Year2015

Wondrous Books Make Meaningful Holiday Gifts

As Hanukkah and Christmas approach, I deviate from essays focused on our Criminal Justice System to suggest several books (in addition to Gideon’s Children, of course) that are entertaining, educational, and inspirational, and whose receipt would provide pleasure, knowledge, and spiritual growth to the recipients and their families and friends with whom they are sure to share.

Below, you will find full reviews of each of the books I am suggesting, which originally appeared on Goodreads. These works are true treasures, and my holiday wish for everyone my words reach is that you will gift yourself, as well as your loved ones with a present that will last a lifetime.

Thank you for listening. And all good wishes for a joyous Holiday Season and a brighter 2016 for our world!

#1: Beauty by John O’Donohue

As an author who fancies that he has some facility for using language, reading Beauty was truly a humbling experience. In fact, other than Thomas Wolfe of You Can’t Go Home Again fame, in my sixty-nine-year reading odyssey I have never encountered a writer with such a gift of language as John O’Donohue, and I highly recommend reading Beauty to experience of the author’s incredible ability to depict the various aspects of beauty and describe thoughts and feelings about it alone. Add to this gift, the author’s immense powers of observation and wise insights, and my opinion is that Beauty is one of the ten most important books that one could read.

Language…ah, yes, language. I will not attempt to use adjectives and adverbs to further describe O’Donohue’s gift, but instead supply a few of his phrases which were my favorites. “Time had come to rest in the silence and stillness of Loch Corrib;” “the tired machinations of the ego are abandoned;” “the interior geometry of things;” the automatic traffic of functioning;” “addicts of the familiar;” “imagination has retained the grace of innocence;” and “the silent majesty of the ordinary.” And speaking of majesty, Tom Verducci, a columnist for Sports Illustrated recently opined that “Defining majesty drives man to his literary boundaries.” I realized how true this was when I was faced with trying to adequately communicate how gifted John O’Donohue is, and I would opine that John’s boundaries were wide indeed!

Content…ah, yes, content. After treating the reader to an Introduction, defining beauty and its vital importance to our lives and our world, O’Donohue then separates his exploration of the subject into ten chapters. Looking back on Beauty, I think of it as a wheel with ten spokes: The Call Of Beauty; Where Does Beauty Dwell; The Music Of Beauty; The Color Of Beauty; The Joy Of Shapes That Dance; Imagination: Beauty’s Entrance; Attraction: The Eros Of Beauty; The Beauty Of The Flaw; The White Shadow: Beauty And Death; and God Is Beauty. And in only 249 magnificent pages, the author presents the reader with a wealth of knowledge and insights in the various aspects that compose the circle of beauty. Each chapter is so full of thoughts and feelings, that one reads and rereads constantly in an effort to drink it all in and hold it. Then, as I did, the reader most like will say to his or herself, “I’m going to read and reread these chapters one at a time over the rest of my lifetime.”

I conclude by again quoting Tom Verducci, who observed of another writing that “The knowledge and wisdom was so great as to invite our most ambitious attempts at commemoration.” My most ambitious attempt to commemorate O’Donahue’s Beauty is indeed feeble next to the genius of his work. I can only urge my fellow readers to enter its pages and experience for yourselves. It will change your life for the better! I received this absolute wonderment as a gift for my 75th birthday from my dear friend, Julienne Givot, for which I give heartfelt thanks!

#2: Consolations by David Whyte

I am very excited to recommend to you, Consolations, The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, by David Whyte. My excitement stems from the fact that I have rarely read such a valuable book, and by that I mean that this 245-page collection of two-to-four page essays rewards the reader with a treasure trove of insights into what it means to be a human being. Whyte, a poet of considerable renown, with seven volumes of poetry to his credit, (as well as four books of prose), takes words like Alone, Beauty, Friendship, Joy, Pain, and Work, to name just a few, and presents a short essay on each that is filled with discoveries that stir both an intellectual and emotional reaction.

Whyte utilizes a beautiful lyrical style to explore the depths of meaning for each word, and one will find his or her head nodding in agreement with one paragraph, and smiling and shaking one’s head in amazement at discovering something entirely new in the next. And because the author manages to capture so many angles of insight in a short space, one can easily return to a chapter for rereading and the further reward this offers.

The genius of David Whyte was introduced to me by a good friend, Julienne Givot , and the best way I know to thank her is to introduce it to others.

#3: Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith is the author of three books of poetry. Her first, Duende, won the James Laughlin Award, her second, The Body’s Question, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and her third, Life On Mars, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. Even though I am a lover of poetry, I was unfamiliar with Tracy’s work, and when my daughter Amy gifted me with her Memoir, Ordinary Light, I ordered Life On Mars to read alongside it, which latter volume I’ll review in my next post.

To begin, I’d like to share with you my feeling that in my seventy-five years I’ve never read a memoir that brought me greater satisfaction. Tracy’s use of language alone makes her memoir worth reading, her lyrical style, born from her poetic foundation, singing and dancing with metaphors and similes as sentences flow effortlessly into one another, while the warmth of her personality combines with her naked search for truth to create an intimacy with her reader.

Ordinary Light shares with its reader Tracy’s development from childhood through graduation from college as the youngest of five children in a remarkable African-American family. Born in 1972, as Tracy grows year by year in Fairfield, California, one learns the background of her beloved mother and father, including their roots in Alabama courtesy of Tracy’s grandparents who the reader also meets. Watched over carefully by her mother, her best friend, Tracy’s remarkable memory traces her thoughts and feelings about her mom beginning at age five, then expands her scope to include her dad and two brothers and two sisters. Artfully, she interweaves the influence on her young and developing life of each member of her family, then adds friends, school, and church to paint a picture so full and so real that the reader feels as if he or she, too, is included in the various relationships, and is traveling right alongside Tracy as she develops from a gifted kindergartner to a mature young woman learning from her mistakes as well as her successes.

Having been raised steeped in the Christian faith, but also to believe equally strongly in the power of education, as Tracy matures she, and her siblings, face questions that bring both building blocks into conflict. And what makes Tracy’s memoir so valuable is the depth of her thoughts and feelings she shares as she probes honestly and fearfully to find the truth and her own pathway into the world, a journey most of us can relate to in varying degree. In the end, Tracy learns and teaches that personally there is more than one truth, that her’s can differ from her mother’s and father’s without rejecting theirs, but instead taking a part of theirs and adding to it her own.

Ordinary Light is an extraordinary work by an author whose exceptional mind and memory are matched by the size of her heart. Exquisitely honest and sensitive, and wise, it is one of the very most memorable books it has been my privilege to know in my seventy-five years, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to my fellow readers.

#4: The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe

This work is a true treasure, like the paintings of impressionist painters who are its subject. And like the artists she chronicles, Sue Roe begins with a large blank canvas, then with a novelistic style masterfully fills it in with her subjects and their individual stories until the reader is presented with a full and satisfying group portrait.

