23 October 2012

Brook and Watkins: Free Market Revolution

Yaron Brook is on the front lines in the battle for freedom. . .and the scariest part is not simply the long odds he confronts facing an overwhelmingly entrenched opposition. The frightening thing is that he is practically the only man on the front who is armed.

He is armed, of course, with ideas: the ideas of Ayn Rand, the novelist and philosopher who championed reason. Rand showed that the rights of man—the rights of every individual to his life, his thoughts and actions, his property, and his selfish pursuit of joy and happiness—are firmly rooted in the facts of reality. Rights are neither divine gifts of supernatural deities nor arbitrary privileges bestowed by governments, but are moral principles that follow from the facts of man’s nature as a living, free-willed, conceptual organism.

On Friday, Lynne and I attended Dr. Brook’s lecture in Lexington, at which he articulated many of the ideas that he presents more thoroughly in the critically important new book, coauthored with Don Watkins, called Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government. I just finished the book, and I think it is nothing short of priceless if it can reach a wide enough audience. It could quite literally save the world—or, at least, the United States.

The book’s message is straightforward. The ever-increasing presence of the government in our lives—the incomprehensively reckless borrowing and utterly unsustainable spending by politicians—is not caused by widespread beliefs that the free market doesn’t work. People know that capitalism works. The issue, at root, is one of morality.

It is true that thanks to popular fallacies and myths, some confusions and suspicions about the free market exist. (Brook and Watkins do a good job untangling some of the alleged problems of the free market, showing that invariably the ills are either caused by government intervention, for which the free market receives the blame, or are not problems at all.) But for the most part the book’s many and varied examples are simply pounding us with what we already know. Capitalism works—and unless you are a university professor or a Nobel Prize-winning economist writing for the New York Times—you know that. As Brook noted in his lecture, the evidence is in. The past two centuries provide the overwhelming, undeniable evidence: where freedom prevails human beings flourish, and where freedom is throttled misery and death reign. Every cudgel and club of government intervention has been tried, from welfare programs to price controls to concentration camps, and history has shown a standard of living and general prosperity exactly in inverse proportion to government controls.

So, knowing that, why do we continue to vote for politicians who promise to intrude more and more into our lives? Why is it impossible for politicians to cut spending even though it is plainly leading us to disaster? Why are welfare programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid considered to be untouchable “third rails”? Why do Americans universally distrust businessmen who depend upon satisfying their customers, but blindly trust “impartial” government bureaucrats?

Brook and Watkins make the case that the answer is fundamentally a matter of morality. For the most part, Americans want to do what they believe is right, and have tragically accepted a morality incompatible with the requirements of liberty: altruism. As long as we believe, as we’ve always been told, that sacrifice is good and noble—that it is right to put others before ourselves—then we will be unable to defend ourselves against statists who ride into power precisely on that platform. Even those “small government” conservatives and “Tea Partiers” who passionately defend fiscal responsibility, limited government, and the Founders’ vision of individual rights generally crumble in the face of accusations that they are “heartless.” Conservatives who would claim to defend free markets are the first to leave their posts, begging to be seen as being compassionate.

If we are to restore liberty—or indeed, realize a freedom we have never yet fully achieved—it will require the moral revolution described in this excellent book. Read it.

And, of course, read Ayn Rand.


I excerpted some passages from this for my Goodreads and Amazon reviews of the book.

05 September 2012

John Cage, AWGN

In honor of John Cage's 100th birthday, I would like to call attention to a fine application note from Maxim Semiconductor, describing a simple circuit for generating random noise. As can be seen in Figure 2, the circuit generates a practical white Gaussian noise signal from DC to several hundred Megahertz.

I've been meaning to build myself one of these circuits for years--not for the alleged pleasure of pretending to enjoy aleatoric nonsense while in the company of academic snobs, but for the practical purpose of testing communication circuits in a noisy environment.  


1. Both figures are from the application note, "Building a Low-Cost White-Noise Generator," Maxim Semiconductor, March 14, 2005, http://pdfserv.maximintegrated.com/en/an/AN3469.pdf.

25 August 2012

The Fed Weighs Who Should Win in November

In an above-the-fold article called “Fed Moving Closer to Action” in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, the authors state, with a blandness fitting the topic:

Democrats have urged the central bank to take steps to bolster growth, pointing to high unemployment, but Republicans have urged caution, pointing to the risk of inflation and a weaker dollar.[1]

Does anybody believe that these are really the motivations behind the two political parties’ exhortations for Fed action (or inaction)? It seems obvious to me that it is all about the election in November. The Democrats want the Fed to do something that will make the economy look good in the short term because that will help President Obama win, and the Republicans want the Fed to stand still so that the economy continues to be just as it is--which is to say, lousy--thus working against Mr. Obama in November. It's as simple as that.

Of course, any action the Federal Reserve takes (short of dissolving itself, abolishing fiat currency, and apologizing for a century of grand theft unprecedented in the civilized world) is harmful to the economy in the long run. But the central bank can artificially prop up certain benchmarks that can be measured to make it appear that the economy is doing well. The Fed can, in effect, clip little pieces off of all the coins in our pockets without our noticing it, then generously distribute the loot to a population in ways calculated to make us feel (temporarily) just a little bit wealthier. 

And it can do this just in time for the election.

I realize that this observation--that the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve has significant control over elections--is stating the obvious, but it is worth pointing out from time to time. For one thing, it highlights the perils of voting according to short-term, personal concerns (such as whether you are currently employed, or in debt, or feel well-off) instead of to long-term, fully integrated principles. Also, for those interested in the “inside baseball” of practical politics (I am not one), the Fed will reveal by their actions in the coming weeks who they want to win the election.


[1] Jon Hilsenrath and Kristina Peterson, “Fed Moving Closer to Action,” The Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2012, p. A4.

16 August 2012

A Feast

Lynne and I, along with a few of our CrossFit friends, attended a big dinner party last weekend at a local farm owned by a friend of ours. We had a wonderful time (despite the humid heat that is not uncommon to New England summer evenings) enjoying delicious, “paleo”-friendly food in the rustic comforts of a magnificent old barn. We ate and drank and laughed amid twinkling lights, with an occasional bat flitting overhead, while four or five goats munched lazily on hay and looked about curiously, wondering why so many strange and noisy people milled about their normally uninteresting habitat.

About a hundred people attended, including some major minds of the “paleo” scene, who happened to be in town because of the Ancestral Health Symposium. Best of all, I had a chance to meet and briefly chat with my three favorite heroes of nutrition science: Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, and Mathieu LaLonde.

Our hosts were gracious and benevolent and I wish them all possible success in their farming endeavors.

(Nom Nom Paleo posted some pictures of the event on her blog, as did Laura from Ancestralize Me.)


Diana posted some pictures of her event here, including one in which Lynne and I can be seen conversing with her husband while watching the goats!

