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Old 07-13-2018, 03:58 PM
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Question Decorum Within Government


We do not hire, nor handsomely compensate, people within “Our Government” to play the part of a tough nut! “Our Government” is not the Roman Coliseum, nor is it some barroom slug fest! Granted, tempers will occasionally flare, but any branch of government is still operating on the public’s dime, and as such, the people have the right to expect more than a little decorum, civility and even respect in the performance of their jobs!

“This is not the Congress or The Senate Floor of 1856” and the people have the right to expect a little professionalism and common courtesy within those esteemed bodies! And as such, thug- tactics must not, and can not, be tolerated within those bodies, for when any citizen allows themselves to be intimidated, threatened, coerced or even silenced by any member of our government, then it ceases to be a “Government Of, By and For The People” – but rather, it degenerates into an eloquent mob of “Would-be Neros!” The end result is that you then have “An Oligarchy!”

And as far as some recent claims that “OUR CURRENT PRESIDENT” failed to observe “Proper Royal Protocol” on a recent foreign trip, might I remind our esteemed foreign friends that “We the People” stopped adhering to this (so-called) “Royal Protocol” right around the year 1783!!




Caning of Charles Sumner

Events leading to the American Civil War

Northwest Ordinance
Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
Battle of Negro Fort
Missouri Compromise
Tariff of 1828
Nat Turner's slave rebellion
Nullification Crisis
The Amistad
Prigg v. Pennsylvania
Texas annexation
Mexican–American War
Wilmot Proviso
Manifest destiny
Underground Railroad
Nashville Convention
Compromise of 1850
Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Kansas–Nebraska Act
Ostend Manifesto
Bleeding Kansas
Caning of Charles Sumner
Dred Scott v. Sandford
The Impending Crisis of the South
Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry
1860 presidential election
Crittenden Compromise
Secession of Southern States
Star of the West
Corwin Amendment
Morrill Tariff
Battle of Fort Sumter

The Caning of Charles Sumner, or the Brooks–Sumner Affair, occurred on May 22, 1856, in the United States Senate when Representative Preston Brooks (D-SC) used a walking cane to attack Senator Charles Sumner (R-MA), an abolitionist, in retaliation for a speech given by Sumner two days earlier in which he fiercely criticized slaveholders, including a relative of Brooks. The beating nearly killed Sumner and it drew a sharply polarized response from the American public on the subject of the expansion of slavery in the United States. It has been considered symbolic of the "breakdown of reasoned discourse"[1] that eventually led to the American Civil War.

In 1856, during the "Bleeding Kansas" crisis, Sumner denounced the Kansas–Nebraska Act in his "Crime against Kansas" speech, delivered on May 19 and May 20. The long speech argued for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state and went on to denounce the "Slave Power"—the political arm of the slave owners:

Not in any common lust for power did this uncommon tragedy have its origin. It is the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery; and it may be clearly traced to a depraved desire for a new Slave State, hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the National Government.[2]

Sumner then attacked the authors of the Act, Senators Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina, saying,

The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean the harlot, slavery. For her his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator.

In addition, Sumner mocked Butler's speaking ability, which had been impeded by a recent stroke:

[He] touches nothing which he does not disfigure with error, sometimes of principle, sometimes of fact. He cannot open his mouth, but out there flies a blunder.[3]

According to Manisha Sinha (2003), Sumner had been ridiculed and insulted by both Douglas and Butler for his opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law and the Kansas-Nebraska Act earlier, with Butler crudely race-baiting Sumner by making sexual allusions to black women, like many slaveholders who accused abolitionists of promoting interracial marriage.[4]

According to Hoffer (2010), "It is also important to note the sexual imagery that recurred throughout the oration, which was neither accidental nor without precedent. Abolitionists routinely accused slaveholders of maintaining slavery so that they could engage in forcible sexual relations with their slaves."[5] Douglas said during the speech that "this damn fool is going to get himself killed by some other damn fool."[6]

