Monday, April 25, 2011

The Cosmos, The Law, and Human Rights

"We're made of star stuff.  We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."  The words of Carl Sagan in his series "Cosmos" may not have any relevance to the study of law let alone human rights, but it does have a specific relevance to our existence.  No matter our claimed ethnicity, nationality, religion, or political ideology, we are the heirs of start that went supernova four billion years ago that set our sun alight and jump-started the accretion of material that formed this planet.  Indeed, while we all carry the traits of our parents, we also carry in our bodies the history of the universe and our species.  When dwelling upon these ponderous topics, it seems senseless that human beings engage in visiting brutality and depredations upon others.

Why is it that humans whose melanin had been reduced because of the climate in the northern hemispheres feel it was legitimate to enslave our genetic brothers and sisters in Africa?  Why is it that humans residing in Europe who are made up of the same 46 chromosomes at the genetic level feel compelled to describe another group as subhuman and worthy of a cold and systematic extermination? 

There is no legitimate reason.

Yet, in our recent history, humans have engaged in wholesale genocide of their fellow humans based on what could be best described as arbitrary reasons without legitimate basis.  Sitting in Professor Gaffney's Empty Boxcars viewing tonight at the law school caused me to ponder on this topic.  How can I reconcile the study of law when it was legislation drafted by the German government that set the groundwork for the horror of the Shoah?  The Nuremberg Purity Laws of 1935 outlined who was Jewish and in the same breath, removed their civil rights.  Citizenship was stripped away, property rights eliminated, and the ability to hold a trade revoked. 

In the American experience, one has to consider the slave-fugitive laws, and The Antelope and Dred Scott decisions.  Where the law protected the enslavement of Africans; namely that Africans were chattel property.  Chattel property as in the pen you use in class, the computer where you compose your outlines, and the car you drive to class.  That was the definition of a living, breathing human being according to the law, only because they or their ancestors lived on the African continent.   It was defending the right to keep this chattel that lead to the bloodiest war in American history.  Indeed, the Confederate flag is about heritage; the heritage to protect the right of the states to keep humans in lifelong enslavement, defined as chattel no different than the shovel or a hammer.

Yet, in the two examples above, the law was used to support and uphold these actions by other human beings.  In Nazi Germany, an army of lawyers was utilized by the Third Reich to plan and execute the Shoah.  Lawyers and legislators drafted and passed laws that eliminated the civil rights of Jews not only in Germany, but as Professor Gaffney's Empty Boxcars illustrates, in Bulgaria.  It was through the collaboration of the legal profession that the Nazi war against the Jews was executed.  In our American context, lawyers represented slaveholders in suits to recover their "chattel."  American jurists supported that "particular institution" in their opinions. 

The realization that the law can be used for heinous purposes should cause students and practitioners of the law to sit up and take notice.  We should take note of both those who cooperated with and alternatively resisted the creation and implementation of laws that eliminate civil rights or that define humans merely as chattel.  Their actions provide important lessons: how the law can be co-opted for evil purposes, and how use of the law can overcome those insidious uses.  Just as we should be aware that we are all homo sapiens, heirs to billions of years of cosmological history, we should use this knowledge to apply the law in means to protect and not harm our fellow persons.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Japan Relief.

I keep wondering if I am spelling relief correct each time.  Maybe because I'm thinking of its character in Japanese, which I keep forgetting, hence the slight insanity.

So, in keeping with the planned "Japan Relief" week that our SBA (Student Bar Association) will be running next week, we will be selling the following shirts.

The first is simply called Japan Relief "Red."  I figure that its best to keep it simple.  The jist of the kana is "University Students in support of Japan" and "Keep fighting Tohoku!"

The second incorporates "relevant" colors with the shirt.  Same kana.

The third is the Japan Relief "Sakura"shirt.  Why sakura?  It's April, so its the sakura season and in less chaotic times in Japan, people head out for hanami parties in the parks to enjoy fellowship, shochu, and good eats while enjoying the sakura.

All three styles will be $15.00.  All proceeds from the sales will be donated to the American Red Cross's fund set aside for the disaster that struck Japan on March 11th, 2011.

If you are interested in purchasing the shirts and are not in the Northwest Indiana area, send me a message and we can probably work out a way to pay for the shirts and ensure delivery. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A floating and dreamy stream of consciousness; based on nothing whatsoever than drifting dreams and ideas.

