An Anniversary To Remember …

Yesterday marked the 65th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark decision that established that racial discrimination in schools is unconstitutional.  To honour this anniversary, I would like to share with you a post by the Jon S. Randal Peace Page that tells the story better than I could.

She just wanted to go to a good school, to be with her friends.

She lived in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, growing up playing with children of all races.

The school she wanted to attend, where her friends were, was only four blocks away.

Her father would take her to that school, the Sumner School. Being a part of the neighborhood, the family received a registration form for the school in 1952. She was so excited, to be able to attend a school nearby with her friends from the neighborhood.

But, when they arrived there, the principal would take her father to the office and close the door. She didn’t know what was happening, why the principal had to speak to her father alone. She heard her father’s voice begin to rise. After a few minutes, her father opened the door, he was upset, and he just took her hand and walked back out of the school.

The school had apparently sent the registration form to her family by mistake. They thought the family was white, Linda Brown and her parents were black and Sumner was a whites-only school.

“I just couldn’t understand what was happening,” she would say, “I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.”

Linda-Brown.jpgLinda Brown did not realize that she was unable to attend the school because of the color of her skin. This was because the elementary schools in Topeka, Kansas, were racially segregated, with separate facilities for black and white children.

“I didn’t comprehend color of skin,” she said later. “I only knew that I wanted to go to Sumner.”

She and other black children were barred from sharing the same buses, schools and other public facilities as whites because of the “Jim Crow” laws.

Brown would be forced to walk 6 blocks through the dangerous Rock Island Switchyard in order to catch a bus to the segregated all-black school.

According to the Washington Post, Linda’s father, the Rev. Oliver L. Brown, an assistant minister at St. Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, “felt that it was wrong for his child to have to go so far a distance to receive a quality education.”

Linda’s father would join several other parents, and, together, led by a young, NAACP attorney named Thurgood Marshall, would take the case, Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, would rule in their favor, saying that school segregation violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The unanimous ruling declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Brown v. Board of Education would be the basis for many other rulings that led to desegregation, motivating the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

But, not only did black students benefit from the ruling, Native American children were also affected. Native American communities had to deal with segregation laws as well, with native children being prohibited from attending white institutions. After tribal leaders learned about Dr. King’s desegregation campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, they would contact him for assistance, resolving the problem.

Although Brown’s family was just one of 13 plaintiffs who sought to ensure the city fully integrated the rest of its schools, Brown would be burdened with the publicity because her family’s name was part of the case name. Her family would briefly leave their home in Topeka, Kansas, when she was a teenager, but she would return to Topeka after her father died in 1961.

She would also take on the civil rights mantle of her father, becoming an educator and civil rights advocate.

Brown was part of a group of Topeka parents who, in 1979, joined with the American Civil Liberties Union to successfully argue for the reopening of the Brown case. The parents argued that because of housing patterns in Topeka, racially segregated schools remained in the city, in violation of the 1954 ruling.

In a 1985 interview for “Eyes on the Prize,” a PBS documentary series on the civil rights movement, Linda Brown said, “I feel that after 30 years, looking back on Brown v. the Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second-class citizenship.”

When Brown died on March 25, 2018, at the age 76, the Kansas governor paid tribute to Brown, saying:

“Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America. Linda Brown’s life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world.”

In an interview with the Washington Post in 1994, Brown had said, “We feel disheartened that 40 years later we’re still talking about desegregation. But the struggle has to continue.”

Sixty-five years later.  Everybody accepts that racial intolerance has no place in our schools, in our society, right?  Wrong.  A number of Trump’s recent judicial nominees have flat-out refused to affirm the Brown decision.  One even went so far as to say she did not agree with the decision in 1954. Why???  Are we, in fact, headed on a backward slope in terms of racial discrimination just as we are in terms of women’s and LGBT rights?  Suffice it to say that with the recent rise in white supremacy and Trump’s pandering to the right-wing hate groups, it is something we cannot afford to ignore.

On Stripping The Rights Of Women …

Today I’m going to touch on a subject that is controversial, to say the least:  abortion.

A number of states, the most recent being Alabama, have recently passed highly restrictive and misogynistic abortion laws.  Anti-abortion evangelicals are patting themselves on the backs thinking, no doubt, that they have once again proven themselves the rulers over women’s bodies.  But make no mistake … these laws are only a tool.  The legislators and governors who have passed these laws are well aware that they don’t hold water, for when there is a conflict between federal and state law, federal law trumps state laws, no pun intended.

The federal law on abortion was established in 1973 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v Wade in which the Court ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion.  It is not within the rights of the State of Alabama or the State of Georgia to change, ignore, or override that ruling.  Period.

So … why are they passing these ‘illegal laws’, you might ask.  Because … long story short, they are hoping for a lawsuit against them that will reach the Supreme Court.  And when it does, they are hoping, believing, that the Supreme Court will then use that lawsuit as a basis to overturn Roe v Wade.

