Remembering the worst ever U.S. industrial accident, 1947: 576 dead at Texas City

April 16, 2014

April 16 marks the 67th anniversary of the Texas City Disaster.

It’s a day Texans, and all Americans should note.  It’s an event we need to remember, because every point of the disaster is something we forget at our very great peril.  Thinking such a disaster could not happen again, and failing to train for these same conditions, contributed to the disaster last year in West, Texas.

67 years ago, in the harbor at Texas City, a large cargo ship being loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, setting fire to other nearby ships, one of which exploded, devastating much of the town. In all, 576 people died in Texas City on April 16 and 17, 1947.

View of Texas City from across the bay, in Galveston, April 16, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259

The incident also produced one of the most famous tort cases in U.S. history, Dalehite vs. United States, 346 U.S. 15 (1953). (Here is the Findlaw version, subscription may be required.)

The entire Texas City fire department was wiped out, 28 firefighters in all. The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1259 has a website dedicated to the history of the disaster, with a collection of some powerful photographs.

More below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


About Florida

July 14, 2013

I don’t know.  It seems a little extreme.

But I don’t see anybody trying to stop Bugs.  Bugs Bunny, Florida, Zimmerman Trial, Stand Your Ground

Bugs Bunny deals with Florida

Undoubtedly copyrighted by Warner Bros. This is fair use. Thanks to Coyote Crossing.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Chris Clarke at Coyote Creek.

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A depiction of Bugs Bunny's evolution through ...

A depiction of Bugs Bunny’s evolution through the years. Regardless how Bugs looks, he usually reflects some of the more popular views of the day. Wikipedia image


Prisons, or schools? Prisons, or mental health care? Prisons, or freedom?

December 19, 2012

Here’s one from a maybe-odd source, but with relatively good citations.

If we have limited money to spend in government, can we put spending on a balance to see where it should be spent?  This is one example out of many pending before the U.S. Congress and state legislatures, today — right now, and for the coming several months.  When you hear elected representatives say “we must cut spending to reduce deficits,” you need to understand that their proposal is to cut spending for education, for job training, for employment assistance, for unemployment payments, for health care, for mental health care, for drug rehabilitation programs, but generally NOT for incarceration programs.  In short, they are saying we must cut off the education of poor kids, to build jails to house them if they run afoul of the criminal justice system after being unable to get the education and training to get a job that will produce the income that would have made them great parents and taxpayers.

If we have limited money to spend in government, can we put spending on a balance to see where it should be spent?

  • Prisons, or schools?
  • Prisons, or mental health care?
  • Prisons, or drug rehabilitation?
  • Justice, or incarceration?
No Justice For All poster, prisons vs. education - OnlineJusticeDegree.com

From OnlineJusticeDegree.com; check references listed on the chart.

What do you think?

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Department of Interior finally settled the Native American trust case

November 27, 2012

Here’s a headline that shouldn’t be buried in lame duck Congress folderol nor holiday news doldrums:  The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and plaintiffs in the Cobell case reached a settlement that the court has approved. This is the end of litigation — parties hope — on the long-running saga of government mismanagement of trust accounts held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for the benefit of Native Americans, over the last century.

Billions of dollars went missing to bad accounting.

Elouise Cobell met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, 2010

Elouise Cobell met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, in December 2010, after the passage and signing of the Claims Resolution Act of 2010.

Wikipedia has a concise, but thorough enough description of the case and its predecessors:

Cobell v. Salazar (previously Cobell v. Kemp- thorne and Cobell v. Norton and Cobell v. Babbitt) is a class-action lawsuit brought by Native American representatives against two departments of the United States government. The plaintiffs claim that the U.S. government has incorrectly accounted for the income from Indian trust assets, which belong to individual Native Americans (as beneficial owners) but are managed by the Department of the Interior (as the legal owner and fiduciary trustee). The case was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The original complaint asserted no claims for mismanagement of the trust assets, since such claims could only properly be asserted in the United States Court of Federal Claims.

Arguments, appeals and deeper investigation strung the case out; lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfoot Tribe, did not live to see the end of the case (she died in 2011).

It’s difficult to judge whether justice has been served in this case, and that judgment may not be ripe for many years.  Ending the litigation should create some hope for better conditions on Indian Reservations, and for Native Americans across the nation.  Especially the education benefits of the law required to settle the case, could provide a foundation for future prosperity of the affected tribes and people.

DOI announced the settlement in a press release November 26 (links in the body of the release added here):

Salazar Announces Final Steps on Cobell Litigation and Implementation of Settlement


Settlement includes land consolidation program to help promote tribal self-determination and strengthen economic development

11/26/2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today lauded the final approval of the Cobell settlement and outlined steps that Interior will take to help implement the historic $3.4 billion settlement. The settlement resolves a long-running class action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government’s trust management and historical accounting of individual American Indian trust accounts. It became final on November 24, 2012, following action by the Supreme Court and expiration of the appeal period.

