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Advice to a Young Lawyer

I started this blog to have a venue for social and political commentary. It fell into the latter, with the former taking a supporting role.   I suppose politics profoundly impact society, so any political commentary implicitly addresses social issues.

This entry takes a different tack, being a collection of lessons which I’ve learned in thirty-five years of practicing law. I don’t know who will find these musings helpful. Rather than “young”, I might stress “new”. Practicing law poses challenges that transcend the age when you commence. By the same token, I can only speak as a woman; male lawyers might encounter different issues or view the same questions from the unique perspective of their gender.

I find the practice of law to be a continuing challenge to my sense of morality. Each time I turn on my computer, even now, with only a few cases open in my Missouri practice, I cringe at the thought of work left undone or deadlines not docketed. Though I don’t do much hourly billing, I also have the Loren G. Rea Mantra playing in my head on a constant loop: Keep track of your time; keep track of your time; keep track of your time.    The immutables of law intertwine with the my old boss’s cardinal rule.  What deadlines cannot be extended?  Statute of Limitations; anything jurisdictional.  What else??

Have a good docket system, people.  Dual-docket, with each of them created from original sources, not each other.  Electronic or paper doesn’t much matter.  Do what works.  Bear in mind that systems only work as well as the people using them.

Acknowledge that which you do not know.  Most times when I have guessed without confirming my suspicion, I have been wrong in some material aspect.  How long do you have to file that motion? Do you count the last day?  The first?  If you know the rule by heart, you still need to be sure it hasn’t been amended since you committed it to rote recollection.  As my tax professor said, the first rule of statutory construction is read the statute.  The second rule?  Keep reading.

No judge will accept as authority the lawyer down the hall from you, or someone you once watched try a case.  In most jurisdictions, every action you undertake on behalf of your clients has already been attempted and contemplated by a rule, a statute, a regulation, or an interpretative appellate decision.  The lawyer who fails to ascertain deadlines, procedures, and controlling principles flirts with disbarment or worse:  prejudice to your client.

Yes, I said that prejudicing your client would be worse than disbarment.  We owe our clients a fiduciary duty, and, as you know, a fiduciary duty stands higher than any known to the law.  Fail yourself, and you have to find a new way of earning money to meet your obligations.  Fail your clients, and they suffer in immeasurable ways.  They lose property, money, causes of action, and rights.  Some of that loss cannot be reclaimed, even by your malpractice insurance.  Guard their rights more closely than you protect your own livelihood.  Bear in mind that protecting them serves you as well; if you don’t commit malpractice or ethical violations, you keep your ticket.

Disdain controversy.  If you scratch your head at that notion, go back to square one, to a pre-bar-exam state of mind.  The lawyer who says he or she intends to be in court every day overlooks the monumental evidence that trials lead to wins and losses but hardly ever at a level which compensates for the outlay in money and emotion.  You hear about huge verdicts, true; but you don’t hear about the over-turned awards, the hung juries, and the defense victories.  The percentage of successful appeals wouldn’t fill a quart jar compared with those in which the trial court’s decision passes muster.

The slim potential of a knock-out stands as only one reason that you should promote settlement.  The costs and attorneys’ fees eat at the gross recovery.  Emotional toil and length of time before payment add to the analysis in which you should engage with your client before recommending that they reject a reasonable offer.  Even more true for a family law client:  If you are in court every day for anything other than putting a stipulation on the record or attending a status conference, in most cases you’re doing it wrong.  Oh, there are situations where no settlement can be had in a family law case, but few — the marriage tainted by abuse or addiction come to mind.

Avoid controversy on a micro-cosmic scale as well.  Never choose a course of action in order to irritate someone, increase their legal bill, or thwart legitimate progress in litigation.  Get along with your colleagues, the judges and their clerks, and those on the front lines — court reporters, bailiffs, and administrative personnel included. In my darker years, I failed to understand the importance of good cheer to my survival in the practice.  People remembered me as the girl with the scowl.  It took decades to mellow; more importantly, it took many years for me to learn how to prevent my difficulties from poisoning the well of my greater world.

Avoid taking a case in which you have no experience solely because you need the money.  I’ve done that.  Make no mistake about my advice.  To a one, this essay contains lessons learned by trudging down my own rocky road.   If you add your incompetence to the troubles which besiege your client, you do them no favors.  Get experienced co-counsel; second-chair hearings and trials on a volunteer basis; observe; read; learn.  Enroll in CLEs designed to broaden and deepen your knowledge.  You can take a case with which you have little familiarity as long as you make full disclosure to your clients and do not charge them for your learning curve.  But as Professor Jim Jeans observed about objections, nearly everything we do in the practice of law can be resolved with two questions:  Can you?  If you can, should you?

My best advice applies to every situation in life.  Figure out what your client needs.  Employ tactics and strategies that provide maximum potential for success.  Compute a fair charge.  Tell your client everything; fully disclose the good, the bad, the difficult, and the distasteful.  Never guarantee result.  Promise only hard work.  Don’t overplay your talent or the chances for success. Apply yourself with diligence, thoroughness, and dedication. Know when to recommend a change of course or goal.

Keep your client informed.    Send copies of what you do and of what you receive.  Return telephone calls.    Listen to what they have to say.  If you don’t want to serve humanity, change careers or find a position which allows you to sit in an office and eschew contact with the recipient of the end product.

Check your arrogance at the door.  I tell this story often, so if you’ve heard it before now, my apologies.  I once dated a PhD / MD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis.  He took me to his department’s Christmas party. On the way home, he looked sideways at me in the darkness of the car.

“I saw you talking to Dr. So-and-so,” he remarked.  “What did the two of you discuss?”

I grinned and gushed.  “Oh, he was a good conversationalist!  He asked about my graduate work and my job in Jeff City.  I told him about my volunteer work and my writing.”

The car fell silent.  My friend finally asked, “Did he happen to tell you that he just won a Nobel prize for his research?”

The truly accomplished rarely need to brag.  Don’t put on airs.  Being an attorney is your profession.  It took hard work to get your law degree and your license.  But it doesn’t give you quality of character.  Your dedication to a sound set of values dictates your worthiness of respect.  Every job keeps the world  functioning, whether it be waiting tables, unclogging toilets, or brain surgery.  You aren’t better than others just because you finished law school.  I don’t use “Esquire” or “J.D.” after my name, nor do I use the label “attorney” as a title.   I don’t want anyone to think that I consider myself superior to them on any basis, least of all the supposed relative merits of our occupations.

Surround yourself with people who follow these rules.  The righteous road  doesn’t have to be lonely.  Despite public sentiment as evidenced by the plethora of lawyer jokes, most attorneys just plod away, surrounded by piles of paper that they despair of managing.  They wake in the night terrified of the dire consequences of those stacks of untouched files.  They race to the office at dawn, work furiously til late afternoon, then fall upon greasy carry-out like starving hyenas.  At dusk they limp back to their houses and fret through the evening.  At holiday gatherings, they endure the cackles of their cousins who needle them about how rich they must be.  They silently calculate how much they make by the hour, taking into account all the hours for which they cannot bear to bill.

I’ve been a lawyer since 1983.  I find this profession to be immensely satisfying.  Nothing quite beats walking on land that you’ve saved from foreclosure, or shaking hands with a family just made larger by adoption.  The gleam in the eye of your client when the puzzle pieces fall into place makes the anguish worthwhile.  I consider myself a helper, someone who thrives on assisting people to overcome their burdens.  The trappings of what I call “fancy law” never appealed to me — the luxurious office, the expensive suits, the cocktail parties, and the country clubs.  At the end of the day, I wanted every client who entrusted me with a segment of their lives to be glad that they did.    Win, lose, or settle, if your clients don’t regret hiring you, you’ve probably done your best.

The practice of law can be a field of landmines through which you must gingerly navigate, holding your client’s hand and calming the beating of your frantic heart.  When you collapse on the other side, your victorious relief will be sweeter if your good name and your client’s case survived as well.  Step carefully, my friend.  And remember:  We’re all bozos on this bus.

 

 

Denier-in-Chief

I have long resisted the temptation to make this social-political blog my entire existence.  If I wrote about every despicable turn of events to which America and the world has been subjected by the current White House, I would do nothing else. I could not get to work, fix dinner, or even use the tiny facilities in my tiny house on wheels.

I don’t mind picking my battles. I also don’t mind protesting each absurdity and every shred of the worthlessness emerging from the White House these days.  But many folks call eloquent attention to the would-be emperor’s nakedness.  I haven’t felt the daily or weekly need to lend my less deftly phrased protest to their excellence.

But the denial of climate change coming in endless nauseating waves from this administration on the heels of its bombardment of innocents with tear gas over the weekend terrifies and confounds me.  I don’t know which straw broke this camel’s back.  The atrocity and unlawfulness of Trump’s policy towards refugees cannot be understated.  But his blatant disregard of what we have done to our environment also horrifies me.

The current federal authorities on the subject released a report confirming both the existence of climate change and the contribution made by humans to its serious acceleration.  The response from Trump?  Denial. “I don’t believe it,” he blurts into the microphone.  He flatly rejects the report.

I ask myself, “is he stupid?  Does he have dementia? Or does this serve some Trump-ish authoritarian end that I can’t see?” I shake my head.  In fact, the collective response seems to be stunned disbelief.

I search for the perfect way to articulate my horror at Trump’s irresponsibility.   As always, I turn to other, better, writers to find a clean expression of what I feel.

In a different context, Teasdale reflects on Mother Earth reasserting herself after we occasion our demise:

There Will Come Soft Rains
Sara Teasdale, 1884 – 1933

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

And Robert Frost speculates on how the world will be destroyed:

Fire and Ice

By Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

As for myself, I see the destruction of the world threatened by the hatred of Trump and his ilk, who would let the climate falter because it does not serve their greed to save it; who would let the armies gather because it does not serve their greed to promote peace; who build walls to keep frightened children at bay because it does not serve their greed to maintain the welcome of Lady Liberty to those arriving weary on our shores.
It’s a damn shame what Trump and his supporters have done to our nation.  I do not know who will stop them.  But I do know that we must keep trying.  If the effort causes us to stumble, we must call to mind the precious life which surrounds u.  We must look into the eyes of the children; of the poor, the tired, those yearning to breathe free.  We must behold the purple mountain’s majesty; the amber waves of grain; the spacious skies.  We must then struggle to our feet.  We must not relent.  We must #resist.