One of Donald Trump’s campaign promises that gained him a large number of followers was that he would put justices on the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v Wade.  It is an emotional issue that gained him the support of the evangelicals.  However, the Supreme Court cannot simply say, “Let’s overturn a decades-old decision because the president would like us to.”  A case must come before them that challenges that decision before they can take it under advisement.

You might notice that the states did not pass these dranconian abortion laws when President Barack Obama was in office and the Supreme Court was still largely apolitical.  You’ll also notice that Trump was in such a hurry to appoint a second justice to the Court that he had a quiet little talk with Justice Kennedy, and shortly thereafter Justice Kennedy announced his imminent retirement.  And you’ll further notice that there was a mad dash by Trump and his boot-licking Senate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, thereby giving the court a 5-4 right-wing, conservative majority, despite the fact that the Court is intended to be apolitical.

The stage is set … now the states who have passed these anti-abortion laws that rob women of their rights to have control over their own bodies will sit back and wait for the inevitable lawsuits claiming, rightly, that the states have no right to restrict a woman’s right of choice.  Then will begin the inevitable back and forth through the courts until sometime next year, perhaps even sooner, the cases will reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump is relying on the five conservative justices to vote in favour of overturning Roe v Wade.  Those justices are:

  • Clarence Thomas
  • Samuel Alito
  • John Roberts (Chief Justice)
  • Neil Gorsuch
  • Brett Kavanuagh

Justice Steven Breyer warned in a dissent to another decision earlier this week …

“Overruling a case always requires special justification. I understand that, because opportunities to correct old errors are rare, judges may be tempted to seize every opportunity to overrule cases they believe to have been wrongly decided. But the law can retain the necessary stability only if this court resists that temptation, overruling prior precedent only when the circumstances demand it.”

The Alabama bill, which has been passed by the state legislature and is expected to be signed into ‘law’ by Governor Kay Ivey, bans abortions at every stage of pregnancy and criminalizes the procedure for doctors, who could be charged with felonies and face up to 99 years in prison.  The Georgia bill, recently passed and signed by Governor Brian Kemp (remember him … the guy with the gun pointed at his daughter’s boyfriend?), is only slightly less restrictive, banning abortion after about 6 weeks, often before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Those who are so dead-set against a woman’s right of choice, call themselves “pro-life”, but this is a misnomer, as I have noted before.  They are often the same people who support the death penalty.  They are often the people who protest their tax dollars going to help feed and clothe the poor.  Many are the same ones who fought so hard against ACA, which provided affordable healthcare to those who would not otherwise have any.  Pro-life?  No, only anti-women’s rights.

If people are so against abortion, doesn’t it make sense to support such things as birth control, family planning and counseling, and other measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies?  But no, the evangelicals are against all of those, too.  They support de-funding such organizations as Planned Parenthood who help with all women’s health issues, and they argue against company-sponsored health insurance plans covering birth control.  Sorry, folks, you cannot have it both ways!

Thus far through the years, state laws attempting to restrict abortion have all been struck down by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional.  Will that precedent hold?  I cannot say for sure, but I’m less confident now than I would have been two years ago.  More than 60% of the people in this nation support a woman’s right of choice, but these days it seems that the minority is the only voice that is heard.  If the Supreme Court ultimately overturns Roe v Wade, it will be a slap in the face to every woman in the U.S.  What will be next?  Will they take away our right to own property?  Our right to vote?  Think about it.

Thoughts On ‘Executive Privilege’ …

Donald Trump has invoked ‘executive privilege’ more than any other president, though all have used it to a lesser extent.  Just in the past month, Trump has used it to keep a number of people from answering subpoenas by various congressional committees trying to find answers to some very important questions.  Yesterday, he used it to claim that Congress and the public would not be allowed to see the un-redacted version of the Mueller report.  Most of us are scratching our heads and asking, “Can he do that?” 

Executive privilege is defined as “the right of the president and high-level executive branch officers to withhold information from Congress, the courts, and ultimately the public.”  It is not a right that is spelled out in the Constitution, but rather was defined by the Supreme Court when it ruled that it is “fundamental to the operation of government and inextricably rooted in the separation of powers under the Constitution.”

Executive privilege can be asserted for one of two reasons: for national security needs, and for “protecting the privacy of White House deliberations when it is in the public interest to do so.”  Now, at issue here is whether Donald Trump can be said to have known about and welcomed the Russian intrusion into the 2016 presidential election, and more likely, did Donald Trump attempt to interfere with the investigation into said Russian interference?  Neither, at this juncture, qualify as ‘national security’ issues, so that leaves the second reason.

“Protecting the privacy of White House deliberations when it is in the public interest to do so” is rather open to interpretation. Is it in the ‘public interest’ to keep us in the dark and allow Trump to get by with having broken the law? My own opinion is that transparency is in the public interest, that the public has both a right and a need to know the truth.  Just as Nixon’s assertion of executive privilege was widely seen as self-serving and against the public interest, most of us believe that Trump’s repeatedly invoking it makes him look guilty of far more than even Nixon.

