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Choices

In a climate which encourages state legislatures to pass anti-abortion laws, I must rethink my personal position on this matter.  I have spent many decades silent on this issue.  I can be silent no longer.

My home state of Missouri is poised to adopt an “eight-week” abortion statute which, I read in the news, will outlaw abortion after eight weeks of gestation.  Alabama just passed a near-total abortion ban, with the only exception being to save the life of the woman in an extreme medical situation.  These acts intend to set the stage for an eventual reversal of Roe v. Wade.

I have refrained from joining this debate because I understand the impassable divide.  If one believes that human life begins at the moment of conception, one will consider any volitional act of terminating the pregnancy to be the killing of a human being.  If one believes that human life begins at some later point, one will move the classification of terminating the pregnancy as “killing” to that later point.  Moreover, if one believes that the question of terminating the pregnancy should be personal, one will laud any judicial or legislative pronouncement which allows individual choice to some extent.  The first-articulated position cannot be reconciled with the later-articulated positions, each of which can co-exist with the other.

If you think the fetus is a human being from the moment of conception, then the termination of the pregnancy is killing a human.

If you think that killing is never justifiable, then you must be anti-abortion.

If you think that the fetus is not a human until some later point; or that ending the pregnancy up to a certain point is justifiable regardless; you are likely “pro-choice”.

If you think that you are unable  to really know, and therefore cannot make the choice for anyone other than yourself, you are . . . me, until this week.

Consider two small, key snippets of the Supreme Court’s  pronouncements in Roe v. Wade:

“We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified, and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.

**************************************************

“With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the “compelling” point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

The new legislation surging forth from conservative states does not balance these competing interests.  Certainly, Alabama cannot say that “viability” vests at the point of conception.  My searches show viability still estimated in the 24-week range, with 20 – 27 weeks gestation considered “periviability”.  Hence, this new legislation falls squarely in the “anti-abortion” camp, driven by the absolute determination.  “Human life begins at conception; terminating pregnancy therefore is always killing of human life; and killing of human life is never justifiable.”

I do not subscribe to those beliefs.  I have read too much science to believe that a fertilized egg inside a female human body instantly becomes a human being.   If science demonstrates otherwise, perhaps I will change my mind.  It has not.

Moreover, I’ve been unexpectedly and suddenly pregnant.  The first time occurred in late 1977.  I miscarried that child in early 1978, at about ten weeks’ gestation.  I had stressed for several weeks wondering how I would raise a child in the emotional, physical, financial, and personal state in which I then existed.  I do not know if I would have terminated that pregnancy had the option presented itself.    I did not have to make that choice because I lost the pregnancy.  But  the thought of going through a pregnancy at that time, in my unhealed post-abuse existence, frightened me.  Neither my mind nor my body could have handled the strain.

At earlier points in my life, I had been raped and sexually assaulted.  If I had become pregnant as a result of being raped, the psychological trauma would have been exponentially worse.  I suffered enough; I do not know if I could have survived carrying a pregnancy to term after those brutal attacks.

Not at eighteen.  Not at seventeen.  Nor younger.

And at eleven?  Unthinkable.  Utterly, overwhelmingly unthinkable.

Alabama stands forty-ninth in state rankings overall; fiftieth in education, forth-seventh in public health.  These statistics belie the public proclamations that the Alabama governor has made about the motivation of its anti-abortion legislation.  Value life?  What about the lives of the children of yourgrossly  under-served citizens?This stark contradiction cannot resolve itself.  A state cannot claim to value human life and yet let its children flounder without food, education, or health care.  If the tiny speck of cellular development inside a woman’s uterus comes under the state’s protection but the five-year-old standing in line with her mother applying for WIC does not, something has gone drastically wrong.

Moreover, the cells which Alabama, Missouri, and other states claim to be protecting exist Inside a walking, talking, functioning woman.  That woman has rights.  What about protecting her?  By requiring her to continue to harbor the growing group of cells inside of her, you subjugate the woman’s rights to the rights of a fetus not yet viable.  I have not heard anyone successfully defend that choice.

Anyone who believes that life begins at the point of conception probably stopped reading long ago.  Anyone still reading probably agrees with my pro-choice viewpoint.  But hear this:  If you believe that life begins at the point of conception and that terminating a pregnancy means ending human life; and, further, if you believe that ending all human life should be outlawed, then you also must be against capital punishment and war.  You cannot pick and choose.  If you do, you reveal your rank hypocrisy.

