With age comes knowledge. When I was young, I had no idea how hard it was to cut a toenail when old.

A friend told me that he knows a married couple who are just two minds without a single thought.

Brittney Griner was given a harsh sentence for bringing less than a gram of cannabis oil into Russia. This result certainly seems to be the equivalent of hostage-taking and has caused many Americans great concern, as it should. But perhaps we should also be asking about the many people in the United States who are imprisoned by our overly harsh drug laws and enforcement.

Much has been made of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán denouncing race-mixing. I wondered what he meant by “race” and read the speech in Hungary where he made his pronouncement. Apparently by “race” he means “European,” although he also states that the “time will come when we have to somehow accept Christians from [outside Europe] and integrate them into our lives.” However, race has never had a fixed meaning and has been used for all sorts of groups that might now be defined by ethnicity. For example, not only Jews but the Irish and Italians were once seen as distinct races. Orbán seems especially concerned about immigration from Arab countries, but I wonder what his reaction would be if there was a widespread movement of Irish people to Hungary. Would he be accepting? In any event, it is surprising that he and Hungary are now a centerpiece for conservatives. Hungary has universal healthcare, and I have not seen anything that suggests Orbán would get rid of that. Hungary permits abortions, and I have not seen anything that suggests Orbán would get rid of that.

“The highest function of conservatism is to keep what progressiveness has accomplished.” R. H. Fulton.

I doubt that this story about Herschel Walker is true. When he was at the University of Georgia, Walker had to pass chemistry to be eligible to play football. After much discussion among faculty, administration, and, of course, wealthy alumni, it was decided that Herschel would pass if got fifty percent on a special oral exam. It had two questions. He was asked, “What is the color of blue vitriol acid?” He said, “Pink,” and that was wrong. He was then asked if he knew how to make sulfuric acid, and he said, “No.” That was right, so he was able to play football.

“Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Perhaps the most frightening thing about Josh Hawley is that, by comparison, he makes Ted Cruz seem almost reasonable.

An astute observer said, “When a politician has not time to bother with digging up the facts, he can always get up and discuss great moral issues.”

No Public Defenders Need Apply for the Supreme Court

          Joe Biden has nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to be a Supreme Court Justice. And this is where we now are on judicial nominees: Republicans know they will oppose her nomination, so they are now looking for reasons to justify that opposition. Lucky for them she was a public defender because now they can vilify her as being lax on crime.

          Other Biden judicial nominees who were public defenders have been asked by Senators Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz questions that boil down to, “How could you represent such scum?” Public defenders are not surprised by this question at social gatherings from people who do not fully grasp our legal system. On the other hand, Cotton, Hawley, and Cruz have degrees from some of the country’s finest law schools. The all clerked for federal judges, two of them for Supreme Court justices. You might expect them to understand American justice and recognize the importance of defense lawyers in that system, but their comments only reveal either their ignorance or their disingenuousness.

          The Senators, however, are selective in their disdain for lawyers who represent criminals or those accused of crimes. When I taught, some students would tell me that they could never represent organized crime. My response was, “I guess you are not going into corporate law then.” I was only being semi-flip. Although corporate crime has seldom been a high prosecutorial priority, many corporations have defended themselves in our criminal justice system. For example, to avoid criminal prosecution in 2015, General Motors paid a $900 million fine for hiding a fatal ignition switch defect responsible for 174 deaths. (How often has a public defender had a client linked to 174 deaths?) As a result of charges filed in 1996, Archer Daniels Midland pleaded guilty to criminal antitrust violations for fixing prices and paid a fine of $100 million. In 2013, Halliburton pleaded guilty to charges stemming from an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that killed eleven people. In 2021, United Airlines paid over $49 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims on postal service contracts.

          You can play a little parlor game: Put into a search engine the name of a corporation and “criminal” or “felony” conviction and see how many hits you get. You can go further and put in the name of a major financial institution together with “fraud” and see what comes up. You might learn that investment firms paid over $20 billion to settle fraud claims from the sale of mortgage-backed securities in 2005 to 2007, behavior that might have been criminally prosecuted.

          In other words, if you know a corporate attorney, there is a good chance that you know somebody who works for, and presumably gets well paid by, a criminal. But there is little chance that you would hear those lawyers derided by Republican senators because of their clients.

          True conservatives who are concerned about checking governmental power and overreach should, of course, be thanking, not denigrating, public defenders. The government has the power to criminally investigate and punish people. Right wingers screech about this power only when other right wingers are caught up in our criminal justice system, but true conservatives should be concerned with the appropriateness of this authority all the time. Since defenders provide a check on governmental power and overreach, they should be celebrated by those who claim conservative credentials.

