26 May 2010

Politics, Honesty and Our Flag, and By God Stand Up When Our Flag Passes By

The Dumbest Rumor, The Silliest Hope or the Blackest Deal

The nastiest and most insidious rumor is running around. Recall, if you will, Alan Mollohan, our incumbent Congressman, lost the primary election to State Sen. Mike Oliverio. Actually, Oliverio handed Mollohan his ass on a silver salver. He did so by a vicious negative campaign not done with the acme of skill, but since Mollohan had been taking it on the chin in the press for years and had not responded effectively, the attack campaign was more than enough.

And now, some strong Mollohan supporters appear to be putting together an independent run or write-in campaign for the general election.

Unless these people are smoking weed, this is I’m-having-a-baby-by-an-alien, Elvis-is-my-next-door-neighbor, the-CIA-shot-Lincoln thinking. Calling it moronic is an insult to all decent, law-abiding morons. These rumors must have the Republican candidate, David McKinney, laughing himself silly.

Let me tell you a little known political secret: Republicans are much more dependable straight ticket voters than are Democrats. Voting a straight ticket means that the voter simply marks the ballot once which enters a vote for everyone running on one party’s ticket. The difference betweem Democrat straight ticket voting and Republican straight ticket voting is that Republicans go through the entire ballot race by race and vote for each Republican separately so that they can pretend that they gave a great deal of thought to their choices. But either way you vote the straight ticket, the result is the same.

Not three Republicans in the district are going to cross party lines to vote for Alan Mollohan. Not five Republicans in the district are going to cross party lines to vote for Mike Oliverio. The only votes which Mollohan will take otherwise would go to Oliverio. Oliverio whipped Mollohan once, and the party loyalists will move to Oliverio. Oliverio showed that he has financial backing, and so the bloodbath will continue and Oliverio will wax Mollohan again, only this time the upshot is that Alan is campaigning for a McKinney victory. Brilliant. Just brilliant. It’s hard to say if this would be the result of idiocy, an unusual political deal or totally black under-the-table chicanery.

Here’s a clue: Sometimes Mr. Reality whispers in your ear. Sometimes he shouts. Sometimes he kicks your ass. That’s when it’s time to shut up, smile, and take one for the team.

Thank You For Being Honest??

About twice a week I blow through McDonald’s for a McCrap breakfast. This morning I went through and ordered a McBagel and McTea. I paid with exact change, which is one of my little quirks. I pulled to the window, and the window guy handed me a huge bag that must’ve weighed 6 or 8 pounds, and was full of a dozen or more wrapped sandwiches, etc. I told him that wasn’t my order and he told me sure it was, have a nice day, come again, and so forth. No, no, no, I told him, it’s not my order, give me the McBagel and McTea. Okay, no big deal, he finds my order and gives it to me. But then he says “Thank you for being honest.” What the hell?! We’re now at the point that you give somebody an extra little thank you if they are honest? We now assume that if someone has a fair shot to jam us, they’ll do it, and it’s a big favor if they don’t? So we owe them a BIG thanks? That’s warped, and while it may not be huge in and of itself, but it’s another bit of information for us to consider as we analyze where our culture is at.


I frequently appear in court in Grafton, the county seat of Taylor County. I have a particular affinity for Grafton. I really love the people down there because they are just my kind of people. Nobody gets real excited unless there’s something to get real excited about, everybody does their work, a handshake is a deal, everybody’s word is good, and there is a culture of respect in that courthouse which is missing in 80% of the courthouses in West Virginia. Also, my family's West Virginia history started in Taylor County in 1799.

I was driving down Route 250 toward Grafton the other day and actually driving a moderate speed and just enjoying a cool and sunny day & sucking down a cuppa joe. Right after I passed the tee-tiny community of McGee and was heading up the hill, I saw coming toward me in the other lane the Boothsville/Company 15 fire engine from the Harmony Grove substation. (Isn’t that a beautiful name for a little community, Harmony Grove? For some reason, that is considered the ancestral seat of the Curry/Currey family.) The driver was taking 250 at a moderate speed because in that part of the county, fire engines have pretty large water tanks and are unusually heavy. Well, you know me, I love the job and the people on the job. When the engine passed, I looked in my side mirror and saw an American flag flapping no kidding majestically in the breeze as it was attached to the end of the ladder. That is, I think, such a nice thing.

