Below is today’s column on the calls for expanding security and surveillance powers in the aftermath of the Boston bombing. (An Internet version ran last week but was updated for print) [I untangled one line that was changed in editing]. My greatest concern is that the Boston response will become the accepted or standard procedure in shutting down cities and ordering warrantless searches. No politicians wants to be seen questioning the necessity or efficacy of such measures out of fear of appearing “soft” on terror.
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Pavlovian Politics: Leaders Line Up To Call For Increased Surveillance In Aftermath of Boston BombingPublished 1, April 19, 2013 Columns , Congress , Constitutional Law , Criminal law , Justice , Politics , Society 89 Comments
Below is my column today in USA Today on the Boston bombing and the call for new security laws and expanded surveillance. I have been doing interviews trying to caution against these calls for immediate action — a mantra that we hear after every attack no matter the cause. I am in Chicago today and was struck by how quickly Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel called for more surveillance cameras in a city with one of the largest surveillance systems in the United States.
This column is meant to show that there is a broader problem in the rush to claim common material, images, and terms. Perhaps it was inevitable that with the ever expanding patent, copyright, and trademark laws, mankind itself would become a form of property: the ultimate evolution from creator to object.
Continue reading ‘From Creator To Object: The Supreme Court To Consider Patent Claim To Human Genes’
Below is today’s column in USA Today. It is a follow up to my speech at the National Press Club on the 4oth anniversary of Watergate. The event included a number of Watergate figures from Daniel Ellsberg to Liz Holtzman to Alexander Butterfield and others. It was an extraordinary event organized by Common Cause.
After the Inauguration, I shared my thoughts on President Barack Obama’s address. I liked the speech but, as with many civil libertarians, I do not share the faith in his commitment to principle — at least not the principles behind civil liberties. Below is today’s print column that touches on some of the same themes with a few additional observations.
Below is my column today in USA Today on the Inauguration Speech of President Obama. Unfortunately, my family got back and reported that the Jumbotron or giant screen was malfunctioning so they missed the entire inauguration speech. Thousands of people were similarly deprived by whatever contractor was handling the screen — a terrible disappointment for thousands who came from all over the country.
Here is the column.
Below is my column this morning in USA Today on a campaign by the Obama Administration to pressure colleges and universities to reduce due process protections for students accused of sexual harassment and sexual violence. I have previously written a letter to my own university opposing some of these specific changes, though (like many schools) George Washington appears to be yielding to the pressure. I understand the concern of the Administration and the need to protect victims in this difficult process. We are all committed to maintaining a protective environment for both students and faculty. However, there are other ways to offer such protections without stripping away core due process protections in my view. My greatest concern is with the sexual violence cases because these adjudications will have a lifelong impact on the students (or faculty members) as well as consequences for collateral criminal proceedings. The column below is slightly expanded with material cut for space in the newspaper version.
Supreme Failure: Chicago’s Anita Alvarez and the Campaign To Criminalize Citizen Monitoring of PolicePublished 1, December 2, 2012 Academics , Columns , Constitutional Law , Criminal law , Free Speech , Media , Politics , Society , Supreme Court , Torts 37 Comments
Below is my column today in the Sunday Chicago Tribune on the recent denial of review by the Supreme Court in the Illinois eavesdropping case that we discussed earlier.
The ABA Journal has released its list of the top 100 legal blogs in the world and we are once again in this august group of blogs. Congratulations to all of our regulars contributors and weekend bloggers. We have previously taken the top spot under the opinion category in the past but the ABA has now eliminated that category. Even more ominous was the decision to put the largest blogs in direct competition under an expanded “News/Analysis” category. This includes the long dominant “Above the Law” site. We would have to punch considerably above our weight to beat “Above the Law,” which is ranking regularly in the top two most visited legal sites in the world. Frankly, it is like a dingy going up against a battleship. However, we have never flinched in the face of superior numbers. So it is time to vote! It takes a very quick registration. Just click here and cast your vote today!
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. This is my favorite holiday with all of the essential elements of joy: food, friends, and football. Continue reading ‘HAPPY THANKSGIVING!’
Below is my column today in USA Today on some of the state referendum votes last week. While the presidential election was understandably the focus of media commentary, state referendum votes held some surprises. At a time when a majority of citizens view our political system as dysfunctional and unresponsive, these referendums show that citizens can still take direct action in seeking change. Here is the column:
Continue reading ‘Will We Tolerate Democracy?’
Here is my column today in USA Today calling on the Olympic committee to consider an overhaul of Olympic rules to update procedures and remove archaic and discriminatory rules. While some may treat this as a call for a new Olympic legal team, it is merely an effort to get the Olympic to guarantee greater fairness with a systemic review of the rules for various sports. What bothers me is to see avoidable mistakes treated like just part of the games, even though they do great injustice to athletes who sacrificed so much to get to these cameras.
There are news reports that Anthony Weiner has contacted former staffers to ask them to come back to work for him as he prepares to run again for office, including a possible run for mayor of New York or public advocate. Weiner left office after repeatedly lying to his constituents, colleagues, and the media about sending nude pictures of himself to women and accusing people of hacking into this phone. Women stated that they felt harassed by the photos that were sent without their solicitation or consent.
Below is today’s column in USA Today on the health care decision. Though I support President Obama’s effort to establish health care, I have always opposed the individual mandate as a violation of federalism principles. What is fascinating is how some challengers have heralded yesterday’s decision as a victory of federalism. As shown below, I do not take that view.
Below is my column in today’s Guardian newspaper — a further discussion of my proposal to expand the Supreme Court. While overlapping a bit with the column on Sunday in the Washington Post, the piece adds a few new details on the proposal that I first made over ten years ago.
