Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Samuel Alito becomes 110th Supreme Court Justice

By a mostly partisan vote of 58-42, the Senate confirmed Samuel Alito's appointment to the Supreme Court.

Now we’ll see how accurate the various assessments have been. As for me, I’m seriously considering an apartment above the CafĂ© in the picture.

Monday, January 30, 2006

AIDS and Faith

The AP reports that the Bush administration is looking to provide about 25% of its $15 billion dollar AIDS prevention package for sub-Saharan Africa to faith based organizations. It is encouraging such organizations, including organizations with no grant history, to become involved in the AIDS prevention program

About 23% of the AIDS prevention dollars went to religious organizations last year. I would assume that this is related to the administration’s claim that faith based organizations (FBOs) work more efficiently in such roles and support for the so-called “ABC Strategy” which stands for Abstinence before marriage, Being faithful to one partner and Condoms targeted for high-risk activity.

While I’m in favor of anything that will help bring the AIDS epidemic in Africa under control, I have several concerns about this approach.

First there is no evidence that FBOs are more efficient. A study by the OMB Watcher organization at Purdue and Indiana Universities has published studies challenging this assertion.

Second, as reported by the AP, there is concern expressed by Secular organizations in Africa that giving money to groups without AIDS experience may dilute the impact of the program. This strikes me as sort of obvious.

Third, what safeguards are in place that the money won’t be used to push religious agendas? Consider the quote from Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse who says that the mission of his group is "meeting critical needs of victims of war, poverty, famine, disease and natural disaster while sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ."

It doesn’t sound like these folks are going to differentiate between AIDS prevention and pushing the Gospel. As a matter of fact, like in the Typhoon relief last year, you may not be able to get the former without getting the latter.

Consider this from a report by OMB Watch examining FBOs in Birmingham, Boston, and Denver about how faith and help can get intermixed, “chapel attendance might be required but worship voluntary; a program could ask a client’s permission to discuss faith, but then urge him or her to ‘seek God;’ sometimes there was no boundary, as when Bible study and religious teaching were integral parts of an intervention. In many cases, public agencies remain silent, as long as clients do not complain.”

If they don’t know they’re not supposed to do that in Alabama, Massachusetts and Colorado, how are they supposed to know it in Africa? Of course clients aren’t going to complain because they’re probably concerned that the help will dry up if they do.

Come to think of it, are there any restrictions on this money that it can’t be used to push a religious agenda? If yes, then who’s trying to enforce it and if no, then why not? I don’t mind my tax dollars going for AIDS prevention in Africa, although I would think we could find uses for that money right here, but I draw the line at paying for Christian missionary work.

Knowing the Bush administration it could probably care less that U.S. tax dollars are being used to promote religion. Actually check that, the only groups listed in the article as receiving grants are Christian groups. Aren’t there any Islamic FBOs in Africa?

Divided on Alito

Samuel Alito was an adjunct professor at Seton Hall Law. On January 12, 2006, six Seton Hall Law professors wrote in a Star-Ledger essay recommending that Samuel Alito not be confirmed to the Supreme Court. On January 23, 2006, seven other Seton Hall Law professors responded in support of Alito.

The first group expressed its concern that Alito would continue to champion the rich and powerful at the expense of those most in need of the law’s protection. The second group felt that Alito had demonstrated a “respect for the law, for the litigants and for the judicial process, rather than ideology.”

I have insider information that the first group consists of what one might consider left leaning individuals while the second group comprises, shall we say, slightly more straight laced academic types.

After reviewing Alito’s record, I find it hard to believe that respect for the law and judicial process always led to a similar conclusion. Whether Alito realizes it or not, his ideology drives his decisions. The statistics make that obvious. What is unclear is whether his intellect and honesty, both of which are beyond question, will force him to temper its influence once he's on the high court.

Alito will be confirmed this week. Let’s hope we don’t all live to regret that, but to be honest with you, I have a bad feeling about this.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Two Creation Stories

I may not buy into religion, but I find biblical scholarship absolutely fascinating. I keep tossing out biblical creation in favor of evolution, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a healthy affection for the poetry of Genesis.

Most biblical scholars acknowledge that Genesis actually contains two, slightly contradictory, creation stories. Most people mix together the two stories to form what is the popular conception of the Biblical Creation story.

The first account is Genesis 1:1-2:4a and contains the classic six days of creation terminating with God resting on the seventh day. The authorship of this story is attributed to what is known as the P, for Priestly, source, and is dated to around 450 BCE. The second account is Genesis 2:4b-2:25. The authorship of this story is attributed to the J, for Jahweh, the German form of Yahweh, source. This second story is considered far older and is dated to around 850 BCE.

Christian Apologists and fundamentalist Christians in general deny there are two stories or that there are any discrepancies between the two accounts. We’ll ignore that position for the moment and focus upon the two, seemingly contradictory, stories of the creation of the female half of the race.

Genesis 1:27 has God creating male and female together in his image on the 6th day.

Genesis 1:27 - So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

However in the 2nd account Adam is created first and then, after Adam can’t find a helpmate among all the animals created by God (although rumor has it he thought about picking the sheep), Eve is created from Adam’s rib.

Genesis 2:21: So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.

Genesis 2: 22: Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

Now the early Jews noticed this discrepancy and being more practical and rational than the average fundamentalist Christian, acknowledged it as a discrepancy and went looking for a solution. What some of them came up with was Lilith.

Now Lilith is your typical uppity female as well as your typical spurned woman. In Lilith’s point of view since she was created at the same time and from the same material as Adam, she wasn’t about to kowtow to anybody. Lilith was history’s first feminist. One thing led to another and Lilith stomped out of the Garden of Eden.

This led first to the fiasco with the animals and then to God’s creation of a more pliable substitute from Adam’s rib. Eve, without Lilith’s ideas about equality, appeared to be more accepting of a subservient role which suited Adam just fine. God was just happy to finally get some peace and quiet. Then that silly serpent had to go and screw things up.

Since Lilith left the garden before the fall, she’s immortal and still has a grudge against ex-hubby and his replacement wife. This grudge takes the form of causing sickness and death in their new born descendents even to this day. Like the man said, hell has no fury like a woman scorned.

The Christian Apologist take on this is that there is no discrepancy but rather Genesis 2:4b-2:25 is the same story with simply a more focused emphasis on the creation of mankind. In other words, it’s sort of like zooming in on one aspect of creation. Well, perhaps, but then I wonder what God intended Adam to do with his genitals before he had a mate to be fruitful and multiply with? Or did God do some renovating on Adam after he created Eve from Adam’s rib?

I find the Lilith story more creative than twisting the words of Genesis and engaging in heroic eisegesis. Still, unless one is a Hebrew linguist and an expert in biblical cultures, it can be dangerous to come to any concrete conclusions about what the Tanakh is really saying. Sometimes things get lost in translation, linguistic and/or cultural.

I do find it rather comical that the Jews recognize the female creation discrepancy but that fundamentalist Protestant Christians have figured out there is no discrepancy. Due to what? Their superior knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures? I’m not sure where the Catholic Church stands on this earth shattering issue but since the Vatican doesn’t hold to a literal biblical interpretation, I suspect it can safely acknowledge that there are two slightly different accounts. Maybe I can find a Priest that will still talk to me and ask him?

The Hamas Election Victory

You give people the right to vote and they’ll tell you what they think. The question is, what is it that the Palestinian people are saying?

I certainly don’t know but I hope somebody is trying to figure that out as the answer might turn out to be fairly important.

I think that there is both good and bad in the Hamas election victory. On the good side is that it brings Hamas into the mainstream diplomatic process. I find it hard to believe that they will continue on the radical path that has led them to be labeled a terrorist organization in the face of the election victory. Unfortunately what we may see is a splintering with a smaller splinter group continuing the violence even as the Hamas leadership tries to open diplomatic channels.

On the down side is that any event that puts power into religion’s hands is big trouble. Religion, especially the exclusive religions like Islam and Christianity, always seem to end up being reasons for people to shoot at each other. The combination of religion and government has been, is now, and always will be a formula for disaster.

I also have to admit that I find Islam even scarier than Christianity and I trust it even less. The difference is when I look at the economies, history of political oppression and general lack of education in the Arab world I can understand why they cling to religion. What the heck is the excuse of the religious fruitcakes in the U.S.?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Science and the Death Penalty

In a post on the Sciam (Scientific American) Blog, editor Philip Yam addresses the flaws in the Death Penalty exposed by science.

The most obvious evidence of a flawed system is the exoneration of over 100 death row inmates through DNA testing. But this isn’t the only evidence.

Scientific studies have demonstrated how easily the human brain can manufacture false memories or how memories can evolve over time with new information. This renders eye witness testimony much less than 100% accurate. According to the Innocence Project, out of 130 exonerations demonstrated by DNA, 101, or 78%, had some form of mistaken I.D. as a cause of the conviction.

While Yam doesn’t mention it, even some of what used to be considered highly reliable forensic evidence such as fiber analysis, ballistics analysis and even fingerprinting has been undermined to a greater or lesser extent recently. In the 130 exonerations highlighted at the Innocence Project, 21, or 16%, had mistaken microscopic hair analysis evidence associated with them.

So how the hell can the U.S. still apply the death penalty in the face of so much uncertainty? Let’s be honest about it; it’s called politics.

