Mike Kueber's Blog

June 30, 2011

Kill All The Lawyers?

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” is a line from Shakespeare’s “Henry VI,” and it is often quoted to suggest that lawyers have been a bane to civilization for hundreds of years.  But the NY Times has pointed out that the quote has been taken out of context:

  • Dick the Butcher was a follower of the rebel Jack Cade, who thought that if he disturbed law and order, he could become king. Shakespeare meant it as a compliment to attorneys and judges who instill justice in society.”

Regardless of what Shakespeare intended, there is no question that the prestige of the legal profession is not what it should be.  Proof – while surfing the net, I came across a fascinating 2006 article that ranked 23 professions in America:

  1. Firefighters
  2. Doctors
  3. Nurses
  4. Scientists
  5. Teachers
  6. Military officers
  7. Police officers
  8. Clergyman
  9. Farmers
  10. Engineers
  11. Congressmen
  12. Architects
  13. Athletes
  14. Lawyers
  15. Entertainers
  16. Accountants
  17. Bankers
  18. Journalists
  19. Union leaders
  20. Actors
  21. Business executives
  22. Stock brokers
  23. Real estate agents

During the annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas, we were told by the new bar president that the major focus of his one-year tenure will be improving the stature of lawyers.  One of his tools for accomplishing that objective is a new video, which he demoed to us.  Unfortunately, the well-produced video is not yet available to the public.  Suffice it to say that the video describes great things done by a long list of great Americans and then closes each bio with the phrase, “and he/she was a lawyer.”  The video shows that the legal profession does more than chase ambulances or look for loopholes to crawl through, but rather it is the means for civilized people to pursue justice.

In one of the final sessions during the annual meeting, author H.W. Brands built on the theme of lawyer relevance.  According to Brands, lawyers in 19th century America made two invaluable contributions:

  1. The legal profession afforded talented people a means to rise socially and economically.  In other countries,
    mobility was severely limited because of aristocracy to those in the military and clergy.
  2. The legal system, particularly the Northwest Ordinance, allowed territory to be added to the country as equals, not as subservient parts of an empire, and this policy was critical to the expansion of America.

I wish the president of the bar well in his efforts to increase the prestige with the legal profession.  But this is something that has to be marketed to the membership as much as to the public.  Historically, the profession has done much to make this country what it is today, but too many lawyers act unprofessionally.

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June 29, 2011

The U.S. Constitution – does it still matter?

The title of this posting was a question posed on the cover of Time magazine this week.  Fortunately, only the first few paragraphs are available on-line.

No, that was not a typo.  I said “fortunately” because the article was so poorly written that its author could have been a college kid submitting a
term paper.  The author was, in fact, Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time magazine, which probably explains how such a sophomoric article found its way into Time magazine.  Either his editors were too cowed to do their job or Stengel haughtily rejected their help.

I am blogging about the article because it raised an important topic – i.e., the relevance of the U.S. Constitution toward four transcendent issues in America:

  1. Making war as applied to Libya
  2. Defaulting on the national debt
  3. Interstate commerce as applied to ObamaCare
  4. Birthright citizenship

Making war

The first issue revolves around the War Powers Resolution.  The Resolution, which became law in 1973, was designed to prevent another Vietnam and end the string of undeclared wars since WWII.  It allows the president to initiate military action without a declaration of war, but requires the military action to cease if Congress doesn’t give its approval within 60 days.  This seems like a very reasonable accommodation of (a) modern exigencies and (b) the Constitutional provision, “The Congress shall have power… to declare war.

The Resolution was passed despite a presidential veto, and every president has asserted that it is unconstitutional because it infringes on his constitutional power to “be commander in chief.”  But President Obama is the first president to engage in an extended military action (Libya) without obtaining Congressional approval.

Stengel’s take on this issue – he mildly chides President Obama for ignoring the following position staked out by candidate Obama: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”  And he lamely excuses Obama because, “since 1973, Presidents have at best paid lip service to the resolution.”  The excuse is lame because, although previous presidents have claimed that the resolution was unconstitutional, they nevertheless complied with it, including George W. Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stengel complains that our Founders created this problem by drafting provisions that are conflicting.  That is hogwash.  If this issue ever gets
before the Supreme Court, they will certainly be able to reconcile the Congress’s power to declare war with the President’s power to be the commander in chief.  Without explanation, Stengel concludes this section by saying, “this matter will not end up in the Supreme Court.  Congress does not really want the responsibility of deciding whether to send troops to places like Libya.  It just doesn’t want the President to do so in a way that makes it look superfluous and impotent.

