09 10

27 June 2013

Math Today

The instructions were to make up some problems about the "rod picture" I gave him. This is what Hero came up with:

I was a little surprised to see the negative numbers pop up again. We played with those a while back, when he discovered them, but he hasn't brought them up for a long time. Today, he did them spontaneously. He needed a little assistance, which looked like this:

Hero: What's 3-4?

Mom: If I owe you $4, and I give you $3, how may more do I need? 

Hero: $1. [Writes 3-4=1]

Mom: We write it this way. [3-4=-1]

Looking at the conversation now, I think I may need to come up with a better way of explaining what is going on. I think maybe we could use our abacus, and use that to make things more visual. We'll probably do that tomorrow. 

For the other negative problem it went like this:

Hero: [writes] -9 + 4 + 3 + 2= 9

Mom: [puts out blue rod] Let's say I owe you $9. This blue rod is how much debt I have. I pay you $4 [purple rod below the blue], and I pay you $3 [add the green one], and then I pay you $2 more [add the pink rod. Have I given you enough to get to $9 extra? At that point he could see what I was getting at, so he added the slash through the equal sign. 

The other cool thing that came out of this exercise is we had a chance to discuss how it is ok to put an equation on both sides of an equal sign. We use shapes at this point, because that's what they do in Miquan when there is an unknown. 

[] + [] = O + O

However, if you're going to use an equal sign you have to make sure both sides are actually equal, or use the not-equal sign. 

24 June 2013

On Nullification

I love Facebook. I keep in contact with my family better than I would without it. I have reconnected with people that I lost track of, and I love seeing how they are doing. And I do politics on Facebook. Conversations there have been key to my learning. Typically, conversations with people who think I'm completely, absolutely wrong are the ones that I find most profitable. I'm learning to write clearly, to distill my argument to its core, and communicate it as concisely as possible, and these things are tremendously valuable. I owe a debt of gratitude to those folks that keep coming back, in spite of our mutual frustration, to tell me how wrong I am.

Used by permission.
I've been at it again this weekend. The 10th Amendment Center posted about Alaska recently enacting a law nullifying all unconstitutional gun control laws. It's pretty awesome, actually. Wish my State was doing that, but it's not likely any time soon. I shared their graphic (left) and said, "I love it when people not only talk like we have a Constitutionally limited government, but act like it. Gives me hope."

Pretty predictably, I was challenged on it. Nullification makes several of my friends uncomfortable, and no wonder. It's completely outside of the usual "three branches of government with checks and balances" line that we're taught in school. In fact, to really understand it, you have to take the usual understanding of our government and toss it. This is an OK thing to do, because the usual story bears only a superficial resemblance to what things are supposed to be like under our Constitution. But it can be an uncomfortable thing to do. (It can also be exhilarating; there are reasons why America became known as "the land of opportunity.")

So my friend asks me:

I thought Fed trumped State.... thing is, what if you live in a state that hates you or your lifestyle? Move? What if a state seeks to infringe a right?

Good and legitimate questions. I did my best to answer them. I am still very much a student of the Constitution, but I've put some time in on this particular topic.

The federal does trump State. BUT. Only in the specific and limited areas where the Fed is authorized to act. Otherwise, not only is it the State all the way, but federal interference is actually a violation of our highest law. The Supremacy Clause is so misunderstood. Have a look:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.  
US Constitution, Article VII

It's the often over-looked phrase "laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof" that makes the limit, particularly in light of the 10th Amendment, which explicitly states that all powers not otherwise explained are reserved, placing them squarely outside federal jurisdiction.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

US Constitution, Tenth Amendment

Since Congress has a very short list of legitimate powers, there are many areas where States ought to be doing exactly what ALaska is doing here. And many areas of law that desperately need to be nullified. People like to paint nullification as a radical thing, but what do they expect? That the States should roll over and let the Feds walk all over them and usurp authority they were never intended to have? That's what usually happens. That's how the federal government got so overgrown. And it is likely that the process greatly accelerated with the passing of the 17th Amendment, when we switched to direct election of Senators.

In our nation's beginning, and to a certain extent still, there were two types of checks on the growth of the federal government: the horizontal checks, among the three branches that you hear so much about, but there are also vertical checks on its growth that arise through the State-federal interaction. It used to be that, because the States were responsible for the selection of Senators, they had a lot more pull; the Senator that allowed too much federal usurpation would find himself explaining to the very folks that felt the loss first: the State legislature that lost power in proportion to the federal gains. Behavior that tended to make the federal government grow more powerful would also tend to put the Senators that supported it out of a job, thus discouraging federal overreach. Whatever else it did, changing the way we select our Senators effectively booted the State governments, as entities, from the table, stripping them of voice or vote in the federal process. It dramatically shifted the balance of power away from local self-government and towards a powerful central government.