Polls consistently show support for the death penalty in the U.S. from between 60% to 70% of the adult population and there aren’t too many politicians willing to buck those numbers.

However, in the most interesting part of Yam’s post, he proposes that perhaps pollsters should modify their questions somewhat based upon the demonstrated uncertainty of the system. Rather than asking simply are you for or against the death penalty, the polls should ask would you support the death penalty if 1 in 1,000 executions were of an innocent man? What about if 1 in 100 were of an innocent man? What about 1 in 10?

Yam predicts, and I agree, that if the question were phrased that way support for the death penalty would rapidly dwindle as it does when life in prison without any chance of parole is provided as an alternative to the death penalty.

Most Americans tend to be fair minded individuals. Ignorant, but fair minded, most would probably be shocked to learn how many mistakes have been corrected by DNA and that, depending upon who you believe, anywhere between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 30 of the executions in the U.S. may have been of people who were innocent of at least the crime for which they were executed.

To quote Philip Yam’s conclusion:

“Science has shown that our death penalty system is deeply flawed. Now the U.S. public needs to see those flaws.”

Amen brother, amen.

Diplomacy or Confrontation?

In a post at Scientific American, editor John Rennie addresses comments in a book review in the Sunday New York Times by Judith Shulevitz. Apparently, in the review, Ms. Shulevitz makes the argument that “evolutionary science embodies a philosophical system, secular materialism, and that the biological community does not recognize or care how much its advocacy of this philosophy clashes with the religious philosophies embedded in society. Hence, the scientists have themselves to blame for the anti-evolution backlash.”

Michael Ruse, one of the authors of a book being reviewed appears to support Schulevitz’s position. In a reference to the general stridency of Richard Dawkins (among others), Ruse says “while I would defend to the death Dawkins' right to say what he thinks, I do think that his stridency makes life very difficult for those of us who are trying to combat ID etc. I do not ask him to be a Christian, but I think if he would take a little time to see if there is some place for him and moderate Christians to fight the evils in the US today.”

I’ve run into this argument before that somehow there are “good Christians” and “bad Christians” and we should respect their beliefs and be polite so that an alliance between secularists and “good Christians” can be formed to fight the “bad Christians.”

I guess the “good Christians” are the clergy that signed The Clergy Letter supporting evolution and those “religious scientists” I keep hearing about and the “bad Christians” are those evil fundamentalists that want to push the teaching of Creationism into the public schools.

I have a number of issues with this philosophy. The first problem is that the meme that requires one, as a matter of civility, to respect religious beliefs is one of the most effective defenses ever devised. How can one choose when one only hears one side of the story?

This is called stacking the deck. It starts with the fiction that there is something moral about attending church and Sunday school where “truths” can be pounded into your head along with threats about what will happen to you if you don’t accept the “truths.”

But heaven forbid some school teacher or professor should espouse the opposite position, a position with a lot more evidence going for it, that religion is simply superstition in a fancy wrapping and the howls of indignation are enough to wake the dead.

If religion really has “timeless truths” to convey, then it should be able to sluff off questions, criticism and even ridicule like water off a duck's back. So what’s the problem? Let the skeptics and non-believers do their worst. Won’t they whither under the light of your “timeless truths?”

My second problem is that no defense ever won a war. That’s one thing the fundamentalists understand. They feel that their beliefs are under attack by what they see as the inexorable march of secularism and they’re fighting back. So to that extent I agree with Shulevitz and Ruse, but that’s no reason to let up on the attack. As a matter of fact, it’s a reason to step it up and convert what has essentially been an inadvertent assault upon religion into a purposeful and focused one.

So what about the idea of “live and let live?” Why does it have to be confrontational? Let the religious do their thing while us secularist heathens (is that an oxymoron?) do our thing and we can sort of ignore the fact that each other exists.

I used to think that could work but now I’m not so sure. Here’s the problem. I’m secure in my acceptance of a secular world view. I’m not threatened by the fact that others need religious doctrine nor do I feel any particular need to convert them to my way of thinking.

However can all religious folks, and all Christians in particular, say the same thing? Doesn’t Christianity require them to go preach “the word?” Can’t we trace the hostility of some Christians to things like evolution, homosexuality and abortion access to some level of insecurity? Somehow the very existence of different beliefs seems to be interpreted as an attack upon their faith and disagreement becomes equated to persecution.

Clearly this doesn’t apply to everyone but it appears to apply to too many for any “live and let live” strategy to work for very long. Before you know it we’ll be faced with another Scopes Trial or another Dover.

That being the case I now tend to look at “live and let live” as just allowing the enemy time to gear up for a new attack. Religion can’t seem to accept “live and let live.” If they’re not pushing creationism they’re fighting a woman’s reproductive freedom, trying to keep homosexual couples from marrying or trying to outlaw stem cell research. That isn’t “live and let live;” that’s trying to force your religious viewpoints on everyone else.

So you’ll excuse me if I don’t choose to respect your superstition when a) you’re trying to force it on me and b) you tell me I’m going to be toasted in a lake of fire after I die because I didn’t buy into your myths and fables.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Clergy Letter

The Clergy Letter is an idea launched by Michael Zimmerman, Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Basically it’s an attempt to demonstrate that it is a “misperception that science and religion are inevitably in conflict.”

To date the letter has managed to accumulate over 10,000 signatures from Clergy of various denominations. It’s a relatively short letter comprised of two paragraphs. The first essentially establishes the philosophy of the letter, but it is in the second paragraph where the meat is found. Some excerpts, with commentary.

“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist.”

This only works if religion stays in the churches and stops trying to push its view of things onto the rest of us. Let’s remember it’s the religious fruitcakes among us that are trying to redefine science in order to advance their “faith based theories.”

“We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.”

That is an accurate statement to which all educated men should agree. So what’s with those that don’t agree?

“To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.”

I can’t find anything to argue with in this statement.

“We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.”

I think I said something similar to this a while back except I pointed out that whether or not God existed was an unanswerable question.

“To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris.”

Well nobody ever accused the fundamentalists among us as being anything other than arrogant bastards who believe they have a monopoly on the truth and can dictate to the rest of us how to live. Again, I point out that one cannot answer the “God Question,” so I find assuming his existence unsupportable.

By the way, why does God need a plan for our salvation? Isn’t he making up all the rules? If he exists, then my need for salvation is sort of his fault isn’t it? I mean, he was the one that decided to put my existence in jeopardy wasn’t he?

“We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge.”

I might point out that voting school boards that want to introduce Creationism or Intelligent Design into the curriculum out of office and encouraging your congregations to vote them out of office would help too. Oh, and let’s not forget those science illiterate legislatures that seem to want to pass laws about evolution “being only a theory.”

“We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”

They are certainly not complementary and never have been. While I have some confidence that either science represents truth or at least provides a roadmap to get to the truth, religion strikes me as little more than superstition preying upon fear. I honestly believe that the elimination of religion would be a good thing.

A while back I said that there were three camps. Those that thought co-operation between religion and science were possible; those that thought religion and science could co-exist as separate domains and those that believed that religion and science were in a death struggle and that one must inevitably destroy the other.

I would put Zimmerman and his 10,000 clergy in the middle group since they consider religion and science “very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”

Hmmm, I don’t think so. In order for the human race to flourish, it has to rid itself of superstition. Faith is not something to be admired but a form of evil which needs to be eradicated like the ignorance it perpetuates.

The choices are simple, either mankind figures out a way to eliminate religion, or the cosmos will figure out a way to eliminate mankind.

AFC and NFC Championship Games

Pittsburgh and Seattle huh? Who Woulda thunk it? I’m really surprised that Pittsburgh made it. It’s funny but I’ve been waiting for Plummer to implode. First I thought he would during the back end of the regular season and then I was pretty sure he would against New England. I finally decide I’m wrong about the guy and he turns the ball over four times.

At least Seattle won one for sanity and eliminated Carolina. What I find really strange though is we have a cardiac season but somehow the championship games turn out to be duds. Seattle romped easily and, to be honest, Denver never really got back in the game against the Steelers after going down 24-3 at halftime.

So I end up 5-5 through the play-offs and now the pressure is on. I get Super Bowl XL right and I salvage a better than a random pick record. Of course I get it wrong and I end up with worse than a random pick record.

Decisions, decisions. Pittsburgh was my downfall in the play-offs as I picked against them all three games. So now what? Hasselback looked darn good against the Panthers but the Steeler defense has been absolutely nasty and Roethlisburger has been playing well too.

The question is can they keep it up? I say no. I like the balanced attack of Seattle and their defense is no slouch either. I think Alexander and Hasselback play the game of their lives and stop the Steelers.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The World Baseball Classic

Sixteen teams in four venues from March 3 to March 20. Call it the Baseball World Cup if you want. It should be lots of fun. With things now worked out with the U.S. State Department, Cuba will fill the last spot in the list of sixteen. This is a good thing because without Cuba, the whole thing would have been a sham.

Pool A (Japan) is Japan, Korea, Taipei & China
Pool B (Arizona) is The United States, Canada, Mexico & South Africa
Pool C (Puerto Rico) is Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama & The Netherlands
Pool D (Florida) is The Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia & Italy

Round 1 will consist of round robin play in the four pools with each team playing a total of six games. The top two finishers in each pool will advance to a second round robin in two four team pools. The teams from pools A & B will play in Anaheim and the teams from pools C & D will play in Puerto Rico.

