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.