Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Plea on Behalf of the Pig

So what's your favorite animal? Of course most of us would probably pick dogs or cats since they have provided us with great companionship through the years. But the animal I find to be the most interesting is the pig.

The pig has had an incredible history in its service to mankind. Two interesting books on the subject that I recommend to the reader are Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig along with Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat which discusses the cruel treatment of these noble creatures by our modern factory farming.

The pig was among the first food animals domesticated by man which eventually became a reliable food source for a countless number of civilizations throughout history. Unlike other domesticated animals like sheep and cows which required land to graze, the pig could live just about anywhere that had garbage or table scraps to feed them. In fact, the pig also served as a sanitation service before more modern methods came along.

And unlike other large domesticated animals that reproduce offspring one at a time, pigs are very prolific and grow very quickly. A sow can produce 2 litters of about 10 piglets each per year. To ensure a reliable source of food in the New World settlements, pigs were brought across the ocean by Columbus along with other explorers. Once a small starter population of pigs was dropped off in the newly settled land, it didn't take long to acquire a sizable population to provide ample subsistence for the settlers.

Today, pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world even though Muslims who comprise almost a quarter of the world's population abstain from it.

But pigs are interesting for more reasons than just their value as a source of food.  

This is from Pig Tales, Page 19:
Pigs are by far the most intelligent animals we have domesticated. Research shows that a pig has the mental capacity of a 3 year old human. They have been taught to solve complex puzzles and even play computer games. And pigs have been our constant companions throughout the rise of modern cultures.
In addition to being exceptionally intelligent, pigs are very sociable and affectionate along with often possessing many personality traits that we normally associate with humans. So not surprisingly, there can often be a blurring between their role as a food animal and as a companion for their owners. 

This is from Lesser Beasts, Page 188:
When a cottager kept a careful account of his expenditures on a pig he sent to market and upon selling it calculated that he had made three shillings. "Not much profit there," he was told. "No," the man replied. "But there: I had his company for 6 months."
And this is from Lesser Beasts, Page 191:
Pig killing was a communal ritual, a break in the rhythms of daily life, a sign of the passing seasons. It was a solemn occasion - the pig was a friend and did not want to die - and a time of celebration. This drama was peculiar to pigs because cattle and sheep were rarely kept around the house. Only pigs were cuddled and then killed, their horrifying human like shrieks piercing the neighborhood. One girl recalled that during the slaughter, she would "creep back into bed and cry," remembering how she had fed cabbage stalks to her beloved swine. The next day, however, she happily dipped her bread into pork gravy made from the same pig's flesh. She was just a girl, she said, "learning to live in this world of compromises."
But today, the quaint interaction between the farmer and his pigs has been almost totally replaced by factory farms where thousands of pigs are doomed to a life of severe confinement and often cruelty before meeting their ultimate fate.

When it comes to factory farms, there's good news and bad news. The good news is an abundance of cheap pork. But the bad news is the environmental costs along with the often cruel treatment of these animals.

For the reader who wishes to learn more about the issues concerning pigs and factory farms, there is this NPR interview of the author of Pig Tales, Barry Estabrook.

So where do we go from here? No, we are not all going to become vegans. And no, we are not going to be able to totally eliminate factory farms. But there are some incremental improvements we can and should make.

First and foremost, we need to eliminate the ridiculous animal welfare double standard we have for companion animals as compared to those animals we use for food. For example, inflicting cruelty to dogs can result in a prison sentence and widespread public condemnation like what happened to NFL quarterback Michael Vick while inflicting even the worst conceivable cruelty to a pig is, to my knowledge, not even illegal.

One more example. What if someone were to keep a dog in a transport crate for an indefinite period of time? I know, I'm sick to even think of something like this. But sows whose function is to deliver and nurse their piglets are often subjected to this exact treatment in what are called gestation cratesSubjecting animals of this level of intelligence to this cruel treatment has been known to make them insane! Indeed, gestation crates are considered to be so cruel - even by factory farming standards - that they are now banned in the UK and partially banned in the European Union. But not in most of the US.

