Stuart Zechman: Bill of Rights


Stuart Zechman excepted from Jan 2013 conversation with Jay Ackroyd.

I think that the Second Amendment does matter, because the human right to resist aggression matters.

The kind of society we can be depends in part on deep public awareness of -- an entitlement, if you will-- our rights. A culture in which speech is explicitly guaranteed as a matter of rights, in which restrictions are understood to be the exception, rather than the rule, is different than the sort of place in which the opposite is widely known. Likewise it is with the right of self-defense. A consciously empowered populace is the result of such guaranteed rights --as much as  the rights of privacy or speech or a fair and speedy public trial.



In history previous to the Second Amendment, aristocrats had the privilege of defending themselves. Common people, of course, were required to defer to their betters when attacked.  The right to resist aggression is a people's right, a right intrinsically linked to privacy and bodily autonomy, and one that we should be proud to have guaranteed for ourselves.

Movement liberals --those of us who view the expansive interpretation of the Bill of Rights as an important demonstration of progress-- should consider the importance of the Second Amendment in light of all of the people's hard-won, yet steadily eroding rights. We should remember that the right to resist aggression is a human right.

Social conservatives are the hypocrites who pick and choose their culturally-favored "rights" a la carte, as their ever-shifting orthodoxies demand. Theocrats are the dangerous perverts who would undermine the Bill of Rights in service of their twisted versions of "the public good." Establishment centrists are always ecstatic at the opportunity to impose institutional restraints (private or public) on ordinary people and our rights.

We are none of these. When centrist rags like TIME or the Washington Post burble on about public safety and the need for secret courts, we point to the Bill of Rights. When social conservatives snarl that the people's right to privacy is the construction of "activist judges," we fight them on the grounds of human rights. When the state and powerful private interests conspire to censor and restrict communications technologies according to their whims, we stand up to loudly remind the people that the right to speech is nothing without the right to freely access that which allows us to be heard. We're movement liberals, so we promote all of the people's rights in the Bill of Rights.

How did the left ever acquire the notion that the human right to resist aggression, codified in the Second Amendment, is somehow a right-wing idea?

Stuart Zechman organizes public commentary  at legacy media political blogs, such as TIME Magazine's Swampland. A movement liberal, entrepreneur and technologist, Stuart uses Twitter as a primary communications tool. He posts at Avedon’s Other Weblog and Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism. He occasionally provides short audio commentary. • Follow @stuart_zechman 

Z-Files: Big MacPharma

Mar 7, 2010 - Stuart Zechman offers commentary on Health Care Reform legislation, imagining Big Macs and McDonald's as stand-ins for Big Pharma and medication. Follow @Stuart_Zechman 

Imagine, if you will, that the only food that people have to eat comes
from McDonald's. Now imagine that a strange phenomenon occurs, in which it is noticed (but, oddly, not widely reported) that Americans on the Canadian border seem to stream across into Canada to buy their Big Macs

It is discovered, and the information spreads through word of mouth on the internet, that a Big Mac in Grand Forks, North Dakota costs $7.40, but --incredibly-- McDonald's sells that same Big Mac in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada for $3.90.



Many people continue not to notice this strange situation. After all, most people get their information about McDonald's from the television commercials McDonald's airs, and they don't advertise their Canadian prices during Meet The Press, they advertise their "6 Dollar Menu!" specials. A huge population of Americans don't live near the Canadian border, and so remain unaware that they pay so much more than Canadians for the same sandwich. And, again, somehow these disturbing facts don't regularly make it into newspapers, magazines and television shows that depend on McDonald's for the advertising dollars for which they're starting to starve.