“With the settlement now final, we can put years of discord behind us and start a new chapter in our nation-to-nation relationship,” said Salazar. “Today marks another historic step forward in President Obama’s agenda of reconciliation and empowerment for Indian Country and begins a new era of trust administration.”

The settlement includes a $1.5 billion fund to be distributed to class members for accounting and potential trust fund and asset mismanagement claims. The settlement also includes a $1.9 billion fund for a land consolidation program that allows for the voluntary sale of individual land interests that have “fractionated,” or split among owners, over successive generations. Fractionated land can have many owners – sometimes hundreds or more – diminishing the land’s value and making it difficult for individuals to use the land for agriculture, business development, or housing from which tribes can benefit. Up to $60 million of the $1.9 billion fund may be set aside to provide scholarships for American Indians and Alaska Natives to attend college or vocational school.

“This marks the historic conclusion of a contentious and long running period of litigation,” said Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor for the Department of the Interior. “Through the hard work and good will of plaintiffs, Interior and Treasury officials and Department of Justice counsel, we are turning a new page and look forward to collaboratively working with Indian country to manage these important funds and assets.”

Payments to Claimants
The Claims Administrator will now begin overseeing disbursement of the $1.5 billion to nearly 500,000 class members. The court previously approved GCG, Inc., as the Claims Administrator. The Department of the Treasury will transfer the $1.5 billion to an account at JP Morgan Chase, a bank approved by the court. Per the terms of the settlement agreement, Interior’s Office of the Special Trustee (OST) has assisted GCG with its database by supplying contact information of individual class members from its records.

“We will continue to work with GCG to ensure it has the information it needs to make expeditious and accurate payments,” Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes said. “At the same time, we’re focused on making meaningful improvements to our trust administration so that we’re more transparent, responsive and accountable in managing these substantial funds and assets.”

Trust Land Consolidation Program
The Department of the Interior will use $1.9 billion from the Trust Land Consolidation Fund to acquire interests in trust and restricted lands that have “fractionated” over successive generations since the 1880s.

Individual owners will be paid fair market value for such interests with the understanding that the acquired interests will remain in trust and be consolidated for beneficial use by tribal communities. Interested sellers may convey their fractional interests on a voluntary basis. Currently, there are over 2.9 million fractional interests owned by approximately 260,000 individuals.

While the settlement was pending, Interior held a series of consultation meetings with tribes in 2011 to ensure that this landmark program incorporates tribal priorities and promotes tribal participation in reducing land fractionation in a timely and efficient way. These discussions informed a draft land consolidation plan released in February of 2012. Interior is incorporating public comments and expects to release an updated plan by the end of the year for additional consultation.

“The land consolidation program is our chance to begin to solve a fractionation problem that has plagued Indian country for decades,” said Interior Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin K. Washburn. “We are anxious to get started. We know that Interior’s continued outreach through consultations with Indian Country is a crucial component to accomplishing truly open government-to-government communication”

Congress approved the Cobell settlement on November 30, 2010 as part of the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. President Obama signed the legislation on December 8, 2010. The district court approved the Cobell settlement on August 4, 2011 and it has been upheld through the appeals process.

For additional information about the individual class-action payments, please contact GCG, Inc. at 1-800-961-6109 or via email at Info@IndianTrust.com

For additional information on the Trust Land Consolidation Program, please visit http://www.doi.gov/cobell/index.cfm

More:

  • Page in memory of Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the case — who died in 2011; President Obama described Ms. Cobell, and the litigation, in remembering her:  ¶”As treasurer of the Blackfeet Nation, Elouise spoke out when she saw that the federal government had failed to account for billions of dollars that it owed to hundreds of thousands of her fellow Native Americans. In 1996, she filed suit, and for 15 years, tirelessly led a legal battle, with seven trials, 10 appeals, and dozens of published decisions. She fought her battle not just in the courts, but in the halls of Congress before finally securing justice for more than 300,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in the form of a $3.4 billion settlement.  ¶”The agreement reached in Cobell v. Salazar marked the largest government class-action settlement in our nation’s history. The scholarship fund this settlement established will give more Native Americans access to higher education. Tribes will have more control over their own lands. Elouise’s tireless efforts strengthened the government-to-government relationship with Indian country, and a generation of Native Americans and all Americans has seen the promise of justice realized.  ¶”Last December, I had the privilege to meet with Elouise in the Oval Office prior to signing into law a bill to make things right. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 is a direct result of the settlement that bears her name. It is proof of an enduring American idea – that change is always possible.”

Ben Stein off the rails again

October 10, 2012

Ben Stein is nominally a smart guy, with a degree in economics and a law degree and enough moxie to wangle his way into the movies . . . lives a sort of a charmed life.

Ben Stein

Ben Stein

Which may be good on one hand, because he runs off the rails sometimes.  Bad on the other hand if others follow him off the rails, assuming he’s smart and knows where he’s going.

Stein’s latest droppings at American Spectator include this gross misunderstanding of the drive for justice and equality (all links added here):

But right now, which is Sunday, I am looking in my favorite book, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, for a quote by Hayek about how you cannot clearly associate economic effects with economic causes because so many different circumstances are at work each time.

