Saturday, August 27, 2005

Judicial Activism

Greg Wersal: poster boy for judicial activism
seeks GOP endorse-

GOP: Hey look! Activist judges! Where? The GOP

(AP) Attorney Greg Wersal talks about restrictions on state judicial campaign speeches, in a courtroom...
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Aug 27, 6:42 AM (ET)


MINNETONKA, Minn. (AP) - When Greg Wersal last ran for Minnesota's Supreme Court, he toted plywood cows from town to town, dragged around an oversized ball and chain and adopted his wife's Scandinavian name for political advantage.

For Wersal, the gimmicks served two purposes: They got him noticed and they highlighted campaign rules that he says give voters little to go on during judicial elections.

"My hands were so tied," Wersal said of his campaign. "You are left with silly things. You are left with the gimmicks."

Wersal filed a lawsuit to change those rules. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court sided with him, saying judicial candidates may attend political conventions, seek party endorsements and personally solicit money, all of which are currently forbidden in Minnesota.

The state has three months to appeal the ruling, which also applies in seven other states from Arkansas to North Dakota.

Still, many remain opposed to the politicization of judicial offices.

"You will turn these judicial contests into partisan contests with big money and special interests," said George Soule, who formerly headed the state's judicial selection committee. "That's bad for justice in Minnesota."

Nationwide, 38 states elect judges to their highest courts. In Minnesota, governors typically appoint judges, although they may stand for re-election. Incumbents rarely lose.

Tuesday's ruling piggybacks a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision - also involving Wersal - that wiped away rules barring candidates from talking about disputed legal and political issues.

Wersal, a 49-year-old attorney, got trounced twice in state Supreme Court races, including a run against former Minnesota Vikings football great Alan Page. He set his sights on the state Supreme Court in the mid-1990s because he was angry at decisions on taped confessions and drugs that were considered favorable to defendants.

Wersal said friends told him he didn't stand a chance at beating an incumbent justice - and as he toured the state, he began to agree. He was prohibited from telling people where he stood on the issues, and when the Republican Party tried to endorse him, he could not accept.

So Wersal changed his focus: He found a lawyer and sued, and the state GOP joined in the effort, with deep-pocketed donors bankrolling the fight.

If the ruling stands, Republicans are ready to endorse judicial candidates in next year's races. But others say the usually low-key campaigns will become multimillion-dollar battles.

Justice James Gilbert, who defeated Wersal on the 2000 ballot with 70 percent of the vote, said his victory was a rebuke of Wersal's attempt to inject pure politics in the race.

"He was trying to use the Supreme Court as a soapbox for his own political views," Gilbert said. "I felt that was very unhealthy for our system of justice."

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Failure of Public Education

A lot of people seem to think our educational system only suffers from a lack of funding. If that were true, then how is it that people in this country can still believe in superstition.

I'm not disputing that there is indeed a power in this universe capable of bringing forth life. This planet is teeming with it. Maybe less so now, but still, life abounds. It doesn't matter to me how it got here. What matters is how we live with the rest of the life on this planet, and that includes the other human beings too. But they are a special case for they require great gobs of education to make up for what they lost in instincts. It's the price we paid for the incredibly remarkable development of the cerebrum, the frontal lobes of conscious thought capable of great imagination as well as delusion.

Sorting out delusion from reality can be very tough without the right kind of instruction called critical thinking and the proper exercise of reason and logical thought. By logical I don't mean the Greek kind of argumentation. I mean the kind that uses everyday experience as a check on theory. The essence of scientic thought is to accumulate information, formulate a hypothesis, make a prediction, and then test it. If it checks out, move on to the next experiment. Experimentation should not be reserved for the laboratory alone. It must involve everyday experiences.

Unfortunately, whatever our educational system is supposed to teach is certainly not the kind that leads to lucid thought. Otherwise, Bush would not be in the White House, we would not be in Iraq, and we would not be facing Armageddon brought on by deluded Christians who believe Revelations is upon us. If it isn't, they intend to bring it with nukes.

As a result, I deem our educational system an utter failure by design (google John Taylor Gatto). This is not something more funding is going to solve. The only thing that can solve this is for the very purpose of education to brought into question and serious answers sought as to what constitutes being "educated" and how we can turn that into wisdom.

In the process, we will need to sort out the world's religions and determine which of them are actually valid avenues of spiritual development and which are the more arresting. As it is, Christianity only qualifies as a kindergarten religion on the moral development scale. It has nice of set of black and white rules, but too many of them contradict each other and lend themselves too easily to manipulation and demagoguery leading to all kinds of bloodshed, wars, and pure delusion. So, as a moral guide, it's a failure. And the hard reality of the Christian God is about as real as Zeus (Sam Harris, "The End of Faith", 2005).

