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Archive through December 02, 2002

Sepulchritude Forum » The Absinthe Forum Archive thru January 2003 » The Monkey Hole » Sniper suspects arrested » Archive through December 02, 2002 « Previous Next »

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_Blackjack
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2002 - 4:21 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

As a "citizen" our rights are bestowed upon us by God.



The language that is usually used is "endowed by his creator", which has a slightly different connotation. Your language implies that the rights were given to us by a specific deity, that the rights are something seperate from the people that a god has the power to give and take away. The language I've quoted implies that the rights are a quality innate in the act of creation, that when man came into being, he came into being with rights just as much as he came into being with a nose. Rights are not a frosting placed on the cake of mankind by a divine pastery chef; they are part of the batter.

Didn't mean to trump you, but I'm no more comfortable with the idea that YHVH can take away my rights than I am with the idea that a king can. At least I can chop off the king's head...
_Blackjack
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2002 - 4:10 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

Where is that point?



The point at which it does direct harm to an unwilling person.
_Blackjack
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2002 - 4:07 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

The right to own a gun or the right to engage freely in the activities listed above?



Well, MOST of those activities (except the cannibis) are legal in most of the United States. Only a handful of states still have sodomy laws, and fewer still enforce them. And, as it happens, Alabama's law banning sex toys was recently ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. Proof that the system works, if I've ever heard it.

One of the drawbacks to our federal system is that it allows the states to legislate matters which the federal government constitutionally cannot, but one of the nice improvments we've made over the years (15th Ammendment) allows the federal government to step in if they legislate something that deprives people of their basic rights (including, it seems, the right to use a dildo).

This also creates a fair amount of variation in freedoms depending on where you are. Sure, London is more free than Salt Lake City, but is it more free than San Fransico or (pre-Giuliani) Times Square or Las Vegas?

Maybe it's a matter of scale. It might well be possible to run a country of 60 million by your system, but I suspect it would get harder with 280 million. There is too much potential for abuse, especially at the state and local level, for there not to be clearly-defined limits.

It can go too far, of course. The constitution of Virginia (originally constructed by none other than Thomas Jefferson) is structured in such a way that the legislature has to ammend to constitution (requiring a popular vote) in order to accomplish much of anything, and ammending it has become so commonplace that people don't give it the kind of consideration that they ought.

Here's a little tidbit from Virginia's constitution, which gives a pretty good perspective on the intent of the right to bear arms:

"That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power."

The "standing army" bit is especially interesting. It's pretty clear that the founding fathers did not intend the federal government ot maintain a large standing army, but they failed to forbid it explicitly in the constitution (there is a limit on the length of time that Congress can appropriate funds for an army, but that's it), and look where that's gotten us. I think Jefferson realized that if you have enough professional soldiers sitting around, you're going to find some way to use them.
Greenmeanie
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2002 - 3:29 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

H,

Sorry, coupla last minute musings that came to me in traffic on the way home.

As a "subject" you have no guaranteed rights. Your rights are doled out to you by a, hopefully, benevolent ruler. Be it King, Queen, Prime Minister, etc.

As a "citizen" our rights are bestowed upon us by God. If a President or congress tries to take these away from us our first recourse is through legal action in the courts. At times it works well and at times it does not.

As far as permissiveness is concerned. Every society/country must have some laws. If it has no laws and everyone does as they please then you have anarchy.

If you like the freedoms you have, great. If you live in a country that you are not thrilled with then you have several choices. Vote and change it. Revolt and overthrow it. Move and get to something better. Lastly, suck it up and shut up.
_Blackjack
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2002 - 3:25 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

Do you really think that Hitler would have abided by a stronger German constitution?



A stronger constitution would have placed enough power in other bodies of the government that he would have had a harder time doing so. But, as I've said again and again, a constitution is not a 100% guarantee against dictatorship, any more than elections, free speech, or the right o bear arms are. But it's better than having no obsticles to dictatorship at all, isn't it?


