Friday, July 31, 2009

Alternate URL for Me Me Me Me Me

I've set up a subdomain (whatever that means) that allows me to use an even simpler URL for this blog. If you navigate to it will automatically redirect to this page.


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LibraryThing: "The Deadliest Lies"

I've updated my LibraryThing catalog with a brief review of The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control by Abraham H. Foxman.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Open Letter to the Pittsburgh Pirates (update)

A few days ago I posted my open letter to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In that letter, I bemoaned the number of consecutive losing seasons that the Pirates have had and the sale or trading of any star players that the Pirates may have. Well, yesterday, the Pirates traded away yet more players (Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, and Ian Snell). It is worth noting that Sanchez was one of the Pirates' two players in this year's All-Star game. In return, the Pirates got more young prospects who, I have little doubt, will be traded away if and when they become stars (or even moderately successful).

One more thing: The article that brought these trades to my attention reminded me that the Pirates are working on their 17th straight losing season, which would set a major league record for consecutive losing seasons.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Indiana's Arcane and Archaic Alcohol Laws

Anybody who has ever purchased beer or wine in an Indiana grocery store should be well aware of some of the dumbest laws in the country. For those unfamiliar with Indiana's arcane and archaic alcohol laws, let me give a quick introduction. Rather than simply explain the laws, I'll use a scenario or two to illustrate.

So, it's late on Saturday afternoon and your wife tells you that some friends are going to come over and you're going to grill some burgers. Sounds great. She tells you to run up to the grocery to buy some burgers and beer. You hop in your car, run up to the corner grocery, and get ready to make your purchases. The burgers are easy. The beer? Well that's another story. Because your friends are coming over soon, it would be great to have some cold beer, wouldn't it? But this is Indiana and you're in a grocery store. Sure you can buy beer and wine and maybe other types of spirits, but guess what? You cannot purchase cold beer. Nope. Not in an Indiana grocery store. For that, you'll have to go to a package liquor store.

You decide that you'll just throw the beer in a cooler when you get home instead of running to a second store (and besides, you know that you'd probably pay more for the beer at a liquor store...). After all, your friends will be over soon. So you get in line to pay for your purchases. A young girl, probably in high school, is ringing up purchases for customers. When your turn comes, she smiles and starts to ring up your items. She runs the burgers and chips and paper plates over the bar code scanner until all that is left is the beer. But instead of taking the beer out of the cart and running it over the scanner, she presses the intercom button and asks for assistance in her aisle. What? She notices your perplexed look and explains that she isn't yet 19 so she isn't allowed to sell you the beer. After waiting a few minutes (much to the annoyance of the customers in line behind you), another, older, cashier comes over, picks up the beer, runs it over the bar code scanner, presses a button on the cash register, and then walks away. The original cashier finishes the transaction and collects your money. The bag boy -- who can't be more than 15 or 16 -- picks up the beer, puts in a grocery bag, and then offers to carry your bag to the car for you.

Of course, had it been Sunday afternoon, the grocery wouldn't have been able to sell you the beer at all...

Did you get all that? Let me summarize. Among Indiana's idiotic alcohol-related laws, is a prohibition on grocery stores selling cold beer (if I recall, package liquor stores are prohibited from selling milk; I'm not sure if the prohibition is only for cold milk or if they can sell condensed milk...) and a cashier has to be at least 19 to lift the alcohol out of your cart and run it over the scanner but can take your money for the alcohol. And there doesn't appear to be any age requirement for a bag boy to carry the alcohol out to a car.

I have not taken the time to go find the actual statutes or rules that are operative here; it didn't really seem worth the effort. After all, the question is really one of policy, not implementation.

I suspect that the "no cold beer" law is some sort of protection for the package liquor stores (who most likely are able to charge more for the cold drinks that they can sell). So, I guess that the pros and cons of that law really come down to purely economic issues. But I would query why the package liquor stores need that type of protection from the state. Either their business model is sound or it is not. After all, isn't that what people have been saying of late about all sorts of businesses and industries...?

