font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"FIRE"- A Troubling, Historic Decision

How the Education of Millions of Texas Students was Decided by Fifteen Individuals

You are not allowed to yell, "FIRE", in a crowded theatre because of the fear, pandemonium, and downright catastrophic results it causes! Having said that, I hate to be the one to yell, "FIRE", about this historic decision by the Texas State Board of Education but... "FIRE!!!!" What?!?!! "FIRE!!!!"

Friday, November 21, 2014, the Texas State Board of
Texas State Board of Education
Education (Republican controlled- by the way) voted to approve textbooks for their kids that publish historically inaccurate information that will be taught, AS FACT, to the children who are enrolled in the PUBLIC SCHOOLS of that state!  

In May of 2010, the State Board of Education approved a set of standards which the publishers of their textbooks need to follow in order for them to be used in the Texas school system. After reading these standards, no one in their right mind would consider them to be anything short of your typical "Christian Conservative Agenda". Also, anyone in their right mind should be yelling, "FIRE", like me.

I use the "Yelling, "FIRE", example because it's a shocking one needed for a shocking situation. This decision by the Texas State Board of Education is shocking in many ways. It's shocking in it's content! It's shocking in it's process to approve that content! And it's shocking in the ramifications it has on the country as a whole! 
Emile Lester- A specialist in
Church & State Issues

Every ten years, Texas' State Board of Education re-examines it's standards that are used as guidelines in the education practices of their teachers and the publication of their textbooks. Essentially, these guidelines tell Texas' teachers and the publishers of their textbooks, "This is how it is and this is what you teach our children". The latest set of standards has produced an outpouring of concern and outright indignant responses from critics as they stretch the bounds of accuracy to border on right-wing ideological talking points. As one critic of the "Standards", Emile Lester, a political science professor at the University
This man shapes the mind of young students
of Mary Washington in Virginia says, "The State Board of Education and these textbooks have collaborated to make students' knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars."

Texas' State Board of Education consists of two thirds Republicans and one third Democrats of their fifteen members. PBS's, "Need-to-Know" stated that the Conservative members of the Board felt that the previous set of "Standards" reflected a decidedly Liberal view and that they were "aiming to reverse the trend". Republican Don McLeroy, a social conservative on the Board told the Dallas Morning News, "I think we've corrected the imbalance we've had in the past and now have our curriculum headed straight down the middle. I'm very pleased with what we've accomplished."
The Slave Trade...Referred to and minimized as the "Atlantic Triangular Trade" is treated as just another European commodity that was traded.
What they've accomplished is to set their standards in such a way as to stretch the truth and indoctrinate their young students in a form of learning based on religious half-truths
The Slave Trade referred to as
the "Atlantic Triangular Trade"
and lies. Essentially, in Texas' public schools and their corresponding textbooks, the role that religion played in the founding of this country is overblown and the role that slavery played is downplayed. The proposed changes refer to the slave trade as the "Atlantic triangular trade" and Thomas Jefferson's ideas of keeping a strict separation of church and state are extremely minimized, this according to the USA Today. To further emphasize the "church and state"
issue, the Associated Press says, "In one of the most significant curriculum changes, the board diluted the rationale for the separation of church and state in a high school government class, noting that the words were not in the Constitution and requiring students to compare and contrast the judicial language with the First Amendment's wording." 

As shocking as these changes are, anyone who follows politics and the "culture wars" that politics have created shouldn't be surprised that the Republicans would exert their influence once they had the chance. Issues such as these have been on the agendas of the religious right since Ronald Reagan took office and the rise of Ralph Reed in the early eighties. Yet, most everyone on the left didn't worry too much as they knew they controlled the Congress. Now that
Another in the long line of "Plastic Haired"
Evangelical "True Believers"
things have changed, the Right have made many inroads as their influence in Congress and many local governments has increased. Make no mistake, though, the content (standards) controversy, no matter what side you sympathise with- Liberal or Conservative- comes down to one issue! Religion! Pure and simple!