First up is Paul Durand-Ruel, the art dealer who from 1860 to 1886 supported and nourished the impressionists economically and with steadfast encouragement. Arriving in New York City in 1886 with 300 of their paintings, he introduces impressionism to America, and subsequently fosters prosperity for himself and his artists.

Then, retreating to the beginning of the movement in 1860, as time ticks forward Roe introduces her cast of nine artists one by one. And as the reader meets Monet, Pissarro, Cezanne, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, Manet, Degas, and Morisot, and they meet and connect with each other, the reader is treated to short but amazingly full mini bios that make each individual come alive as a real person. And with individual backgrounds and separate personalities established, Roe then treats the reader to the group’s twenty-six-year journey forward, during which these nine future hall-of-fame artists share struggle, failure, and success. And as they form a collective friendship, as well as separate friendships within the group, their private lives are illuminated. Affairs, marriage, children, illnesses, friends, exhibitions of their work, and the landscapes and people who inhabit their painting all spill forth to add to the reader’s knowledge of each artist’s separate life and the amazing interaction between their life as a group.

To further paint a complete picture for the reader, Roe weaves in the historical events surrounding the artists, from the development of Paris from a medieval city to the City of Light that Baron Haussman made possible, to Louis Napoleon and the Franco-Prussian War.

Roe’s writing is so rich with insights into the humanity of each of the artists she features, that after only 270 pages, the reader comes away feeling that he or she has far more than a survey-course understanding of each, and of what together they gifted to the world with their art.

#5: Julius Rosenwald by Peter M. Ascoli

Last October, in a newspaper article about philanthropists, there was a reference to a man who built schools for blacks in the rural south in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. His name was Julius Rosenwald. And intrigued, I consulted Wikipedia, which informed that Mr. Rosenwald was a major founder of Sears, Roebuck & Company and after becoming enormously wealthy, devoted himself to philanthropy on a massive scale, with particular interest in assisting the downtrodden. I also learned that there was a biography, which amazingly Amazon could not provide, but which Book Depository in England could.

Bearing the sub-title The Man Who Built Sears and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South, Julius Rosenwald was written by Peter M. Ascoli, a grandson who never met him because Julius died ten years before Peter was born. Thoroughly researched, and written in a style that makes the reader feel as if Peter is telling one a very interesting story, the author begins with by introducing Julius’ father Samuel and his immigration to the United States and subsequent success in business and marriage to Julius’ mother to whom he was devoted his entire life. Subsequent chapters inform the reader as to Julius’ early years, his dropping out of high-school after two years, and his steady rise thereafter to become one of the most successful businessmen in American history.

Having stated in the Introduction that his primary focus was on the philanthropy of Julius, who the author personalizes by referring to him as JR, Peter then devotes the last three-quarters of the book to JR’s charitable endeavors, interweaving from time to time subsequent business successes of JR at Sears, and providing mini biographies of individuals who played important roles in both areas of JR’s life, from Rabbi Emil Hirsch, who greatly influenced JR’s charitable work, to luminaries such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, and those who personally assisted him in his charitable endeavors such as Richard Graves and Edwin Embree, all the while filling in with fascinating episodes about JR’s interaction with Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, as well as his beloved wife, Gussie, and their children.

What makes this book so readable is the author’s ability to make the reader feel as if he or she is meeting each of the cast of characters and knowing them. Through JR, a truly exceptional individual, the reader is both entertained and educated by his enormous success in business and philanthropy. In the latter arena, amazement also creeps in. For during the early decades of the Twentieth Century, a time when most of white America did not hold African Americans in high regard, JR established a program that over the next twenty plus years resulted in the building of 5,337 elementary schools for blacks in 15 southern states. And the fruitful way in which he did it is also amazing. JR worked with local black leaders, and local city-county governments to construct the schools. He would provide $5,000 ($150,000+ in today’s dollars) if private donations by blacks, and the local governments matched it. JR’s philosophy was that the best way to help poor blacks was to allow them to contribute so that they had a stake in the endeavor, and to draw government involvement so that as the years passed they would make the necessary investment to keep the schools running. As a result, millions of rural African Americans received a basic education, as well as vocational training.

JR also contributed to African-American higher education, becoming a Board Member of the Tuskegee Institute, and contributing to Fisk, Howard, and Dillard Universities. The list of his other charitable endeavors is well covered by the author, with The University Of Chicago, The Chicago Museum of Industry & Science, Hull House, and numerous Jewish Charities featured.

In conclusion, I heartily recommend this book, not only for its fascinating treatment of a special man and his times, but because it is highly relevant to the issue of social justice today, and has interesting suggestions about how American society can work toward achieving it.

For Public Defenders, ACJP Is A Godsend

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It’s a sad fact that fifty years after the Gideon v. Wainwright decision mandated representation for every person charged with a crime, Public Defenders are still drastically underfunded, understaffed, overworked, and often disrespected by prosecutors, judges, court personnel, and sometimes their own clients.

As illustrated in my novel, Gideon’s Children (http://www.amazon.com/Gideons-Children), Public Defenders are outnumbered by prosecutors by as much as 3 to 1, depending upon the jurisdiction. When I served as a Los Angeles County Public Defender in the late Sixties, and was stationed in the Compton Judicial District, I faced calendars of 10 Felony Preliminary Hearings or 25 Misdemeanor cases alone, while the prosecution had two or three Deputy DAs handling the State’s interests. And while the prosecution had the assistance detailed below, I had me, myself, and I.

The job of a Public Defender is both difficult and lonely in equal measure. It is difficult because the power of the State is enormous. The prosecutor has at his or her disposal the officers who arrested the defendant, an investigating officer, handwriting experts, ballistic experts, a crime lab, and if further assistance is necessary, the services of the FBI. And it is lonely, because against this arsenal, the Public Defender almost always stands alone with the responsibility of defending his or her client resting solely on his or her shoulders. Even the defense’s placement at the counsel table reflects the unequal footing between the prosecution and the defense, with the Public Defender and the defendant seated furthest from the jury box and the prosecutor, who represents The People, closest, an implied good-guy/bad-guy status.

I cannot therefore emphasize strongly enough the tremendous value of the services offered today to Public Defenders by the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (http://acjusticeproject.org/) and their invaluable program of Participatory Defense!

In organizing communities and educating them with respect to the workings of the Criminal Justice System, then encouraging the active engagement of families in the defense of a loved one who is currently involved in this System, ACJP is providing an extremely helpful service to communities, the families of one charged with a crime, and to the overworked Public Defender who is representing the defendant. By knowing where to go to obtain a copy of the arrest report, family and/or friends can familiarize themselves with the allegations, contact witnesses on behalf of the jailed defendant if there are any, and take photos of the crime scene if relevant. Recalling my own experience as an overworked Public Defender struggling to give each and every defendant on an overcrowded court calendar the best representation possible, and the countless times I wished that I had an investigator to perform such tasks, the value of what ACJP is providing for Public Defenders is incalculable.

