Saturday, December 16th, 2017

I’ve got to stop reading Twitter first thing in the morning.

One of the first things I saw when I flipped through the stream of comments this morning was a phrase in Russian: “Everything’s much worse than it was yesterday.”

My first response to seeing this was a self-satisfied frisson of joy: “Hey! I understood that!” Because it’s been a few years since I’ve read a phrase in Russian that I understood from beginning to end without grabbing a dictionary.

My second response was: “I’ll bet that’s a phrase they’ve been saying for a while,” because it sounds like something Russians would say almost every day when, for instance, old friends ran into each other in a bread line.

My third and final response was: “What a perfect phrase for Twitter,” because if there’s one place on the internet you can go to feel as though everything is worse than it was yesterday, Twitter is the place.

The next thing I saw that sent me to a bad place was a video of Senator John Kennedy interviewing Matthew Spencer Peterson, one of the five nominees submitted to the Senate as a candidate for US District Court judge.  Peterson’s testimony was a train wreck.  He couldn’t answer a single question, and the two times he tried to snow Kennedy under with a blizzard of verbiage about his job at the election commission, he hemmed and hawed in fits and starts so badly that I don’t know why he wasn’t heckled, or at least laughed at by the people in the visitor’s gallery.

I’ve lots seen excerpts of congressional testimony before but never watched a senate review from beginning to end, so I can’t say this kind of debacle isn’t par for the course; maybe it happens all the time. I’d like to believe, though, that candidates such as Petersen, who will become federal judges for the rest of their lives if confirmed by the senate, have been thoroughly vetted by someone, rather than being chosen by how ardently they campaigned for Trump in the last election.  Not that I’m implying that’s the case here.  Okay, I am.  That’s exactly what I’m implying.

Just for fun, here’s a transcript of Petersen’s testimony:

Senator John Kennedy: Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?

Matthew Spencer Petersen: (raises hand)

K: Have you ever tried a jury trial?

P: No.

K:  Civil?

P: No.

K: Criminal?

P: No.

K: Bench?

P: No.

K: State or Federal court?

P: I have not.

K: Have you ever taken a deposition?

P: I was involved in taking depositions when I was an associate … when I first came out of law school.  [“I was involved in” is pretty common double-talk when padding a resume; it usually means “I was at the meeting where the subject was discussed.” In this case I’d guess it most probably means “I had to proof-read the depositions.”]

K: How many depositions?

P: I would, ah, I would be struggling to remember.

K:  Less than 10?

P: Yes.

K: Less than 5?

P: Probably somewhere in that range.

K: Have you ever tried taking a deposition by yourself?

P: Ah, I believe, no.

K: Have you ever argued a motion in state court?

P: I have not.

K: Have you ever argued a motion in federal court?

P: No.

K: When’s the last time you read the federal rules of civil procedure?

P: The federal rules of civil procedure? I, ah, in my current position I obviously don’t need to stay as, ah, y’know, ah, invested in those on a day-to-day basis but I do try to stay up to speed. We do have, at the Federal Election Commission, roughly 70 attorneys … [Petersen continues to ramble, badly, haltingly, for thirty seconds, avoiding the question.]

K: I’m sorry to interrupt you but we’re only given 5 minutes for five of you, so: When’s the last time you read the federal rules of evidence?

P: The federal rules of evidence all the way through? Well, comprehensively, would’ve been in law school. Obviously, I would have been involved in, when I was an associate … [Continues to ramble again, winding down the clock.]

K: Well, as a trial judge you’re going to have witnesses. Can you tell me what the Daubert Standard is?

P: Ah, Senator Kennedy, I don’t have that readily at my disposal, but I would happy to take a closer look at that.  That is not something that I’ve had to contend with. [*eye-roll* Petersen is testifying before the senate and answered a question with, “I’ll have to get back to you on that?” Which is another way of saying, “I don’t know.”  He used thirty-one words to say “I don’t know.”] [By the way, the Daubert Standard is a rule of evidence regarding the admissibility of expert witnesses’ testimony.]

K: Do you know what a motion in limine is?

P: Yes, ah, I have, and, again, my background is not in litigation [rambles for a full minute about his job at the election commission before Kennedy interrupts him]

K: I’ve read your resume. Just for the record, do you know what a motion in limine is?

P: I would probably not be able to give you a good definition here at the table. [A motion of limine is a motion, discussed outside the presence of the jury, to request that certain testimony be excluded.  Full disclosure: I have no training in law.  I googled this stuff.  But these questions, especially this one, seem to be pretty basic questions of law.  I could be wrong.  These could be really esoteric, arcane rules that lawyers rarely encounter.  I sort of doubt that, though.]

K: Do you know what the Younger abstention doctrine is?

P: I’ve heard of it, but I … [Stops dead.] [A Younger abstention is used by a court to refuse to hear a case if hearing the case would potentially intrude upon the powers of another court.]

K: How about the Pullman abstention doctrine?

P: No.

Federal courts use the Pullman abstention to avoid decisions of federal constitutional questions when the case may be disposed of on questions of state law.  Again, I have no training in law, but the honorable Mister Petersen has and, as he’s been nominated to become a federal court judge, I would’ve felt a bit more confident about him if I thought maybe he’d at least googled the most basic questions of law he might have been expected to answer.  I mean, it’s not like he didn’t know questions like this would come up.

Finally, George Carlin would love this: In a meeting at the Centers for Disease Control, CDC officials who oversee the budget have told policy analysts there are seven words or phrases they may not use when writing any official documents: those words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.”

This would be laughable if it weren’t so dire.  Honestly, when I was a young airman learning about Soviet oppression from expelled dissidents, we had a pretty good laugh about this same exact kind of thing, mostly because we believed we were part of a society that would never tolerate this kind of behavior from its government.

And yet, here we are.  Writers of future CDC publications must find a way to write about fetuses without using the actual word “fetus,” a ham-fistedly obvious way to get them to use the term “unborn children.”  And there is apparently no such thing as a transgendered person now.  I’m guessing there’s no politically-correct term to use instead of “transgender,” but I haven’t looked.  The ban against “entitlement” is odd, as right-wingers use that one all the time.  I’d have thought it would be a shoo-in.  But the loss of “science-based” and “evidence-based” is especially egregious.  As a replacement for “science-based,” managers suggested “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”  In other words, whatever you want to believe.

Everything’s much worse than it was yesterday.

much worse | 8:36 am CST
Category: daily drivel
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