That dramatically changed on June 24, and what happened was all over local radio and TV, plus TV stations in Philadelphia, New York and Houston, Yahoo, YouTube, Twitter, UPI, and something called “FARK.com,” which describes itself as “a news aggregator and an edited social networking news site.”
All that attention on little ole Lemon Grove!
And it is little – the population is only about 27,000, and it encompass slightly less than four square miles, about a mile east of San Diego.
In the center of town you’ll see this:
That’s a 3,000 pound, 10 feet x 6 feet statue built as a parade float in 1928, then preserved to remind us that before Lemon Grove was a town, it was, in fact, a lemon grove.
If you could tear yourself way from that and head for the intersection of Washington and Lincoln Streets, before June 24 you would also have seen this:
That’s right – a quiet intersection, homes and trees, nice, but nothing remarkable.
But on June 24 the city of Lemon Grove had its annual contracted street rehab project in the works, and part of that project included the contractors’ subcontractors repainting what are called “sign legends.”
That somewhat faded STOP painted on the street pictured above was on the list for repainting.
And when the contractors’ subcontractors’ hard day’s work was done, the sign legend at Washington and Lincoln Streets looked like this:
Apparently the subcontractors neglected to use spellcheck before they wrapped up and went home.
And they did have a spellcheck of sorts. See the red STOP sign?
Did it occur to anybody to say, “OK. According to the city work order, what we paint on the street needs to match the red sign right there. That sign says S-T-O-P. You got that?”
Or how about, “OK. What we paint on the street needs to match what’s already painted there. On the street it says S-T-O-P. You got that?”
Apparently they did not.
A picture of the STPO started making the rounds on social media, the city got the word, and contacted the contractors, who contracted the subcontractors, and at some point the next morning the street looked like this, with the PO painted over:
I guess the city, or the contractors, or the contractors’ subcontractors, were concerned that someone would have approached the intersection, see both the STPO on the street and the red STOP sign, and not know what to do:
“Oh, no! Do I STOP? Or do I STPO? I’m so confused!”
Resulting in a miles-long traffic jam:
The next morning, the subcontractors returned. They painted over the ST:
Later they returned, laid down stencils, and repainted STOP:
And on that same Tuesday at 1:45 pm, City Manager Lydia Romero assured the public – well, the world really, and FARK.com – that the sign legend had been fixed by Statewide Stripes, Inc.
“Gerrymandering” has been in the news a lot lately.
And what is it?
I was vague on answers to both, so I did some research. I discovered the answers to both are pretty interesting.
Let’s go with the “what” first.
The word “gerrymander” has been around for more than 200 years, and is used by whichever U.S. political party in in the minority. The minority accuses the majority of gerrymandering until the majority party becomes the minority.
Then it’s their turn to hurl accusations of gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering has to do with the process of redistricting, that is, redrawing legislative districts. The recent news stories have to do with congressional redistricting, that is, the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Constitution requires congressional seats to be reapportioned among the states after each census with each federal district having an equal population “as nearly as is practicable.” After the 2010 census, here’s how the congressional districts looked:
If the 2010 census had revealed that California had lost half its population and all those people moved to Vermont, then California would lose a lot of U.S. Representatives and Vermont would gain a lot.
On the other hand, the U.S. population is always increasing, but the number of U.S. Representatives is not. That number is 435, and it was etched in stone in 1929 with the Permanent Apportionment Act. So while the number of Representatives stays the same, the number of people they represent increases.
Hey – I said it was “interesting,” not that it made sense.
In a majority of states, legislators and governors redraw the boundaries of U.S. House districts.
And sometimes those doing the redrawing can get, well…let’s say “creative.”
Like back in 1812. Then, as now, there were two major political parties: the Federalists, and the Democratic-Republicans. That year the state of Massachusetts adopted new constitutionally mandated electoral district boundaries.
The Massachusetts legislature, controlled by the Democratic-Republicans, had created district boundaries designed to enhance their party’s control over state and national offices, leading to some oddly shaped legislative districts.
The practice wasn’t new. But here comes the new name for it.
Although the governor, Elbridge Gerry, was unhappy about the highly partisan districting, he signed the legislation. In a Boston newspaper the odd shape of one of the state senate districts in Essex County was portrayed as a salamander with claws, wings and a dragon-type head, and dubbed the “Gerry-mander,” a combination of Gerry and salamander:
This political cartoon in an 1812 Boston newspaper, depicting a state senate district in Essex County, MA, satirized its strange shape and named it a “Gerry-mander.” The image on the right shows the district’s shape and location in Massachusetts.
Sadly for Governor Gerry, the name and all its negative connotations caught on, and that’s about all he’s remembered for. And since then, the redrawing of districts perceived to be favorable to one party over the other has been called gerrymandering.
Today, gerrymandering has evolved to have its own lexicon including:
Cracking: Diluting the voting power of the opposing party’s supporters across many districts.
Packing: Concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts.
Homogenization: Essentially a form of cracking where the majority party uses its superior numbers to guarantee the minority party never attains a majority in any district.
And speaking of getting creative, it wasn’t only 19th century newspapers mocking the practice of gerrymandering; a few years ago ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative organization, introduced their music video, “The Redistricting Song.” You can see it on YouTube:
Now comes the “why” gerrymandering has been in the news recently:
On March 26 the Supreme Court considered challenges to congressional district maps in North Carolina, drawn by Republicans, and in Maryland, drawn by Democrats.
