Judicial Bias: the fight in the back hallway

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Yesterday’s light sentence of Paul Manafort leads observers to wonder what happened. Why would Judge T. S. Ellis depart from the federal sentencing guidelines (19-24 years)? Why would a judge depart so egregiously to render a sentence of 47 months?


These questions and the judge’s remarks painting Mr. Manafort as an ill-fated first-time offender who had led a blameless life beg for answers.

Searching the internet for cases of judicial bias or misconduct led to the case of Judge John C. Murphy of Brevard County, Florida that brought an unexpected laugh.

Judge John C. Murphy of Brevard County, Florida, made headlines in June 2014, when he was recorded on camera challenging a public defender to a fistfight. Andrew Weinstock, the public defender acting in the normal course of representation, had refused to have his client waive the right to a trial. This set off a number of heated remarks which included Judge Murphy stating: “You know, if I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now.” When Weinstock refused to sit down, Judge Murphy then told him: “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”

Deputy Bryon Griffin, who was at the scene, described it as follows: “I stepped into the back hallway and saw the two of them grabbing ahold of each other’s suitcoat, pushing each other back and forth…I heard Judge Murphy say, ‘Do you wanna f-ck with me, do you?’ and I heard Mr. Weinstock say, ‘Alright.’ I immediately stepped in and separated the two of them as they still had a grasp on each other.”

Top 5 list of real-life judicial misconduct, Ballotpedia

We need a laugh in times like this when different ones of us might welcome a good fist fight in the back hall, but the humor is momentary. An article in Forbes this morning suggests political bias behind Judge Ellis’s lenient sentence of Manafort when compared with a similar case of a Democrat in 2009:

Take a comparison of the Manafort case with another prosecution of a political figure, a Democratic Congressman from Louisiana named William J. Jefferson. …

Manafort may have gotten off easy with four years, but Ellis threw the book at Jefferson. In 2009 Ellis sentenced Jefferson to 13 years, the longest sentence of any Congressman to that date. … It seems that while Judge Ellis can sympathize with Manafort, the Republican presidential campaign manager, he did not sympathize with Jefferson.

Charles Tiefer, “Judge who let manafort off easy with 47 months has conservative pedigree,” forbes, March 7, 2019.

Describing Paul Manafort at yesterday’s sentencing, Judge Ellis cedited Mr. Manafort for having been “a good friend” and “a generous person” who “has lived a blameless life” and “earned the admiration of a number of people.” It’s commendable judicial practice to offer some hope to the person being sent to prison. But might not these same attributes have been said of Al Capone, John Gotti, or Gordon Liddy, all good, generous family men who, until they were caught, had led “blameless lives”?.

Given Judge Ellis’s disrespectful remarks and angry outbursts against the Mueller investigator prosecutors, and his rulings against the admission of evidence, is it unthinkable to imagine the “Caesar of his own little Rome,” challenging the prosecutor to a fist fight in the back hallway behind the bar?

— Gordon C. Stewart

The Bluster Contest

Readers who aren’t geezers didn’t watch the Howdy Doody Show Monday through Friday from their TV dinner trays.

I was never a big fan of Uncle Bob, the emcee, or the mindless Peanut Gallery that broke into frenzies of foolish applause, but I always chuckled when Mr. Bluster appeared.

In this episode Mr. Bluster insists on the impossible — a ROUND mailing envelope to contestants in the “Bluster Contest.

All these years later, I wonder whether another Howdy Doody fan in Queens sat like the rest of my generation in front of his television, eating a Swanson’s TV dinner on a TV dinner tray.

–Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 10, 2018, the 20th day of the federal government shutdown.

The Wall: a documentary

We offer this morning “The Wall: A 2,000-mile border journey,” a short documentary fly-over of the Southern border of the U.S.A.

You can’t make this up. The topography speaks for itself.

Thanks for coming by Views from the Edge.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, Minnesota, January 9, 2019.

National Emergency

The Big Lie

Yesterday President Donald Trump said the government shut-down could go on for months or even years. There will be no end to the Mexican standoff until Congress agrees to fund his campaign promise to build a wall on our southern border.

That’s not what he promised. The campaign promise had two parts. 1) A wall would be built on the Mexican border, and 2) Mexico would pay for it. It wouldn’t cost American taxpayers a dime. If it didn’t happen, he would issue an apology to the electorate.

Mexico refused to pay for the wall. There’s been no apology. What the nation gets instead is a tantrum.

Later in the day, the president pulled out a trump card from his sleeve. He could invoke the National Emergencies Act to declare a national emergency. “I can do it if I want to,” he said at today’s press conference.

The border wall built by Mexico was always a hoax. Now, it’s also a distraction. The wall that’s needed is not made of steel or concrete. It’s built of an informed electorate, on the one hand, and an invisible cyber wall that protects the integrity of the American electoral system and the security of at-risk power grids, nuclear silos, and communication and command networks.

The government shutdown is based on a Big Lie. Or two. Or three.