And building upon this foundation, ACJP then makes the further contribution of offering training to Public Defender Offices around the country on how to engage client communities and form partnerships with local stakeholders in order to increase the effectiveness and capacity of the program outlined above.

There are few win-win-win situations in life. But in helping individuals in our poorer communities gain knowledge of their own rights within our Criminal Justice System, then training them to further use this knowledge to assist a loved one charged with a crime, and in so doing, lessen the highly stressful burden under which Public Defenders operate in providing the best defense possible under the circumstances for each and every person they represent, ACJP is acting as a Godsend to all parties involved. As a former Public Defender, and one who has never lost his passion for pursuing social justice, heartfelt thanks to everyone at ACJP for the vitally important work they do!

I’m pleased to donate all of the proceeds from the sale of my book, Gideon’s Children, during the month of November to ACJP in support of their continued efforts to promote equality and justice.

One Man’s Blueprint For Social Justice For All

Recently, it was my privilege to read a brilliant collection of essays by Dr. Walter D. Greason, written in a clear crisp style for Everyman and collected into an e-book entitled The Engine Of Creation. During my 75 years, I cannot recall learning so much, and being exposed to so many thought-provoking ideas inside a book of only 98 pages, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in solutions to many of the problems plaguing our country today.

How, you ask, could such be accomplished in so short a space? Well, take a journey yourself, and you will see, and at no financial charge. For Professor Greason so desires to share his various proposals for social progress with you, that he makes his fascinating book available for free at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcX9mXEAIS (Greason youtube video on the book)

In the opening section entitled, Education, our generous author offers an essay exploring evangelical Christianity on football fields to the exclusion of other forms and other religions, then in the one that follows, offers an intriguing study of hip hop music, illustrating how, “as a whole, this body of music represents the evolution of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.”

Now, warmed up, he presents a discussion of individual rights under the U.S. Constitution, and the need for “intersectional analysis” to address various categories of rights such as gay rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and religious rights in order to produce an inclusive society that benefits us all.

And finally, to round out this segment, Dr. Greason presents the reader with three essays connected to teaching. The first offers an analysis of who should be in charge of our educational system, how we measure and should measure success and failure, and stresses the need for innovation. The second illustrates how, through the educational process, young adults around the world are saving lives every day, as well as illustrating the importance of role models and their impact in helping young students build a sense of purpose and identity. Lastly, the spotlight is focused on “unique teaching,” offering keen insights into “responsive instruction,” how “experience remains the best teacher,” and the value of “critical reading.”

It should be noted that Education closes with the wise observation that “teachers who reinvent their classrooms in constant response to the widest range of students deserve celebrity status.” I found myself vigorously nodding my head up and down in agreement as I read the professor’s valuation of what teachers contribute to our society, and he couldn’t be more right than when he advocates that we need to “Take more time to publicly thank and honor them at their school, in the malls, and in your homes.”

The next section, entitled History, is equally stimulating. Opening with an essay illustrating how the media, aided by the digital revolution, bombards us with negative news daily, Dr. Greason demonstrates the urgent “need to tell the optimistic stories of how we survive, adapt, and succeed,” arguing that this need “has never been greater than right now.” To further illustrate this principle of the positive, the succeeding essay illustrates the invaluable contribution of W.E.B. DuBois, who survived, adapted, and succeeded against gigantic odds to teach us “that the right to learn was the most difficult achievement humanity had won in 5000 years of  struggle,” and how  to use that right to create justice and equality for all.

Next, the reader is presented with two essays that together provide a historical overview of how “advantage” was built into American society based on race, religion, and gender,  the development of racial segregation, and the federal, state, and private policies of Affirmative Action. Included are thought-provoking discussions about how “Merit is a lie,” and the need for new standards in economics, architecture and zoning, and urban transportation.

An eye-opening essay follows, about how “consolidation among suburban communities…will reduce municipal tax burdens and facilitate essential conversations about the common values everyone shares.” And the reader will find his or herself pondering an observation by civil rights leader, Ermon Jones, “that communities rely on each other, just as members of a family do,” and making a note to also read Dr. Greason’s book, Suburban Erasure to learn more about how consolidation can be used to increase prosperity and social justice for all.

Highly relevant to the 2016 Presidential election, in the next essay the professor traces the Conservatism of the 20th Century into the 21st, and illustrates how “the small government rhetoric of the 1970s cloaked the longstanding defense of inequality and segregation across the United States,” and why the Republican Party should revisit the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower and “speak as citizens committed to women’s equality, marriage equality, and immigrant equality.”

And speaking of immigrants, in a following essay that integrates the issue of immigration into a history of Black History Month, Dr. Greason traces “Free” and “white,” from our country’s origin down to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He then points out that “immigrants from Turkey, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and central Asia have formed new communities in the metropolitan United States over the last decade,” and poses the weighty question: “Are Muslims and Ukrainians the most recent ‘blacks’?” The Irish have successfully managed inclusion into American society, as have Jews and Catholics, “enlargements of whiteness” according to Nell Irwin Painter in her book, The History of White People, cited by Dr. Greason and leading him to a hopeful question for all of us to ponder: “Will the continuing efforts to liberate and uplift African American communities in the United States translate into unimaginable opportunities in these distant, diverse regions?”

Two other essays finalize this segment, complementing those that preceded them, and also serving to further establish a firm foundation for the section on politics that follows.

In the first, the author offers the reader a view of how “new bodies of evidence and new standards of debate” have challenged the central narrative about  American slavery, and provided “powerful new insights abut the nature of the American South and its enduring impact on the nation’s identity at the end of the twentieth century.” And to support this view, and introduce interested readers further, he refers to the works of highly regarded scholars such as Jacqueline Jones, Nell Painter, John Blassingame, Peter Kolchin, John Hope Franklin, and Walter Johnson.

And in the closing essay, authored in March, 2015, Dr. Gleason provides a lesson that America needs to remember: that “the enslavement of Africans in the Americas could not exist without the written authority of the Christian churches of Europe.” It is convenient to forget this, and much effort has been put forth to mask this sad relationship between Christianity and slavery. And it is not a relationship that can be excused as having existed in our distant past. As Dr. Gleason points out, beginning in 1928, Samuel Stouch, a leading voice in the tri-state area of New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, “recruited Methodist ministers aggressively to attract hundreds of members to the (Ku Klux) Klan. By 1940, Stouch had created a home for Klan policy in local law enforcement and criminal justice. His ideas created the coalition that would become the foundation for Frank Rizzo’s popular approach to law and order during the era of civil rights activism in Philadelphia between 1956 and 1980.” And the relevance of this lesson will most certainly promote a better understanding of how the City of Ferguson, Missouri, was operating until the recent tragic shooting forced the beginnings of a turn-around.