If I sidle past you with my hands behind my back, you ask what I’m hiding, and I say “nuffin” then run quickly past and into my room, slam the door and lock it, you’re going to be pretty darn suspicious, right?  Trump has been caught with his hands in the cookie jar and he is trying very hard to hide it.  So … back to the question at hand:  Can he do that?

Is it in the public interest?  No.  It is in the interest of Donald Trump as he wishes to remain in office, for he is enjoying the power of the office, the free jet-setting all over the world, and financial benefits for his businesses.

President Nixon’s abuse of the privilege made future presidents leery of it, and even when he was facing the Iran-Contra investigation during his second term, President Ronald Reagan decided against asserting executive privilege, agreeing instead to provide much of the requested information to Congress.  President Bill Clinton attempted to invoke executive privilege during the investigation into his affair with Monica Lewinsky but was ultimately overruled.

Just as Richard Nixon used executive privilege in an attempt to cover his guilt, there can be no doubt that Trump is doing the same … the proof is in what we already know of the Mueller report.  However, as the courts struck down Nixon’s claim, they are not as likely to do so with Trump’s.  Why?  Attorney General William Barr.  The Justice Department under Nixon refused to pander to the president’s whims and instead held him accountable.  Why do you think Jeff Sessions was fired?  Why do you think Rod Rosenstein is resigning?  And why do you think Trump nominated, and the Senate confirmed, William Barr so quickly?  Why do you think Trump encouraged Justice Kennedy to retire and then the Senate was in such an all-fire hurry to put Brett Kavanaugh on the bench, despite credible allegations of sexual abuse?  Trump knew that Mueller’s report would open the doors to congressional investigations and he was pre-covering his bases.

In U.S. v. Nixon in 1974, President Richard Nixon was ordered to deliver tapes and other subpoenaed materials to a federal judge for review. The justices ruled 9-0 that a president’s right to privacy in his communications must be balanced against Congress’ need to investigate and oversee the executive branch.  That was then, and this is now … Nixon thought he would not be caught and didn’t have time to prepare in advance.  Trump knew he was caught and rushed through terminations and nominations to cover his patootie even before the Mueller report saw the light of day. Remember how Trump’s lawyers refused to let him testify before Mueller’s team, for they knew he would lie and incriminate himself even further.

Now, that is not to say that Trump will not ultimately have his feet held to the fire, but it is likely to be sometime next year before that happens, as I suspect this will work its way up through the court system along with other issues.  I also suspect it is more of a delaying tactic than anything.  Think about it … right this moment, we are furious, and this is the hot topic.  As other things take over the headlines in the media, as our attention is directed elsewhere, how likely are we to stay focused on Trump’s abuse of ‘executive privilege’?

I keep hoping that somebody … Don McGahn, Robert Mueller … somebody will have the guts to stand against Trump and volunteer to testify and provide whatever documents are in their possession.  Yes, it could result in a jail sentence, but … isn’t someone willing to put this nation and its well-being ahead of their own self-interest?  Trump for damn sure isn’t.

How Mitch McConnell Killed The Senate

On occasion, I share with you the work of Robert Reich.  Mr. Reich has served under three U.S. presidents of both parties and is a wise man who sees things as they are and isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade.  In the following essay, he analyzes the ways in which McConnell is changing not only the Senate, but the whole of the U.S. system.  I think his words are worth sharing …

 

Robert Reich-4How Mitch McConnell Killed The Senate

by Robert Reich

Congress has recessed for two weeks without passing a desperately-needed disaster relief bill. Why not? Because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t want to anger Donald Trump by adding money for Puerto Rico that Democrats have sought but Trump doesn’t want.

America used to have a Senate. But under McConnell, what was once known as the world’s greatest deliberative body has become a partisan lap dog.

Recently McConnell used his Republican majority to cut the time for debating Trump’s court appointees from 30 hours to two – thereby enabling Republicans to ram through even more Trump judges.

In truth, McConnell doesn’t give a fig about the Senate, or about democracy. He cares only about partisan wins.

On the eve of the 2010 midterm elections he famously declared that his top priority was for Barack Obama “to be a one-term president.”

Between 2009 and 2013, McConnell’s Senate Republicans blocked 79 Obama nominees. In the entire history of the United States until that point, only 68 presidential nominees had been blocked.

This unprecedented use of the filibuster finally led Senate Democrats in 2013 to change the rules on some presidential nominees (but not the Supreme Court) to require simple majorities.

In response, McConnell fumed that “breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American.” If so, McConnell is about as un-American as they come. Once back in control of the Senate he buried Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court by refusing even to hold hearings.

Then, in 2017, McConnell and his Republicans changed the rules again, ending the use of the filibuster even for Supreme Court nominees and clearing the way for Senate confirmation of Trump’s Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Step by step, McConnell has sacrificed the Senate as an institution to partisan political victories.

There is a vast difference between winning at politics by playing according to the norms of our democracy, and winning by subverting those norms.

To Abraham Lincoln, democracy was a covenant linking past and future. Political institutions, in his view, were “the legacy bequeathed to us.”