Sometimes when I sit back and let my mind drift off to the warm waters of the stream of consciousness, I wonder what will the world look like in a decade from now; three decades; a century; a millennia.  I think of the great advances in technology and science.  The discovery of new methods of travel in space, jumps in medical technology, international collaboration to deal with the greater threats to the human species vice improving methods of killing each other.

I think watching Halo: Legends and playing plenty of Halo: Reach might have a lot to do with my more wistful thinking as of recent.

Perhaps too the words of Stephen Hawking when he stated several months ago that it was quite possible for humans to begin deep space travel and colonization within two centuries; should we not manage to kill ourselves off by our endless follies.

Yet, on a more tangible level, I wonder what will happen in the next few years as I finish school, search for a job, and settle into a new career.  It bothers me in some sense that I see two scenarios:

The first being that we continue our follies in constantly abusing our only habitable ecosystem through the foolhardy burning of fossil fuels for what we consider indefinitely; not investing in clean technologies; continue to wage wars of conquest and mass murder in the Muslim word; continue to sow the seeds of hate and anger; and continue that headlong sprint to extinction.

The second being that my generation wises up as do the following generations and start to stem the tide of destruction we are visiting upon our planet and our own fellow humans.  That we start to move towards emphasizing the importance of education; whether it resides in science, music, art, or literature.  Just to name a few.  That new steps are taken to protect consumers and the working man.  To reach out and help the poor.  Work to move against the destructive tendencies we have; to rehabilitate minor offenders to become model citizens instead of just tossing them into a prison with other persons hardened by years of prison sentences and forgetting about them; to rehabilitate our veterans returning from war; eliminating nuclear weapons; eliminating the need to arouse needless suspicions about our fellow human and race headlong into dangerous arms races.

I have no desire to see my children be drafted or volunteer to fight in a war that only leads them to death or suffer crippling wounds both seen and unseen so the wealthiest criminals in the world can continue to gorge on their war profits.  I have no desire to see them inherit a world on the brink of environmental catastrophe either.

I'm well aware there are forces of nature that are beyond the scope of human power to prevent; the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region of Japan is just but one example of that power.  Near Earth Objects, gamma ray bursts, the big rip, the Yellowstone caldera exploding; all are forces of nature that I and other humans have no control over.  There is no malicious or loving or omnipotent "god" out there controlling the events of the world.  If there is a god, it would reside in the subatomic level, those particles and subparticles that govern how reality unfolds.

But there is no grand plan.  And that's great, because there exists no foretold destiny.  We make our own luck.  But we are very capable of our own destruction as well as our own triumph.

So what do we want?  That hundreds millions of years from now humans have to deal with the crisis of the sun expanding and engulfing the earth or that the Earth is eerily silent before the sun expands into a red giant?

Again, just a floating and dreamy stream of consciousness; based on nothing whatsoever than drifting dreams and ideas.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


On March 11, at 2:45 JST, a 9.0 earthquake struck northeast Japan. Within minutes, large portions of human civilization were obliterated by the power of that earthquake and a tsunami that reached heights of thirty to ten feet.  Whole cities and towns were swept away such as Sendai, Ishinomaki, Miyako, and Soma.  All that remain are debris of homes, scattered vehicles, and empty areas where buildings once stood. 

The images of floating houses, cars adrift, and debris aflame surging with the ocean water into the farmlands of Tohoku flashed across television screens across the world.   The images hit closer to home than the disasters that hit Haiti in 2009 and the regions along the Indian Ocean after the 2004 tsunami.  Having lived in Japan for three and a half years, seeing those devastated regions reminded me of the areas of Japan that I visited and lived.  Sleepy villages populated with fishermen, day workers, parents, children, grandparents along the coast.  Cities sitting on the coast, opening to the ocean through ports, with office workers milling through the streets to their offices or a noodle shop for a late lunch. 

The current death toll estimates have reached 20,000 persons, with thousands still missing in several towns. 

An illustration of this loss of life is captured in a photograph of backpacks collected in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture.  There are red and blue backpacks, splattered with mud, many still have the small stuffed animals of the student's favorite TV or comic characters attached.  The bright colors contrast with the sober scene of the piled packs with no children around.  Those students who once walked to their school, with their small charm's bells jingling in the morning air are unseen; only 24 of the 84 students from Okawa Elementary School have been found.

