Looking for a moose

maine_2016_lighthouse_walkI went for a morning run in Owl’s Head, Maine, along the Northern coast, in the light cool rain – and no one was on the roads or the paths through the woods.

In the difficult places, in the woods along the waters of Owl’s Head, you have to pause to walk or run slowly, to move more carefully.

In this way, alert to a trip or a fall, I found inch high purple orchids, slightly agape, hanging in an array, against a seeming wall of wide green leaves and stems.

There were large patches of soft green-white moss beneath my foot fall, and tender fibrous growths clustered on obstructing over-hanging limbs.

Where there wasn’t moss on the forest floor, there was what had once been vibrant flora, flattened dead tree limbs, pressed moist leaves and branches, fallen by age or wind or the brush of a deer, or even another human passerby.

You had to dodge and tip toe carefully past swollen tree roots snaking across the narrow path, holding fast the earth below, knitting together what had been proudly strewn about the walk way over time.

Last week, there were leaves already turning to bright colors, ferns bordering the dark woods beyond, where there were shimmering shapes in the near distance in the morning’s soft wet breeze.

There were open air views from within the woods, indeed a vast dramatic expanse, when you looked out from the forest, to peak from the paths, as you turned around this or that deciduous column in the natural cathedral that held you close, reminding you, you have to do more of this.

There were the waters far below the cliffs, ebbing and flowing away, in rolling translucent waves of softly-changing colors, in elongated pools of blues, and greens, sometimes almost black, with silvery highlights, all the way eastward toward the gray morning light.

The moist air filled you up, opening your lungs, almost as effectively as a shot of espresso.

And it was quiet, except for the sound of the surf and the leaves and the trees brushed by the wind.

Man more and more exists separate from this entwining connection with nature that can make us whole and authentic. Continue reading

Presidential timber

hillary_clintonWhat kind of person climbs out of bed to fight to lead the country when told to stay in bed because of pneumonia?

What kind of person, still sick, wearing a bullet proof vest, in the heat of a NY day, but on a momentous public day, especially for NY, forgoes recovery, an easy excuse, because she doesn’t want to miss a ceremony, a public ritual, remembering and honoring those who died on 9-11?  It meant that much to her.

Plainly, it’s the kind of person who has given all her life and was first noticed when she spoke truth to power in a graduation address.

And she hasn’t stopped since to speak her mind and make a difference when and as she had the opportunity, and, when no one else would lead, Hillary did.

Women have always had to do more, and to do it better, to be taken seriously in this nation – even now

Wouldn’t you know in this election year there is a roar of sexism and male chauvinism tearing at Hillary Rodham Clinton at every turn, from the clothes she wears to the way she laughs, how serious she is, indeed every act or decision she’s made in her life, for fear the nation will follow electing a black man with electing a white woman, to steer the ship of state.

Like many, I felt a sense of deep concern when Hillary had to leave the NY ceremony because her recovering body wouldn’t let her stand and stay, and this was soon replaced by rage at what people said and now say, days later, about Hillary, for being human, for giving her all, to the point of exhaustion, and contracting pneumonia.

I know more than ever, given her sacrifice to lead, her warrior commitment, what a fine example she is, for every other citizen to mimic, who claims to be a patriot, that the choice is clear, favoring the only candidate who cares about everyone from kids to seniors and everyone in between.

We need a person, and Hillary is that person, who will work for us no matter our color, our nation of origin, our sexual identity or preference, even, I believe, our partisan preference.

We need a person who has cared her whole life for this nation and its promise.

We need a woman who will bring us together.

Not drive us apart. It was a former great official from Illinois who warned that a nation divided could not stand.

This year there is a pathogen loose in our politics preaching division and disunity and hate and intolerance.  Continue reading

Is protest the only way to be heard?

Phil Little Thunder Sr. protesting

Phil Little Thunder Sr. protesting

Phil Little Thunder Sr. joined the protest of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota – an iconic figure marching with thousands from other tribal nations – in order to stop a noxious crude oil pipeline from tunneling under Lake Oahe, a tribe’s crucial water source, fearing the pipe will leak its oleaginous poisons into these life-giving waters, and because the line, if not adjusted, will destroy the tribe’s burial grounds, and historic and ancestral cultural sites.

