Wednesday, April 16, 2014

So Much To Rant At, So Little Time

There was a time when I blogged almost every day.  Then, with a new job in an unfamiliar field requiring more of my energy and focus, I took a break.  Over the last year, I've slowly waded back in, and sporadically posted when I've felt the compulsion to do so.  While I don't have time to write anything in depth at the moment, there are a few issues that I just can't let go by without saying something.
  • I've written frequently about the Senate Republicans' use of the filibuster to thwart democracy judicial nominations, most recently here.   Their tactics became so obstructionist that even the timid Democrats in the Senate agreed to change the rules and preclude the filibuster for judicial nominations.  But this hasn't stopped Republicans from continuing to prevent President Obama from appointing federal judges, using an arcane procedure that essentially gives home-state Senators veto power by withholding "blue slips" that allow a nominee to proceed to a confirmation hearing.  Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee, can abandon this custom just as Republican Orrin Hatch did when he was committee chair.  For some unfathomable reason, Leahy has been unwilling to end the blue slip requirement, but you can sign this petition to urge him to do so before Obama runs out of time to fill judicial vacancies.

  • Which brings me to the related topic of who President Obama is nominating to the federal bench when he does get the opportunity.  First, there are the unacceptably conservative nominations put forward to fill two Georgia district court seats.  These were part of a misguided attempt by Obama -- prior to the filibuster rule change -- to cut a deal to get the intransigent Georgia Republican Senators to move an 11th Circuit nomination forward.  Civil rights and abortion rights advocates strongly oppose these nominations.  Obama's judicial nominations, generally, have been disappointing, with a large majority coming from the corporate sector or the prosecutor's office and rarely from public interest firms or public defenders' offices.  These are lifetime appointments.  Given the zeal with which both Bush Administrations pushed young, right wing judges to fill the federal judiciary, it is critical that a Democratic Administration, particularly with what may prove to be a short-lived Senate majority, not let pass the opportunity to elevate progressive-minded lawyers to the bench.

  • Donald Rumsfeld proudly writes to the IRS every year when he files his return, complaining about the complexity of the tax code and professing not to know whether his return is accurate.   Rumsfeld's absent-minded government stooge routine has worn remarkably thin.  Rumsfeld revealed to documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in The Unknown Known, that he never read the so-called Torture Memos and professes to have no second thoughts -- or very many thoughts at all -- about his role in the "War on Terror" and the War on Iraq.  Two things.  First, Rumsfeld should be immediately audited given his admission about not submitting knowingly accurate tax returns.  Second, should it be determined upon a thorough audit that Rumsfeld has overpaid his taxes, it wouldn't come close to paying what he owes this Country for the damage he has wrought.

  • Oliver North, a self-professed "right wing goon," is a television consultant on the FX series, The Americans.  Relied on for his so-called expertise, he received a story credit for an episode in which KGB spies living in the U.S. infiltrate a contra training camp.  Recall that North was involved in one of the more shameful episodes in American history, when, as a member of the National Security Council, he played a central role in selling arms to Iran and funneling the profits to the Nicaraguan contras, at a time when Congress had banned such funding due to the contra's human rights abuses.  North admitted he had lied to Congress, shredded critical documents and altered key records.  Because of issues revolving around a grant of immunity for his Congressional testimony, North's felony convictions for obstructing a Congessional inquiry were eventually vacated, and he has remained for all these years an unrepentant, vindicated hero to the far right.  The fact that he is now peddling his "expertise" for mainstream consumption is unsettling to say the least.

  • The joy of the new baseball season has been marred not just by the usual spate of Met injuries, bizarre personnel moves and erratic play, but by new Major League rules involving instant replay.  I understood the need for the original instant replay rule, which was designed to review home runs.  New fangled ballparks with unusual angles and idiosyncratic seating make it much more difficult to discern with the naked eye when a ball was actually hit out of the park.  But the success of the original rule has led to the inevitable slipperly slope -- new rules which have expanded replay into many more areas of the game.  Although only weeks old, expanded replay is proving to be a disaster.  These rules which try to eliminate human error are applied by human beings, resulting in ... plenty of human error.  Instant reply is causing delay, uncertainty and more bad calls.  Baseball managment needs to stop trying to remove the human element and accept that baseball is a game of imperfection.
Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

OMG Mr. Met Is On Twitter: #isnothingsacred?

President Obama's dog has a twitter account.  It has over 15,000 followers.  How many actually believe that Bo is tweeting is unclear. 

Twitter and other social media have become critical promotional tools for politicians, celebrities, and corporations.  And so it is not surprising that there is a flood of nonsensical accounts or that people follow them.

But Mr. Met

Mr. Met began appearing on programs and scorecards in 1963, making his first live appearance at Shea Stadium the following year.  Although the mid-1970s were so grim that even Mr. Met couldn't bear going to Met games, he reappeared in the 1990s, becoming a mainstay once again.

There has always been a quiet dignity about Mr. Met.  Through the few miraculous moments and the all-too-many dismal times, Mr. Met has remained steadfast.  With season upon season turning from promise to devastating disappointment, there are no clever quips, sarcastic gibes, lame excuses or apologetic mutterings from Mr. Met.  Just a smile and a wave.

But Mr. Met now has a twitter account.  And the fleeting benefit of knowing what Mr. Met is actually thinking behind that lovable massive head is far outweighed by the end of his mystique.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Justice For All: Despised Defendants And Their Zealous Advocates

"Is Atticus Finch's courage only virtuous because we all end up liking and believing in Tom Robinson?"  --  Prof. Lawrence Marshall

The popular version of the heroic criminal defense lawyer is one who tirelessly defends the wrongly accused, saving a client who is more victim himself (or herself) than perpetrator.  In real life, defense lawyers are usually called upon to represent the guilty, to provide a vigorous defense for those who have committed despicable acts.  This is a far more heroic calling. Indeed, it is critically necessary to our system of justice to have zealous advocates representing people who are hated and feared, and ensuring that the government is following the law.

Unfortunately, it is becoming all too common that those lawyers who take on the cases of notorious clients are themselves targeted.  As Dalia Lithwick put it, "[o]nce upon a time in America this was called advocating for justice. But in today’s America, it’s deemed a miscarriage of justice."

