Should I be Ashamed?

June 30, 2020

I have a confession to make. There is a part of me that looks at the Trump rallies like Tulsa and the MAGA rallies against Covid-19 prevention policies and thinks “Good. Maybe this will cull the herd of morons and religious nuts.”

I know, I know. I shouldn’t wish ill onto anyone, but my patience for people who are endangering not only themselves but other people as well is running low. Our economy has been devastated because Trump ignored the pandemic long enough to affect the economy. Republican Governors made the cynical decision to allow their citizens to die at a much greater rate in order to reopen their states without meeting adequate criteria or preparation.

Yet there is also a MAGA movement to agitate against the science and medical guidelines. Their man in the White House made wearing a facemask a culture wars issue. Even with overwhelming evidence that wearing masks is an effective prevention tool, MAGA people joyfully and mockingly gather at rallies without taking any precautions, like cultists secure in their salvation. In Texas and in Arkansas for example, Republican Governors prematurely re-opened their economies without meeting any guidelines, are refusing to allow mayors to implement any prevention measures without their approval.

Even now, as they are being overwhelmed by COVID cases, they still refuse to take even the rudimentary step of requiring wearing a mask mandatory. In Florida, another hotbed of COVID cases overwhelming the medical system, city council meetings are being flooded with people condemning COVID prevention measures being “politically correct… a tool of Satan…” It makes me wonder if the wholesale rejection of science by Republicans has nurtured the medieval side of humanity.

It’s frustrating and, forgive me, but it makes me think society would be better off without them. It certainly would help save our Democracy if there were numerous, well attended MAGA rallies in poorly ventilated auditoriums between now and November.

I suppose that would be too easy a solution to a number of problems, but it is immoral. It’s like saying the Branch Davidian cultists who died with David Koresh deserved to die. They used to be productive members of society. Well, maybe not, but they are souls that might yet be saved. Still, one might well expect that the same outcome is in store for the Branch-Covidians.

The Real Problem is You – White People

June 26, 2020

As a trial lawyer, my vocation is one of seeking justice, and finding justice seems to be the issue of this moment in history. How do we do justice for Mr. Aubrey, Mr. Floyd, Mr. Brooks, Ms. Taylor, and literally hundreds of thousands of African-Americans in America targeted and killed because they were black? Some white people think the killers should be prosecuted, but I can tell you from my experience in many trials that justice is often cheated by judges who have granted the police virtual immunity for killing.

That’s not an exaggeration. In criminal trials, judges have ruled that the law is different for police officers and it requires juries to believe the officer who claims they thought their life was in danger no matter what the objective evidence may be. Killer Cops cannot even be held responsible civilly for their actions because, again, the courts have ruled that as long as the officer claims they were acting as a police officer then they are immunized from any actions and consequences. That’s the “systemic” racism that compounds the injustice that African-Americans have suffered, and eliminating these racist legal standards is an essential part of any real justice. Anything short of those reforms will only be window dressing. However, systemic racism in the law is not the fundamental problem.

The real obstacle to justice is you (me, us). The work of recognizing and rooting out racism in white Americans is a life-long labor, in part because the malignancy of racism has been encoded in our psyche over hundreds of years. Sometimes the racism is open, such as when we hear people respond to the phrase “black lives matter” with “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter” in an obvious rejection of the problem of police violence against black Americans.

More frequent and subtle is the racism of people acknowledging that what happened to Mr. Floyd was “terrible” but then wandering off to “but, I wonder what he did to set them off?” Our president provided a prime example when he said that what happened to Mr. Brooks was “terrible” then added that “people” should not resist officers, thereby justifying shooting a man in the back who was no danger to anyone.

No doubt, some readers will ask what’s wrong with saying that “all lives matter” or “don’t resist officers”? What is racist about those thoughts is in their context. It’s asking questions as a white person who has never had the experience of being targeted by the police, threatened and then abused (or killed) because offering any objection constitutes “resistance.” Mr. Floyd followed the unwritten rule of offering no resistance, physical or verbal, and even politely pleading with the cop who was killing him (“please, sir”) and his killing was still justified as a response to “resistance.”  

Mr. Brooks talked calmly and cooperated for many minutes before he “resisted” when cuffs were being forcibly placed on and while he was being taken down. After he “resisted” he was shot in the back twice trying to run away when he posed no danger to anyone. If you asked why he “resisted” and ran from the police instead of “I wonder what the cops did to provoke such a panic in him?” then there’s work you need to do on your own racism.

Racism is perspective and fear above all else. White people look at these incidents from their own experience and reject the reality, let alone the perspective of African-Americans. White people look at the issue of systemic racism from the perspective of their own life (e.g. “I never did anything wrong to a black person, or “my grandparents were immigrants and never owned a slave”) and not the lives of a people who still suffer the economic and civil rights violations of generations. James Baldwin put the issue out in the ’60’s during that period of social unrest when he said that if you are considering the “black problem” you can never find a solution, because the real problem is you – white people.           

Why “Defunding Police” Makes Sense

June 23, 2020

The “defund police” demands of protesters does not mean eliminating police departments. Unfortunately, the phrase defund police is misleading Americans into thinking that the goal is to eliminate the police when it actually means restoring police to the concept of “peace officers” – a concept that relieves the burden on police and reduces the potential for police violence.

