Rush and others have it wrong even if they have a point…

May 31, 2009

(WARNING: This is a long post. So if you don’t want to read it all I just want to say that while I think that Sonia Sotomayor would probably be a good Supreme Court justice I am concerned about a ruling she took part in that seems kind of like reverse discrimination (almost) and I also want to say that I know why the reactionary loudmouths are hollering “racist” and what they mean and why someone might buy it; it’s all about ratings, politics, and some legitimate white resentment. But if you have time, read on anyway so I will feel that I did something worthwhile.)


While I don’t agree with the tone of folks such as Rush Limburger Cheese (not his real name) or Newt Gingrich in their shrill, especially in the case of Limburger, sounding accusations that Sonia Sotomayor is a “racist”, I understand where they are coming from. I don’t agree with their motives or possibly in this case even the accuracy of their charges.

What they are claiming is that because she is on record as asserting that as a Latina she has better judgment than a white man, she is a reverse racist, thereby no better than the more familiar conventional racist who just does not care for folks who are black or even brown or yellow, because he (or she) is white.

Sotomayor is Puerto Rican (Hispanic) by heritage. She has been nominated by President Barack Obama to replace the retiring Justice David Souter (she is considered liberal and thus would keep the court’s liberal contingent intact, but interestingly enough, Souter was considered conservative until after he took his place on the court and the decisions started coming down).

Limburger (not his real name) is an entertainer who uses politics as his shtick, although I must admit he seems to have become a primary de facto spokesman for the somewhat fractured or disorganized Republican party, which seems to be searching for a new identity. Power abhors a vacuum, so Rush rushed in. And I’m going off the subject here, but apparently the cable news, to include the left-of-center commentators, seem to love the fact that Rush is the spokesman – they run clips of his harangues every day.

Gingrich I suppose is looking for some kind of political comeback. So every time he makes a racist accusation he is appealing to his base for political (money) support.

But buried way down to right here in this blog is what I really wanted to say. Both Limburger (not his real name) and Gingrich and others of their ilk are playing on white resentment. And by that I mean resentment from white racists as well as just everyday white people who are not racist.

Let’s go back in time to the 1950s and the1960s.

As a kid, even as a little kid, I knew that there was such a thing as racial discrimination and as a white boy I did not have to suffer from it.

The little farming town where I lived in the middle of California’s Central Valley had one area designated “Colored Town” and one designated “Mexican Town”.

A de facto type segregation was noticeable in the public elementary schools, especially among the black children, because most of them lived in a certain section of town.

I was told by my parents and learned by watching the news on TV, and I guess from teachers at school too, that in the South there were actually laws that discriminated against black people. They could not go to the same schools, could not use public swimming pools, and had to use separate drinking fountains – and the list goes on, and let’s not forget, perhaps worst of all black people were kept from voting by various means.

I saw the news reports of a white sheriff (s) using dogs against black civil rights demonstrators. I saw the National Guard having to be sent in just to allow some black kids to go to a public high school, and federal marshal’s to get them into state universities, and, well you know the rest…

Later, as I got older, I also learned that there was often discrimination in employment – and this was not just in the South. And also, I learned that discrimination of all kinds was not just in the South. In fact it was just as bad everywhere.

I was taught not to be racist, and that is not to say that no one while he or she grows up is not exposed to or even indulges in some what may be thought of as a benign form of racism (racial jokes and such).

We had a neighbor lady from Texas. She saw nothing wrong with discrimination (and this was no joke). She said that “colored people” back where she came from were more polite. “If you are walking down the sidewalk they will step off the curb for you,” she said, just as matter of factly as you please. She was telling that to my mom and I think my mom almost fell out of her chair. I was listening. But I knew better. She was an otherwise nice lady, but in her Southern culture she had grown up with some assumptions about the place of race in society.

My upbringing, from an early time, pointed me toward support of civil rights and dismantling racial discrimination.

Things seem to turn when through a tragic event, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, his vice president, from Texas, Lyndon Johnson, became president. Even though Johnson at one time had been a segregationist, he had turned to new deal-style Democratism and support of civil rights. Because Kennedy had unsuccessfully pushed for civil rights legislation, Johnson was able to use the sorrow of a nation to push it through, partly as tribute to Kennedy’s memory.

But of course passing laws alone does not necessarily change people.

However, at least the law was there. But as I became a teenager and throughout my teen years there were riots in the black ghettos all summer long every summer. There was a new militancy among black society. I never could understand what breaking a department store window and running out with a TV had to do with civil rights. None of us, no matter what our color or heritage, have a right to do that.

And then I was in the Army. And that is where I saw this strange dichotomy. Get this: I was assigned to my company. I was first greeted (if you want to call it that) by a stern and black First Sergeant. I was next introduced to a firm but somewhat less stern black platoon sergeant. I think the racial makeup of my company was about 50/50 black and white. It seemed that there were a tad more black NCOs among the career soldiers in my battalion. Among my peers I can tell you that there was no discrimination in promotions, at least from buck private to sergeant. I don’t recall seeing any black officers at that time where I was. But what I am trying to say is that there was certainly equal opportunity.

But among all of this we had a certain contingent of black soldiers who did not feel that they had to do what everyone else does or at least did not care to. To be fair, we also had white soldiers who felt this way. But the black soldiers had a ready advantage in this. If they did not want to do something, they hollered “discrimination”. Although this did not always work, especially in my company with so many black NCOs and a black First Sergeant, it did sometimes. The officer corps was particularly sensitive to discrimination charges because their higher ups were getting heat from their higher ups (it was all about the political pressure back home from those riots).

And caught in the middle of all of this are white folks who have never been overtly prejudice or practiced overt discrimination (or even acted in those ways in a suttle fashion) but who have watched some shirk their duties or try to take advantage using false charges of racism. And these white people are also told that if a person is a minority and robs a store we should consider the fact of his or her upbringing and the legacy of racial discrimination. There are white people who grow up poor (and yes, some of them rob stores), but they don’t, and shouldn’t, get that consideration.

