Friday, July 30, 2010

Hitler's Willing Executioners

"In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate....and if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one." - Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk

In 1996 a Harvard professor named Daniel Goldhagen published a ground breaking book that shocked the national conscience of Germany. Hitler's Willing Executioners exploded many existing myths about the holocaust; e.g., that it was primarily Hitler's doing, that only SS soldiers were involved in executions, that ordinary Germans were oblivious to the holocaust, etc. Goldhagen provided conclusive evidence that at least tens of thousands, and perhaps more, "ordinary Germans" who were not even Nazis were actively involved in the extermination of Jews. The offensive against Jews in Germany arose from deep economic duress, and the herd-like instinct of "ordinary Germans" to first identify, and then gradually eliminate, its source.

I won't republish the whole book, but click this link to order it at Amazon for $12.

My first exposure to the book was during graduate studies in history at Wright State University. It shocked me. It changed my perception about the world around me, about the consequences of seemingly harmless political behavior, about the consequences of my own acts and decisions. It caused me to understand that one can not haphazardly toss a pebble onto a snowy mountain and expect to avoid the avalanche.

The first question that springs to one's attention upon reading this is, was Germany so different? Were Germans so different? Of course, the frightening answer to these questions is "no." Germany was a civilized, technological, Christian society --- just as we are. Germany was also a democracy, as we are.

The Holocaust did not begin with gas chambers. The Holocaust began, first, with
government-sponsored identification of a minority group as the root cause of economic duress. The next stage was legislation ---- first, legislation designed to marginalize the minority; second, legislation to deport the minority; third, legislation to criminalize the minority; fourth, legislation to imprison the minority.

And came, finally, extermination.

The second question that logically follows is, are there parallels in American society to German society in the 20s and 30s? And the answer, as frightening and incomprehensible as it may be, is "yes."

Is the United States under economic duress?

Has the government sponsored the identification of a certain minority as the root cause of the duress?

Has the government legislated to marginalize the minority?

Has the government legislated to deport the minority?

Has the government legislated to criminalize the minority?

Has the government legislated to imprison the minority?

As I ponder the right and wrong of these questions, I'm left with one solitary pillar of hope for the United States, and that is ---- Arizona is not the federal government. But for my money, Arizona voters ---- left to their own devices ---- are no different than "ordinary Germans."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Battle for New Rome

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." - Jim Bouton, former pitcher for the New York Yankees.

For three decades I lived in the military world. For nearly two of those I was called a soldier. Occasionally I accepted dangerous tasks and even played a small role in a long-forgotten war. But I wasn't a warrior until I came to New Rome.

I lived in a bubble for most of my life, growing up as an Army brat and subsequently serving in the Air Force until my retirement at the age of 36. The contrast between the military world and the "real world" is staggering, and making the adjustment is a Herculean challenge. I've discussed this problem many times with ex-military friends and coworkers, and few of them made the transition easily.

The closed, patriarchical military world is an artificial world, but if you're inside of it you don't know it. For instance, the faux aristocracy of it seems perfectly normal when other people salute and call you "Sir" because you have a bachelor's degree. It seems normal to give orders and have them obeyed. It seems normal that in the military there is virtually no racism. It seems normal to receive a regular paycheck, an extra allowance for dependents, free health care, 30 days of paid vacation, and never worry about losing your job.

It seems perfectly normal to celebrate "promotions" when virtually everyone is promoted. It seems normal to stand at attention while someone pins medals and bright ribbons on your chest merely because you did your job or rifled 90% of your M-16 rounds through a target. It seems normal to receive "outstanding" performance appraisals, yet still be indistinguishable from your peers. And also, it seems normal for you and everyone else to behave in a generally virtuous manner.

In short, life in the military is safe, while life in the "real world" is dangerous.

It reminds me a bit of the Red Cross swimming class I took as a child. Those of us on Station Two at the shallow end of the pool, learning how to hold our breath for 20 seconds, were having a lot more fun than the kids on Station Ten or Twelve learning the Butterfly Stroke. They were at the deep end of the pool and they were all deadly serious.