But I really don't understand the need to have a 19-year old scan the alcohol. First, why are we treating a 19-year old differently than an 18-year old? They're both adults, yet neither is old enough to drink (whether the drinking age should be lowered to 18 may make an interesting discussion for another day). So why is 19 the "magic" age? Furthermore, why is it a problem for an 18-year old to pick up a case of beer and run it over a bar code scanner but acceptable for that same 18-year old (or an even younger employee) to put that case of beer in a bag and/or carry it to a customer's car? And don't forget that the 18-year old cashier can complete the purchase and accept the customer's money (thus, in effect, "selling" the alcohol to the customer). What is it about the act of scanning the price of the alcohol that is so troublesome?

I've only been able to come up with two explanations and one falls on its face almost immediately. The first explanation is that we don't want "underage" employees to sell alcohol (probably because it will "corrupt" them or lead to some other evil result). But, as I mentioned above, the underage cashier is able to complete the transaction and take the money. All the underage cashier is apparently prohibited from doing is scanning the bar code of the beer. This explanation also fails because the distinction between scanning the bar code, completing the transaction, and carrying the alcohol to a car is a perfect example of a distinction without meaning.

The only other explanation would be that we want older cashiers to handle the transactions so that they can properly check the age of the purchaser and do a better job of enforcing the applicable alcohol laws. Of course, the number of times that I've been carded when buying alcohol over the last, oh, 15 years, I can probably count on one hand. And again, I don't understand the distinction between 18-year olds and 19-year olds. They can both vote and can both die in Iraq, but we can trust one to check IDs and not the other?

Perhaps there is another explanation that I can't think of; I'd love to hear it. But absent some good explanation, these laws should be repealed.

Two other alcohol related laws are worth mentioning. First, of course, is the ban on alcohol sales on Sunday. Well, it isn't really a ban; after all, you can purchase alcohol at a bar or stadium or restaurant. Hoosiers for Beverage Choice is working on this issue (and on the cold beer in grocery store issue). I just want to add two thoughts on the subject. First, even before it was legal to sell alcohol in restaurants and bars on Sundays (I think that the law changed in the late '70s), it was legal to sell alcohol on Sundays at a facility with a paved race track of not less than 2 1/2 miles (of course, the only facility that fell into that exception was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indianapolis 500, which was run on Sunday). If always gotten a chuckle out of that one; apparently, even when Indiana was dry on Sundays, the legislature recognized the importance to the state of the Indianapolis 500 and did what was necessary to help.

More importantly, it seems obvious that Sunday was day chosen for a limited ban on alcohol sales for religious reasons. I guess that I our legislature felt that on Sunday Hoosiers should be in church (or at a sporting event or restaurant or bar) and not at a liquor store. But we are, in essence, limiting the rights of all Hoosiers to engage in a certain form of legal commerce and recreation, apparently in order not to offend the religious sensitivities of other Hoosiers. We don't prohibit the purchase of meat on Fridays during Lent and we don't prohibit the purchase of pork or other products prohibited by certain religious belief. So why do we elevate one particular sensitivity in order to appease a particular religious constituency? Blue laws like this one (or the ban on selling cars on Sundays) have no place in the 21st Century and should be repealed.

Finally, it has recently come to my attention that for some other arcane and idiotic reasons (having primarily to do with protections for alcohol wholesalers), some wineries and wine clubs are prohibited from shipping their wines to addresses in Indiana. One might ask the legislature -- elected to represent the people of Indiana -- to explain why they believe it appropriate to protect wholesalers at the expense of individual Hoosiers. Just curious.