On April 25 a federal court in Michigan ruled that the state’s Republican-controlled legislature unfairly drew some of Michigan’s state legislative and U.S. House district lines. The court says the legislature must pass and the governor must sign into law new maps by August 1; otherwise the court will draw the new maps itself. Republicans vowed to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which could issue a stay pending a decision this summer on the North Carolina and Maryland redistricting cases.
On May 3 a federal court in Cincinnati tossed out Ohio’s congressional map, ruling that Republican state lawmakers had carved up the state to give themselves an illegal partisan advantage and to dilute Democrats’ votes in a way that predetermined the outcome of elections. The ruling ordered new maps to be drawn by June 14 to be used for the 2020 election. The ruling will go directly to the United States Supreme Court for review.
So in Maryland, Republicans are accusing Democrats of gerrymandering.
In North Carolina, Michigan and Ohio, it’s the Democrats accusing the Republicans.
And now front and center is the Supreme Court, which has long restricted gerrymandering based on race, but has never struck down a voting map as being too partisan.
According to a May 3 article in The New York Times,
In the cases now before the Supreme Court, a central issue is whether courts can draw a bright line between acceptable political maps and ones whose partisan aims overstep constitutional bounds, a question the justices have struggled with for decades.
Chief Justice John Roberts has openly worried that the court could be perceived as acting in a partisan way if it intervenes in such inherently political decisions.
But, the article continues,
After a series of lower courts have thrown out partisan maps, “it’s becoming harder and harder for the Supreme Court to claim that there’s no possible way for courts to manage claims like these,” said Justin Levitt, the associate dean of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “It shows that courts can and do manage these cases just fine, with reasonable opinions that don’t look simply like the judges are wearing partisan hats.”
The whole gerrymandering and redistricting problem could be, if not solved, then at least alleviated if the redistricting was done by independent commissions:
An independent redistricting commission is a body vested with the authority to draft and implement electoral district maps. The composition of independent commissions varies from state to state. However, in all cases, the direct participation of elected officials is limited.
And six states do have those independent commissions for both congressional and state legislative redistricting: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington.
But that’s only six. Here’s how the congressional redistricting process looks as of 2017:
The seven states (light grey) marked N/A have one congressional district each, so redistricting is unnecessary.
In two states (dark grey), politician commissions draw the lines.
In four states (yellow), independent commissions draw congressional district lines.
In 37 states (red), state legislatures are primarily responsible for congressional redistricting.
Let’s get real here. See all those red states? Allowing state legislatures to do their own redistricting is like asking the proverbial fox to guard the hen house.
Remember those four states with gerrymandering cases either before or soon-to-be-before the Supreme Court? If a majority political party had its way, here’s how the federal redistricting maps in those four states – and all states – would look, with the minority party’s district in red:
But change is coming. Six of the red states in the above map have passed amendments to change their redistricting process to reduce the likelihood of gerrymandering.
However…those changes won’t happen until after the 2020 census is complete.
The results of the 2020 census won’t become available until December 31, 2020.
So the changes these six states make in their redistricting process won’t affect the 2020 election.
But what the Supreme Court decides about North Carolina, Maryland, Michigan and Ohio will affect the 2020 election.
So, I say this to our Supreme Court justices:
Pull up your big-boy and big-girl pants, wade into this morass, drain this swamp, and set redistricting guidelines.
Isn’t this why we pay you the big bucks? And give you jobs for life? And big, fat pensions? And three months paid vacation every summer?
To make the tough, important decisions?
Justices, do your job.
And I mean now, before for the 2020 election.
The Supreme Court is is due to issue a number of rulings before the end of its term this week.
One of those rulings will be about the partisan manipulation of electoral district boundaries – gerrymandering:
This decision will affect us for the next 10 years –
until the next census – and far beyond that.
Every now and then I feel compelled to ask myself those existential questions:
What is the meaning of life?
Is our existence a sequence of random events or is this all meant to be?
Are there bacteria in my belly button?
While I, like most mere mortals, continue to grapple with #1 and 2, fortunately, there is an answer to #3:
Thousands of bacteria live in our belly buttons.
This knowledge is not new, though it was new to me.
What else is new: Many of those bacteria were heretofore undiscovered.
Doing the discovering was a group of North Carolina-based researchers who published the results of their Belly Button Biodiversity (BBB) project:
And how this one missed the Nobel Prize for Science – well, perhaps that’s another existential question.
According to Rob Dunn of North Carolina State University, the project began two years earlier – two years that they spent swabbing the navels of 500 volunteers and then identifying their findings.
I can’t help but wonder – how did they advertise for those people?
Once those 500 were swabbed, the team somehow narrowed down their samples to focus on just 60 individuals.
I can’t help but wonder – how did they do that?
Dr. Rob Dunn: I like the squiggly stuff!
Fellow Scientist: OK, but I want that purply thing!
Within those 60 samples the team found 2,368 species of bacteria, 1,458 of which may be new to science. Altogether, the researchers found that the average belly button among study participants contains 67 different types of bacteria.
Our navels are a veritable wildlife park!