We should all be judged “on the content of our character and not the color of our skin”, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said. And under the law we should be treated equally, and that goes both ways. We should all have the same rights and the same obligations.

I think a lot of us thought that civil rights legislation would mean that folks would be treated fairly and that there would be neither discrimination against blacks (or other minorities), nor against the majority, because turning things around and just treating others wrong didn’t make sense. If white folks have been discriminating against black folks, you don’t solve the problem by turning around and letting them be discriminated against.

But in too many cases in interpreting civil rights legislation the federal courts have done just that. Although I think most of it has been abandoned now, in many instances court decisions led to racial quotas being mandated by court orders. We wound up with qualified non-minorities being refused jobs because a certain minority quota needed to be filled.

I once suggested to a racial quota-supporting professor at college that rather than quotas, a better solution might be a lottery. I proposed in a paper for her class that if you had virtually equally qualified candidates for a job you could put their names in a hat and whomever is chosen gets the job by luck of the draw. She thought that was a novel approach, but I could tell she was not buying it.

Enough of that – back to that court pick:

At this point I have neither read nor heard anything yet that makes me think that Sonia Sotomayor should not be appointed the U.S. Supreme Court, but I still have a nagging concern over her part in the New Haven, Conn. firefighters case.

And her comment from sometime back saying something to the effect that as a Latina she would hope she would have better judgment than a white man seems to me like just so many words and probably one needs to read or hear the whole context of that. And it probably proves nothing more than that if you ever think you might have a chance to sit on the high court you’re better off to say little to anyone (except I’m interested in that open position). Then maybe again, she may be benefitting because she is so outspoken and caught the ear of Obama. Remember Republicans (and conservatives), the other side won and gets to choose.

She’s authored enough opinions and took part in many more, so her record is clear to anyone who cares to study it. I’ve only read some summaries, but she seems fairly even handed, except I imagine on close inspection one would conclude that she as often as not leans to the left (whatever that means – to me it means she can give the benefit of the doubt to the side that might not get such treatment from those who think there is always a hard and fast answer to everything and it always means preserving the status quo).

The firefighters case, Ricci vs. DeStephano, has reached the Supreme Court and is awaiting a decision. From what I have read it is expected that the court will reverse the lowers courts’ decision, thus, interestingly enough, reversing Sotomayor’s ruling, sitting on the appellate court. I guess that is because there is still a conservative advantage on the Supreme Court (in this particular case I feel that is a good thing).

You can read the case or stories or summaries of it online at various sites, but in a nutshell 118 firefighters of the New Haven, Conn.  City Fire Department took a test for eight vacant lieutenant positions and seven captain positions. Trouble was, the only ones who scored high enough for promotion were white (and, or to include, two Hispanics). No blacks scored high enough. The city decided to scrap the test figuring it would be liable for discrimination. The case eventually wound up before an appellate panel, upon which Sotomayor sits, and with a summary opinion, not arguing the merits of the case, the appellate justices decided it was proper for the city to throw out the test. No one got promoted. Those who would have got promoted are suing.

While I have read that the test may have been flawed somewhat in that it has a question or questions irrelevant to these particular positions, and while I have read that the test was judged by some not to be the best way to determine qualities of leadership, I have not read anything that says the test by itself was in anyway discriminatory to minorities (just possibly the result).

From what I have read, at least one of the white men taking the test had a learning disability and had to go to some expense to buy study materials, but he was able to pass it through his own hard efforts and sacrifices.

And that’s kind of the way it is in life. Sometimes it’s all about taking the test. The smart people are the smart people often for no other reason than they study for the test. I am sure that every one of those applicants had the same opportunity to do what was necessary.

However, I do think that the city could decide that maybe that test was kind of useless and a new test and a new procedure could be found and a new recruitment effort could be made to encourage all to learn what it takes to pass it and get promoted.

But, you know, aside from race, there are other barriers we all face. Some of us take tests better than others. Some of us are smarter (or not) than others, and, I hate to say this folks, but we all do not possess leadership qualities. But I think leadership probably is something more to judge by actual job performance and interviews.

And, I’ll never get through with this blog, but the idea that simply because minority test takers do not score high enough does not mean they are being treated unfairly.

And is it not being forgotten that the bottom line, especially for emergency personnel, is are we promoting those with leadership and SKILL? Those two qualities have to trump concerns over racial discrimination every time.


The Wall Street Journal has a good story on the New Haven case:

If “local” news gathering can be outsourced to India and U.S. taxpayers must fund GM to produce cars in China — just what is OUR function???

May 29, 2009

I just read on the Editor and Publisher site that the Hartford Advocate newspaper (out of Connecticut), along with two other alternative newspapers connected with it, in what was first proposed as a joke and then became serious, has published at least one edition in which all or virtually all of its local news was done by outsourced writers – from INDIA!

On my first read of this item I did not get whether this was a one-time thing or a new way of doing things. This is not the first time something like this has been done. And in the case of the Advocate, it seems some of these writers are quite highly qualified, having written for the Guardian (out of England), the BBC, and the Times of India. Interestingly, the Advocate personnel said the whole thing was “not cheap”.  But at least one other U.S. newspaper tried (still is?) outsourcing local news because they could get the job done for a lot less money (really kind of like just accepting the news release written by city hall instead of doing your own reporting – but really the story for the local newspaper is not so much about what happened at the council meeting, but what led up to it and what is the result and so on – good reporting is not transcription). My own local newspaper is starting to use more submitted articles. Back in the old days, local newspapers often used so-called “stringers” who worked on a kind of low piece rate (or maybe for free for their own vanity – kind of like I’m doing here). Back to the oursourced writers from India. Of course they do all of this by phone, calling to the U.S. for interviews from the Indian subcontinent. It’s bad enough they’ve taken over medicine (at least where I live), but our local news reporting too!?

Reading this on top of learning by way of the web and some on cable news that General Motors plans to use taxpayer bailout dollars to make cars in China (and even import some of them back into the U.S.) leaves me to ask the question: just what is OUR function on this planet?

