From The Editor
Bill Girdner
Story Date:   
Barter Town

     The rise of a populist entertainer as the king of debate in America, the absolute dominator of the news cycle for months on end, and the force to be reckoned with in national politics, is largely treated as a matter of mystery by the media. It is portrayed as baffling.
     But not so.
     In American politics, I keep coming back to the idea of the bible salesman. There has always been a criss-cross between money and religion in our nation. The first feeds the second, the second sanctifies the first.
     Where evangelical congregations materialize on folding chairs in beat-up meeting halls, where Billy Graham caused a bigger traffic jam than Beyonce, notions of spirituality have always mixed freely with the underlying ethos of advancement, of making money, of hitting it big.
     As I see it, the two somewhat conflicting notions are illustrated by the inverse of greed, its opposite quality, the antithesis of avarice, generosity. If there is one standout quality to Americans, not universally shared but surprisingly common, it is their fundamental generosity.
     It contrasts starkly in my experience with the extraordinarily insular and tight-wad nature of rich Europeans, speaking generally, of course.
     So where a nation has become fatigued with the culture wars initiated by the Christians and also found itself stymied in the search for a better life, while at the same time hearing about a very small percentage of the rich who become fantastically more so, it is only natural that many Americans are searching for a vehicle, a locomotive, to carry their anger forth.
     Years on, a song keeps coming back to me from the movie Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. The Internet being the amazing thing it is, I can search for and watch the extraordinary figure of Tina Turner putting everything into the song: "We don't need another hero, We don't need to know the way home, All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome."
     The movie, set in a post-nuclear future, follows a revolutionary theme as a group of children seeks freedom from a despot played with beautiful ambiguity by Turner, the leader of Barter Town where everything can be traded but contracts must be upheld.
     Barter Town's constitution of sorts is: "Bust a deal, face the wheel." Punishment is determined at random by a wheel of misfortune with nearly all options fatal.
     The U.S. is a kind of toned-down Barter Town where the basic promise was that if you worked hard you could get ahead. It is the busting of that deal that has spun the wheel and brought forth The Donald.
     An early manifestation of the underlying anger was the Tea Party which, a bit like the religious patchwork of our nation, had a multitude of leaders, little central organization, and hundreds of individual chapters. And like right-wing parties in other nations, such as the National Front in France, the party morphed out of tax protest into a potent movement against just about everything involving government.
     The Republican establishment — because there certainly is such a thing — rode that populist horse for as long as it could, then sought to rein it in by financing moderate conservatives against more radical figures backed by the TEA people. That set the stage for the rise of a populist TV figure who could rely on promotional instinct over position papers, and thump the GOP's officialdom.
     So Trump's rise is not such a huge mystery, riding the currents of conservative conviction and financial frustration. On the other hand, his ability to rack up big majorities in the Republican primaries while also, as David Axelrod said on CNN, "running to the left of Hillary on some issues" — that is a transmogrification that can be achieved only through a special talent. No doubt about that.

