Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Who are You? And Should I Listen to You?

Guest Post by a COS Tennessee Supporter

Who are you?
 Joanna Scutari, a self-proclaimed “logician” and self-trained constitutional "expert", has been running around the South for a few years giving presentations to small conservative groups on the U.S. Constitution. She operates under the pseudonym "Publius Huldah".

Her conclusions on many topics are not only controversial, they are considered by real constitutional experts to be flat wrong, particularly regarding the Article V state convention method of proposing amendments.

The question has arisen as to whether her choice to hide behind a pseudonym matters or not. The question behind the question: who is Ms. Scutari and should I listen to her?

Lest you think the use of a pseudonym and knowing the true identity of a speaker is not a question for serious discussion, be aware that some of the issues Ms. Scutari discusses in her presentations are very serious indeed. When it comes to how the states should address federal overreach, the very future of our constitutional republic hangs in the balance. This is about what lawful, moral and civil methods all citizens should and could use to prevent our country from falling off a political cliff or a financial cliff -- an event that most people believe is not too far in our country’s future unless there is a quick and thorough course correction.

When having serious presentations on such a serious topic, does hiding behind a pseudonym matter? Does hiding your background matter? Does knowing your speaker matter? Yes to all three questions.

First, just think about Ms. Scutari’s choice to use a pseudonym. If you decided you wanted to learn about the constitution and then start making public presentations about what you have learned, would you have chosen to use a pseudonym? Have any of you heard any speakers who make serious, live presentations on how to save our country, or on any constitutional law topic, using a pseudonym? Of course not. Most people who want to be taken seriously on serious topics in live presentations use their real names. Why use a pseudonym? To hide your lack of training or recognized expertise? To hide something in your past? To provide entertainment value to your presentations? Why? At best, the choice to use any pseudonym is just bizarre. At worst, it could be used to hide sinister motives and objectives.

Ms. Scutari recently attempted to justify her use of a pseudonym by comparing her choice to that of Samuel Clemens choosing to use the pseudonym Mark Twain. By making this comparison, of course, she slyly implies to our subconscious that we should take her as seriously on political matters as Mark Twain was taken as a non-fiction author. Further, by choosing to use this analogy, she wants us to take the innocence and even "fun" of Samuel Clemens and his writings and subconsciously transfer those characteristics to her choice to do likewise. This analogy is pompous and egregious.

Further, is that analogy true? Flatly, no. Samuel Clemens used a pen name to write fictional stories for entertainment. That purpose is MUCH different from someone who is engaging in political discourse on a public stage and who is attempting to influence a group of people to take real action (or take no action) on matters of great importance. The topics about which Ms. Scutari speaks are much different (fiction versus non-fiction) and of much greater significance (entertainment versus saving our Republic). Thus the entire analogy simply fails. Samuel Clemens’ use of a pseudonym does not support Ms. Scutari’s use of a pseudonym. This supposed “logician" uses extremely flawed logic. Specifically, she uses a false analogy – and by doing so manipulates her audience. Neither is it a correct analogy to say that the Founding Fathers used pseudonyms and thus it is acceptable for her to use one. First, she is nowhere near being on the level of the Founding Fathers – and I hope she would admit to that. Second, the Founding Fathers did not use pseudonyms EVERYWHERE. When they appeared in public, they used their real names. The only time they used pseudonyms was in the authoring of the Federalist Papers, but the reader knew that the author was at least one of the authors of the Constitution.

Should we know who is speaking to us? Yes.

Personal backgrounds of speakers are the source of bias – and all of us have at least a little bias built in from our personal backgrounds. On matters of such importance, the background of the speaker needs to be well known. Openness and transparency matter.

Further, one cannot simply claim expertise and expect everyone to believe that claim just because you say you have it. The best way to demonstrate expertise is to have others who have similar expertise publicly recognize you as a fellow expert. Real names are needed to search public records and validate claimed credentials.

Further, real names are needed to search the organizations in which the speaker and their prior and current associates and family members may have participated or shown interest. In other words, real names are needed to be able to verify who you are and “where you come from”.

Ms. Scutari has vehemently kept her identity a complete secret for many years – even refusing to give her real name when asked by a Tennessee State lawmaker in a formal hearing. Why? She claims innocence, but can we accept that claim?

Now that her real identity has been revealed, we know that she married into a family with a sketchy history. The fact that she chose to keep this information secret should certainly cause everyone to at least pause and consider what biases she brings to her presentations because of that background.

Further, now that her real name is known, we can confirm that she actually was a lawyer. But that is it. Constitutional law is a specialty within the law -- lawyers are not trained in constitutional law in the course of getting a standard law degree. To learn constitutional law requires specialized training and many years of experience under the tutelage of other experts. In other words, a "lawyer" is NOT necessarily a "constitutional expert." As far as anyone has been able to determine, Ms. Scutari has no known formal training on constitutional law.