As Indiana fights to attract jobs and economic investment, our legislature has to look carefully at laws that make Indiana a less attractive destination and/or which make us look like hicks still living in the 19th Century. Blue laws are at the top of that list.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Healthcare, Healthcare, Healthcare

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that, of late, a huge percentage of the political discussion (whether in Congress or the media) has focused on healthcare. That’s a good thing. Sorta. The problem is that, when most of us are truly honest with ourselves, the issues are so complex that most of us have nothing more than a superficial understanding of the real issues or the implications of the competing policy ideas. Add to this the fact that so many of the “experts” that we hear talking about healthcare have their own agenda, sometimes disclosed, oftentimes not. And of course the role of politics cannot be discounted (and query whether most of the members of Congress truly understand the issues either, beyond the talking points from their respective parties and lobbyists spending vast sums of money to secure their votes). Unfortunately, due to the complexity of the issues, the healthcare debate has been ripe for politicians to distort facts and mischaracterize ideas, sometimes due to a lack of understanding, but sometimes with true intent to deceive or mislead.

Thus, as we continue to the listen to the ongoing debate, there are few things that we, as voters and, more importantly, as the individual recipients of actual healthcare, must keep in mind.

  1. The “talking head” being interviewed on the evening news (or any other program) may be an “expert” but chances are that the person has an agenda, whether as an employee or “consultant” for an interested company or organization or as a lobbyist. We should demand that news outlets (and entertainment channels like FOX News) be more candid and forthcoming with any relationships that a featured expert has with an interested company (or whether the person lobbies on behalf of an interested party). Moreover, when we hear that expert voice an opinion, we must consider whether that opinion is being offered for the benefit of one side or the other. Thus, when an expert says, “Policy X will mean Y,” stop to consider whether Y would be good or bad for those with whom the expert may be involved. And consider whether the news (or FOX) are being balanced in the presentation of expert opinions. If not, ask yourself why.
  2. When you hear your member of Congress talking about healthcare, ask yourself whether that member of Congress actually understands the issues or is just parroting party-line talking points. And then ask yourself whether the opinions being voiced by that member of Congress will be of benefit to you or whether someone else stands to be the primary beneficiary. And, when you hear a member of Congress tell you what a particular bill says, don’t take their word for it; instead, take some time, go find the bill, and try to read it yourself. Or at least take the time to see if others have done a fact check on the claim. A few days ago a member of Congress gave a speech saying that page X of the House healthcare plan said that in 5 years, private plans would be eliminated (or something to that effect; the particulars aren’t important for this discussion). Simply reading the designated page revealed no such provision; yet many people will probably believe the “fact” set forth in her speech. We should also demand that our representatives cease using truly harmful rhetoric in their debates. A Georgia Congressman declared earlier this month that adoption of the House healthcare plan would “kill” Americans. How is that kind of rhetoric constructive to the debate? Finally, don’t forget that members of Congress presently participate in a government run health plan that is, by all accounts, excellent.
  3. Remember the influence of lobbyists. How much money have drug companies spent lobbying on the healthcare issue? And why have they spent that money? Obviously, the drug companies have a vested interest in shaping any healthcare reform in a way that will be financially beneficial to them; why else spend the money (and let’s don’t forget that many drug companies aren’t even American companies…). How much money have insurance companies spent lobbying? How about medical groups or trial lawyers? Compare your answers to those questions with the following: How much money have you spent lobbying? How much time have you spent talking to your elected representatives? Doesn’t seem quite equitable, does it?
  4. Insurance companies make money from the premiums that people pay. They lose money by paying hospitals and physicians to provide care to the people who paid the premiums. In other words, the more medical care we get, the less insurance companies earn. So, next time you hear a representative of an insurance company suggest that insurance companies are “working for consumers” or are on the “consumers’ side” recognize this falsehood for what it is. Moreover, if insurance companies are really so good at protecting consumers and offers such good products and services, why are they concerned with a government-sponsored plan?

