Archive - Jun 2012

Date

June 24th

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Originalism

This week, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on one of the most politically charged cases in our lifetimes, the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There have been lots of discussions about what most people think, what the implications of one ruling or another will be, and when we can expect a decision.

One means of interpreting the Constitution is based on a theory called 'Originalism'. This is broken into two branches, original intent, and original meaning and they beg a question. Did the framers of the constitution originally intend for people to base hundreds of years of jurisprudence on a literal interpretations of their texts.

Some of the current justices seem committed to originalism, and I would submit that this reflects poorly on their own intellectual capabilities, or at least their belief in themselves. I would also submit that it goes contrary to the spirit of the great American experiment.

I can see how some can be drawn to this form of legal fundamentalism, and believe it is not far removed from the fundamentalism of some Christians and for that matter the fundamentalism of some Muslims, especially those that wish to wage jihad against America.

As I flew to Arkansas for a conference this week, I spent a little time re-reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's great essay, "The American Scholar". One of my favorite quotes of Emerson is in that essay,

Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.

A little later on, it is followed by the quote,

Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst.

It made me think of the whole 'originalism' debate. With that, not mere accepting the views of Emerson, but building upon them into an ongoing discourse about The American Scholar as it relates to our American Experience, it seems like a paraphrase is in order.

Meek Supreme Court Justices sitting in their chambers, believing it their duty to accept the views which Jefferson, which Adams, which Madison, have given; forgetful that Jefferson, Adams and Madison were only men in politics when they wrote this text. Constitutions are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst.

This is not to say we should completely abandon the text. Instead, we should engage in discourse around the text, so that the original underlying intent can be maintained.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, promoting the general welfare and security the blessings of liberty are noble goals, and they may best be achieved, not be pursuing a literal interpretation of what the framers wrote, but by seeking to understand how in every generation we need to form an even more perfect union.

This needs to be done, not by splitting hairs about the interpretation of the commerce clause in such as way that it promotes the welfare of the newly declared persons of our country, the corporations, but in broadly seeking whether the laws are truly establishing a general welfare for all the people of our county.

This gets to how Constitutions are the best of things, well used. When they broadly seek to maintain and enhance the general welfare of all people, they are well used, and the best of things. When they are narrowly interpreted to promote one small group or class of citizens, such as extremely wealthy conservatives at the expense of the general population, as it seems the Roberts court continually does, they are among the worst.

Somehow, I don't expect that much from our current Supreme Court, and I suspect that history may end up looking at the Roberts Court as being not that much different from the Taney Court.

For Chief Justice Roberts' sake, I hope he learns from history, not only the history of Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, but also from the whole scope of American history from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Roger Taney, that his legacy might not be as bad as Taney's has become.

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June 23rd

Legislative Acts Affecting Seniors - More Information

The following is the latest blog post I've submitted to the Bethwood Patch.

Earlier this month, the State Representative from the 114th Assembly District, which includes Woodbridge, shared a blog post on the Bethwood Patch about 'Legislative Acts Affecting Seniors'. I am running against her in the November election and I applauded her blog post. My campaign is about getting people more informed and more involved in their communities, including in what is happening up in Hartford.

In this light, I would like to expand upon her blog post. She mentioned three bills, but did not mention the bill numbers or how to get more information about them. I did a little research at the Connecticut General Assembly website, and believe I know more about these bills now.

The first bill mentioned was an Elderly Rental Rebate Program. I believe this was S.B. 105, AN ACT CONCERNING THE RENTAL REBATE APPLICATION PERIOD.

It was introduced by the Planning and Development committee, where no one voted against the bill. It had 11 co-sponsors, including Sen. Joe Crisco from Woodbridge. There was a public hearing on the bill in February, where the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Director of Elder Services for the City of New Haven expressed support for the bill. There was no opposition voiced.

The bill moved to the Appropriations committee where Rep Pat Dillon from New Haven moved the bill and Sen. Bob Duff from Norwalk seconded the motion. Like with the Planning and Development committee, the bill passed this committee with no opposition. My opponent sits on the appropriations committee, and with 51 other legislators, voted to support the bill.

The bill was voted on in the Senate with a roll call vote, and all thirty-six State Senators voted in favor of the bill. The CGA website does not list a vote tally for the House, so I assume it passed by unanimous consent.

