Duck Soup – 2009 Style

January 30, 2009

I had my brush with politics. When I ran as the Democratic nominee for the Governor of Michigan I was motivated, in part, by what I perceived as the lack of any backbone by the Democrats to resist the extreme ideology of the Engler GOP in Michigan. I had never run for office before and jumped into the primary late without any Party support. I ran a very anti-political campaign of defending unions, defending the role of government to help the poor, expanding post high school educational opportunities and universal health care. I said what I thought about not only my opponents, but the state Democratic leadership as well. I refused to cut any deals in exchange for financial support. I marched picket lines and campaigned in neighborhoods in Detroit that the police wouldn’t patrol. It was anti-politics. I won the nomination because I told the truth. I lost the election, probably for the same reason. But I kept my self-respect. I believe there is a time to just stand up and tell the truth no matter how impolitic it may be.

When I see McCain and Boehner on the news I just go bonkers. The same guys who inherited a budget surplus and 4% unemployment, turned it into a record deficit and 8% unemployment They now have the gall to say they are concerned about the deficit and the size of the stimulus package? The same guys who wrecked this economy still want to shape economic policy? What? You guys want to give rich people even more tax breaks to create jobs after the last 8 years of tax breaks produced a record deficit and record unemployment? You should be in an unemployment line just for saying something so stupid. You should be wearing tar and feathers after what you have done to our Country.

John McCain? The same man who said a few months ago that the economy is in good shape… the same man who picked a vice-president nominee who was obviously unqualified, now says his judgment is that the stimulus package won’t work? I can’t think of a better endorsement for the proposals! In fact, the GOP is so incompetent that I would be worried if the likes of Boehner, McConnell and Limbaugh were supporting Obama.

In fact, their comments are so divorced from reality and audacious in the scope of their hypocrisy that I suspect the strategy originated from Karl Rove. They should all be sent to Gitmo until it closes.

Republicans have forfeited any right to shape economic policy by virtue of their policies being such a monumental failure. The Republican caucus must resemble a scene from the old Marx Brothers comedy “Duck Soup”. Either help the Country recover from your incompetence or get out of the way.

That would have been my response, and the reason why I could never do what President Obama must do right now. I have a very low tolerance for incompetence and hypocrisy. Thank God for men like the President and people like us, willing to support our Country in words and actions.

Ain’t that America

January 29, 2009

Here are a few post-Inauguration Day thoughts…

Is anyone really surprised that Bush’s reactionary appointee to the Supreme Court could not read the U.S. Constitution correctly?

Some pundits were criticizing the people who were disrespectful to Bush and Cheney as they were leaving. Maybe if they had respected us and our rights they would get some respect back. I am one of many who believe that they should be investigated for the apparent way they broke many laws while in office. If we truly want to break with the past, we should hold office-holders who break the law accountable. Maybe it would be a disincentive for future office-holders. The problem is that so many in Congress, including many powerful Democrats, were complicit in breaking laws such as warrant-less spying and torture. As much as I hate to say it, maybe Obama is right to leave it as he did in the Inaugural speech – reject what they did as ineffective and wrong.

Whenever I see people like Congressman Boehner talk about how “Conservatives” want to lessen the role of government and restore fiscal responsibility, I can’t decide between laughing my rear off or strangling them. Do they have any idea what a joke they have become after the last 8 years?

If anyone doubts what the true nature of American “Conservatives” are, listen to the hate spewing from people like Rush Limbaugh. He made news the other day by expressing his hope that Obama will fail as President. Cultural “Conservatives” like Rush have a thinly disguised hatred of our Country. They are no different than the Taliban, who justify destroying everything to create a society based on their religious delusions. People who are religious like them can barely contain the hatred they defend against psychologically with their religions. We should confront people who listen to Rush about why they hate our Country so much.

So many Americans of so many races, religions and ages celebrating together on the National Mall and not one arrest. To quote Mellencamp “Ain’t that America? Something to see…Ain’t that America? Home of the free…” Freedom is not a narrow road. It is a broad highway.

It’s good to be American again.