The two top finishers from Round 2 in each pool will advance to the single elimination semi-finals and finals in San Diego. That’s a little too bad. It would have been nice to have another round robin with the last four teams but I guess either time became a factor or they decided that an elimination format at the end would be more exciting.

All of the teams have major leaguers on them. For instance Mike Piazza will be playing for Italy. Plus we'll get to see pros from Japan, China, Korea and Mexico. This is going to be lots of good clean fun. The Major League season might almost be anti-climactic after this. LET’S PLAY BALL!

Some Good Shopping Here

As I've said before, every once in a while you trip over a web site that's just too wonderful. I found a reference to this one while reading The New Republic Online.

Don't Blame Me I voted for Kerry

You can get all kinds of good stuff here. Some of my favorites.

This is an actual cover from the Daily Mirror in the UK on the day after the election. Yeah I've been wondering myself how so many people could have been so freaking dumb.

Like Bill Maher says, I didn't know the election was really a referendum on homosexuality rather than about terrorism and an unjust war in Iraq. You have to admit that this is one neat poster and there are unique ones for all the Blue States plus some for the rational people living in Red States that got outvoted by the woo-woo crowd.
This one sums up my ideas about the seperation of church and state fairly well. Strange how Fundamentalist Christians have such a hard time understanding this simple concept.
One of many bumper stickers available. Too bad those that they're aimed at probably don't have the wit to understand the point.

A Bad Month for the Forces of Darkness

Yup, it certainly has been. Besides Dover dumping its ID policy and Kansas getting less than an “F” from the Fordham Institute, the Vatican, in L'Osservatore Romano, again voiced its support for evolution and disagreement with fundamentalist Protestant biblical literalism.

The Discovery Institute again displayed its lack of a grip on reality by saying that interpreting the L’Osservatore article that way was an attempt "to put words in the Vatican's mouth." No guys, that’s exactly what the article said and L’Osservatore Romano is THE official Vatican newspaper.

Meanwhile, in California, Frazier Mountain High School will terminate permanently a philosophy class discussing the theory of "intelligent design.” Although it was a philosophy class rather than a science class a number of parents still sued the school district which decided to end the class rather than go through an expensive court fight. Again the Discovery Institute put in its two cents. Casey Luskin, an attorney for the Institute displayed his lack of knowledge about current events by saying "They want complete censorship of intelligent design from state-run schools. It's a problem, because intelligent design is a science. It's not a religious point of view."

You really need to read the decision in the Dover case Casey baby where U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones stated unequivocally that ID was in fact a religious point of view and most decidedly not a science.

Elsewhere there have been signs of rats deserting a sinking ship as politicians began distancing themselves from the Christian Right.

It all started with the Terri Shiavo fiasco as both houses of the Republican Congress rushed back from Easter recess to allow courts to block the removal of a feeding tube in response to demands from the Christian Right only to discover that the overwhelming majority of Americans firmly opposed any interference in what was viewed as a family affair.

Then Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania, resigned from the advisory board of the Thomas More Law Center, which defended the Dover school board. I’m sure Rick noticed that the board which instituted the ID policy had been voted out of office wholesale by the voters of Dover.

Last, but certainly not least, Pat Robertson continues to make a jackass of himself. In addition to telling the citizens of Dover they rejected God, calling for the assassination of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and suggesting that Hurricane Katrina was sent by God to punish the U.S. because of abortion, now the moron has declared that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was because God was furious with him for dividing Israel.

This last idiotic declaration got denunciations from Democrats and silence from Republicans. Not even those who would like Robertson’s support are willing to defend him anymore. Here’s hoping that his “congregation” finds a better use for their donations.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Worse than an "F"

That’s the grade the state of Kansas got in the 2005 assessment of State Science Standards in the teaching of Evolution by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

I kid you not. In a coded map of the U.S. rating states as Sound, Passing, Marginal or Failed, the institute had to make up a new category for Kansas called “Not Even Failed.”

Yoo-hoo Kansas, you know things are REALLY bad when an organization as serious minded as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute feels compelled to ridicule you.

Osama offers a deal?

In the latest tape supposedly received by Al-Jazeera from Osama Bin Ladin the Al-Qaeda leader makes a status assessment, offers a truce and makes a threat.

So of course the media has focused on the threat which is made in passing. The main thrust of Osama’s message is that they’re winning and we’re losing. The threat comes in when Osama explains that the lack of attacks in the U.S. isn’t because our security is suddenly so wonderful.

“As for the delay in carrying out similar operations in America, this was not due to the failure to breach your security measures.”

Considering that a retarded mouse with dynamite strapped to its back could probably get past “Homeland Insecurity” I can’t really argue with this one.

“Operations are in preparation and you will see them on your own ground once the preparations are finished, God willing.”

Thanks for the warning. I’ll keep my eyes open for anything suspicious and put in a stock of 7.62 mm ammo.

More interesting to my mind is the offer of a truce based upon the fact that the majority of Americans now favor the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

“…but he (Bush) objected to this desire and said that the withdrawal of troops would send the wrong message to the enemy.”

I heard the same crap during Vietnam. The claim that demanding an end to the war and the withdrawal of American troops was aiding the enemy. It was nonsense then and it’s nonsense now.

“Bush said: It is better to fight them on their ground than they fighting us on our ground.”

Yeah, but better would be not fighting at all wouldn’t it?

“However, the argument that he avoided, which is the substance of the results of opinion polls on withdrawing the troops, is that it is better not to fight the Muslims on their land and for them not to fight us on our land.”

Yes, peace is better than war. Oh wonderful, now I’m in agreement with Osama. You know it’s really bad when a certified fruitcake sounds more rational than the President of the United States.

“We do not object to a long-term truce with you on the basis of fair conditions that we respect.”

One wonders what conditions you would consider “fair” however?

“We are a nation to which God has disallowed treachery and lying.”

Hmmm, you sure don’t act that way though do you? Then again, this is sort of irrelevant as we’re going to watch you like a hawk truce or no truce.

“In this truce, both parties will enjoy security and stability and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan which were destroyed by the war.”

That works for me IF exactly how Iraq and Afghanistan get rebuilt is a part of the “fair conditions.” I would really like to avoid fighting another war in that region.

While “don’t negotiate with Terrorists” is a good rule of thumb, if the Israeli’s can sit down with the Palestinians, why can’t we work out a peaceful solution with Al-Qaeda? We’re certainly not going to let down what little guard we have nor reduce our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan while we’re talking so what do we have to lose?

What the hell, send Condi over to talk to them. What’s the worst that could happen, they machine gun Rice? That would be no great loss.

The tape doesn't mention the strike in Pakistan, but one has to wonder if there was some relationship. Or if, perhaps more likely, this is the result of conversations between the U.S. and the home grown Iraqi Insurgents who have reportedly had clashes with Al-Qaeda backed groups. About the last thing Al-Qaeda would want is an agreement between the U.S. and the Iraqi Insurgents that leaves them on the outside looking in and the enemy of both.

Let's face it, a truce and withdrawal of U.S. forces would open both Iraq and Afghanistan to fundamentalist Muslim Regimes. The bad news is that this could happen about twelve minutes after we withdraw anytime in the future too.

That was the whole goddamn problem with going after Hussein to begin with. It opened the door to Muslim Fundamentalism becoming entrenched in the whole region and then spreading to other Arab countries until the entire Middle East and North Africa formed a new Islamic Empire. A very hostile Islamic Empire with a stranglehold over the economy of the world because of it's control of the oil supply.

The longer we stay, the more pissed off these people are going to be, the more likely the spread of Muslim Fundamentalism is going to be and the more hostile to the west any emerging Islamic Empire is going to be.

Would you like me to speculate upon whose armies will be meeting at Armageddon under these conditions? Crap, it almost sounds like Bush and company are choreographing an End Times scenario doesn't it?

Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood

In a fast turnaround short, only 10 pages, decision, the court managed to both uphold the constitutional requirement that the health of the mother must be of paramount importance in abortion restriction laws and made abortion access much more vulnerable.

The New Hampshire law required a 48 hour notice to the parents of a minor prior to performing an abortion. While there was an exception for life threatening situations, there was no general exception for situations which threatened the health of the mother as required in Casey and other decisions. The District Court also declared the part of the act which made an exception under life threatening conditions unconstitutional because “it requires physicians to certify with impossible precision that an abortion is "necessary" to avoid death, and fails to protect their good faith medical judgment.”

New Hampshire doesn’t debate that the mother’s health has to be protected but claims that other New Hampshire laws cover that situation so it was unnecessary to specifically state it in the abortion statute.

My reaction, as well as the reaction of the District and Appellate courts, is horseshit. If there is no intention of getting around such a provision, then what’s the harm of adding it?

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, re-affirmed the constitutional requirement to protect the mother’s health, but said that the lower court should consider whether or not the entire law should have been tossed or only those portions which were unconstitutional.

Hmmm, the court admits that this is a change “for we, too, have previously invalidated an abortion statute in its entirety because of the same constitutional flaw.”

However in this case they are sending it back to the lower court to determine the legislative intent and whether the entire law needs to be tossed out or simply the problem portions.

