Sweet Home Alabama

May 30, 2019

So much has already been written (and so much outrage expressed) over the twenty five white male Republicans who passed a Bill in Alabama outlawing abortions, that it hardly seems there could be any more to say. However, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of the real implications of the Alabama “secession”. This is certainly not the first time a Constitutional Right has come under assault by cultural/religious norms. Slavery, denying the women the right to vote, even the genocidal policies of Manifest Destiny were all justified by religious and cultural norms of the day. Our history has always been one of evolving our understanding Constitutional Rights as a rational and secular proposition that rises above the provincial concerns of religions. Without that secular framework we could have never moved toward a fuller realization of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The entire abortion rights debate is exactly what the Founding Fathers feared the most when forming the Constitution: the intrusion of religious beliefs on secular rights.

From a secular perspective, there is no doubt (in law as well as tradition) that any individual, male or female, has the right to control their own destiny, let alone their body. People who oppose abortions are very often well-motivated from a sense of compassion rooted in religious dogma: they define the problem in terms of their religious beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with compassion for any human being, including the women who make the heart-rending decision. The problem I have with the “pro-life” movement is that their compassion for the child is outweighed by their disdain for the woman and her right to make decisions for her own self – a fundamental premise of our Republic.

If women do not have a right to control their own bodies, then there are no “inalienable rights” at all. To reject the right of any woman to make her own decisions on her life and health is to reject every right we used to call inalienable. Without the guarantee of those inalienable rights we become vulnerable to the destructive pressures of other religious intrusions, and our Democracy regresses back to the imperfect disparity between the lofty ideals of the Founding Fathers and their neglect of the institution of slavery or not extending rights to any woman. Or worse yet, we devolve into a Christian version of the Islamic State where individual liberty is obliterated by someone else’s faith. Couldn’t we hear the echoes of the slave-masters of ante-bellum Alabama in the blanket paternalistic denial of rights for all women? A rapist would have more rights to the child in Alabama than their victim or her doctor. If this is “pro-life” then it is cruel, unforgiving and not the imitation of a god we are told is quite the opposite.

Religion does have a role in the debate over abortions as a choice, but not as a right. People of faith acting in good faith must realize their calling is to convert the individual, not to force their choice on that individual. Abortion can remain a “sin” and a “right” at the same time: but like all “sins” they are a choice to do wrong. Most Christian traditions value the primacy of conscience and free will as the ultimate guide for any action. Their almost exclusive focus on punishing a woman from making the choice to abort a pregnancy rather than making a society that welcomes any child born, is less compassion than a motivation rooted in forcing their religious laws on all of society. “Pro-life” advocates say it is a matter of justice – defending the vulnerable who cannot defend themselves. If Evangelical leaders were as consistent in their defense of immigrant children at the border, then their argument would seem more authentic, but the bottom line is that the true injustice is that our society does not value every human being the way they deserve. But, for a lot of believers and certainly all of the men in the Alabama Legislature it’s a lot easier to feel loving by jailing women and their doctors.


What Happens to People?

May 29, 2019

What happens with people when they discuss politics in this age of Trump? I don’t understand it. This feels different from the past – and keep in mind I grew up in the “tumultuous 60s”. We just learned that not only did the Trump Administration has no clear idea of how many immigrant children they took from their parent(s) at the border or where to find many of them, there are thousands more stolen children than previously admitted. The Courts have intervened and forced an accounting. The immediate result was the admission that they don’t now how many children were taken because they had no system in place to track the children in the first place. There’s so much that’s wrong with those two facts… What kind of society must be ordered by a Court to find children forcibly taken from their parent(s) to find them, and what kind of human beings institute this policy without even having a way to track and safeguard the children?  It is evil, pure and simple.

Not that this would be the first government to implement an evil policy, or even the first US government to promote evil. Neither is it a new development for the media to support evil policy. For example, read contemporary accounts in the newspapers of the day on the “Trail of Tears”  for eerily similar arguments: they are illegally moving around the Country, they need to be “Americanized” and absorbed into the white culture… the parents are responsible for the suffering of their children if only they had obeyed the law and kept to their own “reservation” where they would be safe… etc. Then listen to Fox Cable’s Ingraham call cages overloaded with children and infants forcibly taken from their parent (or relative) and terrified as “summer camps”.

