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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Monday, May 23, 2022

SCOTUS Orders/Opinion Day

Order List: Short list with one notable thing. Breyer again flags his longstanding opposition to executing those on death row for decades, especially when the government is clearly to blame for the delays. He also flags the solitary confinement suffered by the people involved. Such a person was due to be executed last week, but was delayed for a technical reason (competency matters also were flagged by his lawyers).

There were two opinions today. First, we had a technical arbitration opinion by Kagan, which liberal sorts have praised as a reasonable unanimous opinion. The opinion was not even seven pages long (minus head notes) and shows SCOTUS will have various limited cases that are not controversial. These are the sorts of "see?!" cases Justice Breyer loves.

The second opinion [against the same person as Breyer's statement] was a lot more controversial, a 6-3 habeas opinion that received some strong criticism. Thomas v. Sotomayor, which is likely (as here) to have strong takes on each side. It involved the right to counsel in a death penalty case. Sotomayor shows how much "hollowing out" of precedent is going on.

More on Truth's Table

The other day I noted:
I also just started a book based on a podcast by three black women entitled Truth's Table, telling things through a black Christian women lens. So far, it is a good way to get a different perspective of things, even if I might not agree with the specific Christian views of the women in particular. This might be a good time just to let them express their own vision.

I finished the book, which is a collection of topics of life, love, and liberation by the three hosts (each have certain chapters) of that podcast. The book is not really (suffice to say) meant for me, namely, a white non-Christian male. 

Nonetheless, it has an educational value, and I am (mostly) inclined to let them see things in through their own ways. I don't want to "mansplain" (as someone accused me of online when she posted a comment that I thought could be read to partially refute what I said; I disagree though it might have been pedantic -- a fault of me at times) or need to be "decolonized" or something.  And, I am not really being sarcastic though maybe a tinge. 

A few quick things.  The women here are firm believers (one is listed as a "public theologian" and another a "senior pastor"and another wrote, e.g., a chapter on "disciplining the church" as a self-corrective.  The book, more chapters than others, has Christian references and analysis, including doctrinal (there is even a passing shot at Gnosticism) that let's say are not my general cup of tea. A little of that goes a long way for me.  

I'm not really going to spend time here to refute that here though again that isn't for me.  More general themes, including their clearly negative experiences with white churches ("white" here including leadership of churches with significant non-white membership), interest me more.  

The book has some strong anti-white vibes at some points.  Again, so be it, given the viewpoint.  But, at some point, I did say -- wait, isn't Christianity for all peoples?  There are a few points where a major draw of the religion is as much as its non-white origins in Palestine as any number of doctrinal points.  (I find the basic sacrificial aspects rather outdated; I favor if anything the "self-knowledge" approach swatted aside at one point).  

One thing that I find ironic regarding a book with a clearly feminine sentiment (black women Christian to me is the clear order here) is support of a religion that is framed in such masculine ways.  A creator God that is framed as "He" to me is just ridiculous at some point, even if logically in the context of the times back then.  The whole "son" bit also bothers me and the Twelve are all men too, even if (though some translations make this harder to catch) "apostles" is sometimes used broadly to apply to women.

At some point, the doctrinal stuff and to me repetition (one author to me did a better job of hitting to the core of the matter) that could have been condensed better (and it was somewhat doctrinaire, not written in down to earth ways) led the book to be somewhat tedious. 

The anti-white stuff at times also seemed heavy-handed.  But, and I'm not handwaving here, I firmly am aware that they are speaking with a heavy degree of compensating for the realities of power here. I still think the truth is a bit over.

Overall, I was glad to read the book.  It provided some good insights and to the degree I disagree (and each were generally of a liberal mindset, even if one chapter's reproductive freedom principles were framed somewhat opaquely), I should read more in that respect.  I readily admit that reading just plain conservative material is not something I do. 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

SCOTUS Watch: Some More Drama

An opinion day was announced for Monday, but before we do so, we can say some more words about ongoing drama.

