Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Last night, they burned the town. Thousands of people milled around in downtown Ferguson, Missouri. Many were good folks who had come to protest the decision of a grand jury not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen ager.

But some of them – indeed, many of them -- were there to make trouble. And they did. Millions of dollars of property damage. Stores looted. Automobiles and buildings torched. Shots fired. People injured.

Most of the rioters were black and  young. They had been given a pass. Responsible people, adults, even white folks, were incensed about the shooting of Michael Brown. The TV, the newspapers, the Internet were all hyped up to react to the grand jury’s decision.

And so they came. Bearing, sticks and stones. And gasoline, and guns.

Most of the Ferguson rioters had not yet been born when Detroit was burned. On a summer night in 1967, police raided a blind pig on 12th Street. The patrons refused to be taken downtown and the ensuing scuffle exploded into an uncontrolled rampage.

Four days later, 43 people were dead, 1,189 were injured, 7,200 were arrested and more that 2,000 buildings were destroyed.

In 1967, we lived in Detroit, on Berkeley Road near Seven Mile and Livernois. The stores just a few hundred feet from our back door were looted. We could smell the smoke and hear the gunshots.

Anarchy isn’t pretty. It’s scary. It’s insane.

Bron Cruz is not a white man. His name and his photo suggest that he is Hispanic. He is a Salt Lake City police officer who shot and killed an unarmed white teen ager two days after Michael Brown died in Ferguson, Missouri.

The family and friends of Dillon Taylor, the Utah teen ager, have organized several protests in an effort to get answers about Dillon’s death. South Salt Lake police have refused to comment. No grand jury has been convened. Only the local media gave the matter any real attention, and that has pretty much died down. Hardly anyone cares in Utah. Nobody cares in America.

On April 23, 2012, a 29 year old, unarmed Hispanic pedestrian named Daniel Adkins was shot and killed by a black man who was sitting in his car in front of an Arizona Taco Bell. No charges were ever filed against the shooter. In fact the name of the gunman has never been released by the police.

As far as I can find on the Internet, the friends and supporters of Daniel Adkins and Dillon Taylor have not looted any stores, burned down any buildings, overturned any vehicles or pranced in front of network television cameras.

The administration of criminal justice is not perfect. But civilization requires that we do the best we can, and that the people who are dissatisfied with the system work responsibly to improve it. 

Often protesters are not concerned about the system. They don’t object to the way we do things; they complain about what we do. No one claims that the Ferguson grand jury was tainted or improperly constituted, or that the constitutional requirement of grand jury indictment is not a valid and valuable civil right.

No one says that the grand jury didn’t hear all the evidence. No one is saying that they didn’t listen, or were in any way corrupted or compromised.

No sir, what we hear coming out of Missouri is the voice of the mob. Black or white, a mob is never rational, never reasonable. No doubt there are some protesters in Ferguson who want Darren Wilson indicted and put on trial, but the majority would not be satisfied unless Wilson is actually convicted.

One can only imagine what would have happened to Darren Wilson if he had been seen walking out of a police station or a courthouse last night.

A mob has no conscience. Black Americans should be keenly aware of the horrors of vigilante justice.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Now that the Republicans have won the Congress, perhaps the mainstream media will allow itself to focus on needed constitutional reforms.

There are three main proposals that are usually advanced to reform our national legislature.

1)   Do something about campaign financing. This usually takes the form of: a) prohibiting all private campaign funding and requiring the government to finance campaigns; b) prohibiting certain kinds or amounts of campaign expenditures; or c) specifying who can or cannot finance campaigns.
2)   Enact term limits by constitutional amendment.
3) Increase the size of the House, shrink the districts, prohibit gerrymandering and decrease the expenses and emoluments of Congress persons.

Personally, I favor the third  approach. Public financing of political campaigns is a frightfully bad idea. Public funding is controlled by the government and the government is controlled by the incumbents. It follows that public funding of elections, controlled by incumbents will absolutely favor incumbents. Giving that kind of an advantage to career politicians is hardly the way to discourage career politicians.

I am, at best; ambivalent with respect to term limits. We have them for some offices and the evaluations are mixed. The main argument against term limits is that they deny the people the right to elect the representatives they want. My concern, frankly, is that term limits don’t address the real problems. You will still have career politicians, albeit ladder climbers rather than lifelong incumbents. You will still have interminable fund raising, expensive campaigns, cozy lobbyists, and all the shenanigans that besmirch our system today.

Moreover, term limits tend to exacerbate the career path of legislator-to-lobbyist that already makes our Congress seem like a post graduate course in representing supplicants at the public teat. 

The third approach appeals to me as the soundest. The Founders intended the House of representatives to be reapportioned every ten years to reflect the increase in the nation’s population. Because the ratio of representatives to constituents was not specifically written into the constitution, Congress was able to freeze the number of representatives, thus increasing the power of their offices every ten years.

