Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Little Drummer Boy

Conundrum - noun: 1. a riddle, the answer to which the answer involves a pun or a play on words. 2. anything that puzzles. Wikipedia puts it more appropriately for the following situation: "a logical postulation that evades resolution."

Here in Missouri (I know it is happening across the United States) there is a very real problem. The Constitution is at stake. Justice is at stake. Inalienable rights are at stake. The Missouri State Public Defender (MSPD) Office closed its offices for a specific window of time. When I saw the news clipping I wondered how indigent criminals would receive equal access to their Sixth Amendment Constitutional right of "Assistance of Counsel." So in lays (yes, the past tense of "lie," as in recline) the problem.

1) The MSPD closed its office because the attorneys are working up to 100% more than is feasible to ensure adequate representation. There is a body of researchers that has compiled how many hours and how many cases a public defender can carry before they begin to sacrifice their own ability to represent the accused properly. Attorneys are under an ethical duty to represent their clients adequately, or risk forfeiture of their license. Almost every defender in Missouri has a significantly higher than suggested caseload. The MSPD has initiated a suit to require more funds to hire more attorneys. The case has been picked up by the Supreme Court of Missouri and the MSPD could receive more funding or stay in the pressure cooker. Why not appoint private attorneys and keep tax costs low?

2) Appointing private attorneys has two poor choices: 1) appoint attorneys that do not have criminal law experience, 2) appoint attorneys that get paid more than the court given fee. This is why appointing private attorneys does not solve the problem. The accused could receive poor representation because of the attorney's lack of skill or lack of incentive (or lack of care). I know, we (attorneys) are supposed to do the right thing . . . the patriotic thing . . . the civic duty thing . . . Realistically, we're all not idealistic all the time.

3) Missouri prosecutors are countering the suit to make sure that the MSPD does not receive additional funding and reopens its doors to indigents. They argue that the MSPD is holding the judicial system and tax-payers hostage by restricting the amount of cases their attorneys take. Well then, just make the MSPD take on the extra cases and represent those that need it!

4) "Let's start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start . . ." Now we're back to the MSPD attorneys being overworked. Oh, and I almost forgot! Public Defenders are among the lowest paid attorneys in the business. So they're not just overworked, they're underpaid.

Where in lays the solution? I don't know. If less people needed representation, the problem may alleviate itself. It seems that more criminals need to be wealthier, or more criminals need to be less criminal. Are the laws too strict? Is punishment not swift or harsh enough?

The Missouri State Public Defender Offices represent the poor. They are poor boys too, pa rum pum pum pum. They play their conundrum for them, pa rum pum pum pum. They play their best for them, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum . . .

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Natives are Getting Restless

So my wife and I are invited to a local coffee shop. Although I lived in the area for years, I have not lived in the area for three years. My wife and I have been BACK in the area for three months. In the three years I was out-to-sea a local coffee shop was started, and started picking up steam. We have heard much about this place from many different people. And many different types of people. The light bulb in our heads shone light on a new place that could prick our interests. . . and so we went . . .

I ordered a double espresso. My drink of choice at any coffee bar. It's like getting a cheese pizza from a New York pizzeria. It tells the whole story. The New York cheese slice is like knowing that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father. It lends purpose to the establishment. If the cheese slice is good, so will be the spinach and broccoli calzone. And so is the story with espresso. If the espresso is good, so will be the cappuccino and so on.

My wife orders a caramel latte. Praise the Lord! The espresso was so bad, I had to chase every sip with a gulp of sugary, sweet, frothiness. This double espresso was how Mark Twain described the Mississippi River: "too thick to drink, too thin to plow." Every sip was filled with bitters. And not like espresso bitter, but more like Kina Lillet Bitters. And it gave me the bitterbeer/Baldknobbers face. Simply put, it was skunky espresso.

This native shop continues to rack up points in the native's minds. It seems the natives are too suped up on caffeine to tell the difference between an espresso and an espresso.