Quote:

The general European understanding of just left of centre is democratic Socialism.



Yeah, but there are also outright fascists being elected in parts of Europe, and others who are closer to fascism than anyone who would ever get elected here. (We have our Bat Buchannans and Pat Robertsons, even our David Dukes, but none of them get into office, inshallah...)

Of course, Europe also produces people like Pim Fortuyn, who defied any conventional definition. My point is that the US has a much narrower, more consistant spectrum of political views, and while this can be maddening when you are trying to convince them to, say, provide universal health care, it beats having to worry if the next regime is going to nationalize industries on one hand or try to kick out the immigrants and supress dissent on the other.

Idealist discussions aside, on a practical level, I am VERY glad we have our constitution, because if the incoming congress could pass any law they wanted, we WOULD end up moving rather far right. It works for us pretty well. Obviously, it is up to the people of a nation to decide how their government will be constructed, and you guys seem comfortable with what is essentially playing it by ear.

This entire discussion has evolved from my attempt to illustrate the fundemental differences in the views towards government between our two cultures, and I think it has done a pretty good job. You trust your government a lot more than we do. So far both approaches have worked pretty well, since neither of us have fallen into outright tyranny. In terms of the overall safety of the citizens, you are probably better off overall, but over here we are very fond of quotes to the effect that people who give up liberty for safety deserve neither.

PS: I suspect that most Europeans view the difference between the two US parties the way Hindus probably view the differences between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

"So you worship the same god?"
"Yes."
"And you all think he is the only one?"
"Uh-huh."
"And you all share at least one sacred text?"
"Well yeah..."
"Well, what's the difference, then?"
"Um, well, they don't eat pork..."
Greenmeanie
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2002 - 2:14 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Lord H,

Sodding the gun might be fun! Don't knock it till you've tried it.

But seriously. All the anti-sodomy/buggery laws are ignored. Except maybe in deepest Alabama but then it's ok if you are no further removed than 2nd cousins. As far as pot and prostitution are concerned I say legalize 'em.

There are NUMEROUS laws on our books that are beyond antiquated. For one reason or another they have never been removed from the books. These laws are ignored by the judiciary and any law enforcement entity that would try and effect an arrest using one of these laws would be thrown out of court on it's arse. I'm sure the UK must have ONE or TWO of these types of laws also, eh?!

HOWEVER, at what point do you draw the line with all this "if it feels good, do it" stuff? It's gotta stop at a point. Where is that point? Honestly, I do not have the answer. I do know stuff like kiddie porn and kiddie diddling are WAAAYYY past that point (just to cite an example).

I'll keep my guns, I'll keep my country (granted it ain't perfect) and I'll keep buggering any girl who wants it! ;-)
Greenmeanie
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2002 - 2:01 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Lord H,

NO constitution, in and of itself, will prevent, or stop, a dictatorship. This is the reason that our Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment into our constitution. It has been called our "Liberty Teeth". The 2nd Amendment, amongst other things, was designed to give the citizenry the ability to defend from/overthrow an opressive government. By force if necessary. If you doubt that this was their intention I invite you to read the Federalist Papers. You will be provided with a marvelous look into the thought processes of the Founding Fathers. There is more to the Second Amendment (and our whole Constitution) than first meets the eye.

One VERY important factor to remember when reading the 2nd Amendment (and the whole Constitution). You CAN NOT apply today's common definitions to the words contained there in. You need to read it in the context of 200+ years ago. Quick example: Militia does NOT mean National Guard. The National Guard was started around the turn of the 20th century. It meant all able bodied men with the exception of a few appointed officials (who THOSE few are is beyond me!).

I do agree with your assessment of our government from a European stand point. Your center (to us) is quite lefty. Your social security scheme would choke a Democrat. Then again, your taxes are beyond NUTS! However if you want a cradle-to-grave government, you have to pay for it. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying that it's good or bad. I'm just articulating the facts as I see them.

