Native American

Native American

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Of shepherds, sheep, and wolves in sheep's clothing - with guns and badges.

When I was trained as a law enforcement officer a long long time ago, we were trained to use only the force necessary to protect others and ourselves; to use deadly force only as a last resort; to always act in a way that deescalated the situation, not escalated it; and most importantly, to be willing to sacrifice our lives before we took the life of an innocent. That meant that in the split second of making a decision of shoot or don't shoot, your duty was to sacrifice your life before you harmed or killed someone you weren't absolutely certain posed a threat to you or someone else. We were repeatedly reminded that the people we were engaging with were the people we had sworn to protect and serve.
Law enforcement is an extremely difficult and thankless job when its done the way I was trained and I was in awe of the officers who trained us and did this thankless job every day. They were/are heroes - true heroes.
Today's LE officers are not trained as police but as an occupying army, and this shouldn't surprise us considering how many service members who came home from Dessert Storm/the first Iraq War were snapped up by law enforcement departments at every level of government, a practice that continues today. When today's LE respond to a call, everyone is considered a potential hostile, and their primary concern is protecting their lives and the lives of their fellow officers. As a soldier in a foreign land, where anyone not in a uniform is considered the "enemy" - this training makes sense. In war, shoot first and ask questions later is a valid and important practice, and there is nothing heroic about killing the enemy to keep yourself safe - it's just necessary for the mission to be successful. Heroics on the battlefield are very different than the heroism required of civilian law enforcement officers.
As the public, we've got to recognize and come to grips with the fact that although the job of law enforcement demands respect, just because someone wears a LE uniform - or any uniform for that matter - does not make them automatically entitled to our respect. It is hubris to believe that because persons puts on a uniform, or a title, or a black robe they can then act any way they want because the uniform, the title, or the robe automatically makes anything they do honorable and just. But hubris becomes normal if We the People are willing to go along with it.
Only sheep stand by and justify the wolf slaughtering their herd simply because the wolf is wearing a sheep's hide, and America wasn't birthed by sheep. We the People, people, We the People. Please figure it out before we don't have any shepherds left.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Machine ...

It DOES exist!

Recently, someone messaged me and remarked that because of my recent stint in politics, I must agree that there was no “good ‘ole boy network” in St. Tammany anymore.  I don’t know this person except through Facebook, but his posts, wherever I've seen them, are intelligent and respectful so his remark gave me pause.  After my year of living politically – that is, wading through an ever deepening river of slime and hoping I didn't step off into a deep hole – I am more acutely aware of the “good ‘ole boy network” than I ever was before.  Before I ran, ‘the machine” was just a concept that I understood about as well as I understand gravity.  I know it exists because I can see the effects of it all around me, but I don’t know how it works or what it looks like.  In fact, I was less certain that there was some political machine in St. Tammany before I ran than I was certain of gravity. 

Having now seen the machine first hand, contrary to the messager's assumption, I know it exists.  What I think surprised me, and what would probably surprise most people including the FB friend who gave me pause, is that “the machine” that most of us talk about is also very much like gravity.  We see its effects so we know something’s there but the machine itself – like the force of gravity – is essentially invisible to us.  It's so pervasive we don't see it for what it is.  And many of us think we know what it is when, in fact, we don't.  

Some are a cog in the machine but like and protect it, or at least what the rest of us call the machine.  They don’t see a machine. They see a system that functions as it’s supposed to, and they don’t think it’s anything other than normal. It’s the way of the world and the way it should be. 

Some, many of us in fact, are a cog in that machine but don't realize it.  

Before I ran for judge, I had never run for public office before and had paid no attention to politics except to try and make an intelligent decision about how to cast my vote.  I didn't have a positive impression of politics but truthfully, it was like watching foreign film without subtitles – what politicians say is usually meaningless to me and trying to figure out what’s going on requires paying really close attention to body language and context and a lot of cultural clues that might as well arise from an Amazonian aboriginal tribe for all I can relate to the world in which politicians live. I have found it maddeningly pointless to do anything but guess, usually voting against something rather than for someone.  

 A dear friend of mine recently said that she didn’t have time to NOT trust the government, and although I have serious objections to her perspective, I am sympathetic to where she’s coming from.  Most of us who have to work to pay the bills and who still vote have taken shortcuts to remain, at least ceremonially, engaged in the process and most of those shortcuts involve trusting someone or some group to tell us how to vote.  We are bombarded with information that we must accept or reject based on trust, or lack thereof, of the source. 