(I'm listening to the "The Natives are Restless Tonight" by Horace Silver on the jazz album Song for my Father. If you haven't heard it, you should take the time to go to Amazon.com and preview every song. It could change your idea of jazz (for jazz haters). The song" Que Pasa" sums up my idea of jazz.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

How Video Games Have Shaped My Life

From fashion to accomplishments, from skills to marriage, video games have impacted my life. Our culture is one that has been built on electronic images. Nobody can understand what life would be like without electronic images because everyone alive today has experienced it through one form or another: movies, TV, print advertising, etc. Many understand how powerful movies can be - the social impact they can achieve. Similarly, the social strength of video games is not debated. Instead of watching, you actually take control of your character, becoming the persona.

What is debated is whether they bring positive or negative consequences. The favorite argument given is that video games are harmful because someone that played first-person shooters killed some people. To my knowledge, there is not a game in which you can be a pedophile, but there are too many of those people out there. I doubt they can pin their disgusting behavior to Halo or World of Warcraft. Even so, I concede that video games can have a negative impact on a person. But I just don't see that as the majority.

Personally, my life is filled with representations from video games. I started playing video games at two years old. The system: Atari 2600. The game: The Empire Strikes Back. I soon graduated to Mario Bros. on the Nintendo. I rescued Toad way too many times in search of the Princess, now known as Peach. As games progressed, graphics became more realistic, and the music became gripping (Nobuo Uematsu has scored much of my life through the Squaresoft titles).

I have a 1st Degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Not because I knew anyone with that skill, or because I needed protection. The reason? The Tekken series. I saw Baek from Tekken 2 fight one time and wanted his skills. The style was graceful, fierce, and fast. My desire to emulate an emulation drove me to acquire a skill I am proud of (and helped attract my wife . . .)

I own a handgun. Time Crisis is to blame. Hiding behind objects amidst a battlefield of innumerable uniformed guards was intense and exhilarating. The best part was holding a replica gun with recoil action. It gave me a desire to own one for myself. Now I have the equipment to protect my family.

My favorite (and my wife's) coat that I wear today was based on the one that Squall from Final Fantasy VIII wears. I actually searched for such a coat for seven years before I found it. But I did. (Anything familiar about his name?)

But, on to more important things: my wife. 
Seeing the world of archeology from behind Lara Croft was a fascinating thing. She is strong, agile, quick, courageous, and independent. The character of Lara Croft was no doubt created for a male-centered video game market. However, Tomb Raider was wildly popular with both males and females. For women, Lara Croft personifies what they desire if they could stay away from work or stay away from home. For men, Lara Croft personifies the external attitudes of what they desire in a woman. Unfortunately, most men couldn't (or wouldn't want to) handle a strong-willed, independent, quick-thinking, do-it-herself woman. However, this personality is one that I desired. Of course, without the quick-tempered, gun-blazing consequences of disagreement.

I somehow found just what I was looking for. But my wife is hotter than Lara, even when she is dressed like Lara (Halloween proved that to me). Another thing that Lara doesn't have that my wife does is the ability to play, and beat me, in Tekken

I stopped finding toads and finally found the Princess, now known as Saundra. My wife and my relationship is like that of Mario and Princess in Mario Kart: Double Dash. She holds on to the back of my cart while tossing obstacles at my competitors and shoves us away from cliffs as I power-drift us around the turns of life and on to victory. 

 . . . all because of the power of video games.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"The More You Know"

Today I played the part of a substitute teacher at a University in the area. I was instructing undergraduate Pre-Law students on how to brief a case. I am one that does not really do something unless I understand the reason for why I am doing it. "Reason" does not adequately catch the meaning. I should say that I must understand the PURPOSE for doing something. As I was instructing these neophytes on why briefing is important, I almost said, "Knowledge is power." I didn't. I try to stay under three clich├ęs a day. I had already exceeded that restriction, so I kept the idea to myself. However, I did instantly recall two vivid instances that recently occurred in my life.