Section Three, Politics, sprouts naturally from the strong roots established by Education and History. Opening this segment with an essay about long-term trends in economic growth and transformation of metropolitan areas, with emphasis on the potential of public-private partnerships, Dr. Greason then follows with a discussion devoted to the need for senior leadership. Here he focuses on the exciting potential that arises from the formation of partnerships across changing demographic groups, an advocates the need for and advantages of senior citizens (ages 65-85) joining hands with young adults (ages 15-35).

Then, the third essay, and what I feel is the core problem facing America today, Professor Greason begins by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s concern that “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profits and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism,

materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Having set forth this crucial need to reorder our values, the author then discusses how the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects a global movement, pointing out that “around the world, citizens have taken to the street to reject militarism, materialism, and racism,” but also that “corporations and the voices of their mass media outlets cannot understand the message that these brave human beings communicate.” In conclusion, Dr. Greason offers the vitally important observation and solution that “the Occupy movement has not realized how to make itself heard most effectively…that the mobilizations in urban centers miss the center of political and economic gravity…these voices must be heard in the suburbs.” Further, he advocates meeting “the middle class where it resides,” and suggests occupying suburbs, the World Series, the National Football League, and the Olympic Games.

How interesting, I thought,  as Dr. Greason’s suggestions sunk in. And how relevant to the upcoming Presidential election next year, with all the candidates focused on appealing to the same middle class that he has so intently focused upon.

And as if Dr. Greason were reading my mind, he follows with a fictional letter that illustrates how the corporate structure would respond to protestors through the police authority, reminiscent of how protestors were assaulted during the Selma March and in Birmingham by Sheriff Bull Connors with his dogs and fire hoses during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. I smiled at the hope that such conduct employed today against Occupy protestors, would likewise awaken and arouse the vast majority of Americans to radically reorder our priorities in favor of social justice.

While I believe that these two core essays provide the necessary focus on America’s major problems, along with realistic suggestions on how we can overcome them, in following essays, Dr. Greason also addresses the problem of political polarization and the need to return to the spirit of compromise, as well as the need to end de facto segregation based on “credit ratings that are thinly disguised racial covenants.”

Further essays in this segment begin by introducing the reader to a book, The Age of Fracture, by Daniel Rodgers, which illustrates that “Americans adopted a vocabulary—a rhetoric—of alienation and despair in the last decades of the Cold War,” and how “this transformation of our concepts and the words we chose to represent our world crippled the public ability to craft policy based on the social structures that govern capitalism.” For example, “we made ‘choice’ synonymous with freedom and ‘market’ became the basis of our cultural judgment. The reliance on these kinds of concepts to govern ourselves oversimplified the society…making “the complexity of social relationships and the history of civilization irrelevant to our law and national identity.” In studying this essay, it can be seen that the need to consider the power of our words and ideas, and to reform same, coincides with the need and the ability to reorder our values.

Following in the footsteps of The Age of Fracture, the author then illustrates how The Tea Party and Globalization has been manipulated by the power structure of national and international corporations to promote division amongst the various segments of our society, and “make property…the primary civic virtue, supplanting life and liberty.”

Further in this vein, the next series of essays demonstrate how the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts has catered to the interests of the corporate power structure, to the detriment of individual rights; illustrates the principles of good government, and advocates that corporate authority should never be allowed “to threaten the fundamental dignity and worth of humanity;” offers an insightful view of how “Professionalization threatens to dismantle the most important accomplishments of higher education from the last two generations; and provides an equally poignant view of how we citizens must tune out the media that make our ideological differences “political sport,” and instead “talk with each other and attempt to resolve these ideological differences—house by house, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

The final cornerstone of Dr. Greason’s blueprint, entitled Economics, offers equally creative ideas to those gifted by its three predecessors. In the opening essay, he traces economic development from the end of World War II to the present, with emphasis on the role that expansive government has played. Then, highlighting the philosophic division that has developed between Liberals “who see government as the common ground where compromise is essential to provide good roads, strong police forces, innovative schools, an open media landscape,” with Conservatives who “assert that private organizations demonstrate the success of individual ingenuity and that governments only interfere with the efficient functions of markets to determine social success and failure, he proposes a seriously unique and highly provocative solution:

“The United States needs to commit to a new vision for our federal and state governments. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, women must take the reins of elective representation. Too many of the men in office have long connections to traditions of frustrating public accountability and abusing the public trust…By 2020, women should be the majority in both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court as well as the majority of governors and representatives in the statehouses.”

Wow! Why not give the women a chance to lead? I thought after turning over this essay in my mind a dozen or so times. I also wonder what they could accomplish with respect to solving another of the triplet problems our society faces: militarism.

After this thoroughly stimulating essay, Dr. Greason follows with a series devoted to separate economic problems, suggesting in the first that we need to create Centers for Metropolitan Growth to help existing and prospective business owners adapt their enterprises so as to be able to “use” mega businesses such as Walmart to distribute new products, then follows with a discussion of “informative economics” to demonstrate how an overreliance on any single form of capital investment creates a stagnant economy, such as happened to Detroit with its overreliance on the physical infrastructure of the automobile industry.

Continuing in this vein, subsequent essays in this section offer insights into: income inequality, the fallacy that a rising tide lifts all boats, and how “new educational initiatives and targeted tax reform” can help; and how unbridled consumerism causes households to lack the basic asset of an emergency fund, and how reducing wasteful spending on entertainment can restore economic balance.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my strong recommendation to place The Engine Of Creation at the top of your must-read list of books! I believe that you will find this collection of essays most rewarding, because it not only honestly sets forth the serious challenges that America, and our world, faces, but with equal integrity boldly and brilliantly sets forth positive solutions to defeat racism, consumerism, and militarism!

In an era when the news media focuses on the negative, and directs our attention to same, how rewarding indeed it is to have a book that not only teaches positive solutions to America’s problems, but also instructs each of us that there is hope, that together we are not powerless, but actually powerful. And that if we stop our busy lives for a long moment and deeply reflect, we will conclude that there are far more basic principles of justice and equality that join us Americans than the few subsidiary issues that divide us, and that each of us can make a difference by joining one of numerous grass-roots to national organizations that are working daily toward defeating the toxic triplets and building an America with social justice for all.

Two Humble Heroes Of The Civil Rights Movement, Now Angels

Last week, our country lost two special people that made America and the world a better place, as Frank E. Petersen, Jr., 83, and Amelia Boynton Robinson,104, passed away.

Frank, born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1932, enlisted in the Navy at age 18 in 1950, only two years after President Truman had desegregated the armed forces. He began as a seaman apprentice, but a year later entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. In 1952, now a Marine, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and the Marines’ first black aviator.

Overcoming severe racial indignities, such as being arrested at an officers’ club on suspicion of impersonating an officer, and then overcoming a fear of heights, he brought new meaning to the noun perseverance. And after flying 350 combat missions during two tours, in Korea and Viet Nam, Frank became the first African-American to command a fighter squadron, the famous Black Knights, then an air group, and finally a major air base.

