My supreme return

As perhaps one or two of you may have noticed, I have not posted in a while. The first week I had a good reason: I was in Orlando for a work trip. The last couple of weeks, however, I just decided I needed a break.

Think of it as my summer blogging vacation (even though summer only started five days ago).

But there were a few reasons why I wished to take a break. One was just to give myself a mental vacation. When I get home from work from a long day, it’s nice to not have to worry about any other obligations.

Secondly, I was getting exhausted from complaining about Donald Trump every day.

Last, I really wanted to use the time to brainstorm how I could channel my creative energy towards a project that can be more productive towards my future. I have no aspirations to become a professional blogger. But I do feel like one day I will come up with an idea that will be worth pursuing – whether it’s a book idea, a screenplay, or any other writing project. Something that can one day be published and enjoyed by the world.

I still haven’t gotten there. And until I do, I figure the most productive answer is to keep writing as much as I can on a regular basis. So, blogging can certainly fulfill that for now.

But it likely won’t be daily. And more importantly, if I am going to discuss politics and current events, I want to talk about things that matter. Not Trump’s tweets. Not the latest outrage on social media. But things that affect the way we live.

Today, for instance, the Supreme Court made two important announcements: It will make a decision in October on Trump’s travel ban, and it will also hear a case involving a Colorado baker’s refusal to serve a gay couple, citing a violation of religious freedom included in the First Amendment.

The travel ban decision is important. Not because it will dictate whether certain immigrants can or cannot come to the U.S. for a short-term period, but because it will set a precedent on the president’s ability to unilaterally enforce immigration restrictions, and therefore set boundaries on presidential powers overall while either strengthening or weakening our government’s longstanding system of checks and balances.

And any one hoping that Neil Gorsuch might become a bit more moderate once he hit the bench is probably disappointed by now. In agreeing to hear the case on the travel ban, the court granted the administration’s request to stay the injunctions put in place by lower courts, thereby putting portions of the ban into effect. Gorsuch (along with justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) wrote dissenting opinions stating that they would’ve allowed the full ban, without limitations, to take effect right now.

The case on a worker’s ability to deny service to gay couples based on religious grounds is important for obvious reasons. If they side with the businesses, then it has the potential to derail progress this nation has made advancing gay rights, two years after the Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

One does not need to ask which side Gorsuch will take on this one.

Finally, Monday marks 20 years to the day when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the U.K) was published.

Now if you could look back on any development in the last two decades that strongly benefited humankind, it was the introduction of the Harry Potter books, which encouraged a generation of children to fall in love with reading.

In the Potterverse, good ultimately defeated evil as Harry got the better of Lord Voldemort.

Let’s hope real life reflects that.

What I missed while I was in West Virginia

Well, I spent the last week road tripping to West Virginia on business, and I came back to find that the United States is the closest it’s been to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis more than five decades ago.

For the record, it was my first time in West Virginia, and while I try hard not to stereotype, everybody there looked exactly like I expected them to. Lots of flannel shirts and trucker hats. The only disappointment was that people weren’t walking down the streets wearing coal miner uniforms.

But I can safely say that I didn’t meet a single unkind person in my brief time in the state. The more I travel south, the more I can confirm that southern hospitality is indeed a real thing.

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They don’t call West Virginia the Mountain State for nothing

Now I can cross West Virginia off my travel bucket list … said no one ever.

And while being surrounded my mountains affords you a certain feeling of detachment that lets you distance yourself from the rest of the world, I did still try to keep up with the news. Turns out a lot happened while I was away.

As we all know, North Korea is a rogue nation that is recklessly building up its nuclear arsenal. Their government is a true dictatorship to the core, with a history of starving and imprisoning its people for even the tamest of offenses. Simple accommodations like electricity and television in homes are scarce, bordering on nonexistent.

And led by such an unstable figure such as 33-year-old Kim Jong-un, the situation obviously requires a great deal of subtlety and diplomacy to avoid setting off a domino effect that ends with nuclear catastrophe.

So naturally, Donald Trump is the perfect man for the job! Subtlety and diplomacy just happen to be his strong points.

North Korean officials have publicly stated that any threats to their nation would be met with a nuclear strike. They may be bluffing. But that’s not something I want to find out, and it’s hard to feel comfortable when we have nearly as unpredictable of a leader making our decisions.

Kim Jong-un

Sound bites like “the era of strategic patience is over” may sound good on TV, but could realistically have devastating effects. Pretending you’re sending a naval armada may look tough, but in reality, it’s the nuclear equivalent of lighting a match in a tinderbox.

I always figured that one day this blog would end because I became too busy or too lazy, and not because of nuclear extinction. So we’ll see.

What else happened last week? Well, Arkansas, still embattled in legal wrangling over their 10-day execution fest, was able to go through with one execution of African-American prisoner and convicted murderer Ledell Lee, after the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to let it happen. A double execution is also planned for Monday night.

Which means that Neil Gorsuch’s first decision as a Supreme Court Justice was to kill a black man.

Sounds about right.

But by far the biggest news that happened over the last several days is the French French electionspresidential election. The nation picked its top two candidates on Sunday, choosing centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing sensationalist and known Muslim hater Marine La Pen, who will now compete in a runoff next month in what is set to be a major turning point in the history of Europe.

Political experts foresaw this as a watershed election not only for France, but the entire continent and the future of the European Union. And now, the French people have a choice to do what the United Kingdom and United States failed to do – reject populism and xenophobia and join together behind a more unifying force.

This upcoming vote deserves a lot more attention, and I’ll devote a post to it in the near future in lieu of making this one too much of a currents event overload.

Bearing that in mind, I fortunately was unable to even touch on Bill O’Reilly!

Pun absolutely and horribly intended.

Mr. Gorsuch goes to Washington

It was below freezing temperatures one January evening in 2009 in Illinois when a man named Alphonse Maddin, driving a truck attached to a trailer for TransAm Trucking, found himself stranded shortly before midnight.

It turned out his truck was fine, but the trailer’s brake stopped working, and thus couldn’t be towed along. Upon returning to his truck, the heat also wasn’t functioning.

Maddin notified TransAm, which told him to wait for help. He did. Hours passed, and Maddin fell asleep. When he awoke, he felt numbness in his torso and feet. He called TransAM again, which told him to keep waiting, or to drag the trailer on its frozen brakes.

Not long after, Maddin, fearing for his life, unhitched the trailer and took off. Assistance eventually arrived and the trailer was recovered.

Maddin was fired for disobeying orders.

He later sued the company, under a statute by the Department of Labor that says employees do not have to operate their vehicle if they have reasonable apprehension about a serious injury.

TransAm contended that Maddin was not protected by this statute because he did, in fact, operate his vehicle.

An independent arbiter ruled in Maddin’s favor that the dismissal was illegal. Appeals ensued, and an appellate court of three judges backed the arbiter’s decision, ruling 2-1 in favor of Maddin.

The one man who ruled in favor of TransAm?

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Neil Gorsuch hearing

Now I’m not telling you this story to make you mad, or to confirm anyone’s worst fear about this judge who has been previously hailed for his conservative rulings.

In fact, I was out sick from work today, and watched a significant chunk of Gorsuch’s hearing before the Senate. From what I saw, I don’t think anybody could have watched the proceedings and thought that he is anything but an extremely intelligent man.

He clearly takes his job as an interpreter of the law very seriously, and was very disciplined in his responses to not indicate that he would have any premeditated ideological leanings.

So if he was conning us, then he sure fooled me.

Some of the highlights included his statement that “No man is above the law,” when asked about potential presidential overreach; and when asked how he would have responded if Trump asked him to reverse Roe vs. Wade (which legalized abortion nationally), he said “I would have walked out the door.”

But the reason I shared that story in the beginning is because it is clear that Gorsuch interprets rules and the law literally, regardless of morality. And that is a good or bad thing, depending on how you choose to perceive it.