04 July 2012

A Monument to America’s Destruction

In gradual transformations, it is generally difficult to pinpoint one particular event that signals the exact moment of change from one state to another. When did the last ice age become a period of warming? Which individual was the last Homo habilis or the very first Homo sapiens? On what day did Renaissance music become Baroque? 

That being said, it is possible to point to an event that indicates with certainty that the transformation has already occurred sometime in the past. When we look back at the Roman Empire, for instance, we can point to many indicators of a civilization in decline: the succession of “barracks emperors” in the 3rd century, the split of the empire under Diocletian, the sacking of Rome itself in 410 and 455, etc. But when Odovacer deposed Romulus Augustulus in 476, the meaning was clear: the present continuous tense—declining—had unambiguously given way to the simple past tense: declined. Rome was no more—and had not been for some time.

Such is the case with last week’s Supreme Court decision to uphold the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” The lesson of this historical ruling is that it is no longer valid to discuss how America is in the process of changing from a free country to something else entirely. The change has already occurred; it is in the past—the long past, perhaps. 

It is now crystal clear to me that the United States, which began as a constitutional republic based upon individual liberty, is now nothing of the sort.

The Founding Fathers saw men as sovereign, independent individuals, with the right to their lives, the product of their efforts, and the liberty to pursue their own happiness. (This being Independence Day as I publish this, let us commemorate the fact that this unprecedented and unrepeated moral declarationthat every man should be allowed to selfishly pursue his own material and spiritual valueswas adopted by the Continental Congress 236 years ago today.) Men were viewed as productive, responsible citizens whose only requirement from the government was to be left alone to exercise their judgment, trade voluntarily with their neighbors, and be permitted to succeed or fail, reaping the rewards or paying the price accordingly.

Today’s federal government, along with a corrupt intellectual establishment and accommodating media, now hold man in the exact opposite regard. Men, in their view, are incompetent, dependent children who need the government to provide every conceivable material good and service.

The very relationship between the government and the citizens has been flipped on its head. The United States government began two centuries ago as a servant of its citizens, engaged to wield power only to protect the liberty of individuals. Today, we are the servants, and the government, in its self-proclaimed benevolent wisdom, pushes us, pulls us, scolds us, punishes us, advances the myth of its own greatness, trumpets the miracle of turning gold into paper, and assumes the responsibility of living our lives. Incredibly, in the Land of Freedom and Independence, almost everyone todaynot just politicians and the leftist media, but even ordinary citizensvaguely assumes the proper job of the government is to “run things.”

Among the consequences of this complete transformation of our nation is the fact that the United States Constitution no longer has any meaning whatsoever. The Constitution was originally intended to constrain the government, not citizens. It is now wielded as a legal justification of violating the rights it was designed to protect. 

When they assume office, the president, senators, representatives, and Supreme Court justices all swear to uphold the Constitution. Nevertheless, it is patently obvious that few take this responsibility seriously. The legislative and executive branches brazenly pass and sign any damned law that they please, presumably with the assumption that the Supreme Court will catch anything that happens to be unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, cowed and ruled by the leftist establishment (and lately, by veiled threats from the President[1]), defers to the elected representatives of the people.[2] So, with each branch of government assuming someone else is guarding the Constitution, who is left the save the rule of law?

It is all a moot point anyway because as I’ve already stated, the Constitution has been gutted of any significant meaning. The determination of “constitutionality” has been rendered a procedural issue, not a matter of principle. 

The only rational purpose of having a constitution in the first place is to establish a guiding principle as the rule of lawnot just any principle, but the single objectively valid one: the principle of individual rights. With this principle discarded as it has been, the Constitution is an empty shelland a dangerous one at that. The document still carries the authority of the honorable purpose it once fulfilled, but is shorn of that purpose. It is raw power, stripped of its soul: an unlimited force turned upon the very masterthe peopleit was instituted to protect.

The Roberts court has shown that anything is constitutional. American citizens can be forced to do anything (or not to do anything) as long as legislators comply with a means acceptable to the court—for example, to call the compulsion a “tax.” It is worthwhile examining an excerpt of the Supreme Court decision to see the nature of Roberts’ reasoning:
Chief Justice Roberts concluded in Part III-A that the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of the Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause . . . Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority.

So far, so good. However, because the Commerce Clause does not give Congress these vast powers:
It is necessary to turn to the Government’s alternative argument: that the mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power to “lay and collect Taxes.” . . . Because “every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality,” Hooper v. California, . . . the question is whether it is “fairly possible” to interpret the mandate as imposing such a tax.[C, emphasis mine]

So, it is clear even to Justice Roberts that the individual mandate constitutes a “new and potentially vast domain” of congressional power. He sees this, however, not as a reason to protect us from this outrageous violation but to bend over backwards trying to excuse the power grab itself! Is his obligation as a Supreme Court justice to safeguard the liberties of Americans? No. He explicitly states that his duty is to save the statutes handed down by Congressto resort to any “reasonable construction” (which means, to invent any semi-plausible excuse) to save the mandates of legislators who have unquenchable appetites for power from being deemed unconstitutional. If you needed evidence that the Constitution has been thoroughly voided of first principles and remains nothing but an empty web of rules and procedures, you could hardly do better than NFIB v. Sebelius.

This is what passes as freedom today. We are “free” not to buy health insurance—under penalty of a tax. What is next? Perhaps someday soon we will be “free” (under penalty of tax) to choose our own doctor instead of one assigned by the government, or “free” (under penalty of tax) to buy a 32-ounce soda . . . or not to buy a Chevy Volt, or “free” (under penalty of tax) to vote or not to vote,[3] or “free” (under penalty of tax) to home-school our children, or “free” (under penalty of tax) to own a gun, or “free” (under penalty of tax) not to contribute to President Obama’s re-election campaign for his third, fourth, and fifth terms. Perhaps someday I will be “free” to write articles such as this one, as long as I pay the “sedition tax.” Families who pay the “burden-to-society tax” will be “free” to have a third child, and those few who can afford the “international good will tax” will be free to leave the country for a few days, assuming the proper collateral and hostages have been secured to encourage their return. 

How did we get here? How did the Land of Liberty become the Land of Liberty Lost? To answer, you need not look beyond Obamacare. You will hear apologists for the “individual mandate” make the claim that it is not unprecedented, but is merely an extension of current practices such as the mandatory auto insurance required by certain states; furthermore, it is already within the power of Congress to tax, and “the payment is not so high that there is really no choice but to buy health insurance.”[4] And in any case, they will say, the surrender of a little liberty is a small price to pay to overhaul a “broken” health care system. 

This is precisely the logic that has doomed us and will continue to do so unless we challenge it. This is the pattern with which the power of government increases without limit: the existence of rights-violating laws is presented as justification to pass more outrageous violations, and the very problems created by layers upon layers of government intrusions serve as the the pretext for more intrusions.