During his distinguished career, Frank obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from George Washington University, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, and added yet another first to his list of pioneering achievements: becoming the first black Marine Corps general! Retiring in 1988, after 38 meritorious years as a three-star lieutenant general, he reflected humbly that, “Just to be able to say that you kicked down another door was such a great satisfaction.”

Frank’s fellow angel, Amelia Boynton Robinson, saw combat of a different variety and on American soil. On March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday, Amelia joined 600 black demonstrators, led by John Lewis and the Reverend Hosea Williams, who set out to March from Selma, Alabama, to the State Capitol in Birmingham in order to petition for the right to vote. The marchers were confronted on the Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers armed with tear gas, billy clubs, and whips. And Amelia, walking near the front of the line and subject to the full force of the troopers’ blows, was knocked unconscious.

In fact, an iconic photograph which was widely distributed by the news media shows Amelia lying insensible on the ground with a white officer standing over her, nightstick in hand. A second photo shows a fellow marcher taking her in his arms and struggling to lift her up. Hospitalized along with at least 17 other marchers, fortunately she recovered quickly, and the extensive news coverage of Bloody Sunday was pivotal in winning wide popular support for the Civil Rights Movement.

On August 6, 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the federal Voting Rights Act into law, Amelia was a guest of honor at the White House. And on the fiftieth anniversary of the historic march, when the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge was reenacted, Amelia, now 104 years old, made the journey in her wheelchair, holding hands with President Obama.

Interviewed last December, Amelia, reflecting back on Bloody Sunday, said humbly: “I wasn’t looking for notoriety. But it that’s what it took,” she added, “I didn’t care how many licks I got. It just made me even more determined to fight for our cause.”

It is my belief that the best way each of us can honor the legacy of these two individuals, who with determination and courage rose from ordinary circumstances to break the barriers of racial discrimination, is to follow their example. God willing, none of us will have to fly 350 combat missions in the service of our armed forces, or be beaten unconscious for peacefully exercising our constitutional right to assemble. What I take from their sterling contribution to making our America and our world a better place, and what I hope you will join me in doing, is starting right this minute, to renew our determination to work for social justice for all people, to make tolerance and inclusiveness a way of living, and to summon the courage to speak and act on behalf of these ideals. In short: Each and every day, be the change in the world we want to see!

Lady Justice’s Blindfold Is Tear-Stained

On August 12, 2015, I read an OP-ED in the New York Times by Law Professor Julie Seaman of Emory University, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/opinion/when-innocence-is-no-defense.html?_r=0, the essence of which aroused in me intense feelings of frustration and outrage, to the point of tears.

In 2001 a young woman in Thunderbolt, Georgia was sexually assaulted by a burglar wearing gloves, whom she discovered upon arriving home. Subsequently, the police found stolen items in the home of Sterling Flint’s girlfriend, who told them Sterling had stated that they were his. Thereafter, Flint made a deal with the prosecutor and testified at trial that an acquaintance of his, Sandeep Bharadia gave the items to him. Flint received a 24-year sentence, and Bharadia, who maintained his innocence and claimed he was 250 miles away at the time of the crime, was sentenced to life without parole.

Mr. Bharadia’s trial attorney, for unknown reasons, did not request DNA testing of the gloves worn by the burglar-assailant, but his appellate lawyer did, as well as made a motion for a new trial. The appellate court granted the request, and the testing showed female DNA on the outside and male DNA – but not Mr. Bharadia’s – on the inside, but the appellate court declined to allow DNA testing of Flint, and no new trial occurred.

Several years later, however, the Georgia Innocence Project took up the case in 2012, and had the DNA results run through the national Codis DNA database, and scored a hit: The male DNA belonged to Flint.

Great news for Mr. Bharadia, right? WRONG! “Under Georgia precedent, a defendant is not entitled to a new trial based on new evidence if the court finds that he could have discovered the evidence at the time of the original trial, had he or his lawyer been diligent enough. Such requirements, which are common, are designed to prevent convictions from being endlessly re-examined.”

First of all, the overwhelming majority of convictions are not endlessly re-examined. And in this case if the appellate court had allowed Flint’s DNA to be tested, the result that it was his that matched the gloves would have been discovered in the first and only re-examination. So where does endlessly come into play here?

But far more importantly, while no one knows why Mr. Bharadia’s trial attorney did not request DNA testing of the subject gloves, why should a defendant be held responsible for his lawyer’s mistake? As described in my novel, Gideon’s Children, Public Defenders (and private defense counsel) when they begin practice are inexperienced, and frequently exhausted by the overwhelming caseload they do their best to handle. Maybe that was the case here, I don’t know. What I do know is that no person charged with a crime, let alone a serious one, should never be penalized for his attorney’s mistake!

I ask you, dear reader: Stop and fully concentrate on the above-described situation. Then, ask yourself how you would feel if you were in Mr. Bharadia’s shoes, having already served 12 years in prison for a crime you most probably did  not commit, and now having a court agree with that proposition, but advise you that because of your attorney’s  mistake, and the expediency employed by the Criminal Justice System to avoid endless re-examination of convictions, you’ll still have to spend the rest of your life in prison.

I feel confident that if you do so, you’ll join me and Lady Justice in feeling outrage so intense that it spawns tears!

Criminal Justice Novels Can Inspire Future Lawyers

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Recent Reviews of Gideon’s Children on Ms. JD and Forbes.com Suggest That Dramatic Works That Entertain While Educating Can Not Only Contribute To Judicial Reform, But Also Inspire The Next Generation Of Lawyers

In my last blog post on July 14th, I wrote about how Atticus Finch, the righteous lawyer in the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, along with other dramatic works such as the movie, Inherit The Wind influenced me to go to law school, become a Public Defender, and write my novel, Gideon’s Children.

In a footnote to that post, I referred to a New York Times book review on July 10, 2015, of Harper Lee’s latest novel, Go Set A Watchman, that indicated same harshly contradicts the original Atticus Finch, and thereby tarnishes the reputation of the iconic righteous lawyer.

This deeply saddened me, because in the tremendously troubled times in which we live, heroes such as the righteous lawyer were never more important, and to lose such an icon was tragic. Subsequently, during a two-week road trip that I enjoyed with my wife Linda, I reflected on this concept, and decided that fortunately the ideal of the righteous lawyer wasn’t really lost. Atticus Finch was a fictional lawyer, but in Inherit The Wind, the heroic character is based upon the very real lawyer, Clarence Darrow, who in the Scopes trial demonstrated how one lawyer, with courage, dedication, fortified with careful preparation, could fight for truth, justice, and a free society of ideas. A righteous lawyer indeed! And following in his real, not fictional, footsteps, every day all across America thousands of Public Defenders face off against the tremendous power of the State and give their all to ensure that their clients’ constitutional rights are protected and justice is achieved. As portrayed in Gideon’s Children their job is a very difficult one. Their caseload is too heavy. The power of the State is enormous, with the prosecutors having the benefit of investigating officers, fingerprint and ballistic experts, and other governmental agencies such as the FBI if needed. The hostility that society, and all too frequently the judicial system, holds for those accused of crimes, spills over to PDs. And far more often than not, all the PD has to work with in trial is his or her knowledge, experience, and grit. Day after day, case after case, he or she must summon the courage to stand alone against the awesome power of the State and give a voice to those who are otherwise powerless. It should also be pointed out that PDs do not grow wealthy or gain prestige from their service, that they serve because they believe in justice. As such, they are the true righteous lawyers, flesh and blood noble warriors who deserve to be highly respected.