          I am not surprised when “conservatives” pandering for partisan gain do not uphold conservative principles, but I still found some recent comments by the Republican National Committee noteworthy. A news story reported that the RNC “in a background paper on her nomination for the high court referred to Judge Jackson’s ‘advocacy for these terrorists’ [imprisoned at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay] as ‘going beyond just giving them a competent defense.’” If an attorney for the government at Guantanamo were a judicial nominee, I doubt the RNC would label the lawyer an advocate for torture even though it has been established that detainees were tortured. More startling, however, is that conservatives are trying to vilify Jackson for going beyond competence in her job. They apparently don’t want people who do their jobs too well on the Supreme Court. Mediocrity is good enough.

          And while I assume the Senators Cruz, Cotton, and Hawley have proclaimed that they want Supreme Court justices who are “originalists,” these conservatives would appear to be ignorant of the importance placed on defense advocacy by the founders of the country. Our Constitution expressly rejected English law and guaranteed a right to counsel because of the important role defense attorneys had for preserving American freedom.

(continued March 23)

Three Musings

Three Musings

1)Whither Alabama and Mississippi?

Although I am sure that there are many reasons that Georgia voted for Biden and then elected two Democrats as Senators, the mobilization of Black voters is seen as a cause, and surely Stacey Abrams must be given considerable credit. The voting in Georgia might herald an important path for Democrats: Set a ten-year goal to make Mississippi and Alabama politically competitive. Of course, even though Democrats can now compete effectively in Georgia, it does not mean that Alabama and Mississippi can ever lose their deep red status. All three have large Black populations—Georgia at about 30% Black is in between Alabama at 26% and Mississippi at 38%–and that is a reason to believe that Democrats could compete better in Alabama and Mississippi. However, Georgia’s political shift may not be a roadmap for Alabama and Mississippi. Even though all three have large Black populations, Georgia is more dynamic than the other two. Georgia’s population grew about ten percent in the last decade with both Blacks and whites attracted there from the north. That shift has not been true for Alabama which grew only about three percent and Mississippi whose growth has been stagnant. There is little to attract people to these states. Mississippi ranks 50th among the states in household income and Alabama 46th. On most measures of health, the two states have dismal rankings. For example, only West Virginia has a lower life expectancy than Mississippi with Alabama only two states above Mississippi’s ranking. (Both Blacks and whites in Mississippi and Alabama have life spans shorter than the national average.) Similarly, most measures of education place those two states right at the bottom of the country.

Georgia does not have particularly impressive rankings on such metrics either—33rd in household income and 39th in life expectancy—but it is significantly better than Mississippi and Alabama on such measures. Georgia is admittedly ahead of the other states, but even if Georgia has become politically competitive, it does not necessarily indicate that those other states can become so, too. Nevertheless, because of their low rankings and meager population growth, these states ought to become targets of Democrats. Alabamans and Mississippians might be made to realize that a political change would be good for them. And, of course, Democrats should want to make lives better, and here are two states where living conditions have no where to go but up.

2) Sue the Hell Out of Him

As I have said on this blog recently (see post of January 13, 2021), I have mixed feelings about trying Trump for criminal charges after he has left office. I also have mixed feelings about an impeachment trial. But I am hoping for all sorts of civil trials against him, both because he has regularly used litigation as a bullying tactic and because some suits might make him accountable for words and actions for which he has taken no responsibility. For example, I hope Ruby Freeman sues him. Freeman was just an ordinary worker in the Georgia election process, but Trump named her as the person who put 18,000 “fake” ballots through a scanner producing 54,000 bogus votes for Biden. Even though this was conclusively proved false, our then-president said about her, “She’s a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler.” This slander no doubt produced death threats against her and required her to go into seclusion. Normal life may never return to her. I hope that she can get enough money from Trump at least to receive a fraction of the security that Trump expects Americans to pay for him.

3) A Republican Conundrum

Here’s an interesting dilemma for some: The Republican Party might be helped if Trump is convicted in the Senate of the impeachment charges and barred from future public office. If he remains free to run for president again, he will probably act as he did in the ten years before he ran for the presidency and make frequent noises as if he will run in 2024. Instead of Republican officeholders dominating Republican politics and policies, Trump will. This can make it an interesting wire-walking adventure for some who want to be president. Let’s just say this includes Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. Cruz and Hawley will want the backing of the Trumpistas, but as long as there is a chance Trump himself will run, the first question those two Senators will be asked is, “Do you back Trump for president?” It will be interesting to hear their replies. In fact, Cruz and Hawley will be better off if Trump is barred from taking office again. Then they can pledge allegiance to the Trump flag, tell us the election was stolen, and how they should be elected to continue on with the Trump legacy. But, of course, they can’t do that if they vote to convict on the impeachment charges. Instead, they have to hope that enough other Senators will vote for conviction so that Republican paths to the Presidency don’t have to step over a possible Trump candidacy.

Words to remember on Inauguration Day. “Visits always give pleasure—if not the arrival, the departure.” Portuguese Proverb.