Extortion Used to Impoverish George Zimmerman

zimmermanSODOM & GOMORRAH: Like the Troy Davis case before, the media and the prosecution have turned the case against George Zimmerman into somthing more than just how and why Trayvon Martin died. Zimmerman was taken back into custody after a discrepency arose about how much money he actually had.

Zimmerman claimed to be a man of little means, say prosecutors, and they filed a motion to revoke his bond after it was discovered that the Zimmerman family had raised close to $150,000 on a website for his legal defense. In such a publicized case, it should come as no surprise that a large number of people were willing to donate money to a man they didn’t know who’s accused of murdering a boy they didn’t know. Yet the prosecution, who along with the media, seems intent on convicting George Zimmerman for centuries of racial violence, have professed ignorance that publicity could have such effects.

They claim that the large sum of money proves that Zimmerman is a flight risk and, as such, should be held before his trial. The issue is not that George Zimmerman was a potential flight risk, it’s that he was a potentially dangerous adversary in court. Normal people don’t have a lot of money and can’t afford an adequate legal defense. Slightly upper-middle class people can afford the defense for a while, but they usually run out of funds to do battle with a government that can simply run up more debt to prosecute criminals.

People like Zimmerman are frightening because the government failed to adequately impoverish him before his trial. Now that he’s proven he can raise money on his own, even after the government tried to bleed him dry with bond, the prosecution has to resort to a new measure to deprive Zimmerman of adequate legal counsel. Since the courts in the United States are so backlogged, it will likely be quite a while before Zimmerman has a trial. In the mean time, the imprisoned Zimmerman is unable to work, unable to pay bills, and unable to contribute any further money to his defense.

The question we must ask is, does George Zimmerman deserve to be able to raise an appropriate legal defense? I would argue that he does.

Useless Immigration Hotline Set Up by Feds

RMStringer, Flickr.

RMStringer, Flickr.

SODOM & GOMORRAH: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fought the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and won, supposedly. The ACLU claimed that police forces were wrongfully detaining citizens who get caught up in deportation dragnets. The feds have now set up a hotline that people can call, but this won’t help for three reasons.

First, an arrested person isn’t likely to have access to the number when they’re in jail. If the jails are so overcrowded and underfunded that this man couldn’t even get a bed for four days, then I doubt they’ll have the resources or motivation to post the telephone number everywhere.

Second, as alluded to, the jails are overcrowded. Jail overcrowding means that it takes longer for inmates to reach and use telephones.

Third, if someone is held on an immigration hold, it’s possible that they’ll be transported to a federal facility. During the transit process, a person’s access to telephones is severely diminished and if a person feels unsafe and goes into protective custody, they generally only have access to phones for 15 minutes every 30 days (most American State and Federal prisons seem to list this on their sites). Since the hotline presumably goes to a person and not a lawyer, the person probably wouldn’t get a longer call.

This is simply politics as usual.

Supermajorities and Democracy

SODOM & GOMORRAH: The supermajority is a concept that defies all logic.

The supermajority is the practice of requiring more than 51% to enact a law, statute, or rule. In modern government, the supermajority requirement is generally reserved for very important decisions: constitutional changes, overturning an executive veto, etc. On face value, it seems to make sense – it shouldn’t be easy to change really important things.

Yet there is no logic to the supermajority.

First, the supermajority destroys the legitimacy of the government that uses it. In modern government, the will of the people as expressed through democratic processes is said to be supreme. Even in a representative institution such as a congress, the members are elected through a popular vote and each member is supposed to make decisions based on the needs and interests of their constituency. Yet at what point during the voting process is the will of the people achieved? It certainly can’t be disputed that a unanimous vote represents the will of the people; if everyone votes for something, literally everyone wants that something. Is 51% the will of the people? Presumably. Democracy rests on the assumption of a demos, or a unified people that have come together to agree on a certain form of political procedure and way of life. When a majority of that unity decides on something, that must be its will. In Hobbesian terms, if my stomach is hungry but my mind wants to continue writing this article and I write the article, my self has expressed its will if I continue writing. Since the body politic has been employed as a metaphor by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, who contributed greatly to our idea of the modern state, it stands to reason that this 51% is the expression of an actual will (Rousseau has a nuanced take on this, but his views haven’t been adopted wholesale – different article for a different time). So democracy is fulfilled with this 51%.

