Monday, March 29, 2010

Is language part of the environment?

The earth and its non-human life forms need, as the saying goes, a good lawyer.

Is a party a development?
Nonetheless, the language that we mutually use to navigate our human interactions is also part of our environment, and this last week a state appeals court case Gualala Festivals Committee v California Coastal Commission in my view trashed the environment of the English language to protect some startled cormorants.

The case arose when, presumably on the strength of concern that the event had ruffled the feathers of some local seabirds, the Commission decided that a Fourth of July fireworks display in Gualala California, was a “development” subject to licensure by them (the Commission, not the birds).

Sometimes, I have imagined going before a jury with a nice cheesy pizza and slowly pulling apart two slices and explaining that while the cheese retains its shape and attachment, you may still be speaking the truth if you say you have only one piece. But as the cheese stretches and sags your argument becomes more and more tenuous. Finally when there is only a long stretchy shred connecting them, or they have separated entirely, then the “truth” is that they are no longer the same piece of pizza, and any argument otherwise is dishonest. In the Gualala case the shred was thin to the point of invisibility connecting a single traditional Independence Day celebration with the kind of “development” for which the Coastal Commission is supposed to issue or withhold permits. If a one-time noisy celebration of a political event, must be permitted by the Coastal Commission then any human activity near the coast, particularly a loud political demonstrations, could theoretically be subject to such permitting or a cease and desist order if not obtained.

Fireworks used to scare the heck out of my dog, and no doubt some birds would be alarmed. I don't doubt they pollute the air for at least an evening, but fireworks regulation should be decided by political process, not by courts adding unintended meanings to common words in order to protect the natural environment.

But add 73,500 feet to a shopping center....
In contrast with the above case: an appellate court case reported today, Melom v. City of Madera, hacked away at the usual meaning of the flexible but common word "substantial" to diminish environmental protection. A state appellate court decided that expansion of a mega store in a shopping mall by 73,500 square feet,-fifty-nine percent bigger than had been approved under the project's Environmental Impact Report- was not a “substantial change" that would require major revisions of the environmental impact report.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Should Children of Republicans be denied Citizenship?

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States...are citizens of the United States..." (14th Amendment).

In considering immigration “reform,” the very worst thing we can do is create a class of people native to the United States but without any country. The faction that wants to deprive children born here to an education or medical care or civil rights because their parents are without documents should read the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and realize what a wise and appropriate thing it is that anyone naturally born here is our fellow citizen. They should also consider what an evil and destructive act it is to declare a baby born on our soil stateless.

It astounds me that so many people people who talk about curbing illegal immigration pass quickly from espousing a respect for law, and concern for the American labor, to saying that a baby born here of an undocumented mother has no rights as citizen, or to health care or education. That so many of the people who claim to want to control illegal immigration espouse this view, strikes me as evidence of a deep racism and hatred of foreigners, particularly women and children, that has nothing to do with defending our country's sovereign right to control its borders.

Additionally to deprive people born here of rights as citizens is not just a slippery slope but a dive down a chasm of conditional citizenship. If we are to deprive the child born here of an “illegal” immigrant what about the grandchildren of at least one person who came here without documentation? What about their grandchildren? If born here, and you may still be disqualified as an American, why should having an undocumented mother be the only criteria? Could having an ancestor who is Jewish, or Chinese, or felonious, or a registered Republican disqualify you?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." (the declaration of Independence) It is still a good starting point for policy in our country.
Peter H. Liederman

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Baseline for EIR decision is what is, not the worst it could be.

On has to wonder what side the South Coast Air Quality Management District is on. It took the California Supreme Court to order the district to order ConocoPhillips to prepare and EIR for a significant change to their refinery. Conoco and the District took the position that they didn’t need an EIR because the new refinery couldn’t possibly pollute as bad as the current one if it were operating at the maximum operation allowed in its permits. The court had to point out that the California Code of Regulations on CEQA calls for a comparison of the future facility with conditions “as they exist at the time . . . environmental analysis is commenced . . .”
The case was Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management Dist. (ConocoPhillips Co.) decided March 15.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Thought - on trust and distrust

Nothing makes things work so efficiently as well-placed trust, nor so inefficiently as misplaced trust. Unjustified distrust is a close runner up. Relying on a team that truly works together or an expert who knows his/her stuff is a good example of well placed trust. Anyone who has experienced the betrayal and sense of loss from relying on false promises or pretenses knows the inefficiency of misplaced trust. As for unjustified distrust, these days every time you enter a courthouse you see the taxpayers are supporting up to four uniformed folks whose sole job is to treat citizens with suspicion almost completely unjustified by facts.
P. Liederman

