Supreme Court Edging Towards Overturning Voting Rights Act

A case of every silver lining having a dark cloud seems to have emerged today in arguments given at the Supreme court.

Antonin_Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portrait

Justice Antonin Scalia

The silver lining is the fact that the same ominous tone came out from more liberal media sources last year when the court was going through arguments about the affordable health care act. And all that fretting was for naught, as Chief Justice Roberts decided to join the 4 liberal judges in upholding the constitutionality of the AHCA.   (For links this article is based on, Click here.)

But that silver lining seems to not be much of a lining, not this day anyway.  Yesterday’s silver lining seems to be non-existent in this case today. The voices that we have heard are speaking in the usual ways.  Justice Scalia disparaged section 5 of the 1965 voting rights act, calling it a perpetuation of racial entitlements.

Justice Sotomayor, in response to the claim by Shelby county that the act is itself unjust  and that they have changed said that there are still 240 discriminatory laws on the books in Shelby county, pointing to an obvious need to uphold the voting rights act.

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Justice Elena Kagan

Justice Elena Kagan stated that while the first generation issues may have been resolved, and that the original aim of ensuring African Americans voting has been met, there are other more insidious forms of discrimination in use, such as voter I.D. laws and gerrymandering.

But the two votes that could potentially swing either way are looking like they are leaning towards getting rid of section 5.  The swing vote of Justice Kennedy seems to be leaning towards de-legitimizing  the voting rights act according to what I have heard.  The same for Justice Roberts who makes the potential swing vote list only because of his support of the AHCA last year.

The questions that seem to be most persistent against the voting rights act involve fairness towards the states that section 5 holds sway over.  Both justices Scalia and Roberts were overt in their questioning of both political and social motivation in the congressional vote for the voting rights act back in 2006, and both seemed to be pointing in the general direction of doubt as to the actual need for a voting rights act.

And while the Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli did a very good job as far as I could tell arguing the governments case, I am not so sure that he could have done a good enough job to overcome the prejudices of the justices against the law itself to keep section 5 alive for much longer.  I’m not sure anyone could have, given the anti-section 5 fervor that seems to exist amongst the more conservative judges on the court, done a better job.

Stay tuned, more news here as it happens.

Campaign Contributions to be Revisitied by the Supreme Court

In January of 2010, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,  the Supreme court ruled that portions of the McCain-Feingold act (BCRA) along with the Michigan Campaign Finance Act and one other court ruling were unconstitutional, in that they restricted political  expenditures by corporations.

In an upcoming case, the Supreme court will decide in the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission whether individual caps on contributions are constitutional.  The current caps that exist state that an individual may not give more than $46,200 to  federal candidates over a 2 year period and that individuals may not give more than $70,800 to other political entities , such as national and local political parties and non party committees, such as 501(c)(4) organizations.

The CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development Co., a man named Shaun McCutcheon, wanted to give over a 2 year period according to the Reuters story a total of $55,500 but was not allowed to because of the legal restrictions placed on individuals by federal law.  The story goes on to state that the rationale for the legal challenge, as delineated by Mr. McCutcheon and the RNC’s counsel in this case, James Bopp,is as follows:  Federal limits on individual donations force those that want to give more to go outside the system and give to superpacs rather than to the candidates they wold prefer to give to.

I want you to look closely at that last sentence.  While not Mr. Bopps words (to read them go to the Links page for the link to read them yourself) they accurately speak what Mr. Bopp said.

When I roll that thought around my head, I am greatly dismayed by what I see.  In large part because it would give wealthy people a more direct route to the halls of power than they already have. And they already have a huge advantage over the poor in this nation.

If the court agrees with McCutcheon here what will happen to the electoral process?  I am not sure.  The man, McCutcheon says he only wanted to give a few thousand dollars more than the legal limit.  But the court is not restricted by the wants or needs of that one individual. The worst case scenario, and the one I think both parties, Democratic and Republican alike are rooting for is to completely do away with individual limits.

The legal challenge to the law does NOT seek to amend the number of dollars that individuals may give. What it seeks to do is completely wipe the law off of the books and make the specific portion of law that limits individuals contributions unconstitutional.

The rub here is simple.  If McCutcheon wins this case what is bad now about campaign finance will become worse.  If he wins, then millionaires and billionaires will, until new legislation is passed, be able to buy elections lock, stock and barrel.

And will we be able to fix this should the system break this way and take power from the people?  Let me put it this way; Have we been able to fix the damage done by Citizens United in the courts and Congress?