Society progresses.  Roe v. Wade represented progress, an acknowledgment the we all have a right to privacy protected by our Constitution, and that a woman’s right to privacy allows her to govern her own body.  The right carries qualifications founded in the scientific assessment of when a fetus can exist outside of a woman’s body.  In America, we allow the government to exercise reasonable restraints on our rights to serve the public good.  The determination of reasonable restraint must not be arbitrary.  These anti-abortion laws constitute unreasonable restraints on our rights, in their over-breadth, in their arbitrariness, and in their blind eye to socety’s failure to protect living, breathing children already clinging to their parents’ hungry hands.

The most devastating and inevitable impact of these laws must be exposed.  Abortions will continue, but they will retreat to the dark alleys and the unscrupulous, unlicensed practitioners preying on desperate, helpless impoverished girls and women.  Any decent practitioners will go underground, and those who need their services will search for them, often in vain.  Only the wealthy will receive safe and effective abortion services.

Pregnancy can bring joy.  But it can also bring heartache, pain, poverty, and peril.  To escape its burdens, helpless girls and women will seek aid wherever they might find it.   Those who enact anti-abortion laws announce that they do not care about the victims of  rape and incest; the mentally ill; the frightened teenagers; and the scores of women who just cannot endure what pregnancy demands.

Therefore the rest of us will raise the banner and protect a woman’s right to choose, a right  secured by the U.S. Constitution.  Our arms might grow weary; our feet might begin to ache. But we will not be silenced.

#MyBodyMyChoice

#IStandWithMySisters

Taken outside the federal building, Chicago, October 2017.

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Parents Reflecting on the Vaccination Question

I decided to tell my story to you, Parents Reflecting on the Vaccination Question, because I might be the oldest living confirmed example of The Worst Which Can Happen to Unvaccinated Children.

I was born the sixth child of an eventual eight in September of 1955.  The illness which sent me back to the hospital struck shortly after I started walking.  My mother described that first, frightening episode for me.  She told me that my knees suddenly swelled.  I lowered myself to the floor with a thud.  A precocious child already talking at eighteen months, I told her that I would not walk anymore.  I simply refused.  She denied that I cried or threw a tantrum.  I just sat down.

What followed would make my life immeasurably complicated and sad.  The doctors first thought that I suffered from polio.  After ruling out that disease, at a children’s hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, the doctors loaded me with Tetracycline and said I had “septic arthritis”.  They inserted an impossibly long needle into my right knee and drained quarts of thick yellow fluid.  Years later, my mother shuddered as she described helplessly staring at my small form on the gurney, my blue eyes wide beneath a mop of dark curls.

My two older brothers dragged me through the hospital corridors in a red wagon.  I don’t remember this, but I can picture them doing it.  Kevin’s strong jaw and black hair would rise above Mark’s blue-eyed blondness.  They’d have earnest expressions.  Their small blue jeans would be secured with tightly cinched belts; their little shirts buttoned to their chins.  At four and six, neither could have managed the undertaking alone.  They worked well together in those days.

The critical point of illness left my legs  irreparably damaged.  I would never again walk in a normal fashion.  Pain would grip my muscles every day of my life.  Two of my sisters experienced similar illnesses at the same time; each has lingering issues.  But neither has chosen to be tested  or to tell their story.  I do not speak for them.  I mention their sickness only to underscore the contagion which probably affected me.  My mother certainly thought so.  “Why did three of my girls get sick at once,” she repeatedly asked.  No one ever had an answer — at least, not during her life time.

For the next few years, my parents and siblings learned to cope with a new reality.  I would walk again, but my awkward gait and looming fatigue necessitated adjustments.  These ranged from preferential chore allocation to defense from school yard taunts.  Mark frequently ran bases for me in the casual softball games of our childhood.  Kevin clobbered more than one boy who teased me on the playground.  I got called names like “the little red-headed crippled girl”.  Groups of children would follow me home from school or church, jerking their legs and arms in a crude imitation of my body’s spastic movements.

I’ve always acknowledged that I have it easier than someone who becomes impaired later in life.  I don’t remember ever being anything else.  Because my “walking problem” started so early, my condition defines my physical state.  I have no true understanding of what it means to “walk right”.  I literally do not comprehend the phrase “pain-free”.  When triage nurses ask me to rate my pain from zero to ten, I shake my head.  “That has no relevance for me,” I tell them.  In the last few years, a “pain scale” for those who suffer chronic pain has come into infrequent but growing use.  I have my own gauge:  The worst pain that I’ve ever endured followed the fall of an unsplinted leg with 32 breaks from an examination table.  The worst pain that I have witnessed was my mother’s agony when cancer hit her brain, a few weeks before she died.

