Friday, March 30, 2007

Some Numbers - "War on Terror" Bogey-Man

Just a few numbers to ponder....

-Traffic deaths in U.S.: about 250,000 since 2001 (43,000 per year)
-Cancer deaths in U.S.: about 3,300,000 since 2001 (550,000 per year)
-War deaths in Iraq: about 655,000 Iraqi ( Oct. 06), 3,300 American since 2003 invasion
-Deaths from WTC attack (9/11/01): about 2,900

-spending on Iraq War: $6.8 billion per month in March 2005; 9.8 billion per month in March 2006 (

One gets the feeling we have our priorities misplaced - for the amount of money and the lives the U.S. has spent on the "War on Terror," what could we have done to address these other more pressing concerns??

It's human nature to see monsters under the bed. In 1917-1919 it was Germans and Bolsheviks; in 1940-1945 it was Germans and Japanese; in 1947-1989 it was the Soviets; today it's terrorists.

This basic human nature is exploited for gain by war-profiteers in every generation. No different today. Halliburton and the defense contractors are loving it - they're making an absolute killing (sick pun intended), and taking it straight to the bank (and where do you think the Bush family, Cheney and the rest of the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight have their investments?).

The military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned of in the late 1950s is alive and well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

George W. Bush and the Death of Reason

The political philosophies of Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Washington and other influential early Americans were firmly grounded in the principles of the Enlightenment: i.e., the power of reason (belief in science) and respect for individual liberty. It is not surprising that these progressive liberty ideals infuse the Declaration and Constitution; and it is no exaggeration to say that America itself is based upon these foundational principles.

In this sense, George W. Bush is a most un-American president, as attested by his and his administration's Orwellian attempts to deny scientific evidence that does not further his neo-con agenda ("forget the data, the truth is what we say it is").

All presidencies enjoy the perquisites of political patronage with political appointments, etc.; but this administration is unprecedented in its purging of individuals who express any sort of independent view, to be replaced with empty suits whose only job qualification is loyalty to the president and willingness to chant the Bush mantra. The current brouhaha over the firing of a number of U.S. Attorneys who refused to do the bidding of Bush, Cheney, Rove, Gonzalez, and the rest of the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is only the tip of the iceberg - the practice pervades all levels of this administration. The practice is an unacceptable abuse of power, and rewards gross incompetence (Who can forget "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" after the administration's failed Katrina response?).

Thomas Friedman reports in today's New York Times that the person in charge of the final edits on government reports on global warming over the past few years, who systematically sanitized the reports to deny and contradict empirical scientific evidence proving the human impact on global warming, had absolutely no scientific training (and came to the Bush administration from, no surprise, Enron; and left the administration to join, no surprise, Exxon Mobil.). This, too, is just par for the course for this presidency.

I've said it before: This apple is rotten to the core.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hagel Has a Point - Impeachment

MSNBC reports this morning on Chuck Hagel's comments about George W. Bush's continuing refusal to listen to Congress and the American people on Iraq, and his suggestion that impeachment remains an option:

"With his go-it-alone approach on Iraq, President Bush is flouting Congress and the public, so angering lawmakers that some consider impeachment an option over his war policy, a senator from Bush’s own party said Sunday....

"GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent critic of the war, stopped short of calling for Bush’s impeachment. But he made clear that some lawmakers viewed that as an option should Bush choose to push ahead despite public sentiment against the war.

“Any president who says, I don’t care, or I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else, or I don’t care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed — if a president really believes that, then there are — what I was pointing out, there are ways to deal with that,” said Hagel, who is considering a 2008 presidential run.

"On Sunday, Hagel said he was bothered by Bush’s apparent disregard of congressional sentiment on Iraq, such as his decision to send additional troops. He said lawmakers now stood ready to stand up to the president when necessary.

"In the April edition of Esquire magazine, Hagel described Bush as someone who doesn’t believe he’s accountable to anyone. “He’s not accountable anymore, which isn’t totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don’t know. It depends on how this goes,” Hagel told the magazine."

The man has a point - when the President believes he has become totally unaccountable, he becomes truly dangerous (as Bush has demonstrated), and impeachment must be an option.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Presumption of Liberty

One thing on which law students and lawyers spend a lot of time is understanding where lies the "burden of proof" in any particular case. That is, which party is responsible for presenting evidence to overcome the "presumption" favoring the other side?