First off, a summary of SCOTUS drama news. First, we have Thomas v. Roberts. SCOTUS conservatives in general acting out (since the leak, other than perhaps reference to an overall unease, the liberals seem to be absent from the coverage, except for an SCOTUSBlog argument on why it is logical to assume a liberal clerk leaked the draft).

And, more news about Ginni Thomas, now attempts to get the Arizona legislature (a former Thomas clerk, now a state judge, has a spouse there) to overturn the official finding Biden won.  And, surely, Clarence Thomas has no role here, including any reason for him to recuse from election litigation!  

Meanwhile, I have seen some people just handwave the value of private Supreme Court deliberations.  I think that is tossing the baby out with the bathwater.  The conservatives are leaking like a sieve, which can't be skipped over as if only the leaked draft matter. And, the result is the most serious thing.  Overheated b.s. also is hard to take seriously.

But, we have private deliberations (in a range of contexts) for a reason.  Sneers about a "right to privacy" for only judges aside, privacy as a general matter during deliberations helps the process.  Likewise, use of leaks to influence public opinion and/or other members of the Court (see second link) does send a message that the justices are but politicians.  Maybe, that is honest. All the same, doing so blatantly changes matters. 

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As a sorbet cleanser, some good blue state abortion news.  I have seen an advertisement about Gov. Hochul supporting a state constitutional amendment to support abortion rights.  I thought the state constitution already has been found to protect abortion rights. The process would take two years and it looks like the idea is an open-ended one not just abortion related.  New York already recently statutorily expanded abortion rights. 

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Meanwhile: Primary season continues, including Madison Cawthorn losing (not by much) and it being too close to call in Pennsylvania for the Republicans (the urge is to root for Dr. Oz as an easier mark for November, though after 2016, you continuously fear doing that; but everything isn't the same there).  

One more wrinkle is the Republican governor candidate very well might be disqualified under 14A, sec. 3.  His role as a "stop the steal" guy has been cited though I have not seen this covered elsewhere (not that I really researched it, but this issue has been generally ignored).  People also note that if he wins, he can be in power after the 2024 elections.  There is however some chance the chance for ratfucking will be somehow addressed by pending bipartisan efforts to address electoral counts. 

Oh, there is drama with new maps in New York.  The whole thing is a mess -- even if (maybe so) the court of appeals was correct to strike down the House/state Senate maps as a partisan gerrymander -- however unfair that seems since Republicans in other states have gotten away with it -- doing so with elections in August is really a mess.  It is still unclear just how final the map that just dropped will be. To be continued!

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Lioness

Books: I was the first one to take out the new fiction book by an author that I never heard of but many others did (e.g., the pretty one in Big Bang Theory is in a new series based on one of his books). I don't know if I would like the others -- I tried that with a romance novelist and didn't like the second book I read -- but maybe I'll try at least one more. 

This one -- The Lioness -- concerns an actress and others accompanying her on a safari in the 1960s being part of a kidnapping going seriously wrong. The book has a bunch of first person points of view, which is a tactic I like. I like to see things from various vantage points.  When I was a teenager, I actually tried that out with a story about -- what else -- abortion. 

I found the book a free and easy read, flipping back and forth from the past (recent and further back) and the present. The fact the captives fought back is both dubious as strategy (half died though one from her wounds, one separately) and questionable as something likely to happen. But, as a fictional device, it worked overall. About three hundred pages; good length.

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I also just started a book based on a podcast by three black women entitled Truth's Table, telling things through a black Christian women lens.  So far, it is a good way to get a different perspective of things, even if I might not agree with the specific Christian views of the women in particular.  This might be a good time just to let them express their own vision.  

One thing referenced is that "there are no white people in the Bible."  My thought there is that as a half-Italian, what about the Romans?  This argues that the reason is that "white" was not a concept yet.  Here is another take:

Does that mean though that there are no White people in the Bible? Race isn’t only about color; it is a social system about power. In this respect, the Bible shows systems of inequality that are all too familiar. Although it’s true that the Roman army was much more ethnically diverse than White history often chooses to remember, it’s likely that at least some of the Roman occupiers would have been—what we now call—of European descent.