Representative Preston Brooks, Butler's cousin, was infuriated. He later said that he intended to challenge Sumner to a duel, and consulted with fellow South Carolina Representative Laurence M. Keitt on dueling etiquette. Keitt told him that dueling was for gentlemen of equal social standing, and that Sumner was no better than a drunkard, due to the supposedly coarse language he had used during his speech. Brooks said that he concluded that since Sumner was no gentleman, he did not merit honorable treatment; to Keitt and Brooks, it was more appropriate to humiliate Sumner by beating him with a cane in a public setting.[7]
Day of the attack

Two days later, on the afternoon of May 22, Brooks entered the Senate chamber with Keitt and another ally, Congressman Henry A. Edmundson. They waited for the galleries to clear, especially concerned that there be no ladies present to witness what Brooks intended to do.[8] He confronted Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber. "Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine," Brooks calmly announced in a low voice. As Sumner began to stand up, Brooks beat Sumner severely on the head before he could reach his feet, using a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head. The force of the blows so shocked Sumner that he lost his sight immediately. "I no longer saw my assailant, nor any other person or object in the room. What I did afterwards was done almost unconsciously, acting under the instincts of self-defense," he recalled later.[9]

Sumner was knocked down and trapped under the heavy desk, which was bolted to the floor. His chair, which was pulled up to his desk, moved back and forth on a track; Sumner either could not or did not think to slide his chair back to escape, so it pinned him under his desk. Brooks continued to strike Sumner until Sumner rose to his feet and ripped the desk from the floor in an effort to get away from Brooks.[10] By this time, Sumner was blinded by his own blood. He staggered up the aisle and, arms outstretched, vainly attempted to defend himself. But then he was an even larger and easier target for Brooks, who continued to beat him across the head, face, and shoulders "to the full extent of [my] power." Brooks didn't stop when his cane snapped; he continued thrashing Sumner with the piece which held the gold head. Sumner stumbled and reeled convulsively, "Oh Lord," he gasped "Oh! Oh!" Near the end of the attack, Sumner collapsed unconscious, although shortly before he succumbed he "bellowed like a calf" according to Brooks. Brooks grabbed the falling Sumner, held him up by the lapel with one hand, and continued to lash out at him with the cane in the other.[11][12] Several other Senators and Representatives attempted to help Sumner, but were blocked by Edmundson, who yelled at the spectators to leave Brooks and Sumner alone,[13] and Keitt, who brandished his own cane and a pistol, and shouted, "Let them be!" and "Let them alone, God damn you, let them alone!"[14][15][16]

Senator John J. Crittenden attempted to intervene, and pleaded with Brooks not to kill Sumner. Senator Robert Toombs then interceded for Crittenden, telling Keitt not to attack someone who was not a party to the dispute, though Toombs also indicated later that he had no issue with Brooks beating Sumner, and in fact approved of it.[17]

Representatives Ambrose S. Murray and Edwin B. Morgan were finally able to intervene and restrain Brooks, at which point he quietly left the chamber.[18] Murray obtained the aid of a Senate page and the Sergeant at Arms, Dunning R. McNair.[19] As Sumner regained consciousness they were able to assist him to walk to a cloakroom.[20] Sumner received medical attention, including several stitches.[21] With the aid of Nathaniel P. Banks, the Speaker of the House, and Senator Henry Wilson, Sumner was able to travel by carriage to his lodgings, where he received further medical treatment.[22]

Brooks also required medical attention before leaving the Capitol; he had hit himself above his right eye with one of his backswings.[23] Brooks was arrested for the assault.[24]

The cane Brooks used was broken into several pieces, which he left on the blood soaked floor of the Senate chamber. Some, including the cane's gold head, were recovered by Edmundson, who gave the portion with the head to Adam John Glossbrenner, the House Sergeant at Arms.[25][26] This portion of the cane eventually ended up at the Old State House Museum in Boston; it was worked to smooth the edges and finish, and then put on display.[27] Southern lawmakers made rings out of the other pieces Edmundson recovered from the Senate floor, which they wore on neck chains to show their solidarity with Brooks, who boasted "[The pieces of my cane] are begged for as sacred relics." [28]

