Religious Right Threatens Federal Judges

A panel of judges at the American Bar Association’s meeting in San Francisco last week reported on threats to judges for crossing the religious right:

More than two years after enraging right-wing groups by ordering Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube removed, George Greer still peers over his shoulder nervously at times…

Two years ago, he said, someone in the Bay Area threatened to kill him over his decision to end life support for the brain-damaged Schiavo. And even though that person was prosecuted and jailed, Greer said, he’s taking no chances.

“It is a little unnerving,” he said. “I still can’t see a strange car come down my street without wondering [who’s behind the steering wheel].”

Greer was one of four current or former judges who appeared in a 90-minute seminar in Moscone Center West to describe how their lives were affected by their rulings in high-profile cases involving hot-button issues.

Besides Greer, there was New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto, who 10 months ago participated in a ruling saying gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights as married couples, but stopped short of approving same-sex marriage.

Eileen O’Neill, a former Texas judge who in 1993 held Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and other anti-abortion activists in contempt for violating an order directing them to quit harassing several Houston-area doctors, was on the panel. And so was former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, kicked off the bench by voters in 1986 along with two other justices for reversing death sentences.

All four spoke about the consequences of their actions, but stood firmly behind them, while fretting somewhat about the political and social pressures facing judges these days. Unstated, but hovering in the ether, was the fact that many judges believe the current presidential administration has exacerbated the problem by blaming unpopular rulings on “activist judges.”
“It’s not easy being a judge, but one of the things we uphold is the Constitution,” Philadelphia-based U.S. District Judge Berle Schiller, chairman of the National Conference of Federal Trial Judges, told the crowd at the start of Friday’s seminar. “And all these [four] jurists have been willing to stand up for the Constitution.”

At their own risk, one might add.

Soon after the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its ruling on same-sex marriage — which didn’t fully appease parties on either side — Rivera-Soto said he got a letter from a radio talk-show host announcing that his home address and phone number had been broadcast. The letter writer also advised the justice that the show’s prime audience included white supremacists, skinheads and members of both the Aryan Nation and the Ku Klux Klan.

“I hope you have a good life,” Rivera-Soto quoted from the letter. “However long that lasts now that people know how to find you.”

Greer talked about he and his wife had to be placed under 24-hour watch after Operation Rescue posted their home address and phone number on its Web site. All of their mail was checked by authorities and on one occasion dead flowers were delivered to their condominium with a note reading, “No Food, No Water” — a reference to Schiavo.

“It got to the point,” Greer said, “that we felt a little trapped in our apartment.”

President For Life Bush?

Most of us write off the conspiracy theories floating around from some of the loonier people on the left which claim that George Bush plans to remain president for life. Or are they so looney? A journal at Democratic Underground used Google’s cache to find an article from Family Security Matters. They found that Dick Cheney was an early member of the Center’s Board of Advisors and that other members of the national security establishment who have been advisers to the group.

In reality this proves absolutely nothing. I would bet that Dick Cheney has positions such as member of the Board of Advisors for many conservative groups and an article from one of these groups does not necessarily reflect his opinions.

While this might only reflect the views of a small number, it is still of interest to see how some conservatives view our democracy. As the original article has been taken down and is only available in the cache I’ll post it under the fold.

Update: As of August 24, 2007 the cached page is suddenly blank. Fortunately before it was wiped it was viewed by multiple other sites and has been widely distributed on line. A screen capture of how the cache previously looked has been posted here.

Barack Obama on Bringing the Country Together

Barack Obama was interviewed by The Washington Post and discussed how, in contrast to some of the other Democratic candidates, he can unite the country:

Drawing a sharp contrast with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his main rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama said in an interview that he has the capacity she may lack to unify the country and move it out of what he called “ideological gridlock.”

“I think it is fair to say that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than she can,” Obama said. “I will add, by the way, that is not entirely a problem of her making. Some of those battles in the ’90s that she went through were the result of some pretty unfair attacks on the Clintons. But that history exists, and so, yes, I believe I can bring the country together in a way she cannot do. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be running.”

There have been a number of unfavorable responses to Obama’s view from the portions of the liberal blogosphere which strongly identify with the Democratic Party. Of course they are not the ones who would be expected to be receptive to this message. Look at the poll of your choice, either nationally or for the early primary and caucus states. I imagine there might be some exceptions in light of the variability of early polls, but those I’ve seen show the same trend. Clinton comes in a strong first place, and Edwards has a respectable amount of support, among those who consider themselves Democrats. However, us independents who have voted Democratic have a totally different ranking. Generally Obama, and sometimes Bill Richardson, comes in first. Among independents Clinton does not lead, and Edwards is generally not even a consideration.

Many in the liberal blogosphere see the repudiation of the Republicans in 2006 as a shift towards all the beliefs of traditional Democrats. Many have listened far too much to the claims that only the left and right matter and there are no other viewpoints. Note that I’m not talking about the increasingly irrelevant views of the DLC but of those people who really helped give the Democrats their recent victory.

Democrats won in 2006 because of receiving the votes of independents, as well as the “Starbucks Republicans” who oppose the war and oppose the social policies of the religious right. Obama has often made statements which demonstrate a better understanding of both sides of issues as opposed to sounding partisan. Unfortunately many have been more general than I would like but Obama has said he plans to lay out his views in more detail. It is far too early to make a decision, but at present I find Obama to be one of only two Democrats worth considering. Many independents also feel the same, and is something for Democrats to consider if their goal is to continue winning after Bush and Iraq are forgotten.