And then I think back to the school administrator in California who ordered – ordered! – high school students to remove T-shirts with American – American! – flags on them because it was Cinco de Mayo and they might offend students of Mexican extraction. Permit me once again to quote Pres. Theodore Roosevelt’s view on immigration, which I heartily endorse:

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts "native" before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else.

The men who do not become Americans and nothing else are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no room for them in this country. The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the better it will be for every good American. There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else. [No, I did not change the gender thing. That’s the way he spoke. He was wise, not infallible. Learn from it.]

If we are going to guard the borders so that no one other than our clones can become citizens, let’s tear down that Statue of Liberty and melt the copper into pennies and wiring, because that stirring poetry inscribed at its base is so much empty crap:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Open the door. And let the new citizen-candidate become American. It’s a two way street.

And as always, Pippa passes.


21 May 2010

Village Idiots, Free Press and Acute Intellectual Astygmatism

Islam Faces Facebook at the Village Idiots Convocation

Hey, yesterday was “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day,” per a Facebook page of the same name which has, at this writing, more than 80,000 members. Thursday, Pakistan blocked its citizens’ access to Facebook as well as to a number of other “inappropriate” websites. To Muslims, it is a grave sacrilege to make an image of Mohammed, their Prophet, even a picture which is neutral or flattering. The thinking is, apparently, that this would promote idolatry. (That ship has already sailed. In the West, we have idolatry out the wazoo and drawings don’t have anything to do with that. Don’t believe me? Google “Miley Cyrus.”) In calling for drawings, this Facebook page is getting cartoons which can be scored along two axes: (1) Are they skillfully or unskillfully drawn? (2) Are the creative/intellectual or stupid in content? The submissions to the website/page generally fail both tests.

The best known example of the backlash again cartoon Mohammeds is the strange case of Lars Vilks of Norway. A few years ago, a Norwegian newspaper published his cartoon showing Mohammed with a turban that was morphed into a bomb with a lit fuse. On my skill scale, it was reasonably well drawn, but it was only middling in imagination. The mullahs whipped up everybody and their Aunt Tillie in righteous anger and there were demonstrations, some violent, and assorted fatwas (death decrees) were issued against Vilks and the publishers.

In the United States, the ability to freely publish such material is guaranteed by the First Amendment. The First Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment, including freedom of speech has been extended beyond the literal language of prohibiting Congress from acting to create a general right of free speech which Government generally cannot breach. The First Amendment is the banner under which new and exciting and controversial offerings have been published in the Marketplace of Ideas which would not have been available in a less open society. I can think of some quick examples of fiction that would have been banned: Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. Doubtless, you can think of your own favorite examples. Seldom is there gain without cost. The cost of admitting these pillars of reason into the Marketplace of Ideas is that the First Amendment is also a shield for idiots, porn purveyors, halfwits, conspiracy theorists, and especially for those who want to complain that they have been victimized by creating their own mayhem.

Parenthetically, the victim industry is huge in the United States, and drives a great deal of our commerce and public discourse. Do you have acne? Oh my, if you do, must sit around the house, ashamed, and you’ll have no friends because they are shocked at your outbreaks until and unless you use ClearAsABaby’sButt for only $19.95 (plus S&H). Or in the scads of medication ads, you are invited to look at yourself and ask, “Might I be depressed/have restless leg syndrome/have sticky platelets? If I do, thank God, I can ask my doctor if MumbleMax is right for me. Poor me. Did you or your loved ones use Yaz/Celebrex/Cadmium Cream? Call Tweedle & Dee for your free legal consultation – protect your rights. Did your school not teach you to read? Did your iron not come with a warning label telling you not to iron clothes while you’re wearing them? Do you not dare eat a peach? Poor you, poor you, you’re a victim, you’re a victim.