I just started the book (a few chapters in), so maybe the concept is discussed more later.  It is surely correct that the Bible as a whole concerns people of Near East persuasion, even if it is common to portray Jesus as white, sometimes as if he is some sort of white hippie type.  And, people like the great Christian scholar Augustine was North African. 

Anyway, the early chapters include discussions of colorism (black people being concerned with shades of black), protest, and decolonization of the black church.  I might not be meant for the table, but I assume that I am among those allowed to stand up in the back and listen.  

And, even evangelicals these days are mostly seen as the pro-Trump party, tainting Christian religion in general, I welcome those who live in the Christian faith and have something useful to tell us.  Plus, black women are the most likely to vote the right way.  A plurality of white women voted for Trump.  Black men can be lose their way too.  

(On the bus today, one black guy maybe twenty or something, was firmly sure that men were superior to women because Adam came first and they were stronger and built a lot more stuff.  Some guy he was speaking to tried to calmly explain why he thought women were equal to men, but figure him starting off "granting" God exists alone made him seem confused.)  

So far, I like overall the woman's point of view, and again the Christian stuff is not overwhelming, even if (the reference to God as "he" just seemed off) even beyond the fact I'm not Christian at times I simply don't buy it. Still, again, I'm open to seeing things using their poetry as long as the rest of the stuff is has something to say worthy for even this white dude.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

SCOTUS Watch

As the abortion draft leak continues to fester, the Supreme Court continues to do its work. The Order List was relatively uneventful though two cases were granted. Another in the conservative campaign to micromanage the structure of the administrative state. And, a habeas case that some are worried about given the leaning of the Court.

The two opinions split basically along ideological lines, a finding person deportation had no statutory right to access to the courts written by Barrett, an expected result in a Ted Cruz campaign case by Roberts. Kagan, as she did in the past, wrote a strong dissent in the second case. A limit on loans to campaigns is not some free speech violation, even beyond the dismissive "money isn't speech!" line, which is overblown since money is necessary for it. 

[A typo in this opinion was later fixed.]

A mild surprise, at least to those not aware of his past actions, is that Gorsuch wrote the other dissent. He does from time to time have a libertarian quality when federal power is involved. Not in the Muslim Ban case and in various other instances. 

But, his vote here is not really surprising. A 6-3 Court allows a judge to bleed off from time to time, anyways.  As to the right result, again, I'm not going to pretend to know what the exact law is.   I do think there should be a strong understanding here [basically cited by Gorsuch] to allow judicial review.  The Biden Administration supported that at lease, an amicus invited to argue the position ultimately accepted. 

If there was a clear statutory bar, such a constitutional / fairness principle would not necessarily rule the day.  Unless, you could make an independent constitutional argument.  But, a constitutional avoidance argument is valid here.  And, I doubt in a 5-4 case, there isn't enough room to you know, avoid it.  

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Meanwhile, an execution -- involving a crime from over four decades ago -- was scheduled today in Georgia.  Clemency was denied.   It was a horrible crime, but there is a basic injustice (Breyer again repeatedly cited this) about executing someone so long after the crime and conviction.  

A hold was place, an argument made that the state agreed to a COVID hiatus that has not truly been completed.  The real failure of judgment is to decide that after all this time that an execution is warranted. If you dug, you probably could find various reasons for the delay.  But, at this point, such reasons are a bit besides the point.  Forty plus years is just too long.

If he is executed all the same, I will update this piece. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Film and Books

I saw The Slipper and the Rose in my movie review book (Leonard Maltin) and actually found a full cut on Youtube. It is a 1970s British take on Cinderella, adding music. The familiar face is Richard Chamberlain as the prince. And, this version does focus largely on the royal side of things. 

We do get Cinderella too though there is no comeuppance for the wicked step-family.  She (to the stepmother's annoyance and you think something will come of it, but no) forgives them since she has found true love and happiness. A healthy sentiment.  Still, some might want more "Cindy" [note this is an insulting name, from the "cinders" she cleans up] when watching.

