Saturday, June 28, 2008



John McCain has at least an outside chance of becoming the next President of the United States. The oldest member of the Supreme Court, John Paul Stevens, is eighty-seven. The next President will have the privilege of naming his successor. Mr. McCain has assured his conservative supporters that his court appointments will be just like those of his predecessor, George Bush, who appointed Justices Roberts and Alito. Roberts and Alito are predictably conservative judges. They consistently vote with the other two ultra-conservative judges, Thomas and Scalia. Justice Stevens votes predictably with the “liberal” justices: Breyer, Ginsburg, and Souter. The one justice who is somewhat unpredictable is Justice Kennedy.

Liberals tend to worry about the issue of abortion: right-to-life vs. choice. They worry that if Justice Stevens is replaced by a justice like Alito or Roberts, there will then be at least five and perhaps six votes on the court to revisit and overturn Roe vs. Wade. In that decision the court found a fundamental right of privacy in the federal constitution and from that concluded that a woman had a right to terminate a pregnancy for whatever reason she chose. Conservatives and conservative justices have been railing against that decision and denying that the federal constitution grants a right to privacy, or a right not to have government make decisions for you.

Some persons take comfort in a statement that John McCain made some years ago. At the time he stated that he would not advocate overturning Roe vs. Wade. One can presume that he would not select judicial candidates who do favor overturning that decision. There’s always hope, and there’s always the possibility that swine will develop wings and take to the air.

Polls indicate that the selection of the next Supreme Court justice is an issue that excites liberals like me, but has no interest to voters generally classified as “independent.” Independent voters are excited by the price of gasoline and by the export of manufacturing jobs from such States as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to countries such as China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia, where labor unions are weak and workers’ wages are very low. Independent voters are not interested in the issue of “choice” vs. “right-to-life.”

Now, the decisions of the US Supreme Court have no effect on the price of gasoline and probably very little effect on the export of manufacturing jobs. They do have an effect of the lives of working people in this country, particularly people of color, females, and others typically subject to discrimination. For example, a recent decision by the conservative majority of the court has made it virtually impossible for a person to sue an employer for wage discrimination. The decision was that the suit had to be brought within 180 days of the actual discriminatory act. In most cases, a person won’t learn that he or she has been paid less than other equally qualified workers doing the same job until several years have elapsed. Another decision drastically reduced the punitive damages assessed against Exxon Mobile for the disastrous oil spill in Prince William Sound near Valdez, Alaska. These economic decisions were made by justices who were chosen to satisfy the fundamentalist Christian clamor for judges who would ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade.

Conservatives rail against “liberal” judges who “legislate from the bench” or who “make law” instead of interpreting law. Clearly, legislating from the bench is in the eye of the beholder. Antonin Scalia claims that he interprets the constitution according to the original intent of the drafters. Sandra Day O’Connor was accustomed to think, according to an article I’ve read, about the effects of a court decision on the people. One of my friends says that Scalia really thinks about the effects his decisions will make on the lives of certain people. The difference between him and O’Connor is that he is concerned about the well being of a different group of people from the people she was concerned about.

I can believe that. Mr. Scalia does not find an implicit right of privacy in the constitution; therefore, Roe v. Wade was incorrectly decided. On the other hand, for 200 years the courts have not decided that the Second Amendment guarantees that an individual has an absolute right to own and use a fire arm. Here is the text of the amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Mr. Scalia, in the decision that he wrote for the majority, finds in that statement an implicit right of individuals to own firearms. His finding depends on his interpretation of the amendment rather than on “original intent.” There is no obvious “original intent” that everyone should have the right to own a gun. One can just as easily interpret the “original intent” as giving each State the right to maintain an armed and well regulated militia, or National Guard, and that individual militia (Guard) members had the right to own their weapons. In fact, in 1789 the several States required their respective militia members to supply their own weapons. States didn’t have much money in those days.

It is clear to me which groups Mr. Scalia cares about. He cares about gun owners. He doesn’t care about pregnant women. He cares about business men who may be sued by employees who were underpaid in comparison with other employees. He doesn’t care about the underpaid employees.

