Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Polly and I just returned from Mayo Clinic and our annual medical review. Among other things, I had an MRI on Thursday morning. The results were up on on my doctor's computer screen by the time I met with him at 4:30 in the afternoon.

That experience highlighted the impact of an email I received tonight linking to a You Tube video entitled "A Short Course in Brain Surgery." It's the story of Lindsey McCreith, a retired New Market, Ontario body shop owner who suffered headaches for some time before having a seizure. His family doctor suspected a brain tumor and counseled him to have an MRI of his head.

In Canada, only the government can pay for health care. And only government makes the appointments. Mr. McCreith was told it would be four months before he could get in for the MRI. He couldn't wait, so he crossed the border to Buffalo, New York and got an MRI within days. Armed with proof that he had a brain tumor the size of a golf ball, Mr. McCreith returned to Ontario only to learn that surgery could not be scheduled for four or five months.

Of course, he could petition the Ministry of Health for emergency consideration. And if they turned him down, he could appeal. But a little inquiry proved that the bureaucratic process would take longer than waiting for the surgical appointment.

So he returned to Buffalo, and within a week had the tumor removed. The doctors told him that if he had waited much longer, he would probably not have survived the year.

It's not a strong endorsement for the Canadian health care system in an election year when candidates in the United States are touting their plans for assuring health care for all Americans.

It's easy enough to give rousing speeches about the great number of Americans who don't have health care insurance. About universal health care. About the escalating costs of medical and hospital services. But just endorsing a goal doesn't get the job done. There has to be a plan, a strategy, based on realistic premises and solid research; a plan which is founded in common sense and sound economic principles.

I haven't heard anyone say that one of the primary causes of the phenomenal rise in the cost of health care is the very fact of widespread health insurance. Economics 101 should teach us that if the right to obtain medical services is separated from the duty to pay for them, the demand for medical services will go up. And when demand goes up, price goes up.

Add in the factor of limited supply. The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, which accredits medical schools, has strict regulations limiting the expansion of medical schools. There are only 125 accredited medical schools in the United States. There were 160,00 medical schools in 1907.

US medical schools graduate about 16,000 doctors each year. That number has been constant for over two decades. There are 20,000 first year residencies available each year. Where do the other doctors come from? Overseas. Pakistan. India. The Middle East. The number of students in American medical schools preparing to become primary care physicians is going down.

Thirty five years ago, I founded the Thomas M. Cooley Law School on the principle that every college graduate who wanted to become a lawyer ought to be given the chance to try. Today Cooley is the largest law school in the United States. Maybe it's time for someone to start a medical school with a similar vision.

Enough for now.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


One of my favorite conversation openers around a dinner table is to ask if anyone would vote for a murderer to be president of the United States.

After the first round of vociferous denials, I follow up with this question; would you vote for anyone who is not willing or capable of killing someone?

That query usually gets the folks thinking ... and talking.

I asked that question to a group of golfing buddies on the nineteenth hole one day recently. They were quick, to a man, to answer in the negative. Killing people, at least in the minds of those 60 something white males, is part of the job description of the President of the United States.

I probed. Who should he kill? "Our enemies," they replied. And who are our enemies? "The people who hate us, the people who want to do us harm." And who identifies those people?

That question really got them talking, and perhaps, just maybe, got at least some of them thinking. "Everybody knows. Guys like whats-his-name, down in South America." You mean Hugo Chavez? "Yeah, yeah, Don't you read the papers?" So the media decide who the President should kill?

"No, not the media. The CIA maybe. Or the military. Or the President himself. That's it. The buck stops in the Oval Office. The President has to decide who he should kill."

Including the person running against him for his job? "Well, no, he couldn't do that." Couldn't do it, or shouldn't do it? Somebody else chimes in. "He can't put a contract out on an American citizen can he?" Is that where the line is drawn? You're saying he can only kill foreigners?

The round table discussion breaks down into a talk show style free for all with everyone spouting opinions at once. And once again I shake my head in disbelief at how little the citizens of this great nation know about the law and the Constitution which is their contract with the institutions of government.

Beginning with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected in the depths of the Great Depression on the promise to give Americans a New Deal, the Federal government has been moving inexorably toward domestic sovereignty. More and more, we see ourselves as a single nation governed by a single chief executive. The President is expected to set the national agenda on every issue.

What has evolved over the last three quarters of a century is an imperial presidency. A President who has a hand on the big red button which can launch a nuclear holocost. A President who is assumed to have the power of life and death and who is assumed to use that power for the protection and benefit of the people of the United States of America.

When I tell people that the President's job is faithfully to execute the laws enacted by the Congress; that it is the Congress, not the President, which speaks for the people of the United States, that only the Congress can declare war, identify the enemies of the United States and authorize the President as Commander in Chief to employ military force against them, they look at me with glazed disbelief.

I fear that American pragmatism steers our people toward a President who rules like a Mafia Don, a charismatic monarch, a benign dictator, an all powerful potentate whose only restraint is the popular image that he or she loves the people and works for them.

Madison and Jefferson would weep

Enough for now.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


The email was passed along to me by my sainted wife of 56 years. It told the story of a veteran who took a treasured photograph of actress Ann Margaret, taken when she was in Viet Nam to entertain the troops, to a bookstore where she was signing copies of her autobiography.

The bookstore announced a firm policy that Ann Margaret would only be signing books, not other memorablia. Still the veteran handed the old photo to the actress, saying he just wanted her to see it. She waved off the bookstore manager, then pulled the vet down and planted a big kiss on him.

It was one of many emails currently circulating around the country which remind all of us of the sacrifices which our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are so courageously making in Iraq, Afganistan and elsewhere.

The Viet Nam veteran closed his letter by noting that it was the first time anyone had expressed appreciation for his service in Southeast Asia.

Happily, the troops in Iraq are enjoying much more unified and enthusiastic support than their fathers did in 1969 and 1970. Back then, the United States was drafting young men to serve in the military. Many eligible lads left the country. many marched on Washington, staged demonstrations on campuses and elsewhere. Their cry of "Hell no, we won't go" echoed through the land.

Veterans returning from that war found themselves in a nation that did not support the war. Many of them felt that their countrymen blamed them for the war; blamed them for the humiliation of defeat. No ticker tape parades, no hero's welcome, they filtered back into civilian life, many feeling embarrassed and confused. Some were bitter. Some still are, despite a belated Viet Nam War monument in the nation's Capitol.

The big difference between Viet Nam and Iraq was 911. Weapons of mass destruction or no, the great mass of American people saw a connection between the attack on New York and Washington and the assauilt on Saddam Hussein. They perceive our troops as being engaged in a form of national defense, and that makes them heroes deserving of our appreciation and admiration.

Unhappily, the sacrifices of our young people in the military becloud our capacity to dialog about national policy. Their blood shed on foreign soil is given for the benefit of every American, and every American owes our troops a debt of gratitude which cannot be extinguished by the GI Bill or other veterans' benefits. But those who have died and suffered have done so to preserve our freedoms, and one of those is the freedom to disagree with the Administration's foreign policy.

The only candidate for President this year who did not vote to support the Iraq War is Barak Obama. I have not heard, but would be interested to hear, what exactly he would have done if he had been President in 2001. He says that as President, he will engage in talks with leaders of other countries, even those whose rhetoric is speckled with hatred for the United States. Would a President Obama have called Saddam Hussein on September 12, 2001 and asked him to help find the people responsible for yesterday's attacks? Would he have simply submitted the matter to the United Nations and waited for their answer? Or would he somehow have obtained better intelligence than President Bush received, devised a better military strategy, and been better able to prosecute the invasion of Iraq and sell it to the American people?

The next nine months will be a political gestation. I hope it brings forth a new birth of our constitutional republic.

Enough for now.

Thomas E. Brennan

Friday, February 8, 2008


Maybe it was my blog. Maybe I jinxed the guy.

Anyway, after Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney sat down and looked at the numbers. When I saw the Primary results, I said that if Romney is as good a businessman as he claims, he will consider the ROI on his campaign expenditures and get out of the race. I suspect that's just what he did.

With Romney out of the race, this will be a difficult year for me. He was an easy pick. I knew and admired his father. I didn't have to spend much thought or time studying his positions on issues.

Now it will be different. There's a lot of talk about what the Republican conservatives will do this year. Nobody talks about my dilemma. Where are the Repuiblican doves supposed to go? Indeed are there any other Republican doves out there?

In my last posting, I talked about having a debate on our national purpose. The best statement of it is in the preamble to the Constitution of the United States. Our nation was organized:

1) to form a more perfect union
2) to establish justice
3) to insure domestic tranquility
4) to provide for the common defense
5) to promote the general welfare
6) to secure the blessings of liberty to us and to our posterity

Nothing there about being the leader of the free world. Nothing there about bringing democracy to the third world. Nothing there about a manifest destiny to Westernize the East. And nothing about establishing a Pax Americana all over the planet Earth.

I was a caboose to the "Greatest Generation." But I do remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I remember San Francisco where the war weary nations of the world gathered to create the United Nations. This is what we agreed to:

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

How do these goals and aspirations stack up against the notion of pre-emptive strikes?

The election year of 2008 is a good time to think about it.

Enough for now.

Thomas E.Brennan

Monday, February 4, 2008


Innundated with political conversation, I decided to create a blog just so I could relieve myself of the opinions that well up as I listen to the TV, read the paper, or hear the guys talking in the grill after a round of golf.

Mitt Romney's father, George Romney, was a friend of mine. He appointed me to the Circuit Court in Wayne County in 1963 and asked me to run for the Michigan Supreme Court in 1966. I admired George Romney. I met his son, Mitt, on January 1, 1967 when his Dad invited me and my family to the Romney home to administer the oath of office to begin his new term as Governor of Michigan.

I think Mitt Romney is a chip off the old block. Strong, decisive, confident, knowledgeable. A solid family man; a patriotic American. A church going, tax paying, solid citizen. He gets my vote.

That said, I wish he would stop talking about his experience in business. Let others talk about that to people who care about it. The broad base of Americans are not particularly impressed with business acumen. Of course, they are impressed with wealth; Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Emenem. They don't much care how you made it. If you're rich, you're somebody. The fact that Mitt Romney is somebody is important, but he should talk more about his work in the Olympics.

And I'm not happy hearing him blast John McCain. Or anybody. A candidate for President should not be a hatchet man. He should be above the fray, talking about big issues, uplifting the spirits of the citizens. Romney has charisma, and I think he can inspire the people if he sticks to the broad message of national leadership.

Zapping opponents should be oblique. For example, Romney should remind the American people that our constitution makes the military establishment subservient to the civilian authority. Romney can undercut McCain's military experience by pointing out that the constitution makes the President, a civilian, the Commander-in-Chief. And this is precisely because, as Dwight Eisenhower pointed out, the military-industrial complex does not always act in the true national interest.

I opposed the Iraq War. Not because I knew whether Saddam Hussein did or didn't have weapons of mass destruction. I opposed it because the Congress didn't declare it. The Congress never debated it. The Congress never decided upon waging war. The Congress, not the President, is the voice of the people. If the Congress decides to go to war, so be it. We are then at war, as a nation. In war time, we must all sacrifice for victory. Increased taxes. Rationing. Compulsory military service. These are the things that follow with a congressionally declared peoples' war.

Unhappily, the idea of using the military as a vehicle of geopolitical policy is not completely foreign to the American experience. The Mexican War and the Spanish American War were both examples of American expansionism which were certainly not defensive engagements. There is a certain consistency in our national response to the Alamo, the Maine, Pearl Harbor and 911.

But if we are going to war, we should go to war. Lyndon Johnson's guns and butter notion was wrong, wrong, wrong. Asking young Americans to die in combat is totally inconsistent with pumping up the economy by military procurement.

War is a contest against a national enemy. The War against terrorism, like the war aginst drugs, or the war on poverty, is not a true war. Our invasion of Iraq was a traditional war, though undeclared, but only for a few weeks. When the Iraqi armies laid down their weapons, and Saddam Hussein went underground, the war, as such, was over. From that moment on, and continuing to this day, the United States and its allies are an army of occupation.

So the question today is how long must we occupy Iraq? How long should we keep troops in that territory? Considering our participation in NATO and SEATO, we have maintained military presence all around the world since the end of World War II. We have military bases in Turkey, in Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other places.

I don't recall that anyone has ever ennunciated a national policy on the subject of maintaining standing armies around the world. Is it our national goal to have armies on every continent, in every country? Do we really suppose that we are capable of ruling the world? Or indeed that, even if we could, it would be the right thing to do? Or is it our national policy simply not to have a policy on the subject and to maintain armies wherever by happenstance of history, we should chance to have soldiers there for some reason or another?

The election year of 2008 ought to be a time for the people of the United States to engage in a dialog about the larger issues of national purposes. Unhappily, it seems to be a jumble of sound bites and personal jabs that do little credit to our ideal of democracy.

Enough for now.

Thomas E. Brennan