Below is today’s column in The Washington Post Sunday Outlook. Due to the normal space restraints, the original article had to be cut down. Given the high number of comments and questions about the proposal (which I first made years ago) for the expansion of the Supreme Court, I have posted the longer, original piece. That longer version addresses some of the questions raised by readers.
It could all be in the hands of just one justice. After a 14-month fight in Congress and an unprecedented challenge by states to the power of the federal government, the fate of health care in this country is likely to be decided by a 5-4 vote.
The same may be true when the court rules on Arizona’s immigration law and a sweeping free speech case.
As speculation and anxiety grow over these cases, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently alluded in a speech to “sharp disagreement” in the Supreme Court’s outstanding opinions, while saying that “those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.”
It’s not terribly productive to try to guess how the court will rule in these cases — we’ll find out soon enough. It’s far more important to ask whether “those who know” are too few and whether “those who don’t know” should demand to reform the court.
The power of the Supreme Court will always be controversial because of the fact that the justices are the final word in legal disputes. Justice Robert Jackson wrote in 1953, “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.” An individual’s view of the court can depend on whose ox is being gored by its decisions; a “judicial activist” is often just a jurist who doesn’t do what you want. Any Supreme Court of any size will always render unpopular decisions. It is supposed to. Federal judges are given life tenure to insulate them from public opinion, so they can protect minority interests and basic liberties.
But how many people should it take to come up with the final word on such questions? Our highest court is so small that the views of individual justices have a distorting and idiosyncratic effect on our laws. The deep respect for the Supreme Court as an institution often blinds us to its flaws, the greatest of which is that it is demonstrably too small. Nine members is one of the worst numbers you could pick — and it’s certainly not what the founders chose. The Constitution does not specify the number of justices, and the court’s size has fluctuated through the years. It’s time for it to change again.
A national poll this month showed that the public overwhelmingly opposes how the court functions. Only 44 percent of citizens approved of how the court is doing its job, and 60 percent thought that appointing Supreme Court justices for life is a “bad thing” because it “gives them too much power.”
Many people started looking critically at the court’s structure after the Bush v. Gore decision in 2000 — and the power that case gave to just five unelected individuals. One of the most disturbing aspects of the case was not simply that some justices appeared to depart from prior legal views but that the court insisted that its opinion could not be used as precedent and was “limited to the present circumstances.” Five justices did not want their reasoning used for anything other than selecting the next president of the United States.
The health-care decision comes 75 years after the famous “court packing” effort of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As it is today, the country in 1937 was in the midst of an economic crisis, and Roosevelt was saddled with four conservative justices — known as the “Four Horsemen” — who opposed his New Deal. Three justices, called the “Three Musketeers,” were predictably liberal but could not carry the day against the Four Horsemen and Associate Justice Owen Roberts, who was often a swing vote.
Roosevelt decided to introduce a bill to allow him to appoint up to six additional justices. This could have led to a real crisis. But disaster was averted when Roberts voted to support a critical New Deal case and “Horseman” Justice Willis Van Devanter retired — the “switch in time that saved nine” moment for the court. However, Roosevelt may have had the right idea for the wrong reason.
The nine-member court is a product not of some profound debate or study, but pure happenstance. The first Supreme Court had an even more ill-conceived number of justices: six. In fact, when the court first convened in 1790 at the Royal Exchange Building in New York, only two justices were present (fortunately, it had no cases on its docket). After that time, the size of the court expanded and shrank, largely with the number of federal circuits. Since justices once “rode circuit” and sat as judges in lower courts, Congress would add a justice when it added a circuit or reduce the number with the elimination of a circuit. Thus, when a 10th circuit was added in 1863, a 10th justice was added. In 1869, the court happened to have nine members for nine circuits. And that is where its size settled.
Justices detested riding circuit and persuaded Congress to end the practice in 1869. The court remained at nine members despite the fact that some federal courts of appeal now have as many as 29 judges. Ever since, we have repeatedly had 5-4 split decisions, with one or two swing justices dictating the outcome of cases. With the increasing longevity of justices, such divisions have become stagnant and bitter. Before Justice Anthony Kennedy was the primary swing vote, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was often the deciding vote and for years shaped the law according to her shifting views on subjects from the death penalty to privacy.
Some proposed Supreme Court reforms seek to break justices’ hold by rotating these positions among federal judges, while others call for mandatory retirement dates. But I believe that many of the court’s problems come back to its dysfunctionally small size. This is something that countries with larger high courts manage to avoid: Germany (16 members), Japan (15), United Kingdom (12) and Israel (15). France uses 124 judges and deputy judges, while Spain has 74. These systems have structural differences, but they eliminate the concentration-of-power problem that we have in the United States.
While the best number is debatable, I believe that a 19-member court — roughly the average size of a circuit court — would be ideal. Just because we settled on the number 9 arbitrarily does not mean that any number is as good as any other. A court with 19 or so members have been shown to work efficiently where a larger court would likely be unwieldy. Appellate circuits are often divided between liberal and conservative judges. Yet, it is rare that one or two of those judges consistently provide the swing votes on all issues when they sit “en banc,” or as a whole. Appellate courts of this size have proved to be manageable while allowing for more diversity in their members. More important, the power of individual judges is diluted.
The exaggerated power of each justice has also undermined the confirmation process. That, too, would improve with a larger bench. Because there are now so few positions, confirmation fights have become increasingly bitter, and presidents have become increasingly risk-averse in their nominations. Jurists are often selected because they have never said or written anything remotely provocative or even interesting. Many are chosen precisely because they are relative unknowns — such as O’Connor, David Souter, Clarence Thomas and most recently Elena Kagan. Bypassing clear intellectual leaders in courts, the bar and academia, modern nominees are picked as a type of judicial blind date. The chances that we could have a legal virtuoso such as Louis Brandeis or Joseph Story on the court in the current system are at best accidental.