Another Day Which Will Live in Infamy

As a licensed Missouri attorney with 35 years of practice on my resume, I consider the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to be a devastating blow to the future of American Justice.  His temperament and proclivity for evasive responses demonstrate his unsuitability for that office.  The positions he has taken on presidential power and his accusations of conspiracy mar his potential effectiveness.  The manner in which he behaves will detract from the credibility of the Court. Moreover, as a survivor of the type of sexual assault of which he stood accused, and the child of an alcoholic, I see his past conduct as creating indelible stains on the fabric of his life which should have disqualified him.

I am not alone in my beliefs, but others disagree. I never doubted his future confirmation.  I thought the road might be rockier but only once did I falter in  my pessimistic air.  On the morning that I read of the Jesuits and the ABA withdrawing their support, I saw a glimmer of hope.  But that hope never rose to enthusiasm and soon died.

I don’t think the American people really care about the Supreme Court, but passion runs high on the issues which it has decided.  Civil rights, the scope and applicability of immigration policies, and abortion fall in the overlap of the American consciousness with its lack of concern.  Only we lawyers and issue-centric activists feel strongly about the make-up of the bench, because we understand the power and import of its rulings.  In a few years, as cases meander up the federal food chain, the nation itself will begin to feel the impact of this infamous decision.  Some will groan. Others will chortle.  All will see what we see now:  The monumental impact of this change.

Kavanaugh’s appointment  drew more fervor than it might have because of the public nature of the hearings into his character prompted by the courage of Dr. Blasey Ford, his principal accuser.  Because of her, throngs of sexual assault victims and their advocates marched on the offices of Kavanaugh’s supporters.  Trump and McConnell claim that “mob rule” backfired and assured his appointment, but that ploy smacks of victim-shaming in the extreme.  McConnell would have gotten Kavanaugh appointed in any event.  Had he been voted down, a period of waiting would have preceded a renomination.  Kavanaugh would be seated.

The passion roused by his nomination and the disclosures made about him will bloom on both sides. Advocates of protecting survivors will not stop protesting.  Conservatives will agitate each other to fight the rise of what they characterize as the leftist mob.  The divide in this great nation will deepen until it threats to crack and shatter the country which I love.

There lies the greatest shame.  Our nation has been even more deeply marred.  Rather than simply advancing a conservative agenda, this administration put forth a candidate whose appointment would accentuate the differences on each side of the political aisle.  Remember:  Divided we fall; United we stand.  Trump cannot let the country heal because he cannot conquer its beautiful shores if its people stand as one.

I look at the ruination which Trump has made of the progress in America in the two years of his administration and I weep.  I never cared if he cheated on his former wife with his current one, or his current wife with an actress.  I didn’t mind that I have seen photographs of the First Lady without clothing.  What they did in their marriage,  how they earned a living, has nothing to do with the potential of their effective service to this nation.

Unless:

Unless those efforts exemplify their character and drive, in which case, their marital infidelity and proclivity for certain conduct suggests the danger which they bring to America.

And that is why I consider Saturday, 06 October 2018, to be a day which will live in infamy.  On that day, a president without regard for women seated a justice without regard for women on the bench of the highest court in the nation.  Trump treats the oval office and its associated power like a tool for advancing his interests.  Packing the Supreme Court with men of similar caliber to himself serves Trump’s interests.  He could have chosen a conservative justice who would bring a thoughtful, intelligent, honorable demeanor to the bench. Instead, he nominated, and got confirmed, a man who likes beer and who made his name in high school, college, and law school as a bully.

Just like Trump, who bragged well into his adult life about grabbing women by the pussy.

After Kavanaugh’s confirmation, I joked on Twitter about responding to judges’ questioning of me during oral argument by yelling at them, which I would defend by citing “Kavanaugh rules”.  But I would not really do that, because I was taught to behave without the appearance of impropriety, a code which neither Trump nor Kavanaugh seem to revere.    The other differences between us more starkly and surely impact all of society, because they now wield unlimited power, and I have only one small vote and a tiny platform on which to raise my voice against the infamy to which our country has been subjected.

But I will raise it.  I will not be silenced.  And if there is a list being made of those who oppose Trump, please spell  my name right when you add me to that list.  I will be honored to be included among great American heroes who protested the ruination of our land and the demise of this once-great experiment.

Like Christine Blasey Ford, I consider speaking out to be my civic duty, and I will not be silenced.

#VoteThemOut

#LandOfTheFree

#HomeOfTheBrave

Trigger Warning: #IBelieve

This is not the time or place to detail the sexual assaults which I survived.  I could do that, but you would lose yourself in sympathy, horror, or both.  You would miss my point.  Suffice it to say, that both before and after puberty, boys/men touched me in sexual ways, without consent, using force, and causing both physical damage and emotional harm.

On several occasions, I did not understand the exact nature of what had  happened due to my age or naivety.  But even then, I knew that I had been subjected to a terrible violation. In later years, high school, college, and beyond, I understood the full import of what occurred.

Again:  Details would trigger some and derail others.  A few would assume exaggeration or untruths.  So I will not say what happened, but I will tell you what these events did to me, why I never told, and how Christine Blasey Ford’s public testimony moved me.

I never told because I believed that  the abuses inflicted on me only happened to worthless girls.  You could argue that I devalued myself before they occurred.  But these experiences confirmed my defective state.  Disclosing the abuses would announce to the world that I should not be around “good girls” and the boys/men who dated them, married them, and walked proudly with them down the street for all the world to see.

I also believed that I deserved to be mistreated.  My worthlessness justified any ill-treatment, especially by boys/men.  I endured the abuses because I believed myself to be no better than a whipping post.  If I had been prettier, smarter, less crippled, then I’d be treated nicely.  Boys would invite me to prom, give me their class rings or letter jackets, and take me home to their moms.  Men would call me and arrange dates where they’d strut beside me, holding my hand.

Of course, I know better now.  Plenty of beautiful women suffer sexual assault and abuse.  Able-bodied girls do also.  Survivors come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  But abuse does that too you. It causes or reinforces every insecurity.  When you suffer enough abuse, your entire perception of yourself warps.  Your self-image assumes the contours of the abuser’s disdain for you.

As I moved through adulthood, I wanted to forget what had been done to me, even those episodes which I believed myself to have invited.  I became steely, and in due course, brittle.  The shell which I folded around my spirit prevented me from collapse, but also repelled all but the most noble of love from touching me.  Sexual abuse and assault damages the survivor in immutable ways.  We know that trauma literally changes neuro-pathways.  The trauma-survivor becomes someone that his or her original biology did not dictate.  The post-traumatic person struggles to maintain relationships and have authentic engagements.  Supreme patience can enable a meaningful connection.  But without extraordinary personal effort; professional treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy;  or both; those of us who have experienced severe trauma stumble through life without solid and lasting romantic partners and friendships.

Adding insult to injury, often survivors face skepticism.  I’ve described the physical abuse which characterized my childhood to many intimates (friends, lovers, husbands) in an effort to normalize my experiences.  I’ve often been met with disbelief.  One person even said, after ending our relationship, that he “always assumed that [I had] made up all that stuff about [my] dad”.  Uh, no.  But thanks for setting the record straight. I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of my life mistakenly thinking that you believed me.

The same disbelief magnifies when a rape or sexual assault survivor “tells”.

I can’t say why no one wants to believe that rape and other sexual assaults occur.  I can speculate; I can repeat what studies show.  But I do know this:  Most people do not want to hear what happened to others.  They turn deaf ears on a survivor’s story.  It doesn’t actually matter what motivates people to harden their hearts when a survivor attempts to tell their story.  The fact that no one wants to listen tells us enough.  We close within ourselves.  The repulsion reverberates tenfold inside our minds.  The pain grows, a cancerous parasite that overwhelms and sickens us.

Only the truly empathetic human can love a shattered soul.  I understand the fortitude required to remain despite the damage that the survivor must overcome.  My knowledge compels me to praise Russell Ford, the husband of Christine Blasey Ford.  He knew.  He stayed.  He accepted.  He endured.

Thus we come to what this experience means to me.  Put aside the wretchedness of having  a lying sexual predator who disavows his own alcohol struggles assume the robe of a Supreme Court Justice. Do not, for a moment, attend to the wholly unsuitable character of a deeply partisan judge remaining on the bench.  Ignore the narcissistic temper tantrum of a job applicant who assumes that he is entitled to the position for which he has applied.

Focus instead on the courage of his accuser.  Dr. Blasey Ford came forward despite her fear.  She had no hope of personal gain.  In fact, she knew that she and her family would be harassed, challenged, and threatened.  She strove to keep her name confidential, to avoid the fray.  She had no political motivation.  She only spoke from a sense of  civic duty to disclose potentially disqualifying information.  She came forward to provide testimony that could prevent an immoral and abusive man from being appointed to a position which demands that its occupant have an unassailable character.

Her courage gives me hope.  I don’t expect that any of my abusers will be in the public light.  Some have died.  Others faded into the namelessness of personal failure.  I don’t expect to ever  face the public and answer questions about what I have survived.

But Dr.  Blasey Ford showed me something for which I realize I have longed.  She showed me that one could survive sexual assault and still be lovable.  One can walk through the putrid taint of demoralizing infamy and endure.   I don’ t know if Dr. Blasey Ford’s demons still haunt her.  I cannot tell whether she feels the shame which I imagine she felt for many years, or the terror, though she suggested that she does.  But she stepped forward; she spoke; and so, in the end, she showed all of us that we can be survivors; that we can cast aside the mantle of victimhood; that we can walk through the storm; that our abusers do not have to win.  She showed us that all of this remains true, even in the face of eleven stony men who pretend to listen, but who clearly do not, and will not, believe us.

#IBelieveChristineBlaseyFord

#IStillBelieveAnitaHill

#IBelieveSurvivors

#IBelieveMyself

 

 

 

Harmony in a World of Difference

I got into trouble on social media this week for a comment made in one forum with which I had been successful in another.  No one in the forum where I found disfavor knew me.  Everyone in the second forum did.  That spelled the difference between understanding and outrage.

