|From The Editor
What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards the White House to be born.
I have just been asking people at Courthouse News about who they are going to vote for, an extremely informal poll.
My view here has always been to encourage everyone to vote. Before an election, we hold a group discussion of the ballot measures, compare the background and statements of lesser known candidates, such as those seeking judgeships.
But I make it clear that the choice is up to each.
Seeing the surge in numbers for Trump, I asked one of our directors, who earlier said she was going to sit this one out, whether she is now voting for Trump.
"Yes," she answered. "America is like the Roman Empire. It's crumbling."
Now there I had to agree with her a bit. A famous first-year required course at Reed College was Humanities 110, a survey course of history and literature, including study of the stages of the empire as reflected in art.
Before it turned to autocracy, the republic of Rome inspired modern republics such as ours. But, depleted by a 700-year war with the Iranian empire, then attacked by divisions from within and migrating tribes from without, it began breaking up. The Dark Ages followed.
There are some interesting analogies to the U.S. today, for sure.
Trump's appeal is in major part that he presents the image of a strong man, an autocrat, who will shake up a political system that many have come to reject and an economic system that serves a shrinking group of Americans.
With that as the mood, what is considered objective truth does not really matter.
For example, the director I was talking to says Clinton is the continuation of Obama and, "Obama wants to take away our guns."
Thoughtful and sharp, the director supports background checks, opposes high-capacity magazines and believes that campus security police should be able to carry guns but students should not. Quite sensible.
As part of our back and forth, we searched online for Obama's policies on gun control.
The National Conference of State Legislatures, a states rights group, summarized them: enforcement of background checks, enforcement of existing laws on guns, removal of barriers to reporting requirements, inclusion of limited mental health information in the background check system, prevention of gun trafficking and, finally, gun safety.
Moderate, limited initiatives.
But that information did not change her conviction that Obama and Clinton want to take away our guns. Millions of people are and will remain convinced of that central falsehood, regardless of objective truth.
As someone in the news business, I remain fascinated by how ideas are transmitted, and locked in. So I ask conservative friends where they get their information.
In her case, it is from ABC local news, hardly a raging pulpit of the right. But with others, the source is, as you might expect, Fox News.
The network has been a true force in American politics and the life's blood of the resurgent, anti party-establishment wing of the conservative movement.
Another woman working here at CNS, who is also smart and thoughtful, told me a story about her father in law who, while visiting from the upper Great Lakes region, insisted on cutting short a family outing so he could get back home to watch "Fox and Friends."
Most disconcerting is another responsible and intelligent employee who simply refuses to vote. "It makes no difference," he says. He liked Bernie Sanders. But he did not vote for him in the primaries because he is not registered.
We all have different takes on the reasons why, but a deep malaise in the American society has been evident for a long time. There are so many who feel, correctly I think, that opportunity is fading and the politics and the economy now favor the wealthy and powerful to an excessive degree.
It was clear from early on that Trump the salesman had successfully tapped into that malaise. And equally clear that Hillary Clinton, as sensible and informed as she might be, was seen as part of it.
But, a few weeks ago, I had concluded that Trump could not survive the shot he took at the Khan family who had lost a son in Afghanistan, combining that with his off-the-cuff hope that the Russians would hack Clinton's emails.
I thought his goose was cooked.
But that cat has at least nine lives.
So with E-Day approaching, I have moved towards a kind of fatalism. It is like someone who is willing to fall backwards without looking, confident that he will be caught.
I can only trust that the American electorate will somehow come up with the right result. But it is less a matter of faith than one of faint hope.
A tall skinny fellow dipped into the city Dumpster where I recycle my garbage, stuffing cans and bottles into trash bags, cramming them into an overflowing shopping cart. He was clean and sober. I gave him my bottles and cans.
Was he breaking the law by fishing for nickels instead of robbing people?
I don't know. I suppose so.
Was I breaking the law by giving him my empties? I don't know.
Contributing to the delinquency of a veteran?
Four days later he was still clean and sober, but a bit raggedy. He told me he was a Marine — vague about when he was discharged and under what conditions. I gave him five bucks and my bottles and cans.
Just about every time I've returned he's been there, raggedier and crazier. Last week he told me that everything he said was "right out of the Bible, man. I don't know how I do it. Everyone can see it. It's just biblical." And so on.
Three days ago he was bleeding from the head. He was not drunk and I don't think he was on drugs. I think he was off drugs, and needed them.