Though the simile Dr. Dunn prefers is “like rain forests. It’s quite beautiful. And it makes sense to me as an ecologist.” And to support his belief in that beauty, he offers this image at rondunnlabcom:
I think this looks like what comes in a box of Pepperidge Farm Chocolate Collection cookies, but what do I know?
And another scientist described our navels as “a cache of a lifetime of little treasures,” that “lifetime” probably referring to those volunteers who rarely bathed and/or ignored their belly button hygiene.
Not only did the team possibly discover almost 1,500 new species, but they learned that some bacteria appear to be arriving in our navel niches from unlikely places:
One bacterium residing in a belly button, Marimonas, had only been found in the ocean before.
Two types of bacteria more typically thrive in ice caps and thermal vents.
Another species, called Georgenia, had only been found living in the soil – in Japan – though the volunteer had never been there:
So – a wildlife park, a rain forest, a cache of little treasures? Which are you?
Take a look, and you decide.
I still say they look like cookies:
(Can you tell which is the cookie and which is the Bacillus bacteria?)
I was watching the PBS NewsHour on the evening of Trump’s recent rally in Orlando, when they teased an upcoming story about the rally and the above image appeared.
What the hell?
Is that our U.S. flag with an image of a thumbs-up Trump embedded in it?
With “Making American Great Again” across the bottom?
What the hell?
I have never heard of, or seen, or imagined anyone desecrating our flag in this manner.
As I sat there, stunned, that same image appeared at 39:58 into the program:
And again at 40:27 into the program:
My feeling was, “How could PBS show not once, not twice, but three times an image that so politicizes our flag?”
And, “How could that person at the rally politicize our flag like that?”
It turns out, whoever was displaying that flag didn’t have to do it themselves.
It’s for sale online:
The flag is “Dye-sublimated with beautiful bold colors” and “Printed on one side all the way through the fabric,” and I’ll bet it’s made in a foreign country.
A country which may be familiar with, but is paying no attention to, the U.S. Code, Section 8, Rule g, “Respect for flag”:
I went online to see if any of the media coverage mentioned it, and found this image on Politico.com:
And this variation on PBS online, Aljazeera and no doubt elsewhere:
With no comment about the flag’s alterations.
No outrage like I felt.
Further online searching brought me only one other similar flag-altering incident, on Snopes.com from back in 2012. Someone had asked,
Is this a real flag with Obama’s picture on it or merely a photo-shopped picture for negative publicity? Was it really flown over Democratic headquarters in Lake County?
Origins: This image of a U.S. flag flying in conjunction with another U.S. flag in which the traditional fifty stars in the blue canton have been replaced with an image of President Barack Obama came to public attention in March 2012. The latter flag had been flying for several months over the headquarters of Florida’s Lake County Democratic Party but was taken down on 13 March 2012 after complaints from veterans.
Review, short version: Three roses for the writing; multiple skunks for the subject.
Review, long version:
You’ve heard the expression, “Wash your mouth out with soap”?
After I finished this book I wanted to wash my brain out with soap.
I’ve deliberately avoided books about Donald Trump, figuring that the authors would either deify him or crucify him. Everyone is entitled to their points of view, but I wasn’t interested in reading them.
And author Vicky Ward certainly has her point of view about Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in Kushner, Inc.: Greed. Ambition. Corruption.
But I decided to read Ward’s book because I was curious about the “First Daughter” and “First Son-in-Law.” They’re not in the headlines as much as the president, and I wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes.
Well, now I know.
When a potential couple meets, it’s good to discover things in common.
It might be they’re both from the Midwest, or they have the same model of phone, or they both hate math.
Here’s what Ivanka and Jared discovered they had in common:
They were both raised to believe the rules don’t apply to them.
And as adults, that was and is a core belief.
It was a match made in…
Well, “Heaven” isn’t quite the word I’m thinking.
I’d like to write off Ivanka and Jared as innocuous, vacuous, and, ultimately, not dangerous nonentities.
Unfortunately, I can’t.
They are Senior Advisors to the President, and this position is important. Distinguished, intelligent members of both parties have held this role honorably, treated the role respectfully, and served our country honestly.
Our presidents have always had advisors because no president – no matter how intelligent or well-informed – can know everything about everything.
But our current president has two Senior Advisors who know nothing about anything…
Allowing Jared any active role in our country’s politics, considering his lack of experience, is like telling someone they’re qualified to do brain surgery because they’ve seen a picture of a brain.
Allowing Ivanka to advise the president – the most powerful person in the world – about anything beyond accessorizing an outfit is like inviting a blind person to race in the Indie 500.
And Ivanka is adept at accessorizing – she even launched a fine jewelry line in 2007.
This is relevant because in November 2016, after her father won the election, the Trump family appeared on 60 Minutes.
The next day Ivanka’s company sent out a press release to promote the $10,800 yellow gold and diamond bracelet that she wore during the show:
As the Hollywood Reporter put it, “This isn’t the first time Ivanka has used a political forum to promote one of her own designs…but given Ivanka’s dad’s new role, it would be a conflict of interest for her to be using his presidency for personal profit.”
For me, Ivanka can be summed up by her behavior at the G20 Summit in 2017. The Summit is an international conference for heads of governments and banks, foreign ministers and other VIPs who meet to discuss international financial stability.