When it comes to questions involving individual rights juxtaposed against government power, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution created a presumption in favor of individual liberty. That is, any time an act of government limited individual liberty, the government action was presumed to be invalid unless the government met its burden of proof to show that its action was proper or otherwise necessary.

Unfortunately, this "presumption of liberty" has been lost over time, to be replaced by a "presumption of constitutionality" whereby government actions limiting individual liberty are presumed to be valid and will almost always be upheld, unless the individual meets the burden of proof to demonstrate that the law is in some way unreasonable, arbitrary or otherwise defective. This is a very difficult burden for individuals to meet, in part because supporters of the government action argue that it is the right of the democratically-elected majority to pass laws for the health, safety and welfare of the people, even if those laws happen to infringe upon individual liberties. As law professor Randy E. Barnett describes the situation in a book called "Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty": "The Constitution that was actually enacted and formally amended creates islands of government powers in a sea of liberty. The judicially redacted Constitution creates islands of liberty rights in a sea of government powers.”

Well put. While we may commend certain aspects of Democracy, we may also lament the Liberty that all-too-often suffers at its hands.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tolerance, Morality Police, and The Scarlet Letter

We speak of the tolerance and commitment to liberty of our forefathers who founded the nation and framed the Constitution, but from the colonials' earliest days on the Continent there has always been a mean streak of intolerance as well.

I picked up The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic, at the library last week and it's striking to consider the narrowmindedness and intolerant moralism practiced by the early Puritans (17th Century) of the Massachusetts settlement. Hawthorne writes:

"[These were] people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for.... [A] penalty which, in our days [Hawthorne's, writing in 1850] would infer a degree of mocking [social] infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself."

At public celebrations, minstrels, artists, jugglers, and the like who would have been common at the celebrations of the Puritans' Elizabethan forebears "would have been sternly repressed, not only by the rigid discipline of the law, but by the general sentiment which gives law its vitality.... [T]he generation next to the early emigrants wore the blackest shade of Puritanism, and so darkened the national visage with it, that all the subsequent years have not sufficed to clear it up."

Notwithstanding the introduction of Enlightenment principles (the elevation of individual rights and reason over superstitious religiosity) to America through the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in the 18th century, we're still working on eliminating the remaining vestiges of these ancestral stains of intolerance in America some 350 years later (and 150 years after Hawthorne wrote). We've made some progress.... but we remain far short of being a truly tolerant society that fully embraces Liberty.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Second Amendment - New York Times Letter

The folks on the New York Times Editorial Board usually get it right, but they missed one last week in their criticism of the decision from the Federal Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit finding that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. As I said in a previous blog posting, and again in a letter to the New York Times published yesterday:

"To the Editor:
Much of the recent serious legal scholarship from both right- and left-leaning commentators, including Laurence H. Tribe, now concludes that the Second Amendment was intended to protect an individual right.

Instead of angst, the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit should be cause for celebration for all who treasure freedom, even those deeply concerned about gun violence.

Nothing prevents the strict regulation of firearms; other individual rights are properly subject to government regulation (though never prohibition), such as the First Amendment freedom of speech.

A faithful reading of the Constitution does not allow us to pick and choose from among rights we like or dislike, and we bolster our claim on other enumerated and unenumerated rights (for example, the right to privacy) when we adopt an expansive view of liberty.

Michael Anthony Lawrence
East Lansing, Mich., March 14, 2007
The writer is a professor at Michigan State University College of Law."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Iraq Fiasco

Yesterday I gave a brief talk at a teach-in on the Iraq War on the MSU campus put on by the Greater Lansing Network Against War and Injustice, on "Bush/Cheney: The Case for Impeachment," a topic on which I've blogged here before (click here, and here, for a couple additional websites/blogs on the topic); but the main purpose of the event was to hear from Dahlia S. Wasfi, M.D., and her presentation will not be forgotten anytime soon by anyone in attendance.

Wasfi was born in New York, but she spent the first five years of her life in her father's hometown of Basra, Iraq. In 2oo4 she gave up her practice at Maryland's Georgetown University Hospital and visited her relatives for three months in Iraq, visiting again in 2006.