Therein lies the problem. 

This may surprise many of you, but I do not enjoy confrontation.  Agreeing to disagree is my comfort zone BUT I’m not afraid of confrontation when it’s necessary and as a lawyer – nevermind as a patriot – it is my job to confront injustice, especially when it emanates from those entrusted with dispensing justice.  As someone who chose a profession that requires me to swear an oath to stand for justice, I am confused and frustrated by the current culture of “go along to get along” that pervades the legal profession.  Go along to get along is NOT a compatible construct in an adversarial system where someone pays you a lot of money to fight for their rights.  This should be obvious to anyone smart enough to get through law school, which is to say, it does not require brilliance.  It does, however, require a willingness to resist significant pressure to "go along" from people you are conditioned to practically revere. 

After I announced I was running for judge, someone warned me that it was considered bad manners (in St. Tammany/Washington) to run against a seated judge and that it was going to offend the other judges and my colleagues that I was running.  This was my first glimpse of the machine, though I didn't realize it and I’m certain the person conveying that message to me didn't see himself as part of the machine.  He had just learned how to “go along to get along” and was trying to help me out to do the same.  Smart person – smarter than average in fact – yet oblivious to what he was promoting.  He didn't confront this practice and see “machine.” He saw structure and normalcy and embraced it.  I was stunned, then outraged, and that outrage continues. 

This practice of discouraging attorneys from running – which is just another element of the culture of not offending judges if you know what’s good for you – is the single most powerful means by which a small group of well-respected people control and manipulate the much larger community without the community even having a hint that they are being bilked out of their democracy.  

What do we say all the time about why it’s so important to vote? “If you don’t vote, don’t complain.” “If you don’t like the incumbent, vote him/her out of office!” 

Well, how many of you chronic voters voted for Judge Childress on November 4? How about Judge Hand? Swartz? Garcia, Burris, Cody, Gardner, Penzatto, Badeaux, Knight or Devereux?  

For that matter, how many of you who regularly vote voted for Walter Reed in 2008? Or the election before that?  In over thirty years, not counting the first time he was elected to the position, how many times did you actually go to the polls and cast a vote for or against Reed?

I already know the answer to all those questions: None, to the judge elections, and one time, to Reed. And yet Reed got re-elected every time without anyone casting a single vote (save once) and all of those judges just got reelected on November 4 the same way. So no more complaining from any of you about Reed or those judge who got reelected  – or Strain, for that matter, because he also has been re-elected repeatedly without opposition –because you didn't go cast a vote so you have no right to complain … right?  Right?!!

Did you even think about the fact that you didn't get a choice? Did you even realize all those judges were up for reelection? 

What about all those election years when Reed or Strain had no opposition, so there were no signs, no news stories, no debates or forums?  Did you even know you had been cheated out of a choice?

More importantly, have you ever done anything except sit back and passively wait for your candidates to be served up to you by one political organization or another?

Here’s the short story.  The machine is real, but it doesn't believe it's evil and most of what we see of it isn't evil either.  Which is what makes it so powerful.  It isn't blatant evil that is so dangerous to our community or our democracy.  It is the blind trust we put in good people who have put their blind trust in people who believe they are entitled to our deference and to their social position and to do whatever is necessary – including evil – to retain what they KNOW they are entitled to. 

Everyone thinks the Machine is about money.  But money isn't what the machine wants – money is what it needs to get what it wants, and what it wants is to be in control. In every case, except perhaps George Washington, the people who have risen to the most powerful political positions in our communities, both locally and nationally, have done so not because they seek money but because they seek power.  It’s why I ran for judge, frankly.  I wanted to have that power and authority that the office would grant me.   Power, like money, is a tool.  Having either doesn't make you good or evil, but what you do with them can. 

Most people, though, want to feel important far more than they need to actually be important.  The need for social acceptance into a particular group is part of all of us, and sadly, it is the means by which the machine continues its control.  Those who aspire to be liked and admired by "important people", i.e., people with money and power, are easily used by the machine to benignly spread the Kool Aid.  Give most people the feeling that they have the inside track; that they have a connection, or a connection to someone who is connected to “important” people, and they will put their faith in that connection, and treat whatever they hear from that grail as if it is gospel.  It's not wrong or shameful to to do this, just not very wise.  