On the eve of the Senate’s final vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act in July 2017, the late John McCain returned to Washington from his home in Arizona, where he was being treated for brain cancer, to cast the deciding vote against repeal.

Knowing he would be criticized by other Republicans, McCain noted that over his career he had known senators who seriously disagreed with each other but nonetheless understood “they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively.”

In words that have even greater relevance today, McCain added that “it is our responsibility to preserve that, even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than ‘winning’.”

In politics, success should never be measured solely by partisan victories. It must also be judged by the institutional legacy passed onward. The purpose of political leadership is not merely to win. It is to serve.

In any social or political system it’s always possible to extract benefits by being among the first to break widely accepted norms. In a small town where people don’t lock their doors or windows, the first thief can effortlessly get into anyone’s house. But once broken, the system is never the same. Everyone has to buy locks. Trust deteriorates.

Those, like Mitch McConnell, who break institutional norms for selfish or partisan gains are bequeathing future generations a weakened democracy.

The difference between winning at politics by playing according to the norms and rules of our democracy, and winning by subverting them, could not be greater. Political victories that undermine the integrity of our system are net losses for society.

Great athletes play by the rules because the rules make the game. Unprincipled athletes cheat or change the rules in order to win. Their victories ultimately destroy the game.

In terms of shaping the federal courts, McConnell has played “the long game”, which, incidentally, is the title of his 2016 memoir. Decades from now, McConnell will still be shaping the nation through judges he rammed through the Senate.

But McConnell’s long game is destroying the Senate.

He is longest-serving leader of Senate Republicans in history but Mitch McConnell is no leader. He is the epitome of unprincipled power. History will not treat him kindly.

Just Two Things …

On Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg …

rbgIf I had to pick a favourite among the current Supreme Court Justices, it would be Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The woman is intelligent, has spunk, and her heart is in the right place, unlike some others.  She has gone through a lot, but she bounces back.  Since her most recent bout with cancer, she has returned to the Court, heard oral arguments, authored opinions, and even made a few public appearances outside the courtroom.  But yet …

There are some who claim Justice Ginsburg has been dead for weeks, and that democrats … of course, it’s always the democrats … are covering up her death in order to keep the jackal in the Oval Office from nominating another one of his sycophants for the seat.  Say WHAT???  How can a person who is in the public eye, who goes to work every day and is seen by her co-workers and others, be believed to be dead?  What rock have these people slithered out from under?

According to The Hill

The Supreme Court has been bombarded with Twitter users demanding evidence that Ginsburg is still alive, while some online videos allege her public appearances have been manufactured.

There are also claims that audio of her from recent Supreme Court oral arguments has been doctored and is nothing more than phrases pieced together from earlier recordings of her remarks.

There’s little chance the Ginsburg conspiracy theory is going away anytime soon, experts say, mainly because the biggest proponents are unlikely to accept any proof that she’s alive.

I have a solution.  Invite them all to visit the court at a specified date and time, then let Justice Ginsburg go ‘round the room and poke each one of them in the eye with a stick.  Perhaps that will convince them.

It seems, though, that Donald Trump is hoping for Justice Ginsburg’s demise, for he has already decided on a nominee for her replacement:  Judge Amy Coney Barrett.  Barrett, not surprisingly, is known as a “superstar” among the religious right.

Barrett is young (46) and has vociferously made known her willingness to overturn Roe v Wade, which, along with Obergefell v Hodges seem to be the only thing the religious right cares about when it comes to the Supreme Court.  Take away women’s rights and take away the rights of the LGBT community, and Trump’s biggest fan base will be happy.

Personally, I hope that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stays healthy for at least another two years.


Not tough enough???

Kirstjen-Nielsen.jpgThe big news of the day is that Trump apparently forced the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.  Now, I’ve never liked Nielsen, always considered her to be rather a cold, heartless bitch, but apparently she wasn’t heartless enough to suit Trump, and that should concern us all.  It will likely thrill his base of white supremacists, however, who would like nothing better than to line the southern border with armed guards who are told to shoot first and ask questions later.

Bruce Plante Cartoon: DHS Secretary Kirstjen NielsenRumours abound, as they will when facts are not made available.  One, the most probable one, is that Trump is eager to reinstate his horrendous child-separation policy, taking children from their parents when they cross the southern border.  Ms. Nielsen rejected the plan, in light of the fact that a federal judge struck down the policy last year.

Another theory was proposed by Josh Campbell, the former FBI agent turned CNN national security analyst.  Mr. Campbell believes it possible that Ms. Nielsen was the author of the anonymous OpEd in the New York Times last year that caused such a stir.    The basis for his conclusion is stylistic similarities between Nielsen’s letter of resignation and the OpEd.  Not much to go on, but if she was the author of the OpEd, now that she has resigned from her position she has nothing to lose by coming clean, so … maybe?

I’m still stunned, though, that she wasn’t ‘tough enough’ to please Trump, even after she authorized the use of tear gas to repel a large crowd attempting to break through a border fence on New Year’s Day.  I’m also stunned that Trump has plans to defy Judge Dana Sabraw’s order and reinstate his cruel, inhumane child separation policy.