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer recently addressed the application of the War Powers Resolution to the military action in Libya.  Unlike Stengel, he provided an explanation for why the courts haven’t resolved this issue – “Moreover, the judiciary, which under our
system is the ultimate arbiter of constitutionality, has consistently refused to adjudicate this ‘political question’ (to quote one appellate court judge) and thus resolve with finality the separation-of-powers dispute between the other two co-equal branches
.”

Like Krauthammer, I think the War Powers Resolution was a reasonable reconciliation of the constitutional provisions.  It reminds me of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, in which the Supreme Court balanced the privacy interests of women against the public interest in protecting the life of a fetus.  That is the type of public-policy decision, however, that should be made by legislatures, not the courts.  I wish President Obama would do what all previous Presidents have done – respect the law.

Debt ceiling

My conservative drinking friend thinks that the Founding Fathers had no idea that Congress would become such a profligate spender and, if they had, they would have included a balanced-budget provision in the Constitution.  In fact, however, the Founding Fathers knew that America had incurred huge debt during the Revolutionary War and they specifically approved the practice in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution – “The Congress shall have power … to borrow money on the credit of the United States.”

Regarding the possibility of default because on Congress’s failure to raise the debt limit, Stengel makes a suggestion that I haven’t previously heard – i.e., that the Constitution doesn’t allow government to default on its debt.  His suggestion is based on Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which reads, “The validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned.”  The Amendment, which was passed shortly after the Civil War, was intended to affirm the Union’s Civil War debt while repudiating all Confederate debt.

According to Stengel, if Congress refuses to increase the debt ceiling, President Obama would be constitutionally authorized to take extraordinary measures such as ordering “the Treasury to produce binding debt instruments … sell assets, furlough workers, freeze checks.”  I have never heard of this possible scenario, and during President Obama’s press conference today, he did not refer to it when he was asked about the possibility of default.  Let’s hope that this doomsday scenario never occurs.

Interstate commerce

The U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.  During law school, I learned that the Supreme Court has interpreted this provision extremely liberally, once holding that the provision authorizes the federal government to regulate a farmer who is growing grain for his own consumption.  In recent years, however, there has been push-back by constitutional conservatives against this expansive interpretation on the basis of the 10th Amendment, which says that all powers not expressly granted to Congress shall be reserved to the states, and with respect to ObamaCare, several federal judges have bought this argument.

Stengel’s legal defense of ObamaCare includes several glaring faults:

  1. He fails to mention the 10th Amendment.
  2. He notes that government can compel us to buy car insurance, but fails to recognize the important distinction that car insurance is compelled under a state’s police powers, not the federal government’s power over interstate commerce.
  3. He says it’s silly to argue that health care – which accounts for 17% of the U.S. economy – doesn’t involve interstate commerce, but fails to recognize that conservatives are arguing that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, not the entire law.

Birthright citizenship

The principle objective of the post-Civil War 14th Amendment was to grant citizenship to former slaves.  It reads, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.”  The problem with that wording is that it creates so-called birthright citizenship, i.e., if you are physically born in
the United States, you’re a citizen.  The United States is one of the few countries in the world that grants birthright citizenship.

Birthright citizenship has become extremely problematic in America because there are millions of illegal immigrants who are having babies, so-called “anchor babies.”  The anchor babies are American citizens entitled to a vast array of welfare and can eventually, as adults, sponsor their parents into the United States.  Until then, however, their parents are entitled to little more than deportation.

Stengel concedes that Congress was not thinking about illegal immigration when it drafted the 14th Amendment, but he gives short shrift to the argument from constitutional conservatives that the Amendment doesn’t apply to illegal immigrants because of the term, “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”  Stengel haughtily asserts without explanation that “this argument doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.”  I have reviewed the judicial precedent on this issue, and there is nothing definitive.

Stengel also concedes that birthright citizenship makes no sense, yet he asserts, “There are liberals and conservatives alike who oppose changing
birthright citizenship
It’s seen as a core American value.”  That is hogwash.  I don’t know of a single well-known conservative who endorses birthright citizenship.  If there were, why didn’t Stengel name the person?