About that much.

So the answer is simple.

Nope.

And who gets pinched out of the scene there?  The little guy.  This would be yet another blow to freedom for the poor and disenfranchised in this nation. We will become even more than we are now a nation where money is speech.

And if money is speech, does that not make poverty silence? How can people like us, the millions who live paycheck to paycheck, keep up?

We won’t be able to.

And there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.

Hope they don’t do it, we can only wait until the Supreme Court decides this in the next session, which begins in October.

Have a nice day.

On First Reading

Pic of the day:  Bennington Battle flag

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Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.

James Madison, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, 1788

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I am in the process of reading the supreme courts ruling in the case National Federation of Independent Business v Sibelius.  I have to tell you it is an interesting read.  And not without twists and turns.  I can see why CNN and Fox were quick to say that the law was being overturned.  Much of the beginning statement was reasoning for the individual mandate to be overturned.  And the reasons were soundly thought out and reasonable.

Curious I should say that, seeing how I am very much for this law, personally.  I was much in line with Chief Justice Roberts rationale against using the commerce clause and the necessary and proper clause to constitutionally validate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, once I read it.

The rationale against the law when looked at from these arguments is entirely reasonable.  I personally think he is right because in light of those arguments, it is a creation of power above and beyond the mandate of congress.  These two instances (commerce, and necessary &  proper) are both there to protect already enumerated powers, laws that already exist.  The health care law overstepped those bounds and created powers that did not exist before, and because of that the Chief justice shot those arguments down.

But the taxation argument saved the Patient protection and Affordable care act.  Despite the fact that the law calls the penalty for not getting health insurance a “penalty” and not a tax, the court said that they would simply look at the penalty as a tax, because the law is enacted in such a way that the penalty is actually paid like a tax, and is in fact collected by the IRS, and, according to the court, “the payment is not so high that there is really no choice but to buy health insurance.”

And payment is not intended to induce the purchase of health insurance, and there are no negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance.

Says so right in the writ of certiorari.  It’s on page four.  Click here to read the entire thing.

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The one thing I have not seen is the actual amount one would have to pay should one not have health insurance.  I have heard from some fearful right wingers that there will be jail time for those who do not buy health insurance.  Which is just plain silly. There will be no jail time for anyone not according to the law that I read, and that law is the same one that Justice Roberts signed off on.

Partially.

He did say that stripping states that do not comply with the law of their medicare benefits was “Dragooning.”

Can’t say that I disagree as far as that goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.  The states that simply turn their backs on the people who would be helped by this law won’t agree with Justice Roberts here.  And neither do I.  There are abuses that the state can heap upon the individual, just as the federal government can, and this was meant as a protection from the states “dragooning” the citizens of those states who turned their backs on this law, against the will of the electorate and would make them suffer with sub-standard medical coverage.

I would much rather see a state government made to suffer some harm than to see it’s citizens health unnecessarily compromised due to purposeful disregard of a federal law that does not impinge on my freedom, which this does not.  Mind you complete loss of their medicare coverage was a bit much. Some other penalty could have been brought to bear that would have stood the constitutional test.  The law would have survived untouched if not for that major misstep by congress.

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Pic of the day:  Mademoiselle Marcelle Lender by, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

James Madison, in a letter to W.T. Barry, 1822

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That’s about it from here, America.  G’night.

Bullsh*t isn’t Illegal

Strange it is that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free speech but object to their being “pushed to an extreme”, not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

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Viddy of the day: Westboro Wins In Court; Marine’s Family Saddened

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No surprise that the loons from the Westboro church won the Supreme court case they were involved in. 

It’s really simple, actually. 

Yes, the language that the Westboro church protesters use is ugly, nasty, and evil, but that doesn’t mean they should not be allowed to use it.  Most, but not all speech is protected against government interference. To stop the Westboro churchgoers from speaking their piece, no matter how vile, would be to say, here we will stop free speech.  And once you argue for stopping free speech for one group, how long before other groups are silenced by the government? 

Regardless, this is a thorny road to travel down, and the supreme court made the right decision in deciding this particular free speech case as broadly as possible.

Are the people from westboro evil, immoral, anti-social, and rude?  Damn right.  That doesn’t mean that their speech should be deemed illegal.  These closeted ass-clown right wing nut bags who hate America really can’t help themselves, but that is no reason for the court to shut them up.  The hate in their hearts is clear and it is about as un-christian as can be.  But that does not mean that “we the people” should somehow ask the court to cut into the first amendment rights of anyone just to shut these few nuts up.