A few years ago, Liz Cheney and her group, Keep America Safe, launched a smear campaign against lawyers in Obama's Justice Department, referring to them as the "Al Qaeda 7," for previously having represented Guantanamo detainees.  A group of former Bush Administration officials and other prominent lawyers shot back, publishing a letter condemning Liz Cheney's ad as shameful.  They rightfully stressed that "the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre."

Next, the ACLU and CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) were chastised for representing (the now deceased) Anwar al-Awlaki.  The Obama Administration had authorized the killing of Awlaki, an American-born cleric tied to Al Qaeda and allegedly hiding in Yemen at that time.  A lawsuit brought by Awlaki’s father, who was represented by the ACLU and CCR, challenged “whether the government has the power to kill any American citizen it labels as a terrorist without review by the courts.”  This did not “cross the line” as Andrew Sullivan asserted.  Indeed, as Glenn Greewald, who more recently has been vilified for his work with Edward Snowden, passionately argued:  "How could it ever 'cross a line' for a civil liberties lawyer to represent an American citizen in an American court arguing that the Government is transgressing the limits of the U.S. Constitution?  The only thing that crosses a line is to insinuate that there's something improper about that."

And, most recently, the United States Senate voted to reject Depo Adegbile, an otherwise sterling choice to run the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, because he headed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund when it represented Mumia Abu-Jamal, sentenced to death for killing a police officer, in his successful fight for life.  (Abu-Jamal is now serving a life without possibility of parole sentence.)

Pennsylvania Democrat, Bob Casey paid lip service to “respect[ing] that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime" but added the disturbing non sequitur that "it is important that we ensure that Pennsylvanians and citizens across the country have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed.”  Casey added that “The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia."

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, defending Adegbile's rejection by the Senate, was more direct:  “When someone has a history of helping cop-killers, this is what happens.”

So, there you have it.  While it might be important for our legal system to ensure that all criminal defendants have effective advocates, a lawyer's representation of a particularly despicable client accused of a particularly despicable crime (such as killing a police officer) is a disqualifying factor for public office.  If, as Lindsay Graham says, "this is what happens" when a lawyer helps a "cop-killer" or any other unpopular client, our system of justice is in peril.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Travesty of Justice: Nominee To Enforce Civil Rights Rejected For Fighting For Justice

"The Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice is a travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks . . . . Mr. Adegbile’s qualifications are impeccable. . . . His unwavering dedication to protecting every American’s civil and Constitutional rights under the law – including voting rights – could not be more important right now. . . The fact that his nomination was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice – and those who voted against his nomination denied the American people an outstanding public servant."  -- President Obama 

Debo Adegbile
In 1982, Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for the killing of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.  Abu-Jamal remained on death row for 30 years during an intensely fought battle in both the legal arena and public sphere which resulted in his death sentence being vacated.  Now almost 60 years old, Abu-Jamal is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Serious concerns remain about the fairness of Abu-Jamal's trial.  Some consider him a political prisoner.  On the other side, which includes Officer Faulkner's family and the Fraternal Order of Police, there continues to be outrage about the campaign to free Abu-Jamal as well as the fact that he was not executed.

No matter one's views about Abu-Jamal, about the case or the politics, or even about the death penalty, one issue should be uncontroversial -- that Abu-Jamal or any criminal defendant has the right to have an effective, zealous advocate, particularly when the case is a matter of life and death.  An important corollary, in my view, is that a lawyer's most  honorable role is to represent people who are hated and feared, and to ensure that the government is following the law.  (Here's an earlier piece, Crossing the Line, on prior attempts to smear lawyers who advocate for the despised.)

It is deeply distressing that the United States Senate just voted to reject Depo Adegbile, an otherwise sterling choice to run the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, because he headed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund when it represented Abu-Jamal in his fight for life.  Adegbile, who didn't personally work on Abu-Jamal's case, twice argued cases defending the Voting Rights Act before the U.S. Supreme Court, a far more relevant qualification for the job.

Sen. Patrick Leahy made the case that "the principle that all sides deserve an effective counsel is at the bedrock of our constitutional system” and “we cannot equate the lawyer with the conduct of those we represent if we want our justice system to endure."

Nevertheless, the Senate voted 52-47 to scuttle the nomination.

You can expect Republicans to vote against any Obama pick who would be supportive of civil rights enforcement.  As Sen. Dick Durbin put it, "I think the accusation is that the president is picking someone for the Division of Civil Rights who has been a leader in civil rights," and Republicans have “historically been troubled by … appointments [to the post] no matter who they are.” 

And you can expect Republicans to say stupid shit like what Sen. Lindsay Graham said:  “When someone has a history of helping cop-killers, this is what happens.”

But it was the Democrats who doomed Adegbile's chances, by pandering to the same simplistic pro-law enforcement, pro-prosecution sentiment as Senator Graham, effectively denigrating the importance of mounting a vigorous legal defense of a notorious defendant.

Pennsylvania Democrat, Bob Casey paid lip service to “respect[ing] that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime" but added the disturbing non sequitur that "it is important that we ensure that Pennsylvanians and citizens across the country have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed.”  Casey added that “The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia.”

Christopher Coons, a Democratic Senator from Delaware also claimed to understand, "as a lawyer . . . the importance of having legal advocates willing to fight for even the most despicable clients" and purported to "embrace the proposition that an attorney is not responsible for the actions of their client."  But he decided to cast his vote aganst Adegbile because of the "decade-long public campaign . . . to elevate a heinous, cold-blooded killer to the status of political prisoner and folk hero," a campaign that Adegbile, by the way, had nothing to do with.

According to this reasoning, it is critical for our legal system to ensure that all criminal defendants have effective advocates but a lawyer's representation of a particularly despicable client accused of a particularly despicable crime (such as killing a police officer) is a disqualifying factor for public office.  Or as Lindsay Graham put it, "this is what happens" when you help cop-killers.

