Sunday, July 24, 2016

PRESIDENTIAL MONEY

Donald Trump is a billionaire. Some of his wealth was inherited. Most of it was made in real estate investments. Mr. Trump buys and builds and sells. That is how he makes his money.

Hillary Clinton is a millionaire. She and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are reputed to be worth around 80 million dollars.

I asked myself, “How did, how do, they make their money?”

Bill Clinton has clamed that when they left the White House they were “dead broke” and in debt.

ABC News has reported:

After they were criticized for taking $190,000 worth of china, flatware, rugs, televisions, sofas and other gifts with them when they left, the Clintons announced last week that they would pay for $86,000 worth of gifts, or nearly half the amount. Their latest decision to send back $28,000 in gifts brings to $114,000 the value of items the Clintons have either decided to pay for or return.

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton are lawyers. Both of them make speeches for compensation. In short, they make their money by performing personal services. The only product they have to sell is their time, attention, advice and influence.

The Clintons are the quintessential career politicians. People give them money in exchange for ‘access.’  People give them money for what they know and for what they can do. People give them money because they have political power and to influence the way they exercise their political power.

That may sound like a fancy way of saying that they take bribes. It isn’t. No one has ever suggested that President Clinton or Secretary Clinton have taken bribes from anyone. But neither does anyone insist that money doesn’t affect what they do.

Much has been written and said about the power of money in politics. There is an almost universal abhorrence of lobbying by the ‘big money.’ Still, the same politicians who rail against ‘big corporations,’ ‘Wall Street,’ and the influence of professional lobbyists are typically engaged in the same business of selling access to political power.

Despite the hoopla of an apparently successful nominating convention in Cleveland, the Republicans are still deeply divided. A long list of supposed Party leaders remains opposed to The Donald.

Perhaps the most puzzling is Ohio Governor John Kasich. His snubbing of the GOP convention was more than mere political pique; it was a failure to represent the people of Ohio in his official capacity as Governor. If it had been a convention of any other organization; the American Bar Association, for example, that was bringing thousands of people and millions of dollars into Ohio, the citizens of the Buckeye State would expect their Governor to extend an official welcome. And to do it in person.

John Kasich, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are not the only big name Republicans who are sitting out the election in a tissy. The two party system establishment in Washington that has inspired the Tea Party and the Donald Trump “Outsiders” is a combination of career politicians and inbred elitists from both major political parties.

To say that the ‘system is broken’ is almost a cliché these days. The House is supposed to represent the people, the Senate is supposed to represent the  States, the President is supposed to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, and the Supreme Court is supposed to protect the Constitution.

They don’t.

Donald Trump and his supporters are fond of saying that his candidacy represents ‘a movement.’  Whether it does or not, one thing is clear. Trump doesn’t need the job. He already has fame and fortune. He already has a private jet airplane.

It looks to me like the choice will boil down to this: Do we want a career politician who has amassed a fortune by selling access and influence and who promises to deliver the same old, same old; or do we want a political neophyte who has amassed a fortune in private enterprise, and who promises to shake things up?

I think it’s time to declare that Hearts are Trump and run the table.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

AMERICANS

In the waiting room at the hospital while Polly was enduring yet another MRI in the seemingly endless quest for relief from pain, I stumbled onto a three year old copy of Forbes Magazine that yielded a treasure worth sharing.

It was an article written by Steven F. Hayward, author of a two volume biography of Ronald Reagan and a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado. His subject was immigration, and he included a quote from a 1988 speech by President Reagan which really caught my eye and attention.  Here it is:

America represents something universal in the human spirit. I received a letter not long ago from a man who said “You can go to Japan to live, but you cannot become Japanese. You can go to France to live and not become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey, and you won’t become a German or a Turk” but then he added “Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American.

Hayward went on to say that a person becomes an American by adopting America’s principles, especially those principles summarized in the “self evident truths” of the Declaration of Independence such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Then he quoted Carl Friedrich, who wrote “To be an American is an ideal, while to be a Frenchman is a fact.” Hayward then quoted a friend, who told him: “I was always an American; I was just born in the wrong country.”

