Category Archives: Politics

No Way to Run a Justice System

Note: This piece is being simultaneously posted at autumninnewyork.net.

Not two years after moving to New York, the justice system turned its attention, randomly, I’m sure, to me by sending me a notice to report for jury duty. At the time, reporting would have conflicted with a business commitment, so I asked for, and received, an automatic deferral. I chose January 16 as my report date. Fate, of course, would inevitably intervene and an important business meeting was unavoidably scheduled for January 17.

That’s the beginning. When I wrote the first draft of this post, it was all minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow in the same excruciating detail as I experienced a wasted day-and-a-half of my life for no discernible purpose. Upon re-reading the draft, I realized it was boring, even to me, so I decided on another approach.

What was wrong with the process whereby I was called upon by the state to assist in the administration of justice for parties who had demanded a trial by jury, as guaranteed by law in appropriate cases? Just about everything. The process seemed like something from another time, a relic of the days when everything was done manually and the administrative process was a slave to established practice no matter how wasteful.

You are ordered to report, then after arrival in the Jury Assembly Room (452) are told that you may be there between one and three days. If you’ve already had a postponement, you can go down to Room 139 and make a pitch for further relief but if called while there you may be forced to return again for another stint. And the implication is that your chances down there are slim at best. So, I decide to take a chance and stay put. Mistake. I collect my Juror Questionnaire and fill it out. I foolishly think this is good because when the lawyers see it, they will immediately disqualify me and I can leave. Trial lawyers generally are extremely averse to having other lawyers on their juries.

I am eventually called with a group of 35 others to follow some lawyers to a courtroom where 10 are selected for voir dire, the questioning by counsel for the parties to determine if each individual can be “fair and impartial.” It is now apparent that the system is not designed for efficiently dealing with the group of prospective jurors. The lawyers are in charge now and they only collect the questionnaires from the first group of 10 prospects. They don’t know I’m here and they don’t care.

It turns out this is a personal injury case involving disputes about medical records, medical treatments, negligence and related issues. There are, we discover the next day, other lawyers in the group and a doctor as well. None will eventually serve on the jury, but it takes a full day and a half to determine that. The lawyers painstakingly, slowly, repetitively query the jury pool in groups of 10 to pick the final six jurors and two alternates. They are in no hurry and spend hours in the hallway reviewing questionnaires and negotiating over whom to select. The first group of 10 produced only 3 jurors. The second group, another 3, then a third group to get the two alternates.

I confess I was not a trial lawyer by experience, although I did litigate administrative and arbitration cases in my active legal career. Nevertheless, it did not take a lot of imagination to grasp that this process was designed for the benefit of the trial lawyers and gave little to no consideration to the jury pool that was stuck there for, potentially, three days just to settle on 8 people out of the pool of 35. And the trial itself, scheduled to start the following Tuesday, is estimated to take five days but “it could be longer if, for example, the judge has to hear motions in other matters.”

By way of example only, once a group is selected from the pool, the lawyers and all of the pool jurors in that group must return to the clerk’s office for processing out. It seems that every step in the process is calculated to consume more time and that no one, except some members of the jury pool, is an any hurry to move the process to conclusion.

On Day One, we arrive at 3:35 pm and it is finally time to question the second group of 10 prospects.

But, wait, we’d been told earlier that the stop time today was 4 pm. The attorneys inform us that since there is only 25 minutes left before the appointed end time, we’ll just knock off early. Report back tomorrow at 9:45. What? 9:45? What the hell kind of workday do these folks follow? Do they not understand that everyone in the jury pool has another life to pursue outside the jury selection process?

I approached the lawyers and explained who I was and that since I was pretty sure they would never select me, how about you just excuse me now? The answer was “no, we can’t control that and, besides, we might run out of prospects and want you on the jury anyway, but you can go try the clerk.” I rush downstairs and approach the clerk’s desk, only to hear her tell someone else, “once you’re in the pool, there is no way out.” So, no way out, even if the lawyers take three full days to finish selection.

