Sunday, November 06, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

I was taking my 15 year old nephew home from school the other day.  He, out of the blue, asked me what I thought about the upcoming Presidential election.  I get this occasionally in the classroom as well.  In that latter arena, I try to best to be as non-partisan as possible.  I think I do a pretty good job of it,  In fact a kid told me about a month or so ago that every time he thinks he has me figured out, I say something that that gives him a second thought. That's my job.

But this was different.  Clarke wanted to know what I thought as his uncle. Not as the teacher.  

But even though I was unconstrained by the grove of academe I  felt that I had to tread lightly.  It was a serious question from a smart kid.  He deserved a thoughtful response.  

I began by telling him that I had been voting for many years.  And that I never miss a chance to exercise the franchise.  The voting booth is nigh unto a sacred place for me.  And I hope he feels the same way when he runs 18.  

I told him that I thought I had seen it all during my time in Louisiana and with the antics of Tommy Robinson here.  I told him that I thought that W was the worst president in my lifetime and that I didn't think we would make such a mistake again.  

But I told him that I had never seen a Presidential candidate like Donald J. Trump.  And I pretty much let it go at that.  Like I said, Clarke is a smart kid.  He can read between the lines.  

What I didn't tell him was that, while I certainly didn't vote for either George W. Bush, John McCain or Mitt Romney, neither did I question their basic fitness for office, Sarah Palin notwithstanding.  I would not have liked it if McCain or Romney had won.  But I wouldn't have viewed their election as a potential disaster for our country.  All of these people had won elections.  All of these people had public records.  I may have disagreed with their politics but I would not have questioned their fitness to serve.  Except for Sarah Palin.  And John McCain's decision to put her on the ticket pretty much cost him the election.  The electorate got it right.

Trump is a different deal altogether.  

This is a man who is particularly unsuited for public office much less the highest one in the land.  He is thin-skinned and xenophobic.  He is either an overt racist or does not mind it his candidacy appeals to those that are.  He has encouraged the fanciful idea that his opponent should be incarcerated and that the electoral process is rigged against him as he engages in that very process.

All politicians lie as a matter of tactics.  Trump does it as a matter of pathology.  He has tapped into all that is ugly and divisive in our culture and made it his base.  There is mad talk here and there of the possibility of violence in the streets should he mercifully lose the election.  He does not particularly discourage this mad talk.  He is not transparent about his taxes unlike all other candidates for President other than Richard Nixon.  As with Nixon, I suspect there is a reason for this.  

In Trump's world there are either "winners" or "losers" which is hardly a nuanced view of reality.  Indeed, "Losers" are typically anybody who disagrees with him.  He has questioned the impartiality of the judge who is presiding over one of the matter of his phony-baloney Trump University due to the judge's Mexican ancestry.  He has mocked the disabled and said ungallant things about women.  

And the scary thing is Trump's unhinged approach to campaigning strikes many of his acolytes as "honesty" and represents proof to them that he will bring sweeping change to Washington.  As if sweeping change is possible given the checks and balances in the system.  Change to what?  Not as diverse?  Do our own Brexit from engagement with the world?  Drop the big one on ISIS?  Prosecute Hillary? The con man believes in the con now, my fellow Americans.  And why shouldn't he? Even evangelicals support him, despite his historically libertine approach to sexual ethics and no known record of particular interest in religious matters.  

The wisdom of Hamilton and Madison has never been more plain. The Electoral College is the firewall against national self-destruction.  And it is my fervent hope that it will prove so next Tuesday.

I'm not crazy about Hillary, who is graciously referred to as a "flawed candidate."  Trump is flawed.  She is despised.  And only she could keep giving herself regular roundhouses to herself at the worst possible times.  She is overly cautious and defaults into corporate lawyer mode at the drop of a hat.  But at the end of the day, I could give two hoots in Hell about her emails.  Say what you will about her, she is qualified by experience and temperament for office.  Trump is not. 

And that is the low bar with which we are confronted in the Presidential election of 2016.  This is what we have come to at this juncture in history.  And the whole world is watching.  Really it is.  

I finished my talk with Clarke in this fashion.  I told him that it was up to his generation to somehow fix our country's politics.  

Because my generation has failed.    Here's your proof.  

God bless the United States of America.  May the firewall hold.  

Sunday, October 09, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

As I tell the kids, when it comes to writing, "beginnings and endings" ("ledes and walkaways" in the parlance of journalism) are important.  And I confess that I don't quite know where to begin when it comes to the latest revelation about Donald Trump, the Party Formerly of Lincoln's nominee for President.  But we have to start somewhere.  So here goes.