This can be a dangerous approach and O’Conner, who wrote the opinion, clearly recognizes that and warns “All the while, we are wary of legislatures who would rely on our intervention, for it would certainly be dangerous if the legislature could set a net large enough to catch all possible offenders, and leave '[i]t to the courts to step inside' to announce to whom the statute may be applied.”

This is precisely what abortion opponents can now do if the courts are going to pick and choose which portions of an abortion statute are ok and which aren’t.

One might consider this something of a pyrrhic victory. The court upheld the need for health of the mother exceptions but didn’t toss out the entire statute as it has in the past. This opens the door for the crafting of statutes with provisions that push the edges of acceptability without having to be concerned that the whole thing will get tossed.

I believe that the court has just made it easier for anti-choice forces to mount offensives against choice. That can’t be a good thing.

Hillary vs. Condi?

The U.S. is ready for a female president. At least I think it is. I’ve made a number of references before to Rice and Clinton which were generally uncomplimentary. I will now admit that I was just being a male chauvinist pig and I wasn’t necessarily serious.

So let’s talk 2008. Folks that I am keeping an eye on at the moment include Hillary Clinton and Russ Feingold on the Democratic side and Condoleeza Rice, Bill Frist and John McCain on the Republican side. I was watching Tom DeLay at one point, but given his current legal issues, I would say his chances, thank God, are toast.

Condoleeza Rice – Rank = 5
At the moment I would find it impossible to vote for the individual that was the National Security Advisor during the prelude to the Iraq War. Let’s face it, there were no weapons of mass destruction, U.S. Intelligence knew it and told the administration and Condi was one of Bush’s closest advisors.

So what happened here? Either (a) she was too stupid to understand what the intelligence was saying, (b) didn’t believe the intelligence, (c) advised Dubyah to ignore the intelligence and invade Iraq anyway or (d) advised Dubyah to heed what the intelligence was saying and not invade Iraq but Bush ignored her advice.

If (a) I question her intelligence, if (b) I question her judgment, if (c) I question her honesty and if (d) I question her integrity because she didn’t resign in protest. Regardless of the situation this is not someone I want as President.

Bill Frist – Rank = 4
My major problem with Frist has been his fawning over the extreme right including going so far as to suggest that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution. He also appears to have some possible legal problems.

I think I would have a huge problem with Frist, but I’m not as strongly against him as I am against Rice.

Hillary Clinton – Rank = 3
While I find the idea of Bill Clinton, probably again harassing White House interns, puttering around the capitol as first hubby a tad bizarre, I really don’t have a major problem with Hillary other than she seemed to get gung ho about the war for a while which turned me off. Let's remember I was against the war before there was a war. I'm also not sure she has the necessary legislative experience.

John McCain – Rank =2
I think McCain would make a great man to have as President even if he is a Republican. I think he would make a better President as a Democrat because I doubt that a moderate Republican would get the necessary co-operation from his own party. That might make it difficult for McCain to be effective.

Russ Feingold – Rank =1
I’ve made no secret of my admiration for the senator from Wisconsin. I like his positions on the major issues; I like his honesty; I like the way he says what he means and means what he says and he strikes me as a very bright and likable individual.

I don’t think it’s going too far to say that Feingold reminds me of Robert Kennedy a little and Bobby would probably have been a great President.

What about electability? I think Frist is the most electable as he seems to fit the mold of recent Presidents fairly well. McCain may be too moderate to garner enough support within his own party. Rice has never been elected to public office and I find it hard to believe that her first election victory will be the Presidential election and Hillary and Feingold may be too liberal to put together an effective enough coalition. Of course a lot depends upon who they’re running against.

Still a ways to go before things become serious, but the next election is going to be an important one so we might as well start thinking about it now. Just thinking about Rice or Frist as President makes me reach for that Amsterdam real estate booklet. I wonder how long it takes to become a Dutch citizen?

Revenge rather than Empathy

According to a study reported in Nature males really get a charge out of seeing bad guys, or enemies, get what’s coming to them. It seems that watching people who had acted badly get hit with electrical shocks stimulated the pleasure centers of the brain in males and the areas associated with empathy in females.

Well that explains a lot doesn’t it? The Germans (who else?) have a word for this, it’s shadenfreud which means “taking pleasure in the suffering of others.”

No wonder it’s so hard for guys to let bygones be bygones. Getting revenge is on the same pleasure scale as sex. I do have one problem with the study though, I’ll bet if the folks getting zapped were ex-hubbys or ex-boyfriends, the ladies would experience even more shadenfreud than the guys.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Case of Darlie Routier

A quiet summer night in suburban Rowlett Texas was shattered on June 5, 1996 by the commission of a horrific crime. In a hysterical call to 911, a twenty-eight year old mother of three, Darlie Routier was crying that an intruder had entered her house and attacked her and her two young sons, Damon and Devon, downstairs in the family room while her husband Darin and youngest son Drake were asleep upstairs.

Stunned police officials began to arrive within minutes of the 911 call to find Devon dead and Damon on the verge of death. Damon would die on the way to the hospital. As the police investigated the crime scene they began to have doubts about Darlie’s story of an intruder or intruders.

A long list of circumstantial forensic evidence including inconsistencies in the blood trail and evidence that a cleanup of blood in the kitchen sink had occurred; the disparity in the type of wounds suffered by the children, which were deep penetrating puncture wounds, and Darlie, which were slashing wounds; the behavior of Darlie, which was considered out of sync with the circumstances; the fact that the family dog, with a history of aversion to strangers, had remained quiet; all of this led police to suspect that the crime scene had been staged and they began to focus their attentions on Darlie herself.

To make a long story short, Darlie was arrested, tried and convicted of the murder of Damon Routier. Since Damon was under 6 years of age, it was Capital Murder in the state of Texas, and she was sentenced to death.

At the trial, in addition to the forensic and other circumstantial evidence, the prosecution went out of its way to paint Darlie as a self-centered, materialistic, dyed platinum hair type who looked upon her kids as stifling the lifestyle she wanted to live. An incident in which Darlie was video taped spraying Silly String over the boys graves while smiling and chewing gum shocked just about everyone, including the jury, and helped to reinforce that characterization.

The problem is that the Silly String incident, on what would have been Devon’s 7th birthday, was taken totally out of context and represented only a minute or two of what was a long solemn ceremony at the gravesite.

So the question is did she do it? In an ongoing process, the defense has raised a number of questions about the evidence, the interpretations of the police and the tactics of the prosecution.

- There are at least two bloody fingerprints for which the source is questionable and which the defense claims proves an intruder was present.
- There are questions about the accuracy of the forensic analysis of a kitchen knife which the prosecution claimed was used to cut a window screen, the supposed entry point, from the inside. Apparently the knife had been dusted for finger prints with a brush made of similar plastic fibers as the screen and it’s never been determined where the fiber residue on the knife came from, the screen or the fingerprint brush.
- There are questions related to blood stains found on Darlie’s nightshirt and on her husband Darin’s pants.
- There are questions related to why the jury never saw the photographs of the bruises on her arms and face sustained by Darlie that night. At least one juror has stated that if he had seen those photos, he would not have voted for conviction.
- There are questions related to the accuracy of the interpretation presented at the trial that Darlie’s knife wounds were self-inflicted “hesitation wounds.”
- There are questions related to a conflict of interest surrounding an agreement by the defense NOT to implicate Darin Routier as a part of Darlie’s defense.
- There are some technical questions related to significant errors in the trial transcript, the admissibility of the “Silly String” episode, while not showing the other solemn portions of the service and the possible coaching of defense witnesses from the hospital where Darlie was treated.
- There are questions related to the alleged “character assassination” strategy of the prosecution, of which the Silly String episode was only one example.

Good old Texas, Incompetence Capital of the Universe. One of the “character assassination” points allowed by the judge to be made by the prosecution was that Darlie didn’t take her kids to church regularly! Oh well, that settles it, she must be a murderer then.

So far the trial judge and the Texas Appeals courts have been unimpressed by the claims made by Darlie’s defense team so a Writ of Habeas Corpus was filed on November 29, 2005 in the U.S. District Court in San Antonio. The writ contains the standard 6th Amendment lack of effective council claim and the standard 14th Amendment lack of due process claim plus a claim of innocence.

This is a tricky one with lots and lots of circumstantial evidence and, if the truth must be told, a healthy dose of painting Darlie as “not your kind of person” to the conservative folks of Kerr county where the trial was actually held.

To my mind the best excuse for overturning the conviction being given the District Court is the lack of effective council for three reasons.

One, how the hell can someone get effective representation when their lawyer agrees, up front, NOT to present what could be a reasonable alternate scenario, in this case that Darin was involved?

Two, how the hell can an attorney not follow through on the input from reputable, independent investigators that they believed the state’s “staged crime scene” scenario was wrong and could be disproved? Especially considering that the prosecution argued that the failure of the defense to present alternate explanations to the state’s interpretation of the forensic evidence was further evidence that the state’s interpretation was correct. Is it possible that presenting an “alternate theory” would have conflicted in some way, manner, shape or form with the agreement not to point the finger at hubby?

Three, how could the defense have let so many prosecution “experts witnesses” testify on what were essentially gut feels for the “big picture” rather than presenting specific empirical points that could be challenged. How do you challenge something based upon “sort of the big picture” including “the lack of evidence?”