(Maybe we’re all supposed to join the Army. Then again, that could be outsourced — like the French Foreign Legion — not a bad idea.)

Going back and reading the E&P item again I saw that the Advocate is a weekly and the whole thing was done as a kind of spoof to prove a point (or not). They (the paper) explain it themselves and if I can get this link correct you can get that explanation at:

And if that didn’t work, just Google Hartford Advocate.

They also mentioned that they got the idea from news some time ago that a newspaper in Pasadena, Ca. decided to outsource some local coverage by doing such things as linking up their Indian correspondents via webcam to local city council meetings. Having attended far too many council meetings when I was a reporter (I actually liked them at first), I’d say that’s one job I’d almost not mind giving up.

Seriously. Besides all the obvious logistical, practical, ethical, even cost, considerations associated with outsourcing news coverage, doesn’t one have to ask at what point do we lose our personal identity?

I want a justice who bases decisions on the law as long as they agree with my interpretations…

May 29, 2009

It always amazes me when someone claims that if he or she does not agree with some issue in public policy that the wrong they see is “unconstitutional”.

What do they mean? Are they referring to a specific provision in the constitution? Or are they just referring to what they feel is a general intent of the constitution and have they even ever read the constitution?

The constitution is a framework and a model of our government and law, but it is often short on specifics (not always).

For so long now, though, we have accepted that the nine justices of the Supreme Court have the job of deciding what indeed is constitutional and what is not, this even though the man on the street seems to automatically know what is constitutional and what is not (we of course are all entitled to our opinions).

But the fact that the justices can decide on the constitutionality of laws, thus overriding legislative decisions, and the fact that in so doing they can have such power over our lives (Roe vs. Wade and quite possibly a future decision on same sex marriage) makes appointments to the bench so extremely political. And at the same time people on either side of an issue often go to great lengths to disavow the notion that they would not support a justice over pure political reasons – it’s their ability to interpret the constitution, they will insist. But in interpreting, what would any human, justices included, have to work with? He or she has education certainly, but that cannot be separated from life experiences, personal feelings, individual opinions, all of these things that shape individual thought and opinion. And nominees for the high court are nominated by the president, and president is an elected official. He (or she one day) is a politician. So ipso facto it is at least partly (well all) about politics.

I think there is a conflict a president must face, or a divided set of reasons a president uses in choosing a nominee. We would hope that on one level the need for someone to have the ability to listen to both sides of an argument and then come up with a fair decision based on the law and not personal preference is one of the criteria the president uses. But the president is a politician and must consider the wants and needs of those who got him to where he is, along with all of the public. If the president is, say, a liberal, the president is obviously not likely to select a nominee who is seen to have a conservative record, and visa versa. If the president were middle of the road (and no president in my lifetime has been labeled as such that I can recall) the nominee might likely be middle of the road (but most people would probably see such a person as conservative, or worse yet, inconsistent).

So what I’m trying to say here – and for some reason having a hard time doing it – is that all this talk about having someone who can properly apply the law is almost (almost I say) disingenuous – sure we as good citizens have to want a justice who can do that, but what many of us want is someone who will properly apply the law the way we see it. It’s really pretty much political.

And Supreme Court picks are always a gamble. A president does not always get what is expected.

Conservatives have had worse luck in getting surprised than liberals, as I have read it. The first president Bush appointed Justice David Souter, thought to be a conservative. He turned out to be a more reliable vote for the liberal faction on the court (his retirement has opened the way for President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, whom liberals are hoping will be liberal enough and conservatives fear will be way too liberal). President Eisenhower thought he had appointed a conservative to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when he selected California Republican Governor Earl Warren. The Warren Court became the most liberal ever and anathema to conservatives. The Warren Court was seen by many as going far beyond the letter of the law and creating judge-made law in its decisions. Racial quotas in hiring, forced school busing, letting criminals go because they were not read their rights (so-called Miranda warnings), I think are part of the legacy of the Warren Court, along with the unconstitutionality in racial segregation of schools and other public services. So on the one hand, the Warren Court can be blamed for criminals being let off due to technicalities and on the other hand it can be credited with making it illegal to prevent someone from, say, attending a particular public school due to the color of one’s skin or from forcing a black person to sit at the back of a public bus.

I don’t find it too surprising that some still cling to the belief that justices should not be political and should stick to the exact letter of the law and not do anything to change the law, for it was not until the case of Marbury vs. Madison in 1803 that it was accepted that the high court could even decide the constitutionality of a law, based on the theory of judicial review. I guess before that people thought the high court was just the ultimate arbiter in cases and that the constitution was self-explanatory and never subject to change in its application.

Perhaps some still do.


Personally I would like to see an open-minded justice who doesn’t think the law has to be stuck in some kind of time warp but who nonetheless will stick to the core principles of the constitution. An example, holding that separate but equal is unconstitutional, as in Brown vs. The Board of Education, is a good decision, for if blacks and whites have equal rights then there should be no purpose to separate them. But going a step further and ordering school busing to force desegregation of schools (as was done) goes way beyond the scope of the court and the constitution (my opinion, of course). Another example: holding that a test for firefighter promotion is discriminatory if it had questions on it that were not relevant to the position but seemed to be designed to eliminate people who did not have the same cultural background as the majority would seem correct, but simply holding that because no minority applicants passed the test, regardless of what the content of the test was, that the method of promotion is discriminatory seems to me to be wrong, illogical, and again way beyond the scope of the court (but of course the current state of federal law does not seem to agree with my assertions here).

Golden Gate Bridge turns 72 and I think about my San Francisco connection…

May 28, 2009

Saw that the Golden Gate Bridge is 72 years old this week while I was surfing the web. And that made me think about my connection to San Francisco, the city for which that often fog-shrouded structure is such an icon.

My connection is that I was born there. But I was not raised there. I think I was not quite four years old when my family moved away, and yet I seem to have so many childhood memories of the place.