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cal Supreme Ct likely to reverse damages decision

It’s been a short time coming:
Back in November a state appellate court ruled that a plaintiff could collect the full cost of his medical care from a defendant, even if the medical care had been provided at a fraction of that cost because of an agreement between the medical provider and the insurance company.
While the decision may have been celebrated by a few plaintiff’s attorneys hungry with the notion of judgments much bigger than actual damages, the Supreme Court this week voted to hear an appeal of the case. I will hazard a prediction that it will be overturned. The case was and will be Howell v Hamilton Meats.
Peter Liederman.

Prostitutes can't advertise in NV per 9th Circuit

Prostitutes can’t advertise wares.

3/11/10: The ninth circuit upheld a Nevada law barring advertising by brothels in counties where the selling of sex is illegal, and sharply limiting ads even where, unique in the United States, the sale of sex is allowed.

After dodging around various Supreme Court decisions that have gradually raised commercial speech almost to the level of protection of political electioneering by corporations, the court decided that the selling of sex was a category unique in itself and that the state could allow the transactions, but pass laws to prevent turning the practice into a commodity. The case is Coyote Publishing v. Miller.

"Reverse Engineered" is the new "Lied".

I see a court-appointed examiner’s report on Lehman Bros. found that the company “reverse-engineered” the firm’s reports on its debt ration. How comforting, for a moment there I thought the report was going to say they “lied” and misrepresented their position to their shareholders and the public. “Reverse engineered” sounds so much more technical and clever. As in ‘Meg Whitman has reverse engineered her qualifications to be governor.’ or ‘Ahmadinejad today reverse-engineered his assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.’

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Can't political boundaries help solve problems?

Administrative Boundaries Should Lend Themselves to Efficient Problem Solving.
Second in a series. You would think that self-governing political entities would have geographic boundaries that were crafted to solve some purpose efficiently. An entity might be established, for example, by an isolated concentration of people to provide themselves efficient and effective police services, or to manage a particular source of drinking water, or operate a transit system, or schools within the population concentration. A larger entity may well want heterogenous resources and land forms that can contribute to its economy in different seasons and economic conditions. Of course many political boundaries started out random or became so, like the southern city limit of Berkeley that wanders north and south of Alcatraz Avenue, or the fractured transit, air quality, and counties of the San Francisco Bay Area that endlessly fail to coordinate their efforts, and either do not answer to an electorate or are so structured as to make elections meaningless in terms of control of area-wide policies.
The court strikes down a district with too much cohesiveness
One of the few court cases I am aware of that dealt with an administrative/self-governing boundary came down squarely against using boundaries to solve a problem. This was a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1994. A group of non-conforming and isolationist parents in New York State, who generally spoke a foreign language, wore unusual clothing and who regarded the wider society as corrupting, had already formed a recognized village in which they were approximately the whole electorate. They had successfully petitioned the state legislature to let them form a school district so they could get help for their disabled children who were ridiculed when they had to go to the surrounding public schools that could meet their special needs. As described by Justice Scalia: “The special district was created to meet the special educational needs of distinctive handicapped children, and the geographical boundaries selected for that district were (quite logically) those that already existed for the village.” In a thoroughly splintered decision the court said the school district must be dissolved. None of the justices on either side of the decision seemed to see the case outside the context that the proposed district, coterminous with the village of Kiryas Joel, was made up of Chassidic Jews, all belonging to a particular strict subgroup. Bounded by that set of lenses, the majority thought that the state legislature was violating the first provision of the Bill of Rights that says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion....” Scalia speculates that David Souter, who wrote the plurality opinion, “would laud this humanitarian legislation if all of the distinctiveness of the students of Kiryas Joel were attributable to the fact that their parents were nonreligious commune dwellers, or American Indians, or gypsies. The creation of a special, one culture school district for the benefit of those children would pose no problem.”
Scalia, however, is the least secular of the Justices, and he demolishes his utilitarian argument, with a long praise of “accommodation” to religion. Whatever might be said of the Kiryas Joel decision, the framers of the Constitution knew well the dangers of too much accommodation to mixing religion and government.
Not all political boundaries have to be geographic
Governing and accomplishing something does not necessarily require geographic contiguity. Corporations, Unions, and non-governmental organizations do not control territory but do control resources with a distributed form of governance. With the internet and cell phone, there probably already exist more effective means of coordinating a cohesive group than by elections in a territory.