Gorsuch And The “Frozen Trucker” Case

READ: CNN: “Judge Gorsuch and the frozen truck driver” by Paul Callan

This fine article was an eye-opener for me. To many of us, it first seemed Gorsuch, though conservative, had a good record and “was the best we could get” under the circumstances.

(1) FACTS: The company truck’s brakes were defective or improperly maintained. Brake lines “freeze” because there is water in the brake lines; brake fluid does not freeze. The company was negligent, possibly criminally so if they had been on trial. They were derelict in their responsibility and promise to provide help in a timely manner in freezing weather. They ignored the driver’s repeated calls for help and his statement that his legs were becoming numb and he was having trouble breathing – the truck cab heater was defective too, and he was almost out of gas.

(2) Gorsuch ignored the responsibilities of the company in the matter, concentrating instead on what he presumed were the driver’s “duties.” Gorsuch ignored the health and safely of the driver. Every judge makes bad decisions, later to be regretted, but there’s an even more telling problem with this man.

(3) The article states: “Gorsuch was demonstrating his firm belief in the principle that the actual words of a law should be strictly applied by the court. This doctrine, often referred to as textualism, stands for the proposition that it is up to the legislature to make the law and is up to judges to strictly apply the actual words of the law. “

OUT OF ALL the considerations with which the law provides us, not least of which is following California Motor Vehicle statutes and protecting the health and safety of the driver and the public, Gorsuch focused on insubordination and dereliction of duty because the dispatcher ordered the driver to remain in the freezing truck.

(4) In other words, like Scalia, here is another man who, under the textualism doctrine,  cherry-picks his statutes in order to reach a verdict that is politically and personally pleasing to himself.

CONCLUSION: Gorsuch is not qualified to be a judge, period. Until we get a fair-minded candidate who shows an ability to look at all the facts, prioritize them and evaluate them in the broader context of all US law,  in order from trivial to essential, we should block GOP nominees for the ninth SCOTUS chair until Hell freezes over, if that’s what it takes to get a nominee committed to preserve and protect the Constitution and the individual rights of its citizens.

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“Darth Vader Money”

Congress is finally perfecting a complete inversion of the popular idea of “Charity.” Billionaires and their huge corporations “donate” millions to our elected representatives. Like your $25 donation to your favorite charity, these millions are tax-exempt, meaning, of course, they’re taxpayer-subsidized.

But these donated millions don’t go to the injured and displaced, survivors of natural disaster, and the poor and needy. They go into legislators’ secret slush funds in a process still colloquially known as “bribery.”

The resulting legislation effects a return of billions in completely legal and fully protected profits to the “donors,” a thousandfold return on investment (ROI).

But this is surely just exaggerated hype, right? From Bill Moyers, this morning, in turn quoting Paul Blumenthal at The Huffington Post:

“Republicans in Congress are trying to decrease the already scant amount of disclosure for politically-active nonprofits — known as dark money groups. The legislative effort is unsurprisingly supported by the main political arm of the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.”

“Dark Money?” Like “Non-profit.” there we rediscover another grave euphemism. Taxpayers subsidize small investments in legislation, in the process best known as “graft,” which returns huge profits, which in turn are often sheltered under special tax sweetheart deals. In effect, we are paying corporations to corrupt the system for a profit. It’s become “Darth Vader” Money.

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The GOP: the Sea Change Older Than You Think

A distressed friend posted a Facebook comment that the GOP changed around 2014, perhaps the last straw for her. After some reflection, I posted the following thoughts of my own …

April 6, 2016
Although 2014 was a signature year that will long be remembered for disgracing the Republican Party, I sniffed the sea change as early as twenty years ago – with the rise of Georgia Representative and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. With his ominous “Contract With America” and the longest government shutdown in our history, he signaled a new era of strident, intractable GOP politics which attracted, not the brightest and the best, but the opposite among both leaders and followers.
Trump and Cruz were not the GOP sea change, they were its inevitable culmination. There were several factors leading to this unveiling of the very worst side of crony capitalism and hate politics, and Gingrich was hardly alone in leading the way down the hole. He bestowed traction and status to the worst elements in the party, and we can strongly associate the Gingrich Era with the instigation of most of the unsavory changes in the party, of which I’d been a supporter for decades.
I was in somewhat a state of denial [about this] myself. I watched the swarm of little horribles crawling out of the hole, and I thought, “the GOP won’t stand for this; they’ll squash this once and for all soon enough.” But they encouraged it, they pandered to it, they invented new justifications for fanning and perpetrating the mentality of nastiness (to put it politely.) No need to be ashamed, Robbie. We’ve all seen families where one member embraces addiction and crime and blames the others. Loyalty is understandable until a turning point comes where we’re finally forced to see there’s no hope left. The person or party we tried to support is no longer heading in the wrong direction, but has arrived. We have to chalk up our losses and say, “I no longer know you.”