The driving force behind all of this is profits - the more animals that can be squeezed into the smallest space - the more money can be made. Regulations requiring humane amounts of living space per animal would go a long way towards alleviating their suffering.

Yes, I know. Food animals like pigs are different than companion animals because the food animal is bred to serve us at the dinner table. True enough. But common decency demands that we at least do our best to avoid inflicting any needless pain or suffering on any living creature!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Canadians Get Their Country Back

For many of us Americans, Canada is well just...boring. After all, we are mighty America who like Superman is going around the world in a never ending fight for truth, justice, and (of course) the American way!

Why the American way? Many in this country believe in 'American Exceptionalism.' Our country is exceptional; Canada (and presumably every other country) is not!

Perhaps there's no harm to this little bit of self-serving bravado. Or maybe there is! It's easy to get lulled into thinking we are the best at everything we do because we are well...Americans!

But instead of our putting on blinders and refusing to see how other countries do things, we should pay attention to what they do better and perhaps adopt their methods. A great place to start would be our northern neighbor, Canada.

Canada over the last nine plus years had been subjected to the very conservative policies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Many Canadians feared that they were being pulled so far to the right that they might become another America where extreme conservatives were making Congress almost totally dysfunctional.

So in the recent Canadian election, they threw the (Conservative) bums out including Harper and replaced him with the Liberal Justin Trudeau, son of the late former PM, Pierre Trudeau.

While Canada certainly has its conservatives, its politics overall skews significantly more liberal than in America. For example, Canada has had a single-payer 'Medicare for all' health insurance system for some time now that has had no serious opposition from the Conservatives. In fact, back in 2004, the Canadian Broadcasting Company conducted a nationwide poll of its viewers to determine who deserved the title of The Greatest Canadian. The winner was Tommy Douglas (a social democrat similar to Bernie Sanders) who in Canada is fondly remembered simply as The Father of Medicare.

NYT op-ed columnist Paul Krugman makes this observation in his article Keynes Comes to Canada:
Which brings us to the issue of deficits and public investment. Here’s what the Liberal Party of Canada platform had to say on the subject: “Interest rates are at historic lows, our current infrastructure is aging rapidly, and our economy is stuck in neutral. Now is the time to invest.”
Does that sound reasonable? It should, because it is. We’re living in a world awash with savings that the private sector doesn’t want to invest, and is eager to lend to governments at very low interest rates. It’s obviously a good idea to borrow at those low, low rates, putting those excess savings, not to mention the workers unemployed due to weak demand, to use building things that will improve our future.
Unfortunately, this sensible bit of mainstream economic wisdom is at odds with most of the rest of the First World economies which are trying to fight unemployment by government spending cuts to try and balance their budgets (aka austerity) - which in most cases is making things worse!  In addition, Krugman points out that because the Canadians did not have the extreme fetish for deregulation of their financial markets like in the US, they were largely spared the brunt of the financial crash of 2008.

I would like to refer the reader to a wonderful op-ed Justin Trudeau: Low Expectations, High Relief by Heather Mallick of The Toronto Star which nicely contrasts the Canadian and American mindsets.
The...election defeat of Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister of Canada, and the triumph of his most hated rival, the Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, gave many Canadians that rush of feeling they so rarely enjoy: “It’s a girl.” “The lab says it’s benign.” “Your long national nightmare is over.” 
Ultimately Mr. Harper’s problem in this election was that he couldn’t win nationally with just an older, white male, rural base.
This is the same problem that US Republicans have which will make it very problematic for them to win any future national elections.
For Canadians are different from Americans, and we like it that way. We don’t think we’re exceptional; in fact, it’s rather important to us that we’re not, because that would imply that other nations are below par, which would be quite rude. We are a vast, cold country with a small population of about 36 million and it is essential for Canadians to connect with and help one another. Mr. Trudeau understands that; Mr. Harper did not.
The liberal motto: "We're all in this together!"  The conservative motto: "You're on your own!"
But money doesn’t come first here. We’re ambitious. We pay healthy taxes to support a national single-payer health care system, the jewel of our country.
And there is this take on our respective attitudes towards guns:
Take guns, and you may. We have rifles and other long guns but spend time alone with them in the woods to kill wild animals. What other purpose would there be for rifles? 
She concludes with this:
Mr. Trudeau is different. He is a better match for Canadians’ vision of themselves: peaceable, educated, emotionally stable, multicultural.
This is a far cry from the American electorate, especially those on the far right whose vision is largely warlike, anti-intellectual, batshit crazy and xenophobic. 

