The Supreme Court of the United States has cultivated a reputation for objectivity and non-partisanship since the founding generation but a recent investigation by the New York Times may have shattered that reputation.
New York Times reporters Jo Becker and Julie Tate investigated an organization called the Supreme Court Historical Society, a non-profit dedicated to publishing educational material on the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. While this charitable organization may have started with noble intentions for public education, it has grown into an avenue for special interest group throughout the American legal community.
The charity, the Supreme Court Historical Society, is ostensibly independent of the judicial branch of government, but in reality the two are inextricably intertwined. The charity’s stated mission is straightforward: to preserve the court’s history and educate the public about the court’s importance in American life. But over the years the society has also become a vehicle for those seeking access to nine of the most reclusive and powerful people in the nation. The justices attend the society’s annual black-tie dinner soirees, where they mingle with donors and thank them for their generosity, and serve as M.C.s to more regular society-sponsored lectures or re-enactments of famous cases.
The society has raised more than $23 million over the last two decades. Because of its nonprofit status, it does not have to publicly disclose its donors — and declined when asked to do so. But The New York Times was able to identify the sources behind more than $10.7 million raised since 2003, the first year for which relevant records were available.
At least $6.4 million — or 60 percent — came from corporations, special interest groups, or lawyers and firms that argued cases before the court, according to an analysis of archived historical society newsletters and publicly available records that detail grants given to the society by foundations. Of that, at least $4.7 million came from individuals or entities in years when they had an interest in a pending federal court case on appeal or at the high court, records show.
This story should be headline news everywhere but it seems everyone is too busy gossiping about who will be the next Speaker of the House.
Here are the big questions with this story:
Do American citizens have any assurances that the Supreme Court Historical is not trading donations for access to arguably the U.S. government’s most powerful branch and do we have any assurances that the Supreme Court is not letting these special interests affect their official decisions?
I think the answer to both of these questions is no, we do not have such assurances. I do not believe that any government official (elected or appointed) deserves any benefit of the doubt. If there is any opportunity for corruption especially when there is money involved, the assumption should be that there is corruption occurring. Citizens should be skeptical of EVERYTHING that a government official says or does and the burden of proof must be on the government regarding any suspicion of corruption.
When one looks at birds like this puffin, it can be hard to reconcile its cute appearance with its place in the animal kingdom. The thing is, this adorable puffin has something in common with a rattlesnake, in that it’s a reptile (Image credit: Ray Hennessy, Unsplash licence, Image Cropped).
You read that correctly, birds are reptiles. Now, I can hear you saying “but we learned that they are a different group of organisms, and that reptiles are just those scaly animals that have cold blood?” While reptiles don’t have cold blood per se, some of them DO have feathers. And can fly. In this post I hope to convince you of the fact that the puffin pictured above, and all of its avian relatives, belong with the snakes, lizards, crocodiles, and turtles in the reptile group.
Life does not get easier because life is not easy, no matter how much we pretend it is. The truth is that life is horrible and a part of becoming an adult is learning to deal with life, figuring out how to drive through life without falling asleep at the wheel and crashing into a billboard advertising an asinine product that nobody needs. No one is satisfied with life but we keep breathing and eating because we’re scared of what might be next. A lot of people even make up stories about what could come next to make waking up in the morning easier but no one knows what is coming next. All we can be sure of is this life, these moments right now, and yet humans always appear so sure of themselves. What do you think of that piece of irony?
Every day humans scurry about on the surface of this planet inflating the importance of every decision and stressing over every possible outcome as if we are looking up at a our god of choice and saying, “look at me, look at what I did today, I’m so fucking important!” And every day we find reasons to kill each other over which piece of land is better or whose imaginary father figure in the sky is better or whose made up group of humans is better because of this or that arbitrary genetic trait.
Every day humans seem to find a way to keep breathing in spite of the chaotic nature of the universe and THAT, I believe, is the most courageous thing about us; our courage in the face of chaos is our biggest strength as a species. In spite of all the other hungry animals on Earth, all the diseases, all the volcanic eruptions, floods, earthquakes, droughts, famines, extreme heat, extreme cold, in spite of all the things from this planet trying to kill us like a bad case of fleas human beings are still here. We are one stubborn group of primates who refuse to lay down quietly, we just keep breathing.
Life is horrible but humans do not have to be. Despite this chaotic universe trying to kill us at every opportunity we are still here in defiance of nature itself. I think that is beautiful.
Life is horrible but humans are still here despite that fact. We are here because of the inherent instinct to survive found in every animal despite the chaos of the universe. THAT is our light at the end of the tunnel, our saving grace, our chance at redemption. If nothing else, live out of spite.