I can remember filling out an application for something or other back in the middle of the last century, and the form asked two questions: What is your citizenship? and What is your nationality?

It seemed odd to me that citizenship was something different from nationality. So I wrote: Citizenship – USA. Nationality – Irish.

It seemed logical. My father was proud of his Irishness, as was his father before him. Truth is, our Brennans came over in the famine times of the early nineteenth century. My mother was a Sullivan, another good Irish name, but in fact no ancestor of mine on either side had stepped a foot on the old sod in nearly two hundred years.

Still, the idea of “American” being a nationality remains an uneasy truth. We call Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and others the ‘founders of our nation.” But were they, really? Did they think of the United States as a nation, or something else?

The fact is that they were almost all Englishmen. They spoke English. They talked about their rights as Englishmen. They studied English law, and treasured English civil liberties. The constitution they wrote did not say that they were founding a nation, or creating a new nationality. They called it “a more perfect union.”

It wasn’t until 87 years later that Abraham Lincoln claimed that they had “brought forth a new nation” and that the Civil War was testing whether a nation founded on the novel idea that all men are created equal could possibly last.

The indigenous population of our land never thought of themselves as Americans. Their nationality was tribal: they were Cherokees, Ottawas, Seminoles.

‘American’ as a nationality was conceived in the slaughter at Gettysburg, born on San Juan Hill in 1898, matured in the Argonne Forest in 1918, and at  Omaha Beach in 1944, tested in Korea and Viet Nam in the 20th century, and confirmed in the sands of the Middle East in the 21st.

In our day, the name ‘American’ is reserved for men and women who believe that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights – rights that cannot be sold, surrendered or stolen; that among these are life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the right to establish the kind of government we want by means of a written Constitution which is the Supreme Law of the Land.

We live mostly on the North American Continent between the 49th parallel and the Gulf of Mexico and the Rio Grande River, and between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

We speak English and we worship the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ. We are Americans, and so are a lot of other people who adopt the American dream of freedom under law.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

LIVES MATTER

They are going to bury my cousin today. Leo Drolshagen was 86. He died a few days ago peacefully, during his afternoon nap.

Leo Drolshagen’s life mattered. It mattered a lot to the five people who matured in the garden of his protection, his discipline and his love. It mattered to the fourteen grandchildren who inherited his charm, his smile and his faith.

Leo’s life mattered to a lot of other people, too. Folks who worked for him and folks he helped at the Savings and Loan. Clients, especially the young ones he was appointed to represent by the Probate Court.

And it mattered to other people, too. To a community he loved and served. They will all be here at the church to celebrate a life well lived, a life that mattered.

Lives matter. All lives. Philando Castle’s life mattered. He was the 32 year old school employee killed by police bullets after his car was stopped for a broken tail light near Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Just hours before, Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  A video taken by a by stander showed Sterling pinned down when he was shot. Alton Sterling’s life mattered, too.

Castle and Sterling were black men. The five police officers murdered in the Dallas massacre were white. Their lives mattered, too.

Brent Thompson was newly married, Patrick Zamarripa was 32 and a father of two, as was Michael Smith 55, who was soon to retire from the Dallas Police Department. Michael Krol was 40, a transplant from Detroit and Lorne Ahrens, a senior officer, was survived by a wife and two children.

Lives mattered. All lives. Each of the seven men gunned down this week could have lived as long as Leo Drolshagen did. They could have died peacefully in their sleep. They could have been mourned by loving grandchildren and buried by a grateful community celebrating their lives and their contributions. Just like Leo.

In the weeks ahead the politicians and the talking heads on TV will analyze, philosophize, summarize and criticize. We will hear pleas for gun control, and racial tolerance. Fingers will be pointed, blame assessed and shame assigned.

I have two cents of my own to offer.

First, I agree with Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who has  zero tolerance for public demonstrations calling for murderous revenge, whatever the name of the movement.  Free speech and peaceable assembly are sacred rights, but riots never solve anything. 

Mindless chants calling for killing cops are the stuff of hate groups that no reasonable American would associate with. No good can come of escalating conflict between black people and the police. Hostile confrontation is no substitute for the rule of law.