OK Canada, maybe you are a bit boring. But that doesn't mean there isn't a hell of a lot we Americans can learn from you!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What Makes a Presidential Candidate Qualified?

At the time of this posting, the three leading candidates in the polls for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina have never served in a government position. In a way, this isn’t too surprising considering the frustration over the inability of the federal government to get anything done. Supporters of these three likely believe that it may take a true outsider to shake things up to get the government working again.

But with no government experience, the obvious question is whether any of the three are qualified for what is perhaps the single most important and demanding job in the world

Even a prominent conservative voice, Bill Kristol in The Weekly Standard can’t help but be concerned about it all.
How big a problem is it that the two leading Republican candidates for president aren’t actually qualified to be president? 
…why should we believe that neither Trump nor Carson is qualified to be president? Did you watch the debate? 
Neither Trump nor Carson has much of a grasp of the issues. Neither has a demonstrated ability to govern. 
So how really important is it for a candidate to have “a grasp of the issues “? At first blush, this is an absurd question. Normally, the voters pick their candidate based on where they stand on the various issues.

But this is not a normal election campaign. In Trump and Carson, we clearly have candidacies that are far more personality rather than issues driven. Neither candidate pretends to have a deep understanding of the issues. And furthermore, most of their supporters don’t seem to care.

But especially Trump has had to occasionally answer media questions on how he can be qualified for the presidency with such a shallow command of the issues. His response usually comes in two parts. One is that he will become an expert on the various issues once he is elected (although he doesn’t say how he intends to do this.) And secondly, he proposes to surround himself with some "terrific people" to be his advisers. 

Now even the most knowledgeable president needs advisers. No one person can have the specialized knowledge in a variety of fields to be able to make some of the vital decisions the office demands. But without enough working knowledge of the issues, how does one intelligently choose the right advisers to surround himself (or herself) with?

George W. Bush as a neophyte on national and international politics chose Dick Cheney from his father's administration to advise him on the selection of his vice presidential running mate. Cheney dutifully gathered very detailed background information on each of the prospective candidates before finally surprising everybody by picking himself.

But Cheney wasn’t done ‘advising’ Bush. He then assumed a major role in selecting Bush's other advisers and cabinet – most notably the selection of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. Cheney and Rumsfeld were the prime drivers behind Bush's catastrophic decision to invade Iraq based on faulty intelligence on so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction. This was a decision that even candidate Jeb Bush was forced to admit was a mistake. Some advice!

Then there is the question on whether running a business makes one qualified to be president. Few presidents come from a business background. Most notable were Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush whose presidencies did not turn out well to say the least.

As has been pointed out by many others, the skills to run a business and a government are quite different. A business exists to make the maximum amount of profit for itself. A government does not exist to make a profit but instead provides services for its citizens. And while a CEO gets to issue orders to get results, a president must have political skills to compromise and work with others in their own and the opposition party. The words ‘Trump’ and ‘compromise' just don’t seem to belong in the same sentence! 

Which leads us to temperament. Trump's confrontational and often insulting behavior is well documented – no need to do that here. Carson is much more soft-spoken but equally inflammatory. For some examples, check out 9 of Ben Carson's Most Controversial Quotes to come to the conclusion that Carson is way too flaky to be taken seriously as presidential material. 

