Friday, May 29, 2009
Ten Cheers for Sonia
TOP TEN REASONS SOTOMAYOR WON'T BE CONFIRMED
I generally support the idea of nominating a woman or a Hispanic to the U.S. Supreme Court, but not this one, not Judge Sonia Sotomayor. And she's so biased, that I'll go out on a limb to predict she won't be confirmed, for ten reasons:
10) SOTOMAYOR: ADMITS MAKING ACTIVIST POLICY FROM THE BENCH
In a 2005 panel discussion at Duke University, Sotomayor told students that the federal Court of Appeals is where "policy is made." She said the "Court of Appeals is where policy is made. And I know, and I know, that this is on tape, and I should never say that. Because we don't 'make law,' I know. [audience laughter] Okay, I know. I know. I'm not promoting it, and I'm not advocating it. I'm, you know. [audience laughter] Having said that, the Court of Appeals is where, before the Supreme Court makes the final decision, the law is percolating. Its interpretation, its application." As a judicial activist, she jokingly admits "making policy" from the bench, based on feelings or empathy or judicial precedent, not laws passed by Congress, and so she assumes the power of legislature, to make policy, legislating from the bench.
She has a sense of humor and can make a joke. Actually, what she said (jokingly) is often true. For example, our present policy of having all representative districts in State Legislatures of equal population, or as close as possible, is the result of a court decision, not a vote of a legislature or a plebiscite. Before this decision became "policy" Los Angeles County had one representative in the California State Senate (out of 40 Senators) even though it has about one-third of the State's population. She speaks truth and I support her.
9) SOTOMAYOR: PRO-ABORTION-SUPPORTS ROE V. WADE
Although she ruled to uphold the longstanding "Mexico City Policy" which had limited funds for abortions performed overseas (until President Obama struck down that policy, now fully funding abortions overseas with our taxes), Sotomayor stands squarely in the camp of supporting and upholding the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized child killing across America and cost 50,000,000 children their lives.Furthermore, Rev. Rob Schenck of The National Clergy Council now reports that Sotomayor was or is an active board member of a group called the "Childbirth Connection" that advocates for "reproductive rights of women," which is generally a code word for abortion on demand, including partial birth abortion, which Sotomayor has never publicly opposed. Since I was born to a single mom who courageously gave me up for adoption, and I was adopted at age three by a Christian family, I'm passionately pro-life.
It's not certain that she is not "pro-life." She does support the Roe v. Wade decision, not on the basis of a pro-life argument but a privacy right argument. Another reason for me to support her.
8) SOTOMAYOR: ANTI-GUN, ANTI-WEAPON, ANTI- 2nd AMENDMENT
In her ruling to allow government to ban privately owned weapons belonging to New York citizens, Sonia Sotomayor wrote in Maloney v. Cuomo: "The Second Amendment applies only to limitations the federal government seeks to impose on this right . . . not upon that of the state." Since her crazy reading of the 2nd Amendment only forbids Congress from seizing your guns, the New York State Assembly was fully authorized to ban nunchuks, or seize ANY AND ALL of your weapons, according to Sotomayor's anti-liberty reasoning. But as a former military distinguished marksman and former captain of my rifle team at a New York State high school, I care about protecting our right to bear arms.
The current interpretation of the Second Amendment is that it grants an absolute right to individuals to bear arms and not simply a right to States to maintain armed militias, in spite of the language of the amendment. I think the present court made a mistake in its ruling. Whether or not all individuals should have a right to own and carry loaded firearms, I think it is bad policy not to restrict that right to individuals who have a good reason for using firearms and who can be trusted not to use them for illegal purposes. Again, the argument convinces me.
7) SOTOMAYOR: ANTI-TEN COMMANDMENTS, BUT PRO-MUSLIM?