Swimming at the deep end in the great pool of life tends to make some people more active, more carnivorous, and more corrupt. The great predators don't waste their time in shallow water. They are large and powerful, swim at great speeds, and do not slow down to accommodate others.

One of my first lessons at the deep end occurred upon entering the legal profession at the age of 44. There was a curious little hamlet named New Rome, located along a thousand feet of U.S. 40 --- the old "National Road" --- on the southwest edge of Columbus, Ohio. Despite its miniature size (or perhaps because of it), New Rome had a longstanding and well-earned reputation as a speed trap. I lived nearby in Hilliard but paid little attention to the goings-on next door. I, and most other drivers in Columbus, knew well enough to avoid U.S. 40.

New Rome had a total population of 60, which included 27 households. Of these, 14 were the homes of New Rome police officers. Most of the others were the homes of councilmembers and other city officials. Year after year, the fourteen police officers turned over $400,000 annually ---- more than $1000 per day ---- in traffic citations along their quarter-mile stretch of a single road.

One morning in January, 2003, I picked up a Columbus Dispatch newspaper containing an article which stirred me to act. New Rome police officers appeared without notice at an elementary school outside of New Rome, and demanded access to the private school records of two small children. They showed a criminal subpoena, and the records were surrendered.

The children happened to be the grandchildren of Ed Anthony, a barber and newly elected New Rome councilmember. Mr. Anthony was apparently the lone honest resident of New Rome, and he was determined to make the police force accountable. He was sufficiently discreet not to voice his platform prior to the election, but immediately upon taking office he demanded access to the city's books and declared his intent to "clean up" the local government and police force.

New Rome responded with their raid on the school records, which they hoped would show ---- through the childrens' emergency notification cards ---- that Mr. Anthony had a residence outside of New Rome, which they could argue was his primary address and thereby call into question his New Rome residency.

After reading the article I emailed the journalist who broke the story, and promised to represent Mr. Anthony at no cost if he wanted to fight back. Mr. Anthony called that afternoon and signed me up.

This was my very first case; I had nary a client, had never conducted a media interview, nor ever appeared in a courtroom as an attorney. But I was full of self-confidence and somehow felt obliged to dive into deep water and confront the predators from New Rome.

To acquire the subpoena, the New Rome police visited a Franklin County judge and made false criminal accusations against Mr. Anthony. One weakness of our criminal justice system is that judges, who may sign 20 subpoenas a day, do not have time to question or investigate the veracity of police officers. In my experience (including two years' experience as a City Prosecutor), the veracity of police officers is no more reliable than the veracity of anyone else. Yet judges must believe every word. They do not have the time or resources to do otherwise, and our system would grind to a halt if they did.

So I spent the next week in the law library, reading every case and legal code I could find related to criminal subpoenas and the police power. After another two or three days of writing I filed a Motion to Quash, supported by a 25-page legal brief, and demanded a court date with the Judge who had signed the subpoena. My filing created a big splash in the media, who loved nothing more than an excuse to write about New Rome. I was interviewed on the local news and for a brief period was a minor celebrity.

At last, the appointed hour arrived for me to make my first appearance as an attorney. Before the hearing, however, the court bailiff ushered me into chambers where I was introduced to the Judge, the New Rome City Attorney, and another high-powered attorney representing the School Board (who were concerned at their liability for illegally turning over private school records).

The Judge gave me the floor and I made my argument, citing case law from the Ohio Supreme Court and constitutional law and legislative intent and every other legal tool I remembered from law school. After ten minutes I was finished, and the Judge looked over to the New Rome City Attorney. It wasn't until that moment that I was struck with the sheer audacity of my counterattack, being a fresh fat whale in a pool of high-powered sharks.

But New Rome had no response. My argument was a winning argument, as I knew it would be. He conceded on the spot and signed an agreement to quash the subpoena without arguing the point in Court, thus ending the impeachment of Mr. Anthony as councilmember.