Hugo Chávez Ends Term Limits and Increases Power to Guarantee “Happiness”

Normally I’m not sure how much term limits really help, but perhaps one limit which is necessary is the one on the president. I feared that term limits would be insufficient to protect Venezuela from the abuses of power being seen under Hugo Chávez but we’ll never see if they would have made a difference. The New York Times reports that Chávez is announcing changes to the Constitution which would “allow him to be re-elected indefinitely, a move that would enhance his authority to accelerate a socialist-inspired transformation of Venezuelan society.”

To justify this change, the aim is being said, “to guarantee to the people the largest amount of happiness possible.” To paraphrase Orwell, some people will be happier than others.

The changes would also further centralize control of government under Chávez and weaken the power of regional government. He has already made a number of changes. “He has nationalized telecommunications, electricity and oil companies; forged a single socialist party for his followers; deepened alliances with countries like Cuba and Iran; and sped the distribution of billions of dollars for local governing entities called communal councils.”

We are certainly looking at a considerable difference in degree over the problems we face in the United States with regards to abuse of powers. The problem is that once you begin removing safe guards to democracy you risk falling down a slippery slope as the temptation to abuse power increases.

There was a time when conservatives in this country understood the need to preserve the checks and balances on government which were devised by the founding fathers. Many conservative bloggers are discussing the abuses of power under Chávez. It is bewildering that so many modern conservatives would observe the abuses in Venezuela but fail to respond to the considerable abuses of power by George Bush. Sometimes support for one’s country and the principles it was founded on must come before partisanship. The last time we faced a crisis of this type there were Republican leaders such as Barry Goldwater who ultimately decided that their loyalty is to the country and not to the leader of their political party. That type of integrity has been lost by much of the modern conservative movement.

Update: President For Life Bush? Some conservatives like the idea.

Update II: “Mr. Conservative” Barry Goldwater Became a Liberal Compared to Today’s Conservatives

Update III: This post has received a link from Dr. Sanity’s Carnival of the Insanities for Hugo Chavez’s promise of “happiness.” I wonder if Dr. Sanity realized we are on the same side regarding Chavez and liked here out of agreement, or if she assumed that a liberal blog would be taking the insane position.

Conservatives Taking Climate Change Seriously

There are two reports today on different conservatives taking the problem of global warming seriously. Former Bush speech writer Michael Gerson has a flawed column in The Washington Post but it is significant for at least admitting that there is a problem. While he returns to partisanship in claiming “Hysteria on the environment is a liberal temptation” he also admits that in some areas liberals have been right. David Roberts goes further into the problems with Gerson’s column.

Fortune reports on a surprising crusader against global warming–Rupert Murdoch:

…Murdoch has boldly promised to make News Corp. carbon neutral by 2010 and to weave environmental issues and themes into his newspapers, TV shows, movies and online properties – a tricky business, particularly when it comes to news.

“Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats,” Murdoch said last spring, in a speech webcast to all News Corp. employees (and available here.) “We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.”

He went on to say, “Our audience’s carbon footprint is 10,000 times bigger than ours. That’s the carbon footprint we want to conquer.”

Murdoch has done considerable harm by degrading the quality of journalism and by spreading the propaganda of the right wing. At least his influence might be used in a more benefical manner if he is successful in both reducing this carbon footprint and in convincing viewers of Fox News that this is a real problem.

Astrology, Enemy of Reason


The first part of the Richard Dawkins’ documentary, The Enemies of Reason, has aired on the BBC. The above clip discusses Astrology.

Update: The video of the entire show is now posted.

The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker, who rarely has good things to say about television, recommends the show:

In the 18th century, a revolution in thought, known as the Enlightenment, dragged us away from the superstition and brutality of the Middle Ages toward a modern age of science, reason and democracy. It changed everything. If it wasn’t for the Enlightenment, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. You’d be standing in a smock throwing turnips at a witch. Yes, the Enlightenment was one of the most significant developments since the wheel. Which is why we’re trying to bollocks it all up.

Welcome to a dangerous new era – the Unlightenment – in which centuries of rational thought are overturned by idiots. Superstitious idiots. They’re everywhere – reading horoscopes, buying homeopathic remedies, consulting psychics, babbling about “chakras” and “healing energies”, praying to imaginary gods, and rejecting science in favour of soft-headed bunkum. But instead of slapping these people round the face till they behave like adults, we encourage them. We’ve got to respect their beliefs, apparently.

Well I don’t. “Spirituality” is what cretins have in place of imagination. If you’ve ever described yourself as “quite spiritual”, do civilisation a favour and punch yourself in the throat until you’re incapable of speaking aloud ever again. Why should your outmoded codswallop be treated with anything other than the contemptuous mockery it deserves?

Maybe you’ve put your faith in spiritual claptrap because our random, narrative-free universe terrifies you. But that’s no solution. If you want comforting, suck your thumb. Buy a pillow. Don’t make up a load of floaty blah about energy or destiny. This is the real world, stupid. We should be solving problems, not sticking our fingers in our ears and singing about fairies…

[Enemies of Reason] is possibly the most important broadcast of the year so far; important because it presents a passionate argument we really all ought to be having right now, if we want to prevent a great slide backwards into mud-eating barbarism. And if you think that’s hyperbole, I suggest you pick up a newspaper and see how many of the world’s problems are currently being caused or exacerbated by the rejection of rational thought. From fundamentalist death cults to arrogant invasions: a startling lack of logic unites them all.

Cold, clear, rational thought is the most important thing we have; the one thing that can save us. If I was made Emperor of All Media, I’d broadcast something akin to The Enemies Of Reason on every channel, every day, for 10 years. This is an urgent message that must be heard if we want to survive, as a species. Oh. And I’d also broadcast a load of Tex Avery cartoons, just to show off my lighter side. Man, I loves dat Droopy.