ACLJ Attorney Jay Sekulow said of Sotomayor: "She is left in judicial philosophy, ranges much further left than Justice Ginsburg or Justice Souter . . . I just had a case where the Court was unanimous, it was involving the 10 commandments issue, and the court was unanimous 9 to 0, but I would not expect that if Judge Sotomayor was confirmed, that it would probably have been 8 to 1. She has a very, very strict view of church-state separation, and she was aggressive on this idea of a 'living constitution.'" Meanwhile she ruled one Muslim prisoner had a right to receive the Eid ul Fitr feast (a Muslim holiday meal) in his prison cell, and another Muslim prisoner had a right to access a Muslim chaplain, which is fine if she treats other faiths equally. But I personally suspect Sotomayor would rule to disallow public prayers offered "in Jesus name" but allow prayers to Allah, just like Obama's other judicial nominee David Hamilton.
This is silly nonsense. The only argument about the 10 commandments or the Lord's Prayer is whether it should be specified by a government agency and performed in public by everyone, even Muslims and Jews and Buddhists. The attempt to make an analogy with allowing prisoners to practice their religious faith fails. There is no evidence that Sotomayor would treat public Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu prayers any differently than Christian prayers. I favor her.
6) SOTOMAYOR: SAVIOR OF THE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF WOMEN
NOW President Kim Gandy quickly endorsed Sotomayor, saying: "This morning we will celebrate, and this afternoon NOW will launch our 'Confirm Her' campaign to ensure the swift confirmation of the next Supreme Court Justice." There's no way this liberal group would endorse Sotomayor unless she were pro-lesbian and pro-abortion, as Gandy openly advocates on the NOW web-site.
So now the National Organization of Women is pro-lesbian? That's a stretch. The conservative objection to Sotomayor is that she is not anti-lesbian or anti-gay and does not advocate stoning them, as commanded in the Bible. I'm for equal treatment of lesbians and gays and I oppose stoning them, along with Sonia Sotomayor.
5) SOTOMAYOR: OVERRULED 33 OF 44 VOTES BY SUPREME COURT
Sotomayor has had 5 decisions reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, 3 of which have been reversed. One of these was her aggressive pro-environmental anti-energy decision, another was her aggressive pro-litigation anti-business decision, which was overturned unanimously. She has carried only 11 of 44 possible votes during those cases. Chief Justice Roberts once stated that her method of reading the statute in question "flies in the face of the statutory language." Dean Mat Staver of Liberty Law School cites these reasons to oppose Sotomayor, saying, "No one ever expected President Barack Obama to nominate someone who respects the original intent of the Constitution."
Sometimes you have to judge a person by the enemies she makes. If she's been overruled and reversed by the present Supreme Court, she must be a pretty good judge. We have an ultra-conservative Court these days, thanks to Republican administration appointments. It's time for a change. Go, Sonia!
4) SOTOMAYOR: FAVORITISM BY RACE OR GENDER, NOT LAW
Sotomayor told the Berkeley Law School: "Our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging . . .I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." It is no surprise, therefore, she ruled against white Firefighters of New Haven, throwing out the results of a promotion exam because almost no minorities qualified. She denied promotion for the white firefighters who performed well on the exam, and gave minorities who failed the exam favorable consideration toward promotion. Sotomayor promotes aggressive affirmative action, promoting race or gender, not merit. The U.S. Supreme Court reviewed this case in April 2009, and is expected to overturn her again.
These promotion exams that seem to show that the winners are mostly white men are themselves subject to suspicion. I strongly suspect that the exams are strongly if subtly biased in favor of a white man outcome. I am glad that Judge Sotomayor shares my suspicion.
3) SOTOMAYOR: FAVORS INTERNATIONAL LAW OVER AMERICAN LAW
Opposing a U.S. Congressional bill that would forbid activist judges from citing international law (instead of applying American law) in their decisions, Sotomayor wrote the controversial introduction for The International Judge, a book that promotes, in her words, "developing an international rule of law and institution-building" and idealizes the "pioneers who work tirelessly to bring these institutions from their incipience to their maturity." No doubt she will vote with Justice Ginsberg, who believes American judges should sometimes look toward international law rather than the U.S. Constitution.