To demand something more than 51% is to suggest that 51% is not really the will of the people. If the modern state constitutions are accurate when they say the people form the government, then 51% should be ample to make any change whatsoever. If a unanimous vote is required, then the assumption is that the people’s will exists only when everyone is in agreement – thus nullifying the legitimacy of all laws passed with anything less than 100% of the vote. If a supermajority of two thirds or three fourths of the vote is required, then the entire system of voting is called into question. If I can pass a law with 51 people, but can pass larger laws with 67 people, the rule requiring 67 is only democratically legitimate if these extra votes are qualitatively different than the first 51. The fact is, any legislator or citizen can find themselves counted in the additional percentage, so it is only numerically different. And if voting only satisfies an arbitrary numerical requirement (why 67 and not 83?), it doesn’t have much of a claim to justice. Yes, more people support an idea, but there’s no justification as to why a larger number of supporters adds legitimacy to the idea. I have numbers and support, not necessarily truth – and a greater proximity to the truth has been the sole justification for liberalism’s insistence on free speech and press. These things too, potentially, lose their legitimacy.

Once this legitimacy has failed, voting is just a matter of numbers and the state experiences factionalism. It’s just a matter of groups forming alliances of numbers to seize political control of the state to pass what laws they wish through legal means. In other words, voting is no longer an expression of the will of a unified people but the will of disparate, self-interested groups. Democracy has ceded to pluralism.

Second, supermajorities strengthen tyranny instead of preventing it. If the justification for requiring a supermajority was to make important laws more difficult to change so that a strong group couldn’t easily oppress a weaker one, then the supermajorities fail miserably. When 51% tyrannize 49%, it is much easier for the smaller group to defend itself. When 67% tyrannize 33%, the smaller group has a much more difficult time resisting tyranny. Equally, when 99% decide to persecute the 1%, the 1% has no chance of survival.

To say that oppression has been averted through the use of supermajorities is false; supermajorities only guarantee stronger forms of tyranny down the road. To say that decisions made by a supermajority hold more weight is also false; they erode the only source of legitimacy that the state has claim to.

Article Five of the United States Constitution

SODOM & GOMORRAH: Did the Founding Fathers ever fully think through Article Five of the US Constitution?

@kalimkassam, poking libertarians and tea partiers a little, suggested that the US Constitution has historically proven to be a blueprint for unlimited government.  The argument has been suggested in dark hallways far from the Beltway, but it does need to be considered.  Whatever genius the Founding Fathers may have had in attempting their Republic, their system birthed what we have now.  And by the standards of those who yearn for the old days of the Republic, what we have now is terrible.  Yet no one will address the cracks and faults in that original foundation that allowed us to turn into a bunch of chimpanzees in less than 300 years.

Restorus is an exception.  Just as President Nixon, a staunch anti-Communist, was the only politician who could credibly negotiate with China, the radical Right is the only group capable of opening this conversation.  After all, only liberals and those with liberal tendencies (i.e. those who part their hair on the left, oppose cervical cancer, or didn’t clap when Rick Perry championed the express death row program Texas has) can be accused of treasonous behavior.

When @kalimkassam asked his question, another user, @CJFontenot1 replied and said “True, but majority doesn’t want unlimited gov. Constitution forbids tyranny & govt overthrow.  This author asked where in the Constitution tyranny and overthrow were prohibited, at which point the conversation turned treasonous – perhaps we were wrong and no one is safe having this conversation. It is too late now, the point has been made: the Constitution opens the door to its repeal.
Article Five of the US Constitution reads:
“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”
So the only conditions laid out here are:

1. Changes can be made to the Constitution only once a certain number of people agree;

2. We can’t change certain parts until after 1808;

3. States must have equal votes in the Senate.

The only implied limit is that there must be a Senate after the changes (so we can’t do away with the Senate).  This limit doesn’t mean much, of course.  The Convention could always amend Article Five to strike the section after the last semi-colon. As long as said change was ratified before any attempt to eliminate the Senate, it would be perfectly legal.  If not, then one must always remember that reducing state suffrage in the Senate to zero votes would also be allowed as long as all states were deprived of the vote at the same time. Two thirds of the Senate can legally vote to never vote again and there’s nothing in this or any other document that could stop them.

Aside from these slight stipulations, if you have a party that makes up the two thirds majority in the House and Senate (assuming the latter hasn’t gone home), you can amend your way to whatever you want.

There is one other bump in the road, and that’s the treason clauses.  Granted, they too can be wiped away if the votes are there, but a careful reading of the Preamble makes this a moot point.  The Preamble states that the people ordain and establish the Constitution in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for common defense, promote general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.  If the Convention can lay a claim to both the people’s will (which they could if they were voted in) and a program that allegedly creates a better condition for the above desired goals, they can’t be accused of making war on the country (which the Preamble defines as the people through the word “ordain” which implies a sovereign decree) or of aiding its enemies since they’d presumably be aiding the people though expanded justice and so forth.  At least according to the law.

The purpose of such a mental exercise is to show that the document by itself can’t defend itself. Some source of external legitimacy and order is needed, or else all you need is 356 people who don’t want to play by the rules before the rules stop being enforced. Does that worry anyone else?