I cannot find that quote in this edition — maybe a 1976 edition — but I did find a better one from Hayek which I paraphrase here: the attempt at social justice causes more misery than almost any other factor in human life (again, a paraphrase).

Yes. The Communists. The Jacobins. The Communards. The Maoists. The Khmer Rouge. They all caused untold suffering in the phony and vain attempt to make everyone equal… phony because it was just a fig leaf for terrible people to seize power.

We are not supposed to be all equal. Let’s just forget that. We are supposed to have equal rights under law. If we do that, we have done enough. If we try to engineer outcomes, if we overturn tradition to make everyone the same, we ruin society. If we upset tradition to allow for an equal shot at the starting gate, everyone wins, except for the charlatans and would be dictators.

Yet another reason to be a Republican. Give everyone an equal shot — but do not require equal outcomes or even roughly equal outcomes by law. That way lies catastrophe.

Every soul deserves a shot at a Cadillac, but not everyone should be guaranteed a Cadillac… that way lie the tumbrels and the guillotine.

Other groups in history caused untold suffering in the phony and vain attempt to keep everyone from having equal rights.  What’s his point, that he’s forgotten history and has so far avoided a visit from Santayana’s Ghost?

Consider the anti-Jacobins, the monarchy and strict class system against which the French revolted — better?  The Jacobins themselves were mostly upper-class, including a future King of France among them, and the club being composed almost completely of wealthy people or merchants on the rise, quite like a modern Republican-leaning country club.  Does Stein really know this history?

Communards organized and rebelled against a patrician government (think Occupy Wall Street with real venom, tired of eating cats and rats, and with the support of hungry front-line soldiers who sympathized with them).  They did not perpetrate misery in support of social justice, not so much as 18,000 Communards were murdered to put down the rebellion and  continue the social injustice, several thousands more were executed, and a few thousands were “deported” to prison colonies in New Caledonia.  Stein seems to have this history exactly backwards — it was the GOP-style Bismarck-Farve alliance that delivered misery to perpetuate inequality.

One might make a claim that the Maoists in China worked for a degree of a classless society, but not on the scale and not with the success of George Washington — which is probably a clear view into why Mao’s successors beat such a hasty retreat to more capitalistic-bent programs, but still leaving the peasants in the countryside and especially coal miners on the short end of the rights stick.  It’s simply fatuous to claim the Khmer Rouge worked to make people equal under the madman dictator Pol Pot.  It’s  a good, short debate line, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny of history — and remember, it was the communist North Vietnamese Army who chased Pol Pot out of power and restored order to Cambodia.

Consider the Roman Empire (which oddly is more akin to modern U.S. Republicans than the Roman Republic), or Czarist Russia before the Bolsheviks.  It’s not like the failed attempts by so-called communists brought down societies that honored equality for citizens.  Stein has the telescope of history by the wrong end, which means he really can’t see what he’s claiming to describe.

Did Hayek really say that working for social justice is error?  I doubt it.  He wrote about wrong-headed attempts to impose social justice, like keeping everyone from having a Cadillac, through formal legal means, or through informal, economic and class means such as closing off opportunities for the poor and middle class to rise.  Stein, a Jew with an Ivy League education, should be sensitive to the closing of opportunities, and appreciative that opportunities are generally open in this nation.  Religion once operated as keys the doors to Ivy League schools, to the detriment of Jews; once recast, those keys provided a door to economic and intellectual achievement for many Jews.

Stein’s column is titled “A Reason to Be Republican.”  Instead he outlines reasons to question the current Republican platform and candidates for the presidency, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.  Somehow he confuses Republican policy with the phrase “Equal Justice Under Law,” the words engraved on the West Portico of the U.S. Supreme Court.  It’s useful at such times to remember the building was completed in 1935, and that its design and construction was supervised by Chief Justice William Howard Taft, the former Democrat.  It’s also useful to remember that the GOP has fought against those words ever since, but especially after Richard Nixon determined to jettison GOP dedication to civil rights for African Americans, women and Hispanics, in pursuit of electoral success with the votes of bigots from the South angry at the Democratic Party for having successfully pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Stein wrote speeches for Nixon.  He should remember that history better, or study it more if he can’t recall.

Especially not the rich should be guaranteed a Cadillac by the government.  They already have the money to get what they need; but having money should not confer rights to take everything while walking on the heads of the middle class and poor.  Everyone deserves a shot, Stein said.  I wish he’d support that claim with his actions, his political contributions, and his endorsement of candidates.

More:


July 19, 2012

Ed Darrell:

Found this at Under the Lobsterscope — our incarceration rates form a testament to one of the greatest failures of the U.S. over the past two decades. Live links added here for your convenience.

(This may be the last time we use the reblog feature — it’s very clunky!)

Originally posted on Under The LobsterScope:

 

Here are the facts… you make your own conclusion. Personally, I think making prisons a private industry sucks— I wonder when they’ll be exporting the prisoners to China.

 

View original


Heart of Atlanta Motel and civil rights

December 28, 2011

PG posted this photo in one of his collections at Chamblee54:

Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1956 - Special Collections and Archives,Georgia State University Library

Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1956 - Special Collections and Archives,Georgia State University Library

I wondered whether this is the motel in the case testing the 1964 Civil Rights Act — and sure enough, it is.  The case was decided, finally, by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964, Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc., v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964) .

This important case represented an immediate challenge to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark piece of civil rights legislation which represented the first comprehensive act by Congress on civil rights and race relations since the Civil Rights Act of 1875. For much of the 100 years preceding 1964, race relations in the United States had been dominated by segregation, a system of racial separation which, while in name providing for “separate but equal” treatment of both white and black Americans, in truth perpetuated inferior accommodation, services, and treatment for black Americans.

During the mid-20th century, partly as a result of cases such as Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944); Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948); Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950); McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950); NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958); Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) and probably the most famous, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the tide against segregation began to turn. However, segregation remained in full effect into the 1960s in parts of the southern United States, where the Heart of Atlanta Motel was located, despite these decisions.

The Atlanta Time Machine, a great collection of photos in the history of Atlanta and Georgia, has more photos, and this description of the site:

The Heart of Atlanta motel, located at 255 Courtland Street NE, was owned by Atlanta attorney Moreton Rolleston Jr.  Rolleston, a committed segregationist, refused to rent rooms at his hotel to black customers.  Upon passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rolleston immediately filed suit in federal court to assert that the law was the result of an overly broad interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause.  Rolleston represented himself in the case, HEART OF ATLANTA MOTEL, INC. v. UNITED STATES ET AL., which  went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  Rolleston lost when the Supreme Court ruled that Congress was well within its powers to regulate interstate commerce in such a manner.  The Hilton Hotel now stands on the former site of the Heart of Atlanta Motel.

Texts in law school rarely have illustrations.  I know the motel mostly as a citation on pages of text, great grey oceans of somnambulent text.  This case is important in civil rights, though it is mentioned almost never in history texts.  What are these cases really about?  These photos offer us insight.

The Heart of Atlanta Motel aspired to greatness in the late 1950s and 1960s — evidenced by this publicity flyer photo from the Atlanta Time Machine; notice the flag flying for the motel’s Seahorse Lounge (Atlanta is landlocked):

Heart of Atlanta Motel publicity photo - Atlanta Time Machine

Heart of Atlanta Motel publicity photo - Atlanta Time Machine; not just a podunk "motor lodge," but a "resort motel." Click for larger image.

For the 1960s, this place offered great amenities, including two swimming pools and in-room breakfast service.

Flyer for the Heart of Atlanta Motel, circa 1960 - Atlanta Time Machine image

Flyer for the Heart of Atlanta Motel, circa 1960 - Atlanta Time Machine image

This photo is amusing — I can just imagine the difficulties of launching a motor boat of this size in one of the swimming pools, obviously for a publicity stunt.  The photo is dated February 27, 1960, in the Pullen Library Collection.

Boat in the pool at the Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1960 - Atlanta Time Machine image

Boat in the pool at the Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1960 - Atlanta Time Machine image

To compare how times have changed, you may want to look at this aerial photo of the area, including the Heart of Atlanta Hotel, and compare it with modern photos which show the Hilton Hotel that replaced the property.

Rolleston appears to have had a big ego.  As noted above, he represented himself in this case, and he argued it in the Supreme Court.  Here’s a picture from about that time, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School “Famous Trials” site:

Moreton Rolleston, Jr., owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel and the attorney who argued the case at the Supreme Court - UMKC Law School image

Moreton Rolleston, Jr., owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel and the attorney who argued the case at the Supreme Court - UMKC Law School image; photo: Wayne Wilson/Leviton-Atlanta

You may decide for yourself whether this fits the old legal aphorism that a lawyer who represents himself in a case has a fool for a client.  The Oyez site at the University of Chicago provides access to the audio of the oral arguments.  Did Rolleston argue ably?  Rolleston argued against Archibald Cox, who went on to fame in the Watergate scandals.  This appears to have been Rolleston’s only appearance before the Supreme Court; it was Cox’s ninth appearance (he argued 20 cases before the Court in his career, several well known and notable ones).

Heart of Atlanta vs. United States was argued on October 5, 1964.  The opinion was issued on December 14, 1964, a 9-0 decision against Rolleston and segregation authored by Justice Tom C. Clark (one of Dallas’s earliest Eagle Scouts).

This was a fight Mr. Rolleston picked.  He was not cited nor indicted for violation of the Civil Rights Act, but instead asked for an injunction to prevent the law’s enforcement; according to the published decision,

Appellant, the owner of a large motel in Atlanta, Georgia, which restricts its clientele to white persons, three-fourths of whom are transient interstate travelers, sued for declaratory relief and to enjoin enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, contending that the prohibition of racial discrimination in places of public accommodation affecting commerce exceeded Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause and violated other parts of the Constitution. A three-judge District Court upheld the constitutionality of Title II, §§ 201(a), (b)(1) and (c)(1), the provisions attacked, and, on appellees’ counterclaim, permanently enjoined appellant from refusing to accommodate Negro guests for racial reasons.