What is most surprising and distressing to me is the defense of this evil policy by ordinary people I know who would otherwise never be taken for someone approving of abusing children. I would have never dreamed it was necessary to say that forcibly taking a child from their parent, and then exposing some of them to physical and sexual abuse and other trauma was wrong. Some of these children may never be found, let alone reunited with their family. These are otherwise decent people arguing that it was “the parents’ fault for breaking the law”, although they would never advocate a child of a shoplifter should be punished for their parent’s crime. They argue that these are not good parents if they drag their toddler on the dangerous trip, but admit that they would do the same if they were convinced the child would be forced into a gang or murdered, or move to find a job and help their child escape hunger and poverty. Ultimately the moral bankruptcy of the policy is indefensible and so we hear the usual Trumpian refrain “But what about Obama…”

I know our reputation for attention deficit on these types of issues, especially in the Trump age of a scandal a week, but some issues are worth our attention and action. This is one of those issues that should unite all decent Americans because a society that allows children and infants to be abused as a matter of policy is at risk. I am reluctant to use the over-used analogy to Nazi Germany, but it fits with disturbing similarities: a national problem manufactured to look like an economic and cultural threat, a certain group is scapegoated and otherwise decent people consenting and then approving of their leader’s evil.


What Michelangelo Taught Me

May 28, 2019

I just finished reading Isaacson’s biography of Michelangelo and recommend it to everyone. A proper biography instructs the reader on its subject but even more importantly it should enlighten us on ourselves. For example, I took Michelangelo’s advise that a sculptor must find his sculpture in the rock, rather than make the sculpture from it as sound advice for me as a trial lawyer. Every case has a story, a human story that transcends the contours of the facts and gives meaning to the evidence and the verdict. But, after reading Isaacson I realized there are lots of lessons for all of us in this age of alt.reality and video bondage.

His life illustrated that genius is a cooperative result. There is a myth of the genius isolating himself from the world until a bolt of inspiration hits, and then there is the reality that genius is the result of curiosity and collaboration. Michelangelo was curious about nearly everything in the world, and an astute observer. His collaborations with others exposed him to new information which he creatively applied to novel issues.

Above all else, Michelangelo established the importance of facts to living. He originated much of the scientific method hundreds of years before Galileo and Kant. He tested his ideas and when the results (facts) did not support his idea, he gave up on his beliefs and explored other explanations. Today we are devolving into a new Dark Age of beliefs trumping facts. Some sociologists argue that people are so overwhelmed with facts on a daily basis that people are reverting to beliefs as a way to organize their lives, even when facts undermine their beliefs and render the them useless to predict results.

While the scientific research continues to warn us of the destructive effects of video watching on brain structures and functions in children, and children develop stunted activity and curiosity, Michelangelo was driven by curiosity about everything, and his curiosity moved him to explore. He discovered how heart valves worked nearly 500 years before it was “officially” discovered in medicine, through

 


Above the Law

May 24, 2019

William Barr’s testimony before the Senate should have shocked the Country, but maybe we have been so debased that we are no longer shocked or even embarrassed by members of the Trump administration. Barr testified, unchallenged, that if the President felt that a criminal investigation of himself was unjustified, then he could unilaterally and legally stop the investigation. He should have been subject to an impeachment hearing immediately, but instead his assertion that the President is above the Law was left unchallenged.

It might be a bit premature to assert that Trump himself is a threat to Democracy, perhaps even more insidious and dangerous than Russian bots. It is not premature to assert that the current Attorney General is a clear and present danger to our Constitutional Republic. Here is the chief law enforcement officer of the Country (not counting the President) who has already perjured himself to Congress claiming that the President could stop any investigation unilaterally. In the same testimony he also claimed that Court sanctioned criminal investigations and counter-intelligence investigations based on preliminary evidence was “spying”. What District Attorney anywhere would call their investigation “spying”? Was the FBI “spying” on Al Capone? Add onto those outrageous assertions is his cooperation with the President resisting legal subpoenas from Congress.

