Thursday, March 29, 2007

To My Republican Friends

To my Republican friends. You got what you wanted. Seven years ago you were all strutting around like peacocks. (Some of you still do.) What you were strutting about was the new found voice of the Republican party that found that it had captured the minds of a narrow majority (still disputed) of the electorate and brought George W and his minions into power along with majorities of both houses of Congress. The mantra then was the negative aphorism 'tax and spend' intended to depict the sorry state of the philosophy of the Democrats. Those of us, like myself, quietly welcomed the change in governments as a strong indicator of the strength of our way of life. We might not have appreciated the strong arm politics that brought this group into power (remember what Bush did to McCain in South Carolina?) but objective thinking and the notion of compassionate conservatism suggested that new ideas, fresh blood, different approaches and an infusion of vitality into the running of our government might fine tune the daily operations of our system to the betterment of all of us. Fat chance. Little did we realize that the Bushies either had no idea how to do it, or they had the idea, despite the sworn allegiance to uphold and defend the principles of the Constitution, that the institutions and procedures established as a result of that document more than two hundred years ago should be rendered asunder (to paraphrase a colonial concept). I read somewhere a couple of days ago a statement to the effect that questioned why Bush would appoint competent persons to run governmental departments whose very existence was incompatible with his belief system. Consider FEMA and the victims of hurricane Katrina as an example. Apparently, Bush was inculcated with the morals and values of his mother who publicly declared that those victims would be better off as a result of the total loss of their homes and possessions. More than two years later, we see how better off these unfortunates are at the hands of the FEMA idiots who obviously share the Bush notion passed apparently on down through the generations of those born with limitless wealth. Now that I think about it, the Katrina example is not necessarily a good one because it doesn't capture the essence of the Bush wrongdoing which, in my opinion, reflects a lack of trust in the principles of our nations. Query: how can one swear to uphold the values and principles of our U.S. Constitution when one doesn't believe in them? It was like he took that oath of office with his fingers crossed behind his back. He has made it clear since taking office that he has no intention of honoring the statues enacted by Congress (unless of course he agrees with them). He has made it clear that acts of activist judges are wrong (unless, once again, he agrees with them). He has made it clear that he has no problem trampling on the constitutional rights of individuals and citizens in our society by conducting secret wiretaps. The current example in the spotlight is the obvious politicization of the system of federal prosecutors. The list goes on and on and the few items cited are just those that come to mind in the moment that I am writing this. Suffice it to say that Bush and his cronies have thumbed their collective noses at the American people, the Constitution and the institutions established by that Constitution.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Vanilla Thinking

A case that is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court involves the unfurling of a banner by a high school kid in Alaska which said something like "Bong Hits 4 Jesus". The high school principal ordered the removal of the banner on the grounds that its drug message ran counter to the school's efforts to fight drug usage. The principle of a second high school in Connecticut just this week banned the showing of a play written and directed by students which depicted the impact of the Iraq war on soldiers of that war. The reason given for the banning was that someone was likely to be offended by the message. A high school student whose brother was in Iraq apparently complained about the play. These situations got me thinking about the nature of our right of freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. Somewhere along the way, the notion of political correctness has crept into the application of the right. This notion that it is wrong to express one's thoughts forcefully if they are likely to offend one or another portion of the persons exposed to the thoughts is what I call "vanilla thinking". A case in point: In the run up to the Iraq war, anyone who expressed a negative opinion about what our country was intgending to do was labeled a coward, or worse. The stinging voice of dissent was effectively quashed by the vanilla thinking of unquestioning devotion to authority. The French, by way of example, were vilified because that country took a stance at odds with what we were doing. Congress went so far as to change the name of French fries on the menu of the Congressional diner to Freedom fries. By far the best examples of vanilla thinking are to be found in the statements of our politicians as well as athletic coaches before a big event. They couch words and phrases in a meaningless jumble calculated so as not to offend anybody, particularly the American electorate or the opposing team, lest they get mad and vote for the other guy or kick the stuffings out of the coach's team. What this country needs is a plain talker. One who can tell it like it is. One who can disagree and express that disagreement in plain jargon. The give and take of vigorous dissent is healthy and good. The exposure to the other side of what one thinks is good and correct is essential. My wife and I went to a horrible movie last night. Was it a waste of time? In terms of entertainment, most certainly. However, it served to remind me that in order for one to completely understand and appreciate excellence in any of its manifestations, one has to occasionally see the other side. Good thinking, like pudding, comes in a lot more flavors than vanilla.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Big or Small: It Doesn't Matter at All