Stripped of the particularities of one's own culture, by the awesome power of the natural world, there are no differences among human beings.  There is a need to reunited with family or loved ones; a desire to return home; the need for shelter and warmth; a need for the basic necessities of food and water. 

There is also the solidarity in humans reaching out to help their fellow human in time of disaster.  The international community reached out to Japan to assist; the United States launched Operation Tomodachi, a joint US Navy and Japanese Self Defense Forces operation to assist those in Tohoku; Korean, Chinese, British, and Californian firefighters trained in post-earthquake rescue operations flew to assist in searching for survivors; and donations to humanitarian organizations from those across the world.

Here at the Valparaiso University, efforts have begun to help raise money for those affected by the earthquake.  The Undergraduate students held a prayer service at the Chapel of Resurrection and collected donations during the Bach Collegum Japan concert. 

How can the Law School community chip in to help?  Right now I along with other student organization leaders are planning several fund raising events, ranging from food sales, to collection jars, to collaborating with other planned events to help raise money for the Japanese victims.  One event coming up is collaboration with the VUSL Running Club's annual Ambulance Chase.  If you are unable to donate money, understandable since we are all in the same debt boat together, there is still a need for around fifteen volunteers to help with various duties during the race.

Other ways one can help is to donate money to the American Red Cross:
Another is via a Google Donation directly to the Japanese Red Cross:
And another is via the Lions Clubs International:
                                                     At Shimoda Elementary, 2006

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On Wisconsin!

Wisconsin's state Capitol Building is one of the most beautiful structures in the United States. Inside, the Rotunda opens into the largest granite dome in the United States, with Fighting Bob LaFollette holding court from the East Wing.  Between the dome's four arches are four pendentives: Legislation, Government, Justice, and Liberty.
Under the watchful eye of the four pendentives, for the past seven days, the people of Wisconsin have stood together to protect the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin's public union workers.  On the ground floor, a drum line beats out an endless rhythm to fuel chants and songs rising up to the upper levels filled with people holding signs and American flags, echoing a deafening chorus: "This is what Democracy looks like!"
Until the mobilization of the people of Wisconsin against Governor Scott Walker's proposed budget, it appeared that the GOP, the Tea Party, and their billionaire backers were in the ascendancy.  Twenty-six state attorney generals filed suits against the 2010 Health Care Reform bill.  Immediate cuts for social safety nets were outlined.  Mitch McConnell's goal was nakedly clear: to make President Barack Obama a one-term executive.
That was until Governor Walker pushed to end collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public union workers, which include public school teachers.  That was the case until fourteen bold Wisconsin Democratic Senators, following in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln circa 1840, left the state of Wisconsin to prevent a quorum.  That was until the people of Wisconsin converged on Madison, packing the Capitol Square.  They understood that if the public unions in Wisconsin fell, then all other unions would face elimination of collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin to across the United States.
Governor Walker attempted to support his bill as a means to balance Wisconsin's budget, facing a $137 million budget gap.  But commentators have noted that eliminating collective bargaining rights for public union workers will not help bridge the budget gap.  Public unions were not the catalysis that led to the collapse of the US economy in 2008, leading to massive unemployment, which led to severe reduction in tax revenues, which contributed to the huge budget deficits in states across the US.
Just in case anyone didn't know, that was courtesy of your benighted Wall Street Bankers.  None of which are in indefinite detention in some torture camp out of public sight.
Wisconsin prior to Walker pushing massive tax breaks to businesses within two days of his inauguration was looking at a $120 million surplus.   Walker claims that he must strip the public union collective bargaining rights in order to close that gap.   Those unions that supported Walker's candidacy, the public safety unions who have higher salaries and benefits are exempted.
The public union workers of Wisconsin mobilized, joined by University of Wisconsin students, by their fellow citizens: both union and non-union, from across the US.  Well-wishers from across the US and the world purchased pies from Ian's Pizza to sustain the energy of the protesters.  Union workers handed out bratwurst and water to protesters.  Egyptian Trade Unions issued a statement to Wisconsin: "We Stand With You as You Stood With Us."
It was an honor to stand alongside my fellow badgers to protect worker's rights in Wisconsin three days this week.  From the union worker handing out bratwurst to marching with other veterans to the bagpipers bringing down the house on the Capitol Square, it is a historic occasion that cannot be ignored.  Wisconsin is the first stand against the breaking of labor and the unchecked regressive policies of the Right Wing, brought to you by the Koch Brothers.  We cannot fail.