Judges Rule! … Never Mind the Constitution

Just yesterday, I had a scintillating chat with one of my left-wing pals in West L.A. It was a doozy. As we sipped our lattes — mine was actually a macchiato, a double, but anyway — she told me how happy she was to see another federal district judge slap down the President of the United States over his newly minted travel ban.

Her reasoning, if one can call it that, boiled down to nothing more than: Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban is a “Muslim ban” because it applies to majority-Muslim countries, and Donald Trump’s rhetoric from the 2016 campaign evidences his animus toward Muslims. That’s it. I know because I asked my friend to repeat her position … twice … shaking my head in dismay.

“You do know that this travel ban applies only to six countries?” I queried. “And that leaves about 90% of the world’s Muslims unaffected?” … here I got a blank stare … and so, continued, “But that doesn’t matter because each of these countries is majority-Muslim, is that correct?” She nodded and tossed in a “Yep!” for emphasis.

Well, this fruit was just too ripe and too low.

“So, even though the President has constitutional and statutory authority, unilateral authority I might add, to restrict immigration into the U.S., this is still a no-no because these countries are majority-Muslim?”


“So, what if the President restricted travel from a majority-Christian country? Or majority-Hindu? Or majority-Jewish, like say, Israel? In other words, our president cannot restrict entry to the U.S. from any country with a majority religion. Right?”

“I didn’t say that!”

“But if you don’t apply this rule to every country with a majority religion, then you’re singling out Muslims, and you’re applying a religious test of your own … aren’t you?”

“No. Because it’s Trump. He hates Muslims. Just look at what he said in the campaign.”

“So, now we get to the crux of this. The Constitution doesn’t matter. The laws passed by Congress, specifically giving the President this authority, don’t matter. National security doesn’t even matter. The only thing that matters is what Donald Trump said … rhetorically … during the campaign. Really?”

Another blank stare.

“Federal judges get to decide what’s acceptable political rhetoric in this country? What does that do to the First Amendment? All it takes is one federal judge who thinks some candidate’s rhetoric stinks. And based on that … one, single, solitary … federal judge can override the national security policy of a duly elected President of the United States?”

“If Trump’s the president. Pretty much.”

This is what we’re up against … the mind boggles.


Coffee and Criminal Markings

So, I’m at my Brentwood, California coffee joint, chatting with one of my few friends who qualify as ‘hard-core lefties.’ Make no mistake, in West L.A. such characters exist in abundance. I simply spend less time with them than I used to, fascinating though they are as specimens for study.

One example, we’ll call her Gloria, is not receptive when I suggest that Hillary Clinton is most certainly a criminal. Gloria doesn’t waste time denying the obvious, well reported facts of Hillary’s email shenanigans, and the oft-repeated defense that her emails, many of which contained classified information, were not ‘marked’ classified when she received them. Gloria gets to the rub and states with a confident smirk, “In this country people are innocent until proven guilty.” And that makes me laugh.

“By your logic,” I reply, “There’s no such thing as organized crime in America. After all, there are thousands of people who have, over the years, engaged in what we call ‘organized crime.’ The vast majority of these people have never been formally charged with crimes, never brought to trial and certainly never convicted of anything. Does that mean they’re not criminals?”

At this point, Gloria can’t seem to sit still in her chair, as I continue, “Someone who commits a crime is, by definition, a criminal. A conviction merely serves to formalize their status. Kind of like giving an advanced degree to someone who’s already done all the paperwork.” Gloria, who coincidentally has a Ph.D., is now sorely tempted to look past me to see if she knows anyone standing in the ordering queue, as I garner one last sliver of her dwindling attention span. “Let me put it this way. Imagine some guy runs a crime syndicate distributing heroin, for sale in predominantly minority neighborhoods. Now, what if this crime boss gets caught by the police with a bunch of his own product in his possession? And what if he claims, ‘None of the white powder I received was ‘marked’ heroin when I received it.’ Do you think that guy would be taken seriously by anyone outside the Democrat party?”

I leave Gloria, her eyes glazed over, to order another latte.


Chatting About Democrats … and Strategies

There I was, starting off the year 2014 on what seemed like a good note, enjoying a latte at my favorite java joint and reading a good book by Amity Shlaes. However (I’ve found there’s always a ‘however’ qualifying the start of a new year), I sat next to my reliably hardcore liberal pal, Vilmar. Hadn’t seen him in months, but there he was, again reading from the New York Times, and I was thinking to myself, “This guy really needs to get a clue,” when he suddenly leaned over and whispered, “Just wait.” So, I took the bait.


“November. It’s gonna be a slaughter.”

“You talking about the elections?”

“Oh, yeah! Your guys are goin’ down!”

“You must know something I don’t know.”

“We have a theme. 2014’s all about … Inequality.”