During the rightward movement of the ’80s and ’90s, conservative politicians like Michigan’s John Engler began to dismantle the social safety net. Mental institutions were closed, releasing thousands of chronically mentally into a community without adequate treatment resources. The net result was a shift of mentally ill people from health care institutions to county jails. Guess who had to arrest and transport them to jails, often times not once but regularly as they were released a few days later? As the epidemic of cocaine and other drug abuse emerged, insurance companies began to limit coverage for treatment. The result was increasing non-violent criminal activity, and guess who took up that burden? As conservatives began to redefine health issues as law enforcement issues, law enforcement budgets began to consume increasing percentages of municipal and state budgets. Police and jails became less law enforcement than social behavior enforcement with no solutions.

Coincident with this shift was the militarization of police, creating a cultural shift from ”peace officer” to one of occupation. The difference between the two is not subtle: militarization means using sudden and overwhelming force to respond to a potential threat instead of de-escalation. Policing in low income and typically minority communities has always been different than in affluent and white communities.

Sociologists argue that the police have always represented the imposition of control over minorities, reinforcing a sense of occupation and oppression. Even if this premise is arguable, the perception of occupation was only reinforced when police used tactical military equipment and vehicles in those communities. The acquisition of this equipment was usually contingent on use – “use it or lose it.” Using an armored personnel carrier or deploying officers in full combat gear is not for the affluent suburbs, and their use in impoverished areas only reinforced the perception of hostile occupation.

All of these ideologically-produced changes created a greater burden on police and a greater disconnect with the communities they “serve and protect.” Police are stressed from being assigned jobs they are ill prepared and even incapable of doing effectively. The “defund” movement is one intended to restore funding to social safety nets making the involvement of police unnecessary in many instances. This would free up the police from social policing to only the essential work of preventing or investigating violent crimes. It is a logical, rational solution to the problem of policing as occupation. The only realistic concern of the defunding movement is will it be enough to change the culture of policing from its current malignancy, or will we have to start from scratch?

Younger officers tend to be more diverse and idealistic, but reducing police forces is constrained by contracts that mean more entrenched racist and violent officers would be the last to go. That would not change the culture. Instead of using the verb “defunding” the movement might be better served with something more like “birthing” a new police.

Protests Continue – “So Far the Police Have Been Peaceful”

June 8, 2020

One of the more interesting news broadcasts this weekend began with “protests against police brutality continue through out the nation for the 12th straight day. So far today, the police have been peaceful.” Finally, they got it right.

The video of the murder of George Floyd made many people aware of the continuing targeting of African-American men, but the flagrant, even defiant, attitude of the police officers suggested a much more profound problem: these officers knew they were being filmed and continued to kill Mr. Floyd anyway because they felt sure they could get away with it.

The law has been perverted to make the successful prosecution of law enforcement officers virtually impossible, and that’s only IF any officer is ever charged. Police violence in response to peaceful demonstrators around the country further documented the issue.

Journalists filmed numerous incidents of police brutality toward peaceful demonstrators. In many instances around the country, including Detroit, peaceful demonstrations turned violent only after police initiated the violence. For example, in Minneapolis the original march to the precinct where the killers of Mr. George worked was peaceful until police in the precinct fired tear gas and two officers on the roof began peppering the demonstrators with rubber bullets.

The march broke up with enraged splinter groups going onto the site of the killing and looting and burning. In Detroit, the largely peaceful protest Friday evening became violent only after police began to randomly strike non-violent protesters with batons telling them “go back to the suburbs.” In New York City, police drove vehicles into protesters and were filmed numerous times beating, spraying and otherwise abusing peaceful protesters while mayor De Blasio claimed they were showing “great restraint.” Only after the media itself began to get targeted did they start to get it right – the violence by police was precipitating most of the unrest.

The video of 75-year-old Martin Gugino, being pushed to the ground by the police and left bleeding from a fractured skull, illustrates one reason why police violence is such a widespread problem that is very rarely investigated. The police said that he “slipped and fell.” A false report is a felony crime, but virtually never pursued by prosecutors.

The murderers of Mr. Floyd reported he had resisted arrest and developed a medical problem. None of them have been charged yet with submitting a false report. These officers knew there was clear video evidence, but also knew they were immunized from perjury. In my previous blog I anticipated the normal pattern after the Minneapolis incident: police would report he “resisted” and developed a “medical problem” while being restrained. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this pattern. While many, if not most, officers are not perpetrators of criminal violence, the majority of officers in my experience enable killer cops with the “blue line of silence.” More like the blue line of perjury.

The problem doesn’t stop with the blue line of “omerta.” There is a culture of supporting criminal cops. Most of the officers who were present and stepped over the critically injured Gugino, resigned from the rapid deployment unit and were present at court to cheer the officers who were arraigned on third degree assault charges. It’s often said that the worst enemy of good cops are bad cops, but if the measure of a good cop is one who prevents or reports criminal assaults by other officers then good cops are very rare. It’s a culture shared by most paramilitary groups, but unlike the military however, they often feel a loyalty to each other rather than the Constitution. Changing the culture from “law enforcement” to being “peace officers” is one way to change the pandemic of police violence.

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.