What’s to blame for our divided nation? The cause can also be the cure

May 16, 2017

Woops! Because the original post was illegible and the link broken, I’m reposting this link to my description of the law’s contribution the polarization of America. Here, I hope, is a working link :

“What’s to blame for our divided nation? The cause can also be the cure” [click here] which appeared on TheHill.com. Enjoy.


Peace Corps and Legal Services

April 11, 2017

The Trump Administration hasn’t included the Peace Corps in its proposal for fiscal year 2018. It proposed cutting the international affairs budget by nearly a third.[1] It struck funding for the Legal Services Corporation which provides funds for poor people to defend what little they have. And, as we are all aware, it has advanced its war on truth by trying to cut the budget of National Public Radio. None of that will save much in the budget but it will damage the country and make life coarser and less secure for the people in it.

On Feb. 27, 2017 “retired three and four star flag and general officers from all branches of the armed services” wrote congressional leadership “to share our strong conviction that elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe.”

These generals and admirals told Congress from their own experience “that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone – from confronting violent extremist groups like ISIS in the Middle East and North Africa to preventing pandemics like Ebola and stabilizing weak and fragile states that can lead to greater instability” as well as “refugee flows that are threatening America’s strategic allies in Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Europe.”

These military officers made it plain that “The military … needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism– lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.” From their experience, “The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.…”

The Trump Administration’s blueprint for FY2018 for 150 international affairs budget functions included no budget proposal for the Peace Corps. According to the Congressional Research Service, the nearly quarter of a million Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in 141 countries provide a form of “public diplomacy” for America, not to mention the “short-term … [postings for] emergency, humanitarian, and development assistance at the community level … including post-tsunami Thailand and Sri Lanka and post-earthquake Haiti.”. And they bring back with them and help the rest of us understand other parts of the world that few of us get to see. Both the specific attack on the Peace Corp and the general attack on diplomacy are part of the foolish short-sightedness of the current Administration.

Apparently the Administration doesn’t like poor people in the United States any more than abroad, as it made clear by trying to end the Legal Services Corporation. In commentary in the Times Union, Dean Alicia Ouellette of Albany Law School just stuck to the facts:

“People facing life-altering crises — parents losing custody of their children, families facing wrongful foreclosures, veterans wrongly denied benefits, the elderly scammed of life savings by fraudulent businesses, farmers struck by natural disaster — need the help of lawyers.”[2]

But for the Trump Administration, if you’re too poor to hire an attorney, you don’t deserve justice.  It’s not just the people who are deprived of their rights; it’s the public as well. According to a Massachusetts study, government funding of various types of legal representation showed returns of from two to five times the amount expended on counsel, depending on the area of legal services, not including the very significant benefits to state residents.[3] Those benefits can be very significant. Dean Ouellette cited a study by the New York City Bar Association showing savings to the city of more than half again the cost of providing legal help to people who can’t afford it in a variety of non-criminal matters. Other studies similarly show that the cost of erroneous convictions vastly exceeds the cost of providing counsel.[4]

For this president, no injury to the public or to the vulnerable is too great.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, April 11, 2017.

[1] Congressional Research Service, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS21168.pdf.

[2] http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/Funding-legal-services-for-the-poor-benefits-all-11049978.php.

[3] INVESTING IN JUSTICE A ROADMAP TO COST-EFFECTIVE FUNDING OF CIVIL LEGAL AID IN MASSACHUSETTS, A REPORT OF THE BOSTON BAR ASSOCIATION STATEWIDE TASK FORCE TO EXPAND CIVIL LEGAL AID IN MASSACHUSETTS, at 19-24 (2014) available at http://www.bostonbar.org/docs/default-document-library/statewide-task-force-to-expand-civil-legal-aid-in-ma—investing-in-justice.pdf.

[4] James R. Acker, The Flipside Injustice Of Wrongful Convictions: When The Guilty Go Free, 76 ALB. L. REV. 1629, 1631-36, 1708-09 (2012/2013).


The Case Against Gorsuch

March 27, 2017

My views on what we can expect from Judge Gorsuch are spelled out on TheHill.org at The case against Gorsuch: It’s all about precedent.


Postmortem

November 15, 2016

I feel like I’m in mourning. The presidency has been taken by a con man and we all deserve better – those he’s duped as well as the rest of us.