The post-ball material is somewhat off (the whole shoe fitting thing quickly is handled, no one is found, and later on we don't even see Cinderella's foot in the shoe -- she just finds it!).   But, overall, it is an enjoyable film, well acted with a wonderful story-like setting, and good singing and choreographically as a whole.  Cinderella never looks very down and out, but the actress looks young, beautiful, and full of life, as necessary.

[Beyond This Tale: There are varieties of this story, including ones that might add some literal meaning to the "fairy" godmother -- using an impolite use of that term -- but one I would be interested in seeing is one via the perspective of the stepmother and stepsisters.  

I think Angelina Jolie is another context was in a film where an "evil stepmother" type character is given some perspective.  A revisionist view would likewise try to consider the second wife and how she would have to handle two daughters and a daddy's girl etc.  I even was thinking, though this is really going out there, having a stepsister win out in the end.

The Drew Barrymore take-off had the younger step-sister at least fairly decent as I recall.  And, the stepsisters -- like Cinderella -- are possibly but teens.  Cinderella was a minor in this film.]  

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Books: I found two books at the Van Nest Library, which has various displays of shiny new looking books.  One is a young adult book by someone with many (I'm not familiar with her) entitled Every Single Lie.  A teen finds a dead baby and the rumor mill (helped now by Twitter) kicks in, her family already dealing with the death of a father with various issues.  

The book is well written and we find out in the end that it is inspired by various facts in the author's life (various parts, not the united whole).  The book covers such things as social media and how tragedy is reported and exploited.  I did feel a bit put upon that when I finally took a break from Twitter, which I use too much even if I now do so only Mon-Th, I had to read about Twitter too!

At some point, there is a feel that the poor girl has one thing after another put on her, down to the final reveal.  Still, I liked it, and the simple statement that some junior in high school is having sex is just tossed out without much comment.  It's one of the nice realistic feeling touches. 

(There is a "friend" who turns out to be not much of one, but to remember, the girl is only around fourteen.  She is selfish and has horrible judgment, but she is an immature girl.  Also, an assumption is made mid-plot that makes sense up to a point, but is somewhat less realistic today.  OTOH, it adds to the "assumptions we make" theme of the book.) 

The other book is a manga entitled Banned Book Club, which is based on college protests and related action during military rule in early 1980s South Korea.  The power of books [the deeper meaning of Shakespeare is touched upon] and resistance is still very topical around the world.   The heroine using her assumed innocence to her benefit in one side was great. 

Talking about 1980s, the son of the infamous Marcos duo will now be the leader of the Philippines.  I find these reboots a bit tired after a while.


Friday was Jen Psaki's last day.  And, since the Internet and so on is addressed above, this analysis on the "marketplace of ideas" is apt.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Clarence Dixon Executed

After eight years, the last time reported botched, Arizon executed someone else. The Supreme Court rejected his final appeal (citing mental illness) without comment. Again, I don't find that right. They should have a brief comment and this executed in particular deserved a few words from a liberal dissenter.

Telling comment: "Arizona now has 112 prisoners left on the state’s death row." The AP story says the execution went smoothly, but other reports says they struggled for twenty-five minutes to place the IV. Another wrinkle I saw: Dixon was a Native American of a tribe morally against the death penalty.

Dixon had various health problems and was sixty-six when he died for a long ago crime. If executions are ever justified, there were enough questions of his state of mind, and the safety factors involved (no escape from prison etc.), to make his a bad call. Only six executions this year and still there continues to be problems.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Cheap Speech: How Information Poisons Our Politics -- and How to Cure It

I generally respect Richard Hasen, the election law expert, though a few times he said things I found stupid. For instance, Hasen decided to repeat multiple times the idea there was no reason to filibuster Neil Gorsuch, that it would do no good, and it might help (if you did not) when the next nominee came along. Shades of "hold your fire" when Roberts were nominated and nothing really happened with Alito.

Disagreements aside, including his argument that a sort of "skinny" voting rights bill should be promoted [basically negotiating against yourself and it was pointless since you STILL had the filibuster], he is well worth reading. He has had a few smallish books now though the content largely overlaps (if with more explanation and notes in one space) what you can find online.  