Further, now that we have her name, many searches conducted by several people have come up empty as to whether she has argued in front of any courts on constitutional law issues. In fact, no one has been able to identify that she has any significant courtroom experience on any topics, other than helping her husband obtain a divorce.

In short, no other recognized experts on constitutional law (neither educators at universities nor any courts nor any other experts) have confirmed her expertise.

In fact, the opposite is true. At least a few constitutional experts (with significant training, experience and public recognition, including recognition from the U.S. Supreme Court) have stated that she is wrong on Article V and the state convention method of proposing amendments and also wrong on the concept of nullification.

Some of her sycophants have argued that Ms. Scutari’s lack of formal training in constitutional law should not matter; that one should just focus on her arguments. Hogwash. Formal training does matter. Formal training allows one to:

  1. become aware of and include all of the arguments on both sides of a whole host of issues,
  2. fully understand the context and meaning of the arguments regarding those issues,
  3. weigh the arguments against each other accurately and
  4. accurately assemble all of this information to reach the correct conclusions.

Just one gap in any of these steps and your conclusions can be very wrong. To be clear, formal training does not guarantee correct conclusions. However, the lack of formal training, because of failures which may occur at any one of the four steps above, will greatly increase the chance for incorrect conclusions, especially on a topic as broad and complex as constitutional law. If you examine their complaints, you will find that the constitutional experts have complained about issues with Ms. Scutari’s logic at all four steps of this process.

We mentioned earlier how one’s personal background will always introduce some amount of bias. One of the additional values of formal training is to allow others to help you identify personal bias and remove that bias from your arguments and conclusions.

What’s interesting is that when Ms. Scutari is being compared to real scholars, some argue that these comparisons do not matter. But on the front page of her blog she highlights her law degree and when she is introduced in public, her law degree is always mentioned. You can't have it both ways. Either her training matters or it does not. The fact is that training, degrees, experience, and public recognition by other experts do matter. Ms. Scutari confirms that herself by claiming her law degree at all points.

To be fair, Ms. Scutari is to be commended for her efforts to self-train in the constitution. However, regardless of her ability to memorize and quote many aspects of the constitution and the federalist papers, Ms. Scutari’s conclusions can still be very wrong, particularly when we know that they come from a lack of serious constitutional law training and experience and  potentially with some very serious biases. When you combine all of that with her insistence on hiding behind a pseudonym for several years, it is not only warranted, but prudent to have significant doubt concerning her conclusions.

If she wants to be taken seriously on a public stage, she should:

  1. engage in some serious, formal education and obtain a degree or other formal recognitions in constitutional law from people who are confirmed experts,
  2. work under the tutelage of confirmed constitutional experts to gain at least a few years of real experience and allow “steel to sharpen steel”,
  3. publicly list the groups with whom she is affiliated now and in the past (and to formally deny the tenets of organizations with whom she does not agree.) and
  4. use her real name, at least as a by-line.

After all of these steps, maybe, at some point, we can begin to take her seriously. Ms. Scutari has a lot to overcome because her choices up until now, particularly hiding behind a pseudonym, will cast a long shadow on any potential future as a serious speaker on these topics.

Until she has taken the steps above, her presentations should be considered nothing much more than interesting theater - a performance. You may learn some things, but be very wary of any conclusions she reaches.

We know more about Ms. Scutari than we did just a few months ago. However, even now, we really don't know Ms. Scutari’s full background. She has a sketchy family history. Her “self-taught” constitutional law training is sketchy. Real experts indicate she uses sketchy logic and reaches sketchy conclusions, particularly regarding Article V and amending state conventions. It is all just sketchy.

To the leaders of conservative groups who have scheduled Ms. Scutari to perform in the past, prior to her background and lack of training becoming known, please think hard about that decision and consider strongly having others who can fairly and completely represent opposite conclusions also present to your groups.

If you are a leader who is considering scheduling Ms. Scutari for a performance, think deeply about whether this is a wise idea. At a minimum, make sure to study and understand what confirmed experts have to say about Ms. Scutari’s arguments, logic and conclusions. Please also ensure that opposing views from confirmed experts are presented fairly and completely after Ms. Scutari’s performance, to root out and reverse her questionable conclusions.

Joanna "Publius Huldah" Scutari
Before attending one of her performances, consider strongly whether your group’s time would be better spent listening to confirmed experts, instead of having to undo conclusions after the fact, particularly on issues as important as legal, civil, moral, and constitutional methods to restore our constitutional republic.

Who is she? We really don’t know. Should you listen to her? You decide. If you do, make sure you review the content of her performances against the arguments and conclusions of confirmed experts.

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