Sunday, July 31, 2011


A miracle is defined as a suspension of the laws of nature; an event which is inexplicable, contrary to the understanding of mankind.

In short, miracles are impossible.

Magicians do tricks. Legerdemain is the art of making things appear impossible. But it’s all a matter of appearance.

Miracles are rare and usually controversial. Skeptics will always insist there is a logical explanation.

Bottom line is, you either believe in miracles or you don’t.

I do.

This morning at Mass, the reading was the story of the loaves and fishes. A little boy comes up with five loaves of bread and two fishes and Jesus feeds five thousand people. With twelve baskets full of left overs.

A miracle?

You bet. I’ve seen what 32 relatives can do to turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, and a boat load of fixings. Before the pumpkin pie and ice cream.

Still, I never hear that story without trying to visualize that vast historic picnic. Were the apostles going around with baskets which mysteriously refilled every time a loaf of bread was removed? Were the two fishes a momma fish and a daddy fish who quickly generated vast edible progeny?

I always come back to the picture of a little boy offering to share his entire supply of food because so many people were hungry.

What kind of a schmuck would take a bite of the kid’s fish and keep his own stash of food for later on?

Is it possible that the true miracle that day was the change of human hearts from selfishness to generosity, from hoarding to sharing, from thinking about me to caring about others?

A suspension of human nature? Inexplicable? Contrary to the general understanding of the way people act?

I’d say so.

The experts on Madison Avenue will tell you that everybody always acts in their own self interest. What’s in it for me? That’s behavioral science. Anything else has to be a miracle.

For over two thousand years, Christianity has brought to this planet the miracle of charity. People caring for people. The word ‘charity’ comes from the Latin ‘caritas’ meaning love.

How many soup kitchens, how many hospitals, how many shelters and schools and homes for the aged have been spawned by a single, simple act of charity, of caring, of love?

And how many billions upon billions of one-on-one acts of generosity and kindness have oiled the machinery of human society?

Questions which bring me to the politics of the day.

I hear our President demanding that the rich be taxed to pay entitlements for the have-nots.

That’s not the way it works, Mr. O.

Does anyone suppose that the Apostles muscled their way through the crowd, snatching lunch baskets and doling out goodies?

Not hardly.

The relationship between a giver and a receiver is one marked by caring and gratitude. It forms a bond between the haves and the have-nots. We and they become all of us.

Not so with the nanny state. When I hand my wallet to the guy with a gun to my head, it’s not a miracle.

It’s robbery.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Several friends have forwarded emails detailing the growth and influence of Arabs in Michigan.

The City of Dearborn, located just west of Detroit in Wayne County hosts the largest Arabic population of any city in the United States.

When I was a Circuit Judge  back in the early 1960’s I campaigned in Dearborn. It was a city of about 110,000. Orville Hubbard was the mayor. He was best known for sending birthday cards to all the voters and for trying to keep black folks from moving into his town.

There were a lot of Lebanese Christians living there in those days.

In recent years, immigrants from Iraq, Yemen and Palestine have swelled the Arab numbers. They are mostly Muslim.

Dearborn is the home of the Islamic Center of America, the largest Mosque in the United States.

There have been a few ugly incidents in Dearborn lately. In June, Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones and some of his followers held a rally in Dearborn and stirred up quite a bru-ha-ha. He wore a tee shirt emblazoned with the message, “Everything I need to know about Islam I learned on 9-11.”

In 2009 Dearborn police arrested Christian evangelists who were trying to talk to people attending the Dearborn International Arab Festival. Videos showed that the police acted without good cause and even the ACLU came to the defense of the Christians.

Asserting that the camel has his nose in the tent, one email has a link to the web site of the Michigan Department of Human Services which provided a Food Assistance Date Change Letter written in Arabic. The purpose of the letter was to tell people getting food stamps that their stamps would arrive a day later.

The letter was also available in English and Spanish.

The email went on to claim that a phone number at the Department features a recording which prompts callers to “dial three for Arabic.”

A great many Americans are put off by recorded phone messages that begin with “dial one for English.”

But I sense that the real gripe here is that so many Arabs are getting food stamps in Michigan that it is necessary for the Department of Human Services to communicate with them in their native tongue.

After all, there are Poles in Hamtramck, Hungarians in Del Ray and Dutch in Grand Rapids. Don’t some of them get food stamps too?

Probably. But not enough of them who are poor or haven’t learned English.

Or be fortunate enough to have a kinsman serving as the Director of the Department of Human Services.

Ismael Ahmed was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1947. He came to Detroit, Michigan with his family when he was 6 years old. After high school, he journeyed to Vietnam and Korea and came back to the United States and became active in the United Auto Workers union to put himself through the University of Michigan-Dearborn. After graduation, he began helping out his neighborhood and his community and in 1973, Ahmed co-founded the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). He was appointed executive director in 1983 and was responsible for overall operations of the organization as well as the executive administration of the Arab American National Museum. The largest Arab-American human services organization in the United States, ACCESS has affiliates in 11 states and offers more than 90 programs with more than 900,000 client contacts annually.

In September, 2007, Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed Ismael Ahmed Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, which administers the federal food stamp program.

Mr. Ahmed is now the Assistant Provost at the Dearborn Campus of the University of Michigan.

The new Governor, Republican Rick Snyder, has appointed former Chief Justice Maura Corrigan as Director of Human Services.

Maybe now the letters will be written in Gaelic.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


In the 1972 film, “The Candidate,” Robert Redford plays a political novice named Bill McKay who runs for the United States Senate in California.

McKay’s standard stump speech strikes a populist note as he appeals to voters of every kind and condition.

At one point, riding in a taxi, exhausted from the grueling campaign, McKay does a parody of his campaign speech which is quite hilarious, addressing the young and old, rich and poor, black and white, republicans and democrats, men and women, smart and dumb, good and bad.

It is, I suppose, in the nature of politics that everything comes down to two choices. Yes or no. Up or down. Yea or nay. Ying or yang.

As we begin to wallow in the 2012 presidential election cycle, it strikes me that America is truly divided into two kinds of people. The good guys and the bad guys.

The good guys are the citizens who care about their city, state and country. They listen to the news. They talk about the government. Argue about it. Worry about it. They know about our past. They care about our future.

The bad guys are the residents who are indifferent, ignorant, passive, uninvolved. They are like a herd of cattle, who go where the cowboys chase them. If they stampede out of control, they can do a lot of damage. Most of the time, they just eat the grass and moo.

The good guys accept the responsibility of self-government.

The bad guys respond to the manipulation of their bosses.

The good guys vote.

The bad guys don’t vote.

There are about 130 million good guys in America.

There are about 100 million bad guys.

I got to thinking about this because of an on-going debate over the way we elect the President of the United States.

Most folks think that the President should be the person who receives the most votes in the Presidential election. Our Constitution, however, provides that the President is elected by a group of electors who are chosen in each state.

Forty-eight states tell their electors to vote for the candidate who wins in their state. Winner take all. If a candidate wins in California by only a few hundred votes, he or she gets all 55 of California’s electoral votes.

And the size of the voter turn out makes no difference. If 95% of the adult population of Missouri turns out to vote, Missouri gets 11 electoral votes. If only 35% of the voters in Tennessee go to the polls, Tennessee still gets 11 electoral votes.

That’s because the electoral college is based on population. It makes no distinction between good guys and bad guys.

In 1969, the Bayh-Celler amendment, abolishing the electoral college, was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 339 to 70. In the Senate, the vote was 54 in favor and 36 against, so it failed to pass by a two-thirds majority.

Now there is a new effort being made. It doesn’t amend the U.S. Constitution. It doesn’t abolish the electoral college. It simply asks each state to give their electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes nation-wide.

Last Friday, the legislature of the State of California adopted the National Popular Vote Plan. It’s now on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Eight others have already agreed to the plan. Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington, Vermont, Hawaii, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have a total of 77 electoral votes.

With California’s 55 electoral votes, the National Popular Vote movement will have almost half of the 270 votes needed to change the system.

It’s time for the wanna-bes who are courting Iowa and New Hampshire to step up and take a stand in favor of the good guys.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Folks ask me what I think of the Casey Anthony trial.

I was, after all, both a trial and appellate judge. I ought to know something about the system of criminal justice. I ought to have a definitive opinion. Everyone else does.

Candidly, I didn’t pay much attention to the Casey Anthony trial. Maybe I’m he only one who didn’t.

Even so, it was hard not to notice. Fox News had a former judge assigned full time to attend and report on the case. All the networks were abuzz with Casey Anthony stories. There were reporters and analysts and replays ad nauseam.

I always wonder why some cases get blown up in the media and others don’t. Lorena Bobbitt. Now there’s a case that everyone talked about. I suppose there has to be something truly bizarre about a case before the media puts it on the front page.

Like a mother whose child is missing for a month who never calls the police.

Admittedly, Casey Anthony comes off as about the most despicable villain imaginable. A pathological liar. A selfish, self-centered, tramp, who seemed willing even to throw her family under the bus to save her own hide.

Indeed if the issue in the criminal trial were simply whether Casey Anthony was a bad person, the verdict would have been quick and guilty.

But of course, it wasn’t. We’re talking here about a court of law where the issue of guilt or innocence is determined according to rules of evidence that are designed to discover the truth without the corrupting influences of emotion, passion, prejudice or presumption.

Or media hype. Or Internet gossip.

That’s why the jury was sequestered. No TV. No radio. No newspapers. No access to the din of commentary and conjecture which inundated the rest of us.

Still, it is true that criminal trials are open to the public. The community has a right to know that those who violate the law are brought to the bar of justice. The accused has the right to a public trial as well. Nothing is more poisonous to liberty that a secret inquisition.

Courtroom doors have always been open. In the days of Abraham Lincoln, when judges and lawyers rode the circuit, people would flock to the courthouses and listen to the witnesses and the arguments of counsel.

It was, in the days before television and reality shows, a common form of entertainment. Trial lawyers were celebrities, and their jury speeches and trial strategies provided rich sources of conversation – and gossip - wherever people gathered.

Nothing has changed.

The Casey Anthony case was high drama. Suspense. Winners and losers. Everything the minions of television knock themselves out trying to invent and offer to the public.

Was it an important case? I don’t think so. Not in any legal sense. Indeed, I wager you can go down to the criminal courts building in any big city in America on any Monday morning and listen to testimony as gut retching and titillating as anything you heard in the Casey Anthony trial.

Celebrity is an ephemeral thing. Andy Warhol once predicted that everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes. Someone will ghost write Casey Anthony’s story and her book will outsell the Bible for three or four days. Twenty years from now, no one will know who Casey Anthony is or was.

Forty years ago, I was making speeches urging that television cameras be permitted in our courtrooms. At the time, I was considered a maverick, a dreamer, an upstart bent on destroying the dignity of American courtrooms. Judges and lawyers would grandstand. Witnesses would clam up. Juries would object.

As it turned out, I was on the side of the inevitable. For all the foolishness and distraction that TV coverage may involve, I still believe it is the right thing to do. If criminal trials are to be public, and virtually everyone agrees they should be, it makes no sense to limit the audience to the few dozen seats in the courtroom.

Even in the age of television, there is still, I suppose, a lot of competition for seats in the courtroom, but now the folks on the outside are not limited to second hand accounts of what is happening.

Just about everyone in America has an opinion about the guilt or innocence of Casey Anthony. I think that is a good thing. The people have watched their system at work. They have seen a solemn judge, fiery lawyers, a sullen defendant, jurors of every disposition and behavior, and a parade of witnesses to be believed or debunked.

When the trial began, Casey Anthony was presumed innocent. The jury has acquitted her, so the presumption still stands. But an acquittal is not absolution. Juries do not forgive sins.

Wrongdoing doesn’t sit well in the human heart. Eventually, somehow, some way, some day the price will be paid. Ask O.J.