Monday, March 21, 2005

The Most Dangerous Branch. Congress is running amok and arrogating to itself the powers of the other branches. Things were bad enough last week when the Committee on Government Reform subpoenaed major league baseball players to ask about their (the players’) steroid use. Chairman Tom Davis likes to remind us that Congress has empowered his committee to “at any time conduct investigations of any matter.” Seems kind of broad to me. Even Joe McCarthy had to restrict his investigations to things related to “un-American propaganda.”

But things are much worse today. Republicans in Congress provoked an extraordinary emergency session Sunday night to enact legislation that gives the federal courts unprecedented authority to hear a family law case regarding one woman, Terri Shiavo. The republicans (and a few misguided democrats) found this necessary because they disagree with the decision of the Florida state courts to discontinue Ms. Shiavo’s feeding tube, despite the fact that she has been in a persistent vegetative state for more than a decade.

“An Act for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Shiavo”

During the session, House members engaged in a wide-ranging mockery of court procedure, the likes of which we have not seen since King Charles’ Star Chamber. It was, at best, a slapdash exercise in conjecture--evaluating ‘facts’ without evidence; weighing the credibility of alleged testimony without the bother of actually calling witnesses; attacking character without rebuttal or cross-examination; recounting members’ own experiences with similar issues at other times; and all manner of prejudicial and inflammatory rhetoric; all without providing notice to the other side or a meaningful opportunity to be heard. All of which is de rigueur when used for the policy-making function of a legislative body, but an outrageous way to evaluate a single court case.

This is why we have courts (or used to). The Common Law has spent the past several centuries carefully weeding out this kind of procedural free-for-all, in favor of fairer rules of evidence and procedure. But that’s not good enough for Congress if they don’t produce the result they want.

Perhaps we should have expected this from Congress sooner or later, but the more baffling question is why the Republicans led this charge against state courts. Their position seems rather out of character:

They are a party that hates federal power and favors states rights . . .
imposing federal power to upset years of painstaking work in state
courts.

They are a party that rails against “unelected federal
judges” . . . sending the case to a federal judge.

They are a party that worships the sanctity of marriage . . .
disregarding the wishes of a husband and wife, as determined by dozens of judges and years of litigation.

They are a party that idolizes the constitution as
originally drafted . . . using the federal legislative branch to usurp the authority of a state’s judiciary by picking a single, decided case out of state court and forcing a new action in federal court.

It seems that political expedience and pandering to the Religious Right is more important than the Party’s more traditional principles.

What will they do if they don’t like the federal decision? Pass another law decreeing the outcome? Create a new court? Don’t laugh.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Court messes with Texas again. Meddling once more with the Texas state pastime, the Supreme Court today ended the practice of executing those whose crimes were committed before age 18, saying the country had reached a "national consensus" against killing juvenile offenders. The Court noted that the United States is the only country in the world that still officially sanctions the death penalty for juveniles. The last holdouts were Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, Congo, and China. Not good company to keep when it comes to human rights. And even they have abolished the practice (at least officially). Justice Scalia and his sycophant, Justice Thomas dissented in the usual fashion, pining for the good old days of the eighteenth century, when the state could freely execute eight-year-olds. Scalia wrote a vitriolic dissent that implied that those who oppose the death penalty suffer from Amish prudery.
But why not ban capital punishment altogether? What a difference a day makes! How can a punishment be cruel and unsual when applied to a crime committed the day before you're 18 and be a just punishment for the same crime committed the day after? Sure, in many cases the law must draw a line somewhere, and there will always be a sense of injustice in the vicinity of that line (e.g. drinking age, voting age, age of consent, etc.), but ending someone's life is different. If it's cruel and unusual for minors, it's cruel and unusual for adults.
I hope we reach a national consensus on that soon and the court puts an end to the death penalty once and for all. If we're serious about fostering a culture of life in this country, we can start by ending the barbaric practice of killing our criminals.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Papa non compos mentis. The Pope never misses an opportunity to judge others. In his new book, he suggests that gay marriage is part of an “ideology of evil” sweeping the globe. Hmmm. Another candidate for “ideology of evil” might be the consistently hateful doctrine promulgated by an idolatrous church that opposes the use of condoms that could save millions from disease (and obviate the need for abortion), traps countless people in loveless marriages, worships a cranky old man as “infallible,” and whose priests have a penchant for molesting little boys.

Of course, this is not the first time the Pope has lashed out against gays. In 2003, he was rather more straightforward when considering the question of gay marriage. He wrote that gays “suffer from an anomaly,” are “intrinsically disordered” and engage in “deviant behavior;” that gay marriage is the “legalization of evil;” and that gay adoption would “do violence” to children. Strong words for an organization that looks more and more like a pedophilia ring than a church. I suggest that his Holiness has a little housecleaning of his own to do regarding abuse of children before he starts preaching against the loving adoption of children in need by gay couples in stable, committed relationships. Sometimes it is striking how far the Church has strayed from the true message of Christ.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Oh, Idaho! News from my home state of Idaho lately is besmirching the state’s reputation (even more). First I read that the notorious killer Claude Dallas is again free after doing time for the execution-style 'manslaughter' of two state Fish & Game officers. He’s out eight years early on account of his 'good behavior' (like escaping in 1986 and spending a year on the lam). Then I hear that an Idaho woman scalped a 16 year-old girl for 'disrespecting women.' Both were members of the same “punk clique,” whatever that is. Thank God I escaped to San Francisco where, of course, weird news is unheard of.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A Presently Dangerous Committee. This may be old news to some, but the Committee on the Present Danger was reformed last year to scare the masses into supporting a perpetual military campaign against the ubiquitous threat of “terrorism” (which, of course, is a tactic, not an enemy). The CPD is a McCarthy-era group of militarists who originally organized to foment fear and hatred of communism. In that role, the group successfully advocated the massive military expansion of the 1980s and opposed all arms control proposals (or, at least, those that involved the U.S.). The CPD is chock full of your favorite neocons (and some paleocons)—everyone from codgers of the Reagan era like Ed Meese, Robert McFarlane, Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick and George Schultz to perennial talk show cigar-chomper Joseph DiGenova. The stated goal of the CPD is to “educate the American people”-- no doubt to prevent the kind of thoughtcrime that could undermine the efforts of the committee.

Monday, February 07, 2005

What’s a few trillion among friends? The president has proposed a $2.57 trillion budget that he says “sets priorities.” It sure does. Military spending goes up in exchange for deep cuts in education, health care for veterans & the poor, housing, transportation, food stamps and the environment. He says it will eventually cut the deficit in half, but to make it all add up right the president left out a few things, namely the enormous cost of his proposed social security reform (at least a couple of trillion), the ongoing cost of the Iraq war (he’ll be asking for another $80 billion in a few days), and the cost of extending his tax cuts for the rich ($1.3 trillion over ten years). If history is any indication, he’ll get the military spending increase and the tax cuts but few of the spending cuts, and the deficit will continue to grow by leaps and bounds. So let’s see: the rich get richer; the poor and sick get poorer and sicker; the war machine grows; and the deficit swells. Some priorities.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Thank God they're not Gay! John and Linda Dollar are fugitives wanted for torturing the seven children under their care in Florida. The children were beaten, starved, and locked in a closet and endured other unmentionable torture. Luckily, however, the State of Florida protects children like these from being subjected to normal, well-adjusted, loving, gay parents. Nice work, Florida.
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