As the whole world knows by now, last week a tape was leaked of a conversation between he and the amazingly named Billy Bush as they were en route to Trump making a cameo appearance on the soap opera "Days of Our Lives" in 2005. These tapes were made for the reality show "Access Hollywood" of which Mr. B was a host. Or something.  

Suffice it to say, his remarks about women and his prowess with them (for lack of a better word) were shockingly lewd and juvenile for an (alleged) gentleman of his age and station. They will not be repeated here as you can easily find them elsewhere.  

I am no prude.  I am not one to be offended by coarse language or the off-color joke.  Lord knows I am perfectly capable of making the air turn blue, particularly on the golf course.  And while I try to be thoughtful in my choice of words I occasionally make a mistake, as I did a couple of weeks ago.  

And I have been in the company of all manner of men in my youth and adulthood.  In the locker room. On the golf course.  In the stands.  In the tavern.  In the hallway outside the courtroom.  

I've been with them when they were drunk, when they were angry, when they were under stress, and when they have tried to hit on women.  

I have been with men when they are unhappy with women in general or with their woman in particular.  I've heard the "b" word.  I've used the "b" word.  

My point, and I do have one, in the words of Ellen DeGeneres, is that I cannot recall anybody ever talking about women in general as Trump is heard talking about them on the tape.  You might expect that sort of attitude from a poorly socialized 15 year old boy.  You don't expect to hear that from a reputed business icon, one whose wife was pregnant at the time.  

But I will let others explain the gravity of those words from the female perspective.  I cannot possibly do them the justice this moment requires.  

But my biggest issue is not the words he used, vile as they are, or the attitude of superiority over women they convey.  It is Donald Trump's blind eye to place, circumstance or surroundings.  And/or possible consequences for his acts.

He was en route to tape a show.  He was in the presence of a TV personality whom he was favoring with his insights into the relationship between the sexes.  

Did it not occur to him that there might be a "live" mic somewhere capturing these pensees for all eternity?  Or did he just not care?  Was it a momentary lapse of judgment?  Or was it hubris?  

I have my grave doubts that there was ever a proper time or place for such reprehensible words.  But we may all agree wherever such a place might be it was not en route to a taping of a soap opera where audio recording technology abounds.  You would think that a person with his mostly self-hyped intellect and media experience would comport himself with a modicum of restraint and dignity in mixed company as the old expression goes.  

But he did not.  

Trump has apologized. Sorta.  And he says that those comments made 11 years ago do not reflect the man he is today.  Perhaps.  The task of judging men's hearts has not been delegated unto me in any event.  So I will not do so.

But do the American people really want to give the keys to the military and the apparatus of diplomacy to a man who exercised such monumentally poor judgment in 2005?  

Are we really willing to bet something that stupid won't happen again?  Over something that matters?  

Are we?  


Monday, October 03, 2016

The Real Point About The Trump Tax Records Dump

We talked about Trump's refusal to make his taxes public in class a couple of weeks ago. First of all, I told the boys that although Mr. Trump is the first Presidential candidate since Richard Nixon not to do so he has every right to keep his tax returns a matter between him and the IRS.  I told them what tax returns reveal and what they do not.  I explained the difference between tax evasion which is illegal and tax avoidance which is what I do every time I file a return with my paltry itemized deductions.  And I reiterated that Mr. Trump has a right not to have his tax information revealed. 

Well, somebody did it for him, by leaking the 1995 tax return filed jointly by ex-spouse Marla Maples and him to the New York Times.  Which was published last Saturday night.  It revealed that Trump took a $916,000,000 loss for that tax year.  Although while an extreme example of the practice, this is entirely legal and reflects the tax benefits available to real estate developers that you and I don't have.  

I have been asked my thoughts about all of this.  Here are my thoughts.

1) I don't care if these are so-called "paper losses" resulting from accounting prestidigitation or not.  You lose that much money you aren't nearly the shrewd businessman that you claim to be.  Which is only relevant because he has made his alleged business acumen a campaign issue.  And now we know-or can guess-why he didn't want these tax documents revealed.  It's not true.

2) Donald Trump, vile specimen of a human being that he is, has got rights just like you and me.  If he doesn't want his records made public he has that right.  The IRS should immediately initiate an investigation into how these records got released.  If it was an employee, there should be hell to pay.  Nobody has a right to reveal a taxpayer's information without his or her permission.