I use the term "Religion" because it's the formal structure of organizations, Religious organizations, who've been driving the issue. Many of us on "The Left", tend to be lumped together as "Atheists" and "Nonbelievers". Yet I and many of us on the left, are individuals who believe in the concept of a God but we seem to be able to understand that our concepts of that God don't have to conform to a particular organization's concepts. We also accept the fact that our "concept" shouldn't be shoved down anyone's throats. Sure, we acknowledge the fact that there is a liberal bend in the media and other areas but we've kept our concepts of God out of the textbooks and the teachings of our children. According to "" and the "Associated Press", "the board created history and social studies curriculums that emphasized conservative concepts, saying they countered inherent liberal classroom biases. The current controversy over the influence of Judeo-Christian values on America's Founding Fathers grew out of requirements that Moses and Mosaic Law be taught. 
"Extremism is a form of blindness that keeps it's "true believers" buried in the Stone Age and blind to the truth"   
As is always the issue with extremists, they end up
Secular Website
stretching the truth to the point of breaking it, just to prove their points. Patheos, a secular website that discusses faith, pointed out that the November 21st vote, "signals a victory for Christian conservatives in Texas, and a disappointing defeat for historical accuracy and the education of innocent children." Texas' new textbooks teach their students the historically false information that it was Moses' influence on the founders that influenced the creation of the Constitution. Patheos also states that the Texas textbooks claim that it was the Old Testament that is at the heart of our Democracy. Extremism is a form of blindness that keeps it's "true believers" buried in the Stone Age and blind to the truth. Emile Lester says it perfectly when he states that Texas' textbooks are full of "inventions and exaggerations" about the role Christianity played in the founding of our country.

"...the process the (Texas) State Board of Education uses to adopt textbooks is a sham!" 
Another shocking issue involved in this controversy is the extent to which extremists (religious right extremists in this case) will go in order to shove their ideology down the throats of others. In an eleventh hour closed door session, literally at the last minute, the publishers inserted numerous changes that scholars, other board members and the public at large never got a chance to review. The vote was rammed through and the changes were accepted. As Kathy Miller, president of "Texas Freedom Network" said, "What we saw today shows very clearly that the process the State Board of Education uses to adopt textbooks is a sham." She is so right. 
Kathy Miller-Texas Freedom Network
So, if what you've read so far isn't shocking enough for you, there's one more issue that should seal the deal and make you cringe. We all know that Texas is an extreme and unique state. It has been since before it became a member of the Union. Extremists thrive down there because of Texas' "live and let live" attitudes (just don't get convicted of murder- Texas'll kill ya dead!). So when extremists won this "Standards controversy" people and other states took notice. Texas has the largest community of textbook publishers than any other state in the country! Consequently, when Texas sets it's standards, those textbooks are printed and then shipped to most of the other states as the textbooks that your children will be using for the next ten years. Not only will these decisions in Texas influence Texas' 4.8 million students, the will very likely influence many more millions of students across the country! If other states don't take notice of this extremist ideology being printed as we speak, their children will suffer under the same illusions which these extremists' children suffer under. California, though, is one step ahead of the religious right in Texas. According to the Associated Press, as a result of Texas' Standards, "A bill introduced into the California State Senate attempts to protect California schools from the decisions made in Texas by requiring California's board of Education to screen state curricula for any of the new standards adopted in Texas." The Associated Press further states;
The bill describes the Texas curriculum changes as "a sharp departure from widely accepted historical teachings' and 'a threat to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards of California".
Wow! What an indictment! But it's so true! Just look at what's true and untrue here. Just don't take my word, take the word of professors and history experts. If you believe the Texas standards and their textbooks, Moses would be the original Founding Father of our country- WRONG! Slavery would be just another type of trade participated in by all the other countries NOT the heinous act of treachery that it was, and was ever perpetrated on a people! These are the things that need to be brought to others' attention! So, when I yell, "FIRE", in regards to this issue, it really isn't just an over-reaction to something that I simply disagree with, it's something that most every historical scholar agrees are misrepresentations and outright lies intended to shape the minds of our young children and possibly the future of our country. If the religious right had their way, this whole thing about the Earth being millions and billions of years old would be a thing of the past and all our future scientists would be teaching their future scientists that the earth was created in seven days and it's only a couple thousand years old!

That's, "As I understand it now... 'til it changes".

Thanks for your time,
Michael Stichauf.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Story of Healing from the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial

Not many war stories have "uplifting" endings but if any do, this one is certainly my candidate. I saw it while I was watching a Smithsonian channel show about the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. The show was about the Memorial and the trials and tribulations that it went through in order to get built. I apologize but I can't remember the name of the show and I can't seem to track it down.
Long View of the Wall.

The Wall at Night
The show described how, because of the deep divisions we still had about the war in the late 70s, there were people with deep emotions for and against the Memorial being built. The "Anti-War" folks felt that we shouldn't commemorate a war that they felt was illegal and brutalizing to the people of Viet Nam. On the other side of the issue were most of the vets and other people who felt that the war was justified and was what America was supposed to do to help stop the "scourge" of Communism. They felt that the soldiers who died fighting the war, at least, deserved recognition for their sacrifice. It was finally agreed, though, that a memorial would be commissioned.

The Three Soldiers Sculpture
The show then went on to describe the furor that arose from the initial design that was accepted. A contest was held to select the winner whose design would become the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial and would be the representative piece for a deeply emotional national event. This wasn't some simple architectural contest. Because of the deep emotional investments from both sides of the issue, this contest was bound to be rancorous. An American designer named Maya Lin was awarded the $50,000 prize for her initial design selected by the committee. Yet, when it was unveiled to the public (prior to groundbreaking) there were many who were not satisfied with the choice. Many of these people wanted a more traditional memorial and finally, after much discussion, the third place finisher, Frederick Hart, was commissioned to create an addition to Ms. Lin's design. The Three Soldiers statue is the name of his addition. 

The Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall (Ms. Lin's design) is the focal point of the whole Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. The Three Soldiers statue and the Vietnam Women's Memorial, make up the remainder of the Memorial. Ms Lin's design consists of two walls that come together at a point, 90 degrees to eachother. At the point of contact, the walls are ten feet high and as they emanate out from eachother, they decline to a height of eight inches. These walls contain the names of the dead and the missing in action from the Vietnam conflict. 

Items Left
On November 13, 1982, the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial was dedicated. It has been a success from that day forward. It's main success, though, has been in it's healing powers. Many veterans have said that their lives turned around the day that they visited "The Wall". Whatever reasons there are that give this wall it's powers to heal, they work.

The wall also serves as a repository for mementos that the surviving family and friends of the honored want to leave for their loved ones. It's these momentos that become the hidden story of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial.

What always seems to get lost in controversies such as the building of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, are the individual, intimate stories about the people who these monuments are about in the first place. Memorial monuments are built to honor the dead but they are there to heal the living.  

One of the mementos left at the wall was a letter and a picture with the letter. I'm going to try to recreate the important section of the letter but it will be a paraphrase of the original. It says,

"Why didn't you shoot me? It seems as if we stopped and stared at each other for minutes, neither of us knowing what to do. I guess I was quicker on the draw and killed you first. I didn't want to kill you. I'm sorry that I killed you. When I found the picture of your family, I wanted to tell your family that I'm sorry that I killed you and destroyed their lives. Here is the picture of your family back."

War makes people do things that they would never do normally. Why this soldier chose to take the picture off the dead soldier is anyone's guess. I suspect that he probably didn't know either, yet, he kept it for all those years after. Obviously, from his letter, he was extremely guilty about killing the man. Writing his letter and leaving it, and the picture, at "The Wall" was his way of trying to relieve his guilt. 

This isn't the end of the story, though. Very soon after "The Wall" became the repository for so many mementos, the National Park Service (which runs the memorial) realized that the items that were being left were very personal, intimate items. They made the decision that they wouldn't throw anything that was left at the wall away, out of respect. Consequently, everything left at "The Wall" (which wasn't perishable), including the letter I'm telling you about, has been given a huge area in one of the Park Services buildings where they are catalogued and then stored. It is an unbelievable task and now holds several hundreds of thousands of items. 

As it turns out, the storing of these items turned out to be advantageous for our letter writer. A few years after leaving his letter and photo at "The Wall", the letter writer wanted to try to track down the family of the man he killed. As luck would have it, the Park Service was able to track down his letter along with his photograph and return it to him. The gentleman got lucky a second time when he was able to track down the family of the man who held a place in his heart since the moment that they met. 

Apparently, the family of the dead North Vietnamese soldier didn't have any information, for all these years, about how their loved one had died. Our guilty, letter-writing soldier, now had a chance to add closure to another soldier's family's grief. When our soldier met with the other soldier's family, he was able to tell them that their relative had died honorably, doing what he thought was right in protecting his country. Yet, there's one other aspect to this story. In the course of conversation with this family, the gentleman found out that the family had no surviving pictures of the dead soldier and his family. Upon hearing this, he was able to pull out of his pocket, the picture of the dead soldier and the members of his family and present it to the relatives of the dead soldier. They were overjoyed! This was the first time that they were able to see their fallen family member since he left for battle, shortly before he was killed! 

Not many soldiers get a chance to reconcile actions they've committed on the field of battle. Yet, for our soldier, guilt-ridden and looking for closure, this trip to Viet Nam was his reconciliation. It started, however, with his decision to write that letter in order to leave it, along with the picture, at the foot of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Tell your loved ones NOW!

ver the last two months, I’ve suffered through two deaths, stunning in their suddenness and devastating in their consequences, which have brought me to write this post. Life never ceases to amaze me, it’s ability to render me humble, by sneaking up and smacking me in the back of the head! It’s unfortunate that we learn so many things, as the result of events that occur, which we have no control over.

If you asked the friends whom I grew up with, what one of my flaws would be, they would probably say, “Well, Michael’s the kind of guy who cares too much.” Now, you might be asking yourself, “What does that mean, ‘...cares too much’? How could “caring” be a bad thing?” Well, caring, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Unfortunately, many people don’t care about anything. However, caring becomes a problem when it becomes consuming and it affects your life. Children tend to learn about moderation, as they grow up, by going from one extreme to another before they find a balance with many things. They then take those lessons with them to live the rest of their lives. Some of us don’t find that balance with some issues, though. It never occurred to me that there was a problem with, “caring about people” who were a part of my life. Like most teenagers, I had my “crushes” on girls and consequently, was crushed when they decided that they no longer felt the same way I did anymore. I don’t know, maybe I didn’t realize that I smothered people with the way I cared about them. I’m not sure what the psychology is here, but that’s the kind of person I am.