I leave the courthouse and return home. I am uncertain whether I really heard that the start time tomorrow is 9:45 rather than the 8:45 the first day. So, I call the number on the yellow card we were instructed to collect that morning. A voice message, at 4:45 pm, says that the number is not part of the answering system and therefore no message can be left. “Goodbye.”

Let me cut to the end now. No point in prolonging the obvious. Suffice to say that I was never selected as a potential juror, never questioned and the lawyers finally chose the six jurors and two alternates. We then had to return to the clerk’s desk for final processing, a final speech by one of the clerks, and then … freedom. I bolt out of the courthouse to catch a cab to a business lunch that is going on without me.

A day and a half of monotonous, repetitious rehashing that could have been accomplished in less than half the time with the judicious use of some documents for prospective jurors to read, perhaps even in advance of coming to the courthouse. Turning over prospects to the control of the litigating lawyers means that the jurors’ interests may be completely disregarded if the lawyers are in no hurry to complete the process.

I well understand the need to assure that citizens do their duty as jurors in order to assure that litigants that want a trial by jury can have one. But I do not understand why the process is under the unsupervised control of the trial lawyers. I do not understand why the process seems to be the same as was used decades before modern technology became available. Much of the factual information painstakingly drawn from the pool members could have been collected in writing beforehand. If the trial lawyers were going to disqualify lawyers, doctors and other people in certain professions or who had experienced injuries similar to the one at issue in the case, all of that could have been ascertained in advance. Doing that would require systematic changes in the way the jury selection process works but it could be done if efficiency were regarded as relevant to the process.

The good news is that the ordeal will not be repeated for me for at least four years. The clerks gave us a piece of paper that we can use to resist being recalled by the state for that period. It even protects against federal court jury calls which may come because “the state and federal systems are not integrated.” No surprise there.

So, fine, I will state for the record now that if called after the four- year period ends, I will not serve again. Lock me up if you want, but at this late stage of my life, I am not going to give the courts any more of my time under a system that provides little or no respect for me as a citizen. They can do better if they try. I, for one, am done.

 

Archives Admits Mistake

The Washington Post reports that the National Archives has published an acknowledgement that it made a mistake in altering photographs of the 2017 Women’s March in a display about women’s suffrage. https://wapo.st/38nEtcg Even more remarkably, it has apologized without the usual qualifications that “official apologies” often have these days. You know the ones: “we take our obligations very seriously and are sorry if anyone was offended by what we did/said.”

Kudos to the Archives for offering no further excuses and for recognizing outright that its alteration of historical records, the essence of its reason for existence, was wrong.

There is only one matter outstanding. The Archives said it was going to take steps to prevent such an action from being repeated. Good. It is, however, important that it publish the “new procedures” that are going to assure that is true. The unnerving effects of this episode will linger until there are formal processes in place on which the public can rely.

If we were not living in a disinformation nightmare instigated and maintained by the Trump administration, there might be less concern. But the nightmare is here and we have seen many instances of the machinery of government turned perversely to serve the personal political and economic interests of the president and his family. It is therefore essential that the Archives publish the formal steps it is taking to prevent repetition of this unhappy business.

Words Fail Me

Well, not quite. Don’t get your hopes up just yet.

I refer to the overpowering anger I experienced (and still feel hours later) upon reading the Washington Post’s recounting of the decision by the National Archives to blur out portions of photographs from the 2017 Women’s March for an exhibit celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage. https://wapo.st/2TzSTSo [Note: if you can’t access the story because you lack a subscription, you should get one. Not that expensive and we need to support the surviving independent journalism of the free press lest we lose it]

The gist of this latest outrageous deferral to the childish bigoted misogynist mind of Donald Trump is a decision by the National Archives, supported by the archivist of the United States, to digitally obscure words that, had they been left in, could constitute engagement in “current political controversy.” The word “Trump” was removed from signs held by marchers that said, “God Hates Trump” and “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women.” Note that “GOP” was left on the latter sign in the photo exhibit. Only Trump’s name was removed.

If that weren’t bad enough, and it is, the Archives also removed references to parts of women’s anatomy from some signs [avert your eyes, children, we don’t want you to know about women’s’ anatomy; education is bad for you]: ‘vagina’ (yes, VAGINA!!! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! THE HORROR, THE HORROR!) was blurred out on signs that said, “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED.”

