The Rule of Law

Yesterday, the President fired his acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, for ordering the Justice Department not to defend or enforce his Executive Order banning Muslims from certain countries.  Her conclusion, reached after extensive discussions within the DOJ, was that the order appeared to be based on his stated intention to bar Muslims from entering the country.  Whether or not you agree with her order, it was her duty to enforce a decades old law that forbids religious tests for obtaining and exercising the right to enter the US.  Normally, the DOJ is consulted on decisions like that made in this order, which call for interpretations of the law.  This did not occur, and neither were other affected departments, resulting in chaos at our borders and around the world.

The Attorney General, serves in a unique role as the attorney for the United States and not for the President.  It is a principle that has been demonstrated and accepted by every administration in modern history, except one – or now two.  If, in this case, she found as she did, it was her duty to instruct the Department not to enforce the order.

One of the founding principles of this country is that we are a nation of laws, by which all are bound, even the most powerful.  Without that assumption, our Constitution would be meaningless.  Even the President, and most importantly the President, has this responsibility.

In civics class we all learned about the concept of checks and balances that prevents one part of the government from usurping control from the people.  Sally Yates exercised that responsibility.  At the same time, the President was within his right to fire her.  Sadly, he chose to follow Richard Nixon’s model of firing his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, followed by his deputy William Ruckelshaus, for refusing to unlawfully remove the Watergate Special Prosecutor.  Unlike Nixon, this President did not exercise the good judgment to ask for her reasoning, before summarily firing her.

I’ve tried here to stick basically to the facts, up to this point, and I hope I’ve been sufficiently accurate.  What I really want to address is the President’s seemingly insecure and baseless choice to disparage Sally Yates.  She come from a long line of distinguished and principled lawyers from the city where I live.  She made it here career to serve in and rise through the ranks of the DOJ.  She successfully prosecuted the Olympic bomber, Eric Rudolph. She served with honor, character, integrity, intelligence and humility  when she became the US District Attorney and again when she was appointed to be second in command in the Justice Department.

You may disagree with the decision for which she was fired, but you disparage an honest and upright person if you criticize her personally.  When all is said, we must be better than that.

Update:  Slate published a thoughtful article on this subject here, which I recommend.

And another:  The President, through his new Attorney General, recently asked a number of District Attorneys to resign.  One, Preet Bahara from New York, refused to resign and was summarily fired.  We have since learned that he was investigating the HHS Secretary, Tom Price, for insider trading while serving in Congress.  The potential motivation for his firing is truly troubling.

 

 

 

 

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Alternative Facts

 

Just about all has been said, at this point, about Kellyanne Conway’s quote:

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.”

Still, when all is said, we seem to be left, not of different minds, but in alternate universes.  Many oxymorons have an element of truth within and I’ve spent some time dissecting this one, because the statement seemed to be an oddly sincere one and not a last ditch attempt at the last word.

Part of the fabric of life that makes it rich and deep is that our understanding grows as we explore farther and dig deeper.  History is filled with examples too many to recount, except perhaps to note that often those with new insights suffered at the hands of others more myopic –  Galileo comes to mind.  The common thread through each seems to be that a tincture of time and exposure to the heretical thought has ultimately advanced acceptance of this thing we ultimately treasure as “truth.”

If Dante’s vision is correct, there is a special place in Hell for those who, in the presence of what cannot be denied, turn to wash their hands and say, “What is truth?” Pontius Pilate was not alone when Virgil led Dante past that point and I fear that Pilate’s level of Hell grows more crowded as we speak.

Coincidentally, it was on this day in 1302 that Dante was exiled from Florence by political opponents who had taken power.  He spent the rest of his life in exile, though he used the time to write The Inferno, a work that has long outlasted his opponents.

Plato crafted an entire work on the metaphor that there exist tangible truths we only see as shadows on the wall of a cave.  His message was to turn to the light for genuine understanding because truth is a real thing, although, like the sun, it may be too bright to stare into. He offered only a metaphor, but we seem to have lost touch with any form of reality.

When Joesph McCarthy waged his war of false accusations, the words that brought him down were,”Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”  We seem to live in a world where what is black and what is white are matters of opinion, advanced not for better understanding, but to beat down others.  There is no decency in that and no future.  That is a fact.

 

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A Different Kind of Climate Change

When Rousseau wrote “The Social Contract”, in which he imagined world in which people lived in natural harmony, without the need for God, the church or government as we know it, he wisely prefaced his work with praise for those very things, lest he be excommunicated or worse.

So I begin by offering my opinion that climate change is the greatest challenge and danger facing not just mankind, but all of life on earth.  As I write this at a time of year when I should see snow, it is 25 degrees above normal and there is a thunderstorm outside.  We have much to do, and I pray we are not too late.

I wonder if we might begin, however, with a different kind of climate change.  The change I’d imagine is one in which we talk, and listen, to each other again.  Perhaps a climate in which we communicate, not to win or worse to put down another, might just be our own “first small step for mankind” here on earth.

In my last post, I suggested that the time was ripe for each of us to write our own “manifesto.”  Corporations often articulate their values, even though they may not practice them.  Why not us and why not in this time of change?

Yesterday, in lieu of watching the news, I took the time to craft my own manifesto, my own statement of values.  For what it is worth, I’ll share it here.

 

Be Kind.  The world can be a cruel place.

Live Small.  Make room and save resources for others.

Seek Peace.  Both within yourself and with others.

 

There you have my opening offer toward a different kind of climate change.

 

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The Apocalypse

 

Stay with me on this.  I promise I have a point, and perhaps even one that is worth taking the time to read, in these final days of life on earth as we know it.

