Bob Schwartz

Category: Uncategorized

Path

Path

some paths paved
others worn by travelers
this one obscured and obstructed
by trees and brush
the obvious way here

©

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Location and Dislocation: Where Are You?

Half of a compass from Pompeii

you are here
you are there
here is there
there is here
here is nowhere and everywhere
there is nowhere and everywhere
here is not there

Dislocation is basic. It suggests more than being in one place and then another wholly intentionally and voluntarily. It may not be forced in the sense of dictated; it might be circumstantial or incidental. One thing somehow leads to another, one place somehow leads to another. What is this place? How did I get here? Where am I?

Religious and spiritual traditions spend much time on location and dislocation in many contexts. People are forced to move out and wander. People are judged and forced to go to good places and bad places after death. Or maybe the good place or bad place is right here, except we don’t know it. Or, to quote Neil Young, everybody knows this is nowhere. Or, this is somewhere and then nowhere and then somewhere.

We are not always prepared for dislocation, or for ultimate dislocation. The traditions confuse us, sometimes because they themselves are confused or misleading, sometimes because they want us to work on the matter of location and dislocation ourselves. If you think you know exactly where you are and where you’re going, think again. Or stop thinking. Find a compass, throw away a compass. Here you are.

We are in a monster movie. Some scientists say impeachment will defeat it. Some say that will only make it stronger.

All great monster movies include heated debates among scientists about how best to deal with the devastating creature. Some desperately suggest fire, some say electricity, some say atomic bombs. Others warn that fire or electricity or atomic bombs will only make it stronger, maybe invulnerable.

That is exactly where we are on the impeachment debate. As the damage mounts spectacularly, there are some who say we have no choice but to try anything and everything to save the nation. Others warn that this will only make the creature bigger, angrier and more destructive.

Who is right? What do the monster movies tell us? Sadly, they are just movies, and in any case, there is no single certain resolution or happy ending. Sometimes the combative scientists are right and the monster is destroyed. Sometimes the skeptical scientists are right and the weapons only make the monster bigger and meaner. Sometimes the monster skulks off for the moment, but returns, or has children, and they return. Nothing to do then but wait for the sequel.

Absolute and infinite compassion

Compassion is hard. Absolute and infinite compassion is much harder.

Even in the close and dear circle of those you love, there are moments and circumstances in which they test you. The next circle out of acquaintances and colleagues also seem to occasionally act in ways that demand compassion be stingily parceled out; you are, after all, not a saint. By the time you reach the outer circle of current news, there will be those who might need compassion, but as thoroughly evil leaders and bad actors, do not deserve any of ours, and you will deny them. Who could blame you?

Absolute and infinite compassion does not mean ignoring, forgetting or forgiving what darker things we know about others or, for that matter, what they may know about us. There those things are. In the face of that, though, we hold compassion as a valuable currency, from some perspectives our most valuable. We can spend it freely on anyone, without condition or limit, no matter the circumstances. For those who favor economic metaphors, instead of compassion being devalued because of such free spending, flooding the market, the value goes up, way up.

Is this some idealistic, head in the clouds, good-hearted theory? You may think so. Is it hard? Very, sometimes seemingly impossible. Is it good for us? It is good for you and everybody.

When you see that guy in the news (and it could be any number of guys these days, take your pick), you may think “I am not spending any compassion on that,” it is not surprising. It is an understandable struggle. But as odious as it is, give it a try anyway. You are in possession of a superpower, and as every superhero knows, the real challenge is using your power on the worst villains.

The Surprising Boost You Get From Strangers

I say, “Please don’t talk to strangers, baby”
But she always do
She say, “I’ll talk to strangers if I want to
‘Cause I’m a stranger, too”
Randy Newman, Have You Seen My Baby?

Elizabeth Bernstein writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The Surprising Boost You Get From Strangers
Sometimes a stranger—not a friend or a loved one—can significantly improve our day, providing comfort or helping to broaden our perspective

Sometimes a stranger—not a friend or a loved one—can significantly improve our day. A pleasant encounter with someone we don’t know, even a nonverbal one, can soothe us when no one else is around. It may get us out of our own head—a proven mood booster—and help broaden our perspective.

