Sep 17

The Best Fantasy Book I’ve Read

In Brief — A review of “The Night Circus” that reflects the author’s tastes. Will it reflect yours? [Written in May 2017.]

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Dreams of a Circus of Fantasy —

“The Night Circus.” My story about a story that stumbled out of the starting gate but crossed the finish line in first place.

It is said that a reader lives a thousand lives but a non-reader lives only one. If true, then I have lived a thousand lives. It seems I’ve been reading all my life. I was an asthmatic kid in his bedroom who read dictionaries while the neighbor kids played outdoors. The asthma disappeared in the high, dry climate of Santa Fe. In my early teens I was lucky in having a friend who introduced me to science fiction and fantasy. Since then, my reading has grown to include philosophy, history, theology, law, politics and other genres including fiction and, of course, fantasy.

“The Night Circus” was a gift from a former teacher friend who has generously fed my addiction with books she found particularly appealing. Unfortunately, unlike previous gifts from my special friend, this gift failed to materialize. I hovered over my Kindle expecting it to appear as others have done. It didn’t. Three days later after repeated complaints to Amazon, “The Night Circus” appeared as mysteriously as the circus does in this book.

As I said at the outset, this is the best fantasy I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down and could hardly wait to see where the author, Erin Morgenstern, would take me next. Not all readers will be as entranced as I, but this is my story.

Set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this tale includes wizards, magic, fated lovers and just plain people who are aficionados drawn into the spell of an unusual circus, a circus we all wish existed in our lives.

The fated Marco and Celia are surrounded by Widget, Poppet, Bailey and a host of fascinating characters who populate “The Night Circus.” They are drawn into the orbit of the circus that appears and disappears unpredictably and is open only during the night hours. As a reader, I was drawn in along with them.

What you might expect in any circus can be found here, but it’s all better. The popcorn is popped to perfection, the cider or hot drinks are delicious, the chocolate and caramel taste wonderful. The performances are awe-inspiring. Is it real magic or just beautifully done? Each tent is unique…and there are many tents.

With the circus as a backdrop, Marco and Celia are bound to a competition that will determine who is best. The winner lives; the loser must die. It’s always been like this.

Whether you read it as a paper book or on an e-reader makes little difference other than esthetic. If you are not a reader or not interested in fantasy, I will only say that you are missing something in life. And life is to be lived with all its flavors. “The Night Circus” added flavor to my life. Maybe it can add flavor to yours.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on July 2016.

Sep 10

Love, Angels and Devils

In Brief — A passing flirtation with theology allows the author to explore the relationship between love in our hearts, those we feel are our angels and the bad things that can make life miserable. [Written in April-May 2017.]

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Life is Like a Box of Chocolates (Forrest Gump)

Your life is like a roller-coaster ride: ups and downs. As Forrest Gump wisely continued in his analogy, “…you never know what you’re going to get.” Up, down, good, bad, every experience, no matter how seemingly insignificant, adds to the person you are.

Imagine a graph with a vertical axis and a horizontal axis. Let’s arbitrarily say the vertical line is Love and the horizontal one is denominated Angels. Where the two lines meet in the corner, or the zero point, we will call the Devils. Each line is graded, up and horizontally from zero to 100. The people or the incidents in your life will fall somewhere on that graph.

With that as a starting point, I will take a look at my life and place significant people and incidents on that graph. I don’t have any enemies that I know of, but there are certainly painful incidents that have affected me. Good ones, too. You might want to think of your own life in these terms.

Richard Bach’s “Illusions” says, “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.”

I will modify this wisdom only to the extent of saying that gifts come with every incident in your life, not just the problems that have plagued you. Accept those gifts in the realization that they are adding to the person that you are becoming. Whether you realize it or not, you are growing as a result.

The people in my life, wives, children and their significant others, friends and relatives sit somewhere on that graph. I’ll say only that my current wife, my children and my dear friends rest on the high end of that graph. I love them and consider them angels.

My former wives sit slightly lower on that graph, but I hasten to add that they have taught me more than they will ever know. Some of those lessons were painful, but I grew because of them and their gifts. For this I’m thankful. I hope they are, too.

One of my angel friends sends me books, sharing her pleasure and adding to the person I’m becoming. Other dear friends send me thoughtful articles, films, laughter, the latest news, pieces of the larger world and glimpses of themselves. All of these are gifts and become part of me.

Former girlfriends shared themselves with me. Most of them think I’ve forgotten them although I haven’t. Even though I have a suspicion they’ve probably chalked me up to a youthful mistake, they taught me about myself. More importantly (though they may not want to know this), we have both contributed to the individuals we are today.

I often complain of the physical limitations I’m dealing with since the operation, but if I look beyond the surface, I find that I’ve grown because of the limitations. I’ve had new experiences, time to think, read and reflect. I’ve been able to contribute in small ways to others. I’ve grown.