The episode revealed the polarization in America, as Sumner became a martyr in the North and Brooks a hero in the South. Northerners were outraged. The Cincinnati Gazette said, "The South cannot tolerate free speech anywhere, and would stifle it in Washington with the bludgeon and the bowie-knife, as they are now trying to stifle it in Kansas by massacre, rapine, and murder."[29] William Cullen Bryant of the New York Evening Post, asked, "Has it come to this, that we must speak with bated breath in the presence of our Southern masters?... Are we to be chastised as they chastise their slaves? Are we too, slaves, slaves for life, a target for their brutal blows, when we do not comport ourselves to please them?"[30] Thousands attended rallies in support of Sumner in Boston, Albany, Cleveland, Detroit, New Haven, New York, and Providence. More than a million copies of Sumner's speech were distributed. Two weeks after the caning, Ralph Waldo Emerson described the divide the incident represented: "I do not see how a barbarous community and a civilized community can constitute one state. I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom."[31]

Conversely, Brooks was praised by Southern newspapers. The Richmond Enquirer editorialized that Sumner should be caned "every morning", praising the attack as "good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequences" and denounced "these vulgar abolitionists in the Senate" who "have been suffered to run too long without collars. They must be lashed into submission." Southerners sent Brooks hundreds of new canes in endorsement of his assault. One was inscribed "Hit him again."[32]

Representative Anson Burlingame publicly humiliated Brooks by goading him into challenging Burlingame to a duel, only to set conditions designed to intimidate Brooks into backing down. (As the challenged party, Burlingame, who was a crack shot, had the choice of weapons and dueling ground. He selected rifles on the Canada side of Niagara Falls, where U.S. anti-dueling laws would not apply. Brooks withdrew his challenge, claiming that he did not want to expose himself to the risk of violence by traveling through northern states to get to Niagara Falls.)[33]

Brooks also threatened Senator Henry Wilson, Sumner's colleague from Massachusetts. Wilson called the beating by Brooks "brutal, murderous, and cowardly," and in response Brooks challenged Wilson to a duel.[34] Wilson declined, saying that he could not legally or by personal conviction participate, and calling dueling "the lingering relic of a barbarous civilization."[35] In reference to a rumor that Brooks might attack him in the Senate, Wilson told the press "I have sought no controversy, and I seek none, but I shall go where duty requires, uninfluenced by threats of any kind."[36] Wilson continued to perform his Senate duties, and Brooks did not make good on his threat.

Historian William Gienapp has concluded that Brooks' "assault was of critical importance in transforming the struggling Republican party into a major political force."[37]

Southerners mocked Sumner, claiming he was faking his injuries.[38] They argued that the cane Brooks used was not heavy enough to inflict severe injuries.[39] They also claimed that Brooks had not hit Sumner more than a few times, and had not hit him hard enough to cause serious health concerns.[40] In fact, Sumner suffered head trauma that caused him chronic, debilitating pain for the rest of his life and symptoms consistent with what is now called traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder; he spent three years convalescing before returning to his Senate seat.[41]

Brooks claimed that he had not intended to kill Sumner, or else he would have used a different weapon.[42] In a speech to the House defending his actions, Brooks stated that he "meant no disrespect to the Senate of the United States" or the House by his attack on Sumner.[43] He was tried in a District of Columbia court, convicted for assault, and fined $300 ($8,170 in today's dollars), but received no prison sentence.[44] A motion for Brooks' expulsion from the House failed, but he resigned on July 15 in order to permit his constituents to ratify or condemn his conduct via a special election.[45] They approved; Brooks was quickly returned to office after the August 1 vote,[46] and then re-elected to a new term of office later in 1856,[47] but he died of croup before the new term began.[48]

Keitt, who facilitated Brooks' attack, was censured by the House.[49] He resigned in protest, but his constituents ratified his conduct by overwhelmingly reelecting him to his seat within a month.[50] In 1858, he attempted to choke Representative Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania (Republican) for calling him a "negro driver" during an argument on the House floor.[51]

An effort to censure Edmundson failed to obtain a majority of votes in the House.[52]

During the 1856 lame duck session of Congress, Brooks made a speech calling for the admission of Kansas "even with a constitution rejecting slavery". His conciliatory tone impressed Northerners and disappointed slavery's supporters.[53][54]
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Old 07-14-2018, 06:31 AM
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Arrow Summary of Natural Law Ethics

Summary of Natural Law Ethics

“To disparage the dictate of reason is equivalent to condemning the command of God.”
~ Thomas Aquinas

1. The Divine Command Theory

Let us now consider the view that morality rests upon religion. Assuming that a relationship between some God and morality exists, how do we characterize it? A classic formulation of this relationship is the divine command theory which states that “morally right” means commanded by God, and “morally wrong” means forbidden by God.