Big or Small: It Doesn't Matter at All
A statement appears in the New York Times editorial on March 14, 2007 with respect to the firing of eight U.S. district attorneys, "it was astonishing to hear Mr. Gonzales continue to insist yesterday that he had no personal knowledge of discussions involving the individual attorneys. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, was right on the mark when he said that if Mr. Gonzales didn’t know what Mr. Sampson was doing, “he doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what’s going on” at his department." I want to go on record that Mr. Gonzales does know what is going on and in a case that I handled in Texas I was able to use his handiwork while he was functioning as the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court to attempt to convince his Republican counterparts on that bench (nine strong) of the correctness of my position.

The Texas legislature (Republican) had passed a law that required children who were injured during the first three months of pregnancy by the negligence of an employee of the state to notify the state that they were injured within six months of the date of the injury. Anyone who can count on the fingers of both hands can instantly recognize that this inane requirement had the net effect of imposing the impossible condition of requiring this notice before children damaged in the first trimester of pregnancy were born. The law had already been applied with vigor by this Texas Supreme Court to bar the cases of brain damaged comatose patients who slept through their six months as well as young children who had the misfortune of having loving parents who spent the first six months following catastrophic injuries nurturing, loving and seeing that their children received the follow up medical care required thus letting the six months, a heart beat in times of crisis, slip by without the required notice.

Enter Mr. Gonzales: In preparing for oral argument before the Texas Supreme Court, I found a substantial number of cases in which Mr. Gonzales had written opinions in which he freely gave advice about pro-life, whether or not the advice or statement had anything to do with the underlying case. Such commentaries in written opinions are referred to as 'dicta' by lawyers. It is considered improper to rely on 'dicta' in subsequent cases as precedent, but it may be properly cited to subsequent courts to cause them to reflect on the thinking of previous individual writers of such dicta. An appropriate analogy would be Gonzales' subsequent memo while counsel to the White House to the effect that the principles of the Geneva Convention are quaint. Using his rambling pronouncements freely (and without shame I might add) I was able to convince his brethren and sisthren on the court (my new word for judge Owen, a favorite of Bush) that the law was inane. Two cherished Republican principles, the elimination of lawsuits for the average person and the rights of unborn children, thus collided head-on. The court, to my surprise, agreed with my argument, but they did what any self-respecting group of Republicans following the herd pseudoconservative instinct would do. They threw the case out by deciding an issue not before the court. They ruled that the parents should have followed the new rule they established for unborn children, even before it was law. The father had notified the state clinic who damaged his baby two weeks after the baby was born and was told that the procedure performed on his wife during the first trimester was not known to produce the birth defects suffered by the child. I am writing about this now because the pattern of logic and thought is clear, not only with Gonzales and Bush, but with Republicans as a whole. The damage that these people are doing to the rule of law, in big time and in small time, such as in this case, stinks.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Keep At It: Keep Beseeching

