Saturday, June 28, 2008

Danger: Psychics at work

VISIONARY: Colleen Leduc, 38, of Barrie, Ont., Canada, had already picked up her 11-year-old autistic daughter, Victoria, from Terry Fox Elementary School, when the girl's teacher called. "The teacher said you have to come back to school right away -- it's urgent," Leduc said. She raced back to the school, where the teacher and principal were waiting. The teacher told Leduc that a special education aide had consulted a psychic, who said that a girl whose name started with "V" is being sexually abused. On that "evidence", the principal said, the school had already filed a sexual abuse report with the Children's Aid Society. Once the local CAS office realized the case was based on a psychic reading, they closed it. The Child Welfare League of Canada acknowledges that there is a "zero tolerance" policy in place regarding child abuse, but says "there is still room for common sense under zero tolerance." Leduc said the school has not apologized for the outrageously false report. (National Post) ...I have a vision -- of a massive lawsuit against the school. Hey: this psychic stuff is easy!

Taken from

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Supreme Court says Americans have right to guns

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans have a right to own guns for self-defense in their homes, the justices' first major pronouncement on gun rights in U.S. history.
The court's 5-4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia's 32-year-old ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment. The decision went further than even the Bush administration wanted, but probably leaves most firearms restrictions intact.
The court had not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since its ratification in 1791. The amendment reads: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
The basic issue for the justices was whether the amendment protects an individual's right to own guns no matter what, or whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that an individual right to bear arms is supported by "the historical narrative" both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted.
The Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home," Scalia said. The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled, but left intact the licensing of guns.
Scalia noted that the handgun is Americans' preferred weapon of self-defense in part because "it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police."
In a dissent he summarized from the bench, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the majority "would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons."
He said such evidence "is nowhere to be found."
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a separate dissent in which he said, "In my view, there simply is no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."
Joining Scalia were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. The other dissenters were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter.
Gun rights supporters hailed the decision. "I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of this freedom," said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.
The NRA will file lawsuits in San Francisco, Chicago and several of its suburbs challenging handgun restrictions there based on Thursday's outcome.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a leading gun control advocate in Congress, criticized the ruling. "I believe the people of this great country will be less safe because of it," she said.
The capital's gun law was among the nation's strictest.
Dick Anthony Heller, 66, an armed security guard, sued the District after it rejected his application to keep a handgun at his home for protection in the same Capitol Hill neighborhood as the court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in Heller's favor and struck down Washington's handgun ban, saying the Constitution guarantees Americans the right to own guns and that a total prohibition on handguns is not compatible with that right.
The issue caused a split within the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney supported the appeals court ruling, but others in the administration feared it could lead to the undoing of other gun regulations, including a federal law restricting sales of machine guns. Other laws keep felons from buying guns and provide for an instant background check.
White House reaction was restrained. "We're pleased that the Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to keep and bear arms," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
Scalia said nothing in Thursday's ruling should "cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings."
In a concluding paragraph to the his 64-page opinion, Scalia said the justices in the majority "are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country" and believe the Constitution "leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns."
The law adopted by Washington's city council in 1976 bars residents from owning handguns unless they had one before the law took effect. Shotguns and rifles may be kept in homes, if they are registered, kept unloaded and either disassembled or equipped with trigger locks.
Opponents of the law have said it prevents residents from defending themselves. The Washington government says no one would be prosecuted for a gun law violation in cases of self-defense.
The last Supreme Court ruling on the topic came in 1939 in U.S. v. Miller, which involved a sawed-off shotgun. Constitutional scholars disagree over what that case means but agree it did not squarely answer the question of individual versus collective rights.
Forty-four state constitutions contain some form of gun rights, which are not affected by the court's consideration of Washington's restrictions.
The case is District of Columbia v. Heller, 07-290.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

8th Amendment

Next to the 2nd amendment and gun control, the 8th amendment, specifically capital punishment issues are probably the most publicly debated constitutional issues today. The issues are so complex this will be a multi-part posting. Part 1 will be the constitutional discussion while part 2 will address some of the other arguments outside the legal issues.

As always let’s start with the text.

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Just to be clear, “investigative” torture does not fall under the 8th. This is a matter for the 4th and 14th. I will be addressing “investigative” torture in a future article.