While Trump and Carson do not convey “a grasp of the issues”, Carly Fiorina seems to be much more comfortable talking about issues. Like Trump she presents her executive background in business to try and convince voters that she is qualified to be the President. Other than the previous argument that running a business and a government are not the same, by just about every account, Fiorina was a terrible CEO who showed bad judgment in running Hewlett-Packard. 
In the five years that Fiorina was at Hewlett-Packard, the company lost over half its value.
The only stock pop under Fiorina’s reign was the 7 percent jump the moment she was fired following a unanimous board vote. After the firing, HP shuttered or sold virtually all Fiorina had bought. 

In addition, she was infamous for being intolerant and outright hostile towards anyone who disagreed with her decisions. While this may work in the boardroom (at least for awhile), it certainly would not work in a government environment that requires political skills to work with others to get things done.

So clearly, none of these three are qualified to be our next president. But then who is?

Truth be known, few presidential candidates offer the complete package of experience. In general, the candidates for President tend to have a background as either a state governor or a US Senator. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Senators, due to the nature of their positions usually have a much better command of national and international issues than governors whose daily duties deal with statewide issues. But most Senators have no ‘executive experience’ actually running a government.

Hillary Clinton in addition to her experience as a US Senator and Secretary of State, had an active role in her husband Bill Clinton’s administration. Of those who are running, she is the most experienced and qualified. Vice President Joe Biden (if he runs) has equally strong qualifications. Also worth noting is Senator Bernie Sanders who while he has no gubernatorial experience, had a successful four terms as Mayor of Burlington, VT

With the frustration of many over how they see government as not working, government experience is now perversely seen as a disadvantage. But it’s still early! Although right now there is a fascination for candidates who are the ultimate ‘outsiders’, past experience has shown that when the races start to heat up, candidates who have novelty appeal and little substance tend to fade away. But then the demise of Donald Trump's campaign has been predicted for some time now by many expert observers despite maintaining his lead in the polls. Will he do the unthinkable and actually win the Republican nomination?? Nobody really knows for sure. All we can do is stay tuned! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Is Online Dating a Ripoff?

It created quite a sensation when the online dating site for married people AshleyMadison.com was hacked, exposing many of its clients who for obvious reasons, don't want to be publicly identified.

The NYT article in this link describes how Ashley Madison's CEO suffered the same fate as other executives of companies who went through hacking scandals - the loss of his job.

So what was the motivation of the hackers to do what they did? A logical guess would be that they wanted to expose the adulterers. But that was not the case.
When hackers leaked Ashley Madison’s data this month, they accused the company of fraudulent business practices, like overstating how many women actually used AshleyMadison.com. One analysis showed that of the site’s roughly 34 million users, only 15 percent were female, and that only a small slice of those profiles were actually active.
That could constitute a deceptive trade practice that could open Avid Life Media to an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.
Even worse, the author of the Gizmodo article in this link after surveying the dumped internal E-mails from Ashley Madison "...found ample evidence that the company was actively paying people to create fake profiles."

The next logical question is whether shady practices like these are unique to Ashley Madison or are typical of other online dating sites. 

Since there are many online sites, this posting will look at match.com and eHarmony.com since these are the two dominant players and leave it to the reader to research any of the other sites if desired.

While fake profiles are not likely common, many frustrated online dating subscribers believe that at least some of the profiles presented are inactive - possibly people who have found a relationship and are no longer looking or others who have given up and ended their subscriptions.

Because the online dating process is so lacking in transparency to protect identities of subscribers, such accusations are very difficult to prove. But some have tried. Here is an example from Wikipedia's article on match.com
Another class-action lawsuit was filed in December 2010, alleging that the site maintains thousands of inactive, fake and fraudulent profiles on its dating site to mislead and lure consumers into subscribing.[21] The judge in the case ruled on August 10, 2012 that Match.com did not breach its user agreements with consumers because the agreements "in no way requires Match.com to police, vet, update the website content" or guarantee the accuracy of profiles on the site.[21]
It is worth pointing out that the judge in siding with match.com did not say that the accusations were false but essentially said that the legalese in the user agreements protects any unethical conduct they may have done from lawsuits.