In addition to Casey and Coons, other shameful Democrats included Senators Mark Pryor of Arkansas. John Walsh of Montana, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Derek Jeter's Long Goodbye: The Narcissism of a Yankee Icon

Derek Jeter is a brilliant baseball player and one of the greatest shortstops of all time; probably in the top five (with Honus Wagner, Ernie Banks, Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken).  Among many, many honors, he is a 13-time All Star, with 5 Gold Gloves to his credit.  His 3,316 hits are more than any Yankee in history.  He played a key role in ushering in the Yankees' latest era of dominance and helped lead them to five World Series championships.  He is universally praised, even by those who hate the Yankees, as not just a fabulous ballplayer, but as a class act, the face of the sport, a true ambassador for Major League Baseball.

According to Forbes, Derek Jeter also happens to be baseball's "top pitchman."  He has endorsement deals with "Nike, Gatorade, Ford Motor, Movado, Steiner Sports, Rawlings and 24-hour Fitness."  He also has a line of colognes through Avon:  "Driven."

But Derek Jeter wants more.  We now know that after 19 seasons, Derek Jeter is going to play one more season and one more season only.  Following in the sainted footsteps of his teammate, Mariano Rivera, he made this announcement before the start of the year and will now enjoy a 162-game salute to his greatness.  Not only a special night at Yankee Stadium, but a season-long farewell tour, recapping his storied career with accolades, video tributes, speeches, gifts, and Derek Jeter Days at every opposing team's stadium capped by an All Star Game played practically in his honor.

Great for attendance, and great for marketing, but is it really great for baseball to have another season devoted to another Yankee Legend? 

One of the wonderfully unique aspects of baseball is its deep connection to its history.  But sometimes the history can get in the way of the present.  The cloying tributes to Mariano Rivera in every baseball city last season were as annoying as they were interminable.  To make matters worse, he was not merely honored at the All Star Game, but awarded the MVP for sentimental reasons.  Touching?  Maybe for Yankee fans, but for baseball fans?

Does anyone see this as disturbingly narcissistic?  The epitome of the self-absorbed, needy modern athlete, rather than a dignified icon.  Don't ask the baseball press, who are blinded by the wonder of Derek Jeter.  Doug Glanville, the usually insightful former ballplayer at the New York Times, in his unmitigated paean, extolls Jeter's bravery:  "it takes a lot of courage to pre-empt the inevitable physical decline of a professional baseball player and do what he did this week."  Ken Rosenthal says Jeter "deserves" his farewell tour and describes Jeter's announcement as "typically gracious."  And Jon Heyman praises Jeter for making his retirement known now so that he would not create a fuss and distract his teammates during the season with endless questions about his future. 

No fuss, really?  The class move, the gracious move would have been for Jeter to announce his retirement at the end of the season, at which time he could be deservedly honored as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.  Instead, Derek Jeter is going to lap up all the attention he can muster in a season-long victory lap. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Death Penalty's Death Rattle

Three Ex-California Governors

Popular support for the death penalty has fallen significantly.  Six states have repealed it over the last six years, leaving 32 states with the death penalty on their books.  In three other states, most recently in Washington, governors have imposed moratoriums on executions.  The rate of executions around the country is rapidly declining and imposition of death sentences is at a historic low.  Meanwhile ever more exonerations are showing deep flaws in the criminal justice system  Evolving standards of decency, indeed.

Meanwhile, those still clamoring for the death penalty are making gruesome spectacles of themselves.  With pharmaceutical companies balking at having their products used in executions, there is a nationwide shortage of the drugs formerly used for lethal injection -- drugs which were combined in a cocktail already fraught with serious problems.  This has led officials in various states to call for a return to the firing squad or gas chamber, or more commonly to act like junior chemists, cobbling together their own unregulated and untested lethal combinations.  Inevitably, on January 16, 2014, Dennis McGuire was executed in Ohio with a new drug protocol that resulted in an agonizing fifteen minute ordeal in which McGuire gasped, choked  and struggled before dying.  While Ohio's governor ordered a stay for the next scheduled inmate to allow for further review of the state's procedures, other states are moving forward with their own experiments -- some of which are being halted by the courts and some aren't.

And then there is California, where three miserable former Governors just announced a proposed ballot initiative designed to speed up the death penalty appeals process.  Having apparently not done enough damage while they were in office, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, are backing a measure that will do nothing to address a hopelessly dysfunctional system that has cost taxpayers $4 billion, but is sure to add more delay, more costs, and more unreliability.

Morality aside, the arbitrariness of the death penalty is one of its more disturbing and intractable problems. Death sentences are not imposed on the so-called worst of the worst.  Far more significant factors in determining who gets a death sentence are the quality of the lawyers, the geographic location of the crime, and the race of the perpetrator and victim.   

This new initiative would exacerbate these problems. It would limit state appeals for death row inmates to five years where now it takes at least that long to appoint a qualified lawyer willing and able to take on such cases.  Another brilliant idea is to bypass the California Supreme Court which now hears all death penalty appeals directly and spread the cases to the lower courts of appeal around the state -- a state which already possess a gross geographical imbalance with virtually all death sentences coming from the south.

The thrust of the ballot measure would thus be to speed up and decentralize the process, limit avenues of review, and provide less skilled lawyers.  What could go wrong?

The fundamental problem, of course, is that California's death penalty system is broken beyond repair.  It is costly, arbitrary, discriminatory, and unworkable.  With over 700 inmates on death row, it serves no useful purpose while diverting needed resources from true public safety programs.  An initiative to replace the death penalty with life without parole and thereby not only move towards a more just and sane justice system but save millions of dollars every year barely lost in November 2012.  A similar effort is sure to be successful in the near future.

In the meantime, like a macabre game of whack-a-mole, we need to beat down these destructive proposals when they appear, and refocus on meaningful criminal justice reforms including an end to the death penalty.  Click here to join the fight. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Deconstructing Woody Allen

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
-- Woody Allen
With a trio of remarkable and remarkably funny films in the early 1970s (Bananas, Sleeper, and Love & Death), I became a huge fan of Woody Allen movies in my tweens/teens.  I delighted in the other hilariously memorable movies made during this period too, including Take the Money and Run and Play It Again, Sam.  My love and deep appreciation for Allen's movies was then cemented with Annie Hall, one of the great romantic comedies of all time, followed by Manhattan.  There were more truly great movies in the 1980s, notably Hannah and Her Sisters, Broadway Danny Rose, and Crimes and Misdemeanors, and several worthy films in the 1990s (e.g., Shadows and Fog, Manhattan Murder Mystery and Deconstructing Harry).  I haven't been able to summon the same level of devotion to his later works, but have continued to enjoy many -- certainly not all -- of the yearly movies Allen has released over the last decade or so. 