At one point during the proceedings President Trump left the room, and, as Ward puts it, Ivanka “took her father’s seat…between British Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese President Xi Jinping”:
“The gesture,” Ward continues, “seemed to send the message that the U.S. government was now run on nepotism. Senior State Department officials and a senior White House official agreed it was inappropriate.”
Jared was, says Ward, his father’s favorite of four siblings, the “Chosen One.” When his GPA and SAT scores didn’t warrant his getting into Harvard, his father, Charlie Kushner, “pledged $2.5 million to Harvard…He also got New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who was an investor in at least one of his projects and to whom Kushner Companies had donated more than $200,000, to make a call to Senator Ted Kennedy, who, in turn, phoned Harvard’s dean of admissions.”
And just like that, Jared was in.
Kushner, Inc. quotes many people about Jared, some of them named and some of them not. Jared’s former employee, Elizabeth Spiers, said, “Jared doesn’t care about ethics. It’s not an issue of him not understanding what the ethics are. It’s him deciding they don’t matter.”
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni said that Jared is “integral when there’s the hope of credit, invisible when there’s the certainty of blame.”
From Ward: “Whatever the right word to describe his meddling in foreign affairs…‘Potentially dangerous’ is a phrase I heard used by a…recently retired, very senior State Department official…”
From a former senior White House official: “Jared never understands the details of anything. He’s just impressed by names.”
Again, from Ward: Jared is “clearly, his father’s son in so many ways, including a disdain for rules, for ethics, for honesty.”
And this, from one U.S. political consultant in the Middle East: “They caught the Saudis talking to each other about how Jared would give them information.” And another Middle East political consultant: “They [the Saudis] think he’s just the worst human being they’ve ever met.”
Ward frequently uses the media’s nickname for Jared and Ivanka – “Javanka” – including in her acknowledgments:
“…the story of Javanka’s rise and their corruption was essential reading for all those truly seeking insight into this bent administration and who fear for our country’s future in their hands.”
Well, now I have some insight.
Javanka: “A toxic mix of arrogance and ignorance.”
One serial adulterer awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to another serial adulterer?
That’s what’s wrong with this picture.
And all you have to do to get our country’s highest civilian award is win a golf tournament.
I won a Tiddly Winks tournament once – would that qualify me?
Well, then, what are the qualifications?
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. Recipients are selected by the president, either on the president’s own initiative or based on recommendations.
The prestigious award isn’t limited to U.S. citizens, and in the ensuing 56 years nearly 600 people have been recipients.
Considering that our planet’s population is seven billion, that’s a very exclusive club, indeed.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom recognizes individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
I’m not getting how Tiger Woods qualified for this.
Oh – maybe it was that “private endeavors” thing?
And in late 2009 we started hearing just how many private endeavors. After that crazy car crash near his home, it was like a dam burst – and we were flooded with stories of Woods’ affairs with multiple women, including but not limited to the following:
Tabloids claimed New York nightclub promoter Rachel Uchitel had secret meetings
with Woods in New York, Las Vegas and Australia, but she denied the reports.
Porn actress Holly Sampson allegedly told The Sun she gave Woods “a birthday to remember,” but her lawyer said that Sampson had nothing to say on the matter.
A “source” said Cori Rist, a fixture on the Manhattan nightclub scene, was booked into hotel rooms next to Woods’ so they wouldn’t be seen together.
Los Angeles cocktail waitress Jamiee Grubbs claimed she had a 31-month affair with Woods.
“Pancake waitress” Mindy Lawton said she had sex with Woods in a church parking lot as well as at his home during their year-long affair.
Jamie Jungers, an aspiring model and Las Vegas cocktail waitress, was alleged to have had an affair with Woods that lasted 18 months.
Kalika Moquin, a marketing manager for a Las Vegas nightclub, would neither confirm nor deny a relationship.
Porn star Veronica Siwik-Daniels was described as Woods’ “full-time mistress.”
A one-night stand with neighbor Raychel Coudriet allegedly took place on a couch in his office, near a crib for one of his kids.
Former Playboy pinup Loredana Jolie’s lawyer denied that she had sex with Woods, but that he gave her money and jewelry.
Woods was also plagued by health issues. I think golf looks like a simple game for wimps, but even I know that at Woods’ level it can be brutally hard on the body. He had multiple surgeries, and kept playing in tournaments.
And kept going home with a big “L for Loser” on his forehead.
Home, that no longer contained his wife, Elin, and their two children. She divorced him in 2010, took the kids and the money, and ran.
His sponsors ran, too.
Before the scandal, Woods was the #1 ranked golfer in the world. He reached an all-time low of #1,199 in December 2017.
How low can you go? Woods was there.
Then came April 2019, and Woods won – WON! – the Masters in Georgia. Suddenly, everyone wanted to be his friend again. Headlines hailed his “comeback”:
And in May, the president gave Woods the Presidential Medal of Honor.
From one serial adulterer to another.
Since Woods’ big win there’s been lots of buzz in the media about “redemption,” though how winning a golf tournament “redeems” the pain and humiliation Woods inflicted on his wife and family is a mystery to me.
“C’mon, now,” you’re thinking. “People learn from their mistakes. People change.”
I agree – people can, and people do.