I wrote G.C. to educate the public about the invaluable role Public Defenders play in our Criminal Justice System, and hopefully inspire readers to appeal to their elected officials to take action on the numerous problems facing that System, including the inadequate funding of PD Offices.

Recently, on June 24, 2015, Ms. Ani Torossian posted a review of G.C. on the Ms. JD website (http://ms-jd.org/blog/article/book-review-gideons-children) in which she opined that G.C. could educate and inspire those interested in a career path in law.

And on July 15, Mr. Walt Pavlo posted a review on Forbes.com (http://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2015/07/15/a-novel-based-on-life-of-a-public-defender-gideons-children/) in which he opined that “If you’re a law student or have an interest in law, there is no better way to learn than by reading an entertaining story of a young, idealistic attorney who went to work in the public defenders office in Los Angeles in the late 1960s.”

In conversations with Mr. Renwei Chung, who writes for the website Above The Law and interviewed me with respect to G.C. (see Interviews on howardgfranklin.com), Renwei, who just completed his second year at SMU’s Law School, also expressed to me his conviction that G.C. should be required reading in criminal law-school seminars.

Because I have always believed that criminal defense attorneys are not born, but instead evolve, the prospect of G.C. joining the body of dramatic fiction and non-fiction and inspiring those searching for their place in the law to consider careers as PDs truly delights me.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Ms. Julienne Givot, G.C.’s social media consultant, for her positively brilliant work on Twitter that brought Ani, Walt, and Renwei into my life. They have become friends, as has Julienne, and I am wholeheartedly grateful to have their support of my mission to contribute to the growing conversation about the urgent need to reform our Criminal Justice System as part of the New Civil Rights Movement, fifty years after the original.

How the Original Atticus Finch*, the Righteous Lawyer in To Kill A Mockingbird, along with Other Dramatic Works, Influenced My Becoming A Public Defender And Writing My Novel, Gideon’s Children

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When 1960 opened the door to the tumultuous decade of change to follow, I was in my sophomore year in business school at the University of Southern California. That summer I read the recently released novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and was profoundly impressed by its lessons that emphasize tolerance and decry racial prejudice. The novel’s protagonist, Atticus Finch, who displayed tremendous courage in representing a black man accused of rape in the face of open hostility by the white community in which he lived in the American Deep South, made a like impression, serving as he did as a moral hero and model of integrity. And as these teachings filtered through my conscious mind and touched a nerve deep inside me at the same time that the fledgling Civil Rights Movement began to occupy center stage in newspapers and on television, the idea of becoming a lawyer and fighting racial injustice in the courtroom took hold.

Later the same year, I viewed a movie, Inherit The Wind, based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee (no relation to Harper Lee, Mockingbird’s author), and fuel was added to the proverbial fire. A fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial, in which Scopes, a high school teacher was prosecuted in Tennessee for teaching evolution, and in which the famous attorney, Clarence Darrow in defending him faced off against the equally famous William Jennings Bryan who led the team of prosecutors, as the drama unfolded, I was once again mesmerized by the idea of how one lawyer, with courage and dedication, fortified with careful preparation, could fight for truth, justice, and a free society of ideas.

In 1963, I entered the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and that year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, standing for the proposition that if an individual is charged with a crime and is too poor to afford counsel, one will be provided to him or her free of charge. Reading about the story behind the case in Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis, a non-fiction book whose author possessed the narrative power of a novelist, in 1964, my focus was fixed on the Criminal Justice System. Realizing that the decision compelled the birth of large-scale Public Defender Offices, during the summer after graduation in 1966 I clerked for the L.A. County PD Office, and became a Deputy Public Defender thereafter.

Stationed in the Compton Judicial District, a low-income area hosting a large minority population of African and Latino Americans, it was my privilege to serve there for several years, and alongside my colleagues to fight for fair treatment and justice for that population.

Today, all phases of the American Criminal Justice System are in crisis. And that is why I was inspired to write my novel, Gideon’s Children, to educate readers about the birth of the large-scale Public Defender Offices in the 1960s, and the mini revolution they created in the courtroom as part of the greater Civil Rights Movement. And my hope is that while the reader is being entertained by a fascinating drama, that he or she will also learn about the workings of the Criminal Justice System, the supreme value of individual constitutional rights, and the crucial role Public Defenders play in protecting same.

With the latter under attack today by the Patriot Act, the No-Fly Rule, and government spying at all levels, and racially-tainted tragic events in Ferguson, Detroit, Staten Island, Cleveland, and North Charleston propelling a growing discussion of the desperate need to fix our broken Criminal Justice System, G.C. seeks to contribute to enlarging that discussion and further stimulating the New Civil Rights Movement that is now underway fifty years after the original.

I chose the novel form to bring this vital message to the attention of readers, because of my belief that the drama that this genre offers presents the best opportunity to capture and hold an individual’s attention over a period of time sufficient to allow the message to sink in and become indelibly imprinted. As I looked back at the books that made such a profound impression on me, I found that all of them first entertained me to capture and hold my attention, then with me intensely focused on the drama, effortlessly educated me about the need to banish racial prejudice, the First Amendment’s freedom of ideas, and the right to counsel, before finally inspiring me to become engaged.

The heroic courage and high moral standards exhibited by Atticus Finch, Harper Lee’s fictional righteous lawyer, and echoed by the characters based on the real-life Clarence Darrow, entertained and educated and ultimately inspired me to participate, to become a Public Defender, and to write Gideon’s Children. And my wholehearted hope is that G.C. will entertain you, and educate you about the workings of our Criminal Justice System, and the crucial role Public Defenders play in protecting the supremely valuable constitutional rights that each of us enjoys. And ultimately, I pray that you will be inspired to support our Public Defenders by lobbying your governmental representatives to provide the funds to vastly increase their numbers so that their caseloads will be reduced to reasonable and they can labor at their best to serve the interests of justice.

Public Defenders are today’s righteous lawyers. They are real, flesh-and-blood men and women who day after day, underfunded and overworked, and mostly alone, face off against the massive power of  the State, courageously seeking justice for their clients and protecting our precious constitutional rights. They are noble warriors, and they deserve  the support G.C. urges you to give.

