April 29, 2024

The Out-of-Control Supreme Court

During my time in junior high school, I remember the complaints of Republicans that the Supreme Court was in the disreputable habit of “legislating from the bench.” Of course, their problem was not with “legislating” but with handing down decisions they just didn’t like, however legally justified they might be. Most especially, they railed against Brown v. Board of Education, the famous desegregation case. The court found that the Constitution logically did not permit racial segregation in conspicuously unequal public schools. Ironically, although the Warren court declared unconstitutional the long-held notion of “separate but equal”—the equal part never seemed to be achieved in practice—it failed to “legislate,” in the sense of declaring what was to be done to eliminate the unequal treatment of Negro students in Topeka schools.

Whereas the basic task of the Supreme Court is to decide what is legal and what is not, even a relatively liberal court is not about defining its own fix for what it believes is illegal. In Roe v. Wade, for example, the court need not have invented its own trimester scheme for determining when abortion is permissible. Having ascertained that the Constitution does not allow an outright abortion ban, the court could have left many details to the legislative branch.

Today, Republicans are delighted that the radically “conservative” Supreme Court engineered by Donald Trump gleefully legislates from the bench when it suites the proclivities of the most reactionary justices. In Trump v. Anderson, the court was asked whether Colorado could remove Donald Trump from a Republican primary ballot based on Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, that is, did Trump’s involvement in an insurrection prevent him from holding public office. Unsurprisingly, the court held that an individual state cannot use the Fourteenth Amendment to disqualify a candidate for federal office. The court further held, however, that only Congress, not the courts, could apply Section 3. The practical effect was to invalidate that section of the Constitution for the foreseeable future.

Now the Supreme Court is considering whether Donald Trump, a former president, can be held legally accountable for actual crimes committed while in office. That the court even granted certiorari for this case is outrageous; the president is not a king, and the Constitution establishes a republic, not a monarchy. Whereas it is unlikely that even this Republican-dominated court will agree with the Trump legal team that a president may even murder his political rivals with impunity, the justices are trying hard to delay a decision (and therefore a trial). The justices failed to put the trial on a fast track, seemed almost indifferent in oral arguments to the matter actually before them, and is worried about crafting a judgment “for the ages.” That the nation is facing the question at issue for the first time in more than two and a quarter centuries suggests that a decision “for the ages” is not an urgent need. But the court is happy to legislate, particularly if it is helpful to their political consigliere Donald Trump.

It is past time to reform the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas refuses to recuse himself on a case involving the January 6 insurrection, even though his wife was a cheerleader for that mutiny. Both Thomas and Justice Alito have received substantial gifts from wealthy Republicans who applaud and benefit from the rightward movement of the court. Although President Biden requested a commission report on court reform, nothing came of the report. It is perfectly clear that the framers of the Constitution did not anticipate that the direction of the country would be set not by Congress and the president, but by the Supreme Court. It is time to fix the court and, therefore, the Republic.

April 25, 2024

Jury Duty

 I was subpoenaed for jury duty today. As I sat during the jury selection process, I was composing an essay in my mind about my experience as a juror. As it happened, I was not chosen for the jury, and I’m unsure whether to be happy or disappointed about that. I was not happy that I had to rise earlier than usual to be in court by 8 am. However, I was able to leave for home by about 10:30.

When I arrived at the courthouse, I filled out a form requiring mostly demographic information. (This was somewhat difficult for me, as I had mistakenly left my reading glasses at home.) Potential jurors were shown a brief film about implicit bias, and the judge gave a lecture about being a juror. He also told us that the trial involved the sexual abuse of a minor and would likely last two days. Then a dozen of us—there were about 30 subpoenaed folks in the room—were seated separately to be questioned by a prosecutor and the defense attorney. Many of the questions we were asked were probing our ability to be objective. We learned during this process that several of the women had been molested as children, that one man had a religious objection to judging anybody under any circumstances, and that one man wearing a brace after knee surgery had difficulty sitting for long periods. Some of the questions by the defense attorney involved the credibility of teenagers. Apparently, one of the prosecution witnesses was to be a teenage girl. Oddly, I noticed that the defendant was better dressed than his attorney. Perhaps the lawyer was trying to look folksy.

When the questioning was over, the dozen potential jurors were given a break while the principals left to consult about who of our number would be on the jury. We had been told that the charges were only misdemeanor charges—felony charges are adjudicated in county, not municipal, courts—and the jury would consist of six regular jurors and one alternate. I thought it likely that the jury, or most of it, would be chosen from our group. I was wrong. Only three were selected; the rest were dismissed.