It has not been hard for me to separate Woody Allen the artist/filmmaker from Woody Allen the man.  I know the movies.  I don't know the man.  I know he married Soon-Yi Previn, the daughter of Mia Farrow, with whom he had a long relationship, and that there is about a 35-year difference in their ages.  Kinda creepy, but they've been married a long time now and what do I really know about it?

And now, in the wake of Allen's lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, allegations have resurfaced of his molestation of Farrow's daughter Dylan twenty years ago when she was seven.  Allen was accused at the time but no charges were filed after an investigation proved inconclusive.  There has been almost universal outrage that an accused pedophile could be given such an award, with countless people expressing their certainty about Allen's guilt.  Others have been more cautious but still insist that accusations of abuse should be enough to disqualify him from being honored.  The few, brave souls who expressed appreciation of his work are themselves accused of being insensitive to victims of sexual abuse and supporting pedophilia.

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist and friend of Mia Farrow, published a letter from Dylan, herself, in which she insists that Allen assaulted her and remains haunted by the fact that he got away with it, spurring a ferocious and tragic inter-familial debate in the media.  One brother sides with Dylan and their mother.  Another sides with Allen. Allen has now felt compelled to come forward with his own defense, just published in the Times.

Kristof admits that "none of us can be certain what happened" but, nevertheless insists that while "the standard to send someone to prison is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, []shouldn’t the standard to honor someone be that they are unimpeachably, well, honorable?"   Well...No. 

When someone is accused of a heinous act, my criminal defense instincts are awakened and my skepticism of the so-called proof of guilt is heightened.  At least in a criminal case, the accused is entitled to cross-examine his accuser, challenge the evidence, and present a defense.   When someone is accused in the media, we only know what is being reported.  We don't know what the evidence really is.  We can't possibly know what actually occurred.

It should go without saying that sexual abuse is all too prevalent.  There are countless heartbreaking stories about victims whose perpetrators are never caught.  But there are also instances of false accusations,  and even of false memories, where children are manipulated to believe something that never happened.

The criminal justice system is a flawed vehicle for ferreting out the truth.  It is without doubt the province of powerful white males.  A fair and just result is often more dependent on the skill, resources and funding of the attorneys and experts, and on the sensitivity of the judge and other players in the process than on the actual facts.  Most cases are never brought to trial.  When they are, the guilty are often found guilty but not always; and the innocent are often found not guilty but not always.

And even more flawed than courts of law are courts of public opinion.  

Dalia Lithwick writes perceptively that "in the current debate about what happened between Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow in a Connecticut farmhouse in 1992, it massively disserves and undermines the most basic goals of the legal system when we import legal concepts into what is essentially a barroom brawl." 
The Court of Public Opinion is what we used to call villagers with flaming torches. It has no rules, no arbiter, no mechanism at all for separating truth from lies. It allows everything into evidence and has no mechanism to separate facts about the case from the experiences and political leanings of the millions of us who are all acting as witnesses, judges, and jurors.
Is Woody Allen guilty of sexual abuse?  I have no idea and can't possibly know.  Does his lifestyle seem a little creepy?  Yep.  Are his movies -- particularly the early ones -- great.  Absolutely.

And can we honor his body of work without honoring his lifestyle or dishonoring his accusers?  Alyssa Rosenberg suggests we focus on the art not the artist:  "sticking to the work and avoiding personal praise of the person in question might be a good minimum standard."  Agreed.  But maybe we can also put down the pitchforks and flaming torches. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Richard Sherman, Race and Class In The NFL

Where's the fainting couch?  American football fans, after witnessing 60 minutes of cringe-worthy brutality replete with bone-jarring, brain-rattling hits and gruesome injuries, are shocked, offended, and outraged that a football player -- an African American football player -- who makes a remarkable game-winning play and has a microphone stuck in his face, departed from the usual script of praising God and crediting his fellow teammates, and engaged in a little adrenaline-induced trash talk. 

As Isaac Saul wrote, in a particularly insightful Huffington Post piece, "could you imagine if this generation had to deal with Muhammad Ali?"

Race, as always, plays an outsized role in the reaction to Seahawk defense back Richard Sherman's post-game exclamation that "I'm the best corner[back] in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you going to get."
Sherman was called arrogant, classless (classless in football?), thuggish, and so much worse.

Travis Waldron points out that "the day after the interview, the word 'thug' was used some 625 times on television, more than it had been used on any single day in the past three years, according to a Deadspin analysis. And most of it was used with the same connotation that racist terms like the n-word would have been used once. Sherman is too loud. Too boisterous. Too…black."

As Ta-Nahisi Coates said, "there's some weird notion in our society that holds that trash-talking is for the classless and stupid. I don't know what it means to be 'classless' in an organization like the NFL. And then there is the racism from onlookers, who are incapable of perceiving in Sherman an individual, and instead see the sum of all American fears—monkey, thug, terrorist, nigger."

Richard Sherman grew up in Compton, finished second in his high school class and then graduated from Stanford with a 3.9 GPA, before becoming the best defensive back in the game.  Oh, and he started his own non-profit, Blanket Coverage, whose mission "is to level the playing field for children enrolled in grades K-12 who have a strong combination of potential, goals and a desire to make the most of their education."

As Saul put it:  "This is a guy who represents one of the best kinds of sports stories there is in the world: the rise from the bottom, the profound destruction of obstacles, the honest success story built by a foundation of hard work and loving parents. If anyone with a brain took the time to learn about Richard Sherman, and then put him in the context of the rest of the National Football League, he'd be a pretty hard guy to bash."

Saul notes that 31 NFL players were arrested last off season for everything from gun charges and driving under the Influence to murder. The NFL, where recently at least one team paid bounties to players who caused injuries to opposing players.  But it is Richard Sherman's post-game reaction that offends our sensibilities. 