But a leopard doesn’t change his spots. And…
If you, too, would like to get a Medal of Freedom but don’t play golf, consider writing a flattering book about the president.
Arthur Laffer, co-author of Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy, is slated to receive the Medal of Freedom on June 19.
Apparently Laffer’s co-author, Stephen Moore, was not deemed medal-worthy.
I have no faith that the church – from priest to Pope – will change how clergy sexual abuse is handled.
And it appears that others felt, and feel, the same way. Well before the Pope’s February 2019 sex abuse summit in Rome, law enforcement agencies across the country were no longer sitting on the sidelines and waiting for church higher-ups to cooperate:
August 2018: A Pennsylvania grand jury released a 900-page report that compiled testimonies from victims alleging decades of abuse by clergy and other church officials. After a review of internal church documents, the report said there were “credible” allegations against more than 300 “predator priests” in Pennsylvania who sexually abused more than 1,000 children in cases going back to the 1940s.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro told reporters that the testimonies also pointed to a “sophisticated” cover-up by top church officials.
The report’s findings prompted attorneys general in other states – including Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont among others – to pursue their own investigations into the issue.
October 2018: Police seized clergy misconduct records from all of Michigan’s Catholic dioceses. The searches took place as part of the Attorney General’s Office investigation into the dioceses’ handling of clergy sexual abuse of minors.
Attorney General Bill Schuette began an investigation in August into all allegations of sexual abuse and assault by Catholic diocesan and religious order priests, as well as any attempts to cover up those actions dating back to the 1950s in Michigan.
December 2018: Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan released preliminary findings of her ongoing investigation into the Catholic Church. While the six dioceses in Illinois have now publicly identified 185 clergy members as having been “credibly” accused of child sexual abuse, Madigan’s investigation has found that the dioceses have received allegations of sexual abuse of at least 500 additional priests and clergy members in Illinois.
The investigation revealed that allegations frequently have not been adequately investigated by the dioceses or not investigated at all. In many cases, the Church failed to notify law enforcement authorities or Department of Children and Family Services of allegations of child sexual abuse.
Among the common reasons the dioceses have provided for not investigating an allegation is that the priest or clergy member was deceased or had already resigned at the time the allegation of child sexual abuse was first reported to the diocese.
Those were prior to the Pope’s February 2019 summit. Following the summit, it appears that plenty of clergy still weren’t raising their hands and cooperating.
So state attorneys general and local law enforcement continue their investigations:
February 2019: Authorities in Nebraska have issued subpoenas to more than 400 Catholic churches and entities requesting records related to child sexual assault, according to the state’s Department of Justice.
The office of Doug Peterson, the Nebraska Attorney General, said, “The department believes that subpoenas are necessary in order to ensure all reports of impropriety have been submitted to the appropriate authorities. It is our goal that all reports of abuse are subject to complete law enforcement review and investigation as warranted.”
February 2019: The three Catholic dioceses of Colorado will open their records to an independent investigator in an effort to provide a full accounting of sexual abuse of children by priests through the decades.
The investigator will compile and make public a list of priests with substantiated allegations of abuse, including where the clergy were assigned and the years when the offenses were alleged to have occurred, under the initiative announced by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
Colorado’s former U.S. attorney, Bob Troyer, will lead the independent investigation.
The plan is a hybrid of what has been done in other states. It doesn’t fully involve law enforcement – no subpoenas or a grand jury investigation – and it doesn’t allow the church to investigate itself. Troyer’s report, which will be public, is expected this fall.
April 2019: Georgia attorney general Chris Carr announced that the Catholic Church in Georgia is being investigated by his office over its handling of sex abuse cases. The investigation will be undertaken by the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, the group which represents district attorneys in the state.
“I think people should be prepared for some bad news, revelations that some people don’t want to come out,” said attorney Darren Penn, who represents an unidentified man in a lawsuit alleging abuse at the hands of former Dalton priest Douglas Edwards.
But, Penn said, in his experience, the church still clings to secrecy and obfuscation. “Hopefully, it’ll be different with the state involved,” he said.
May 2019: Dallas police searched the headquarters of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and other properties as part of the church’s widening sex abuse scandal, police and church officials said.
In a search warrant affidavit, a police investigator said the diocese had failed to reveal a full picture of sexual abuse allegations against a handful of its priests and, in some instances, handed over to authorities incomplete records on the accused.
“Despite assurances from the Diocese’s attorneys that the priests’ files were complete and accurate, I also detailed specific examples where those files were not complete and accurate,” Dallas police detective David Clark wrote in the affidavit, adding that efforts to obtain files about sex abuse claimants were “thwarted” by church officials.
At least 298 clergy members across the state have faced “credible abuse” allegations going back to the 1940s, according to the lists compiled by the 15 Texas dioceses.
May 2019: The California Attorney General’s Office has launched a statewide investigation into Catholic Dioceses over the handling of child sexual abuse allegations – a broader inquiry than was first known.
A spokesman for the California Catholic Conference confirmed that all 12 Catholic dioceses in California were mailed letters from the AG’s office, instructing them to either preserve or hand over documents related to abuse handling.
Mike Reck, an attorney who represents clergy abuse victims, said California’s investigation won’t just hold abusers accountable, but the church leaders who protected them. “It’s not just focusing on individual perpetrators. It is scrutinizing the cover-up and the conspiracy of silence at the highest levels.”