I can't be the only one in America continuously beseeching my elected representatives to do something to turn around the mess the Bushies have created. Michigan is an interesting state. It consists of pockets of polarized individuals which make the mix of potential voters interesting to say the least. The Reagan Democrats emerged as a forceful group during the early 1980's and thus joined the battle in which extremism of any sort seemed more important than working for a consensus of the affairs of humans. This trend (tradition?) has continued to date so it is hardly surprising that Michigan's national representatives consist of persons with a mixture of splintered ideas and actions apparently designed to hold together a coalition of voters so that the office seeker can appeal to as many people as possible for elective purposes. A translation of what I just said is perhaps best characterized by an example: I don't care who or what you are, but as long as you are pro life I will vote for you. It doesn't matter whether you are Democrat or Republican as long as you agree with the single issue that I consider important. If you do so agree, you have my vote. That background now brings us to the point of this rant. For months I have been waging a battle of sorts with Senator Debbie Stabenow, the junior Democratic senator over her pre-election vote for the Military Rights Act of 2006 in which the right of habeas corpus was taken away from prisoners at Guantanamo. The right to a habeas petition is embodied as a fundamental principle of our system of government within the U.S. Constitution. What is means is that a person who is seized by the government has the right to challenge his/her imprisonment before an impartial magistrate. It is as simple as that. Now consider this provision in light of Michigan politics in the pre-November 2006 election time period. Apparently, Senator Stabenow considered it more important to pander to the rabid right (who would never vote for her in any event) or to avoid the appearance of being ant-Iraq war so as not to offend the suburban Reagan Democrats (let's kick some raghead ass, Bubba) by voting as she did. Before her vote I beseeched her to take a stand on principle. After her vote and once she was safely re-elected for her second term in the Senate I beseeched her again. I also asked for my campaign donation back. In my naivete I expect to have politicians I support uphold the law of the land as set forth in the Constitution. Silly me. I finally received a reply, not mentioning the return of my thousand bucks however. She stated: "If we had not passed this bill, our military would not have been able to move forward with trials against suspected terrorists now in U.S. custody." I beseeched her once again on February 27, 2007: "Thank you for your response. I respectfully disagree with your analysis and actions taken. I call upon you as my elected representative to take the lead in reversing the onerous provisions of the 2006 law." I even offered my services to her at no charge to right this grievous wrong. There has been no further response. Once again, I must make clear how important this habeas provision is. It is right there in our Constitution. The effect of the passage of this Act was to effectively suspend the Constitution. There would be a hue and cry if instead of what the Act says, there had been a simple up or down vote to suspend the rights embodied in the law of the land for people whom the President decides require such a draconian measure. Come and beseech along with me. No one is heeding the message.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Jay Slater read the story carefully. He put the newspaper down and thought for a few moments, then picked it up and read the story again. He smiled. This could do it. He was in a bad marriage, but there was no way for him to leave his wife. Her family's money would dry up in a heartbeat and his good life would vanish. She would cut him off at the knees if he did. It was not a marriage in any real sense of the word, he thought. Any semblance of a relationship, physical, emotional, social or companionable, had disappeared years ago. He felt a glimmer of hope as he read the story for the third time. This would do it. He finished his coffee, picked up the phone and dialed.
"Good morning,Tina. I'd like an appointment with the doctor. I've been having trouble sleeping."
Two day's later, Slater appeared at the doctor's office. He'd overdosed on coffee since making the appointment. At best he'd slept two hours last night. He felt like hell, knew he looked worse.
"What can I do for you, Jay?"
Slater and the doctor were golfing buddies. He knew he could get anything he wanted, but he had to be careful.
"Doc, I'm having trouble sleeping. Look at me. I'm death warmed over."
Dr. Sizemore grinned. "You're still worried about that two bucks I won from you last week."
"I'm trying to be serious here and you're making with the jokes. I am serious. I feel like hell. I haven't slept in a week."
Sizemore was the same age, yet the rimless eyeglasses he wore made him appear ten years older. He stroked his chin.
"Anything going on in your life that is bothering you?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary."
"You drink a lot."
"No more than usual. For a couple of nights I tried a stiff drink at bedtime, but all that happened is that I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep."
"Try a glass of warm milk."
"I tried that too. Didn't work."
Slater waited. He was hoping that Sizemore would think about the drug on his own without the need for prompting.
"There is a new drug on the market . . ."
Bingo, Slater thought.
"I don't like drugs." He nodded toward the note Sizemore was making. "Write that down."
"I'm writing you a prescription. Take one of these every night at bed time. It's best you don't drink while you're on this drug."
"Thanks Doc."
"Call me back in a week. Better yet, rest up and see if you can beat me this weekend. I'll see you then."
He stood and was out of the room before Slater could respond. He sat a moment and thought about what he'd started. He wondered if he could put it all together in the short time that was left. There was a window of opportunity about two weeks down the road, but he knew that time interval would pass quickly. Everything had to be perfect. He had to pay meticulous attention to detail. The ball was rolling. He had to remind himself not to whistle as he passed the reception desk on the way out of the office.

