Monday, December 27, 2010

The Death of Parties?

And every good argument deserves an equally good counter-argument. Not that I could aptly debate Anya's very good points, but for the sake of argument, and a balanced opinion, I will try to do so.
To understand the importance of political parties, we first have to look at why they originally came about (at least in the United States). In Federalist No.10, Madison basically says that "factions" are a necessary evil. Madison states, "As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed...The latent causes of faction are thus sown into the nature of man; and we see them everywhere...a zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well as speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than co-operate for their common good." He goes on to say the development of factions is inevitable though because, "The inference to which we are brought is that the causes of faction cannot be removed and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects".
And Madison believed that the Constitution was the means to control the effects. Madison is essentially telling us that yes, these factions cause problems, but they are a necessary evil in that we, as humans, naturally develop these factions in a democratic form of government. He says that eliminating democracy to eliminate the factions is absurd, and to make everybody think the same way and hold the same beliefs is also equally absurd. So, he proposes we don't eliminate the factions at all, we just deal with the effects of them. He thought the Constitution would handle the effects, and for the most part I agree with him. I also agree that it is in our human nature to form the factions, or political parties, because we like to form groups, we like having a consistent platform and having unwavering ideals. Anya mentions Bernie Sanders, and although I don't like his politics, he does have unwavering ideals. I think parties strengthen these ideals, not weaken them. What better way to stick to your ideals if you have other people backing you up? We like having a sense of safety and consistency because everything else in the world is wacky. On a psychological level, I think abolishing parties would be harmful for people's well-being and we would somehow find a way to drift back to a party system; it's just in our nature like Madison suggests.
We also have a long history of political parties in this country. Our political parties were developed very early on, one could stay it's essence started with the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The Federalists being supporters of the Constitution and the Anti-Federalists being the people who didn't want the Constitution. These, however, weren't official parties. Then came the Federalist party and the Jeffersonian Democrats, or Democratic-Republicans. And why is having this history important? We know it works pretty well. Our political system was copied by many other countries, people are dying to live here, and we do get things done. Now, I don't always advocate complacency, but there's something to be said for, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Anya seems to believe our government is "broke" and I happen to disagree with this. Also, the reliance on history to keep a decision is a common legal argument. The Supreme Court very often relies on stare decisis, or adhesion to past decisions, when deciding cases. It takes a lot for them to overturn their decisions. Just like it would take a lot for us to overturn our party system in exchange for something that would be perceived as chaotic as well as uncharted territory. But, if anything could make a no party system work, it would definitely be the fighting spirit and lion's heart of the people of the United States.
For the most part I think we, as humans, like a party system. That combined with the fact it has been with us since the early inception of our government, makes it very unlikely we will have a no party system. But, who knows what the future holds for us?
Oh, and also we are happy to say this is our 50th blog post! We are so glad to have made it to 50, now on to 100!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Death of Parties

A while ago, I blogged about the benefits of a multiparty system, something most Americans would never think of applying to their country.  Well, now I'm here arguing for something even more radical: The abolishment of all political parties.

Right now, political parties seem to be the bane of America's existence.  They are causing endless gridlock in Congress, enraging voters, and bringing some truly frightening people (Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, et al) out of the woodwork as people fight to be the "most" Democratic or "most" Republican on the ballot.  Intelligents and moderates are being shoved aside, normal citizens are being ignored, and radical and harmful views are being covered as viable alternatives by the media, allowing them to become popularized and widespread.  So what's the solution?  How about something really radical, something that's never been considered.  How about doing away with political parties?

I wrote once before in support of a multiparty system, like many European governments have.  I still believe that is much better than our current system.  But might a party-less system be even better?  Might it eliminate the "I support most of that bill, but I can't vote for it because I'm a Democrat/Republican" mentality that so many moderates are forced into?

Oftentimes, the main difference between the two major parties in this country is rhetorical.  No matter how much the Democrats pledge that they’ll turn the country around, they’ll stop the corporate welfare and secrecy and fiscal irresponsibility and gutting of social security that occurs under Republican administrations, the changes that happen are miniscule.  Often, the choice between Republican and Democrat boils down to the choice between evil and slightly less evil.  Look at the choice in Nevada during the midterms: on the one side, the racist let’s-let-preachers-endorse-candidates-from-the-pulpit-and-dismantle-the-department-of-education Sharron Angle, and on the other hand, the bumbling, compromising, bored and boring Harry Reid.  

The most principled members of Congress are Ron Paul, a Libertarian, and Bernie Sanders, a Socialist.  While they might caucus with the Republicans and Democrats respectively, they break with their caucus when they support something that runs contrary to their beliefs (look at Sanders’ vote against the tax cut “compromise” bill).  The few senators who are willing to break party line on important issues (McCaskill with earmark bans, Snowe and Voinovich with DADT) are either lame ducks or far enough from their next election that they feel that they won’t unduly upset their base.

With no political parties, there would be no nebulously defined “base” that politicians are beholden to simply because of their party affiliation.  They would have the satisfaction of knowing that they were elected based on their views, rather than disinterested voters voting party line and then becoming upset because of one or two votes.  Current Democrats who, say, support gay rights but oppose the START treaty would be able to run on a platform including both those points of view and the public would know exactly what they’re getting.  There would be fewer unpleasant surprises for constituents and Senate leaders.

This would also eliminate party line votes.  Often, members of Congress are forced to compromise their beliefs because they’re afraid of losing their party’s backing.  Whether it means losing a chairmanship or losing financial backing in the election cycle, you can bet that most of your Senators and Representatives are far more interested in that job security than they are in voting their conscience.

A lack of parties would also throw the electoral system wide open to more involvement by the citizens.  It would eliminate many of the issues that have kept third party candidates (such as Greens, Libertarians, Peace & Freedom party members) who usually have new, viable suggestions from even being considered.