-Green
Lordhobgoblin
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2002 - 1:49 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Greenmeanie,

Call yourself 'citizens', 'subjects' or whatever you like, labels don't matter a shit.

You really think you're so much more free than people in the UK? At least here we can get a blowjob anywhere in the country without breaking the law, women can use dildos legally, gay men can have anal sex at 18, and heterosexual women can have anal sex too (at 16). We don't have to wait until age 21 to legally drink booze and possession of cannabis will not result in a prison sentence (usually no more than a police caution if they bother at all). Oh and (as this is the absinthe forum) I am not breaking any law by buying and drinking absinthe.

What would I rather have? The right to own a gun or the right to engage freely in the activities listed above? Sod the gun I'd rather have fun. It seems your great land of the free has a moral obsession with banning things that give pleasure to the senses.
Lordhobgoblin
Posted on Monday, December 2, 2002 - 1:35 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

Blackjack,

Do you really think that ANY constitution will prevent a dictatorship? For this to happen the would be dictator has to respect the constitution. Do you really think that Hitler would have abided by a stronger German constitution? Like fuck he would have, he'd have torn it up and did what he pleased, and the public would have still backed him. A legally binding document will not stop a dictatorship.

"The US government is much less prone to sudden radical and reactionary swings, so while we may be stuck in a rut just right of center,"

'Just right of centre' you call it! Your centre is a hell of a lot further right than what is considered to be centre in most Western democracies. Blair's 'new Labour' is described as right of centre (by the Digby Jones of the CBI). US Democrats are further right than 'new Labour' (Blair supports a social security level that would make your Democrats recoil in horror). Your current administration is well and truly to the right. The general European understanding of just left of centre is democratic Socialism.
_Blackjack
Posted on Sunday, December 1, 2002 - 3:40 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post

I'm just now reading the constitution of the Weimar Republic and, indeed, it is remarkably weak relative to that of the US. It provides FAR too much power to the President, including the power to disolve the Reichstag and suspend civil rights, powers not granted to the US president by a long shot. It also allows the constitution to be ammended by legislation if passed by a supermajority of Reichstag.

"Art. 114. Personal freedom is inviolable. No restraint or deprivation of personal liberty by the public power is admissible, unless authorized by law."

In other words "the government can't violate your rights, except when it does."

(Incidentally, US Presidents HAVE suspended civil rights, specifically Lincoln during the Civil War, but did so without actual constitutional authority. A failure of the contitutional system? Yep. Never said it was perfect.)

http://www.zum.de/psm/weimar/weimar_vve.php
_Blackjack
Posted on Sunday, December 1, 2002 - 3:11 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

So you believe that the UK is heading towards repressive dictatorship because it doesn't possess a written constitution.



No, geez, I am just saying that you have significantly fewer safeguards in place to prevent that from happening.


Quote:

But hang on a minute, all of these nations had a constitution when these dictators came to power.




Not very good ones, since they did not prevent the dictators from suspending the constitution when they found it convenient. Obviously, no contitution is fool-proof, but if it is contructed with significant seperation of powers, concrete limits on legislative and executive powers, and an ammendment process which requires a very clear consensus over a period of time, it helps.


Quote:

Dictatorships will not be prevented by a written constitution.



They won't be necessarily be prevented by voting, either, but that doesn't mean we should give up elections. As I said, it is a safeguard--one of many--against tyranny, but not a vaccine. I find the threat of a government without defined limits to be greater than the threat from the delay of progress that these limits may cause.

Slow and steady wins the race, after all. The US government is much less prone to sudden radical and reactionary swings, so while we may be stuck in a rut just right of center, we don't have to worry that the next regime is just going to be able to entirely undo what the present one accomplished.


Quote:

To think that a written constitution will in any way save you from dictatorship is extremely naive.