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Robert Reich and The Establishment

The 2016 Presidential campaign has captured public involvement and commentary more so than any previous election year I can remember, possibly excepting the Goldwater vs. Johnson election year of 1964.

Election Fever has spread to Facebook too, of course. A friend “Shared” an editorial essay by UC Berkeley political economist Robert Reich, which I’d say is recommended reading regardless of your preferred political party. I’d go further: our vote is often ignored and in some cases actually goes to the candidate your vote was meant to keep out, and it’s entirely legal. The system is rigged.

A link to the Reich article is provided at the bottom of this post.

After reading the article and pondering its implications, my thoughts over the past few weeks began to gel. I posted the following comment. Its intent is not in criticism of Reich but as expansion on one of Reich’s observations. I focused on our two-party apparatus as it has evolved in recent decades.

=====

A friend said they hope more folks read this. Very good summary and analysis. I’d go farther than labeling both parties as entrenched within the structure of the Establishment. Our parties have too much power. They’ve had it for a LONG time. I believe most of us were raised to view political parties as a means to allow us to organize effectively according to our political philosophies.
The whole idea of “pre-committed super-delegates” is a slap in the face to the entire electoral process. So is the idea of “winner-take-all” states. We have the right to vote, but we don’t have the right to vote to cast out others’ ballots, and our elected representatives most certainly don’t either.
Our parties insulate the electorate from the process with a firewall of lobbyists, corporate donations and interests, secret slush funds and an unwritten agenda of “business as usual.” Instead of the parties and elected partisan representatives being directly accountable to the electorate, the people are expected to fall into line with one or the other of the major parties’ rigged picks. Another sad case of the tail wagging the dog.

READING: The End of the Establishment? by Robert Reich

 

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The Breaking VA Scandal

We’ve all read today that retired four-star General Eric Shinseki just resigned as head of the Veterans Administration. As reported by the New York Times:

In a speech Friday morning to a veterans group, Mr. Shinseki apologized and described the V.A. he led as having “a systemic, totally unacceptable lack of integrity.” He vowed to fix what he called a “breach of integrity” and said he had already initiated the firing of top managers at the Phoenix medical center, where allegations of mismanagement first surfaced.
But his contrition and promises of action came too late to save his job.

It is too soon to gauge the extent to which Mr. Shinseki can really bear responsibility for those decades-long failures of the VA to professionally care for our nation’s military veterans. Budget cuts and unethical medical practices both do a great disservice to both our veterans, and to the thousands of highly competent, dedicated doctors and medical assistants who struggle to provide care in a dysfunctional and understaffed system.

In my opinion, and the opinion of many, Shinseki’s most visible failure was in not acknowledging and addressing these deficiencies more visibly and proactively. But with his departure, we now face the prospect that our do-nothing Congress can now say the problem has been fixed, and move on to what it does best.

My own personal VA story is trivial by comparison, but I see it as a tiny snapshot of a small part of a much bigger picture. I’m a Vietnam veteran (1963-1964), but VA ineptitude caused my application to be denied in 2009, 2010 and 2013. I’m still waiting. My honorable discharge documentation is in order. For the military time period in which my documentation was issued, it’s accurate to say it has always been in order. The VA told me they “believed” me, but they could find no evidence that I was in fact a Vietnam veteran … Continue reading

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Teaching to the Test

MULTIPLE CHOICE. Dick has 3 Junior Mints and 29 Red Hots. Jane has 17 Junior Mints and 11 Red Hots. Select the best solution below to convince your school officials that Dick and Jane will each end up with equal shares of both Red Hots and Junior Mints. NO ERASURES.

A. Solve for 1/2(x + y) = (10 + 40)
B. Quantities of different candy types have no mutual dependency. Just have Jane give Dick 7 Junior Mints, have Dick give Jane 9 Red Hots, and move on to the next question.
C. Jane gives Dick 1/2 of her Junior Mints and Dick gives Jane 1/2 of his Red Hots.
D. Teach to the test.

Last night I watched the PBS Frontline special “The Education of Michelle Rhee.” Rhee is an educator who rose to national prominence as Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public school system – a new office created especially for her, which transferred direct power from the board of supervisors to Rhee.