Today, Congressmen represent an average of 710,000 people. Campaigns are expensive. That is why so many incumbents are reelected. Gerrymandered districts assure that one or the other of the two major political parties has a “safe” district.

Most importantly, Representatives do not reflect the sense of local communities. Districts which are not community-based foster appeals to the lowest common denominator of voter sentiment, typically evidenced by partisan affiliation, ethnicity or economic bias.

Large districts lead to full time legislators, large professional staffs, and centralized operations. The part time legislator who lives in his or her district and personally reads and studies Bills does not exist in  expansive and expensive constituencies.

At a minimum, we ought to eliminate gerrymandering and require Congresspersons to live in their districts. As now written, the Constitution only requires members of the House to be residents of their State. In truth, most do not actually live in their ‘home’ state, since their principal place of residence is Washington D.C. A vacation home or a campaign headquarters should not satisfy the requirement of residence.

There is much more to be said and written on this subject, to be sure. That’s why we need a convention.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Kelly Dutcher teaches Civics at the Harbor Springs High School. Her husband, Jordan, the Harbor Barber, cuts my hair. Nice folks. Kelly invited me to speak to her classes on Thursday.

I told the students about George Mason, one of only three delegates to the Philadelphia Convention who refused to sign the Constitution. Colonel Mason thought that the new federal government would become either a monarchy or an oligarchy.

I asked the students if they knew what an oligarchy is. Several volunteers spoke up. “It’s when only a few people run the government,” said one.

“Do we have an oligarchy in America?” I asked. Lots of head shaking. Lots of “No” from the class. The United States is a democracy, or maybe a republic, but not an oligarchy.

So I asked them, “If the President and all the members of Congress and the Supreme Court were graduates of Harbor Springs High School, would that be an oligarchy?

They laughed. Then they agreed. It would certainly be an oligarchy.

“O.K. Suppose you guys decided to share the power and you let some graduates of Petoskey High and Charlevoix High share the power, would it still be an oligarchy?”

They smiled and nodded. Yes, it would still be an oligarchy.

“Did Mrs. Dutcher tell you there are three branches of government?”

A chorus of answers came from the class: Executive, Legislative, Judicial.

“All right, suppose only two of the three branches were controlled by your high school oligarchy, would the federal government still be an oligarchy as George Mason said?”

There was some murmuring, some looking around, some shrugging of shoulders. Then the heads nodded. Yes, the government would still be an oligarchy.

That’s when I sprung it on them. “Did you know that two of the three branches of our national government consist entirely of graduates of three universities, Harvard, Yale and Columbia?”

No way. They do?

Yes, They do. Now would you say that the United States might just be an oligarchy, like George mason predicted?

Somber silence. They didn’t know.

Then I told them how, when I was Dean at Cooley Law School, I wrote to Chief Justice Burger and complained that all the law clerks in the Supreme Court were from four or five law schools. Would the Justices consider interviewing graduates of the other 170 law schools in America?

Burger wrote in reply that he always asked his former clerks to recommend candidates, and he was satisfied with the results. Pretty tight club, it seemed to me. So I put together a national law school dean’s list. Asked all the deans around the country to send me the name of one top student in their senior class, and we published an attractive book with pictures, biogs, and recommendations.

I sent copies to Burger and all the other Justices. Nothing happened. Nada. Zilch. Nobody got hired. Nobody got interviewed.

That’s how an oligarchy works.

One girl stopped as she was leaving after class to ask about clerkships in the Supreme Court. Don’t they even take people from the University of Michigan? She asked.

You mean ‘the Harvard of the Midwest’?

Not hardly.


Saturday, November 8, 2014


Megan Kelly is all atwitter. Bill O’Reilly gloats. The votes are in and the GOP controls both Houses of the Congress. Now the media is awash with commentary about the need for compromise, prospects of either progress or stalemate, predictions of deadlock, impeachment, vetoes and votes to override vetoes. Bottom line, politics as usual.

In 1866, Gideon Tucker, a lawyer and newspaper editor in New York, penned these immortal words: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe when the legislature is in session.”

It bears repeating. It has become common to judge the accomplishments of a legislative session by adding up the number of bills that have been passed before adjournment.

Before we start demanding that our newly elected Congressmen and Senators get to work and start passing laws, it might be well for them to give some thought to repealing some of the laws which have already been put on the books.

If freedom is defined as the right to do whatever we want to do, without restraint by the government, it would seem rather obvious that the more laws we have to obey, the less freedom we have.

Here is what Wikipedia says about the number of federal criminal laws:

There are conflicting opinions on the number of federal crimes, but many have argued that there has been explosive growth and it has become overwhelming. In 1982, the U.S. Justice Department could not come up with a number, but estimated 3,000 crimes in the United States Code. In 1998, the American Bar Association (ABA) said that it was likely much higher than 3,000, but didn't give a specific estimate. In 2008, the Heritage Foundation published a report that put the number at a minimum of 4,450. When staff for a task force of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee asked the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to update its 2008 calculation of criminal offenses in the U.S.C. in 2013, the CRS responded that they lack the manpower and resources to accomplish the task.
In short, there are so many federal crimes, we can’t afford even to count them!

Exactly how, pray tell, can the citizens of this great land be presumed to know and expected to obey laws that are too numerous even to be counted by the government?

George Mason, one of only three delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia who refused to sign the Constitution, expressed the fear that the national government would toggle between a monarchy and a corrupt oligarchy.

Oligarchy. That’s a system of government in which a few people rule. It may be hereditary, like the Mafia, where certain families are recognized as the rulers, or it may be merely like a continuous game of “King of the Castle” in which shear brute strength or military might determines who rules until the next challenger comes along.

Our national government has become a more subtle version of oligarchy. There is indeed a strain of hereditary leadership. Debbie Dingell was elected in 2014 to a seat in Congress held by her husband and his father for over eighty years. Hillary Clinton is expected to seek the position her husband held for eight years and there is talk of a candidacy by Jeb Bush whose father and brother both served as President of the United States.

Beyond these rather obvious examples of a leadership class, there are more subtle classifications.  There is a plethora of evidence that residents of certain cities, graduates of certain universities, members of certain organizations and ethnic or economic groups have a disproportionate share of the decision making in the United States.

The people of the United States are pitifully underrepresented in the Congress. If the original House of Representatives had been based on the proportions of the present one, it would have consisted of four people. That would certainly have been considered an oligarchy.

And when two of the three branches of the federal government consist entirely of  graduates of three Eastern universities, what do you call that?  

Fed up? Don't just sit there. CLICK HERE.                                                                                      

Thursday, November 6, 2014


I don’t know where it came from. Probably a Christmas or birthday gift from some thoughtful, generous and underappreciated member of my family.

Somewhere around 1,000 pieces, it was a jigsaw puzzle of the famous painting by Howard Chandler Christy depicting the signing of the Constitution of the United States. The original, thirty feet wide and twenty feet tall, with life size portraits of all fifty five delegates to the Philadelphia convention, adorns the East stairway of the House of Representatives wing of the United States Capital Building.

It was a labor of love, patriotism and dogged determination. The love of my life doesn’t do jigsaw puzzles. Especially when the pieces are spread out on the table in the basement man cave of our home.

So it sat there months on end while I nibbled away at it. Two or three pieces at a time. Or sometimes burning the midnight oil to make noticeable progress at the price of pushing bedtime back to the wee hours of the morning.

And of course there were a few spurts when the higb-spirited daughter-in -law came to visit and wave her magic wand at the reluctant monocolored pieces.

But finally it was done. A magnificent reproduction twenty-seven inches wide and nineteen and a half inches high. In a spate of unbridled euphoria I determined to keep it. I would do whatever it is that people do to turn a mundane jigsaw puzzle into a truly decorative work of art.

First, I managed to slide the puzzle off the table and onto a piece of plywood. Then I shellacked it. That was supposed to make it hang together. No such luck.

Then I decided that I had to turn the puzzle upside down, so that I could glue a backing on it. That involved covering the puzzle with a piece of poster board and taping the poster board to the plywood. It worked and shortly I had the puzzle upside down and back on the table.

Then came a trip to Home Depot where I acquired backing board, framing trim, and a diabolical form of merger called Wildwood Contact Cement.

Today was the Day. I cut four pieces of the trim in forty-five degree angles and produced a creditable picture frame.

Then I set about the fussy business of gluing a backing onto the puzzle. The directions required that I coat both the backing and the puzzle and let them sit for forty minutes. They also warned that if one of the surfaces was porous, it might take two coats. Since I was coating the backside of the puzzle, it was indeed porous and I obediently gave it two coats.

Now came the hard part. How to get he sticky backing onto the sticky back of the puzzle, exactly where I wanted it. The directions had carried the dire warning that once the two surfaces touched each other, no power on earth could separate them.

So make sure it’s a bull’s eye.

There are many times in a man’s life when getting the job done ushers in a blast of adrenaline. Making a speech. Getting married. Walking your daughter down the aisle.

Gluing the backing on a 27 by 19 jigsaw puzzle rates right up there. It was a challenge, but I did it. Hooray!

All that was left was to remove the poster board on the other side of the puzzle. It wasn’t glued on. Just flip the thing over and pull it off.

Not so easy. Here is where Murphy’s Law comes into play. Unbeknownst to me, some of the Wildwood miracle Contact Cement had seeped between the pieces of the puzzle and taken hold of the innocent poster board.

After a fruitless half hour of trying to separate the inseparable, I gathered up the puzzle and delivered it to the trash bin in the garage.

Some days s—t happens. Probably no one will read this blog, either. Maybe tomorrow will be better.