I don’t know what healthcare reform should look like. But here are a few ideas:

  1. Every American should be able to access high quality, reasonably affordable, basic healthcare. During one of the Presidential debates a question was posed to Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain, asking whether healthcare was a right or a privilege. In a modern, technologically advanced nation like ours, one that strives to be the exemplar for the world, I agree with Sen. Obama’s answer that healthcare should be viewed as a right. And using the emergency room is not an acceptable substitute for quality, basic healthcare.
  2. Patients and their doctors should make healthcare decisions, not insurance companies. This issue is important to my family. My wife, as you may know from previous posts, has a rare illness that is treated by just a handful of doctors in the country. Many doctors, let alone insurers, have never heard of her illness. In fact, those time that we’ve were forced to seek treatment at the emergency room (before we knew what her illness was), the treatment given turned out to be wrong because, while the illness presented in a particular way, unless the doctor understood what the illness really was, the standard approach to treat the particular symptoms did not really help (it would make a good episode for House). So her doctor (who, until recently practiced at the University of Michigan and is now moving to Harvard) prescribed a course of medication that has largely kept her illness in check. But he has instructed her, when her symptoms do trigger, to take an extra dose of her medicine. The problem is that frequently, as the end of the month approaches, she doesn’t have enough medicine left and our insurance company refuses to pay for any extra medication because that would exceed their formulary guidelines, even though they don’t have any real understanding of her illness. The doctor isn’t some quack and the drugs are not hyper-expensive or experimental. Yet the insurance company is trying to dictate the medical care or drug treatment that my wife should receive notwithstanding: (a) the doctor’s prescription and (b) the fact that the drug treatment works. I and others like me should not have to fight with insurance companies when they disagree with the diagnosis or prescription of the treating physician.
  3. People should be able to choose their doctor.
  4. People who like their current health insurance should not be forced to terminate their coverage.
  5. Insurance companies should not be able to refuse coverage based on a pre-existing condition. One of the reasons that my wife and I haven’t found alternate coverage is that no insurer will cover her now that we know about her illness. Her only option besides keeping our current coverage would be to enroll in the state “high risk” pool.
  6. Even though I’m a lawyer, I do support limits on malpractice claims. Too many malpractice actions are without real merit and too many doctors seem to practice defensive medicine to avoid malpractice actions. That said, doctors should be competent in the services they perform and, if they aren’t, they should be held liable.
  7. Healthcare coverage should pay for reasonable preventative, wellness, and pre-natal care. If we work to make ourselves healthier in the first place (not exactly one of my great strengths), it will benefit our society in the long run, financially and otherwise.
  8. Every child should be entitled to the best quality healthcare. The health of a child should not suffer because the parent is poor or made bad decisions or is an illegal immigrant or for any other reason. We need to recognize that children are the future and we need to do what we can, as a society, to ensure (insure?) their health.

Well, I could probably go on and on about my thoughts for healthcare reform. I’ve listed a number of things that I think should be done, but, as I said from the outset, I don’t know how to get there. I do know that we, as taxpayers and consumers of healthcare need to demand more from our elected representatives as they debate the issue: more clarity, more intellectual honesty, and less political grandstanding.

One final thought. In our representative democracy, it is people who vote. Our nation was founded by “We the People” and we often talk about “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”. And it is people who need healthcare. Insurance companies don’t get cancer, drug companies don’t get diabetes, and hospitals don’t get the flu. People do. When we think about healthcare in America, we need to keep forefront in our minds, that what we are talking about is the health of people; the “health” of insurance companies, drug companies, hospitals, or others may be considered, but not at the expense of the health of the American people.

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An Open Letter to the Pittsburgh Pirates

My first baseball card was Roberto Clemente. I declared that he was my favorite player. My second baseball card was Willie Stargell and I declared him to be my second favorite player. When it was pointed out to me that they played for the same team, I declared that team to be my favorite team. Then I asked what team they played for. Of course the answer was the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was the spring of 1971 and I was 5 years old. That was my first exposure to Major League Baseball. The Pirates went on to beat the Orioles in the World Series and my team loyalty was solidified.