There is not much pubic outcry about bail and fines so let’s get into the fray with criminal sentences and the death penalty.

Reading appellate briefs and decisions can lead to brain damage as each word is picked apart, defined and re-defined. The adjectives “cruel and unusual” at first glance seem to be fairly straight forward but in reality they are quite vague and subject to change as American society’s mores change. Even regional differences will provide conflicts over what is cruel and unusual. A New Yorker in 1885 may find hanging a cattle rustler appalling while the Texas Marshall is being consistent within his culture and norms.

As you have noticed from past articles, I take a fairly strict view of constitutional interpretation. That leaves us in a bit of a quandary. Do we look at the societal standards of 1791 and what the founders would have found cruel or do we endlessly reinterpret the language as our cultural standards of acceptable punishment changes.

What was the mindset of the constitutional authors when it came to crime and punishment? The Crimes Act of 1790 (one year before the Bill of Rights was ratified) not only mandates the death penalty for treason, but also mandates mutilation of the corpse. Keep in mind that The Crimes Act was written largely by the same people who wrote and signed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Some of the other more “cruel and unusual” punishments included branding, not only being in the stocks but having your ear nailed to the wooden frame and forced dunking in a river or pond.

Along with the original intent and language, I generally look at the early court decisions to place the issue in its context. The first major Supreme Court decision which placed limits on criminal sentences was in 1878 with Wilkerson v Utah. This banned drawing and quartering, public dissection, burning alive and disemboweling.

Skip ahead nearly a hundred years. In 1978, much had changed but much hadn’t. The key issue in Furman v Georgia was the “arbitrary and inconsistent imposition of the death penalty.” Although this was a death penalty case, the principles can be applied to non-capital sentences. In this decision, some significantly more decisive language was used to clarify what was meant by “cruel and unusual.”

The essential predicate is “that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to the human dignity,

A severe punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion,

A severe punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society,

A severe punishment that is patently unnecessary.

Now we must attempt to draw a conclusion about the death penalty today.

I would suggest that you, the reader hold the general principle of capital punishment up to each of the four questions laid out in the Furman case.

Is the death penalty a punishment that by its severity be degrading to the human dignity?

Is the death penalty a punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion?

Is the death penalty a punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society?

Is the death penalty a punishment that is patently unnecessary?

Rather than bore you with 5 pages of my thoughts, on these questions, I am going to request that my readers post their opinions on the comments. I want to hear what you think.

The next article will address many of the other moral, emotional, and logical arguments regarding capital punishment.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

How Not To Shoot A Gun

Remember my article on the 2nd ammendment. I might have to change my mind....

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ohio Public School Teacher Burns Crosses on Students Arms

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — A public school teacher taught creationism in his science class and used a device to burn the image of a cross on students' arms, according to a report by independent investigators.
Mount Vernon Middle School teacher John Freshwater was insubordinate in failing to remove a Bible and other religious materials from his classroom and continued to preach his Christian beliefs despite complaints by other teachers and administrators, the report also said.
Click here to see a photo at the Columbus Dispatch.

School board members were scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the findings by consulting firm H.R. On Call Inc., hired by the district to investigate. The report was released Thursday.
School Superintendent Stephen Short wouldn't comment on the report ahead of Friday's meeting, his office said. A message seeking comment was left for Freshwater's attorney, Roger Weaver.

The report comes one week after a family filed a federal lawsuit in Columbus against Freshwater and the school district, saying Freshwater burned a cross on their child's arm and that a burn mark remained for three or four weeks.

Freshwater's friend Dave Daubenmire defended him.
"With the exception of the cross-burning episode. ... I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district," he told The Columbus Dispatch in a story published Friday.

Several students interviewed by investigators described Freshwater, who has been employed by the school district for 21 years, as a great guy. But Lynda Weston, the district's director of teaching and learning, told investigators that she has dealt with complaints about Freshwater for much of her 11 years at the district, the report said.

A former superintendent, Jeff Maley, said he tried to find another position for Freshwater but couldn't because Freshwater was certified only in science, the report said.
Freshwater used a science tool known as a high frequency generator to burn images of a cross on students' arms in December, the report said. Freshwater told investigators he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on three to eight students.