But there are multiple problems with this theory. Its defense necessitates philosophical arguments to prove a god exists, or is at least rational plausibility. Next, one needs to determine the gods commands. This would be especially difficult, since people have imagined the gods to command antithetical things like: celibacy and polygamy, the right of kings and social revolt, war and peace, humanitarian aid and witchburning. But even if we knew the gods commands, we would still have to interpret them.

This last point presents grave difficulties. Take a simple command, “thou shalt not kill!” When does it apply? In self defense? In war? Always? To whom does it apply? To animals? Intelligent aliens? Serial killers? All living things? The unborn? The braindead? Religious commands such as “do not kill,” “honor thy parents,” or “do not commit adultery” are ambiguous. For instance, where do the Christian Scriptures speak unequivocally about abortion? For the sake of argument, let us grant that we can demonstrate some the gods existence, know that the gods commands, know that those commands are good, and interpret the commands correctly. (This is saying a lot.) May we then suppose the divine command theory adequately accounts for morality?

The great Greek philosopher Plato suggested that it did not. In the dialogue the Euthyphro Socrates posed one of the most famous questions in the history of philosophy: Is something right because the gods command it, or do the gods command it because it is right? It seems the relationship between the gods and morality must be characterized in one of these two ways.

If we characterized the relationship the first way, then right and wrong depend on the the gods will. Something is right because the gods say so! Two basic problems attach to this view. First, it makes the the gods will arbitrary. The gods could have commanded lying, killing, cheating, and stealing to be right! You might be tempted to say that the gods wouldn’t command us to do these things. But why not? Remember the the gods will determines right and wrong, on this view, so that if the god said, “thou shalt kill,” that would be right. The second problem is that the theory renders the notion of the the gods goodness superfluous. We ordinarily attach meaning to the notion that “The the gods commands are good.” We believe we are attributing a property goodness to the the gods commands. But on this second account good simply means “commanded by the gods” so that “The gods commands are good” just means “the gods commands are commanded by the gods,” a useless tautology.

If we characterize the relationship the second way, then we must accept some standard of morality independent of the gods will. What the religious want to say is that in the gods’ infinite wisdom, they know that truthfulness, for example, is better than untruthfulness. On this view, the gods commands things because they are right. But this is much different from making something right. On this second view, the gods recognize the moral truth, but can’t change it. The gods can’t make killing, lying, cheating, and stealing right anymore than we can. Thus, the moral law limits the gods, since they can’t change it. And if we accept this second option, we have given up the divine command theory.

Two options present themselves if the standard of morality is independent of the gods. First, the standard for morality may lie beyond our comprehension, forcing us to rely on authority, revelation, or tradition to explain morality. Going this route ends philosophical ethics. The other alternative uses human reason to understand the gods law. Let’s pursue this second alternative.

2. The History of Natural Law Ethics

The genesis of natural law ethics is in the writings of Aristotle, who first identified the natural with the good. All things “aim at some good,” he says at the beginning of his treatise on ethics, “and for this reason the good has rightly been declared that at which all things aim.” For individuals, ethics is a study of the goal, end or purpose of human life. Politics, on the other hand, is a study of the good, goal, end, or purpose of society.

But what is good? Aristotle distinguished between real and apparent goods. Real goods satisfy natural needs, and they are good for us independent of our desires. Food, clothing, and shelter are examples of real goods. Apparent goods satisfy acquired wants, and are called good because we desire them. Shrimp, designer clothes, and mansions are apparent goods. A good life consists in the acquisition, over the course a lifetime, of all the real (natural) goods. These include external and bodily goods such as food, clothing, shelter, health, vitality, and vigor, and, “goods of the soul” like love, friendship, knowledge, courage, justice, honor, and skill. To obtain these real goods requires that we must act with good habits or virtues. The person of good character exhibits moral virtues such as temperance, courage, and justice, and intellectual virtues like wisdom and prudence. A life full of virtue is a good, happy, and fulfilling life. It is a life in accordance with our nature.