The proposed Dakota Access pipeline, if allowed to proceed, under the auspices of “Energy Transfer Partners,” would travel 1,170 miles, crossing the Sioux land, en route to the Gulf coast.

You may think this has nothing to do with the Commonwealth of Virginia.  But there are lessons to learn so we may resist the risky fossil fuel industry energy choices close to home including Dominion’s effort to lay 550 miles of fracked gas pipelines within feet of the homes of many Virginia landowners, at the risk of these volatile gases exploding, as did occur in Appomattox, Virginia.

We can’t count on the General Assembly, not the Democratic nor Republican parties, as Dominion has showered its financial largesse on key members of both parties.

The success or failure in fighting this Dakota pipeline and the key lessons learned from the defeat of the XL pipeline instruct us how to represent ourselves when those elected fail to represent us.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg denied the tribe’s demands to stop the pipeline, saying that the tribe had failed to show “it will suffer injury.”  In what alternate universe is the risk that a critical water source may be destroyed not a cognizable “injury?”  Continue reading

Land of the free? About our national anthem!

Flag_wavingOn Friday night, my wife Holly and I took out the Iron Horse (little Harley) and had dinner at Anthony’s in Purcellville.

A Starbuck’s friend at the next table over asked what I thought about the quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, with the San Francisco 49ers, who wouldn’t stand during the national anthem.

I said I had no problem with his protest.  And I don’t.

I think there is good cause because of our poor race relations that we promote discussion about race and equality – so that we might thereby achieve the equal rights for all Americans, male and female, and fulfill the promise of equality that has eluded this nation’s grasp since we declared our independence.

Blacks failed to become full “persons” in our much revered Constitution at the birth of our nation; they were recognized as fractional three-fifths “persons” for purposes of allocating political representation among the several states, but not allowed the vote.

Still, we have folk insisting on the “original” meaning of the constitution, what our founders “believed.”

What our founders “believed” was that it was necessary to compromise individual rights to ameliorate regional differences.

In 2011, there was some congressional embarrassment when our U.S. Congress thought to read the Constitution on the floor of the House so that we could focus on our nation’s “original” meaning.

The “reading” deleted certain “original” passages from the Constitution including the language in Article I, Section 2, that references slaves as “three fifths” persons.

Many are beside themselves that anyone would protest the Anthem?  But we should examine the context and content of the Anthem.  I have never done so, not from the perspective of being black, or having had ancestors who were slaves.  When you do, you can’t ignore that our Anthem contains these words, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

Continue reading

The canary in the stream

Horse fly larva

Horse fly larva

The expression and the actual practice is “the canary in the coal mine,” a means to detect deadly levels of carbon dioxide gas that overwhelms the canary, signaling to the miners that they might succumb next, and so they are fairly warned to escape.

There are comparable early warning signs, using other small creatures, to detect whether the river and stream waters that we drink, fish and swim in may be “impaired,” or significantly degraded.

Unfortunately, we do have “impaired waters” – so this is not an academic question.

All our County’s streams are affected by human activities, especially development, and some do not meet the standards of the Clean Water Act and Virginia Water Quality Standards for recreational use and aquatic life.

We have to be concerned about Catoctin Creek and Goose Creek and their tributaries, Little River, Limestone Branch, Piney Run, Broad Run and Sugarland Run.  We all have an obligation as stewards to use but not alter or compromise this most essential natural resource, the waters by which we live.

We have pollution from storm water runoff, grazing, failing septic tank systems.  The more impervious surfaces we have, the more our watersheds are compromised.  Nor can we ignore the fecal bacteria mostly due to livestock.  We have to remediate against these polluting practices.

The good news is that there are things we can do to protect and preserve our waterways and we have the means to detect when our streams are “impaired.” Continue reading

Homeland insecurity

concordmilitiaWe have changed our definition of what’s freedom.

I stand in court rooms in defense of the Accused and invoke the presumption we are all innocent including those charged.

