Beyond reasonable doubt is misunderstood

The Pennsylvania jury in the Bill Cosby trial has been deadlocked for five days and asked the judge for the meaning of the term “reasonable doubt” as in “beyond reasonable doubt.”  Based on my service on four juries, I suggest that lawyers and legal observers misunderstand how the typical citizen-juror thinks about the concept. Two years ago while a juror in a “criminally negligent manslaughter” case, a single juror held out over the concept “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He said “I think the defendant is guilty but I always have “reasonable doubt” about serious questions. Therefore, if the test is “beyond that point,” I vote “not guilty.”  To him, the key term seemed to be BEYOND not “reasonable” in the phrase “beyond reasonable doubt.”  Yet, whenever I’ve heard judges and lawyers talk about the concept they focus on “reasonable” not on “beyond.” Continue reading

Earth Day: Effective in promoting environmental protection?

I like nature. I hike and have a garden. I know the Missouri state flower is the hawthorn and the state tree is the flowering dogwood. I like to drink clean water and breathe clean water. I buy dolphin safe tuna.  Call me a crazy environmentalist, if you must. But wait: I  doubt the efficacy of Earth Day.  I’ve been dubious about it since April 22, 1970 despite spending several days with the late-Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, and bringing him to Columbia in 1997. Earth Day did not “start it all.”

Below is my op ed published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch in April 2010. Continue reading

Playgrounds, Federalism, and the future of Public Schools

On Wednesday, the U.S. is set to hear a Trinity Lutheran v Comer, involving a Columbia church but having national and far reaching implications. The tension between religious freedom, the establishment of religion and aid to church-related schools have been simmering in the United States since the 1960s. Organized religions and political interests can shift quickly on this issue. Continue reading

Are we a democracy or a republic?

            A perennial question from students, citizens, and politicians is “are we a democracy or a republic?” Usually the questioner is hoping to hear “democracy” if they currently identify as a Democrat or a “republic” if they identify as a Republican.  That’s wishful thinking.

Robert Dahl on pp 16-17 of ON DEMOCRACY blames James Madison for causing this confusion. Dahl writes “the plain fact is that the words democracy and republic did not (despite Madison) designate differences in types of popular government. What they reflected, at a cost of later confusion, was a difference between Greek and Latin, the languages from which they come.”

                In Federalist #10, Madison distinguishes between “a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person” and a “republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.”  In the U.S, we have features of each. Compare, for example, citizens voting on tax and bond issues with a life-long tenure of judges nominated by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

                In modern parlance, it would be clearer to use “participatory democracy” and “representative democracy” and get on with promoting “rule by the people” or Lincoln’s “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people” rather than fish for a rhetorical advantage.

Trump’s Inaugural Speech

 I wrote this on January 21, 2017.

A Trump Resister or Trump Supporter I am not. Donald Trump is my president. I watched Trump’s Inauguration to appreciate the peaceful transfer of power and to listen to his inaugural address for clues of where we are headed. While not grand nor elegant, Trump rose to the occasion. He spoke to his image of Americans. He avoided talking about himself and articulated many of his campaign themes in a tight 16 minute presentation.

As a political moderate who has lived all my life along the I-70 corridor from Missouri to Pennsylvania, I have taken a “wait and see” approach to Trump’s presidency. My hometown in Western Pennsylvania is not the town it once was. The main street is largely boarded up, the high school is half the size, and steel industry is long gone. Drug use is reported to be high, the main bridge into town needs painting and repairs, Walmart, on the edge of town, seems the major attraction. It is the same story as many towns across Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri.

My hunch is that many of my high school friends voted for Donald Trump. I doubt they are racists and misogynists. Their ears heard his mention of “making America great again” and “getting our jobs back.” As the marches in Columbia and across America the day after the inauguration attest, many other ears heard heartlessness, dishonesty, and disrespect.

Trump’s speech reminded me of Ross Perot, independent presidential candidate in 1992, for his simple, practical common sense approach that is unlikely to work. The time is long gone, at least 25 years tardy, to just “Buy America.” Similarly, putting “America First” is not all the helpful. Subsidizing South Korea defense may sound like a giveaway but makes sense in light of North Korea. “Making America Great Again” and “America First” may be catchy slogans but are lose a lot of punch in a high tech global economy, created largely by the United States.

On the other hand, I tend to agree with Trump that there is a Washington Establishment that protects special defense, medical, trade, education loans, and transportation special interests. Republican and Democratic free trade agreements of the past 25 years have not helped my hometown and my more recent neighbors. Let’s see if Trump can do better.

Unfortunately, Trump ignored health care reform and fiscal responsibility in his speech. His State of the Union speech and budget message will be an opportunity to present a more detailed roadmap for dealing with two of the biggest contentious issues of the past two decades.

As expected, Trump did not mention any environmental issues probably because of the prevailing Republican denial of global climate change. Call it what you want, but several cities face rising coastlines and many states will face significant water quality and quantity problems within a decade or two. We have the lowest food prices in the world largely because of irrigation and migrant workers—Trump needs to protect both of them.

My hope for Trump supporters is that they think more carefully about the root cause of their economic problems. Their children’s, and now grandchildren’s, drug use in economically distressed areas is due to decades of decline. They are likely to miss what they call Obamacare.

My wish for Trump resisters is that they register to vote, join a local organization, contribute at least $50 to a cause, and focus their interests and energy on a single issue or two. The Tea Party, which appears to be the model, had it far easier in that they had the federal deficit as a focus, were not as diverse, and persisted in interrupting events they did not like.

Trump has mentioned urban redevelopment and infrastructure investment as two ways to increase opportunity. Most Americans agree with these general ideas. Focused political protest should demand the equivalent of a “Trump Hotel” of infrastructure reinvestment in every blighted downtown. Trump does not appear to have the personal discipline or the historical knowledge to curb his worse impulses. In that sense, he may be more like former presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon than our more recent presidents.

Congressional Republicans now have the responsibility to be effective checks and balances pursuing the national interest rather than a rubber stamp for political expediency. We are at a critical juncture. Baby boomers are retiring after having had greater economic prospects than their children have, our information sources are not trusted, our governmental institutions are poorly thought of, and the world is just too big and too complex for any of us to comprehend. Now fake news, and poorly performing conventional media, will make truth-telling and fact-finding all the more difficult. Maintaining our democracy requires our vigilance.