In his minority opinion, Gorsuch agreed that since Maddin did indeed operate his vehicle, he lost protection under the Department of Labor statute, because that is exactly how it is worded.

Gorsuch will almost certainly be confirmed. And people can take heart in knowing that he is a competent judge who understands that the law exists to hold everybody in this country accountable, no matter how powerful or influential they are.

But his tenure as a justice of our nation’s highest court will always be questioned, because of the circumstances in which he eventually obtained the seat, and because of the character of the man who selected him.

Never forget Merrick Garland. (Odds say we all forget by June).

And if you’re thinking that there’s no way I watched an entire day of of Supreme Court hearings and was not once tempted to run out to Taco Bell to get a Taco Supreme… then you’d be 100 percent right.

From refugee drama to legal drama

From 1981 to 1983, Anne Gorsuch Burford served as the director of the Environmental Protection Agency. During her tenure, she drastically cut the agency’s budget by 22 percent, reduced clean water regulations, cut funding for environmental research and enforcement, and relaxed anti-pollution laws.

In other words, she led the EPA the same way environmentalists fear that Trump nominee Scott Pruitt will run the agency.

Burford did not last very long. Less than two years into the job, she resigned under fire during a scandal over mismanagement of a program involving hazardous waste clean-up.

On Tuesday, her son, Federal Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch was nominated to a seat on the United States Supreme Court, our highest court in the land.

Now his mother’s ideologies and how it influenced the way she led the EPA is not, nor should it be, an indictment on how Neil Gorsuch will act as a Supreme Court justice, but given his steady record of conservative decisions in the mold of the late justice Antonin Scalia, it’s fair to assume there will not be much separation.

By all accounts, Gorsuch is a very accomplished and thoughtful justice, and having been educated at Columbia University, the University of Oxford and Harvard University – where he was allegedly a classmate of Barack Obama – he is obviously very intelligent.

neil-gorsuch

But no matter how qualified or competent he is, it was never going to make liberals happy when you consider his seat was first stolen from Obama appointee Merrick Garland.

Remember that? When, a year ago, Senate President Mitch McConnell vowed that the Senate would not schedule a hearing for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, even though he had 11 months left in his term?

And then Republicans actually went through with the unprecedented level of obstructionism?

And then Trump won?

And then when Senate Democrats threatened to filibuster the nominee so he never gets confirmed, Republicans blasted them for their partisan noncooperation?

It makes it very difficult to have a vested interest in politics when the people who are in charge of making our country’s most important decisions are so morally dubious, and without even trying to hide it.

But this is the day and age of hyper-vigilance, even over seemingly tedious issues. When other time did we care so much about emoluments clauses, or whether the education secretary gets enough votes to be confirmed?

Or who the deputy attorney general of the United States is?

The reason we know that now is because the woman who most recently held that position, Sally Yates, was subsequently elevated to Acting D.A. following Trump’s inauguration while Jeff Sessions’s nomination continues to be debated.

sally-yates

And on Monday, Yates became a hero and martyr to the left when she publicly stated that as long as she served as acting D.A., Trump’s immigration ban would not be defended in courts. She was fired shortly after.

The incident rekindled memories of the Sunday Night Massacre on October 20, 1973, When the two top attorney generals resigned in protest after refusing Nixon’s order to fire the special prosecutor who was investigating him for Watergate.

Though Yates’s decision to go public with her stance was described by many legal experts as unnecessary – especially since she was likely on her way out of the door within days, once Sessions is confirmed — it was clearly a moral stand, and one that she will likely be long remembered for.

Shortly after, videos surfaced of her confirmation for Deputy D.A. under the Obama administration, when, in the ultimate twist of irony, Senator Jeff Sessions asked her if she would be willing to stand up to the president, to which she replied that she would.

In short, between the newly coined ‘Monday Night Massacre’ and the Supreme Court nominee, this is the most interesting time in America for legal drama since Boston Legal was on the air.

But credit Sally Yates for being the first person in power to stand up to Trump.

Hopefully more will follow.