Friday, June 19, 2015

We can “thank” the purveyors of the “living, breathing” Constitution for the injustice of Eminent Domain

It was ten years ago this month that the Supreme Court handed down the odious Kelo v. New London decision legitimizing the expansion of eminent domain powers to include the seizure of property for private interests 
writes Benny Huang, who counts it among the court’s worst decisions.
Not as bad as Roe v. Wade, but pretty atrocious.
Eminent domain is a fancy phrase that means nothing more than the government taking private property from its owner and putting it to public use. Eminent domain is authorized under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment which permits governments to seize property as long as the owner is paid “just compensation,” which has been traditionally interpreted to mean market value. In other words, the government has to pay but the owner can’t refuse to sell.

For more than two centuries, “public use” was understood to mean government use. If the state wants to build a highway it doesn’t need to convince every single property owner along its path to sell. As unjust as that may sound, the alternative is unworkable.

In the Kelo case, a group of private citizens sued the City of New London, Connecticut to avoid losing their homes to Pfizer, Inc., a private company that manufactures pharmaceuticals.
Wait a second, can they do that? Surely, eminent domain doesn’t permit private companies to take people’s homes. That was the issue before the court. The legal geniuses in robes decided that yes, private companies can take your property as long as they use the government as a middle man.

Here’s how it works: a private company decides that they want to raze a few city blocks to build a new office complex. First, they ask the inhabitants to sell. If the inhabitants want too much or refuse to sell at any price, the company bypasses them and goes to city hall instead. They convince the bureaucrats that their project is the answer to all their prayers, that it will result in a lot of jobs, and most importantly, tax revenue. A single multinational corporation will probably pay more in taxes than all of those working stiffs combined. It helps if the city condemns the property first, though that’s a formality and everyone knows that the property is only being condemned because a private company is salivating over the real estate. After seizing the property, the city sells it to the corporation.

That’s the reality of eminent domain in the twenty-first century. We can “thank” the purveyors of the “living, breathing” Constitution for this injustice. The Fifth Amendment, though thoroughly unambiguous, doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did in days gone by. When the Constitution can mean anything, it means nothing.

 … Howard Dean … seemed unaware that it was the liberal wing of the court—Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer, Kennedy, and Stevens—who approved this monstrosity. The court’s liberals even seemed swayed by the city’s argument that more tax revenue was a public good in and of itself, and therefore seizing the property amounted to public use. While big business’s hands are not clean in this affair, it was the government, driven by its insatiable appetite for tax revenue, that yanked these people from their homes.
File it under ‘lessons learned’: the behemoth of government devours the little people first. Powerful people cut deals. These days, they don’t even have to resort to the proverbial “back room.” All business is conducted up front.

Pfizer never did build its complex in New London. The jobs and tax dollars never materialized. In 2009 it sold the property and left town, leaving a vacant lot where a tight-knit neighborhood once stood.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Waterloo: “Tell my sister I didn’t soil my pants!”

Maj. Harry Smith, a vastly experienced British officer who had fought at New Orleans and through some of the hardest battles of the Peninsular War, wrote, “I had never seen anything to compare. At Waterloo the whole field from right to left was a mass of bodies… The sight was sickening.”
Thus writes Bernard Cornwell in the New York Times. The historical novelist is the author of Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles.
We have witness accounts of many battles, but nothing matches the sheer volume of writing about Waterloo, and that huge archive gives us privileged glimpses of the day.

John Lewis, a British rifleman, was standing next to a man who was struck by a French musket ball: “He just said, ‘Lewis, I’m done!’ and died.” A half mile away, a French cavalryman, seeing a prostrate British officer stir, exclaimed in surprise, “Tu n’est pas mort, coquin!” and stabbed him with a lance.

Edward Macready, a 17-year-old British officer, was clutched by a friend who had just been wounded. “Is it deep, Mac?” he screamed, “Is it deep?” A Prussian conscript, not much older than Macready, wrote to his parents after the battle, “Tell my sister I didn’t soil my pants!” A French officer had his nose severed by a sword cut and cried out pathetically, “Look what they do to us!”

These are voices from a battle long ago and they bring life to callous casualty figures. Those figures were horrific. Johnny Kincaid, a British rifle officer, said that he had “never heard of a battle in which everybody was killed, but this seemed likely to be an exception.”

And it was not only men who died. After the battle, a British officer, Lt. Charles Smith, had the grim task of retrieving his unit’s dead, and while disentangling a heap of corpses found a French officer “of a delicate mould and appearance.” It was a young woman. We will never know who she was, only that Lieutenant Smith thought her beautiful. I surmise she could not bear to be parted from her lover and charged with him to her death.

 … Gen. Baron von Müffling, the Prussian liaison officer to the Duke of Wellington, watched the British line advance at the day’s end. The whole army was supposed to join that attack, but von Müffling remembered only small groups going forward, because “the position in which the infantry had fought was marked, as far as the eye could see, by a red line caused by the red uniforms of the numerous killed and wounded who lay there.” It is a terrible image, a tideline of the dead and dying.

Wellington set the tone for today’s commemorations when he wrote to a friend a month after the battle, saying, “It is quite impossible to think of glory. Both mind and feelings are exhausted. I am wretched even at the moment of victory, and I always say that next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained. I am now just beginning to retain my natural spirits, but I never wish for any more fighting.”
Update: Courage and commerce -- which did more to enrich humanity (cheers to the jaymaster):
We admire achievements in war, a negative-sum game in which people get hurt on both sides, more than we do those in commerce, where both sides win.

 … We know almost nothing of the merchants who made ancient Greece rich enough to spawn an unprecedented culture, but we know lots about the deeds of those who squandered that wealth in war.

 … in the very same year, 1815, George Stephenson, a humble, self-taught engine-wright with an impenetrable Geordie accent (to which he probably gave the name), put together all the key inventions that — at last — made steam locomotion practicable. … The year of Waterloo was an annus mirabilis of the industrial revolution, putting Britain on course to dominate and transform the world, whether we beat Boney or not.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Fruits of Smart Diplomacy: For the First Time Since the Cold War, the U.S. Stations Heavy Weapons in Eastern Europe

In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries
write Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers in the New York Times.
The proposal, if approved, would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine have caused alarm and prompted new military planning in NATO capitals.
Update: Russia to increase nuclear arsenal as U.S. plans more firepower in Europe.

    Am I the only one who thinks that the world seems to be a far more dangerous place in 2015 than a decade ago?

    I remember when Barack Obama mocked Mitt Romney during the 2012 election, telling him "the Cold War's been over for 20 years."  I also remember him furtively asking Vladimir Putin's protégé for "space" that year, whispering that after said election he would "have more flexibility" with regards to making the U.S. missile defense more palatable to the Kremlin.

    Finally, I remember the enthusiasm in 2008 for getting that dumb, war-mongering cowboy Bush out of the White House, and replaced by a visionary who would make the United States loved and respected again, bringing an unprecedented measure of peace to the world in the process.

    Besides Moscow annexing Crimea (with Russian fighters routinely violating EU airspace), we have Beijing saber-rattling in the China Sea and ISIS capturing one Middle East stronghold after another.  (Yes, I also remember Joe Biden calling the 2011 return of all U.S. combat troops from Baghdad "one of the great achievements of this administration", with Obama declaring "I ended the war in Iraq, as I promised.")

    One might be excused for speculating that far from appreciating the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate's overtures, his numerous apologies, and what Democrats call "smart diplomacy," all sorts of actors have become emboldened and, if anything, are itching for a fight with Uncle Sam.

    During the previous administration, we kept hearing—far from inappropriately— how the latest batch of troubles of the time was "on Bush's watch."  Will no media outlet point out the obvious, that the leftists' feel-good, smiley-face fairy tales about the world ("be nice and talk to everybody, we can all live together") might be at least partially responsible for the the current perilous state of events? 

Monday, June 15, 2015

This problem of people not knowing satire from reality is likely a phenomenon of the Daily Show Generation

National Review columnist Jim Geraghty expressed his chagrin last week with liberals’ misunderstanding of political humor  
writes Benny Huang.
In a piece titled Liberals Can’t Tell the Difference Between Satire and News, and GOP Presidential Campaigns Are Paying the Price, Geraghty noted examples of fake quotes, attributed to Republicans, that were nonetheless perceived as genuine by people already inclined to hate their supposed speakers. The author apportioned special blame to a Facebook community called “Stop the World, the Teabaggers Want Off,” which lampoons Republicans, usually by laughing at things they never actually said. I don’t know what’s funny about that but apparently that’s their shtick. Their page has a disclaimer warning that the site is “for entertainment purposes only,” though it’s clear that some of its readers didn’t get the memo.
In the internet age, it doesn’t take long for a satirical quote to enter broad circulation on blogs and social media. Divorced from its comedic context, an even larger portion of the population will take it for truth and further perpetuate it.

I must confess that even I have been duped by a satirical quote. I once believed that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin actually claimed that she could see Russia from her house, which she didn’t. A Palin-impersonator named Tina Fey said that on Saturday Night Live and from there it spread like wildfire. How surprised I was to learn that Palin’s actual quote was “…[A]nd you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska…”
 … This problem of people not knowing satire from reality is likely a phenomenon of the Daily Show Generation. I consider myself part of that generation, though not a fan myself. Regardless of whether I actually watch the program, many people my age (I’m thirty-four) and many members of the generational cohort fifteen years my junior, consider the Daily Show to be a real source of news, along with The Colbert Report, The Onion, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, and Saturday Night Live. For some, it’s the only news they get.
And they brag about this. No, seriously. They snicker at the Left’s latest object of scorn while clapping like trained seals at all of Jon Stewart’s jokes, even the unfunny ones, which happens to be most of them. They love to tell you how savvy they are about current affairs. When I was in college, students actually wrote columns in the campus paper arguing that people who got their news from the Daily Show were actually smarter than the average bear.
 … These people remind me of grown adults who still think that professional wrestling is real, except WWE fans aren’t nearly as smug. Also, their misplaced love for moronic entertainment is innocuous because it doesn’t affect elections. But other than that, they’re pretty similar.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. Satire has value, both comedic and political. Can its purveyors be blamed if stupid people don’t get the joke?