Today we learned that Barr is now investigating the investigation of the Russian attack and encouragement by the Trump Campaign in what could only be called a clear message of intimidation to the investigators of the remaining criminal investigations of Trump and his family. This is a dangerous man – apparently a true believer in the absolute power of a President over all laws and Constitutional provisions.

William Barr is an Attorney General who is willing to ignore the Constitution and submit to Trump’s every corrupt impulse. He must be removed from office.


Danger! Danger Will Robinson!

August 14, 2018

If you had a glimpse of the coverage of Trump’s “mass rally” in Tampa last week, you might have noticed a packed crowd behind him on stage with a single African-American featured prominently over his left shoulder. Not that I would suggest anyone has a morbid sense of curiosity, but if you have watched video clips of past rallies, you would have noticed two things. First there is always a single African-American always situated behind him so that whenever Trump is on camera, so would that man. Secondly, you would have noticed that the designated black man has changed from a rather animated and odd looking guy to a more conservative-looking and reserved black man. Other than that, the staged events always featured people deliberately crowded into a small area behind him, with no shots of the crowds (which have grown smaller in the past year). This is an effort to make it appear that huge turnouts of diverse people come to his rallies – a propaganda technique developed by German cinematographers in the 1930s.

Although the content of each rally is essentially always the same reiteration of the campaign top hits (e.g. lock her up!), the vitriol has increased to the point where many fear that violence will result – in particular, violence directed against the media covering the rallies. Trump infamously encouraged people at is rallies during the campaign to attack protesters in attendance, promising to pay their legal bills. This thuggish behavior was widely condemned, except among the Trump base. However, that was a different sort of malignancy from the recent rallies. Attacking protesters attempting to disrupt the rally was a reaction, a calculated reaction, but different from encouraging hatred of the media covering the rally. The difference being one where he is attempting to identify a class of people – not just individuals but a class. The transition from having an “enemies list” to having an entire class of people identified as enemies (the “fake media”) is a tactic historically used by dictators under stress in the past to divert attention from their failures. Stalin identified the media as an “enemy of the people” (that is a direct quote), Hitler identified the “Jewish media” as the enemy of the people. Putin was the author of the term “fake news” (contrary to Trump’s lie that he invented the term) and targeted assassinations of the fake news journalist, who happened to author reports critical of his regime.

In another blatant borrowing of a term used regarding another leader, Trump propagandists now speak of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (remember Obama Derangement Syndrome?), to trivialize the legitimate concerns of Americans. Obama Derangement Syndrome referred to provably false accusations about Obama such as he was not a citizen, he was a Moslem, he wanted to create an alliance with ISIL, etc. In contrast, Trump Derangement Syndrome may refer to questions about his behavior that are rooted in evidence, history and his own statements that leave open such questions as to whether he is compromised by Putin, or that he is a pathological liar.

I propose an alternative definition to Trump Derangement Syndrome: the vast majority of his supporters who believe everything he says, even when he blatantly contradicts himself or when his comments are demonstrably detached from reality. People who attend his rallies are true believers and that would be alarming in itself, but they represent only a fraction of Americans who have a more realistic appraisal of his character and revile him, but still support him politically. These are millions of people and that is a real danger.


Their Hero

August 13, 2018

Who ARE these people who attend Trump rallies, such as the one in Tampa last week? The familiar scene are the crowds roaring in admiration, and reciting the same repetitive lines used in every rally has grown more ominous as Trump’s vitriol has crossed the line into dangerous incitement. Trump is their hero.  A Gallup poll today provides some insight as to who these people are. The only demographic category that has positive job approval ratings for Trump were white, high school educated, lower middle class. Virtually every other demographic category of Americans has negative job approval ratings. In an ironic way, these are the people who are being betrayed by the policies being implemented by the Trump administration in contrast to the very promises he makes at every rally. For example, while Corporation and billionaire investors are experiencing the tremendous profits as the result of the tax bill that was passed, wages have experienced a negative growth rate, insurance premiums are climbing while coverage has decreased, and tariffs have begun to increase the cost of living.

