One of the advantages of working in the former Soviet Union country of Georgia is that Peg and I spend our time where a great deal of history was made. It is not that the United States does not have an interesting story to tell. But the good ’ole US of A cannot legitimately lay claim to be the birthplace of wine as Georgia does or the birthplace of the Holy Roman Empire as does Georgia’s neighbor, Turkey. And one exciting aspect of being in a part of the world where so much of our history was made is that new discoveries of old history are being uncovered everyday. For example, it was recently reported that archeologists unearthed an ancient mosaic beneath the floor of a church in Demre, Turkey that was the original burial place of Saint Nicholas.
I do not know about you, Gentle Reader, but with Christmas less than two months away I was stoked to have scientific evidence that Santa Claus might really be coming down the chimney at JPeg Osage Ranch in Oklahoma. I just have to find a way to re-route him to our apartment in Batumi, Georgia. And since we do not have a chimney here I guess we will have to leave the patio door unlocked. We will not get home until March so I hope Rudolph has his G.P.S. system updated as to the 9 hour time change and the 6,500 mile distance between Oklahoma and Georgia. Peg and I plan to leave the patio light on all Christmas Eve.
Saint Nicholas lived from 270-343 AD and was a contemporary in what would become the country of Turkey with Constantine who lived from 272-337 AD. Constantine made Christianity an acceptable religion and established the Holy Roman Empire once he became Emperor in 306-337 AD. Constantine named Constantinople, now Istanbul, for himself. He also convened the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD that produced the Nicene Creed that set forth some of the principles of early Christian faith, including much of the humanitarian beliefs attributed by history to Saint Nicholas.
St. Nicholas was born in Papara, Turkey and died in Myra, Turkey. He was alleged to have inherited wealth that he spent his life giving away to those in need. He was especially known for his generosity in giving gifts to children.
As for me, I never doubted such a person existed, but as the youngest of four children my Christmases were accosted by my older and more cynical siblings. Well, I hope they read this account that rings out with the joy of a great and generous spirit and I expect them to accept the scientific proof that I was right all along.
What is wrong with the American political system? Why are people so upset? Are we living in the End Times, the dreaded Eschaton? Why is Kanye West (Ye) such a pariah to many and a voice crying in the wilderness to some? Will Donald Trump save America or destroy it? How about Joe Biden? Was that referee blind when he called pass interference against my team or maybe he had a bet on the game? Really, can someone explain to me how anyone can see any possible redeeming value in talking to Putin? We probably ought to just go ahead and push our button before he does his. And, what is it about lawyers? If I hear one more attorney say to me, “On the other hand,” I am going to throttle him. There is only one side to an issue, the right side. I do not need someone telling me to consider someone else’s views in politics, religion, the Supreme Court or my in-laws. In other words, there is nothing wrong with America, or the war in Ukraine, that could not be fixed if they would put me in charge.
These thoughts woke me up at 4:00 a.m. Georgia Time this morning after Peg and I had had a discussion with two of our Georgian (the country) friends yesterday afternoon. I had casually raised the thought that much as America reacted to the Cuban Missile Crisis, perhaps Putin was concerned about the United States and other NATO countries having military installations near Russia’s borders. Of course, we know we would not launch any nukes into Russia, but does Putin? Perhaps we should apply a lawyerly analysis and try to see the situation from all points of view. Well, I tell you, Gentle Reader, that was not a popular approach with my Georgian friends whose country has already been seriously encroached upon by Russia. In the Russia vs. Ukraine War, most Georgians and most Americans see only one side with one point of view. Russia fired before talking, so Ukraine and its allies should do the same. After all, Georgia or Moldova, or Poland may be next. If history is the guide, as it often is, then trusting Putin to be reasonable is not reasonable.
Peg and I like our Georgian friends who have been gracious and welcoming. Georgia is a beautiful country and our apartment right on the Black Sea would not show well ringed with Russian war ships. We do side with Ukraine as I also made several Ukrainian friends when I taught Ukrainian judges for a couple of weeks over Christmas time in 1999-2000.
Russia is in the wrong and Ukraine is in the right. That may start the analysis, but it should not end it. A nuclear war is not in Ukraine’s best interest nor in Georgia’s. And it most certainly is not in America’s. So, as I cautiously kept the remainder of my lawyerly, Jesus-type of mote and log reasoning about Putin to myself, I thought about all those times our friends and family wondered what was wrong with us when we gently said, “On the other hand.”
I wrote the first of my over 900 “Gavel Gamut” columns in 1990 at the request of my friend, Jim Kohlmeyer. Jim was the Posey County, Indiana Republican Party Chairman and the owner of the New Harmony Times newspaper (now The Posey County News owned by my friend, Dave Pearce).
