Friday, April 20, 2012


When you’re eighty-two years old, sometimes you get sad.

Mortality weighs heavy at this age, and all the sunshine, health and happiness that make each day a boundless blessing carry the ominous curse that Aristotle wrote about.

It ain’t gonna last forever.

This was one of those days. I forgot to sign up for the usual Friday golf game. Email is full of bad news. Republicans and Democrats at each other’s throats. Weight’s up. Gotta count calories. But why bother?

Splashing through my daily ten laps in the pool, tallying a decade of Aves for so many suffering friends, I thought about a long time pal battling a relapse of cancer.

Mike worked on my political campaigns in the 50’s and 60’s. He was my law clerk in the Supreme Court and my Chief of Staff when I was Chief Justice of Michigan.

A little over ten years ago, he was felled by leukemia. Literally collapsed on an airport floor. Then came months in the hospital. Chemotherapy and more chemotherapy. A bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, his brother was a match.

The hair went, of course. And weight. And strength.

But Mike is a fighter. Indeed, a happy warrior, whose philosophical outlook, wit and ebullient good humor never waned.

His immune system was compromised. For a long time, he traveled with a face mask at the ready.

And then, slowly, inch by inch, he got better.

I remember playing golf with him one day when he announced that it was his sixth birthday. Turned out to be the sixth anniversary of his bone marrow transplant.

New blood. New life.

If these last few years have been a bonus for Mike, they have been a special blessing for Polly and me. He has been my partner in the annual member-guest golf tournament at Birchwood Farms, and Margie comes along for the fun.

The laughter is incessant. The love is palpable. The golf is mediocre.

I called him a week or so ago. He was back in the hospital. Having completed a regimen of chemo every twelve hours for a week, he was released, then promptly readmitted when he contracted a form of shingles in his gums.

Doin’ fine, he says. Walks a couple miles a day up and down the halls. Hates the food. Suggested that, at the next hospital staff meeting, nobody talks. They just sit there and eat the damn food.

So I called him again today. Told Margie I was having an old man’s day and needed to tap into his inexhaustible reserve of good cheer. She said he was sleeping, and, of course, shouldn’t be awakened.

Twenty minutes later, my phone rings. It’s Mike.

“I hear you need cheering up,” he says. Right. I’m the one who needs cheering up. Am I a schmuck or what?

We talk. We laugh. His numbers are up and he hopes the docs will let him go to the office for an hour or so next week.

Then he tells me about the butterflies.

Seems that every day when he gets home from the office, he picks up the mail, pours a glass of wine and sits on the back deck opening envelopes, sorting out, catching up. The five o’clock ritual.

And every day he is visited by two Monarch butterflies.

He talks to them. One perches on the railing. The other parks on his shoulder.

Margie went out the other day at five o’clock and spread Mike’s towel on the table. The butterflies showed up. One on the railing. One on the towel. He says Margie took a picture.

I want to see that picture. I never know when to believe him.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Sanford, Florida. Laveen, Arizona.

Two American cities that have burst into the consciousness of the nation.

A white, Hispanic 28 year old man shoots a 17 year old black teen in Sanford. A 22 year old black man shoots a retarded 29 year old white Hispanic in Laveen.

Both states have so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws.

In Sanford, the police investigated, concluded that no crime had been committed and did nothing for two months.

In Laveen, police are still investigating the incident, which occurred on April 3, 2012. They have not released the name of the person who did the shooting.

In Sanford, the family of the deceased, Trayvon Martin, demanded that the man who shot Trayvon, George Zimmerman, be prosecuted.

Their pleas have been heard across the land. Civil rights activists Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have spoken out in support of the Martin family. So have many others. Celebrities. Politicians.

The President of the United States weighed in saying, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.”

The Attorney General of the United States also weighed in, telling a gathering of 150 black ministers that there would be ‘prompt action’ on the Trayvon Martin case.

As the storm of protest escalated, Sanford Police Chief, Bill Lee, went on extended leave and State’s Attorney Norm Wolfinger took himself off the case.

Florida Governor Rick Scott stepped in and appointed Jacksonville State’s Attorney Angela Corey to investigate the shooting. Ms. Corey signed a warrant for Zimmerman’s arrest on the charge of second degree murder.

The nationwide clamor on behalf of Trayvon Martin has made him the poster boy for a number of causes. Gun control. Racial profiling. Repeal of ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws.

By contrast, the shooting of Daniel Adkins in Laveen has garnered very little attention. None of the major daily newspapers, including the New York Times, have mentioned the Adkins case.

Adkins’ family, like Trayvon Martin’s, have demanded justice. They want the man who killed Daniel to be prosecuted.

Their pleas have been ignored. No rallys. No avalanche of blogs, Tweets and Face Book videos.

Nothing from the White House or the Department of Justice.

So far, at least, none of the activists who rail against Stand Your Ground, have pointed to the Adkins killing as another example of why the law should be repealed.

The Arizona “Stand Your Ground” law, like that of Florida and more than two dozen other states, specifies that a person may use deadly force to protect himself or herself from an attacker who poses a threat of serious bodily harm.

In the weeks and months ahead, the details of these two shootings will come to light. What we have heard up until now, is the second hand report of what the surviving shooter told the police.

If the actual testimony echoes those reports, the contrast between the incidents will be substantial and critical.

Zimmerman is alleged to have told police Trayvon Martin attacked him physically, breaking his nose with a punch to the face, and continuing to slam his head on the ground.

The unnamed Arizona shooter is said to have reported that Adkins struck the car in which he and his girl friend were sitting, with a pipe or similar weapon.

Whether either of those two incidents involved an assault by the deceased which reasonably would have put the shooter in fear for his life remains to be seen.

Whatever the result, the credibility of the American system of criminal justice will be tested.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


When Christopher Columbus Langdell was appointed the first Dean of the Harvard Law School, he set out to build the largest law library in the world.

In particular, he wanted to assemble records of all the decisions of appellate courts, because he believed that the study of law has to focus on how laws are interpreted and applied.

Langdell was the father of modern legal education.

Old timers will remember the 1973 film “Paper Chase” in which Professor Kingsfield, played by John Houseman, intimidated his students with socratic dialog. Making them think. On their feet.

And making sure that they had read the cases, studied the opinions of the judges.

That’s what law school is all about. Or used to be.

Here’s what shows up in the Harvard Law School catalogue these days:

Understanding Obama

Professor Charles Ogletree
Spring 2013 Reading Group , Section 1
1 classroom credits

This reading group will focus on the way in which race, religion, and politics have impacted the development of President Obama as a leader. We will explore his views as a biracial child, his time as a student at Harvard Law School, the successes and failures of his political campaigns, and the way religion and his views on faith nearly derailed his campaign. Finally, time will be spent analyzing the challenges he faces as President of the United States in establishing both his domestic and global policies.

It’s official. We are no longer a nation of laws.

Our oldest and most prestigious law school is now charging tuition and giving academic credit for studying the MAN. Learning about the MAN. Talking about, thinking about, analyzing, focusing on, exploring the MAN. His life, his politics, his religion, his policies.

Harvard Law School has become Harvard MAN School. Because in America, it doesn’t matter what the law says. What matters is what the MAN thinks. And what he does.

Democracy? Come on. The Congress of the United States has a popularity rating of 9%. The President is five times more popular.

Professor Ogletree and Harvard Law School are pretty sure the Barack Obama will be reelected in November 2012. Otherwise, ‘Understanding Obama’ will be about as popular an elective course in the Spring 2013 semester as ‘Understanding Jimmy Carter’.

Damn few people in the United States know that Mitt Romney is also a graduate of the Harvard Law School. As well as the Harvard Business School. JD and MBA degrees in 1975.

I certainly hope Romney releases the transcripts of all his academic grades, from high school, college, law school and business school.

And his birth certificate. And all the passports he has ever travelled with.

As a little test of the bias of the Harvard Law School, I am sending this note:

Dean Martha Minow
Harvard Law School

Dear Dean Minow:

As a former Chief Justice of Michigan and Founder and Dean Emeritus of the Thomas Cooley Law School, I am pleased to offer to teach, without compensation, a one hour elective course in the Spring, 2013 semester of Harvard Law School, entitled “Understanding Romney.” This reading group will focus on the way in which race, religion, and politics have impacted the development of Mitt Romney as a leader. We will explore his views as a monoracial child, his time as a student at Harvard Law School, the successes and failures of his political campaigns, and the way religion and his views on faith nearly derailed his campaign. Finally, time will be spent analyzing the challenges he faces as President of the United States in establishing both his domestic and global policies.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Last Saturday night, carrying small candles, we followed the monks of Saint Leo Abbey into the darkened church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Surrounded by new cut flowers, we heard the Abbot’s message of hope and renewal.

Easter in America. Springtime. A new day dawning.

We rise from a tomb full of death, of fear, of hate. Full of questions, and assumptions and misunderstandings.

The story of Trayvon Martin continues to unfold. I pour over Google looking for answers. Surely there will be a grand jury. Surely someone, somehow, sometime will find out what really happened.

So far, the case has been tried in the newspapers and on the Internet. There is no swearing of witness. There are no rules of evidence. Hearsay, rumor, assumptions, bias one way or the other.

Choose the narrative you want to believe.

Black victim. White shooter.

Outsiders with agendas. New Black Panthers offering a reward for vigilante action. Jeff Schoep and his Hitler-esque National Socialist Movement butting in to exacerbate the racial tension.

In Chicago, 22 year old Rekia Boyd is killed, on March 21, 2012, by a bullet to the back of her head. Dante Servin, an off duty police detective insists that he was shooting at a man he believed to have a gun.

Black victim. White shooter.

Kendrec McDade. Unarmed. Shot fleeing police, on March 24, 2012, after a reported larceny from an automobile in Pasadena, California.

Black victim. White shooter.

Then a few days ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a white man in a white pick up truck shoots five black men, killing three. Two men have been arrested. Nobody knows what, if any, motive they may have had.

Fifty-five years ago, I was the Republican candidate against John Dingell, who was running to succeed his father in the United States Congress.

The hot button issue of that day was the murder of a 14 year old Chicago boy named Emmett Till. It was claimed that Till, who was black, had flirted with a 22 year old white store clerk. Her husband and another man went to the Mississippi residence of Till’s uncle, seized the boy and took him to a barn where he was brutally tortured and murdered.

A white Mississippi jury acquitted both men.

It was a miscarriage of justice, plain and simple. I said so, and promised, if elected, to do what I could to right the wrong.

Some of the silk stocking, country club Republicans from Grosse Pointe refused to help me in that special election. Calling for justice for Emmett Till made me a communist in their eyes.

That’s the way it was in the days of Joe McCarthy.

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but exceedingly fine. The Emmett Till case ignited a wildfire of reform. History will record that his martyrdom sparked the civil rights revolution of the 1960’s.

Like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the murder of Emmett Till posed myriad unanswered questions. Books and films sprouted up advancing all kinds of conspiracy theories. In 2005, Till’s body was exhumed, and an autopsy conducted.

Finally, in 2007, a black prosecutor and an all black grand jury determined that there was no credible evidence to indict anyone other than the two men originally charged and acquitted of Emmett Till’s murder.

And both of them were dead.

The American system of criminal justice may be too slow and ponderous for some people. But it works.

On this Easter Sunday, I pray that all Americans of good will and common purpose will find their faith in the rule of law resurrected and renewed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


It’s right there in Webster’s Dictionary.


1. anything abominable; anything greatly disliked or abhorred.
2. intense aversion or loathing; detestation: He regarded lying with abomination.
3. a vile, shameful, or detestable action, condition, habit, etc.: Spitting in public is an abomination.

You can also find it in the Bible.

Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 both talk about the “abomination of desolation” which biblical scholars generally believe refers to the then forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Old Testament references suggest that the elevation and worship of false gods was called an abomination.

As the long and ruthless Republican Primary season grinds to a finish, the silhouette of the November election begins to take shape.

However the Republican candidate chooses to frame the issues, the decision of the American people will inexorably focus on one and only one question.

Should President Barack Obama be continued in office for another four years?

Party platforms can be written and re-written, diced, sliced and seasoned to taste, but they will have only a peripheral effect on the outcome in November.

The sitting President is, by all measurement, a celebrity. He has the admiration and respect of many, perhaps most, of his fellow Americans. He is long on charm and a disarming chutzpah. His oratorical skills, with and without a teleprompter, are legendary.

Shooting hoops behind the White House, bantering knowledgably with sports icons, and exchanging quips with Jay Leno, his ubiquitous television persona is known and loved across the land.

A devoted family man, our President, however opaque his personal history, has never shown signs of the zipper mania that has taken down so many in public life.

The President gives the impression that he genuinely cares about people, understands their concerns, appreciates their struggles, shares their worries, feels their pain.

But if Barack Obama presents a benign visage to the electorate, he also makes no bones about asserting the power and prerogatives of the office he holds.

He is quick to remind people that he is the President of the United States. He relishes and enjoys all the perks of the offices, melds the personal with the political and the official, and never hesitates to use the first person singular when talking about public affairs.

Convinced that what he wants to do is good for the American people, he slashes through the red tape of democratic decision making to issue orders, make appointments, and render judgments.

He lauds what he likes and condemns what he doesn’t. Jumps on every hot button issue of the day, when his gut tells him that his position will be cheered by the masses.

His political instincts are off the charts.

And his capacity to qualify, explain, soften, ignore, deny or simply contradict what he says is boundless.

In short, Barack Obama presents to the American people what many, many of his fellow citizens really want from their government.

A benign, loving and lovable dictator.

In his view, neither Court, nor Congress nor Constitution can stand in the way of what he wants to do for the people who have elected him their leader.

In November we will decide if the United States is a Republic as Benjamin Franklin said.

Or if it is an Obama-nation.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Like many folks from Michigan, I first learned about the town of Frankenmuth when my Mother and Dad took all us kids there for chicken dinner.

Zehnder’s Restaurant on Main and the Bavarian Inn across the street feature all-you-can-eat chicken dinners to die for. World famous. Literally.

The town of Frankenmuth, near Saginaw in Michigan’s thumb, was settled around 1845 by German Lutheran immigrants. It’s a cutsey town, full of Bavarian architecture, awash with flowers, and brimming with hospitality.

Bonner’s, a store that sells nothing but Christmas decorations 361 days a year, celebrates the Christian heritage of the town.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors every year stroll the Covered Bridge over the Cass River, experience hot air balloon rides, play the challenging Fortress golf course or just browse the shops and enjoy the sights.

Back in 2008 a local resident complained about the two wooden crosses that decorated the entrances of the Covered Bridge. He argued that the Constitution of the United States prohibits the Congress from establishing a religion, and that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the states from abridging the immunities of citizens, one of which is to be immune from an established state religion.

The presence of the two wooden crosses on public property constituted the establishment of a religion, according to Lloyd Clark, a resident of the town. The city council obliged and removed the crosses.

Mr. Clark pushed the point, complaining that the city’s crest displayed a cross and a rose, symbols associated with the Lutheran faith.

This time the city balked. Bolstered by the head of the Michigan Atheists and representatives of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Clark presented his argument to a packed town hall meeting.

But the silent majority spoke up. St Lorenz Lutheran Church distributed some 800 small, white, wooden crosses, and soon nearly every yard in Frankenmuth sported a cross.

The city council stiffened. Mr. Clark backed off. The Atheist Association went home.

Mr. Clark has no problem with crosses on private property. Neither does the federal constitution.

And the idea that including a cross in the design of a city’s crest is somehow the establishment of a religion is a stretch of interpretation that would have surprised the founders of our nation.

Frankenmuth was established by Lutherans. The symbols on the crest recognize that historical fact. The United States Supreme Court Building is replete with religious sculptures commemorating the development of human law. Moses. Mohammed. Justinian. The ten commandments right over the front door.

The founders of our nation knew what it was like to have an established state religion. By law, the King of England was, and the Queen is today, the head of the Church of England. Defender of the Faith.

There is a great deal of religious tolerance in the United Kingdom. Still, the Church of England is the Church of England. The Church. The official Church.

We have nothing like that here. Our religious heritage is diverse. That’s why lots of folks came over here to begin with.

That heritage is not a dirty little secret. We are what we are. Not officially. Not because of any law establishing one sect or creating some official composite set of beliefs. But just because we are what we are and our forebears were what they were.

I’m sick and tired of the bloated claim that American citizens must muffle their religious convictions as the price of entering the public arena.

The Saint Patrick’s Day parade marches up Fifth Avenue. The President takes the oath of office on a bible. The United States Senate begins its session with an invocation, but a public high school graduation can’t? Come on.

It’s time to stand up. Some folks in my neighborhood have little white ‘Frankenmuth Crosses’ in their front yards. Mine went up today.