How many city and parish council members went and told their supporters to vote for Amacker? How many pastors? How many judges? And how many people voted the way they were told because they trusted those people, and will do so again this Saturday?

Do you know how many of those council members, pastors, and judges ever met me? Interviewed me? Cared at all about what the real issues were or what was a stake?  Very few. Too few.  Those "important" people supported who they were told to support or who they were paid to support, and then they went out to people that trusted them, and told them how to vote.  To NOT do so means that they will face very well funded opposition next election.  Or lose a tithe and be kicked out of the fold. Or have some secret spilled. 

That's the machine, in all of its glory.  And all of us are entrapped by it because most of us want to like and believe in the people who we have entrusted with power.  It can seriously mess with your zen, depending how far down the conspiracy theorists track you're willing to go, to realize that people you respect from a distance are not so respectable up close.  

One thing this campaign taught me is just how much most people want to believe in someone and have someone to trust and look up to.  They want to believe that someone in leadership actually does care about them.  When they believe that, they will follow them blindly.  The problem is, you can never be sure who the person you're following blindly is following blindly, and why. 

Several months before the election, I had a meeting with someone who point blank told me he was very politically connected and that Amacker was not well liked by his connections but she would likely be reelected anyway.  I asked him how it was that this small group of powerful people hoped to control an election that involved 30K to 70K voters and he told me, and I am grossly oversimplifying, that almost everyone wanted to be in their "club" and the majority of voters would vote as they were told to vote so they could feel like they were a member of the club.  

It was a bizarre interview, to say the least.  I suspect my political naïveté must have frustrated and surprised my host.  I think he thought I was kind of stupid.  We had a fundamental disagreement about what it meant to be ethical in politics, and it struck me afterward that he had lived with his particular perspective for so long without any dissenting voices that he was as confused by my perspective as I was by his. I think he was take aback by my failure to be persuaded to come around to his perspective, which frankly, deeply disturbed me.  

Although I had gone into that interview with the impression that this person was already willing to get behind me and support my campaign - he made it clear during our discussion that he had no respect for Amacker and what she was doing on the bench – I did not leave there with his support.  I was not willing to come into the fold, so to speak, and take the oath of blind loyalty to his group, which I think I gave away when I could not be persuaded to adopt his view of what it meant to be ethical in politics.    

I have never done blind loyalty and don't recommend it.  I don’t even follow myself with blind loyalty.  Everyone is capable of error; of getting it wrong; of being unfair, biased, prejudiced.  Injustice lurks in the blinding light of absolute certainty just as much as it does in the dark hallows of deliberate ignorance.  A surprising number of us are frightened by uncertainty and out of a need to feel certainty, will believe anything without question, and will tolerate no questions from anyone else.  There's nothing wrong with faith - but we would all do better to discern between what we believe because of faith - and what we actually know.  

Who do you trust for guidance about how to vote? Do you know who they trust?  It’s not a bad system if you know everyone’s agenda.  The problem is, most people in politics these days, or close to politics, don’t want to admit to themselves that their agenda is not at all about service to the community, but about gaining social standing, power and prestige.  And most of us don't want to admit that we don't really "know" what they tell us is true - we just choose to believe in it, and them.  Faith.  

Right before the November 4 election, someone connected the dots for me between Trainor and Reed, and why Black initially endorsed Montgomery and then flip flopped to Trainor. There aren't criminal dots.  Again, I think that's what people misunderstand.  It’s not so much about money and graft as it is about what circles you run in, and how close you are to the inner circle; whose cell phone numbers you have access to, who you can call when you have a brush with the law, or a neighbor. 

I knew that Black had been Amacker’s campaign manager before he decided to run for DA, but I didn't know that he and Amacker had been close friends for years.  Because of their friendship, I was told, he fully expected her camp’s full support when he decided to run, and her camp included Reed and his supporters.  This probably accounts for Reed’s honorable mention of Black when Reed announced he wouldn't run again and, in the same speech, sang the praises of Brian Trainor, who had only just announced he would run a day or so before.  This is also very likely where the wheels started to come off for Black because he might not have counted on the ties between Amacker’s husband, Ted Ditmer and his partner, Chuck Hughes and the Sheriff’s office.   