Why are Americans, historically the most valiant defenders of liberty, so compliant and apathetic? Does honor and valor misidentify evil when it confronts us in a form banal, undistinguished, habitual? Does our gaze, by long habit cast upwards toward that promising horizon we call the Future, overlook the stooped and hideous figures to our left and right cheerlessly imploring us to sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice our personal freedom because our humble leaders know best how to serve the “common good”? Is it possible that we have surrendered our liberties precisely because the bloated monstrosity that is the federal government presents itself not as a jack-booted thug barking orders (which we would swat away righteously), but as a third-rate bureaucrat droning on and on in an endless monotone of legalese?

I ask: Is our country, that political jewel of mankind (I am tempted to say “miracle” were it not for the fact that our nation was founded not upon superstition but upon the sublime, practical, worldly, and rational principles of the Enlightenment)is that republic known as the United States of America, a nation that would stand erect against any tidal wave, to be eroded by the drip, drip, drip of small compromises? 

A Monument to America’s Destruction: Obamacare, Medicare, Anti-Trust, Social Security

I have come to the conclusion, probably much later than I should have, that freedom is no longer something that must be preserved. It is too late for that. “Preserved” implies that there exists enough of an understanding of freedom for it to be saved, and I don’t believe that to be the case. No, freedom must be discovered anew, as if for the first time. 

To be sure, we are not yet in a dictatorship. (If you are reading these words without fear of being discovered, it proves we have not yet sunk that low.) But last week’s Supreme Court decision has extended extraordinary license to executive and legislative fiends who were already uninhibited in their lust for power, a move that will hasten America’s decline.

I urge every American: first discover and then declare your independence. Regard your “fellow men” not as a needy collective to which you owe the dutiful sacrifice of your lives, but as individuals who inalienably bear the same rights you do, and with whom you may deal with voluntarily and peaceably as you so choose. Above all, accept the responsibilities that independence entails: think, judge, and act for yourself. Have the courage to emancipate yourself from the alleged “safety net” of the welfare state, and respect your neighbors enough to trust that they too can stand on their own. We need a new revolution, a revolution not of force and blood and violence, but of the mind: a moral revolution, in which we each stand on our own, proudly and righteously and unafraid, asserting our right to be free from the government coercion that is suffocating us. Do it now, before it is too late. As Ayn Rand said, “Those who fight for the future, live in it today.”  

[1] See, for instance, Doug Bandow’s article, “Constitutional Death for Obamacare? The Left Threatens John Roberts And The Supreme Court,” in Forbes magazine, http://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2012/05/28/constitutional-death-for-obamacare-the-left-threatens-john-roberts-and-the-supreme-court/, and Jeff Harding’s article, “Obama Threatens Supreme Court,” at The Daily Capitalist, http://dailycapitalist.com/2012/04/03/obama-threatens-supreme-court/.

Also, recall President Obama’s open criticism of the Supreme Court (for its 5-4 decision defending free speech during election campaigns) in his State of the Union speech a couple of years ago.

[2] See a good article on this topic at the Liberty Legal Foundation: “Supreme Court’s Deference to Congress Equals Disrespect to the Constitution,” http://libertylegalfoundation.org/1203/supreme-courts-deference-to-congress-equals-disrespect-to-the-constitution/

[3] Lest you think the litany of horrors in this paragraph are paranoid ravings that could never happen, I recommend watching this short clip (http://video.msnbc.msn.com/the-cycle/47984748#47984748) from an MSNBC program called The Cycle. In the video, a group of well-groomed (and in all outward respects, civilized) MSNBC commentators discuss, without a shred of irony or satire, the directions in which these new-found, Roberts-sanctioned government powers ought to be aimed to shackle and throttle Americans more than they already are. “Soooo,” croons a beautiful brunette with a disarming smile, in a sweet tone that suggests she was about to ask you to buy her a drink, “what else should we force people to do?” 


03 May 2012

The Debt

(Before we started 3 Ring Binder and One Reality, Lynne and I had collaborated on a blog in which we rated movies that we had watched. It was a fun way to force ourselves to write a couple of paragraphs every now and then. We had let it lapse unattended for years, but recently we added a few posts, including one for the movie The Debt. Because this movie was so outstanding, and because my comments ventured into areas that I typically cover on One Reality, I thought I would cross-post my write-up here.)

The Debt was gripping from start to finish, brilliantly conceived, and executed with virtuosity in acting, directing, and editing.

The story follows a trio of Israeli agents from their original mission in 1965 (where the young agents are played by Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Sam Worthington) to the aftermath thirty years later (where they are played by Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Ciarán Hinds). We see the mission unfold at the beginning—a plan to trap and retrieve a notorious Nazi “doctor” from East Germany—but simultaneously sense that something is not quite right. And that’s all I’ll say about that: anything more would sabotage the relatively simple but ingenious plot.

There are some moments in the film that will make your blood run cold—particularly, those scenes in which Ms. Chastain’s character, Rachel Singer, is alone with the Nazi monster, Dieter Vogel (a remorseless devil played unforgettably by Jesper Christensen). In a couple of harrowing scenes, young Rachel goes undercover posing as a patient of the evil doctor, who has changed his name since the war and resurfaced as a gynecologist in East Berlin. She must endure his examination, reclining prone on his table, legs spread in the air and feet bare on cold metal, her nakedness covered by one of those sterile, ill-fitting patient gowns that hospitals use, which served only to make stark Rachel’s vulnerability by reminding her that her clothes are piled in a heap across the room, beyond her reach. Meanwhile, the doctor selects from an array of ghastly-looking instruments (evoking images of Jeremy Irons unveiling his tools in Dead Ringers) and patiently brings his head down between her legs, close enough, we presume, for his foul breath to invade Rachel’s most private chambers.

The effectiveness of these scenes is the achievement of the filmmakers and Chastain’s acting: We, the audience, know Rachel is a trained agent—brave, disciplined, and determined—and indeed, she adequately answers the doctor’s questions during the examinations and even manages to surreptitiously snap a few photos using a miniature spy camera. But we have no assurance whatsoever that all will go as planned. Does the doctor see through her cover? Is Rachel hunting the monster, or is she his prey? It is unnerving, and we wonder how Rachel can endure it. (Perhaps she wonders that herself.) In these scenes we feel, in merciless detail, every nuance of Rachel’s fear; we can almost smell it, and the doctor, I’m sure, had the satisfaction of feeling her tremble.
image credit: The New York Times

The larger point, of course, is that this invasion of Rachel’s body is a metaphor for the utter dehumanization of an entire people, the literal and figurative stripping of men, women, and children down to their emaciated flesh and broken souls. We see, in this monster known as the “surgeon of Birkenau,” the limitless brutality of the National Socialists—a scourge upon civilization made all the more horrible by its sober, orderly, implacable administration. Irrationality kills men, but irrationality masquerading as science, reason, and logic murders mankind itself; the first stops a man’s heart from beating, which kills him, but the second stops his mind from functioning also, which enslaves him before he is killed. Unreason, posturing in Reason’s cloak, is a fiend committing murder in a policeman’s uniform—a double crime. To confront a beast in the form of a beast is to scream; to face a beast wearing the scientist’s white lab coat is to be struck dumb—one does not understand what one sees. The mind, disoriented and uncomprehending, freezes, and perhaps it is this, more than a want of courage, that accounts for the seeming impossibility of thousands of humans being herded to the death chambers at the points of only three or four bayonets.