The DC school system was – and probably still is – one of the most challenged in the nation. It shares problems common to many large inner-city school districts: kids from broken and low-income homes, horrible discipline problems, perfunctory attempts to prepare the kids for the next grade level, failing marks in the three R’s, and a demoralized cadre of tenured teachers who aren’t empowered to make meaningful changes within a seemingly hopeless teaching environment.

Rhee’s solution was simple: raise your kids’ test scores, or I’ll fire you. She also got tough on discipline. Essentially, she became the “Tiger Mom,” the dragon lady of the Washington D.C. school system.

Lo and behold, test scores started rising, slowly at first, then dramatically. Scores of tenured teachers found themselves unemployed. A victory for “tough love” teaching methods? Not so fast!

I heard no one actually SAY “teach to the test,” but teachers running scared for their jobs found that to be the only way to produce immediate results. Investigators later found an unusually high incidence of erasures on multiple-choice IBM computer card scoring sheets, though it was never proved who performed the erasures.

Kids were able to raise their test scores, on an average. Teachers were graded not on inspirational or innovative teaching techniques, but on class test scores. There was ideological method in the Rhee madness.

I wasn’t surprised that Rhee also became active in far-right Republican politics. She launched an initiative to fight the recall effort against anti-union Michigan governor Scott Walker. The philosophical dividing line between the Walker mentality and the rest of the world is that of “human capital” versus “human being” rhetoric. We are NOT just commodities, somebody else’s “resource.”

Be that as it may, what I didn’t hear last night were glowing testimonies from the students themselves. I didn’t hear from kids who’d suddenly acquired the learning tools and self-confidence to announce their goal was to continue on to college. I didn’t hear one expression of delight from a kid who finally “got” a difficult principle. I didn’t hear a single kid ask, “how can I find out more about this?”

It seems manifestly true that big changes need to be made in the philosophy and profession of teaching. Scapegoating teachers makes no more sense than scapegoating kids. It accomplishes no more than scapegoating parents: we blame parents, which in education is like embracing the chicken-vs-egg riddle as a viable solution. Since education is so heavily institutionalized, changes in methodology have to come largely from the top, which Rhee understood, but they have to enable students AND teachers to achieve their potential, which Rhee didn’t understand.

To my mind, teaching kids how to pick answers that best satisfy the educator score card is a monstrous perversion of the point and rewards of a rounded education. For demonstrating that we don’t have to accept dysfunctional school systems as inevitable, I’d give Rhee an “A.” For inspiring kids to acquire the one skill that makes all the others possible, that is to say a love of learning, I’d give Rhee an “F.”

And I’d fire her.

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Church vs. State: Religious Freedom vs. Freedom of Speech

Just when we thought the HHS “Contraceptive Kerfuffle” was resolved! So-called “social conservatives” from the religious right are attempting to hijack the issue from the Catholic Bishops to put a two-pronged political and religious spin on it.

  1. The President ordered a change to the HHS ruling so that health insurers automatically provide the coverage at no additional charge to any insuring employer.
  2. Brooks and Shields agree that the Administration pulled us back from the brink of “religious war.”
  3. The Catholic Church, ACLU, women’s groups and Planned Parenthood all seem mollified.
  4. GOP candidate Romney finally announces “that attacks religious liberty and freedom of speech.”
  5. Brooks shows how the Administration’s original ham-fisted proposal for universal access to birth control, and the recent California court overturn of the ban on gay marriage, have emboldened the religious right.
  6. The religious right will step up its long-standing assault on personal choice it opposes.

Well, Catholics having been somewhat mollified, we should have been able to predict this would only prompt the religious right “social conservatives” to step in where Bishops care not to tread. Brooks explained the religious right would be opposed to any aspect of the HHS bill anyway, since the original proposal concretized their claim that the whole “Obamacare” program is an unwarranted government intrusion upon their religious freedom, not to mention the untouchable private sector.

As we’d expect from any religion-driven political movement, this is partly political and partly because in the view of the religious right, reproductive preventative services of any kind are a violation of the word of the Creator who blessed only their interpretation of our founding state papers. We only need a Supreme Court to rubber-stamp doctrinaire edicts from the great pulpit on high. The constitutional separation of church and state is being broken down, piece by piece.

In other words, in the “social conservative” view, religious freedom must trump personal freedom of choice every time. In that view, religious freedom requires an imperative to impose upon others sharia, i.e. religious law, by force of political legislation. Never mind that this is unconstitutional in the United States.