"I cannot convey to you how difficult life is in Iraq," she said. "The electricity outages; shortages; tanks night and day; explosions; gunfire. The Iraqi health care system used to be regarded as "The Jewel of the Arab World," but it has been absolutely decimated. The Baghdad morgue receives 200 bodies every day, and that’s just Baghdad. It’s 9/11 every day for them. And the stress - after three months there I needed six months to recover."

Wasfi has toured the United States for the past few years since then for the international human rights organization Global Exchange, and testifying once before Congress, speaking out against the Iraq War. Focusing on the horrible and disproportionate impact of the occupation on women and children, her presentation yesterday at MSU left little doubt that the best course of action for the United States is to withdraw as soon as possible. She recognizes there will be a period of instability, but it cannot possibly be any worse than what is going on right now with the American occupation.

We've "helped" enough already - now just leave.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Congress' Constitutional Duty - Subpoena Power

Behold the subpoena power in an opposition Congress.

It's gratifying to see Congress finally exercising its constitutional responsibilities of oversight after six years of rubber-stamping the dubious practices of the George W. Bush administration. Now that Congress is controlled by the opposition, Bush and the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight are no longer able to operate under cover of political darkness. As a result, we see Congress properly exercising its subpoena power in order to get to the bottom of such abuses like the politically-motivated firings of federal prosecutors, the mismanagement at Walter Reed, and the FBI's excessive use of security letters in infringing Americans' civil liberties.

In an ideal world, we hope that elected officials in both the executive and legislative branches will view honoring their sworn obligation to faithfully uphold the Constitution as their preeminent responsibility, rather than allowing those obligations to take a back seat to politics; but all too often that seems not be the case - instead, politics are allowed to prevail.

The danger of factions (e.g., political parties) was recognized by Madison and others from the nation's beginnings (though, ironically Jefferson and Madison later became instrumental in the development of political parties), and we've seen this play out throughout American history into modern times with the extreme political partisanship that we witness today. Hence the importance of checks and balances among the political branches - such as Congress's subpoena power - to neutralize the corrosive effects of faction.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Progressive Liberty (#3) - Charles Fried & the Environment

Last week I recommended Charles Fried's 2007 book "Modern Liberty" as providing excellent insight into the nature of Liberty and government (characterizing liberty as pre-political, rather than originating from the state, for example).

Regarding different forms of individual liberty, moreover, he properly recognizes that inherent differences may justify incrementally greater governmental regulation of some rights (e.g., property) than of others (e.g., liberty of the mind and liberty of free choice in sex), because “unlike liberty of the mind and sex, property is not a natural right” (property is based on a constructed rules, and arbitrary ones at that).

Even so, it must be said that under a Progressive Liberty regime Fried goes too far in favor of property rights in suggesting that such rights, based largely on the reliance and stability engendered by a state-enforced property regime, should be allowed to prevail over some governmental restrictions designed to protect endangered species or a remote wilderness.

Fried says that a claim for environmental protection that is "not in the name of any other person, not even persons in generations not yet born[; or that is p]erhaps … made in the name of the endangered species or even nature itself,” is simply inadequate to justify a governmental restriction on the use. To make his point, he equates “[g]etting in a distant landowner’s way to protect the [southwestern] arroyo toad” with prohibitions by “those who dislike the very idea that some people they do not know or see are having a kind of sex they find distasteful” on private sexual activity. The motivation for the former looks like that of the latter, he says: “it is the very idea that a species might be disappearing that distresses those who would limit the landowner’s property rights. Such a motivation offends liberty,” as does keeping “undisturbed [the] wilderness of a place so remote and inaccessible that few may ever see it, like the National Wildlife Refuge.”

This approach disproportionately elevates the value of property stability/reliance and too deeply discounts the common collective good following from a governmental program of conservation and environmental stewardship.

Instructive here is the lesson of the tragedy of the commons, which teaches that a common resource is likely to be squandered when each member of the community receives full benefit (1:1) but pays only a pro-rata cost (say, 1:100 in a community of 100 people) for use of the resource. By analogy, where a property owner receives the full 1:1 benefit of a particular use but pays only a pro-rata cost (again, 1:100) for the destruction of the resource, the resource is likely to be degraded.

