Judges Should Be Seen But Not Heard?

In Arkansas, it appears that some folks—taking their cue from the Bush Justice Department—believe that judges may render legal opinions but ought not express personal opinions, particularly if those opinions run counter to prevailing conservative orthodoxy. Consider the case of Judge Wendell L. Griffen, as highlighted in this editorial in the Arkansas Leader:

Lynching of a judge

Arkansas will have to be told once again whether the First Amendment to the Constitution applies to Judge Wendell L. Griffen of the Arkansas Court of Appeals. It does protect his right to speak as much as it does yours and ours, and an appellate court will one day affirm that one more time.

Meantime, Judge Griffen, who is black, will have to stand on the scaffold accused and probably convicted of dishonoring his judicial robes by uttering an opinion on moral issues of the day from time to time, usually in his capacity as a minister of the Gospel. The state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission Monday formally accused the judge again of violating the code of conduct for judges by expressing opinions while he was not on the bench.

Yes, that is the charge. Now the commission will hold a hearing, where Griffen will dispute the accusation, and then it will discipline him. The discipline could be a rebuke, a suspension or expulsion from his position on the Court of Appeals, to which people have twice elected him. Then, two or three years from now, the Arkansas Supreme Court or a federal court will overturn the sanction and restore his good name. All that has already happened once, but the commission by a narrow vote wants to try one more time.

In the interim, he will seek re-election, and voters might assume that the commission’s rebuke or whatever else it does means that he really has done something wrong and defeat him. One candidate has already been emboldened to run against him in 2008.

Here is what Judge Griffen is accused of doing:

Soon after Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 he criticized the federal government’s response to the hurricane in a discussion at an NAACP banquet. The remark got in a newspaper.

A couple of days earlier, during a discussion at a Baptist convention in Columbus, Ga., (Rev. Griffen was an officer of the national Baptist association) he talked about the qualifications of John Roberts to be chief justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, apparently not favorably. A story in the little Georgia paper characterized it as criticizing Roberts’ nomination. Someone sent the article to the Arkansas commission.

Last year, Rev. Griffen was one of a number of ministers who wrote letters formally endorsing an increase in the minimum wage. They were released at a press conference. Griffen’s was on his ministerial stationery, not the court’s. He also was on record making a comment defending the rights of homosexuals. They were God’s children, too. [full text]

Bush Administration Defends Minority Rights?

Say what you will about Bush, Cheney, & their Neocon Traveling Circus, but these hard-hearted hard-liners remain unwavering in their advocacy of minority rights. It’s true. Of course, the President and his followers only became interested in minority rights when, much to their surprise and chagrin, they found themselves in the minority. Accordingly, they have circled the wagons to defend themselves against the pesky majority of those who would deny them their God-given right to wage unlimited war in Iraq and do whatever they damn well please. What do the ignorant masses know anyway?

In the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, 71% of those polled “disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the situation with Iraq,” 64% believe that the United States should “set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq,” and 57% believe that Congress rather than the President “should have the final say about troop levels in Iraq.” On Thursday, by a vote of 51 to 46, the Senate passed an emergency appropriations bill that includes language “that would order troops to begin leaving Iraq by Oct. 1 at the latest.” A day earlier, by a vote of 218 to 208, the House of Representatives approved the same bill. Over in Iraq, according to a BBC poll conducted last month, 78% of Iraqis oppose having U.S. troops in their country, 82% have little or no confidence in occupation forces, and 69% believe that the U.S. presence is worsening the security situation there.

But, again, what do any of these people know? And what does it matter what they think or want? The important thing is that the rights—not to mention the reputations—of the warmongering minority be defended at all costs. That’s what makes America so great, right? We always look after our minorities.

Local Politics Gets Web-Savvy with Targeted Ads

This seems to be new: off-season webpage political ads of such a specific nature.

As you all know, I’m no Republican (though I promise my party allegiance to no one) but this advertisement seems to be a hopeful sign of a new way that people can use the internet and advertising to deal with local political issues. It also encourages citizen participation in the budget-creating process and provides contact information for all representatives.

Now, if this ad was really web-friendly, it would provide hyperlinks right to the email addresses of the representatives. But it appears that this is a newspaper print ad that was made into an image somehow, so it may not be hyperlink-friendly.

I found this ad on the Your Turn page of the West Bay section of the Projo, while reading Rayna Ciano’s letter protesting the Cullion Concrete Plant.

The Masses Rally to Stop Concrete Plant

Bumped: Some people have written powerful and well-informed letters, so this post has been bumped up.

The Projo puts the estimate over 200 and CCRZD is saying it was close to 300 people who turned out last night, donning dust masks to oppose the concrete plant being built off Pontiac Avenue on Marine Drive in Cranston, RI.

Flooded area of Cullion Concrete Plant.

One thing that needs to be stressed about the DEM’s approval of this concrete plant is that one stipulation of the permit was that Cullion would remove all trucks from the premises before any threat of heavy rain. As you can see from the picture, they are already breaking the rules. What is the likelihood that they will do the things necessary to keep the plant from posing environmental hazards?

