August 20, 2014

The AEI Foreign Policy Debate: Grading the Candidates.

This pretty much sums up how the candidates did…and I’m too tired to write up my own thoughts. Tonight, at least. No promises about tomorrow:

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/brodigan/status/139177383029776385"]

 

Also, find my Twitter feed on the debate here.

In (plenty of) time for Christmas, go get an Occupy t-shirt.

Just in time for Black Friday, Despair, Inc brings you the perfect t-shirt for the Occupier on your Christmas list.:

Go get it from Despair,Inc.

Corporations are people, too

[This guest post is by Benjamin Lusty, an attorney and an occasional contributor to Publius Online. The opinions are his own.]

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Among the flotsam and jetsam of misguided political ideas and non sequiturs that washed ashore on the nation’s consciousness after the wreck of Occupy Wall Street is the previously obscure movement to end corporate personhood, a legal doctrine that affords corporations certain rights such as the ability to own property, make contracts, and file lawsuits.  Although OWS was a swirl of inarticulate rage (and recognizing the unfairness of expecting a disparate movement to crystallize all of its demands into a neat two page executive summary), it is clear that everybody who occupied anything this autumn hates corporations.  Their catchiest slogan read something like this:  “I’ll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.”  Another more strident slogan declared that “corporations aren’t people and Money isn’t speech.”

Doubtless, the root of anti-corporate sentiment is the apprehension that corporations wield outsized power.  Particularly galling to the Moveon.org set was the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, a case that held that it was unconstitutional for Congress to restrict corporations (and labor unions) from advocating for or  against a particular candidate so long as that advocacy is not coordinated with any individual campaign.  This feeds the narrative that for-profit corporations brandish their supposedly vast and limitless resources to subvert the free operation of our otherwise happy and just republic.

Regardless of the merits of their arguments, however, OWS succeeded in kindling a debate on the nature of corporations, the basis of their existence, and their role in society.  Disquiet with corporate power, or for that matter, corporate personhood, is not new.  Nor is the doctrine of corporate personhood novel—to the contrary, it is quite old.  But now a constitutional amendment to revoke corporate personhood has emerged, the goal of which is to prevent corporations from engaging in political speech or donating money to political organizations.  Admittedly, the chance that this proposed amendment would actually run the constitutional gauntlet of ratification is nil.  But the ideas espoused in the proposal are serious enough to merit a serious response.

The justification for limiting corporate personhood largely rests upon two uncontroversial observations:  1) our Constitution and society exist to protect the rights of actual living human beings; and 2) because corporations are artificial legal creations, they should be subject to law and regulation in the public interest.  These do not, however, by themselves support the conclusion that corporate personhood, or even the corporate form of organization, damage society.  But even assuming that corporations flagrantly and routinely abuse their personhood status (which I do not assume), simple calls for revocation of personhood ignore the constitutional cost inherent in diminishing expressive rights.

To begin with, despite leftish revulsion, corporations really are people too.  Corporations are nothing more than voluntarily created groups of human beings consisting of shareholders and employees; quite simply, they are people, organized.  Revoking or limiting corporate personhood, although it has a populist “us versus them” appeal, would grievously wound existing constitutional rights to speech and freedom of assembly for no real purpose.

Consider the case against corporate speech.  All sorts of hyperventilated criticisms are charged against the supposed power of corporations to manipulate the legislative process.  Keep in mind, however, that the terrible corporate activity that the left wants to squelch is talking (always fear one who claims the solution to a problem is to stop somebody else from talking).  If one believes, however, that these nefarious enterprises can bend the will of the government through talking to legislators, the problem is not corporate speech but elected officials who do not represent their constituents’ interests.  In that case, the solution is not jeopardizing constitutional rights but holding free elections.  If, however, the left worries that corporations can change voting patterns through speech (or persuasion), their argument is essentially that the people are not smart enough to determine their own interests.

But if the state abridged a corporation’s ability to speak, whose rights would really be affected?  If, for example, we banned Apple from communicating to Congress about technology policy, we would essentially prevent its shareholders from acting collectively.  This in turn would mean that we would have to abridge the right of each shareholder to participate in collective speech on political issues.  Individual shareholders, however, are real people with names, and constitutional rights.  Does the mere fact that they assembled themselves together through a corporation mean they lose their First Amendment rights?  If you say yes, then should we also prevent labor unions from talking to the government as well?

