Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “COurt of Appeals”

A Whale of a Whaling Tale – Tom Rossi


U.S. appeals judge Alex Kozinski, last week, declared that the actions of the group known as the Sea Shepherds amount to piracy. The Sea Shepherds sail the oceans, chasing whaling vessels and trying to interfere with the killing of whales.


In 1976, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) set the quota for a certain species of whale found largely in the southern hemisphere at zero in an attempt to get around policy difficulties with bureaucracy. Japan promptly issued itself a permit to hunt whales for research purposes, as allowed by IWC rules, and to dispose of the meat and other valuable components on the Japanese market.

Since then, the Japanese have taken hundreds of these whales per year in the name of research… while making huge profits at around $50 per pound wholesale (and climbing) of whale meat. I’m really hoping they don’t start researching Italian Americans.

Several issues come up, here…

If whales are simply a resource to be harvested for our needs (or wants), then that resource should be preserved at optimum production levels. That isn’t happening.

One of the so-called strengths of our economic system (a system which is in force throughout most of the world) is that, as a resource becomes more scarce, its price rises, creating an incentive to develop new resources as replacements. But in the real world, as the price of a resource rises, the incentive that’s immediately created is to exploit every last molecule of that resource until it disappears.

The Japanese claim that whale populations are healthy and that their hunting, er… research does nothing to harm sustainability. But real research, not funded by those profiting from whaling, shows that whale populations are in decline.

But what if whales are not just a resource, like oil, but are living creatures that have some value, other than “use value?” Whales are intelligent and complex beings. They show surprising depth of emotion and their communications are stunning in their richness. Would westerners accept the hunting of chimpanzees for their meat? Or mountain gorillas?


The fact is that Americans can’t even stomach horse meat. Why is that? Sure, there are stories that the current horse meat “crisis” has to do with horses from eastern Europe that may have been in poor health before they were slaughtered. But there’s something much bigger than that going on.

Americans would absolutely not accept even good quality horse meat, because America loves horses. Horse lovers cite the animal’s intelligence and sensitivity as reasons that they are so precious to them. And the image of the horse is one of a great friend to us – a partner, not a stock of meat.

Meanwhile, only a few people shed a tear for the cow. Cows are certainly not as intelligent as whales, or even horses. Is that the difference? So where do we draw the line? The Japanese harvest lots of intelligent creatures, such as the incredible cuttle fish. To them, the cuttle fish is a resource too.


Being a carnivore myself, I find that I cannot answer this question. It seems it’s another subtle judgement call. Prey animals, like cattle and chickens, make up an important part of the human diet (although vegetarians and vegans would disagree) as fish and deer and prairie dogs make up important parts of the diets of their natural predators.

But if we upset the balance of nature by ourselves hunting ocean predators, such as whales and tuna, the populations of the species that eat the oceans’ algae will explode. This will mean yet another huge insult to the world’s oxygen production, until the algae-eaters crash from an algae shortage. Their decaying bodies will then produce carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

By coincidence (not really), it is the predators that happen to be the most intelligent animals, with few exceptions. So maybe there are sentimental as well as practical reasons to curtail activities such as whaling.

A few years ago, I spent six months living in Japan. I really like Japan and its people. I made lots of good friends there and I hated to leave. And one of the great things about that country is its food – delicious, healthy, and incredibly varied.

The Japanese have eating habits that they are loath to change. Japan continues to fish bluefin tuna toward oblivion, for example, as its appetite for it hasn’t slowed in the least with news of crashing bluefin populations.

Habits die hard. But we need to see the science by squinting through the fog of political and profit-driven spin. The human population on this Earth is huge and growing. We have long since passed the point where our activities have significant effects on the functioning of the ecology that is our life-support mechanism.


I’m not really sure if these are chief among the reasons that the Sea Shepherds risk their lives to protect whales and other sea creatures, or if they just want to preserve what little they can of the beautiful life on this planet. Either way, in the face of the unwillingness of politicians, worldwide, to slow the rate at which we change our world down to a level that can be understood in its impacts, they are bravely taking action. I wish we lived in a world were extreme action was unnecessary. But when the rates of destruction of important elements of our world are extreme, the wheels of politics turn too slowly, usually reacting only when it’s too late.

-Tom Rossi


Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.


When Fiction and Reality Blur

I just finished John Grisham’s latest novel, The Confession – always a pleasure Mr. Grisham. The plot deals with a man wrongly accused as the police and courts conspire to put him away. As Grisham works his art, I find myself thinking about the characters even when I am not listening to the audio book.

So you can imagine my surprise to read this headline on the New York Times daily digest: “Framed for Murder?” What? Then the next line: Californians may be about to execute the wrong man.

No,no,you’re wrong. It’s Texas. John Grisham said so!

But it is not out in Texas. It is here in our backyard. This is a great account of the case by NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF and was published 12/08/2010.

Framed For Murder

That’s the view of five federal judges in a case involving Kevin Cooper, a black man in California who faces lethal injection next year for supposedly murdering a white family. The judges argue compellingly that he was framed by police.

Mr. Cooper’s impending execution is so outrageous that it has produced a mutiny among these federal circuit court judges, distinguished jurists just one notch below the United States Supreme Court. But the judicial process has run out for Mr. Cooper. Now it’s up to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to decide whether to commute Mr. Cooper’s sentence before leaving office.

Kevin Cooper

This case, an illuminating window into the pitfalls of capital punishment, dates to a horrific quadruple-murder in June 1983. Doug and Peggy Ryen were stabbed to death in their house, along with their 10-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old houseguest. The Ryens’ 8-year-old son, Josh, was left for dead but survived. They were all white.

Josh initially told investigators that the crime had been committed by three people, all white, although by the trial he suggested that he had seen just one person with an Afro. The first version made sense because the weapons included a hatchet, an ice pick and one or two knives. Could one intruder juggling several weapons overpower five victims, including a 200-pound former Marine like Doug Ryen, who also had a loaded rifle nearby?

But the police learned that Mr. Cooper had walked away from the minimum security prison where he was serving a burglary sentence and had hidden in an empty home 125 yards away from the crime scene. The police decided that he had committed the crime alone.

William A. Fletcher, a federal circuit judge, explained his view of what happens in such cases in a law school lecture at Gonzaga University, in which he added that Mr. Cooper is “probably” innocent: “The police are under heavy pressure to solve a high-profile crime. They know, or think they know, who did the crime. And they plant evidence to help their case along.”

Judge Fletcher wrote an extraordinary judicial opinion — more than 100 pages when it was released — dissenting from the refusal of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case. The opinion is a 21st-century version of Émile Zola’s famous “J’Accuse.”

Mr. Fletcher, a well-respected judge and former law professor, was joined in his “J’Accuse” by four other circuit judges. Six more wrote their own dissents calling for the full Ninth Circuit to rehear the case. But they fell just short of the votes needed for rehearing.

Judge Fletcher laid out countless anomalies in the case. Mr. Cooper’s blood showed up on a beige T-shirt apparently left by a murderer near the scene, but that blood turned out to have a preservative in it — the kind of preservative used by police when they keep blood in test tubes.

Then a forensic scientist found that a sample from the test tube of Mr. Cooper’s blood held by police actually contained blood from more than one person. That leads Mr. Cooper’s defense team and Judge Fletcher to believe that someone removed blood and then filled the tube back to the top with someone else’s blood.

The police also ignored other suspects. A woman and her sister told police that a housemate, a convicted murderer who had completed his sentence, had shown up with several other people late on the night of the murders, wearing blood-spattered overalls and driving a station wagon similar to the one stolen from the murdered family.

They said that the man was no longer wearing the beige T-shirt he had on earlier in the evening — the same kind as the one found near the scene. And his hatchet, which resembled the one found near the bodies, was missing from his tool area. The account was supported by a prison confession and by witnesses who said they saw a similar group in blood-spattered clothes in a nearby bar that night. The women gave the bloody overalls to the police for testing, but the police, by now focused on Mr. Cooper, threw the overalls in the trash.

This case is a travesty. It underscores the central pitfall of capital punishment: no system is fail-safe. How can we be about to execute a man when even some of America’s leading judges believe he has been framed?

Lanny Davis, who was the White House counsel for President Bill Clinton, is representing Mr. Cooper pro bono. He laments: “The media and the bar have gone deaf and silent on Kevin Cooper. My simple theory: heinous brutal murder of white family and black convict. Simple as that.”

That’s a disgrace that threatens not only the life of one man, but the honor of our judicial system.

Governor Schwarzenegger, are you listening?

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com



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