CCRZD is asking people to file objections to the approved permit for the Cullion Concrete Plant on Marine Drive.

Everyone who lives anywhere near the Cullion Concrete plant, and/or cares about our Narragansett Bay, should send a registered letter to Dr. Michael Sullivan, DEM Director, filing an objection to the new Cullion permit, Insignificant Alteration Permit #06-0557, issued on April 9, 2007.

Letter should request a public hearing and should state that the writer is formally appealing the DEM’s action. We have until April 29 to file these objections, and letters should if possible be sent by certified mail, so DEM can’t say that they did not get them. Letter should also mention the fact that although stipulation # 17 on page 3 of the permit states that all vehicles stored on site shall be removed preceding flooding events, that CCRZ&D and others have pictures of at least three vehicles under water that were not removed. Note that the permit was issued on April 9, 2007, and this violation occurred on April 16, 2007, just seven days later. If the DEM lets this one slide, then it’s a clear indication that they will do nothing about future violations.


Frank Mattiucci, Pres.

Letters should be mailed to Dr. Michael Sullivan, DEM Director, 235 Promenade Street Providence, RI 02908-5767.

Feel free to use our comments section to post the letters you’ve written to the DEM. I will do so with mine, once I write it.

Too Cozy with Big Pharma?

In today’s Chicago Tribune, Bruce Japsen reports on a recent study that sheds additional light on just how pervasively cozy the relationship between physicians and pharmaceutical companies has become in this country:

Doctors refuse to take bitter no-gift medicine

Whether it be Subway sandwiches for the office staff or reimbursement for continuing education, gifts showered upon doctors by drug- and medical device-makers have become so pervasive that they are a standard part of virtually every U.S. physician’s practice.

Despite self-policing initiatives launched by organized medical groups and the drug and device makers to curb the cozy relationship between physicians and industry, 94 percent “or virtually all” physicians have at least one type of relationship with the drug industry, according to a study scheduled to be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study indicates that those self-policing initiatives are not always followed.

Consumers should care about such relationships because drug companies tend to market the latest and most expensive brand names, and gift-giving can influence prescribing behavior and therefore how much Americans spend on prescriptions, the authors said.

Drug marketing and conflicts of interest between doctors and medical product companies have come under congressional scrutiny because of their impact on costs and because of safety issues involving heavily promoted drugs, including Vioxx, the painkiller that was pulled from the market in 2004, nearly two years after studies showed it increased risks of heart attacks.

“Relationships with industry are a fundamental part of the way medicine is practiced today,” said the study’s lead researcher and co-author, Eric Campbell, an associate professor of medicine at the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Campbell said consumers have reason to be concerned about the study’s findings. [full text]

Staring through the Window at Ralph Nader

I could have stood in line, where he was autographing his latest at Books on the Square today, but I would only have rebuked him. Since he is reputed to be a hard-headed man, I didn’t think I could change his mind — smarter people than I have failed to shake his certainty. Seven years ago, Ralph Nader had more power in American politics than any one person should have. With an American public so hypnotized, misled, or hopeless that only about 40% of us vote, some of the most committed and informed voters were Greens. In previous elections I voted for Nader too, but it was a symbolic act. Green Party was never going to win a national election, even for local offices it was a long shot. Now in 2000 we had a choice between Al Gore and that grinning frat boy, George Bush. Al Gore won, and even a percentage of the Green Party votes would have sealed that victory and put it beyond the reach of the Republican Party to steal the election.

In the final days, when it was clear the election was too close to call, Ralph Nader kept insisting that there was no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. History shows otherwise. Al Gore would not have ignored a memo titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.’ If he had not been able to prevent the 9/11 attack he would not have responded by invading a country that had not attacked us. A Gore administration wouldn’t be staffed by incompetent cronies. Al Gore wouldn’t have vacationed while New Orleans drowned, as much in bureaucracy as in hurricane waters.

This November when the Democrats took the House and Senate you could hear a change in tone on the news. We were a two-party system again. Not six months later investigations are underway, a vote is up on an exit plan for the Iraq war, the frat boy is not getting a blank check from a rubber-stamp Congress anymore.

Ralph Nader made his reputation on integrity, on principles, on speaking truth to power. It’s not fair that things turned out the way they did, but we are worse off because he gained enough power to swing the vote, and was not enough of a politician to see the strategy. He helped put George Bush in office, to the great detriment of our country.

I’m a Unitarian, and we don’t do righteous. We should try to be good, but it’s dangerous to be Good, and it’s folly to be God.

File a Complaint with EPA New England

Cullion Concrete Plant, April 2007

Here’s mine:

Dear EPA of New England, I am writing to express my concern about the concrete plant being built on Marine Drive in Cranston, RI. The DEM issued a permit to build this concrete plant on a flood plain in very close proximity to residential homes. They are already violating their own permit by leaving vehicles on the property during a flood. Please stop this environmental hazard from invading our community.

You file your own complaint by going to this page: