From The Editor
Bill Girdner
Story Date:   
DHS Redux

     A young doctor told me a story about his conversation with a nurse.
     He corrected her when she said President Obama is a Muslim.
     She answered, "You can't be sure of anything these days."
     She also blamed the rise of the group Islamic State on Obama. She was particularly concerned that they were killing Christians, to the exclusion of the many Muslims who have also been slaughtered.
     And she said she would still pray for the president because he's lost his mind.
     It seems surprising that a person with such views works as a nurse, a job that requires a high degree of rational thought, the ability to observe and record accurately and a substantial amount of empathy.
     The resident doctor also wondered what she was doing in a liberal college town.
     I answered that there are an awful lot of people out there like the nurse, and they are electing people to Congress.
     And those representatives are causing a ruckus.
     When I saw a flash story from the L.A. Times last week, saying the bill to fund the nation's domestic security agency had failed, I forwarded the story to another editor, saying, "I knew they couldn't govern."
     He answered with a quote from Rep. Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat whose district runs along the border with Mexico. "The bullet must get bit by Boehner."
     The full weight of the failed vote last week fell entirely on the Republicans, who were unable to hold in line a fractious group of representatives calling themselves the Freedom Council.
     It was portrayed by TV's talking heads as a vote that would lower the nation's guard against domestic terror plots, and the Republican majority was seen as so divided and incompetent that the nation was being put at risk.
     Today, the DHS funding bill was passed by the Republican leadership working with Democrats, rejecting the conservatives who wanted to attack new immigration regulations through the funding process.
     But as the story has morphed, I realized I had never been clear on DHS's role in government.
     According to its webpage, it is supposed to "prevent attacks and protect Americans on land, sea and air."
     But the fight against domestic terror plots remains primarily in the hands of the FBI, which is part of the Justice Department. And then attacks from "land, sea and air" would normally fall within the province of the Defense Department.
     A photo can tell you so much more than words. A photo posted on the DHS site during the funding fight showed 10 officials including director Jeh Johnson at a press conference.
     But the soft faces in that photo didn't look like any federal counter-terrorism folks I've seen. They looked like local policemen. Covering federal trials, including those involving terror threats, I have seen plenty of FBI agents and they often look a lot like the prosecutors themselves, in trim suits, fit, with the generally mien of college grads.
     A closer look at the titles under the photo showed they were indeed policemen, firemen and FEMA's chief.
     That's what DHS really is, a funding source for equipment for local police and fire departments, as well as the umbrella for disaster and immigration agencies, one formerly independent, the other formerly within Justice.
     For some reason, there was not a single immigration official in the photo.
     Going back in time a bit, you can see that the creation of the department in 2002 was in part an exercise in political propaganda. It was proposed in the wake of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center by a Texas Republican from the panhandle and pushed along by George W. Bush who said, "We're fighting to secure freedom in the homeland."
     The etymology of the word "homeland" shows that it represented a conscious shift by Bush and his spokespeople away from the traditional nouns for our country, "nation" and "republic," and the older lexicon's adjective for internal matters, "domestic."
     The creation of DHS was part of the Bush reaction to the attack that fundamentally transformed much of the way the federal government is organized, including a mushrooming of the intelligence agencies, overlapping spying operations, renditions, secret prisons, torture, and the rise of what many call "the deep state," classified operations that can only be discerned as an outline under a blanket of secrecy, formed by the many instances where public examination by Congress or the federal courts has been defeated.
     The department that Bush created is also expensive, costing roughly $65 billion a year.
     Perhaps, in the end, our democratic republic's domestic matters might be better served undoing this part of the George W. legacy. The immigration service could return to Justice where the level of arbitrary power currently exercised by immigration officials might be at least partially curtailed. And FEMA could go back to being a competent, independent agency like it was for a quarter century before Bush got his hands on it.
     Local police and fire could be funded as they have traditionally been, through state and local funds, with federal grants through the Justice Department.
     But alas, it is not to be.