The subject in both forums concerned the young man killed in Dallas by an off-duty police officer.  In specific, both threads discussed the appalling release of information regarding the results of a search warrant on the victim’s apartment.  Those searching found marijuana.  Most of us in each comment line felt that those releasing the fact and results of the search strove to discredit the victim.  I labeled the move “victim-shaming” and condemned it.

In both venues, I mentioned that other classes of victims experience this outrageous tactic.  In this case, the man killed by the off-duty police officer was black.  The officer was white.  But victim-shaming happens with rape victims, domestic violence victims, and even those who have suffered abuse by members of the clergy.  I know:  I fit into each category, and I have represented people in each category.

While I’m not black, or male, I have represented black men who experience stereotyping and I see the pattern.  I also understand the concept of  defense attorneys using this method to elevate the accused to  a scapegoat status or justify the accused’s conduct.  Where the accused is a member of law enforcement, the officer’s employer facilitates manipulation of the official stream of information.  The attempt to discredit those whom the police injure seems more insidious than when a defense attorney undertakes the same effort.  Our government should not disparage those whom its employees maim or kill.

The initial thread on which I commented that women and abuse victims have experienced victim-shaming for decades appeared on the Facebook page of an African-American friend.  She understood my frame of reference.  She knows that I see these common threads as unifying every group that suffers indignation, whether at the hands of government or private forces.  She celebrates diversity but also looks for ways of harmonizing efforts at attaining social justice.  She knows that all survivors start as victims, and all victims benefit from an overall revision of the discriminatory practices and policies of the institutions which govern us and educate us.

The other thread arose in response to a blog by a white Christian minister who embraces the view that white Americans must account for the injustice levied against black Americans.  The narrow subject of the discussion in which I commented centered on the news accounts of finding marijuana in the victim’s apartment.  I made the exact statement that I had made on my friend’s page.   I said that releasing the information seemed like “victim-shaming”, something that victims of sexual assault such as women had also experienced.  (I might have said ‘rape’ rather than ‘sexual assault’.)

Whereas my friend had acknowledged the shared experience, those participating in the Christian blogger’s comment chain blasted me.  Assuming me to be white (my Facebook profile photo at the moment is a photo of my house), the responders castigated me for hijacking the thread and “making  this discussion about ‘you'”, even though I actually did not mention myself at all.  I merely said “rape victims”.  I did not identify myself as such because I was among strangers; I saw no reason to disclose something personal about myself.  To those attacking, I answered in nonviolent language, stating that I was trying to show empathy and to identify the common experiential reference between all victims of abuse, this man and other victims of race-based discrimination included, as well as victims of sexual assault.  But they found my explanation neither persuasive nor relevant.

I wished them well and bowed out of the discussion after the fourth or fifth attack on my character for supposedly caring more about “white women” than black men.  I did not respond, or defend myself.  I understand their anger.  I have no need to justify my attempt to empathize and find common ground, but I recognize that they do not share my views on that score.  They have a right to their opinion, just as I have a right to mine.  Neither their goals (as I understand them) nor mine are less or more valid for the discrepancy.  I did not feel threatened, or maligned, or invalidated.

But I did experience sadness.  The encounter left me a bit nostalgic for an apparently simpler time, when the City in which I lived celebrated  “harmony in a world of difference”.  I acknowledge that my idealism often interferes with my view of the world.  But I truly believe that all humans should be treated equally by all governments and all other humans.  Regardless of ‘race’; regardless of religious affiliation or practice; regardless of gender; regardless of origin, age, or any other status;  each human should be treated the same.

My particular method for promoting equality involves celebrating both diversity and convergence.  My friend on whose thread I made the comment understands this.  She also knows my frame of reference.  She knows many of my life experiences.  She understands  my family background.  She knows much about what I have done as well as what I have suffered.  She accepts that the ways in which she and I differ do not isolate us from each other.

Victim-shaming succeeds in large-part because those observing the process can feel superior to the victim.  “I would never be killed by an off-duty cop because I don’t have marijuana in my apartment,” the reader is meant to think.  Moreover, victim-shaming detracts from the responsibility of the perpetrator.  In this case, the off-duty cop could possibly have invaded the murdered man’s apartment on an official basis because of the presence of an unlawful substance.  Hence, the thin veil of justification and reasonableness can be enhanced by the victim-shaming, however subtly portrayed.

The exact same process has been used by defense attorneys to persuade juries to acquit rapists.  “She’s a slut, therefore, she deserves to be raped; and you’re not a slut, so you have nothing to fear from my client.”  In my case, I filed an official complaint against the Catholic priest of whom I became a victim as a young teenager.  He tried to say that I seduced him.  In his mind, if I had, that would have justified his admitted conduct.  Never mind that I was a fourteen-year old innocent and one of his students.

The committee which reviewed my claim and later, my opposition to his early release from exile, tried to employ the same victim-shaming.  But I did not tolerate the tactic, and blasted both sets of reviewers.  However, another person, not alert to the strategy, might have cringed and cowered.

My sorrow at the anger which I experienced on social media stems from my belief that injustice levied against one impacts everyone; and the associated belief that we must combat all injustice to combat any injustice.  Victim-shaming cannot be tolerated, whether the victims is a black man killed by an off-duty white police officer; the Sikh in his turban  pummeled by passers-by for speaking a foreign language; or the woman pulled behind a dumpster and repeatedly assaulted by a college student.   None of those victims should be shamed, and by calling victim-shaming the insidious tool of heinous actors, we protect all of us.

I recognize that I did not suffer racial indignation, oppression, and enslavement.  But as a woman, I have been part of the same type of discriminatory process which those who combat racial injustice protest.  I see nothing to be gained by emphasizing our differences without also using our common experiences to our mutual benefit.  I fear, though, that the quest to celebrate diversity does not allow for harmony.  I pray that I am wrong.  I persist in my hope that we can accomplish more together; that there is strength in unity; and that when we better life for one, we better life for all.

So let me be clear:  the practice of shaming victims to justify abuse, murder, oppression, and disparagement cannot be tolerated.  The color, gender, religion, or other status of the victim cannot and must not be used to justify victim-shaming, nor can it or should it be used as an excuse for crime.  We must fight against this insidious practice, just as we must fight against racial discrimination, domestic violence, and religious intolerance.  We must promote harmony in a world of difference, but we may not tolerate any disharmony on the basis of our differences regardless of where they lie or how they define us.

All humans are created equal.  No government, nor any individual, should use the distinctions between us to justify the abuse of any of us.  All of us should protest such abuse — loudly, clearly, and relentlessly, until all discrimination ends.  Only then can we rest, and not a moment sooner.

 

Farewell, John McCain: Wishing you fair winds and following seas

I’m sorry to say that I’ve forgotten the fundamental differences between John McCain’s philosophy and that of Barack Obama.  I could reconstruct them with a quick internet search.  I took note of them during the 2008 presidential election, after which the only active observations which I retained about Senator McCain involved his graciousness in defeat.   He seemed to be a true class act.

In the last year, I’ve been reminded of his demeanor as I watched Senator McCain struggle with brain cancer.  I have seen that battle closer than I ever cared to do — in my mother, in my favorite curmudgeon.  I don’t understand how it feels from inside the invasion, but I remember the helplessness with which I watched my mother’s body decline and her mind succumb.  More recently, I recall holding my favorite curmudgeon’s hand as he drifted in and out of consciousness during the election return coverage in 2014, when I, a yellow-dog Democrat, voiced the pleasure he would have felt at the Republican victory — had he still been able to feel; if he could hear my voice; if he knew that the vote he cast just before he slipped into his last coma had been one small pebble in a torrential landslide.

Cancer sucks.

But McCain — oh, how I came to admire him this year!  For his grace under fire, this time — the fire of those wickedly mutating cells; the fire of his party when his downward vote saved the Affordable Care Act; the vicious, unnecessary, and petty fire of a president who knows nothing of statesmanship and less of courtesy.  My admiration for John McCain’s personal and professional deportment stops me from making that internet search to remind me of the ways in which he and I differ in how we think Americans should be governed.  The same admiration stays any comment about his choice of running mates in 2008.

The man put into the Oval Office in 2016 by the electoral college and not the popular vote degrades our social and political dialogue.  By staggering contrast, Senator McCain elevated that discourse by every moment of his service to this country.  He conducted himself with dignity, with honor, and with nobility.  He served in the Armed Forces and proved himself to be an American Hero.  Look:  I protested the war in Vietnam as a teenager.  We should not have gone to war; to any war, for that matter, at least in my view.  But John McCain rose to his nation’s challenge, and acquitted himself with a rare and unsullied virtue.  Say what you will when your own internet search unearths the ways in which you disagree with his politics.  Disparage the government’s decision to send its men and women to serve as fodder for the ammunition of enemies with whom we should have no quarrel.  But know, too, that from 1967 to 1973, John McCain suffered the atrocities of capture and came through the experience as a man who could not be broken by any subsequent grief, including cancer.  What did not kill him, made him stronger, calmer, and more compassionate.

I remember the moments of the 2008 campaign when both McCain and Obama showed themselves to be honorable opponents.  You’ve seen the video of him rejecting the lies about Mr. Obama from a woman in the crowd.  You’ve heard the wonderfully funny roast of Mr. Obama where McCain made note of the progress we’ve made in America, from a country where a black man would not be invited to the White House to the point where one could take office there.  You’ve watched his brave “thumbs down” on the Senate floor, in defiance of the Republican move to eviscerate the only true statutory protection of the people’s health care.    Whether you disagree with McCain’s policies or not, I see no way that you could help but hold him in high regard.

We must daily endure the disgraceful rantings of a volatile and ignoble president.  We gasped to learn that “pussy-grabbing” and disabled-reporter-mocking did not dissuade 63,000,000 from the suitability of a reality TV show host for office.  But we had some glimmer of hope, knowing that Senator John McCain stood boldly, unwaveringly, and quietly in the forefront of American politics.  His steadfast presence has, from time to time, comforted even this unfailingly blue Missouri girl.

Rest well, Mr. McCain.  I bid you fair winds and following seas.

Sail on, sir.  Sail on.