But, more and more, word spreads via new communications technologies that this is the case. Economic data that previously sat in dusty reports waiting for reporters to notice, and publishers to publish, is instantaneously available to anyone online. It is by this new channel that the shocking information starts to come out: the price that McDonald's charges for Big Macs in the United States is almost twice that of every other country that has McDonald's restaurants

The data shows that it's not just Canada. A Big Mac in Switzerland costs $4.41, in France it's $3.61, in Germany it's $3.58, in the UK it's $2.99, in Italy it's $2.68, in Spain it's $2.67, and --unbelievably-- in Japan it's only $2.58 for the same Big Mac.

What's different about these countries?

Lots of things, but one thing they also have in common is that their governments have special ministries set up to negotiate the price of a Big Mac with McDonald's every few years for the entire nation of tens and tens of millions of people.

The reason that the price of a Big Mac in Japan is so low is that their government has decided how much a Big Mac should cost, and told McDonald's that, if they don't like it, the Japanese government will fund a project to make their own McDonald's, complete with Golden Arches and Special Sauce, and that they're pretty confident they can make Big Macs, if they had to. Plus, they don't really respect McDonald's "worldwide patents" on Big Macs. They just don't care. So McDonald's takes the deal, otherwise they'll lose the money, and they know that the Japanese are not f*cking around.

So now it comes time in the United States to deal with the fact that McDonald's expenditures are taking up, like over 16% of the nation's wealth, because we're overpaying for Big Macs, and as the price stays low in other countries, McDonald's keeps raising the prices here to compensate and make more profits. Gradually, and then suddenly, it's getting ridiculous...and scary.  Nobody can continue to bankrupt themselves paying for Big Macs, and so something must be done. The Federal government's "Medi-Mac" program, which feeds people over 65, is going broke in ten years at a desperate pace.

What does the government of the United States do?

Well, they ask economists. The economists put up big, long, complex math equations with Greek letters in them up on white boards and Power Point presentations, and they explain what the symbols mean to government officials.

One of these symbols is for the price of Big Macs, one is for the number of people who need Big Macs, and one is for the number of Big Macs. Then they draw a graph of what that equation looks like, just like kids are forced to do in algebra class. The graph radically curves upwards, like the trajectory if you shot a balloon out of a cannon. 

These economists come from different schools of economic theory, so some economists say "Set the price of Big Macs lower, then run the equation!" Unfortunately, the government officials say "We can't do that! That's off the table! You're fired. Somebody shut them up!"

Other economists, though, say "Set the number of people lower! Now run the equation.", and the officials say "Sure. Now the graph looks like a cannon shot of a balloon that's got a slow leak. Great!".

The problem is that the government officials are trying to make a new Federal program called "Fast Food Reform" that actually increases the amount of people who can buy Big Macs a little bit, because those poor folks are going to get a tax break at the end of the year for all of the Big Macs they buy.

So these officials go back to the economists, and say "We've got a problem here. How do we get that number of people who need Big Macs lower again, so the graph doesn't go back to exploding?" These helpful economists say "Well, why don't you tax some of the people who buy Big Macs now? Then the resulting decrease will offset the increase you're planning by a bit. That will keep the people who need Big Macs number more or less the same!"

Did you get that?

These economists can "bend the cost curve" on that graph of Big Mac spending, if they can offset the number of new Big Mac buyers with those who are taxed, and therefore can buy less. How much will the graph change? Not much, but enough so that that the government officials can say that it's "historic legislation".

Everybody in Washington goes home happy, job well done, live to fight another day. The economists, in particular, are pleased with their equations and graphs. Science! $700,000 in US Dept. of Health and Human Services research money! Science.

Meanwhile, back in Grand Forks, North Dakota, people hear grand statements about "bending the cost curve" and "historic" and "31 million people now able to buy Big Macs", and get increasingly irritated --and desperate. They still have to go to Winnipeg to buy low-cost Big Macs, and they don't understand why they can't just go to Walmart, and get them cheap there.

They also know that, in addition to having to go to Canada to get McDonald's food, they're also paying taxes to supply revenue for the government's "Medi-Mac" program, and they know that the Feds aren't paying Canadian prices for that, so they're getting soaked no matter what. They hate the political party in charge of Washington that did this to them. Their incumbent Senator from that party actually declines to run for office again. This scenario plays out similarly in many other states, just with different degrees of anger and disappointment. The price of a Big Mac in the United States begins to climb skyward to $8.00, $9.50, $15.90, $21.20, just like a cannon shooting a leaky hot-air balloon at the horizon.

Many middle class people who used to be able to afford a Big Mac start to starve.

That's the story of this Health Care Reform legislation, if it were about Big Macs instead of health care, and McDonald's instead of Pfizer.

I hope that you all enjoyed this little novella. 18 and over, entertainment purposes only.

Stuart Zechman organizes public commentary  at legacy media political blogs, such as TIME Magazine's Swampland. A movement liberal, entrepreneur and technologist, Stuart uses Twitter as a primary communications tool. He posts at Avedon’s Other Weblog and Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism. He occasionally writes short audio commentary. • Follow @stuart_zechman

Avedon Carol first posted the text.

Z-Files: Separation


Written Sept 19, 2012 - Stuart Zechman offers commentary on how President Obama and NARAL sold out women in a move that erases even more of the 1st Amendment's protection of religious liberty.

I'm Stuart Zechman, and, as a movement liberal, I'm totally for religious liberty.

Yep, as a firm supporter of the Bill of Rights, I think that the first sentence of the First Amendment, which reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" represents an inherently American value:  the government has no place whatsoever instituting anybody's church's dogma into public policy...anywhere.



The next beautiful sentence in the First Amendment, which reads "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" means exactly that:  the state can't tell you if, when or how to worship whom. That is entirely your business as an individual, not mine and not the government's.

What you believe in your heart of hearts depends solely on what your conscience dictates, and nobody else's. That's freedom. That's liberalism. That's America.

So then I read this latest statement from the White House on the implementation of their Rube Goldberg health care law, the "PPACA," and it says:

"Today, President Obama announced that his Administration will implement a policy that accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women."
and I read that Nancy Keenan, head of NARAL, the Washington-based "National Abortion Rights Action League" put out the statement:
"the announcement makes it clear that President Obama is firmly committed to protecting women's health."
, and I thought to myself "Great! That must mean that the PPACA will be amended to say that abortion is now covered by Medicaid, which is the health insurer used by about 49 million low-income Americans, amongst whom a disproportionate share are low-income women, since the PPACA provides the majority of its 'Universal Coverage' by expanding Medicaid, and that the state-based private insurance exchanges in which the law forces individuals to participate will now be regulated to mandate abortion coverage."

You know, what else could it mean?

Religious liberty, making no law that establishes anybody's religious doctrine as the basis for public policy, surely that's what he discussion is about, right?

I mean, it's not like the President and Nancy Keenan could possibly mean that religious liberty somehow involves the government writing laws and regulations on the basis of the theology of a particular church?

Even if that church is a huge, world-wide institution, it would be a violation of everybody else's religious liberty to enforce the laws with special exceptions for them. That's crazy.

It's funny, the little church that I attend, the Middle Church on Second Avenue in New York, where I live, well, those folks believe that Jesus wasn't only giving out bread to eat, they note that he was healing the sick, too. So why shouldn't the law follow that example? Why do some churches get to say what's in the health care laws and regulations, while other churches --like mine-- don't?  Isn't that the whole point behind "no law respecting an establishment of religion"?   Why does some people's religion seem to matter more to the government than mine...or yours?

It seems to me as if the term "religious liberty" is being turned on its head to mean that some people's church doctrines are to be respected to the point where the President gets up at a podium and says "the government will accommodate you immediately," and some people's aren't.  And, not to paint with too broad of a brush here, but it always seems to be a certain kind of church that gets the special treatment, that gets special rights, usually the ones that are the political enemies of movement liberals like me  in their spare time, or have a great deal of institutional power and wealth.

That's not accommodating religious liberty, that's accommodating something else.