The only dispute I have with the Christian God is the limitation put on it. It's male, it's a person, and it's fallible.

I am decidedly an Easterner in this regard. I find the Tao and Dharma to be much better at explaining how things work in this universe. It is a natural order based on causes and conditions, and, as with any complex system, you find there are patterns that underlie it all. In the human world the single greatest rule is moral reciprocity, meaning you get what you give. Even the natural world reacts this way to humans as well in the sense that if we sufficiently damage the ecosystem we are in, we make it unfit to continue living in it. Whereas, if we act like a natural part of the system and live in harmony with it, we find it to be emminently sustaining and sustainable. I consider this a far wiser way of looking at things instead of believe that some God or gods has brought devastation either as punishment or as a second coming, or conversely, has brought good fortune through no effort of ours.

This planet is indeed a paradise if only we would learn to see it that way and appreciate it as a true gift and not waste it on human foolishness, greed, or hatred.

As one Buddhist master once said, "There are not two lands pure or impure in themselves. The difference lies solely in the good or evil of our minds." The only way to reach the good is through proper education and the constant emphasis to cultivate one's humanity, sincerity, honesty, and sense of justice. Without these, we shall only create hell on earth and extinguish ourselves in the process.

America the Dysfunctional

A lot has been said about the politics of fear. What I don't think many people realize is the extent this has influenced the culture and the tone of society and the way we relate to each other. For example, I awoke this morning with a strange image of a young girl begin tied up to a bed by a grown man. The horror of such an act is mind-boggling. And yet too many incidents like this take place every day and I wonder at what is wrong with people who do such things. This leads me back to what I said in the previous post about humane government and the lack of one we have now. The Rude Pundit has this to say about where the stupidity begins.

Unfortunately, in America paranoia and stupidity of every kind runs rampant based on the politics of fear and the fear-mongering of the media and the policies coming down from the Bush White House. Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" shows that our northern neighbor Canada is not so afflicted with fear and paranoia. This can only be explained by a fundamental difference in our respective views of whether people are generally good or generally evil, and, whether we see ourselves as part of a larger whole or as isolated individuals.

The dysfunction of American society is the result of a severe dysfunction of the American psyche pushed so far into itself that we have reached an existential crisis. Michael Douglas has the dubious honor of portraying both sides of this problem in his performances in "Wall Street" and "Falling Down." In "Wall Street" we have the "greed is good" line. The character fails to understand the moral implication of what he's said and, even more deeply, is shocked to find himself betrayed due to his own lack of humanity.

In "Falling Down" we see the implications of the "greed is good" line as the lead character finds himself out of work as "not economically viable." His journey from downtown Los Angeles to Venice Beach is a telling sojourn across American society and the dysfunction that now pervades it from gangs to foreign shopkeepers to corporate rules to paramilitary white supremecists to the narcissistic elitism of the golf course. The basic care and consideration we should have for each other as human beings is just not found in America today and we see it played out in the increasing mental dysfunction of a man who just wants to see his daughter for her birthday. The larger issue of his failed marriage is not explored. It is merely put there to show he was a lunatic to begin with as if nothing in the greater society has anything to do with it, and yet, his journey shows all the ways in which a person's basic goodness can be thwarted.

As Mencius said, "The trees of the Ox mountain were once beautiful. But how could the trees and mountain retain their beauty if they were hewn down with saws and axes? Still through the activity of the vegetative life day and night and the nourishing influence of the rain and dew, they were not without buds and sprouts springing forth. But then came the cattle and goats to browse upon them again and again. To these things is owing the bare and stripped appearance of the mountain, and when people now see it, they think it was never finely wooded. But is this the nature of the mountain?

"And so also of what properly belongs to man; shall it be said that the mind of any man is without benevolence and righteousness? The way in which a man loses his proper goodness of mind is like the way which the mountains are denuded of trees by axes. Hewn down day after day, can it--the mind--retain its beauty? But there is a development of its life day and night, and in the calm air of the morning, just between night and day, the mind feels in a degree those desires and aversions which are proper to humanity, but the feeling is not strong, and it is fettered and destroyed by what takes place during the day. This fettering takes place again and again, the restorative influence of the night is not sufficient to preserve the proper goodness of the mind; and when this proves insufficient for that purpose, the nature becomes not much different from that of the irrational animals, and when people now see it, they think that it never had those powers which I assert. But does this condition represent the feelings proper to humanity?

"Therefore, if it receives its proper nourishment, there is nothing which will not grow. If it loses its proper nourshment, there is nothing which will not decay."

America is a mountain denuded, the goodness of the people having been chopped down and their minds filled with fear and their natures twisted into something inhuman. We must reclaim our humanity and set things right once again if we are to have a society worth living in and to keep our children safe from harm.