What Sherman taught us, Isaac Saul writes, "is that we're still a country that isn't ready for lower-class Americans from neighborhoods like Compton to succeed. We're still a country that can't decipher a person's character. But most of all, he taught us that no matter what you overcome in your life, we're still a country that can't accept someone if they're a little louder, a little prouder, or a little different from the people we surround ourselves with."

Not to mention that Richard Sherman is a proud Black man.

 Unfortunately, Greg Howard is right:
Too many of us think that one ecstatic, triumphant black man showing honest, human emotion just seconds after making a play that very well could be written into the first appositive of his obituary, is not only offensive, but is also representative of the tens of millions of blacks in this country. And in two weeks time, in the year 2014, too many of us will be rooting for the Denver Broncos for no other reason than to knock Richard Sherman down a few notches, if only to put him back in his place.
 Go Seahawks!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Pizza Journeys

Although I've lived in California for 30 years, according to a recent New York Times test, I still talk like a New Yorker.  I have also held fast to a couple of New York obsessions.  As readers of this blog well know, I remain painfully devoted to the baseball team of my youth.  The other one -- less easily satisfied with a cable TV subscription -- is pizza.  For that, I have to wait for my occasional visits to New York, when I venture out to as many of the legendary pizzerias as my family will tolerate.

There was wonderful pizza in Great Neck, Long Island, where I grew up.  I preferred La Tosca, but a plausible argument could be made -- and often was -- that Scotto's was its equal.  We took great pizza for granted and it was hard to imagine it could taste any better.  But everything is better in the City, and back then the consensus was the best pizzeria in Manhattan was Ray's.  Yes, but which Ray's?

Ray's, Famous Ray's, Original Ray's or Famous Original Ray's?

Well, the first Ray's was on Prince Street in Little Italy, opened by Ralph Cuomo in 1959. (Ray's closed in 2011, after a legal dispute among Cuomo's heirs)  Cuomo had opened a second location on First Avenue at 59th Street, which he sold in the early 1960s to Rosolino Mangano, and which then became the first of several "Famous Original Ray's."  For me, the go-to Ray's was Famous Ray's on 6th Avenue and 11th Street, opened by Mario Di Rienzo in 1973.  Famous Ray's closed in 2011, but Mario reopened in 2012, as Famous Roio's Pizza.  In the fall of 2012, I went to Famous Roio's with that wide, thin, greasy slice still embedded in my memory.  I was deeply disappointed.  Too thick with too much cheese, and nothing at all like I recalled.  Others must have felt the same.  Famous Roio's closed its doors in 2013. 

Coal Brick Ovens

Then there are the storied coal brick oven pizzerias, beginning with Lombardi's at Spring Street and Mott, which, as the plaque says, is the "First Pizzeria in the United States."  Opened by Gennaro Lombardi in 1905, the pizza at Lombardi's is truly excellent, but the restaurant -- geared for tourists -- sorely lacks atmosphere.  

Lombardi, himself, trained the next generation of pizza makers, including Antonio (Totonno) Pero, who opened Totonno's at Coney Island, John Sasso of John's of Bleecker Street, and Patsy Lancieri of Patsy's in East Harlem.  Patsy's nephew, Patsy Grimaldi, opened Grimaldi's in Brooklyn. 

These successors to Lombardi's form the pantheon of the great coal-fired brick oven pizzerias.  These ovens give the pizza a crispness and smoky flavor that cannot be duplicated -- literally.  New coal ovens are not permitted because they fail to meet New York's  environmental laws, but the old ovens, having been grandfathered in, can still be used.

The walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to Grimaldi's feels like the true pilgrimage that it is.  Once you brave the line outside, the red and white checkered tablecloths, photographs of New York glitterati on the wall, and Sinatra on the sound system transport you back in time.  The pizza, crisp and piping hot out of the brick oven is as good as it gets.  And Totonno's is just as good, maybe better.  It is unassuming and more down-to-earth as befits its Coney Island location, and has the feel of a family-run operation -- as it should since Totonno's grandchildren operate the place.  John's of Bleeker Street, with its wood booths and "no slices" reminder, is no slouch when it comes to great brick oven pizza and comes in a close third.   

The Old Masters

There are not too many things more sacred than personally receiving a pizza from one of the Old Masters. Sal & Carmine's is indistinguishable on the outside (or inside for that matter) from any other hole-in-the-wall pizza joint, but this hallowed place opened in 1959 on the upper West Side -- Broadway at 102nd Street -- is no run-of-the-mill pizzeria.  Sadly, Sal passed away in 2009, but his brother Carmine is still behind the counter, and served up one of the best slices I've ever had.  A bit light on sauce but with a memorable, chewy crust that is not as floppy thin as a traditional NY slice (not that there's anything wrong with that).

I dragged my family to Avenue J in the Midwood section of Brooklyn for a pie at Di Fara, which is often rated the "Best Pizza in NY."  Di Fara has been run by Dom DeMarco since 1964, and he still makes every pie personally.  Yes, every pie.  As a result, service is slow and the line outside the door is long.  When we got there in the late afternoon, DeMarco's friendly but very protective daughter came out to say they were going to close for an hour because her father needed a break.  We didn't mind the wait, and were ultimately rewarded when DeMarco, himself, took our pie out of the oven, ceremoniously cut fresh basil leaves over the top, and handed it over. 

For the last few years, my favorite slice in the City has been from Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street in the West Village.  Joe's was opened in 1975, by Joe Pozzuoli, who still runs the business.   This is the classic New York slice -- thin crust, sweet tomato sauce, perfect amount of cheese. I feel like I've come full circle.

To Be Continued

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Going Nuclear: GOP Uses Filibuster As A Weapon Of Mass Destruction Because They Hate Our Freedoms

Just when you think the Republican's ideological assault on democracy can't get worse, it does.  But this time it isn't the Tea Party nihilists in the House but Establishment Republicans in the Senate who are obstructing the legitimate operation of government, making a mockery of majority rule by requiring that virtually everything must pass a 60-vote threshold.

