Monthly Archives: December 2015

Resolution – to be honest and fair


What ever happened to honesty and fairness as bedrock principles in American politics?

Many citizens no longer expect either.

It’s always been a challenge to gauge what’s true and fair but we have been in a politically toxic environment perhaps ever since we declared “the war on terror.”

Our public leaders encourage us, in response to matters off shore and here at home, to focus on individual risk and fear, and to encourage reprisal and violence.

Our worst leaders do it by being entirely dishonest and unfair.

We have one blustering presidential candidate, so nativistic, he wants a very tall thick impregnable wall across the length of our southern border with Mexico. What’s scary is so many don’t think this is a joke. Nor does anyone think it’s incredible to believe this candidate will get a border nation-state, Mexico, to pay for his wall.

We have another saber rattling candidate who wants to carpet bomb a mid-east nation and apparently believes that won’t encourage “terrorists” to come here and do the same to us.

There are those who want every citizen to buy a gun. My neighbors were shooting their guns after dark while I wrote this – “practicing,” I suppose, to defend against a home invasion or the unlikely event that ISIS might attack at or near Lovettsville’s Town Council.

The worst aspect of this dystopic demagoguery, so misleading in concept and execution, is that these “leaders” are indifferent to the devastating effect on the nation’s character, on how we may continue to make the historical claim that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave. Continue reading

A Magical Time!

German and British Troops together in “No Man’s Land”

German and British Troops together in “No Man’s Land”

The seasonal commercial onslaught notwithstanding, this is a magical time of the year, full of family, warmth, intimacy, compassion, togetherness, efforts to find one another, and abundant good will.

It has always been so, or so it seems, as the light of the sun is reborn, the rays shining longer day by day, a time when we renew ourselves from each other, resolving that for the next year, in the New Year, we will do things differently, reform ourselves but also perfect how we can deal better with each other.

While many of us watch film classics of the season about giving and risking for others, about the magic and miracle that is this holiday season, we don’t always appreciate the lesson.

About 100 years ago, somewhere in Flanders, in the Northern region of Belgium, there was singing in watery and flooded muddy pastures and trenches.

Some say guttural voices were first heard in German, singing, “O Tannenbaum,” and then other voices were heard in the King’s English, singing “The First Noel,” but the voices were conjoined when, in Latin, known to Germans and British alike, they could all sing together the familiar words, “Adeste Fidelis, laeti triumphantes.”

World War I had been underway for four months and it had wrongly been anticipated at the outset of the war that it would all be over in time for Christmas.  But it wasn’t.

Pope Benedict XV had suggested a truce for Christmas in early December, and the Germans had agreed but the British, French and Russians refused.

British and German troops were entrenched in parallel lines opposite each other, guns at the ready, under miserable conditions, with a patch of “No man’s land,” separating them north and south, each nation-state’s troops “carefully taught” as to the fierce enemy that they were sworn to shoot and kill.

On Christmas Eve, the Germans placed Christmas trees with lit candles along the front.

It is most often said that a German, who spoke English, was the first to say, after some banter, “Tommy, you come over and see us.”  But the British said, according to one report, “Fritz, you come here.”

Soon they were standing together, in the middle ground, not on either side, amidst the wiry entanglements that separated them, in “No Man’s Land,” talking like they’d known each other for years, lighting each other’s cigarettes, trading pictures and buttons, comparing places they’d been in each other’s country.  They even engaged in soccer games on Christmas Day in the “No Man’s Land” that had been their killing field.  No commanding officer approved this Christmas truce.  Indeed, they opposed it.  But it went on for days and 100,000 “fighting” men from the British and German front participated.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last.  The war resumed.

In 1930 in the British Parliament, a British participant from 1914, Murdoch M. Wood, said, “The fact is that we did it, and I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since, that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.”

We are in that special season now, and we should take the sentiments of compassion and charity that we now celebrate into the rest of the year and that, rather than a retreat or truce from the hard life that can so suffocate what’s best about us, extend this season into the rest of the year, into everything else that we do, and resolve that this New Year it won’t be just losing a few pounds but shedding distrust for the possibility that we can do better in so many ways, as Murdoch Wood said, if left to ourselves, if we foster what’s best about ourselves, how we are in the best time of the year, in this season when the light and illumination grow day by day.

Prosecutors who cheat justice

John P. Flannery asked Judge Kozinski about criminal justice reform

John P. Flannery asked Judge Kozinski about criminal justice reform

Loudoun Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne, as Chair of a “Special Committee on Criminal Discovery Rules,” sought to put a stop to prosecutors ambushing the Accused at trial and, even worse, from withholding evidence of innocence or wrongdoing cabined away by the prosecutor or by his investigators or witnesses; Judge Horne sought to bring “clarity and transparency” to the process.