There are, of course issues with this system, mostly with what would happen to Congress.  For instance, how would the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate positions be filled? (Majority/Minority Leader and Majority/Minority Whip positions would be obsolete.)  The position of President Pro Tem would simply fall to the most senior senator, rather than the most senior senator from the majority.  Since the Speaker of the House is elected directly by the House, choosing a speaker is not dependent on the existence of political parties (although since the Speaker is the person who receives the most votes,  How would committee chairmanships be designated, and how would members be assigned to committees?  Currently, members request assignments, which are approved by a party committee in charge of committee assignments (I mean ... what? No that’s actually what they are). The assignments slates are then sent to the full Chamber for approval.  But this has not always been the case, political parties have not always had say in committee assignments.  Until 1911, the Speaker of the House handled all committee appointments.  Reverting back to this practice would not be overly difficult.  Until 1846, committee assignments were handled by the vice president, the president pro tem, or party leaders.  Probably the simplest thing to do would be to let the president pro tem handle assignments, since party leaders wouldn’t exist and letting the vice president make assignments - even though he or she is technically the president of the Senate - seems to be mixing the two branches of government more than they should be.

All of this, of course, is simply procedural.  There is little possibility that the abolition of political parties would ever gain any traction in the hearts and minds of anyone, be it Congressmen or the American public

Would our country even function like this? I think it's possible. But it is also entirely possible the answer is "no".  Then again, you might say that our country doesn't function now, with two parties (the only goal of the Republican Party, according to Mitch McConnell, is to defeat Obama), so a lack of political parties couldn't do that much more harm.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Myth of the "Ground Zero Mosque", the Power of Symbolism, and the Failure of the Media

"Ground Zero Mosque"

You've seen the phrase everywhere, haven't you?  In the headlines of Fox News, the Irish Independent, in Abraham Foxman's speeches/articles. Not to mention, of course, the multiple Twitter-fights that Sarah Palin has sparked. Even Salon and Al-Jazeera are using the term, although they, at least, have the decency to put it in quotes.

Because, you see, there's a big problem with the phrase "Ground Zero Mosque": There is no mosque being built at the former site of the Twin Towers, nor will there ever be. The ominous, hateful Ground Zero Mosque does not exist.

The building causing all this hoopla has been used for Muslims to pray for years. The "mosque" is a cultural center and interfaith center that is to be used for outreach and education.  It has a basketball court, a swimming pool, and a primary school, with a floor set aside for Muslims to pray -- and other prayer rooms for people of different faiths.
The real danger of the politicization and fighting that swirls around this issue is that people will start thinking that the war on terror is meant to be, or is best accomplished by, a war on Islam. While that may be the goal of some of the ultraconservatives, that is possibly the worst thing that can happen to this country. What happened to freedom of religion, separation of church and state, government not interfering with private property? Why are all Muslims automatically assumed to be evil terrorists?. People of practically every single religion have killed in the name of said religion countless times.

This is not an issue of "sensitivity" to the families of the people who have died. This is not an issue of Ground Zero being holy ground. Of course it has a high emotional impact for the families of those who were killed, but one would imagine that if the tea partiers really cared about the ground being "holy" they would also raise a ruckus over the fast food joints and strip clubs that are closer to ground zero than Park 51. Besides, what could be more holy than religion?  Muslims died on 9/11 too, and no, those Muslims were not just the hijackers.  As one 9/11 widow said, "How did '9/11 victim' become sloppy shorthand for 'white Christian'?"

This is not a "victory mosque", like so many tea partiers have tried to tell you. This is an open center being built with the best of intentions. Do the world a favor.  Stop saying Ground Zero Mosque.  Call it what it is.  Call it Park 51.

I wrote the beginning of this essay/post in October, when midterm energy was running high and gratuitous mudslinging was common on both sides.  It is fascinating to me how this issue has completely dropped off the map.  Sure, it's still present in the public's mind . . . vaguely . . . but it's not being shoved down our throats, Fox News isn't devoting whole days to screaming about how horrible it is.  And that brings us to a shockingly horrifying, yet unfortunately unsurprising realization: all this controversy was simply a ploy to game the elections.  People's deaths, and people's desires for reconciliation, were diminished, stomped upon, and turned into a political issue simply because the Republicans wanted votes.  And the media played right into it.  There's a lot of really low electoral tactics, but this is one of the worst I've seen.  And no one tried to stop it.  There were a few people who said at the very beginning, "Oh, conservatives are turning this into a political issue", but either they were drowned out or they kept reporting just because. News reporting is supposed to be about truth. But truth is often the first casualty of networks looking to boost ratings.

Anya Just Discovered Six Drafts Hanging Around On Her "Edit Posts" Page

Anya is now done with finals and on winter break, therefore, she will finish these six posts and spam you with them tonight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

1st Year Anniversary

So, sadly, we missed our first anniversary for this blog. To be fair it is finals week for both Anya and I, so we've been EXTREMELY busy. I just wanted to say thanks to those who read this blog and who (hopefully) get to learn something new. We love writing and will continue to do so, so continue to tune in. Also, it seems fitting to thank the people instrumental in getting this blog started. Thank-you president Obama for providing the idea for a Healthcare Bill that Anya and I got so worked up over we had to debate about it for days, thanks Congress for adding fuel to the fire, and thanks Mr. E (not his real name) for encouraging us to take our love of politics and share it with other people, also thanks for being there to answer our questions and listen to us argue, we loved your class. Thanks everyone. Some new posts to come...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The City of Los Angeles

