Gorsuch and Judicial Politics

Supreme Court Associate Judge Neil Gorsuch is taking his oath of office today.

During the hearing, he claimed that there are no Republican judges, and no Democratic judges, only judges. He sees himself as an Originalist like Scalia, which is a self-applauding way of saying ‘I have no biases, I only follow the law’. But all the cases that come before the Supreme Court are there because they do not fall neatly into existing law, because they can be considered both right and wrong, acceptable or unacceptable behavior, but is the behavior at issue legal? The situation is new, the public’s view of what is OK and what is not OK is shifting. Consider interracial marriage, same sex marriage, a woman’s right to vote. Is the formerly unacceptable behavior, now seen as acceptable, constitutional? Can it still be outlawed? What would the framers of the Constitution think? That is where Gorsuch comes in and makes his incredulous claim of being just a judge. A judge of what, one might ask, of religious law, of secular law, of sexual mores?

Well, he now has a chance to proof his ‘I am not a Democrat, I am not a Republican’ and explain every time he sides with big corporation and conservative policy, that he is just interpreting the Constitution, and not the moral Universe he grew up in and lives with.

The wrong-headed, wrong-hearted approach to immigration

Sometimes, what is lawful can be the wrong thing to do, and what is ‘illegal’ is demonstrably good.

So it is with undocumented immigrants who live and work in the US for years, often decades. They came mostly from Mexico and Central America, and are now at imminent risk of having their families torn apart. Many clearly do not have the legal right to work or live here, yet have done so for decades, worked, raised families and payed taxes. They have been able to do so with the implicit and complicit acknowledgment of US businesses and citizens who hire them for work on farms, in their homes, at the restaurants where they eat. They are willing to do manual labor that most Americans refuse to do. But this is the story, the history of immigrants, that you work hard, not play hard.

Now, the Trump administration is widening the net of deporting undocumented aliens, tearing families apart. It is now a heartless policy unbalanced by sensible immigration reform that gives long standing aliens the opportunity to get their residency papers in order. They have worked here and deserve to continue their American dream. Trump cynically pledged a big heart for DACA kids, yet has now decided to go after their parents, imprisoning and deporting them, yet again tearing families apart.

It does not have to be this way. In the 1980s undocumented Irish have been rewarded with a green-card lottery system to become resident aliens (full disclosure: I benefited from this program as a Swiss immigrant in the 90s). Where are the Democrats and Republicans who oppose today’s mass deportation approach? Where are the good-hearted politicians? We need them as much as the good-headed ones. For one thing must be clear, this across the board deportation policy is just the beginning of a shift away from facts and rule of law, and towards a rule of lies.

Our Country, its Constitution, and hard working immigrants deserve better.

Regaining the trust in facts or why life exists – a New Year’s Rhapsody.

As a child I was taught to respect the truth, that there is a right and a wrong answer to everything. It was my mother’s prerogative to teach a child good manners. So it is a surprise that I find myself in a world where facts and opinions are becoming confused and where people claim that there is an opposing truths to everything, that nothing is settled including scientific facts about the world. I did become a biochemist precisely because I expected to find the answers to right and wrong, in particular evolution versus creationism, in a verifiable fashion. Boy was I wrong when it comes to people accepting facts. Everyone seems to cherry pick there own facts (making them opinions) to support their own view of the world. The argument always goes along the line of things not being settled since there is always some occurrence or testimony that is in support of one’s own take of an issue.

So what is going on? I am concerned here about both political and medical information, facts and opinions. Both politics (see several previous posts about Trump) and medicine are complex entities that usually defy simple explanations, although ‘solutions’ can be suggested through sound-bites and slogans. It boggles the mind when people call sugar a toxin or carbon dioxide a pollutant, when they challenge the usefulness of vaccines, because their side effects are now more obvious than when they were introduced to fight infectious diseases, or when conservationists declare organisms invasive species, when brought in by humans and which do spectacularly well in their new habitats, usually at the expense of native species. Yet sugar, carbon dioxide, and all species are integral parts of local and global ecosystem. Nature always undergoes changes and the examples I listed are part of homeostatic systems (an ecosystem, the human body, a plant), not systems at true equilibrium*, but in temporary stability while constantly dependent on input of energy and building blocks and shedding excess energy and waste molecules. Life is not at equilibrium, but can be threatened by an excess of anything, be this added sugars in our processed foods, elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and the oceans, or novel organisms in a stable ecosystem. If life where at equilibrium and if there were such a thing as the perfect ecosystem (or perfect food, perfect political system), evolution would have stopped a very long time ago, and likely life would never have come into existence and the planet Earth were in peaceful chemical equilibrium. But this is not what happened.

(* an isolated system that does not change in its size, temperature and composition)

Good-by 2016

We will remember 2016 as the year that prepared us for the year when long held assumptions are being challenged and our world views are being tested.

Take nothing for granted. goodby

2017 will be the year when trickle down economic theory will finally be unmasked for the fraud that it is, thanks to one man who does not and will not distinguish fact from fiction, where the merit of a policy is judged not by how it benefits America, but the Presidents personal wallet, where enemies and friends are not defined by long standing national differences and common goals, but by who can better stroke the President’s ego. The latter explains why Trump sees Russia’s President as Americas best friend, not our intelligence services, where trade tariffs make goods cheaper, where closing borders creates jobs, where lowering taxes for the rich increases wages for the workers, where bringing back coal mining and steel manufacturing will bring us above average GDP growth, and where rescinding health insurance for millions of Americans will lower health care costs.

We are entering a dreamland of sorts where political, economic and technological experience is discounted and social benefits privatized to benefit shareholders, where gut instincts trump careful analysis and hucksterism is the law of the land.

Welcome 2017. Teach as the ropes of Trumpism. Happy New Year.

The Dichotomy of the American Mind

Americans are divided. A red America and a blue America, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. This is a deeply embedded mindset in the American psyche. The two party system is the most prominent reflection of this thinking that there must be only two sides to a coin, two solutions to a problem, two outcomes to an event. We think of the world as good or evil, free or enslaved, we espouse ‘winner takes all’ or ‘all are winners’. There seems nothing in-between, It is the dichotomy of the American mind.

Janus coin from Roman time showing two headsIf for a moment, we could free ourselves from this image of either/or, we could appreciate the minutiae of our differences and highlight the variety we experience every day. Instead of pressing our mind into a political straight jacket, we should listen to nuances that are ever present in our lives. This is particularly important in the current climate of the post election period, where feelings are hurt and fear and exuberance of the future are ever present.

What can we do? America appears divided because this is the filter we are viewing it through. But Americans are not divided. Blue and Red, they have many common interests, often want different ways to solve problems, their hopes and fears intersect and overlap. And when we take a step back and evaluate our lives, we realize that most things are working well, that America indeed is not splintered and on the verge of chaos, that the country is not broken and that it is in no need of ‘being taken back’.