After the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is the nation's most important appellate court.  It has jurisdiction over challenges to executive orders, federal regulations and decisions of many federal agencies on topics, as Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice, notes, like the environment, consumer protections, workers' rights, banking regulations, executive power, and other vital issues."  Four of the current Supreme Court justices sat on the D.C. Circuit (Roberts, Ginsburg, Thomas and Scalia).

The court is currently evenly split (4-4) between Democrat and Republican-nominated judges, with three vacancies.  President Obama has nominated three extremely qualified judges to fill the three empty seats (after already withdrawing the nomination of another unassailable choice who was blocked by Republicans earlier this year).  Two of the three have already been filibustered by Senate Republicans, who intend to block the third, advancing the specious argument that Obama is engaged in court-packing when he is merely filling existing vacancies. 

Republicans claim the D.C. Circuit, with its relatively smaller (although exceedingly complex) caseload doesn't need all 11 judges.  Of course, as Harry Reid  pointed out, the contention that 11 judges are not needed it "not what they said when President Bush filled several vacant seats on the court. When George W. Bush was President, Senate Republicans happily filled the 9th, 10th and 11th seats on the D.C. Circuit -- the same three seats President Obama seeks to fill today -- even though the court had a smaller caseload at the time."

Republican hypocrisy doesn't end there.  Recall those bygone days when Democrats used the filibuster effectively to thwart some of George W. Bush's more extreme judicial appointments (although not by any means all of them).  Republicans argued back then that use of the filibuster was not just wrong, it was unconstitutional.  They threatened to employ the so-called "nuclear option," to change the Senate rules to preclude filibusters for judicial nominees.  Of course, the Democrats blinked.  Seven Democrats joined seven Republicans to form the "Gang of Fourteen," and signed an agreement in which the Republicans in the gang would not vote for the nuclear option and the Democrats would not filibuster except in "extraordinary circumstances."  In practical terms, this meant that Bush was able appoint the conservatives he wanted to the bench and the Democratic minority, without the seven members of the gang, could not stop him.  Thus, five nominees who had originally been filibustered, and several other conservatives, became federal judges, and, perhaps most significantly, Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court was permitted an up-or-down vote.  He was confirmed by a vote of 58-42, with enough Senators voting against him to have successfully filibustered and prevented a vote on his confirmation. 

Republicans, now in the minority, are blatantly violating the agreement not to filibuster judges except in extraordinary circumstances but Democrats are balking at going nuclear.  Recalcitrant Democrats fear that when they are in the minority, a Republican president could nominate a right wing radical to the Supreme Court and Democrats would no longer have the filibuster as a tool to stop it.  Indeed, Charles Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, explicitly threatened that if Democrats eliminate the filibuster it would be easier for a future Republican president to appoint more justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas: "All I can say is this -- be careful what you wish for. . . So if the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead. There are a lot more Scalias and Thomases that we'd love to put on the bench. The nominees we'd nominate and put on the bench with 51 votes would interpret the constitution as it was written."

Of course, if there were a Republican president and Republican majority and Democrats tried to employ the filibuster, Republicans would either go nuclear anyway, or the Democrats would cave as they did in the last go round.  Moreover, what makes anyone think that the Democrats would filibuster a  Supreme Court nominee?  There are already four right wing radicals on the high court and Democrats failed to use the filibuster to stop any of them.  To review, Scalia was nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1986.  The Democratic minority, perhaps distracted by the (ultimately unsuccessful) fight over Justice Rehnquist's nomination for Chief Justice, joined Republicans to approve Scalia unanimously.  In 1991, with Democrats in the majority, the Senate voted in George H.W. Bush's nominee, Clarence Thomas, by a vote of 52-48.  George W. Bush's nomination of John Roberts for Chief Justice was approved by a vote of 78-22, and as discussed above, Alito was confirmed after an agreement not to filibuster.

Republican abuse of the filibuster to prevent a president from filling vacancies no matter who is nominated so as not to tip the majority on the court is unprecedented.  If successful, what is to stop them from blocking nominees in every other court where the ideological split would potentially change in the Democrats' favor -- even the Supreme Court?

The "nuclear" option is really a misnomer.  It is the Republican Party that is using the filibuster as weapon of mass destruction -- a weapon to upend the democratic process.  As George W. would say, it is because "they hate what they see right here in this chamber:  a democratically elected government  . . .  They hate our freedom . .  ."  The smoking gun might not be a mushroom cloud, but if the Democrats refuse to change the filibuster rules and allow Republicans to block Obama's nominees for the D.C. Circuit, they may as well cede the federal judiciary branch -- indeed, our federal government -- to a Republican cabal for the foreseeable future. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Assaulting Democracy Instead of the Democrats May Be Too Radical For Prime Time

Dukakis' Assault on the White House
The lunatic wing of the lunatic party has taken over Washington, D.C. 

As Dan Froomkin puts it: "holding the entire government hostage while demanding the de facto repeal of a president's signature legislation and not even bothering to negotiate is by any reasonable standard an extreme political act." 

This may be historically unprecedented, but James Fallows warned us to be on the look out for false equivalence in the media:  "As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a 'standoff,' a 'showdown,' a 'failure of leadership,' a sign of 'partisan gridlock,' or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism and an inability to see or describe what is going on."  Because "this isn't 'gridlock.' It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us -- and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too."

Unsurprisingly, the initial reporting failed Fallows' False Equivalence Test, and would lead one to believe that this was simply business as usual in the Beltway.  No one is at fault because both sides do it.  Republican lies are just one side of the "he said, she said" style of reporting.  Indeed, Chuck Todd, the posterchild for the traditional media, admitted it that he did not believe it was the media's job to correct the Republican lies -- its the President's job.

At first, the media appeared unable to tell the truth if it meant siding with one political party over the other or as Froomkin describes it, "the political media's aversion to doing anything that might be seen as taking sides — combined with its obsession with process — led them to actively obscure the truth in their coverage of the votes. If you did not already know what this was all about, reading the news would not help you understand."

Joshua Holland aptly described journalists as "frogs in the proverbial pot . . . slowly acclimat[ing] to these extreme, democracy-suffocating circumstances and now seem incapable of describing what’s they’re seeing. Framing everything as a standard-issue partisan fight is almost a professional imperative for many journalists."