International law has the same force as Constitutional law. That's why treaties have to be ratified by a 2/3 vote in the Senate. Judge Sotomayor is simply stating a truth. Go Sonia!
2) SOTOMAYOR: EVEN THE LIBERALS CALL HER A BULLY
Her own former clerk, liberal Jeffrey Rosen, now legal affairs editor for The New Republic, said she has "has an inflated opinion of herself" and is "kind of a bully on the bench." Another clerk who worked on the 2nd Circuit said she's: "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench . . .She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue."
So it's all right for conservative justice Scalia to be a bully but not for a liberal judge. What's fair about that? Give 'em hell, Sonia!
1) SOTOMAYOR: BASEBALL BIAS FOR NEW YORK YANKEES!As a native of South Bronx, Sotomayor's hidden home-town bias became manifest in her love for the New York Yankees, judicially favoring her "Bronx Bombers" over teams from all other cities. No kidding! When ruling to end the 1995 baseball strike, she sided with the player's union against team owners (who sought parity among all teams with an talent-sharing salary cap). Instead Sotomayor created bias in favor of rich teams who can afford to buy up all the good free agents. So when the New York Yankees hogged 4 titles and 6 pennants in the 8 years after her ruling, with payrolls averaging three times most other team salaries, you can blame Sotomayor for creating that competitive imbalance. I understand why Yankees fans might celebrate her promotion to the Supreme Court, but baseball fans from all other cities should complain loudly against her confirmation!
Well, OK. I don't like the Yankees, either. However, chacun a son gout as the French say.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Ruminations about Proposition 8
I wonder about this question. I’ve never heard an answer in legal terms as to why Domestic Partnership isn’t just as good as Marriage. The only thing I can think of is that the law provides certain benefits to “married” couples that it does not provide to “domestic partners.” I don’t think it is a California law. The supporters of Proposition 8 were careful to point out that they merely wanted to change the definition of “marriage” and not to deprive any domestic partners of any rights. Hence, it must be federal law.
So, my question is, is there a body of federal law, either statute law or constitutional law, that provides benefits to married couples only and not to domestic partners? If there is such a set of laws, then the opponents of Proposition 8 have a good case to justify overturning the proposition.
A related thought is that it is almost ridiculously easy to amend the California State Constitution. All it takes is about a million dollars for signature gatherers and a majority of the voters at some obscure State election, where the turn-out may be as little as ten percent of the registered voters. Thus, five percent of the voters can amend the State Constitution. My cynical view is that the requirements for amending the document are much too lax. It’s bad enough that a majority of ten percent can enact laws. The requirement for amending the State Constitution ought to be much higher. At present it is possible for this selected five percent of voters to amend the document such that future amendments, including the repeal of former amendments, require a higher voter turn-out and a supermajority of voters, such as 2/3 of turn-out with turn-out at least fifty percent. There is, in fact, talk of holding a constitutional convention to modify the way State government operates and the way the constitution is amended. That’s a subject for another post.
Monday, May 25, 2009
WHAT IS A “PROGRESSIVE?”
I am a member of a Democratic Club in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. The other day after one of the meetings of the club, FW expressed a desire for the club to become “progressive.” I asked what the word meant. I said that, as Democrats, we are all progressive in that we yearn for change and progress. FW wasn’t able to give me a clear answer but referred me to frequent e-mails I receive from Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). FW also offered to arrange a speaker or a program for the club to show what the PDA was all about.
Other Democrats sent me e-mails referring to a recent PDA e-letter about Bill Moyers’ program on PBS on May 22. I watched the program. Part of it was about single-payer health insurance. The persons interviewed were advocates of that system of organizing the nation’s health care industry. They pointed out that the private insurance companies are not only dead set against single payer, because it would wipe out their business, but even against the proposed public alternative to private health insurance. These two speakers also pointed out that the proposed public alternative would fail because it would insure only the poorest and most sick members of the population. The private companies would see to it that they attracted the healthiest and youngest and would let the government-sponsored program take care of the rest.
I’ve concluded that the “Progressive” movement among Democrats these days is a passionate advocacy of single-payer national health insurance. Progressives work and demonstrate in favor of such a system. They make nuisances of themselves at Congressional Hearings on national health care reform. They point out that Candidate Obama favored a single-payer system. President Obama doesn’t. Either he’s unwilling to take on the powerful health insurance lobby or he realizes that such a major change must come about by consensus, not by a partisan political maneuver.
I’m reminded of the deeds of the Roosevelt Administration during the 1930’s. There was severe unemployment, as high as 25 percent in places, and the public was desperate for a change in the economic system. The Administration brought about Social Security, to encourage older workers to retire and thereby create more jobs for younger workers. The Administration also started many projects to make jobs for the unemployed. All of these accomplishments provided work and gave the public a sense of hope and optimism, even though it took the onset of World War 2 to end the depression.
We now have around 50 million Americans without health insurance, mostly because they can’t afford it. That is about one-sixth or one-seventh of our total population. If the depression of the 1930’s is a good model, things are going to have to get even worse before a consensus will arise to compel change. Change will occur when about 25 percent of Americans are both uninsured and unable to pay for needed health care.
If we had a truly representative government in Washington we would have a single-payer system today because a majority of voters want it. However, voters have allowed our government, and particularly the Congress, to become unrepresentative and unresponsive to the popular will. To restore a more representative Congress, we need to do the following:
- Relieve our elected representatives of their need to depend on contributions from private insurance companies and other wealthy corporations to fund their election campaigns. That is, institute public financing of Congressional election campaigns.
- Teach voters to be suspicious of insurance company television ads featuring “Harry and Louise” that distort the arguments about health care.
- Teach voters not to accept the false idea that anything run by the government is bound to be slow, inefficient, expensive, and unsatisfactory. Show them that the Social Security System, the Veterans’ Administration, and Medicare all provide their services promptly, efficiently, inexpensively, and satisfactorily.
We Democrats who believe in progress, whether we are “Progressive” or not, have a lot of work to do in changing the minds of the voters and freeing our elected representatives from the necessity of soliciting money from rich corporations for their election campaigns.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Our Conservative Nation
I think they have nothing to worry about. Recent events here in California and in the nation's capital prove to me that we live in a deeply conservative country. California in particular seems to be a leader in conservatism.
I know that sounds counter-intuitive. However, look at what California is doing with the popular idea of public funding of election campaigns. Maine and Arizona have already enacted legislation that provides public financing of election campaigns. California has hemmed and hawed about the idea and finally has agreed to submit a measure to the voters in the next gubernatorial election (in 2010) to provide public financing for one (1) state official: the California Secretary of State. Why just that one? Well, providing public financing for all state elections is just too radical an idea.
In the nation's capital, the President and Congress are determined to have another go at reforming our tattered health care system. One popular reform, one that has the support of a majority of the public, is one that has operated successfully in Canada and in many other "advanced" countries for decades: a national system funded by the state that provides health care to all residents, just as the local fire department provides fire protection for all residents or the local police protect all residents from crime and criminals. One would think that, viewing the problem of health care world-wide, a universal system paid for out of tax revenue would be deserving of serious consideration. Well, not so. Neither President Obama nor the Chairman of the Senate Committee that's dealing with health care have much interest in promoting a single-payer system. They intend to keep the present system of private insurers, with regulations that make it difficult for them to drop subscribers. The closest they will come to a universal system is to provide a government-sponsored system that individuals can join, if they wish.
In both examples, conservatism wins the day. California is not going to have public funding of campaigns soon. The nation is not going to have a truly universal health care system during my remaining life time.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Members of the Bush administration continue to argue that torture was effective and that plots were revealed that enabled the administration to foil attempts to attack the homeland of the United States. It is likely that some information was obtained by torture. What we don't know yet is how much dis- or mis-information was obtained. We also know that some very important information was obtained from a suspect before he was turned over to the CIA for "harsh" interrogation.
There can be no argument that the fact that the United States has subjected prisoners of war to torture has ruined our reputation for fairness and openness in our dealings with the rest of the world. One of the important duties of the Obama Administration is to rebuild the trust we once had that was squandered by our practice of torture.
So, why did we do it? The reasons for not using torture have been well-known for centuries.
There is one reason no one has yet mentioned. Torture is very useful as an easy way to elicit a confession from a suspect. Prosecutors have an easy job convicting a suspect who has actually confessed to the crime. Police are praised for quickly finding a suspect of a heinous crime and getting the suspect to confess. Crime > capture of suspect > torture the suspect > suspect confesses (no surprise!) > trial and easy conviction > suspect goes to prison or is executed > case closed, prosecutor and police off the hook. Our legal history has many cases in which the innocent were convicted and punished.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
All this is an introduction to an e-letter I received this afternoon, in which the writer urges me to support President Obama's health care plan. Here is part of the e-letter:
Monday morning, an unlikely gathering of health care industry and union leaders emerged from the White House, announcing a historic agreement to lower medical costs and save the average family up to $2,500. This kind of broad coalition would have been unthinkable in the past, when the old politics of division and short-term self interest held sway. But this is a new day.And that afternoon, President Obama announced the three bedrock principles that any comprehensive health care reform must achieve: (1) reduce costs, (2) guarantee choice, and (3) ensure all Americans have quality, affordable health care. And he set a hard goal for getting it done by the end of this year.
For those determined to oppose reform, the President's announcement means lobbyists are already scrambling across D.C. For the rest of us, it means there's no time to lose. As we speak, Congress is negotiating the details for health care reform, so the first step is showing where the American people stand.
I am baffled. The writer wants me to support President Obama's plan for health care reform. I don't know what the plan is. All I am told by the e-letter is that it contains "three bedrock principles." There are no details. I think the principles are good, but if I were trying to construct a plan I wouldn't classify them all as "bedrock" principles. The only I would call a "bedrock" principle is to "ensure that all Americans have quality, affordable health care." The other two goals are nice, but if I had to choose between ensuring good health care for all Americans and reducing costs or providing choice, I would go for providing good health care for all.
I know nothing about Mr. Obama's health care plan, or rather I know too little about it to become a public supporter. I am faced with the same choice I had in 1994 with the Clinton health care plan: whether or not to support a plan whose details I knew little about.
My idea is that we can provide good health care for all Americans by simply making them all eligible for Medicare. Everyone would have to pay a Medicare tax, of course. That tax could be tailored to enable very poor people to afford coverage by reducing their tax in accordance with their incomes. In Medicare, everyone has a choice of doctor. One can join an HMO as I have done or can participate in fee for service medicine as I did at one time under health insurance subsidized by my employer. Everyone should be able to have the same or better level of health care as I have had. For me, it's turned out well so far. I'm 86 years old and still enjoy good health and good appetite.
Mr. Obama has lately been talking about the importance of reducing and containing costs. Perhaps he has in mind the Canadian or English models, in which medical procedures that are deemed elective (i.e., not necessary to save life or quality of life) are delayed or rationed. He and others have talked about eliminating unnecessary medical tests and other procedures as a means of reducing costs. I have no problem with this in principle, but, as usual, the devil is in the details. Who is to determine what's necessary and unnecessary and what are the criteria?
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Torture or Not: Con vs. LIb
Liberals: Torture is an abomination. Our influence in the world depends on the favorable opinions that people in other countries have of us. We used to have the reputation that we did not torture captives. Now that reputation is lost and we will have to work for many years to regain it.
Conservatives: Torture is an important means of gaining information about the plans of our enemy. In some cases it is the only means of getting crucial information in time to avert a catastrophe. As far as our reputation is concerned, it is more important for the United States to be feared and respected than to be loved. Our strong military and our determination to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals make us respected and feared.