What would you suggest then. By your own admission, the constitution slows the pace of change, so it at least doesn't INCREASE the potential of a shift towards dictatorship. You don't believe in arming the citizenry as a safeguard, either. It's certainly more naive to think that dictatorship can be prevented by electoral power alone than to think it can be prevented by electoral power PLUS other fallbacks.
Greenmeanie
Posted on Sunday, December 1, 2002 - 8:19 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Lord H,

Ever wonder why you Brits are called "subjects" and us Americans are "citizens"!?
Lordhobgoblin
Posted on Sunday, December 1, 2002 - 12:39 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Blackjack,

"Lemme put it this way: would you want to live under a government which had absolute, unchecked power to do whatever it wanted, as long as it was doing what you thought was right? A benign dictatorship is still a dictatorship, and if there is nothing in place to KEEP it benign, it probably won't stay that way."

So you believe that the UK is heading towards repressive dictatorship because it doesn't possess a written constitution. If only the UK had a written constitution then it would not be in such grave danger. Perhaps the new European Constitution being dreamed up by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels will come, like a knight in shining armour, to save us from danger.

Perhaps if the Germans had a constitution it would have saved them from Hitler? Perhaps if the Italians had a constitution it would have saved them from Mussolini? Perhaps if the Spanish had a constitution it would have saved them from Franco? But hang on a minute, all of these nations had a constitution when these dictators came to power.

Dictatorships will not be prevented by a written constitution. Dictatorships arise when suitable social and economic conditions prevail. The would be dictator will take power by force and then use the precious constitution to wipe the shit off his backside. How will the people react to this? If the dictator has enough strength, enough charisma, uses a good PR machine and skilfully plays on national pride then the bulk of the populous will behave like sheep. To think that a written constitution will in any way save you from dictatorship is extremely naive.
_Blackjack
Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2002 - 5:46 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

If I wanted to get a gun I could get one illegally without too much trouble.



Which is why gun control laws don't worry me too much, but your illegal gun supply isn't all that hot, either.


Quote:

Do you really think people would sit around and say "Gee I wish we had a constitution saying that what the government has done is wrong because then we'd be able to rebel with a clear conscience".




No, but at least they would have some other recourse, at least there would be a court system that had the power and responsibility to stop laws which violate the constitution.



Quote:

Well perhaps in the US this is true but government in the UK has (overall, with some blips of course) improved the lot of the less well off in society since the 1940s anyway (and to an extent since the end of the Victorian era).



I'm speaking in terms of a much larger expanse of history and a much wider spectrum of nations. Post-war northwestern Europe is an exception, on a global and historical scale.

And you know damn well that were plenty of people in Belfast in the 1970's who didn't find the British government so benign, and probably would have been glad for some constitutional limits on search and seizure, forced self-incrimination, and arrest without trial.

Lemme put it this way: would you want to live under a government which had absolute, unchecked power to do whatever it wanted, as long as it was doing what you thought was right? A benign dictatorship is still a dictatorship, and if there is nothing in place to KEEP it benign, it probably won't stay that way.
Lordhobgoblin
Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2002 - 9:10 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Blackjack,

"Without some sort of constitutional structure defining what power the government does and doesn't have, your ONLY recourse is rebellion, and since you don't have guns, that's going to be a pretty short fight."

If I wanted to get a gun I could get one illegally without too much trouble. Since rebellion will be illegal anyway if you're going to get involved in armed rebellion you're not going to be bothered that the firearm you wield is an illegal one. Its not like you're going to say to yourself "I wish I could rebel against the government but I'd better not because I'd be breaking the law by obtaining a gun". Gun laws didn't stop rebellion in Ireland.

If Parliament did away with the right to vote then people would rebel against the government. Do you really think people would sit around and say "Gee I wish we had a constitution saying that what the government has done is wrong because then we'd be able to rebel with a clear conscience". People don't need a constitution to tell them when they've been truly shafted.