 

 

What’s Right With America

When I was an assistant prosecuting attorney in Jackson County, Missouri, I inherited a telephone with an amusing sticker on the receiver.  In red, white, and blue lettering, the decal advised me that “This Phone Is Not Secure”.  It had been given to the attorney who had previously occupied my office by an FBI agent.

In those days, state prosecutors disdained federal agents.  This hostility stemmed from the tendency of “the feds” to interfere with state investigations.  We wanted to keep the juicy folks for ourselves, and those pesky FBI agents would swoop down to snatch them.  Honestly.

Yesterday, an FBI agent claimed a victory which I do not begrudge him.  He triumphed over a handful of sniveling, whining, unpleasant members of Congress who attempted to apply double standards to impute bias of which not one shred of evidence exists.  One Congress member even suggested that because Peter Strzok found then-candidate Donald Trump repugnant, he executed his duty in a dishonorable way.  Strzok set the man straight in a powerful and moving excoriation of the true witch-hunt happening in Washington.

At the same time, the man who would be king denounced immigration, claiming that immigration will ruin Europe as he believes it has ruined America.  I find Trump’s statements profoundly disturbing.  The man married immigrants, descended from immigrants, and uses immigrant workers in the businesses from which he continues to profit.  Back in Washington,  Congress members deride Peter Strzok over his extra-marital affair, claiming that his marital infidelity erodes his credibility, a rule which they do not apply to the president.  The contradictions continue to mount.

My great-grandfather Conrad Ulz migrated to the United States on 29 May 1907.  He arrived on the Kroonland.   His wife and eldest daughter Johanna arrived a year later on the Zeeland.  They came for a better life, just as thousands of people from Central America seek when they arrive on our southern borders.  Johanna would later marry the son of Syrian immigrants. Her eldest child, Lucille, became my mother.  Like the current president of the United States — indeed, like every American — I am the proud descendant of people who sought refuge on the shores of this great nation.

Peter Strzok admits to imperfection.  But in his strong testimony yesterday, he evinced everything that is right about America.  He demonstrated honor in defense of the justice system. He admitted to being human and hurting his wife with his choices, an action that many in Washington must acknowledge having also done.  But he bore himself well.  He proclaimed his allegiance to the nation. He described an investigation stamped with integrity, untainted by political bias.  Meanwhile, the president denounced the very fiber of this nation and  attacked our allies while preparing to consort in secret with our enemy.

Peter Strzok symbolizes what is right with America. Trump embodies the worst of us.  To our great shame, we sent the wrong man as our representative.  I can only hope that Europe shows more compassion and understanding than our president has ever demonstrated.  If the rest of the world can endure the arrogant, misguided bumbling of Donald Trump, perhaps our nation will survive his time in office.

 

 

Voicing Dissent: Why I Cannot Remain Silent

The week slid from depressing to exhilarating to devastating as news of various developments broke.  The kidnapping and abuse of immigrant children gave way to a progressive upset in a New York primary followed quickly by the announced retirement of a Supreme Court justice.  Along the way, my inbox and phone groaned from the weight of all those groups to which I subscribe for notification of desired action.  Petition after petition flashed in front of my eyes.

Yet I keep hearing this voice saying, Resistance is futile.   Compounding my personal anxiety, my one remaining conservative friend tried to claim that the estimate of 2,300 separated immigrant children was fake news or that there would be less harm in separating them than in letting them live in squalor.  She asked for cites to my contrary claims and when I provided same, she responded by telling me that she had been married to a man who always wanted to win so she was quitting the argument.  “You win!” she typed.   I’m afraid she really means “I don’t like your proof that I’m incorrect, so I’ll claim you are a bully.”  I never thought our friendship would decline so far.  The state of political discourse in a deeply divided country sickens me.

I browse the calls-to-action that I’ve gotten.  Tell Mitch McConnell “No justice Until Justice”, by which the writer suggests that Senator McConnell would delay a vote on Trump’s next SCOTUS nominee because I and other liberal or progressive voters demanded that he delay until after the mid-term election. Fat chance.  I delete that request.  Demand the Abolishment of ICE! asks another.  I contemplate that for a moment.  I’m a Democrat-voting DSA member in a skewing Conservative district of a principally blue state.  As soon as I enter my zip code, anyone in charge of immigration enforcement will strike my opinion from their roster.  Again I hit the delete key.

I sit at my computer scrolling through news.  I tell myself that if the conservative voice assumes a solid majority on the Supreme Court, the leanings of the court will parallel the elected majority and who am I to complain?  But another voice whispers in my ear that the changes which the current administration favors will kill the civil rights for which I believe this nation stands.  Freedom from religion; freedom to marry whom you choose; freedom of speech, assembly, dissent, and the press — these rights which we hold as inalienable, not created with but protected by our constitution.  What of them?

What of a woman’s right to choose, so hard won and so dear ?  I understand that people of certain religious convictions believe that abortion is murder.  I even follow their logic:  Life begins at conception, they claim; that life is a ‘human being’; abortion extinguishes that life — kills that human; therefore, abortion is murder and should not be permitted under any circumstances.

Juxtaposed against this view, the opposite side says that the fetus, rather than instantly becoming a human being, remains an organism until some later point, labelled “viability”.  My own difficulty lies in the fluctuating point of viability, which vests earlier and earlier as medicine evolves.  But consider:  Pregnancy places no medical burden on the body of the male parent, only on that of the female.  Why, then, should any man get to say that a woman must “choose” to leave a particular pregnancy intact?   In Roe v. Wade, the Court deployed an analysis which makes sense to me, walking a line between two comparatively extreme positions.

In all of this, through all of this, I remain convinced that a liberal viewpoint greater serves our nation.  It leaves choice alive in every corner.  If you choose religion, you may partake of it, but you may reject it if you do not agree with its provisions.  If you choose to marry someone of the opposite gender, and to disdain on a personal level those who make a contrary choice, your choice stands.  Only when your preferred conduct causes the public  exclusion of, or harm to, a member of a constitutionally protected class will the government intervene.

Hence, you may not discriminate in the public arena on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, age, race, disability, or religion; but you may discriminate on the basis of political view point.  Even the recent wedding cake decision out of the SCOTUS does not change these protections, since its holding, limited to the facts of the case at hand, found that the baker who denied service had not received due process and himself suffered officially engendered religious discrimination.   Indeed, that case lies outside of the norm, and sets no clear precedence endorsing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, a question left for another day.

The harshest implications of a conservative shift in government or the courts lead me to resist that trend.  I favor a broadening of rights, not a narrowing.  The liberal view says that we should all be allowed to act; the conservative view seems to say that only certain of us have that right.   True enough:  Analysis of these divergent perspectives cannot possibly be so simple, as study after study has shown.  Greater minds than mine expound upon this dichotomy, examples of which abound.

But for my purposes, the sharp difference of view however articulated or justified, results in a threat to the values which I associate with America.  So, then, to my question:  Should we voice our dissent, even if we anticipate that it will fall on the deaf ears of those currently in control of all three branches of our government?  Can the vociferous articulation of disagreement, consistently and unrelentingly lobbed against the powers which currently be, change their minds?  If not, should we nonetheless continue?

Put another way, if the only virtue in preaching to the choir lies in strengthening its voice,  what value singing?

My instinct to crawl into a shell and ignore the current state of affairs or tow my tiny house to Canada fights against my lifelong dedication to the greater good.  I find myself raising my hand among an often silent crowd, rather than cowering against a fading backdrop.  The constant warnings of Europe’s past alert me to the danger of letting those who would limit the rights of others persist unchallenged.  If I allow society to be unhealthy, can my own demise not be long in coming?

I am “white”, female, disabled, divorced, the mother of one son and no daughters. I have neither grandchildren nor pets. I own no land.  I am 62.  I am a recovering Catholic.  I do not worship at any alter yet I believe in the existence of a divine entity or force of which we all are a part.  I vote Democrat, I recycle, and when I had a “real” house, I flew an American flag beside a Rainbow flag with an “all are welcome” sign in the window.

These are the categories into which I fit.  Yet I allow for the simultaneous existence of those who belong in other categories, provided — and this is crucial — that we all agree to a social compact which orders our co-existence by inclusive behavioral precepts.  Those precepts must restrict behavior as minutely as possible to maintain the integrity of the structure in which we co-exist.

To the end of maintaining an inclusive order in this nation, I must choose to speak.  If I remain silent and the social compact fails to protect any man, woman, or child, then I have failed in my duty as a citizen.  So  I choose to speak, even if my words make no impact other than to keep the chorus alive.   As a person who believes in this grand experiment and in the moral evolution which brought us to our current condition, I cannot remain silent even if no one listens other than my liberal and progressive brothers and sisters.  Put another way, I will protest injustice, even if my protest yields no success other than to let others know that they are not alone.  If we fail, we fail as one.  If we succeed, it will be to the betterment of freedom, which I see as the natural and enviable trajectory of this nation since its inception.

And so:  I raise my voice, even if doing so seems futile.  If I am but one voice, then all the louder will I call.  Resistance is not futile, for the effort is its own reward.

 

THROUGH INCREDULOUS EYES DO I REVILE YOU.

On 11 September 2001, I sat transfixed in front of a computer in my office watching 3,000 people, mostly Americans, disintegrate in the ashes of the World Trade Center.  I felt helpless, and insignificant, and alone.  My receptionist eventually came to the office but her brother, my friend and legal assistant Alan White, could not leave his phone.  His daughter in NYC had not yet gotten through to confirm that she had not died in that terrible tragedy.  He waited in anguish all day until a phone line finally opened long enough for them to speak.  His anguish has not faded from memory — not from mine, and certainly not from his.

Those feelings heaved from the pit of my stomach yesterday as I scrolled through story after story about the separation of children from their parents seeking refuge and asylum in America.   I cannot imagine how the parents of children torn from their arms can handle the terror of that act, let alone how those children will ever survive.  The revulsion in my belly mirrors a fraction of what those people must endure.   As a guardian ad litem representing abused and neglected children in Missouri, I have taken enough workshops in the neurobiology of trauma to fear what these experiences will do to these blameless children.   They will be irreparably harmed, in ways that only scientists and other victims can hope to comprehend.