Not that I don’t feel for the petitioner here.  This man has been truly hard done by, and if anyone deserved to win a case of this nature, it is him.  Mr. Snyder, the man who filed suit against Westboro was burying his son, a fine young man, killed in Iraq.  These nuts protested at this young mans funeral, approximately 30 minutes before the actual funeral, according to the writ of certiorari filed by the court.  Mr. Snyder said he didn’t realize what the signs said until he saw it on the news.  He claimed in the suit that, among other things that the protest was an intrusion on his privacy. He won millions from a lower court winning this case.  The westboro church claimed this was excessive and sought to have the cases reversed on free speech grounds.

The appellate court agreed with Westboro.  They held that the signs held at that protest were protected by the first amendment because they were: statements on matters of public concern; not provably false, and; were expressed solely through hyperbolic (but apparently not obscene in the eyes of the court) rhetoric.

Matters of public concern, stated, as in this case, on public property, which are not provably false and hyperbolic, are legal free speech. 

It is up to the states to make their laws more stringent to protect the families of the soldiers, not the federal government.

These loons can hold those signs for the same reason that tea party patriots can hold signs that speak to their opinions on health care, and left-wing protesters can carry anti-war or anti-tax cuts for the rich signs.   It’s speech, political speech, which means free speech.  It might be a stupid bullshit opinion on the part of the westboro ass clowns, but it’s  protected stupid bullshit.

Moral of the story:  This is America, and in America, bullshit isn’t illegal. 

If it was, we’d ALL be in prison.

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That’s it from here, America.  G’night!

Introducing Elena Kagan

When the doctrine of allegiance to party can utterly up-end a man’s moral constitution and make a temporary fool of him besides, what excuse are you going to offer for preaching it, teaching it, extending it, perpetuating it? Shall you say, the best good of the country demands allegiance to party? Shall you also say it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic, besides?  

Mark Twain  

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Scotus nominee Kagan (right) W/ Sen. Shaheen

 

I watched some of the Kagan confirmation hearings today, and I have to tell you I am surprised that I am not particularly impressed by Gen. Kagan.  But then again I wasn’t really all that impressed by any of her questioners either.  General Kagan, and I find it odd calling her that, but it is her title, she being the Solicitor General of the United States, did seem at times a very effective speaker, while at others she seemed to struggle to make some points, but I think may have had something to do with her questioners, as well as her skirting some issues.  

To begin with she really did have some genuine issues, especially with Sen. Arlen Specter.  Arlen was trying to pin her down with some particular questions, and when she, apologetically, tried to deflect them, he got angry and bitter because she wasn’t answering the way he wanted her to.  She, when she saw this, tried her best to give the best non – answer she could, but he simply wasn’t hearing it, and got even huffier and more blunt.  She didn’t want to answer his questions because she was trying to skirt political intrigue as much as possible.  She also didn’t want to seem like she wasn’t being accommodating, and that caused issues between them.  To my mind, Sen. Specter ended up looking like a befuddled, cantankerous confused old man with a chip on his shoulder.  

Truth be told he wasn’t the only one that sounded… well … odd.  Was it me, or does Sen. Leahy sound drunk every time he talks?  I don’t know everything about the man, but i would have to guess that the man either has a severe drinking problem, or else he had a stroke and didn’t tell anyone, and his drunken sounding lisp is a lingering vestige of the damage done by it.   

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Viddy of the day, from today’s Scotus nomination proceedings:  

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If I was thrown off by the questioning of Arlen Specter, I was even more thrown off by the good natured friendliness exhibited by Republican Senator Lindsay Graham.  The man was, without a doubt the most eloquent, well spoken, calm and intelligent speakers in the hearings today.  Now I know the man is whip smart and a good public speaker, but I was surprised by the friendly tone, and lack of political divisiveness on his part.   

One almost expects nowadays, when there is a public display between a Democrat and a Republican, that there be some level of angst, anger and ugliness to exist.  There was none of that here.  I expect it had something to do with the fact that, Knowing there was nothing to gain by a big show of negativity, that he simply decided to be a gentleman about things.  

That was, even if there was a political calculation behind it, very refreshing to see and hear.  Thank you, Sen. Graham.  

I rather enjoyed listening to Sen. Schumer talk to Gen. Kagan as well.  He started each of his points with very broad brush strokes, and then after a minute of making very basic philosophical points, got into details about viewpoints of relevant and current law that has made its way through the Supreme court in recent years.  