The drama, however, continued. Mr. Anthony asked me to sue New Rome and the School Board, if possible, and referred me to a local attorney who offered to assist with his law library and other resources. The attorney was a former police officer who had gone to law school and acquired his bar license. He was friendly at our first meeting and I treated him as I would have treated a higher-ranking military officer.

A few days later I received a phone call from my new attorney friend. He told me bluntly that I was too "green" to handle the case and demanded that I withdraw as Mr. Anthony's attorney.

To say that I was surprised would be an understatement. I thanked him for his opinion and declined to withdraw, and he suddenly flew into a rage. He said, "I'm coming over there to kick your ass!" I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I thought perhaps I had misunderstood, and said, "You're going to beat me up???" He said, "Fuck yeah!!"

Well there was no misunderstanding that. I laughed, told him to do whatever he needed to do, and hung up. I wasn't afraid as much as I was completely and totally stupified. This man wasn't merely an experienced attorney ---- he was a former police officer. At that moment it seemed that all of the years I spent in the shallow water of military life, all of the decades of respecting institutions and honoring the people in them, the whole product of 44 years of living ---- suddenly exploded. The "real world" was nothing at all like the one I had known in the military, a point since confirmed by other experiences on literally dozens of occasions.

Two days later Mr. Anthony called to tell me was replacing me with my antagonist, and two weeks after that I moved to Dayton.

The village of New Rome was dissolved later that year when the Attorney General of Ohio introduced to the General Assembly one of the most unique laws in the history of representative goverment. The particulars of the bill ---- which passed and became law ---- provided for the dissolution of any incorporated village in Ohio with fewer than 150 residents, which provided few or no public services, and had a "pattern of wrongdoing or incompetence."

I like to think that I was a soldier in the Battle for New Rome. Another soldier, certainly, was the brave and virtuous barber, Ed Anthony. Another was a certain web genius whose sister was victimized in New Rome, and who subsequently published a website to keep New Rome in the public eye ---- a website you can visit here:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Ballad of K.D. Hubbard

"We're in the butt-kicking business, and business is very, very good." - former NBA star Charles Barkley.

I learned some frightening things about human behavior during my time as City Prosecutor in Middletown, Ohio. Perhaps the most frightening thing I learned is that there isn't a damned thing that distinguishes criminals from other people, save access to an education or other forms of wealth. Crimes are committed by perfectly normal people, and not by aliens or animals. They are mostly committed by desperate people who believe they have no other option, but they are also committed by angry people who were themselves victims --- sometimes the victims of other criminals but also the victims of a system that seems to give them no chance.

From July, 2004 through May, 2006, five murderers were arraigned in my courtroom. Five handcuffed murderers walked through the tiny door leading from the jail cell into the courtroom wearing their orange jail jumpsuits, and took their places a few feet away from me.

I looked all five of them straight in the eye. I couldn't help myself. None of the five returned my gaze, but I somehow wanted to understand if I had anything in common with these people. The frightening truth was, I had everything in common with them except that I was wearing a pleated suit and was not handcuffed.

Municipal Courts in Ohio are almost a cattle-call. Business is brisk. In our court we processed up to 80 new cases a day, three days a week. Now obviously the jails in Ohio aren't large enough to accept 250 new residents from every city, every week and so our judge ---- a wonderful man named Mark Wall ---- had to walk the fine line of filling them up just enough with the worst offenders to appease the voting public, while lecturing and encouraging the others.

Jail crowding has not influenced the behavior of Ohio's politicians in the General Assembly. You can catch them at their daily grind five days a week on public television, and each session is dominated by the huff and puff and hot air of politicos doing their best to appear "tough on crime." I'm really too sick of the proceedings to watch anymore. The last session I saw featured a 45-minute diatribe from one lawmaker who wanted to upgrade cock fighting to a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail. Of course, nobody debated him or offered an opposing view. I imagine the measure passed although I didn't stick around to watch the vote. Nobody stands up for the sub-class of human society called "criminals."