Clearly those women marchers (and supportive men like me who were there too) were intent on bringing down the nation’s morals, undermining democracy and, THE HORROR, exposing viewers of the exhibit to unwanted attention to parts of women’s’ bodies.

By now, I’m sure you’ve also figured out that the word “pussy” was obliterated from signs that read, ““This Pussy Grabs Back.” Those signs, of course, refer to the statement of that paragon of moral virtue, Donald Trump, that “when you’re a star, they [women] let you do it. You can do anything…. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

So, it is clear beyond a reasonable doubt that these decisions were driven by a desire to avoid showing how women felt about the president during the Women’s March. The signs were part of historical photographs of the March. And the Archives decided that they were too much for the public to see because WHY? Because Trump wouldn’t like it. This is the same Trump that, along with his wife, dismissed the statements as just “boy talk” and “locker room talk.”  Apparently, the Archives is more concerned about the statements than the person who made them.

Given other attitudes Trump has expressed and that some people claim that the Civil War was about a “northern invasion” and that slavery had nothing to do with it, we can now expect the Archives will surely want to avoid “current political controversy”  by removing the bodies of Confederate soldiers from historical exhibits of Civil War battles. And, of course, no more photos of slaves. Should the Archives do an exhibit about the Holocaust, we can expect it to remove all evidence of bodies because there are still fools, and Nazis, who claim that the Holocaust never happened. Can’t risk offending them, can we?

And those pictures of American astronauts on the moon? Forget it. Just show the moon lander and the flag but no astronauts because there are people who claim the moon landing by astronauts was faked. Can’t offend them either.

Rather than avoiding “current political controversy,” the Archives has landed squarely in the middle of it by doing what the leadership of Soviet Russia did when they caused photos of the Politburo to be cleansed of “displaced” leaders. The Archives has also copied the techniques of Nazi Germany in “fixing” historical records. Once you start down the path of this type of “cleansing,” there is no end to it.

In an utterly lame and tone-deaf attempt to defend its decision to alter the historical record, the Archives sad, “Our mission is to safeguard and provide access to the nation’s most important federal records, and our exhibits are one way in which we connect the American people to those records. Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.”

The problem with that is, of course, that the Archives did not provide access to the “records.” It provided access to records it wanted you to see without upsetting the president. In other words, we want you to see the records but only the records we think you, and our Dear Leader, can handle without getting upset. Because we all know what happens when Trump gets upset. We must avoid upset even if it means suppressing the truth.

Understandably, the Post reported, “Archive officials did not respond to a request to provide examples of previous instances in which the Archives altered a document or photograph so as not to engage in political controversy.”

It did say, “The decision to blur references to women’s genitals was made because the museum hosts many groups of students and young people and the words could be perceived as inappropriate.”  I suppose no students or “young people” read the newspapers or watch TV or music videos either, so, of course, the Archives is just trying to align with everyone else in denying information so we can keep students and “young people” uninformed about female anatomy. How thoughtful of the Archives to manage the national morality this way.

The Post quotes Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley saying, “If they don’t want to use a specific image, then don’t use it. But to confuse the public is reprehensible. The head of the Archives has to very quickly fix this damage. A lot of history is messy, and there’s zero reason why the Archives can’t be upfront about a photo from a women’s march.”

Wendy Kline, a history professor at Purdue University, is quoted as saying, “Doctoring a commemorative photograph buys right into the notion that it’s okay to silence women’s voice and actions,” Kline said in an email. “It is literally erasing something that was accurately captured on camera. That’s an attempt to erase a powerful message.”

The article also mentions that Getty Images, the owner of the images, licensed them for use by the Archives but that it was unclear at press time whether Getty had approved the alterations. But Getty is not the Archives. Whether or not it approves of the alteration is total irrelevant in judging the decision to alter the photos for public consumption. Getty can do whatever it wants with its property on its own website but is not the arbiter of what is appropriate for the National Archives.

