The Supreme Court’s Jackboot Liberals

So much for the right to die in your own home, smoking a joint to take your mind off the pain. Thanks to the liberals on the U.S. Supreme Court, the feds haul you to prison from from your death bed for smoking medical marijuana and any local authority raze your house and give the land to Walmart for a parking lot.

On June 6, by a vote of 6-3, the Court ruled that Federal authorities may prosecute sick people who smoke pot on doctors’ orders. The court’s apex liberal, Stevens, wrote the majority decision. The conservative Sandra Day O’Connor who wrote the dissent, saying that the court was overreaching to endorse “making it a federal crime to grow small amounts of marijuana in one’s own home for one’s own medicinal use”.

Ranged with Stevens in the majority were Ginsburg and Breyer, along with Kennedy (regarded as more conservative than this first trio), plus the supposed libertarian, Souter and Scalia, the most conceited judge in America. Of course Scalia had to file his own opinion proffering a “more nuanced” analysis, to the general effect that Congress had the right to pass “necessary and proper laws”.

Then, on June 23, the Court’s liberals, plus Souter and Kennedy decreed that between private property rights on the one side, and big-time developers with the city council in their pockets on the other, the latter wins every time.

The issue was one of eminent domain. Stevens wrote the majority opinion, declaring blandly that promoting economic development [translation, a Walmart in every neighborhood] is a traditional and long-accepted function of government,” and that if the underpinning of a public authority wielding the bludgeon of eminent domain is “public purpose”, then “Clearly, there is no basis for exempting economic development from our traditionally broad understanding of public purpose.”

“Traditionally broad” just about sums it up. In the case of General Motors, as George Corsetti recalled on this site a while ago the “public purpose” invoked by GM’s gofer, Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit, was to destroy a Polish community to turn the land over to GM for a new plant.

Stevens said that state legislatures and courts were best at “discerning local public needs”. *(After you’re done with this Diary, you can find Corsetti’s comments on the decision, here on our site this weekend.) And, once again, O’Connor wrote the dissent, a fine one, in which she stated that “The government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more” and “Who among us can say she already makes the most productive or attractive use of her property?”

O’Connor added: “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”

Thomas also wrote an excellent dissent which I’m sure had Jane Jacobs nodding approval. He called the decision “far-reaching and dangerous,” and noting correctly that those displaced by urban renewal and “slum clearance” over the years have tended to be lower-income members of minority groups. “The court has erased the Public Use Clause from our Constitution”.

Liberals love eminent domain, as much as conservatives love the death penalty, and like many liberal passions it destroys far more lives than the gas chamber or the lethal needle.

The case on which the Court ruled was known as Kelo v. City of New London. In the decorous prose of Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times, it concerned “a large-scale plan to replace a faded residential neighborhood with office space for research and development, a conference hotel, new residences and a pedestrian “riverwalk” along the Thames River. The project, to be leased and built by private developers, is designed to derive maximum benefit for the city from a $350 million research center built nearby by Pfizer Inc., the big pharmaceutical company.”

I assume every CounterPuncher can figure out what this really means. God help all “faded residential neighborhoods”. Well, if the poor folks work really hard maybe they’ll be able to go live in the Grand Hyatt or Towne Plaza raised on the rubble of their homes.
That GM plant in Detroit? The city said it would clear 465 acres of land in the center of Detroit, 1,500 homes, 144 businesses, 16 churches, a school and a hospital. Some 3,500 were forced out–and turn it over to GM which would build a new Cadillac factory that would employ 6,500 workers.

As Corsetti wrote,

“Ultimately, all 465 acres of Poletown was cleared and GM built the plant. The auto plant opening was delayed a year and employed less than half the promised 6,500 workers. By one account more jobs were lost from the destruction of Poletown than were created by the factory. The city also believed that the new plant would attract other, feeder plants, nearby. They never materialized, and with tax abatements and other incentives, it was a fiscal disaster for the city.”


The Downing Street Memos and the History of Smoking Guns

Now remember, my friends, the Downing Street memos are NOT smoking guns. It’s true they show with unparalleled clarity just how the co-conspirators of the Iraq war were talking among themselves, but all the same , they are NOT smoking guns. Why not? Simple. Let me give you my Maxim of the Day: History is one big smoking gun and the function of the official press is to say this isn’t so.

As long as I’ve lived in America I’ve enjoyed the comic ritual known as the “hunt for the smoking gun,” a process by which our official press tries to inoculate itself and its readers from political and economic realities.

The big smoking-gun question back in 1973 and 1974 concerned Richard Nixon. Back and forth the ponderous debate raged in editorial columns and news stories: was this or that disclosure a “smoking gun”?