And that question exposes the flaw that arises from diminishing corporate personhood.  It cuts directly against the grain of the right of assembly.  The First Amendment has no exception clause for corporations, or even for people assembling to grasp at filthy lucre.  If a group of unshaven grad students has the right to encamp and demand legalization of marijuana, why should a group of investors not have the right to form a corporation and argue for changes to consumer electronics sales policy?

Ultimately, because constitutional rights are categorical, it is impossible to diminish the rights of the corporation without diminishing the rights of the people within the corporation.  In any event, not all corporations are massive global gladiators.  Further, nobody is arguing against sensible rules preventing public corruption.  But speech is not bribery, and persuasion is not crime.  It is democracy.

And for the record, Texas puts corporations to death every day, without trial and for trivial matters.  The Texas Code specifically enables the Texas Secretary of State to dissolve a corporation for something as simple as failing to file an annual form report.  Texas corporations thus live under an ever-present threat of an administrative death penalty.

 

WRR: La Puente

I don’t know what “La Puente” means in English, and, frankly, I don’t care. (OK, yes, I do. I looked it up. It’s Spanish for “the bridge.” So there.)

What I do care about is this: when you ask for a recommendation for lunch on Twitter, and @robertgehrke tells you to go to La Puente, you go to La Puente. Especially when there’s a sudden rash of tweets agreeing with him. Don’t believe me? Check it here, here, here, and here.

[blackbirdpie url="http://twitter.com/#!/RobertGehrke/status/136223181869563906"]

So, I went to “the bridge.” In Spanish.

Despite rumors that it’s run by the Mexican drug cartel, none of that stuff was on the menu. But the smothered burrito (“smothered burrito” is Spanish for “smothered burrito”) was on the menu, and that was good enough for me.

I ordered. I ate. And let me tell you: I like me some smothered burrito.

Nine inches long, drenched in yellow cheese (cheddar, maybe?), full of chicken and more cheese and beans…hmm…very good.

To boot, La Puente gives you plenty of chips and some very hot salsa to go with it. Heck, if the smothered burrito doesn’t fill you up, then the chips will. Maybe even before the food gets to your table.

So how does it rate?

Food: 7/10 (let’s be honest–it was good, and I’m a sucker, so 7 is becoming about average)
Service: 7/10 (no wait over lunch, and fast refills)
Atmosphere: 5/10
Parking: 3/5

Check out my other restaurant reviews here. If you have a restaurant suggestion for me, please contact me by sending an email to SLCWeekendReviews@gmail.com.

La Puente on Urbanspoon

WRR: Benja Thai & Sushi

Pad Thai from Benja Thai & Sushi

It may look like cherry picking to take a recommendation for the best restaurant in St. George, order take out, and then write a raving review about it, but that’s only because cherry picking is what you do when you have a three-year old making mayhem from her car seat and a four-month old making poop in hers.

That’s right. When that’s happening, you don’t go look for a hole-in-the-wall for a new restaurant experience. You go with the sure shot, and you get take-out.

Even take-out can be a win. At least it can be when it’s Benja Thai.

Calling in orders of pad thai and musaman curry, we scurried back to our kitchen, hungry toddler and baby in tow, and immediately set to work convincing ourselves that eating great thai was just as good at home as it was hot from the chef’s kitchen. It wasn’t very hard, at least as long as Benja is cooking.

The musaman curry was delightful, if slightly less spicy that we had hoped and expected. Just because the lady taking the order says that it’s too spicy for a three-year old does not mean that it’s spicy at all. On the contrary, in addition to the usual curry flavored potatoes, carrots, and chicken in a slightly thickened coconut milk sauce, the chef adds some bit of sweetener, as well as a leaf or two of basil. It’s a combo that I didn’t mind spread over my rice, even if I would have preferred a little more heat.

Musaman Curry from Benja Thai & Curry

Our compliment to the curry was pad Thai, which is about as traditional a Thai dish as one can order, not to mention required eating the first time at any new Thai restaurant, was suitably delicious, sweet, and sticky. Again, the only caveat being this: I could use more heat.

If you find yourself in St. George, or anywhere close, take time to catch dinner at Benja Thai…even if you only have enough time for take out.

(PS. Their site is not too shabby, either. Check it out here.)

So how does it rate?

Food: 7/10 (good on the go, too)
Service: 8/10 (no wait for us)
Atmosphere: n/a
Parking: n/a

Check out my other restaurant reviews here. If you have a restaurant suggestion for me, please contact me by sending an email to SLCWeekendReviews@gmail.com.