Are there no longer any restrictions or limitations on the power of the presidency?  Has Donald Trump, in fact, become the dictator he always wanted to be?  He shuts the government down in an attempt to get his way.  That doesn’t work, so he declares a state of national emergency to get his way.  That hasn’t worked yet, so he demands the resignation of the Secretary of Homeland Security to replace her with a man who is even more cruel and heartless.  Where does it end.  When do We the People finally say we have had ENOUGH???  Or do we keep burying our heads in the sand, believing that somehow, in some way, it will all work itself out.  Believing that our Constitution, or next year’s election will stop him.  Think about it.

Cruel and Unusual …

The 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Simple, right?  Not so much, actually.  The vague language has led to confusing and conflicting court rulings over the years, especially with shifts in society’s standards and the makeup of the Supreme Court.  What is ‘excessive’ bail or fines, and what constitutes ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments?  Better yet, who gets to decide those questions?

I will say right up front that I am against the death penalty.  I wasn’t always … I used to believe that certain people were irreparable and didn’t deserve to live.  And then I took a post-graduate class offered by The Innocence Project and learned how many death row inmates had been exonerated, how many times we had come too close to executing an innocent man or woman, and that changed my view.

Yesterday, the case of Missouri inmate, Russell Bucklew was decided by the Supreme Court.  In a nutshell, Mr. Bucklew was convicted of murdering a man who had been seeing his former girlfriend, and of kidnapping and raping her. His sentence … the death penalty.  Now, the preferred method of execution in Missouri is lethal injection, however Mr. Bucklew has a medical condition known as cavernous hemangioma which causes vascular tumors—clumps of blood vessels—to grow in his head, neck, and throat.  In the event of lethal injection, the tumours would rupture, causing him to sputter, choke and suffocate on his own blood for up to several minutes before he dies. Mr. Bucklew had requested a different form of execution, preferably nitrogen gas.

The Court handed down its decision yesterday, and in a 5-4 ruling said that Mr. Bucklew’s execution would proceed as planned, using lethal injection.  The justices who voted for this decision were Neil Gorsuch, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Brett M. Kavanaugh.  Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, claiming that Bucklew had waited too long to object to the way the state planned to execute him.

He further wrote …

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch

Neil Gorsuch

“Courts should police carefully against attempts to use such challenges as tools to interpose unjustified delay. The Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death — something that, of course, isn’t guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes. We see little likelihood that an inmate facing a serious risk of pain will be unable to identify an available alternative — assuming, of course, that the inmate is more interested in avoiding unnecessary pain than in delaying his execution. A prisoner must show a feasible and readily implemented alternative method of execution that would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain and that the state has refused to adopt without a legitimate penological reason.”

Gorsuch falsely claimed that Bucklew’s chosen alternative, Nitrogen gas, is not authorized by Missouri law and had never been used to carry out an execution in the United States.  In truth, it has been used by three states.

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote …

“There are higher values than ensuring that executions run on time. If a death sentence or the manner in which it is carried out violates the Constitution, that stain can never come out. Our jurisprudence must remain one of vigilance and care, not one of dismissiveness.”

I side with Justice Sotomayer on this … when a human life is involved, I prefer to err on the side of caution rather than expediency.

More importantly than just this one case, though, is the precedent this sets.  This may well be the most significant Eighth Amendment decision of the last several decades and the cruelest in at least as much time. Beyond the macabre facts of the Bucklew case, Gorsuch’s opinion also undercuts decades of Eighth Amendment law, potentially permitting states to revive punishments that fell out of favor 200 years ago.

Recall that the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishments. The word “unusual” implies that, as a particular punishment becomes less and less common, it stands on weaker constitutional footing. Thus, as Chief Justice Earl Warren explained in a 1958 opinion, the Eight Amendment prohibits punishments that defy “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

The number of death sentences in the United States collapsed over the last two decades, strongly suggesting that executions themselves defy evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society. death sentencesIn total, only 25 people were executed in the United States in 2018, and only eight states performed any executions at all. One state, Texas, accounted for more than half (13) of these executions.

It is the opinion of this writer that the Supreme Court has just opened the door for us to regress to a time where the death penalty was carried out in ways that we, as a society, now view as ‘cruel and unusual’.  Of course, it is also the opinion of this writer that we should not be in the business of deciding to kill another human being.

WHY????????

Ask yourself this question:  Why should it be necessary in the United States, a developed Western nation, a nation where people are educated and claim to be good, caring people … why should it be necessary for states to legislate fairness?  Why should a state have to make laws that say, “you cannot refuse to rent a house, or to employ a person simply because they are African-American, or because they are gay”Why do we have to do that?  Aren’t some things just common sense?  Why do you care if the person working in your factory is gay or straight?  They aren’t hitting on you, for Pete’s Sake!!!

Sorry for the rant, but this one galls me to no end.  We learned from the Civil Rights era of the 1950s – 1960s, didn’t we?  Didn’t we learn that all different sorts of people make the world more interesting?  Didn’t we learn that a woman can be just as good a lawyer as a man?  And now, haven’t we learned that gay people are just as nice, just as caring, just as clean, honest and hard-working as straight people are?