As a result of the way I care about those close to me, death is an issue that causes great anxiety and incredible fear. Believe me; I know I’m not special when it comes to death. I don’t want to convey that feeling. We all handle death in our own unique ways. I’m just trying to convey my thoughts about the issue and what I’ve noticed since the two that have just occurred in my life.

Rafael Rios
One of the things that have caused me great grief is the suddenness of both of these deaths. The first death was my good friend, Rafael. I should say, my “brother”. Rafael was like a brother to me. When I met Rafi, twenty-five years ago, he was the older brother that I didn’t have. He helped guide me through some things that were causing me problems. He was a dynamic man who had the ability to attract people to him, almost like a pied piper. I hadn’t seen Rafi for about ten years when, in October of 2012, I heard a voice from around a corner in a grocery store, and IMMEDIATELY recognized it as Rafi! He had moved out of state for some time and had recently moved back in. We picked up our relationship where we left off. Unfortunately, one night in May of this year, a disease that Rafi had contracted 30 years ago, suddenly and unexpectedly, took his life. He ended up “incommunicado” from the moment he entered the emergency room! There was no way to talk to him and he passed nine days later without regaining consciousness.

My cousin Bridget is the second death that I’ve been dealing with lately. Bridget was three years younger than I was. Like my brother Jeff, Bridget was the middle child of three and they were both the mischievous ones of the children.
Cousin Bridget
Bridget was always “bucking” authority and, for the longest time, seemed to have a zest for life. She could be the life of the party when she wanted to be. Unfortunately, life became difficult for Bridget over the last year or so and suddenly, one night, we received a phone call that Bridget was dead!

When I think back over the month prior to Bridget’s death, there were a few times that I wanted to call her and say some things to her that I was hoping would help her get through what she was going through. Yet, as life tends to be, we decide that things can be put off ‘til tomorrow. “I can always call tomorrow. I’m a little busy right now.” Usually, this is the case. We call “tomorrow” and we say the things we want to say. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out this way and it didn’t work out this way with Bridget. I was devastated when I heard she was dead. Devastated yes, because she had died but devastated also, because I didn’t get to say the things that I wanted to say to her. No, I’m not under the illusion that she might be alive today if I had been able to talk to her. I know that no one has that kind of power. I was upset that I didn’t get to tell her how much she was loved and that she had an eight-year-old boy who thought that the sun rose and set in her eyes. I wanted her to know that she had a whole lifetime left to see that boy grow into a wonderful man because she was his Mother. Precisely because she was his Mother! I also wanted Bridget to know how much she meant to me and my family because of the way that she helped my brother Jeff when he went through his tough times and how she never judged him no matter what!

It’s the things that you wished you'd said, that you can no longer say because they are gone. It’s such a definite “thing”. You can’t bring them back. In regards to Rafael, I initially was able to tell him how much it meant to me that he helped guide me through tough times. Yet, when I was told that he was unable to communicate with anyone, there were so many other things that I wanted him to know. Sure, little “tricks” that counselors try to teach you may help. You can write a letter to your beloved and put it in the casket with them at the burial. Or, you can just keep it, thinking that they know what it is that you wrote. Yet, these things aren’t adequate substitutes for the real thing... telling your loved one just how much you loved them.

That’s the point of my piece today. Everyone should take a minute, every day, and let someone who you love know how much you love him or her. Tell your Mother or Brother that they mean the world to you. Don’t ever take for granted, the fact that you can tell them tomorrow. As we all know, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Let’s all live in today and appreciate the people, no matter how much they might aggravate us, who are the most important in our lives. Tell them that you love them. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you didn’t get a chance to say the things you wanted to say!
My Mother
That’s, “As I understand it now...’til it changes”.
Thanks for reading.
Michael K. Stichauf 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Our Justice System's "Wonderful" Presumption of Innocence

I have found that it isn't so much, what you say, as how you say it. I added the quotes in my title in order to convey facetiousness, as well as my feelings of disillusion and disenchantment with the United States Criminal Justice System. People can't see you "roll your eyes" when they are reading something that you've written. Now a days, I roll my eyes every time I read a story of "prosecutorial misconduct", "police malfeasance" and "wrongful convictions". The main reason for my disenchantment has to do with one of the basic tenets of common law- “The Presumption of Innocence”.

America had long been held up for praise for its Criminal Justice System since the creation of our Constitution. The founding fathers took the best parts of the British system, added some ideas that they felt would make our new system better and blended them into the system of justice that America has been using since 1789.

The Beginning

Over the centuries, systems of justice have been crafted from the whims and fancies of the Tyrants who happen to be in power at each particular time. Most of these "systems of justice" actually never came close to resembling "the administering of deserved punishment or reward" ( in the sense that modern societies have come to understand. "Justice", to a Totalitarian regime, is the punishment and destruction of any and all opposition to their power. Yes, they had your basic mainstay laws that dealt with stealing, violence and murder but their main purpose had always been geared towards exterminating their competition or their enemies, real or perceived. 

Cain and Abel
In most regards, civilization has come a long way since it first realized that creating a system of justice was paramount to the survival of society. It's simple human nature for some individuals to want to take advantage of, or hurt, other individuals. If you are a "Creationist", this basic human instinct is evident from the very beginning as evidenced in "Cain and Abel". If you are an Evolutionist, there have been plenty of examples of violence being committed from the many archaeological digs that have been undertaken over the years. Some of the oldest bones of skeletons that have been unearthed have definite signs of violence visited upon them. 

Initially, justice systems dictated crude and barbaric penalties for crimes that were committed. They operated from “an eye for an eye” perspective. As societies progressed, brutal punishments evolved and became less harsh to represent the type of societies that the citizens wanted their governments to help craft. Yet, in many Islamic systems, they still deal in barbaric, inhuman physical punishments for many different transgressions. These are the types of systems that refuse to change and refuse to accept basic human rights into their societies and systems of justice. This is where America became a leading force in government and justice.

When the founding fathers designed the U.S. Constitution, they wanted to keep many of the ideas that they brought with them in regards to the English form of government and system of justice. At the same time, they wanted to design a system of government that included many ideas that they thought would make their government better. Of extreme importance, was a set of guarantees that would ensure the citizen’s rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, put forth for one of the first times in “The Declaration of Independence”. The answer that the founders came up with was what we now call, “The Bill of Rights”. These were rights that they considered most important to the citizens and that the Constitution would guarantee. Although, not a new idea at the time, it was an enormous leap forward for the citizenry of a country to have their rights protected, by the government, from the government. 

Magna Carta 1215
For centuries, Kings held the power of life and death over their subjects. All that changed with the signing of “The Magna Carta” in June of 1215. This became the first time a King of England had his powers over his subjects, curtailed. Specifically, it required King John to "accept that his will was not arbitrary- for example, by explicitly accepting that no "freeman" (in the sense of non-serf) could be punished except through the law of the land." (Wikipedia). "The Magna Carta" set the precedent for constitutional law from then on. Taking the concepts of Constitutional Law and Common Law and incorporating them into the United States Constitution, the founders created an atmosphere for the citizens to feel confident in their government and their rights. 

The Presumption of Innocence

Considered as the most important concept in the U.S. System of Justice, "The Presumption of Innocence" is a common law mainstay that can be traced as far back as the second or third century in Roman law. It is considered the rock upon which any legitimate system of justice is anchored. Without this monumental concept, a citizenry has no hope for an honest trial and a fair judging of their case.

Justinian I
One of the earliest mentions of the concept of “Presumption of Innocence” can be seen in Roman law. In the sixth century, “The Digest” was compiled under Emperor Justinian I, which was a compilation of all Roman laws up to that point. “Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies”, is believed to come from the jurist Paul (Wikipedia). As we moved through the centuries, the theory remained relatively intact and untouched in its concept until it became an accepted theory of Common Law. It is at this point that “The Presumption of Innocence” finally starts to be written into the Constitutions of other nations. In the U.S. Constitution though, there is not a literal statement anywhere, which includes the phrase, “The Presumption of Innocence”. Rather, it is implicit in the “Bill of Rights” (five and eight) and in the guarantees of the fourteenth amendment.

The Amendments

The “Fifth Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution is referred to as the “Due Process” Amendment. It specifically protects citizens against unfair treatment during the legal process, hence, “Due Process”. With the phrase, “...nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”, the amendment says that a person cannot be forced to take the stand to be questioned by the prosecution. This is where the implication is; if he is considered innocent, he cannot bring evidence of said innocence because there is no evidence where there is no crime. It’s similar to the concept of not being able to prove a negative.

Fifth Amendment
Another way of looking at this is that the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that, “a witness may have a reasonable fear of prosecution and yet be innocent of any wrongdoing. The privilege serves to protect the innocent who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.” By allowing this type of protection, the Supreme Court affirmed that there was an implied “Presumption of Innocence” in the amendment by admitting that even innocent individuals can become tricked into supplying, what could be construed as, evidence of guilt against them.