A few weeks ago many things have been afoot in the City Of Los Angeles. Many of the ballot measures were voted on a few weeks ago in city council, and before that written by the City Attorney's Office. There were some controversial things, like an excise tax on oil, and taxing medical marijuana that were discussed as well as some important reforms, like DWP reforms.
On Tuesday's council meeting a lot got accomplished. In the morning, council voted to put on the ballot a measure to create more funding for the City's libraries so they can stay open longer and more days of the week. The councilmembers were very happy and positive about this measure, however other departments in the city had to lay down the facts. The city is in debt and we will definitely not have a surplus of money next year. So, the City Administrative Officer, Miguel Santana (CAO)tried to explain to the councilmembers that in order for this to work they would have to move money allocated to one area to the libraries. Even after this warning, the measure was still voted on to be on the ballot this March.
Another important package of ballot measures were voted on for DWP reform. One of the measures was put off until Wednesday. They will be on the ballot seperately, but the council looked at them in a package. The DWP reform would essentially establish someone they would have to account to. It would also establish a rate payer advocate. Councilmember Tom LaBonge likened some of the reforms to the establishment of the Christopher commission under Mayor Bradley, which effectively got out most of the corruption in the LAPD. That's essentially what council wants to do with the DWP.
The last item on the agenda for that Tuesday meeting was the taxation of medical marijuana. Although, not much was discussed about it that week, before there were discussions about it's legality ( a disclaimer I do not necessarily agree with the opinion's about the council, I'm just illustrating the legal issues). What I could surmise from this discussion is that you can't tax medical marijuana because people aren't supposed to be selling it in the first place. If you wanted to tax their gross receipts and it would apply to utilities. etc, known as reimbursements. But, as another kicker, since the collectives are non-profits they can't be subjugated to a gross receipts tax under state law. And then we have the federal government who says medical marijuana is illegal. So, this law, if passed, is preempted by both the state and federal governments. All in all, this ballot measure doesn't seem to hold water legally, but we'll see if this is explained well enough to the voters. It took me around half an hour to have this explained to me and I still don't quite grasp it all.
Later in this same week, another item was proposed to put on the ballot a sort of excise tax on oil. Basically, the companies would pay money to take oil out of Los Angeles. The ironic aspect of this item is that it was proposed by Councilmember Hahn, but she was the only one who voted against it. So, that is another thing you will see on your ballot.

You can watch these council meetings here:
on a side note, you can see me in the meeting for Tuesday if you click on item no. 14 on the scroll bar. I'm in the audience during the public comment in a white shirt)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day Endorsements!

Because Anya's not old enough to vote, she decided this was the next best thing! Detailed endorsements for my home state of California and my adopted home state of Massachusetts, and for everything else, you can assume I'm supporting the Democrat =P.

California: Governor - Jerry Brown. Senate - Barbara Boxer. Lieutenant Governor - Gavin Newsom. Secretary of State - Debra Bowen. Insurance Commissioner - Dave Jones. State Controller - John Chiang. Treasurer - Debra Reiger.

Massachusetts: Governor - Deval Patrick. Lieutenant Governor - Tim Murray. Secretary of State - William Galvin. Treasurer - Steven Grossman. Auditor - Suzanne Bump.

Vote smart and vote blue,

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Anna Nicole Smith Trial" Results and Convictions

Recently, the jury gave the verdict of this long-running case whose defendants were Howard K. Stern, Dr. Eroshevich, and Dr. Kapoor. Dr. Kapoor was acquitted on all the charges brought against him. However, Howard K. Stern and Dr. Eroshevich weren't as lucky, they were found guilty on the charges of conspiring to provide drugs using false names. The prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any of the defendants provided drugs to a known addict, which was the major part of their case. The next step in this process in the sentencing hearing where Judge Perry could reduce their sentences down to misdemeanors or Dr. Eroshevich and Mr. Stern could receive the maximum sentence of three years each in prison. The sentencing hearing will be held on January 6, 2011.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CA Prop 19: For Real Tokers?

We have some very exciting propositions this year in California, like Prop 19, which would make marijuana use legal. Surprising enough, this issue is backed by people you wouldn't expect, like moms and businessmen (and probably our state government that's very broke and wants to tax the hell out of marijuana). This proposition has some unlikely opponents as well, including some regular users. But generally speaking, this Proposition has also generated a lot of ads and sensation.
But, this proposition will not be a free for all for pot users (and those who just want to try it, and those who are "holding it for someone"). There will be regulations on the pot. First of all, only people 21 or over could legally buy and posses the marijuana (theoretically). You are only allowed to posses one ounce of marijuana for personal use, you can only smoke it on a private residence or a place licensed for on site marijuana consumption, and you can only grow it at home in a 25 square foot area for personal use. Also, the government will regulate it by taxes, where and when and how it can be sold, and how it can be transported.
Basically, the proposition will make marijuana a business, which goes against the history marijuana has played as going against "the man", taking a stand against government, and generally leading a bohemian or artistic lifestyle, which is why some "real" tokers (as opposed to posers who aren't anti-establishment) are angry with this bill. They, first of all, don't want marijuana to be a business and don't want it part of mainstream society. They are also angry because it will be taxed and the price will go drastically down, so they won't be able to make a profit. They are also afraid of loosing some exotic types of marijuana, since the business will be regulated. Now, there are also some people who think this is a good proposition in the mainstream. People think that if it's legalized we'll have less illegal gang activity and the government can control it. The government as well is thinking they can tax this and make some much needed revenue.
The effects of this prop could potentially be tremendous. First of all, if it becomes legal here it opens the door for other states to legalize it as well. And we cannot forget the tiny issue of the Supreme Court making it illegal to sell medical marijuana (let alone marijuana). One question we need to ask is, will, if this prop passes, the President enforce the Supreme Court's decision. Then we have the whole problem of more people will be smoking it if it's legal because the prices will drop (because it's readily available) and therefore it's cheaper to buy. Why do we want more people addicted to drugs? I don't get it. It seems like the government is profiting off people's pain and addictions. Sure cigarettes are legal, but the effects of cigarettes aren't as harmful as marijuana. Marijuana kills your brian cells and addiction to it can ruin your life. Another qualm I have with it is that there is no way the government can control every aspect of this. Marijuana use will be running rampant and people will be smoking while driving as well as in public (giving people contact highs). Sure, the police will try to control it, but they can't be everywhere at once. Do we really need more dead teens, mothers, children, and husbands because of high drivers? No. Also, this will bring even more drug dealers into our cities, and with it crime and fights. My last point, I think legalizing something that does so much harm to people's lives (as well as their bodies) should not be endorsed by the government.
`All in all, I very much disagree with Prop 19 and will definitely be voting NO on November 2. I believe Anya was pro prop 19, so she might have a rebuttal to this post

