Tag Archives: Supreme Court


Fencing In The Truth.

By: Chris Warren.

After a week of partisan screeching from both ends over two huge Supreme Court cases, a foreign trade deal, and a 150 year-plus cyclic hostility towards a flag, I’m ready to wish I was in a coma for the last few days. The headache is not from the nature of the issues, but from each faction insisting they are on the side of truth and the other is pulling off a great deception. I do believe there is a line where truth ends and lies begin, with a caveat that the specific boundaries are not easily determined by us mortals. Of course, mortals will always try anyway and fail. The failure comes out of the theory that for “my” side to be right, “your” side has to be wrong.

Although I do not consider myself a neutral bystander to any of these issues, I’m not so hardened to a view that I can’t admit those with whom I disagree have a point worth taking seriously. My boundary of truth is like one of those temporary fences used around constructions sites: Sturdy enough to maintain separation, flexible enough to be moved when needed, and is easily repaired when it gets plowed down.

There are absolutists who will shudder at my movable fence theory and accuse me of moral relativism. Naturally, their morals are the correct ones and everyone else, including me, is venturing down an evil path. It’s funny how easily they can identify everyone else’s inconsistencies while being completely if not willfully ignorant of their own. Whether it’s preaching about family values while hoping no one finds out about their own genetically-related dirt, or globe trotting aboard a carbon-puking private jet to get paid six figures giving speeches about how all the rest of us are earth killing slobs and puppets of the rich, they never fail to show us how problematic moral absolutes can be when one epically collides with a thick concrete wall of their own making.


Simply ignoring the self-appointed truth police is not enough of a defense. The pablum is too thick to plug one’s ears and hope for the best. The most effective and perhaps only defense is one’s own truth. That means clearly thinking through your beliefs and knowing how you arrived at them. It means admitting when an idea is wrong and discarding it instead of clinging to contorted rationalizations for keeping it.

More than all else it means not lifting yourself up by putting others down. It seems we live in a time when it’s not enough to be “right”. We must also beat down all who don’t go along. Almost everyone has at least one acquaintance who is on social media numerous times a day posting provocative articles and memes about controversial topics. Notice how nearly all of these nuggets of what they consider “truth” do not directly support their cause…they instead take cheap shots at the opposing cause. They are miniature versions of the larger media world. I find myself quickly clicking away from web pages and changing channels. I don’t necessarily disagree with what they are saying; I just don’t like the way they are saying it.

The default is to blame the internet and electronic media for the truth wars, but I’m not willing to go there. It’s too easy. The media as a communications mode is amoral, without  any inherent bias. People will be who they are; the internet just gives them a greater opportunity to make fools of themselves. Neither side of any issue should have to be the only one expected to move his fence to accommodate the other. For too many, the boundaries of truth are hopelessly cemented in the ground.


2016 election

Let The Games Begin (Did They Ever End?)

One would have to be living far off the grid not to know the 2016 election for President is less than a year and a half away. Along with it numerous house and senate seats and thousands of local offices will be on the ballot. Term limited President Barack Obama will not be running; by time it’s is over he may end up feeling like a winner again for not having to put himself through the campaign meat grinder. I feel blessed to be living under the world’s oldest working Constitution, but the 2016 election makes me wish all this freedom & democracy would be more meaningful and less in-your-face.

To say election season has begun is either naive or disingenuous. It may have peaks and valleys of activity, but there is no beginning because there never was an end. The cycle of gamesmanship and spin-doctoring resets to zero the day after the last election. It starts faintly in the form of small on line banner ads asking me to participate in a political “survey,” as if anyone believes these surveys are real. Other ads are conveniently promoting political causes I am in favor of myself. They aren’t reading my mind, I just need to clear my computer’s cache and cookies more often.

The closer it gets to 2016 Election Day, the harder it will be to avoid the gathering campaign storm. Quiet banner ads will turn into television commercials six or eight times per hour. “Vote for me!” and “Don’t vote for them!” junk mail will arrive daily. Yard signs and bumper stickers will pop up. Social media will be clogged with memes and links posted by people who honestly believe their cause or candidate will prevail if only it gets enough “likes” and “shares.”

The 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens’ United v. Federal Election Commission ruled that “corporations are people” for the purpose of free speech. Corporations and special interest groups that were previously limited on how much they can spend promoting their views may now blow as much money as they want praising their candidate, or trashing on their candidate’s opponent. This court case was and still is very controversial. Democrats dislike it the most, a position I do not understand because the the ruling applies equally to both sides. Liberal and conservative groups have each complained about Citizens’ United while at the same time taking full advantage of the unlimited big spending it allows. The real victims are the ordinary voters who must endure the flood of propaganda.