3) Unless it was-and you can put this in your "Hell Hath No Fury" file-Marla Maples.  She signed off on the return as well.  She can hand the damn things out in front of Macy's at rush hour with impunity.  I doubt it was her.  But karma, like water, seeks its own level.  And it is amusing to contemplate.

4) The New York Times has colorable criminal liability as well.  While a newspaper in general can publish illegal information that it obtained legally, there is a specific statute which forbids the publication of a taxpayer's information without permission.  This will be interesting.  If I'm Trump I raise holy Hell.  

5) But he won't do this.  Trump, naturally, has threatened to sue the Times.   He's got to know that discovery would be brutal.  In any event, he won't do it until after the election.  Because he would have to admit the tax records published by the Times were his.  He hasn't denied it.  But he hasn't admitted it either.  

6) And here's what else I think.  I told the boys that day that I get a retirement check once a month from Uncle.  My taxes come off the top.  Even at that I have to pay quarterly taxes.  Which, quite frankly, pisses me off.  

These particular classes are full of, if not Trump supporters, Hillary haters. I asked them if they thought it was fair if it turned out that I paid more in Federal income tax than Donald Trump.  To a man they said "No."

And that's the REAL issue and it's an issue a teenager can easily grasp.  The tax code is rigged.  And it's rigged in favor of guys that can take advantage of extravagant deductions not available to the average Joe.  

That's not fair.  And that's the real issue Mr. Trump's tax returns raise.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

 Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of my exodus from public service. It seems like 5 days.  The older I get, and I don't feel all that old, the faster time seems to speed up.   

Truth be told, it didn't really hit me until a week or so ago.  Then again, I'm pretty busy with a lot of stuff nowadays.  At least too busy to engage in a great deal of navel gazing.  And too busy to play cards at the AARP meeting room down the street.  

What a difference 5 years makes.  When I first "retired" I felt like a fish out of water.  Indeed, I left the government because I was tired of the job.  Not because I was tired of working.  It never occurred to me that I would not be doing something full time pretty quickly.  And, truth be told the first 6 months or so were pretty awful.  

After all, I had always had some kind of job since I was 14.  Not working was unthinkable for me.  Hence, the "fish out of water" feelings of cognitive dissonance.  Insert "alone on an island", "out on a limb",  or your own favorite metaphor for self-pity here.  

But guess what?  I am so over that shit.  And have been for some time.  

The following is an example of what I get to do instead of practicing law all of the time. Friday's exchange with a 5th grader went like this:

"So you still do lawyer work?" she asked.

" Yep."

"Do you have an office?"

"Yeah.  In my house."

"Are you a millionaire?"

"Yes I am."

So I'm not really a millionaire.  That was a "fib." It's only a lie if you put it on a financial statement.

I saw no point in explaining the concept of "solvency" to a 9 year old.  But is this funner than hell or what?

I am light years removed from 5 years ago.  I'm in a great relationship with someone who a friend described upon meeting her as "very tall and way cool."  I am pretty much in-house counsel for a small business here in town and I have enough people wanting me to do stuff for them that I have broken down and bought malpractice insurance.  

I spend a lot of time at Catholic High down the street and a little at St. Edward's Middle School where the above-exchange took place.  I used to do more writing than I do nowadays.  I think it's because I got hit with a lazy stick after teaching full-time last semester.  That's OK.  Never really had the opportunity to be worthless before.  I'll get over it one of these days.  Maybe.  

I wouldn't say that I worry about money but I think about it more than I used to.  Then again I've got a pretty good amount of money socked away that I have never touched.  Every month the eagle screams and I get a check sufficient to finance my slothful ways every month.  I will continue to receive it until my expiration date or World War III, whichever comes first. 

As an aside, I need to do something about my car.  I need to do some repairs or buy another one.  For some reason a new tightwad version of me is in full flower.  M says I need to quit thinking about this stuff and go buy a damn car.  She's probably right.  But I need to think about it.  Now I understand why the elderly ruminate overmuch on these things.  They have time to do it.  This self-revelation is frightening. 

Of course, if Donald Trump pulls off the con of his career and places his hand on the Bible in January, I will quit joking about such mundane subjects.  And I will start checking out real estate in Quebec or New Zealand.  

The state of my personal union 5 years out-knock on wood- is far better than I deserve.  I have my health, friends and family.  I do fun things with interesting people, some of whom are a little mouthier than is necessary. But that's OK.   Folks repose trust in me and I never forget what a sacred thing that is.  