This assumes a particular cognizable harm to the commons – a harm Fried is perhaps unwilling to acknowledge, but if the current global warming crisis demonstrates anything, it is that human activities have profound impacts on the long-term health of the environment. For the very survival of the species it is incumbent upon us to take steps to protect our habitat. Science demonstrates that habitat loss can lead, in the extreme, to extinction.

None of this is to say that property owners should not be compensated in some way for the loss of choice, perhaps with tax credits since s/he is disproportionately bearing the cost of the commonweal through the government’s prohibition of the desired use, or through use rights of other property, or the like. Liberty demands as much.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lessons Learned: Abuse of Government Power

Looking over the posts from the past week or so and the disclosure of the most recent in the George W. Bush administration's "long train of abuses and usurpations," in larger terms what can we learn from all of this?

One thing we can say for certain is that our current multiple crises serve as strong confirmation of the importance of our Constitution in preventing the sorts of abuses of governmental power we are now witnessing.

Yes, abuse of power - plain and simple. And this is a non-partisan point. It matters not if the perpetrators are Republican, Democrat, Independent, Red, Green, Blue, or whatever - if people in government use their positions in ways that attempt to circumvent the rule of law, regardless of the agenda, it is abuse of power.

Our forefathers knew the corrupting effect of power, and had a deep aversion to its unjust exercise. As Bernard Bailyn put it in his Bancroft- and Pulitzer-Prize winning 1967 book, "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution":

“‘Power’ to them meant the dominion of some men over others, the human control of human life: ultimately, force, compulsion…. Most commonly the discussion of power centered on its essential characteristic of aggressiveness: its endlessly propulsive tendency to expand itself beyond legitimate boundaries….” The founding and framing generation held to "'[t]he general point … that the preservation of liberty rested on the ability of the people to maintain effective checks on the wielders of power, and hence in the last analysis rested on the vigilance and moral stamina of the people.”

Bailyn concludes, “The acuteness of the colonists’ sense of this problem is, for the twentieth-century reader, one of the most striking things to be found in this eighteenth-century literature: it serves to link the Revolutionary generation to our own in the most intimate way.”

Lessons of history learned, not (we hope) to be forgotten.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Halliburton (Dick Cheney) to Dubai

It's been a bad couple weeks for George W. Bush and the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. Between the Libby trial exposing the administration's inept decisionmaking, the Walter Reed fiasco, disclosure of the FBI's inappropriate/illegal use of security letters, and now the uproar about the Justice Department's retributive firings of prosecutors unwilling to do the Rove/Bush team's bidding - not to mention continuing bad new coming out of Iraq - the president must be looking forward to 2009 almost as much as the great majority of the rest of Americans.

Now comes word that Halliburton, Dick Cheney's old firm that is probably the single-most favored major beneficiary company of the war in Iraq (the epitome of Eisenhower's 'military-industrial complex'), is relocating its headquarters to Dubai.

Don't be surprised if you see Cheney and other cronies re-employed by Halliburton after 2009 - you saw it here first. The revolving door in this administration looks like Enron in, feed at the government trough, then Halliburton out.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Monday, March 12, 2007

Alberto Gonzales Impeachment

The burgeoning controversy about the Justice Department's sacking of a number of prosecutors for political reasons has prompted for the first time (that I've seen, at least) a call, by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in today's NY Times, for the impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Gonzales has been the very symbol of the Bush Administration's hubris in politicizing eviscerating civil liberties in its so-called War on Terror. He's systematically used his power as Attorney General to bully, intimidate, and punish those within and without the government who would dare to question the administration's agenda.

As I've noted previously, it's impractical (though tempting) to impeach the president for the many misdeeds of his Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight, not least of all because the next guy in line is the dark lord himself, Dick Cheney; but impeachment of the Attorney General would serve the valuable purpose of sending a strong message to future administrations that the sort of behavior exhibited during the Bush presidency is unacceptable.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

FBI & Patriot Act

Exhibit "A" for why we need a robust reading of the Constitution's protection of individual rights to protect us from government: the reports last Friday about the FBI improperly using the USA Patriot Act to obtain information about people and businesses.

Turns out that the FBI mismanaged and in some cases illegally used the Patriot Act's "national security letter" process allowing the government to obtain records from Internet service providers, banks, credit companies and other businesses without a judge's approval.