To check out a funny story of two journalists getting high because the city attorney (of LA) asked them to read here for part one and here for part two

Oh, and please vote, if you're able, on November 2. It's very important!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nevada Senate Debate Recap

(Was there any hope of me getting any calculus done with CSPAN on? Of course not! On that note: can you be addicted to CSPAN? I have a feeling I'm well on my way. Anyway.)

Harry Reid was a train wreck.  And I'm saying this as a diehard liberal who has appreciated Reid's work in the Senate for years and who thinks Angle is a bit of a nutcase.  Reid was full of traditional Senate-speak (Dude, if you're going to mention the CBO three times in as many minutes, at least do the non-political-junkies in the audience a favor and explain that it means 'Congressional Budget Office'), dated himself constantly (people don't want to be reminded that he's a Washington creature), and missed beautiful golden opportunities to attack Angle on education and Social Security.  And don't even get me started on his weird description of colonoscopies (EW!) or his painful 'watch me fumble for my notes and then rush through a few talking points' closing statement.

Sharron Angle, on the other hand, benefitted from the incredibly low expectations everyone had for her. She only had to come across as mildly competent for her to be able to chalk this up as a win.  Is anyone else appalled at the low standard we have set for the lady who's likely to be our next senator from Nevada?  Most of her answers were very obviously canned one-liners (I literally fell out of my chair when she brought out the "man up, Harry Reid!"), which makes it even more pathetic that she basically trounced Reid on many questions.

Overall, I don't think either Reid or Angle clearly won the debate.  Which, in this case, means that Angle won.  Normally in debates with no clear winner I'd award the debate to the incumbent, but this is a special occasion.  Voters, after all, are looking for an excuse to get rid of Reid (which is why a large part of Angle's campaign has been to say 'Whatever Reid did, I won't do).  They don't really care about Angle's Social Security flip-flopping, or her bizarre ideas about getting rid of the Department of Education and the EPA.

So, what does this mean for the election?  I don't know that either candidate did well enough to sway a significant number of voters -- or even really any voters -- to their side.  Actually, I think that if any candidate benefitted from the debate, it's that quirky, special-to-Nevada "none of the above".  Heck, if I had the chance (read: if I lived in Nevada instead of Massachusetts and was old enough to legally vote) I'd pick "none of the above".  I do think though that if Democrats manage to retain control of the Senate they'll think twice before keeping Reid as majority leader.

Drinking game buzzwords (I was drinking tea, y'all, get your minds out of the gutter ;D): Reid -- "Extreme", and all its variations.  Angle -- "Obamacare", "Ronald Reagan", "Unconstitutional"

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why Democrats Will Lose in November

To start off, let me just say that I hope I'm massively wrong about this.  I'm a Democrat and a committed progressive, and I die a little bit inside as poll after poll comes out shifting more House and Senate races towards the Republicans.  And not just the Olympia Snowe Republicans, the "yeah, it sucks that they usually vote party line, but at least they can be counted on to have common sense" Republicans.  No, these races are shifting to Rand "The Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional" Paul, Christine "I use campaign donations to pay for my house" O'Donnell, Sharron "let's allow preachers to endorse candidates from the pulpit" Angle, Jim "Single mothers and gay people shouldn't be allowed to teach in public schools" DeMint, and Joe "Social Security has stolen all my money from me" Miller.  Scared yet?  That's how they want you to feel.

Now, pop quiz: How many Democratic candidates have such easily recognizable positions?  They don't even have to be as far out as these ones, just . . . recognizable.  If you answered "none", sad to say, I'm right there with you.  Democratic candidates are unwilling to embrace with such fervor their positions and programs that they've worked on these past two years.  Why?  Because the Republicans have succeeded in spinning programs like TARP (which wasn't even an Obama program), the bailout, and the healthcare bill as evils.   People who say "TARP worked!" or "The healthcare bill is going to help bring about better lives for us and our children" aren't heard, because that's not what the public wants to hear.  It doesn't make good stories.  The airwaves are a battlefield, TV ads are skirmishes, and oftentimes I feel like Democrats have surrendered before even trying to fight.

If Democrats lose badly in November, it won't just be because the party who hold the presidency usually loses in midterms.  It will be because they have been unwilling to embrace their successes.  It will be because they have let the Republicans take their accomplishments and spin them into unrecognizable caricatures of themselves.  Republicans laugh off climate change, refuse to accept equality for gays and lesbians, paint TARP and the bailouts as failures, and flat-out lie about some of the most important issues  facing America.  And, somehow, all the Democrats can come up with is "Things are awful now, but they'll be worse with the Republicans in charge"?  Well, guess what, people should have a very clear picture of what America would be like with the Republicans in charge just based on their ads.  We don't need all the Democratic ads to be saying that.