The federal government was never intended to be a powerful national government; if they had tried to sell that kind of agreement, ratification would never have happened. In fact, one of the Anti-Federalist talking points was that the Constitution created a national government, and thus should be quickly rejected. The Federalists were adamant that this is not the case, the Constitution creates a confederacy only, with the Federal government only functioning in a specific, narrow role. The States had recourse, through their election of Senators. Should the federal attempt to do what they ought not, the States could require the Senate to vote against it to check the action. When we switched to direct election of Senators, we crippled that vertical check, and Nullification took on an importance all out of proportion to what it would have originally had.

But even so, Nullification was a mainstream thing, early in our history. The Sedition Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by John Adams, established stiff fines and jail time for speaking and publishing things critical of the Federal government. Jefferson strongly opposed the law.

The judiciary was, for Jefferson, certainly not the answer to such problems. For one thing, the Supreme Court in his day was packed with Federalists who would surely have upheld the constitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts. For another, the Supreme Court was itself a branch of the federal government, and thus not an impartial arbiter. And finally, the judiciary was composed of human beings no different from the rest of mankind. "To consider the Judges of the Supreme Court as the ultimate Arbiters of Constitutional questions," he argued, "would be a dangerous doctrine which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. They have with others, the same passion for party, for power, and for privileges of their corps -- and their power is the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as other functions are, to the Elective control. The Constitution has elected no single Tribunal. I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves."

Nullification, by Thomas Wood, Page 45

The problem of federal overreach, in the case of the Alien and Sedition Acts in gross violation of the 1st Amendment, was one that caused considerable discussion. Jefferson and Madison had considerable correspondence, and Jefferson drafted some resolutions that got passed around quite a bit, eventually becoming the basis of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:

1. Resolved, That the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited sumission to their general [federal] government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they consituted a general government for special purposes -- delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral part, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and means of redress. [Emphasis added]  
(Nullification, Page 47; emphasis in the book.)

 For me, understanding Nullification required a whole new way of looking at the US. So many days we recited in school, "...One nation, under God, indivisible..." but that is not an accurate representation of what the Founders created or the People ratified when we adopted the Constitution. The old documents refer to "these united States" as often as they do "United States," and it's never the United States. They didn't solidify 13 colonies into a single nation, they created a permanent alliance - a confederacy - among 13 independent nations. They didn't do away with the State governments because the vast majority of governance took place at the State level, with primarily foreign interactions (both peaceful and hostile) in mind for the powers delegated to the federal government, though there are a few items intended to regulate - that is, make regular, in the usage of the time - the interactions between the member States. 

The federal government was never intended to be a giver of gifts or a righter of wrongs. Its legitimate scope is extremely limited, with the vast bulk of governance [supposed to be] left to the discretion of the individual State. So, what if your State doesn't like your lifestyle? You can see the answer to that question in slavery. Some places allowed it, some didn't. Certainly that was a way of life to those who practiced it, however distasteful it is to us now. If you don't like the laws in your State you can work to see them changed, or yes, you do have the option of leaving. My husband and I have discussed leaving our State for exactly that reason, more than once. The idea is all the more appealing since we have little hope of effecting the change we'd like to see. We look at things like homeschooling laws and gun laws when we are considering a place in order to get a feel for the laws in the place we're considering. It's certainly not the only thing we consider, but it is a factor. It would take an Act of God to make me move to California because their laws are so hostile to freedom. I want nothing to do with the place. But they have the right of self-governance, and can be like that if they want. 

Certainly some can be done with limiting the Feds by sending the right sort to represent us in DC. But it is also perfectly legitimate to expect that the State will require the federal government to stay within, or at this point it will more often be to return to the limits set forth for it. And those limits, until changed by an authentic act of the People through the amendment process, are the supreme law of the land.

17 June 2013

Exotic Offic Supplies

Office Supplies are wonderful things. Pens, paper, pencils, markers, paper clips, binders, stickers, crayons, erasers...

It's the pens I like best of all.

They come in all sorts of sizes. Tiny pens, fine line (my favorite), bold, somewhere in between. Black pens, blue pens, orange, red, green, purple pink... I have way too many pens. I love smooth ink that floats out of the pen and my thoughts spill with them, a snapshot in words, creeping across the page, the shape of the letters conveying my mood. When money is tight I stay away from the office supplies isles (both of them) at Walmart. It's the height of geekiness, but I can really mess up the budget indulging in new pens.

This year, when the Daddy went to Japan, as usual, he asked me what I wanted. I had just discovered that they use a whole different type of pen. With a brush tip, rather than whatever you call the end of your typical American pen. A nib? A point? I don't know. Anyway. I've been studying kanji (Japanese characters) again, read that they use cool specialized pens to write them, and so that's what I asked him to get me.

Hon, while you're on the other side of the world, could you get me some pens?

And he did. Now I have a whole new type of pen to play with. And brushes, with ink sticks that you rub on wet ink stones to get ink.

They're pretty awesome.

11 June 2013

Shouting "Fire!"