My focus has been on the U.S., but there are investigations going on in many countries. Here are just a few examples, from a February 2019 Associated Press article:
Australia: The government launched a four-year national investigation into all forms of institutional abuse, Catholic and otherwise. The landmark survey found 4,444 people were abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions between 1980 and 2015.
Chile: Chilean criminal prosecutors have staged a series of raids on the church’s secret archives to seize documents. They have opened more than 100 investigations into abusive priests and have questioned the current and former archbishops of Santiago about allegations they covered up crimes.
Germany: Last September the German Catholic Church released a devastating report that concluded at 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014. The researchers who compiled the report complained they didn’t have access to original files, and said there was evidence that some files were manipulated or destroyed.
At the same time, much of the developing world has escaped a public explosion of the scandal, as have conflict zones and countries where Catholics are a minority. That doesn’t mean clergy sexual abuse isn’t happening in these places, only that at present it’s below the radar.
And here’s a final, ironic note:
Vatican City – home of the Pope and seat of the Catholic church – is an independent city-state, governed as an absolute monarchy with the Pope at its head.
Vatican City has no policy on its books to protect children or require reporting of sex crimes to police.
It looks like law enforcement aren’t the only people coming after the church.
Catholics are making their objections known in the best possible way to get the church’s attention – by withholding their money:
In February 2019, the Pope hosted his clergy sexual abuse summit in Rome.
In the meantime, the church had devised another way to protect predator clergy.
I call this strategy “pay and they’ll go away”:
In mid-May, six of California’s Roman Catholic dioceses announced a new program to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse.
The basis of the program is, a victim of clergy sexual abuse who has not yet received a financial settlement through litigation can apply for financial compensation.
Participants in the program who accept settlement then forfeit their ability to go to court. If states change their statute of limitation laws – and some states are considering this – victims also forfeit the right to sue later.
The program is modeled on one adopted in 2016 by the archdiocese of New York and extended to other East Coast dioceses:
What that program, and the California program, also have in common is administrator Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer best known for settling victims’ claims after 9/11, and his co-administrator, Camille Biros.
Compensation for the victims – or families of victims – of 9/11 came from a fund created by Congress. Our government – and the victims – had no recourse against the 9/11 perpetrators. Yes, we knew who the hijackers were, and where they came from. But you couldn’t sue the dead hijackers, and suing the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon would be an exercise in futility.
That isn’t the case with the Catholic church. The church and its deep pockets – there is good reason to believe it may be wealthiest institution in the world – is very much within legal reach.
And the church hierarchy covered up the wrongdoing of its clergy. That makes the institution as responsible as the individual perpetrators.
Two years after the New York Archdiocese began its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, the New York Post reported that almost $60 million had been paid to victims:
For those who accepted the compensation in New York, for those in California and possible future locations who accept the compensation, I say:
If this helps you heal, you made a good decision.
For those who decline the compensation and choose to pursue their legal options, I say:
You have a long, uphill battle against a powerful, wealthy institution that’s perfected the art of stonewalling.
My sincere wish is that you succeed in whatever way is meaningful to you.
It’s true that Bishop Robert McElroy, head of the San Diego diocese, said the diocese would follow the standard procedure when a priest is accused. A private investigator checks the allegation and reports to a review board consisting of priests and lay people, including one survivor of clerical sexual abuse. That board makes a recommendation to the bishop.
“If it’s credible, then the name would go on the list, absolutely,” McElroy said, referring to the list the diocese publicly posts of credibly accused priests. “And we must file a police report.”
Well, Your Eminence, or whatever you call a bishop, that just leaves me with more questions:
Once the review board makes a recommendation to you, the bishop, who, exactly, is accountable for following up with you, the bishop?
Who, exactly, is accountable for making sure that police report gets filed?
Who, exactly, is accountable for that list of credibly accused priests that the diocese publicly posts?
And, Bishop McElroy, where is “the list” you referred to? I went to your diocese website and found nothing to indicate it was available there:
I do see a big red button to “Donate,” but no list of credibly accused priests.
So I did some more searching, and found a database of publicly accused priests at Bishop-Accountability.org:
In my research I also came across this article from September 2018:
It lists the names of eight “credibly accused” priests with connections to San Diego.
One of those eight is J. Patrick Foley.
He was accused of abusing two Sacramento-area boys. In 2011 there was a “canonical trial” with an “unclear” verdict, as opposed to a trial in a criminal court of law.
“We suspended him and took away his faculties, which means he wasn’t allowed to publicly function as a priest,” said San Diego Diocese Vice Chancellor Kevin Eckery.
Well, guess what, Kevin? Foley is alive and well in Northern California, and has a website where he promotes himself as the “Itinerant Papist Preacher:
“Papist,” in case you’ve forgotten, means “Catholic.” As you can see in the above image, Foley is dressing like a Catholic priest. He describes himself as “a diocesan priest, ordained in 1973.”
And he conducts, among other things, “retreats” for “young adults.”
Is anyone paying attention here?
I have no faith that the church – from priest to Pope – will change how clergy sexual abuse is handled.
I’ll talk about that in Part III, my last installment.
