Category: Political Culture

public+defenderSince the landmark Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) every state has developed a system of public defense. The decision guaranteed that those accused of felony offenses are entitled to a lawyer under the rights outlined in the 6th Amendment, which include, the right to a jury trial, a public trial, and pertaining to Gideon, “to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.” In the wake of the Gideon decision each state was required to develop a system of public defenders to represent those who did not have a legal counsel, and especially those who could not afford a lawyer. Because of low funding for public defense, and the increasing number of cases filling courtrooms, more states are requiring defendants to pay a fee for their assigned defender—whether they are found guilty or not.

An April 2016 New York Times article Fordham University Law professor John Pfaff, highlights more weaknesses in the public defense world and in the odd funding mechanism. Forty-three states now require defendants to pay for a public defender, even though the only reason they have a public defender in the first place is because they cannot afford a lawyer. The Times article highlights the current policy in South Dakota where a defendant is required to pay $92 dollars an hour regardless of the verdict. The result of this policy is that the defendant might have to pay hundreds of dollars a day to be proven innocent for a crime for which he or she was mistakenly arrested.
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publicdefenderThe Atlantic published an article by Dylan Walsh about the growing fight in many states for the right to legal counsel. This article focuses on the state of Louisiana, and looks specifically the Concordia Parish along the Mississippi river. Like many poor, rural areas of the country the Concordia Parish suffers from drug problems and the local courts see a high volume of cases involving illegal substances. The district’s chief public defender’s office handles around 3,300 cases per year, three times what the state recommends. Therein lies the problem.

The spiraling problem in the arena of public defense is the growing number of cases and the parallel need for more lawyers and more funds to pay them. One example given in the Louisiana case claims that some lawyers were being paid $1,000 for 100 cases, or just $10 per case. With this level of income, public defenders in his parishes often need more than one job to cover costs and cannot live on their salary as a lawyer. In one parish, the office stopped representing some accused of certain misdemeanors because of financial needs and understaffing. Walsh quotes the Louisiana Public Defender Board (that oversees each district office) which predicts the “systemic failure in the public-defense system” this summer. The failure began months ago when New Orleans public defenders office announced it would begin refusing certain cases, even serious felonies involving murder and rape.
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At the Catholic Workd Report, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg observes that, as populist regimes implode across Latin America, it’s unclear that the Catholic Church in the age of Francis is well-equipped to cope with whatever comes next.

Since Pope Francis often states that realities are more important than ideas, let’s recall some basic realities about presidents Correa and Morales. Both are professed admirers of Chávez and committed to what Correa calls “socialism of the 21st century” or what Morales describes as “communitarian socialism.”

Both men have also followed the classic populist playbook. This involves (1) dismantling constitutional restraints on power; (2) blaming their nations’ problems on foreigners and foreign interests; (3) following a political logic of internal confrontation with those designated as “enemies of the people”; (4) fostering a cult of personality around a charismatic leader; and (5) creating large constituencies of supporters through disbursement of state largesse. The result has not only been political oppression. The economies of Bolivia and Ecuador are now formally classified as “repressed” in the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom. That means they are among the least free, most corrupt, and statist in the world.

The fact, however, that Correa and Morales were invited to speak at a conference at the Holy See reflects the Church’s ambiguous relationship with left-populist movements and governments in recent years. The Venezuelan bishops’ willingness, for instance, to name and shame a populist regime so directly for its destructive policies is the exception rather than the rule.

Read “Pope Francis, Populism, and the Agony of Latin America” by Samuel Gregg at the Catholic World Report.

Today at The Stream, I examine the dissonance between the goals of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and his recommended means:

[W]hile Sanders’ goals may seem comparable to Scandinavia, there’s little Nordic about his means. It all reminds me of a quip from the Russian Orthodox philosopher S. L. Frank, a refugee from the brutality of actual, Soviet socialism. “The leaders of the French Revolution desired to attain liberty, equality, fraternity, and the kingdom of truth and reason, but they actually created a bourgeois order. And this is the way it usually is in history,” Frank wrote. Sanders wants Scandinavia, but his policies would put us on a track more in line with Argentina or Greece. Good intentions are not enough.

Sure, Sanders is nicer than Trump, for example, and there are real differences between them. Sanders rails against the evils of America’s “millionaires and billionaires.” Trump is one.

But Sanders’ brand of politics still amounts to populist demagoguery, still ultimately appealing to the worst in us. It is to our great shame that we now have no major candidate who consistently appeals to the best. In the meantime, we’d do well to resist such polarizing demagoguery in whatever form it takes.

Read my full article, “Sorry Bernie: Scandinavia Isn’t Socialist,” at The Stream here and see the rundown on why Sanders’ policies wouldn’t get us what Nordic countries have.

cracked-flag-fragment-america-dividedThe fabric of American society is tearing at the seams. Whether witnessed through the disruptive insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or the more mundane fissures of pop culture and daily consumerism, Americans are increasingly divided and diverse.

Yet even in our rash attempts to dismantle Establishment X and Power Center Y, we do so with a peculiar nostalgia of the golden days of yore. You know, those days when institutions mattered?

This is particularly evident in the appeal of Mr. Trump, whose calls to burn down the houses of power come pre-packaged with a simultaneous disdain for the power of bottom-up diversity and the liberty it requires. Once the tattered castle on the hill is torched to the ground, we’re told, we will receive a greater castle on a higher hill with a far more deserving king. The scepter will be yuge, and with power restored to the hands of a man shrewd enough to exploit it, surely we will “win” again. (more…)

In an earlier post I compared the political economy of superheroes in the DC and Marvel universes. And today I have a piece up at The Stream examining the figure of Lex Luthor, the crony capitalist villain featured in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

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anti-establishment-bernie-sanders-donald-trumpWith Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders outperforming all expectations in the current election cycle, much has been said and written about the widespread dissatisfaction with the so-called “establishment.”

“We’re tired of typical politicians,” they say. “It’s time for real change and real solutions. It’s time to shake up the system!”

Yet, as Jeffrey Tucker points out, blind opposition to the status quo, no matter how bad it may be, is not the same as supporting liberty.

The state power we oppose is not identical to the establishment we reject. You can overthrow the establishment and still be left with a gigantic machinery of legalized exploitation. All the agencies, laws, regulations, and powers are still in place. And now you have a problem: someone else is in charge of the state itself. You might call it a new establishment. It could be even more wicked than the one you swept away.

Indeed, it usually is. Maybe always.

Or, as Peggy Noonan recently wrote, considering the prospect of a completely dismembered GOP: “Something important is ending. It is hard to believe what replaces it will be better.” (more…)