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed two bills into law last Friday which seek to protect LGBTQ New Yorkers from discrimination and abuse.  The first new law, known as the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) codifies a 2015 executive order banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Under GENDA, New York businesses may not discriminate against transgender or non-binary New Yorkers in employment, housing, education, or public spaces.

The second new law bans so-called “ex-gay” conversion therapy, a discredited form of treatment which purports to turn people with same-sex attractions away from those desires. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “the potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.”

My hat is off to the New York State Legislature and to Governor Cuomo for these two laws.  But I still ask … WHY do we need these?  Why are some people, especially, it would seem, religious groups, determined to either condemn or change gay people???  And why on earth would anyone in their right mind subject either themselves or a loved one to a psychiatric treatment that is known to cause terrible emotional problems???  But wait … you haven’t heard the worst of it yet.  Consider this single sentence from ThinkProgress …

Yet, while both new laws are undoubtedly victories for LGBTQ rights, it remains to be seen whether either law will have staying power in the face of a Supreme Court that is increasingly hostile to civil rights claims brought by non-conservatives.

WHY???  Why does it matter whether claims are brought by conservatives, moderates or liberals?  WHY should civil rights be disavowed?  Is it the intent of the conservative thinkers on the Supreme Court to walk back civil rights reform all the way to the days of segregated bathrooms, water fountains, schools and buses?  The Supreme Court is supposed to uphold the U.S. Constitution, not the doctrine of the Republican Party or the religious right!

Members of religious groups have 1st Amendment rights, the same as anybody else. What they do NOT have is the right to impose their will on the rest of the nation!  What they do NOT have is the right to discriminate against an entire group of people with whom they disagree, or who they simply do not like!  And the United States Supreme Court is supposed to judge fairly what is right for the entire nation, not for only white Christians!

I certainly hope that the New York laws can withstand the bigotry that now resides in the highest court in the nation.  Meanwhile, speaking of the Supreme Court, four conservative members of the Supreme Court joined an opinion calling for an expansion of the rights of religious conservatives to defy laws they disagree with — and a fifth justice, Chief Justice John Roberts, appears broadly sympathetic to this agenda.

One of the Christian right’s top policy priorities is to effectively create two different codes of law in the United States. The first code, which applies to people who do not hold conservative religious views, is rigid and unmoving. The second code, which would apply primarily to Christian-identified conservatives, contains broad exceptions for people who hold the “right” religious beliefs.

bullshit

The endgame is a world where Christian conservatives can treat much of the law as optional, giving conservative Christians broad immunity from the rules that govern all other Americans.  For example, these groups want to have the legal authority to deny housing or employment to members of the LGBTQ community but would be up in arms if it were suggested that, say, a Jew could deny housing or employment to them on the grounds they are conservative Christians.  That’s the biggest load of you-know-what (see above picture) I have heard, but what’s worse is that, as was the case in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court upheld the discriminatory acts!

The executive and legislative branches of our government are already compromised by power, greed and corruption.  If the judicial branch goes the same way, as it appears they are prepared to do, this nation can no longer possibly be called the United States of Anything.  As my wonderful late mother-in-law used to say, “Folks is folks … some are good, some aren’t … but in the end, we’re all just folks”.  Think about it.

The Supreme Court Has Lost Its Way …

The Supreme Court, the branch of the federal government that is supposed to be most independent, that is intended to hold the executive and legislative branches accountable, has made two major decisions today that indicate they have fallen and landed squarely in the camp of Donald Trump.  I am beyond disappointed … I am incensed, and I see our rights as citizens of this plutocracy going down the drain. supreme court justices


Supreme Court revives Trump’s transgender military ban

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Trump administration to go ahead with its plan to restrict military service by transgender people while court challenges continue.  The court split 5-4 in allowing the plan to take effect, with the court’s five conservatives greenlighting it and its four liberal members saying they would not have.

Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender. That changed under President Barack Obama. The military announced in 2016 that transgender individuals already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017 as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.

Trump, of course, had to undo that, for two reasons:  a) it was a decision made during the Obama administration, and Trump has a goal to undo every single thing Obama did, and b) because Donald Trump and his supporters are homophobic bigots.  There is no viable reason to ban transgender people from the military, and this decision does not reflect the feelings of the majority in this nation!

Supreme Court returns to gun rights for 1st time in 9 years

The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will take up its first gun rights case in nine years, a challenge to New York City’s prohibition on carrying a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun outside the city limits.  The court’s decision to hear the appeal filed by three New York residents and New York’s National Rifle Association affiliate could signal a revived interest in gun rights by a more conservative court. The case won’t be argued until October.

New York’s ordinance allows people licensed to have handguns to carry them outside the home to gun ranges in the city. The guns must be locked and unloaded.  The city residents who filed suit want to practice shooting at target ranges outside the city or take their guns to second homes elsewhere in New York state.  The city’s top lawyer, Zachary Carter, urged the court to reject the case, arguing that the restrictions allowed New York police to reduce the number of guns carried in public.