Maybe we movement liberals ought to be a bit more clear about just how much we support the Bill of Rights, and real religious liberty in particular.

Maybe we ought to start demanding that our government be concerned about the health of everybody, even the women on Medicaid that Washington lobbyists like Nancy Keenan don't seem too concerned about, and start respecting the religious liberty of everybody, by not granting special favors in the law to the churches with the most money to pay for public relations campaigns in an election year.

Maybe, when we talk about "the free exercise" of our religious liberties, we ought to be asking "Whose? Yours? Or everybody's?" for a change we can all believe in.

I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.

Stuart Zechman orgnizes public commentary  at legacy media political blogs, such as TIME Magazine's Swampland. A movement liberal, entrepreneur and technologist, Stuart uses Twitter as a primary communications tool. He posts at Avedon’s Other Weblog and Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism and occasionally provides short audio commentary. • Follow @stuart_zechman 

Posted first by Avedon Carol


Z-Files: Third Way

April 17, 2012 Listen

April 17, 2012 Listen

"I'm Stuart Zechman, and I'd like to do a little experiment with you folks listening, if you wouldn't mind helping me out.

So I'm going read you a representative quote from a politician, and I want you to try to guess whether that politician is liberal or conservative.

OK? Here goes, quote number 1:

""...God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.""

OK, here's quote number 2:

""I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life""

What about this one, Quote number 3:

"The truth is that abortion drugs are not about women’s health but are really a seemingly innocuous means of advancing a radical agenda."

""the gay community has infiltrated the very centers of power. They are the greatest threat, that agenda is the greatest threat to our freedom we face today.""

Hey Stuart, that was beyond easy. They're all conservative!

And you would be correct!
Of course these are all right-wing politicians, all Republicans.

The first right-wing quote was from bible-based science denier, the Senator from Big Oil --I mean, Oklahoma, James Inhofe.

The second, that managed to combine aggressive death penalty advocacy with an abortion is premeditated murder message, that's from conservative Senator Tom Coburn.

The third right-wing quote, about the radical agenda behind access to contraception, was Congresswoman Virginia Fox, who will be the first to tell you that conservatism is an equal opportunity philosophy...apart from the "equality of opportunity" part of that statement.

And extra-bonus fourth right-wing quote, the one about the gays being the greatest threat...well, that was a trick question, it's Coburn again. 

So, the point of this exercise is this: these politicians --no matter how corrupt, no matter how stupid, no matter how cowardly and vote-seeking they are-- are all giving voice to the conservative movement. They're right-wing.  Informed people couldn't possibly confuse them with non-right-wing politicians.

But there's a related point I'd like to demonstrate, and that requires us to do another quick "guess the ideology" game, so here goes:

Quote number 1:

“Repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will affirm the Senate’s commitment to the civil rights of all Americans and also make our military even stronger.”

OK, quote number 2, I have to mention this is from a 1995 speech entitled "Women's Rights Are Human Rights":

"As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace around the world - as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and subjected to violence in and out of their homes - the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized."

Alright, I'm running out of time, so the last quote is actually a double quote from two different speeches:

""A woman's ability to decide how many children to have and when, without interference from the government, is one of the most fundamental rights we possess. It is not just an issue of choice, but equality and opportunity for all women.""

""I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade...""

not not

So let me tell you who said what:

Quote number 1, from the guy who successfully led the fight to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell in 2010, that was Joe Lieberman.

Quote number 2, from "Women's Rights Are Human Rights" was from Hillary Clinton.

And quote number 3, about the basic, fundamental right to our own persons, and the declaration "I am pro-choice"?

Well, that was from Barack Obama, the President who just appointed two Supreme Court justices who are, like him, public proponents of the Constitutional right of Americans to choose.

I think these quotes and the record demonstrate that these politicians are not conservative.

They will never get gigs writing for National Review. They will never be given campaign money from Concerned Women for America. Their names, if ever mentioned at a CPAC convention, will mostly likely be greeted with calls for summary execution as fifth column traitors.