Do you want fries with that? Did you know that the very organization which aggressively defames gays and lesbians has its own anti-defamation league? The irony is that we find freedom of speech and religion being used here as a tool to silence personal liberty. See:

1. DefendChristians.org
2. Right Wing Watch
3. Christian Anti-Defamation Commission

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“Occupy:” Say What?

We all dimly remember when some targets of the Occupy movement’s scorn struck some resonant chord with most of us. The popular spotlight on the vast 99%-1% gap was launched by Occupy. Public resentment against the unholy bank/investment bank consortiums who brought the economy to its knees in 2008 was brought into sharp focus by Occupy.

The cities of Oakland and Washington, D.C. are current newsworthy Occupy targets (among many others), further straining the resources of already financially beleaguered cities and their residents. And why Oakland, indeed? We don’t just have cities to house large law enforcement repositories. Believe it or not, ordinary citizens also try to live in cities, raise kids, and, if possible, earn a living.

Besides discovering that some police departments have learned nothing at all about police brutality vs. effective and humane crowd control in half a century, we don’t hear as much about Occupy these days because the question “how’s your poison oak” is only interesting to most of us for about the first week of the infection.

But they’re still here. What the hell do they really want?

To inspect the horse’s mouth – that part of the equine anatomy presented to those inspecting its teeth – I checked out an actual Occupy web site, OccupyWallStreet.

That site issues a disclaimer on the posted list of demands, “This content is user submitted and not an official statement,” but alas, I could not locate an “official” list. Here’s a smattering of the wackier zany demands I did find:

  • Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act. Unionize ALL workers immediately. [Return of the 1923 “Wobblies?”]
  • Open the borders to all immigrants, legal or illegal. Offer immediate, unconditional amnesty, to all undocumented residents of the US. [Oh, sure]
  • Lower the retirement age to 55. Increase Social Security benefits. [Pie in the sky, a chicken in every pot]
  • Ban the private ownership of land [Nyet, komrade]
  • Make homeschooling illegal. Religious fanatics use it to feed their children propaganda. [Regular parents use it to give their kids real educations, too. Even Hippie parents couldn’t have sanctioned this proposal.]

So much for the notion “Occupy” is for increased freedom.

Looking up “Wobblie” in Wikipedia, I find the following wording in their preamble to the “current IWW Constitution:”

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

Sound familiar? Occupy needs to re-focus or disband. I believe union and popular social movements that address social problems by hurling walls of human bodies into the maw are short-selling the potential of the 99% to conceptualize and debate real issues. “Let’s protest police brutality by seeing if we can provoke it” is not a solution. It’s a shopworn, coldly calculated gambit to manufacture martyrs for a cause that often doesn’t bear up well under closer scrutiny. Rather than performing public-service educational functions, why do these movements invariably send their supporters into the failed strategic equivalent of World War I trench warfare?

Occupy can jolly well get out of the cities and try a 21st-century communications solution, like the Internet.

Occupying Oakland makes about as much sense as picketing “Elmo & Oscar’s Kiddie Daycare Center” to force Assad to democratize Syria, or to induce North Korea to enthusiastically embrace free speech and elected government.

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Ron Paul, Libertarianism and 2012 Issues

by Alex Forbes

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

— The Walrus and The Carpenter, Lewis Carroll

How long will our existing two-party system last? What do the parties really stand for? When will elected officials stop governing on the one-way, top-down model? Everybody wants to know, and no one has the answers. All we can do here is look at the one party that continues to change and surprise, even if those come as unpleasant surprises to so many of us. What’s going on?

Republicans are scrambling to find someone articulate enough to stand up to Barack Obama in debate, yet look good wearing the party’s ultraconservative new clothes. Gingrich has a tarnished past and is viewed as somewhat volatile and unpredictable, but he can certainly handle debate. Ron Paul by all accounts would have been viewed as a crackpot only a few short years ago, and the more you look at his platform and ask the question “so how would this work?” the more dubious it looks.

But Ron Paul has an unaccountably strong following. Why? Ron Paul is articulate; he can explain things all of the other candidates fumble, even though they are generally all sipping from the same slipper. Why is only Ron Paul giving answers that seem to make sense to the Republican base, even if they only make sense when we don’t ask what would happen next?

Ron Paul has been called the “godfather of libertarianism.” How did we get from a fringe backwater political philosophy to a serious national candidacy?

This isn’t the forum to discuss libertarianism, a generalized political philosophy with 18th century roots which anchors the individual (not governments) as the unit of all social transactions, advocates minimization of government, prohibits the use of force in settling disputes, and usually has a strong platform on individual rights. A “free market” is viewed not just as an adjunct to those principles, but as indispensably rooted in them. In the U.S., libertarianism is more apt to affiliate with “right wing” policy, where in Europe one may still see variants such as “libertarian socialism.”