This senseless situation does not flow from the parents’ decision to bring their families to America.  Our country boasts a statue proud and visible on our eastern shore, seeming to welcome them.  Perhaps they can be forgiven for failing to recognize the bitter significance of its placement on the Atlantic rather than beside our southern border.  Perhaps they did not realize that the words on that statue’s base have an invisible asterisk, an ironic qualification excluding the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses from Central America.

My sense of being unable to stop the onslaught of this despicable, deplorable desecration of human rights  intensified as yesterday waned.  Though this crisis has no immediate personal impact, I see both my tight circle and the broader context of my existence crumbling.  I could not escape recognition that at least three persons whom I love voted for the current president and seemingly still support him, his bumbling and inept administration, and his treacherous policies.

As of 1:00 a.m. today, one of those persons feebly clung  to articulated and erroneous belief that Trump’s decision to separate children from their families followed a statutory mandate, and one enacted by a Democratic Congress some years ago.  I love this woman.  I respect her.  I will not name her, because of my regard for her.  But she is wrong; and her delusion frightens me because of my admiration of her.  If such a woman, a smart woman fiercely protective of children in her own right, believes these lies, how can any mere mortal reject them?

Among the many staggeringly awful stories about this situation — the ‘tender years’ camps; the audio tapes of children sobbing for their parents; the sight of small bodies wrapped in stiff, crackling, silver fire protectant fabric — you would think that Corey Lewandowski’s awful declamation of “womp, womp” about a child with Down’s Syndrome would seem the least disgusting.  But somehow, perhaps because I have a beloved nephew with Down’s Syndrome, I found myself nauseated anew as I read that story.  Good God, man, I thought.  Have you no heart?

And so we come at last to the contemplation which fills me with such revulsion that I can barely function despite my distance from these events.  I cannot overcome the grief of it:  This vision of Americans, citizens of the Land of Opportunity, turning their backs on defenseless children who come to our doors seeking the life which they believe we lead.   American has apparently become heartless.

As a mother, this horrifies me.    Put aside that neither these children nor their parents have yet been convicted of any crime.  These are children.  We are taking them from their parents.  We are placing them in chain-link pens.   We are housing them among strangers who have been instructed not to hug them or to allow them to hug each other (an allegation which those who run these facilities deny, to be fair in my reporting).

Lewandowski and others blame the parents.  They say that the parents come illegally.  They say we must deter their unlawful entry.  They shrug and dismiss their own complicity.  The president whines that it is the fault of the Democrats, despite the fact that it is his administration which instituted this policy which no law mandates.  He blames the Democrats notwithstanding one immutable reality:  Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the Oval Office.

I call B.S.  I’ve already explained why, from the standpoint of a lawyer, I think all of these arguments miserably fail.  But there are more basic values at work here.  These children did not choose to come here.  Their parents did, just as the parents of DREAMERS brought them to America to start anew:  Here, where they hoped to be free.

Those parents flee famine, war, poverty, political abuse, and the threat of execution.  They do not make a journey of months — weary, hungry, dirty, sick — on a whim.  They haven’t folded their designer clothes in Louis Vuitton bags and boarded a jet for New York.  They cram clothes in a duffel bag and start walking.  They jam themselves into trucks, on boats, on the tops of buses.  The journey on which they embark is not one which I can imagine surviving.  Yet they do.  They present themselves at the gate of this land, a nation whose current condition rose from the fertile soil of its native inhabitants tilled by immigrants no better and no worse than those whom our leader now disdains.

In times past, I looked with admiring eyes to the elected officials in Washington.  Now I revile them through a fog of astonishment.  Perhaps, though, that astonishment arises from my own naivety.  I have been imagining that America held herself immune from such corruption.  Evidently, I myself suffered from the veil of delusion.  It can happen here.  It will, if men and women of good conscience do not arise and say, “No more.  Not here.  Not now.”

 

 

 

Post Script:  I checked NPR.org before posting and there had been no announcement of action by Trump.  A half-hour later, it came.  In fairness then, I’m adding this post-script.  

 

It’s Time To Openly Legislate Morality: One woman’s argument in favor of life

One of the first principles taught to entering law students admonishes that governments cannot legislate morality.  This flows from the inevitable logic that my morality might not coincide with yours.  Therefore, if we let you legislate morality, what about my beliefs?

That’s poppycock, of course.  Congress and our state legislatures enact laws which address principles of value on a daily basis.  Courts construe those laws in a manner which purports to uphold our social compact.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident” starts that process by announcing what our nation supposedly believed, and the foundation of our communal adventure.

I don’t pretend to be a constitutional scholar.  I practiced family law in Missouri for twenty-five years, including about ten years of service to Missouri’s foster children as well as to some of their parents through court appointments.  Prior to starting my family law practice, I worked for a law firm in Arkansas which defended family farmers against predatory lending practices by private and federal banking institutions.  In my early days as a Missouri attorney, I worked as a city prosecutor and as a county prosecutor.  My knowledge of immigration law is practically nonexistent.  My only foray into that realm involved getting a divorce for a young woman from Japan who had married an American who abused her.  Her actual immigration lawyer told me that we needed a factual finding of that abuse in order to support her bid for permanent residency.  We got the finding; and she became a permanent resident.

With that framework, I share my thoughts on the immigration situation today.  Take this as what it is:  One woman’s argument in favor of protecting life.

The people who cross our borders in what we call an unlawful manner should receive due process.  “Due process” has always been a loosely defined set of standards.  “What process is due” can vary depending on your situation, and you will be deemed as having received it according to prior precedent and the facts of your case.

But we can define that due process.  Courts and legislatures often do.  The case of Clarence Earl Gideon, Gideon v. Wainwright, stands as a defining moment in the right to counsel.  Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in that case, criminal defendants did not have a right to counsel even if they could not afford one.  After the decision, they did have that right.  The due process given to them evolved.

We can do that with respect to “illegal immigrants”.  I believe that we should.  In the first case, we value life.  Whether or not you call yourself a “Christian”, “pro-life”, or any other appellation, our society takes strong stands in favor of protecting human existence.    The group of humans coming across our borders have done nothing as a class to deprive them of this imprimatur of worthiness.

In the second case, our nation subscribes to the belief that people are innocent until proven guilty.  The people coming across our borders stand accused, by and large, of one crime:  Immigrating “illegally”.  But there are defenses to that charge.  Some of them might be entitled to asylum.  Some of them might fit within some other exception, which now exists or which we might consider instituting.  Until we know the facts in each case, I believe we should afford these persons the assumption of innocence.  That assumption includes the potential that the alleged accuser can establish an affirmative defense, that is, a defense which claims, “I did what you say I did, but I had a legally cognizable reason for doing so which entitles me to escape punishment”.

In the third instance, I would argue that the offense of crossing into the United States of America without following the legal channels for being allowed to do so is in and of itself a rather harmless “crime”.  In the law, we have a set of offenses described as “malum prohibitum”, which means, something which is unlawful merely because we say it is.  These crimes are distinct from crimes which are “malum in se”, that which is inherently evil and therefore forbidden under the law.  Unless we suspect a particular individual of some offense other than “illegal immigration”, can we not consider the individual to be essentially harmless?  Must we treat the man, woman, or child crossing our borders as equal with a suspected murderer?  I would submit that the two crimes are not the same, and that the latter exceeds the former in severity.

Finally, I consider the pre-trial conditions in which we seclude those coming across our borders.  We put the adults in jail and the children in crudely constructed detention facilities.  This treatment defies my compassionate understanding.  We jail men and women for the alleged offense of wanting the same American dream which we pursue with the state’s blessing?  We tear their children from them, just to prove to the children that their parents should not have entered the country without our permission?

Would we do that to each other?

Would we do that to our own children, our own parents?

For nothing more than the crime of striving to improve the quality of existence for themselves and their families?

None of this makes sense to me.  I don’t much care whether it is being done by the current administration or was done by past administrations.  Focusing on claims that current practices of this ilk stem from the policies of prior presidents begs the question:  Is this how America treats people yearning for its shores?  If it is, then this country has become something that I believe its founders never intended.  If it is not, then we must change the policy, practices, and process of how we treat people crossing our borders.  If necessary to be able to change the policy, practices, and procedures, we must change the laws.  If doing so requires that we legislate morality, then by all means, throw that old saw out the window and openly do so.

Common values exist here.  We share a dedication to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.  We need look no further to justify changing how we treat those who cross into our nation even without having secured advance permission to do so.  Let us offer forgiveness to those who have not secured permission.

We cannot say that we hold certain truths to be self-evident, while applying them selectively.  We cannot claim to be the land of the free and the home of the brave while erecting walls to restrict others from entering our country and tearing children from their parents’ arms.  These are not my values, and I do not believe that these are the values of the United States of America.

 

Anguish In the Land of Forgotten Oaths

In 1980, I spent an inordinate amount of time completing the necessary paperwork to start law school.  When I reported for attendance, I assembled in a lecture hall with one-hundred and fifty other first-year students to tender my fingerprints.  The Supreme Court of the State of Missouri had to be certain that I was of sufficient moral character to hold an attorney’s license.

On 21 September 1983, at a pub in Kansas City, my mentor and boss Loren G. Rea swore me to the Bar.  I pledged —

I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Missouri;
That I will maintain the respect due courts of justice, judicial officers and
members of my profession and will at all times conduct myself with dignity becoming of an officer of the court in which I appear;
That I will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice
or false statement of fact or law;
That I will at all times conduct myself in accordance with the
Rules of Professional Conduct; and,
That I will practice law to the best of my knowledge and ability and with
consideration for the defenseless and oppressed.
So help me God.

I had a choice of taking the oath before any judge or notary.  Loren meant more to me than a faceless man in a black robe in Jefferson City.  He imparted a somber tone to the proceeding, despite the boisterous setting.  He made me raise my hand.  He had me repeat the words; and then he signed the license which I still treasure, though his signature has faded and the frame hangs crooked on the wall.

A few months later, a federal judge again required me to raise my hand, this time to take the federal  Oath of Office so that I could do business in his courtroom.  Its words bound me to  a narrower but equally firm constraint:

I DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR
THAT AS AN ATTORNEY AND AS A COUNSELOR OF
THIS COURT, I WILL CONDUCT MYSELF UPRIGHTLY AND ACCORDING TO LAW, AND THAT I WILL SUPPORT THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.