I was told, though obviously I can't say myself that it is true, that Chuck Hughes' brother is Brian Trainor's godfather.  Chuck Hughes is, of course, a partner at Talley, Anthony Hughes and Knight, along with Amacker's husband, Ted Ditmer  - the firm that represents Sheriff Strain and any suits brought against his office or deputies.  Sheriff Strain is, of course, Brian Trainor's boss, and Trainor's father was also chief deputy to the Sheriff prior to Brian assuming that post, or so I’m told.  

Sheriff Strain and Walter Reed have a long and rich history of working in lock step with each other, and that’s a fact that either of them will happily confirm.  There is no way Sheriff Strain would endorse anyone for DA that Walter Reed didn’t.  Anyone who insists that Brian Trainor has no connections to Reed is either attempting to delude everyone else, or is actively deluding themselves.  Either way, the easiest way to confirm this, if you don’t want to take my completely unsupported testimony here as gospel, is to just go compare the campaign finance reports between Reed and Trainor.  It’s obvious if you know who’s who and who owns what.   

According to a different source, Trainor was being groomed to take Strain’s job when Strain ultimately decided to step down, but then Reed got into trouble.  With rumors circulating that Reed would be indicted at any moment, the decision was made for Reed to step down and put Trainor in the DA spot to ensure that the “structure” that Reed and Strain had built and managed over the prior 30 years was not threatened.  Again, I’m not suggesting that, even if true, these people are planning anything nefarious.  Reed and Strain and those closest to them sincerely believe that the system –what most of us who aren’t in that circle refer to as “the machine” – is a legitimate means of governing. They are not deliberately scheming to commit evil. They are deliberately strategizing – or scheming depending on your perspective – about how to retain their power and influence in the two parishes with the change in Reed’s position – all for our own good. 

So Reed anointed Trainor privately, where it counts, more so than publicly, where it was a problem.  Black got ticked off because he didn't get the support he expected from Amacker and her connections, so he outed Trainor during the primary as an insider and part of the machine, and Black, himself an insider, would know.  The flip flop, of course, was inevitable. No offense to Alan Black, but he's one of them and unlikely to know how to act for long outside the fold.   But I think the voice message to Montgomery on November 4, speaks volumes to how deep that rift got over the primary.  For a while, Black was serious about breaking away.  Kind of a shame he didn't make it. I was rooting for him (at least to break away from the machine. Never for DA).  

In that same vein, I am not suggesting that Brian Trainor is evil or even corrupt.  I don’t know Brian Trainor well enough to know his character, though I can say that the people he has surrounded himself with during this election have caused me to lose some confidence in him.  But I’m still willing to believe that he’s a nice guy who means well. 

Let’s be clear about something though: Brian Trainor and his campaign may say he’s not connected to the machine but what he’s really saying is that he doesn’t believe a machine exists, just like my FB friend.  Brian has spent his entire life in that machine and he can't see the machine for the cogs he's surrounded by. 

He doesn’t have to be Reed’s puppet; he is Reed, essentially.  He sees the world the way Reed does; the way Strain does; he understands power and authority the way they do.  He doesn't see a machine because it surrounds him and orders his world like gravity surrounds us and orders the world.  To do away with the machine, for Brian, would be like doing away with gravity – impossible. To Brian, it's not a machine, it’s good, it's the way the world works and should work, though obviously, like gravity, if you don’t respect it, it will hurt you. 

So vote how you will, but I hope you will not delude yourself that there isn’t a machine/system in place that desires to perpetuate itself through Brian Trainor.  Reed and Strain, and all of those people who feel entitled to their position of power and prestige, have chosen Brian for a reason, even if Brian himself doesn’t understand it because, like the force of gravity he can’t see but takes for granted every day, the machine is all he knows. 

I’m voting for Warren Montgomery because he’s got much more experience in life and law than Brian Trainor; because he appears to value justice over conviction rates, unlike Brian; because he has a defense attorney’s perspective of what it’s like to be at the mercy of an unjust justice system, and, in no small part, because he isn’t Reed or Strain’s choice. 

And if you want to be rid of the machine, but don't believe that I have any idea of what I'm talking about because you KNOW the people you trust KNOW what they know, then just take a chance.  Vote for Montgomery because he is most definitely NOT the machine.  

Happy voting!