Something that I’ve noticed particularly among my own generation is a tendency to think about aspects of human history in zero-sum terms from an ideological perspective. For example, assuming a person advocates for imperialistic colonization simply because he or she may be expressing some admiration for a specific head of state or a modern monarch. Another example would be assuming someone’s political ideology from one statement or admission regardless of how well acquainted you are with the person. This is fallacious because it ignores individual circumstances and stems from a pathological attitude towards how the world “should” be.
Understand that there is a distinction to be made between individual people and the culture or institution into which a person was born and the faults of a specific culture or institution does not rest solely on one individual. There are things we can learn from any human being from any past time period from the military tactic of George Washington to the political machinations of Adolf Hitler. The founders of the United States of America have plenty to teach students today from their courage in rebelling against the standing empire of the time to their political blind spots regarding institutionalized slavery in America. Human beings are complicated and human societies are complicated. Building a society cannot be done within one human life-time. The story of humanity is an amalgamation of all of our individual stories each as complicated as the next, each contributing something, and each with its own personalized agenda. A society is simply the building blocks that our fore-fathers and ancestors left behind.
Expressing anger towards Queen Elizabeth II for the negative consequences of imperialism and colonization makes as much sense as blaming the United States for the entire transatlantic slave trade.
Human history is a lot more complicated than the neat boxes that humans like to make for ourselves. Sometimes there is not one person we can blame for a particular social ill. Something what would be considered a social ill in one time period may not be considered such in another time period. Sometimes there are grey areas concerning ethics and morals. We can never point to one action by one person can condemn everything else that person ever did.
I think the best way to approach human history is apolitically and amorally. I don’t like to judge past humans for their actions (especially if we’re talking about a time centuries before my own) because our place of birth and upbringing play a significant role in the person be grow up to be. Many people like to believe themselves to be a good person regardless of what time period they had been born into, but the key question is how one defines “good.” Judging the past with a subconscious superiority complex is utopian thinking. Utopias are fallacious (and impossible).
This “black & white” thinking may be attributed to the rise of digital communications and social media where short writing and short attention spans usually dominate spaces due to the incentive towards emotional appeals and click statistics, exemplified by character limits for text postings. If I could name a single issue with digital discourse it would be lack of context. Most communication between human beings is non-verbal which means facial expressions and body language play a significant role in how we communicate with each other. From my experience, there is no way the full spectrum of non-verbal body language can be translated through digital channels.
One could also argue that the degradation of American news media goes as far back as the presidential election of 1960 with the first televised presidential debates but I digress.
Perhaps the digital media ecosystem created by internet connectivity has done more harm than good with the ease at which we can communicate across distances. When all you see in an argument is words on a screen or a cartoonish avatar, it subconsciously diminishes the humanity of the other person in your mind and the negative emotions are less tempered by civic decency. Unfortunately I cannot see a way to go back to pre-internet discourse. In a span of just twenty years we have developed lifestyles revolving almost entirely around this new digital infrastructure (whether we’re aware of it or not) and, short of a widespread collapse of our modern technology, I cannot see a situation where the genie goes back into the bottle. There is already a generation of Americans who have spent their entire childhood plugged into the world wide web (from tablets for toddlers to mobile phones in their adolescence).
Communications—everything from roads, to rivers, to writing and the Internet—enable groups of humans to share a consensus around the solutions to the five group problems. In short, communications allow a group to coordinate, and new communications technologies allow bigger groups to coordinate. The flip side of this is that communications technologies are disruptive. In laying the foundations for a larger scale of group coordination, they disrupt the balance of consensus. New methods of communication allow new voices—whether internal or external to the group, or both—to enter the group’s consciousness. New people—new to the group—do things differently. Suddenly, the consensus on how to solve the five problems breaks down, and the group begins to lose cohesion.
Modern computing communications and our new digital media ecosystem may be causing another shift in consensus for humans on an unprecedented scale much like the invention of the printing press in the 15th century led to the Protestant Reformation and ultimately the Enlightenment period (which would lead to the 18th century revolutions that would help to shape the upcoming societies on the then-“New World”). Internet connections and the world wide web are the new printing press and, if history is any guide, the 21st century will be very tumultuous in the wake of the social upsets our new printing press is causing. Old ideological pathologies are resurfacing and finding refuge in secluded parts of digital media and the fractional nature of the ecosystem is balkanizing the discourse, cutting us off from the critical cross-examinations necessary for consensus and social cohesion.
What’s the solution?