All is well.  I am at peace.  

And I do not take it for granted.

But really.  It's been 5 years since I walked out of the Federal Building?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

"This is not Rome. This is the Republic of Ireland 2011. A republic of laws...of rights and responsibilities...of proper civic order..."

                           Irish Secretary of State Enda Kenney

"Which is more important to you, (sic) the Bible or the US Constitution?"

                           Facebook post earlier this month

In 2011, the Irish government excoriated the Vatican for allegedly attempting to block the investigation by the civil authorities of child abuse by clerics.  The church was told in no uncertain terms by a righteously indignant, I mean no pun, Enda Kenney that the civil law prevailed when it came to the safety and protection of children.  Of course, the negative pregnant in Kenney's remarkable (by Irish standards) pushback to Rome was that civil law was primary in all matters involving "rights and responsibilities" and "proper civic order."

I thought of the words of the Taoiseach (look it up) when I saw the above-referenced post on Facebook.  

For some people, everything is a zero-sum game.  Right and wrong.  Black and white.  

Which is more important to you?  The Bible or the US Constitution?  

One wonders what is going on out there that would prompt someone to ask such a question.  One can sense a certain paranoid construct in which such a question can live and do well.  A law may be constitutional but it might also be contrary to the Bible.  Or to a particular reading of the Bible.  In that case what?  Your personal morality trumps the civil law?  Indeed, there have been laws passed in a couple of states that say just that. 

And the most famous example of this theory was the decision by county clerk Kim Davis not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because to do so would offend would allegedly offend her deeply held religious beliefs.  

I prefer a more nuanced approach to the post to the extent a) the Facebook poster is serious and b) it is even a question.  

To borrow the wonderful phrase from Stephen Jay Gould, the Bible and the US Constitution serve different magisteria.  The Bible concerns matters of spirituality and morality.  The Constitution and the laws passed pursuant to it concern "rights and responsibilities" and "proper civic order." They are accorded primacy in that realm as the United States, like Ireland, is a republic of laws. 

And by the same token, the law protects the typical exercise of the believer's faith.  I can attend the church of my choice.  I can send my kid to a parochial school.  Conversely the law protects my freedom to play golf on Sunday instead of going to church if I so please.  Further, while I am free to believe or to not believe, I do not have the unfettered discretion to act on those beliefs.  My deeply held belief that the use of marijuana is integral to the practice of my religion is no defense if I am being prosecuted on a dope charge.  

Just for the record, I am a Methodist.  We do not smoke grass in church.  I raised a hypothetical.  I'm a lawyer.  We do that.  

So why am I making a big honking deal out of gibberish on Facebook?  Because it seems a lot of our national discourse about serious things takes the form of posts on Facebook or through tweets on Twitter.  But everything can't be a zero sum game.  Serious questions cannot be resolved in a sound bite. 

I talked about the post in question with one of the history teachers at school the other day.  Here's our response.

Which is more important to you?  The Bible or the Constitution?

Our answer is "yes."


Sunday, September 04, 2016

My Sunday Feeling

A buddy of mine sent me this picture yesterday.  The house in the picture is not too far from where I live.  In fact, I recognized it from the times I have gone past cutting through to Mississippi Avenue or Leawood.  The rather, shall we say, aggressive, signage was not observable when I went by it the other day.  So this must be a fairly recent bit of home decoration.

Now let's get something out of the way right off the bat.  The owner of this house has every right to put any kind of political stuff on his house or yard as he sees fit just so long as it doesn't violate any zoning regulations pertaining to such matters.  It's his or her First Amendment right to do it.  And what he chooses to advertise is pretty much his business and means nothing to me other than I must note that he evidently went to some trouble to do it.  So there is no doubt in my mind that he is earnest in his beliefs.

The notion that Hillary Clinton should be in prison is a recurrent leitmotif in the political discourse on the far right hand side of the dial.  Those who allow their paranoia to fully blossom into full flower rather view her continued freedom to be "proof" that the system is rigged. Further, if Donald Trump is defeated in the race for the White House, which seems likely, some of these folks that subscribe to this notion will view at further "evidence" that the fix was in.  Indeed, Mr. Trump has said as much.  

As far as I can tell, the reason that Hillary should be locked up has to do with her handling of the Benghazi tragedy during her tenure as Secretary of State or for her use of a private email server to conduct classified government business.  Never mind that the Benghazi situation has been investigated to a fare-the-well by the Congress with no criminal referrals. And, while the FBI found that she had handled classified material in a careless fashion it declined to make a criminal referral either.  