 
Coyote Speaks
Robert Kahn
Story Date:   
Standing My Ground

     Let's take a look at the First Amendment - all 45 words of it.
     "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
     All right, then. If Congress shall "make no law respecting an establishment of religion," how come every religion under the stars demands, and gets, exemptions from federal laws?
     An exemption from federal law is surely a "law respecting an establishment of religion."
     How come poofty-haired televangelists with gold-plated toilets are exempted from federal laws, including tax laws - but I'm not?
     Why can thousands of churches - overwhelmingly Christian, in this sainted land of ours - demand, and get, exemptions from laws on health care, employment, treatment of women, and virtually complete exemption from taxes?
     Why does the U.S. Supreme Court buy this, and sell it?
     Well, it's obvious why the Supreme Court does it. "The Supreme Court reads the election returns," as Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley said 100 years ago.
     And speaking of equal protection of the law: 46 states have "Stand Your Ground" laws, which allow you to shoot people to death if you think they might hurt you.
     So if I track down the loud people who call me on the phone every day to try to sell me things, and I kill them, could I be prosecuted for it?
     And if so, why?
     If someone broke into my house and shouted at me and shoved things in my face, and I shot him and killed him, I could not (allegedly) be prosecuted in 46 states.
     I don't like stand-your-ground laws.
     I think they are a sign of a fascist state.
     But if it's legal to kill a guy who barges into my house, why shouldn't it be legal to kill telemarketers, who do the same thing to me and to you every day, thousands of times, millions of times, all over the United States?
     People do this to me 20 times a week, despite federal and state laws against it.
     Why shouldn't it be legal for me to kill them, and the conspiratorial home invaders who run the telemarketing companies that pay these poor people starvation wages to threaten me with scams?
     Mind you, I am not suggesting that anyone hunt these people down and kill them.
     But why do I not enjoy the equal protection of the laws?
     I am a writer, and rather a sensitive guy. These calls upset me, and when I am upset I cannot work. The calls threaten my livelihood. If that's not a threat of imminent harm, I don't know what is. It's not even a threat of harm - it's actual harm.
     It's far more harm, it seems to me, than Trayvon Martin ever did to George Zimmerman.
     Call me a steel-hearted patriot with cruel yet handsome eyes, if you wish. So many people have. But have I not the right to be heard? To claim my rights? To defend the castle that is my home?
     OK, it ain't much of a castle, and the moat sucks, but still ...
     I have many more ideas about equal protection, freedom, the Constitution and all kinds of patriotic stuff. I won't share them with you now. I'll do it when I'm damn good and ready.
     Interested?
     Don't call me; I'll call you.
     (Robert Kahn won the Parenchyma Freedom Institute's 1989 Award of Excellence for Defense of Mucilaginous Plants.)

 
From The Courts
Milt Policzer
Story Date:   
Career Advice

     Can judges have fun outside the courtroom?
     Inside the courtroom is not a problem. You can hold random people in contempt, you can sentence people to dunk tanks or force them to wear clown suits. You can even draw cartoons to illustrate your rulings.
     There are endless creative outlets for judges on the job.
     But is the rest of a judge's life ruined?
     I wondered about this last week after a question was posed on Reddit: "What are the 'difficult' or 'unpleasant' aspects of serving as judge?"
     The questioner seemed to think that being a judge would be a lot easier and a lot less work than being a trial lawyer.
     Before we consider this person's question, let's consider this person. Here we have someone with an aversion to hard work and complexity, who thinks he may be able to avoid those things by quitting his lawyering job and signing up to be a judge.
     Set aside the issue of whether we want lazy, simple people on the bench. Maybe we do. It would speed things up.
     What I'm having trouble with is the concept that you can simply decide to go into judging. Maybe buy a robe and set up a judging shop on a street corner.
     Independent street justice could relieve the burden on our court system, but there probably would be too many guns involved and then you'd end up in the real courts anyway.
     The only other explanation I could come up with for this question is that the questioner has a brother or sister who happens to be a governor. Then he or she has options.
     Surprise number two on this Reddit page was that people responded with serious answers. I guess these are people in favor of lazy, simple judges.
     Be that as it may, one of the downsides that sparked comment was the question: "What do you do for fun?"
     After all, judges, at least theoretically, according to the commenters, have to limit their social contacts to avoid conflicts of interest. Apparently this is because they live among gangsters and/or absolutely everyone they know will end up in court.
     Again, I'm perplexed. Why is this a problem? There are always video games and porn.
     And if they really want to hang out with actual people, all they have to do is what they already do in court: conduct voir dire to find friends completely unfamiliar with the legal system who are willing to promise to be open-minded and never participate in a court proceeding.
     Spouses of judges, naturally, will be allowed peremptory challenges to potential friends.
     
     Reading recommendation: If you're bored or need something to do, I highly recommend reading a ruling issued last week by the U.S. Supreme Court in Yates v. United States.
     It has everything I look for in an appellate opinion: a completely divided court coming up with three different opinions, a case that's dragged through the court system for six years for no readily apparent reason, and a terrific central question: Whether a fish is a tangible object.
     I won't spoil it for you by giving away all the details but here are a couple of excerpts taken completely out of context:
     "How does one make a false entry in a fish?"
     I've tried imagining that. I don't recommend following my example.
     "A 'tangible object' is an object that's tangible."
     If you think that's obvious, consider that the quote is from the dissent.
     "A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form. See generally Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish."
     Never say that judges are not well-read.