Let’s face it, Darlie was convicted on what a lot of folks would consider subjective voodoo science. Stuff like “the fibers on the knife are consistent with the screen fibers” and “that broken glass was broken on purpose and not accidentally.” What the hell does “consistent with” mean and how the hell can you tell how the glass was broken?

I don’t really buy the character assassination argument as justification for overturning the verdict, although I think it was a rotten trick to take the Silly String episode out of context especially as the tape was made by the police without a warrant. Darlie’s character, or lack of character, was central to the motive being advanced by the state so I don’t see how they could be prevented from presenting “character assassination” evidence.

To be honest with you, I doubt that the good people of Texas would convict a woman of Capital Murder just because they didn’t like her life style.

Nor do I think the defense has put enough new evidence on the table to convince anyone, without a new trial, that Darlie is innocent. I think there are still way too many open questions including:

- How did blood get inside a kitchen cabinet?
- How did the blood in the kitchen sink get washed away? Darlie’s claim that she was wetting towels doesn’t line up with a) there was no water on the floor and b) no running water is heard on the recording of the 911 call.
- How does one resolve the two radically different stories told by Darlie about how she woke up?

Still, I think there is plenty of reason to give Darlie another day in court. Let’s hope the U.S. District Court in San Antonio agrees.

The 1st Execution of 2006

The 1st execution of 2006, and the 1,005th since executions resumed in 1976, occurred early this morning in California by lethal injection. The prisoner wasn’t a very sympathetic character having orchestrated a murder for hire in which three innocent people were killed.

A last minute appeal based upon the rationale that executing a 76 year old man who was blind and almost deaf was cruel and unusual punishment was rejected. Ironically the prisoner had been saved from a heart attack in September so he could keep his date with the executioner.

The next execution is scheduled in Texas in two days. Texas already has 13 executions scheduled in the 1st half of 2006.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

NFL Playoffs Round #2

Well that was embaressing. A 3 year old, selecting randomly, would logically be expected to get 2 of the 4 games correct. Perhaps I should consult with that kid because with my extensive football expertise, I only got one right.

To further add insult to injury both of my favorites for Super Bowl XL got eliminated. The one game I got right was Seattle ended Washington's run. However New England fell to Denver, Chicago's defense failed to stop the Panthers and, most shocking of all, Pittsburgh took out Indianapolis.

That makes 1-3 for the weekend and 4-4 overall. Really pathetic ain't it? Oh well, let us continue with the humiliation.

Pittsburgh at Denver - I'm really tempted to go with Pittsburgh here I really am, but I just can't see it. Ok, I'll go with Denver.

Carolina at Seattle - I have to go with Seattle.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Last Thoughts on Samuel Alito

So now the Judiciary Committee hearings are over, I’ve read the ACLU report, I’ve heard the ABA recommendation, heard about some private input from professors at Seton Hall and read a wide range of quotes from people who know or have worked with Alito.

In other words I can’t procrastinate any more. I started with simple relief that Miers was off the board and in general I’ve been wavering near neutral because, like Jesus on the show The Book of Daniel, I’m no fortune teller.

Nothing in the hearings has led me to significantly change my conclusions based upon the ACLU report and a sporadic review of Alito’s decisions but they have evolved a little.

Alito personally believes that Roe v. Wade is bad law

This is a change from has “strong personal aversions to” Roe v. Wade. He doesn’t like it but he will respect the piled up precedent on the right to privacy. It’s going to take a long paring away of precedent before it's possible to consider overturning the central principle of Roe and even then it may not be a done deal.

More likely is that we will see the definition of "undue burden" narrow until anything short of an outright ban may be allowed. Other concerns center around a possible weakening of the principle that there must always be exceptions when the woman's health is at stake plus an unhealthy possibility that the court may, rather than throw out laws in total, be selective and only toss out those portions that are objectionable.

The last possibility is really scary. Right now legislatures have to at least consider whether a provision will cause a law to be tossed out. But if only selected portions are overruled, then there is really no incentive for legislatures to show restraint. They can include all sorts of restrictions including those they may suspect, or even know, are unconstitutional in the hope that some of them will stick.

Alito will favor Freedom of Religious Expression over the Establishment Clause when there is a conflict.

I didn’t see anything to change my opinion here and I’m still concerned that this is a dangerous area for experimentation. I’m also slightly concerned that Alito leans toward the idea that government actions which aid all religions are ok. This is sort of a fuzzy area because it’s pretty easy to identify a secular benefit to actions with that sort of broad benefit and often this is the real objective.

Alito has a low opinion of affirmative action.

Nothing to really change my opinion here other than I don’t think this extends beyond a reasonable disagreement between honest men. In other words, I don’t think he’s a bigot.

Alito will tend to favor employers in discrimination or harassment suits.

No question about this one. No change here based upon the hearings.

Alito will tend to favor the government in criminal and death penalty cases.

If anything the hearings have strengthened this impression significantly. I’d say that he’s predisposed to favor the government and the burden of proof is always going to be on the other side.

I’ll tell you one thing; the guy is good at stepping around land mines. Or perhaps it was just that he’s so much more intelligent than most of the Senators on the committee.

A common mistake in the questioning was including multiple topics in a single question. This allowed Alito to simply address the safest topic. For instance, when Senator Kohl asked him about agreement or disagreement with some expressed opinions of Judge Bork, Alito could focus mostly on the safest of the subjects which was “one man, one vote.”

Kohl also missed an opportunity when Alito said “Most of the things that you just mentioned are points on which I would disagree with him.”

Only “most?” That means you agree with Bork on at least one. Considering that the two opinions of Bork’s that Alito didn’t specifically repudiate were that there was no right of procreation and that Roe v. Wade was an unconstitutional decision, I would have loved to have known which one. Would you like me to hazard a guess? Unfortunately Kohl blew it.

Oh well, Alito will get confirmed and despite what is clearly a distaste for Roe we’ll have to see how things go. Let’s keep in mind that both Roberts AND Alito would have to concur.

How far will the court shift to the right? It’s hard to tell. While neither Roberts nor Alito is as moderate as O’Conner, I doubt that either is as reactionary as Rheinquist. So maybe, just maybe, the shift will be less than some folks hope and others fear. We shall see.

It’s time to practice again. Everybody now, LEAN RIGHT!

How the Religious Mind Works

I’m absolutely horrified at some of the reaction to the stampede which left over 300 people dead at the Muslim Hajj. The AP reports these quotes.

An Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki said "This was fate destined by God. Some of the pilgrims were undisciplined and hasty to finish the ritual as soon as possible."

You’re a TURKEY alright. Sure, blame the victims AND God at the same time. This makes a lot of sense. At least it keeps the Interior Ministry from having to worry about whether there’s something it should be doing to prevent this kind of thing in the future. Heaven forbid that we should take responsibility for anything.

That AP also reported that Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz told reporters the state had "spared no effort" to prevent such disasters but added, "it cannot stop what God has preordained. It is impossible."

Here we go with blaming God again. Let me clue you in on something Aziz old boy, everything is NOT under the control of Sky Daddy. Sometimes things happen because people screw up and sometimes they happen due to a combination of circumstances that no one could have foreseen or prevented. Call it Fate, call it Karma or call it Bad Luck, it represents that degree of uncertainty that all of us have to face everyday. In other words, stuff happens, live with it.

I don’t mean to pick on Islam; Christians can be just as bad. I see that Pat Robertson, may his eyebrows fall out and his tummy grow ulcers, has sent a letter of apology for saying that Ariel Sharon’s stroke was punishment from God for Sharon pulling out of Gaza.

It seems that evangelical Christians opposed the move because they believe it goes against a necessary condition spoken about in the Bible for the beginning of the end times.

Now let me make sure I understand this properly. The Lord and Master of Creation, the Almighty and All powerful Lord of the Universe has a plan BUT the prime minister of a little country, on an insignificant planet, in a backwater solar system of a mediocre galaxy is screwing that plan up?

God’s will is being thwarted? Excuse me while I go bang my head up against the wall for an hour or two. The lack of thought inherent in the mind of this brand of conservative evangelical Christian makes me shudder. These people are really dangerous. If it was up to me I’d put them all on a reservation somewhere in the middle of Kansas and let them slowly de-evolve back to the Stone Age.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sir Russell of Feingold and the Alito

Actually I got lucky and found confirmation hearing transcripts broken down by senator so I could focus immediately on Russ’ two sessions.

Russ focused primarily on three topics using a combination of the oblique approach and a frontal assault, Executive Power, the Vanguard Recusal and the Death Penalty.

The first two topics have been pretty much beaten to death by the media so I’m going to focus on the conversation related to the death penalty since my boy Russ is against executing people.

But before I do, I’d like to pass on one exchange.

Feingold: Can the president violate or direct or authorize others to violate the criminal laws of the United States?

ALITO: The president has the obligation under Article II of the Constitution to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. And the laws mean, first and foremost, the Constitution of the United States. That applies to everybody. It applies to the president. And the president, no less than anybody else, has to abide by the Constitution.

And it also means that the president must take care that the statutes of the United States that are consistent with the Constitution are complied with. And the president has an obligation to follow those statutes as well.

That answer works for me.

In the Death Penalty questioning which took place during Russ’ second session, Feingold took the oblique approach and questioned Alito as to his rationale for some decisions, his attitude toward concerns with the death penalty and about a troubling statistic.

In a death penalty case called Rompilla v. Horn, Alito had rejected the argument that the defendant’s attorney’s had failed to prepare properly for the sentencing hearing. The Supreme Court ultimately overturned that decision. Alito defended his decision in the case by saying that, as an appellate judge, he had to abide by the law as passed by congress. That opened the door for Russ.

Feingold: So the question now is would your approach have been any different as a Supreme Court justice? What about your decision on the outcome of the case?

BULL’S EYE! See, the oblique approach. I could almost hear the bluh, bluh, bluh as Sammy replied. Basically he never really answered but sort of danced around it.

Alito: Well, my evaluation of the facts of the case would be the same. But I should add, however, that if a case came up in the future, the Supreme Court's expressed the view as to how the standard applies to the facts of the case. It was a 5-4 decision. But it would be a precedent that I would follow.

In other words, your opinion hasn’t changed any but you would have to take into account the precedent right? Up stare decisis is that it? Here’s my problem Sammy, you’re still talking like an Appellate Court Judge and I know you’re too smart not to have figured out that a Supreme Court Judge is not necessarily bound by the same rules. I suspect that should the opportunity come up, you would fall back upon your original position from Rompilla.

You're going to make it harder for appeals based upon the incompetency of the defendent's attorney to succeed unless the attorney was obviously incompetent. My concern is, will your definition of incompetent narrow once you become a Supreme and there ain't no one looking over your shoulder anymore?

Russ then pointed out an interesting, and troubling, statistic.

FEINGOLD: According to two independent studies, your record in death penalty cases has been more anti-capital defendant even than most Republican-appointed judges. In fact, in every disputed capital case that you heard -- that is, cases in which a panel of three judges did not all agree -- you would have ruled against the defendant.

Alito really couldn’t explain this statistic. All he could do was identify cases in which he had ruled in favor of the defendant. However they were all unanimous decisions. What Russ was pointing out, as I observed previously, was that if it’s close, Alito will come down on the side of the government. The concern is that without any worry about what the Supremes will think of his decisions, the definition of “close” might widen.

Russ then asked Alito his opinion about concerns expressed by Judge Stevens that Stevens felt tilted the proceedings in favor of the prosecution in death penalty cases.

Alito sort of danced around again. He expressed agreement with the general principles behind Steven’s concerns but didn't agree with them directly. This led Russ to comment:

FEINGOLD: Judge, it sounds like you perhaps have a lesser level of concern about some of these matters than Justice Stevens. The only thing I would note is one of the most striking things about the history of justices that have gone to the court sometimes who are pro death penalty, an amazing number have come to the conclusion that this is the one area where once they get there, they realize that these problems are much more severe than they might have thought before they became Supreme Court justices.

Should you be confirmed, I look forward to how you react to these issues after you have become a Supreme Court justice, should you do so.

Like I’ve said before, the man let’s you know what he’s thinking and he thinks good. This is related to my observation that often men (or women) grow in stature once they reach the Supreme Court and realize there ain’t no Supremes looking over their shoulder any more who can fix their mistakes. Like Harry S. said, “the buck stops here.”

Of course on the other hand, they can also feel totally unfettered to do whatever they want. This is the major concern when someone is a true believer with an agenda. Alito claims he has no agenda and while it's too much to hope he won't give into this new found freedom a little bit, perhaps his deference to precedent will keep things from getting out of hand. Ok now, let's all practice leaning right without falling over.

Ok, so Sir Russell of Feingold did a fine job, a fine job. It was just that the media didn’t bother to report it. Maybe because his questioning was rational, non-confrontational and effective while the media likes to report on irrational, confrontational and ineffective efforts so we think they’re doing their job.

Time to practice again. All together now, LEAN RIGHT!

The Alito Confirmation Hearings, Day 3

And the ineffectual process grinds on. Is it that the Democrats think Sammy is going to change his answer the 35th or 36th time he’s asked the same question or what?

I said the process was ineffectual and almost embarrassing? I correct myself, it’s broke and way beyond embarrassing. What the hell is the point anyway? The whole thing would work a lot better if a) there were rules about what the candidate could be asked and had to answer, with a refusal to answer meaning immediate disqualification, and b) the hearings were held in private session.

We elected these Senators don’t we trust them to do their job and bring a recommendation to the senate floor without us and the press looking over their shoulder? If we don’t, then we better question the way we vote.

I love the observation that Democrats fear Alito “will steer the court to the right on abortion, civil rights and other social issues.” NO FREAKING KIDDING! That’s why Dubyah nominated him! The questions are BY HOW MUCH AND HOW FAST!

You should have known that Alito would play the same game as Roberts of not committing himself on specific issues. How the hell could he? Only an idiot paints himself into a corner like that and Alito is no idiot. What you should have done was try to gauge his general philosophy and then, if a potential conflict was detected, grill him on how he’s going to resolve that conflict.

For instance, in ACLU of NJ v. Black Horse Pike Bd of Ed Alito CLEARLY expressed the opinion that the Establishment Clause was not violated by actions which assisted religion in general rather than a specific religion. Four years later, the Supreme Court, in Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, in an opinion written by O’Conner, the Sainted Justice that Alito is going to replace, said that not only does the Establishment Clause prohibit actions that aid one religion over another it prohibits actions that aid all religions as well.

I would have asked him first whether or not he still adhered to his opinion in Black Horse and if he said yes, I would have asked him how he intends to handle the inherent conflict between that opinion and the opinion articulated by the Supreme Court and O’Conner in Santa Fe. I mean the man did say he would respect precedent, right, and the principle here is pretty simple, not only neutrality between religions but neutrality between religion and no religion as well.

In other words, an oblique approach, rather than a frontal assault, would have made sense and may have yielded a lot more information. If you don’t have the guts to address anything that might be interpreted as a criticism of religion, there are plenty of other topics that could have been used instead. This was only an example.

As it was all the Dems managed to accomplish was make themselves look petty and incompetent. They didn’t manage to bring a single meaningful issue into the spotlight. I’d like to know what questions Russ Feingold asked. I didn’t see anything about what he asked in the media. Maybe I’ll go download and read the full transcript (crap, I’m either really courageous or really dumb to consider doing that).

Based upon this joke of a confirmation hearing I can’t see any reason why Samuel Alito would not be confirmed by the senate, but I feel that the Judiciary Committee has let the American People down by not doing its homework and insisting upon playing politics. Maybe the result won’t be a complete disaster, but if so, it will be by pure luck.

The Death Penalty in the United States

The first execution of 2006 is scheduled for January 17th in California. There are already 29 executions scheduled through June of 2006, 12 of which are scheduled in Texas. The next highest number is in Pennsylvania which has 4 scheduled.

Texas, with 355 executions since 1976, has a nasty habit of following through on scheduled executions while Pennsylvania, with 3 executions since 1976 (all of them volunteers), has a tendency to schedule but, luckily, not necessarily follow through so we can hope.

The 2005 total ended up exceeding the total in 2004 by one. Of the 60 executions 19 of them were in Texas which at least was down from 23 in 2004. Unfortunately that means that other states upped their rate of execution. The worst offenders in this category were Missouri and Indiana both of which went from zero executions in 2004 to 5 in 2005 and tied with North Carolina for second behind perennial leader Texas. Virginia, with 94 executions since 1976, the second most behind Texas, actually managed not to execute anyone in 2005.

It’s long overdue but I think I will officially bestow the title “Bloody” on Texas. They’ve earned it down there. So now in addition to Medieval Kansas, we have Bloody Texas.

Elsewhere, neither Kansas nor New York have bothered to redefine death penalty statutes that have been declared unconstitutional by their state supreme courts.

The New Jersey legislature has passed a moratorium on executions that will be in effect until at least January 15, 2007.

A group of current and past prosecutors in California urged the legislature to pass a bill that would halt executions in that state for two years while the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice reviews the problem of wrongful convictions in the state and the executive moratorium on executions in Illinois continues.

The same bill that invoked the moratorium in New Jersey mandates the establishment of a commission to consider both the fairness, including racial and geographic fairness, and the costs of capital punishment. The commission, which will consist of 13 members, must be in place by the end of January and has until November of 2006 to make its report.

The bill had overwhelming support in the New Jersey legislature passing by a margin of 30-6 in the Senate and 55-21 in the Assembly. Governor Cody has indicated that he will sign the bill into law just before he leaves office on January 17.

New Jersey has never executed anyone under its current death penalty law so hopefully this is the next step in a process that will ultimately eliminate the death penalty in the Garden State. Yeah, Joisey!

Hundreds Die in Hajj Stampede

The other day I was making fun of the stoning ritual which is part of the Muslim Hajj. With this report from the AP however it moved into the realm of the tragic.

The AP reports that as thousands of pilgrims rushed to complete the symbolic stoning and purge themselves of sin, they tripped over some luggage which resulted in a crush that killed 345 pilgrims and injured about 1,000 more.

So tell me, was this the devil protecting himself from being stoned? I may find religions absurd but I don’t wish any harm to those that disagree with me on that. So where was Allah the just and merciful when all of this was occurring? No, don’t bother, I already know the answer, God works in mysterious ways right?

When are we going to grow up enough to discard the absurd superstitions that we have saddled ourselves with throughout history?