Ernesto Miranda of
"Miranda V. Arizona"
Further evidence stating that there is a “presumption of innocence” comes from the Miranda case, brought before the Supreme Court. Mr. Miranda signed a statement confessing to a crime, yet, it was overturned because he wasn’t advised of his rights against self-incrimination prior to his police interrogation. Basically, the police never told Mr. Miranda that he had every “right to remain silent” when they questioned him. This rests on the theory that an innocent person who hasn’t committed a crime (hence, innocent), didn’t have the “burden of proof” to affirm his innocence. That “burden” applied to the accusers.  An innocent person doesn’t have to prove his innocence; therefore, he has the right not to say anything, which forces the accuser to find evidence of guilt outside of what an individual says.

The Eighth Amendment further guarantees "The Presumption of Innocence” for citizens. It states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Through this amendment it’s implied that, because an individual is first and foremost “presumed innocent”, he shouldn’t be overly burdened through “excessive bail” because someone or some institution accuses him of wrongdoing. A prosecutor requesting excessive bail is assuming that the defendant will try to elude justice therefore, he is assuming that the defendant is guilty, justifying the fear of his “flight from justice”. Consequently, requesting a bail that is so high that the defendant can’t possibly post it, removes "The Presumption of Innocence” from the accused.

As you read the Constitution and the points that I’ve made above, you truly understand why the American System of Justice was so widely respected. The founding fathers tried to give the citizens of the United States as many protections as possible in order for them to feel safe in their existence and they succeeded. Yet, as the years have progressed, our System of Justice has let us down. As my faith, and the faith of others in our Justice System declines, you have to ask the question; “What is it that is causing this loss of faith in the American System of Justice?”

Problems Securing The
"Presumption of Innocence"

As with everything in life, we are never judged by our motives– only our actions. Any country in the world can pay lip service to the fact that "The Presumption of Innocence” is incorporated into their Justice System. The proof as to whether this is really the case is in how each country treats their detainees...their actions. We know that in Totalitarian regimes, there is no “right to remain silent” or no restrictions on the amount of bail required to free an individual prior to their trial. In most cases, there is no bail because the accused isn’t getting out. Torture is the primary weapon used to coerce confessions from individuals. These are the actions, or lack thereof, which are proof that there is no “Presumption of Innocence” in a particular country’s system.

Comparatively, the American System of Justice is also judged by its actions and not its motives. When you look at the “Due Process” amendment and the accused’s right not to take the stand, we start to see a problem. Human nature being what it is, people start to question an individual's innocence when he doesn’t want to take the stand. Everyone would like to see an individual stand up to the charges against him and answer the questions that a prosecutor would have for him. When that doesn’t happen, people start to wonder what that individual has to hide. Again, this is human nature. So many people have been brought up to believe that if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t have to worry about being questioned. Yet, anyone who’s ever watched any of those reality TV shows like, “The First 48” know just how easy it is to trip someone up during any line of questioning. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched an episode where the police are really tearing a story to shreds, and it turns out that the person who they’re querying ends up being innocent.

I recently watched a lecture by a man who was a law school professor and criminal attorney who spoke about the “right to remain silent” issue called, "Don't talk to police" (click title to view video). I’ve never seen a better advocate for this right. What this man did was to show you just how easy it is for anyone, let alone a trained interrogator (police), to take someone’s story and turn it around against them. I know there are honest police officers who do their best to put someone, who they honestly believe to have committed a crime, behind bars. Yet, they must realize that they are not God and that’s the reason for this “Right”.

"Old school" detectives
questioning a suspect
As much as the Supreme Court has given us “Miranda” and the Constitution is set up to protect the accused, our system of justice is still failing us and it’s evidenced every time you hear about a defendant being coerced into a confession. The officer in the video (link above) tells of a tactic that he’s used to get individuals to actually write out their own confessions. He tells them that the people who they’ve stolen from (for example) are really upset! Mind you, he’s saying this while the accused is still trying to proclaim his innocence. After a couple more exclamations of innocence he says, “Well, that’s fine but I think that it will really look good and favorable to you if the judge sees that you’ve really regretted stealing from these people and there’s a good chance that he will rule favorably for you.” The accused says, “Well, what do you mean?” The officer goes on to tell him that he thinks that he should write the victims a letter of apology. It still amazes him how many times this technique works and he actually gets the suspect to write his own confession, all the while, proclaiming his innocence. You hear so many stories about this very thing happening to defendants who, we find out years later, were actually innocent. Because they were able to tell themselves that they were as smart as the police or they were innocent and they had nothing to worry about, they were tricked into actually confessing to a crime that they never committed.