We lived in the Sunset District which was for so long virtually nothing but sand dunes stretching back from the Pacific Ocean to the west of hills that stood between it and downtown San Francisco. But I believe after World War II it was essentially built out – a few sand dunes remained in a few empty lots when we left there in the early 1950s and maybe a few years after that.

But my memories are both vivid and surreal. I spent a lot of time with my mother because my next older brother and my sister were at school and my dad was either at work downtown at his job for the Associated Press or later taking photographs of houses for the multiple listing real estate service.

Sometimes mom and I would go along with him. As small as I was, I recall that he let me use part of an old Speed Graphic camera (the old bulky press camera you see in the movies) to pretend that I was taking pictures too. He’d set up his tri-pod and his camera and I’d stand right along beside him with my partial camera. I have one of those almost surreal type images in my mind. We are both standing on a traffic island and making a photo of one of those multi-story San Francisco-style row houses.

I remember going up and down those hills. Dad bought a brand new ‘53 Studebaker, and those hills rather quickly wore out its clutch (and anyone who recalls driving a car with a clutch also recalls that little working the clutch pedal and gas pedal together routine while stopped at the top of a hill to keep from rolling back but at the same time being ready to move forward).

Sometimes we would see a fruit and vegetable peddler truck, a kind of flat bed affair with its produce and scales hanging from the back. We’d stop and mom with buy bananas for us to eat.

I also recall the whole family going to Fisherman’s Wharf. But back then it was just a wharf, although certainly a picturesque one with its little multi-colored fishing boats and steaming pots of crabs. It was not until years later that it became row upon row of T-shirt shops and the Wax Museum and a kind of glitzy carnival. I liked the old Fisherman’s Wharf better.

And Playland at-the-Beach was not far from our house. It was an amusement park with one of those giant old roller coasters and a diving bell and a high speed merry-go-round, and a laughing caricature of a woman – Laughin’ Sal – who never did stop laughing, that is until they finally closed the place down for good in 1972, by which time it had disintegrated into kind of a trash heap, I understand. I was too young and never went on the roller coaster and never went under water in that diving bell. But I recall watching the green-colored diving bell go under water, stay there for some time, and then come splashing back up to the surface and then immediately submerge again and then come right back up. Never did know why they did it that way. I did go on that fast-paced merry-go-round at least once. Knowing me, it probably scared me, but I don’t recall.

But talk about being scared, I do recall really being terrified when my brother and sister took me to a little hole-in-the wall movie theater, I think called the Surf, on Judah Street, not far from the ocean. We watched that early 1950s black and white classic, “Creature From the Black Lagoon”. I got so scared and bawled so much they had to take me home. I should not have mentioned that, because they have most likely either forgiven me or hopefully forgot it by now.

And that 72-year-old beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. I’m sure we must have gone to it or over it when I was a very little kid. I seemed to know what it was even then. I recall my oldest brother, who was a sailor in the U.S. Navy stationed at the time at nearby Mare Island, visiting us. I asked him how he got on his submarine and he said they dropped a rope ladder down from the bridge. I remember as a kid picturing that in my mind’s eye.

And another surreal memory. Sometimes we drove out to Mare Island to pick him up, but one time I guess he came to town on a bus. I recall riding in the family car, and I have images of a dark early morning or late night with the only illumination being the street lights and the sight of glistening pavement and a kind of ground fog and a sailor wearing his sailor white cap and sailor blues standing on the corner.

And so many memories from both when I lived there and later when the family returned for visits during which we often seemed to go to not only the more conventional touristy places, but other strange places as well. Those memories include: Maiden Lane, a little alley off of Market Street where you entered shops seemingly from their back doors; an elementary school on the Twin Peaks where they were giving a ceramics demonstration; the old and practically rundown, but quite colorful, Gates Hotel where we often stayed (street noise to include sirens all night long – the city never seems to sleep); a little Chinese restaurant in a basement on a corner; a cafeteria downtown where all the working folks ate; a van Gogh art exhibit at the de Young Museum; the Aquarium in Golden Gate Park, which by the way used to have free admission; a corner grocery with its bushel baskets out front – on any number of street corners (not a 7-11); walking past the nondescript Hungry i nightclub where Mort Sahl used to perform with a newspaper under his arm doing jokes on current events and political satire, way, way before that became so universally cool; going to a theater out on Geary Street to see the movie “Around the World in Eighty Days” , starring David Niven; traveling up and down streets and then recognizing them later in scenes in the Hitchcock movie “Vertigo” or in an old cop show that predated the “Streets of San Francisco”, called “Lineup”; a plain clothes policeman and neighbor my folks swore was the model for one the Lineup cops bringing us a pail full of little smelt fish he caught from the beach; my next older brother and sister playing with one of those iconic 1950s Mr. Potato Head toys; watching a horse-mounted cop at Golden Gate Park; having a wrangler tell me to watch out because I was standing in front of a corral in an empty sand lot – he opened a door to a stable and he drove a herd of horses across the street into the corral (and this was on a street with row houses, except for that empty lot and that stable). And here’s still another one: we used to ride on the crowded half open-air cable cars, with many riders standing while hanging out from the side of the car, tightly gripping one hand on a pole. Back then it was more like a regular, if colorful, mode of transportation, and we actually paid for it while riding as the conductor came around and he’d actually make change (and how did he keep track of who paid and who didn’t in that mob?). Today I believe most tourists buy a ticket at a kiosk and it’s more like an amusement ride. I still advise taking the ride, though.

Instead of the cool coastal climate and hills of San Francisco, I grew up in the hot and flat lands of the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys of California’s interior. But I retained that special connection with one the most fabled and beautiful cities of the world.

Once many years ago I had to get a certified copy of my birth certificate. I went to San Francisco and stood in line in a hallway with a bunch of strangers. But we all had a special connection and distinction. We were born in San Francisco.


The late columnist Herb Caen did a good job both describing Playland and lamenting its demise:

Same sex marriage fight continues in California; North Korea beats the drums of war — what do we do???