So, Joe Nocera, from his perch at the New York Times, points out that, sure, the Republicans have Ted Cruz, but the Democrats used to have their own radicals, like Mike Dukakis.  How's that for false equivalence?  (Rick Perlstein takes on this maddening nonsense)

The consequence of years of this kind of failed journalism, as Froomkin points out, is more extremism: 
When the media coverage seeks down-the-middle neutrality despite one party's outlandish conduct, there are no political consequences for their actions. With no consequences for extremism, politicians who have succeeded using such conduct have an incentive to become even more extreme. The more extreme they get, the further the split-the-difference press has to veer from common sense in order to avoid taking sides. And so on.
The Democratic Party has usually been complicit in this dynamic by trying to appear reasonable and open to compromise no matter how obstructionist the other side is being.  But, with Obama and the Democrats remaining unified and refusing to cave to the craziness (at least for now), while the Republicans appear beholden to the wackiest in their party, there appear to be some cracks in the media's knee-jerk neutrality. (The fact that Wall Street is getting nervous helps too)

Even Thomas Friedman, wanker extraordinaire, who always seems to hope for some moderate leadership to bridge the divide between left and right -- has finally seen the light:  "What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake."

Editorial pages of newspapers around the country are taking note, blaming the Republican Party for shutting down the government, undermining democracy and threatening the health of the economy. 

The Washington Post, the establishment's establishment paper, a few days ago argued, in a both-sides do it editorial entitled "U.S. Congress’s dereliction of leadership on government shutdown" that "the grown-ups in the room will have to do their jobs, which in a democracy with divided government means compromising for the common good" has come around.  Now its: "House Republicans are failing Americans in their effort to kill Obamacare," calling Republican's actions "beyond the pale" and demanding that they "fulfill their basic duties to the American people or make way for legislators who will." 

What a difference a few days make.  The Republicans have launched an assault on Democracy not the Democratic Party.  Have they finally gone too far?

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Seven Stages of Being a Met Fan

Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a Met fan.  Mets' outfielder Endy Chavez made a spectacular catch, leaping above the fence and snagging what would have been a tie-breaking 2-run homer in the 6th inning.  Pure joy.  But ... three innings later, in the top of the 9th, Yadier Molina hit a ball out of Chavez's reach for a two-run home run, putting the Cards ahead 3-1.  In the bottom of the inning, with the bases loaded, Carlos Beltran looked at strike three with his bat on his shoulders to end the game and end the Mets' season.  Pure despair.

Met fans have had little to cheer about since.  And when they have, bad news, devastating news, is sure to follow.  So, there was Johan Santana's thrilling no hitter -- the first in Met history -- which was followed by Santana's Met-career ending shoulder injury.  R.A. Dickey, a wonderfully refreshing and engaging player, had a remarkable Cy Young season for a dismal Met team last year, but was unceremoniously traded in the off season (admittedly for some great prospects, only one of whom has gotten injured so far).

But could anything be worse than what has just befallen us?  Matt Harvey, in his first (almost) full season with the team emerged this year as one of the very best pitchers in baseball and one of the most thrilling Met players ever.  He is a dynamic force on and off the field, a tremendous competitor, an absolute joy to watch.  He is having an historic season (that would have been even more incredible if the team had given him any run support).  Not since Dwight Gooden almost 30 years ago (and don't get me started on his dramatic rise and tragic fall -- you can read about it here) have the Mets showcased such an incredible homegrown talent who brought such excitement to the mound every time he pitched. 

Today, after undergoing an MRI, it was learned that Matt Harvey has a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.  He was put on the disabled list and may require surgery, which could put him out of action until 2015. 

And so, once again, we must go through the familiar stages of being a Met fan:

1.  Hope.  Every year, no matter how bad the team looks, how many question marks the team invariably has, Met fans always find some glimmer of hope for the season ahead.  They bestow heroic-like powers on otherwise mediocre players, pin their hopes on new acquisitions and highly-touted prospects, and claim that if "everything goes right" they could have a pretty good squad this year.

2.  Joy.  The Mets have pulled off a miracle or two, have given us some wonderful moments, and have even fielded the occasional great team.  And, at least since Tom Seaver's rookie year on a last place team, there has usually been (although not always -- see, e.g., most of the 1990s) at least one player on the team whose performance was cherished, who gave us that sensation -- however fleeting -- of joy.  This year, every 5th or 6th day was celebrated in my house and throughout Metdom as "Harvey Day."  Even when the Mets were otherwise unwatchable it was a thrill to watch Harvey pitch. 

3.  Shock.  The ignominious 1977 Seaver trade showed that Met fans should never attach their devotion to one player.  Love a Met?  Be prepared to suddenly get your heart ripped out.  Trades and injuries of those we loved or were relying on to take the team to the next level have been all too common.  (Equally familiar, if less shocking, has been the flame out of new players who were brought in with great fanfare (see Mets or Bust).)  If something bad could happen, it will.  Matt Harvey?  We should have seen this coming.

4. Denial.  Maybe when the swelling in the elbow goes down it will show less damage than anticipated.  A few weeks off, and Harvey will be able to pitch again, and if not to finish off this season, he will be ready by Opening Day.

5.  Anger.  If Harvey's arm had been sore for months as has been reported, why weren't any MRI's done earlier just to be safe?  Why was Harvey allowed to throw so deep into games and throw so many sliders, which put more stress on the arm?  How could the Mets' manager, pitching coach and trainer been so negligent?  They should be fired!

6.  Despair.  The plan for the Mets' success was to build a team around its young arms -- Matt Harvey and a strong supporting cast.  Not only that, they were going to trade their surplus of arms for someone -- anyone -- who could hit with a little power.  Now?  There ain't no surplus.  There ain't no hitters with power.  There ain't no Matt Harvey.  I should have fallen in love with Dillon Gee.

7.  Acceptance.  Being a Met fan means enduring agony and misery while waiting for the occasional miracle.  It is what we do.  So, back to #1:  Hope.   

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Finding Sandra Coke

I never really thought about the victims.