Thus with the publication of idiocy. Muslims are outraged at these silly cartoons which have been published for the purpose of offending them. “Screw them!,” say these ham-fisted artists, "these Muslims are anti-freedom. Let’s draw Mohammed, not seeking some lovely or meaningful art, but just to piss off the Islamists and then enjoy hearing them whine about being victimized, and boy do we love those whines!" And then, of course, many Muslims obediently oblige. “Heresy! Issue a fatwa! Burrrrrrn them!” (Some years ago, an “artist” depicted Jesus covered with excrement, which resulted in many Christians saying very nasty things about that “artist,” but I’m not sure if “kill ‘em” was the most prominent sentiment.) And what do these Muslims get to be? Got it in one: victims! Oh, you have offended me, now I have an excuse to (1) be a victim and (2) act like an idiot without taking responsibility for it.

Do we have enough people who act like morons? Do we need more? Are we up to our quota yet? For the offensive, for the offended, for the tired, for the poor, and for the huddled masses yearning to be free, I had a three-point plan:

1 - Shut up.
2 - Be nice.
3 - Do your job, do your duty, live your life.

(Yes, I am aware that this very closely resembles the advice given by Larry Winget. I acknowledge that I’ve read everything he’s written and agree with 95% of it. We should all be embarrassed that he’s the first one to write this sort of thing down clearly and bluntly enough that it cannot be ignored.)

The West Virginia Record

Some months ago, I stumbled on a publication on the Internet called The West Virginia Record, which bills itself as “West Virginia’s Legal Journal.” I became a moderately faithful reader and over a period of a few weeks formed the opinion that this publication was not terribly balanced, to the point that it presented an inaccurate view of West Virginia’s system of law and justice. By “inaccurate,” I mean at least it’s a view which differs from my own. Naturally, I believe that my view is totally unbiased and based on objective information in every respect. In the real world, of course, that’s hardly probable, so it would be pretty dumb of me to just out and out say that they are “wrong.” Not that I was ever really upset about anything, because every journal and writer (including this wretched scribe) is biased, although usually “bias” is honored with the term “viewpoint.”

Sometime later, I found on one page of the website that The West Virginia Record is published by a foundation or committee the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (I can’t find that on their website now, but their “where we stand” page is pretty clear.) And so we can understand where the viewpoint comes from. As I’ve said before on a couple of occasions, I appreciate it when opinion pieces are signed and identified by who really writes them and who really pays the bill to publish them. There are entirely too many generic “Citizens for Good Government” groups which are mere shills to hide someone with lots of money and an ax to grind.

My first impression was that the Record painted an inaccurate picture by listing so many stories where Mary sues John and John sues XYZ Corp. In many instances, the stories were of lawsuits over really puny sounding things, especially when some lawyer was personally involved. In recent weeks, we’ve seen one of the leading plaintiffs’ lawyers in West Virginia filing a relatively small claim over undelivered exercise equipment. We’ve seen another small firm attorney filing a Lemon Law action over some extraordinarily fancy and expensive Mercedes automobile which I would be thoroughly embarassed to own. (Those are the sorts of automobiles which say, "Look at me, I'm uppity, profligate & insecure!") There’ve been a couple of fee disputes published which made the lawyers asking for the fees out to be bandits. They are often public relations articles (“puff pieces”) from large corporate/business/insurance defense firms. From the story selection, I can understand why readers of the Record might agree with the national Chamber of Commerce drumbeat that West Virginia is a “judicial hellhole.”

West Virginia has an “open courts” provision in the state Constitution. As I used to tell my students, anybody can sue anybody for anything. To get relief, to get the Court to do something, you have to prove your case. You have to have the law and facts on your side. So what is missing from the Record are the instances where suits don’t have the strength to make it through the process and get screened out or defeated. Some are screened out by judges through a summary judgment process or a directed verdict. Others are screened out by juries who returned verdicts for defendants. Do juries make verdicts which are wrong? I’m not sure, sometimes that’s a silly question since we define the verdict as the truth of the case. Let’s just say that some juries come back with verdicts that are fairly unexpected and which require close post-trial review. Having this “rest of the story” is necessary to understand just the civil law in West Virginia. Of course, there other areas of our system of law and justice – criminal law, juvenile law, legislation, administrative Law, bankruptcy, and so forth, all of which impact all of the citizens, including the business community.