May 27, 2009

What I really want to blog about right now is the continuing threats from North Korea, but first I must note that the fight over same sex marriage continues in California. I understand that two attorneys today are going to (or already have) file a brief in U.S. District Court in California to among other things get an injunction against the ban on same sex marriages.

In addition, I believe there are plans to mount yet another ballot measure, this time to re-instate same sex marriage.

As I blogged yesterday, I am not and out and out supporter of same sex marriage as such, but I do believe that the law should be clear on this. Right now we have a situation in which the state’s high court HAD declared that same sex marriage was protected under the state’s constitution, but then upheld a ban on such marriages that came as a result of a voter initiative. But another voter initiative could be mounted and the vote could go the other way. Opinion on the matter I think is fairly well evenly divided in the state. Prop. 8, which banned same sex marriages, passed, but part of that was from voter apathy and even confusion on the measure itself, as I recall.

One thing we have found out here in California is that it is far too easy to change our constitution. The anti-same sex marriage forces (including money from out of state and including help from the Mormons) were able to successfully argue that their ballot measure was an amendment, not a revision. Under state law an amendment can be made by the voters, but a revision requires a two thirds vote of the legislature and then a majority vote by the electorate.

To add confusion to all of this, some 18,000 same sex marriages performed before the ban are still legally recognized under yesterday’s court ruling. That seems rather odd to me, to say the least. Some same sex couples can be married others not. There is no precise legal definition in state law that makes it clear as to what the differences are between an amendment and a revision. The revision is supposed to be more all encompassing. Well anytime a class of people are said to have rights and then those rights are snatched away from them seems kind of a major deal to me, kind of like a “revision”.

It is argued that same sex couples have the right to civil unions and are afforded the same (or essentially the same) protections as opposite sex married couples. I doubt that such is accurate. And I doubt that California civil unions are recognized in all states, whereas marriages are (except possibly same sex marriages?).

Recognizing same sex marriages and calling them marriages is a major cultural change. And that is the problem. But it needs to be resolved by something better than a court ruling that same sex marriages can be allowed, but then disallowed by voters, but then maybe allowed again.

What if all the protections we have under the federal constitution’s Bill of Rights could be changed each election or in special elections at the voters’ whims? Fortunately it is a lot harder to amend or revise the federal document. Maybe California’s way of doing things needs to be revised.


Just read an article on the web that said the North Korean army has declared the 1953 armistice null and void and that the Korean War is on again. And I think that this was in reference to some plan to intercept shipments dealing with nuclear proliferation to or from North Korea, that South Korea joined in. North Korea has threatened to attack U.S. and South Korean ships (I would hope we would respond to an attack better than we did in the Pueblo incident).

Well, it’s just threats for now.

An underground nuke test (and it is not generally known really how powerful it really was) and some more missile test launches and a lot of tough words have and are coming out of North Korea. And I read today that everyone, and especially the U.S. and China, which are key players here, seems baffled or befuddled as to what to do about the whole thing. North Korea is supposed to be China’s ally, but it is making that nation’s leaders uncomfortable with all of its threats that it is ready to use nukes to get its way. China does not want to cut off food and other aid on which North Korea depends for its survival. Fore one thing, China is afraid that if North Korea collapsed its million-man army might turn into armed marauders. The U.S. has to be concerned that North Korea might do something crazy like attack South Korea (a major ally of ours and one we saved at great cost to us back in the early 1950s). Or they might eventually, if left unchecked, launch a nuke at us, or sink one of our ships, or who knows?

I have read that the U.S. is depending upon China to do something about North Korea because we here in the USA don’t have many options. On the one hand, it might be hard to exert pressure on China since we are so much in debt to them for all the outstanding loans they have made us. On the other hand our whole relationship with that communist nation is symbiotic. Although we seem to depend upon them for money and our consumer goods, they depend upon us for trade, that is for buying all of their products.

While I am not for a lot secret dealing in international relations, maybe if it is necessary we should be doing some with China. As I have blogged many times – give nations like North Korea or Iran a secret ultimatum that allows them to change course but save face at the same time. Maybe we could do this with China. Make it plain to them that we, the USA, do not intend to simply wait until North Korea actually has the power to make good on its threats.

And if you read my blogs, I know you’ve read this one before: I like Teddy Roosevelt’s idea that we should speak softly and (but) carry a big stick. John McCain, as I recall, said he liked that approach too. So in that respect, if he really believed that (and with his singing, bomb, bomb, Iran, I don’t think he did so much), in the field of foreign relations he might have been a better pick for president. But there were so many other issues, such as the economy, for which he did not seem to offer acceptable alternatives to his own political party’s bungling (and yes, the Democrats bungled too, but they had a new face and something that appeared more like change).

President Obama is no peacenik. He has not ended the war in Iraq and is strengthening our effort in Afghanistan (and Pakistan). And I think he may well realize that at some point we will have to do something about North Korea. Mean words from that nation will not hurt anyone, but nukes controlled by a nut case of a dictator could (and that applies to both North Korea and Iran).

Sotomayor could help change ivory tower of high court, but she has balance too…

May 27, 2009

I’ve been able to read a little more about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and I am kind of left feeling the same way as I did in my initial reaction, but maybe more positive.

I still think that she appears to be a good pick because she is a female – need more representation of what is for me the opposite sex on the high court – and she is Hispanic, so this would add some additional so-called minority representation as well.

In my initial reaction post I said that I was concerned about a ruling she voted in favor of that struck down the claim of reverse discrimination by several white (to include one Hispanic) firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut. They had taken a promotion exam, but since blacks did not score high enough, it was decided by a court that the test must have been discriminatory and on that grounds all applications for promotion were thrown out. Sotomayor, sitting as an appellate justice, sided with the ruling to uphold that decision. Some of her supporters argue that lest anyone have any problem with the reasoning there that all she really did was uphold the existing case law on discrimination as it now stands. That would give her the out that she might not necessarily agree that the whole thing was fair (although we don’t have any idea what she thinks on that). The Case in question, Ricci vs. DeStehano, as it happens, is now before the Supreme Court.