Instance one: Several weeks ago I was on the phone with an adverse party. I was laying the groundwork for the position my client wants to take in a contract battle. As I was nauseatingly explaining the basics of evidence at a jury trial, the voice on the other end said, "There won't be a jury. Your client signed an arbitration agreement . . ." As I sat uncomfortably silent, expression like a deer in headlights, I felt crippled. I felt incompetent. I felt defeated. I felt powerless.

Instance two: Again on the phone. A different day, a different adverse party. This time, while the other voice was explaining to me how they thought claims are settled (or more precisely, how little my client should be settling for), I simply indicated that my client is beyond settling and will initiate a law suit. The other voice shot back, "How do you have jurisdiction?" When I precisely and cogently explained how civil procedure in Federal Courts works, I heard the same deafening silence I experienced a week prior. The other voice quickly retreated to a conversation closing comment and vanished. I sat comfortably silent, expression like a champion prize fighter. I felt accomplished. I felt victorious. I felt powerful.

That's the precipice I stand on daily. The precipice of knowing/not knowing. I can easily slip to one side or the other. Most of the time I make sure I slip to the "knowing" side. I do so with preparation, research, and outlining my conversations. I take these painstaking steps to ensure that I have the knowledge I need. I understand that greater success is a direct result of the more I know.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Salute our Military, Past and Present. God Bless America!

A very, very, very warm and sincere thank you to our veterans that have served in all the wars in American history. A very special thank you and appreciation to those that offered their lives for those of us who enjoy the freedoms American has given us. An especially warm and sincere thank you to my wife that served in the Air Force for 6 years active duty and 2 years reserve; I love you. Thank you!

Tribute to Our Veterans Video

Please watch and honor our vets!

Fare thee well!

The Prime Minister of Britain announced that Great Britain would begin a massive overhaul of their welfare system. He wants to cut $29 billion from the welfare bill by using a simply logical approach. He thinks those who "persistently reject work" should give up their $105 weekly payment. Brits that refuse to go out and get employment could lose their benefits for up to three years. The report stated that 1.4 million people in GB have been on the welfare system for over a decade.

The United States spent . . . wait for it . . . hold on to something . . . $714 BILLION (raise pinky finger backward to right side of mouth, a la Dr. Evil) in fiscal year 2008. Some of the criticism, including my own, include the idea that some of the people collecting welfare benefits are doing nothing to contribute to society. And the system is set up so they really do not need to. This type of system does not motivate successful or disciplined behavior. Instead, it tells Americans, "Please do not participate in growing our country. Please drain the lives of those around you by letting them support you." AND SOME ACTUALLY LISTEN AND OBEY!

Workfare: "A form of welfare in which capable adults are required to perform work, often in public-service jobs, as a condition of receiving aid" (not my definition, but a good one to boot). If Workfare were required in all the states, and not just some, our country could benefit massively. Or if even the benefits of those on welfare, that are capable of working, were restricted until those recipients were willing to work, the US could benefit.

I hope that President Obama follows Prime Minister Cameron's lead and says "Fare thee well" to the current welfare system.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

Our Western society has a problem with elders. It seems to reject the wisdom of years and the experience of the aged. It is always looking for the next best new thing while tossing out the old. Younger adults portray more competence than their older counterparts - and they believe it. The Western culture is individualistic - my car, my job, my self. The Eastern culture places a heavy weight the experience of their elders. The Eastern culture is personified - our family, our country, our home. I believe our culture does us a disservice by extinguishing the effect of our elders.

Mark Twain remarked one time, "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." The November issue of "AARP Bulletin" printed a mini-article entitled, "No Verdict on Retirement for This Judge." The write up describes the oldest sitting judge, the Honorable Wesley E. Brown of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, as "sharp as ever." Judge Brown just turned 103 years this past June. He has been a judge for the last 48 years. His clerk has been with him for the last 23 years. (When I interned with the Honorable Charles E. Poston, his practice was to cut the clerks loose every year so he could train them into valuable lawyers. I wonder who is more the judge at this point: Judge Brown or his clerk.) His closest competitor is the Honorable Dan Russell of the Southern District of Mississippi - age 97.

Can judges, at that point in their life, still adequately adjudicate? Good ol' Ben Franklin said, "Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late." Judges Brown and Russell have had a few years to get wise.