How would we get to a court of 19? Gradually. If Congress ordered such an expansion, no president would be allowed to appoint more than two additional justices in a term. Once fully staffed, the court would have a more regular natural turnover. This would allow greater variety and a more consistent opportunity for each president to name members to the bench. It would also decrease the importance of individual justices hewing so closely to party lines — potentially allowing nominees with broader experience and ideas.
An expansion might also allow Congress to force justices to return to the worthwhile practice of sitting on lower courts for periods of time. One of the greatest complaints from lawyers and judges is that the justices are out of touch with the reality of legal practice. Having a 19-member court would allow two justices to sit on an appellate court each year by designation — and be forced to apply the rulings that the Supreme Court sends down.
We treat institutions such as the Supreme Court as inviolate. However, the framers not only gave us a brilliant system of government but the ability to improve it to better meet contemporary demands. The respect that most of us hold for the court should motivate us, not deter us, from reforming it. Just as the philosopher Jeremy Bentham called for “the greatest good for the greatest number,” sometimes the greatest good can be found in the greater number. When it comes to the Supreme Court, that number may be 19.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University, where he teaches a course on the Supreme Court.
Washington Post Sunday June 24, 2012
The Washington Post has posted my column for Sunday on expanding the Supreme Court. Due to space limitations, the original piece had to be cut back significantly, so below is the longer column. I will post the actual column on Sunday.
Below is today’s column on the continued use of state controls over alcohol in the United States. With the decision this month of Washington state to embrace the free market system and drop controls, citizens in other states are rightfully asking why officials keep this form of central planning, including officials in conservative states that purportedly favor free enterprise over government regulations.
Below is today’s column in the USA Today on the arguments this week in the immigration case, Arizona v. United States. (Docket No., 11-182). At issue is Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (S.B. 1070) directing state law-enforcement officers to cooperate and communicate with federal officials regarding the enforcement of federal immigration law. Beyond the difficult constitutional and statutory questions in the case, there is another element to the case that could come within months of the 12th anniversary of Bush v. Gore
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
At this point, to be honest, all of the back and forth regarding “evidence” in the Zimmerman Case that has occurred here over a number of threads has been mere speculation that misses the salient issues raised by this case. The real (admissible) evidence will be presented at the trial and a hopefully an unbiased jury will make its decisions. The issues that we need to discuss from my perspective are:
1. Did the Sanford Police make a mistake in releasing Zimmerman rather quickly and allowing him to retain his gun, which was potential evidence?
2. Was there undue outside influence used upon the police to end their investigation quickly?
3. Is there a degree of probability that in many Stand Your Ground venues, had the victim been white and the protagonist of color, that the protagonist would have been immediately arrested?
4. What are the purposes of a business oriented lobbying group, like ALEC, in getting “Stand Your Ground” Laws passed?
5. Is this once again an instance where a media circus has poisoned the ability to have a fair trial? Continue reading ‘Zimmerman: Media Circuses Make for Bad Justice’
Below is my column this morning in The Los Angeles Times on the increasing number of cases where teachers are punished for comments or activities in their private lives — often under nebulous disruption or moral turpitude grounds. While the recent case of a teacher moonlighting as a porn star in California raises understandable concerns for school officials, most of these cases involve either past conduct or clearly protected speech. This is part of a broader number of cases that we have been following dealing with public employees ranging from city managers to police officers to firefighters. The question is how much our public employees must confirm their political and social activities to satisfy members of the public.
Below is today’s column in The Los Angeles Times exploring the growing attacks on free speech in the West and the recent controversy of the “Zombie Mohammad” case.
Continue reading ‘Free Speech Under Fire’
Below is my column today in the Washington Post (Sunday) Outlook Section. The column concerns the Alvarez case to be heard on Wednesday before the Supreme Court. I have been a long critic of the Stolen Valor Act — not because I am not highly sympathetic to its purpose but because I am concerned about the means of achieving that purpose. I share the anger over people who falsely claim to be war heroes. However, the government often selects popular causes for expanding its power over speech or conduct of its citizens. The question before the Court is really not about this specific form of lying, but the legal basis for criminalizing lies generally. The Act is different in that it seeks to criminalize lies simply because they are lies as opposed to lies that are used to commit a specific crime like larceny or fraud or perjury. I also spoke to NPR on Talk To The Nation on this subject.
Continue reading ‘The Better Part of Valor: Should Lying About Medals Be A Crime?’
Below is today’s column, which concerns the subject upon which I will be testifying this morning before the full House Judiciary Committee: recess appointments.
Below is today’s column in the Sunday Washington Post. The column addresses how the continued rollbacks on civil liberties in the United States conflicts with the view of the country as the land of the free. If we are going to adopt Chinese legal principles, we should at least have the integrity to adopt one Chinese proverb: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.” We seem as a country to be in denial as to the implications of these laws and policies. Whether we are viewed as a free country with authoritarian inclinations or an authoritarian nation with free aspirations (or some other hybrid definition), we are clearly not what we once were. [Update: in addition to the column below, a later column in the Washington Post explores more closely the loss of free speech rights in the West].
Continue reading ’10 Reasons The U.S. Is No Longer The Land Of The Free’
Best wishes to everyone celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah. Continue reading ‘Merry Christmas To All’
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
It’s Christmastime again and since my childhood, long ago, the Frank Capra film “It’s A Wonderful Life” has been shown time and again in this season, providing a message of redemption, hope and joy that we associate with this time of year. You all know the plot about selfless George Bailey (James Stewart) a man who has sacrificed his dreams for others and because of his selflessness winds up running the Bailey Building and Loan Association, of Bedford Falls, NY. Because of George this institution has provided home loans for the poor of this rural community and serves as its bank. With the Company on the verge of bankruptcy, through duplicity, George is on the verge of suicide distraught over the losses to those he loves and worried by needs of the average people of his town. You all know this plot and if you don’t its summary is here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_a_Wonderful_Life#Plot . I must warn you, perhaps it’s the time of year but I choked up reading the plot, yet again, as I do every time I see this beloved movie.