As I watched the news this week, my oaths of office weighed heavy on my heart and on my shoulders.  I scrolled the internet on Tuesday, 29 May 2018, until I found a station about to broadcast the announcement of Eric Greitens, governor of my home state, regarding his intention to resign.  I listened to his feeble attempts to blame his fate on anyone or anything but himself.  Today, 30 May 2018, I watched the announcement by the St. Louis prosecuting attorney of the deal which led to Mr. Greitens’ resignation.  The same thought plagued me over and over as she spoke:  He sold his office for a dismissal; and she sold hers for something so much more than what he gave.  I felt her remorse:  She did not expect him to spit in her face as he exited.  She thought he would be gracious in defeat — or maybe, grateful.  He certainly showed neither inclination.

I had to search for it, but  I finally found a site which told me what Mr. Greitens had sworn when he became Missouri’s governor.  The words had a familiar ring:

I do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and faithfully perform the duties of my office, and that I will not knowingly receive, directly or indirectly, any money or other valuable thing for the performance or nonperformance of any act or duty pertaining to my office, other than the compensation allowed by law.

I found myself wondering if he spent as much time worrying about violating this mandate as he spent arguing over whether he had broken any laws.  Perhaps the oath had no meaning for him.  Perhaps he did not feel bound by it.    Maybe he did not raise his hand as seriously as I did, thirty-five years ago, my eyes fixed on the keen gaze of a man from whom I had learned much about my obligations at the Bar.

From higher still, from the nation’s capitol, comes word that the president of the United States of America asked the highest-ranking attorney of our nation to maintain control of an investigation from which he had recused himself.  I have not pretended to admire Jeff Sessions.  But his decision to recuse himself from the work being done by Robert Mueller gained him some measure of respect from me.  He made the right choice, the choice dictated by our Rules of Professional Conduct.  He claimed that a federal regulation disqualified him, and that might be so.  But I have known for nearly forty years that certain matters would require me to refrain from representation. Certainly potential implication in the matters under investigation, whether as material witness or any other close actor, would fall within the gambit of recusal.  Yet the president remains outraged that Mr. Session will not take back the reigns and steer the carriage  in some direction away from where the truth appears to lie.

I shake my head.  I feel a growing sense of sorrow, a heavy fear that all of these forgotten oaths will weave together and become the cloak of ruin for our nation.

These times and these events deeply trouble me.  For three and a half decades,  I have often clung to sleep with trembling hands, worried about some duty that I feared I did not faithfully discharge.  I rake my client lists even now, with my practice nearly closed, panicked that a name or a date might have gone untended.  I strain to hear my voice mail messages, lest one of them be the querulous tones of a client who believes that I  have undertaken some urgent task on their behalf of which I have no  recollection.

For some of us, certain truths seem self-evident.  My current grief arises from the awful knowledge that the principles which I hold dear seem to have lost their value.  Those principles  dictated how I managed most of my adult life.  I have always understood them to be the foundation of our society.  When indifferent politicians crush these ideals beneath their careless hooves, I can almost hear our country’s founding fathers  groan from beneath the crumbling marble of their headstones.  I have no doubt that I can hear Lady Liberty weep.

 

 

An Open Letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee

Dear Norwegian Nobel Committee, sirs and madams:

I read on the Internet that eighteen members of the American House of Representatives have signed a letter nominating our current president, Donald J. Trump, for the Nobel Peace Prize.  I write tonight with a fervent prayer and a passionate plea:

Don’t do it.

You ask, Why should we listen to you, a silly American woman with a mere score of followers, of whom we have never previously heard?  I take your point, Sirs and Madams, and yet, I stand before you and ask just that.

More importantly, I ask that you consider whether this nomination meets or thwarts the objectives and spirit of the Prize?

I remind you of that purpose, Sirs and Madams:

“The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- – -/ one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

The Members of Congress who nominated Mr. Trump doubtless used as their pretext, the current seeming move towards peace announced by the leaders of North and South Korea.  While it is true that their seeming reconciliation makes reference to, and occurs in the time of, the current administration, can it truly be said that Mr. Trump has done “the most or best work” towards this development?

If “most” or “best”  actually refers to “loudest” or “most shrill”, then perhaps one can cite Mr. Trump’s near-trigger of a nuclear war between the United States and North Korea as a precipitating catalyst for the apparent truce between the two halves of the troubled peninsula.  I cite the arguments pro and con the wild machinations of the president, but I also mention the vast nervousness which infested America with each erratic post by the man in the Oval Office.  The last few months have reminded me of my childhood in the Cuban Missile crisis, during which my parents kept cots and kerosene ready in our basement.  With each blare of the siren, we children huddled under blankets, terrified of impending disaster which we barely understood.

But let us not fall into a pretense, my dear Committee members.  I cannot say, from this position in history, whether the efforts of Mr. Trump have or will effect peace in Korea, whether by design or happy chance.  Time might tell, and fortunately for you, nominations for 2018 have closed.    Your consideration of this nomination will be for next year, when the events will have evolved and no doubt also will have been dissected ad nauseam.

When you do consider this troubling nomination, please do so in the greater context which your secrecy allows you.

Consider the fear which gripped sexual assault survivors when the election gave nearly unassailable power to a man who bragged about assaulting women on the basis of his position.

Consider the sharp increase in hate crimes against Muslims in America since Mr. Trump’s bold and unfettered attack on Arab immigration and open disdain for  Islam and Muslims.

Consider Mr. Trump’s unrelenting proclivity for divisiveness, as evidenced by his habitual levying of insults in the most vile and gross manner, both before and after his election.

Consider his praise of Nazi-sympathizers and white supremacists after the death of a peaceful protester in Charlottesville.

Consider the staggering record of Donald Trump’s lies.

Consider his gross mocking of a disabled reporter, and his utterly incomprehensible statement that he finds the men and women of the ParaOlympics “tough to watch“.

When you have considered these matters, men and woman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, then ask yourself, What would Alfred Nobel have thought of this nominee?  Would Alfred Nobel approve of giving an award for peace, to a man who also cultivates hatred and abuse?

Of Mr. Nobel, your stewards have written:

“Alfred Nobel also viewed himself with detachment, or shall we say, philosophical skepticism. He often described himself as a loner, hermit, melancholic or misanthrope. He once wrote: “I am a misanthrope and yet utterly benevolent, have more than one screw loose yet am a super-idealist who digests philosophy more efficiently than food.” Even from this description, it is clear that this misanthrope was also a philanthropist, or what Nobel called a super-idealist. It was the idealist in him that drove Nobel to bequeath his fortune to those who had benefited humanity through science, literature and efforts to promote peace.”

Would such a man praise Trump, for what might well prove to be his one good effort, ignoring the plethora of malaise?

I leave it to you, Members of the Committee, to make that choice when, in your deliberations, the question presents itself.

With my most sincere thanks for your courtesy and consideration, I remain  —

A sexual assault and rape survivor; a disabled American daughter of Syrians, Austrians, and Irish commoners; and a firm believer in equal justice for everyone: man, woman, nonbinary, gender-fluid or child, regardless of gender, religion, sexual orientation, country of origin, ethnicity, previous condition of servitude or descendance therefrom, marital status, bank balance, or party affiliation.

 

Mary Corinne Teresa Corley
Isleton, California

 

 

 

 

A Mother’s Day Letter to My Son

Mother’s Day hovers around the May corner.  As one of the oldest living unwed mothers in America, I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to have the honor of addressing a child from this status.  I started adulthood sure that I would give birth to a large rambling brood as my mother had.  By thirty-five, I had despaired of even one.    But one I had; and oh, what a joyful experience!

So. . .

Dear Patrick, from your mother, “Mrs. Patrick Corley’s Mommy”:

I have so many platitudes in mind for you, Patrick; but I happen to know that you disdain reliance on weak literary devices.  So I’ll try to avoid cliches as I embarrass you with what’s clamoring to escape my brain as I think of you this morning.

I’ve set so many horrible examples for you.  I practically single-handedly validated the US Census statistics about American divorce rates.  Yet I remain hopeful that you will find a partner with whom to make a life; and I encourage you to keep your heart ready for her when she wanders across your path.  If you need examples of enduring marriages, look no farther than your aunt Ann or your uncle Frank.  In fact, make sure you cultivate them, so you can observe their behavior.  Emulate them, please, and not me, in the progress of your relationships.

As for communication style, you brought Non-Violent Communication to me, so I won’t bother to suggest a course of action for your own human congress.  I vividly recall my astonishment as I watched what we called “the Red Shirt Videos”, a series of talks by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, who created NVC.  While I have not yet fully conquered my life-long proclivity for jackal-speak, two of my clients report that their lives have been immeasurably improved by NVC.  One of them did so well with his conversion to nonviolent communication that we won his custody trial in part because of his memorably gracious treatment of his former spouse on cross-examination.  The judge actually complimented him on his kindness towards the treacherous vindictiveness confronting him.  I would not have known to recommend that he try NVC had you not brought it to me and suggested that it might change my life.  You were right.

What I know of loyalty, I also learned from you.  Though you criticize yourself more than I think you deserve, you have always defended victims from bullies.  I will never forget the phone call from your grade school vice principal assuring me that you were all right.  The 5th-grade bully had choked you and slammed you against a locker while I was hours away in deposition in Chillicothe.  You had stepped between the bully and a smaller child, and suffered the consequences without hesitation.  The irony of the occurrence lay in the suggestion that you should be disciplined for sassing the principal during the ensuing investigation.  Your crime?  Gesturing to the boy who assaulted you and remarking, “And these are the Catholic kids that you think I should emulate?”  I could not have been more proud.

You have a tender heart.  When your faithful dog finally fell into her last decline, you did not hesitate to authorize the vet to ease her pain.  But you also felt the loss with an intensity that bespoke of your enduring attachment to Little Girl.  Though you did not get to be present in her last moments, be assured that she always loved you as much as you loved her.  Popular country songs caution that women should judge men by how they treat their mothers and their dogs.  You pass both tests with flying colors.