“So, we were all insane? Is that the answer?” taunts the Nazi doctor in captivity, and this is a shrewd question. I think most people today, being unwilling or unable to confront the real underpinnings of the Nazis, are content to dismiss it all as incomprehensible madness—and that is a grave danger. As long as Hollywood and other outlets of popular culture condemn only the National Socialists (the Nazis) while giving the Soviet Socialists (the communists) a free pass, we may confidently say we have learned nothing from the 20th century. (For a terrific video lecture on this topic, see “Socialism’s Legacy,” by Alan Charles Kors.)

The Nazi’s evil did not begin and end with their pogrom against the Jews. The Nazis rose to power as all socialists do: on a moral principle. You have heard this principle principle before—in fact, you were brought up to believe it: that a man must live his life for the sake of others. Get each citizen to accept that a “greater good” than himself exists and the rest will follow. Implicit in every politician’s appeal for personal sacrifice is the license to forcibly dispose of some individuals for the benefit of others.

The systematic murder and enslavement of hundreds of millions of people in the 20th century was not insanity, but an illustration of the fact that ideas matter. Atrocities roll in not on tanks but upon ideas; the tanks are a side issue: those impressions of caterpillar tracks that they leave in the mud, within which the blood of innocents pools, indicate that a certain moral imperative passed this way. Nazis and communists did not achieve popularity by promising to kill Jews and kulaks, but by promising to provide jobs and health care to their people. If this sounds familiar, dear reader, I ask that you do not tell yourself, “No, it couldn’t be so, it must not be so,” but accept the responsibility of thinking before it is too late.

At the end of the The Debt, the Israeli agent Stefan says, in justification of his well-meant actions, “Truth is a luxury. Country, family, children come first.” He did not seem to realize—and perhaps the filmmakers themselves did not even understand—that this fine-sounding phrase “country above truth” is precisely the formula that made the Nazis possible.

02 May 2012

Full Speed Ahead

This Earth Day video, which has been circulating around the Internet for a few days, is too good for me to not re-post here. (hat tip: HBL)

29 April 2012

The Parker Quartet

I've been following the Parker Quartet for a few years now, but I had never seen them live until last night's performance at the Kalliroscope Gallery. They were magnificent: four extraordinarily well-matched musicians bursting with dynamic energy and exhibiting a precise control over emotions that threatened to brim beyond containment. 

This was evident in the rich Mozart String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, K. 590 (which I was not familiar with) and in the radiant romanticism of one of my favorite pieces, Schumann's A Major String Quartet (Op. 41, No. 3)--but it was especially so in the Janáček String Quartet No. 2, the so-called "Intimate Letters" quartet, which is an almost exhausting progression of achingly lovely passages and phrases mixed with violent agitation. It is a piece that benefits from multiple listens, so it left my daughter a little perplexed (in our chat after the concert, she repeatedly referred to the quartet as "the angry one"), but for me, hearing the familiar music in the vividness of a live setting for the first time, wrapped in an envelope of intensity created by musicians who were almost literally within arms' reach, was the highlight of the evening.  

To give you a taste of the Parker Quartet, here is a video of them playing the first movement of another one of my favorite pieces of chamber music: the Brahms' String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (Op. 51, No. 2).

28 March 2012

Constitution, Please Stand

The Supreme Court completed their third day of listening to arguments for and against the constitutionality of President Obama's "Affordable Care Act." Now we wait.

I lack the legal acumen to judge whether or not Obamacare is technically constitutional, but there are only two possible outcomes to the Supreme Court's ruling: Either Obamacare will be declared to be blatantly, viciously unconstitutional, or the United States Constitution is an empty and meaningless document. 

In this sense, it is not Obamacare that is being judged, but the Constitution itself. If Obamacare--in particular, the "individual mandate"--is somehow deemed to be a permissible exercise of federal power over citizens, then there is literally nothing that the government cannot force us to do.

21 March 2012

The Incompetence of the Republicans

I am relieved to see that Rick Santorum lost by a wide margin in the Illinois Republican primaries.

I realize that some people might make the honest mistake of supporting Santorum over Mitt Romney because unlike Romney, Santorum seems to be at least distinguishable from Democrats. It is certainly true that Romney is a dreadful candidate; he is an unprincipled milquetoast, a disgusting compromiser, the creator of the Obamacare prototype. As a president, he might do a little less damage than Bush and Obama have done, but would do nothing to reverse our headlong plunge into the abyss.

Nevertheless, the support of Rick Santorum over Romney (or even Obama) cannot withstand a moment’s sober reflection. Think about what Santorum’s campaign actually means.

The United States is today buckling under an economic crisis caused by decades of devastating regulations, monetary manipulation, taxation, and government debt; we are consumed by an avalanche of government intrusion that is taking over (or has already taken over) every aspect of our lives: our health, our food, our cars, our energy, our education, our future. And, in the midst of this unprecedented abrogation of freedom—the wholesale trampling of individual rights and the dismantling of America before our very eyes—Mr. Santorum’s basic belief is . . . Americans are still too free.

Somewhere in the country, Mr. Santorum fears, a man and his wife are making love, not for the purpose of procreation, but for the very pleasure of it—and Santorum feels it would be the duty of his federal government to step in and “talk about” this fell “danger.”[1] Somewhere in America, to the horror of Rick Santorum, consenting adults are producing and consuming pornography in the privacy of their own homes—and it is these Americans that are the real menace to our country, and upon which Commander-in-Chief Santorum would declare war. 

And beware! Somewhere in the United States of America, Santorum observes in dismay, individuals are (gasp!) pursuing their own happiness, a prospect that is so counter to Mr. Santorum’s theocratic viewpoint that he cannot bring himself to believe the authors of the Declaration could have meant anything by this freedom to pursue happiness but the “freedom” to dutifully submit to God.[2]

This is pure evil—as anti-American and anti-life as it seems possible for a mainstream figure (i.e. one who is not a jihadist or serial killer) to be. I have difficulty comparing the extent of Santorum’s evil to that of Barack Obama—both are so monstrous, it is like trying to estimate the size of the Milky Way galaxy while being in it—but I think in the long run a Santorum presidency would be even more destructive than a second term of Barack Obama. And that is saying quite a lot.

I cannot help but marvel at the sheer incompetence of the Republicans to put forth even a mediocre candidate for the presidency. Obama’s first term has provided an unusual clarity to our situation—namely, that the battle of our times is between socialism and capitalism, government controls versus personal freedom, collectivism versus individualism, mindless self-sacrifice versus rational self-interest—and Obama is clearly, nakedly on the wrong side across the board. I would think that in selecting any American citizen at random one could come up with a candidate preferable to Obama—and yet the Republicans have given us Romney and Santorum. Disgusting.