From reading some background on her various case decisions I see that she has made some decisions that would tend to please liberals and some that would tend to please conservatives or that she has decided both in favor of plaintiffs and in favor of defendants. She did work once as a prosecutor.

Already some conservative Republicans are jumping on a quote from her that the appellate courts are “where policy is made”. The idea here is that such shows her to be an activist who sees the proper role of the judiciary as making law, not just deciding law. But I read more about that quote and it said she was talking to college students and advising them that those who are interested in public policy often gravitate toward the appellate courts because, yes, that is where policy is made. She even added, somewhat jokingly, but not really, that she realized that she should not be saying that – but that is the way that it is.

While personally I feel that appellate court judges or all judges need to stick as close the written or decided law (and just how did it get decided?) as they can, I also know that they have to deal in interpretation of the law and that if there was no interpretation to be done there would be little need for judges in the first place. One can get carried away, though.

From reading and listening to the various reactions since the president announced his decision, I can see that there is likely to be strong opposition to Sotomayor. But with all of her experience – she has a lot – and the fact that she seems to have a fairly balanced record, even if she might be inclined to lean toward liberal decisions, and the fact that the Republicans need all the support that they can get and will once again be shooting themselves in the foot if they alienate females and Hispanics (and I acknowledge that not all in those two groups think alike), I think she has a more than excellent chance to win conformation. And, if nothing else, the Democrats may just have more votes.

Sotomayor is 54 and was born in New York. She currently sits on the U.S. Second District Court of Appeals. He parents were from Puerto Rico (which of course is part of the United States) and her father died when she was young. She lived in a housing project in the Bronx and was raised by a working mother. So, humble beginnings, some street smarts, and the fact that she has long years of experience that include a time as a prosecutor and long service as a justice, to me gives her a unique set of experiences that would be a valuable addition to the Supreme Court that can be somewhat of an ivory tower.

So, at this point, I see her nomination and likely confirmation a positive.


In my original post in reaction to the Sotomayor nomination I erroneously stated that minority firefighters in the Ricci vs. DeStephano case had been promoted over white firefighters when in fact no one was promoted. I corrected that in an updated post. But I like to make sure I clear things up.

What’s to stop California voters from restoring same sex marriage in the future? and some initial reactions to high court events…

May 26, 2009

(Note:  if you feel you may have read this post before, you may have, but I’ve added a few things.)

Two major court decisions today, one on the federal level and one in California. But since I live in California, I will give an initial and only initial reaction on it first.

Seems like the California Supreme Court has stood law or logic on its head by on the one hand upholding a statewide ballot measure to ban same sex marriage and on the other hand ruling that existing same sex marriages before the ban remain legal. Reportedly there are 18,000 still legally recognized same sex marriages.

It seems that since they recognize the legality of the previous same sex marriages then they are admitting that a class of people, gays (or homosexuals, if you will), have had their rights taken away from them.

But that is only an initial reaction. I will have to read the full accounts of the whole thing.

Add 1:

Well, I did go ahead and read at least part of the text of the California high court decision before I became extremely fatigued. But apparently the court held that Prop. 8, which banned same sex marriages by amending the state constitution, was okay because it was in their determination an “amendment” and not a “revision” of the state constitution. Under California law voters can make amendments but  revisions, as I understand it, would require a two thirds vote by the legislature and then a simple majority by the voters. I think they can also be made in something called a constitutional convention. And as you can tell, I am hazy on all of this, but that’s the best I can come up with now and what I have just written is a slight modification of my original post on this subject. But suffice to say, amendments are easier to to do than revisions. Interestingly, there is no hard and fast definition of what a revision actually is. But, according to the high court, amendments make “discrete” changes, but revisions amount to wholesale changes in governmental plans and framework — whatever. The fact remains, as far as I can tell, that there is one law for straights and one for so-called gays. Gays are still allowed civil unions and the existing marriages were upheld (like I say, I don’t quite get the reasoning or logic).

Add 2:

Not that he has any credibility left, but Gov. Schwarzenegger supports same sex marriage and I understand recent polling shows increasing support for it as well (opinion on this issue was volatile even before Prop. 8).  So it would seem activists (this time for the other side) could push through another measure and voters could turn around and approve same sex marriage (and the court seems to think it’s up to the voters) and so, here we go again.

While I personally am not an advocate of same sex marriage, I am not sure that civil unions afford the same advantages as marriage and I would support some coherent and equitable and solid public policy on the matter. This government by initiative or current whim of the voters is hard to follow.


I like the fact that President Barack Obama has chosen a person who is both a woman and an Hispanic as his nominee to sit on the high court. We desperately need a better representation of both sexes and more of a cross section ethnically so we can get away from the conventional white male Anglo-Saxon domination in this branch of government that makes so many far reaching decisions on our personal lives.

I know little about nominee Sonia Sotomayor. One thing that concerns me, though, is that she took part in a controversial decision that as I understand it threw out the promotions of white firemen (to include one Hispanic) on the grounds that since no black firefighters scored high enough the test must have been discriminitory (no one was promoted — in my initial post I erroneously asserted that minority firefighters had been promoted). Seems to me that such reasoning is counter to the best interests of both majorities and minorities.  Who would want to think he or she was promoted on the basis of race, rather than fitness for the job? And how would that be in the best interests of public safety? I’ll need to study up on that decision and other areas of her background before making my final judgment (and of course no one is waiting on my judgment – but I am a concerned citizen). That firefighter case, Ricci vs. DeStephano, is currently awaiting a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A big news day!

North Korea nuke test and Memorial Day remind us that there’s good guys and bad guys…

May 26, 2009

Add 1:  North Korea continues its saber rattling with the news that it has followed up an underground nuke test yesterday with more missible tests today.