This introduction has not been made because I’m about to write about banks, or the depredations of the banking industry. Others here and our host have already written extensively on the predatory nature of the banking industry and the harm it has caused to our country. My point of this opening is that we have all grown up with certain mythologies about businesses that provide financial services to the public. This film has had a place in defining that American mythology, in this instance about a bank of sorts, whose leader believes in aiding the community first and profits second. Myths shape our thinking and from my youth I still remember the ad slogan “You have a friend at Chase Manhattan”.
We’ve discovered that banks are anything but our friends. Their bottom line has surpassed service to the point that each customer is looked at as a “cash cow”, to be plundered incessantly with usurious interest and fees for what should be free services. But what about “You’re in Good Hands with Allstate”, “Nationwide Is On Your Side”, or “Like A Good Neighbor State Farm is There”? Surely the Insurance industry supplies the safety net we want for our homes and cars. Do they? Last week I was sent an article by the Independent Claims Adjuster handling my interminable case for mold damage to my home. He’s helping greatly so this isn’t about me, but the article he sent certainly puts into context all the delays in the process and how property insurance companies are maximizing their profits at the expense of their customers. Continue reading ‘The Real Insurance Frauds’
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
Sometimes a story comes around that writes itself and merely needs highlighting of certain facts to make its points. This link below will provide concrete data on why this country has become a corrupted corporatist state, along with why the federal budget deficit is so high. Its title is “For Hire: Lobbyists or the 99%? How Corporations Pay More for Lobbyists Than in Taxes”
What this document clearly shows, with highly readable charts is that 30 of the top US Corporations not only pay more for lobbying than in taxes, but in fact that they receive huge tax credits, although being highly profitable. Over a three year period 2008-2010 these companies had combined profits of $163.691 billion, received tax credits of $10.602 billion and spent $475.67 million on lobbying. Only one of these companies, FedEx, actually paid taxes. They paid $37 million in taxes, on a profit of $4.247 billion and spent $50.81 million for lobbying. As you might guess the most glaring example was General Electric whose profits were $10.460 billion, received tax credits of $4.737 billion and who spent $84.35 million in lobbying.
I could certainly provide you with commentary on this report, but the starkly written manner of the report and the easily read charts do a far better job of explanation, than would my rhetoric. The next time someone comments on the “theft” that is taxes and the need to defend the 1% and their corporations from government intrusion show them this. If they defend the inequity shown here then you will know they are either part of the 1%, brain-washed or brain dead. It isn’t of course that many of us haven’t known the state of things, or these facts, we have discussed them here repeatedly. Nevertheless, each time the message of the destruction of our Constitution, our America and our people in the service of greed and ego is shown to me, my blood boils. Please check out the link and share your thoughts.
Submitted by Mike Spindell, guest blogger
“Ian Fletcher is Senior Economist of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, nationwide grass-roots organization dedicated to fixing America’s trade policies and comprising representatives from business, agriculture, and labor.” http://www.prosperousamerica.org/2011/02/23/ian_fletcher/
Mr. Fletcher wrote an article in HuffPost this week titled ” Why Is the American Left So Ineffective in Economics?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ian-fletcher/why-is-the-american-left-_b_1142615.html?ref=politics&ir=Politics . On my first reading of this article, I sped through it cursorily, with general agreement and approval, book marking the link for further reference. As the day went on the article remained stuck in the back of my mind, for there was something about it that disturbed me, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. I looked up Mr. Fletcher’s credentials and they seemed good and certainly not one of being a Corporatist economist. The Coalition for a Prosperous America appears a worthwhile middle-of-road organization, whose supporters include labor unions, as well as medium and small businesses. They look askance at current US trade policies and that is a view with which I agree. Mr. Fletcher has a book titled: “Free Trade Doesn’t Work” http://www.freetradedoesntwork.com/ which people I respect like Fritz Hollings and Thom Hartmann have praised. In it he discusses how there is a free-trade hegemony of both Democrats and Republicans representing the Washington establishment and marginalizing all the voices who disagree with free trade policies. This hegemony is what I describe as the Feudalist Corporatocracy. This is a man with who I’m in general agreement, why then my discomfort with his thesis in this article?
This article opens up with the following paragraph: “Anyone who’s still in a state of denial about the thesis implied by the title of this article can stop reading right here. I’ll just assume it’s obvious enough that we can take it as a given.” He’s right, the thesis implied in the title is indisputable. The Left has been ineffective in combatting the economic policies started by Ronald Reagan’s election and has been in constant retreat from the onslaught of right-wing economic policies. This has been true to such an extent that Bill Clinton reaffirmed Alan Greenspan as the head of The Federal Reserve and Barack Obama reaffirmed G.W. Bush’s choice of Ben Bernake. Both of these men are little more than philosophical minions/co-dependents of Wall Street and the Big Banks. Where I take issue with Mr. Fletcher is in why he believes the Left’s economic weakness has come about. To me his view of the origins of this Left Wing retreat is shortsighted and ignores the 800 pound gorilla in the room. If we don’t understand the causes of problems we face, then no matter how prescient the analysis of their nature, we are almost powerless to combat them. Since the article in question is rather brief, I’m going to dispute it point by point. Continue reading ‘Is the American Left Ineffective in Economics?’
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger.
During the Cold War a phrase “The Enemy Within” became popular. It was a reference at first to Communist subversion exemplified by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt. Later it was used with other issues such as in Robert F. Kennedy’s book “The Enemy Within” which dealt with corruption in the Labor Movement, specifically Jimmy Hoffa and his teamsters. Recently, Michael Savage, right wing talk show host, wrote a book using that same title, though in this case referring to liberals and progressives as being seditious. The connotation of this phrase is that the group so labeled represents an internal movement that is so dangerous to the interests of the United States, that it can be seen as subversive.