Look at your own life, the love, the angels and the devils. They’re there, sometimes hiding, often not, but they’re there.

Consider this quotation from “Illusions”: “Here’s a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on June 2016.

Sep 03

Euphemisms and Waste: A Poisonous Mix

In Brief— The author describes the corruption of our language and the prodigious military waste that robs Americans of precious dollars. He provides information about what is done in our name. [Written in March 2015. Revised in May 2017.]

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The Orwellization of Language—

Surprise! The American military not only wastes prodigious amounts of taxpayer dollars, it corrupts the language, using euphemisms when straight talk would tell us what they’re really about. Here are just a few examples of Orwell-speak.

Department of Defense. Soothing and inaccurate. Collateral Damage. How vague and deceptive. Insurgents. Crudely evasive. Neutralize. Vague and inoffensive. Extreme Prejudice. Evasive.

Department of Defense— Until fairly recently it was called the Department of War. What does it actually engage in? War!

Collateral Damage— These are real humans who have been killed by the American military and its allies. They may be opposing armed forces for any of several reasons OR they may simply be inhabitants simply going about their daily business. Some have been killed by drones and others have been killed by bullets or bombs, but they are just as dead.

Insurgents— These humans could be anybody from opponents acting for any of several reasons OR they could be civilians identified by the military as being opponents even though they are not. As we now know from reliable sources and the military itself, military documents reveal that the majority of victims are ordinary civilians that the American military deliberately calls “insurgents.”

Neutralize— This means killing other humans. Got that? Killing! Rendering another human dead.

Extreme Prejudice— This means killing another human. Publically released government reports show that Osama bin Laden was unarmed and in custody, but he was killed. Assassinated. The Obama administration simply didn’t want a public trial because his defense would have revealed America’s complicity. Anwar al-Awlaki and, later, his young son, both Americans, were killed by a drone strike ordered by Obama without the benefit of a trial.

Unprivileged Belligerent— According to the Pentagon manual, any reporting by a reporter that the American military considers unfriendly to American actions can be grounds for detention or killing. There goes the First Amendment.

These are just a few of the euphemisms that are used to assure us that “The Other” human or reporter is not one of us and that this once-living human has been killed in the name of the American style of “freedom.” These euphemisms are part of the propaganda we breathe. What’s just as bad, the print and visual media perpetuate the euphemisms to such an extent that they become embedded in our thinking.

The Propaganda Fish Bowl—

As pointed out in my blog piece “Propaganda is Us…and Them,” we swim in a fishbowl of comfortable myths that are more accurately called “propaganda.” Every nation and group has its own myths, and America is second to none when it comes to myths.

America has a first-rate propaganda machine. Most of the movies on foreign screens or on their TV are American. Much of the fast food and drink served all over the world is American. American businesses populate every corner of the globe. American news is read and watched everywhere. And the American government blankets the planet with the American story.

A huge part of that story is that America is defending everybody’s freedom. The War Department has become the Defense Department and the world is expected to respond to the dog whistle. Sit, World, Sit!

The Second Part: Military Waste—

Former Senator Everett Dirksen famously said, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” Although vanishingly few Americans have even an idea of a million dollars let alone a billion, the American military wastes billions of dollars on phony wars and weapons that don’t work or are obsolete before they can be used. Politicians who want to get reelected give the military money they don’t need. The military motto is: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Trump and the Republican Party are busily increasing the excess.

So what does America get for the massive amount of money it feeds the War Department? Putting aside the Iraqi and Afghan wars that continue, does American “defense” get value for those billions? Just three examples will illustrate the extent of military waste.

Fact: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, is obsolete, problem-plagued, overpriced and unneeded except by bought-and-paid-for politicians and the delighted contractor. Senator Bernie Sanders is a cheerleader for the F-35 because it’s built in his state.

Fact: The Litoral Combat Ship is problem-plagued, of doubtful combat effectiveness.

Fact: The USS Gerald Ford-class Carrier costing billions of dollars is beset by cost-overruns, untested technological systems and vulnerable to vastly cheaper missile attacks.

Back to the duplicitous euphemisms that blinds Americans to reality and the breathtaking waste that sucks money out of taxpayer wallets while pumping brains full of dangerous myths. Who is to blame and what can be done about it?

Every time you cast a vote for that representative who is supposed to represent you, you have a chance to change the words used and the policies that affect your life.

If you think you’re entitled to honesty and money intelligently-spent, your vote and your words in that letter to your representative or to the Editor, can have a profound effect on the direction the nation goes. Small acts done consistently can have a profound effect. The 2018 elections are your chance.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on May 2016.

Aug 27

Chronicle from the Old Folks’ Home — Part 14

In Brief — The author gives readers a glimpse of the hard-working personnel who care for all of the oldsters in his department. [Written in June 2017.]