The conclusion is, I hope and pray that John McCain doesn’t win election. I hope and pray that Barack Obama will choose judges who care about workers and pregnant women more than about Wall Street, wealthy businessmen, and religious fundamentalists.

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The recent Supreme Court decision that the Second Amendment grants a personal right to own a firearm contains some reasoning that I regard as specious. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, repeated the plaintiff’s argument who asserted that he needed a hand gun for protection against the criminals and murderers who infest Washington, DC. Justice Scalia, who does not find a “right of privacy” in the constitution, does find a “right of self-defense” there. Further, ownership of firearms provides individuals with this right of defending themselves.

All of this heavy thinking leads me to express another of my opinions. Remember that the title of this blog is “Al’s Opinions.” In my opinion, the ownership of a hand gun does not provide a sure defense against a thief, mugger, or murderer. Here’s a typical scenario: I am walking on a busy street in a city. I have my handgun in my pocket, concealed, and I feel somewhat safe against any criminal who decides to rob me. I pass many people on the street; it is busy and there are many people. I decide that most of them are not criminals, but just ordinary citizens like me. I also know that I am carrying a lethal weapon and I feel safe and complacent.

A stranger approaches me from behind. He walks a bit faster than I do. When he is just behind me, I feel something pressed against my back. He tells me it is a gun and that he will shoot me if I try to turn or reach in my pocket for my own gun. He has the drop on me and I am helpless. I go with him into an alley, where he empties my pockets. He takes my money and my handgun. He then gags and binds me and runs away. Eventually I free myself and am able to call for help.
In my opinion, the previous scenario is much more likely than one in which I am able to extract my weapon from my pocket, turn on my attacker, and shoot him before he can shoot me. Therefore, I argue, the mere ability to own and carry a loaded handgun is not very good protection against a determined and clever criminal. I would say, based only on my opinion, that ninety percent of the time the victim who tries to confront the criminal ends up getting shot and perhaps killed. The plaintiff’s (and Justice Scalia’s) argument in the recent Washington, DC case does not convince me.

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Monday, June 23, 2008


The Fallacy of Linearity between Government Expenses and Population Density

The Republicans, bless their hearts, never tire of trying to reduce taxes or at least trying to keep them from increasing. They periodically advance the argument that the State could avoid budget problems if there were a hard and fast rule that total expenditures would increase only as fast as the population of the State. On the surface, it seems to be a reasonable, common-sense rule. It is so "obvious" that it needs no proof and no argument could possibly prevail against it.

I will, however, advance an argument against this "obvious" principle. Let us start with a State with no people. A few people move in and set up farms. They need some roads and they need a hall of records to keep track of the titles to their farms. As the State begins to fill up with more and more farmers and farms, each new farmer needs a section of road and space in the hall of records. For a while, the growth in necessary government expenditures is proportional to the growth of population.

Now, let's add some cities. The cost per person of providing services in a city is greater than the cost per person of providing services for farmers. City dwellers need a police department, a fire department. City dwellers need hospitals with emergency rooms. Some of these are things that farmers would also like to have, but never thought to demand them of the government. The denser the city's population, the greater the need PER PERSON of services provided by government.

Should the cost of these additional services be borne only by the residents of the city or should part of the cost be borne by the State? If the State supplies some funding for city services (e.g., education, mass transit systems, medical facilities) then certainly State expenditures will have increased at a greater rate than the rate of population increase.

As usual, the Republicans are wrong.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


About Existence, Self, etc.

In one of my imaginary conversations with myself this morning, myself stated that "existing, even if only for a short lifetime, is better than not existing at all." I thought about that and I wondered, how could you compare existing with not existing? In order to assert that one is better than the other, one would have to be able to make a comparison. But if you don't exist, you certainly can not make a comparison of anything with anything else. I finally decided that myself had asserted a statement intended only to make me feel good about living and not one that deserved serious logical thought or philosophical inquiry.

The thought leads to the existential question, why do I exist? I think about my father in his young days, homesteading in the State of Washington and courting Elizabeth. His cousin Claude also courted Elizabeth. She chose Claude and my father later moved back to Michigan and married Bessie, my mother. What if he had married Elizabeth? Where would I be? Would I have been the son of Harry and Elizabeth or the son of Bessie and some other man? Probably I wouldn't have existed at all.