Some may be shocked then by the title of this post. Almost all of us have grown up thinking of the Chamber of Commerce as a uniquely American Institution. Throughout the US whether in cities or in hamlets, the business community has banded together to promote local commerce and build interrelated networks. When we think of this, we think mainly of local small businesses, which are the backbone of this nation’s economy. To be honest until this week I’ve never give much thought to the Chamber of Commerce until as a MoveOn.com member I received a petition from an affiliated new organization called SumOfUs.
“SumOfUs is a brand-new global movement of consumers, investors and workers using our collective economic power for good. Together, we will work to hold the world’s corporations accountable to the public interest and move our global economic system towards social equity, democratic principles, and long-term sustainability.” http://googlequitthechamber.org/about/
The purpose of the petition was to get Google to follow the lead of other large corporations and quit the US Chamber of Commerce. The petition made various claims regarding the US Chamber of Commerce which I’ll deal with in this post.
However, I wouldn’t present this post without doing some research on the “Chamber” and its’ activity to look into the validity of the claims being made by the SumOfUs organization. In doing this research I came to realize that in my opinion the United States Chamber of Commerce is an organization that does not act in the best interests of this country and that one can call it subversive, even though it is not treasonous. These are my reasons for this belief. Continue reading ‘The US Chamber of Commerce, the Enemy Within?’
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
“Middle-of-the-Road, qua Middle of the Road, is politically, intellectually, and morally repugnant. We shall recommend policies for the simple reason that we consider them right (rather than “non-controversial”); and we consider them right because they are based on principles we deem right (rather than on popularity polls)…” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Review
Bill Buckley, the son of an oil baron, was born to wealth and privilege. He was a lieutenant in the Army from 1943 until 1945 when he entered Yale and became a member of Skull and Bones, along with future President George H.W. Bush. In 1953 Buckley became prominent for his book “God and Man at Yale”. So when he founded the National Review he was already prominent in Conservative circles. Oh yes, it should be mentioned he was a CIA field agent under E. Howard Hunt, from 1951 through 1953.
“George H. Nash, a historian of the modern American conservative movement, believed that Buckley was “arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in the past half century… For an entire generation, he was the preeminent voice of American conservatism and its first great ecumenical figure.” Buckley’s primary contribution to politics was a fusion of traditional American political conservatism with laissez-faire economic theory and anti-communism, laying groundwork for the new American conservatism of U.S. presidential candidates Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan“. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_F._Buckley,_Jr.
Whether you like the National Review or not, you must admit that it is the single most important magazine of the Conservative movement in America and has been so since its’ founding. As you can see from their mission statement above they claim to eschew popularity and polls, serving higher priciples. I was therefore interested to come across a story this week that calls into question their true dedication to higher principles, or perhaps one of their principles is merely naked greed. Continue reading ‘Et Tu National Review?’
Submitted by Mike Spindell, guest blogger
Andy Warhol, said in 1968 that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Forty-Three years later the remark has become ubiquitously prescient. The world is awash in a celebrity culture and America is at the acme of this “culture”. From one perspective this is merely the harmless fluff that people use in order to distract themselves from the depressing things their lives have offered. It is the triumph of “kitsch” over substance in the business of being famous. This has been true throughout mankind’s history. The lives and activities of the powerful have been followed by the masses with avid interest and have been the fodder of discussion around what served as the ancient’s water coolers, perhaps the public wells. Without a doubt in ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh’s comings and goings were constant conversational topics. Today, in a much different context, the American multitudes avidly follow the lives of the powerful, rich and famous, via innumerable outlets including Facebook and Twitter.
The question I’m broaching here is if this is a historic human trait, are there negative aspects of it that threaten the functioning and stability of our society? My own answer is that I’m not sure one way or another, but I am concerned about what I see all around me and perhaps would like the writers here to talk me down, so to speak. Now one might rightly ask what does this have to do with the law and the other topics we treat here on a daily basis. Only this week we have had news bulletins and stories about the sentencing of Michael Jackson’s doctor to four years in prison. On that same day no doubt there were dozens of news stories that had greater effect on our lives, yet every network paid much attention to it on their nightly news. At the risk of offending Michael Jackson fans, the death of this once famous “Pop Star”, self titled “King of Pop” if you will, was hardly worth the attention paid to it, when issues of economic collapse, wars, revolutions, genocides and famines raged throughout the media frenzy. Yet, I must say that the media knew their audience and this story catered to that audience. I understand the need for, and I myself have need of distraction from the woes of the world, so it is not as if I hold myself apart from the indulgence. Frequently instances of self loathing come to the fore as I slavishly behold the spectacle that our media creates for us surrounding people and issues that embarrass our attention, as they play out before our wide-eyed gazes. Continue reading ‘Today’s Celebrity is Yesterday’s Aristocracy’
America has the world’s highest rate of incarceration, currently 738 per 100,000. Our nearest competitor for this dubious distinction is the Russian Federation with 607 and Cuba with 487. “The US incarcerates at a rate 4 to 7 times higher than other western nations such as the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany and up to 32 times higher than nations with the lowest rates such as Nepal, Nigeria, and India.”
http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/pubs/2006nov_factsheet_incarceration.pdf Despite possible protestations that this is because we have the best law enforcement, my sense is that the reasons lie more in the system, than those who enforce it. No one ever lost an election in America because of the perception they “were tough on crime”.