This, I suggest, is what happens when the government bends its knee to the Executive Branch, distorting history without even disclosing what it has done until called out for it. The Trump Administration has made itself unique in American history by the level of graft and corruption among presidential appointees, not to mention the president himself. This corruption has infected the work of the executive agencies to an unprecedented degree. In this unbelievable and outrageous example of the Archives being afraid to offend the president, and thus willing to distort historical records presented for public display, we see just how far the effects of the president’s corruption have extended.

The Archives must immediately either reverse the digital distortion of these photographs. If it’s so worried about upsetting children and “young people,” it can take other measures to warn about the content and let the parents and “young people” decide what they want to see. Making such decision is not the proper business of the government, at least not one serving a democracy rather than a dictator.

 

Money, Money, Money ….

You hopefully recognize the lines from the movie version of the musical Cabaret in which Liza Minelli and Joel Grey sing

Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round

A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around
That clinking clanking sound
Can make the world go ’round

And so on, humorously, but with underlying cynicism about what motivates people to act, or not act. The full lyrics can be found here. https://genius.com/John-kander-money-song-lyrics  and a YouTube video of the movie masterpiece, here: https://bit.ly/2rVMplk

We’ve been seeing a lot of recent press reports fawning over the large contributions haul that Donald Trump has accrued, with the suggestion, but, as usual, with no real proof, that his money-raising success is attributable to public backlash against his impeachment by the House of Representatives. Indeed, these claims are made despite multiple polls showing the majority of Americans think it’s time for Trump’s removal for high crimes and misdemeanors. A lot of the publicity about the money seems intended to demoralize Democrats.

But all this gushing over Trump’s financial haul (even assuming, improbably, he/they are not lying about the sums he’s getting, a partial truth still being a lie), the full picture is quite different.

Let’s consider what is actually happening on the Democratic side of the fundraising ledger. Politico reports, “Democrats are riding a massive surge of presidential campaign cash into 2020.” https://politi.co/39GUuvq

The current Democratic presidential contenders and the Democratic National Committee combined raised over $480 million in the last year — more than President Donald Trump’s reelection machine brought in during that time. [emphasis added]

This occurred despite the huge advantage that an incumbent president normally has, the division of Democratic efforts among an unusually large number of hopefuls and the traditional Republican advantage among the big-money donors, whose support Republicans are completely happy to accept even when it comes with major expectations of favors later to be granted. Money, Money Money ….

To be sure, there are issues for Democrats in the fundraising area, but also offsetting considerations, as noted by Politico,

Though the [Democratic] party is about to spend much of the money raised on a tough primary while Trump builds up resources to take on the eventual nominee, the millions of contributions to Democrats in $10 or $20 increments signal massive enthusiasm from the party grassroots heading into the election year.

Some of that enthusiasm may derive from the growing awareness that Trump is also stealing a lot of money from the taxpayers to cover the cost of his incessant golf trips to his properties and the cost of his political “rallies” at which he spends his time attacking his “enemies” (the press, Democrats, the Constitution, teenagers like  Greta Thunberg and the survivors of the school shootings, and on and on).

Is there anything on the horizon that should dim the enthusiasm that Democrats currently show? Maybe. It has been speculated almost since Trump took office that, if he felt his power position genuinely threatened, he would stop at nothing to save himself, including starting a war somewhere. It may be that the recent decision to kill the top Iranian military commander with a drone strike was just that moment everyone has dreaded. Only time will tell how this plays out politically. Some young people will no doubt be satisfied to sacrifice their careers and perhaps their lives to live out Trump’s fantasies about global power and “America First,” but many others, and their parents and other family members, will likely blanch at the prospect of forced military service to support a war that Trump promised would not happen on his watch.

Trump can’t go more than a few hours without tweeting about the impeachment that he claims is unwarranted. He protests way too much for an innocent man, especially one who knows he has the Republican Party in his back pocket, no matter what he does. Tweeting and starting a war won’t save him. If anything, these actions should inspire Democrats to contribute more.