Even if the mistakes were the honest result of human error, as the FBI insists (dubious, with the failed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the helm of the Justice Department, to which the FBI reports), this incident points out the hazards of a law allowing the government the power to act outside the bounds of judicial supervision, and offers all the more reason why we must scrupulously defend freedom from being nibbled away by legislation such as the Patriot Act.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Second Amendment Decision

Yesterday’s decision by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals interpreting the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to bear arms is cause for celebration for all freedom-loving Americans, even those deeply concerned about gun violence in the United States.

First, nothing in the court’s interpretation prevents government from imposing meaningful regulations on the possession of firearms. Others of our most fundamental rights are properly subject to government regulation (though never outright prohibition), such as the First Amendment’s protection for freedom of speech, which is subject to “reasonable time, place, and manner” governmental restrictions.

Second, we bolster our claim on all of the rest of our constitutionally-protected rights – both enumerated and unenumerated (the right to privacy, for example) – when we adopt the sort of expansive view of liberty recognized in yesterday’s decision. A faithful reading of the Constitution simply does not allow us to pick and choose from among those constitutional rights with which we may agree or disagree; and the fact is that the great weight of serious historical research by many scholars over the past couple decades demonstrates that the Second Amendment (click here to see my forthcoming article in the Missouri Law Review discussing much of this research) was intended to protect an individual right to keep and bear arms – like it or not.

If the individual right to keep and bear arms no longer meets with our vision of what we wish America to be, the only acceptable way to remove the right is to amend the Constitution, not through sleight-of-hand by continued adherence to a discredited interpretation of the Second Amendment.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Progressive Liberty (#2) - Charles Fried

To get a sense of the relationship of individual liberty and government within the concept of progressive liberty, I recommend a book I've just picked up, Charles Fried’s 2007 book, “Modern Liberty: And the Limits of Government.” Fried explains:

“It is generally thought that we must have the state [i.e., government] for enforcement, legislation, and adjudication, and ... [therefore rights must be merely] creatures of the state. But it is entirely plausible to argue that we have the rights whether or not they are enforced, embodied in codes, or officially adjudicated…. Our rights in their broad outlines are the entailments of what we are: free and reasoning persons, capable of a conception of what is good and right…." Liberty, in other words, is pre-political, and nothing any government attempts to do may legitimately deny it to the people to whom it rightfully belongs. It was the purpose of the Declaration of Independence to claim these pre-political rights from the Crown, and of the Constitution to guarantee these rights.

Fried continues, "It is because our rights flow from who and what we are that we may form, re-form, or accept government in order to make our rights more certain and secure. So those who say that our rights depend on or are the creatures of states have it the wrong way around."

In this regard, Fried echoes the following statement from the Declaration of Independence: "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [of securing to all the unalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness], it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Finally, regarding the nature of government, Fried says, “The state is nothing but a web of relations between individuals as individuals, whose choices are coordinated according to what they understand is possible for them and what they may or may not do.... [That is,] if states are the greatest violators of liberty, they are also its greatest enablers and protectors. In any advanced condition of civilization there can be no effective degree of liberty without the state, because there can be no effective degree of liberty without law.”

On this last point, James Madison put it well in Federalist No. 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Properly constituted with a limited mandate, as in the U.S. Constitution, government can be a force of progressive good while protecting and enforcing individual liberty.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Libby Verdict

Impressions from yesterday's Libby verdict, in which Dick Cheney's chief of staff I. Lewis Libby was convicted on four counts of perjury for lying to a grand jury and the FBI about the events surrounding the disclosure of a CIA agent's identity:

-gratitude for the American judicial system, which, among other things, (i) gives people of high and low station alike the right to present evidence and be judged not by the government itself, but by a jury of fellow citizens; (ii) enables prosecutors, through its rules of procedure, the power (and protection) to investigate even the highest-ranking government officials for violations of law, free from retribution; and (iii) allows a person convicted the right to appeal;
-tempered with a sense of sadness for the crisis in Libby's life (there but for the grace...).

Although it's hard to muster much sympathy for someone like Libby's boss Dick Cheney (who, seriously, must be one of the most unappealing, distasteful political characters in generations), it seems like Libby is a fall-guy in this whole affair - an impression stated by some of the jurors in the case as well.