1. “Santorum then promised that, as president, he’d decry contraception. ‘One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country,’ he said. Noting that many Christians think contraception is okay, Santorum continued: ‘It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to . . . how things are supposed to be.’”[emphasis mine]
From a Boston Globe opinion piece, “Santorum’s contraception deception,” 21 Mar 2012, http://articles.boston.com/2012-03-21/opinion/31215572_1_contraception-republican-rick-santorum-religious-beliefs.

07 March 2012

Simone Dinnerstein Plays Schubert Impromptu Op. 90 No. 3

I like this lovely, gentle video of Simone Dinnerstein performing Franz Schubert's Impromptu in G-flat Major, from the Op. 90 set. Her father created the artwork shown throughout the video.

Ms. Dinnerstein was featured recently on The Bach Hour on my local radio station. If you have an hour to spend, it is worth listening to.

29 February 2012

Constitutionally Unable to Defend Liberty

Earlier this month, in an interview on Egyptian television in which she was asked for advice about constructing a constitution today, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asserted, “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.” She elaborated:

I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an  independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recently than the US constitution—Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. So, yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?[1]

Predictably, many conservative commentators jumped on the quote.

Fox News offered a neutral report of Ginsburg’s comments, including passages in which she “extolled several aspects of the document, particularly the separation of powers, the concept of checks and balances and an independent judiciary,” but its headline sounded the main note: “Ginsburg to Egyptians: I wouldn’t use U.S. Constitution as a model.”[2] In a transcript of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh upbraided the Justice, “Don’t model whatever you’re doing after the US Constitution. Why not? The greatest document in the history of mankind, preceded of course by the Magna Carta. Why not? Why not? Because, ladies and gentlemen, the Constitution is an impediment to people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”[3] The Heritage Foundation blog[4] and Mark Steyn connected Justice Ginsburg’s comment to a recent New York Times article[5] that breezily dismisses the U.S. Constitution as being archaic, unfashionable, and “unsexy”; Steyn, a Canadian, points out that Americans “increasingly live in, if not quite yet a post-constitutional republic, at any rate a post-modern one.”[6] Townhall’s Katie Pavlich sarcastically summarized Ginsburg’s position with, “That freedom thing is so overrated,”[7] and at WND, Monte Kuligowski states succinctly in the title of his article that in terms of ideology, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg is Barack Obama.”[8] In the American Spectator, William Tucker called on Justice Ginsburg to resign: “If she can no longer support and defend the Constitution, as she is sworn to do, she should leave now—and take the New York Times with her.”[9]

Even more predictable than the conservatives’ reaction to Ginsburg’s remark was the leftist condemnation of it as right-wing, hateful vitriol. The outcry against Ginsburg, according to this view, was the latest instance of the typical “simple, and false, narrative” of conservatives, which they are “always on the lookout for opportunities to tell.”[10] It was also something of a fabrication—a consequence of the stripped-down interview transcript that the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) made available, which tended to report only the remarks that seemed to show Ginsburg disrespecting the Constitution. (This last, at least, has some truth to it. The MEMRI transcript[11] is a limited excerpt of the whole interview. For this reason, I not only watched the entire interview on YouTube,[1] but from it constructed a complete transcript. This transcript is available below in the notes.[16])

The outrage over Justice Ginsburg’s comment, some say, is misplaced; it infers her viewpoint from a quote that is pulled out of context, ignoring the portions of the interview in which she praised the American system. Furthermore, some may ask, is it not reasonable to question the suitability of American principles when they are applied to Egypt and other countries? Isn’t Justice Ginsburg simply demonstrating logic, objectivity, and broad-mindedness in her consideration of foreign constitutions? 

Even some non-leftist commentators took the conservatives to task for their criticism. Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe writer with whom I often agree, wrote, “I’m not a fan of Ginsburg’s jurisprudence. I find her too left-leaning and too inclined to see the Constitution as an ‘evolving’ document that can be interpreted in the light of foreign law. . . But to accuse her of insulting the Constitution or being ‘mealy mouthed’ in its defense is absurd. As anyone watching the full Ginsburg interview can see, she went out of her way to praise the US system.”[12] 

Is this correct? Was Ginsburg’s comment simply a seemingly inflammatory remark pulled out of context? Did Justice Ginsburg’s interview, taken as a whole, actually amount to manifest praise of American principles, with this strange and contradictory remark being either misunderstood or ultimately insignificant?

To answer this, first let us consider what “out of context” means. When a quote is pulled out of context, it means that it is separated from adjacent facts or statements that impart information essential for grasping the meaning of the quote; this isolation of the quote from relevant facts causes a distortion of the original meaning, which is precisely why it is deceptive and wrong to deliberately quote someone out of context.

However, a quote cannot be dismissed as being “out of context” simply because it is revealing. It is the responsibility of a journalist to convey a passage with fidelity, but not to resolve the contradictions of the person he is quoting. The fact that elsewhere in the interview Justice Ginsburg said some nice things about the Framers and the Constitution, praise that was not reported by MEMRI or the conservative pundits, does not mean that her sentiment is “out of context.” The criticisms I saw did not accuse Justice Ginsburg of being thoroughly, slavishly anti-American in her every utterance; there is no comparison to a Michael Moore or a Noam Chomsky. The criticisms took her at her word; they reported Justice Ginsburg’s statement as if it conveyed her sentiments on the matter, which it does.

The quote that spread like wildfire in conservative circles is essentially self-contained, and it precisely expresses Justice Ginsburg’s views on the matter; there is certainly nothing deceptive or distorting in it. It is a direct answer to a direct question: When asked for her advice in constructing a new constitution for Egypt, Ginsburg said very plainly that she would overlook the United States constitution in favor of more recent documents, including the South African constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the European Convention on Human Rights. Period.

In order for the quote to be deemed “out of context,” it would have to be the case that Ginsburg’s opinion is actually quite different from her reported words—for instance, if she really thought that Egypt should model its constitution after the one she swore to defend, but somehow her words were twisted to make it seem like she advised using more recent, non-American documents. But this is not the case. Justice Ginsburg made her point quite clearly, and supported it with a logic that should resonate quite well with the modern relativist: “I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others,” she said by way of explanation.

Therefore, if conservatives have leaped to “gang up on Ginsburg,” as Jacoby put it, they have done so by shining a light upon, not obscuring, her meaning. There is nothing unfair about it. The leftist denunciations of Ginsburg’s critics are groundless, amounting to alternating ad hominem attacks and irrelevant claims purporting to cast her position as pro-American—or, at least, to muddy the water enough to make her seem like she is not un-American.