Hard-Working, With Uncaring Management —

The new management of this warehouse apparently believes the personnel are endowed with super powers: They don’t get tired from the long, mind-numbing hours of seeing to the needs of both the elderly and the demented, they don’t need more money, and they never get sick.

As if that weren’t enough, management’s canned retort to personnel’s repeated complaints is that the personnel level is the same as under the old regime and, besides, it’s hard to recruit qualified people. No wonder. Why bust your butt for low pay helping smelly old folks! Don’t ask about the personnel union because the union reps might have to get out of the comfortable bed they share with management.

How do I know all this? I have an inveterate need to ask questions…and in the face of injustice I write letters to the powers who need to know. Contrary to the first, my latest letter was met with total silence. I am led to think I must be losing my touch or that we are now in the era of Trump. The latter may be true because when I moved to Sweden I was told that Sweden was five years behind America. The camel has at least its nose in Sweden’s tent.

With that as a background, here is a bit about the personnel who work so hard to care for us.

The Personnel —

My contact person, Irene, is hard-working, efficient, abundantly friendly, outspoken…and very well informed. Though rushed, Irene always makes sure that my needs are met. She knows the ropes around here and, unlike many Swedes, doesn’t shrink from telling management the truth about what it’s like on the front lines. I ask, she tells. To say she is loved and respected would be understating it. Well-l-l, management respects and depends on her.

Sven-Gunnar, one of the few men here, is quiet, meticulous, friendly and helpful in both of the departments on this floor. After almost six years of being in a reduced state after the operation, I always feel relaxed when meticulous Sven-Gunnar’s feeding me. My muscles relax when I hear his distinctive knock on the door before a feeding.

Note: As I write this notes in late-July, Sven-Gunnar has had a stroke. Fortunately, it was treated in time and he’s improving. Not yet 50, he shows that even relatively young people can suffer a stroke. If he returns, I plan to advise him to eat a vegan diet to help prevent a build-up of fatty plaque in his circulatory system. Fingers crossed that Sven-Gunnar can join us again soon.

To continue, there’s Kicki. Garrulous, helpful, overweight and something of a complainer about her assorted physical ills, Kicki may sometimes be repetitive, but she knows exactly what needs to be done and does it with a smile. She often volunteers to do small things for me like watering the drooping flowers guests sometimes bring. She’s priceless.

Tall, slender Charles, a 23-year-old Rwandan refugee who came to Sweden at 19, is smart as a whip, quickly learning exactly how I should be fed. Charles speaks four languages: his native Ikinyarwanda and Swedish (fluently), English and French (passably). Charles is pleased that I showed interest in his mother tongue by learning a few phrases that I use every time he appears. He smiles, responds in Ikinyarwanda and bows. When I asked why he bows, he replied, “Because I respect you.” When I responded, “I respect you, too, Charles,” he smiled…and bowed. The moral to that story is that we must never underestimate anybody.

Occasionally, Marie feeds me. She’s also an expert at taking care of our feet, often referred to as a pedicure. That expertise pays the rent. However, to be accurate, Marie cuts my toenails that seem to be beyond my reach. I know it’s time for her services when my toenails start snagging the insides of my socks. While that is certainly important, she is always cheerful and, more to the point, she never fails to get my feedings right. She obviously paid attention to Irene’s instructions.

There are other allegedly trained individuals anointed by management with the task of feeding me because of sicknesses, summer vacations or unanticipated absences. Of course, management stinginess may be in there somewhere. Mind you I’m not implying some personnel can’t grab their fannies with both hands — because some are sorta competent as well as always friendly — but let’s just say I have to watch them like a hawk and can’t relax as I can with those mentioned above.

I know I promised to tell you about the old folks in the next department, but you can look forward with ‘bated breath to some future installment.

Meanwhile, my heart goes out to the American readers who have to live with the antics of a nut-job and a mean-spirited political party bent on taking the country back to medieval times. At least the nut-job may be removed soon. About that political party, though…

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on April 2016.

Aug 20

Revenge vs. Learning: Which is Stronger?

In Brief — An examination of whether the death penalty is atavistic or useful to society. [Written in May 2017.]


Vengeance in the 21st Century —

Premeditated murder. It’s often referred to as first degree murder, but generally (excluding military actions) it is deliberately killing another human being. States frequently have their own variations on what it constitutes, but those are grounded on whether the killing shows “malice aforethought” (premeditation). Malice aforethought is interpreted to include several aspects, but in the final analysis it boils down to the killing being intended or at least reasonably conceivable. I urge you to inform yourself not least because your state may be killing in your name.

Prompted by the rushed executions by Arkansas and its eagerness to kill several men on death row — as well as my own opposition to the death penalty — I will show how the death penalty is not only hypocritical and illogical but a waste of a golden opportunity.