Ultimately Stengel concludes that resolving the birthright-citizenship issue will not resolve the bigger issue of illegal immigration.  For that, he recommends a carrot-and-stick approach.  The carrot is to make immigration easier and to give a path to citizenship to undocumented young people who go to college or join the military.  The stick is workplace enforcement and better enforcement.

Stengel concludes his article by quoting Judge Learned Hand, one of the greatest non-Supreme Court jurists in American history, who said the following in a speech during WWII:

  • “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much on our constitutions, upon laws and upon courts.  Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.”

Stengel rephrased this sentiment by warning, “The Constitution does not protect our spirit of liberty; our spirit of liberty protects the Constitution.  The Constitution serves the nation; the nation does not serve the Constitution.  That’s what the framers would say.”

Sounds like Stengel is not a constitutional conservative.  Rather, he sees the Constitution as a living document that “is more a guardrail for our society than a traffic cop…. a st of principles, not a code of laws.”  I think the framers wanted the Constitution to live and grow through amendments, not through the liberal thinking of arrogant jurists.

If the Constitution is construed to provide citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants, the Constitution should be amended.  If the Constitution is construed to empower the federal government to force individuals to buy health insurance, the Constitution should be amended.  If the Supreme Court determines that the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional, then it should reconcile the Congressional power to declare war with the Presidential power as commander in chief.  And finally, if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, the Supreme Court will decide whether the President has extraordinary powers to avoid default.

The U.S. Constitution is not as dysfunctional as liberals like to think.

June 28, 2011

Exploding medical costs because of unlimited coverage

Do you wonder why health-insurance premiums are going up so fast?  President Obama likes to blame the insurance industry.  Two recent newspaper articles, however, suggest that there are other systemic intractable causes:

  1. An article in the NY Times today reports that there are three promising new drugs that can help a man with late-stage prostate cancer live an additional six
    months – i.e., his life expectancy can be increased from 18 months to 24 months.  The problem is that the drug therapy could cost as much as $500,000 over the course of treatment.  Of the potential patients, 80% are on Medicare, and although Medicare is running out of money, the article reports that the expensive treatment will probably be covered.
  2. An article in the NY Daily News last week reported that New York had become the 26th state to require “that health insurance cover the screening, diagnosis, and
    treatment of autism spectrum disorders.  Such coverage would include toddler screenings, speech, physical and occupational therapy – and behavioral treatment.”

Sarah Palin warned about Death Panels and Republicans rail against rationing, but there is no way to get medical costs under control unless we start limiting coverage.  America can’t afford unlimited coverage.

 

Great presidents and continuing legal education

During the annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas, I had the good fortune of hearing presidential historian Douglas Brinkley give a talk on great presidents in America’s history.  I’m not sure how his talk qualified as continuing legal education for lawyers, but the state bar has almost unlimited power on that issue and it is very unlikely that anyone will complain.

Brinkley is a famous historian who is often interviewed on national news programs because he has the ability to present information in an interesting way, and his talk to at the annual meeting didn’t disappoint.  The talk was informal, and I suspect Brinkley could give it in his sleep.  His principal insights were:

  1. Although the talk was about presidents, Brinkley started with a non-president – Charles Thompson – who was a relatively unknown politician who did yeomen’s work in forming our union, but then was shut-out of a role in the newly-formed United States because he was too progressive for his time – i.e., he favored the emancipation of slaves and the liberation of women.
  2. George Washington’s signal achievement was to give up power after two terms.
  3. Thomas Jefferson saw that the Mississippi River was the spine of America and that religion has no place in a democracy.
  4. James Polk was successful because he established clear objectives (resolving the border issues with Mexico and Canada) and knew that wars of choice must be ended quickly.
  5. Lincoln’s challenges make the challenges faced by any other president seem highly manageable.
  6. Teddy Roosevelt created and led the conservation movement even though the public wasn’t demanding it.
  7. Franklin Roosevelt created the feeling that the federal government could solve all our problems.
  8. Harry Truman was horribly unpopular because he was too direct in trying to achieve his objectives, but his stock in history has skyrocketed.
  9. Dwight Eisenhower was an under-rated president who showed that America could be fiscally conservative and still do great things – e.g., NASA, interstate highways, and St. Lawrence Seaway.
  10. John Kennedy implemented things that worked (Peace Corp and SEALS/Green Beret), whereas his successor Lyndon Johnson spent too much money on things that didn’t work.
  11. Gerald Ford did a great job of extricating America from two problems – Nixon and Vietnam.
  12. Jimmy Carter brought morality to Washington.
  13. Ronald Reagan went with his gut and told Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”
  14. Bill Clinton was relatively successful, but never did anything big and will always be remembered for the sex scandal.
  15. George H.W. Bush will be upgraded by historians because of his brilliant handling of foreign policy.
  16. Barack Obama is disposed to placate, not lead.  He acts like the only adult in the room, but doesn’t lead.  His greatest accomplishment will be getting elected.