"But consider that, historically, governments have been far more likely to do HARM to the people than to improve their lives"

Well perhaps in the US this is true but government in the UK has (overall, with some blips of course) improved the lot of the less well off in society since the 1940s anyway (and to an extent since the end of the Victorian era). We have a social security safety net, child benefit, a state pension, public health and education for all, employment legislation, minimum wage, the right to take industrial action through your Trade Union without losing your job etc. etc. A written constitution could well have stood in the way of such social reform, tied the hands of government and as a result lead to a more conservative, less equitable society.
_Blackjack
Posted on Friday, November 29, 2002 - 11:29 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

I do think that holding a written constitution to be a protector of the people is a bit naive.



Hey, if it weren't for our constitution, there would be mandatory prayer in US schools, the Internet would be subject to censorship, abortion would be illegal, flag burning would be a federal offense, and the police would be free to force confessions out of people and search their homes without warrents. How do I know this? Because ALL of these things were enacted or allowed under state or federal laws, only to be overturned as unconstitutional by our courts. Considering that we're looking at at least 2 more years of Republican hegemony, I do NOT want the only thing between me and my fendemental human rights being a majority of both houses and the president's signature.


Quote:

Sure I agree that a free press, protest, petition, litigation, civil disobedience and rebellion are means that people ought to use against government if need be, but the fact that a nation doesn't have a constitution doesn't make these things any less possible.



OK, let's say tomorrow, Parliament passes the
"Nullification of Basic Common Sense Act", which makes it illegal to publically criticize anything Parliament does. What are you going to do about it? Vote them out? Well, gee, sorry, they also just passed the "You Can't Vote Anymore Act". Without some sort of constitutional structure defining what power the government does and doesn't have, your ONLY recourse is rebellion, and since you don't have guns, that's going to be a pretty short fight.

I admit freely that our governmental structure slows reform. But consider that, historically, governments have been far more likely to do HARM to the people than to improve their lies, so you have to risk reducing the government's power to do good if you are going to reduce it's power to do harm.

The abortion issue is a good example of this, I think. I don't want to debate the merits of the issue itself (tho I know we disagree on it), but to a large portion of Americans, the idea of extending government protection to foetuses would be considered "reform". To another large portion of Americans, this would be seen as an extreme imposition on individual rights, and "reform" to them would be laws PREVENTING the government from being able to extend its protection to foetuses. Neither group constitutes an actual majority, but there have ben times in the past several decades when either group might have held enough influence to get a majority or supermajority vote in congress (and definitely in state legislatures). Without some degree of constitutional guidence, something which is a right today could be a crime next year and a right again in a decade.

You have talked about those who have suffered because of our constitutional system, and again I argue that these are illustrations of exactly WHY we need to place very specific limits on the power of the government. Slavery did not continue after the drafting of the Constitution because it FAILED to empower congress to end slavery. It continued because it specifically EMPOWERED congress to facilitate slavery. The 19th Ammendment doesn't GRANT women the right to vote. Go read it. It PROHIBITS the government from preventing people from voting based on sex. The right to vote was always inherent. Without th constitution, there would have been nothing keeping the government from continuing to ignore that right.
Lordhobgoblin
Posted on Friday, November 29, 2002 - 11:39 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

I do think that holding a written constitution to be a protector of the people is a bit naive. A constitution promotes conservatism and a maintenance of the status quo. It can be a great conservative block standing in the way of social reform (slavery, black votes, votes for women etc.). You say the constitution acts to protect people from government wrongs but what about the people who have suffered under the wrongs of your constitution? So it can be ammended to represent the views of the time but such ammendments are a lot more cumbersome and slower to introduce than simply passing a reforming law in Parliament. Meanwhile people suffer due to lack of reform.

My view is that a written constitution ties the hands of reforming governments. A written constitution may well have prevented all the social reforms of the Atlee Labour government in the UK. The social reforms of that government created our welfare state and changed Britain forever. You live in what is arguably the most conservative, right-wing Western democracy. Perhaps the conservative influence of your constitution has contributed to this?