Our government treats us, however, as if we are all presumed guilty, that we must prove otherwise, and we are all treated as suspect for the commission of some unstated possible terrorist act – without any evidence whatsoever.

We have become accustomed to being searched and radiated at airports and public buildings, though we comply reluctantly.

For years now the government, “our” government, has also been collecting every bit of information it can about who we are, what we do, what we say, where we go, what we write, our financial holdings, and with whom we associate.

Our personal information is being inhaled into the government’s mammoth data banks at the cost of our expectation and right to be let alone.

Yet, we brag our freedom is the envy of the world.

The fear of those who would govern this nation is compromising the freedom of the governed.

When 9-11 occurred, I was ashamed of the members of Congress.  Little has changed since. Continue reading

Trapped in a cave

trappedincaveThere’s a marvelous old story of imagined persons chained in place by their legs and necks since childhood staring straight ahead at a blank wall in a darkened cave deep in the earth.

They see only the reflections and shadows on that blank wall and what they see are the projections of puppets and objects passing before a bright fire but the source is hidden from their sight and knowledge atop a wall behind them.

These shades, and echoes of sound, are their only truth; they know no more.

As in every good story of captivity, we require an escape from these “unkindly” shackles, and one person does crawl up a tunnel to the sunlight above, finding it difficult to comprehend the light, still preferring the familiar shadow world below, but soon, with some difficulty, realizing the shadowy images below are false, unreal, forms of misdirection, and he feels pity for those left behind.

The intent of this allegory is obvious. We are metaphorically shackled by what we fail to question and examine and learn.

Case in point – we have a national debate that has sadly reduced for many to which presidential candidate is worse for the nation. (I have a different view about Hillary than those who see it this way.) But, in the debate of who is worse, Donald Trump is winning hands down.

It’s not just about who may win, although that is what we talk about almost 24/7.

Speaker Ryan fears he would win fewer House seats if he opposed Trump.

Senator McCain fears he can only win his Senate Primary if he supports Trump.

Many shun Trump but don’t oppose him because they want to win this congressional seat or that senate seat.

These are the shadows on our public wall that we stare at day by day. Continue reading

Equal justice for all? Not really!

supremecourtbuildingJustice is really much more unequal and arbitrary than as advertised, especially if you can’t afford to hire your own counsel.

I’ve been active in the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), served on their Board of Directors some time ago, and we described ourselves as “Liberty’s Last Champions.”

We represent those who have the resources to defend themselves and those who don’t.

Among our most worthy public defenders, years ago, was an NACDL member from Louisiana who said he couldn’t represent a client effectively, not within the bounds of ethical conduct, or the constitution, told this to the Louisiana courts, confessed that he was ineffective to represent the indigent clients that he was assigned to represent because the public defender’s office had not the resources to handle the cases, not the computer power, not the time to research the law, not the investigators to help prepare the facts of the case to determine whether a defense or a negotiated plea was the correct course. Louisiana reformed its system, and they’re going through another iteration as I write this.

But Virginia hasn’t gotten the message.

There is an outstanding lawyer who serves as a public defender in Loudoun County, is as efficient as one could possibly be, smart as could be at the law, and has a current case load of 178 cases.

Others in the public defenders office have similar caseloads.

Imagine what it takes to coordinate 178 different legal cases, to do so thoughtfully, to investigate and research them, on statutory and court regulated deadlines.

Consider also how motivated a public defender must be to overcome the fact that they are being paid, on average, $15,000 less a year than the Assistant Commonwealth Attorneys.

One of the critical phases of representation for an Accused who can’t pay for counsel is the bail that permits them to be free while the charges are pending.

We say that the Accused is innocent but we act quite the opposite way when setting bail, it appears to be about everything else, and the standard in many cases is not whether the Accused will show up, or presents a danger to himself or to others.

You should understand, when there is a bail hearing, and especially for a person who can’t afford counsel, he or she usually doesn’t come to court, they sit in a room with a tv at the Adult Detention Center, in a prison jump suit, watching and responding on a tv feed to the tinny sounding proceedings in a court room across town.

The communications at such bail hearings between a public defender and the Accused is non-existent.