My problem with the election process is not the process itself, but that the amount of money needed to get elected dilutes the meaning of individual votes. The other day I heard a political analyst on a radio show state that, while everyone has the unfettered right to cast a vote and have it included in the total, the meaning of the vote is not validated because once a candidate wins they are most favorable to whoever wrote the biggest checks. It’s a profound statement that I had not thought of before and the most powerful argument against the Citizens’ United case ruling. There is a big difference between votes being numerically counted and votes having real influence over the person it was cast for.

It’s not very encouraging to hear that the vote I am being nagged to death for won’t have any pull once the 2016 election is over. I understand how the concept of free speech can and probably should include groups having the right to spend their collective money as they please. I’ve donated to assorted causes myself; my dollar is not more important than anyone else’s. Still, it’s not less important either, and I have a problem with other people’s (or corporations’) free speech stepping on mine solely because their check had more zeroes on it. The resolution to the big money in politics problem, if it even is a problem, would not need to involve regulating donations  if elected leaders lived up to the oath of their office and served those who do the actual voting.

United States v. Elonis Is A Supreme Mistake.

By: Chris Warren

Almost everyone, including myself, has at some point said something they later regret. If it’s said on the internet, or later leaked onto the internet, then it has the potential to create an ocean of unintended consequences. YouTube alone is littered with career-ending remarks that are so jaw-dropping dumb, it makes one wonder: What path of insane reasoning did the speaker use to come to the conclusion that what they were saying was a good idea? Adding to the astonishment, many of these comments were made with the full knowledge they would be open to the public. It’s not a “what were you thinking?” moment, It’s an “are you even capable of thinking?” moment.

The story of Anthony Elonis might have been just another cautionary tale of how a guy let his mosquito brain overpower his alligator mouth; what makes it stand out is the small brain-big mouth combo pack is going all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. The gist of the case is that Elonis was convicted of making threats of violence to others on his Facebook page. At least one of the comments was directed at…now get this…an FBI agent who was investigating his other threats. The particulars of the case are rather boring and lengthy as would be expected in a legal proceeding. I have read it so you don’t have to, and trust me when I say in addition to his legal trouble there is something really wrong going on inside Elonis’ head.

Elonis does not deny that he made the comments and the facts of the case are not in question. In simple terms, Elonis wants the Supreme Court to overturn his conviction because his remarks were made on line. His defense is that people talk trash on line all the time and what is said there should not be taken seriously. He therefore considers his statements, which include musing about shooting up a kindergarten class, “free speech”.

To be clear, this is not about one coarsely-worded rant or a volley of argumentative one-upmanship of the kind that pops up on Facebook and Twitter millions of times a day. There were numerous threats of graphic violence made over a long period of time and directed at more than one individual, and Elonis has a history of inappropriate behavior in his off line life. Among other things, he was fired from his job for making sexual advances towards an underage female coworker. Legal issues aside, Anthony Elonis is at minimum a creepy pervert whom I would not allow anywhere near any woman I care about.

The failure is not in the legal system, but in Elonis’ screwed up sense of his “rights” and a general breakdown of civility enabled by the internet. It way too easy to be abusive while hiding behind a keyboard. Being mean to people you can’t see is an easy trap to fall into even for those who are normally in control of themselves. Many times I wisely re-worded a message because it sounded unnecessarily harsh; and a few times I later wished I had more carefully edited myself.

The Supreme Court blew it by agreeing to hear this case because by doing so they acknowledge that Elonis might be right. No doubt the lame “it was on the internet so it doesn’t count” defense was cooked up by Elonis’ attorneys. In a way I do not blame the lawyers. They have a duty to represent their client  and can only work with what they are given. But wow, is this such a tough call that we have to bring in the Supreme Court to deal with it? The defense’s theory is that there should be a different benchmark of acceptability for on line speech than there is for any other medium; this is known as the subjective standard. He expects the Court to affirm that threatening someone with violence is ok as long as it’s done on line.

Elonis is a criminal with a proclivity towards violence and his conviction should stand. Threatening an FBI agent and giving a step-by-step description of how you want to whack your ex goes well beyond free speech. I don’t understand why the Supremes think there is a possibility the lower courts got it wrong and Elonis was simply pursuing his First Amendment rights. If the Court rules in favor of the defense, it sets up a precedent for every nutjob and hate group in the land to go on line and threaten whoever they want under the protective umbrella of free speech with no legal recourse for the intended victim.

What is it about sitting in front of a computer that turns otherwise considerate people into ultra-jerks? Maybe not to the level Elonis has elevated it, but unkind nonetheless. We non-criminals can learn something from the case of Anthony Elonis. The world would be a more gentle place if we imagined ourselves speaking face to face with the target of our flames before pressing send.