I’ve not seen the Record way in with both feet on the judicial selection issue. This is approached by lawyers mostly in an academic fashion. My theory is that nobody wants to piss off a sitting judge. In truth, there is a bell curve of judges. The greatest limitation has been either undiscovered or ignored. Judges are drawn from lawyers and in West Virginia that usually means lawyers who have gone to the State’s only law school, the West Virginia University College of Law. And so there is one single institution with a relatively small and long-serving faculty which exercises enormous control over law and justice in West Virginia and who runs it and how it works is virtually unknown even to the power brokers in West Virginia. Generally, the judges produced in the current process are decent people. There are some happy exceptions who make superior judges. There are some sad exceptions.

Some prominent cases have made the treatment of businesses in West Virginia courts an issue. In the most recent regular session of the Legislature, a “business court bill” was passed. This gave the Supreme Court the power to do what it already had the power to do, designate some circuit judges as judges of a “business court division,” where some unspecified business issues would be heard. The bill said nothing about who these judges would be, what grades they got in law school in any business-related courses, nor even if they could balance their own checkbooks. I hope that not very many business people were dumb enough to think that the business court bill did anything. (I have had some harmless fun with friends in the Legislature who tried to talk about how important the bill was and had trouble keeping a straight face.)

Now something which the Supreme Court did this week which is significant is to publish proposed new Rules of Appellate Procedure. Under the existing rules, an aggrieved party files a petition for appeal. The Court may grant the petition in which case both sides are heard or simply reject the petition with an order that says they reject it but gives no reason. If you thought you had a good case on appeal, you might wonder if they even looked at the Petition for Appeal. Under the proposed rules, there will be more “reasoned decisions.” That is not to say that the Court was not looking at Petitions and making “reasoned decisions” before. Indeed, there are always apocryphal stories which slip out of the Court about raised voices heard during the Justices’ conferences. But under the new Rules, the Court will be telling people what their reasoning is in more cases which are rejected. This will make for a more transparent judicial process. In our system of government, that generally means a preferable process which will be more trusted and respected.

Now, the question naturally arises is whether I could do better with some sort of West Virginia legal publication. There was a time when I might’ve said yes. That was when I was sadly ignorant of human nature, and the complexity of our monetary economy and “social economy.” Moreover, my practice has tended toward the somewhat old-fashioned, dealing with individual clients directly over problems that some would think of as small. I’ve always thought of the pinnacle of law practice as trying a murder case to a jury, and I must say I didn’t really feel like a trial lawyer until I had tried my first murder case. To some lawyers, my sort of practice is distinctly downmarket, and I can live with that.

So the Chamber uses it’s supermarket of The Record; and I the hot dog cart of these Dispatches; and we all practice in this Marketplace of Ideas.

Pippa passes.


13 May 2010

Political Thoughts Which Are So Deep You're Gonna Want to Run and Tell Your Mom

The West Virginia 2010 Primary Election:

Who Cares What a Circuit Clerk Does?

And I say that with love - OK, not with love. How about with tongue in cheek, that sounds more like me. The full title for the “circuit clerk” is the “Clerk of the Circuit Court.” If that sounds like a great bloody bore of a job, I imagine that that’s because it is a great bloody bore of a job. At least it would be to me. It is also job of a lot of responsibility. In West Virginia, the primary court of record is the Circuit Court. Any serious lawsuit or criminal case is before the Circuit Court, and the Circuit Court clerk also handles all records of the Family Court. The most public part of the Clerk’s office job is providing court room clerks who sit beside judges and do, well, clerkish-type work for them. The bulk of the Clerk’s office work, however, is moving paper around, filing paper, converting paper to electrons, notifying people about hearings, gathering juries, and so forth. If the Circuit Clerk’s office is doing the job well, the judges and the lawyers are the only ones who notice. If the Circuit Clerk’s office is not doing the job well, then the judges and the lawyers are pretty much still the only ones who will notice for a good while. Oh, the public will notice that things are screwed up at the courthouse, but they won’t know that it’s the Circuit Clerk’s office that’s be the problem.