“Inequality, eh? … Now that’s about as clear-cut as ‘Hope and Change,’ don’t you think?”

“You forget, we won with that.”

“That’s right, you did, how silly of me. But seriously, when people didn’t know what ‘Hope and Change’ meant, they just gave Obama a pass on that, because he was so cool. If they’d known he was hoping to destroy our health care system and wanted to change America into a socialist state, I doubt he’d have done so well with that theme. Just saying.”

“You want context? Fine. Income inequality.”

“Ahh, yes, well, that’s another sticky wicket. Since income inequality has actually increased since Obama became president. You knew that, right?” … silence … so I continued … “These Democrat geniuses run their polls and conduct their focus groups and then decide to build their campaign around a problem that’s actually gotten worse since their guy became president? Wow. That’s just brilliant.”

He went back to his left-wing rag of a newspaper, I to my book, and I’ve not seen old Vilmar since that day. Nor have I heard a great deal lately about ‘income inequality’ — what seems important in January can often recede into relative insignificance come November.

Grim realities of a dangerous world . . . not focus groups . . . have that effect.

On That Election Day

I remember the first time I saw a photo of Carly Fiorina, a former Republican candidate for the US Senate seat currently held by Democrat Barbara Boxer of California. I noticed something about Ms. Fiorina’s eyes, the positioning, the direction of her gaze … something. I did not give it much thought, as there were far more important things to consider, such as issues, in the run up to the election of 2010.

I went to a Honda dealership that election day for some maintenance on my Civic. While waiting for a ride in the dealer’s limo (really just a mini-van), I sat in a small room with free copies of USA Today, donuts and a TV. Two women sat in the room watching, as if in mild subservience, whatever happened to be on TV. I grabbed a newspaper and some donut-holes.

When an ad for senate candidate Carly Fiorina came on, the two women in the room stared at the screen. “Oh, look at those eyes,” said one of them, shaking her head. “She’s lying. I can tell for sure. I don’t trust her. It’s all in the eyes. Don’t vote for her.” To which her friend replied, “Oh yeah, for sure. No way would I vote for her.”

Then an ad for Dancing with the Stars came on. And the two women stared even more intently at the screen; there were several brief shots of couples dancing determinedly, as though it counted for something. “She was really good last week!” said one of the women regarding one of the dancers. “Oh yeah, I like her a lot!” replied her smiling friend.

As for me personally, I had no idea who any of those dancers were, not a single one; though I was to assume, from the program’s title, that some were celebrities. It was November 2010, our nation was in dire straights, Barack Obama already showing himself unequal to the task of being president, California was on the verge of financial ruin, it was election day, and there I sat with two women who knew a good deal about a televised dance contest, yet little about who might represent them for the next six years in the US Senate.

I would imagine they voted that day for the comforting nuance of Barbara Boxer’s eyes – and I don’t even know what color they are.


Bureaucrats, the Fortune 500 and Bigotry

There I sat, among a party of six, enjoying fine Italian cuisine. Our West Los Angeles neighborhood is more than a bastion of liberalism; it’s home to several trendy trattorias and ritzy ristorantes, and well-heeled patrons who keep them afloat. As I enjoyed my ravioli and spinachi al limone, politics somehow came up at our table, concerning basic differences between Democrats and Republicans.

It was just prior to desert that one of the women in our party stated, “The way I see it, Republicans are pro-business. And Democrats are pro-people.”

I sensed this was the night I was to ‘come out’ to my liberal friends, show my true political colors. So I chimed in, “You know, I think the Democrats are actually more pro-government, and it’s the Republicans who are pro-people.”

To which she replied, as if she’d been waiting for the chance, “But the government is the people.”

‘Damn the torpedos,’ I thought, as I continued, “Well, I got news for you. All those bureaucrats who run our federal government … over in Washington … I don’t think they represent the people of this country any more than the executives who run the Fortune 500. Maybe even less so.”

She looked rather stunned and, yes, quizzical. And since I now commanded the attention of everyone at our table, whether I wanted it or not, I continued. “Think about it. There are thousands of bureaucrats who run all the different agencies and departments that comprise, well, a really big part of our government. They put out tons of rules and regulations telling us citizen-peons what to do all the time, how to run our businesses, spend our money and live our lives. But these government bureaucrats aren’t elected. Hell, we don’t even know who they are. Who do they answer to? Maybe to some other bureaucrat, but not to you or me, I can guarantee you that. And we’re paying their salaries with our taxes. They don’t answer to the citizens of this country any more that the CEO of some publicly held corporation. At least that CEO has a board of directors and about a hundred thousand shareholders to answer to.”

“Well,” she said, still stunned, “I really don’t know about that. But the bottom line for me is that … I just … don’t like Republicans.”

“Wait, you mean you don’t like Republican politics?” I asked. “Or you don’t like them as people?”