In conversations about Freedom of Speech, and how it shouldn't be messed with, someone inevitably points out, "You can't shout fire in a crowded theater!" I learned something about that cliché today. Turns out, it comes from a Supreme Court case. Who'd'a thunk it?

So, here's the story. It's 1919, and the country has been at war: World War I. The defendants, a Mr. Schenck and Ms. Baer of the Socialist Party, oppose the draft. They made up about 15,000 fliers and mailed them out to folks who had been drafted. The opinion of the court describes the fliers like this:

In impassioned language, it intimated that conscription was despotism in its worst form, and a monstrous wrong against humanity in the interest of Wall Street's chosen few. It said "Do not submit to intimidation," but in form, at least, confined itself to peaceful measures such as a petition for the repeal of the act. The other and later printed side of the sheet was headed "Assert Your Rights." It stated reasons for alleging that anyone violated the Constitution when he refused to recognize "your right to assert your opposition to the draft," and went on "If you do not assert and support your rights, you are helping to deny or disparage rights which it is the solemn duty of all citizens and residents of the United States to retain." It described the arguments on the other side as coming from cunning politicians and a mercenary capitalist press, and even silent consent to the conscription law as helping to support an infamous conspiracy. It denied the power to send our citizens away to foreign shores to shoot up the people of other lands, and added that words could not express the condemnation such cold-blooded ruthlessness deserves, etc., etc., winding up, "You must do your share to maintain, support and uphold the rights of the people of this country."

The defendants argued that their speech was protected by the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court found otherwise. The really interesting thing, though, is that the court admitted that during peacetime this would have been protected speech.

We admit that, in many places and in ordinary times, the defendants, in saying all that was said in the circular, would have been within their constitutional rights.

However, because the nation was at war, the court found that the defendants did not have a right to say what was on their minds. Laws had been passed. (One called the Espionage Act of 1917 and another called the Sedition Act of 1918.) The opinion of the court compared it to falsely shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force. Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., 221 U. S. 418, 221 U. S. 439. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.

In this case, the "substantive evils" are interfering with the nation's draft. That is, it's evil to oppose being forced to risk your life and to kill for a cause you may or may not believe in. Here's the problem: the Constitution should have trumped both of those laws. Have a look at the part of Article VI that's sometimes called the Supremacy Clause:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof ... shall be the supreme law of the land...

So, if there are any conflicts between the Constitution and the laws, then we follow the Constitution. Every time. That's what's supposed to happen. And the First Amendment is crystal clear about what restrictions can be made on speech.

Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ...

"Shall make no law" is unequivocal. There is no wiggle room. There is only one way to understand that. No laws. People can say what they like. That makes people uncomfortable. What about shouting fire? What about libel? Fact is, I don't have all the answers. I know that the conscientious objector was someone that the Founders considered as they were debating and writing the Constitution. Quakers opposed fighting categorically, and I saw that brought up in the notes on the debates. The Founders were interested in preserving the freedom to object.

It is also interesting to note that the Wikipedia article on this indicates that there have been instances of people yelling "Fire!" in a crowd, and in 1913 there was one which resulted in 73 deaths. So the people at that time would have been quite sensitive to that, having just had a deadly example. The thing is, it seems to me that you could build a pretty convincing case for murder charges of some sort in that situation. I think that the public safety aspect could be dealt with, not by forbidding of speech, but by requiring the speaker to suffer the consequences of his actions. That ought to provide the necessary deterrent to keep all but sociopaths from doing that... and sociopaths just don't care, regardless of the outcome. That's why it's considered a pathology.

Also. The "Fire!" analogy sucks. And it's typically misquoted. The next time someone tells me, "You can't shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater," I may just ask them, "What if there IS a fire?" And that's not what was going on in this case anyway. No kittens will have died as a result of this leaflet. The objection of the court was that it could possibly make conscription harder. So? So what if it did? Isn't robust debate and even dissent a part of freedom? Talking about the wisdom of an imperialistic war that would ultimately cost more than nine million their lives seems like a good thing to me. (Much as I hate to agree with Socialists.) Apparently the Supreme Court had other ideas.

In the end, our Constitution says "Congress shall make no law," which means just what it says. If we want to enable them to do things like make dissent illegal (surely an ill-considered action), then we need to use the amendment process.

10 June 2013

Economics 100

Learn Liberty has a pretty cool series of short videos dealing with economics, capitalism, and the relationship of these things to freedom. We're starting with Trade is Made of Win, and following their series. Hero is enthusiastic. We stop and talk them over pretty frequently, and I think he's catching a fair amount of it, which is pretty cool. And it's interesting to me as well; I never took an economics class of any sort, and I've recently been realizing that the relationship between economic liberty and civil liberty is such that they are inseparable.

We also labored through this one. It was harder: there are lots of words that Hero didn't know. But we took it little by little, and he was able to understand enough that he actually wanted to do more. Which I was a little worried about, since he saw the picture of the cool Junks and asked for it, so we did it first, rather than starting with the Trade is Made of Win, like I'd planned.


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