The Big Truth

There is a real national emergency. It occupies the Oval Office, stands before microphones, and sends out daily tweets to garner attention and continue the hoax. It sits in the offices of the president’s cabinet members who have not the courage to invoke the 25th Amendment that would remove the threat from the Oval Office. It sits in a Congress that has failed to exercise its constitutional duty to oversee the integrity of the government institutions. It comes in threats to Robert Mueller’s investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 American election process.

Joseph Goebbels, Chancellor of Nazi Germany, wrote of the Big Lie as a propaganda technique in reference to the English in “Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik” (English: “From Churchill’s Lie Factory”) dated January 12, 1941: “The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” – Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik (“From Churchill’s Lie Factory”), January 12, 1941.

Seventy-eight years after Goebbel’s publication on the lie factory, and 75 years after Joseph McCarthy used the Big Lie here in America, the Big Lie again stares us in the face. So does The Big Truth, as American poet James Russell Lowell expressed it during the American Civil War in his poem “The Present Crisis.” I was raised on the hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation” with the lyrics from Lowell’s poem. It etched in my heart and mind that the decisions we take make a difference to this world.

“Once to every nation Comes the moment to decide In the strife of truth with falsehood. . . .Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet ’tis truth alone is strong. . . . ” — James Russell Lowell (1819-1895), “The Present Crisis.” 

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 4, 2018.

For background on “the Big Lie” as a propaganda tool, click The Big Truth of a Working Democracy, published yesterday on Views from the Edge.

Daily Riches: Religion and Established Privilege (Thomas Merton)

Thomas Merton’s quotation on religion and privilege arrived following a national campaign with loud cheers and boisterous rallies that turn Christianity into white nationalism. “…Faith in God . . . becomes in fact faith in [one’s] own nation, class or race.”

Richer By Far

“Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the ‘opium of the people.’ And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system–when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandists, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith…

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The Press and the People

 

Breckwoldt prüfung

The Ordeal – Sculpture by Edith Beckwoldt, St. Nikolai, Hamburg, Germany.

“No man in the whole world can change the truth. One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it. The truth is in all places.” —  Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotation inscribed on Edith Beckwoldt’s sculpture “The Ordeal”.

“There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news. The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame…” — Donald J. Trump tweet, 6:03 AM – 29 Oct 2018.

 

 

Mein Kampf dust jacket“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.” ― Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Many advise against any and all such comparisons. As a public theologian raised on Bonhoeffer’s witness, theology and ethics, I ask, “How, in good conscience, can we not?” The playbook today is the same as it was in Bonhoeffer’s time. According to The Art of the Deal’s ghost writer, the speeches of Hitler were prominent in the penthouse bedroom of Trump Tower.

Enter Charlie Chaplin’s parody of the unlikely rise of the Fuhrer and the call to national unity.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018

What do politics have to do with me?

It’s a serious question. Comedian Nato Green answers it with humor. Have a look.

Martin Niemöller (1952)

Rev. Dr. Martin Niemoeller (1952)

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— German pastor Martin Niemoller looking back on the rise of fascism.

What does politics have to do with you? VOTE next Tuesday!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018.

 

 

 

Over and Over, We Forget

wall-street-bull

The Wall Street Bull

The public’s memory is very short. The panic of near economic collapse 10 years ago is all but wiped from public memory two weeks before the Nov. 6 American national election. We publish the following chapter from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf & Stock), which first appeared as a guest column on MinnPost.com September 10, 2009.

SORROW FLOATS

Concepts, like individuals, have their histories

and are just as incapable of withstanding

the ravages of time as individuals. But in and

through all this they retain a kind of homesickness

for the scenes of their childhood 

[Soren Kierkegaard]

“Sorrow floats.”

Perhaps the line from John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire in which “Sorrow,” the stuffed family dog preserved by a taxidermist, floats to the surface of the lake after a plane crash, helps explain what is happening in America.

Something dear to the American family died in September/October, 2008. Prior to the series of chilling events of that period, most of us had lived with the illusion of relative economic and financial health. Then, suddenly, Sorrow was rushed to the emergency room for government resuscitation.

Since then our memories of that pre-October 2008 world have taken a turn that families often take at funerals when the eulogies bear little resemblance to the reality of the deceased. We’re quarreling over what was real and what is mythical reconstruction.

Following the plane wreck that takes the lives of the Berry family parents in Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, the stuffed family pet bobs to the surface of the lake, floating among the wreckage. Sorrow floats. So does the thing we lost last fall.

What died? A ruling assumption

What died last year was the ruling assumption that an unregulated free-market system was the best way to organize an economy and that laissez-faire capitalism is democracy’s natural ally. The market almost crashed. It didn’t crash only because the federal government intervened to prevent a repeat of the crash of 1929. Sometime between mid-September and October seventh, when Congress passed its bill to stabilize the financial markets, the myth of the virtue of deregulated capitalism died. It was stuffed by the taxidermy of government intervention, but it still floats.