In the old days, the Circuit Clerk’s job was pretty much a political sinecure, and the holder of the office could choose to hire a good deputy clerk and spend most of his or her time doing political stuff. The work within the office has exploded, however, with a lot more paper being filed (secondary to everybody having computers), and you need to electronically organize and store filings, and so it takes a legitimate working administrator to run the place.

Here is the rub: It is a partisan elective office, which pays $55,000, and the Clerk is elected for a 6 year term. No Republican has run in Marion County within my recollection, since the registration runs about 70-30 Democrat and the Republicans have concluded, correctly in my judgment, that nobody cares enough about what the Circuit Clerk does to jump party lines. (West Virginia voted for McCain in 2008 and George W. Bush in 2004 and 2000 - don’t mess with our guns or our coal.) The incumbent Circuit Clerk, Barbara Core, was appointed to fill a vacancy back in the 80's, and has been elected for several terms since. Barb is my friend. Barb is very competent, and has led the state in implementing computers in the Court system. Six years ago, she had a serious challenge from Vera Sansalone in the primary election, and Vera came within 2,000 votes, which is really close in a Democrat primary in Marion County. Vera is married to my friend Kevin Sansalone, a lawyer, and her father-in-law was Frank “Sax” Sansalone, one of my mentors who I dearly, dearly loved and deeply miss. I don’t know Vera well at all, but I know she’s competent, worked in administration/management at a steel company in Wheeling for many years, and now runs “Main Street Fairmont,” a community development thing.

Vera spent a lot of money in the campaign, and campaigned smart, i.e., not just going to party stuff but going to where real people were. Barb got a late start, but did essentially the same thing. Vera swamped her in ads and billboards and so forth.

The problem is, WHO CARES WHAT THE CIRCUIT CLERK DOES? Or, more precisely, how do you educate the public so that the selection will have some rational basis?

Answer? You don’t. Cute signs. Phone banks. Post cards. Rallies. “I’m for Barb/Vera.” Buttons. Bullshit, bullshit. How can anyone judge who will make a better office manager/administrator? Experience? OK - what is the experience? Relevant? What are the results? Why did the results occur?

Simply talking about the opportunity of the public to have input into the political process is nonsense. NOBODY believes that the public knows what they are doing - if any candidate did, signs and commercials and buttons would SAY SOMETHING and not focus on font, color and the name really really big. Nobody has any input into who a lot of the genuine political players are in Marion County, or anywhere. Do you doubt that? OK, one of the people with the largest political hammer is the newspaper publisher. After all, all of the Morgantown paper’s protestations to the contrary, the Times-West Virginian is Marion County’s paper, and candidates would shine the publisher’s shoes and wax his car if that would help them get an endorsement. (It wouldn’t.) Let’s see, when’s the next election for publisher . . . See what I mean? And the money people, there are always questions of “Who is XYZ supporting?”, not because s/he is wise and sage, but because s/he is willing to funnel money into a campaign for the no-information buttons and signs and radio/TV ads. Is there a money-guy election? Nope.

The problem with null-information campaigns (and false information, cherry-picked information, disinformation, and the old double-shuffle campaigns) is acute in policy-making races where party affiliation and philosophy theoretically are important. The problems are strictly Twilight Zone stuff for the Circuit Clerk (and County Surveyor, County Clerk, Agriculture Commissioner, Auditor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Assessor, Sheriff and a host of other jobs.) (Oh, maybe not attorney general - a creative nutjob can create chaos if s/he tries.)

Oh, never bitch unless you have a solution - the Circuit Court is run by the Judges. Make the Clerk’s position appointed by the judges.