Anything less than one of those can be tolerated.  On a scale of Nirvania to Bosnia, I’m somewhere in between.

But the decades between my early elementary school and my late middle-age challenged me in ways that I appreciate more in retrospect.  I never felt welcome in groups of children at any age.  Girls jostled me and giggled when I fell.  Boys grabbed my books to throw them on ledges that I couldn’t scale.  I stood apart from the dodge ball games, not merely picked last but ignored altogether.

When President Kennedy’s Fitness Challenge hit our high school, I quaked at the thought of being called into the center of the gymnasium to perform the contortions demanded of the regimen.  I fled to the principal’s office in hysterical sobs.  A phone call to my house drew an irate response from my father, who marched to the school demanding to know why his youngest daughter had to face this ordeal.  Eventually, I got excused, but the gym teacher made me dress out and sit by myself on the sidelines.  Nobody believed that my legs didn’t work, that I suffered the pain of constant spasming, or that weakness prevented me from running or climbing.  All of that was true.  If anything, we underplayed my symptoms from ignorance.

The ostracizing which I suffered as a child and a teenager worsened when college began.  In the competitive dating circle, I stood no chance.  The boys who courted my friends made crass inquiries about my capabilities which I won’t repeat.  In the 1970s of my college days, women fell into two categories:  Those whom you would date; and those whom you would not date.  I never emerged from the second group.

The emotional burdens of being “crippled” never abated for me.  I knew lots of people with worse ailments who seemed, at least outwardly, to take their plight in stride.  But I also know that many of them drank too much; used both legal and illegal drugs to mask physical and psychological pain; and even adopted a sort of sarcastic persona to disguise their loneliness.  I hit all those notes, often and repeatedly, throughout my life.

Late in the 1980s, my health plummeted to a new low.  I started experiencing aphasic incidents which no one understood.  Eventually, an Infectious Disease specialist speculated that I had a viral infection.  He went so far as to articulate what my mother had suspected, 30 years prior:  That a virus had been responsible for the initial problem and had now reawakened – in medical nomenclature, it had “reactivated”.  He speculated as to the type of virus, but did not yet have an antigen-specific diagnostic test.

At about that time, I married and moved from Kansas City to Arkansas.  My ID doctor put me in touch with a pediatric immunologist in Little Rock who was studying what he called “recurrence of post-viral symptoms originating in early onset viral infections”, one of scores of diagnoses that I would have over my life-time.  He added my data to his work.  Three years later, when I got pregnant with my son, that doctor followed my case even more avidly, speculating as to whether my child would be impacted by what they presumed to be my reactivated virus. (He wasn’t; I had him tested years later.)

I benefited from my pregnancy.  My health seemed to improve.  Unfortunately, though, I did not have chicken pox as a child.  When my son got that disease in 1993, I followed suit.  (He proved to be a much better patient than I.)

Then, in 1996, I had my first bout of shingles, which landed me in the hospital.   Thus began a downward spiral, the bleakest point of which came on Valentine’s Day in 1998, when a pulmonologist bluntly – and incorrectly – gave me six months to live.  “Your lungs have reached their limit,” he coldly stated.  “You’re worn out.”  My neurologist at the time agreed.

I lay in a hospital bed week after week.  I’d go home for a few days, then collapse.  In the middle of all this, I met my second husband and we got married.  Though our marriage would subsequently falter and fail after ten years, I owe him a very large debt of gratitude for not rejecting me as being too ill to be worth his time.

Thankfully I had moved my son and myself back to Missouri in 1992, In 1999, the Infectious Disease doctor who had seen me in the late 1980s and again during my 1996 shingles bout, happened to see my name on an admissions list at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City.   Dr. Brewer came into my room and gasped at the frail and failing woman whom he beheld.  I told him about the six-month prognosis (which had now passed, but which seemed only slightly inaccurate).  He studied my chart, and actually laughed.  “You aren’t dying,” he told me.  “We know so much more now.  We know what your virus is, and we know it causes you to be hypercoagulable.  Your blood is just too thick.”

He told me that I likely had HHV-6, the same virus which causes roseola.   There are three similar childhood illnesses:  Measles, roseola, and rubella or “German measles”.  All are caused by viruses; all can cause dangerous illnesses including  viral encephalitis, which is what everyone now agrees I had as a toddler.   See, e.g.,  here (measles); here  (roseola)  and here  (rubella).

While Dr. Brewer and I talked that day, the pulmonologist and the neurologist rushed into my room, alerted by the nurses to the unfolding treachery.  They accused Joe Brewer, a respected infectious disease physician, of being a quack.  They cautioned me not to listen to him or allow him to dictate my care.  They stood over my weak body and shouted at him.  He took the entire event with characteristic calm.

“Let me get this straight,” I finally told the two of them.  “You think I’m dying.  Dr. Brewer says he can save me by administering blood-thinner.”  Silence followed.  “You’re fired,” I snapped at the two angry men.  I turned to Joe Brewer.  “You’re hired.”

A few months later, I went back to work full-time.

I participated in several studies of possible supplements which Dr. Brewer hoped would help patients like me.  I did not find relief from them after an initial surge of improvement which could well have been a placebo effect.  But undoubtedly, Dr. Brewer saved me from a pointless death due to oxygen-starved organs.  My skin had been sloughing; my heart had been slowing; and my muscles had been growing increasingly weak to the point of collapse.  Properly nourished by oxygen in the now-thinned blood, my body slowly regained a level of ability close to what it had lost.

Over the next ten years, periods of reactivation of the virus increased my problems.  I had long experienced difficulty breathing, but I also developed heart issues and digestive problems, all likely caused by the virus.  I am always tired, experiencing what Dr. Brewer described as “fatigue even at rest”.  I have weird neurological problems.  My right eye shuts down towards evening.  I’ve had constant tinnitus for my entire life.  My propioceptor systems simply do not work. I walk funny, I stagger, I fall, I limp.  I’m deaf in one ear.  My glasses  horrify anyone who happens to peer through the lenses.  I have to take an anti-viral just to keep the shingles and a few other random opportunistic viruses in check.

But I’m alive.

About six years ago, I learned that a doctor at Stanford had developed a medication, Valcyte, which he had hoped would fight HIV.  When it didn’t, he and his team started to look for viruses that it might combat.  They discovered that it suppresses HHV-6, “my” virus.  My primary care doctor in Kansas City wrote a twelve-page referral.  I got accepted and started treatment under the Stanford team’s care.

I now take Valcyte twice each day.  I take Valtrex (for the shingles and other random viruses) once a day.  I have standing orders for increase dosages if I experience outbreaks of any of those viruses.  An outbreak of HHV-6 is like having a super-duper cold combined with being repeatedly smashed against a brick wall  until I collapse.  I used to get those episodes every six weeks.  I have had two this calendar year. I had about four last year.

I still walk funny.  That will never change, because the CNS damage flowed from the original encephalitis.  The spasticity worsens with age and external factors, like not stretching enough or working too much.  Stress causes flare-ups of everything, especially the shingles.  But those, too, have become less frequent.  In short, I’m far better than anyone expected.

So, Parents Pondering the Vaccination Question, you might be wondering why I tell you all of this.  Let me spell it out:

If I had gotten a vaccination for the roseola virus, none of this would have happened.  The measles virus can cause the same problems.  A vaccination exists for the measles virus.  If a child can be spared what I suffered by virtue of vaccination, what reason exists to deny this vital protection to a helpless child?

I’ve heard people say that children are “damaged” by vaccinations.  I’ve read plenty of studies which refute this contention. Here’s just one.  Critical analysis debunks the original flawed studies.  I’ve seen no credible studies which support it.  Moreover, I’m a walking case study of what happens to someone – one in a thousand, but still – who contracts an otherwise harmless childhood virus and experiences its extreme effects.

Do you want your children to go through what I’ve recounted?  I assure you:  I’ve given you the highlights and spared you most of the gorier details, including the many years of loneliness, depression, and despair which I have experienced.  I still struggle from an unshakable belief that I am too broken for anyone to cherish.

Medicine has considerably improved since 1957.  We have Valcyte  and other anti-virals now.  An acute manifestation of roseola, rubella, or even measles might be treatable.  But why even get there?  Why subject your child to the potential that he or she will be one in a thousand, and suffer what I endured, if a vaccination can forestall such tragedy?  Serious illness from the measles virus occurs more often than from HHV-6.  You can safeguard against your child succumbing to that malady by vaccination.

I hope telling my story helps you.  More importantly, I hope it arms you with information that persuades you to vaccinate your children against viruses that can and almost certainly will cause them some degree of permanent and painful harm.  Do your due diligence.  But avoid the influence of  sensational stories with no credible, scientifically sound data to support them.  In the case of the measles vaccine, the limited studies claiming that the vaccination causes autism have long-since been discredited.  Juxtaposed against such junk-science are endless studies proving the vaccination to be safe and effective.

I don’t pretend to know everything.  I’m not a doctor.  I’m just a woman who has walked this earth for the last sixty-one years with an agonizing and contorted gait, from whom normalcy has been stripped, and who yearns to spare your child the sorrow which my virus brought me.

Sincerely,

Lucy Corley’s baby girl

 

Corinne Corley

cccorleyjd@gmail.com

My Last Day of Innocent Outrage

I want to write this before the details of Special Counsel Mueller’s report hit the airwaves.  My innocent outrage vanishes when we know what Mueller found.  I will cease being innocent, and I might cease being outraged.

I want to believe that we do not have a president who colluded with the Russians who hacked our election.  I want our country to heal.  On the brink of greater knowledge, I harbor a shred of hope.

If Mueller finds that Trump and his people colluded with Russian, or knew of the Russian interference and acquiesced in it, the splintering divide cracks further.  But if Trump knew nothing of the efforts undertaken on his behalf by Russia, we could ride this storm.

If.  If Trump does not luxuriate in his vindication, which I have no doubt he will do.  He will chortle if the report says, “Russian did indeed interfere, as everyone knows.  They did so intending to aid Trump.  Their efforts helped Trump win.  But Trump and his people remained ignorant of the Russian efforts”.    My innocence fades, and my outrage dampens.  I might be nauseous, because Trump’s personal brand of self-aggrandizement ill becomes the office which he holds.   Outrage would be misplaced.

But what if it says the opposite?  What if it says that Trump and his people knew, or further, that they actively cultivated Russian assistance?  My innocence fades and my outrage rises.

I have quite enjoyed the last few months.  Blissful oblivion overtook me.  I watched the trials and guilty pleas with something like disinterest.  Campaign manager indicted, ho hum.  Fixer pleads guilty, what’s on the next channel?  Fingers wagged, but why believe one liar over another?  I went about my business.  I could be outraged at the outlandish tweets and the disgusting speeches.  My outrage came to nothing because we did not know the depth of Trump’s treachery.

The man occupying the Oval Office has undertaken so many policies damaging to all that I value.  If exoneration falls on his shoulders, he will no doubt intensify his efforts.  The EPA, the immigrants, the National Parks, our climate — all of these already suffer under his reign.  Vindication will fuel him.

At the same time, if the Mueller report opines that Trump and his people promoted and benefited from the hack of our election, a fierce battle will ensue.  The genuine business of governance will shudder to a halt while we try to figure out how to deal with a probable felon in the White House.  The differences which divide us will intensify.  Everything now threatened will feel the strain even more acutely.

On my last night of innocent outrage, I went out for Chinese.  When I got home, I started another load of laundry.  I’ll watch a little news on YouTube, and go to bed early.  I will need my strength, if tomorrow dawns the revolution.

 

TRIGGER WARNING

I’m warning you: Certain people should not read this blog entry.   Turn back, Dorothy.

If you don’t want to know anything about my tortured path to personal salvation, stop reading.

If you’ve ever made a nasty crack about a woman whom you presume to be promiscuous, stop reading.

If you’re a practicing Catholic who rejects the scandal of “clergy abuse” (gag me with a silver spoon), stop reading.

If you are related to me and would rather not know this about your sister/cousin/mother(sigh)/whatever, stop reading.

If you don’t want to confront issues which cause you to  accept that not everyone leads a perfect life, stop reading.

Still reading?  Then — listen:  The Vatican conference on the “Church’s new position about the crimes of its priests sickens me.  

Or it would, if I cared about the Roman Catholic Church.

In 1971, a Catholic priest assigned to my high school presumed upon my sexual naivete.  I won’t recount the details; their relevance lies only in the scantness of my memory of them.

I did nothing about what I experienced except hide my face in shame, for the next 24 years or so.  In 1993, I disclosed what I suffered to the monk who had baptized my son.  I don’t know if my brother Frank knows that I did so, but it took place in his dining room. My words barely rose above a whisper.  They came in response to the monk’s query as to why I had not raised my son in the church.   “It’s complicated,” I replied.  “Try me,” he suggested.