Wikipedia's article on eHarmony points out the practice of matching paying members with non-paying members (without the paying member's knowledge). But unless it is during a so-called "free communication weekend" the non-paying member cannot see let alone respond to messages from anybody.

Also noted, in the interest of transparency for its subscribers, eHarmony announced in March, 2012 that they would provide login activity information with each profile to address the concerns over inactive profiles. Then in May, 2015 they deleted all activity information on the profiles. So what do they have to hide?

For the reader who Googles "online dating reviews", consumeraffairs.com offers about 1500 reader comments each for Match and eHarmony. Just about all are extremely negative for both.

While many wrote about poor matches and what they believed to be inactive profiles, the most bitter complaints were over the billing practices where money was deducted from credit card accounts at unpredictable times and amounts. Even worse was when subscribers thought their accounts were closed only to find more withdrawals and sometimes accounts renewed automatically because the subscriber forgot to turn off the auto-renew for which 'on' is the default position.

So what grades does the Better Business Bureau give these companies?

Match got an F along with their accreditation being revoked. Frankly, I expected the same for eHarmony and got a shock to see that they got an A+!

What's going on here? A look at the BBB complaints for each company are pretty similar ones about their pretty similar billing practices. The difference is that while Match thumbed their nose at the BBB complaints, eHarmony when pushed hard enough by the BBB did the right thing for the customer. Just don't try to fight them on your own.

So what's the bottom line here? There are certainly some success stories where people find the love of their life just like in the ads. But what they don't tell you is that these successes are in the clear minority.

For those who still want to give online dating a chance, I suggest doing your research. Look up reviews on the sites you are interested in and ask single friends who have used online dating about their experiences with certain sites. Managing expectations is important to keeping the almost inevitable setbacks from becoming devastating. And since these companies (not to mention online scammers out there) are pretty slick about separating you and your money, perhaps the most important thing to remember here is...buyer beware!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Does Bernie Sanders Really Have a Chance?

While the Republican presidential nomination for the 2016 election was expected to be interesting with all of the candidates running, the Democratic race was expected to be a snoozer with Hillary Clinton owning a commanding lead against token opposition.

And then a self-proclaimed socialist named Bernie Sanders entered the race and from the beginning, he attracted capacity crowds of people day after day who were excited about a politician who truly seemed to care about the plight of the shrinking middle class along with the growing number of poor people. Even to the casual observer, it was obvious that something special was happening.

So what's behind all of this excitement over Bernie Sanders? There are a number of reasons for the excitement that are worth exploring here.

The first is that Sanders is filling a need that has for too long been ignored. And that is the need for a strongly liberal counterweight to all of the strongly conservative activism that has been driving much of the US political process since the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Sure we have had Bill Clinton and Barack Obama since then but despite being labelled as socialists by the far right, they are most decidedly centrists. (Sanders, despite referring to himself as a socialist is in reality, just a liberal.) And while Hillary Clinton is trying to appeal to liberal voters, she too is viewed by many Democrats as also being a centrist in no small part due to her longtime ties to the Wall Street financial industry from when she was a US Senator from New York.

While surely a liberal voter would prefer a centrist over a conservative, it doesn't really scratch the itch. Conservative voters normally have a more than adequate number of choices and that is especially true with this year's Republican presidential candidates. Depending on one's preference, there are choices from moderately conservative to as far right as you damned well please.

However, unlike the Republicans where strong conservatism is a badge of honor, the mainstream Democrats try to do a balancing act of trying to appeal to liberals while stressing they are not too liberal, God forbid! After the strongly liberal George McGovern and Walter Mondale suffered landslide defeats (each losing 49 states!) there was no way the Democratic party establishment was going to ever let that happen again!