*It has come to my attention via a book review in The New York Times on July 10, 2015, that in Harper Lee’s latest novel, Go Set a Watchman, the reader is presented with a second version of Atticus Finch that harshly contradicts the original character in To Kill a Mockingbird, portraying him as a racist who attends a Klan meeting and rails against desegregation.

I have not read Watchman, no do I plan to. It is my opinion that those persons responsible for the publication of this book, which tarnishes the reputation of the iconic “righteous” lawyer in what amounts to a paragon of crass commercialism, should be ashamed of themselves, and I refuse to contribute to their profiteering, and urge others to do likewise.

The Rule Of Law: Without Trust It Fails

In my blog post of May 27th, entitled The Rule Of Law: Fair Or Foul, I focused on two of the World Justice Project’s four elements that form a working definition of the Rule Of Law, namely: Accountability and Even Enforcement. In that post, as well as several prior ones, I have stressed that the Rule of Law founds our society, and that in turn, trust founds the Rule, and Accountability and Even Enforcement found trust.

Yesterday, in The New York Times I read that two weeks ago four members of the British Parliament (two from the Labour Party and two from the Conservative Party) had traveled to Washington D.C. to argue for the immediate release of Shaker Aamer, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay Prison.

Mr. Aamer has been in American custody since he was apprehended in Afghanistan in 2001 where he was doing charity work. And after a stay in Bagram Prison, where he was tortured, he was transferred to Guantanamo in February, 2002, where he has remained for thirteen years without ever having been charged with any crime.

In our Criminal Justice System, the law requires that when a person is arrested, that he appear before a judge in court within a specified time period, usually 48 hours, and learn the charges against him. Under the Patriot Act, an enemy combatant has no such rights, and while I understand that in order to combat terrorism, those charged with the responsibility of doing so must be given some extra leeway, that flexibility to gather evidence and formulate a case should still be consistent with the concept of due process. Not being a terrorism expert, I’m not sure of what the time period for filing charges should be. However, I am sure that the Rule of Law requires the application of the principle of reasonableness, and that indefinite unequivocally fails to meet this test. Our federal government has never explained why, to keep us safe from terrorists, that if they suspect a person of being connected to terrorism, they cannot gather enough evidence to charge that person with a crime within a reasonable period of time.

So: Accountability score: Zero, as in none.

And to make matters worse, in 2007, during the Bush Administration, Mr. Aamer was cleared for release, but remained incarcerated. And in 2010, under President Obama he was again cleared for release after six agencies, including the CIA, FBI, and the Departments of State and Defense unanimously concurred, but remained in prison. And even after England’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, while visiting President Obama earlier this year, asked for his release and President Obama promised to pursue the matter, Mr. Aamer still remains in Guantanamo.

Why? There may be some security issues, is what the four members of Parliament were told. After 13 years, without a single charge being made against Mr. Aamer? When he’s been cleared for release twice? Utterly unconscionable! is the only term that comes to mind to describe the actions of all three branches of our federal government.

And a serious blow to the essential element of trust, to boot. For if government officials at the highest levels are blatantly unaccountable, why should we trust the Rule of Law?

But it’s only one case, runs the counter-argument. Well, stop and consider that the same Patriot Act that has resulted in Mr. Aamer’s tragic situation also applies to you and me, so just pray that some official in our security apparatus doesn’t designate one of us as an enemy combatant.

For an encore, this morning’s New York Times reported that Kalief Browder, a young man who was held at the Rikers Island Jail in New York City for three years without ever being charged with a crime, committed suicide three years after his release. It appears that Kalief was unable to recover from repeated beatings by correction officers and fellow inmates, and the two years he spent in solitary confinement after refusing several offers from prosecutors to take a plea deal. His mother reported that while Kalief did obtain his GED and started community college after his release, he was never able to recover from the years he spent locked alone in his cell for 23 hours a day and suffered a steady deterioration of his mental health.

Where was Kalief’s Public Defender, and why was he not arraigned in accordance with New York state law within 48 to 72 hours? And how can that misfeasance swell to 3 years? And who is responsible for this tragic miscarriage of justice? No answers to any of these questions exist in the article, and I was unable to discover any by researching the issue on the internet. New York’s mayor, DeBlasio, has called for a major reform of Rikers, and in a statement, said: “Kalief’s story helped inspire our efforts.”

Accountability score: Zero, as in none. And another serious blow to the element of trust, so essential to the Rule of Law.

And to demonstrate how trust is being replaced by distrust in the minds and hearts of many of our fellow citizens, this morning’s New York Times also reported that in Cleveland, “Community leaders, distrustful of the Criminal Justice System, said Monday that they would not wait for prosecutors to decide whether to file charges against the police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last year.” Ohio is one of a few states that have a statute that allow residents to request an arrest without approval of the police or prosecutors. And not trusting the prosecutors in Cleveland, who work closely with the police, and who will proceed by the secret grand jury process, community leaders have instead chosen to directly petition a judge, so as to obtain an open hearing with evidence provided by all sides involved.

Who can blame them, after so many unarmed African-Americans have been killed by police, and with rare exception were the incidents fairly and openly investigated?

For a significant portion of our fellow citizens, and in particular people of color and the poor, events, from Ferguson, to Cleveland, to Detroit, to North Charleston have seriously eroded the trust that is essential for the Rule of Law to continue governing our society. As my novel, Gideon’s Children, illustrated, the growing conversation about the crucial need to fix the serious problems in all phases of our Criminal Justice System needs to grow larger and louder now! Please let your municipal, state, and federal representatives know that reform should be at the top of their list of priorities. Nothing is more important than ensuring that the Rule of Law continues to found our society and all of the citizens who comprise it!

The Rule Of Law: Accountability Requires Recognition Of Everyone’s Humanity

In my blog post of May 27th, entitled The Rule Of Law: Fair Or Foul, I noted that four principles formed the World Justice Project’s working definition of The Rule Of Law, and thereafter focused on accountability as one of the two most crucial factors in building the essential element of trust that underpins this Rule on which our society is based.

In an article by Gary Younge, the brilliant New York correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, which I received via a blog post on Goodreads (Younge post), Gary pointed out that all lives matter, and the failure of U.S. governmental authorities “to keep track of how many people its police kill” detracts from their humanity. In agreement with this opinion, and the loss of accountability that it entails, I responded to Gary’s post on Goodreads as follows:

Gary,

Your point is well taken. In the era of high-tech, where computers have made record keeping easy+, one could validly argue that the failure by governmental authorities to record the names, ages, race, and other vital statistics of every person killed by police is deliberate, and intended to dehumanize these individuals.

As my novel, Gideon’s Children, illustrates, Public Defenders must constantly remind judges, juries, and other court personnel, that their clients are human beings. Cases begin with the Judge stating: The People versus Joe or Mary, and prosecutors constantly cloak themselves in the aura of The People, i.e., The People will prove, the People contend, the People object etc. As my characters do in Gideon’s Children, when I was a Public Defender, when the jury was being selected, I would ask potential jurors if they realized that the term, defendant, was just that, a term, and that my client was a person. Thereafter, I used to object in open court to these constant People references, so that I could remind the judge and the jury that my client was a person, a real live human being, and one of the many individuals who comprise the People of the State.