Just about the last … the very last … thing we need in this country is an expansion of 2nd Amendment ‘rights’!  The NRA has already nearly ensured that gun deaths in the U.S. will continue to be the highest per capita on the globe.  What do we want … are we shooting for some sort of record here … “let’s see if we can top last year’s gun deaths”?


Both of these issues are beyond merely concerning on their own merit, but the even greater concern is the trend that is appearing.  It is a trend we all feared when first, Neil Gorsuch, then Brett Kavanaugh were seated on the Supreme Court.  It is deeply disturbing that the Supreme Court appears to be making decisions strictly along partisan lines rather than considering issues on Constitutional merit.  The real concern, however, lies on the path ahead.  There are two prior Supreme Court rulings that ultra-conservative republicans, evangelicals, Trump’s base, want to see overturned:  Roe v Wade, and Obergefell v Hodges.  The first guarantees a woman the right to make decisions about her own body, her own life.  The second guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.  Both were long, hard-fought battles and are, in short, about human rights … civil rights.

In addition to those, it is highly likely that the Supreme Court will soon be asked to hear cases involving gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement.  Our constitutional rights … all of them … may be in jeopardy if the Court cannot manage to overcome it’s partisanship.  After Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation, Chief Justice John Roberts, in an effort to quell growing concerns of partisanship on the Court, made the following statement:

“… We do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle, we do not caucus in separate rooms, we do not serve one party or one interest. We serve one nation. And I want to assure all of you that we will continue to do that to the best of our abilities, whether times are calm or contentious.”

Prove that to us, please, Chief Justice.

ACA Is NOT Unconstitutional!!!

I would really like to know just how much Donald Trump paid to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of Texas.  Or perhaps it wasn’t money, but the promise of a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Whatever the enticement, Judge Reed O’Connor has just thrown the citizens of the United States under the proverbial bus.  What, you ask, did he do?  Last night, Judge O’Connor ruled that ACA in its totality is unconstitutional.  Not just part of ACA … the entire bloomin’ Affordable Care Act!Judge O'ConnorJudge O’Connor isn’t new to controversial rulings.  Let’s take a look at just a few he’s made in the past decade …

  • Halted implementation of ACA Section 1557 that prohibited discrimination against transgender people by federally funded health programs. Why?  Because the judge felt it violated religious rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. – December 2016
  • Ruled against the Title IX law that required that schools receiving federal funding not discriminate against students on the basis of sex or gender identification – October 2016
  • Ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act was unconstitutional. The act halted the forcible removal of as many as 25% – 30% of Native American children from their homes for no reason other than their heritage, and then being put up for adoption, placed in non-Indian homes with a deliberate absence of American Indian cultures – October 2018

So, we have here a judge in the southern state of Texas who is a proven bigot and racist, and he has decided that the entirety of ACA, the program that was intended to ensure that every man, woman and child in the U.S. would have at least basic healthcare insurance, goes against the Constitution.  And Trump’s own ‘surprised’ reaction?

“Wow, but not surprisingly, ObamaCare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas. Great news for America!”

No, you fat, pimple-faced, fake-hair jerk!  It is the worst possible news for America!  Only wait … that’s right, you don’t give a damn about America, do you, for your allegiance lies elsewhere … in Russia … in Saudi Arabia.

And later …

“As I predicted all along, Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster! Now Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions.”

Yeah, sure, right … and I believe that the Easter Bunny lays chocolate eggs, too …

Judge O’Connor has been sitting on the case that prompted his ruling for several months now, but it was decided to wait until the end of the open enrollment period and, more importantly, after the mid-term elections, where health care was a major deciding factor for many voters.  Clever, aren’t these damn republicans?

The judge’s ruling will no doubt be appealed all the way up the line until finally it lands on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court, so for the time being, nothing changes.  What happens when it reaches the Supreme Court?  Good question.  Remember how just this week, Kavanaugh sided with liberal and moderate judges in a refusal to hear a case that could have ended in defunding Planned Parenthood?  People were scratching their heads, wondering if perhaps Kavanaugh was a decent guy after all.  I said he was biding his time, picking his battles.  What do you want to bet this is one of those battles he was saving up for?

The basic difference in ideologies between democrats and republicans boils down to whether the government’s focus should be on people or industry.  Prior to ACA, health insurance was so expensive that a large portion of Americans took their chances without insurance.  ACA sought to remedy that, sought to ensure that no child would have to die because his parents could not afford to take him to the doctor.  But the republicans believed that their tax dollars should not be wasted on the lives of those of us they view as second-class citizens because we haven’t had the same opportunities for enrichment they have had.

And now a bigoted judge in Texas has decided all by himself that healthcare should only be accessible to those who earn over a certain amount of money.  ACA is not unconstitutional.  ACA is about helping people live their lives.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that people should not be allowed to live if they are poor.  Unlike Donald Trump, I have actually read the Constitution … many times.  We The People are sick and tired of having to fight battle after battle to be treated with a bit of respect in our own country, the country that our hard-earned tax dollars support.  We are paying a high price for the follies of the current administration and it is past time for people to realize it.