A De facto Death Penalty For Our Immigrants

January 28, 2009

Does anybody ever think about what happens to our immigrants and prison inmates once they are jailed? Probably not, but I can tell you what happens to some of them. They are killed in the jails in which they are housed. They are mistreated and often their medical needs are ignored until they die. The phenomenon of inmates dying in jail is nothing new. Certainly it didn’t start happening yesterday. But it happens often and like other cases involving abuse by law enforcement personnel, it attracts little or no attention. What a shame.

I’m sure that my beliefs are unpopular. Many people say, “who cares about criminals and prisoners and immigrants?” They must have done something wrong, right? Otherwise they wouldn’t be in jail. The problem, however, is that these people, these human beings, were not sentenced to die. They were sentenced to a term of days, or years, in prison after which they were to be released to resume living their lives. These inmates and immigrants did not receive the death penalty, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed that our jails and detention centers are essentially killing their inmates by withholding simple medical treatment.

Nina Bernstein wrote a chilling article in today’s N.Y. Times entitled “Another Jail Death, and Mounting Questions.” The article tells us about a 48 year old man who died in an immigration detention center in Virginia from “an overwhelming bacterial infection” that could have been treated with antibiotics. Of course, he never got the treatment even while he desperately complained of his illness for 10 days leading up to his death. Not only is this tragic, but is a violation of our core constitutional and civil rights. Contrary to popular belief, the phrase “civil rights” protects us, and I mean all of us, from abuse and discrimination by our government. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment. Certainly the imposition of a de facto death penalty on inmates and immigrants constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Although most people may not think or hear about these issues, thankfully the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project keeps a watchful eye on these types of civil rights abuses. There is no doubt in my mind that these cases are tragic. But we should also be alarmed when our jails and detention centers are allowing people to die while in their custody. We should not be so quick to criticize the human rights abuses of other countries while closing our eyes to what is happening in our own backyard.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 19, 2009

I think that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. may have been the greatest American, if not one of the greatest. Why? If George Washington was the father of our Country, then MLK was the voice of our conscience. I don’t mean to diminish the importance, or the greatness and sacrifices of others, but MLK embodied the greatness of America unlike any other American in our history. He was a product of an imperfect America – an America that fell short of the ideals of the revolution of 1776, but nevertheless an America that was free enough to nurture men of character. He was the product of American revolutionaries who changed the world and a revolutionary who changed America.

MLK was a Patriot because he was uncompromising in his vision of a just and free country. He was politically active but not political in the sense that he was seeking power. If America was founded on an idea he sought to make America realize the ideal. He was a revolutionary in a much deeper way because he advocated not just political revolution but social revolution as well. He was a revolutionary who used moral example instead of guns – a revolution by personal transformation and action.

The writings and speeches of Dr. King are certainly worth reading. Nobody can ignore the changes Dr. King helped us to accomplish. Whether speaking of a Promised Land or denouncing war as a foreign policy, MLK challenged himself, his friends as well as his enemies to a fuller realization of the American ideal.

George W. Bush – Constitutional Butcher

January 15, 2009

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

That is the oath that Barack Obama will swear next week. It is the oath taken by every President from George Washington on. The history behind the oath is enlightening, especially in light of the legacy tour of the Bush/Cheney Administration. The framers were very careful in their wording and there were at least three revisions of the oath. The historical record includes debates over two particular phrases. Both of them are relevant today as we listen to the GOP propaganda on the Bush/Cheney legacy. Maybe the following will make sense to those “Federalist” nabobs who want to be strict Constructionalists… probably not:

The first debate on the oath centered on the use of the word “judgment” or “ability” in the phrase:

“…and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The framers ultimately settled on holding a President to the best of his ability instead of his best judgment. Why did they consider this important? Take a look at the actions of Bush/Cheney. Once they were caught violating the Constitutional Rights of American citizens and of Treaties (after denying that they had violated any laws or treaties), they justified their crimes by saying that “in their judgment” the threats faced by the Country after 9/11 warranted unprecedented action. The framers recognized that there was a danger that a President would use the excuse of “judgment” to nullify Constitutional Rights when there was a claimed threat [real or fabricated] to national security. So they made it clear that the President is to defend the CONSTITUTION under any circumstances to the best of his ability even when they disagree with such action.