His latest is about the dangers "cheap speech," widely available information without the filters of past days.  The first chapter starts with 1/6 and the 2020 Election as a whole.  Hasen in a somewhat emotional moment dedicates the book to the "heroes" [I quote here, it's not sarcastic] who defended us and a fair election on that date.  

[At one point, Hasen notes that the 2016 Trump campaign did not collude with Russia to interfere with the election. Without at least a bit of nuance, that is wrong.  There were multiple cases involving his son/son-in-law as well as his campaign manager and that creepy guy with a Dick Tracy villain look (Roger Stone) where they worked with Russians somehow, including trying to get dirt, giving poll data to a Russian agent, and helping leak materials.]

"Cheap speech" is the sort of thing provided on this blog, music able to be downloaded on YouTube, and all the information provided on the web.  This includes information that is filtered -- such as SSRN based articles -- as well as things largely not (like a range of things on Twitter though that can be a mix depending on who is speaking).  

This information explosion is good and bad.  It provides of useful information and engagement.  But, bad speech can also crowd out the good.  This is a sort of "lemon" problem, based on an old economic paper talking about how the amount of untrustworthy bad used cars (lemons) made it hard for people to trust the good ones.  Carfax now helps that.

Older viewers are more likely to rely on bad speech.  Younger ones are cynical and think it all is bad.  Hasen opposed a constitutional amendment to deal with Citizens United (for various reasons) and only goes so far with limits here.  He supports things like more regulation of foreign involvement in elections, disclosure laws (including of "deep fakes" / altered content), defamation laws, and perhaps stronger antitrust rules.  

A few less well known options are suggested.  One thing I'm wary about is not allow micro-targeting (of specific groups, collection data that people are not really fully aware of).  Hasen also supports outlawing blatant lies ("you can vote by tweet") though lines here might be tricky (the whole stop the steal bullshit).  Disclosure laws can also address use of algorithms by Facebook and other platforms, which have been shown to favor Trump and invite reading divisive/sketchy content to get more clicks.

Many things are not going to be done by law.  One thing is to keep the law from stopping certain things, like the idea that Twitter should be treated as a common carrier that has to accept all comers.  Also, basic legal structures such as reliable electoral institutions and the courts are very important.  It is downright scary to note the number of Republican trolls who will be in leadership roles in upcoming elections. 

Self-regulation, encouraged by pressure from inside and out, of such things like Facebook and Twitter is important.  Means to support traditional media, if carried out on new platforms (such as online), is also important.  Such media can be funded by certain very well off people (such as Washington Post/Amazon) and by the public.  Various regions, however, are "media desserts."

Again, the law should recognize the press has certain value, and can in various ways (such as access to courts, source protection, and certain limits from campaign rules) be treated differently.  And, ultimately, it is up to each person to be an informed citizen, a careful consumer.  This is something that has to be learned, taught, and promoted.  See, for instance, this good book aims for teens on analyzing truth.  

[A snapshot of cheap speech's dark side is seen by the attacks of a woman chosen to be on an advisory board set up by the Department of Homeland Security on the threat of disinformation.]

I had one limited (was it even a full year?  do recall the teacher was not very good) class in high school focused on current events.  Recall needing to write short papers on various news items or something.  But, students should not only have civics classes each year; they need a constant lesson on how to think and be an informed consumer of facts and knowledge.

There was an old ad line where the "informed consumer is the best customer."  I'm not  sure that is really right in the mind of many companies.  It still is a good thing to promote.  

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* One thing to add is that the book references the limits of the "marketplace of ideas" concept where the answer to bad speech is "more speech."  In various respects, this does not work, and bad speech might be more powerful.  Shades of The Cult of the Constitution.  

This simplistic libertarian view (Holmes) should be balanced with a more democratic/citizenship model, where the intelligent citizens needs to be informed (Brandeis ... modern day Breyer) with some limits and regulation to make sure this is possible.  

My heart was with the libertarian view, but in time -- especially in light of certain MAGA type comments online -- I see there are some limits.  At the very least, the libertarian model is a bit too simplistic though I still question something like obscenity bans.