We need Democrats to be out there counter-spinning the Republicans.  We need them to be a voice for truth, for justice.  We don't need all of their negative ads that just repeat "so-and-so outsourced jobs, so-and-so's a birther" because we already know that from said candidate's own statements.  What the Democrats should be doing is talking about their achievements.  We need Barbara Boxer talking about her environmental protection legislational achievements, Harry Reid to talk about why healthcare is good, Kirsten Gillibrand to talk about her leadership on repealing DADT.  Democrats don't need to show why Republicans are worse, they need to show why they are better.  And yes, those are two very different things.  Let the Christine O'Donnell's self-immolate on their own pyres of ludicrousness.  You don't need to do their jobs for them.

If Democrats lose in November, it won't be because the Republicans have more mainstream appeal, or better ideas on how to fix the country.  It will be because they lost the media/PR war.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What's Going On In Arizona?

So, this topic has been introduced to us a couple months ago and that's the new Arizona immigration law that would take effect July 29.

This new law, "directs officers to question people about their immigration status during the enforcement of any other laws such as traffic stops and if there's a reasonable suspicion they're in the U.S illegally." But it's the "suspicion" part of the equation people have the most problem with. How can you tell what an illegal immigrant is before you look at their papers? Well, because it's Arizona, the police will be looking for Hispanics...but not all Hispanics are illegal and not all Hispanics carry their Immigration Visas around with them or their birth certificates.

That's where the racial profiling comes in, because they're saying this race is illegal and therefore we have the right to pull them over, etc. But what really is racial profiling? This term has been popping up in the news fairly regularly, but I have an inkling many people don't really know what it is or why it's "wrong". Reason magazine states, "Although there is no single, universally accepted definition of 'racial profiling,' we're using the term to designate the practice of stopping and inspecting people who are passing through public places -- such as drivers on public highways or pedestrians in airports or urban areas -- where the reason for the stop is a statistical profile of the detainee's race or ethnicity." That is the definition of racial profiling and that's what the Arizona law wants the police to do.
As you can see, there isn't much doubt that the law is racial profiling but also that isn't unconstitutional or illegal (so far). However, there is a lawsuit going on to stop this law from taking effect.
So, if the fact that it utilizes "racial profiling" isn't enough to stop this new law, what can? Interestingly enough, the government's basis for a lawsuit against this law (and Arizona) is states' rights: basically, federalism. The Obama administration argued that immigration is something that the federal government legislates, not individual states. The Supremacy clause in Article VI of the Constitution states that the "Constitution and the laws of the United States...shall be the supreme law of the land...anything in the constitutions or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." That is interpreted to mean that any law the Federal government makes is the "supreme law of the land" and it trumps any state laws. In connection with the Arizona case, the U.S. government wrote that the "provisions of S.B. 1070 [the Arizona law] are therefore preempted by federal law". They go on to write that, "While holding that the '[p]ower to regulate immigration is unquestionably exclusively a federal power,' the Supreme Court concluded that not every state enactment 'which in any way deals with aliens is a regulation of immigration and thus per se preempted by this constitutional power, whether latent or exercised.' De Canas v. Bica, 424 U.S. 351, 354-355 (1976)."

To put this all in layman's terms, the Supreme Court has ruled before that immigration falls under the category of something the federal government dictates. They go on to connect this with the supremacy clause to make the point that their laws go above what the state government does. After hearing the case and looking at the current laws Judge Bolton ruled on the case recently and issued an injunction to stop the law from taking effect. One of her reasons for issuing the injunction was because , "Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely preempted by federal law to be enforced."

In my personal opinion, I think she made the right decision.
Although this issue seems to be over now, there is a very good chance this case will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court because of the federalism issue and also the civil liberties issue. This issue is still important to us because it shows how much we want immigration control (well, at lest Arizonans). Immigration is a big issue right now because of the downturn of the economy. People are angry and think their jobs are being "stolen" from them. But I don't think this law is the way to handle immigration at all. We cannot strip liberties away from an essentially defenseless group. Instead, if the country decides we want to increase immigration control, we should strengthen our borders. Another thing to consider would be amnesty; let the people here have a chance at the real American dream. Whatever the government decides to do, racial profilin" cannot be a part of the equation.

Further reading:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anna Nicole Smith Trial: Day One Recap

Last Wednesday we were able to watch the opening arguments for the defense in the case of The People vs. Khristine Eroshevich, Sandeep Kapoor, and Howard K. Stern, more colloquially known as the "Anna Nicole Smith case". The defendants are charged with, " unlawfully prescribing a controlled substance to an addict, obtaining a prescription by deceit, fraud, and conspiracy." Dr. Eroshevich was a psychiatrist and Ms. Smith's former neighbor, Dr, Kapoor prescribed medicine for Ms. Smith and was her doctor, and Howard K. Stern was Anna's lawyer as well as friend/partner. The lawyers for the defense are Ms. Garofalo representing Dr. Kapoor, Mr. Sadow representing Mr. Stern, and Mr. Braun representing Dr. Eroshevich.

I unfortunately didn't catch Mr. Sadow's argument on paper. But he basically attested to the fact that Mr. Stern loved Anna and wouldn't do anything to hurt her. He said she needed the drugs to be out of pain and that Howard K. Stern would do anything to soothe her pain.