The old-time U.S. Libertarian Party never expected to win popular acceptance, so they didn’t have any identifiable next-step plan in the event that should ever happen. What seems odd is that, under the present success of the Paul candidacy, which may properly be regarded as a huge and unexpected popularity boost for the libertarian philosophy, they still don’t.

Over the years I’ve come to see how nations succeed by creating a culture and environment that brings all their citizenry into the participatory fold. Nations that leave their children under-educated, create exclusionary castes, shelter their elite classes, and cut loose their middle classes are, historically, nations on their way out. As corporations use to spout, “people are our most important asset.” What conservatives have forgotten in the past 50 years is that squandering people is not like squandering money. You cannot simply go out and get more. The just society is also the most efficient when everybody is a player. And efficiency is exactly what capitalism was supposed to be all about, was it not?

2012 is the first election year in memory when we the electorate could actually really use a primer to better understand some of the libertarian political tenets. First, we’ll survey some snippets of libertarian ideology. Afterwards, we’ll sample some of what Paul would like to do to implement them.

1. The Theoreticians

In 2012 we’ll face another contest between the two main US political parties. The Democratic Party seems to be the last safe haven for the moderate, leaving the old-school liberal in a kerfuffle. The Republican Party is the new, mean, aggressive soldier force for corporate America and the wealthy. Many people who are neither corporate not wealthy still believe this is a good cause that will trickle down for the rest of us.

Ron Paul breaks the mold.

This means, uh-oh doodie, talking about the last vestiges of capitalism’s theoretical underpinnings, as preserved through the dark ages of participatory democracy by the high priests of old Ayn Rand style libertarianism. That would be Ron Paul if it were anyone. Paul is the one candidate who most closely explains most platform positions of all the others, because he appears to be the only one who understands the theory, and he’s the only one advocating it. Continue reading

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The Fallacy of False Equivalence

I was reading a convoluted article in The Nation entitled ‘The Proud Liar Mitt Romney Claimed Today‘ when I came across the phrase ‘the time-honored MSM tactic of false equivalence.’

I never did figure out author Eric Alterman’s reference to ‘MSM.’ Clearly not Methylsulfonylmethane, probably not Manhattan School of Music, even more clearly not Men Who Have Sex With Men. Ironically, Alterman is profiled as ‘a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.”

But I did think I knew what the Fallacy of False Equivalence means. Or should mean … I looked it up too, of course. I fancy myself a student of rhetoric. I once even wrote a series of articles on rhetoric and persuasive writing. I found no really solid definition.

I think the fallacy of false equivalence is a modern composite re-invention of several older classical fallacies. It also seems to be endemic to political journalism. In my day we were trained to just call these non sequiturs (Latin, “doesn’t follow”).

The general structure of the false equivalence fallacy (and its variants) would have a structure similar to the following:

Deadly nightshade is a member of the potato family. Paprika and chili peppers are members of the same family. We must regard paprika and chili peppers as poisonous.

Or, one of the more family-friendly examples found in a blog by a gentleman named Wally who wrote a 2005 post called Generalized definition of ‘false equivalence’

I didn’t pay you back once when you lent me a dollar, you stole a dollar from my wallet, therefore we’re even.”

What statement actually got The Nation contributor Eric Alterman’s goat?

The most recent punditocracy kerfuffle involves Mitt Romney’s first paid presidential television advertisement. Ironically titled keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” Deliberately left out of the ad were the preceding words: “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote…”

I bring this topic up because we’re going to see a lot more real-life examples. For more information (and some examples that use cuss words) see the article The fallacy of false equivalence by Furry Brown Dog. He does an interesting analysis of the Bush v. Kerry campaign misuse of the Swift Boat furor, about which I happen to agree with the author: Bush’s stance boiled down to the claim Kerry’s Department of Defense documentation lied, whereas Bush’s anecdotal version was the contextually more accurate if you happened to be serious about voting Republican.

No, it’s not just Republicans. We need to watch election statements more critically, rather than blindly applauding anything which makes our side look better, no matter how egregious the misrepresentation. Non sequitur arguments are so embedded in the political culture that the discerning reader should have no trouble spotting them in either camp. But, as Guardian writer Michael Tomasky posts in his blog Can you play False Equivalency!?:

And no, people, I’m not saying liberals never do anything bad. I am saying (read slowly now): this. is. a. constant. habit. of. conservatives. in. a. way. it. is. not. quite. with. liberals.

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