“Race: Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.” http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/pubs/2006nov_factsheet_incarceration.pdf
Despite possible protestations that this is because we have the best law enforcement, my sense is that the reasons lie more in the system, than those who enforce it. No one ever lost an election in America because of the perception they “were tough on crime”. “Race: Black males continue to be incarcerated at an extraordinary rate. Black males make up 35.4 percent of the jail and prison population — even though they make up less than 10 percent of the overall U.S population. Four percent of U.S. black males were in jail or prison last year, compared to 1.7 percent of Hispanic males and .7 percent of white males. In other words, black males were locked up at almost six times the rate of their white counterparts.”
These two sets of statistics when viewed together tell a terrible tale of how racial oppression still exists in this country despite our Black President and Black Attorney General. This Administration hasn’t caused of this problem, but they don’t seem to have made any progress dealing with it. We do know that there has been a widespread effort to play down the racial division that continues to plague this country. This continues despite Civil Rights Laws, Martin Luther King’s Birthday and TV beer commercials that always include at least one black male friend enjoying the camaraderie. Clearly there is a disconnect between how we Americans want to see ourselves and the reality for many Black males. Continue reading ‘The Incarceration of Black Men in America’
Submitted by Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Last week during a long road trip, I was listening to a CD from the band The Eagles. A song came on written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey the group’s songwriters and leaders. The song is called “Get Over It”. As the autumn beautiful Shenandoah Valley landscape was passing by, a line from the song jarred me from my motoring reverie and made me think of this blog. The line was:
“The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ‘em tonight.”
Continue reading ‘Let’s Kill All The Lawyers?’
Below is today’s column in USA Today (which will run in paper form next week). It appears that the police will look into the possibility of statutory rape and someone should be brushing up on defamation law as well.
Continue reading ‘Celebrities and Statutory Rape: Is Justin Bieber A Victim of Statutory Rape or Defamation?’
The Hit List: The Public Applauds As President Obama Kills Two Citizens As A Presidential PrerogativePublished 1, October 4, 2011 Columns , Congress , Constitutional Law , International , Military , Politics , Society , Supreme Court 141 Comments
Below is today’s column in USA Today (to run in paper form on Wednesday) on President Barack Obama’s claim to the right to kill citizens as dangers to the nation. Ironically, the day after I wrote the Los Angeles Times column on Obama’s disastrous impact on the civil liberties movement in the United States (including his assertion of the right to kill citizens on his own authority), the U.S. killed two citizens in Yemen. Notably, Ron Paul (who has emerged as the only candidate discussing these issues from a civil libertarian perspective) suggested an impeachment inquiry based on the killing of the two citizens. Below is the column in USA Today.
Continue reading ‘The Hit List: The Public Applauds As President Obama Kills Two Citizens As A Presidential Prerogative’
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
To my mind the greatest movie satire on the idiocy of the Cold War and the fear it inspired in humanity, was Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, released in 1964. The plot in brief was, “An insane general starts a process to nuclear holocaust that a war room of politicians and generals frantically try to stop”. For those unfamiliar with one of the best American movies of all time check this link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057012/
Rent the movie if you haven’t seen it, for it will bring you dark laughter and present you with much to ponder. At the time of its release, some disparaged the movie as being un-credible in its characterizations and not believable in it premises. I hadn’t thought of the movie in years until I came across this article at the website Buzzflash.com titled “The Theology of Armageddon” by Robert Koehler. http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/13024 . The article is relatively brief, but well worth your time.
The article deals with a course titled “Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare” at Vandenberg Air Force Base, given under Air Force auspices. As the Robert Koehler states:
“(I)t turns out that the point of the mandatory course, which was recently canceled by the Air Force after officers of numerous faiths complained to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about it and Truthout published an exposé in July, was to give officers in the first week of missile-launch training a Bible-verse-studded indoctrination in faux-Just War Theory (cynically known in the ranks as the “Jesus Loves Nukes” training)”.
What got me thinking of the movie Dr. Strangelove was a quote in the article from Dr. Wehrner Von Braun, which makes credible the satiric reality of the movies title character, Dr. Strangelove, hysterically portrayed as a heavily accented former NAZI, by Peter Sellers. Seller’s character was widely denounced as being unfair to Von Braun, at the time, but seeing this quote from him makes me wonder:
“We knew that we had created a new means of warfare and the question as to what nation . . . we were willing to entrust this brainchild of ours was a moral decision more than anything else,” von Braun is quoted as saying. “We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.”
To me this is post facto justification by von Braun of his choice of the comfort of an honored life in the U.S. mirroring his NAZI lifestyle and providing a sop to detract from the truth that he was an enthusiastic war criminal. Von Braun had developed the V (I & II) guided missiles for the NAZI’s and became the head of the United States Ballistic Missile Program. Von Braun was a NAZI Party member of distinction and it seems dedication. His missiles fell upon Great Britain in the closing days of WW II as an attempt to cause terror within the British people and were random in their destruction. That he then became an honored man in the U.S., rather than a defendant at Nuremburg, is a tribute to our own hypocrisy in prosecuting the Cold War. A similar mindset seems to have infected some in our Air Force as I will show. Continue reading ‘As We Careen Towards a Dream of Armageddon’
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
Most people who regularly visit this blog know that I am Jewish. While I am not what one would call a pious Jew, being a Deist in outlook, I have always been very proud of my ethnicity and of the religion, which plays a central part in it. From their infancy, my children were immersed in Judaism both through education and by our family regularly taking part in Jewish Rituals, including regular Synagogue attendance. Where I part personally from normative Judaism is that I view the Torah, The Five Books of Moses, as primarily allegory with some real history thrown in. To me it is a work of some wise and some not so wise men, not the writings of God. I believe and have seen demonstrated in many families though, that the Torah and its 613 Commandments can serve as blueprint for living a fulfilling life.