Dr. Kapoor's attorney said that Anna and Dr. Kapoor had no "social relationship". Dr. Kapoor was not her primary doctor by any means, Dr. Kovner was the one in charge of managing her pain. She went on to chronicle how Ms. Smith had a history of "chronic" pain and for this pain she took opiates, benzo's, and other similar drugs. Dr. Kapoor never doubted that she was actually in pain. And when Ms. Smith followed Dr. Kapoor's pain management plan she felt okay. The lawyer reiterated many times that Anna had, "long term, chronic, unrelenting pain that must be treated". The lawyer stated that there was a legitimate medical purpose to prescribe her medication (and feed her addiction) because of this chronic pain. She also mentioned that the doctor's medical judgement wasn't criminal and that the doctor should be immune from prosecution because the doctor acted in good faith. During Smith's treatment Dr. Kapoor was super vigilant in managing her medication, but Ms. Smith neglected to tell him about her pregnancy. After he found out about her pregnancy he arranged for her to go to Cedars. Cedars used the same regimen of drugs that Dr. Kapoor put her on, lowering the dosages during the last few months of pregnancy to try to get her off her medications. Basically, the layer was arguing to the jury that Dr. Kapoor acted correctly in prescribing her medications while she was addicted to them (feeding her habit) because of her chronic pain and that was corroborated by other doctors and Cedars.

Mr. Braun came at the jury from a different angle, first talking about how the facts of the case changed. He mentioned many times that the people saying Dr. Eroshevich acted badly were "corrupted" by fame and fortune and therefore were changing the facts of the case. He then went a bit into Dr. E's background to make the point she was a "real" doctor, not a doctor seeking fame. In fact, she stumbled into this by accident. She was Anna's neighbor and met her at a party. So, when Ms. Smith hurt her back she called Dr. E to prescribe her some medication. Dr. E was criticized for not performing tests, but many doctors medicate first before they do tests because they see the symptoms and know what to prescribe. If the medication doesn't work, then they do tests. Then the attorney recounts how Ms. Smith called Dr. E in a "panic" after her son died. She needed medication so Dr. E brought her anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication in Bermuda. They bought different types of medications (her and doctor K) to see which one would work and help her. They were criticized for buying to many and that all of those drugs together was "pharma suicide", but it wasn't since all of the medications weren't taken together. The issue of pseudonyms was mentioned by her attorney and he said that they used different names for Smith to protect her privacy not to conceal improper activities. Also, some "proof" offered by her attorney was that if Dr. E was trying to hide something why would she willfully turn over Smith's various medications to the coroner? She wouldn't.

Then the court recessed for the afternoon.

All in all, the opening arguments were really interesting and a lot of good questions were posed to the jury.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Elevator Quotes

So, we have decided to chronicle some of the funniest things we've heard on the elevator going to court. Please enjoy:

Sheriff's Deputy 1: Man, I hope they didn't tow our car!
Deputy 2: Yeah, then we'd have to take the subway back to Long Beach for the rest of our work day.
Deputy 1 (to Anya and Ashley): Did you guys drive here? Do you have a car? Are you going to Long Beach?
Ashley: No, we took the subway.
Deputy 2 (The 6’5’’, 220 lb. man with a gun and awesome tattoos): Was it scary?


Random Press Guy 1: "These elevators are about the only thing slower than the criminal justice system."
Everyone Else In The Elevator: *General chuckles, snickers, and murmurs of agreement*
Random Press Guy 1: Speaking of, you know, the legal system is like a constipated elephant. Nothing happens for months, then suddenly there's a huge pile of crap that nobody wants to deal with.
Everyone Else In The Elevator: *Dies of laughter*
Random Press Guy 2: You . . . really have a way with words, man!

That's all for now, but we will be going into court this week too so hopefully we'll have some more quotes for ya'll.

"All arise for the Hon. Judge..."

We (as in Anya and I and our friend Julianne) have been quite busy this past week watching/following various and sundry cases at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Center (L.A.s criminal court) located on Temple street (in downtown). Look forward to some amusing elevator quotes, a summary of the Anna Nicole Smith trial's opening arguments made by the defense attorneys (yes, there were three people being tried and each one had two lawyers). Also, we will summarize another case involving a gang member in possession of a loaded firearm (however, we will not use real names...sorry). It has been a very amusing week which started off with seeing a pretty high profile case and getting asked if the subway was scary and ended with an interesting mistrial and brownies made by a judge.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prop 8 Has Been Ruled Unconstitutional

To the surprise of no one who's actually read the Constitution, a federal judge found California's Proposition 8, limiting marriage to a union between a man and a woman, unconstitutional.  The 138 page opinion was the best court judgment I've ever read, and I read Supreme Court decisions for fun! This case has been dissected inside and out, both on this blog and on every other news site that exists, and I don't know that there's anything new I can say that hasn't been said by the incomparable Dahlia Lithwick (her article is here). So instead, I will show you a sample of tweets from my Twitter homepage on August 4.

@PauleyP: Prop 8 just overturned and ruled unconstitutional. For all my friends and their loved ones and those I don't know, Here's a hug. God Bless.
Actress Pauley Perrette, best known as Abby Sciuto on NCIS

@SpeakerPelosi: Very joyful court ruled against #prop8, it is a stain upon the CA Constitution. All families must be treated equally!
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

@GavinNewsom: The federal court has struck down Prop 8! A major victory for equal rights & for thousands of committed couples, families & friends in CA.
Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom

@wilw: Congratulations to all my friends who can now get married again. It's disgraceful that there's even a question about your rights.
Actor Wil Wheton, best known as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation

@marycmccormack: prop 8 overturned. It's about time California!
Actress Mary McCormack, best known as Mary Shannon on In Plain Sight

@JoseMolinaTV: Happy #GayDay, California! Way to fight H8 -- now let's keep fighting till the war is won.
Writer Jose Molina, who was worked on Firefly, Castle, Clone Wars, and Haven

@AllisonScag: RT @TheMichaelD1985:Equality has made a giant leap forward in the great state of California. Days when reason beats insanity are rare, soak it up people.
Actress Allison Scagliotti, best known as Claudia Donovan on Warehouse 13

I wonder if this says more about me and the people I follow than about the feelings of the population in general (most of these people are, after all, actors from rather liberal Hollywood, and the rest of the "people" are actually newspapers that wouldn't express an opinion). However, it was really nice to see such positive sentiments.