Since the victim is dead, s/he is no longer aware. What most survivors feel beyond the shock and emotional pain is a desire for vengeance against the suspected perpetrator. The victim can’t return to life, so why kill the golden goose simply because you like roast goose?

What if this a case of mistaken identity? Reams of research show that eyewitness accounts are often in error. What of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? Related to unreliable eyewitness testimony, what if the accused perpetrator is innocent of the crime?

Rationale for Incarceration —

In discussing the death penalty it’s necessary to know the reasons for imprisoning a person. Two or more of those reasons are hollow as you will see.

The purposes of incarceration are most often fourfold:

Retribution, i.e., society’s right to inflict harm on a convicted criminal who presumably harmed society. The death penalty falls within this category. In plain words, it is revenge;

2) Incapacitation, i.e., a convicted criminal cannot commit crimes while imprisoned;

3) Deterrence, i.e., the threat of punishment presumably prevents other people from criminal acts;

4) Rehabilitation, i.e., Changing for the better the convicted criminal. Rehabilitation is said to include vocational training, counseling and, if needed, drug treatment. Good luck with those!

For incarceration to be justified, the punishment must fall within at least one of the above.

A dead condemned person obviously will not harm society again. Therefore, retribution falsely appears effective as far as society is concerned.

When a condemned person kills another person in prison, one has to question whether incapacitation is effective.

Clearly, killing the alleged condemned person doesn’t stop others in society from killing. Thus, deterrence is totally ineffective at stopping such crimes. Indeed, in medieval times when there were public executions, pickpockets worked the on-looking crowds. Picking pockets was a death penalty offense.

Rehabilitation depends on the prison, the enlightenment of the prison’s administration and the political climate of the state where rehabilitation is supposed to take place.

As we see, at least two and possibly three of the reasons for incarceration are meaningless.

Illogic and Wasteful —

Here’s the nub of my argument. If the above doesn’t convince you that killing a condemned person doesn’t make sense, then consider the following.

Once a person is dead, learning something about why that person committed the crime no longer exists. The state has foreclosed the possibility of preventing another such crime. Wouldn’t it be better to explore why the crime was committed in the first place? The person who allegedly committed the crime is the best source. Sure, you might learn nothing, but you might learn enough to head society down a safer road. What do the prisoner’s genes and environment reveal? This is the waste I refer to when I argue that executing the alleged killer leaves us in a blind alley.

Does this mean that learning why the prisoner killed will result in immediate release? No, but it may result in lowering the sentence during which time the prisoner can receive additional therapy. However, if it’s discovered that the prisoner is innocent, only then will the wrongly convicted prisoner be freed.

Will such a change in the American justice system take place? Will the current unjust system become more just? Probably not under the present political reality, but that doesn’t mean that the goal is impossible. We can’t see the future.

My final and maybe the strongest argument is that the state is committing exactly the same thing for which it is executing the condemned person: the premeditated killing of another human being. It is vengeance, plain and simple. Do you want the state to kill in your name?

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on March 2016.

Aug 13

SCOTUS: Religion, Women and Death Penalty

In Brief — The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) — now back to nine justices with the elevation of Neil Gorsuch — determines the direction of the country. The author explains how the conservative justices will set the tone for the foreseeable future. [Written in April-May 2017.]

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Partisanship and Conservatism Rule —

“Theft” is what it’s been called. The Republican theft of a seat on SCOTUS is a stain on American justice that will go down in the annals of jurisprudence for decades. With ten months yet to go in his second term, President Barack Obama nominated the well-qualified moderate Merrick Garland to fill the seat that had been occupied by conservative Antonin Scalia.

Garland had been enthusiastically confirmed by Republicans and Democrats alike when he was named to the Appeals Court of the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997. What a difference from 2017 when the Republicans were in power.

For ten months, Senator Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues refused to give Garland a hearing in the Senate, saying that not only would they not “advise and consent” regarding Garland but if a Democrat were elected president, they wouldn’t approve anybody not to their liking. Thus, they made SCOTUS a partisan body.

Now let’s look at the odds of how SCOTUS will rule on cases dealing with religion, women’s rights and the death penalty.

Religion and the First Amendment —

The First Amendment to the Constitution essentially states — among other important matters — that there must be no interference with the religious rights of the citizens. Well-settled case law extends that right to others and those who don’t believe in a deity. It should be noted that notwithstanding this, several states still ban non-believers from holding office and Trump would deny entry to Muslims.

As I’ve previously stated, all of the conservative justices, including newly elevated Neil Gorsuch, are devout Roman Catholics. There is an old fable about allowing a camel’s nose into the tent. It is a warning that permitting even a small incursion can lead to a more dangerous one. SCOTUS has already allowed religion into public life. Today we have five conservative justices who are devout Roman Catholics. How are they likely to rule on cases dealing with religion? Such a case is before SCOTUS now.