“People feel more connected when they talk to strangers, like they are part of something bigger,” says Gillian Sandstrom, a psychologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex, in Colchester, England, who studies interactions between strangers.

In research studies, Dr. Sandstrom has shown that people’s moods improve after they have a conversation with a Starbucks barista or a volunteer at the Tate Modern art museum in London. She’s also found that people are happier on days when they have more interactions with acquaintances they don’t know well and that students enjoy class more when they interact with their classmates.

And yet most people resist talking to strangers, she says. They fret about the mechanics of the conversation—how to start, maintain or stop it. They think they will blather on and disclose too much—or not talk enough. They worry they will bore the other person.

They’re typically wrong. Dr. Sandstrom’s research shows people underestimate how much another person will like them when they talk for the first time. And in a study in which she asked participants to talk to at least one stranger a day for five days, 99% said they found at least one of the conversations pleasantly surprising, 82% said they learned something from one of the strangers, 43% exchanged contact information, and 40% had communicated with one of the strangers again, an indication they might be making friends.

Scientists believe there may be an ancient reason why humans enjoy interacting with strangers. To survive as a species, we need to mate outside our own gene pool, so we may have evolved to have both the social skills and the motivation to interact with people who are not in our tribe.

You don’t even have to talk to complete strangers to reap the benefits. Multiple studies show that people who interact regularly with passing acquaintances, or who engage with others through community groups, religious gatherings or volunteer opportunities, have better emotional and physical health and live longer than people who do not. The researchers believe that engaging with someone we don’t know well is more cognitively challenging than interacting with loved ones: Rather than use the verbal shorthand that develops in close relationships, we have to speak in full sentences, engaging more of our brain.

Why do we enjoy talking to people we don’t know? An encounter with a stranger, when pleasant, fulfills four basic human needs, according to Rachel Kazez, a licensed clinical social worker in Chicago, who advises her patients to talk to strangers when they are feeling low. It gives us a sense of control, because we can choose whether to talk or not, and how much information we disclose.

We feel connected—it can sometimes be easier to open up and have an intimate conversation with a stranger because we know we won’t see that person again. We get to feel capable, because they don’t know our insecurities or setbacks. And the encounter may give us a sense of meaning or purpose, especially because a stranger doesn’t have to be nice to us.

“If you are feeling lonely and have a nice interaction with a stranger on a bus, you can suddenly feel like: ‘Oh, I fit in. I’m part of this city,’ ” Ms. Kazez says.

The Trump Economy: One-Third of Middle Class Can’t Afford $400 Surprise Expense, Federal Reserve Board Finds

Trump wants credit for the current U.S. economy, which he claims to have single-handedly made great. Despite broad and imprecise indicators such as GDP, unemployment rate and the stock market, the truth is that the economy is fragile for many—and not helped by the craziest and most undisciplined economic leadership in modern American history.

Here is one more sign of just how fragile.

Wall Street Journal:

One-Third of Middle Class Can’t Afford $400 Surprise Expense, Fed Finds
Many U.S. adults remain in position of ‘financial fragility’ despite ‘marginally’ improved economic security, central banker says

By Lalita Clozel
May 10, 2019

WASHINGTON—One-third of middle-class American adults couldn’t afford a $400 surprise expense, and some 6% also couldn’t manage such a cost even by borrowing money or selling something, a soon-to-publish Federal Reserve survey of household economics is expected to conclude. The middle class was defined as households with between $40,000 and $85,000 in annual income in 2018.

Fed Gov. Lael Brainard said in a speech Friday that the Fed’s 2018 Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking, expected to be released later this month, would show that while economic security has been “marginally” improving, many U.S. citizens—both in- and outside the middle class—were still in a position of “financial fragility.”