As a lawyer representing death row inmates for almost 25 years, I focused on the trial – whether the judge and jury acted properly, whether the prosecutor tried the case fairly, and whether defense counsel investigated and presented a constitutionally adequate defense. Mostly, I focused on my clients – on the (mostly) men who were found guilty of committing terribly brutal crimes, and tried to figure out and then explain to the courts the myriad of life circumstances that led them there. The victims and their loves ones were generally not a central part of this story.

I have known many people convicted of murder and sentenced to death. I had never known anyone who was killed.

Sandra Coke and I worked together in the early 1990s.  She developed the social histories of our clients, painstakingly gathering vital records, skillfully conducting sensitive, uncomfortable interviews with relatives, teachers, and friends, consulting with mental health experts, and researching communities. Sandra uncovered the evidence of horrific childhood trauma and impaired mental functioning, of family histories filled with abuse, addiction and mental illness, of multi-generational experiences scarred by poverty and racism, of failed social institutions.

Sandra continued to work as an investigator, most recently at the Federal Defender’s Office. With empathy and compassion, she was committed to showing how every client, no matter what despicable acts they had committed, were human beings – they were not monsters to be despised and disposed of.

Sandra disappeared last Sunday evening. She was 50 years old. A single mother of a teenage girl. She was beloved by her family, by many friends, and by the criminal defense community – my community – who have worked with her for over two decades.

After she failed to return home, Sandra’s friends, family and co-workers spent the next few days canvassing her Oakland neighborhood. At the forefront of the search was Sandra's sister, Tanya -- herself married to one of the most respected and revered death penalty lawyers in the country.  In an unfamiliar role, criminal defense lawyers worked with law enforcement, searching for clues that would lead them to Sandra. Sandra’s car and cell phones were found. A man with an extremely violent past, recently released from prison, was arrested on a parole violation as a person of interest. He and Sandra had dated briefly 20 years ago, and it was reported that they had been seen together on Sunday.

In the wake of these ominous signs, we still held out hope that Sandra would return to us.  But on Friday, during the course of a massive search, a woman’s body was found near a park in Vacaville (about 45 miles from Sandra’s home). And then today (on Tuesday), the Oakland Police Department identified that body as Sandra's.

Sandra Coke, one of our own – someone from my professional family – has been killed by one of those people who we have long defended.  Killed by someone who in any other circumstance I would ward off others’ attempts to demonize – to point out the humanity even in someone who acted inhumanely. “You can’t define someone by the worst thing they have ever done,” I would say.

It isn’t that I don’t still believe those things. I do. But that doesn’t matter right now. The perpetrator has receded into the background. I don’t care about his history or life struggles, his impairments or his vulnerabilities. But I don’t feel anger or hatred either. I don’t have feelings of vengeance. I don’t want him dead. I don’t feel anything for him at all. This isn’t about him. This is about the horror, shock, pain and overwhelming sadness over the irreplaceable loss of a remarkable person. For the first time in 25 years, my focus has shifted from perpetrator to victim.

Please give generously to the Sandra Coke Fund, which will provide for the care and education of Sandra’s daughter.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hypocrisy in the Hall of Fame

A rare exception to my abdication from Fair and Unbalanced.
-- Lovechilde

“Voting shall be based on the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, their contributions to the team on which the player played.” -- BWAA's Hall of Fame Rules
Spitballer Gaylord Perry
Racists and segregationists who conspired to keep African Americans out of baseball are in the Hall of Fame.  So are players who regularly used amphetamines to "enhance" their performance on the field and others who took illegal drugs off the field.  Cheaters are in the Hall, from spitballers to sign stealers.  The Hall includes adulterers, sexual assaulters, drunks and batterers.  But some of the greatest players of the past couple of decades, including some of the greatest in the game's history, will likely be denied induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame next week because they allegedly used steroids, probably used steroids or simply looked like they used steroids.

Such arbitrary application of the so-called "integrity clause" is seriously misplaced.  It is unquestionable that steroids were used by a large group of players --  hitters and pitchers -- from about 1995 until 2005, when the baseball establishment, under pressure, finally began to crack down on the use of performance enhancing drugs.  During this time, when offensive numbers (and players’ heads) were suspiciously inflated, the fans cheered and the owners gleefully looked the other way.  For better or worse, steroids were part of the game and unless we are going to disqualify everyone who played during these years, we simply have to accept it.  Moreover, with the exception of the few players who have admitted steroid use or where the evidence appears overwhelming, we have no way of knowing with any hope of accuracy who juiced and who didn’t. 

The best and most dominant players of every era should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and steroid use or other alleged character flaws should not be insurmountable barriers to entry.  Without Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mike Piazza -- who is apparently now suspect based on nothing more than hearsay and weak anecdotal information (as is Jeff Bagwell, perhaps a more borderline candidate)-- the Hall of Fame's avowed goals of "preserving history and honoring excellence" will be greatly diminished.

And don't get me started on Pete Rose.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Post Mortem

Almost two years ago I created this blog in order to use the parts of my brain that weren't consumed by my day job as a death penalty lawyer and to interact with the larger community on what I deeply care about, particularly, as the subhead says, "politics, law, social justice, music and baseball."

Fair and Unbalanced became a daily ritual for me, almost a spiritual practice.  I read the paper (i.e., the New York Times) and the essential blogs, which would either inspire me to write something or to cross-post from the impressive group of bloggers who generously allowed me to share their work.  I found myself deeply engaged in the issues of the day and was gratified to discover that there were friends out there -- old, new and cyber -- who seemed to care what I had to offer.  (The stats show I've posted over 1500 pieces with close to 200,000 hits.)

Careful readers will have noticed I took my first extended break from blogging in July, when I went on a family vacation overseas.  What started as a brief hiatus, as it turns out, will be a more protracted one.

After 23-plus years of doing death penalty work, I have become so frustrated with the dysfunctional, broken process that, to paraphrase Justice Blackmun, I decided to no longer "tinker with the machinery of death."  (Hopefully, I am just slightly ahead of the curve.)  I will be taking my legal career in a different direction about which I am very excited.  What this means, however, is that I will need those parts of my brain previously occupied with blogging for this new endeavor.

So, thank you all for the staunch support, insightful comments and constructive feedback.  This has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me, and hopefully an enjoyable one for you.  But, as the inimitable Groucho Marx put it, "I must be going . . . ."