The main hope is that once the in-fighting is over, the Democratic Party will unite around whoever is the nominee and the real donations will flow in. Trump will spend without limit, even if he has to drain his businesses (more bankruptcies won’t concern him at all) to do it. And, of course, he probably hasn’t begun to think of creative ways to make taxpayers cover more of his campaign costs.

Democrats better get sharp with their messaging. Trump has provided a literal gold mine of material to use against him. I understand that his so-called “base” will likely not be moved by any evidence of wrong-doing or incompetence on Trump’s part, but there are plenty of movable voters who should not be written off just because they voted for Trump in 2016. Much has happened since the last election and almost none of it is favorable to Trump. The question is whether the Democratic Party and its leadership will be as smart and tough as the Trump machine that knows no bounds of decency or honesty. That is not to argue that Democrats should emulate Trump and the Republican Party’s conduct but that it should be very focused on using that conduct against Trump’s re-election campaign. Rope-a-dope and all the rest. Just do it.

And meanwhile, prepare to keep the money, money money … coming in. It’s time also to narrow the field and get to the end game – a nominee that can not only defeat Trump but also be a leader worthy of the United States of America, a leader who can recognize the faults in our history but with the vision to create a better country for the future. We need a leader who can understand how to be strong and peaceable at the same time, who can respect differences but unite the country behind a benevolent vision that sustains everyone, not just the people already at the top.

 

F**king Liberals

As previously reported, it was a cold and wet night in New York City for Impeachment Eve. That did not stop the thousands upon thousands of loyal Americans from joining a rally and march from Times Square (46th & Broadway) to Union Square (14th Street & Park Avenue). The large crowd was enthusiastic and angry. The repeated chants of “Ho, Ho, Donald Trump has got to GO!” and “Impeach Trump – REMOVE!” were rendered with gusto. There were some amusing signs but most were direct in their recognition that the occupant of the White House is a criminal and traitor to American values. Considering the weather, the turnout for this event was extraordinary. New York’s Finest were turned out in force to block streets where necessary to let the march pass unimpeded.

Meanwhile, back in the White House, the president of the United States was likely going berserk. Having already produced a tyrannical and hysterical rant letter of six pages to the Speaker of the House, packed as usual with dissembling and lies, what is left? He could break up some furniture that, after all, doesn’t belong to him so why would he care? Better yet, he could do some tweeting. I haven’t checked but I’m betting that’s what he did. And continues to do today.

Anyway, the march in New York City was remarkable. As far as I’m aware, there was no pushback from Trump “supporters” except one relatively young man with a large backpack who pushed past us on the sidewalk muttering aloud, “f**king liberals!” Otherwise, the crowd was of one mind. We were impressed to see the diversity of ages, including elderly folks walking with canes and many young adults who recognize the danger that Trumpism represents to their future.

I have set out below a small sample of photos from the event, mostly rendered in “night vision.” We were not alone, of course, as the internet is alive with photos from around the country as groups large and small went outside to show their contempt for this president and his enablers.

We all understand that the Republicans in the Senate are not going to convict Trump. Their position is that they don’t care what crimes he may have committed. He is their man and they are going to stick with him to the end. They apparently live under the illusion that they will be in control of the federal government forever and therefore there will be no day of reckoning. That is, of course, the ultimate question: will the majority of Americans accept the destruction of their democracy or will they rise up and assure that truth, justice and the American way prevail in 2020? If Impeachment Eve is any guide, the answer is YES.

Impeachment Eve

NOTE: Feel free to share this post with anyone you wish.

Tomorrow evening (Tuesday), rallies will be held around the country in anticipation of the House vote on the Articles of Impeachment against Donald Trump. The weather forecast for New York City (wet and cold) notwithstanding, we will be participating in the Times Square event. At last count 589 events were scheduled around the country. If you’re reading this, you can almost certainly find an event close enough to attend.

When asked what kind of government the new Constitution would produce, Ben Franklin famously said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” That is the essence of the question before us now.

While news reports indicate that the House Democrats have the votes to adopt the impeachment articles, it is important to show strength of conviction now and actively support the impeachment effort. If it’s cold where you live, add some layers, buy pocket warmers, do whatever it takes to join the thousands, nay, the tens of thousands who will be demonstrating in support of the House action to impeach Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors.