The issue becomes complicated when it comes to my feelings about Israel. To me the existence ofI srael is a necessity for Jews to have a future in this world and if it comes to it, a final haven to make our last stand. I am an American first, so I would not willingly emigrate away from the country of my birth, unless those who hate Jews come to power. Contrary to the opinion of many, Jews are far from being a homogeneous ethnicity/religion. One cannot for instance refer to being an Orthodox Jew with any precision of description since that movement is in itself splintered on many details of interpretation. This is true of the other main branches of Judaism: Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionism. Perhaps it is because there is no central Jewish religious authority speaking for all Jews, as much as organizations like ADL, AIPAC, et. al. would claim to, that the range of Jewish opinion is so wide on so many subjects.
This brings me to an article I read at the PublicEye.org titled: “The New Christian Zionism and the Jews”. Its’ thesis is that many Jewish supporters of Israel and the current Israeli government have allied themselves with Christian Fundamentalists whose “love” for Israel and Jews come from the wish to fulfill the prophecies of The Book of Revelations, where in fact Jews not willing to accept Jesus, will die in a horrid holocaust. This trend has been one disturbing me for a long time. I have watched Jews and Israeli’s embrace Fundamentalist Christian support, in what to me is a shortsighted and irrational policy. This could be justified by saying that a country takes its allies where one can get them. Sometimes what seems an example of realpolitik is merely an instance of dangerously narrow opportunism, as I will elaborate. Continue reading ‘The Christian Zionist Movement and Jewish Confusion’
Below is today’s brief essay in the Los Angeles Times that is part of a series called Reflections on 9/11. I was asked that day after the attacks to write a column for the newspaper, which ran on September 13, 2001. As I wrote the piece, I could still see smoke rising from the Pentagon. The plane in Washington hit just behind my car a minute or so after I passed the Pentagon on my way to work from Alexandria. On that day, my greatest concerns were two-fold: a change in the definition of war and the expanded use of assassination. Unfortunately, my worst predictions were exceeded by the Bush Administration and later the Obama Administration. It is shocking to think that this was ten years ago. The images and feelings remain so vivid. My car was forced into a curb by a careening car that morning and I had to replace my tire as the smoke bellowed from the Pentagon. The thought of all the innocent people lost in Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania remains an open wound for so many of us. The sheer savagery and inhumanity of the attacks shocked the conscience — a feeling only magnified later when Bin Laden was shown gloating over how he personally advised the terrorists on the best place to hit the buildings. The cautionary piece on September 13th was not meant to take away from the legitimate and collective anger that we felt — and still feel. However, it was already clear within two days of the attacks that Bush officials were going to seek the radical expansion of presidential powers and were already referencing our civil liberties as an impediment to our safety. My heartfelt sympathy to all who lost friends and family on that day.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
As someone who voted for and rejoiced in Barack Obama’s election in 2008, I had certain expectations for his Presidency. My expectations heightened with the Democratic party’s majorities in Congress. Foremost I wanted to see a swift end to both wars, which I believe are unjust and draining the resources of this country. Since Obama was presumably a constitutional law scholar, I expected that he would return this country to the Rule of Law. I expected the new President to eliminate the Bush constitutional usurpation of our government and people, occurring with Democratic Party compliance. The Administration would end the widespread use of torture, rendition, and the excesses of The Patriot Act. His Department Of Justice would prosecute those who were responsible. As far as the economic crisis engendered by Wall Street excesses, I had faith that he would deal with it through FDR like projects, by re-regulation/prosecution of the financial industry and ending the unjustified Bush Tax cuts for the wealthy.
That none of this has happened, or was even attempted has filled me with disappointment and anger towards this Administration’s performance. In my mind as I tried to make sense of it of this betrayal, there was a nagging suspicion. What if the “powers that be” in our Country including the Military-Industrial complex had sent the word to the newly elected President: “Play ball”, or find yourself and your family grievously threatened? I was a young adult through the 60’s as I watched the assassinations of my heroes, one of whom was a President. I’m not comfortable with the official explanation of these deaths, since there was much that didn’t make sense. In the 70’s The Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and later the Church Committee Report on the CIA gave credence to the possible actions of a secret government. In addition, we learned from General Smedley-Butler, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smedley_Butler that a group of businessmen had contacted him in 1934 about leading a coup against FDR. One of those conspirators was Prescott Bush, father of Bush I and grandfather of Bush II. Later, Prescott Bush was involved in a Bank that had financed the NAZI’s rise to power. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/25/usa.secondworldwar.
On September 7th, Rob Kall’s OpEdNews published “Obama Team Feared Coup If He Prosecuted War Crimes”. Andrew Kreig, executive director of the Justice Integrity Project, wrote this article. There are some very persuasive points in it and I believe it is worth your perusal and comment:
If this speculation were true, it would go a long way towards explaining what we’ve been seeing from the Obama Administration. It would also be a disaster for any notion of the Rule of Law. Continue reading ‘The President Has Been Afraid of What?’
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
Today I came across this fascinating exposition on a facet of American History often overlooked in our educational syllabus. The Boston Tea Party, from which today’s Tea Party takes its’ name, was actually a revolt against the dominance of the largest Multi-national Corporation of its’ time and its’ monopoly of the ubiquitous tea trade. The power of this entity came through its political dominance of the British Monarchy and with its’ compliance and enforcement of this Corporation’s needs. Contrast the actual positions of today’s “Tea Partier’s” with those whose names they usurp. I think you will find this a fascinating video and I will comment after the fold.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
I don’t know about you but I’ve had a bad month. I’m not talking about personal issues in my life because those are fine. I’m talking about the awful political and economic situations in this country, and I’m talking about the pain and misery felt by so many in the rest of our world. Each day it seems the news gets more depressing and I glean few hopeful signs from the news indicating that things will soon start to improve. As many here know, I am talking from the perspective of someone saved from the brink of death last year, so in a personal sense I have little complaint.