What also seems to have happened in our justice system over the years is that people, especially police officers, have become jaded. I’d be hard pressed to tell you of any of the officers who I’ve met over the years, who weren’t jaded. Maybe having to deal with some gruesome stuff, over the course of their careers, made them that way. Unfortunately, what comes along with that jadedness is also an attitude of, “guilty UNTIL proven innocent”. Soon enough, just about anyone they encounter, during the course of their shift, is guilty of something, one way or another. What this does is skew their judgment. They jump to conclusions without prior proof or they take the first person suggested to them and decide they have their case. What makes it especially easy for these police officers to behave like this is if they happen to have a suspect who has been in trouble prior to their incident. This, again, is where "The Presumption of Innocence” goes out the window. Officers are all too often of the thinking that once a criminal, always a criminal. If, for example, an individual gets stopped because an officer thought that he was acting suspicious, the officer will usually wait until he’s run the suspicious parties background before he decides on a course of action. If the suspicious party has a background, the officer will definitely search the individual as well as making sure he has a credible “probable cause” scenario that he can justify in court. On the street, the citizenry has lost the “presumption of innocence” with most of our officers.

Ignorance of their Rights

People don’t seem to understand that our system is set up to protect them, as long as they let it. By not talking to the police, asking for an attorney and realizing that the “burden of proof” is on their accusers, they are actually letting the “system”, which was set up to benefit them (the accused), work in their favor.

As much as the system is set up this way, people do not let it help them! One of the reasons is the way we were raised. As children, our parents told us that the policeman was our friend and as a child, they were. I specifically remember my Mother telling me that if I ever got lost, I should find a policeman right away. Consequently, it became ingrained in us, as children, that the policeman was always “right”. We were never told to be careful and NOT to talk to the police. Once I became an adult, I became aware of the many situations in which the policeman was the “bad guy”. The first time that I was ever told that I shouldn’t EVER talk to the police was in my high school government class. I had a teacher who, years before, had been arrested on a serious charge, which he didn’t commit. Unfortunately, he didn’t follow his OWN ADVICE and remain silent. This almost cost him his freedom! From that point on, he told every one of his classes about the “right to remain silent” right in our Constitution.

In many cases, people are told by the police that they just need them to come to the station to answer some questions. They tell them that they aren’t a suspect but they need to ask them questions. In fact, one of the tactics that they’ll use is to tell them that they aren’t a suspect but they need to ask some questions JUST TO RULE THEM OUT. Once the officers get a person into that interrogation room and the individual starts answering questions, they bury them. There are numerous stories of individuals, after realizing that they’ve made a big mistake, asking for an attorney and the police continuing to interrogate them. Because what happened in an interrogation room was always the police officer’s word against the word of the accused, trying to get justice for someone whose rights were violated by the police not stopping the questioning was slim to none! I know that on these reality shows, once an individual asks for an attorney, the police stop questioning. Well, that’s ONLY happening now because of cameras being required in interrogation rooms because of the numerous instances of police malfeasance and brutality in the past. This is one of the changes made to help people, accused of crimes, maintain their rights.

More changes need to be made. If the “rights for the accused” are one of the
"Provided you have the cash"
foundations upon which our justice system is based, then every attempt must be made to maintain these rights and to help an individual through the process. The right to an attorney is such a huge advantage to an accused individual that it should be mandatory that the police cannot interrogate a person without an attorney present. An accused’s right to a fair process, “Due Process”, “...the legal requirement that the state must respect all of the legal rights that are owed to a person”, initially hinges upon representation by an attorney. That being the case, the accused should be granted an attorney from the very beginning. Police officers should not be allowed to interrogate an individual without an attorney present, period! I understand that people will then surmise, “If that’s the case, no one will ever agree to be questioned by the police”. What’s wrong with that? It is one of our individual rights. Many individuals DON’T KNOW WHAT THEIR RIGHTS ARE! That being the case, and if the United States is committed to providing the accused with every one of their rights, then why not make sure that they have an attorney present from the beginning? It isn’t going to be a question of money because every individual eventually gets a court appointed public defender if they can’t afford a private one. Let’s just appoint them earlier than we normally would.

The Road Ahead

We face troubling times ahead in our United States Criminal Justice System. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our police departments have become extremely “militarized”. That is troubling. The Corrections Industry is becoming larger every day. Each and every prison is over-crowded, including the county jails and it’s only getting worse. Consequently, the Corrections Industry has become big business. It behooves a prison to keep an inmate for as long as they can because the state that they are in, reimburses them for each day they have to house them. Even more proof that it’s become big business is the fact that there are companies dying to build their own private prisons. This experiment has been tried in some states of the Union. In Texas, there have been some horrendous human rights violations actually caught on camera! Even one violation would be one too many but there have been many violations and that’s ridiculous!