Let me clue you in on something, assuming there is a God, which is an unanswerable question, he created us with the gifts of intelligence and the ability to reason so I have to assume that he expected us to use them! As soon as somebody, or something, suggests that you forego their use, and all religions do, you can be certain they’re asking for something that is incompatible with the intentions of God. Faith is not something to be admired. It’s a species of evil that needs to be eradicated along with the ignorance that it perpetuates.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Impact of Overturning Roe v. Wade

While I’m not quite ready to conclude that it’s inevitable, I have to conclude that it is certainly well within the range of feasibility. Samuel Alito will be confirmed to the Supreme Court and I’m certain a case will work its way to the court, before Dubyah’s term of office has expired, which will provide the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Then what? The Right Wing, and especially the Christian Right, has been gunning for Roe ever since it was decided and they finally have their goal in sight after some 32 years. The rest of us haven’t been too vigilant and this is the result.

However if the Right Wing thinks that the overturning of Roe will be the end I suspect that they are quite wrong. I expect that to mark the beginning.

The end of Roe is going to result in tragic chaos. Depending upon who you believe, some 60% to 70% of the American population supports access to abortion. Add to that the inevitable sob stories about woman caught in the transition and I expect the backlash to be spectacular.

If the war in Iraq is still going on, and I can’t see how it would be resolved by then, and the assault on science continues unabated with more confrontations like Dover Pa. and Kansas, these questions can be expected to fuel the fire to a nice white hot intensity.

In other words I expect the country to pretty much tear itself apart making the conflicts over the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, and perhaps even Slavery, look like a love fest.

Well, if nothing else it will keep us busy fighting each other and prevent any more military adventures like Iraq. I figure I’ve got two options, either start helping things get organized or relocate to Amsterdam. I’d consider relocating to Toronto but that’s still too close to Jesusland. Crap, I’m too old to go through this kind of nonsense.

The Food Fight Grinds On

If nothing else I sympathize with Judge Samuel Alito for having to put up with being grilled for nine hours. What’s the strategy here, some form of sensory deprivation that’s going to lead the man to say something unfortunate? Fat chance, I think Sammy is way to smart for that.

And in the final analysis, that may be the Achilles Heel in this silly process. Alito is way smarter that the average Senator, knows the law much better than the average Senator and certainly knows more about his past decisions than ANY Senator. He could lie and get away with it and I’m sure some nominees have done just that. He could lie, but I’m not getting the impression that he is. It sounds to me like he’s being perfectly honest and straight forward while not saying something that can be twisted into a pronouncement of doom by Kennedy and Schumer..

Speaking of Schumer, the man is clearly convinced that Alito will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade the first chance he gets and he’s probably right. I suspect that Alito is in that group of folks that believe Roe v. Wade is just plain bad law.

Let’s face it, saying that he will keep an open mind means just that. A mind open, based upon the case before the court, to either confirming or overturning Roe v. Wade depending upon what he feels are the requirements of the law. Since he leans to the conservative side of things (actually it’s more like he’s falling over to the conservative side of things!), it becomes pretty obvious that it’s only a matter of time before he concludes that the requirements of the law dictate a need to overturn the 1973 decision.

This battle was lost when Dubyah got elected so let’s not blame Sammy.

I also suspect that Alito, with his tendency to favor Freedom of Religious Expression when it conflicts with the Establishment Clause, is going to dismantle some of the wall of separation between church and state. That whirling sound you hear is Thomas Jefferson spinning in his grave.

The problem is that I’m not at all sure what can be done about it. I’m not sure that anything can, or should, be done about it other than get ready for the inevitable fighting that is going to commence afterwards.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Word of the Year

You have to love the benefits of digital electronics. What is the “Word of the Year?” It’s the word whose meaning was most often looked up on the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary. Let’s see what words we want to know about shall we?

#10 Inept – Undoubtedly the result of people reading stories related to the Federal Government’s handling of the aftermath of Katrina. Or, perhaps, the result of people reading stories about the Bush administration's handling of the intelligence related to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? With the Bush administration in office there would be so many stories needing to use this word that I'm not surprised it made the list.

#9 Levee – Also probably related to people reading about Katrina. I guess folks wanted to know what those thingies were that broke and whether or not there were any in their vicinity that they should be worrying about.

#8 Conclave – Probably the result of hearing about this mysterious Conclave of Cardinals during the election of Benedict the XVI.

#7 Pandemic – See people are listening to the warnings about the Bird Flu. They just don’t know the difference between pandemic, epidemic and endemic.

#6 Tsunami – Yuppers, they knew it was a disaster, they just didn’t know what kind of disaster.

#5 Insipid – Must be the result of reading stories about Dubyah’s personality.

#4 Filibuster – AHA! So they are paying attention to the confirmation hearings and the Red Staters want to know what those evil Democrats are up to. Come on boys, don’t y’all pay attention to family history? It’s what your daddies did to try and keep them pinko liberals from passing laws giving them uppity darkies voting rights.

#3 Contempt – Must be the result of people reading about what the Republican party feels toward the average American.

#2 Refugee – Considering that both Tsunami and Levee are in the top ten I’m amazed that this isn’t #1. Then again, I guess there are enough folks that have more than a 3rd grade vocabulary to keep it at #2.

#1 Integrity – LOL!!! Clearly the result of people wanting to know about this thing that the Bush administration, politicians in general, priests and the supporters of Intelligent Design all lack!

Does it scare you that people in rather large numbers had to actually look up these words?

Alito Confirmation Hearings, Day 2

Today Alito got to make an opening statement. Some quotes as reported by the Washington Post.

"Good judges are always open to the possibility of changing their minds based on the next brief that they read, or the next argument …”

Yeah but if you have a pre-conceived notion that you have invested time and emotion into then it’s not very likely is it? The question Sammy, is what mental baggage, if any, are you carrying that will make it very difficult or impossible for some folks to get a fair shake?

"The role of a practicing attorney is to achieve a desirable result for the client in the particular case at hand. But a judge can't think that way. A judge can't have any agenda.”

Yeah but we all know that some of them do. Scalia and Thomas? Who said anything about Scalia and Thomas?

“The judge's only obligation -- and it's a solemn obligation -- is to the rule of law."

What about the obligation to protect the rights of even the least of the citizens of the United States against both an over reaching government and the tyranny of the majority? Are these obligations included under your definition of “the rule of law?”

I might point out that the Nuremberg Laws represented “the rule of law” in Nazi Germany. Would you have felt obligated to uphold them? For a lower court judge it is sufficient to dedicate oneself simply to “the rule of law” but a Supreme Court judge must be concerned with justice. For what is the law but simply man’s imperfect attempt to secure justice? There will be times when it will be necessary to transcend the imperfections of the law. Will you have the vision to recognize those times and the courage to do what is necessary?

During his “questioning” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch made a pre-emptive strike related to the questions associated with Alito’s membership in the right wing Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) group and his failure to recuse himself from the Vanguard case.

In terms of CAP, Hatch set Alito up to establish three counterpoints.

The first was related to any opposition to women and minority students, a position which CAP has been accused of supporting. Predictably Alito denied that he opposed minority and women attending college. We got the best quote of the day during this orchestrated love fest.

“Senator, I had never attended a non-coeducational school until I went to Princeton. And after I was there a short time, I realized the benefits of attending a coeducational school.”

I can't argue with that one. I can remember a whole bunch of benefits too.

As a part of this conversation they managed to work in the fact that Alito belonged to a non-selective co-ed eating club (wow, what a good guy!) as well as work in the whole humble origins, son of an immigrant Italian worker story. I could almost hear the theme from The Godfather playing in the background.

The second counterpoint was related to the belated information that Alito joined CAP as a reaction to the ROTC program at Princeton being terminated. As a part of this conversation they managed to work in Alito as a red white and blue ROTC member, just like Colin Powell, at a time when left wing radicals were bombing buildings in protest over the Vietnam War. I could almost hear the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background.

The third point was allowing Alito to deny that he joined CAP in a desire “to maintain some old boy’s network to the detriment of women and minorities.”

So what’s my reaction? I can sort of believe Alito when he says he has no opposition to women and minorities attending college. He may have back in 1972 but I don’t think there are too many left with this type of discriminatory attitude. I doubt the guy could have gotten this far if he was THAT bigoted and sexist.

I’m not impressed with the ROTC and CAP story. If there was a relationship, it was that he was pissed off that now he had to schlep to Trenton State (now the College of New Jersey) in order to complete his ROTC training and hooked up with a fascist right wing group that opposed the left wingers that got the ROTC kinked off campus. It may have been a reason but it’s certainly not a justification.

As for the “old boy network,” my reaction is oh cut it out! Setting up “old boy networks” for future mutual benefit is a time honored university tradition and by definition the networks are detrimental to anyone not a member.

As far as the Vanguard recusal question is concerned apparently a) legal ethics experts (another oxymoron) do not believe that Alito had to recuse himself, b) there was no possible financial benefit for Alito regardless of how the case turned out, c) when the question was raised, Alito did recuse himself even though he didn’t have to and a new panel was set up to re-evalute the case and d) the new panel arrived at the same conclusion as the original panel.

Given this information I don’t see any issue relating to Vanguard nor do I see the reason it was raised in the first place. I would suggest that the Democrats drop it as it appears that they can only hurt their credibility by pursuing the question.

Note that I left out the purely political horseshit thrown in by Hatch with some regularity. Why is it every time I read an article with quotes from politicians I get this irresistible need to go wash my hands three or four times? Now where did I put that liquid soap thingie?