It seems pretty obvious to me that the root problem is that black communities are served by white policemen. But the fix isn’t easy.

In his 1986 seminal work, The Police and the Community,  Michigan State University Professor Louis A. Radelet spells out ten reasons why this is so:

1.    Failure to recruit black officers
2.    Black kids grow up ducking the police
3.    A black kid who wants to be a cop is seen as a traitor to his neighborhood
4.    Black officers are sometimes not fully accepted by police leadership.
5.    Black kids often do not meet police qualifications
6.    Blacks often think they are not wanted on the force
7.    Testing for many police jobs is culturally biased
8.    Many young blacks have some criminal record
9.    Camaraderie among the races takes time and effort
10.  Better qualified blacks are often able to find better paying jobs.

Professor  Radelet was writing 30 years ago. Due to his work and that of others like him, many attitudes have changed. My own experience at Cooley Law School satisfied me that there are a great many young black students who are qualified and interested in public service. Law enforcement is a career that matters.

Friday, July 8, 2016

THE COMEY REPORT


The air waves, the Internet and the blogesphere are swamped with commentary and speculation about the seemingly contradictory public statement made by FBI Director James Comey concerning the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

I will try my hand at offering an explanation. Let’s start with the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights specifies that:

NO PERSON SHALL BE HELD TO ANSWER FOR A CAPITAL, OR OTHERWISE INFAMOUS CRIME, UNLESS ON A PRESENTMENT OR INDICTMENT OF A GRAND JURY

A grand jury is an assemblage of between sixteen and twenty-three citizens called to determine whether a crime has been committed and who probably did it. It is not an adversary proceeding. There is no defendant, nor defense counsel. The prosecutor is in charge. There are no rules of evidence. Hearsay and rumor can be considered. The Grand Jury can subpoena witnesses and force them to testify. It can punish for contempt or perjury.

A grand Jury meets in secret. Jurors, witnesses and counsel are sworn not to disclose what they see and hear in the sessions. If the Grand Jury does not find that a crime has been committed, they return “no bill” and that is the end of it.

If the Grand Jury finds that a crime has been committed and that there is probable cause to believe that a certain person committed it, they return a bill of indictment, which authorizes the prosecutor to proceed with a criminal case against that person.

An indictment by a Grand Jury requires twelve votes. If the jury consists of sixteen, that represents a 75% majority. If it is a jury of 23, the 12 votes would be a bare majority.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency within the office of the Attorney General of the United States. Its function is to investigate possible criminal activity, identify those responsible, and seek their prosecution and conviction. It functions essentially as a police department for the federal government.

FBI investigations are not normally revealed to the public unless there is some perceived need for public cooperation. This is for the same reason that Grand Jury deliberations are carried on behind closed doors. If nothing criminal is found, the damage to reputations and careers based on rumor or insinuation is unconscionable.

In the case of the Clinton email investigation, however, the matter first came to the FBI at the request of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, who in turn was prodded by a Congressional committee investigating the Benghazi attack.

Because it came to his desk in a politically charged up atmosphere, Director Comey determined that extraordinary transparency was needed. This was his reason for calling a press conference instead of simply writing a letter to the Justice Department.

James Comey is a very successful lawyer. In a career of over 30 years as at the Bar, he has held a number of positions in government and business, steadily moving up the ladder of importance and responsibility, and has built a solid reputation as an independent, principled, responsible professional.

Director Comey understands that in government as in business, the name of the game is to justify the decision to hire you.  It isn’t just a matter of pleasing your superiors – although there is surely much of that – it is also a matter of doing what is objectively good for the organization.

Comey could have sent the Clinton email file to the Attorney General without comment, and left Loretta Lynch to explain why she didn’t call for a Grand Jury. He didn’t. He went out on a limb to include a gratuitous bit of advice to the effect that “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue the matter.

Candidly, I think it’s a tempest in a tea pot. No Grand Jury of 16 or 23 citizens drawn from Washington D.C. or New York is likely to return an indictment of the Democratic Party’s candidate for President just three months before the election.


So now, Hillary’s case has been referred to the Court of Public Opinion. Hear Ye, Hear Ye. The People’s Court is now in session.