In 1979, I was 13, and I spent my summer touring the United States with a group made up largely of teens from the New York area. All I heard about was the Mets and the Yankees. As we drove from one city to another, we had a lot of time to listen to baseball (remember radio?), read newspaper accounts of the games, study box scores, and memorize statistics. That was probably the first year in which I really began to follow and understand baseball’s nuances and the meaning of some of the statistics. And, of course, the Pirates once again beat the Orioles to win the World Series.

People often ask me how, growing up in Indianapolis, I could be a Pirate fan instead of a Reds fan or a Cubs fan or even a White Sox or Tigers or Cardinals fan. I simply smiled and relayed my story.

I tried to tune in to WGN or WTBS when the Pirates played the Cubs or Braves. When I was in college in Chicago, I worked hard to go see the Pirates whenever they visited Wrigley Field.

In 1990, I went to Cincinnati to watch the Pirates play the Reds in the NLCS. I wore a Pirates cap and jersey (an unruly Reds fan through my cap over the railing to the lower deck…) and proudly cheered on my team, much to the dismay of the Reds fans all around me.

In 1992, I visited Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play the Braves in the NLCS. My seat was in straight-away center field, third row from the top of the upper deck. Yet I was thrilled. It was the playoffs, I was in Pittsburgh (for the first time ever), and I’d even managed to drag my girlfriend (now wife) along. Everything in the world was right (except that she still hated sports).

But then the Pirates lost and from there my loyalty has been severely tested. I’ve stood with the Pirates through thick and thin (mostly thin…). I watched as players like Jason Kendall, Jason Bay, Aramis Ramirez, Brian Giles, Xavier Nady, Nate McLouth, and now Adam LaRoche, not to mention a number of other players, were traded or sold. With almost every deal, fans heard about the quality of the young prospects that the Pirates received for the “name” players who were being traded away. That may be true. But the fact is, the Pirates have not been in the playoffs since 1992; for that matter, they haven’t had a winning record since 1992, haven’t finished better than 3rd since 1997, and have finished last or next to last 7 of those 17 seasons (and they’re currently in last again).

I don’t know if any of those trades was good or bad. What I do know is that it is becoming harder and harder to be a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Part of cheering for a team is having players to cheer for. It has become almost certain that any Pirate player to develop a name or positive reputation will be traded or sold for “youth” but as soon as that young player begins to develop he too will be sold or traded. Thus, we fans have no stars to root for and a team that can’t win. To add insult to injury, each year when I tune in to the All-Star Game, I can’t help but notice the number of players who once wore a Pirate uniform.

I’m told that the owners of the team are making bucket loads of money, and of course that is what they should be doing. But from where I sit, two states away, looking back to the glory days of the ‘70s and early ‘90s, I see a team with ownership that doesn’t care about putting a winning team on the field. Other “small market” teams, like Minnesota and Milwaukee have managed to be competitive. Florida has one two World Series and expansion teams Tampa Bay, Colorado, and Arizona have all been to the World Series more recently than the Pirates. Even the Cubs have become competitive in recent years. But not the Pirates. And Pittsburgh’s other teams, the Steelers and Penguins have been able to succeed despite being in a small market.

What prompted this letter? I got a press release email from the team telling me about today’s trade of Adam LaRoche. Again, I don’t know if this was a good trade or a bad trade. When I read the stats of the players obtained for LaRoche, I am far from impressed (“hit .253 with 14 doubles, 24 RBIs and 21 runs scored with Double-A Portland” and “5-4 with one save and a 3.35 ERA in 18 appearances (12 starts) this year for the Single-A Greenville Drive”). I have no doubt that should either of these players develop, they too will be traded away.