Twenty years ago, John Ashcroft, then Governor of Missouri, took a case to the Supreme Court that paints a delicious picture of this debate. Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452 (1991). The Missouri Constitution was amended to require Missouri judges to retire at age 70. The Governor wondered if judges beyond the age of 70 could properly administer justice. This question reached the Supreme Court and the final decision was rendered on June 20, 1991. The Justices rendered a 7-2 decision ALLOWING the limit on judges and found it was not age discrimination. Can you spot the two judges that dissented based on their ages? The judges, listed by seniority (on the court, not age) were the following ages AT THE TIME of the opinion:

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, born 1924, age 66 - majority
Byron White, born 1917, age 74 - majority
Thurgood Marshall (the first African-American justice), born 1908, age 82 - dissent
Harry Blackmun, born 1902, age 88 - dissent
John Paul Stevens, born 1920, age 71 - majority
Sandra Day O'Connor, born 1930, age 61 - delivered the majority opinion
Antonin Scalia, born 1936, age 54, majority
David Souter (was just appointed during the Court's term), born 1939, age 51 - majority

The Court's reasoning was based on very clever arguments by the Governor: 1) Judges are not "employees" and do not fall under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) classification and therefore cannot be subject to discrimination, and 2) the Fourteenth Amendment does not give them equal protection (meaning the State of Missouri is a sovereign that can make that law).

Back to our Senior (citizen) judges: Brown and Russell. These judges were 84 and 78 at the time that opinion was handed down. And they've been on the Federal bench ever since. I do not discredit these judges. My father is 76 and his mind may be sharper now than I have known it in the past. Even though his body tells another story, his mind is as agile as a 30 year old.

However, there is a point that our aged friends may be on the back end of competence or sound reasoning. For instance, all the Supreme Court Justices under 80 voted the same way. Even those in their 70s saw the law the same. This case even brought ideologies together: Stevens and Scalia, Souter and Rehnquist. I do not think this opinion was based on ideology but personal flavor. Which may give some introspection into why Marshall and Blackmun dissented. Now, do not get me wrong, not ALL 80 year olds are on the back end. Not all 90 year olds are. But it may be worth it to judge each judge on an individual basis, allowing for the fact that too much experience can be detrimental.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Toyota May Be Just-In-Time

AutoNation, Inc.'s chairman and chief executive, Michael Jackson (he promises that the kid is not his son), encouraged American consumers at the end of October by stating, "We continue to see a gradual recovery in the U.S. auto industry, but it's pretty tough out there."

General Motors is breaking records as well. It made its first profit since 2004 (talk about a good investment for the US . . . [it would have been better to sell half of it to Fiat . . .])! It actually profited the first quarter of 2010.

On the other side of the world, Toyota Motor Corporation, the world's biggest automaker, is once again increasing its performance. In the last three months, its revenue grew 5.8% - a measly $59.58 billion. I wonder how much better they could do if the US (or Japan for that matter) would spot them an extra $25 billion. In your dreams! (I had that nightmare in 2008, but the company was GM.)

I would encourage "The Big Two and a Half" (that includes the remaining 65% or more of Fiat owned Chrysler) to steal another play from the Toyota Motor Corp. coaching staff. The first play they stole was Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing. And it paid off big time. Toyota used its Samurai ways and created a streamlined manufacturing process that decreased wasted time, movement, and space. It increased oversight measures and developed three page long mathematical calculations to determine the best minute of the day to order the correct parts. This allowed them to minimize storage costs, wait-times, and assembly line foul ups. JIT is the basic standard for manufacturing processes.

Why can't the Three Stooges of the American auto industry figure out what Toyota does best (make money) and try to emulate the mysticism (after all, if Tom Cruise can become a Samurai . . .). I know its hard out there in a big open world with competing pressures. Find what you're good at and try that. We all know that GM has not been good at making money. In that vein, learn from the pros and fire the cons.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"The Times They Are A-Changin'"

"Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’."
~Bob Dylan

Last night I watched a political climate change that hasn't happened in 70 years. The GOP regained more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives to hold a 239 majority. The last time a swing of this magnitude occurred was in the 1938 midterm elections when the GOP gained 72 seats. I hope that I can paint a picture of what the 2010 midterm elections mean to Americans by recounting the state of America in 1938.