In almost every corner of America, if one were to publicly claim that Lieberman, Clinton and Obama are actually right-wing conservatives, one could expect to be met with derisive laughter, and for good reason.

But are they liberal?

Well, they're Democrats, that's true, but not all Democrats are liberals.

What Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have in common is that they're "New Democrats," meaning they were all members of something called the "New Democrat Coalition," which is a Congressional caucus of ideologically like-minded Democrats, kind of like the "Progressive Caucus," who are the left-most wing of the Party, or Blue Dogs who actually are a bloc of conservative Democrats.

Here's a description:

"New Democrats...are an ideologically centrist faction within the Democratic Party...identified with centrist social/cultural/pluralist positions and neoliberal fiscal values.[1][2] ...represented by organizations such as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the New Democrat Network, and the Senate and House New Democrat Coalitions."

  "As Congress works to tackle the challenges facing our nation, the New Dems, through our seven policy task forces, have put forward a commonsense agenda...These initiatives are about moving the U.S. forward in the 21st century.

The Coalition’s seven task forces are: Critical Infrastructure and Manufacturing; Education; Energy; Financial Services; Health Care; Innovation, Competitiveness and Tax Reform; and Trade."

And what were the Obama Administration's and Democratic Congress's "historic achievements" during the past four years, again?

Heritage Foundation-Third Way compromise health care "reform." Financial "regulation" that leaves "Too Big To Fail" bigger and with more fail than ever. The lame duck Bush-Obama tax cut deal and estate tax repeal. And more NAFTA-style free trade agreements as far as the eye can see.

What inevitably passed into law these past four years was the New Democrats' agenda. Just as inevitably, what wasn't the New Democrats' agenda was universally characterized as "politically impossible," and never put on the table.

And, just as surely as we can recognize the first set of quotes as conservative, and the second set of quotes as not-conservative, we movement liberals can recognize that the New Democrats' agenda is not liberal.

So there must be something else, other than liberal or conservative, that describes that ideological framework, a "Third Way," if you will, between right and left. An ideological center, a committee-packing voting bloc of bipartisan-fetishizing, Tom Friedman-idolizing, anti-right and anti-left Democrats who always seem weirdly, ideologically desperate to compromise, especially in the name of destroying entitlements, or keeping America at constant war, even when that means they lose elections.

I think that people who are truly interested in saving our country from this not-New Deal we've been handed ought to play "guess the ideology" a bit more often, and consider that, in addition to many Democratic politicians being corrupt or stupid or cowardly, maybe there's an agenda other than left or right that, like many important things that go on, the purveyors of conventional political wisdom would prefer to ignore. Maybe, when other explanations fail to adequately describe how politicians who get a 100% NARAL rating or who repeal DADT can still not be liberal, we should at least begin to try --in an organized way-- to help liberal Democratic voters understand that there's left, right and Third Way center represented in the capital, and that, for the vast majority of Americans, two out of three are bad.

I'm Stuart Zechman, and this has been the Z-Files.

Is the politician who said that liberal or conservative? Again, liberal or conservative? And now for quote number 4. I wanted three quotes, but the fourth one is just too...perfect to leave out, so here goes, quote number 4: OK, I could go on like this all day. But, by now, you're all probably saying impatiently "" Liberal or conservative? So, liberal or conservative? Is the politician who said those things , in your mind? I think that virtually anybody who heard that second set of quotes would say that the speakers were right-wing, that those were expressions of conservatism. Let me read to you what the New Democrats say about themselves: Well, well, well. Health care. Financial Services. Taxes and trade.


Stuart Zechman organizes public commentary  at legacy media political blogs, such as TIME Magazine's Swampland. A movement liberal, entrepreneur and technologist, Stuart uses Twitter as a primary communications tool. He posts at Avedon’s Other Weblog and Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism. • Follow @stuart_zechman