Americans’ widespread inability to shoulder an emergency expense “is something that is very pronounced in recent years, and we should be taking a hard look at it,” Ms. Brainard said. “It’s still a pretty large percentage of our respondents who find it difficult…to meet what may seem like relatively manageable expenses.”

Financial security is “one important marker of middle-class living standards,” Ms. Brainard added, speaking at a Fed community development conference. “Wealth is a very important source of resilience, allowing households to handle unexpected expenses to manage the usual changes in income over a lifetime.”

Many people in the middle class rely on credit cards to cover unexpected costs, Ms. Brainard said. Nearly 3 in 10 middle-income adults carry a credit-card balance most or all of the time, the Fed governor said. Those households are five times as likely to borrow if faced with a $400 expense as those who never carry a balance, she added.

Would you rather live in a democracy where many of your positions are not policy or would you rather live in an autocracy where you get most of what you want and ask for?

Do you want a government that gives you what you want most of the time? Or do you want a government that because of democratic principles sometimes—maybe often—goes against your wishes?

Lawful democracy doesn’t always go your way. But if you find an authoritarian who almost always agrees with your position, would that really be so bad?

Apparently in America right now, a substantial number want to get their way, and are willing to lean authoritarian, even if the democratic rule of law suffers. Americans have virtually no experience with this, and certainly not at the highest federal level. The worst case scenarios that seemed to some mere paranoid concerns are becoming even worse realities. There are supposed to be correcting mechanism available, but we suddenly see that those mechanisms take time, and more importantly, depend on the good will of those working the machines. Good will, prudence and integrity that we are discovering may be missing.

To those who love history, the saving grace is that you are getting to live through singularly historic times. To those who are young enough to see another generation or two, you will be able to tell your children and grandchildren that you were around when an all-time constitutional clash—the battle for American democracy—took place. Let’s hope you will be allowed to tell the whole story, and that you will be believed and not dismissed as the purveyor of fake history.

Something

 

Something

you have to say something
even if and though nothing
you have to do something
even if and though nothing
you have to think something
even if and though nothing
the moment demands that
the smart and swift
the stupid and still
pick up and lay down
their thoughts words and deeds
to pick them up and lay them down
endlessly again

©

 

The latest sign that the rule of law in America is endangered. With maybe a glimmer of hope (yes, the lawyers may save us yet!).

Yesterday I reported about an open letter signed by hundreds of former federal prosecutors, a letter saying that given the substantial evidence in the Mueller report, each of them would have indicted Trump for obstruction of justice–except for the Department of Justice guidance that a sitting president not be indicted. Those lawyers who elaborated said it wasn’t even close–that Trump could have been indicted and  convicted for multiple crimes.

At the time it was first released, 300 or so former Department of Justice lawyers, some with as much as 41 years of service, including many former  U.S Attorneys, working in Republican and Democratic administrations from Nixon through Trump, had signed. As of this morning, that number of signers had grown to 680 and is still growing. These lawyers represent over 8,500 years of nonpartisan service in the cause of American justice. In the cause of the rule of law.

The story got some attention for a few hours yesterday, and then sank, as critical stories have a tendency to do in these critical days. Maybe the news media don’t think Americans are interested in this sort of “inside baseball” technical legal issue or that Americans are tired of the whole Mueller thing. Maybe many Americans aren’t interested in this. Maybe Americans think that lawyers are liars who will say anything, including lawyers who work for the previously most respected legal organization in America–the Department of Justice.

A brief note about Sir Thomas More, the Chancellor for Henry VIII. More is celebrated in multiple realms, both religious and legal. He was named by lawyers as the lawyer of the last millennium for his unwavering stand for the rule of law and conscience over selfish motives, convenience or the wishes of a king. He was famously executed for his conscientious resistance.

In Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, More explains his steadfast allegiance to the rule of law. When the laws are cut down or ignored one by one, what will be left for us?:

ROPER:  So now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law!

THOMAS MORE: Yes.  What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

ROPER:  I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

THOMAS MORE: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil himself turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?  Yes, I’d give the Devil himself the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

 

 

More than 540 former federal prosecutors so far have signed a letter contending that Trump would have been charged with obstruction if he weren’t president.