By now you will have read my blog piece “Gorsuching the Supreme Court.” If you missed that, by all means go back and read it. If these two entries don’t light your fire, you aren’t paying attention.

Women and Their Own Bodies —

Conservatives — particularly religious conservatives — are slavering to control what a woman does with her own body. They lie when they say a woman’s pregnancy begins when a sperm enters the egg. This is a religious myth. In fact, pregnancy begins when the fertilized egg attaches to the wall of the uterus. The myth fits well with the views of the conservatives on SCOTUS because it allows them to say that contraception and abortion are alike. It’s a genuine threat to science if SCOTUS holds that a woman’s pregnancy occurs as soon as sperm enters the egg.

.I’ve written only of contraception and abortion, but the Republicans have targeted Planned Parenthood, people of color, Muslims, immigrants, voting rights and much more, but this blog piece is focused on just three fronts in the war for America’s soul.

It’s long been assumed that legal precedent — what has gone before — should guide a court in deciding cases. That can be deadly when the blinkered past controls modern times, but when current medical science informs an issue, then precedent should rule. Will the Roman Catholic conservatives on SCOTUS allow Rome to control American law? Is the pope Catholic?

The Death Penalty —

Arkansas rushed to kill death row prisoners before the state’s supply of questionable drugs expired at the end of April. Although the state politicians’ motivation is abhorrent, SCOTUS conservatives — not least newly elevated Neil Gorsuch — eagerly approved the killings brought before them. What follows are the rationales for incarceration and the death penalty.

The purposes of incarceration are fourfold (sometimes fivefold):

  • 1) Retribution, i.e., society’s right to inflict harm on a convicted criminal who presumably harmed society. The death penalty falls within this category. In plain words, it is revenge;
  • 2) Incapacitation, i.e., a convicted criminal cannot commit crimes while imprisoned;
  • 3) Deterrence, i.e., the threat of punishment presumably prevents other people from criminal acts;
  • 4) Rehabilitation, i.e., Changing for the better the convicted criminal. Rehabilitation is said to include vocational training, counseling and, if needed, drug treatment. Good luck with that!

The possible fifth rationale for incarceration is that the convicted criminal has a chance of at least partially paying back the victim. This is seldom applicable.

For incarceration to be justified, the punishment must fall within at least one of the above.

Thanks to Trump, Sen. McConnell and the Republican Party what America now has is a partisan, religion-friendly SCOTUS. Do I need to remind you that the 2018 general election gives the American voters a chance to send the Republicans home with their tails between their legs? Will they?

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on February 2016.

 

Aug 06

Gorsuching the Supreme Court

In Brief — The author discusses how Neil Gorsuch might affect the Supreme Court and what conservatism and originalism mean. There’s a little on religion, too. [Written in April 2017.]

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Backward, O, Backward Goes SCOTUS in Time —

Betcha don’t know what Conservative means. Since you may not know that, you probably have no idea what an Originalist philosophy is. Or what the Federalist Society is or does. Now’s your chance if you choose to stick with me.

Everybody — well, almost everybody — knows that the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is the highest court in America. The nine justices who make up SCOTUS set the legal tone for all the courts in the land, they determine whether both houses of congress are legislating according to SCOTUS’s interpretation of the constitution and they tell the president and the executive branch under his/her control whether their actions are proper or not. Simply stated, SCOTUS has a lot of power.

Senator Mitch McConnell and his controlling Republican colleagues refused for ten months to grant a hearing to President Obama’s well-qualified moderate nominee, Merrick Garland. As if that weren’t enough, Sen. McConnell said that even if a Democrat were elected president, they would refuse to grant Garland or anybody not to their liking a hearing as long as the Republicans were in control. It was unprecedented in history. That inaction has rightly been referred to as “theft.” In practical effect, any nominee must be a partisan lackey to be approved. SCOTUS will be a partisan tool.

Now you might think that the Senate was duty bound to judge if Merrick Garland was qualified or not. Wrong! The founding fathers said it was the duty of the Senate to “advise and consent” on a president’s nominee, but it never occurred to them to mandate a hearing.

Conservative, Originalist and Gorsuch —

Way back at the beginning I promised to tell you what Conservative and Originalist mean. I’ll also tell you how Neil Gorsuch fits into the picture.

Conservative is defined as holding traditional values and opposed to change. One is conservative if s/he clings to the usual way things have always been done. For example, the Republican Party is proudly attached to the past and averse to new ways, particularly if they can be interpreted as socially advanced.

Originalist is defined as being attached to the way the constitution was interpreted by the founding fathers when it was written in the Eighteenth Century. That is, the three branches of the government must be guided by what the founding fathers intended when they wrote the constitution. Put clearly, Eighteenth Century thinking must guide Twenty-first Century actions.