You might think that the Accused receives a copy of the criminal complaint stating the charge and the brief affidavit of probable cause – why they were charged. But the Commonwealth gives the Accused as little information as possible.

Recently, I got “open file” discovery in Loudoun, meaning I get to look at “everything,” so they say, but they want me to copy it with a pen and paper, no xeroxing please, wouldn’t make available a copy, no, you can’t move that file, and, on this last go round, while looking at the file, there was a tab for a search warrant for a cell phone belonging to my client, but neither the warrant nor the supporting affidavit was in the “open file,” and I was told afterwards to get it from the court file. So much for that part about serving the Accused with a warrant when invading his 4th Amendment right to be let alone.

It is little wonder that the ACLU of Virginia recently issued a report, titled, “Unparalleled Power,” because of “events in Virginia and across the country [that] have sparked conversations about racial injustices, mental illness, the failure of the War on Drugs, and the enormous unnecessary cost of mass incarceration.”

The report charges that Commonwealth Attorneys in Virginia have “consistently resisted change,” meaning “common sense reforms,” and instead “lobbied the General Assembly to ramp up the failed war on Drugs.”

It’s a fixed game pretty much when, according to the ACLU, the Commonwealth Attorneys “have the authority to to decide how many charges a person will face at trial, and whether those charges will carry mandatory minimums.”

The ACLU doesn’t even think to suggest the judges rein in the prosecutors – as they hardly ever do.

The ACLU wrote, “prosecutors are rarely sanctioned for ethical or constitutional violations.”

Houston we have a problem but, unlike, NASA we don’t seem to have the gumption to solve it.

Sexism in America

Two great women (Hillary Clinton and Holly Flannery) and one impressed guy

Two great women (Hillary Clinton and Holly Flannery) and one impressed guy

On how far we have to go – well, we have quite a ways yet to go on respecting a woman’s dignity and right as a person to be treated as an equal.

On NPR, the next day after Secretary Hillary Clinton accepted the presidential nomination in the City of Brotherly Love, there was an on-air discussion among both men and women wondering – “Why didn’t Hillary cry?” and “Wouldn’t that have helped?”

Is a woman not perceived as human unless she sheds a tear? This semi-conscious sexism drives me crazy. What’s most distressing is that any woman would suggest another woman should cry for some calculated political effect – what I consider a disappointing form of sexist masochism.

If Hillary had felt the moment in such a way that she cried, then fine, but to suggest this as the projected and expected profile of any woman is sexist.

So yeah, I think these NPR commentators, men and women, were sexist pigs (with apologies to my pet pigs). Continue reading

Not like any other election year

donaldtrumpThere is a disconnect on a rational and emotional level with this last Republican Convention as compared to past Republican Conventions.

I’m not talking about the “not ready for prime time” gaffes, nor Melania’s plagiarism on opening night, nor the misty “Apollo Creed” convention entrance of nominee Trump, the arm-twisting rules decisions “to move things along,” nor Senator Ted Cruz’ thinly veiled pitch to the delegates to turn to Cruz himself as the Republican’s nominee in 2020 after “the Donald” crashes and burns this November.

In my life, when the Republicans chose past candidates, every one of them, even President Richard Nixon, I could see it, understand it, the Republican choice, that is, even as I disagreed with their party’s standards for choosing the nominees.

I was a kid when Dwight Eisenhower was the Republican presidential nominee. True, he hadn’t ever run for elected office, like Mr. Trump, but, besides heading up Columbia University as President, where I served time undergrad and at the law school (long after “Ike” had moved on), President Eisenhower had been a five star general in the Army and was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, heading up invasions into North Africa, France and Germany. Both parties had sought to have Eisenhower head up their ticket. Donald Trump is no Dwight Eisenhower.

Ronald Reagan may have been the consummate show man but he had to be more than that to position himself for a presidential nomination. He had been the head of the Screen Actors Guild, the voice of GE, the Governor of California, and ran for President in ’68 and ’76 before sealing the deal, and winning the presidential nomination and election in 1980.

Blemishes and past disagreements aside, I have never seen a worse nominee than Donald Trump so ill-prepared to lead this nation. Continue reading