The second bill listed, appears to be S.B. 138, AN ACT ESTABLISHING A TASK FORCE TO STUDY "AGING IN PLACE". This bill was introduced by the Aging Committee. It had 17 co-sponsors, including Sen. Joe Crisco from Woodbridge. The bill was moved by Rep. John Frey of Ridgefield and seconded by Senator Edith Prague of Columbia. Like the first bill, this bill cleared its committee unanimously. Several people testified in favor of the bill and there was no opposition.

Sen. Prague offered a minor amendment to the bill and it passed both chambers without any opposition.

The third bill appears to be S.B. 139, AN ACT CONCERNING NOTIFICATION OF FINANCIAL STABILITY OF NURSING HOME FACILITIES AND MANAGED RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITIES TO PATIENTS AND RESIDENTS.

It also was introduced by the Aging committee. Again, Sen. Joe Crisco from Woodbridge was one of the co-sponsors. This bill had 16 co-sponsors. Another of the co-sponsors was Sen. Gayle Slossberg from Milford. With redistricting, Sen. Slossberg's district now includes a southern portion of Woodbridge. Like the previous bill, this bill also passed Aging with no opposition. It went to the Public Health Committee where it passed with no opposition. It then went on to pass both chambers with no opposition.

I applaud the important work that the State Legislature did in passing these bills, and especially Sen. Crisco and Sen. Slossberg in being co-sponsors of these bills. I hope I will get an opportunity to serve with Sen. Crisco and Sen. Slossberg in co-sponsoring bills that helps our state better serve it's senior citizens.

June 20th

The Evolving Political Observer Participant

When you become a candidate for public office you essentially grant everyone a license to tell you how you should act and what you should believe. I have certainly gotten my share of recommendations since I became the Democratic candidate for State Representative in the 114th Assembly District in Connecticut. People have suggested positions on policies, strategies for connecting with voters, even going so far as to give recommendations about what I should eat and what I should wear.

Most of these recommendations have been transactional instead of transformational, and I pay attention to them. But I'm more interested in the bigger, transformational questions. Becoming a candidate for public office changes the way people interact with you, and that changes you. They express hopes and desires about the sort of representative you'll be. I was also invited to be a member of the Connecticut Health Foundation's Health Leaders Fellowship Program. This is about changing as well. I write all of this as I sit in an airport terminal on my way to a conference I'm scheduled to speak at.

I've spoken at conferences before, but usually, it is at a conference that I wanted to attend, and sought to be a speaker. This time, the conference organizers invited me to come speak before I even knew about the conference.

In all of these, I hope I will live up to expectations. Having expectations to live up to can be a very powerful motivator for positive change. Yet there is something scary about change, particularly if you already like who you are, and voters seem not to like changes. They like to know what they are getting and eschew 'flip-floppers'.

It seems as if having clear sense of underlying beliefs enables people to change, to grow, and yet remain true to themselves. It is with this in mind, that I join the political fray as an observer participant. I'm interested in participating in this political process, as well as the other growth opportunities being presented to me. At the same time, I look forward to observing all of this, analyzing it, and writing about it.

Perhaps I can discover what it means to be a philosophical ethnographist State Representative, acting as an evolving political observer participant.

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June 16th

Discovering Derby

Though I live in Woodbridge, Derby too often has been a city to drive through on my way to Beardsley's Cider Mill or Jones Farms. I've stopped from time to time at the Home Depot in Derby, but a Home Depot looks like a Home Depot just about anywhere. Yet now that I'm running for State Representative in a district that includes some of Derby, I really need to get to know the city a little bit better.

I must admit, it feels strange to call Derby a city. In terms of municipal organization, it's a city, but it is Connecticut's smallest city and has the feeling of a small town. Back in 2000, Derby was an "All-America City" winner. When I was younger, I lived in Williamstown, Mass, which is right next to North Adams which was an "All-America City" winner in my youth.

With this, my trip into Derby on Thursday felt very familiar. I stopped to speak at the Derby Democratic Town Committee in the basement of the Elks Lodge. Afterwards, I went up stairs and had a drink with some of the town committee members. They talked about the JC Penney that used to be in Derby and the Rambler dealership. Hopefully, I remember the places properly.