I'm also going to take this opportunity to beg you, no matter which side of the Prop 8 debate you fall on, to read the opinion. It takes 20 minutes and it's eloquent, moving, and above all, smart. Sooo well worth it!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Speak Up to Remain Silent: An Analysis of Berghuis v. Thompkins

Anyone who's seen even one episode of a cop show on TV knows the Miranda warnings: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."  And so on.  What most people don't realize is that those are simply the rights enumerated in the fifth and sixth amendments.  Police have been required to inform suspects of those rights since the Supreme Court's ruling in Miranda v. Arizona in 1966. After those warnings, a suspect can request a lawyer, or they can start talking to the police.

The ruling in Berghuis v. Thompkins, though decried by some as an abuse of suspects'/prisoners' rights, is actually a welcome clarification as to how these rights can we waived or claimed. It says that "If the accused makes an 'ambiguous or equivocal' statement or no statement, the police are not required to end the interrogation". In other words, if you want to remain silent, you must say so. Simply remaining silent is not enough to claim the right against self-incrimination, a statement something along the lines of "I'm not going to talk to the police" must be made. (Sotomayor's dissent criticized that decision, because she said police were not likely to inform suspects what words to use to invoke their right. I . . . don't think it's that hard to figure out.) This is not a decision that comes out of the blue: The Court already rules in Davis v. United States that a suspect's right to counsel must be unambiguously invoked; there is no reason to treat the right to remain to silent any differently.

The facts of the case are these: Van Chester Thompkins was arrested in 2000 for his role in a drive-by shooting in Michigan. As Lyle Denniston wrote for SCOTUSblog, "At the beginning, they warned him about his rights, and asked him to read part of the list out loud, to make sure he understood English. But he refused to sign the form, showing he understood his rights. There is a dispute about whether he ever was asked orally whether he understood the warnings." During his three hour interrogation, he was mostly silent, answering very few questions (when he did answer, it was in monosyllables). Near the end, the officers asked if Thompkins prayed to god for forgiveness for shooting the boy, and Thompkins answered "yes". That was used as his confession in court, and he was convicted. He later appealed, saying that he, by his general uncooperativeness, had invoked his right to silence. After all the state courts ruled against him, he finally won in the Sixth Circuit. Michigan appealed to the Supreme Court.

Although I don't agree that this is a sweeping re-writing or gutting of the Miranda ruling, warning, or rights, this case offered the opportunity for such re-interpretation. But the thing is, Thompkins really did himself no favors during his interrogation. As Justice Kennedy says, “If Thompkins wanted to remain silent, he could have said nothing in response to [the detective's] questions, or he could have unambiguously invoked his Miranda rights and ended the interrogation.” Thompkins had answered some questions earlier in the interrogation, and he had refused to answer others. He could easily have not said anything.

This ruling is a welcome clarification for suspects and police officers alike. As the American Thinker wrote, "In assessing the rights and requirements of both law enforcement and the accused, the Supreme Court has applied a reasonable standard to both parties while balancing the rights of the individual with the necessity of protecting lawful interrogations." Under this decision, it will be clear what statements are and aren't admissible in Court. Miranda requires that a suspect "knowingly and intelligently" waived his rights. Well, Thompkins answered questions posed to him by the police. I can't think of any situation in which that would not be considered a waiver of the right to remain silent. Thompkins follows established precedent (the Davis case) and places responsibility on both the police and the suspect, protecting both their rights, while making it easier for the police to gain admissible confessions legally an constitutionally.

As a side note, I find it rather amusing that I, the liberal, am siding with the conservatives in this case; and Ashley, the conservative, is siding with the liberals :).

Further Reading:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Real Shirley Sherrod Scandal

No matter how much we like to think that we live in a post-racial world, where black and white doesn't matter and everyone has the same opportunities, that's just not true.  And there is perhaps no better example of that than the Shirley Sherrod controversy that has been raging for the past few days.

At an NAACP dinner a few months ago, Sherrod told a story about her time working in an advocacy agency helping black Southern farmers keep their land back in the eighties. The first time a white farmer came to her for help, she struggled with what to do since her father had been killed by a Klansman: "He took a long time talking but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn't know, while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me, was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland." She goes on to relate how the experience was a revelation to her, how it helped her move beyond race and focus instead on helping the impoverished: "I didn't discriminate ... If I had discriminated against him, I would not have given him any help at all because I wasn't obligated to do it by anyone ... I didn't have to help that farmer. I could have sent him out the door without giving him any help at all. But in the end, we became very good friends, and that friendship lasted for some years. [...] Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who haven't. They could be black, they could be white, they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to help poor people - those who don't have access the way others have."

And then someone over at Fox News took pruning shears (or, really, more of a hatchet) to the video of her speech, painting her as a racist who was using her government job to oppress the poor white people.  Now, there's a couple things wrong with this representation.  First, Sherrod wasn't working with the government when the incident happened (she only took up her post last year).  Second, CNN decided to do some real investigative journalism into the matter and was interviewing the alleged victims of Sherrod's racism, who said that not only had Sherrod been more than helpful, she saved their farm. (Incidentally, they also had on Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who released the chopped video, and he said he doubted the identity of the farmer's wife during the interviews).

But that didn't seem to matter to the USDA, which promptly kicked her out (with prompting from the White House), claiming a 'zero-tolerance' policy on racism.  Do they also have a zero-tolerance policy on suspensions, investigations, and disciplinary boards?  The Obama White House has faced criticism for being too slow to react to the oil spill, the economy, and countless other things.  But oh man, did they ever pick the wrong issue to act quickly on.