How does Neil Gorsuch fit into all this? Keeping in mind that Neil Gosuch was nominated by Trump and forced on America by Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues, Neil Gorsuch is both conservative and an originalist. He is a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative group whose prime mission is reported to be to populate all levels of government at both the federal and state levels. Interestingly, like his conservative colleagues on SCOTUS, Gorsuch is a Catholic although he attends an Episcopalian church with his wife. More on the religious element in a moment.

During the hearings in the Senate — hearings denied to Merrick Garland by the Republicans — Neil Gorsuch frustrated the Democratic senators by essentially responding with non-answers. The hearings produced nothing that would allow senators to evaluate his positions. During the hearings, Gorsuch was a black box, but his record on the 10th Circuit bench shows his originalist conservative roots.

Religion Reveals Thinking —

The First Amendment to the Constitution states that there can be no religious impediment to holding public office. I’m compelled to add that despite this, atheists are still barred from public office in many states. Furthermore, it is nearly forbidden to mention the religion of an officeholder. Nevertheless, I point this out because it affects the thinking of SCOTUS justices.

Although as many as 98% of Catholic females use contraceptives and many have abortions, the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is opposed to both contraception and abortion. All of the conservatives on SCOTUS are devout Catholics: Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy and now Gorsuch. How does this affect the rulings of the justices?

SCOTUS will hear cases that touch on religion. It’s not likely that the Catholic conservatives will accept reality and change or that they will ignore their religious beliefs. Thus, America will be ruled by the Roman Catholic Church.

We know from his earlier holdings that Gorsuch will favor big business, so it’s fair to say that SCOTUS will move to the right. And what will happen when more liberal justices retire or die?

America will likely become a partisan Republican instrument in the foreseeable future. The voters can put a dent in that future in 2018 and 2020. Will they?

NOTE! Before this piece ends, it’s important that you know that SCOTUS also decides whether a convicted criminal should be executed or not. Well, the answer is that newly appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch has just let us know that he supports the macabre death penalty. In this emergency case deciding whether the man must die (he was executed by Arkansas on April 21) Justice Gorsuch joined fellow conservatives in a 5-4 decision to kill the man. Did I mention that the man was black, he was considered mentally retarded, he was poorly defended by his drunk lawyer, AND the now-dead man had maintained his innocence from the beginning? In the several cases in which Gorsuch has now participated, he hasn’t disappointed his right-wing supporters. His votes make conservatism look positively liberal. So much for the Constitution. This is the real Justice Neil Gorsuch.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on January 2016.

 

Jul 30

Racing Toward Ruination

In Brief — An exploration of the assorted ways Trump and the shameful Republican Party are damaging America and arguably the world. Also, the steps toward firing the special counsel. [Written in July 2017.]


A Child-Man and Republicans Pursue Destruction —

It is said that the mills of the gods grind slow. While it may appear to be moving slowly toward resolution, the destruction of America is actually proceeding at a swift pace that may take decades to reverse and move in a rational direction.

Even as Special Counsel Robert Mueller moves toward exposing and possibly prosecuting Trump, his aides and his family, we don’t know for sure. Hints abound in that Mueller is hiring specialists in money laundering, requesting Trump’s tax records from the IRS, looking at Jared Kushner’s business dealings with Russia, Donald Jr.’s meeting with Vladimir Putin’s friends and more. All of this is reportedly related to Russia. Trump has even said that Mueller’s looking at Trump’s tax records has crossed a “red line” that may lead to Trump firing Mueller.

All of Special Counsel Mueller’s moves suggest that Trump is in the cross-hairs. Because of this, among other strategies Trump’s lawyers are focusing on looking for ways to show that Mueller has conflicts of interest. Whether it’s Mueller’s former clients, donations to the Democratic Party, the possibility of Trump’s ability to pardon targeted individuals (even himself!), firing Mueller would create a constitutional crisis the likes of which America has never seen.

Steps Required to Fire Mueller

The question of what Trump must do in order to be able to fire Mueller are listed below. [Note: my legal experience is lacking in the bizarre world of Washington politics, so this is only approximate, but it’s in the ball park.]

  • Fire Attorney General Sessions — That may pose a problem since Sessions has recused himself from anything having to do with Russia. That has already caused Trump to sour on Sessions. As this is being written in mid-July, Sessions has refused to step down, but that may change at any moment. A further question mark after Sessions’ departure is whether Trump will name a replacement who has not recused himself.
  • If Sessions is removed — Second in command at the Department of Justice is Rod Rosenstein. He’s the guy who appointed Mueller in the first place, so he would likely have to go. Next comes Rachel Brand. Would she resign or be fired? Trump is looking for someone with the authority to fire Mueller AND someone who will be loyal to him (Trump). Who will that be? See the further question mark above.
  • Somebody in the Justice Department is eligible — Assuming that somebody in the department is found (Dana Boente comes to mind), only then could Mueller be fired. That would lead to the constitutional crisis referred to above. All hell would break loose…and Putin would be smiling.
  • Trump’s spokeswoman has stated that he…” has no intention to do so [fire Mueller] at this time.” Notice the last three words. Even Senator Bob Corker (R, TN) vaguely hinted that firing Mueller would be questionable. However, Republicans are already working to support Trump!