The idea that each thing has a goal or purpose in accordance with its nature, Aristotle called teleology. (From the Greek telos; meaning goal, end, or purpose.) We can understand this if we consider an artifact like a pen. A pen that writes well is a good pen; it fulfills its purpose. Aristotle also believed that teleology was also a component of the natural world. Acorns develop into oak trees, caterpillars into butterflies, and little children into mature adults; the eyes are meant to see, the hands to grasp, and the kidneys to purify. Whatever satisfies its teleology is fulfilled; whatever fails to do so is defective. To be fulfilled means to actualize the potential inherent in the thing, whereas to be defective refers to the failure to do so. Thus, actualization of natural potential is the essence of teleology and supplies the moral imperative for human beings.

The Stoics further developed the doctrine and first used the term natural law. Stoicism flourished in Athens in the third century B.C.E. and later in the Roman Empire in such great figures as Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Cicero. Unlike Aristotle, the Stoics believed that human happiness was possible without external and bodily goods. They also emphasized rationality and the control of emotions. The Stoics insisted that we have adutyto follow nature, particularly our rational nature, rather than convention. The source of natural law was Logos, the universal power or energy personified in nature’s laws.

That natural laws should prevail over cultural conventions led the Stoics to the idea of the cosmopolitan citizen. Roman jurisprudence, which needed to formulate rules to deal with various cultures, adopted the idea of a natural law for all the world’s citizens. Its basic premise was the natural law’s independence from cultural mores.

This idea had tremendous repercussions throughout human history and would inform the interaction of western Europe and much of the new world. In the sixteenth century, for instance, the Spaniards vehemently debated its applicability for the civilizations they discovered in the New World, and in the eighteenth century the idea influenced the founders of the American government. But the next great development in the idea after Stoicism occurred in the thirteenth century.

3. St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas (12251274) synthesized Aristotelianism, Stoicism, and Christianity to give the natural law its classic formulation. In addition to Aristotle’s natural virtues, he added the theological virtues faith, hope, and charity. And to earthly happiness he added eternal beatitude. For Thomas, action in accordance with human nature fulfills God’s eternal plan, and Scripture’s commandments. Thus, the natural law is God’s law known to human reason. Unlike the lower animals, we have the ability to understand the laws of our nature, and the free will to follow or disregard these laws. But how do we attain knowledge of the natural law? It is not innate, intuited, or easily derived from sense experience. Instead, we use reason to determine the conformity of moral conduct and nature. Since fulfilling natural needs makes us happy, the natural is the good. What then constitutes the law? While all mature individuals know its most general principles like do not kill the innocent, controversy surrounds reasoned conclusions about its specific applications.

The fundamental principle of natural law ethics is that good should be done and evil avoided. This general principle may be specified into moral axioms like: “Do not kill!” “Be faithful!” “Preserve your life!” “Care for you children!” “Do not lie or steal!” “Life is a universal human good!” All of these axioms are both natural and good. We further specify these axioms by rational analysis and by reliance on Church, scripture, or revelation. As Aristotle pointed out, natural inclinations and tendencies are good, and we fulfill them by acquiring the elements which constitute human happiness such as: life, procreation, friendship, and knowledge. Nevertheless, within the boundaries set by human nature, the specific way one satisfies natural inclinations may differ. So a range of activities might satisfy, for instance, our aesthetic or intellectual needs. However, we all need the universal human goods. Thus, morality demands that we follow the laws of our nature which are the same for all on the basis of our shared humanity.

Still, we need not satisfy all of our natural tendencies. For instance, we must curb aggression and dishonesty, so that friendship and society thrive. In this way, we see how reason makes value judgments and imposes moral obligations upon us. The moral law demands that we develop our reason, and act in accordance with reason’s imperatives. As we have seen, nature directs us to live well, flourish in human communities, and, finally, to experience the beatific vision. Therefore, beginning with human nature and using reason to determine the goals nature sets for us, we determine what we ought to do.