The real Shirley Sherrod scandal is not what she said or did twenty years ago.  The real scandal is twofold.  One: The lying and misrepresentation going on at Fox News, and the lack of censure faced by Andrew Breitbart (as Rachel Maddow so wonderfully put it, "Omission Accomplished"). There is a reason that the slogan for journalists says: "Get it first. But first, get it right". And two: That the White House, which just a few months ago was decrying Fox as entertainment and not news, would help fire a USDA staffer when Fox is the only network reporting on a (non)incident from so long ago.

Update: Now that the uncut video has come out, the administration and the USDA have both issued apologies to Sherrod, as well as offering her a new job. She has not made a decision on whether or not to accept it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's OK to Stop People From Discriminating: An Analysis of CLS v. Martinez

You might be wondering why it is necessary for the highest court in the land to have to hand that seemingly obvious message down from the bench in one of the last four rulings before the Court adjourns for April. Yet that's exactly what they were forced to do in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, brought before the Court by the Hastings College of Law chapter of the CLS, who were less than pleased that they couldn't get school funds and resources if they banned gays and non-Christians from their group.

Basically, the facts of the case are this.  The law school of Hastings College has a policy that all of its student groups must accept anyone who wishes to join, or lose official recognition, money from the school's activities fund, school letterhead, and other such perks. The Christian Legal Society, which requires members to sign a code that affirms, among other things, the belief in god as savior and the rejection of any and all aberrant sexual conduct, was denied recognition and promptly sued.  They alleged that not only were they being unfairly targeted because of their religion, but that the whole policy was unconstitutional.  The Court, divided 5-4 along the familiar lines of major cases, ruled in favor of the law school. 

There was a Constitutional issue in the case, I think, flitting around the role public schools play in promoting religion and/or religious tolerance.  In fact, that's why I originally followed/decided to write about it.  But I was hard pressed to find it in the actual case.  I read all the opinions (and undertaking requiring multiple hours and countless repetitions of the Battlestar Galactica soundtracks) but couldn't quite bring myself to do more than skim the oral argument transcripts after reading through SCOTUSWiki's summaries.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg's majority opinion reads more like a lecture to the lawyers on the actual meaning of a "stipulation", specifically, the joint stipulation that Hastings' policy was "all-comers" and applied to everyone neutrally.  There was a certain amount of civic-mindedness driving the Court as well: Anthony Kennedy wrote that “A vibrant dialogue is not possible if students wall themselves off from opposing points of view" — which might be read, in less-Courtly terms, "Get over it."  Samuel Alito's dissent took a different view of the record (including the stipulation) and used the fact that only the CLS had been banned from recognition under the policy to argue that the policy unfairly singled out because of their beliefs.

Actually, no one, the Court included and especially, seems to be quite clear on what the policy — and maybe even the argument — was.  There were, as I have stated before, two issues: The policy, and the way the CLS was treated under that policy.  In the joint stipulation, it was stated that the policy was an all-comers policy that was applied neutrally and had nothing to do with religious beliefs.  Apparently just realizing that that was rather damaging to their case, the CLS lawyers tried to backtrack, only to be met by an implacable stone wall otherwise known as Ruth Bader Ginsburg who declared that the two sides had told the District judge "Here are the facts, and the facts were not qualified at all".  It was even suggested by Gregory Garre, arguing for the College, that perhaps the case should be dismissed as a mistake.

The weird part is that there is a constitutional issue here: how far colleges can go in supporting/suppressing religious groups, and that was rarely touched upon.  Actually, no.  Scratch that.  That's what the CLS lawyers were arguing.  This case has nothing to do with religion.  It has to do with a policy that is designed to promote fairness and inclusiveness.  It has to do with an appeal that merited a bare 2 sentences from the 9th Circuit because the core issue had been decided in a stipulation: If Hastings' policy was inherently unfair, and specifically unfairly applied to religious groups, then how could lawyers from both sides have written that stipulation?

What the CLS seemed unwilling to realize in this case is that Hastings' policy is not an attack on them and their religious beliefs.  It is not a restriction on their rights, it is an expansion of the rights of others.  None of the other organizations at Hastings (including, presumably, other religious organizations) had any problem adhering to the policy.  In fact, the CLS itself had held to the policy until it affiliated with a national organization and adopted the new, stricter, more discriminatory rules.  Even without this ruling, the group would not be banned, or even kicked off campus.  The verdict is a victory, in a way, because it affirms the rights of schools to make and enforce their own discrimination policies, including those which bar all forms of discrimination.  But the fact that this came before the Court, in a case where there was no circuit conflict and a barely-there constitutional issue, is a bit baffling.  As Lyle Denniston wrote for SCOTUSBlog, "When the Supreme Court is confronting a major constitutional decision, but Justice Anthony M. Kennedy begins the questioning by wondering exactly what case is before the Court, the chances that a big decision will emerge drop perceptibly at the very outset. And when Kennedy is followed by several colleagues voicing deep doubts about what the facts are, the case begins to look very much like a waste of judicial time."  Which it was.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Supreme Court's Decision on McDonald v. Chicago

The decision and opinion for McDonald v. Chicago recently came out before the Court closed for the summer session. The Court sided 5-4 with the petitioner's (McDonald et al). The fun thing about moot court is seeing how your justices decided vs. the actual Court so that's why I thought I'd follow through with bringing out the decision.

This means the Court has decided to incorporate (make binding on the states) the Second Amendment via the Fourteenth Amendment (which is used to incorporate). So now states can't make laws that ban guns (like handguns in the case of Chicago), but there probably will be some regulation power used by the states. All in all, this is a really important case and some things will be changing.

To read more about the case and to get the majority opinion written by Justice Alito go here.
And if there are any questions about the case please comment or e-mail me at