31 March 2009

Who will defend the Constitution?

The topic of executive bonuses seems to have quieted down a bit, or at least I am not listening as closely, but the topic of this post I feel is too important to let go.

I am frustrated at a number of things that the previous U.S. presidency did that in my opinion are obviously against the original intentions of the United States Constitution. I am thinking of habeas corpus and warrantless wiretapping. I am even more disappointed that the encroachments on rights explicit in the constitution may continue.

An article by Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune that I came across thanks to Russell Roberts of Cafe Hayek brought up the an interesting point. Chapman's article discusses a number of the recent attempts of congress to get involved in how things are run in business. Specifically the idea that up to a ninety percent tax be placed on the bonuses given to certain employees. Chapman ends with the following point.
Expropriating property from people who did nothing more than accept money they were legally due sounds uncannily like a bill of attainder—a legislative measure declaring someone guilty of a crime, and imposing punishment, without trial. This weapon was expressly forbidden by the framers of the Constitution because it is fundamentally unfair, at odds with the rule of law and driven by mass hysteria rather than dispassionate fact-finding.

Once upon a time, those were considered bad things.
I can't seem to find my Political Science Dictionary, probably a casualty of a past cleaning effort, so I am relying upon Wikipedia. The United States Constitution explicitly forbids a bill of attainder in Article I, section 9, clause 3. This is a part of our constitution because it had a history in British law (though no longer). The Wikipedia entry includes some relevant legal references that I found interesting.
from Cummings v. Missouri:
A bill of attainder, is a legislative act which inflicts punishment without judicial trial and includes any legislative act which takes away the life, liberty or property of a particular named or easily ascertainable person or group of persons because the legislature thinks them guilty of conduct which deserves punishment.
Since in the case of bonuses I have read that contracts existed concerning these bonuses the following portion concerning bills of attainder from various state constitutions is intersting.
The constitution of every State also expressly forbids bills of attainder. For example, Wisconsin's constitution Article I, Section 12 reads:
No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, nor any law impairing the obligation of contracts, shall ever be passed, and no conviction shall work corruption of blood or forfeiture of estate.
Contrast this with the subtly more modern variation of the Texas version: Article 1 (Titled Bill of Rights) Section 16, entitled Bills of Attainder; Ex Post Facto or Retroactive Laws: Impairing Obligation of Contracts: "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, retroactive law, or any law impairing the obligation of contracts, shall be made".
We find ourselves on a slippery slope when we forget the freedoms which the founders of this country found so important and fail to defend these freedoms in the face of a perceived public uproar or panic. I for one fear the actions of our government in attempting to protect us more than those things from which they are attempting to protect us.

24 March 2009

Bonuses abound

I know Wal-Mart can be a controversial subject of conversation among some circles. With all the talk of bonuses Wal-Mart now has the gall to give out hundreds of millions of dollars of bonuses, to their hourly employees.

I learned of this from Russell Roberts' blog Cafe Hayek. The original news article is from bloomberg.com and contains a fair amount of details. I appreciated Roberts' comments.
Don't they know there's a recession going on? How dare they award their employees for doing a good job? They should all give a bunch of the money back to the government. What? The bonuses aren't being funded by taxpayers? How yes, I remember. This is how capitalism once worked. Successful companies rewarded their employees and lousy companies disappeared.

22 March 2009

Cast out first the beam

This counsel found in both Matthew and Luke of the New Testament came to mind as I read a blogpost by Russell Roberts on his blog Cafe Hayek. Roberts made some "modest changes" to an article about Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and his comments on the Japanese practice of hara kiri and its application in modern America. An excerpt:
“Point being, U.S. corporate executives politicians are unapologetic about running their companies the country adrift, accepting giving away billions of tax dollars to supposedly help, and then spending being surprised when those tax dollars get spent on travel, huge bonuses, etc,” [Grassley spokeswoman Jill] Gerber said.
I realize that this is a few days old, but I enjoyed it too much not to share.

19 March 2009

The Law

I was recently trying to learn more about common law and the distinction between common and statutory law. I initially was curious if common law used common in the same sense as the economic concept of the tragedy of the commons. It appears that it does not.

Here are some definitions from the web:
English common law was largely customary law left unwritten, until discovered, applied, and reported by the courts of law. In theory, a judge did not create law but rather discovered it in the customs and habits of the English people. (reference)
Laws or legal principles that have been established by courts over the years. May be codified into a statute or overruled by a statute passed by the government. (reference)

This idea that so much of our law and courts are based solely on legal tradition and precedence is amazing to me. I would imagine that at this point in time much of common law has been codified in statutory law, but I don't know. It makes me think that judges have more influence than I previously thought.

16 March 2009


I don't fully agree with the amount of outrage that there has been about the most recent AIG bonuses. I don't like it, but it is also how they run their business and compensate their employees.

The Cafe Hayek blog had a brief post related to all of this based on a New York Times article. I especially liked Russell Roberts' conclusion:
I wish the bonuses would stop, too. I don't believe in rewarding people who destroyed their company. Note to the President: when you stop sending them money, the bonuses will stop.

12 March 2009

Cwm and funny plurals

English is an interesting language. I find it interesting the large number of languages that have contributed to English as we know it today. Having learned a couple of those languages you begin to see origins and explanations for some of the "funny" words we find in english. By funny I mean both words that are humorous and words that don't follow the rules.

The Grammar Girl podcast clued me into a great English word. The word is cwm, pronounced /kuːm/. Grammar Girl points out that this is a great Scrabble word. It comes from Welsh and means a specific shape of valley.

Another word origin related episode talks about funny plurals in English. Knowing Dutch Old English is very interesting. I can see the germanic influence and the connections as the language moved westward.

I have found linguistics intriguing for some time now, but I have never attempted to study it seriously. Language is so critical to our experiences and to think of where the differences in language arose can be enlightening.

And despite the geeky topic, the Grammar Girl podcast is quite interesting.

03 March 2009


For some time now I have avoided keeping my wallet in the back pocket of my pants. This is probably due to all of the sitting that I end up doing throughout the day. I find it more comfortable and often more convenient to place it in a coat pocket or bag.

Regardless of whether the wallet is in my pocket or a bag I can always expect it to wear around the corners and eventually need to be replaced. I usually get a simple leather wallet, tending toward thinner wallets when possible.

I got to thinking of other possibilities, and Lifehacker pointed me in a new direction. I know that there are many different options out there. I wasn't looking for duct tape or vinyl but I did come across what I think is a great alternative.

Jimi wallets

A few points:

  • I think that this plastic case should be very durable. As long as I don't try to fall 8 feet onto any rocks it should last a long time

  • The limited size makes you reconsider what you carry with you

  • Very easy to throw into my front pocket, my coat, or whatever bag I happen to have with me

  • The transparency is a nice feature

  • One of the best feautres is the cost. At half the cost of most bottom line wallets I went ahead and got two wallets

If you are looking for a new wallet and are willing to try something different, I recommend a Jimi.

01 March 2009

Happy Birthdays

I wanted to wish both of my girls a happy birthday. I love them dearly and hope that they have some extra fun.