PS - Barbara won re-election by around 900 votes. A measure of a defeated candidate’s future in politics is how s/he reacts to a loss. We’ll see.

The Congressional Blues:

Alan Mollohan, the incumbent member of Congress for the First District in West Virginia, had serious opposition for the first time in many years. His father was in Congress and when he retired, Alan stepped into the seat. He was a big city lawyer, then a Marion County lawyer (I suspect to set himself up to run for Congress). After the 1990 census, West Virginia lost its fourth congressional seat, and 1992 was the last time Alan had any real competition, when he and Bucky Staggers, both incumbents, had to go against one another. That was a memorably vicious campaign. In the meantime, he advanced to a high position on the Ethics Committee and to Chairmanship of Appropriations.

Rep. Mollohan was on the Republican hit list and also on Sarah Palin’s Loony-Toons hit list. These lists are developed ostensibly because the list makers complain that particular politicians are not doing a good job for the American people, yadda, yadda. Never let it be said that I think a whole hell of a lot of people in politics tell the truth. The hit lists are designed simply because someone is seen as vulnerable, that is, there is a way to beat them and install the list-maker’s clone. There is no other reason for such a list. Rep. Mollohan had some ethics trouble over some terrible appearances and financial dealing, and his personal finances have gone from comfort to minor fortune in his years in office. That seems improbable as a part-time activity. Also, some publicly funded corporations that do real estate development and so forth are providing pretty decent sinecures for some of the representative’s friends. While the Justice Department closed its investigation, Rep. Mollohan was vulnerable to financial accusations which won’t ever be proven, but in politics, nothing has to be proven. The appearances here were enough for trouble. Rep. Mollohan chose to brush off the allegations.

Rep. Mollohan’s primary election opponent was former state senator Mike Oliverio. He is a decent fellow who ran unsuccessfully for Secretary of State twice which, in West Virginia, is a largely useless elective office the purpose of which seems to be to get ready to run for governor. (An exception was when my friend - everybody’s friend, actually - A. James Manchin was Secretary of State. He used the office to be the Voice and Ambassador at Large for Mother West Virginia.) Sen. Oliverio announced his plan not to seek reelection to the State Senate at the last minute, which created chaos in that race and which was somewhat disappointing. He also said that he was going to run a totally clean campaign. He did not have his own big money to mount a credible run at a Democratic congressional primary nor a real base to run from, so I was fairly certain that he was lying about that. He was, and he pulled the knife pretty quickly and carved away with a will. He also said that he would “put the campaign in God’s hands.” If God came up with his attack ads, He’s gotten a little bit nasty of late.

Maybe Mike meant that if he won, he’d win with good grace and if he lost, he’d lose with good grace.

Not so with so many other candidates for office – here’s a news flash, guys: God does not vote. None of you has a divine right to be in office. Anyone who believes that he or she “belongs” in office does not belong there. Anyone who places great trust in her or his “wisdom” has none. Those who take one office to yearn for the power of higher office deserve neither. The only thing which counts is service.

Oliverio slaughtered Mollohan, 56% to 44%. Pundits say that this is an anti-incumbent thing. Bullshit, I say. Several years of bad publicity which was ignored set Alan up.

The Republicans had a contested primary, too, which was won by Dr. David McKinney, a former state party chairman. He’s an affable looking fellow, and lined up big bucks for the primary. He’ll have money for the general election, but his best opponent would have been Mollohan. Now he has money and knives and nobody to cut up.

Gerry Spence, the greatest trial lawyer of the 20th century and a captivating writer, proposed quite seriously a drastic revision to our governing style in his book Give Me Liberty. He advocated governance by drafting people from the population, and retaining those who were particularly successful in a higher advisory capacity. I might add that this might even work, especially if by entering into public office, one gave up one’s wealth in exchange for a reasonably generous pension, that they might be assured of future comfort at a reasonable level. Otherwise, the stench of money and influence in politics remains the bane of our liberties.

Me? I'm running for County Line.

Pippa passes.