One of my favorite  blogs posted  a piece today on how to cope with “this week”, a euphemism for the inauguration and all that is taking place in Washington.  While this particular blog is not about politics, I recommend you visit hers, especially if you are a liberal, progressive, moderate or true conservative.  Change of the scope being proposed, by leaders who sometimes don’t know what their organization does, should make you stop and think. That is what this blog is intended to do, and thus this monologue.

While we still have the Internet to turn to, I searched “What to do in the apocalypse?”  After several pages of entries devoted to zombies, which I hope aren’t relevant, I came across two results worth considering.

The second, and I am not kidding here, is an article from The Economist entitled, “I Will Survive.” The article, while occasionally a bit tongue-in-cheek, is a serious discussion of the phenomenon of survivalist culture in our country.  The fact that the Economist, in 2014, would address what to do in a global economic collapse means that sane, dull and ordinary people have reason to contemplate what to do if the utterly impossible happened, as many fear is the case now.

The first recommendation I have, however, is for you to give thought to a fairly random list of “50 Things to do During the Post Apocalypse.”  Most of the list turns from silly to practical and back, but two suggestions struck me as brilliantly appropriate in the context of whatever you choose to call current events.

And here is my point,  for when, whether now or someday, the world crumbles around you and there is no hope to save it or escape.  First, “write your memoirs.” Capture and share how you got to wherever the end of the world is.  It is likely to be a good story and perhaps a lesson for the future, if there is to be one.

Second, and this is key, “write your manifesto” of what the world should be if you could rebuild it. Identify and articulate your values and describe what a world built on those might be.  There are times, I know myself, when all one has is hope and even that seems gone.  I suppose I am speaking to myself here, but even if there seems to be nothing one person can do, and everything is in free fall, grounding yourself in your values is a place to begin – again.

 

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When You Ask Who Said It

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King is most often quoted for this line, and he did, indeed, make this hopeful point, but his context was broader and deeper than meaning we give it in today’s Twitter world.

His actual statement was more telling:

“Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross,” Dr. King wrote, “but that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’”

The presence of the quotation marks points to another source and, with the aid of Quote Investigator, I learned that King’s words had their own historical precedent.

Theodore Parker was a Unitarian minister and an abolitionist in a time when the change he dreamed of was something that had little relation to reality then or in his lifetime.  What he wrote was:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.  You will find other versions of his words in other sources, but none betray his certainty.

All this is not to ask whose words we honor – indeed, Barack Obama is rightfully fond of this phrase – but to add context to the necessity of hope that tomorrow can be better for those who follow.  We must all work to deliver, if not yet to live, the dream.

 

 

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What History Has to Say

Today is the birthday of Albert Schweitzer.  If that name is only vaguely familiar, click on the link in his name.  Despite great odds and the talent of a genius in more than one field, he dedicated his life to the health of the poorest of Africa.  By any definition, including those who award the Nobel Peace Prize, he was a hero.

Today was also the day that George Wallace became governor of Alabama in 1963.  One of the leaders who rose up to challenge the policies and hatred that Wallace espoused was John Lewis.  Unlike many whose lives were cut short for standing up to the injustice of the day, Lewis continues to stand for justice and service to his community as a member of Congress.  For many, however, he has also earned the title of hero.

John Lewis is in the news today, and I will not comment on the merits of the conversation he has initiated.  I feel a deep need, however, to say that with his honorable life and service, John Lewis has earned the right to speak and to be heard.  If we refuse to listen and discuss, we have surrendered a generation of progress.  The irony of Schweitzer and Wallace sharing this day, now with Lewis, deserves recognition and contemplation.

P.S.  Bill Moyers, who speaks with knowledge and authority had this to say this morning about John Lewis.

 

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A Shkreli Moment

 

Not to blame any one person, no matter how deservedly despised, but I experienced a “Shkreli” moment yesterday.  A prescription that cost us $10 last month was priced at $1200 yesterday.  Neither the pharmacy, our mail order service, nor our insurer could provide any useful explanation, which certainly diminished any confidence I have in our medical system.

As insurance goes, mine is fairly good, so I can imagine what many must experience in the murky maze that was once among the best medical systems in the world.  There is certainly much to criticize with the current Affordable Care Act, but I shudder to think what we may face in an unregulated free market in the coming days.

I have no stomach for political partisanship, but it disturbs me that a country like Cuba has a medical system that exceeds ours in many respects and is available and affordable to all.  Surely we all agree that we can and must do better.

In an ironic note, when I placed a call today to my insurer, they suggested that I check drug prices online before turning to their own contracted pharmacy service.  I’ll pass on their recommendation to you as well.  There are certainly other resources (including Canada, but check out GoodRX.com.

 

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When Not All Is Said

 

Often, I think, too many words are spoken and too little said of any lasting meaning or value.  As a result, when the shouting is over, not all that should be considered has been said.  That is my premise for this blog.

Mine is not meant to be “the last word”, but if it prompts more thoughtful reflection I will deem the effort a success.

I read recently that if something won’t matter in five years, it may not deserve five minutes of worry now.  I suspect there is an element of truth there, at least in the sense that we should think more deeply and with a more lasting perspective than Twitter often prompts.  This blog, like my interests, will touch on a range of topics and I hope some will interest you.  Much that relates to politics falls into the short-term concern category, and I plan to leave most of those discussions to others.  I, at least, need a haven from that world.

When my daughter was about four, her elder brother would sometimes make up games to play, much like “Calvin Ball”, if you remember Bill Watterson’s comic.  On one occasion, as he was explaining the rules, she asked, “Is this a winning game?”

I’ll leave you with that question for now.  When all is said, is life meant to be won or should it mean something more?

Check back from time to time and let others know if WhenAllIsSaid speaks to you.

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The Last Word

After all is said and done, more is said than done.

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