So what is left for me to root for? A losing team without stars. Why bother? I’ve given the Pirates 38 years of my loyalty and I’ve been a devoted fan. For the last 17 years, I’ve cheered for a loser. Do the math: For nearly half of the time that I’ve been a Pirate fan, the team has hasn’t had a winning season! I don’t want to say goodbye to baseball or to the Pirates. But at some point, I’m going to have to say enough is enough. Maybe it is time to turn my attention to a team that really wants to win. Or maybe I should simply turn my attention to another sport entirely. As I watch my son play soccer, I’m learning to appreciate it more and more. Maybe I’d be better served following MLS than MLB. I’ve tried to get my son interested in baseball and the Pirates, but I don’t know how to do that, especially with a team perennially in last place. And it is hard to look at the way the Pirate organization is run when the best thing that I have to compare it to are the Indianapolis Colts; the differences couldn’t be more stark.

I love my Pirates, but I want to root for a winner or at least a team that looks like it’s trying to be a winner. Right now, that doesn’t describe the Pirates.

So, I’ve taken the step of sending this letter to my team in hopes that maybe, just maybe, someone in the organization will remember that without fans … well, that ways lies darkness.


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Friday, July 17, 2009

What the Right Says About Judge Sotomayor (update)

Back in May I wrote about the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. In that post, I examined both her “wise latina” comment and the issues of empathy and background. Given how the speeches and questions have gone in the first few days of her nomination hearings, I thought it worth revisiting some of that earlier post (portions of this post are extracted from that prior post) and briefly commenting on the blatant hypocrisy of some of her critics.

Keeping in mind some of the criticism being leveled against Judge Sotomayor, let’s once again consider previous statements and testimony.

First, recall these comments from Sen. Jeff Sessions (more on him in a moment), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and apparent leader of the Republican effort to portray Judge Sotomayor as a racist:

I will not vote for — no senator should vote for — an individual nominated by any President who believes it is acceptable for a judge to allow their own personal background, gender, prejudices, or sympathies to sway their decision in favor of, or against, parties before the court.

Apparently, Sen. Sessions forgot that he voted for Justice Samuel Alito just a few years ago. What did Judge Alito have to say about the subject during his nomination hearings just a few years ago?

I don't come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.

And I know about their experiences and I didn't experience those things. I don't take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame.

But I think that children learn a lot from their parents and they learn from what the parents say. But I think they learn a lot more from what the parents do and from what they take from the stories of their parents lives.

And that's why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."

When I have cases involving children, I can't help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that's before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them.

So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.

(Emphasis added.) So, apparently it is OK for a white man to consider his gender and ethnic background but the same does not hold true for a Hispanic woman? What about any woman? Well, here’s what Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had to say about herself:

I bring to the court the perspective of a woman primarily in a sense that I am female, just as I am white, a college graduate, etc.

“Yes, I will bring the understanding of a woman to the court, but I doubt that that alone will affect my decisions,” she said. “I think the important fact about my appointment is not that I will decide cases as a woman, but that I am a woman who will get to decide cases.”

And Justice O’Connor also noted that Justice Thurgood Marshall “imparted not only his legal acumen but also his life experiences”.

Even Judge Clarence Thomas acknowledged during his confirmation hearings that his background played a role (emphasis added):

And I believe, Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does. You know, on my current court I have occasion to look out the window that faces C Street, and there are converted buses that bring in the criminal defendants to our criminal justice system, bus load after bus load. And you look out and you say to yourself, and I say to myself almost every day, "But for the grace of God there go I."

Yes, I recognize that Judge Alito's and Justice O’Connor’s and Judge Thomas’ comments are not precisely the same as Judge Sotomayor’s; however, when examined in their broader context, I believe that all of these judges are saying essentially the same thing: Who we are and where we come from has an impact on our view of the world and our understanding of the issues with which we are confronted. And is that so bad? Or, think of it this way: Who do we want our judges to be? Living, breathing human beings who understand that their decisions have an impact upon the litigants as well as the rest of the nation or robots who have no concern whatsoever for the implications of a decision? Yet critics like Sen. Sessions seem to denigrate only those with whom they disagree