The second debate centered on the job of the President as defined by the oath – he is to “defend the Constitution of the United States.” The framers knew that without the Constitution there is no Country to defend and wanted to make clear that the defense of the Constitution takes precedence over any presidential duty.

When you hear some GOP apologist justifying violating the rights of Americans by illegally spying on them, or by abrogating our own laws and International Treaties by torturing prisoners, or defying Congressional subpoenas by asserting that the Vice-President is not part of the Executive Branch of Government [the list goes on and on], remind them that they should be patriots first and partisan hacks second.

Chipping Away at Our Constitutional Rights

January 15, 2009

This week the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in an important case, Herring v. United States, involving our rights under the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. As a general rule, the police cannot use evidence against us if the evidence was obtained illegally. This is known as the exclusionary rule. Basically, if the cops obtain evidence illegally, the evidence is thrown out and can’t be used in court.

In recent years, the Supreme Court has signaled its intent to chip away at the Fourth Amendment and so this week’s decision comes as no surprise, at least to me. In Herring, the Supremes held that if the police mistakenly arrest you and find evidence of anything, the evidence can be used against you even though the arrest was illegal. In other words, even thought the evidence was obtained illegally, no exclusionary rule applies. Of course some people may think this sounds like a good idea. I mean the cops found something bad, so who cares how they found it, right? Sounds like the Court is closing the gap on “technicalities” used by dirty defense lawyers to get criminals off. I couldn’t disagree more.

I, for one, refuse to consider our constitutional rights as mere “technicalities” or “conveniences.” As an attorney, I am sworn to uphold and defend our constitution. I will continue to do so, albeit I will have to become more innovative in fighting the abuses of the government. The Fourth Amendment is supposed to stand as a wall against tyranny and government abuse. By throwing away these protections, we move one step closer to a police state where the government can do whatever it wants and we can do nothing.

In short, the Supreme Court’s decision in Herring gives more power to the executive branch (i.e., police, prosecutors, district attorneys, etc.) at the expense of ordinary citizens. Remember, if one group becomes more powerful, another becomes less. So who do you think lost out here?

Who is Glenn Fine?

January 14, 2009

The Justice Department has had many problems under the direction of Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, and now the sleeping Attorney General Mukasey. But you probably haven’t heard the name Glenn Fine. Fine is the Inspector General of the Justice Department and he is the person who is charged with investigating misconduct within the DOJ and their investigative arm the FBI. And he is not partisan, at all. In 2007, Fine issued the first in a series of stinging reports in which he concluded that the FBI was abusing the US Patriot Act by using national security letters and other terrorist-oriented tools to spy on investigate American citizens. FBI director Robert Mueller basically said it was all a big mistake and there were some oversight issues at the FBI. Really?

Then there was the whole Gonzales-Gate scandal where the White House worked with political hacks inside the Justice Department to carry out politically motivated investigations (mostly of Democrats, by the way). During that fiasco, Gonzales was called to testify before congress where he likely perjured himself. Glenn Fine later concluded that Gonzales mishandled documents relating to the administration’s spy domestic surveillance program. Eventually, Gonzales resigned and later lawyered up (probably a good idea given Fine’s tenacity for discovering misconduct). Fine was just warming up.

In July 2008, Fine issued another whopping report concluding that political operatives officials within the Justice Department violated the law by hiring other political hacks to fill the ranks of the Department.

And just when I thought Fine was getting tired, he struck again. Last week he issued another stinger revealing how the US Marshals provided escort services to sports broadcasters. What? Talking Points Memo reported:

A new report by the Justice Department’s inspector general finds that a lawyer for the U.S. Marshals Service arranged for the Marshals Service to provide a private escort for the limousines of Fox’s star broadcasters, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, after two World Series games at Fenway Park in 2007.

In case you were wondering, the US Marshals do not as part of their job duties provide protection to Fox’s sports broadcasters, or at least not as far as I know.

And finally, when I thought I had just caught my breath, he did it again. Fine just released this report finding that Bradley Scholzman broke the law by hiring political hacks into positions at the Justice Department. Kabaam! Scholzman headed the civil rights division of the DOJ and was responsible for making sure people weren’t disenfranchised of their constitutional and civil rights. I guess he failed, don’t you think?