Sure I agree that a free press, protest, petition, litigation, civil disobedience and rebellion are means that people ought to use against government if need be, but the fact that a nation doesn't have a constitution doesn't make these things any less possible.
_Blackjack
Posted on Thursday, November 28, 2002 - 12:31 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

You have a very confrontational view of government per se. You seem to view government and the people as being inherently at odds with each other.




No, I simply recognize that the POTENTIAL for government to be at odds with the people is so great that it is worth having several safeguards in place. Governments which have respected the will and the rights of the people are the exception, not the rule.


Quote:

If you feel you need to apply extremely rigid boundaries to control your government then you believe government cannot be democratic or representative of the people.



No, I would say that government can sometime be something other than democratic or representative of the people, meaning that it is posible for an elected government to disregard the will or good of the people. There are too many examples of this to begin to list.

In addition, I do not believe that the immediate whim of the majority is necessarily equivalent to the will of the people. On Sept. 12, you probably could have gotten a majority of the people in the country to say they were willing to forfeit all sorts of rights which they would not have wanted to lose, in the long run. This is why certain basic rights are specifically enumerated in such a manner that it would take a concerted effort to remove them.


Quote:

If not then surely the people will choose someone else to represent them.




If they are allowed to do so, sure, but the history of elected bodies suspending the electoral process is also pretty damn long. And even if they DO allow elctions, you've still got to suffer through the regime's rule until the next vote, if there are no checks.


Quote:

Rather than the need for a constitution, a legal system which is based on precedent (which ultimately the jury decides) and on a non-presidential (and monarchy free) system of government directly accountable to the electorate through a parliament is more democratic.



I think vesting legislative and executive power in a single body is enormously dangerous, because there is little to check the power of the majority party. As bad a Reagan was, he wasn't as bad as Thatcher, because his power was checked by a congress dominated by the other party, and a relatively centrist Supreme Court.

You seem to be placing way too much faith in the power of the vote as a means of controlling government. Voting is only so effective in the absence of strong protections on freedom of expression, however. Me, I view voting as only one of numerous controls that the people have over the government. Voting is the big one, but there is also the free press, protest and petition, litigation, and if worse comes to worse, civil disobedience and even armed rebellion. Just because your car has a really good steering wheel, that doesn't mean you don't need brakes, after all.

There are a few other means of controlling the government in this country that I am not so comfortable with, since they are far less accessible to the average citizen, like lobbying and campaign contributions. I think our system would work a lot better if the power exerted on elected officials by money could be better controlled. All the more reason to have other checks, I say.

Again, I think this is illustative of exactly the difference in approach to government that lies at the root of the differing views on gun ownership between our cultures. The US came into being out of an act of disobedience towards its government, so our basic view of government IS somewhat adverserial. It seems to work for us, tho. We've made our mistakes (the most glaring of which, slavery, nearly destoyed us), and we have been slow to reform in many respects, but we managed to avoid the pitfalls of 20th century authoritarianism, which is more than can be said for many of the Parliamentary governments of Europe.

There is little more dangerous, in my opinion, than an efficient government.
Lordhobgoblin
Posted on Thursday, November 28, 2002 - 11:29 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

"If you can't see the wisdom of expressly placing limits on government power, and making it difficult for the government to arbitrarily alter or expand its powers, I'm not sure what to tell you."

You have a very confrontational view of government per se. You seem to view government and the people as being inherently at odds with each other. What about this "government by the people for the people" idea? Is it a non-starter? Surely in a 'democratic society' the government will be representative of the people? If you feel you need to apply extremely rigid boundaries to control your government then you believe government cannot be democratic or representative of the people.

In a democracy then surely it is a government's interest to act according to the mandate it has been given. If not then surely the people will choose someone else to represent them. If we throw in the towel of democracy and insist that the only protection from our governments that we can rely on is a set of rigid boundaries to keep them in check then we are accepting that our governments are and will be controlled not by the people but by other interested parties. We are resigning ourselves to being disenfranchised.