As for Judge Reed O’Connor … I’m betting that next time Trump has an opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice, O’Connor’s name will be on the short list.

The Conversation — Part II

This is Part II of the series I started yesterday afternoon, in response to a very thoughtful and thought-provoking comment I received from friend Mary on Tuesday.  Mary’s comments are in normal text, mine are in blue.  The conversation continues …

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1When I look around and see the support trump still has after 2 years, I believe it is hopeless … truly. I do hope I’m wrong, but I have a feeling. 2Education is not getting better, 3politics are even more corrupt, greed is rampant, 4our government supports killers over their own intelligence agencies, selfishness is rampant, 5far right religion is out of control with their end times desires and pushing their own special brand of bigotry, 6fires being blamed on not raking leaves, wars without end, 7the real fake news (Fox and their ilk) are taking over the simple minded and on and on…  Let me take these one-by-one:

  1. Trump’s support is still the minority. His approval ratings have never, since his first week or two in office, come above about 43%, and typically run in the mid-to-high 30s, lower than any other president in modern times.  The thing about his supporters is that they are loud and obnoxious, have radical and hateful ideas, so, as the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”.  They are given the attention of the media, making them seem much larger than they actually are.

  2. Education has been in decline for more than a decade, though I agree that under Trump it is certain to decline further. Betsy DeVos would make college available to only those in the upper 1% of the income bracket and would siphon funds meant for public schools serving the many, into charter and religious schools serving only the elite few.  The problem, however, traces to parents who prefer their children to be schooled in a skill or a trade, so that they are prepared for a specific sort of job when they leave school, rather than receiving a liberal arts education that gives them a broad scope of knowledge, and most importantly, teaches them to think, to ask questions, to find solutions to problems.   Thus, the future leaders of this country, as well as the future scientists and inventors, will likely come only from among the very privileged.  It is a problem, certainly, but not one without a solution.  The solution is that we, as parents and grandparents, must step up to the plate, must demand that our children be given the same opportunity as the children of the Koch family. And we must motivate our children, for today’s youth is the future of this country.  Spend time with them, teach them what they need to know, teach them to reason, to ask questions, not to simply accept the easy answers.


  3. Yes, Mary, politics are as corrupt as they have ever been. The first thing that needs to be done is to take the money out of it.  Citizens United was the single worst decision ever made in terms of campaign finance, and even a few Supreme Court Justices have since regretted their vote.  It has left the door wide open for large corporations and lobbying groups, such as the fossil fuel and arms industries to buy members of Congress.  Today, it isn’t about the candidate’s platform and ideologies, but rather about how much money he can bring in.  I would personally like to see a system where donations are made to a central organization and divvied equally among all candidates.  Not going to happen, but it’s the only way we can ensure that our elected officials are truly representing us, We The People, and not in the pockets of the wealthy, industries, or the NRA.  Another suggestion I have is that we expand the current two-party system to either make it easier for an independent to get on the ballot, or to have a multi-party system such as many European nations have.  The United States is the only nation that has a duopoly, a two-party system where all power rests with those two parties.


  4. It appears that it is Trump’s decision alone to support Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and to ignore the evidence of his role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Members of both parties in Congress are displeased with this decision and I cannot imagine that any other president would be so unwilling to listen to his own intelligence agencies, but Trump … well, he thinks he knows more than anybody else.


  5. The far-right religion, the evangelicals, as a whole are a problem for our nation only to the extent that the government and the courts allow them to be. Trump promised his followers that he would nominate justices to the Supreme Court that would be willing to overturn Roe v Wade and Obergefell v Hodges, and thus far he has seated two such judges.  It is to be hoped that he does not get the opportunity to nominate others, and that the rest of the court has respect for the decisions of past courts.  Our laws call for separation of church and state for good reason.  Ours is a secular government and has no right to interfere in any religion, but by the same token, religions must not have the right to determine law.


  6. I agree that Trump’s response to the forest fires in California was abominable. The good news about that is he surely didn’t make any friends or find any new supporters in that state!  The only thing he did do was prove his own ignorance, as if we needed further proof.


  7. Trump’s close ties with Fox News are indeed worrisome, especially when he is said to call Sean Hannity for advice! And to add insult to injury is his demonization of the legitimate press, calling them the “Enemy of the People”.  I must admit that, while I see the danger quite clearly, I am at a loss as to how we can make people think for themselves, make them wake up and realize that Fox News is naught more than state-sponsored television that panders to Donald Trump.  I think we must rely on the organizations that are established for the purpose of being the watchdogs to monitor freedom of the press, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and hope they do their job and get the word out. 

And once again I am at over 1,000 words, so I shall stop here and wrap up with Part III later today.  Please feel free to join in the conversation with your own ideas!  And thanks for not throwing those rotten tomatoes!  🍅 🍅 🍅

Link to Part I in case you missed it:  The Conversation — Part I