And then the unapologetically liberal Elizabeth Warren came onto the political scene generating tremendous voter excitement on the way to an improbable victory sending the political novice to the US Senate. Finally the liberals had their hero to root for! Now if she would only run for president...

Despite a tremendous amount of encouragement, Warren decided not to run. But she proved that the liberal wing of the Democratic party was becoming a force to be reckoned with.

With Warren not running and Hillary Clinton having no competition on her way to another seemingly inevitable nomination, Sanders decided that he might as well give it a try.

Nobody took him seriously. Who was going to pay attention to a rather frumpy looking 73 year old with a Brooklyn accent? Certainly not Hillary. And certainly nobody in the mainstream media.

Then a funny thing happened in Iowa and the neighboring states when Bernie announced he was coming to campaign in their town. People came in droves filling buildings to capacity to hear someone whom they sensed was truly interested in helping the common man instead of just the wealthy donors from industry and Wall Street who contribute to most of the other campaigns.

However, there is much more to the Sanders phenomenon than just his political views. There is also the air of authenticity he brings to his rallies. While some people pursue a political career to satisfy their ambitions for power and prestige, others see politics as a way to make the world around them a better place. Most observers feel that Sanders solidly belongs to the second group.

His positions on issues are completely laid out and very consistent. They are not subject to change to try and appeal to different audiences. In contrast, Hillary has been very calculating in announcing her positions, making many wonder whether she truly stands by her positions or is just telling her audiences what they want to hear so she can get elected.

In addition, he does not accept money from SuperPACs; instead he gets his contributions from many small donors so he is not beholden to powerful special interests like most of the other candidates who are running.

So does Bernie have a fighting chance to beat out Hillary for the nomination? Admittedly, he has a few things working against him. Although he is running for the Democratic nomination, he is an independent and thus not a member of the Democratic party. This means that the various Democratic officeholders around the country will likely support and work for Hillary since she is one of their own.

But more importantly, minorities such as blacks and Latinos do not know Sanders very well since his home state of Vermont is about 95% white. The highly respected election analyst and statistician Nate Silver in this article concedes that Sanders may well win Iowa and New Hampshire but will be stopped cold in South Carolina and other states that are less white and less liberal.

There is a general consensus that back in 2008, then Senator Obama was only able to compete with Hillary because he captured such an overwhelming majority of the black vote. The present poll numbers show Hillary as having very strong support from black voters while Sanders is mostly unknown to blacks.

So to answer the question in the title of this post on whether Sanders really has a chance to get the nomination, we must first answer the question on whether he can improve his situation by campaigning in minority areas and showing that his proposed solutions for making America better will also help them.

At this time, we just don't know how well his message will resonate with blacks and other minorities. Few people are aware that Sanders was active in the civil rights movement to fight against racial segregation. Surely he will make that a part of his story to them.

But there is a bigger block of the US registered voter population that defies any easy analysis - the voters who do not for whatever reasons, participate in the electoral process. And there a lot of them!

In recent times, we have had some political figures who could be called transformational. President Obama and Elizabeth Warren come to mind. And Bernie Sanders with the rabid reception he has received from his followers may also put him in this category if he can maintain his momentum. What they have in common is the ability to attract supporters to their causes who previously had not been politically active. These people can definitely make a difference in the outcome of an election!

Here's an example. In recent years, the voter turnout in US presidential elections has been around 50 to 55%. In non-presidential years, the turnout can be much lower. But when Elizabeth Warren was propelled to her improbable US Senate victory in 2012, a whopping 66.6% of registered Massachusetts voters turned out which undoubtedly helped put her over the top. This shows that even an apathetic non-voter can be inspired to be a participant if he or she can be persuaded that there is truly someone special who is worth their support.