Personally I see the role of government not as a body being in conflict with the people but as representatives of the people. Government should be part of the people, not seperate. Rather than the need for a constitution, a legal system which is based on precedent (which ultimately the jury decides) and on a non-presidential (and monarchy free) system of government directly accountable to the electorate through a parliament is more democratic.

As for war with Iraq, we all know that if George Bush wants to go to war with Iraq congress will rubber stamp it. Just the same as if Blair (with no presidential powers himself) wants to go to war then all he needs is the Queen to give him authority to act (on her behalf) under the Royal prerogative and he can go ahead (without Parliament's approval). All those who think that the Queen is just a decorative figurehead with no real power are very much mistaken. The British monarch can (and has done so under the Royal prerogative) wield huge, unaccountable (accountable only to God where royalists believe their power comes from) powers.
_Blackjack
Posted on Thursday, November 28, 2002 - 8:46 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

If you can't see the wisdom of expressly placing limits on government power, and making it difficult for the government to arbitrarily alter or expand its powers, I'm not sure what to tell you. Yes, the system makes some kinds of reform slow, but it also minimizes the damage that the government can do to the people. If our looming conservative legislative majority and conservative chief executive decided tomorrow that it wanted to force all schoolchildren to pray to their god (which they would love to do), our Constitution is structured in such a way that they could not do so. If they tried, our courts would eventually stop them. I think that's a good thing.

Similarly, if Geroge Bush had decided to make war on Iraq without congressional approval (which he threatened to do), our constitution expressly denies him that power and provides congress the power to remove him if he doesn't obey.

Yes, there are circumstances where the constitution is ignored or circumvented, and most of them have lead to either injustice or gross waste. That is exactly the reason that a constitution is necessary. If there was no formal structure defining what the government was and wasn't supposed to do, there would be little recourse against these injustices.

It is obviously not a perfect system, which is why there need to be other safeguards against tyranny, including privately owned weapons, but an imperfect safeguard is better than no safeguard. Are you saying that if the majority of legislators decided tomorrow that they didn't want free speech anymore, that they should be allowed to do so?


Quote:

If you argue that your written constitution is a noble safeguard that is applicable throughout time then surely you would not want to change it or make any ammendments to it.



I argued no such thing. The constitutional structure is like the scientific method. I don't think that the ideas of the original constitution are any more absolutely true than the observations of Newton, but they provide a foundation upon which we can build as new information becomes availible. However, new information must be scrutinized carefully. Just as it requires significant data to prove some new theory, it requires a significant consensus of the governed to make a fundemental change in the structure of government.
Lordhobgoblin
Posted on Tuesday, November 26, 2002 - 10:18 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Blackjack,

"We have, for instance, outlawed slavery, given women the vote, and permitted the federal government to tax our income. Making such changes,
however, requires a clear consensus among the people of the various states."

On the issue of slavery it seems that you had a great deal more trouble outlawing it than the UK had. As for giving women the vote that required (as it did in the UK) a Women's movement with women prepared to break the law to get their point across. Are you arguing in favour of a constitution standing in the way of such things making it difficult for such reforms to take place? Is this extra hurdle standing in the way of reform a good thing? Is a hurdle that stands in the way of ending slavery, black votes, women's votes etc etc. such an honourable and noble thing? Your constitution was written in a time when the world was a very different place.

If you argue that your written constitution is a noble safeguard that is applicable throughout time then surely you would not want to change it or make any ammendments to it. Why bother with ammendments such as 13, 14, 15 or 16? An end to slavery ("importation of persons"), black votes and your automatic right to free speech or own a gun if your State government so decides were not protected by an unammended constitution. And you'd have the benefit of not having to pay national taxes. Why not go back to the basics of the Great and the Good who wrote this Noble constitution?