On the same day I read that North Korea is bragging that it set off another nuclear test, the second in some two years, I attended a Memorial Day ceremony at the local cemetery and it made me think about some thoughts I had concerning what was said at the ceremony:

My first thought was that the Memorial Day ceremony emcee got a little carried away when he said that all our current conflicts or wars boil down to is good guys (us) and bad guys (them). I mean permissible I guess in a Memorial Day talk, but a little simplistic. I mean especially in these modern wars where instead of fighting the Empire of Japan or Nazi Germany, we are fighting some less identifiable groups such as the amorphous Al Qaeda or various religious factional insurgent groups, or something called the Taliban, with hapless civilians, not always knowing to whom to turn, caught somewhere in the middle because they don’t know who will win or who all might still be there when all the dust settles, and they have to keep on trying to live their lives in their own homes. And of course I am referring to the War on Terror – primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan too. Before that we had Vietnam where we had a corrupt government that was supposed to be on our side, peasants who didn’t know whose side to be on, insurgents dressed in black pajamas, and regular troops from North Vietnam.

But in the end, if they are not on our side, then they are the enemy or if they are shooting at us or giving aid and comfort to those who are, they are the enemy.

So I come full circle and realize that the emcee was essentially correct – there’s the good guys and the bad guys – the heck with nuance. All that nuance stuff is for policy makers to argue about, and argue with words to avoid real war they should, but once the bullets start flying, it’s us versus them.

Another speaker, a Marine Corps colonel, asserted that we have won in Iraq (I missed that report on the news — yes i’m being sarcastic again). He also claimed that there were WMDs there – “I don’t care what you’ve heard”.

We do seem to be trying to leave Iraq (if only to move more heavily into Afghanistan) and certainly the fighting is not as intense in Iraq now (but casualties continue). But I think to say we have won is a bit of an overstatement, except since there is no official definition as of yet of winning, I guess you could claim victory at any time.

As to the WMD claim, as far as I know none were ever found, although that is almost academic by this time.

And here is what really concerns me in all of this. Wars are a lot easier to get into than get out of, but it’s also easier to get out of a war by settling for less than total victory. But then one day you likely will have to go back – remember Desert Storm anyone?

And, more than five decades after the Korean War ended with the U.S. deciding to stop it where is began, at the 38th Parallel, instead of vanquishing the enemy by going all the way to its capital we continue to have our noses rubbed in it all by a belligerent North Korea.

Ever since I can remember that country has been tweaking our nose. I recall a 1976 incident where two U.S. officers were hacked to death by North Korean soldiers at the border and what did we do? Nothing.

I recall the Pueblo incident in 1968 when they captured one of our Navy ships in international waters and held our people prisoner for a year and subjected them to torture (one sailor died during the initial capture). What did we do? Nothing.

And there have been many bloody and deadly incidents involving the North Koreans over the years.

North Korea was able to bamboozle George W. Bush by making a show of blowing up one of their nuclear cooling towers as if they were shutting down their nuclear program. That was good for some aid from the good-hearted world and throwing everyone off.

Then they test President Obama by firing off a missile and now reportedly by their own bragging doing an underground nuclear test (and more missile tests today). It is said they both want to extort more aid from other countries and show off their missile and nuclear arsenal to various rogues around the world to whom they would like to sell arms.

And was it just last week that Iran fired off a rocket to show it can hit as far as Israel? And Iran is believed to be continuing work on nuclear weapons.

Of course President Obama has issued strong words against North Korea’s latest provocation. And apparently even Russia and China have condemned it, along with the UN Security Council (but something tells me that although China and Russia consider their nominal ally to be something of a loose cannon, when push comes to shove they’ll seek to protect North Korea in order to humiliate the West).

But at some point likely, someone will have to do something beyond words to get these two troublesome nations, North Korea and Iran, to stop their threats (which one day will become action, if left unchecked).

History tells me that Adolf Hitler was allowed to thumb his nose at a World War I weary world and re-arm and violate the Armistice and move into the Rhineland. Neville Chamberlain of Britain went hat in hand and came back satisfied that he had “peace in our time”. It was hoped that words meant something. But actions speak a whole lot louder.

President Obama will have to work with other nations on this problem, because we have seen what happens when we simply try to go it alone. But in the end something tells me that the United States, still the only super power left (for now), will have to take the lead.

Rather than words, whether they be civil and diplomatic or bellicose, I have to think the wiser course of action would be action.

In the case of both North Korea and Iran, a confidential but firm warning should be made to let them save face, and then if no good result – well at some point the good guys have to turn temporarily bad.

And when it comes down to it, you are either for world peace and letting nations live free, that is you are on the side of the good guys, or you are for something else, which means you are on the side of the bad guys.

So maybe it is as easy as good guys and bad guys.


And isn’t it sad that we are left with no other choice than to fight for peace (almost a contradiction in terms, but peace without liberty would not be worth living).

On this Memorial Day observance I honor one of too many Vietnam War dead…

May 24, 2009

In honor of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Eugene Huggins, born: July 12, 1930, Conway, S.C. Died: June 23, 1970, Quang Tri, South Vietnam


This weekend, and on Monday officially, we observe Memorial Day in honor of all of those military veterans who have died in service to their country, irrespective of the politics that may have put them where they were when they died.

Soldiers and Sailors and Marines of course have their own opinions, but in the battle zone they are doing what they were ordered by their country to do. They are doing their duty. And they all deserve respect.

I, myself, have had strong opinions on this nation’s war policies since I was a teenager. I concluded at some point that the Vietnam War was not a good policy on our part. But I never had any disrespect for anyone who served in it and certainly not for anyone of our own who died as the result of it. I served in the United States Army during the height of the Vietnam War, but was fortunate enough not to be stationed in the war zone. I was stationed in Germany as part of the NATO forces.

At the time I got my orders for Germany I am embarrassed to admit that I was so wrapped up in myself and my own problems that while I appreciated the fact that I was going to Germany rather than Vietnam, I don’t think I fully appreciated the enormity of it all. As far as my own personal feelings on the war at that time, I think I held the opinion of perhaps a majority of Americans. I was unsure about whether we really should be there, but at the same time, since we had already committed ourselves and already committed so many American lives, and it was apparent our government was hell bent on carrying the war on, despite internal debate, we ought to give it all we got and get the thing over with. Instead, the political leaders wrangled and held back the military. The only thing worse than sending someone in harm’s way for his or her country is doing so and then not giving them all the support they need.