When a conviction or a myth dies, it doesn’t go away. It continues to bob to the surface. Sometimes, as in the case of the Berry family, the old dog is much easier to love after it is dead. Sorrow—obese, lethargic, and persistently flatulent in its old age—no longer waddles through the dining room to foul the air and ruin everyone’s dinner. In the public psyche, the unpleasant memories of the real life Sorrow give way to the stuffed Sorrow, a thing of nostalgia that lives on . . . even after it’s dead, and long after the plane has crashed.

Over and over, we forget

Sorrow and its old illusions float every time the reconstructed memory, forgetting the real Sorrow, barks about “socialism.” Sorrow floats every time we shout each other down in town-hall meetings. Sorrow floats every time nostalgia forgets that it was only by government intervention with our tax dollars that Sorrow is still around. Sorrow floats every time we forget the voracious appetite, unscrupulous predatory practices, insatiable greed, and the obesity that led to the deaths of Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns, not to mention insurance giant AIG and all the banks that had taken the plunge into a market of deregulated derivatives and mortgages that led to the epidemic of home foreclosures, bankruptcies, pension-fund collapses, and job losses. Sorrow, the old dog that failed us, still floats and still barks a year after the crash when the mind forgets and nostalgia remembers a system we thought was working in our interest.

Old ideas and convictions die hard. The powerful economic forces that grew fat during the years when government was viewed as the people’s enemy will stoke the fires of public anxiety and anger, taking advantage of the floating Sorrow that reminds us of something that we love more in retrospect than we did the day it died of its own obesity.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 21, 2018.

A Responsible Electorate

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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

During last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” interview, Sen. Jeff Flake was asked if he could have done what he did last week in the Supreme Court confirmation process if her were running for re-election. He was quick to respond. “No!” He and his colleague from the other side of aisle, Chris Coons, confirmed what many Americans have come to lament: the tar and feathering of compromise — the art on which a democratic republic depends.

In the simplified mindset of good versus evil, there is no room for compromise. The Judiciary hearing room was a room like that. But the behavior we saw in the hearing room wasn’t really about good versus evil. Jeff Flake’s “No” tore off the mask. It’s about money — the ability of candidates to secure financing for their campaigns on both sides of the aisle. Any candidate running for election in 2018 would be foolish to reach across the aisle, even though conscience might lead to do so. Sen. Mitch McConnell later put it bluntly: any Republican who votes not to confirm Kavanaugh will no longer receive campaign money. The Republican National Committee (RNC) will turn off the faucet.

256px-GOP_SquareMeanwhile, RNC money and dark money pours into the race in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District. I’ve waded through mud many times over the years, but this is the dirtiest campaign I’ve ever experienced. Yesterday’s snail mail, for example, contained TWO slick negative ads funded by the Republican National Committee, slandering the Democratic candidate. These same ads leap out from my computer monitor whenever I open a YouTube video. Someone has mastered cyber analytics, and it’s not the Russians. The RNC-sponsored, complete with “I [Erik Paulsen] approve this message,” approved by Erik  paint Dean Phillips, as a monster, A hypocrite. They twist facts. The real message? Erik is the “good guy”; Dean is the “bad guy”.

Yet only Dean Phillips refuses to accept money from the PACs, special interests, and lobbyists that elects partisan loyalists who surrender conscience and the courage to compromise. The “good guy” refused to join the “bad guy” in that pledge. The money is pouring into the 3rd District from outside Minnesota — like fire trucks and rescue squads responding to a 5-alarm fire. The hoses spew mud.

512px-Huachuca_City_Fire_-_2010-03-16_-_06

It’s the responsibility of the electorate to slog through the mud and take off our waders before entering the voting booth.

Gordon C. Stewart, Minnesota 3rd Congressional District, October 3, 2018.

The Leap from the Wall

256px-Paulsen-Gym-_Mutter_Erde_fec

Mutter Erde photo of “thinking nude boy” at the entrance of Friedrich-Paulsen-Gymnasium, Berlin-Steglitz, Gritznerstr uploaded from Wikimedia Commons.

A childhood memory flashed to mind watching the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this week.

I’m seven years old again. My mother is screaming. She has gone down to the cellar to do the laundry. A rat stared at her from the huge hole in the cellar wall that connects our home to the open cistern. My mother is terrified.

My father grabs the shotgun he’d borrowed for just such an occasion. Dad goes down the stairs to the cellar. I follow him. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. What if the rat leaps at my father before my father shoots? Filled with fear, I watch from the bottom step.

The rat is staring from the wall, his beady yellow eyes shining in the dimly lit cellar. My father is perhaps eight feet away. He takes aim and fires the shot. The rat leaps through the air for my father’s jugular. My father ducks. The rat died. My father cements shut the hole and the cistern.

256px-Amy_Klobuchar,_official_portrait,_113th_Congress

Sen. Amy Klobuchar official portrait

Yesterday Sen. Amy Klobuchar fired the question at Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The Judge leaped for her jugular. Amy ducked. Senator Klobuchar survives. The nominee is alive on the floor, but badly wounded.

I’ll always be a “thinking nude boy” trying to make sense of life.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 29, 2018.