Even some of Sanders' most enthusiastic supporters agree that he is a long shot. But he has been steadily making gains against Hillary and there is a long way to go until the primary elections next year. Once the debates start, Hillary can no longer ignore Sanders and will have to engage with him on the stage over the issues. That should really be worth watching!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Our Activist Supreme Court

An interesting spectacle happens in the US at the end of June each year. The Supreme Court winds up its business for the summer by announcing their blockbuster decisions on a number of controversial issues.

This year was no exception as the nation breathlessly awaited news on the fate of the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) along with same sex marriage.

Ever since the passage of Obamacare, it has been the sworn duty of every Republican to do whatever they could to either repeal or at the least disable it. If the decision was unfavorable, tens of millions of Americans could lose the vital health insurance they had finally gotten under Obamacare.

But truth be told, there were a number of Republicans who were also worried about Obamacare going down. Why? It was clearly a case of needing to be careful what they wish for.

Despite all of the Republican rhetoric about replacing Obamacare, they have never offered a creditable alternative. If the Court had struck down Obamacare, the Republicans would have had to frantically scramble to instantly come up with a plan that would prevent the disaster of many millions losing their health insurance.

In a previous trial by fire for Obamacare in the Court, Chief Justice Roberts surprised everybody by siding with the liberal Justices to save Obamacare and avoid the catastrophe the Republicans would have had to deal with.

This year's decision in favor of Obamacare has provided assurances that it is most likely here to stay. But just as important to the Republicans, they can now resume the anti-Obamacare rhetoric that their partisans want to hear without having to worry about what they would have to come up with as a replacement.

But the most anxious wait was for the decision that could legalize same sex marriage nationwide.  While more and more states (not to mention countries) were legalizing same sex marriage, there was always the concern about whether the marriage would be recognized in the states that didn't allow such marriages.

Supreme Court decisions are normally based on interpretations of the Constitution along with some deference to prior decisions on similar cases.

But after watching the Court in action, the Constitution is beginning to look more and more like an inkblot test in that the Justices all looking at the same document can see things differently - sometimes radically so.

We can look at previous decisions that can provide some precedence to help make a decision. An obvious place to look is back in the 60s when those contemplating interracial marriages ran into the same problem that those seeking same sex marriage have had with it being illegal in some states.

As what sometimes happens in instances like this, someone decides to fight what they see as an unjust law by taking their case to court. And sometimes, it can make it to the Supreme Court. The result was a case known as Loving v. Virginia  where the Court decided unanimously that laws prohibiting interracial marriage are unconstitutional.

But in the recent Supreme Court same sex case, Obergefell v. Hodges it was decided that laws prohibiting same sex marriage were also unconstitutional. But instead of the unanimous decision in Loving, it was by a bitterly divided 5-4 result which has been typical of this Court. In fact, the dissenting remarks had more than a few personal attacks. 

The dissenting opinions can be summed up by the assertion that there is nothing in the Constitution that implies that same sex marriage is a right. But this is a specious argument.

While of course there is no specific reference to same sex marriage in the Construction, the aforementioned Loving decision provides an excellent precedent to work with.

The Loving decision says that based on the 14th Amendment, marriage is a right – even for interracial couples. In the recent Obergefell decision, the majority said that based on the 14th Amendment, marriage is also a right for same sex couples. In essence, the first decision serves as a precedent for the second one.

It has been mentioned elsewhere but I will repeat it here. It was the Loving decision that protected the rights of interracial couples – like Justice Thomas and his wife. But Justice Thomas refused to extend these same rights to the same sex couples which suggests that conforming to conservative ideology is more important to Justice Thomas than fairness.

The Roberts Court has been viewed by many as the most activist in some time. In my view, the conservatives have been more guilty having given us Citizens United which has seriously compromised our election process with unlimited contributions along with gutting the Voting Rights Act which is allowing more discrimination against minority voters.

With today’s polarized political climate, we can only expect this giant tug of war between the Court's liberal and conservative factions to get even worse!

It is expected that the 2016 presidential winner will be able to appoint several Court replacements with some of the Justices approaching 80 years old. Of all the reasons to pick one presidential candidate over another, this may well be the most important one!