OR, here's another strange idea: Perhaps I would have existed eventually somewhere with a different set of parents, somewhere else. Perhaps a member of another species, perhaps somewhere else in the universe. Perhaps I was destined to exist, one way or another. Of course this idea is completely unscientific and utterly unprovable. It's an idea that might come out of a religious belief. For example, Buddhists believe in reincarnation, either as punishment for bad deeds or as a merciful second (or third, fourth, fifth, etc.) attempt to achieve nirvana during a lifetime.

I miss my wife. When she was living, she said that if she went first, she would wait for me. I don't know whether that is possible, even in a world of spirits. The memory resides in the brain cells, not in the "self" or "spirit" or "soul" that we are said to possess. The soul leaves the body behind, along with all the characteristics of the body, including the memory. After I die, my soul will no longer identify itself as Albert J. Saur. How will my soul and my wife's soul recognize each other? Will we meet in some future life, after we are reincarnated? I can not imagine anything that would guarantee such a meeting. The thought makes me doubly sad. I not only miss my wife, but I have lost her forever.

I hope not. Hope is all I have, along with memories of our life together.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008


About the Vice President

Our founding fathers, who wrote the original constitution in 1787, created an elective office, the President, to replace an hereditary chief of state, known as the King. They also created a second elected office, the Vice President, to replace another hereditary official, the Crown Prince, or whatever that person was called in various European countries. The only function of a Crown Prince in a monarchy is to succeed a King when he dies or is deposed by an angry public. The Crown Prince has no obvious influence on government policy as long as the King is in charge. When the King is gone, the Crown Prince becomes the new King and sets his own policy. He may or may not follow the policies of his predecessor.

In the same way, the founding fathers supposed that the Vice President would be simply a "president in waiting." If a President dies, resigns, is impeached, or otherwise leaves office before the end of his term, the Vice President takes over. The existence of the Vice President saves the country the cost and bother of a mid-term Presidential election. In 1787 national elections were costly and difficult to carry out.

Until 1993, Vice Presidents had next to nothing to do about national policy. The President ran the government, selected the cabinet officials, appointed judges, signed or vetoed laws, and all the other things that Presidents do. Vice Presidents were found to be useful at election time. To augment the coalition supporting a particular person as President, a Vice President who was supported by a different coalition was chosen to be the running mate. Examples are Kennedy and Johnson, Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, Truman and Barclay, and Roosevelt and Truman. In each case the Vice President appealed to a segment of the population that was not drawn to the President.

In 1993, Bill Clinton became President with his choice for Vice President, Al Gore. Both Clinton and Gore were from the South. Both men were charter members of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a group of conservative Democrats who were eager to avoid the mistake of 1972 when the Party chose the "liberal" George McGovern to run against an incumbent Richard Nixon who was running for reelection. As Vice President Gore was given many responsibilities that previous Vice Presidents had not had. Gore was chosen not to balance the ticket but to continue Clinton's policies if Clinton were to leave office prematurely.

George W. Bush continued Clinton's scheme for a Vice President. His Vice President, Dick Cheney, has had more influence on policy and more power than any previous Vice President, including Al Gore. In fact, some writers allege that Cheney is the real leader in the Bush administration and that George Bush is just a spokesman.

I think it is an unfortunate precedent that Bill Clinton established in choosing a Vice President who would take on an important part of his administration. A Vice President should, instead, be ready to make changes and to follow a different policy from that of his predecessor. Everyone makes mistakes, Presidents included. A Vice President can, without embarassment, admit and correct the mistakes of his predecessor as long as he or she was not involved in making the mistakes.

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Monday, June 09, 2008


Race, Gender, and Personality

Some of my Democratic friends have been dedicated, single-minded supporters of Hillary R. Clinton. Others were equally dedicated to Barack H. Obama. When it turned out that Mrs. Clinton was not going to get the nomination, some of these friends swore that since their candidate didn't win the nomination, they were not going to vote for the winner. To one faction or another, it seemed vital that the Democratic candidate (and probable successor to George W. Bush) be a woman or be a person of African ancestry.