The Hajj at Mecca

I guess things could be worse. Instead of living in a country where the predominant religion is Christianity, I could live in one where it’s Islam.

The AP reports on the festivities in Mecca.

“Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims hurled pebbles at three huge stone pillars before dawn Tuesday in a symbolic stoning of the devil, one of the final rituals of Islam's hajj that has drawn more than 2.5 million people to the holy city of Mecca.”

A stoning of the devil? Come on guys, if Allah is all powerful and all merciful, then why doesn’t he keep the devil from causing problems? What does he need your help for?

“On Monday, the mass of pilgrims made the climactic ascent to Mount Arafat, Islam's most sacred site, to pray for salvation, and Saudi Arabia's top cleric called for Islamic unity in the face of what he called the West's war on Islam.”

Well that sounds like a call for co-operation and peace. Aren’t you SO happy that Saudi Arabia is our ally and that the problem with terrorism isn’t Islam?

“After offering prayers on the mount, tens of thousands of the faithful rushed down the hill to the Muzdalifah, a few miles away, where they collected pebbles to use in the ritual stoning, which stretches over two more days.”

Oh, it can’t just be any old pebbles, you need special pebbles. Do you suppose that they have to restock the pebbles in Muzdalifah like game wardens have to restock trout? Is a restocked pebble from someplace else as holy as one that naturally comes form Muzdalifah? What would happen if I got a whole bunch of pebbles from West Virginia and dumped them there? Would that screw up the stoning festival?

“The seven pebbles thrown at the pillars Tuesday were from 49 collected by each pilgrim, with 21 of the stones to be cast on both Wednesday and Thursday.”

Boy, what a complicated set of rules. Why can’t you just throw one pebble on one of the three days? What’s with the number 49? Is this related to the 72 virgins? What happens if you spill your hoard of pebbles before you get to throw them? Do you have to go back and get more or can you just pick them up? How could you tell the difference now between the ones you dropped and the ones that were there to begin with?

Thousands of people throwing 49 pebbles each is a whole lot of pebbles. What happens to them after they’re thrown? Are they just left to pile up or does somebody scoop them up and haul them back to Muzdalifah? What not just bag them and sell them to pilgrims with their travel package? I can see it now, all inclusive Hajj travel package. Includes air fare, hotel accommodations, 49 pebbles guaranteed to originally be from Muzdalifah and sheep coupon.

Here’s where the sheep coupon comes in.

“The completion of dawn prayers Tuesday also marked the start of the Eid al-Ahda, the feast of the sacrifice, which recalls Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son.”

If God was all knowing then he should have known that Abraham would be willing to sacrifice his son so what the hell was the point of the test? Can’t God read what is written in each man’s heart? And what would be the point of sacrificing a sheep provided by the God to be sacrificed to? How come the Lord and Creator of the universe gets a kick out of burning sheep flesh anyway?

“And as a reminder of Abraham's test, each pilgrim should buy a sheep for slaughter as a blood sacrifice. Saudi authorities have instituted a system whereby pilgrims purchase a coupon costing about $120. Sheep purchased through the system are slaughtered at special facilities and distributed to the needy.”

$120 per sheep! Wow, multiply that by the tens of thousands of pilgrim per year and somebody is making a lot of money. Compared to these guys Christianity, with its collection plates, is a piker. Is there anybody auditing the books? How do we know that all of that cash gets translated into a slaughtered sheep the meat of which goes to the needy rather than ending up in somebody’s pocket?

I’m sorry, but I find this utterly ridiculous as I find all religions utterly ridiculous. Can someone please explain to me the benefit of this ritual? Or at least the benefit beyond keeping the economy of Mecca booming.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Let the Games Begin!

The Senate confirmation hearings on Judge Samuel Alito have begun. Here are a few choice opening statements (plus commentary) from the committee members as reported by the Associated Press.

"As chairman, I am committed to conducting a full, fair and dignified hearing. Hearings for a Supreme Court nominee should not have a political tilt for either Republicans or Democrats. They should, in substantive fact and in perception, be for all Americans.” – Arlen Specter (R-Penn)

Not a bad guy for a Republican, however I'm sure he knows that the tilt is going to be so political he’ll be lucky if he can keep the committee from falling over.

"The challenge for Judge Alito in the course of these hearings is to demonstrate that he will protect the rights and liberties of all Americans and serve as an effective check on government overreaching.” – Patrick Leahy (D-Vt)

The whole idea of an independent court is to insure the protection of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. I commend Senator Leahy for reminding everyone of that. If Alito is not committed to this quest, then he has no business on the Supreme Court just as Scalia and Thomas have no business on the court.

"Groups are trying to defeat your nomination because you will not support their liberal agenda. And the reason they oppose you is precisely why I support you. I want judges on the Supreme Court who will not use their position to impose a political agenda on the American people.” – John Cornyn (R-Texas)

Basically Cornyn, that’s a load of horseshit. What you, Dubyah and your Religious Right supporters are looking for is precisely someone who will “use their position to impose a political agenda on the American people,” you just want it to be your agenda.

“Judge Alito, millions of Americans are very concerned about your nomination. They are worried that you would be a judicial activist who would restrict our rights and freedoms." – Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

I’d be surprised if there were millions of Americans who could even identify Alito never mind be concerned about something as abstract as his being a “judicial activist who would restrict our rights and freedoms.” Well, maybe a couple of million.

"Judge Alito has an impressive and extensive legal and judicial record, certainly one worthy of a Supreme Court justice ... .equal to any Supreme Court nominee I've considered over the 25 years I've been on this committee. ... Yet, some liberal interest groups have come out in full force, and have attempted to paint Judge Alito to be an extremist and an activist. ... I don't like to see facts twisted or untruths fabricated to give the nominee a black eye, even before he sets foot in front of the judiciary committee. So, Judge Alito, now you have an opportunity to set everyone straight on your record and your approach to deciding cases." – Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)

Wordy SOB isn't he? So, Charlie, you’re saying that you have seen undisputable evidence that Sammy baby isn’t an activist? Durbin seems to be really worried about that. Perhaps you should share what you have with him?

"In an era when the White House is abusing power, is excusing and authorizing torture, and is spying on American citizens, I find Judge Alito's support for an all-powerful executive branch to be genuinely troubling.” – Edward Kennedy (D-Mass)

Oh well, so much for keeping the political tilt out of the hearings. Ted Kennedy also wrote, in a Washington Post article, about his concerns related to Alito’s credibility. Kennedy was questioning why Alito didn’t inform the Senate during his 3rd Circuit confirmation that he was a member of the right wing group Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) which had some racist overtones. Alito joined in 1972 but now claims little or no memory of the group. Kennedy also questioned why Alito didn’t recuse himself from a case involving the Vanguard Group with which Alito has accounts.

I joined Pi Mu Epsilon in 1968 and I have to admit that I have NO memory of the group nor do I know what they've been up to. For all I know they could be bankrolling Al-Queda. You going to hold that against me Teddy?

The question about Vanguard is another matter all together. Why didn't you recuse yourself Sammy?

"Your decisions are usually brief and to the point. You write with clarity and common sense. And, in most cases, you defer to the decision-making of those closest to the problem at hand. I don't expect to agree with every case you decide. But, your modest approach to judging seems to bode well for our democracy." – Mike DeWine (R-Ohio)

In other words thanks for not making me read through long complex stuff. I don’t care if it was right as long as it was short and didn’t strain my attention span. Yeah, that’s a great reason for selecting a Supreme Court judge.

"Before we give you the keys to the car, we would like to know where you plan to take us.” – Herb Kohl (D-Wis)

LOL! Talk about going right to the heart of the matter! Yeah, I’d like to know where he plans to take us too.

"It appears to me that you easily fit into the mold of what this nation has come to expect from its Supreme Court justices. " – John Kyl – (R-Ariz)

So you’ve already made up your mind? Then why use up the oxygen in the committee room? I’m sure you could be off worrying about questions you don’t already know the answer to.

“We need judges who see themselves as custodians of the rights and freedoms that the Constitution guarantees…” – Russ Feingold (D-Wis)

Huzzah Sir Russell of Feingold! Atta boy Russ. You nailed that one right on the head. At least you and Leahy appear to understand the real question on the table.

"I think it's fair for us to try to determine whether your legal reasoning is within the mainstream of American legal thought and whether you're going to follow the law regardless of your personal views about the law.” – Diane Feinstein (D-Calif)

Even if the law is wrong? Diane, Diane, did you sleep through the class where some poor history teacher tried to pound into your head the implications of Marbury vs Madison? I understand what you mean, but it sounds like you want a Supreme Court that will simply abide by and enforce every law passed by a right wing Republican congress.

"You have a record as a brilliant but modest jurist, one who follows the law, who exercises restraint and does not use the bench as an opportunity to promote any personal or political agenda.” – Jeff Sessions (R-Ala)

Here we go again with “follows the law” and another guy that appears to have undisputed proof that Sammy has no personal or political agenda. Of course someone who “follows the law” is only ok when that law isn’t restricting YOUR rights correct? I like Russ and Leahy’s understanding that the court is there to be the guardian of the rights of ALL the American people, including the ones you or I may not agree with. Does it scare you that most of the committee isn't clued in to this point? It sure scares the hell out of me.