Oyez summarizes the case question:

Facts of the Case 

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade racial discrimination by places of public accommodation if their operations affected commerce. The Heart of Atlanta Motel in Atlanta, Georgia, refused to accept Black Americans and was charged with violating Title II.

Question 

Did Congress, in passing Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, exceed its Commerce Clause powers by depriving motels, such as the Heart of Atlanta, of the right to choose their own customers?

The decision turned on the commerce clause, and the reach of Congressional power to regulate interstate commerce.

Decision: 9 votes for U.S., 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title II

The Court held that the Commerce Clause allowed Congress to regulate local incidents of commerce, and that the Civil Right Act of 1964 passed constitutional muster. The Court noted that the applicability of Title II was “carefully limited to enterprises having a direct and substantial relation to the interstate flow of goods and people. . .” The Court thus concluded that places of public accommodation had no “right” to select guests as they saw fit, free from governmental regulation.

Good decision.

Heart of Atlanta Motel is gone.  The site is occupied by the Hilton Atlanta, today.


“It Takes Balls To Execute An Innocent Man”

August 4, 2011

Occasionally I stumble into a discussion of whether anywhere in the U.S. a government may have executed an innocent person.  Generally I note the horrible Texas case in which Texas fought for years for the point that a convicted murderer whose three allowed appeals had been exhausted should not be allowed to reopen his case simply because new evidence of his innocence had emerged.  In Herrera v. Collins (506 US 390, 1993), Texas won the right to not allow evidence of innocence to get a review of the case, and the man was executed.

Ladies and gentlemen I ask you:  Why would a state fight for the right to execute an innocent man, to the Supreme Court, if it did not intend to use that right?

The question rises more frequently these days as Texas Gov. Rick Perry steams toward announcing he will run for the presidency.

I point out that Herrera came down nearly eight years before Perry stumbled into the governor’s chair, his having been standing outside the door as Lieutenant Governor when George W. Bush persuaded the Supreme Court — most of the same justices — to stop both the popular vote and change the electoral vote to give him the presidency.  So we can’t blame that one on Perry.

But we can blame the execution of Todd Willingham on Rick Perry, even understanding that he was relying on what he assumed to be good evidence in his naturally uncurious waltz of destruction across Texas.   Perry could claim he got bad advice.  Though Texas’s governer really has little more than ceremonial power and some appointments, for someone like Perry it is a big job he can barely handle.  People would cut him slack on letting an innocent man die, convicted of a capital crime that as the evidence showed at the time probably did not occur, if he’d just confess it.

Instead, Perry engaged in a four-year campaign to cover up the affair — a cover up that is so far successful.

Jonathan Chait blogging at New Republic cites Politico and The New Yorker on the way to painting all Texans as morally bankrupt for allowing the coverup to go on — justifiably, I think.  While the newspapers cover the story, outrage does not rise from the drought-stricken populace.  New Republic’s blog explained the cover-up, and Texas’s blase attitude:

Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman have a story for Politico about Rick Perry’s limitations as a general election candidate. It’s a really excellent piece on its own terms, but at the same time, it’s a bit of a parody of a Politico story in that it takes a vital moral question, drains it of all its moral significance, and presents it in purely electoral terms. The thesis of the piece is that Perry appeals to very conservative white southerners, but not to anybody else, making him a questionable choice to head the Republican ticket. The piece bears out that thesis pretty well. In the middle it includes a glancing reference to one episode of Perry’s gubernatorial tenure:

Perry would also have to answer for parts of his record that have either never been fully scrutinized in Texas, or that might be far more problematic before a national audience.

Veterans of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s unsuccessful 2010 primary challenge to Perry recalled being stunned at the way attacks bounced off the governor in a strongly conservative state gripped by tea party fever. Multiple former Hutchison advisers recalled asking a focus group about the charge that Perry may have presided over the execution of an innocent man – Cameron Todd Willingham – and got this response from a primary voter: “It takes balls to execute an innocent man.”

The Willingham case is just one episode in Perry’s gubernatorial tenure that could be revived against him in the very different context of a national race, potentially compromising him in a general election.

If you’re not familiar with this episode, David Grann wrote about in for the New Yorker in 2009 in what may be the single greatest piece of journalism I have ever read in my life. (I am biased, as David is a friend and former colleague.) The upshot is that Perry is essentially an accessory to murder. He executed an innocent man, displaying zero interest in the man’s innocence. When a commission subsequently investigated the episode, Perry fired its members.

I’m a Texan, and I’m appalled.  Dear Reader, what can a Texan do?  Please advise.

Surely the rest of America would be concerned and shocked, no?  We can excuse goofs in the histories of our presidential candidates.  Especially since Nixon, we should be doubly wary of those who work hard to cover up their errors, rather than learn from them.

By the way, in the latest action, the office of the Texas Attorney General issued a report on the duties of the commission established to investigate Texas justice to make it more fair — the commission whose members Perry fired when they got close to the Willingham case.  The report says that that Willingham case is water under the bridge, that the commission may not investigatet cases that predate the commission’s creation.