FDR was pushing his third New Deal project. He had an overwhelming following in the election of 1936. The GOP had been struggling the previous eight years. FDR seemed to be unstoppable. And may have been had he not been the end of himself. His confidence lead to a court packing scheme that shifted the tide even in Democrat circles. His plan was to make a law that increased the number of Supreme Court Justices to twelve from nine. That way he could appoint three more judges that suited his political agenda. He expected others to die during his term and would then appoint others that also suited his politics.

Amidst a steadying Great Depression, the Roosevelt Recession pushed the unemployment rate up to 20%. Union violence escalated. A Gallup poll showed 66% of Americans wanted FDR to pursue conservative politics. He didn't.

"Que the '38 midterm elections please!" In comes a true "switch-in-time" that saves more than nine Justices. This one saved the GOP and the American people. After the House went to the GOP with a gain of 72 seats, the GOP controlled politics until 1958.

This short history lesson cannot truly convey the major political upheaval that America experienced by trying to pull a marauding President in from a drastically changed landscape.

Today is just a little bit of history repeating. Obama has given the American people rhetoric, lip-service, and a plan for two years. He has been the Democrats' President for two years. He has been pushing agendas that have grown the deficit by more than $3 trillion since he took office. The unemployment rate is at 9.6%.

America has decided to take the country back from a marauding President with an abnormally progressive agenda.

My "Hope" is that this midterm election "shakes [Obama's] windows and rattles [his] walls, for the times they are a-changin'."

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Oh the places you'll go . . ."

Campaign season is almost over; which means it is in full swing, using a full-court press, making a goal-line stand. Candidates are giving their final push into the larger voting markets while making bigger and better promises. Campaign offices have the lights on later and later as they attempt to persuade the names in their phone banks and hit the addresses in select neighborhoods. Volunteer staff eyes are red and burning, heads are aching, and feet are throbbing. So I ask, "What's the point . . .?"

This past Saturday, my wife and I arrived at the local GOP headquarters at 7:45 a.m. We had breakfast and then jumped in a truck with an older couple to canvass the area with literature. We knocked on 79 doors in state-university neighboring areas. A progressive area; a low-income, rental property area; and an educated area. We saw a number of different types of people. We interfaced with as many ideologies as we saw people. We were surprised with the stratified support.

Even for an attorney with nerves of steel never at a loss of words, there is a discomfort that comes with knocking on someone's door at nine in the morning to remind them to vote for my party member. Even in the Red State we live in, we were in a remarkably blue neighborhood. This added to the discomfort. Then there was the self proclaiming unable-to-vote-convicted-felon. This too added to the discomfort. Then there was the 3.4 mile walk to hit the doors in a logical order. The discomfort continued to mount. I become acutely aware of my tiring, stiffening legs. More discomfort . . .

Back at the ranch, we decide to get to calling the phone bank calling list. On the other end of every other call awaits an uninvited berating. Then the hang ups. This job is not for the sensitive or emotional. The cold and stoic win.

What a way to spend a half-day! If I would have known what my wife and I were in for . . . I would do it again every single time. Why? Not because I'm a masochist. Not because I'm a self loathing martyr. It is because I care about the current and future state of our culture and society. Because I will not stand idly by and watch our county be given over to traitors and terrorists. Because I will not complain about the poor choice of candidacy after the election without doing all I can to provide a better choice for candidacy before the election.

We are all subject to the same duty: the duty to keep freedom in America. There is only one way to keep freedom. By fighting for it. Whether by proactive campaign measures or on the front lines of battle, it will be fought for. Let's ask former President Ronald Reagan what he thinks and let him wrap us up.

LION HEARTED: "Mr. Reagan, how can we keep freedom and why it is important to do so now?
MR. REAGAN: "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."