Benja Thai & Sushi on Urbanspoon

The Conservatives’ Challenge on Economic Inequality

[This is the first in a set of pieces by Benjamin Lusty, lawyer and an occasional contributor to Publius Online, on the topic of economic inequality]

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Americans tend not to wage class war.  The rugged individual within us celebrates economic success.  True, we loathe profit by malfeasance, but we do not begrudge those who prosper fairly.  No Occupy Wall Street protestor demanded expropriating Steve Jobs’ vast fortune (despite his legendary indifference to philanthropy).  But a hazy mistrust of “the rich” is falling over the nation’s collective conscience.  Although most Americans do not believe that wealth is theft, many are questioning whether playing by the rules profited them.  Occupy Wall Street represents only the radical rim of America, but it is speaking directly to a new discontent enveloping the middle class.

It is tempting to conclude that the nation simply suffers from anxiety naturally accompanying prolonged periods of high unemployment.  But America’s trouble is of a different quality all together.  Economic mobility, and more importantly, Americans’ perceptions of economic mobility is stalling.  Business Insider (in a fascinating series of graphs available here) reports that since 2009, average annual household income dropped 10% even though the S&P 500 gained 80% over the same period.  Likewise, since the 1960s, inflation-adjusted wages have essentially flat-lined, despite rising productivity.  A 2008 Pew Research Study reported 79% of Americans felt that it was harder to maintain middle class living standards.  Critically, new surveys report that 57% of Americans no longer believe their children will lead better lives.  It all makes for a plaintively stoic resignation of the typically tough American psyche.

And yet, America’s economic inequality is growing.  As of 2007, the wealthiest 10% of households owned two-thirds of the nation’s wealth.  Since 1979, the top 1%’s share of income nearly doubled.  Not surprisingly, the left wants to leverage economic anxiety to pass a “new” New Deal of high taxes, high spending, and busy regulation.  Their operative assumption is that inequality is the problem and redistribution is obviously the answer.

For conservatives, the current economic nervosa poses an existential threat.  Conservatives traditionally ignore economic inequality, dismissing it as a necessary (if unfortunate) by-product of liberty, property rights, and free markets.  Although income equality may be vaguely desirable, it is elementally inconsistent with freedom.  In truth, it is inevitable that a free society facilitates different economic outcomes.  People have different tastes, capabilities, interests, ethical creeds, and willingness to work.  The market divides rewards based upon value created, but free societies allow people to choose how much value they wish to create and how they create it.  We do not force people to work.  Nor do we assign occupations, locations of residence, or educational levels.  This results in a vibrant and mercurial society where each individual chooses her school, her study, her occupation, her location, her family situation, and ultimately her life.  The tricky thing though, is that choices are hard and free societies are harder.

But choice explains the gulf between rich and poor.  Educational attainment and annual income are positively correlated, but educational achievement is a choice (or rather thousands of choices made over a lifetime).  Careers, too, result from cascades of choices, each with varying degrees of compensation and commitments.  The unbreakable truth, of course, is that nobody is free to make choices outside of the context of everybody else’s choices.  Indeed, the economy is nothing more than a tangled, spider web-like matrix of trillions of choices made every day by billions of people.  This swirling commotion of commerce spins unpredictably, but in a surprisingly coordinated fashion.  It is, after all, the supposedly chaotic and merciless free market that feeds and clothes billions.  It also links hearts, minds, and pocket books across supply chains, web links, and telephone calls.  And only choice really controls it.

The conservatives’ challenge is stark.  Occupy Wall Street wants less choice because it demands higher taxes, more regulation, and forgiveness of debt (e.g., undoing financial choices).  The left wants now, as it has always wanted, more government control and less private initiative; all to make us “equal.”  They call it “social justice,” “common sense,” or “middle class solutions,” but the upshot is always more central command and less choice.

Of course the danger is not that the left is now demanding these things–it always has.  The danger for conservatives is that Americans’ confidence in their ability to make effective choices is eroding. Why should good choices matter if the average worker hasn’t gained over the course of an entire generation?  Why go to college for a highly leveraged piece of paper (formerly known as a diploma)?  The left promises free health care, food stamps, and debt forgiveness. Why not accept that, especially if (as the left would have us believe) this is all somebody else’s fault anyway? After all, taxing somebody else will make us all richer anyway….

 

Seven weeks to go…which will you vote for?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Justin Hart at Red State]