It’s a gross miscarriage of justice, and an attack on the democratic form of government which relies very much on continuous improvement of governmental processes, especially the due processes of criminal justice.


Conviction in Massachusetts church arson — hate crimes laws at work

November 4, 2010

Did you see this press release from the U.S. Department of Justice?  Prosecutors got a conviction in a 2008 arson of a church in Massachusetts.

Here’s the press release:

For Immediate Release
November 1, 2010

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Massachusetts Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Burning African-American Church
WASHINGTON—Benjamin Haskell was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor in Springfield, Massachusetts to nine years in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in the 2008 burning of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominately African-American Church, on the morning after President Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American president of the United States. In addition, Haskell will pay more than $1.7 million in restitution, including $123,570.25 to the Macedonia Church.

On June 16, 2010, Haskell, 24, of Springfield, pled guilty to conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate the mostly African-American parishioners of the Macedonia Church in the free exercise of the right to hold and use their new church building, which was under construction, and to damaging the parishioners’ new church building through arson and obstructing their free exercise of religion because of their race, color, and ethnic characteristics.

At the earlier plea hearing, a prosecutor told the court that had the case proceeded to trial, the government’s evidence would have proven that in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, within hours of President Barack Obama being elected, Haskell and his co-conspirators agreed to burn down, and did burn down, the Macedonia Church’s newly constructed building where religious services were to be held. The building was 75 percent completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed nearly the entire structure, leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact. Investigators determined that the fire was caused by arsonists who poured and ignited gasoline on the interior and exterior of the building.

Haskell confessed to the crime and admitted that prior to the presidential election, he and his co-conspirators used racial slurs against African-Americans and expressed anger at the possible election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president. Haskell admitted that after Obama was declared the winner of the election, he and his co-conspirators walked through the woods behind the Macedonia Church to scout out burning it down. Then, in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, Haskell and his co-conspirators went back to the church, poured gasoline inside and outside of the church, and ignited the gasoline.

“The freedom to practice the religion that we choose without discrimination or hateful acts is among our nation’s most cherished rights,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “As seen here today, the Department will prosecute anyone who violates that right to the fullest extent of the law.”

“The burning of the Macedonia Church because of racial hatred and intolerance was a vicious attack on one of our most cherished freedoms—to worship in the religion of our choice safely and without fear of discrimination,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz. “The successful investigation, prosecution, and punishment of those who committed this hateful act is a clear statement that law enforcement will do all in its power to protect our citizens’ civil rights.”

“While the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is charged with investigating some of the most violent crimes, I consider the arson to be one of the most serious and dangerous offenses. Not only was this case about the burning of a house of worship, it cut to the very heart of our most valued rights, that of religious freedom. I want to acknowledge all of our partners who assisted in bringing the individuals responsible for this fire to justice,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Guy Thomas.

“Today’s sentencing represents just one more step toward closure and healing, not only for the victims of this hate crime, but for the Springfield community as a whole. The FBI, along with its federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, remains committed to protecting each and every citizen’s civil rights, and will aggressively investigate any violation of those rights, bringing the perpetrators to justice,” said Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul H. Smyth and Kevin O’Regan of the U.S. Attorney’s Springfield Office, and Nicole Lee Ndumele, Trial Attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.


Stupid math tricks: Judge’s innumeracy screws defendant

June 4, 2010

Had difficulty with fractions in third grade, did you?

 

Fractions, shown on a cake  - 1/4 and 1/2

Which is larger, 1/4, or 1/2?

Nothing like the judge in this story, I’m sure.  From the depths of Europe, Zeno details how a judge’s seeming infacility with numbers took an injustice against a petitioner in his court, and made it worse.

It’s the sort of error you’d expect of a third-grade kid who hasn’t watched enough “Sesame Street.”  Which of these fractions is larger?  1/5, or 1/6?

Is the judge really that dumb, or is this an elaborate, sarcastic hoax on the petitioner?

Math teachers, can you use this to show the importance of learning math well enough to do simple math functions mentally, without paper and calculator?

While you’re at Zeno’s place, Halfway There, look around. Zeno writes well, has good stories to tell, and you could learn a lot about a lot of things — you know, just by observing.


Brave 10-year-old Arkansas boy refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance, on principle

November 17, 2009

Adults worry about peer pressure.  Kids can goad other kids into doing stupid things, dangerous things, illegal things, and immoral things.

Pressure from adults on kids might be just as strong.

What about a 10-year-old kid who stands up to peer pressure, and stands for principle against adults who use all sorts of inducements to get him to do something he believes is wrong?

I offer a salute to Will Phillips of  West Fork School District, in Washington County, Arkansas.

Will believes homosexuals in America are not beneficiaries of  liberty and justice for all.  Will now refuses to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance for that reason.

It’s probably not what I’d advise the young man to do to protest, but he has every right.  He’s thought it through, which may not be said for the substitute teacher and the school administrator who tried to pressure him into giving up on his principles.