This is not to say that conservatives are universally correct in their evaluations; on the contrary, they may very well base their criticisms upon foggy or invalid premises. (I am not a conservative and cannot speak for them. Many conservatives, for instance, hold the U.S. Constitution with the same white-knuckled fervor as they hold the Bible—as if the law of the land were a quasi-scriptural absolute that should be unquestionably obeyed. My view is that the Constitution is good because it is based on the objectively valid principle of individual rights—not the other way around.) Ultimately, though, the leftists’ defense of Ginsburg fails because the Supreme Court Justice’s viewpoint is fundamentally anti-American. Justice Ginsburg’s comments in the full context show her to hold fundamental premises that are diametrically opposed to the principle that is the soul of America: individual rights

To Ginsburg, the very antiquity of this “rather old constitution” constrains the instrument. The ideas that underpin the document—the Enlightenment concept of individual sovereignty, the notion that the law must free a citizen from, not relegate him to, a condition of perpetual servitude—are old-fashioned and simple-minded to her. Universal truths afford expression in a few all-encompassing words—an alarming discomfort to a modern, “progressive” intellectual, and vexingly inconvenient for an executive, legislature, and judiciary that prefers the authoritarian obscurity and comforting flexibility of minutiae. The Rights of Man, the idea, is a clearing; the 20th-century concept of “human rights” is a jungle that encroaches upon it. The former is bathed in light, illumined by Reason; this radiance cannot penetrate the latter—the better for creatures that scurry for cover beneath its myriad laws and regulations. On the one hand is a single sentence in the Declarationon the other, the Federal Register in its tens of thousands of pages.

Crucially, our old-fashioned Constitution, which the New York Times derides as having “seen better days,” does not exhibit the flexibility of modern charters. The Framers did not conceive of the relativity of cultures and morality, nor did they imagine “rights” to goods and services that supersede fundamental freedoms of action. Above all, nowhere to be found in that remote birth of the United States is the idea that the state may use the force of law to impose itself upon citizens as if it were a parent of helpless children. The Founders would have been dismayed to know that the age-old tyranny of kings, which they threw off at so dear a cost, would be replaced by a tyranny of a different sort: a tyranny of the “public good,” a democratic and thoroughly modern tyranny, a behemoth, a leviathan proffering a maternal breast swollen with the forced labor of all, from which the willing suck greedily and beneath which the unwilling are crushed.

Returning to Justice Ginsburg, we understand from her words that the United States Constitution is too limiting a document to recommend as a practical foundation for a modern country. But in what respect is it limiting? I do not think she feels that the governments’ powers are too limited, at least not directly; she is not power hungry in the same manner that most politicians are today (Barack Obama being a prominent example). On the contrary, in the interview Ginsburg praised the separation of powers, the checks and balances, and the independence of the judiciary with an emphasis and sincerity that was surely genuine.

No, the limitation that Ruth Bader Ginsburg perceives in the United States Constitution is what she regards as the inadequacy of its underlying principles. The concept of individual rights—the idea that every person has a right to his life, his property, and the pursuit of his own happiness—evidently seems outmoded, old-fashioned, and incomplete to the Supreme Court Justice. What our Constitution lacks, in her view, is the modern, collective concept of “human rights”—and that is precisely what the South African, Canadian, and European documents bring to the table.

The South African Constitution of 1998 enumerates these alleged “rights.” Everyone has the right, it claims, to “have access to” health care services, “adequate” housing, “sufficient” food and water, “social security,” a “basic” education, “fair” labor practices, and an “environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.”[13]

Who is to determine what levels of these services—exacted by force from those who produce them and demanded by right by those who did not—are “basic,” “sufficient,” “adequate,” and “fair”? The democratic state. What constitutional principle, in this system, protects an individual from having his life and livelihood—his person and property—disposed of at the whims of a government claiming to speak for the people? Why, nothing at all. “Property may be expropriated only . . .for a public purpose or in the public interest”—which is the same as saying that one’s life and labor belongs to the state, to be doled out in whatever manner the state deems to be in the “public interest.”

Perhaps it is this concept of “human rights” enshrined in the South Africa constitution—this utter inversion and corruption of individual rights—that Justice Ginsburg feels is lacking in her own limiting, constraining Constitution.

There must be other shortcomings, too. For instance, unlike the U.S. Constitution, the Canadian Charter explicitly institutionalizes discrimination based upon race, sex, ethnicity, etc. The declaration in Section 15, Subsection 1, that every individual is equal before the law, is followed immediately by a statement that utterly reverses it: “Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”[14]

Stop a moment to regard the audacity of this contradiction and the naked power grab that it represents. It states, in effect, that all individuals are equal before the law . . . except if the government chooses to hand out favors or punishments to certain citizens because of their race, religion, sex, age, heritage, or disability. What conceivable government program could not be excused under the cover of this carte blanche?

The United States Constitution lacks this alleged “right” to tear the blindfold from Lady Justice’s eyes so that she may deliver rulings in favor of a religious group because of its religion and an ethnic group because of its ethnicity. The Constitution was created for precisely the opposite purpose: to protect the rights of all individuals and to be completely blind to such things as race, religion, or creed. The “preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage” has no place in the law of a civilized nation because its implementation necessarily violates individual rights.

Let us finally turn to the third document Ginsburg mentioned. What is it in the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950 that Justice Ginsburg admires above our own law of the land? Perhaps it is Article 4, the prohibition against slavery, that she sees as “righting a wrong” that plagued our own Constitution. If so, she is dreadfully mistaken.

This article holds, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude,” and “No one shall be required to perform forced of compulsory labour”—except in the cases of detention, war, emergency, and  “any work or service which forms part of normal civic obligations.”[15, emphasis mine]

Again, the brazen seizure of power is stunning. This passage, which purports to prohibit slavery, is actually a limitless, legal institutionalization of universal thralldom. Men are granted freedom for a purpose: to become slaves of the collective. There is absolutely nothing that cannot be construed as a “civic obligation”; thus, there is absolutely no labor that the government cannot demand of its citizens under this appalling principle. The grotesque corruption of the concept of rights that is expressed in the European Convention is precisely what the United States Constitution does not in its essence hold—and perhaps this is what Justice Ginsburg finds so wanting in her “rather old” document.

On the topic of slavery, Justice Ginsburg apparently does not hold the perspective (as I do) that from the outset, the United States Constitution enshrined a single principle that is objectively universal and true: individual rights; that the expression of this principle in political form utterly vanquished slavery as no other document before it or since, implicitly identifying the freedom of action due every human, man and woman, black and white, young and old, religious and secular; and that the passages of our Constitution excusing or overlooking the ongoing practice of racial slavery at the time were abominable contradictions to that fundamental principle.

Instead, Justice Ginsburg views our Constitution as a collection of brilliant but sometimes flawed principles that are gradually corrected over time by the democratic process—generally, by majority rule and numerous bureaucratic processes set by lawmakers. To Justice Ginsburg, principles are true not by correspondence to facts but by reference to opinion (public or scholarly); the universal is determined not by an objective application of logic but by the inexorable expression of the Zeitgeist.