Mind you, someone must be held accountable for the misdeeds of George W. Bush and the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, so the verdict must be applauded; but it would just be nice if we could see those who are really pulling the strings in this atrocious presidency (Cheney, Rove, Bush) answering the tough questions in the dock, rather than this seemingly decent-enough guy Lewis Libby.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Walter Reed Disgrace

Any government that asks its young men and women in the military to put themselves into harm's way owes them, at the very least, decent dignified medical care in the event they are injured in the line of duty.

You'd think that the hawks of the George W. Bush administration would know this, with all their calls to "support the troops," etc. - and you'd also think that with defense spending through the roof that the administration would make sure that military medicine would get at least its fair share.

But you'd think wrong. As with all too many other domestic and foreign affairs, it turns out that Bush & the Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight is mismanaging this one as well. As reported recently in the Washington Post, turns out that there's been a massive failure to provide money and resources to provide for the care of injured soldiers, leading to squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere.

As usual, the Bush administration has tried to brush it off, but its performance over the years has been so abysmal that its denials and statements - on any matter - are simply no longer entitled to any presumption of credibility. The Walter Reed scandal is, as Paul Krugman of the NY Times suggests, (yet) another Hurricane Katrina: "the moment when the administration's misgovernment became obvious to everyone.... The Bush administration has treated veterans' medical care the same way it treats everything else: nickel-and-diming the needy, protecting the incompetent and privatizing everything it can."

Oh, and did I say, as reported by Krugman and chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Henry Waxman, that the private company that received a large contract to run Walter Reed under suspicious circumstances (the Army reversed the results of an audit concluding that government employees could do the job more cheaply) is run by two former Halliburton executives (Cheney's old firm)? Gee, what a surprise....

This apple is rotten to the core.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Monday, March 5, 2007

Spring Break

Monday morning, 8:30am, Day One of Spring Break:

The upcoming week, to be spent at various desks in my itinerant office of coffeeshops, libraries and the student union, feels like an unwrapped present. Without classes to teach, and with most of this campus's 45,000 students having migrated for warmer climes, the week is a reprieve and an opportunity to get some uninterrupted work done.

The rhythm of the academic year is a comfort, much like the changing of the seasons, and this year spring break comes just in time.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Saturday, March 3, 2007

fizzicks is phun

My high school kid's been coming home the last few days animated about his Physics class - something nice to see, since school isn't always the most exciting thing for him or his brothers & friends. Apparently they're moving into modern physics with Einstein's earthshaking work of about 100 years ago - cool things like special relativity, black body radiation, photoelectric effect, etc. And all of this a mere decade after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Albert Michelson said in 1894 that the possibility of new scientific discoveries was "exceedingly remote" since all the important fundamental laws and facts of physical science had already been discovered.

I wonder what will be the previously-unthinkable laws, facts, and discoveries our great-grandkids will be learning and telling their dads about when they come home from school 100 years from now....

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence

Friday, March 2, 2007

What is Progressive Liberty? (#1)

So what is this Progressive Liberty? In this and future posts let's explore the idea.

Progressive Liberty in America necessarily has its roots in the Declaration of Independence, which claims for Americans the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and the Constitution, which protects and guarantees these rights, primarily through the Preamble, the Bill of Rights (emphasis on the Ninth and Tenth Amendments), and the Fourteenth Amendment (emphasis on Sections One and Five). This guarantee of freedom and individual civil liberty form the core principle upon which the nation was founded.

While freedom from untoward government interference in individual affairs (in a word, "Liberty") is at the core, perhaps paradoxically the "progressive" part of Progressive Liberty envisions a vital role for government in providing liberty and justice for all, repudiating the self-seeking ruling class who would hijack the power of government for their own exclusionary purposes. As the inestimable Bill Moyers puts it, the government would be "an active player in the economy at the very least enforcing fair play, and - when necessary - being the friend, the helper, and the agent of the people at large in the contest against entrenched power."

Progressive Liberty is truly a non-partisan concept. Throughout American history politicians across the political spectrum, starting with Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton, have embodied its principles. Standouts thereafter include Democrats like Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy; Republicans like Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Barry Goldwater; and a very short list of non-politicians over many decades would have to include include Thomas Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W.E.B. DuBois, and Martin Luther King. Later we should explore the contributions of these and others.

By: Michael Anthony Lawrence