One of the key things we were talking about was when people used to shop where they lived. I remember going to stores when I was a kid, where you knew the owner of the store. The store owners knew that if they treated people poorly, they wouldn't hear the end of it, whether it be at church, at Little League, at the Memorial Day parade, or some event at the school.

In my youth up in Massachusetts, I used to go to local grocers like McNichol's and Eddie's Market. Those stores are gone, like their counterparts around the country are gone. I miss them. But it isn't enough to be nostalgic for an old grocery store that is now gone. Instead, we need to be working together to find ways to bring small locally owned businesses back. We need to highlight and promote our local businesses.

I don't know the businesses in Derby very well yet, but it is something I look forward to doing. I'll start off with the visit to Derby Day today. It looks like it should be a good day, and I hope a lot of people will turn out. I hope I'll get to meet a lot of folks from Derby and find out about the hidden gems that we should be telling friends about. Join me in discovering Derby.

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June 13th

School's Illusions

It's been a busy few days, and I'm behind on my blogging, but I did get a chance to write the following post this evening, which I've also shared at the Bethwood Patch.

As I scanned Facebook this evening, I found a picture that one of my elementary school classmates posted of her first grade class. I was in a different class, but I recognized many names of long time dear friends. It was a grainy black and white picture of the kids standing on the school steps.

One person commented, "Everyone looks so cute! Remember when girls couldn't wear pants to school? I think we were in 5th or 6th grade when this rule changed." It was a different time and a different town. A small town of less than ten thousand, where a lot of college professors lived. It was a town that helped shape who I am today.

Then, I stumbled across some pictures of a friend that I got to know right after college. We went to the same church in New York City, a church where many of the young parishioners went on to become priests. For some, it was a fairly quick journey, for others it took many years. My friend was one who took a longer, more circuitous route to the priesthood. She was up in Hartford celebrating the Ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons where another friend from church in New York was being ordained.

The pictures of the bishops and the ordinands in their fresh scrubbed faces, most likely just out of divinity school added to my rosy thoughts about education.

All of this set an interesting contrast to my experiences Monday night when I went to the Amity Board of Education meeting. I went to speak about my opposition to using police dogs to search students for drugs. Yes, there were drugs at my high school thirty five years ago, and I'm sure there are drugs at Amity, but somehow, the experiences were radically different.

High school is a very difficult time for many people. My high school classmates have shared reflections back on those days, "the tears and fears and feeling proud, to say I love you right out loud" at a school dance. "The moons and Junes and circus clouds." Yes, I sang "Both Sides Now" with my school chorus.

In many ways, the public comments at the Amity Board of Education focused on keeping our children safe from drugs, their right to go to a drug free school, where school policies were not considered a joke, and where there wasn't peer pressure to try drugs. The other side of the public comment focused on the students civil rights to not be subject to unwarranted searches, and the efficacy on using police dogs to curb drug use at the high school.

If I honestly believed that using police dogs would prevent drugs from being at the school, would cause students not to view school policies as a joke, and would eliminate the peer pressure to use drugs, that I'm sure exists at Amity today, like it did at my high school thirty five years ago, I might be more inclined to support the opinion of those that would like to see broader use of police dogs at the school. However, I don't believe that would be the result, if anything, I fear the opposite result. Students will still find ways to use drugs. They will still heap scorn on school polices, and they will still pressure classmates to engage in dangerous and illegal activities.

Yet returning to Both Sides Now, it's school's illusions I recall. I remember best, things like singing in the choir, playing in the band, being in musicals. I never was particularly talented, but I had the chance to participate in something beautiful, something bigger than myself.

My high school always had students going to All State for one reason or another. I had some incredibly talented friends and classmates, and that is what I'm most happy to remember. The Amity Board of Education meeting started off recognizing great teachers, and incredibly talented students at the high school. It ended with the board voting to approve setting aside money for building a black box theatre at the school. It struck me that those who pushed hardest to expand the use of police dogs at the school were also the ones who showed the most resistance to supporting the black box theatre. Perhaps, this too, reflects both sides of school.

I savor my positive memories of high school, the school's illusions of talent young students with a great life ahead of them, as opposed to a view of students as suspected drug users on the road to ruin. I hope our school board remembers this part of high school and seeks positive ways to help the students reach their dreams, whether they need help with substance abuse issues, or hitting the high note on Broadway.