Hence, when asked explicitly by the Egyptian interviewer about which standards ought to be considered when his country constructs its constitution, Justice Ginsburg did not mention individual rights—the single principle that distinguishes America from the rest of the world. She gave brief lip service to the Framers’ writing “in general terms” and spent the remaining portion of her time on Egyptian television cataloguing the various failings of the United States’ founding—the lack of women present at the Constitutional Convention, for instance, or the slave trade, or the relative barbarity of punishments like “twenty lashes.”

The Framers of our Constitution could not have imagined or understood the “progressive” views today because they could never, even in their darkest moments, have brought themselves to have so much contempt for ordinary people. The Founders were men of the Enlightenment; they saw men as good, independent, efficacious, productive, capable of great things. The modern documents that Justice Ginsburg admires reflects the modern view of men as weak, incompetent hothouse flowers, eternally dependent upon the state for their basic needs.

In the final analysis, Justice Ginsburg’s interview shows her to hold a very specific set of ideas. These ideas may with justification be said to be intellectual, uncontroversial, popular (even fashionable), sensitive to international opinions, and conforming to all modern standards. They may be regarded as accurately expressing the consensus in America today and in democracies throughout the world. They may be widely applauded as reflecting what is today called the spirit of “cooperation” and “tolerance” among nations, of “fairness,” and of “diversity.” They cannot, however, be said to be American in any meaningful sense.

On the contrary, it is profoundly un-American for Justice Ginsburg to regard the modern documents she cited as offering enlightened improvements to the United States Constitution. To believe that a man has a right to food, clothing, and shelter is to believe that another man must be forced to provide it for him—which is equivalent to believing that men have no rights at all. To believe that the essence of a man is his membership in a group is to sever him from rights, which apply only to individuals. To favor the modern concept of “human rights” is to eviscerate the very concept of rights—the essence of the United States of America—at its root.

1. YouTube video, “U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Interview with Al Hayat TV in Egypt,” USEmbassyCairo channel, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzog2QWiVaA.

2. “Ginsburg to Egyptians: I wouldn’t use U.S. Constitution as a model,” Fox News Politics, February 6, 2012, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/02/06/ginsburg-to-egyptians-wouldnt-use-us-constitution-as-model/.

3. Transcript from Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, February 7, 2012, http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2012/02/07/the_constitution_is_an_impediment_to_libs. Limbaugh followed this comment with a profoundly astute declaration of the morality of the Constitution: “The Constitution raises up the individual over the state, enshrines the whole notion of the pursuit of happiness, which you may think that’s just a throwaway phrase. . . It is a major reason why this country has become a superpower in so few years. . . Yes, it’s freedom, but it’s the definition of freedom vis-a-vis the state. Right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. It is fundamental.” Bravo, Mr. Limbaugh!

4. “Justice Ginsburg: ‘I Would Not Look to the U.S. Constitution,” Heritage Foundation blog, The Foundry, February 8, 2012, http://blog.heritage.org/2012/02/08/justice-ginsburg-i-would-not-look-to-the-u-s-constitution/.

5. The New York Times article is “‘We the People’ Loses Appeal With People Around the World,” by Adam Liptak, February 6, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/07/us/we-the-people-loses-appeal-with-people-around-the-world.html?_r=2&scp=1&sq=we%20the%20people%20loses%20appeal&st=cse.

6. Mark Steyn, “Non-Worthwhile Canadian Initiative,” National Review Online, February 7, 2012, http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/290436/non-worthwhile-canadian-initiative-mark-steyn.

7. Katie Pavlich, “Ginsburg: Yeah, the U.S. Constitution Isn’t All That Great,” Townhall.com, February 6, 2012, http://townhall.com/tipsheet/katiepavlich/2012/02/06/ginsburg_yeah_the_us_constitution_isnt_all_that_great.

8. Monte Kuligowski, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is Barack Obama,” WND Opinion, February 13, 2012, http://www.wnd.com/2012/02/ruth-bader-ginsburg-is-barack-obama/.

9. William Tucker, “Justice Ginsburg Should Resign,” The American Spectator, February 8, 2012, http://spectator.org/archives/2012/02/08/justice-ginsburg-should-resign.

10. David Lyle, “Selective (And Misplaced) Outrage: The Right-Wing Freakout Over Justice Ginsburg’s Comments in Egypt,” February 9, 2012, MediaMatters for America, http://mediamatters.org/blog/201202090010.

11. “US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Egyptians: Look to the Constitutions of South Africa or Canada, Not to the US Constitution,” excepts from an interview which aired on Al-Hayat TV on January 30, 2012, The Middle East Media Research Institute, http://www.memritv.org/clip_transcript/en/3295.htm .

12. Jeff Jacoby, “Ganging up on Ginsburg—way too quickly,” The Boston Globe, February 8, 2012, http://articles.boston.com/2012-02-08/opinion/31034513_1_constitution-justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg-guarantee-freedom.

13. Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996, pp.6-8, “Constitution of South Africa unpan005172.pdf.”

14. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Department of Canadian Heritage, p. 3, “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.pdf.” The South African constitution, by the way, contains the very same principle in its “Equality” section [Note 13, p.4], with its contradiction so brazenly manifest it could easily be mistaken as a satirical exaggeration: “9. (3) The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly . . .” and “(5) Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in subsection (3) is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.” In other words, state discrimination is unfair unless it is established, by the state, to be fair.

15. European Convention on Human Rights, Council of Europe Publishing, p.7, “European Convention on Human Rights ENG_CONV.pdf.”

16. Below is my unofficial transcript, which I derived from the video.[1] “AH” refers to the Al Hayat interviewer and “RBG” refers to Justice Ginsburg. I put time stamps in brackets for the convenience of viewers looking for particular sections.

AH: [1:16] It’s really a pleasure to be talking to you, Honor, here today in Cairo, and I was just having my introduction maybe linking your visit to what we can call a very important phase in the time of our country, which is the constitution. Can we have the link between your visit to Cairo—it’s the first of its kind—to the discussions that we’re having about the constitution?

RBG: [1:44] It’s a very inspiring time—that you have overthrown a dictator and that you are striving to achieve a genuine democracy. So, I think people in the United States are hoping that this transition will work and that there will genuinely be a government of, by, and for the people.

AH: [2:10] How can we understand your schedule of the visit? What’s the main goal of the visit? It’s the first of its kind, for you here in Egypt.

RBG:[2:23] It’s mainly for me to understand something about what is happening in Egypt now, to have exchanges with law professors, law students, judges, and get their impression of the transition process.

AH: [2:43] Have you formed an idea through the meetings that you had during your visit? Have you formed an idea about the process that we’re trying to establish in regards to the constitution?