In the Arkansas Times, David Koon writes the story:

A boy and his flag

Why Will won’t pledge.

David Koon
Updated: 11/5/2009

WILL PHILLIPS: Freedom lover.

Will Phillips, freedom lover, in Arkansas (Arkansas Times photo)

Will Phillips isn’t like other boys his age.

For one thing, he’s smart. Scary smart. A student in the West Fork School District in Washington County, he skipped a grade this year, going directly from the third to the fifth. When his family goes for a drive, discussions are much more apt to be about Teddy Roosevelt and terraforming Mars than they are about Spongebob Squarepants and what’s playing on Radio Disney.

It was during one of those drives that the discussion turned to the pledge of allegiance and what it means. Laura Phillips is Will’s mother. “Yes, my son is 10,” she said. “But he’s probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults. He’s not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair.”

Will’s family has a number of gay friends. In recent years, Laura Phillips said, they’ve been trying to be a straight ally to the gay community, going to the pride parades and standing up for the rights of their gay and lesbian neighbors. They’ve been especially dismayed by the effort to take away the rights of homosexuals – the right to marry, and the right to adopt. Given that, Will immediately saw a problem with the pledge of allegiance.

“I’ve always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer,” Will said. “I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all.”

After asking his parents whether it was against the law not to stand for the pledge, Will decided to do something. On Monday, Oct. 5, when the other kids in his class stood up to recite the pledge of allegiance, he remained sitting down. The class had a substitute teacher that week, a retired educator from the district, who knew Will’s mother and grandmother. Though the substitute tried to make him stand up, he respectfully refused. He did it again the next day, and the next day. Each day, the substitute got a little more cross with him. On Thursday, it finally came to a head. The teacher, Will said, told him that she knew his mother and grandmother, and they would want him to stand and say the pledge.

“She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up,” Will said. “I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, ‘With all due respect, ma’am, you can go jump off a bridge.’ ”

Will was sent to the office, where he was given an assignment to look up information about the flag and what it represents. Meanwhile, the principal called his mother.

“She said we have to talk about Will, because he told a sub to jump off a bridge,” Laura Phillips said. “My first response was: Why? He’s not just going to say this because he doesn’t want to do his math work.”

Eventually, Phillips said, the principal told her that the altercation was over Will’s refusal to stand for the pledge of allegiance, and admitted that it was Will’s right not to stand. Given that, Laura Phillips asked the principal when they could expect an apology from the teacher. “She said, ‘Well I don’t think that’s necessary at this point,’ ” Phillips said.

After Phillips put a post on the instant-blogging site twitter.com about the incident, several of her friends got angry and alerted the news media. Meanwhile, Will Phillips still refuses to stand during the pledge of allegiance. Though many of his friends at school have told him they support his decision, those who don’t have been unkind, and louder.

“They [the kids who don't support him] are much more crazy, and out of control and vocal about it than supporters are.”

Given that his protest is over the rights of gays and lesbians, the taunts have taken a predictable bent. “In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they’ve been making comments and doing pranks, and calling me gay,” he said. “It’s always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad.”

Even so, Will said that he can’t foresee anything in the near future that will make him stand for the pledge. To help him deal with the peer pressure, his parents have printed off posts in his support on blogs and websites. “We’ve told him that people here might not support you, but we’ve shown him there are people all over that support you,” Phillips said. “It’s really frustrating to him that people are being so immature.”

At the end of our interview, I ask young Will a question that might be a civics test nightmare for your average 10-year-old. Will’s answer, though, is good enough — simple enough, true enough — to give me a little rush of goose pimples.  What does being an American mean?

“Freedom of speech,” Will says, without even stopping to think. “The freedom to disagree. That’s what I think pretty much being an American represents.”

Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson smiles.


Obama’s eligibility: California court tossed the challenge out

October 30, 2009

On the one hand it’s nice to see cool heads and wisdom prevail.

On the other hand, the Orly Taitz, Stumbling and Bumbling Bros., Barnyard Bailout Circus provided belly laughs for everyone who watched it.  How can such outstanding legal pratfall comedy possibly be replaced?  “Boston Legal” can’t hold a candle to Orly Taitz.

CNN and other sources report that Judge Carter booted the suit late Thursday, noting that the question is one for Congress, and Congress’s earlier decision sticks.

The lawsuit represented the claim by the so-called “birthers” movement that Obama was not born in Hawaii – despite a birth certificate to the contrary – or that if he was, his citizenship was invalidated by living overseas as a child.

In a 30-page ruling, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter of California said his court lacked the jurisdiction to rule on a case intended to unseat a sitting president.

Carter’s ruling said the plaintiffs were trying to persuade him to “disregard the constitutional procedures in place for the removal of a sitting president.”

“The process for removal of a sitting president – removal for any reason – is within the province of Congress, not the courts,” the ruling said.

Carter’s ruling also noted that the plaintiffs “have attacked the judiciary, including every prior court that has dismissed their claim, as unpatriotic and even treasonous for refusing to grant their requests and for adhering to the terms of the Constitution.”