L: Torture is not only an abominaton, but the information it yields is not reliable. A person may make up things and tell his interrogator whatever he thinks he wants to hear just to make the torture stop.
C: Don't forget the case of the ticking time bomb in central New York. 10,000 people may die if we dont find it and defuse it in time. Torture may be the only way to get that information in time.
L: The "ticking time bomb" is a rare situation and presents a hard case. Hard cases make bad law. It is not wise to base public policy on a hypothetical incident that occurs rarely. Besides, if a determined terrorist knows when the bomb is set to go off, he would be willing to endure torture for a time until he knows it is too late to defuse the bomb. The history of torture shows that information gathered by torture is slow to come and unreliable.
Etc., etc., etc. The argument proceeds. Some information is now coming out about how effective torture actually was in obtaining important information. Some experts claim that the most important pieces of information were obtained from some suspects before the harsh interrogation techniques (i.e., torture) were used on them. Other experts claim that torture was effective.
Sunday, May 03, 2009
A Contrary Opinion
I plead guilty to H’s charge. H and I exchange e-mails often. We accuse each other of being set in our ways of thinking. He can not think of a single good thing to say about “liberals.” I can not think of a good thing to say about “conservatives.”
There is a reporter here in Los Angeles who writes a blog about the political doings, both above and below the board, in our city. I wrote to a friend that he seems to be concerned about inefficiency, waste, and fraud in government and that these are standard and respectable Republican issues. My friend wrote back that the reporter is actually a Democrat. Democrat or Republican, I have to approve of his task of exposing inefficiency, waste, and fraud among our civic leaders.
My thinking doesn’t always go in a straight line. This experience of guessing wrong about the reporter’s political preference led me to consider writing an essay about an imaginary debate, in the style of Galileo, with characters defending and attacking the admirable features of conservative and liberal thought. I realized that I am no Galileo, and decided instead to try to write something to justify the thinking of an honest and sincere conservative. Most of the time I think of H as honest and sincere, even though wrong.
Conservative thought in this country seems centered on the question of government. How big and powerful should government be? Should government try to stave off a severe depression by spending oodles of money to spur the economy, as Mr. Obama is doing? It seems to me that an honest conservative fears the consequences of a government powerful enough to prevent a depression as being worse than the depression itself. Hence, there is sincere conservative opposition to Obama’s economic plan.
I have to concede that there is good reason for this conservative fear. The world has been treated to countries that managed their economies. A good example is the former Soviet Union. The government not only set goals for all the various economic activities in the country, but also used its power to stifle criticism and dissent. Although many argue that Russia, as part of the Soviet Union, was a special case in that criticism and dissent were never encouraged under the previous regime of the czar, we all have to respect the saying of the British political philosopher Lord Acton, that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Both Czar Nicholas and Josef Stalin demonstrated the validity of that saying.
One definition of conservatism is that the conservative knows that conditions are not very good, but he or she is reluctant to try to make changes because the changed condition may be worse than the original one. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” At present we know about the devil of depression. Or, at least we think we do. We forget that a severe depression can lead to a revolution. Franklin Roosevelt could not prevent or cure the great Depression of the 1930’s but I believe that he did save the nation from a communist revolution. A conservative probably wouldn’t share my belief.
To summarize, conservatives fear big government. They have good reasons. Liberals like me, who advocate some serious reforms in certain aspects of society, like health care and the welfare of workers, have to be able to convince conservatives to take some chances on experiments. Obama’s economic policy is an experiment. A change in our health care system will be an experiment. There are degrees to the depth of belief among conservatives. Some will agree to some experimentation, others will not. We liberals will have to make compelling arguments and be willing to accept compromises that we won’t like very much if we are going to persuade the public to try to make changes.
I’ll leave the original question to you, the reader. Is my brain (mind) operating as well as it did ten, twenty, thirty, or more years ago? Do you detect incipient mental degradation? Am I about to succumb to dementia? I certainly hope not.