So I did.  My explanation garnered only a blessing in reply.  I accepted his murmured prayer without comment.

A few years later, I told my best friend (slash) legal assistant, Alan White.  His outrage and support melded together with  such strength that I found myself able to act.  I wrote to the St. Louis Diocese. In return, a lawyer wrote to me.  We had some brief correspondence, during which I laid out my terms.  I wanted a small sum of money, a written apology, and to have the priest in question benched. I also insisted that I would not sign a non-disclosure agreement.

I got what I wanted.  I used the money to take my son and my  best friend’s sixteen-year-old daughter to Disney World and to buy a new car.  It wasn’t a lot.  Just enough.  I did make him re-write the apology.  His first draft put the blame on me.  After I stopped vomiting, raging, crying, and pacing, I called the lawyer.  I described myself in those days:  small, shy, virginal, and a victim of a chaotic home including severe abuse at my father’s hands for which I had sought help from the priest  in question.  The letter got re-written.

I never felt compelled to talk about the events of my sophomore year in high school even though I could. Over the next few years, I would occasionally get called for an interview. I’d answer their questions and a story would run somewhere. I refused the offer of counseling. I found the notion that the perpetrator’s employer would finance and monitor any therapeutic repair work to be patently absurd.

A half-dozen years later, I got a call.  My abuser had a chance to get his privileges restored.  My testimony was sought on the issue of his suitability for service.  I put on my only lawyer’s suit and drove to St. Louis in the now-rickety Buick which I had bought with my “settlement”.

The panel consisted of an elderly woman with exquisitely coiffed hair and too much pancake make-up; a psychologist; a deputy sheriff; and some priest — with fancy garb, so presumably high-ranking.  All acknowledged being Catholics.  They asked me a series of questions, as at any parole hearing.   What had he done to me (‘you don’t remember more than that?  Surely that wasn’t too bad?”)(“You did note that I was thirteen, right? And that it went on for an entire school year?  And that he was my teacher???“); what had I made of myself since then; did I realize that he claimed to have not done anything to anyone else?

The lady said, “You don’t look like a victim.”

I stared at her for a few minutes.  “What does a victim look like,” I finally asked. She glanced to her left and right, for moral support, I supposed.

“Well,” she finally managed.  “You’re a lawyer, for one thing.” She lifted her hands with their crimson nails.  That seemed to say it all for her.  The psychologist asked me if maybe I hadn’t been looking for love.  I had no answer.  Who  isn’t looking for love?  That doesn’t mean our sophomore religion teacher should oblige.

The cop showed the most understanding. He noted that the events which I described would have been prosecuted as felonies.  I thanked him for that, albeit silently, only with my eyes.  The priest threw his pen on the table.  I took that as a sign that my turn in the Inquisition had concluded.

When I got outside, I encountered a nervous woman in her twenties.  “How was it,” she asked.  I shook my head. “They’re clueless,” I told her.  “Except one guy, he’s in law enforcement.  The rest of them, don’t trust.”  She looked down  at the tissue which she had shredded in her lap.  I put my arms around her and squeezed her slender shoulders.

The priest who had coordinated my testimony walked me to the parking lot.  I could barely bring myself to be even nominally cordial.  He held my car door open for me.  Before getting into the driver’s seat, I remarked that the committee hadn’t taken me very seriously.  I asked if they expected me to be in a straight jacket, or covered with self-inflicted scars.

“We’re just getting started with this,” he replied. “We’re refining our approach. ”

That was 19 years ago.  Nineteen.  Now the Catholic church claims to have committed to doing more. They want the world to know that they consider “cover-ups” on a par with the actual abuse.  In the law, we call those “conspiracies”.  We talk of “accessories”.  We prosecute. We don’t just de-frock. We jail.  And if we don’t, we should.

I’m sixty-three years old.  A lot of terrible abuses have happened to me over the years.  I’ve inflicted some of them on myself. I’ve tolerated others because I felt worthless.  I’m here to tell you:  Don’t let the foxes try, convict, and sentence each other.  Don’t let them sit before a jury of their peers.  Let them be judged by a jury of my peers, the men and women whom they damaged, and from whom they stole even the solace of faith.

I daresay that would satisfy the requirements of due process by anyone’s standard.

 

 

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: