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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Nelson Mandela and Facebook Blocking

He who cannot forgive … breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” ~~ old African proverb

There are many finer tributes to Nelson Mandela than this one. I join so many others in feeling sorrow at the passing of a revered and inspirational world leader, but I never expected to compose this essay at all. Something happened to change my mind.

This week has witnessed a huge outpouring of fine tributes worldwide, honoring and remembering the death of Nelson Mandela. Some of these can be found on Facebook, posted or shared by many admirers. I admit I wasn’t prepared to encounter a comment to a Facebook post which actually profaned that memory. I engaged briefly with that poster. Considering his past history of online acting-out, I finally just blocked him.

It’s not the first time I’ve blocked someone, but it’s the first time I’ve ever blocked someone twice in a row.

The first time, this person we’ll just call “Charlie” made some egregiously offensive remark – one of those gratuitous remarks seemingly made just to be as off-the-wall unpleasant as possible. And it fit a pattern. Basically, it was a credible imitation of what a skinhead would sound like. So, I said, “this person is outta here,” and I blocked him.
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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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Contraception: Controversial Health Care Mandate

The U.S. Health and Human Services department (HHS) recently announced a controversial ruling that would compel most religious organizations to offer contraceptive services as part of their basic health care package. Churches themselves would be granted the “religious exemption.”

Sometimes it may seem hard to defend organizations which in many cases push intrusive meddling upon the rights and private lives of American citizens. Here we have a case where the exact same wrong is being perpetrated upon some of those religious groups. The danger in each case is that the wrongs are perpetrated through the offices of the United States government.

What was HHS thinking? Who would be beneficiaries of this new ruling? PBS reports that while churches themselves are exempt from the new rules, Catholic hospitals and universities must comply. Continue reading

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Are Corporations ‘People’?

A most interesting question was posed today to panelists on the “Inside Washington” PBS roundtable. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, that brilliant conservative whom I admire but with whom I disagree so much, didn’t bite. Columnist and editor Colby King of the Washington Post did.

First of all, this question is loaded. Krauthammer probably saw that. By ‘people’ do we mean, are corporations best viewed as aggregates of “just-plain folks”, like you and me? Or should corporations count under some kind of “one man one vote” rule, getting entitlement to contribute to political campaigns, and to lobby for tax breaks and special treatment?

Second of all, are we talking about how we define corporations, or are we really talking about a extra-constitutional rationale for expanding their enormous power?

Colby King innocently jumped on the question right away. Corporations, he offered in so many words, are comprised of investors, maybe just like you and me, or like the managers of our decimated 401K accounts. So in that sense yes, King said he could see corporations as ‘people’. The question went nowhere. Panelists quickly jumped to the next topic.

Politically, there is one aspect of corporations that’s much like any other interest group. They are and should be entitled to lobby Washington for fair representation of their interests in the scheme of things. But this kind of advocacy should be vetted for impartial relevance in ways we do not tolerate for private citizens. Washington observers have witnessed a sea change in corporate legal status in recent years. Under the Bush Administration, expanded ‘rights’ were extended to corporations, so that, perhaps, corporations might be allowed to donate anonymously to political campaigns and secret slush funds, or the Koch Brothers might be able to buy an election proposition initiative in California.

The unspoken core principle here was that corporations had heretofore been denied basic individual rights, so statutes and enforcement protocols needed to be relaxed to eliminate discrimination against ‘just plain people’ interest groups that just so happen to be incorporated under the laws of a state.

After all, if you own a corporation, presumably you do go to the polls to vote your personal position on the issues, don’t you? Don’t you think there should be some way your corporation can act as an extension your views, since you own a piece of it or actually control it?

So sorry, but you don’t get your vote counted twice just because you’re incorporated in, say, the State of Delaware. If a private citizen’s vote counts as one, should the “vote” of a Bank of America or Koch Industries count as ten million?

A corporation is not an individual. It does not have individual rights. It doesn’t get to vote. The Articles of Constitution only enumerate individual freedoms for individuals. So corporations are not people, and there is a dangerously destabilizing aspect to this trendy popular doublethink. Look at the 2008 consequences of the SEC and Treasury being asleep at the wheel on “good guys” like Bernie Madoff, Bank of America, AIG and Lehman Brothers. But if they were influenced by the Wall Street “old boys network” (from whom they draw so many into their ranks), nobody can prove it: not above suspicion, not accountable, never free of the taint of conflict of interest.

Individual Americans have many diverging views about religious takes on prayer in schools, abortion, gay rights, divorce or evolution, and we are all free to express our opinions, and to vote on them to the extent not pre-empted by statutory and constitutional limitations. But Congress is not free to count the “votes” of our congregations, synagogues and mosques. Yet the century-old corporate problem remains: Congress remains beholden to very large corporations.

Judicial common sense is of course needed here. Perhaps that’s asking a lot of our current crop of representatives. Your pastor, priest or rabbi should certainly be welcomed as an “expert witness” on a topic of debate, perhaps home schooling, subject of course to their personal experience in the area — but not as a spokesperson for, say, The Vatican. Similarly, shouldn’t a respected and honest businessperson such as Warren Buffett be allowed to address Congress on the economy or a hearing on energy? Certainly — but he should not be invited to make a large contribution to the chairperson of the committee hearing a bill under which Berkshire Hathaway would be a principle or sole beneficiary.