  • Trump was “elected” by an “electoral college” system designed in the 18th century to protect slaveowners by augmenting their votes with 3/5 of their slaves.
  • He was “elected” by a Court unwilling to protect the voting rights of all American citizens.
  • As in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush became President, the 2016 popular vote went to Mrs. Clinton. President Bush proceeded to make colossal mistakes in foreign affairs for which this country will spend a century paying.
  • Trump was elected with the votes of people who had suffered financially over the past two decades – but they voted for the very people who refused to lift a finger to provide jobs, people who don’t believe government should do anything, including good and important things, and for whom blocking anything Obama wanted to do was more important than helping fellow Americans. With Republicans benefitting from that cynical and deceitful strategy they are back in control of Congress. Good luck to the coal miners, autoworkers, steelworkers and others – they’ll need it.
  • We will now have a dirty old man in the White House as a “role model” for the worst behavior toward women.
  • And his rhetoric threatens to take apart the signal achievement of America – our mutual respect across faith, national origins, class, race, and counting – an achievement central to the status and future of the very people who voted for hate.

I am worried, crestfallen and embarrassed. What is there to do?

First, I have become a supporter of Supreme Court term limits. Rehnquist spent 34 years at the Court, Stevens 35, Scalia 30 and Thomas has been there 25. Erwin Chemerinsky, widely respected dean at the University of California at Irvine School of Law wrote:

The idea is that each justice would be appointed for an 18-year, non-renewable term. A vacancy thus would occur every two years. Vacancies that occur through resignation or death would be filled by appointing someone to serve the unfinished part of the term.

That way the Court would not be dominated by political decisions made decades ago.

Second, I would not confirm any new justice until there is agreement to reverse the decision that allowed states to monkey with their election rules to disenfranchise voters, and until there is agreement to adopt one of the mathematical rules that precisely measure gerrymandering, the level of favoritism to either party – known as symmetry or wasted voters. Some will object that those decisions are for the justices. Nonsense – the appointments clause is the political check and those decisions put the justices’ prejudices ahead of self-government and assured Republican victories, roles no judge should be playing. Those decisions were partisan, self-serving and should be ruled unconstitutional.

Third, we need to get across to people that refusing to vote because there is someone else we like better is a very bad choice because it has very bad consequences. In a democracy, to live and work together we have to be willing to compromise. It’s part of the deal.

Finally, we need to organize. 2018 is two years away and Congress will be at stake again. True patriots don’t give up.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, Nov. 15, 2016.


Environmental consequences of the 2016 presidential election

November 5, 2016

Juan Cole pulls it together – ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and of course FOX plus their parent corporations and sister outlets have blocked discussion of the environmental consequences of this year’s election. I heartily recommend reading it.


Why couldn’t the Corporate Old Boys’ Network Stop Trump?

October 25, 2016

Just spotted a very interesting article about the decline in ties among the corporate elite and its relationship to polarization and the Trump candidacy. Very interesting piece well worth mulling over. Here’s the link.


Fugue for Pledge Breaks

October 25, 2016

This is a little late! The pledge break was last week. But the sentiment is still true:

Hi folks. When you hear this I’ll be boarding a plane for Pittsburgh to give a talk, and I’ll be missing a couple of days of the fund drive, though friends and family from our Peace Corps days will be helping out at the station as well as contributing from home. This station is important to us – and this election season makes clear why. On WAMC we get news that is fact-checked. We get opinions that are explained, not just thrown at us like so many ipse dixits. We get interviews with people on both sides of political campaigns. And we get cutting edge science about energy, water, the climate, the economy and other matters of interest and importance. This station is a treasure.

Alan on the Congressional Corner, Joe on the Roundtable, Terry Gross on Fresh Air and others aired on this station interview candidates, writers, experts and media personalities so that we can understand what they are saying. They give people the time and the space to explain themselves. Too many interviewers are driven only by the drama of cutting people off. But on WAMC we actually get to understand the basis of what people are trying to tell us.

I know Alan disagrees with what some people tell him on the Congressional Corner. But he let’s them make their points for our benefit. I’ve come to know lots of people Joe interviews and they all reacted that doing interviews with him is a pleasure because Joe helps us – he’s interviewed me too – to get our points out so that you as listeners can understand and evaluate what we are telling you.

It’s particularly obvious in a political season like this when people are trading barbs. One needs a station whose principle commitment, to itself and to us in the audience, is to tell the news accurately rather than bending stories to suit one side or the other.

Of course I can get specialized information when I need it. But I also need a grounding that is not prepared specially for my personal tastes and interests, a grounding that gives me news and information I might not find in my own personal quest.

And bless radio. I can relax and listen while resting my otherwise overworked eyes. My wife and I can put the news on over a meal, while we share and discuss it.

Plus three times a year we can ride the races with WAMC, so with apologies to Guys and Dolls:

We’ve got the station right here, it’s name is WAMC,
Step up to the rail and let that pledge box hear
Regular broadcasting heading for the finish line,
WAMC can do.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, October 18, 2016.

 


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