Perhaps a simple illustration may help. If we want to become nurses, then we ought to go to college and study nursing. Employing our rational faculties, we impose a non-moral obligation upon ourselves, given an antecedent goal or purpose. Analogously, reason imposes moral obligations upon us. If we want friends and friendship demands justice, then we ought to be just. Of course, the examples are very different. Moral obligations may not depend upon self-interest in the same way that non-moral obligations do. But the basic idea is the same, without goals nothing is obligatory. If we don’t want to be nurses or don’t want friends, then we probably have no obligation to study nursing or be just. And if there are no ultimate purposes in human life, then there probably are no moral obligations either. On the other hand, according to the natural law, the complete actualization of human potential demands that we develop our talents and be just. If we fail to do this, we violate the natural law.

4. Some Philosophical Difficulties

Natural law theory derives values about what we ought to do from facts about our human nature. This is a major philosophical difficulty. When we derive what we ought to do from what is the case, we commit what philosophers call the naturalistic fallacy. This fallacy involves the derivation of ethical conclusions from nonethical facts. Isn’t there a logical gap between what is the case and what ought to be the case? Even if it is true, for instance, that humans are naturally aggressive, does that mean they should be? Though a conception of human nature is relevant to morality, it seems unlikely that one could explain morality by appealing to human nature. Yet, if values don’t come from facts, where do they come from?

A second difficulty with the theory is that modern science rejects teleology. Explanations in science don’t refer to goals, values, or purposes. Rocks don’t fall because they desire the earth’s center, as Aristotle thought, nor does it rain in order to make plants grow. Rather, physical reality operates according to impersonal laws of cause and effect. Evolutionary theory rejects teleology and all of cosmic evolution results from a series of fortuitous occurrences. This brings to light another difficulty. Natural law theory traditionally maintains the immutability of human nature, which contradicts modern biology. Furthermore, technology transforms human human nature. What happens when gene splicing, recombinant DNA, and genetic engineering become normal? For various reasons then, natural law as traditionally conceived and modern science are at odds.

5. Final thoughts

Of course the fact that, with the exception of the Catholic Church, the theory of natural law has fallen into disfavor doesn’t mean it is mistaken. If we believe that we can philosophically demonstrate the existence of a source of values and purposes for human beingsand believe also that knowledge of this source is accessible to human reasonthen one may rationally defend the theory. Furthermore, without such presuppositions, moral thinking is likely futile. A number of contemporary philosophers suggest that without some ultimate, objective source for morality, notions like obligation, duty, right, and good make no sense.

Nevertheless, natural law theory does rest upon a number of dubious philosophical propositions. We should not forget that, at least in the formulation of the Catholic Church, the natural law ultimately comes from God. Like the divine command theory, natural law ethics is open to all of the objections of philosophical theology. Is there a God? Are there any significant proofs for God’s existence? Why is God so “hidden?” How do we know our reason is sufficient to understand God’s natural moral laws? Moreover, a nontheistic natural law ethics must answer the challenge of the naturalistic fallacy. Why is the natural, good?

Whatever the conclusion, the gap between a nonteleological, factual, and scientific account of human nature and a teleological, ethical, and religious conception constitutes the central dispute in contemporary culture. We do not know how to reconcile the two poles, or if one or the other is bankrupt. But, as the historian of philosophy W.T. Jones asserts: “The whole history of philosophy since the seventeenth century is in fact hardly more than a series of variations on this central theme.”

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Old 07-14-2018, 09:24 AM
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It’s getting harder to prosecute politicians for corruption
February 16, 2018 6.42am EST

The high-profile corruption case against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez was recently dropped by federal prosecutors after a five-year investigation into gifts and campaign contributions given to the senator by a friend who wanted political help.

The trial had ended in a hung jury. Prosecutors then decided they did not have enough evidence to prove corruption and decided not to try Menendez again.

That decision had its roots in another failed corruption case against a prominent politician, former Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell – a case whose resolution before the U.S. Supreme Court has made it manifestly more difficult for prosecutors to prove political corruption.

The Supreme Court described the events that sparked McDonnell’s 2014 bribery prosecution as “distasteful,” comprising “tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns.”

Nevertheless, the justices struck down McDonnell’s convictions in a lower court for accepting over US$175,000 in gifts from a businessman who wanted help from the state. They unanimously found that the Justice Department had overreached in prosecuting him.