As for your choice of profession, writing, I encourage you not to surrender to the fear of failure which sabotaged your mother’s ambitions.  I understand that maternal critique of what you author means little.  I have every motivation to lie, and little to be honest.  Except this:  I’m a writer, too; and I abhor mediocrity.  Your stuff sings.  Your insight and your attention to the flow of ideas makes your writing truly memorable.  I wanted to “be a writer” but sold out, and for my cowardice, I got a life-time of average lawyering with little to show for my efforts.  If I have any actual advice for you, it lies here.  Trust your gift.  Keep writing.  Write for yourself, but write for the world, too.  Your voice and your pen will contribute to the salvation of society one day; and in the meantime, what you write provides some damn fine reading.

I will always remember the moment when I discovered that a child grew inside me.  I stood in the bathroom in my house in Winslow, Arkansas, with the plastic stick of a home pregnancy test reflected beneath the astonished face of my image.  This occurred in November of 1990.  I was 35 years old and unmarried.  Though I would have moments when I did not think I could handle being your mother, I have never had one second when I wished that test had been negative.  My only regrets relate to how I  performed as your mother.    You have been the absolute best son that a mother could have ever wanted.  Being your mother has been the most marvelous experience, even counter-balanced with any anguish that I might have known along the way.  It’s water under the bridge, Patrick; let it flow.

So, now that I’ve made myself cry, I’ll close with just a few more sappy sentences.    As Mother’s Day approaches, I find myself thinking of my own mother as much as I do my son.  She died six years before your birth, more’s the pity.  You would have liked her, Patrick.  She had many of your finest qualities — loyalty, gentleness, and a certain tendency to wear her heart conspicuously pinned to her sleeve.  But she also gave you that  sassy attitude which you’ve brought to many of my darkest hours, evoking laughter when I would have otherwise despaired.  You’ve done so much for me, my son, helping me through crisis after crisis with the indomitable spirit which you get from your Grandma Lucy.

Happy Mother’s Day, Patrick.  Thank you for everything.  And don’t forget:  Just as I promised you when you were 5, I intend to live to be 103 and nag you every day of your life.  I’ve got forty more years to go and I intend to get there.  As you always said, “a promise is a promise; and Mothers have to keep their promises”.  So I shall.  But remember this, too:  You retorted that you would annoy me every day of my life.  You’ve fallen down on that count, Patrick! You are the opposite of annoying.  In fact, you have done nothing but bring me joy.  So thank you.  Thank you.  And again:  thank you.

With much love,

Mary Corinne Teresa Corley

otherwise known as your mother

Patrick and me. Photo credit Penny Thieme

 

March For Our Lives — Sacramento

On Saturday, 24 March 2018, I took another step towards feeling good about my life.  I rose at 7:00 a.m., made coffee, had my usual soft-scrambled eggs in butter, and high-tailed it off the island.  I made the hour’s drive to Sacramento and joined the March For Our Lives.

I had my picture taken by a man who said I looked beautiful.  He’s supposed to text it to me — and I hope he does, because otherwise the only proof I have that I attended the rally in Sacramento consists of my own videos, pictures, and Facebook Live clips.  I want posterity to know that I participated.  Change might come; change might not.  But I walked my values from a handicapped parking spot to the steps of the capitol building and stood with thousands of others who think that #enoughisenough.

I recall marching to Take Back the Night after a series of rapes in St. Louis during the late 1970s.  A half-decade earlier, I served cold bottle water to hundreds of high school and college students raising money for urban development in rural Missouri in the Walk for Development.  My activism isn’t a new phenomenon.  But this time has a different cast to it.  The world frightens me more than ever — perhaps exponentially so.  Even here on my protected island — for I truly do live on an island — the terrible burdens of the world have impact.  We try not to think about it, but it hits us anyway — the deaths in Florida, and Maryland, and even in Sacramento where 22-year-old Stephon Clark fell to police fire while standing in his grandmother’s backyard holding a cell phone.

“Nowadays, the world is lit by lightening.” (Tennessee Williams, A Glass Menagerie).

But now, the lightening isn’t something uncontrolled and threatening.  Instead, the wrath of young people  flashes through the sky.  They will not tolerate further killing.  Not one more.  They will not stop until every step possible has been taken to curb gun violence in America.

I could not let their demonstrations pass without my attendance.  I went to Sacramento to honor the passing of the torch to a generation which I believe will carry it higher, and farther, and to better end than we have seen for many years.

After all:  They #marchforourlives.

 

 

#ISTANDWITHPARKLAND

 

Lies and the Lying Liars who Lie

The recent news about Trump fabricating a claim regarding our trade with Canada shouldn’t disturb me as much as it does.  In a month where we’ve heard stories of firings, deaths, bridge collapses, and accusations of insider dealing, another lie by Donald J. Trump shouldn’t upset me.

Yet, it did.

Think about this:  A man elected by a majority of our electoral college and about 48% of the popular vote went into a meeting with the president of Canada and fabricated a statement.  People whom I know to be intelligent voted for this individual.  Yet he plays fast and loose with the truth.  PolitiFact, a NONPARTISAN website, has found him to be one of the top liars of our day.  Oh, if you support Trump you’ll say that PolitiFact slants its decision-making.  No matter:  The man LIES.  He doesn’t even seem to MIND lying.  He lies as effortlessly as other people drink water.

America used to have a good reputation.  The world considered us to be strong, dependable, and trustworthy.  We would stand behind our allies.  We would bring other people to the bargaining table.  It didn’t seem to matter if we had a few smudges on our face or if our flag showed signs of wear.  The world could rely on us.  We could depend on each other.

Now we can’t even expect our president to know the facts or make accurate statements.  What have we become?  A nation that cares more about guns than children; a country in which the teenagers have to gather in angry crowds to be heard over the sound of rifle-fire.  A place where truth matters less than power.

I don’t mean to suggest that no other politician has lied, or that presidents whom I’ve supported or candidates for whom I’ve voted always told the truth.  I don’t see this as a competition — I see this as a sign of how low we have sunk, that the man whom nearly 49% of our voting population felt deserved the highest elected office in the land walks into a meeting, fabricates facts, and later brags about having done so.

I was outraged at his boasting that he can sexually assault woman because of his position and money.    I recoiled when he mimicked a disabled reporter.  The stunts he has pulled while in office sadden and anger me.  Now this:  He admits to having lied in a meeting with the president of one of our allies.  He seems to think lying is an acceptable way to govern our nation.   He basically shrugged about it.    What is worse, that he didn’t know the truth, or that he doesn’t care if he spoke it?

I no longer want little children to aspire to be president.  Now I want them to strive to be brave and valiant men and women who slay the dragon which has coiled itself in the tower and spews fire on us struggling villagers.  They can do it, with the power of their vote, their willingness to raise their voices, and their resolve to run for office.  The rest of us should do what we can to support the generation which could be our salvation.

I don’t know if America will ever be the same.  But first, we have to clean house, from the top down.  We have to start by speaking the truth:  The 45th president of the United States of America has brought shame to the office which he holds.

He must be stopped — but friends, mark my words:  Mike Pence is worse.  

We are in serious trouble.  Tighten your belts and hold onto your hats.  The storm has not yet abated.  Its wind will blow with an unrelenting fierceness before the calm.

 

Surviving

The president of the United States defended one of his staff members from allegations of abuse in a recent twitter post.  Let that sink into the morass of thoughts that you have to manage on a daily basis during this astonishing administration.  Now read the actual tweet:

Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well.It’s obviously a tough time for him.
“He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him, but it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now.

 

“Very sad. ” . . . “Mr. Porter is very sad now.”

 

No expression of concern for the survivors of Mr. Porter’s alleged actions.    No instant condemnation of physical assaults, on women or anyone.  The automatic response of the president of the United States to a serious allegation of violence by a member of his staff:  Sympathy and good wishes for the alleged perpetrator.

 

My mother, siblings and I experienced family violence before an industry arose around such chaos.  In the 1960s, we endured beatings, knife-throwings, screaming, and worse.  We also bore the stamp of sorrow which comes from living in hell.    No one prosecuted my father nor were we removed from the situation.   Society had not yet decided that the abuser should be punished for family violence.

But we know better now.  We know that beating people should not be tolerated.  We know that anger needs to be controlled.  We know that survivors deserve our help, our support, and our compassion.  Research tells us that trauma impacts neuro-biology; that patterns of domestic violence repeat in generational cycles; and that those who do violence will not stop unless they face censure.  We take these allegations seriously.

Yet our president wishes Mr. Porter well.

 

He does not say, “I await an investigation; but in the meantime, I support the survivors of these alleged assaults, and I will insure that my administration does not hire anyone with a history of domestic violence.”

 

He says:  “We wish him well.”

 

I’ve got a few wishes of my own.  I wish Mr. Porter due process.    I wish justice for his apparent victims.  As for the nation, my wish remains the same:  That those who govern due so honorably, wisely, and conscientiously.

I began writing this article before the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of seventeen people at a Florida school by a former student armed with an AR-15.  I tried to compose this entry with a conscious regard for even-handed and noninflammatory commentary.  But now I am angry.  I’m angry that this nation seems to hold its citizens in so little regard that we elected a president who brags about being able to sexually assault women and expresses best wishes for a departing staff member accused by two former spouses of assault.  I’m furious that the NRA can make massive donations to elected officials and block gun control.  I’m livid that Trump suspended Obama-era regulations regarding gun purchases by people with mental health histories.    I am outraged that this nation seems to take abuse, gun violence, the senseless injury of family members and the murder of children, with an equal lack of seriousness.

 I survived a terrible childhood besieged by family violence.  I escaped injury in a senseless stranger shooting incident.  These maladies are hardly new, but they worsen rather than abate.  I’ve blended my anger over these conditions into one post because I see similar attitudes to each being displayed by the current administration.  The same officials who send thoughts and prayers to the families of shooting victims, send good wishes to abusers and dismiss the disgusting comments of the president as “locker room talk”.

 

I’m sick of it.  I feel helpless, and hopeless, and appalled.  And I did not even lose anyone to gun violence this week.  Imagine what the parents of those children feel.  In fact, you don’t have to imagine.  I’ve got no punchy closing  this time.  Just this — a message from the parent of a fourteen-year-old to the president of the United States of America.