Fairly early on in the game, it was clear to about 95 percent of the population that Nixon was a liar, a crook and guilty as charged. But the committee rooms on Capitol Hill and Sunday talk shows were still filled with people holding up guns with smoke pouring from the barrel telling each other solemnly that No, the appearance of smoke and stench of recently detonated cordite notwithstanding, this was not yet the absolute, definitive, smoking gun.

So it became clear that the great smoking-gun hunt was really about timing, about gauging the correct temperature of the political waters.

Then suddenly, in the late summer of 1974, that impalpable entity known as elite sentiment sensed that the scandal was becoming subversive of public order, that it was time to throw Nixon overboard and move on. A “new” tape—though scores of others had already made Nixon’s guilt plain—was swiftly identified as “the smoking gun” and presto! Nixon was on the next plane to California.

In the mid-70s post-Watergate euphoria, smoking guns were in fashion. In the Church intelligence committee hearings they actually held up a gun to demonstrate the profuse, well-documented efforts of the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro.

In other hearing rooms witnesses testified that multinational corporations offered bribes to win business.

Appropriately enough, it was a newspaper publisher who stepped forward in the late fall of 1974 to announce that the smoking gun show was now officially closed.

At the annual meeting of the Magazine Publishers’ Association Katharine Graham, boss of the Washington Post Company, sternly cautioned her fellow czars of the communication industry, (many of them bribed to endorse Nixon in 1972 by his gift of the monopoly license to print money known as Joint Operating Agreements).

“The press these days,” Mrs. Graham declared, “should… be rather careful about its role. We may have acquired some tendencies about over-involvement that we had better overcome. We had better not yield to the temptation to go on refighting the next war [sic] and see conspiracy and cover-up where they do not exist.”

By 1975 smoking guns were a thing of the past. The coup de grace was PBS’s McNeil/Lehrer Report which started in October 1975, dedicated to the proposition that there are two sides to every question, and reality is not an exciting affair of smoking guns, crooked businessmen and lying politicians but a dull continuum in which all involved are struggling disinterestedly for the public weal.
In this new, prudent post-Watergate era, which has stretched through to the present day, there were no smoking guns. It wasn’t long before those documented attempts to assassinate Castro became “alleged attempts” or, the final fate of many a smoking gun, “an old story”.

CIA involvement in opium smuggling in South East Asia? There were smoking guns aplenty. In a 1987 interview for a Frontline documentary Tony Po gave an on-camera interview confirming that in his capacity as a CIA officer he had given the mercenary general Vang Pao an airplane with which to transport heroin because Vang Pao’s use of the CIA airfleet was proving embarrassing. “We painted it nice and fancy,” Po reminisced jovially.

These days, the CIA’s complicity in shuttling heroin that came home to America in body bags from Vietnam has retreated to the decorous status of being an “allegation” and, simultaneously, “an old story”.

Iran/contra, cocaine-for-arms shuttles supervised by the CIA? More smoking guns in every filing cabinet, and all over Oliver North’s diary. Ten years later Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News fished out further smoking guns and was rewarded by having his career destroyed by the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times. When the hubbub died down the CIA’s Inspector General admitted in his reports that yes, there were smoking guns, but the press only read the CIA’s press releases, which strenuously maintained the opposite.

It was in the Reagan era that the smoking-gun lobby got decisively routed. Month after month the official press would write respectfully about Reagan’s press conferences as though the President was a competent captain of the national ship instead of a fogged-up fantasist.

The coup de grace came in Clinton time, when the hunt for smoking guns became either incomprehensible (Jeff Gerth’s stories on Whitewater) or tacky (Clinton’s physical interactions with Monica Lewinsky). Special Prosecutor Ken Starr cried out that Yes, he had the smoking gun. The people looked at the stained dress he proudly flourished, and said, If that’s a smoking gun, we’re not interested.

There are enough smoking guns in the Iraq saga to stock a whole new national museum. It’s what makes the current muttering in the official press about the Downing Street memos so comical, with all the huff and puff about the “blogosphere” and how yes, this is an old story, and an “uncorroborated” one, (like all those stories from detainees about desecration of the Koran).

What’s striking to me is how querulous and old-fashioned those “old story” put-downs about the Downing Street memos by Purdom and others in the New York Times, or Howard Kurtz and Dana Milbank in the Washington Post sound, rather like very old uncles wagging their fingers at naughty little children and admonishing them to stay quiet until all the facts are in.

But the facts are in and the naughty children have the public megaphones. The rules of the game are changing. So what happens when fewer and fewer people take the official press seriously, or even read it?

More about Sex and Perversion in Japan

Here’s Ron Ri of Kyoto, energetically disagreeing with Robert McKinney’s description of some sexual mores in Japan, which I ran in last weekend’s Diary.

I take issue with several points made by Robert McKinney in his letters discussing pedophilia and sex in Japan (quoted at length in CounterPunch Diary for June 18/19 , 2005).

In response to your question “… are you implying that these bath and futon-sharing adults abuse the kids they’re with?” Mr. McKinney gives a misleading reply which (to what aim I’m not sure) stresses the physical dimensions of the Japanese “ofuro”.

The custom of parents and children bathing together is centuries old and considered a means of familial bonding; sons and daughters, until around age seven or eight, will often share the ofuro with the parent of the opposite sex. The practice has never carried with it even a trace of sexual connotation, and is no more likely to lead to abuse than, say, a drive in the country.

As part of the same bonding process (some would say spoiling process) and because of limitations on space, children (particularly the only child) have traditionally been allowed to share a futon with parents until a roughly similar age. I can only see this practice as providing a slight deterrent to sexual abuse since a second parent is present. Compare this spatial arrangement with the layout of the “traditional” American home where, when a father enters a daughter’s room, is alone with her in a private, enclosed area.

I do not make these points to refute the accurate claim that incest, and the sexual abuse of children within the home, are serious social problems in Japan, too, and have not been researched nor discussed as extensively as in the U.S.

The “Moe” and “Rorita” (from “Lolita”) phenomena, while understandably disturbing to many outside as well as in Japan, are complex and should not be confused with so-called “kiddie porn” in the West. This Japanese sub-world is characterized by an almost inexhaustible supply of magazines, comics, video games and animation films catering to the sexual fantasies of introverted men. The common thread running through each media form is the depiction of 11-14 year-old girls as pure, unthreatening, doey-eyed and, in many cases, abuseable.

However, many of the photo magazines depict school girls with all (or most) of their uniforms on, the climactic shots being close-ups of regulation plain white panties under regulation pleated, navy-blue skirts. Numerous comics, on the other hand, do depict deranged, futuristic rape fantasy, with the stock adorable princess violently penetrated by multi-limbed robots. And yet, earlier this month, we learned of a new café in software-center Akihabara where customers can share a coffee with an 18-20 year-old woman dressed up to look like a 13-ish French-maid doll.

Continuing, we have Mr. McKinney’s statement that “Japanese are very shy about talking about sex-related topics. Women never talk about sex with men, it is not acceptable.”

This assertion, while not without some foundation, is far too sweeping: “Sex-talk” between celebrity members of the opposite sex is found on television; the Japanese version of Cosmo contains 10-point passion advice similar to its American counterpart’s; and mixed groups of company colleagues can be heard each night at the local pub engaging in rowdy, if often childish, sex chatter.

Finally, and most bizarrely, we have McKinney’s claim that “Most high school kids do not date. You can’t get a driver’s license in Japan until you are 18.” If one is talking about cruising, or getting it on in the back seat at Inspiration Point, or, more traditionally, the sweaty palms “meet-the-parents” drive to pick up a date at her home, all this is true. But Japanese high school students spend a great deal of time together after school: hanging out, playing video games, shopping for music and clothes. And with a “love hotel” usually within walking distance, it’s little wonder that the average age for initial sexual experience has, over the past thirty years, dropped to levels similar to those of the advanced nations of the West.

Ron Ri, Kyoto, Japan

More on Those Google Ads

A few CounterPunchers have written in, saying they find them offensive. I answer that CounterPunch needs money and that’s why we run the ads, in the hopes that people will look at them. Thus far, the revenue would scarcely keep Jasper and Boomer in dogfood. Certainly not the quality chow I give Jasper here in Petrolia, and I’ve no doubt that up there in Oregon City Boomer exacts nothing but the best from Jeffrey.

On Jun 22, 2005, at 8:14 PM, Laura Hayes wrote:

Dear Counterpunch, It is really disheartening to click on the top two “Google ads” that appeared at the bottom of Dave Lindorff’s June 21st article on NPR/PBS funding, to discover sites that present the Isreal-Palestinian conflict in terms of “parity” and “balance” ( and That is, information is presented in a way as to give the impression that the two sides have claims that are somehow of equivalent weight and merit. To me, this is code for legitimizing Isreal’s occupation of the West Bank and continued land-grabbing. Why would Counterpunch want to direct its readers to such sites, providing increased traffic? It appears the Counterpunch does not control the links that are offered. I think these Google ads are a terrible idea, and unworthy of Counterpunch’s support. If there is supposed to be some mutual benefit between Counterpunch, Google, and the click-through sites, I think that Counterpunch is on the losing end.

What a disappointment.
Laura Hayes

June 22, 2005 10:14:07 PM PDT

Laura, to give you the site you like, we need money. Getting you to click on Google ads is one way of getting it. Donations, from people like you, are another. But you shouldn’t get too upset. You are among the very, very heroic few of our readers who even bother to look at these ads. I wish there were more.

Best Alex C.

Footnote: The item on smoking guns first appeared in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last week.




Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.