President Obama has also been criticized for saying that he wanted to appoint to the bench someone with "empathy"; the right has argued that word is simply a code word for "activist judge". If so, then they might want to have a talk with President George H.W. Bush who said when nominating Clarence Thomas: "He is a delightful and warm, intelligent person who has great empathy and a wonderful sense of humor” (emphasis added). And John Yoo (now infamous for his role in the torture memos) said this about Justice Thomas (in a review of the Justice's memoir):

Justice Thomas's views were forged in the crucible of a truly authentic American story. This is a black man with a much greater range of personal experience than most of the upper-class liberals who take potshots at him. A man like this on the Court is the very definition of the healthy diversity his detractors pretend to support.

So both empathy and life experiences are apparently acceptable as long as they're not from someone on the "left". Or, said another way, empathy and life experiences are acceptable if they lead one to make the “correct” decision (with “correct”, obviously, being in the eye of the beholder).

It is also worth considering the subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism on display in Judge Sotomayor’s nomination hearing. For example, Sen. Sessions, in asking Judge Sotomayor about her ruling in the Ricci case said (emphasis added):

You voted not to reconsider the prior case. You voted to stay with the decision of the circuit, and in fact, your vote was the key vote. Had you voted with Judge Cabranes, himself of Puerto Rican ancestry, had you voted with him, you could have changed that case. So in truth you weren't bound by that case.

What was the purpose of pointing out that Judge Cabranes was “himself of Puerto Rican ancestry”? Are all Puerto Ricans supposed to march in lockstep without the ability to disagree upon the law? Is Judge Sotomayor wrong because another jurist of Puerto Rican heritage holds a different view? Replace Puerto Rican with “African American” or “Jew” or “White Anglo Saxon Protestant” and you’ll see the racism inherent in Sen. Sessions’ question. We should no more expect Judge Sotomayor to agree with every other Puerto Rican jurist than we should expect Justice Clarence Thomas to agree with every other African American jurist. And we certainly don't think of expecting Justice Roberts or Justice Stevens to agree with every other white jurist.

What is particularly worth noting is that Sen. Sessions was previously nominated to a federal court, but his nomination was rejected by the Senate. Why? Because of racist comments and insensitivity. But unlike Judge Sotomayor who is accused of racism on the basis of comments taken out of context and without due comparison to previous nominees, witnesses actually came forward to talk about Sessions' racist views, including his claims that the NAACP was "un-American" and "communist inspired" and that civil rights were forced "down the throats of people." He thought that the KKK was OK until learning that some were "pot smokers". Oh, and there's also the charming tale of Sessions' calling an African American subordinate "boy" and telling him to be careful about what he said to "white folks" (apparently the subordinate had reprimanded a secretary). And now Sen. Sessions helps lead the Republican noise machine in its efforts to paint Judge Sotomayor as a racist. Talk about a pot calling the proverbial kettle black.

But that's simply par for the course in the world of Republican politics where hypocrisy has been elevated to fine art and truth is an inconvenient roadblock.


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Monday, July 13, 2009

LibraryThing: Vacation Updates

As planned, my vacation involved lots of poolside reading. I've updated my LibraryThing catalog with brief reviews of The Undead Kama Sutra [Felix Gomez #3] by Mario Acevedo, Jailbait Zombie [Felix Gomez #4] by Mario Acevedo, The Apostle [Scot Harvath #8] by Brad Thor, Shadow of Betrayal [Jonathan Quinn #3] by Brett Battles, The Doomsday Key [Sigma Force #6] by James Rollins, and Scavenger [Frank Belanger #2] by David Morrell. I'm currently reading The Echelon Vendetta [Micah Dalton #1] by David Stone.


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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It Just Figures

It just figures that Sarah Palin would wait until I'm on vacation to announce her resignation. It is pretty tough to take time away from the pool and beach to blog about what her resignation means. Allow me to simply offer one brief thought: Quitting is not the same as leading.

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