I should clarify that last phrase by inserting the word "recent." Partisans who favor Obama because of his ancestry really mean recent African ancestry. In my case, my ancestors came from Sweden, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Holland. I can claim to be "white" or "caucasian" on a census report. In truth, my ancestors, along with the ancestors of every human alive today, came from Africa. I believe mine came out of Africa at least 60,000 years ago. Africa was the birthplace of the human species. Until about 100,000 years ago, there were no humans anywhere on this planet except in Africa.

It is also pertinent to point out that, although I am not a woman, many of my ancestors were women. Thus, I am descended from women and from (ancient) Africans. I see no reason that I should prefer that the next president be a woman or a (recent) African. Also, I see no reason that I should prefer that the next president not be a woman or a (recent) African. The enthusiasm for Hillary or Barack is pure hype.

All of this enthusiasm for the personal qualities of the candidates causes the public to forget some very important issues in the campaign. Supporters of John McCain boast of his maverick status, his straight talk, and of being a different kind of Republican from George Bush. Supporters of Barack Obama boast of his freshness, his determination to encourage a different kind of political discourse, and his rise to prominence from a very humble beginning. Supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton hail her toughness and her ability to play the political game in Washington and in particular her ability to stand up to the men who make up most of the Senate. Lost in this hyperbole are such issues as the political make-up of the Supreme Court, the stranglehold that insurance companies have on our inefficient health-care system, our policy of trying to use our wonderful military system to form an American empire (and making jackasses of ourselves in the process), and the growing divide between the very rich and the rest of us, to name a few. We should put aside the personalities and other characteristics of the candidates and try to figure out what each one would do regarding the issues I've just mentioned. If McCain and Obama go about conducting town hall meetings, we should be in the meetings with questions regarding these and other issues.

After all, McCain and Obama are nice men and Mrs. Clinton is a nice woman. Let's find out what they'd do or try to do as President.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008


Ruminations about Senator Clinton and the Vice Presidency

It looks likely that the Democratic ticket will be Obama and Clinton. Since she can't now get the Presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton will fight as hard as ever for second place. Someone today pointed out the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in 1960. Something like that may be needed this year to keep disgruntled Clinton supporters with the ticket and discourage them from staying at home on election day or voting for John McCain.

I ask myself, does it matter to me? No. Since there are no longer any Republicans like Earl Warren or Wayne Morse or even Everett Dirksen in position to achieve the Republican nomination, I will never, never, ever vote for a Republican for President. If the Democrats manage to choose someone that I really can't stand, I will vote for the Green, Peace and Freedom, or Libertarian candidate.

Do I have a preference? Yes; my first choice was John Edwards. Barack Obama is a second or third choice. I think he will be a good President. At least, he will be much, much, much better than George W. Bush.

Do I like Mrs. Clinton? No. I don't strongly dislike her. I would vote for her and campaign for her if she had won the nomination. However, there's something about her that I don't like. She rubs me the wrong way. Many politicians of both parties have rubbed me the wrong way.

Do I dislike her because she is a woman and I don't think a woman should be president? I don't think so. However, what I dislike about her is her abrasiveness. Perhaps she learned long ago that, as a woman, she has to be abrasive and assertive to have other people in politics, mostly men, treat her as an equal and take her seriously. In that case, the characteristic that I don't like is, or may be, her response to being a woman.

Does it bother me that if she becomes the Vice President her husband Bill will have an important influence on government policy? Not at all. I think Bill Clinton was one of the best Presidents in my lifetime and certainly the smartest and best educated. He would be a welcome influence in an Obama administration. In fact, I would like to have Obama appoint him to an important cabinet position, such as Secretary of State.

There are, of course, voters who are enthusiastic about Barack Obama but who can't stand Hillary Clinton. These voters might not vote for an Obama-Clinton ticket and might even vote for McCain. Senator Obama has to weigh the possible loss of these voters against the possible loss of enthusiastic Clinton supporters in deciding whether to offer the Vice Presidency to Senator Clinton. I hope he makes a good decision. I don't want four more years of ultra-conservative appointments to the Supreme Court.

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