Brinkley skipped over Bush-43, but someone during the Q&A asked if it was likely that Bush-43 would be upgraded by historians.  Brinkley did not think so because Bush-43 would be forever stained by the economic collapse at the end of his second term.  It’s ironic that Bush’s economic collapse not only resulted in the historic election of Barack Obama, but also may have fated Obama to the ignominy of a one-term presidency.

In my opinion, Brinkley skipping Bush-43 was bad enough, but skipping Richard Nixon, too, is unforgivable, especially when he found time to mention Jimmy Carter.  I will keep that in mind when reading Brinkley in the future.

June 27, 2011

An open letter to Mayor Castro re: illegal immigration

Dear Mr. Mayor:

At this year’s annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas, I had the pleasure of attending a “Civil Conversation about Immigration Reform.”  Most of the panelists provided relevant information, but failed to explore possible solutions to the intractable problem of twelve million illegal immigrants.  By contrast, you failed to provide much relevant information, but suggested a new mindset that might help us resolve the problem.  I agree that a new mindset would be helpful, but there are problems with your suggestion and I think there is a better alternative.

Your suggestion was that a path to citizenship should not be associated with amnesty, but rather it should be considered as analogous to deferred adjudication.  Application of this analogy would enable government to assess some penalties and require certain conduct, and upon the satisfaction of those terms, individuals would become legally documented.

The problem with this analogy is that individuals typically aren’t allowed to pocket their gains under deferred adjudication.  Instead they are required to cough up any gains through restitution.  By allowing illegal immigrants to earn legal status, you are allowing them to “profit from their illegal acts.”  (I’m sure you have heard that sound bite coming from opponents to amnesty.)

My suggested alternative is to apply the legal concept of adverse possession (squatter’s rights) – i.e., title to real property can be obtained without compensation by holding the property in a manner that conflicts with the true owner’s rights for a specified period.  Based on this analogy, America can be found to have waived its right to deport an undocumented immigrant who has lived in America and set down roots for a specified period (e.g., five to ten years).  This analogy not only enables illegal immigrants to benefit from their acts, but also limits the benefit to those
immigrants who have been productive residents in America for a significant period of time.

As you probably know, providing a path to citizenship for long-term illegal residents was a cornerstone to George W. Bush’s proposal.  Thus, this is a position for bipartisan compromise if the timing is right and the presentation is done right.

Good luck.

Sincerely,

Mike Kueber

The myth of Michelle Bachmann

My regular drinking buddy KB is a quintessential conservative who fashions himself a libertarian.  His patron saint of politics is Michelle Bachmann, and he never tires of reminding people that she was a tax attorney who raised 23 kids before getting into the dirty, corrupt world of politics.  By way of contrast, the evil Barack Obama had a mysterious academic existence that sandwiched his brief stint as a community organizer.

Earlier this week, I read part of an article by muckraker Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine that fleshed out Bachmann’s biography.  According to Taibbi, Bachman  graduated from a fourth-tier law school before working for the IRS for five years before deciding to stay at home with her four kids.  Then she decided to be a foster parent for  young girls, being limited to no more than three girls at a time.  According to Taibbi, the current pay for such services in $47 a day per child.

Although Bachmann’s biography is unquestionably noteworthy, it appears to have been embellished.  Literally, she was a tax attorney, but she appears to have worked as an  underling at the IRS.  After graduation from UT law school in 1979, I considered applying to work for the IRS (where I had worked as a file clerk for two years during law school), but didn’t apply because they indicated that they want applicants who were in the top 25% of their class or female or minority.  I’m not sure which qualified Michelle.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if she were an affirmative-action beneficiary, like Obama.