Anybody who has suffered our criminal justice system knows that you get more information, by law, in a $500 bad debt civil case than if your freedom and reputation are on the line in a criminal case.

Judge Horne’s committee recommended reforms to the “system” to cure these defects. But the Supreme Court of Virginia accepted not one of the long needed reforms.

The best prosecutors in the Commonwealth and across the nation have an open file policy – meaning the Accused gets to see what’s in the prosecutor’s files – because these prosecutors believe their primary directive is to do justice, not to win at all costs.

When I was a federal and a state prosecutor we opened our case file because we knew an adversary for the Accused might see something we overlooked and, even when a witness might be at risk, we’d find a way to make critical information available.

It is an open secret that this nation’s dockets are awash in unjust convictions and too severe sentences because full and fair discovery of what the prosecution knows is withheld on a daily basis.

The most egregious prosecutorial lapses occur with information characterized as Brady, that is, evidence that contradicts the government’s charges, impeaches their witnesses, and mitigates against the more severe punishment the prosecutor is demanding.

US Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, from the Ninth Circuit federal appellate court, wrote in United States v. Olsen, 737 F. 3d 625 (9th Cir. 2013) – “[T] here is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land.”

Judge Kozinski went further and said that there are too many “rogue investigators and forensic experts.” You’ve seen the reports of various federal and state labs impeached by bad practices and outright fraud including how the FBI estimated that over ten thousand cases going back to 1985 involved lab misconduct. Continue reading

We fiddle while the world warms

globalwarmgraphIt’s hard to believe there is any one on this planet not truly alarmed at our planet’s yearly warming, with huge glaciers melting, waters rising, islands submerging, weather systems changing, water supplies declining, droughts increasing, and, with the most advanced scientific observers saying, we may have passed the tipping point on our way to global disaster.

World leaders have converged on Paris and have a working outline how to address global warming while “leaders” in our Congress resist EPA efforts to restrain the outpouring of carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

“Climate change” is the term preferred by those who don’t get the science and believe somehow or other an unseen beneficent force will save the planet.

Comedian Robin Williams had a line in his stand-up act when the audience missed a joke. Williams would say, “Catch up!” We have some evidence that there are folk who never will.

The most sinister and deceitful participants in this crucial worldwide dialogue are the fossil fuel adherents, the oil and gas industry tools, and motor city defenders, resisting change to alternative energy sources, stifling the truth, busy buying politicians who put us all at risk, while recklessly flooding the air waves with false promises and assurances. They busy themselves publishing Disney fantasy claims, saying that coal can be clean, and that they are going to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – someday – if it doesn’t cost too much.

The average High School student knows that carbon dioxide is a gas unlike oxygen or nitrogen; that it’s not transparent to sun light, and that it blocks and traps infrared light rays when reflected back from the earth. Continue reading

The National Geographic’s “MARY”

mary-natgeoWhen I was a boy in the South Bronx parish of St. Pius, taught by Dominican nuns, my favorite prayer was, “the Hail Mary.”

I was often chosen to lead the Rosary, and I suspect it was because I recited the prayer rapidly.

To this day, I’ll say the Hail Mary, in times of stress and distress, out of those early devotions, as I did repeatedly, while my Mom was undergoing a life or death operation, for a bypass, a prayerful meditation asking that she survive, or die without much pain. She lived another ten years.

But I can’t say my Mother’s recovery from her almost immovable stone hard heart muscle was because I prayed. Nor did my Mom think that was the reason. But she did say afterwards she would never eat pork again, a respectful offering, out of respect for the pig valve that made her heart healthy again and for years afterwards.

In recent days, National Geographic chose as its cover story, Mary, and described her as “the most powerful woman in the world.”

In the past, Geographic has discussed religion and culture as an influence on nation states and tribes.

But has not given such a misleading title to a subject as this issue — for the article is in truth and fact about the cult of Mary and not about the Mary of the Church or of scripture.

So what happened?

After 127 years under the ownership of the not-for-profit National Geographic Society, the magazine and the Society’s assets have been taken over by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

Murdoch’s purple prose publishing is already evident in this current cover, ascribing to a religious icon the appellation that she is the “most powerful.”

The Aryan image of this strawberry blonde Mary looking more like Cate Blanchett, rather than the more likely image of an historic Mary, perhaps olive skinned and dark haired, is unworthy of Geographic’s past amazing journalism, printed and photographic. Continue reading