Some people claim that the high school educated, white people of America need someone to voice their concerns and fears that their lifestyle and economic security is threatened, and that may be true, but what about actually representing them with policies that address the reality of their condition? Is telling them at rallies that they are the real elite, that they are smarter than ivy League graduates what they really want? They claim he is keeping his promises, but what promises? Do they have better wages? No. Do they have better medical insurance at a fraction of the cost? No. Is there even a Wall that Mexico paid for? The tax bill returned fractions of a penny compared to what billionaires gained. If no one earning over a million dollars got a tax break, every person earning less than a million dollars a year would have realized $68,000.00. The only promise kept turned out to be a rip off of his most ardent followers.

Is Trump their hero because of his character? Most of the people at his rallies would never cheat on their wife as she just delivered their child, or grab women by their vaginas, mock disabled people, or lie without any conscience. It is true that many of them are racist, could that be the appeal? Many of them wish they were as rich (or appear to be as rich), could that be the attraction?

I suspect that Trump is a hero to many of these people because he appears to be rich enough to say whatever he wants, and do whatever he wants. That illusion is reinforced when he exploits their fears and voices their resentments. Its not about what he does, its about what he says that matters – even if he is lying to them. These are emotionally vulnerable people, who dance to the siren song of demagogues. He is their cult leader, and like many of those types his behavior matters less to his followers than his words and how he makes them feel.

Many of them could also be led to something much more productive and meaningful for their lives without appealing to our baser natures and emotions, but fear is a powerful thing and there are very few people in the GOP with courage these days.


Religion and Politics

August 13, 2018

Our Founding Fathers recognized that organized religions were poisonous to a Representative Democracy and explicitly put a wall between government and religion. They did not preclude that men (women were not allowed participation in government at that time) with religious convictions would apply their religious principles to how they governed, only that their religion could never be the reason for why they governed (i.e. the goal of governing is never to be the institution of an official religion).

However, government may also be just as toxic for religion as vice versa. Perhaps the involvement of the Evangelical Movement in the present government has done far more damage to their institutions than the benefits realized thus far. For decades now the American Evangelical Movement has sought to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of the country through political activism. They routinely condemned the character of Liberal and Conservative politicians who also happened to oppose their legislative agenda. Their claim to political legitimacy was their moral legitimacy – they wanted a government and people who govern that reflected their moral beliefs – and they claimed that it was their Christian duty to elect men and women who reflected their heart-felt religious beliefs.

Throughout the history of the country, whenever organized religions flexed their political muscle it tended to expose the illusion of their moral authority. For example, the Christian religion’s justification of slavery with scriptures, and Native American programs that resulted in cultural and actual genocide. The result has been the recognition by the wider society that Christian control of government policy results in harm to our democracy and to society as a whole.

The present condition of American politics is yet another confirmation that when Christian leaders exert extraordinary control over society, then we all suffer. It also illustrates that Christian involvement in government has revealed that the Christian kings have no clothes – to quote their own scriptures their “sins have become naked before the Lord”. The same Christian leaders who condemned Clinton for his moral shortcomings and called for his impeachment, openly excuse their support of Trump whose character and behavior daily manifest every contradiction to their teachings on moral character.

The Christian leadership justify their hypocrisy with the anticipated results of reversing Constitutional rights to abortions and freedom from discrimination. They even justify some of the most basic tenets of the teachings of Christ such as taking children from parents and locking them up, refusing services to people based on their sexual preference or religions. Some people argue that Christianity by nature is intolerant and dangerous to freedom, and when put into practice in government policy results in a destruction of liberty and tolerance. I am not so sure about that being true for all Christians, but it is certainly true when Christianity becomes a part of government policy.

The risk that these “Christian” leaders supporting Trump no matter how immoral he behaves or evil his policies are, is that their followers will come to see their hypocrisy and question whether their leadership is authentic. The even greater threat to Christianity is that the followers of these corrupt hypocrites will lead their flocks to conclude that their faith is not so much misplaced as it is false.