Regarding the kids, Taibbi reports that Michelle had her foster kids for as little as a few months to as long as more than a year.  This makes it questionable whether she “raised them,” as she asserts.

At the end of the move, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” a reporter states that when the legend conflicts with the facts, print the legend.  I suspect Michelle is counting  on that, but in the world of modern politics, that is no longer true.  Barack Obama did work as a community organizer, and in the scheme of things, that is more impressive than Michelle Bachmann working as a tax lawyer working for the IRS.  She has no real-life business experience and is ill-prepared to lead this country.

June 26, 2011

Same-sex marriage in New York

NY Times columnist Maureen Down’s column this weekend castigated President Obama for too frequently taking the position that he took in the Illinois state senate – i.e., instead of voting yes or no, he often voted “present.”  Maureen provided a plethora of examples, with her strongest involving same-sex marriage, which was legalized in New York a couple of days ago.  Obama has said that his position is “evolving” and that each state should decide the issue.

Maureen made a couple of interesting comments about this position – (1) women recognize the term “evolving” as typical of a male who is commitment-phobic, (2) although Obama claims that his position flows from his Christianity, Maureen notes that Obama rarely goes to church and is the picture of a secular humanist.

Although I support same-sex marriage, I am a federalist who believes that each state should control this type of issue in their state.  Other issues in this category would be abortion, the death penalty, and marijuana.

But Maureen quotes a contrary opinion from the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, “You think it’s going to stop with this?  You think now bigamists are going to want their rights to marry? You think somebody that wants to marry his sister is going to now say, ‘I have a right’?  I mean, it’s the same principle, isn’t it? … This is crazy.”

I don’t think it’s crazy.  I don’t think the federal government should be telling states, like Utah, what their law on bigamy must be.  Ditto for brother-sister marriages, even though there are there are scientific reasons in addition to religious reasons for opposing such marriages.  But if you’ve seen John Sayles’ classic 1996 film “Lone Star” starring Matthew McConaughey and Elizabeth Pena, you might not completely reject the possibility of such a marriage.

Aphorism of the Week #1 – a camel through the eye of a needle

Filed under: Aphorism — Mike Kueber @ 4:26 am
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Last week, as I was returning to San Antonio from North Dakota, I listened to several conservative talk shows, including Glenn Beck’s.  A couple of Beck’s shows were focused on Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey.

During those shows, Beck and his sycophants exhibited a strong case of man-love for Christie and relied on two clips to justify their love.  One of the clips showed Christie telling off a teacher who had the audacity to challenge Christie’s public-education cuts while sending his kids to Catholic schools.  Christie smugly told her it was none of her business where his kids went to school, but then went on to answer the question.

The second clip was an anti-Christie commercial from New Jersey educators complaining that Christie was a millionaire and that several of his aides were millionaires.  Beck and his wing-men made fun of the second clip by suggesting that perhaps the teachers would feel Christie was better qualified if he and his aides had not achieved financial success (a la Harry Truman).

Although the Beck ridicule is unquestionably valid, I wonder if the commercial is nevertheless effective because a lot of people think that most rich people don’t deserve their wealth.  Such thinking is consistent with my first aphorism of the week:

  • “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

This aphorism is recorded in the synoptic gospels – i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Variations of it can also be found in Judaism (the Babylonian Talmud) and Islam (the Quran).

The saying was a response to a young rich man who had asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied that he should keep the commandments, to which the man stated he had done. Jesus responded, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The young man became sad and was unwilling to do this.  Jesus then spoke this response, leaving his disciples astonished.

According to Wikipedia, the “eye of a needle” has been interpreted as a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed. This story has been put forth since at least the 15th century, and possibly as far back as the 9th century. However, there is no evidence for the existence of such a gate.

Thus, we are left with two conflicting interpretations of this aphorism – (a) the literal interpretation that the accumulation of wealth conflicts with the biblical value of loving your neighbor like yourself and (b) the modern rationalization that the accumulation of wealth merely creates additional challenges for achieving the kingdom of God.  I’m going with the latter.