How could actions that look so corrupt not be a crime?

The answer lies with the Supreme Court’s increasingly narrow definition of public corruption, including the crimes of bribery and extortion.

Constituent services or bribe?
I teach at Wayne State University Law School and wrote “The Prosecution and Defense of Public Corruption: The Law and Legal Strategies,” a comprehensive volume on the federal law of corruption.

The McDonnell case signals an erosion of federal corruption laws. I contend that this ruling effectively allows elected leaders to do favors for donors while raking in bountiful campaign contributions or gifts from them – with little fear that they might cross the line into illegality.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court in the McDonnell case. He explained that the real concern was not McDonnell’s tawdriness. It was “the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.”

Roberts warned of the danger of viewing too broadly what constitutes an “official act” that can be exchanged for a bribe. That broad view, he wrote, could mean elected officials risked being convicted of crimes when they simply help out people who contribute to their campaigns.

Not every act that helps donors is corrupt, wrote Roberts.

“Conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time,” he wrote. “Representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns.”

A new, limited standard for corruption
What’s the net result of the McDonnell decision?

It is that buying access to elected officials is, in most cases, not a crime.

To prove a bribe after the McDonnell decision, federal prosecutors must show more than just general efforts to aid a favored contributor. A conviction requires proof that the official committed an act that goes to the core of their office, like voting on a bill or approving a new policy. An official act, wrote Roberts, “must involve a formal exercise of governmental power.”

Short of that, steps like arranging a meeting or passing along recommendations to an agency head will not be enough to constitute corruption. That’s because these are not considered “official acts,” according to the Supreme Court ruling.

Prosecutors had evidence that McDonnell got gifts and loans from a businessman who wanted special treatment from the state for a nutritional supplement he was developing. But, after the Supreme Court’s decision, the Justice Department decided it no longer had enough evidence to retry McDonnell on the corruption charges.

The McDonnell decision directly affected the corruption prosecution brought against Menendez.

Menendez denied the prosecution’s contention that he had put pressure on federal agencies to take actions to benefit a friend and donor to his election efforts, saying he and the man, physician Salomon Melgen, were just friends. Over the years, Melgen had given Menendez many valuable gifts. Charges against Menendez were dismissed after a jury could not reach a verdict in his first trial. Prosecutors then decided not to try Menendez again.

Political system run by money
Our election system revolves around campaign contributions, both in Congress and increasingly at the local and state level. And politicians doing favors for donors is not new.

The Supreme Court recognized as much in McCormick v. United States, a 1991 decision. A West Virginia state legislator had faced prosecution after demanding campaign contributions from a lobbyist who wanted help for his client.

Justice Byron White wrote, “Money is constantly being solicited on behalf of candidates, who run on platforms and who claim support on the basis of their views and what they intend to do or have done. Whatever ethical considerations and appearances may indicate, to hold that legislators commit the federal crime of extortion when they act for the benefit of constituents or support legislation furthering the interests of some of their constituents, shortly before or after campaign contributions are solicited and received from those beneficiaries, is an unrealistic assessment of what Congress could have meant by making it a crime…”

But the power of money to get donors political access and influence has expanded with the whittling away of corruption laws. I believe that because of the Supreme Court’s erosion of limits on many kinds of campaign contributions, our current means of financing campaigns has devolved into a form of legalized bribery. Donors pour money into races to get officials who will support their favored goals.

When the officials deliver, the money keeps rolling in. One example: After passage of the tax bill in December, conservative billionaire Charles Koch and his wife gave nearly $500,000 to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s PAC.

In my opinion, the Supreme Court majority’s decisions on corruption have demonstrated little concern about the corrosive effect of the decisions on the public’s faith in their government. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, the court struck down limits imposed on corporations to make “independent expenditures” on behalf of candidates because they “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

According to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion, “the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.”

After years of the Supreme Court narrowing even minimal protections against public corruption, the U.S. now has a system where what looks like bribery and corruption to the public is, in most cases, not illegal. Our political leaders are no longer kept in line by federal corruption law. They do not need to worry that if they bend over backwards to accommodate a donor’s wishes, it could spark a bribery charge.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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