Taking it away from the deeply personal though, I see a country and a world in apocalyptic turmoil. Not only are we overwhelmed with seeming insoluble problems, but also from my perspective, we are beset with a host of irrational political leaders and those who follow them blindly. Added to the cacophony of these politicians, of all sides may I say, we have religious leaders who have twisted their religion to fit their own emotional needs. We also have CEO’s who will put profit above all other considerations. Finally, we have a general population so absorbed in a cult of celebrity, that civic understanding and action are mere afterthoughts. Is there no hope? Continue reading ‘The Best of All Possible Worlds?’
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
In the years, I’ve spent commenting here at Professor Turley’s blog, I have presented myself as an honest person, sensible and with humane beliefs. Many regulars think of me as sort of a blog “elder statesman” and one who has a rational view of the world. There are of course others, fewer in number I assert, who think me a fool and a knave, which shows you can’t please everyone. Professor Turley himself has expressed fondness related to my tendency to be honest and open about myself personally.
Yet through all of these years here, I have harbored a secret belief that I’ve avoided mentioning for fear that the esteem in which I’m held, will disappear in an avalanche of ridicule and disappointment. I have to admit that to a retired old guy on the wrong side of sixty years, my place here has provided comfort to my self-esteem and certainly the feeling that I can still find things in life to accomplish. To those who haven’t realized the obvious yet from my writings, I have my vanities and indeed my insecurities, so being a guest blogger has stroked those needy aspects of my ego. Since I’ve received much gratification from this, I have been loath to be completely honest about one of my more deeply held beliefs. I came across an article that impels me to break my silence and reveal this belief here and now. While in the eyes of some reading this blog, it might lower their opinion of me and expose me to ridicule, I must finally admit to you my dirty little secret.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
Many years now at this site there have been side debates raging about false identities, used by people who are being paid to disrupt our discussions by making comments aimed at sidetracking issues. OpEdNews, a site run by Rob Kall, which I subscribe to sends me daily updates of articles of interest. Yesterday I received this intriguing article from Thom Hartmann’s podcast. It is an interview with Lee Fong from ThinkProgress on just this subject. Check out this link and see what you think.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
While we the privileged, who have time for such things, argue about law, politics, and society from our individual perspectives, we can easily forget that the results of these arguments affect real people in their lives. In the present American discourse, curt slogans and political bombast rule the airwaves and the Internet. The consequences of arguments won and lost are often subsumed by the anger of the debate itself. I personally feel a great empathy for those people ground down by the decisions and actions of those with financial power who have influence on executive and legislative power. The result of this empathy is anger at what I see is the blindness of our corporate and political leaders towards the lives of average people and the deafness of those same leaders to the cries for help all around them. Continue reading ‘Jobless in Georgia’
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?” Rodney King 5/1/92
The arguments and divisions politically here and throughout this country are rampant and destructive. Anger and hatred of others of differing opinions rises at times to fever pitch and I admit that I am part of the problem as much as anyone else is. This is a somewhat different piece in that I am going to present some national problems, as I see them and elicit your comments on them, in an attempt to discover whether there is some common ground agreement, on some things plaguing our society. While I am more interested in whether or not people agree that these are indeed problems for us all to consider and work to solve, it is certainly apropos for people to comment on what they believe the solutions to be.
This is an experiment on the viability of people agreeing on the premise that a problem exists in a given area. We cannot begin to resolve issues, unless we first agree that they are issues to be contemplated by the entire body politic. My hope is to engender real, civil discussion and perhaps at the end reach something like consensus. This is not a plea for Bi-Partisanship because to me that is a fantasy, whoever may utter it. To be “partisan” is to hold strong opinions and srong opinions do not resolve themselves into agreement. The resolution reached by “partisans” is always one of compromise, without either side changing their core beliefs, but agreeing to take part of the loaf. I am “experimenting” to see if many of the diverse viewpoints represented here can at least agree that a specific issue is indeed a problem, or if it is indeed an issue. Beyond writing this, I will not take part in the ensuing discussion, since the formulation itself indicates my views on whether these are indeed problems. I will limit my questions to legal issues, with no particular order of importance intended.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
The 2010 elections which gave the Republican Party the majority in the House of Representatives was seen as the elevation of a “Grassroots Movement”, composed of the spontaneously combusted wrath of ordinary citizens fed up with a bloated government. It was indeed a seminal moment for those people who disdained taxation, government handouts in entitlements, and the seeming waste of our tax dollars. The initial angry explosion was a reaction to the proposal and passage of the Health Care Bill. Rallies were organized, town hall meetings disrupted and a “hit list” of both Republican and Democratic members of Congress circulated.
The initial mainstream media reaction to this nascent movement was one of disdain, particularly because it was seen as an “out of the Beltway movement”, thus not to be taken seriously. However, this changed in a large part led by FOX News and copied by its “wannabe” CNN. Led by these Cable outlets, thirsting for sensation to fill their 24/7 news maws, all media began to follow suit, not wanting to be left behind. I find it interesting though that as late as April 22, 2010, Politico, hardly a left wing outlet, noted that unwarranted attention and media frenzy had begun, elevating the status of this purported movement: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0410/36185.html It is ironic that this article, while laying out the irrational amount of attention given to the Tea Party, at its end discounts the effect the movement would have on the election. Its authors certainly were not prescient.
Lost in the tumult of media exaggeration and sensationalism was the fact that this was not at all a grass roots movement of average Americans, but a crafty example of political manipulation laid out in tandem with the compliance of Rupert Murdoch’s news network’s assault upon all things they deem liberal. The prime mover in this is Richard “Dick” Armey, a former Texas Republican Congressman, House Majority Leader, and major senior lobbyist at a worldwide lobbying firm. Armey created the mythology of a grass roots movement, guided its progress, arranged, and then paid for its “spontaneous” events.