If you harbor doubts about whether the impeachment is warranted, I urge you to search for the editorials of the New York Times or the many other major papers that have come out in favor of impeachment. Here is a sample of the some of those papers:

Los Angeles Times

Boston Globe

New York Daily News

Chicago Sun-Times

USAToday

Washington Post

Philadelphia Enquirer

San Francisco Chronicle

Orlando Sentinel

Salt Lake Tribune

Tampa Bay Times

The Republican arguments against impeachment have changed so many times it is impossible to comprehend in cogently logical terms the principles or concepts on which their defense is based. In the end, it comes down to “So what? Who cares?” They simply refuse to acknowledge what the White House-manufactured “transcript” says Trump demanded. They argue that he was really only interested in curing corruption in Ukraine even though corruption was not mentioned in the call with Ukraine President Zelensky.

I will not go into the details of all that at length. If you aren’t persuaded by now that Donald Trump is a corrupt violator of the U.S. Constitution, including his oath of office, and American law, nothing I can say here will persuade you.

But I will say this, that I believe is true beyond a doubt: the fate of the democracy we know as the United States of America, imperfect though it may be, is in grave danger. It is no exaggeration to compare the Republican subservience to Donald Trump and the resulting disinformation campaigns to the events that subverted Germany in the 1930s. Many serious thinkers, historians and legal experts, have warned of these dangers.

I understand that the Republican-dominated Senate is not going to convict Trump. The Senate Majority Leader has already publicly stated that the Senate Republicans will coordinate with the accused and do whatever the president wants. Senator Lindsey Graham, who formerly condemned Trump as a “nut job,” has stated that he is not even going to read the evidence before voting against impeachment. It is nonetheless vital that the evidence of Trump’s perfidy be presented for action.

Suffice to say, then, that the burden is upon us as individuals to be a little uncomfortable and to take action to challenge the narrative on which the Republican Party has chosen to stand. If we fail to do enough, we may regret it forever.

 

 

Hero of the Week

No, it’s not any of the Democratic politicians who brought articles of impeachment against the criminal traitor Donald Trump (because they omitted the 10 cases of blatant obstruction of justice from the Mueller Report – more about that in another post).

No, my Hero of the Week is Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo who ripped into Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn for their corrupt alliance with the National Rifle Association that the Sheriff said was ultimately responsible for the death of the officer he was there to bury [https://bit.ly/2RAg7XA]:

I don’t want to see their little smug faces about how much they care about law enforcement when I’m burying a sergeant because they don’t want to piss off the NRA.

Referring to the three senators, Sheriff Acevedo also said:

Make up your minds. Whose side are you on? Gun manufacturers, the gun lobby — or the children that are getting gunned down in this country every single day?

The Violence Against Women Act is stalled in the Senate in part because

the NRA doesn’t like the fact that we want to take firearms out of the hands of boyfriends that abuse their girlfriends …. You’re either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you’re here for the NRA.

This is a law enforcement officer who speaks his mind. He is angry because he witnesses the real-life consequences of the Republicans’ refusal to advance legislation that might affect the position of the NRA that any restriction on access to guns is unacceptable. Cornyn is cited in the referenced article as, typically, blaming the bill’s failure to advance on the Democrats who won’t “negotiate” because they are focused on the small matter of a criminal traitor sitting in the White House with the support of, naturally, the Texas senatorial delegation and, of course, #MoscowMitch. I saw a TV clip yesterday of Cruz claiming that it was true that Ukraine interfered in the U.S. election in 2016, another example of gaslighting the nation with false narratives promoted by Russia for which zero evidence has been found to exist. Cruz cited a public statement made by an official in Ukraine to support his case, but it is blatantly obvious to any thinking person that expressing an opinion about something is not “interference” in an electoral process. Cruz is just another Trump toady.

In any case, kudos to Sheriff Acevedo for speaking the truth under the difficult circumstance of burying a fellow officer who died in the line of duty answering a domestic disturbance call involving an abusive boyfriend. The blood on NRA’s hands continues to mount. One day they will drown in it and good riddance.