I was surprised by the courtroom procedure. From fictional dramas and actual trials I’d seen on television, I expected that those in the jury pool would be questioned individually by the prosecution and defense, after which they would immediately be selected for service or not. That procedure is surely more stressful for potential jurors than what I experienced today. Of course, I cannot know what transpired among judge, prosecutors—there were two—defense attorney, and defendant while they were out of the courtroom.

This was the third time I’ve been called for jury duty. The first time, I was excused because I was about to travel to a computer conference. The second time, I was asked many specific questions and made an initial cut, but not the final one. I suspect that our group today was selected based on the questions we answered on paper, so I likely made the first cut again.

I would like to know why I have never been selected. I may never serve on a jury, though I have always thought I would make a good juror because I am used to doing logical analysis. It was clear today, though, that the only evidence in the trial would be witness testimony, and jurors would need to evaluate the credibility of those witnesses. I’m not sure how good I am at that task.

April 10, 2024

Facebook Idiocy

For the second time in the past few weeks, I received this warning—reproduced here exactly—when trying to make a post on Facebook:

Your post may go against our Community Standards on violence and incitement
Your post looks similar to content that we’ve removed for going against our Community Standards. You can delete it now to avoid potential account restrictions.

What I was trying to post was this:

U.S. to Israel: Kill all the Palestinians you like, but you must feed the survivors.

Any reasonable person would understand this as ordinary political commentary, slightly exaggerated perhaps, but a normal observation about current U.S. and Israeli policy nevertheless. It certainly does not incite violence; implicitly, it deplores it.

What “community standards” does this violate? A standard about saying anything not a verifiable fact? I can cite Trump supporters who never post anything that’s true! Are any words related to violence forbidden? Would a phrase like “kill him with kindness” be flagged as inappropriate by Facebook?

I assume that an algorithm was behind my warning. If a person was, that person is an idiot. (I probably couldn’t say that on Facebook.)

The last time I received such a warning on Facebook, I said I wanted to strangle some public figure. I don’t remember who that was, but it was probably someone like Marjorie Taylor Green or Kari Lake. That wasn’t an actual threat, of course, but I see how it could be taken the wrong way is seen out of context. Facebook doesn’t appreciate irony.

Anyway, I decided not to post either comment but to write this commentary instead.

April 9, 2024

More Curve-Stitch Designs

Some readers may know of my longstanding interest in curve stitching, creating designs using only straight lines. Curve stitching began using physical objects, string and cardstock. I was introduced to such designs in junior high school, but I never employed the traditional materials. Instead, I, first drew designs with pencil and paper, then with drafting paper and India ink. The tedium of creating complex figures by hand led me to follow other pursuits for decades.

Eventually, I discovered that I could produce curve-stitch designs on my computer. I did so by programming in PostScript and began posting my work on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. More recently, I have converted PostScript files into Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) images that can be viewed at any level of magnification without loss of fidelity. (Earlier designs were posted as JPG or PNG files.)

The section of my Web site discussing and displaying my curve-stitch designs can be found here. In the past month or so, I have added four new pages of curve-stitch designs:

I invite readers to check out the new pages or the entire section of my Web site on curve stitching.

Sample design
Sample design from “Millington-Inspired Designs”

April 2, 2024

Republican Malfeasance

In happier times, the two political parties worked together to make life better in America. Compromise was often necessary, but useful legislation actually got passed. Now, however, Republicans do not want to pass any legislation, no matter how necessary, if there is a danger that Democrats might get any credit for it. In particular, Republicans do not want to pass any popular legislation while a Democrat is in the White House.

The most blatant example of Republican malfeasance is Donald Trump’s directing his minions in Congress to reject the compromise border bill worked out in the Senate. To facilitate the passage of aid to Ukraine that is desperately needed, Democrats compromised on longstanding positions on immigration, adopting Republican policy preferences the GOP had no reason to think would ever be achieved. But Donald Trump instructed his minions in Congress to torpedo the compromise, lest President Biden get credit for passing a bill giving Republicans what they have always wanted. Being able to criticize Democrats in the upcoming presidential campaign for failing to deal with the “border crisis” was more important to Republicans than solving the reputed crisis. 

Republicans are no longer motivated by helping Americans. They are only interested in achieving and wielding political power. If we want beneficent and effective governing, we need to elect Democrats.

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