Somewhere along the way in the history of Ohio's General Assembly, a lawmaker introduced a bill to upgrade the heinous crime of driving without car insurance to a first-degree misdemeanor. As a prosecutor in Ohio, this is probably the most commonly-charged offense that will bring people into your courtroom. In Middletown we had to allot a special afternoon twice a month just to deal with these cases.

Now we couldn't put these people in jail. There wasn't room. If we put one of these people in jail, we had to release someone else who was almost certainly more dangerous. So .... you bring them in twice a month to ask if they've made any progress on car insurance.

Unfortunately, this is not a simple matter. When I left the job in 2006, the fee from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to reinstate a driver's license was $625. I'm sure the fee is higher now, and the fee is assessed in addition to other costs associated with licensing and registering and insuring and blah, blah, blah......

I'm not even sure why we need a Bureau of Motor Vehicles. A lot of people earn a living in the belly of that government whale. But what do they contribute to society? A hundred years ago people rode around on horses and nobody needed a license. I've tried riding a horse and it's a damned sight more difficult than driving a car. But whatever, I don't make the rules....

The simple fact is, poor people can't find jobs in Ohio and they can't afford to drive. Even worse, there are only six buses in Middletown and they are not all in service at any one time. So, in Middletown a total of maybe 150 people ---- in a city of over 50,000 ---- can actually get anywhere without driving.

We had one amiable fellow who showed up in the courtroom every few weeks, charged with driving without car insurance. I remember him distinctly, for reasons that will become clear later. I saw him at least a dozen times myself in two years, and probably he was charged as frequently all the other adult years of his life before I arrived, so the Judge knew him a lot better than I did. His name was K.D. Hubbard and he was certainly not unusual. We had many, many "criminals" charged a dozen times or more with this crime in the short period I worked there.

The Monday morning routine for K.D. Hubbard was invariably the same. The Judge would greet him with, "K.D., what are we going to do with you?" And K.D., genuinely contrite and embarrassed, would say with a smile "I don't know, Judge. I'm awfully sorry. You should probably lock me up. I can't find a job." And the morning would end with Judge Wall encouraging K.D. to do his best and not come back anymore.

After one such morning at the end of arraignments, I was walking out to my car in the parking lot for lunch and passed K.D., who was standing on the curb, freshly released from jail, apparently waiting for a ride. He saw me and said as I passed, "Hey, Mister Prosecutor, can I give you a ride?"

I laughed. I couldn't help it. He was making a joke. He knew and I knew and every cop in Middletown knew that K.D. was too poor to drive.

The next time I saw K.D. Hubbard in my courtroom, he was charged with murder. Someone paid him $40,000 to befriend a competing drug dealer and shoot him in the back of the head.

Now I like to tell myself that there is no circumstance, no feeling of desperation sufficiently powerful, that would ever cause me to put a gun to someone's head and pull the trigger ---- even if that person was a drug dealer; even if the government called him a "terrorist"; even with the bestest-most-irrefutably-inarguable "right excuse." This is what I tell myself.

But I'm not in K.D. Hubbard's shoes. $40,000 to K.D. might just as well have been $100 million. He would never see that much money in any other way in his life. So, for $40,000 K.D. shot someone in the back of the head and showed up in my courtroom as one of the five murderers I came to know.

He faced the death penalty, but the court decided that since the person who hired him didn't get the death penalty, K.D. shouldn't get it either. So he will spend the rest of his life in prison .... forgotten, reviled, and disposed.

K.D. Hubbard was certainly wrong for what he did and there is no excusing it. But K.D. Hubbard was also entrenched in the gruesome battle against poverty that is perfectly invisible to so many Americans. One person who was not in that battle was the Ohio lawmaker, whoever he was, whose Mommy and Daddy sent him to college and who suckled the government mammary his whole life, and was sufficiently clever to upgrade the penalty for driving without car insurance to advance his own career.

I tell this story to encourage you to think twice, the next time you're tempted to vote for a "tough on crime" politician. They don't actually care; they just know how to work the system.