There are honest businesspeople, remember, and Buffett would certainly be one of them. Constraints need to be reimposed upon abuse of power in both private enterprise and Congress.

We need political separation of corporation and state just as we need separation of church and state, and for the very same reasons.

Further Reading

1. The Billionaire Koch Brothers’ War Against Obama : Jane Mayer, The New Yorker
“The Kochs have long depended on the public’s not knowing all the details about them. They have been content to operate what David Koch has called ‘the largest company that you’ve never heard of.’ But with the growing prominence of the Tea Party, and with increased awareness of the Kochs’ ties to the movement, the brothers may find it harder to deflect scrutiny.

2. The Koch brothers: all the influence money can buy : Paul Harris, Guardian
“Not just liberals but conservatives should be deeply worried by a revelatory investigation of the libertarian billionaires’ lobbying”

3. Corporate personhood : Wikipedia
“Others argue that corporations should have the protection of the U.S. Constitution, pointing out that they are organizations of people, and that these people shouldn’t be deprived of their human rights when they join with others to act collectively.”

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Turkey jails Kurdish newspaper editor

This just popped up in BBC news. Here’s a country with a civil rights track record that’s worse than Singapore’s and actually has much in common with the Taliban. And to think Turkey seeks admittance into the EU …

Read the article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8509455.stm

Excerpt:

A Turkish court has sentenced the editor of a Kurdish newspaper to 21 years in prison for publishing material sympathetic to the outlawed PKK …

The paper had in fact simply described the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, as the “leader of the Kurdish people” – and it had failed to describe Turkish soldiers killed in battle as “martyrs”.

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Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama in 2008

The Republican Dilemma

U.S.S. Constitution

U.S.S. Constitution

I once asked Dad what the difference was between Republicans and Democrats. The year was about 1958. I had a short attention span, even for a kid just entering his teens, but here is what I remember.

Dad said Republicans generally favored government that left the people alone, except in cases of obvious public interest like war, taxes and regulating traffic and crime. The idea that he imparted to me was that it was none of anybody’s business how others chose to live their lives – as long as they didn’t harm others, of course, or interfere with others’ ability to live in freedom too.

I liked that. I could grasp that. “Live and Let Live”, he called it. Of what he said about Democrats, I remember even less.

For the full editorial essay, see the Page “Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama in 2008.”

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Justice Kennedy quote

According to the San Francisco Chronicle (11-5-2006), regarding a 2000 Nebraska abortion case, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy took “an emotion dissenting opinion” in which he said that states should be able to outlaw

“A procedure many decent and civilized people find so abhorrent as to be among the most serious of crimes against human life.”

Whether you happen to support or oppose abortion rights, there’s something horribly flawed in this argument that threatens all of us. To read it coming from a Justice of the Supreme Court is disturbing, to say the least.

Logically, the argument for outlawing anything “that most people find abhorrent” can be used against anything. Historically, we find it used to support, among other things: ethnic cleansing, anti-gay laws, racism, and suppression of forms of free speech with which some people do not agree.

Not only can it be used for these things, it is. One can only imagine a future civilization which strongly supports a woman’s right to her own body. In such a society, do you think people with strong anti-abortion views should be criminalized for attacking popular civil liberties?

There’s a good reason why there’s no room in the Constitution for emotional litmus tests. They short-circuit the requirement of tying the law to established constitutional rights. Depending on the shifting quicksand moods and whims of public opinion, you could end up being the victim of such “reasoning”. What a shame to see this rhetoric coming from the highest bench seat in the land.

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“Silence Means Prison”

How much power can a grand jury have?

In the high-visibility BALCO sports doping case, company president Victor Conte and four other defendants have already pleaded guilty. He spent four months in prison for his role in an illegal steroid doping scheme.

No imperiled fair maiden remains tied to the railroad tracks. No federal prosecutor can still say he wants to “send a message” to sports youth. But the grand jury is just shifting into high gear. During the hearings, somebody leaked confidential testimony to the press. Aided by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White, the grand jury intends to compel the press to tell who leaked the testimony.

“When do we get to choose what laws we’re going to obey?”, asks Judge White. To prove his point, he’s offered San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams a choice: divulge your sources, or spend 1-1/2 years in jail — the maximum sentence allowed by law.
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Emma Goldman: History Lesson

Here is a one hundred year old history lesson which seems just as timely today as it did then.

I caught part of a PBS documentary on Emma Goldman Sunday night. Goldman died in 1940, before I was born. I had never heard of Goldman before. She had been tarred by her association with various “anarchist” movement figures in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Her actual contribution to modern American thinking seems to have focused on improved working conditions for workers, abortion rights, and equal rights for women (“feminism”). How awful!

image from WikipediaI switched off KSCM-TV at 11PM and turned in. I resolved to Google the topic in the morning. What piqued my interest was an extraordinarily visceral hatred of Goldman by certain interest groups in the United States, including the FBI. This woman appeared to promote a politically and economically secure labor force, women’s rights and, more generally, civil liberty. As a civil libertarian and card-carrying ACLU member, I already know that taking liberty and justice “too seriously” is a sure-fire way to arouse the ire of conservative ideologues.
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