And, as far as I can tell, there is this notion that because of these defaults on her part, or combination thereof, Hillary Clinton is guilty of treason.  I have even read where some Trump supporters have expressed the opinion that she should be either shot or hung for this reason.  

I make reference from time-to-time to the fact that I was horribly miscast last winter as an American history teacher.  I do this because it is was one of the more singularly profound, if not holy, experiences of my life.  That, and the boys and I spent many an afternoon discussing the issues of the day which included the Presidential primaries on both sides.  The "Hillary is guilty of treason" thing popped up occasionally but not often as most of the kids were Rubio supporters in those days.  

This was a teachable moment.  Especially since this discussion about treason popped up about the time we learning about the treason trial of Aaron Burr.  I am as neutral as Switzerland when it comes to politics in the classroom.  However, I made no particular secret of my fondness for Aaron Burr in those days. 

After all, you have to admire somebody who tries to fix a Presidential election-talk about rigged-, survives two duels one of which was with the Secretary of the Treasury who he plugged, attempts to get both France and England (and Mexico if I remember correctly) to attack the United States, and when they all refused did it himself.  This latter episode landed him in hot water with Thomas Jefferson, who had very little use for Burr in the first place mainly over the fixing-the-election-thing.  

And so, being a lawyer, I beat my classes over the head about what the Constitution of the United States of America says about treason. Because treason is a crime and crimes are defined in the law and not what 2 guys in a bar might think.  

Article III, Section 3 says "Treason against the United States,shall consist ONLY in levying war against them, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort...(emphasis supplied)."  As I told my classes back then if they didn't go to bed that night with these words ringing in their ears then I had not done my job.

So while whatever alleged misdeeds committed by Hillary as Secretary of State might have been the result of negligence, miscalculation or plain dumb bad luck, the don't amount to criminal acts according to the numerous investigating bodies that lucked into them.  And they sure as hell weren't acts of treason.

And so I say to the owner of the house depicted above what I said to a kid the other day.  If you truly believe that Hillary Clinton's conduct in the discharge of her duties as Secretary of State disqualify her for the Presidency then you have the duty to walk into that voting booth and proudly make your ballot against her.  That is your sacred right as an American and that decision is between you, your God and nobody else.  

But she ain't guilty of treason.  Because treason consists ONLY of levying war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies.

Neither was Aaron Burr as it turned out.  He was acquitted by none other than John Marshall who presided over his trial for reasons that remain unclear to me since he was a Supreme Court Justice.  Anyway, President Jefferson was rightly incredulous when Burr got off because Aaron Burr was about as guilty as he could have possibly been without a youtube video depicting him and his band of rebels floating up the Mississippi being entered into evidence.  Afterwards, Jefferson wrote an irate letter to Justice Marshall in which he inquired, in so many words, if Aaron Burr could walk under those facts, what did it take to get found guilty of treason around here? 

History is silent as whether Mr. Jefferson got a response.  

I judge it to be a dangerous fantasy to impute criminal liability for political acts or for acts nominally taken within the course and scope of one's authority under the law.  When people running for office suggest as much, it is irresponsible.     

As for me, I am counting the days until this election is over and I can watch sports with the sound on again.  


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

We Must Be Friends

"We must be friends, not enemies."
                                             Abraham Lincoln-First Inaugural Address

"Hillary wants to essentially abolish the Second Amendment.  By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks.  Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don't know."
                                              Donald J. Trump

It was my privilege to teach high school American history for a brief period of time.  When I was dropped in there, we explored the run-up to the Civil War.  I told the kids about how Lincoln was desperately trying to get the Union to hang together   And about how the Southern states left as soon as Lincoln took his hand off of the Bible. And off we went to the Civil War.  

"We must be friends, not enemies."

Honest to God I was as neutral as Switzerland with my classes.  I turned the liberal kids around as much as the conservative kids.  And I was in my happy place when I walked through the room putting hands on shoulders as I moderated and told yellers to shut up. 

God.  What fun.

But I have been around for some 60 years.  

And I have never seen once in my lifetime a major Presidential candidate insinuate that violence is the appropriate response to the outcome of an election.  And that's what Trump is suggesting.  Although I don't think he believes any of this.  Really. I don't. But his nutbar constituency  does. 

Good thing I'm not teaching anymore I guess.  I am an American.  I love my country. 

I would have to tell the kids what I think.  And why.  

Just as well.