes, many Senators (not all Democrats) demonstrated their utter ineptitude at expository speech and their reprehensible misunderstanding of the Constitutional function of the courts.

Perhaps they are called “confirmation” hearings because they confirm for us the necessity of a judicial oligarchy. What would happen if these Senators actually governed the country? The mind reels.

A Disturbing Civics Lesson

Reviewing the transcripts of yesterday’s Alito hearings provided a nice refresher on basic American government. The Senators spoke very clearly, and in small words, about the three branches of government, advice and consent and checks and balances. If anyone stayed awake through the whole affair, their fortitude was rewarded by a remedial civics lesson.

Of course, the real civics lesson lies in the senators’ disposition toward the judiciary. The frequent references to checks and balances, delivered with furrowed brows and in reverent tones, mask two pernicious Democratic distortions.

First, it cannot be denied that the Democrats accept the political domination of the Court. Democrats are untroubled by this usurpation because its results have been propitious from their point of view. The extreme social liberalism of the federal judiciary has allowed liberal Democrats to typically avoid the necessity of advocating unpopular positions (such as gay marriage or partial-birth abortion) publicly from the floor in Congress. The judicial super-legislature has handled most of the heavy lifting over the last fifty years and since it is advancing many of their core values, there is nothing to do but celebrate its sovereignty. They are happy to trade the cumbersome process of republicanism for the ease of a benign omnipotent oligarchy.

Second, the Democrats regard the Court, like all government, as a tool for expanding the cult of the individual under the guise of liberty. The evolution so fondly spoken of by those on the left is really the emergence of the ascendant, imperial self. Government recedes before the individual under this conception, and both laws and mores are barriers to this manifestation. Government is to bow down, and the Court will enforce this subservience.

The iniquity of these positions is compounded by the fact that they represent a complete contradiction. If the power of the Court is to be unrestricted so as to better coerce certain behavior or attitudes in favor of liberty, then liberty itself must be sacrificed to the omnipotent Court. If, on the other hand, individual liberty is to reign supreme, then even the Court and its pronouncements must yield. The very idea of government assumes both sides. Thus, Democrats have swept aside ages of political discourse devoted to this very issue of the relationship between individual liberty and governmental power.

And yet, there is even more, or perhaps less, to the Democratic position. Governmental power is nothing more that the manifestation of individual liberty, collectively expressed. The distinction between the power of the government and the power of the individual is a false one. A law against polygamy (for instance), duly enacted by the legislature, represents the affirmative and definitive expression of individuals. Such a law is a parameter or definition of freedom that enhances it. Without such parameters, the concept of liberty itself is absurd. This inconvenient augural hangs ominously over the confirmation follies and bears testimony to how far we have fallen from the republican ideal.

January 12, 2006

With the Church’s Problems All Apparently Solved, US Bishop Pronounces on Iraq

The United States Bishops occasionally have been known to dabble in political concerns, so perhaps one should not be surprised by today’s statement released by Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Policy. He had strong words for the "shrill and shallow debate that distorts reality and reduces the options to 'cut and run' versus 'stay the course,'" and instead urged "serious and civil discussions of alternatives that emphasize planning for a responsible transition in Iraq."

Fresh from their impeccable handling of the priestly abuse scandal and insightful comments on the artistic qualities of gay cowboy movies, the Bishops obviously have some spare time on their hands.

But one might ponder why the Catholic Church in this country even has a Committee on International Policy. I hope it doesn’t take any time away from the Committee on the Utter and Complete Collapse of Catholic Education. Will there still be enough donuts for the meeting of the Committee on the Total and Probably Irrevocable Disappearance of Catholic Culture?

Perhaps Congress will now take care of disobedient parishes, unworthy liturgies and reprehensible catechesis in this country.

Weird News Day

And its not Friday the 13th until tomorrow...

Vampire Candidate 'Won't Hide Evil Side'

MINNEAPOLIS — One gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota is giving a whole new meaning to the "dark side" of politics. A man who calls himself a satanic priest plans to run for governor on a 13-point platform that includes the public impaling of terrorists at the state Capitol building.

Man Gets Death for Killing Man Thought to Be Antichrist

PENSACOLA, Fla. — A man who claimed he killed a retired police officer because he thought the "A" on the victim's University of Alabama baseball cap meant he was the Antichrist has been sentenced to death.

Flying Shrimp Killed Man, Family Claims in Suit

MINEOLA, N.Y. — A shrimp a hibachi chef tossed at a man eating at a Japanese steakhouse ultimately led to the diner's death, his family claims in a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the restaurant chain Benihana.

Man Aims for New Snake-Kissing Record

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A kiss is just a kiss, but it may prove to be the kiss of death for a Malaysian snake charmer who will attempt to set a new world record by planting 50 smooches on a venomous snake in 10 minutes.

Thoughts on Judicial Independence

As the Alito confirmation barge passes through the thick and troubled waters of the Senate this week, the topic of judicial independence has come up repeatedly. Its worth sifting through the intellectual detritus to get a grasp on what judicial independence means in the American context. A lot is at stake.

Undoubtedly judicial independence means in part freedom from outside control. This was essentially accomplished with ratification of the Constitution. Unlike Europe, American federal judges were insulted from retaliatory removal by displeased executives. They owed their prestigious positions to no one. Also, they were freed from being forced out by a displeased legislature. There is a constitutional guarantee that their salaries will not be diminished. We have also done an excellent job of keeping them free from the threat of violence from dissatisfied parties. Though there have been instances of violence against judges, this has usually been at the hands of lunatics. Judges here are not assassinated by political enemies or powerful litigants. This aspect of judicial independence is secure.

Some, including former Chief Justice Rehnquist, have suggested that there is more to judicial independence. To them, independence means deference by the legislative and executive branches, the states and the people. Independence then becomes supremacy. Threats to this independence are seen by some in the form of judicial term limits or the limiting of jurisdiction. These measures have been suggested by people who see the power of the federal courts expanding and encroaching on the other two branches. Rehnquist’s position seems to have been that the judiciary was meant to be as powerful as it has become, and the only alternative would be to make it subservient. Restricting jurisdiction, which Congress has explicit power to do, would effectively accomplish this. Term limits have their own baggage.

But to limit jurisdiction is to eschew the concept of judicial review entirely and call into question the fundamental concept of separation of powers. Both liberals and conservatives have at times (though perhaps seldom at the same times) celebrated judicial review as a fundamental element of the constitutional. Though it has spawned judicial usurpations such as Roe and failures such as Dred Scott, it has overall been a neutral third party in constitutional matters. In what realms of law are we so confident of infallibility that we would surrender unrestricted power to Congress or the President and ask no recourse?

Is there a way out of this impasse? The judiciary’s march toward supremacy must be somehow checked, yet all obvious methods of doing so effectively eviscerate what we only want to control.

The answer lies in another aspect of judicial independence that is often ignored. There are powerful interests that could lean on a person who was judge beholden to an electorate or a president. But human experience has shown that these influences are nothing compared to the temptations that will emerge from within the person themselves. If men were angels, Madison wrote, the entire enterprise of government would be unnecessary. But this quote is often assumed to be a general remark about the citizens at large. In fact, the rest of this quotation from Federalist #51 is important. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

The same stark assessment given to the masses applies to political figures. The same avarice and vanity will afflict them. A thorough definition of judicial independence includes the sense of duty and parameters to encourage performance of that duty. A judge should be put in a position in which he or she has a reasonable chance to master themselves when discharging their duty. This is much like a traditional view of freedom as not some shallow and ultimately meaningless license, but an ordered liberty. This is not because they might somehow develop a dependency upon the adulation of the mob or upon the exercise of extreme political power, but because every man already has those faults to some degree. Such weakness is to be expected. Ruling on clearly enunciated principles, ruling in a context that ensures outside review, ruling within a more transparent structure; all of this would go a long way toward freeing a person from the temptation to please the crowd, and give them guidance also when tempted to simply pronounce their preference.

As the federal judiciary has become more powerful, such temptations have increased. As the court system became bloated with cases, the courts could not keep up. The essential collaborative functions began to break down. Many courts now feature panels deciding important threshold issues. Individual judges sit as the gatekeeper for cases of a certain kind or from a certain region. District courts are split up and spread out across thousands of miles. Judges have enormous administrative tasks that add to the sense that their time is limited, that perfect constitutional reflection is impossible, and that therefore only the “important” cases ought to get heard. Also, the sheer number of cases heard at the appellate level ensures that only a tiny fraction will be subject to review by the Supreme Court, thus making the appellate court effectively the last word. Also, Congress’ accommodating spirit has ensured that any SCOTUS decision will be final. The nation has grown accustomed to bowing down to judicial pronouncements, and judges have grown accustomed to giving them.

Seen in this light, the issue can be properly phrased. How do we oblige the federal judiciary to control itself? Term limits and jurisdiction-stripping only mitigate the duration and locality of judicial usurpation. There is in fact only one sure method to rehabilitate the judiciary without destroying its independence. It requires the ponderous machinery of Constitutional amendment and will therefore require time to ripen. But ripen it will as conservatives weary of judicial supremacy and liberals see their judicially-enshrined policy preferences swept aside by more philosophically conservative courts. If federal judges are to be truly independent, they must in fact be made to control themselves. A carefully crafter amendment could accomplish that, and perhaps such an amendment can be explored in future posts.

January 23, 2006

Quality and Catholic Television

Kudos to Archbishop Foley for saying publicly what so many have known for so long:

"Unfortunately, when our efforts are viewed as poor or amateurish, what we believe is sometimes viewed as poor and amateurish. Paradoxically, we can give God a bad name!" said the prelate.

"My own philosophy is that nothing less than the best is worthy of being offered to God. That does not mean that we will always achieve the highest quality; it means that we must always reach for it," he continued.

January 24, 2006

Cheap Hit Piece by Nightline on Our Boy Nino Scalia

Here ABC's Nightline courageously uncovers one of the biggest non-stories I have ever seen (which aired on yesterday's broadcast of Nightline). It notes that Justice Antonin Scalia missed Chief Justice Roberts's swearing in ceremony because he was "playing tennis" in Aspen. Uh huh. This of course is evidence of grave ethical abuses taking place on the Supreme Court, especially by he and Justice Thomas, the only two justices whose particular behavior the story cites.

The real story is of course that Justice Scalia was teaching at a two-day CLE in Aspen sponsored by the Federalist Society (ooh, shiver). A program that was scheduled well in advance of Justice O'Connor retiring or Chief Justice Rehnquist passing away. In between sessions, he took some time for leisure and exercise (as I am glad he does since he is not getting any younger). However, ABC paints his activities and ties to the Federalist Society as nefarious, despite the fact that the organization does no lobbying, litigation, or issue advocacy. Furthermore, the story notes that at the seminar, Justice Scalia attended a reception sponsored by a law firm where Jack Abramoff ONCE worked. It all comes together, doesn't it? Nino Scalia, Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, and millions of suffering children. The web of scandal and intrigue on the Right continues.

Of course, why it is unethical to miss a swearing-in ceremony, which ABC describes as "historic" (hardly), is beyond me. But the point is that just before the Alito confirmation vote, we can paint the conservative justices as corrupt and connected to all of the other Republican corruption in Washington. Note that the activities of the non-conservative justices are not mentioned (even though Justice Breyer and Kennedy are jet-setting world travelers giving lectures and attending various events and receptions), and it is only Scalia and Thomas that are indicted (they haven't had time to get anything on Roberts, yet). That my friends, is objective news reporting.

UPDATE: Human Events has more on the story and the official Federalist Society response from executive director Leonard Leo.

Hat tip: Southern Appeal

January 26, 2006

Community Ed Offering Da Vinci Code Historical Seminar

I came across this can't miss article in today's National Review Online. It tells the story of the Eden Prairie, MN school district offering a seminar on the "historical" dimensions of the Da Vinci Code, such as the true existence of the Priory of Sion, and how Opus Dei is really in America and owns an office tower in Manhattan. You know, real historical stuff.

The most fascinating part of the story is the local diocesan paper's poo-poohing the issue of the public school system financing anti-Catholic propaganda. This story has all sorts of great twists and turns.

Perhaps more rewardingly, I have discovered the blog of the author, Minneapolis mom Susan Vigilante who blogs under the name "Desperate Irish housewife" and has written some great stuff on the recent "Rock for Roe" charade this week. Check out her blog!

January 28, 2006

Jonah Goldberg in the Twin Cities Tuesday Night (Jan. 31)

I thought our Twin Cities readers would appreciate knowing that Seventh Age favorite Jonah Goldberg will be speaking at the University of Minnesota on Tuesday, Jan. 31 on the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina. This is a can't miss event. Details below:

-What: On Katrina: The Federal Government and Natural Disasters
-Who: Jonah Goldberg, nationally syndicated columnist and editor of
National Review Online
-When: Tuesday, January 31st, 7pm
-Where: Willey Hall (West Bank), room 125

January 31, 2006

Glory and Praise Volume 20

The Saint Louis Jesuits are back at it, giving Glory and Praise to Our God. Dan, Roc, Bob, and John are hitting the touring circuit to Build a City of God. But Be Not Afraid, if you miss one of the concerts, you can pick up their latest recording on CD. No word yet if there is another Glory and Praise volume in the works.

It All Depends on How You Look At It

There has been a flurry of articles regarding the recent research by Dr. Stuart Brody from Paisley University about the stress-reducing efffects of sexual intercourse. In light of this, it's interesting to note the different spins one finds in different media outlets.

Case in point, the Christians over at Life Site News were quick to point out that these effects were limited to heterosexual intercourse:

new UK study adds to those findings revealing that only heterosexual intercourse - not homosexual sex or self abuse - has significant stress-reducing effects, as measured by blood pressure responses to stressful situations.

However over at MSNBC, no mention was made of this fact, with the focus more on the "public speaking effect."

LONDON - Forget pretending you are talking to one person or concentrating on a single point in the audience — having sex is good way to calm nerves before giving a speech or presentation.

Institutions of Higher Indoctrination

An intersting case over at the "progressive" University of California.

Apparently, they are refusing to recognize course work of students from Calvary Chapel Christian School because of the religious overtones of their course work:

High-school students, whether in California or in other states, who wish to attend one of the University of California's 10 campuses are required to take a minimum number of courses approved by the university system.

To obtain that approval, both public and private schools in California must file an application that describes the teaching materials used in each course. Instructions published by the university encourage high schools to "emphasize core knowledge and skills" in their curricula, and to "design courses that are academically challenging."

According to the complaint filed by the plaintiffs, the university began notifying Christian schools in January 2004 that it would no longer approve biology and physics courses that use textbooks published by either Bob Jones University Press or A Beka Book because of "the way in which these texts address the topics of evolution and creationism."

Later that year, Calvary Chapel officials submitted three nonscience courses — "Christianity and Morality in American Literature," "Christianity's Influence on American History," and "Special Providence: American Government" — to the University of California for approval. The university rejected each of the courses.

In a July 2005 letter to Calvary Chapel explaining their decision, university officials wrote that the literature course, for instance, had "an interesting reading list" but did "not offer a nonbiased approach to the subject matter."

About January 2006

This page contains all entries posted to The Seventh Age in January 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2005 is the previous archive.

February 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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