Meeting the President

I have always wondered what it would be like to meet the president of the United States. Like all Americans I have stood in awe of the position which is without question the most powerful in the world. As a trial lawyer, there have been hundreds of opportunities during the course of my career to appear before judges in black robes worn by individuals who, like the current president, were utterly undeserving of the respect of the office. The most notable judge was the guy in suburban Chicago who falsely claimed during his campaign for election to be a Medal of Honor winner from the Vietnam war. He wrongly dismissed the case I had in front of him, a badly brain damaged young child, after his fraudulent claim had been made public and before he was removed from office. (His decision was subsequently reversed on appeal). I remember gritting my teeth during my appearances in his court room, but publicly maintaining the posture of respect for the robe that our system of law requires. There were hundreds of other similar experiences in which small minded, petty demagogues, enthralled by the trappings of power, behaved reprehensibly in the application of the law toward fellow citizens. This morning, my mind wraps around the fantasy of being invited by the current president to sit down and have a chat with him. I have just learned that the war in Iraq has resulted in thousands of maimed soldiers reurning home to inadequate medical care. There is something inherently evil about a president encouraging young men and women to go off and fight a trumped up war leading a government which then shortchanges them on medical care when they come back with wounds that will haunt them forever. That’s something most Americans never thought their country would do. I sit there and sip tea with the current occupant of the White House and bring the sum of all my experience with those who abuse the trappings of power to bear. I lean over and whisper quietly in his ear. "Mr. President, you are a fewking idiot."

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Prosecutor Purge

It has become clear that the Bush administration has set out to purge prosecutors (all of which were Republicans by the way) who were simply doing their job. This small group apparently incurred the wrath of the pseudo-conservatives in control because the objects of their efforts were friends or major contributors or fellow pseudo-cons. While this purge is another example of how the Bushian politicians have politicized the entire process of governing America, they have severely damaged the trust of all Americans in so doing. Consider the flip side of the coin in this instant example; If the relatively-few handful of US attorneys have stayed on the straight and narrow in performing their functions in a lawful fashion, what does it say about the vast majority of them who are still enjoying the privileges of their positions? Are we to assume that all of the remaining US Attorneys have toed the line and given in to administration urgings to protect certain classes of people, i.e. their friends?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Darwin's God

Religion offers an easy solution to problems or experiences about which there was no obvious explanation. Before modern science, the sun rose each morning. Why did it? Without a scientific understanding of the relationships between earth and the sun, the most logical (at the time) was that (a) god performed this daily miracle. The rubber meets the road when the 'enlightenment' (a term I use to connote the replacement of a religious explanation of an event with a valid scientific one) encroaches on a basic religious belief based on one of the seven deadly sins, i.e. pride. It is vain and narcissistic to think that man is the ultimate end point of living things here on earth. The notion that man was simply created by a god six thousand years ago provides millions of Americans with a sinful pride that man is the perfect expression of God's will. This is the barrier that of necessity must fly in the face of scientific evidence that we are a work in progress, that we descended from lower animals via the process of evolution as set forth by Darwin et al. Until this seeming disparity is resolved, all the wrath (another deadly sin) manifested by those who persist in this prideful belief will delay and even prevent meaningful progress.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

I want to play in the band

One of the most amazing things to me about the United States is the resiliency of a small (in numbers only) handful of dedicated people who like to play musical instruments and go to great lengths to continue to do so throughout their lifetimes. These individuals have gathered together in towns and villages of all sizes throughout this country and formed what are called 'community bands'. The typical community band is an assortment of people from all walks of life; retirees, doctors, lawyers, homemakers and a healthy number of former music teachers, high school band directors and such. The average community band is no gaggle of young kids sitting in a basement thinking they are playing music because they can collectively string together four chords on electric guitars. No, these community bands are comprised of a number of quality musicians, highly trained and skilled, with the common denominator of love for music being the cement that draws them together.

The net result of this collection of musicians is the creation of music; fine music, interesting and varied music as different in scope as the myriad of people who make up the bands. One of my favorite persons is Ray Will. Ray is a talented tuba player who plays in a couple of bands and orchestras. I know Ray because he sits next to me in the tuba section of the Manatee Community Band in Bradenton, Florida. Ray also doubles on the string bass on occasion for a smaller traditional dance band which plays a number of gigs in Bradenton and Sarasota each year. This band plays Glenn Miller-inspired type music. During a recent gig, the director of the dance band, Jay Smith, introduced the various members of the band after songs in which their particular instrument was featured. In introducing Ray, after several complimentary remarks Jay added "Ray is the oldest member of the band, ninety five years old." At that, Ray leaned over and whispered to me with a look of disdain on his face. "I won't be 95 for two more weeks."

To me, Ray's spirit epitomizes the spirit of community band music.