Some Gripes

by Jonathan Wallace

Since I began devoting each issue of The Spectacle to a particular theme, there never seems to be enough time to write about current events. I'll try to correct that in this issue by dashing off the following short gripes:

The US should pay its UN dues

The United States has been routinely delinquent for years with a staggering amount of UN dues. Surprisingly, when this fact is reported in the media, it usually is presented without explanation, as if its perfectly normal for the richest country in the world to be a deadbeat where the UN is concerned. Since payment of the dues must be voted by Congress, I suspect that the main reason we don't pay them is because the Congresspeople have no real interest in, or commitment to the organization. Every once in a while, there's a suggestion that we're withholding payment to force specific actions, such as getting rid of Boutros Boutros Ghali; but he was replaced, and we still didn't pay.

I think we have a moral obligation to get in or get out of the UN; if we're in, we should pay the freight. We use the organization, particularly the Security Council, constantly to serve foreign policy goals, and have ever since it was created; its incredibly selfish on our part to rely on the UN without paying our way, and its weak of the other membership to tolerate our childishness. If the US doesn't get around to paying its dues, the UN ought to begin proceedings to throw us out of the organization, or at least remove us from the Security Council; that would probably get the US to pay in a hurry.

The gun pollution problem

As I have now said many times, guns are a pollution problem. Law-abiding people who want them enjoy them in their own safe surroundings, while producing a side effect for which they take no responsibility: their neighbor the gun dealer also sells them to the people who use them to kill people in my city, where we do not want guns. Here is an item from today's New York Times, similar to brief items which appear in that paper almost every week:

Brooklyn Girl Struck by Stray Bullet--A 15-year-old girl who peered out her apartment window in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, when she heard gunfire was hit in the neck by a stray bullet yesterday, the police said.

Stray bullets are constantly hitting children in my city. When the guns are recovered, they are almost always traced to a gunshop in the South or West somewhere. The gun that was used to spray tourists on top of the Empire State Building was legally purchased in a Florida gunshop, and the weapon used to kill the passengers on the Long Island Railroad was bought in California.

We in the large urban areas live downstream from you in the more rural South and West. You are fond of saying that the violence in our cities proves the failure of gun control; this is an outrageous statement when the guns that are used here come from your neighbor. No one has yet explained to me how putting more guns in Fort Greene would make it less likely that a fifteen year old girl will get hit in the neck. Simple morality dictates that gun owners should work with gun control advocates to find a middle ground. Own and enjoy your weapons while finding a way to help keep them out of my neighborhood.

Stop the Republican attack on judicial integrity

While the Contract Republicans have largely been hiding their radicalism under a bushel until the opinion polls tell them its safe to let it out again, one radical and very dangerous initiative has recently begun: an attack on judicial independence and the integrity of our legal system.

The judiciary is the ultimate, and usually the sole protector of minority rights and unpopular opinions in this country. Left, right or libertarian, if civil liberties mean anything to you, you should pay attention to the two-pronged attack that is getting under way on our freedoms.

First, Republicans are talking about impeaching "judicial activists." What this means is that judges who issue opinions on difficult topics that offend the Republican majority will now be impeached for their views, and not for the "high crimes and misdemeanors" defined by the Constitution. Appointment of judges for life has always been the best guarantee that they will act according to their lights, and not be swayed by public opinion; now, if judges must fear being fired for taking closely reasoned but unpopular positions, the judicial branch will become little more than a puppet of the legislative branch.

Republican Senators are now also considering measures that would allow them to veto appointments to the appellate courts if they don't like the candidates' ideology. With a couple of notorious exceptions, the Senate's "gentlemanly" rulebook has always dictated that Presidential appointments will be approved if they are sufficiently "judgelike"--scholarly, balanced, and have the ability to do the job--regardless of their personal beliefs. This is why the Democratic majorities of the last few decades have approved so many conservative judges appointed by Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Now that the shoe is on the other foot--a Democratic president and a Republican majority in the Senate--the radical Republicans are looking to take control of the process and ensure that only "true believers" in the conservative creed will be appointed. How is this morally any different than Roosevelt's court packing plan of the 1930's?

To put things in perspective, it appears to be a Contract Republican belief that the federal courts should not have the right to over-rule Congress or void legislation as unconstitutional. This was a plank in the Republican platform in the last election, and the National Review has trumpeted the same tenet to its readership. If this incredibly dangerous recommendation were ever implemented, or if the Republicans succeed in their two attacks on judicial independence, then the most significant of the Constitution's checks and balances will have been defeated. An unpopular minority's only hope will then be a resort to Congress--much like the chickens asking the wolves for protection.