June 25, 2011

Immigration and the State Bar of Texas

Earlier this week, I attended the two-day annual meeting of the State Bar of Texas.  One of the more promising sessions was titled, “A Civil Conversation about Immigration Reform,” and it did not disappoint.  The 90-minute session was the longest that I attended during the meeting,  but it seemed like the shortest.

The topic of immigration was touched on in an earlier session called, “Overview of the 82nd Legislative Session,” presented by State Representative Joaquin Castro.  Although Castro has the demeanor of a rational, dispassionate analyst, his words belie that.  He described the pending sanctuary-city bill (S.B. 9) as enabling a citizen to sue his local police department if it fails to enforce the federal immigration laws.  Arizona’s notorious H.B. 1070 doesn’t even go that far.  In fact, Texas’s S.B. 6 merely prohibits local government entities from adopting sanctuary policies – i.e., instructing their law enforcement officers to not ask anyone about their immigration status.  Because Castro did not take questions, his misstatement of the law went uncorrected.  Before leaving the session, Castro reported that two prominent Texas businessmen (liberal San Antonio grocer HE Butt and conservative Houston construction magnate Bob Perry) recently came out in opposition to S.B. 6 and this development might result in the bill being significantly watered-down.

Joaquin’s identical twin Julian, the mayor of San Antonio, was a part of the six-member panel for “A Civil Conversation about Immigration Reform.”  Unfortunately, there was not much conversation with Julian because he was the last of the panel to give 10 minute presentation, and then he left, leaving the other panel members to engage in a conversation with the audience.

Two things of note presented by Julian:

  1. People who opposed illegal immigration tended to treat these immigrants “more like animals than people.”
  2. We should start thinking of a path to citizenship as not some sort of amnesty, but rather as analogous to the legal concept of deferred adjudication.  Application of this concept would involve the imposition of some terms, and once those terms were satisfied, the immigrant’s  unauthorized entry would be forgiven.  Personally, I think this is a distinction without a difference, but I have to admit that I initially felt the same way when the New York Times recommended that we re-characterize the Death Tax from being a tax on an estate (double taxation) to being a tax on the income of a recipient.  Eventually I came to agree with the Times recommendation.

Julian’s suggestion for deferred adjudication has the same weakness as amnesty – i.e., it rewards an individual for breaking the law; it allows a lawbreaker to stay in America although millions of potential immigrants are patiently waiting in line to be legally permitted into America.

Julian would be better served if he were to apply the legal concept of adverse possession (squatter’s rights) – i.e., title to real property can be obtained without compensation by holding the property in a manner that conflicts with the true owner’s rights for a specified period.  Thus, America can be held to have waived its right to deport an undocumented immigrant who has lived in America and set down roots for a specified period (e.g., five to ten years).

In contrast to Julian, the other members of the panel provided substantive information on the illegal-immigration issue.  Dr. Steven Murdock from Rice University provided a plethora of statistical information suggesting that immigrants were critical to the economic future of Texas and America.  As is the wont of most immigration proponents, Dr. Murdock sometimes failed to distinguish between legal immigration and illegal immigration, but generally he provided cogent information.  The most interesting was his report that illegal immigrants are a slight financial positive to the federal government (they send more money in than they take out), a break-even factor for state government, and a huge negative for local government because of their drain for education and medical expenses.

Kathleen Walker is an immigration lawyer, and the dominant theme of her talk was to complain that illegal immigration is a civil matter, not a criminal matter, and these people should not be treated like criminals.  Toward the end of her talk, Kathleen confused this distinction by telling us that it was incorrect to say the people were here illegally, but it was proper to say that their presence was unlawful.

An anti-terrorist government lawyer followed Kathleen.  He was the only panelist who was opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants, and he chided the panel for all of their semantical variations in describing – illegal immigrants, undocumented aliens, unauthorized immigrants, unlawful presence, and about four other similar terms.  He also asserted that it is impossible for the federal government to physically close our borders, but that a pending bi-partisan bill for a national ID card might be effective.  From an anti-terrorist perspective, he said that the Canadian border was much more problematic than the Mexican border.

The government lawyer was followed by an AFL-CIO person from Houston.  He contributed little to the discussion other than noting that businesses were taking advantage of illegal immigrants and that “theft of salary” charges were seldom prosecuted.