And what about banning smoking in public places? Surely this is in breach of the 9th ammendment? Surely compulsory military service is in breach of article 13? Why go to the bother of making ammendments anyway? It seems that there is always a way government to get round the wording of the constitution if they want to. All you need to do is to apply a different interpretation to the wording of the constitution. With our English language you can apply many subtly different meanings to any particular word.
Pataphysician
Posted on Tuesday, November 26, 2002 - 8:10 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

"Making such changes, however, requires a clear consensus among the people of the various states."

Except that slavery thing. We had to whack those crackers into submission before they'd agree to change that.
_Blackjack
Posted on Monday, November 25, 2002 - 3:15 pm:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

I would have thought that a person of your liberal persuasion would be more inclined towards adapting laws depending on prevailing circumstance and perhaps a socialist like myself more inclined towards a rigid constitutional approach.



I have no problem with adapting laws. Our constitution has significant facility for just that. We have, for instance, outlawed slavery, given women the vote, and permitted the federal government to tax our income. Making such changes, however, requires a clear consensus among the people of the various states.

Quote:

Despite no constitutional check on the judiciary there is freedom of speech in the UK.



Unless your speech is deemed to be obscene by a judge. I am personally acquainted with a couple of comic-book authors who have seen their work seized and destroyed in Britain and Australia (whose legal structure is similar).


Quote:

As for your constitutional protection over the power of the government to suppress free speech well it didn't do much to stop Joe McCarthy or the HUAC did it?



Yes, as a matter of fact it did, tho it took a shamefully long time to do so. I have no illusions that the system is perfect, but I would be really uncomfortable living under a government where the idea that the government cannot abridge free speech is not part of its basic fabric. I would like there at least to be something in writing so that if the government decides it wants to tromp all over these rights, I can point out what they are doing wrong. And preferably a forum in which to do so--our Supreme Court, whose even most conservative members have consistantly upheld free speech for the last 40 years or so.
Lordhobgoblin
Posted on Monday, November 25, 2002 - 11:36 am:   Edit PostPrint Post

Blackjack,

Britain has no constitutional protection for free speech because Britain has no written constitution. Laws are changeable and things are decided on merit and according to prevailing circumstance. Whether it is better to adapt the way we set our laws according to the times we live in or whether it is better to rigidly stick constitutional laws that were made hundreds of years when circumstances were very different is an interesting point to debate. I would have thought that a person of your liberal persuasion would be more inclined towards adapting laws depending on prevailing circumstance and perhaps a socialist like myself more inclined towards a rigid constitutional approach.

Despite no constitutional check on the judiciary there is freedom of speech in the UK. You can say what you like here, and you have the added benefit that nobody here really gives a stuff what you say anyway. As for your constitutional protection over the power of the government to suppress free speech well it didn't do much to stop Joe McCarthy or the HUAC did it? Just brand what someone is saying as being un-American and your great constitutional safeguard falls flat on its face. What makes you think that your great constitutional safeguard will be offer any more protection in the future than it did in the 1950's?

As for over-censorship of obscene material, well yes, purveyors of kiddy-porn are jailed for a long time, and quite right too. As for pornography in general, while UK sex shops do not provide the same variety of porn as you acn et in Amsterdam's red light district, what you can legally buy will be a lot more liberal than that legally available in many parts of the US.
_Blackjack
Posted on Monday, November 25, 2002 - 10:13 am:   Edit PostPrint Post


Quote:

Well it seems this is a protected right so long as your free speech doesn't involve anything uttering anything communist.



That may have been vaguely true 50 years ago, but it hardly is today. There is a small but active communist party in the US which feels no need to conceal itself. Now,, as for our immigration policy, while I don't agree with it, there is a difference between allowing your own citizens to speak their minds and refusing to let specific foreigners enter.

If you are going to start nit-picking whose nation has more free speech, you are going to lose. Britain has no contitutional restriction on the power of the government to suppress or restrict speech, and judges have nearly unchecked power to declare materials obscene, have them confiscated and destroyed, and have those distributing them jailed.

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