Back in February the Pope – who, like Cher and Beyoncé, needs no last name – hosted an event which the media called the “sex abuse summit,” and the church called “The Protection of Minors in the Church.”
Catholic bishops in the U.S. had been planning their own shindig at an earlier date, but the Pope said, “No, no! Wait and come to my boys’ club party! It’ll be a lot more fun! And you’ll go home saying, ‘That was even more fun than the Inquisition!’”
So the U.S. bishops waited and then joined other bishops in Rome, more than 100 all told.
After three days everyone went home, promising to “pray and meditate” on the matter of Catholic priests and hierarchy either engaging in the sexual abuse of minors and adults, or covering up for the clergy who did so.
Nothing else happened.
Until this announcement in early May:
The Pope’s mandate was sent in a letter called a “Motu Proprio.” Apparently that’s Latin for “Own Motion,” but I think that first word sounds like it would work really well in that old song, “The Name Game”:
She was everywhere: CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, YouTube, The New York Times…
…the Washington Post, Time, USA Today, People, Associated Press, local print and television.
And it was more than 15 minutes:
As I wrote this, we were at 10 days and counting.
And all she had to do was…
She got lost.
Amanda Eller, 35, a resident of Maui, decided to go for a hike on May 8 in the Makawao Forest Reserve.
She got lost, was found on May 24, and no one can dispute that she suffered an ordeal during that time.
Since then, we’ve been inundated with information about Eller. Here are just a few items from the tsunami of coverage:
“I don’t really know what happened,” Eller said. “All I can say is that I got out of my car, it’s like, you know, I have a strong sense of internal guidance, whatever you want to call that, a voice, spirit – everybody has a different name for it, heart.
“My heart was telling me, ‘Walk down this path, go left,’ great. ‘Go right.’ It was so strong,” she continued. “I’m like, great, this is so strong that obviously when I turn around and go back to my car it will be just as strong when I go back, but it wasn’t.”
So Eller, like, listened to that “voice” – or whatever you want to call that – and like, got lost for like, 16 days.
The Makawao Reserve is rugged land, and Eller stumbled, fumbled, walked, crawled, fell, broke her leg and/or injured her knee, depending on who you’re reading. And one night:
Eller said she was able to keep warm by seeking shelter inside the den of a wild boar:
“This is the Chinese New Year, this is the year of the boar, I’m a boar,” Eller explained to reporters. “So I’m like finding myself sleeping in a boar’s home. And they were like trailblazing for me.”
While Eller was wandering, a search was underway. From various media sources:
Eller’s rescue followed an enormous search effort, which included hikers, helicopter and drone pilots, free divers, and data analysis experts.
Fire rescue crews and more than 100 volunteers mounted an intensive land and air search of the area. The effort expanded to high-tech GPS mapping and the dispatch of a team of hiking dogs.
There was a Facebook page offering a $50,000 reward, and a Go Fund Me page dedicated to helping fund her family and friends’ search raised more than $77,000.
“Searchers braved relentless sun, flooding rivers and unforgiving terrain that they took head-on with the business end of machetes. They picked through the intestines of the boars they slew to look for human remains.”
One rescuer was reported injured, and another, Chris Berquist, says he lost his job because he refused to return to work while the search was ongoing.
A few days after her rescue, Eller and her family held a press conference:
Seriously? A press conference for getting lost?
During the press conference, CNN carried live updates:
Seriously? Live updates on CNN for getting lost?
Come on! This woman didn’t find the cure for cancer, or find the path to world peace, or even find Waldo.
The media even aired a surveillance video of Eller shopping at Haiku Market for a Mother’s Day gift just before she went on her hike:
At first, we couldn’t find her.
Then, we couldn’t get away from her.
Her boyfriend made the news:
Her car made the news:
Even her feet made the news:
See what I mean?
She was everywhere.
Eller lost weight during her ordeal, and she’s considering writing a book, How To Lose 20 Pounds in Less Than 20 Days – The Listen-To-That-Voice-And-Get-Lost Diet!
A memoir about her experience is also in the works, and several prominent Hollywood moguls are in a bidding war for the movie rights.
A lead actress has not been named, but Eller’s feet will portray themselves:
Guaranteed: Here’s the formula to get your own 15 minutes – or endless days – of fame:
I’m sitting here slurping my first cup of morning coffee, normally a most enjoyable experience.
But not this morning.
My enthusiasm has been – shall we say, watered down? – since I learned I’d missed the opportunity to pay $75 for a cup of coffee, “the world’s most expensive,” says a recent issue of Time magazine (right) and other media.
Instead of rushing out to Klatch Coffee in San Francisco to drink in this opportunity, I just sat here, ignorantly sipping my already-ground-coffee-that-comes-in-a-12-ounce-can and costs about 20 cents a cup.
Since I couldn’t sample the $75-a-cup brew myself, I consoled myself with reading about it.
Last month Klatch Coffee secured 10 pounds of Elida Natural Geisha 803 coffee beans:
And what’s that?
The “803” part is easy – at auction the coffee beans went for $803 a pound, a new world record.
The “Elida Natural Geisha” is a bit more complicated. According to the Klatch website, “Elida” is an estate in Panama where the coffee is grown.
“Natural” refers to the coffee bean processing.