So who is Glen Fine? He is one bad-ass Inspector General at the InJustice Department. Picture all the doors that slam shut when Fine walks down the hallway. I wonder if anyone will sit with him at the cafeteria. I can only imagine the hacks shivering in their shoes while Fine sharpens his pencil for the next report. Hey Mr. Fine, we’ll send you some more pencils whenever you need them, just keep those reports a’coming!!

Tina Fey, Joe Scarborough…

January 13, 2009

Why can’t I watch Tina Fey win a Golden Globe Award and not help but to think of Sarah Palin? I couldn’t tell if she was being authentic or mocking Palin once again when she was on stage last night. Someone should give her a medal as well.

By the way, has anyone seen the interview where Zbigniew Brzezinski tells interviewer Joe Scarborough that his knowledge of Middle East policy and history was breathtakingly superficial and how embarrassed he was to even listen to Scarborough ask questions? Nice…

Remembering Griffin Bell

January 13, 2009

I was saddened by NPR’s story of the passing of former United States Attorney General Griffin Bell who died this past week of cancer. After serving as a federal district court judge for 15 years, Griffin left the bench and shortly thereafter was appointed by President Carter as United States Attorney General. Griffin was a remarkable figure and civil rights advocate. He worked tirelessly on desegregation of public schools in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. His endeavors were met with great opposition by the states and public schools who tenaciously resisted the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown. Griffin never backed down.

Perhaps Bell will be remember best however for taking over a deeply tainted Justice Department in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Remember that Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell was the first (and perhaps not the last) AG convicted and imprisoned for his role in the break-in of the Democratic Party’s national headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. Griffin’s task was to restore public confidence in the Justice Department during a time of immense public distrust of the agency. And how did Griffin do this? He made the agency transparent by publishing his daily logs and calendars allowing the media and public to know what he and the agency were doing on a daily basis. Griffin also involved career professionals in the daily decision making of the agency so as minimize the appearance of political ties to the White House.

What a stark contrast to the Bush Justice Department which has been politicized to an extreme. Indeed, the Bush–Gonzales Justice Department has operated itself in a ‘cloak and dagger’ fashion by dreaming up novel and unfounded legal arguments to support “state secrets” and other vague “privileges” to protect and shield the agencies misdeeds. What we don’t know (and can’t discover) can’t hurt us, right?

If only there were another Griffin Bell, I’m certain we need him now just as we needed him before.

Sunday News Programs

January 12, 2009

Some random thoughts after spending a rare Sunday morning watching the news shows like “Meet the Press”:

A man named Madoff may be going to jail because he made $50 billion of other people’s money disappear. Sounds about right, but what about this? President-elect Obama said in an interview with ABC News that he was told that nobody has been accounting for the $750 billion of our tax money that Congress approved. In other words, money is gone and we have no idea where it went. If Madoff should go to jail for $50 billion, what should happen to people who make $350 billion disappear?

Congress gives $350 billion of our tax money to Wall Street Bankers to keep them solvent and they promptly give out $70 billion as buy-out bonuses to executives. That means that some of the same people who lost their homes because investment firms holding their mortgages refused to refinance ended up giving the same people who took their homes a loan AND a bonus. Who needs the money more than a family who is about to lose their home or a banker looking for a bonus? Why am I remembering the lyrics to Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” (Makes Me Wanna Holler)?

Seven years ago we were told that we were invading Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and free Afghanistan from terrorists. Now the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has told us that we are losing the war to the Taliban and desperately needs more troops. Is Afghanistan going to become Obama’s Iraq (or Viet Nam)?

Why is there ANY debate as to whether or not the Bush Administration should be investigated for any violations of law when the evidence is manifest? They ADMIT to authorizing interrogation of war prisoners that violated existing U.S. and International laws. They ADMIT to warrantless wiretapping of American citizens? Could it be that members of Congress were complicit? Could it be that President-elect Obama can’t prosecute crimes he enabled when he was a member of the Senate (see FISA)? How do we hold any President to any standard of law or conduct when we refuse to hold the Administration responsible for crimes they admit? Bush/Cheney not only broke the law but they are arrogant about it. This is not about the past, it’s about the future.

What are the chances of Justice Dept. lawyers investigating themselves for violating ethical guidelines or the law they committed on orders from Bush/Cheney/Gonzales?