More than 400 540 former federal prosecutors from Republican and Democratic administrations have signed a letter contending that President Donald Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice based on the findings of the Mueller report if he weren’t president. And the list of signers is growing.


STATEMENT BY FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTORS
May 6, 2019

We are former federal prosecutors. We served under both Republican and Democratic administrations at different levels of the federal system: as line attorneys, supervisors, special prosecutors, United States Attorneys, and senior officials at the Department of Justice. The offices in which we served were small, medium, and large; urban, suburban, and rural; and located in all parts of our country.

Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.

The Mueller report describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge: conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming. These include:

  • The President’s efforts to fire Mueller and to falsify evidence about that effort;
  • The President’s efforts to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation to exclude his conduct; and
  • The President’s efforts to prevent witnesses from cooperating with investigators probing him and his campaign.

Attempts to fire Mueller and then create false evidence

Despite being advised by then-White House Counsel Don McGahn that he could face legal jeopardy for doing so, Trump directed McGahn on multiple occasions to fire Mueller or to gin up false conflicts of interest as a pretext for getting rid of the Special Counsel. When these acts began to come into public view, Trump made “repeated efforts to have McGahn deny the story” — going so far as to tell McGahn to write a letter “for our files” falsely denying that Trump had directed Mueller’s termination.

Firing Mueller would have seriously impeded the investigation of the President and his associates — obstruction in its most literal sense. Directing the creation of false government records in order to prevent or discredit truthful testimony is similarly unlawful. The Special Counsel’s report states: “Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent scrutiny of the President’s conduct toward the investigation.”

Attempts to limit the Mueller investigation

The report describes multiple efforts by the president to curtail the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation.

First, the President repeatedly pressured then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his legally-mandated decision to recuse himself from the investigation. The President’s stated reason was that he wanted an attorney general who would “protect” him, including from the Special Counsel investigation. He also directed then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to fire Sessions and Priebus refused.

Second, after McGahn told the President that he could not contact Sessions himself to discuss the investigation, Trump went outside the White House, instructing his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to carry a demand to Sessions to direct Mueller to confine his investigation to future elections. Lewandowski tried and failed to contact Sessions in private. After a second meeting with Trump, Lewandowski passed Trump’s message to senior White House official Rick Dearborn, who Lewandowski thought would be a better messenger because of his prior relationship with Sessions. Dearborn did not pass along Trump’s message.

As the report explains, “[s]ubstantial evidence indicates that the President’s effort to have Sessions limit the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation to future election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct” — in other words, the President employed a private citizen to try to get the Attorney General to limit the scope of an ongoing investigation into the President and his associates.

All of this conduct — trying to control and impede the investigation against the President by leveraging his authority over others — is similar to conduct we have seen charged against other public officials and people in powerful positions.

Witness tampering and intimidation

The Special Counsel’s report establishes that the President tried to influence the decisions of both Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort with regard to cooperating with investigators. Some of this tampering and intimidation, including the dangling of pardons, was done in plain sight via tweets and public statements; other such behavior was done via private messages through private attorneys, such as Trump counsel Rudy Giuliani’s message to Cohen’s lawyer that Cohen should “[s]leep well tonight[], you have friends in high places.”

Of course, these aren’t the only acts of potential obstruction detailed by the Special Counsel. It would be well within the purview of normal prosecutorial judgment also to charge other acts detailed in the report.

We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment. Of course, there are potential defenses or arguments that could be raised in response to an indictment of the nature we describe here. In our system, every accused person is presumed innocent and it is always the government’s burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. But, to look at these facts and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice — the standard set out in Principles of Federal Prosecution — runs counter to logic and our experience.

As former federal prosecutors, we recognize that prosecuting obstruction of justice cases is critical because unchecked obstruction — which allows intentional interference with criminal investigations to go unpunished — puts our whole system of justice at risk. We believe strongly that, but for the OLC memo, the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller Report.