 
Coyote Speaks
Robert Kahn
Story Date:   
Universal Degradation

     The Brattleboro Reformer may not be the worst daily newspaper in the United States, but if it's not, it's not for lack of not trying.
     "[Name], a certified Angel Card Reader, receives messages through a client's spirit guides. The client should leave the session with positive information and a sense of reassurance of what one already knows."
     The Reformer printed that as news.
     That ain't news.
     It sounds like the Republican primaries: Candidates with no standards at all (certified Angel Card Readers) reassuring voters about what voters think they already know.
     Who "certifies" people for this, and how?
     I know how I'd like to get them certified.
     But we can't blame newspapers for our country's degradation of values. When half the nation has become unhinged from reality, what's a newspaper to do?
     Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma have introduced a resolution asking their congressional delegation to impeach President Obama, for recommending that public schools let transgender students pee in the bathroom of their choice.
     This is a stern resolution — in the sense that "stern" means "moronic" and "absolute horseshit."
     Reuters consulted "legal experts," who said the call for impeachment "is on shaky ground," as the president did not actually do anything. He just recommended something, which is not a high crime or misdemeanor.
     This transgender bathroom brouhaha is absolute nonsense. Transgender kids in public schools are not dangerous. Transgender kids are the ones who get beat up in public schools.
     Planting his flag atop this mountain of manure was Oklahoma state Rep. John Bennett, R-Sillisaw, who said President Obama should be impeached because he is "biblically wrong."
     I called Bennett — the chairman of Oklahoma's Public Safety Committee — to ask why he thought a U.S. president could be impeached for being "biblically wrong."
     Bennett never called back. Busy raising money from his coven, I suppose.
     Bennett's statement is so idiotic it's not even wrong: It has no meaning at all.
     The Oklahoma Senate could not take up the impeachment resolution this week, as it was discussing a bill granting students the religious right not to have to pee in the same bathroom as a transgender student.
     That piece of legislative witchcraft would cost taxpayers billions of dollars: to build Religiously Pure Bathrooms in all of Oklahoma's 1,791 public schools. But Oklahoma is facing a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, despite its drastic cuts to public education.
     It's odd that Oklahoma lawmakers are so worried about where children pee, since Oklahoma lawmakers have been screwing kids longer and harder than any other state in the nation.
     Since the Great Recession, Oklahoma has cut per capita spending on public education by 23.6 percent, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute: far more than the second-worst state, Alabama (-17.8%) and the third-worst, Arizona (-17.6%).
     Look at those states. Look at what they're doing.
     How far can ignorance take us?
     Pretty far these days, so long as politicians can pander their own perversions for money and walk over little kids' faces in pursuit of votes from scaredy-cats.
     What a country.
     Seeking solace from these idiots and degenerates, I opened up W. Creizenach's "English Drama in the Age of Shakespeare," (London, 1916). A bookmark fluttered out, a fragment torn from a 100-year-old letter.
     There, in fading ink were the letters: "Yet I can hardly believe i / is note to thank you again / ime, and to tell you how".
     For some reason I found those words consoling. I had no idea who wrote them, nor to whom. Both people are surely dead.
     Know why that little scrap of news from dead people lightened my heart? Because those words were genuine. And we so seldom hear such words today.

 
From The Courts
Milt Policzer
Story Date:   
Look! A Squirrel!

     Do we need to be entertained all the time?
     I hadn't thought so, but I walked into a restaurant restroom the other day and found something that made me wonder.
     Above each urinal at eye level was a small flat-screen television showing a soccer game.
     Was peeing so intensely boring or distressing that I needed something to take my mind off it? How had I endured this act without distraction all these years?
     All the screens were tuned to the same game that I'm pretty sure no one cared about with the sound turned off so it was a kind of meditative experience. I went with the flow.
     So to speak.
     I might have thought this experience was an anomaly but I'd witnessed another not-so-oddity just a few days before at another restaurant. (Do you think I'm eating too much?)
     It was a group of five fully uniformed Los Angeles police officers sitting around a table — all of them with heads bowed, ignoring each other in silence. It looked like a religious ritual.
     All of them were staring at or poking their cell phones.
     If a gang of robbers had started upending tables and forcing children to eat broccoli at gunpoint, they may not have noticed.
     Is this a good thing?
     I can see the pluses. You cut down on officer-involved shootings because officers are not involved. Stress levels are substantially reduced (unless they're playing Angry Birds or Mortal Kombat on those things).
     And our police are likely to be much better informed about political issues and Kardashians.
     Still, call me old fashioned — go ahead, do it — but for some reason I don't want to see officers on their cell phones while patrolling in their cars. You don't want them to get motion sickness in mid-game.
     There are, however, some advantages to this culture of distraction and entertainment that you can put to use in your law practice.
     For example, conference rooms equipped with wall-to-wall monitors are ideal for settlement discussions when you don't want the opposing side paying too much attention to your terms.
     Or if a client is having trouble understanding his or her legal options, try sending him or her a text — even if the client is right in front of you. If you can reduce the concept to emojis, you'll make a real connection.
     
     Flipping injury: Flips are not an integral part of break dancing.
     I thought you'd like to know that now there is legal precedent for this statement. It's in a California appellate ruling called Jimenez v. Roseville City School District, in which we learn that "contact with the floor is an inherent risk of any kind of dancing ..."
     "But that does not mean every time a dancer contacts the floor, it is because of an inherent risk of dancing."
     My guess is that walking is equally dangerous.
     
     Self-Protection? Sometimes I think some litigants have been watching too many gangster or alien invasion movies.
     Or maybe playing too many shooter computer games.
     Why else would we need a federal appellate ruling on the legality of ownership of a machine gun?
     Yes, some guy wanted his own machine gun, created a trust to own it, and then litigated up to a federal circuit court to try to keep it. I'm guessing the legal fees are a lot more than he might have lost in a home invasion.
     In case you're wondering, the Third Circuit ruled in U.S. v. One Palmetto State Armory PA-15 Machingun Receiver/Frame, Unknown Caliber, that the government can restrict the possession of machine guns.
     We're all going to be vulnerable to gangster attacks with Tommy guns.