 

 Click on her picture, listen to her anguish; and then tell me what you’re going to do about the senseless scourge of violence in America:

 

Pomp and Circumstance

The news about the current president directing the military to stage a parade troubles me.

I have no gripe about pomp and circumstance as a general rule.  In certain times, bringing the nation together with a victorious celebration or a glorious display of patriotism seems appropriate, even useful.  On the Fourth of July, for example; with the mayors and the governors and the local high school marching band, we can stand with hearts on hands and remind ourselves how great our nation has always been, and how much more we have to bind than separate us.

But this parade, this forced, laud-me-now demonstration requested by the president of the United States on the eve of a government shutdown which he himself dismissively invites, feels wrong.  I envision a certain Emperor before whom a small child stands with wondering eyes, proclaiming his nudity.  This parade, as it has been described to us, settles on our country’s bones like an ill-fitting shroud or a heavy hair-shirt.  We wear it to do penance for Trump’s unpopularity, for the agitated debates which block his bidding in Congress.

If our stock market had not taken a crazy downward spiral, perhaps I would not even care.  If the number of homeless veterans had not spiked, I might not notice.  If VA hospitals across the nation did not stagger under the weight of patients left to die from negligence, I would not raise my voice.  But the starving children, the rampant opioid epidemic, the cuts in benefits to our elderly and disabled citizens —  these stark economic realities demand a tightening of the federal belt, not a frivolous squandering of our American coins.

What celebration transcends the rest of us in importance, such that a military parade should siphon funds which could feed, clothe, and cure Americans including our honored soldiers?  We have not won a war, even assuming that such victory would warrant a lavish and costly display.  We have not cured cancer, or ended addiction, or eased the suffering of those who have lost family and friends in any of last  year’s disasters.  Puerto Rico still has no power and Flint’s water still reeks.

I struggle to see the sense of it, but I hold no hope that sense has any influence at Pennsylvania Avenue.   I see no potential that anyone will stop this horrible waste of our strained resources.  Sadly, the only good which might come of this will be if it serves as yet another nail in the coffin of this dying administration.

And that, my fellow Americans, is as sad a commentary on the state of our nation as I ever dreamed of uttering.

God help us all.  God help the United States of America.

 

COLORS

In order of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’d like to tell a story on my son, Patrick Corley.

When Patrick was a child, I got licensed as a foster parent.  On one occasion, we had a baby girl placed with us.  I invited the child’s CASA worker to see her at the house.  She had not planned to come, but I wanted her to know that we were providing good care for her client.

When I opened the door, I had the baby in my arms.  My son stood beside me.  We greeted the woman, and asked if she wanted to come into the house.

The woman blurted out, “You’re white!”

Before I could say anything, she gasped in dismay, “And this baby is BLACK!”

I was speechless.

But my son had an immediate response:  “No, no, she’s not!” he corrected the woman.  “She’s the exact color of a Hershey bar.  I checked!  And we’re not white, either.  We’re more of a beige.”  He then gestured, “Come in!  Come in!”  He led the woman into the living room, having settled, in his mind, the question of colors.

On another occasion, I took my son shopping for t-shirts.  Seeing his selection, I gently suggested that he might want to keep looking.  “Pink is a girl color,” I told my four-year-old.  He reached out and patted my hand.  “No, no, Mom,” he said.  “Colors do not have genders.”

I accept that people fit into cultures, “races”, genders, gender-orientations, nationalities, religions, and statuses.  But I reject the notion that we can paint large groups of people with the broad brush of judgment based upon such designations.  I once interviewed for a job at a New Orleans law firm.  I didn’t expect to get the job; I knew within five minutes of my arrival that I couldn’t make the grade in the cut-throat atmosphere.  But I slogged through the entire process, down to the lowliest associate on the hiring committee in the closet which served as his office.

He looked at my resume and remarked, “I see you made law review, we like to hire people from law reviews.”  I shook my head.  “Sir, you mistake what I’ve done for who I am, ” I replied.  “I made law review because I’m good; I’m not good because I made law review.”

I clattered out of his office in borrowed grey pumps and a cheap suit, and never looked back.  I spent the next forty years trying to understand the judgmental gene in human beings.  I’m still trying.  It’s taken me a long time to be able to discern how I want to choose my own associates.  But I’m getting closer to having a good set of criteria by which to separate the wheat from the chaff, and skin color has nothing to do with the distinction.

MARTIN LUTHER KING’S SPEECH

To Our Infinite Shame

The potential that America can rise above the infamy heaped upon us by the person currently holding the office of president diminishes every day.  America reels under each new onslaught of racism, misogyny, and classicism uttered by this individual whom more than half the electorate and 49% of the popular vote chose for this office.  I hang my head and shudder, overwhelmed by the latest ugliness which this individual, this politician, spoke.

I acknowledge that I have relatives who voted for the current president.  It saddens me to say that they did.  At the time of the election, his character had been revealed to any who didn’t already know.  I love my relatives, even those who voted for this individual.  But I do not understand their decision to vote for him, and I do not understand their silence in the face of his continued, consistent disgusting behavior.

We cannot tolerate racism in any person, particularly not the president.  We cannot remain silent while this continues.  If we do, the stain of our infinite shame will indeed be indelible.  The flag which  waves over our land once stood for freedom, liberty, and justice.  With this current administration, that flag  might just as well be lowered and marked with the stamp of oppression, dictatorship, and tyranny.

I call upon all persons, here and around the world, to stand in solidarity against the current elected president of the United States.  We as a nation must be unified in our opposition to this treachery.  We as a people must tell this president that he does not speak for us.  We must stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Haiti and any other nation seen by this man as constituting a “shithole”.  We must proclaim that our shores will not be closed to anyone who wishes to seek harbor here, let alone to those who live in poverty, in political degradation, in famine, or in the turmoil of disaster whether natural or human-inflicted.

The time has long since passed when it is even nominally acceptable to turn a blind eye or a silent voice to this atrocious behavior.

I stand with Haiti.

I stand with immigrants.

I stand with other women, with children, with my fellow disabled persons, and with members of the LGBTQF community.

I stand with all citizens of this nation, and with the Dreamers who yearn to become citizens.

I stand with the people of our global community.

I raise my hand, and I point my finger to the person occupying the office of president and I declare him to be unfit and, further, to be a disgrace to our great nation, the United States of America.  I declare that he does not contribute to the greatness of this country but to its demise and ruination.  I will stand alone if I must, to deliver this message in a voice that will not be stilled.

I invite you to stand with me.

#Resist #TakeBackOurNation

 

Presidential Bearing

Good morning, guys and dolls of the American public — and the twenty-five subscribers who must have become convinced that I’d lost interest in the political scene.  Not true.  In reality, the shenanigans in Washington and around our nation have so overwhelmed me with sadness that I could not bring myself to comment.

With the unsealing of the first indictments pursued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller arising out of his investigation of the Russian hacking of our election and other nuances, I felt compelled to speak.  Perhaps you will find the subject of my morning ruminations mundane; perhaps you will disagree.  Grouse on, my friends; you are entitled to do so.

What awakened my ire in the last days has been fulminating in my ulcerous gut for the last year or two.  A minor point, perhaps, but none the less, it’s my platform and I’ll cry if I want.  (For a platform on which I disdain complaint, cruise on over to My Year Without Complaining.)  Here it is, folks:  The lack of presidential bearing of the man who currently occupies the White House.

I like my presidents to be — well, presidential.

I don’t like them to whine, grouse, use third-grade vocabulary, or spend all morning thumbing their phones instead of striding with purpose towards Capitol Hill to sleigh dragons and kick butt.  I prefer them to avoid angry tirades unless directed to dastardly deed-doers who attack America and its allies, rather than political opponents from last year’s news.  In my view, presidents should remain calm in crisis, hold a steadying hand for the men and women of the Armed Forces, and conduct themselves above and beyond any personal reproach. (And yes, Bill Clinton violated that last dictate.)

I recently posted two clips to speeches that portray presidential demeanor at its finest.  They span from Republican to Democrat,.  They hit the airwaves on the same weekend, at a time when so many of us wish that somebody else, nearly anybody, had won the election other than the person who got the electoral college vote.  I watched the clips several times, recalling each man from his own years in the White House.  One had my vote (twice) and my political alliance; one captured neither.  One looked and sounded as he always does, intelligent, knowledgeable, and articulate; the other came across better perhaps by comparison to the social media rants of the current president but still: good, solid, measured.

I’ve spent a week reflecting on my overall discontent with Mr. Trump.  I disagree with his politics, his personal behavior, and his misuse of his office.  Overlaying that:  I object to the way in which he demeans the office and the country’s image by his constant, childish harangues on Twitter.

Trump brags about having the nation’s ear via this instant vehicle for vitriol and vehemence.  But I don’t think the president should air the nation’s dirty laundry at all, much less 140 inane words at a time at two a.m. with his dinner fermenting in his own troubled craw.

Rather, the leader of the greatest nation on Planet Earth should be a calm guiding force.  He or she should understand and honor the U. S. Constitution even if he or she wishes to support a different construction of its terms than presently popular.  The President represents the United States on the world stage.  He or she should not be known for pussy-grabbing, tantrum-throwing, or name-calling.  In-house disputes should stay there.  Firings should be done in private and described with circumspection when unveiled in carefully-crafted press releases.

If Donald J. Trump worked for me, I would have sanctioned him in writing by now.  We’d be on phase three of an action plan with termination looming.  His computer password would have been changed to something that I can access, and a key-stroke recording application would be installed on his desk-top.  I’d be suggesting, quietly, that he might want to start looking for a job within his skill set.

I don’t know if Mueller’s investigation will bring down the White House.  A fair number of heads would have to roll before everyone in the administration flees and the grown-ups retake the castle.  In the meantime, I’d like to suggest to #45 that he follow a few simple rules.  Think before you speak; and when you’re done thinking, don’t speak.  You have two ears and one mouth for a reason:  Use them in proportion.  Study the actual work history of your employees and lean on those with experience in areas that you have not previously worked.

Above all:  Study past presidents, and walk the walk.  Talk the talk.  Do your country proud.

Here’s looking at you all.  Stay strong.  Remember, America has always been great.