Jim had recently purchased the paper and was desperate for filler. He asked me, the Democrat, elected, Posey County Circuit Court Judge, to write a column about “legal topics.” Jim did not care what I wrote. Since 1990 and every week since April of 2005 I have written about topics from local heroes to national issues as I saw fit. As those of you, Gentle Readers, will note, in several of my burnt offerings my wife, Peg, had to bear the brunt of my ramblings. However, most of “Gavel Gamut” has dealt with legal topics. A major theme has been the legal system, particularly judges. The federal courts and especially the United States Supreme Court have been the recipients of my chagrin over these thirty-two years during all of which I have served and am still serving as a judge myself. Although after thirty-eight years on the Bench as a partisan-elected judge I term-limited myself and now serve in other judicial venues, such as the Country of Georgia and the National Judicial College.
As I have written numerous times, my belief is that our American democracy is in danger from non-elected, life-tenured judges. I have stated this position frequently and I hold to it firmly.
However, even though I have often expected returning brickbats from those who champion appointing judges and granting them life-tenure, almost nobody has seemed to ever take umbrage from or stated their agreement with my position until October 3, 2022
Then, voila, along came that great journalist and philosopher, Fareed Zakaria whose excellent Sunday morning CNN show, GPS The Global Public Square, is the only national news program I find to contain news. On October 3, 2022 at 8:00 p.m. Fareed aired his special, “Supreme Power, Inside the Highest Court in the Land.”
Now, Gentle Readers, I am not claiming, although I wish I could, that Dr. Zakaria has ever heard of, much less been influenced by my analysis on any subject. However, his special clearly stated one of the greatest current dangers to our democracy is life-tenured members of the U.S. Supreme Court and the totally politicized method of their selection process.
Let me say this about that (as President John F. Kennedy used to say), AMEN, brother Fareed!
Peg and I were in our apartment on the seventeenth floor of our 90s-Era looking building at 6:30 pm (9:30 am Central Time) in Batumi, Georgia yesterday when the whole gigantic complex quaked and my chair, with me in it, moved. Peg had been out on the tiny open-air balcony watching hearty Georgians swimming in the Black Sea. She came right inside shaking about as much as the apartment. We had experienced earthquakes before in Indiana and Oklahoma so we realized why we suddenly had a complete loss of control over our lives.
Peg heard a loud crack while I, as oblivious as usual, just existed through the moment. It takes a lot of power to cause a 42 story high-rise apartment building to move even if it is built on the small mobile rocks that make up the Black Sea beach. After we decided The End was not yet here, we checked for damage; none was obvious but we now have less faith in our accommodations. Speaking of faith, we understood why there was a gold-colored statue of the Greek god Poseidon in the public square across from our home. Poseidon was the god of earthquakes and other natural disasters, such as floods and storms, you know, like the hurricanes currently attacking the Philippines, Cuba and Florida, among other victims. The residents of Batumi must have had to endure a lot of mini-quakes over the years and decided a statue to Poseidon might help protect them.
Apparently when we realize we cannot control our natural environment we humans create gods who can. It makes us more comfortable if we have something that can control Mother Nature even if it also has the power to destroy us. As for Peg and me, it did not help assuage our angst that earlier in the day we saw workers around our complex employing a couple of trucks and a crane that looked like they were leftovers from the Dust Bowl Era. It was apparent that the job was bigger than the tools even if the workers did not appreciate the problem.
It has now been about twelve hours since the earthquake and Peg and I have had the time to assess the situation. We know it was not the New Madrid earthquake of 1811 and it was not a harbinger of the San Andreas Fault we have all been warned about for one hundred years. Oh, that will come as, unlike never happening pots of gold at a rainbow’s end, disasters do eventually appear. All we can do is create more gods, or at least, beliefs, that something somewhere can get things back under control for us.
If you have traveled by commercial aircraft recently you can only marvel at the British security measures for the Queen’s funeral queue. From September 14 to September 19 about 250,000 people lined up for up to 24 hours to view the Queen’s coffin for less than one minute. Other than one fool who tried to touch the flag on her coffin and was immediately arrested, I am not aware of any “security incidents”. In other words, our English cousins managed to process about 50,000 people a day without so much as a scuffle.
Now compare that to the airlines’ inability to keep many thousands, perhaps millions, of people from losing their luggage and missing their connecting flights while being prodded like cattle into uncomfortable seats next to complete strangers. And for that dubious privilege you pay enough money to purchase stock in the company. Although that may not be such a wise waste of your money.
It is not that I am unaware there may be bad people who both fly commercially and may want to harm others. Evil exists; I get it. But our response should not add to our grief. If the Brits can process 50,000 people per day and prevent any real problems, surely the airlines can manage to get a plane load of 300-350 passengers, such as fly on a Boeing 700 Series plane internationally, from point A to point B or points A, B, C, etc., within the time an airline ticket promises. After all, our tickets represent an obligation that is what we in the legal field call an adhesion contract. That is, you and I and all our fellow travelers are totally without any influence on the agreement. The airlines tell us where and when to show up and how much to pay and we show up and pay, even if we miss flights, lose luggage and wonder whom to blame but the gods. Does the Federal Aviation Administration come to mind?
