Monthly Archives: January 2010

My Name Is Khan

My Name Is Khan The film comes out Friday, February 12th, but I’m thinking of seeing it either on a Saturday or a Wednesday. Tickets are 2-for-1 on Wednesday and only $5.00 for matinee showtimes on Saturday. THIS WILL BE FOR CLASS PARTICIPATION POINTS, IF YOU WANT THEM!!! It’s not required, but this does look to be an awesome film. One aspect of the film deals with life in America post 9-11 for Muslims, but there’s much more to it than just that.

Let me know what days work for you and I’ll try to pick an AP Government night at Funasia. It’s got stadium seating, retractable armrests, and a great snack bar that features South Asian goodies. (Snack bar is cash only, so bring cash if you want to munch or get a coke…) If you can’t see it with the rest of the class, you can still see it on your own and talk about it with me.

Freezing Discretionary Spending

Obama is going to propose a freeze on discretionary spending to help rein in the budget. His proposals will affect roughly 3% of the budget. They’ll have no effect on non-discretionary spending, which includes programs like welfare, social security, veteran benefits, and payment of interest on the national debt. All of those have to be paid all the time, every time, according to federal law.

So what are the chances those spending cuts will be made in an election year? Slim to none. Times are hard and Congressmen want discretionary spending in their districts, even if it’s useless “pork barrel” spending on highways that go nowhere or condiment research projects (I’ve seen the guy that gets paid $70,000 a year to measure ketchup speed. Nice work if you can get it…). Congressmen may want to talk about cutting someone else’s program, but only to their constituents. In reality, they’re more likely to secure votes for their programs by promising to vote for everyone else’s program. That’s what we call logrolling.

It’s also what we call political economy. When a politician wants to get re-elected, he behaves in a way that’s often inconsistent with the way we want a politician to behave: in ourbest interests. Given that the way out of this current economic mess is to either experience pain now or to postpone the pain and feel a whole lot more later on, I bet we’ll see a lot of postponing and a lot of incumbents getting re-elected.

That’s a lot of concepts there… amazing how things happen to help the AP Government student understand the coursework…

Roe v. Wade Anniversary: A Retrospective on Judicial Review

“[The] right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” – Justice Harry Blackmun

Those words shook America back in 1973 and the Constitutional right to privacy was born. I don’t want to dwell on the pro- or anti-abortion position in this article, but I do want to look at how the Supreme Court came up with the right to privacy. It’s a fascinating study of how the Court can create legal standards even though the Constitution says all legislative power is vested in Congress.

The idea of judicial review is part of English Common Law, but it’s not used to set aside laws in that country unless they conflict with a treaty. When Justice Marshall asserted it for the Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison, he created a new form of judicial review, in which courts could essentially exercise veto power over a law if they could craft a Constitutional argument to justify it. Never mind that some of the nation’s founding fathers spoke out against the idea of judicial review: Justice Marshall not only brought it into American law, he made it into something more powerful that it had been anywhere in the world, before or since.

Since Marshall’s assertion of power, the Court has been able to do some incredible things to American politics, not all of them constructive. The Supreme Court has produced some decisions that critics derided as bad law based upon bad reasoning. Bad as those decisions may be, they were those of the Supreme Court and they stand. In the case of Roe, the amazing creation of the right to privacy stunned many observers and led to further discussion of what, exactly the Supreme Court should be able to do. Discussion could not change the fact that the Supreme Court could pretty much do whatever it wanted to do, so long as it made up a reason to do it. H.L. Mencken once quipped that a judge is a law school student that gets to grade his own papers. In the case of the Supreme Court, there’s no appeal to how the student got his grade: it’s always an A+.

While it’s true that just as the Supreme Court can craft stupid rulings, Congress can pass stupid laws. Those laws of Congress, however, are at least closer to the people who they ultimately have to answer to. The Supreme Court answers to no one, as Thomas Jefferson pointed out: “Their power [is] the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control.”

(NOTE: This is *not* about abortion. This is about judicial review and how it can produce interesting results. Please keep your comments focused on judicial review.)

Which Way Will the Economy Go in 2010?

Part of this is to help keep my Macroeconomics students sharp in the run-up to the AP exam in May, and part of this is to help me figure out how the economy’s going to turn out this year.

We start right now with current demand well short of full-employment output. That means we’re in a recession. If you want to draw an AD/AS graph, make that Aggregate Demand (AD) line well to the left of the Long-Run Aggregate Supply (LRAS) line. For the uninitiated, the LRAS line shows where the economy needs to be for unemployment to be around 3-5%. We’re at 10% unemployment, so things are grim right now, but they could get better.

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Where Did Haiti Go Wrong?

Recently, Pat Robertson had this to say about Haiti:

“Something happened a long time ago in Haiti … they were under the heel of the French, uh, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever … and they got together and swore a pact to the devil, they said, we will serve you, if you get us free from the Prince. True story.”

While it’s easy enough to say Robertson is an out-of-touch old crank, most everyone is taking exception to the devil crack and not to Robertson’s comment that Haiti is in deep trouble while its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, enjoys a happy, prosperous economy. This is wrong.

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Mining Murder Mayhem

Criminal gangs in China have been kidnapping mentally disabled people. The gangs take their kidnap victims to mining operations and murder them deep underground in ways to make them look like they died in mining accidents. Then the gangs pose as members of the victim’s family and demand compensation from the mine owner. If the mine is operating illegally, chances are that the owners will pay what the criminals demand to keep the incident hushed up.

While using mentally disabled people is a new wrinkle, these murders have been going on across China for about a decade. These deaths are over and above the estimated 20,000 that die each year in China’s mines.

Basically, the moral of this story is to stay far, far away from China’s mines, especially if you’re Chinese. There are many illegal operations that are kept going because of their connections to government officials.