“Both,” she said with a smile, eliciting laughter and approval from nearly everyone else at our table. And there were lots of nods as she continued, “They’re just despicable, the way they hate women, and minorities, and gays, and the environment, and abortion. They’re greedy and stupid, and bigots.”

“Wow!” was pretty much all I could say – my turn to be stunned.

Soon I began to gather my wits, and managed a few more words. “So, I’m trying to get my head around what you just said, because … I mean, I can understand your not liking someone’s politics, opinions being what they are. But you just made a really negative judgment on the character of millions of people, literally. People of different backgrounds, different ages, genders, ethnicities. These are people you’ve never met and will never know as individuals. But, you – all you guys – seem to think all these millions of people, who you don’t know, are truly ‘despicable’ because they call themselves Republicans, or vote Republican, or both. The attitude you just expressed strikes me as the very essence of bigotry. And since I never thought of you guys as bigoted people, this is kind of a revelation for me.”

And I’ll tell you what – if you ever want to upset a table full of liberals, just call them a bunch of bigots and watch the ‘S’ hit the fan.

Chatting Coffee and Krugman

By David Lewis

So, I’m sitting in my neighborhood java house, with my latte, minding my own business and reading a favored book of poetry, Road-Side Dog, by Czeslaw Milosz; really do like how that guy’s pen works. We each attend our own ritual in this West L.A. shrine to the coffee life. Some read while others tap away on laptops, chat business or conduct job interviews; still others come in for bags of dry beans and leave straightaway.

I glance up and notice, sitting at a table next to mine, Julia Louis Dreyfus, the talented actress who played Elaine on nine seasons of Seinfeld. She appears to be having a business meeting. Part of me wants to gain her attention, just to compliment her body of work; but I follow the protocol de rigueur in Brentwood – no celebrity stands out in this neighborhood – we’re each quite special, thank you very much.

Once, however, I did take a moment to tell Will Ferrell that I enjoyed his work. This was several years ago, when he was transitioning from Saturday Night Live to the status of Hollywood movie star. It was just the two of us, in an elevator, in Beverly Hills. I would’ve felt silly pretending I didn’t recognize him, and so we nodded politely to each other.

“I really enjoy your work,” I said, smiling.

“Oh, thank you very much,” he replied, smiling back at me. “I appreciate you saying so.” Then the elevator doors opened and we parted company.

Back to java … so there I sit, and Paul Krugman – well-known economist, committed lefty, overly confident, you know the type – walks in and saunters up to the counter. The woman working there, sporting a lip ring, appears to know the Keynesian snoot, and they share some small talk, which I, of course, can overhear.

“How’s business?” Krugman asks.

“Sucks,” she replies. “Sales are way down. People seem to be watching their pennies. Even here. Got any advice?” And a smile curls across his previously pursed lips.

“What’s your monthly outlay on coffee beans?”

“Just enough to keep the bins full.”

“Double it.”


“Better yet, triple it.”

“Even if I saw the sense in that, which I don’t, I don’t have the budget.”

“Borrow it.”

“But why?

“Look, you’re not going to grow yourself out of these doldrums unless you spend a lot of money that you don’t have on coffee that no one will buy.”

“Doesn’t sound very efficient.”

“What’s efficiency got to do with it? It’s about spurring economic activity. Just spend money you don’t have and borrow more than you could ever hope to pay back.”

“We could go out of business that way.”

“Your competitors won’t let that happen, you’re too big to fail. Spend like there’s no tomorrow, and you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, sure. Thanks. Uh, here’s your change. Enjoy your tea.”

Nudge, wink … only seen Krugman on the telly.

Chatting of the Climate

The rhetoric of Paul  Krugman and the climate change hawks … how it takes me back …

It was the summer of 2007, scorching temperatures across the nation, even in West Los Angeles. I enjoyed an air-conditioned respite in my neighborhood Peet’s Coffee. A friend of mine sat next to me, read from the New York Times and leaned toward me every so often, shaking his anxious head, repeating, “It’s global warming.”

In those days, pretty much anything unwanted, including a hot summer day, was blamed on ‘global warming’ – since ‘climate change’ hadn’t been invented yet. I paused from my LA Weekly, leaned toward my friend and asked, “How much time do you think we still have, really, before it’s too late to save the planet? And ourselves?” He considered my query for a good while.

“Ten years,” he told me, with a straight face.

“Well then,” I replied, “We’re doomed.”

“God, I hope not.”

“Think about it. Even if we all devote ourselves to switching from fossil fuels to some cleaner form of energy, I mean real devotion, that’s an admirable goal. But that’s a huge transition. It would take decades to occur, at least, what, half a century? Maybe longer?”

He looked back at me like he might cry. And there really was nowhere for the discussion to go. I felt bad for my friend, and leaned toward him again.

“So, seen any good movies lately?”

After all, nothing like a bit of escapism to get one through the day.