Although the Trump team appears to want to avoid exposing Trump to broad public condemnation, it is clear that Trump and his lawyers will expend enormous energy at undermining Mueller in the general public eye. It’s a risky gambit not least because Mueller has a squeaky clean reputation far and wide.

As said earlier, Trump and the Republican Party are bent on destruction by whatever means possible. Trump’s appointees are hard at work in a variety of areas, not just health care. Crowds have opposed Republican efforts to gut Obamacare and Trump cheers the Republicans on. Opposition to the Republican health care bill is admirable and must continue, but there are other areas deserving of opposition: environment, voting rights, national parks, LGBT rights, climate change, immigrants, women’s rights, public schools and more. Are you willing to stand by passively and allow this destruction to happen?

It now appears that the mills of the gods are grinding faster and faster, so the procedure given may be academic by the time this blog piece appears. That aside, America will still have the Republican Party to contend with, so hold the cheering.

The 2018 elections are your opportunity to save America. Vote the road-blocks out. VOTE!

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on December 2015.

Jul 23

Trump, Republicans and Fascism

In Brief — The author explores whether Donald Trump and the Republican Party are fascistic or merely opportunistically partisan. [Written in April 2017.]

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If It Looks Like a Duck…

There’s an old saying that if it looks like a duck, has feathers like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck. Using this reasoning, we’ll see if Donald Trump and the Republican Party are the fascists they seem to be.

Some overly-cautious people who fear being wrong believe that that in order to be a fascist, it’s necessary to be a Nazi like Hitler, to be Mussolini. To put that to rest, let’s look at the dictionary definition of fascism.

According to the dictionary, fascism (lower case “f”) is generally defined as a right-wing organization that is authoritarian, anti-liberal, nationalistic and militaristic. A fascist is an individual who holds these beliefs.

Breaking that down, right-wing means roughly conservative, reactionary, nationalistic, traditional and opposed to socialism in all its forms. Examples of some forms of socialism include public schools and trade unions.

Authoritarian refers to a person who is submissive to someone in authority, who believes in adhering to tradition, is hostile to those who don’t adhere to social norms (e.g., LBGT), and advocates coercive measures to achieve conformity.

Anti-liberal means one who is opposed to new ideas and has no respect for opinions other than his/her own.

Nationalistic can best be defined as belief in the superiority of one’s own country. “America First.” “America is great.”

Militaristic essentially means a policy of aggressive military size, preparedness and involvement.

Put all these definitions together and you have fascism.

Is Donald Trump a Fascist? —

Right-wing — Taking the elements described above, Trump is described by virtually every source as being right-wing. He espouses right-wing positions, appoints right-wing spokespersons to power positions in his government, and embraces right-wing ideologues.

Authoritarian — Out of his own mouth, Trump’s speeches indicate he is an authoritarian. Not just what he says but everything he does screams authoritarianism. He embraces dictatorial national leaders like Putin in Russia, Erdogan from Turkey and al-Sisi from Egypt.

Anti-liberal — Even a cursory look at the liberal view of accepting new ideas and respecting views other than one’s own, shows that Trump fails again. For example, on health care, Trump, aided by the Republican Party, has done and is doing his utmost to destroy Obamacare (is that also racist?). On consumer protection, he has bent over backwards to gut the laws protecting the little guy from greedy financial exploiters. On climate change and the environment, he refuses to accept the idea that humanity must act now to protect all of us.

Nationalistic— Everything Trump says revolves around the greatness of America and its way of life, i.e., his warped view of what is great about America. Whether it’s a border wall to keep out those dark-skinned people he feels are undesirable, banning all Muslims from entering the United States, having the strongest military in the world and other steps, it’s about assuring that the citizens of America, particularly white citizens will keep America great.

Militaristic — Trump’s budget lavishes buckets of money on an already overstuffed, wasteful and omnipresent military at the same time as he and the Republicans slash funds for art, science and education. Trump’s inner circle is chockablock with present or former military officers, more than any other administration in history. If you think the U.S. military (including military-equipped police forces) already owns the country, wait until Trump’s actions really kick in. This monster is already swallowing the nation whole.

The True Republican Party —

Take a look at the actions of the Republican Party beyond its frightening glamorization-of-the-past party platform. The party refused for many months to give a confirmation hearing to President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, and promised to refuse any judge for at least four years if a Democrat should win. Partisanship rules.

