Monday, November 28, 2011

Alice in Liberal Land

By Thomas Sowell

"Alice in Wonderland" was written by a professor who also wrote a book on symbolic logic. So it is not surprising that Alice encountered not only strange behavior in Wonderland, but also strange and illogical reasoning -- of a sort too often found in the real world, and which a logician would be very much aware of.

If Alice could visit the world of liberal rhetoric and assumptions today, she might find similarly illogical and bizarre thinking. But people suffering in the current economy might not find it nearly as entertaining as "Alice in Wonderland."

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the world envisioned by today's liberals is that it is a world where other people just passively accept whatever "change" liberals impose.

In the world of Liberal Land, you can just take for granted all the benefits of the existing society, and then simply tack on your new, wonderful ideas that will make things better.

For example, if the economy is going along well and you happen to take a notion that there ought to be more homeownership, especially among the poor and minorities, then you simply have the government decree that lenders have to lend to more low-income people and minorities who want mortgages, ending finicky mortgage standards about down payments, income and credit histories.

That sounds like a fine idea in the world of Liberal Land. Unfortunately, in the ugly world of reality, it turned out to be a financial disaster, from which the economy has still not yet recovered. Nor have the poor and minorities.

Apparently you cannot just tack on your pet notions to whatever already exists, without repercussions spreading throughout the whole economy. That's what happens in the ugly world of reality, as distinguished from the beautiful world of Liberal Land.

The strange and bizarre characters found in "Alice in Wonderland" have counterparts in the political vision of Liberal Land today. Among the most interesting of these characters are those elites who are convinced that they are so much smarter than the rest of us that they feel both a right and a duty to take all sorts of decisions out of our incompetent hands -- for our own good.

In San Francisco, which is Liberal Land personified, there have been attempts to ban the circumcision of newborn baby boys. Fortunately, that was nipped in the bud. But it shows how widely the self-anointed saviors of Liberal Land feel entitled to take decisions out of the hands of mere ordinary citizens.

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner says, "We're facing a very consequential debate about some fundamental choices as a country." People talk that way in Liberal Land. Moreover, such statements pass muster with those who simply take in the words, decide whether they sound nice to them, and then move on.

But, if you take words seriously, the more fundamental question is whether individuals are to remain free to make their own choices, as distinguished from having collectivized choices, "as a country" -- which is to say, having choices made by government officials and imposed on the rest of us.

The history of the 20th century is a painful lesson on what happens when collective choices replace individual choices. Even leaving aside the chilling history of totalitarianism in the 20th century, the history of economic central planning shows it to have been such a widely recognized disaster that even communist and socialist governments were abandoning it as the century ended.

Making choices "as a country" cannot be avoided in some cases, such as elections or referenda. But that is very different from saying that decisions in general should be made "as a country" -- which boils down to having people like Geithner taking more and more decisions out of our own hands and imposing their will on the rest of us.

That way lies madness exceeding anything done by the Mad Hatter in "Alice in Wonderland." That way lie unfunded mandates, nanny-state interventions in people's lives, such as banning circumcision -- and the ultimate nanny-state monstrosity, Obamacare.

The world of reality has its problems, so it is understandable that some people want to escape to a different world, where you can talk lofty talk and forget about ugly realities like costs and repercussions.

The world of reality is not nearly as lovely as the world of Liberal Land. No wonder so many people want to go there.



America is the land of free speech, sometimes

By: John Stossel

We're proud that America is the land of free speech. That right is recognized in the First Amendment, and we usually take it seriously. It wasn't always the case.

In John Adams' administration, the Sedition Act made it a crime, punishable by fine and imprisonment, "to write, print, utter or publish ... any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government ... or to excite against (it) the hatred of the people ..."

Thankfully, Thomas Jefferson and other libertarians got rid of that law.

Under President Woodrow Wilson, Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for calling for draft resistance during World War I. His conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court, led by that alleged civil libertarian Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Today, fortunately, no one goes to jail for criticizing the draft, or the U.S. government's wars. So we've made progress -- in some areas. But in others, we've regressed. I once interviewed someone who said words are like bullets because words can wound; this justified some censorship in his eyes.

Ugly words in a workplace can indeed make it hard for someone to succeed at work, and racism in school can make it hard to learn. But I say words are words and bullets are bullets. Speech is special. We should counter hateful speech with more words -- not government force.

I discussed this issue with lawyer Harvey Silverglate, who has devoted his career to defending speech. These days, he sees new threats.

"The old threats we managed to beat mostly in court and also in the court of public opinion," Silverglate said. "So the censors have simply come up with new terms for speech they don't like. They call it 'harassment' or ... 'bullying.'"

The "harassment" attack on speech came from feminists who said sex talk in the workplace must be forbidden because certain statements harass women.

"They tried to restrict speech on the theory that harassment may make it impossible for somebody in a historically disadvantaged group to get their work done, to study and get an education."

I pointed out that sexist speech might in fact do that -- if you have a bunch of guys making cracks constantly about women. "You've got a right to respond with horrible speech if you are attacked with horrible speech. As long as that's a two-way street, the First Amendment has worked," he said.

Silverglate was once hired by faculty members at the University of Wisconsin who objected to a speech code intended to protect minorities, women and gays from offensive expression.

"I didn't actually win that battle. You know who won it? A gay student got up and said, 'If you're looking to have a speech code to protect me, don't do it, because I actually like knowing who hates me. It's useful. It tells me when I should watch my back.'"

Silverglate started a group to protect speech on college campuses, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). His co-founder was Alan Charles Kors, with whom he wrote "The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on American Campuses."

FIRE lawyers defended students at Northern Arizona University who wanted to hand out small American flags to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. They planned to distribute the flags outdoors, but it rained. So they went inside the student union, where four different university officials told them to stop.