But, anyway, as I waited for that airplane to Germany, I heard over the loudspeaker a call for a flight to Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. I watched soldiers dressed in Class A Khaki uniforms climb up one of those portable boarding stairs into the commercial jet airliner. And today I wonder how many of them came back. Actually, probably most of them did. But as fate will have it, a select few probably did not.

Sometime after I arrived in Germany, I came to realize that the probability of me getting orders for Vietnam was just about nil. At the time, the only soldiers in Germany getting orders for Vietnam were, strangely enough, some mechanics (so much equipment in Vietnam) and career soldiers, often on normal rotation.

So, far from harm’s way, I spent my days trying to look busy at the tank park in Baumholder, Germany.

Sometimes we would have readiness tests we called “alerts”. One early morning when we were having one of those alerts I was standing out of the hatch at the top of my tank wearing a crash helmet on the top of my head.

A black sergeant from another platoon was yelling something at me. I could not hear him because the helmet covers one’s ears. So I ignored him. He crawled up on my tank and gave me what for. I decided that I did not care for him in the least.

Sometime later he had come to the end of his tour in Germany and got orders for Vietnam.

Not long afterwards my company got word back that he had been killed in Vietnam.

That sergeant was no friend of mine. But I remember him joking with others. I remember his fondness for an older model car he kept polished and called the “Blue Goose”. I know he was married, and I think he had children.

A record of Vietnam War dead available on the internet shows that he began his tour in Vietnam on May 16, 1970 and was killed on June 23, 1970, as the result of enemy fire. He was just shy of his 40th birthday and just shy of a 20-year military retirement I am sure.

While he may have been no friend of mine, he is a veteran who deserves and has my utmost respect.

I salute you Staff Sergeant Eugene Huggins.


And, of course, we salute all of the fallen from all wars.

Outsourcing for local newspaper is like putting a nail in its own coffin…

May 23, 2009

I feel like a Luddite stuck in some kind of time warp or just a run-of-the-mill old timer who can’t accept change (I’m 59, nearing 60) what with my local newspaper with its shrinking page count and shrinking local news coverage, and most frustrating of all right now, its proclivity to oursource what little employment it offers (no I was not looking for a job).

The latest frustration was Friday morning when I called to check to see if the newspaper had received the check my wife and I sent off to cover our late subscription payment. We had received a notice wrapped around our morning newspaper that our paper would be cut off. So I called the number on the notice to inform them that, yes, sorry, our bad, we were late, but please don’t cut us off. My first clue something was amiss is when the man on the other end of the line asked how to spell our street name. Come to find out, while I live at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley in California, the customer service guy for my “local” newspaper was in Mesa, Arizona.

And there was another problem. He didn’t seem to have ready access to my account, and while he was pleasant, the only thing he seemed to want to talk about was signing me up for automatic payment.

Later I called the main number at my “local” newspaper and got that automated runaround and finally the phone hung up without me talking to a real person. Then, on my third try at all of this, somehow I got hold of a real person, she assured me that she was indeed real. She transferred my call to circulation and after waiting some time another real person came on the phone.

I told her my problem and she answered that what would probably happen is that I would not get the newspaper for a few days because although we had sent off our payment it takes ten days for them to post it. I asked why it takes ten days (the mail can’t be that slow). Come to find out it has to go through corporate at Portland, Oregon (430 miles north of here – I knew the mileage; I used to truck drive that route).

By this time newspaper delivery was not my concern. I called the newspaper’s general manager and told her I did not think it was a good idea to oursource customer service (I am in fact against basically all outsourcing they do). She said she was sorry I felt that way but that actually the newspaper is able to offer better customer service by outsourcing. We did not talk long enough for me to hear why that could be. I know I don’t agree, but I also know that apparently the newspaper corporation saves money that way. But of course in so doing they are probably shooting themselves in the foot or spiting their nose to save their face or whatever cliche or metaphor is appropriate here. I hung up on her and then felt ashamed, especially since at least, big wig that she is, she did answer her own phone. So I e-mailed her (see, I’m not a Luddite after all) and apologized and spelled out my specific concerns. As I told her, I realize that she cannot do anything about this. She only follows what corporate tells her.

No, I realize that newspapers are suffering and will probably die out altogether because of various reasons, to include new technology (the internet which of course I use extensively myself), too much competition for the shrinking advertising dollars, the poor economy, the fact that younger people in general, we are told, have no use for newspapers (and why would they if the newspapers give up offering anything?), and so on. But I think that they simply put the nails in their own coffins, especially local newspapers, when they abandon their own community by cutting down on staff and outsourcing work that could be done by local folks and would help stimulate the local economy and create more subscriptions and more money circulating to help potential advertisers.

It is a terrible irony that it was but just a few years ago that our local newspaper decided to put more emphasis on local reporting. They decided that people had already long ago gone to other sources for their national and world news, so they decided to do what they could do best, offering a complete local report, to include devoting most or all of their front pages to local news. Good idea!

But since then they have drastically slashed their news staff. They have outsourced even some of their advertising production work, and their customer service, as I have mentioned.

I even read about a Southern California newspaper that outsourced some of its local reporting. It actually had hired people in India to do phone interviews and write “local” stories. I don’t know how that panned out. I used to work as a newspaper reporter. And while it is true much work can and is done via phone, nothing replaces local person-to-person contact. It is evident that our own local newspaper is suffering from lack of staff. They no longer have a workable beat system. Under the beat system, a reporter covers a certain area and builds up news contacts. In the old days reporters spent a lot of time that today with short staffs would seem unproductive. But from those unproductive hours came a lot of  eventual stories and a lot more understanding and depth in news reporting.

I am told that actually smaller local newspapers, as opposed to the giant metros, have a better chance of surviving because they have a niche.

It seems our local newspaper is abandoning their own community and their own niche.