I believe that the first time I saw him he'd just been released from a program and the meds hadn't worn off. Now I'm pretty sure he's off his meds and getting crazier by the day.
So, my fellow Americans: What's my responsibility here?
Anything at all?
Do we have any responsibility to strangers, or only to ourselves?
I talked it over with a friend. We decided I should tell the police. But no one was at the dispatch office, where a sign in the window said the police were very busy and please don't bother them unless it's an emergency. So I walked across the parking lot to the state offices, but no one there was assigned to ... whatever this problem is.
Look: This veteran of war is off his meds and needs help. I'm not scared of him. I don't know if he's dangerous to others, though he's getting so crazy he could be. I think he's dangerous to himself.
I'm an old hippie. It's not my job to turn people in to "the authorities." But this guy was totally respectable, to me anyway, three weeks ago, and now he's stark-raving nuts.
What should I do?
This has nothing to do with law. It has nothing to do with religion. As a human being, what is my responsibility to this poor fellow, raving about the Bible, bleeding in a Dumpster, fishing for nickels?
I asked my family and friends. I asked attorneys, journalists, human rights and medical workers. Nearly all of them told me to tell the police.
But one attorney who'd met the man at the Dumpster, and told him where he could go for help, put me in touch with a community liaison officer with the police. That woman knew him too, and had talked with him, and offered help if he wanted it.
Millions of people might say, in this campaign year, that I have no responsibility to this man at all. Perhaps. But I'm glad I live in a town and state — Vermont — where other people agree that we have responsibilities to people other than ourselves, even if we're not sure what those responsibilities are.
Here's another question. Why are these problems dumped on the police?
Police officers have killed a lot of people recently, many of whom were mentally ill. That makes the police look bad. But if we don't want police to kill mentally ill and homeless people — and I certainly don't — why are the police so often the first, in fact, the only ones we ask to deal with millions of people whom we have been dumping from mental hospitals for decades because we're too cheap and politicians too cowardly to ask us to pay taxes for humanity.
So we turn over mentally ill, sometimes helpless people to people with guns.
That's not responsible behavior. It's not fair to anyone — least of all to the police.
|From The Courts
"The State Bar Requests Your Input."
Believe it or not, that was the subject line of an email that showed up in my inbox last week.
The State Bar wanted my input?
How could this be?
Did the State Bar have any idea of who I am?
I know I'm an influential public figure, but the State Bar has always seemed smart enough not to ask me for advice before. What sort of crisis could this be?
It turned out that the request was part of a mass mailing. The email contained a link to a survey about State Bar conventions and continuing legal education.
Since I'm an expert on both those things, I was happy to help out and I recommend that all of you do the same. This is a nice opportunity for creativity because there are lots of "other" options that allow you to do some specifying.
Specifying is one of my favorite things.
(Note to State Bar: I'm the guy who suggested a costume contest for the State Bar meeting. You can thank me from the stage at the first contest. I'd also be happy to be one of the judges.)
I have to point out, though, that the survey did have some defects that maybe ought to be fixed.
A nitpick first: If you check "no" to the question about attending a CLE course at a State Bar meeting, you get options explaining why not. One of them is "Other (please specify.)"
And then there's no way to specify anything.
This is the sort of thing that might make you wonder if taking a State Bar CLE course is a good idea.
My main criticism of the survey, though, is that there just aren't enough options to choose from.
For example, after a question about possible meeting locations, there are only 10 options. Bakersfield and Fresno are on the list. Sacramento and San Francisco are not.
OK, the last meeting was in San Francisco, so maybe that's why it wasn't included, but where was Yosemite?
Or my house?
There are so many possibilities, but no "other" specification box.
I would have recommended Santa Anita. I'd go to that meeting.
Then there are the meager choices for the optimal length of the State Bar meeting — just two or four days.
What if we like three days?
How about a weeklong festival?
This, of course, is silly. The length of the State Bar meeting is unimportant. What really matters is how much fun it is.
A few of you out there may also think the meeting's educational or networking or political value is important too. I think that's a little weird, but you're entitled to your opinion.
My point, though, is that length doesn't matter — quality and variety matter.
Imagine a State Bar meeting with a fact-filled seminar on, say, recent changes in discovery rules or tax law updates followed by the first round of a softball tournament.
And then on Day 2, updates on marijuana legislation followed by bowling and snacks.
A lot of us might sleep in and just go to the later events, but attendance would definitely go up.
I'd go for the first time in many years.
See you at the Masquerade.