The students refused, and two were charged with violating the student code. FIRE helped the students get media coverage that pointed out that the First Amendment protects students at public institutions. The school dropped its case against the students.

Several colleges used to have rules requiring that all student protest be held in a small, out-of-the-way "free speech zone" on campus. FIRE mocked these as "censorship zones," and colleges have gotten rid of most of these restrictive rules.

FIRE often strikes blows for free speech simply by bringing unfavorable publicity to a heavy-handed school. As Justice Louis Brandeis said, "Sometimes, sunlight is the best disinfectant."



Chevron RICO suit highlights collusion between trial lawyers, green groups and Ecuadorian court

Trial lawyers typically have the upper hand in litigation built around environmental charges, but they are taking a beating at the hands of Chevron Corp. in U.S. federal courts. Through its discovery efforts, the company has acquired documents that belong to the lawyers for plaintiffs in Lago Agrio, Ecuador that includes evidence of potentially unlawful collusion. Consequently, Chevron has filed an amended RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) complaint that reinforces the case against attorneys and consultants who have orchestrated the anti-corporate campaign.

Chevron is defending itself against allegations that it is responsible for alleged environmental damage in the Amazon region of Ecuador. The litigation began in New York back in 1993, but the case was moved to Ecuador a decade later. Although Chevron has never operated in Ecuador, it purchased Texaco Petroleum in 2001, which was the subject of the initial suit. Plaintiffs accused Texaco of dumping oil-drilling waste in unlined pits they claim later contaminated the forest and caused illness to the local population. In response, Chevron pointed out that Texaco remediated environmental impacts that resulted from its operations. Moreover, this remediation was certified by government agencies in Ecuador.

“All legitimate scientific evidence submitted during the litigation in Ecuador proves that TexPet’s remediation was effective and that the sites it remediated pose no unreasonable risks for human health or the environment,” Chevron officials have pointed out. Moreover, Ecuador’s state-owned company, Petroecuador, was actually the majority owner of the consortium that included Texaco and bears responsibility, with the government of Ecuador, for any environmental damage that has occurred in the region, Chevron has argued.

Nevertheless, in February, an Ecuadorian court in Lago Agrio issued an $18 billion judgment against Chevron. Since then the company has fought back vigorously. It claims the ruling is illegitimate and unenforceable because of documented evidence of fraud on the part of the plaintiffs, the Ecuadorian government and that country’s judiciary. Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York concurred after hearing the evidence and issued a preliminary injunction that barred any attempt to enforce Ecuadorian judgment outside of that country.

In late March, in a related matter, an international arbitration panel at The Hague ruled in favor of Chevron in a separate, $700 million Ecuadorean claim involving previous Texaco work. The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that the Ecuador's courts violated international law.

The amended RICO from Chevron strongly suggests that the plaintiffs’ lawyers and consultants provided “clandestine assistance” to the Ecuadorian court in drafting the judgment against Chevron.

"There is no apparent explanation as to how the judgment would have incorporated these errors and irregularities without cooperation between the Ecuadorian court and the plaintiffs' representatives," stated R. Hewitt Pate, Chevron vice president and general counsel. "This is another instance of the fraud and corruption that have permeated the Ecuadorian judicial proceedings."



Curbing class-action suits that benefit lawyers, but not plaintiffs

Imagine that you get a congratulatory note in the mail because you won a multimillion-dollar settlement in a class-action lawsuit. Only problem is, you didn't even know you were involved in the case, so what does "your" victory mean for you? You get nothing, but the lawyers who brought the lawsuit will be paid handsomely, and some obscure charities also get big financial windfalls. This is precisely what happened not long ago to 66 million plaintiffs covered by a 2009 class-action lawsuit against America Online. The good news, however, is that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out this settlement and in the process placed some much-needed curbs on the use of class-action settlements as vehicles to create charitable slush funds.

This practice of giving undistributed settlement money to third parties (often charities) is known as "cy-pres" (pronounced "see-pray"), which alludes to a French expression for "next best" or "as close as possible." The idea is that in some cases, it is simply impossible or impractical to compensate members of a wronged class, usually because they either cannot be located or don't respond when informed of their status.

In this case, AOL had earned only $2 million on the actions that sparked the lawsuit, which was unilaterally placing ads in the email footers of its 66 million customers. Even a settlement worth 10 times that amount, at 30 cents per plaintiff, would cost more to distribute than it would be worth. In such cases, courts will often allow a cy-pres settlement in which proceeds go to a charity suggested by the plaintiffs or selected by the judge that will at least theoretically benefit the class.

Unfortunately, judges in our system sometimes take liberties with cy-pres awards. In the AOL case, the district court judge approved sending money to a number of local Los Angeles charities whose purposes were completely unrelated to any issues involved in the case, such as cyber-privacy. The district court judge's husband just happened to sit on the board of one of the charities receiving the cy-pres funds.

But then Ted Frank, who heads the justly lauded Center for Class Action Fairness, challenged the settlement and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with him, over the objections of both AOL and the plaintiffs' attorneys. The court noted that the "proposed awards fail to (1) address the objectives of the underlying statutes, (2) target the plaintiff class or (3) provide reasonable certainty that any member will be benefitted."

This ruling is important for two main reasons: First, it establishes that the doctrine of cy-pres does not create a slush fund for lawyers and judges to help the charities of their choice. Second, if the ruling discourages this abuse in the future, it will prevent lawyers taking cases they know won't ever benefit their clients, in the mere hope of generating large cy-pres awards that inflate their own fees. And curbing this sort of lawsuit abuse helps everybody who cares about preserving the credibility of our courts.


There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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