“Geisha” has nothing to do with geishas, as in Japan. It’s is a variety that originated in Gesha, Ethiopia, was planted in Costa Rica, and later in Panama which, at the moment, is the best growing place. Today it’s marketed as Geisha or Gesha.
And at $75 a cup, Klatch sold out to about 80 people. Here’s one of them:
“It tastes like fruit”?
If I want something that tastes like fruit, I’ll eat an apple.
Not a cup of coffee for $75.
A bit more research, and I learned that Elida Natural Geisha 803 isn’t the only expensive coffee around.
You can get a one-kilogram (about two pounds) bag of Indonesia’s Kaya Kopi Luwak for $449, marked down from $649 on their website.
Their process includes using partially digested coffee cherries, eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet:
Whose idea was this? I’m imagining the conversation:
“Damn, we’re out of coffee!”
“Hey! Let’s follow that civet around until it poops, and use that!”
Not to be outdone, a kilogram of Thailand’s Black Ivory Coffee is going for $2,000 on their website.
It’s made from undigested coffee beans consumed by elephants and collected from their droppings:
“Honey, can you make some coffee?”
“We’re out – go find an elephant!”
While Kaya Kopi Luwak and Black Ivory don’t – perhaps, understandably – include “natural” in their names, all three coffee brands do have something in common besides being expensive:
Their extravagant descriptions:
Elida Geisha: Known for its floral, tea-like and stone fruit (peach or apricot) flavors with jasmine, bergamot, and sugar cane being common flavor notes… and mixed fruit notes like strawberry, raspberry, or blueberry.
Kaya Kopi Luwak: Has a complex flavor profile that is smooth, earthy and sweet. You may taste and smell hints of citrus, jasmine, honey and/or chocolate depending on your batch and the current harvest season.
Black Ivory: With notes of floral, chocolate, malt, spice, and a hint of grass and without the burnt or bitter taste of regular coffee…smooth like chocolate with hints of cherry, and a bit earthy.
I look at my plain, ordinary 20-cents-a-cup cup of coffee. No stone fruit. Not a hint of citrus. Nothing remotely resembling grass.
Even a pound of Starbucks French Roast Coffee (“our darkest, most decadent roast”) costs $17 on Amazon, more than twice the cost of my brew. And I’d have to grind that myself!
And speaking of Starbucks, did you see this one?
Awhile back there was a rumor that Starbucks was going to start offering elephant poop – I mean Black Ivory – coffee, and in Puyallup, WA this coffee aficionado in the white SUV decided to jump ahead in line before Starbucks ran out:
The driver allegedly said, “I’ve tried that civet crap coffee, but the elephant poop’s notes of floral, chocolate, malt, spice, and a hint of grass are way better.”
Clearly – a true coffee aficionado.
Well, since the Elida Natural Geisha 803 was sold out…
And I’m iffy about getting in line at Starbucks…
And I’m really iffy about the civet/elephant poop thing…
Maybe I’ll just stick with my 20-cents-a-cup stuff.
We have something in the English language called passive voice.
While it doesn’t make you a bad person to use passive voice, it’s generally considered a grammar “don’t.”
Active voice is preferred.
Here are some examples:
Passive Voice: Your bicycle was damaged.
Active Voice: I damaged your bicycle.
Passive Voice: Mistakes were made.
Active Voice: We made mistakes.
Passive Voice: A request was made.
Active Voice: John made the request.
The tricky thing about passive voice is that it hides the identity of the person doing the action.
This came to mind when I saw coverage of the president’s – POTUS – recent state visit to Japan.
POTUS had a list of what to see:
See Japan’s new Emperor Naruhito face-to-face.
See a sumo wrestling tournament and present a trophy.
See his steak grilled well-done at a robatayaki restaurant.
But some White House officials thought it would be better if the president did not see the Navy’s USS John McCain guided-missile destroyer:
The ship is in Japan, docked at the base in Yokosuka, undergoing repairs.
To put it mildly, the Senator McCain and the president were not Best Friends Forever.
After POTUS returned to the U.S., the Wall Street Journal broke this story:
Suddenly the media stopped talking about emperors and sumo wrestlers – this was all anybody wanted to talk about.
And this is where that passive voice comes in:
“A request was made to the U.S. Navy to minimize the visibility of USS John S. McCain, however, all ships remained in their normal configuration during the President’s visit,” Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, chief of information, said in a statement to NBC News.
See that “request was made” passive voice stuff? See how the person/persons who made the request is/are not identified?
The U.S. military is very big on passive voice.
In addition to minimizing the visibility of the ship, the Navy has also been trying to minimize the impact of this story:
If they’d just talked to me, I could have given the Navy some suggestions for minimizing the whole thing:
Option 1: Find a big tarp:
The USS McCain is 505 feet long, so make sure it’s a VERY big tarp.
Option 2: Find a floating boat canopy:
Before you lower the canopy please note: Those pontoons have to clear the ship’s 60-foot width.
Option 3: Find someone with very large hands:
You’ll want to advise her or him to make sure their nails are clean.
Option 4: Consider installing a “No” symbol:
The military had that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – this is “Don’t look, don’t see.”
Option 5: How about a nice dome lid:
Notice the flap on the front, for easy entrance and egress?
Any one of my suggestions could have been implemented with much less fuss than we’ve seen since the story broke.