This effort to dehumanize by the white power structure, which was begun in the era of slavery, then furthered fostered during the Jim Crow Era, was poignantly illustrated by Ralph Ellison in his classic novel, The Invisible Man. And while American Society has made progress on the issue of race, it remains a serious issue as recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, North Charleston, and Baltimore serve to illustrate.

Under The Rule of Law which founds our society, everyone must be accountable, and that includes the individuals who comprise our government.

In conclusion, I would emphasize that the essential element of trust underlying The Rule of Law cannot be maintained if those responsible for enforcing the law are not subject to the critical principle of accountability!

The Rule Of Law: Fair Or Foul

Two of the hottest topics receiving media coverage today are Income Inequality and The Rule of Law, the latter founding both the civil and criminal aspects of the American Judicial System. Recently, I read a concise yet well-documented treatment of these interrelated subjects, The Golden Rule: How Income Inequality Will Ruin America, by Renwei Chung, the brilliant young columnist for the highly regarded website Above The Law. In this post, I want to focus on Rule of Law as it applies to our Criminal Justice System, leaving the civil aspect for a separate post.

In his book, Renwei cites the World Justice Project’s four basic principles for a working definition of The Rule of Law, which are as follows:

  1. A system of self-government in which all persons, including the government, are accountable under the law;
  2. A system based on fair, publicized, broadly understood and stable laws;
  3. A fair, robust, and accessible legal process in which rights and responsibilities based in law are evenly enforced; and
  4. Diverse, competent, and independent lawyers and judges.

Now while all four principles are important, I want to focus in this discussion on numbers one and three, accountability and even enforcement. For above all, these two factors are crucial in building the essential element of trust which underpins the Rule of Law. Our society is based on law and the attendant order it brings. And the great majority of citizens follow the Rule, because they trust that its workings will result in a just society.

Let’s take a look at accountability. The principle dictates that all persons, including the government, must be accountable under the law. In the past few months, numerous incidents have occurred involving the deaths of unarmed individuals at the hands of various police agencies. Most police departments prefer to handle such incidents by having their Internal Affairs Departments investigate the officer’s conduct, or have a Grand Jury do likewise. Both of these methods do not offer the transparency necessary to produce accountability. The Internal Affairs Departments conduct their investigations in secrecy, without the public being privy to the testimony of witnesses, or other forms of evidence. And Grand Jury proceedings are likewise conducted in secrecy, with same being led by a prosecutor, who works with the police on an on-going basis, and without any other attorney or attorneys present to cross-examine witnesses or challenge the validity of the other forms of evidence presented.

All too frequently, the finding is that the officer or officers involved in a given incident acted properly. But the lack of transparency leads the general public, which is presented only with the investigation’s conclusion, and which might be perfectly proper, to sense a failure of accountability, and hence the Rule of Law. In the recent Baltimore incident, the District Attorney charged the officers involved in a method that will result in a trial that is open to the public and the media, thereby providing a forum where the officers start with a presumption of innocence, evidence can be provided by all parties concerned, and a judgment can be arrived at that honors transparency and accountability.

I am not suggesting that every incident of this type requires a full-blown trial. However, where the conduct of those individuals charged with the responsibility of enforcing our laws is called into question, I am suggesting that the investigation of that conduct must follow a process that is totally transparent in order to ensure that the principle of accountability is being followed, and faith in the Rule of Law is justified.

Of equal importance in maintaining trust in the Rule governing our society is the even enforcement of the laws we are all commanded to obey. And in this area, recent events give cause for serious concern.

As depicted in my novel, Gideon’s Children, our prisons are overcrowded with individuals who have been convicted of crimes involving drugs, the overwhelming majority for being in possession of relatively minor amounts of a proscribed substance. They broke the law, and they must pay the penalty, argue the adherents of the War on Drugs.

However, a totally different picture is painted if one enters the rarified atmosphere of white-collar crime, particularly if large corporations or elite Wall Street investment banks are involved.

Last week, five of the world’s biggest banks plead guilty to an array of felony criminal anti-trust and fraud violations for rigging the price of foreign currencies. All five paid enormous fines of billions of dollars, but no one is being sent to prison. This, of course, follows the pattern born in 2008, when the largest Wall Street investment banks packaged sub-prime mortgages into investment securities that virtually no one understood, and then added credit-swaps to engineer a economic crash that without intervention by the Federal government would have produced a depression that would’ve made the Great Depression look like a Sunday-school picnic, with no major person going to jail.

In 2014, an internal investigation of General Motors by General Motors condemned a decade-long failure to fix a deadly safety defect with respect to a faulty ignition switch installed in hundreds of thousands of its cars, and which resulted in a huge number of accidents and at least 13 deaths. Fifteen employees, including one vice president and a senior lawyer responsible for product liability cases, were dismissed.

Dismissed? Okay, that’s an obvious first step. But why was not one single person held criminally responsible for his or her totally reprehensible conduct? The report indicates that complaints had come in steadily over a ten-year period, including reports of deaths, and that despite internal discussion of same with engineers and amongst senior executives, nothing was done to correct the matter, nor did anyone blow the whistle. When negligence reaches a level of grossness such as occurred here over a ten-year period, with deaths occurring, criminal charges are clearly called for. Yet not a single person was charged.

Undoubtedly, this seriously sad fact was factored into the game plan of Takata, one of the largest suppliers of airbags in automobiles, in denying for more than a decade that its airbags were defective even as motorists were killed and maimed by exploding airbags. Apparently it’s more financially beneficial via a cost-benefit analysis to settle the relatively few lawsuits that occurred over a ten-year period than to initially admit the problem and issue a major recall. Finally, on May 20th, Takata admitted that its airbags were defective and agreed to double the number of vehicles recalled in the U.S. to nearly 34 million. Fines? Oh, yeah, they are sure to accrue. But how about something stiffer, like prison time for those who tried to cover this up and hope that the problem would go away? How about letting executives at major corporations know that if similar incidents occur, there will be major consequences, that you can’t just pay large fines, then compute them into the cost of doing business?

Moreover, this disparity has a cancerous effect on the trust element underlying the Rule of Law. If some of our fellow Americans can draw prison sentences for being in possession of heroin or cocaine, but executives who conspire to rig currency prices, or consciously decide to ignore product defects that kill or maim their trusting customers, only have their corporations pay a fine, what does that do to faith in the Rule of Law? What lesson is our Criminal Justice System teaching us, and our children? And what other areas of our society are likely  to be infected?

All of us need to let our governmental representatives know that we condemn this unequal enforcement of our criminal laws, and that executives who conduct themselves like those at GM and the banks and investment banks referred to herein above need to be punished in accord with the crimes they commit.