I heard talk of the Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case a great deal, as well as much talk, from all participants, about the Citizens United case.     

As far as her viewpoints go, she wants cameras in the supreme court, She thinks she wasn’t too harsh on military recruiters in Harvard because she was protecting her gay and lesbian students from the military’s anti gay and lesbian DADT policy, she supports the use of military commissions to prosecute enemy combatants, and is is pro second amendment.   

She made a great show of bipartisanship during the first day of hearings.  I for one cannot wait for day two to see what happens next.  

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The object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.  

Baruch Spinoza  

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Tuesday’s links o’ joy:  

Kagan makes Bipartisan appeal in Supreme court confirmation hearings  

The Dodgy Miss Kagan  

Graham, the gentleman, at Kagan hearings  

F as in Fat: How Obesity threatens America’s future 2010  

The Euphemism Generator  

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Work update: Only one resume sent out after over 2 hours scouring the Internet looking for various jobs.  Signed up at one job site, a union job site.  No job yet.  There be slim pickins out there right now. It’ll pick up.  Phone calls tomorrow. Feeling some trepidation about that.  Why I have no idea.  That’s what I get for waiting.  No worries though.  It’s only talking to people, no hassle involved.  

Music update: Played some guitar today, not a lot.  Call it 45 minutes worth.  First time I hit the scale exercises in a VERY long time.  Played “over the hills and far away” or as much of it as I could remember, as well as some Dio/Sabbath “Neon Knights”, and some arpeggio exercises.  Twas a goodness.  I didn’t realize I’d missed playing that much til I had my guitar back in my hands.  It felt pretty damn good.  

That’s about it from here.  G’night America!

Release The Kagan!

Civil liberties had their origin and must find their ultimate guaranty in the faith of the people. If that faith should be lost, five or nine men in Washington could not long supply its want.

Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson

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Elena Kagan is the pick for associate justice of the Supreme court.  A good pick, I think.  Great? I dunno, I need to see more. 

She is a former law clerk for supreme court justice Thurgood Marshall.  She has served as White House council.  She is the nations current Solicitor general. 

If confirmed, she will be the first supreme court justice without any experience as a judge since… Justice William Rehnquist.    

I’m looking forward to catching the confirmation hearings, but despite my earlier saying she would be a great pick, I hope the Senate judiciary committee does not back this nominee just because of her being nominated by this President, or her political leanings, or the political leanings of the committee, all of which are possible, but, if they choose to send her nomination ahead, to do so for what she has done, and more importantly what she will do, based upon prior doings as both White House council, Head of Harvard Law and Solicitor General.

Her views on Roe V. Wade are of no consequence.  Her views on Citizens United and Hamdan V Rumsfeld and civil liberties in general and the power of the President in particular are of more import, methinks.

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Monday’s top 5 Links:

Kagan has good chance of confirmation in Senate

Kagan might pass as a Bush supreme court choice: Ann Woolner

Leahy: ‘Possibly different standards’ for Kagan this time

New York legislature approves 1-day furloughs

Fed audit measure seen wining in Senate: Durbin

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Viddy of the day:  Eliot Spitzer and Marcy Wheeler from Firedoglake.com talking about the Kagan Scotus nomination on Dylan Rhatigan’s show.

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On a personal note, I ran today.  Nothing special about that.  What was special is that I ran angry today.  I used my feet to pound out the anger and frustration of a crap commute and a day that dragged on for what felt like forever.  I hammered the ground hard in an effort to simply drop my emotional baggage outside the house.

When I started out, I could feel my shoulder muscles tensed up, and I damn well know that I started up with a snarl on my face.  Even without the work day, the commute put that there, and it took awhile for that to disappear.  I hit the one mile marker looking as angry as I was when I got off of the bus after my 2 hour commute home. 

It didn’t melt away easy, but a hard run beats the stress out of me.  I was replaying the commute in my head.  Watching again as after I ran like hell to get the boat, finding out that there was no boat.  Of waiting for the next boat, with thousands of unhappy frustrated commuters like myself, and being packed like sardines in the terminal, and the boat, and the bus.  I was replaying scenarios in my head from the work day, replaying the crap from early when things went less than smoothly, and from the slow steady walk that is exhibition duty, to the talk about how things will go if I ask the boss to hire me as the run progressed, but before I got to mile two, something happened. 

I was running so hard it pushed those thoughts out of my head completely.  I had to, because of the run, of the extreme effort of simply putting one foot in front of the other as fast as possible, push the unnecessary crap out of the way and concentrate on what I was doing.  I didn’t really  look around at the path and how beautiful it was this time around.  I usually do when I do this type of run, but today I couldn’t. It was getting too dark and I had to make sure I kept my eyes on the road.

And it struck me about how this is one of the reasons why I love running.  It clears all the stupid crap out of my head, and forces me to concentrate on the important stuff in front of me.  And when I am finished running, I feel fine and I can again concentrate on what is most important, like my wife. 

Makes it all worthwhile, ya know?

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Pic and quote of the day:   In the United States at the present day, the reverence which the Greeks gave to the oracles and the Middle Ages to the Pope is given to the Supreme Court. Those who have studied the working of the American Constitution know that the Supreme Court is part of the forces engaged in the protection of the plutocracy. But of the men who know this, some are on the side of the plutocracy, and therefore do nothing to weaken the traditional reverence for the Supreme court, while others are discredited in the eyes of the ordinary quiet citizens by being said to be subversive and Bolshevik.

Bertrand Russell

G’night America!

Money, A Volcano, and Albert Camus

Don’t let them tell us stories. Don’t let them say of the man sentenced to death “He is going to pay his debt to society,” but: “They are going to cut off his head.” It looks like nothing. But it does make a little difference. And then there are people who prefer to look their fate in the eye.

Albert Camus

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Goldman Sachs has a set of brass balls the size of a planet.  Merely days after being accused of fraud by the SEC, the fat cat rat bastards are giving out a total of $5,000,000,000 in bonuses.  Five billion dollars.  They could pay off the people they ripped off and do right by them and have money left over to do something good for the world, but no. They won’t. 

I don’t begrudge them any money they have earned.  Not a dime.  But bonuses that large in the face of this scandal and SEC suit should at the very least be put off long enough for things to cool down.  It would be even better if they suspended all bonuses until the SEC suit is done with.  It would be best if they took that money, if they really did what they are alleged to have done and pay back the people who they robbed, and do something to help the world in some fashion, if for no other reason than to save face, and maybe to do good, and show themselves to be something of a moral force in the world of business.  It would do much to quiet the storm of doubt and anger that has arisen since this story broke.

But this being Goldman Sachs, I’m not expecting anything that would approach conscientious behavior from them. We’ll see what happens.

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I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Albert Camus,  The Myth of Sisyphus

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Eyjafjallajokull.  I like that word.  Probably means “Big Fcuking Volcano” in Icelandic.  Everyone knows by now that the volcano Eyjafjallajokull exploded a few days a go and has been spewing gas and volcanic ash like crazy for the last few days.  It has reeked havoc on travel all over Europe over the last few days.  It has made an absolute mess of the continent and does not look close to being done.  The newest news is that new mini eruptions have occurred today at the volcano with the most excellent name ever. 

The history, from what I have gleaned is that the last time this volcano had a big eruption, the damn thing went on for 2 years.  2 years. 2 YEARS?  Hells bells! Might cool the summers down a bit. I wouldn’t complain if it kept me from having to turn on the AC that much this summer. 

But the report I am reading from an Australian ABC affiliate says it won’t have an effect on the environment.  Ah well, I was looking forward to a cooler summer too. Dammit.

The real reason I’m writing this bit is because the name of the volcano is so utterly awesome and totally unpronounceable by normal humans and or non Icelandic peoples. Bjork can pronounce it.  Me? Not so much.  “Hey ja fuh Jall a joke yule” or some such insane pronunciation.

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For those of us who have been thrown into hell, mysterious melodies and the torturing images of a vanished beauty will always bring us, in the midst of crime and folly, the echo of that harmonious insurrection which bears witness, throughout the centuries, to the greatness of humanity.

Albert Camus, The Rebel

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A final quick shot before I call it a night.  I have seen the list of potential nominees for the supreme court. For what it is worth I think the president is going to make the more middle of the road choice.  I don’t think Janet Napolitano or Hillary Clinton really make much sense, despite the fact that they both would do an outstanding job at it, and Hillary is very qualified to my mind for the job.  Merrick Garland seem to be the most middle of the road choice out there.  But that doesn’t mean he’ll be the choice, I personally hope he picks Elana Kagan, but that’s just me.

Elizabeth Warren however would be a great choice as well.  She is good people, intelligent, a dependable voice for reason in an otherwise unreasonable world and a critical voice for the people of this country, which is something the court needs.

G’night America.