“Respecting the constitutional role and jurisdiction of this court is not unpatriotic,” the ruling said. “Quite the contrary, this court considers commitment to that constitutional role to be the ultimate reflection of patriotism.”

Will Orly Taitz go quietly?  How can she replace the daily adrenaline rush of knowing she’s earned the official ire of judges from Chesapeake Bay to Long Beach Harbor?

It may be unrelated, but sketchy early reports say Orly Taitz has climbed aboard a mylar balloon shaped like a flying saucer . . .

More information:


Vintage film on Japanese internment during World War II

May 20, 2009

“A Challenge to Democracy,” by the War Relocation Board.  This film defends the relocation of 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.

“These people are not under suspicion,” the narrator says.  “They are not prisoners, they are not internees.  They are merely dislocated people, the unwounded casualties of war.”

According to the Internet Archive, the film is a 1944 production.  That site has the film available for download in several formats.  The film is collected in the Prelinger Archives.  On my computer, some of the Internet Archive versions offer  better quality than the Google Video version above.

I originally found the film at a school site in Washington, Mr. Talmadge’s Wikispace site, apparently for his classes in the history of the State of Washington.  That site has a very useful series of links to good sites on the internet for information about the Japanese internment.  There are several other topics noted there, too, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Whitman Massacre in Oregon, and the Nez Perce Retreat.  I’d love to see Mr. Talmadge’s plan for the year.

What do your students do to display their work on the internet?


Tiger justice, with a hint of poetry

February 23, 2009

Wild Sumatran tiger.jpg  Face on with wild tiger in Sumatra. This animal didnt like camera traps and destroyed three over a weekend. Photo by Michael Lowe, 2006, Wikimedia Commons

Wild Sumatran tiger - "Face on with wild tiger in Sumatra. This animal didn't like camera traps and destroyed three over a weekend." Photo by Michael Lowe, 2006, Wikimedia Commons. See William Blake's poem, below.

Reuters reports from Jakarta, on six people killed by tigers in Indonesia recently:

On Sunday, a tiger attacked and killed a man carrying logs near an illegal logging camp, Wurjanto said. Two other loggers in the same area were mauled and killed on Saturday.

Preliminary findings suggested the attacks were taking place because people were disturbing the habitat of the tigers, Wurjanto said.

*   *   *   *   *

The Sumatran tiger is the most critically endangered of the world’s tiger subspecies.

Forest clearances, killings due to human-tiger conflict, and illegal hunting for the trade in their parts, have led to tiger numbers halving to an estimated 400-500 on the Indonesian island from an estimated 1,000 in the 1970s, conservationists said.

Under Texas law, a homeowner may use deadly force to  stop trespassers, especially someone who poses a threat to the homeowner and the property.  I wonder whether the tigers will even get a trial.

A tree poacher mauled to death by the endangered tigers whose habitat he destroys:  Perfect example of poetic justice.

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art?
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand, and what dread feet?

What the hammer? What the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

– William Blake

Resources:


Supreme Court: No review of Obama eligibility

December 6, 2008

Generally the orders coming out of Friday conferences at the Supreme Court issue the following Monday. So, for Obama critics and dedicated Obama haters, there is still some hope that the Supreme Court might answer part of their wildest dreams. But it doesn’t look good for them.

[Saturday night update: Donofrio's blog acknowledges the orders don't include his case. He's holding out for Monday. Technically, he's right -- the orders usually would issue Monday. But if Friday's orders issued from Friday's conference, it doesn't speak well of the chances that an age discrimination case took precedence over a case challenging the election still in process. We won't know for sure, until Monday.]

[Monday morning update, December 8: It's official. Donofrio's case was not accepted for a hearing. As the Washington Post noted, there are other pending cases, but nothing likely to be acted on soon. I've noted in other posts, I think it unlikely any of the cases has a signficant chance of success.]

No order issued from the Supreme Court to further discuss the appeal of the dismissal of a New Jersey lawsuit challenging Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president. Instead, the Court granted certiorari to an accused terrorist to challenge President George W. Bush’s authority (which will fall to President Barack Obama, really), and the Court granted cert and an okay for an amicus brief on a labor case (age discrimination).

(writ of certiorari: [Law Latin "to be more fully informed"] An extraordinary writ issued by an appellate court, at its discretion, directing a lower court to deliver the record in the case for review. ♦ The U.S. Supreme Court uses certiorari to review most of the cases it decides to hear.) Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th ed. (Bryan Garner, ed.)

Assuming this listing to be accurate, the shotgun arguments against Obama’s eligibility appear to be dead issues. The electoral college balloting occurs on December 15 in 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia.

Short of a mass exodus of Obama electors in states where law does not bind them to vote as they pledged to vote, Obama’s selection by the electoral college appears to be fait accompli.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog noted the lack of order in the case, late yesterday.

For thousands of people addicted to the tubes of the internet, this will pose interesting problems as to what they can whine about for the next several weeks.

Previous comments on the Bathtub:


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