RBG: [2:56] I met with the head of the election commission. I think that the first step has gone well, that elections have been held for the lower house that everyone has considered to be free and fair—so that’s one milestone—and the next will be the drafting of a constitution. But I can’t speak about what the Egyptians experience should be because I’m operating under a rather old constitution. The United States in comparison to Egypt is a very new nation, and yet we have the oldest written constitution still enforced in the world. And it’s a constitution that starts out with three wonderful words: it’s “We the People.” And so that’s the [indistinguishable word, sounds like “moding,” though “motivating,” recorded in some transcripts, makes sense] idea, it’s that the government is formed with the consent of the people, and it should serve the interests of the people and not just—of all of the people and not just some of them.”

AH: [4:12] This is a very challenging moment for us here in Egypt and I would like to ask your Honor about your ideas about how to draft a constitution, away—or how can we protect the process of drafting a constitution away from the political powers that are on the scene? How can we draft a constitution away from all that?

RBG:[4:36] Let me say first that a constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom. If the people don’t care then the best constitution in the world won’t make any difference. So the spirit of liberty has to be in the population. And then the constitution: first it should safeguard basic, fundamental human rights. Like, our first amendment is the right to speak freely, to publish freely without the government as a censor. One of my favorite provisions in our constitution is the one that says that government shall not deny to any person the equal protection of the laws. Then, another part that’s most significant for me—in our constitution, the body of the constitution has three articles; the first one is about the legislature, the next about the executive power, the president, and the third about the judiciary, and the guarantee of independence to federal judges is secured by two provisions: one is that we hold our offices, the constitution says, ‘during good behavior’—that means we have life tenure. And the second is that our salaries can’t be diminished while we hold office. That means the political branches can’t act against the judges if they are displeased with—for example, if we should hold a law passed by Congress unconstitutional. So judicial independence, I think, is very important in a democratic system.

AH:[6:45] I would like to know your thoughts. What are the most suitable environment to draft a constitution, or the perfect environment to draft a constitution, that can deliver all the goals that you are talking about to society?

RBG:[7:04] In the case of the United States, it was well over two centuries ago, the Framers gathered in Philadelphia, and some of the most brilliant minds of the day were together there, and they debated, made many compromises, and came up with an instrument that endured, But I think it was in part the experience that they had had before the constitution—that was the Articles of Confederation—that gave very little power to the central government, most to the states, it didn’t work. So they were determined then to create something that would work. They weren’t sure that it would. One of the famous drafters, Benjamin Franklin, said, “Now we have a Republic, if we can keep it.” And we have kept it over these many years. One of the aspects of our constitution is it gives each branch of government a foothold in the other. So the Congress makes the laws, but the President has the power to veto the laws. Congress passes a law, but the judges will review it for constitutionality. On the other hand, the Executive has a role in appointing all judges. All federal judges in the United States are appointed by the President with the approval of the United States Senate, the Upper House. So we begin as appointees of the President, the Executive, and then the Legislature has to approve the appointment and after that we have our independence. So it’s separation of powers—Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary—but there are checks and balances so that each branch of government has some foothold in the other and that idea is that no branch of government should be all-powerful, should be able to eclipse the other branches.

AH:[9:28] Would your Honor’s advice be that a society like ours, with what we call—with what we like to call—a transition to the Second Republic, would your Honor’s advice be to get a part or use other country’s constitutions—maybe the United States or other countries—as a model, or we come up with our own methods and our own draft?

RBG:[9:54] You should certainly be aided by all the constitution writing that has gone on since the end of World War II. I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recently than the US constitution—Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. So, yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world? I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.

AH:[11:05] I understand you have a meeting tomorrow with law students. . .

RBG: Yes.

AH: . . .and let me try and have a step ahead. I’m sure tomorrow in your discussions they would like to ask you about your opinion about if it’s best to have a constitution drafted before having a president—because we have this conversation—they would be asking for your advice about that. What would you reply for that?

RBG:[11:31] I can’t give advice for the Egyptian society.

AH: I mean legally speaking, constitutionally speaking.

RBG:The United States had a constitution setting up the government before it had a president. Nobody knew quite what it was going to be, but we had the Constitution. And then the Constitution—because the United States is a federal system—it had to be ratified by the states. And people—there’s a famous set of essays called the Federalist Papers. In the interval between when the Constitution was drafted and when it went into force there was much discussion in the whole country. The people, the press was writing about it and people were coming to understand what it was. So it’s a little hard for me to understand a constitution that’s going to be written between now and June and go into force all at once. The people need to understand what the constitution is, what the government will be like under the new constitution.

AH:[12:46] You were talking now about the best thinkers or the best brains that gathered together and wrote the U.S. Constitution, drafted the U.S. Constitution. Are there certain standards that you believe should be available in the committees or the gatherings, of such contributors to drafting the constitution. What standards should be?

RBG:[13:08] I would not make a list of essential criteria. I would try to have the convention representative, come from different parts of the country, having had different backgrounds, different experiences. We were just tremendously fortunate in the United States that the men who met in Philadelphia were very wise. It’s true that they were lacking one thing: that is, there were no women as part of the Constitutional Convention. But there were women around who sparked the idea. John Adams, who was one of our early presidents and instrumental in the Constitutional Convention, his wife Abigail Adams was a very well-known woman, very intelligent. She said, “Now, John, when you write that constitution, please remember the ladies.” And he wrote back something amusing; he said, “Are you suggesting that women should be part of the political community? That they should have the right to vote? Well, if we do that, then everyone will be claiming that right. Twelve-year-old boys will be claiming the right.” He treated it as a joke, but there have been women through the ages who have kept alive this idea that our nation should profit from the talents, the brainpower, of all of its people. And so we have become a more perfect union in that respect. I quoted the beginning of the Constitution, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union” —and then they established the Constitution, but I think that the Constitution—our constitution—we are still forming a more perfect union. If you go back to when the Constitution was new, in the 1780’s, we still had slavery in the United States. The Constitution, of course, has changed in important respects, but in the pocket Constitution I carry around it still has that the slave trade was preserved until the year 1808, that there was what we call the Fugitive Slave Provision—if a slave escaped from a slave state into a free state, the master would have a right to sue in the free state to get his property returned. We keep those provisions, although they’re no longer enforced, just so people would see how imperfect we were and how much more perfect—we are still not all the way there, but the genius of the Constitution, I think, is that it has this notion of who, who composes “we, the people.” It has expanded and expanded over the years so now it includes people who were left out at the beginning, native Americans were left out, certainly people held in human bondage, women, people who were newcomers to our shore. So, the wisdom of the Framers—they wrote in general terms, so they wrote no person shall be denied due process of law. Well, what what due process of law in those times? There were some pretty awful punishments, and today, certainly we would not consider that proper. The provision specifically dealing with punishment is there shall be no cruel or unusual punishment. Way back in the 18th century, twenty lashes was not considered cruel and unusual; today it would be unthinkable. So, these grand general ideas that become more effective over the course of now some more than two sometimes turbulent centuries.

AH:[17:26] Justice Ruth Ginsburg, we thank your Honor very much for being with us on al Hayat television and on al Hayat [indistinguishable word] program. Thank you very much.

RBG:[17:35] It was a pleasure to talk to you.

AH: Thank you.