I see only one solution to this fractionalization of discourse and it does not look promising. It requires increased self-awareness of individuals to recognize their media consumption as well as individual initiative to take more efforts upon themselves in reaching out beyond their innate biases and proclivities to make contact with their political opponents and ideological opposites. Government regulations or even self-regulations can help to better connect our media environments to coalesce people but it is ultimately on the individual to make the effort themselves in the long-term. Making an effort to seek out as many sources of information as possible – cross-checking, cross-examining, analyzing, and fact-checking for ourselves; reading as many books, newspapers, journal articles, anything we can get our hands on – that increased awareness for human history, human societies, and simply each other will go a long way toward progressing humans to a stronger understanding of each other. As in any strong personal relationship, communication and understanding is the key to strengthening our civic ties to each other. It’s not white people versus black people, white people versus latinos, Americans versus Mexicans or Canadians, North Americans versus Europeans, working class versus bourgeoisie, rich versus poor, or any other manufactured social division. If we all made an effort to bypass all of these superficial barriers, I believe there is nothing the human race cannot accomplish. By recognizing humanity more and working to actively bypass our tribal tendencies, we can literally unite our species into one planetary civilization and once again reach for the stars.
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Positive thinking had been perceived incorrectly a lot of times. The faith surrounding the idea of thinking positive is somehow failing. Unfortunately, everyone had begun to adopt the habit of optimism to ignore the reality of their life. Excessive positive thinking is putting the optimum in a box.
I think reading in the morning is a good habit to cultivate. So many humans have become so accustomed to mindlessly scrolling through digital feeds of information simply waiting for a moment of high emotion to propagate to a pseudo-network of others for validation, it is juvenile and demeaning. Taking moments for yourself to read on one subject or to merely write out your own thoughts can help focus a person’s mind and orient themselves for the day.
I challenge everyone to resist the urge to look at your phone in the morning and set aside time to read a traditional, paper-bound book and/or journal your thoughts on paper. You may be surprised at the results.
Current books of focus:
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough
The Proud Highway by Hunter S. Thompson
A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, and The Thanksgiving Visitor by Truman Capote
It’s hard to believe it’s already August, time sneaks up on you like that. It feels just last week I signed my employment contract with the Questa del Rio News but it was actually seven months ago.
The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire in northern New Mexico is near full containment with efforts moving into recovery phases. Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham criticized the United States Forest Service in a press release, pushing for accountability from the federal agency.
It’s a word that is used often by reporters and pundits on a righteous mission for the truth but is also overlooked by the public. How does one hold a government accountable? What does it even mean?
The word is so often used in the context of journalism that the example given in Merriam-Webster references public officials.
“An obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”
It’s a concept that is somewhat contrary to human nature on account of the fact that most humans hate to admit when we are wrong. However; it is absolutely necessary in a supposed age of reason, an era of human history that is supposedly defined by our capacity for rational, empiricist, and deductive reasoning.
With this unfortunate fact of human nature in mind, to hold someone accountable means to call out the person when they do something wrong – wrong meaning an error in judgement that leads to an unpleasant event, saying something that is not true, holding one’s self to a different standard than that of peers, etc. Calling out inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and plain lies is the duty of reporters, journalists, and pundits in a supposedly free country that respects a free press.
How doe we hold a government accountable for its words and actions?
We keep open records (available to the public) and constantly remind our leaders (be they elected or appointed) that they have a duty to fulfill to the body politic.
Governor Lujan-Grisham calling out the U.S. Forest Service alleging out-dated prescribed burn plans is a good thing. In response to Governor Lujan-Grisham, the U.S. government not only approved federal aid to assist in fighting the wildfires on federal land in New Mexico but paused all prescribed burns pending a 90-day review. This is exactly the purpose of a free press, the bully pulpit, using influence in public spaces of discourse to apply rhetorical pressure on greater organizations.
It is important that the public (meaning all of us) maintain pressure on governments (municipal, state, and national) in order to keep them honest, performing tasks that benefit our society overall and not just individuals looking to make a profit. I think the bully pulpit and the willingness to apply force (including not acting when expected to act) is the only way to keep a government accountable to its people. All forms of politics rely on fear and leverage to force a stronger organization to act. This is the unfortunate reality of human relations.
INCIDENT STATISTICS: Current Size: 45,605 Acres Current Containment: 95% Start Date: April 22, 2022Cause: Unknown Total personnel: 280 WEATHER AND FIRE BEHAVIOR A red flag warning remains over the fire area due to high winds and relative humidity in the single digits. With the high winds forecast today, expect to see increased smoke within the […]