According to the program, one member of the panel was a DREAM candidate, but it turned out she was a mother of three DREAM  candidates.  She could barely speak English and broke down shortly after beginning her talk.

The moderator for the panel was federal judge Xavier Rodriguez.  At the conclusion of the presentation, he revealed that he hadn’t been listening by asking the panel a long question regarding whether illegal immigrants were a net financial benefit or expense to various governmental entities.  Everyone who was listening knew that Dr. Murdock had definitively provided this information in his presentation, and to humor the judge he regurgitated it.

During the Q&A part of the session, the first comment came from a quintessential bleeding heart.  She started by saying that she was not a  lawyer (her squirming husband was alongside her), but she felt compelled to describe the shame she felt as a person who was taking advantage of illegal immigrants by living in a house that was likely build by those immigrants who received substandard pay and eating in restaurants that likely employed illegal immigrants for substandard pay.  After two long minutes of her confession, Judge Rodriguez cut her off and tried to  assuage her guilt by saying that these immigrants were making five times as much as they would make back in Mexico, so she shouldn’t feel so bad.  She refused to be assuaged.

In response to another question, Dr. Murdock got on a soapbox about America’s shameful immigration record.  According to him, America’s immigration policy was horribly racist until the Voting Rights Act of the mid-60s, and he said that it had never been welcoming to immigrants, such as the Chinese or even Irish or Italians.  At this point, I asked him why an “unwelcoming” America, throughout its history, has a record of receiving more immigrants than any other country and whether the “huddled masses” invitation on the Statue of Liberty was a cruel hoax.  Murdock responded by backing off his accusations and shifting toward a position that America has made mistakes and can improve.  Agreed.

What was the result of the “civil conversation”?  I learned some information, but there wasn’t enough discussion – either within the panel or with the audience – to evaluate the information.  I pointed out during the Q&A part of the session that it wasn’t fair to give amnesty to illegal  immigrants while I have a friend in the Philippines with a graduate education who has been on a waiting list for ten years, and a lady responded that we shouldn’t complicate the issues by tying them together.  As a practical matter, that may be right.

June 24, 2011

Creationism and intelligent design

While driving back from North Dakota, I continually switched from listening to talk radio and CDs of the book American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips.  As I previously blogged, the former warned that cultural liberals were causing America to become a secular state while the latter cautioned that the Religious Right was producing scientifically backward country.  As an example of backward science, Phillips referred to intelligent design, which he said was a Christian attempt to provide a scientific alternative to those who refused to accept the science of evolution.

Coincidentally, shortly after hearing from Phillips on this topic, I heard talk-show host Sean Hannity being challenged by a listener who wondered how someone as intelligent as Sean could believe in God.  Sean responded by giving a heartfelt explanation that relied heavily on the concept of intelligent design – i.e., certain features of the universe and living things, such as irreducible complexity and specified complexity, are best explained by an intelligent cause, not by an undirected process such as natural selection.

The listener didn’t accept this explanation, but before he could put forward follow-up questions, Sean disconnected the call.  My follow-up question would have been how Sean’s explanation supports his view that Christianity is the only true religion.

Upon returning to San Antonio, I decided to research the issue of intelligent design to determine if the positions of Kevin Phillips and Sean Hannity are in conflict, and I concluded that they are not.

The term “intelligent design” has been used since 1847, but the concept came to the forefront in 1987 when the US Supreme Court held in Edwards v. Aguillard that a state couldn’t require the teaching of “creation science” as an alternative to evolution science.  The Court came to
this holding after reviewing supportive amicus briefs from 72 Nobel prize-winning scientists, 17 state academies of science, and 7 other scientific
organizations that described creation science as essentially consisting of religious tenets.  Therefore, requiring that creation science be taught as an alternative to evolution was a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

In response to the Aguillard decision, Christian groups decided to push the “science” of intelligent design, but in 2007 in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District a federal district court held that requiring the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution was infirmed
for the same reason creation science was – i.e., it violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Based on these legal decisions, it appears that Kevin is correct in declaring that intelligent design is not science, but rather is a thinly-veiled effort of Christians to challenge the science of evolution.  But evolution is not inconsistent with Sean’s belief in intelligent design.  Teaching of the belief, however, should be reserved for religious instruction, not public schools.

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