A look at Republican-dominated states shows that women are being deprived of their right to control their own bodies, LBGT individuals are being deprived of their rights, specious reasons are being put forth to deprive people of the right to vote, people of color are discriminated against and much, much more. In short, the Republican Party is setting America back in a wide variety of ways. This is partisanship on steroids.

While it’s undeniably partisan, the question is: Are they fascists or merely partisan? Although they are unquestionably complicit in Trump’s harmful actions and appointments, they don’t yet qualify as fascists as is the case with Erdogan’s Turkey. The evidence proves that the Republicans are blindly and harmfully partisan, but not yet fascists. Tomorrow? Maybe.

Although the truth hurts, America has a fascist president — for the nonce —  put in office by voters who are predominantly fearful conscious or subconscious racists and homophobes. America also has a dominant party (also for the nonce), the Republicans, who are so partisan that the country is being noticeably set back. The combination is poisonous to the little “democracy” that remains. Concerned voters have a chance to take back America in 2018. Will it be too late? Will the voters restore a measure of sanity? Will they even care? Voting is the key!

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on November 2015.

 

Jul 16

Being Under Government Covert Surveillance

In Brief — The author’s experiences with government surveillance while he was involved with draft and military counseling during the Vietnam War. [Written in mid-April 2017.]


Peek-a-boo, We’re Spying on You —

Spying. It’s as old as when our human ancestors came down out of the trees. Humans and governments have always sought to protect themselves by covertly learning what their opponents are up to. It’s not unusual, but the methods have become more sophisticated and more intrusive.

When I practiced Selective Service law, those of us who kept young men from the killing fields of Vietnam found safety by knowing the Selective Service law better than those whose job it was to send young men into harm’s way. We knew where the red line was and made a sincere effort to avoid crossing that line.

One evening at dusk after a long day in the office, I rounded a curve on Mulholland Drive that wound its twisty way atop the Santa Monica mountains. I was late arriving at the monthly meeting of the L.A. Selective Service Law Panel, lawyers who opposed the government’s efforts. My headlights illuminated a neatly dressed man who was working with a large piece of electronic equipment in his car’s open trunk. He quickly stopped what he was doing until I was past. As the house where the meeting took place was within sight, it was obvious that we were being surveilled, but this type of surveillance was beyond a known plant who was attending the meeting under false colors.

On yet another occasion, I was approached by an attractive young lady in our small alley parking area. She said she was interested in working in our office. No position was available. Why a young woman? Why in the back alley? Why not a young man? Why me? A coincidence? Paranoia? Just askin’.

In the office we often spoke on the phone with colleagues, doctors or clients. At that time, a phone was unlike today’s mobile phones. Today’s technology makes surveillance more complicated than when J. Edgar Hoover tapped Martin Luther King, politicians or suspected Hoover enemies. In the Vietnam War era, it was a simple matter to tap a phone. Our phones were a piece of cake.

On a number of occasions it was not unusual to hear a click followed by a slight drop in volume. We can’t prove our phones were being tapped, but oddly it never occurred with our home phones. It was a safe guess to assume that the government was tapping our phones, but we weren’t concerned because we always followed the law.

Honey-trap Time —

Ever hear of a honey-trap? That’s when an attractive person (in my case, a female) is used to entrap a target in order to get information, leverage or prosecutable evidence.

An attractive young woman showed up where I was teaching pottery on the weekends and immediately focused on me although I have no recollection of her ever being a student. I was an eligible professional known to be a ladies’ man. I thought she was worth exploring, so I invited her for dinner. During the course of our evening’s conversation, I learned that despite her mature appearance she was underage so I determined she was off limits. As usual, I was polite but impliedly not interested in a further relationship. She knew it. That evening was the last time I saw her.

I’ve often thought that it was a honey-trap set by the government to entrap an active anti-war lawyer. I did draft counseling for paying clients and counseled poor young men at the Los Angeles Free Clinic. I was occasionally on speaking panels with Quakers. I was a regular speaker on the ACLU law panel, and the scuttlebutt was that I was loathed by the Marine officers at Camp Pendleton where I represented a Marine who wanted out. I can’t prove I was targeted, but the coincidences point to that conclusion. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…etc.

A common method of gaining intelligence on an opposition group that’s used even today is to have a person infiltrate the opposition group and report on the group’s activities. As I mentioned earlier, we had such an infiltrator in the L.A. Selective Service Law Panel. Bill Smith, the leader of the panel, greeted the unnamed and unidentified infiltrator in a light-hearted manner and proceeded with the meeting as usual since we had nothing to hide.

Such was the life of a Los Angeles draft lawyer during the Vietnam War era. Such is life in this technological age today. Today, however, is considerably more complex than when I was part of the opposition. These days we have lost our privacy to an ever-growing surveillance state that threatens to become an autocratic monster. Are you afraid yet?

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on October 2015.

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