Peg and I recently flew from Tulsa, Oklahoma to the country of Georgia. The cost of our tickets were such that Jesse James would have been proud. Since we were on business we paid an exorbitant rate to fly Business Class. What that got for us other than a hole in our checking account I have yet to discover. However, that is not the issue you and I are here concerned about. As instructed by the airlines, we arrived at the Tulsa airport three hours before our flight was to depart. Then we went through security and customs right there in Tulsa. Next the airlines flew us west to Denver. That is right, Gentle Reader, United Airlines flew us west to go east. The plane did not take on enough fuel in Tulsa, so when we got close to Denver we had to land in Pueblo, Colorado to refuel. That totally unnecessary stop caused us to miss our connecting flight from Denver to Munich, Germany. Once in Denver I had to stand in line for six hours, from 8 p.m to 2 a.m., to book another flight. Once we had our new flight plan we had to spend the night in the Denver airport on cots waiting to depart the next day. There were so many passengers who also missed their flights we were unable to sleep next to each other. Our flight from Denver to Chicago, yes, I had to rebook us through Chicago to Munich, took off around 11 a.m. We arrived in Chicago about 1:30 p.m. and had to wait in Chicago for our flight to Munich that took off about 10:30 that night. That was day one of our trip and we still had not left the United States. Of course, we had to go through security and customs again in Chicago before boarding the flight to Munich. The flight from Chicago to Munich was about 9 hours which took us into day two. When we got to Munich we had to wait about six hours for our flight to Tbilisi, Georgia, and, of course, go through security and customs again. By the time we got to Tbilisi at 4 a.m. Georgia time it was day three. Plus, our luggage got lost along the way. As our final destination in Georgia was the city of Batumi, that is a long car trip from Tbilisi, we had to wait in Tbilisi for two days for the airlines to find our luggage.
So, what can the airlines do to comply with the contract they have written and to treat passengers like customers instead of an inconvenience? I suggest one security and customs check at one’s initial departure airport should be plenty. At that first airport you can arrive early and give the airlines all the time that is needed to make sure one is not a danger and that one’s baggage follows along. Also, in this age of computerization, all of a passenger’s security and customs clearance information could be shared among the airlines, airports, cities and countries involved in a passenger’s trip. In our case that would have involved Tulsa, Denver, Chicago, Munich and Tbilisi and the United States, Germany and Georgia. It would also be helpful if the airlines would put enough fuel in the planes to avoid unplanned refueling stops and if the flight plans could exempt flying the wrong way.
If this approach is too sensible for the FAA and airlines, we could allow them to lose a customer’s luggage every now and then on a random basis so they do not feel superfluous. And, by the way, congratulations to the British for sending that marvelous monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, off royally. Maybe we should ask those Britons who planned and executed the Queen’s funeral to operate the airlines.
On February 04, 2022 Russian President Vladimir Putin, on an invitation from Chinese President Xi Jinping, attended the China Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. Twenty days later Russia invaded Ukraine. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, in response to an invitation, visited Taiwan over China’s objections on August 2, 2022 and China immediately responded with massive military maneuvers around Taiwan.
Russia has now been at war with Ukraine for over six months. Ukraine has been supplied with many billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware by America before and during the war. Taiwan has recently received a pledge of over one billion dollars’ worth of military aid from the U.S. The U.S. has long supported Taiwan’s independence from China which claims Taiwan as part of China.
Russia and China share some common borders on the eastern and western edges of both countries and share one main nemesis, America. On September 15 and 16, 2022 Xi and Putin will meet face to face at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in the city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The United States is not invited.
It is possible Russia and China just want to confer on the relative merits of their national ballet companies and the ten billion cubic meters of national gas Putin promised to Xi in their February meeting. Or perhaps Putin and Xi want to compare notes on how each can continue in power beyond the traditional terms of prior Chinese and Russian presidents.
On the other hand, I suggest the two leaders may be getting together to discuss their largest common problem, us. Not much information was released from their conference in Beijing in February and almost no advanced agenda has been published for their Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit. My suspicion is the name “Shanghai” was not chosen idly. It may be that China is reminding the United States of the practice of tricking or forcing sailors to serve on merchant ships sailing to Shanghai in the 1800’s as was often done by American, British and French merchants. Perhaps it is meant as an otherwise inscrutable warning to America to butt out of Ukraine and Taiwan.
As for me, I think Pelosi or anyone else ought to have the right to visit Taiwan and, I think, Ukraine’s territorial integrity should be respected. Of course, I find it difficult to analyze the motivations of China, Russia or even my own country when it comes to engagement in foreign wars unless one is attacked. It seems to me our Constitution’s provision for military defense, not offense, makes sense. But then I am not in charge of our foreign policy. If I had been, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan might have unfolded differently and maybe Ukraine and Taiwan too. Those are matters our elected leaders are much more informed upon, I hope.