Their vision of America doesn't
include the "less fortunate"
"The Presumption of Innocence", being the rock upon which our system is based, has been under attack for quite some time. Too many individuals are sitting in jail today because they haven’t known their rights. As far as I’m concerned, we haven’t protected them. When a society starts to divide into two separate entities; the “rich and powerful” and the “poor and disadvantaged”, it becomes easy to understand why there are individuals who are willing to ignore the problems of slowly losing “The presumption of Innocence” in our criminal justice system. The individuals in charge are the “rich and powerful” and they could care less about the “poor and disadvantaged”. By sweeping these disadvantaged individuals into prisons, the powerful are one step closer to achieving their goal of what society should look like in their mind. Tossing more of the “less fortunate” into prisons creates more jobs for construction companies, correction’s officers, parole agents and police officers. We must come to a solution to this problem because, as many people have stated; you can judge a society on how they treat their accused.

“The Presumption of Innocence” is the most dynamic principle that any society
can incorporate into, and use as, a foundation for its system of justice. Without it, no citizen has a chance at a fair hearing of the charges against him or her. Yet, that being said, human nature creates an almost impossible task for anyone willing to sit on a jury and decide the fate of any individual charged with a crime. The way we are raised and the manner in which information is imparted in our society today, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to have an attitude of “The Presumption of Innocence” towards an individual who is arrested. Through the newspapers, TV news and the Internet, we see the stories of those arrested and charged with crimes yet, all the while, the information supplied is being analyzed by our brains. “The Perp Walk”, as referred to by the press, is a “money” shot they hope to get because it sensationalizes a story. Unfortunately, these “Perp Walks” and their accompanying stories start the process of creating a feeling of guilt in the viewer’s mind that there is no possible way to stop. It is simple human nature. Our goal must be to not influence possible jurors, at all costs. I understand that we’ll never get rid of the news but every effort MUST be made to give the accused the closest thing to “The Presumption of Innocence” that is humanly possible. 

One last thought on this important issue. I’m not sure that there is an answer that will totally solve this problem, that when all is said and done, comes down to human nature. After years of being told that the police are there to protect the “good people” from the “bad people”, we’ve been indoctrinated into believing that anyone who is arrested must be guilty, why else would the police arrest them? After all, my Mother told me that the police would protect me, right? Consequently, when the police department makes that secret phone call to the press telling them they will be transporting the "Perp" at a specific time, the whole viewing public sees the “accused”, clad in hand-cuffs, ushered into a police car, looking every bit the guilty suspect that the police say they are. After years of conditioning, along with human nature being what it is, I find it impossible to believe that anyone can say they are able to judge, said accused, beginning with the state of mind that they are innocent until proven guilty. The human brain doesn’t have that capability. Fortunately... or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, this is the system we have built. It’s a good system. It’s the best possible system humanity has designed to date. Yet, it’s administered by people and that’s the “wildcard”. Let’s continue to refine it and continue to make it better. Remember, we are not being judged on what our Constitution says about how to treat our accused. We are being judged on what we actually do to treat our accused! History will not judge us on what our intentions were. History will judge us on what our actions showed.

And that’s, “As I Understand It Now...’til It Changes”
Michael K. Stichauf- Writer.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


The Chicago Sun-Times had a timely article today about the current Chicago Blackhawks, which spurred me to write my take on the regime, Here's the link to the article;

All Chicago hockey fans owe The current Blackhawk "brain-trust" a HUGE round of applause. When "Dollar Bill" Wirtz died (previous Wirtz owner of the Hawks) died, his sons split the Wirtz empire between them, one son took the lucrative liquor business and the other, Rocky, took the spiraling, downhill hockey team, the Blackhawks. At the time, no one realized just how fortunate Hawk fans would be in the coming years. 

One of the first things that Rocky did was hire John McDonough away from the Chicago Cubs to be the Blackhawks President. Brilliant move. Since this hire, the Hawks have been on the move. Initially, there were some people who wondered whether he was the correct choice when they fired Denis Savard, the then, head coach. Well, Joel Quenneville was Savard's replacement- 'nuff said. As it stands now, Quenneville is soon to be the second winningest coach in N.H.L. history!

Another brilliant move that Rocky and McDonough made was to bring back the ex-Blackhawk players who were shunned by Rocky's Dad. Actually, they were turned off by "Dollar Bill's" cheap contracts and lack of interest in making the Hawks a winning team. Players such as Bobby Hull were asked to come back to the team in one form or fashion as a sign of good will and, probably, a way to bring some revenue into the team's coffers. Hull and Stan Mikita were constant T.V. presences as the Hawks made their first run at the Stanley Cup in 2010.

1971 Hawks- B. Hull-9, Chico Maki-16
Bill White-2, Lou Angotti-6
I, for one, have been a Hawk fan from as far back as I can remember. In 1971, I can remember watching the highlights of each of the Stanley Cup games on T.V. For Chicagoans of my generation, the obvious names of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito are the guys everyone remembers. But at the time, if you were really a Hawk fan, you also remembered names such as; Chico Maki, "Whitey" Stapleton, Jim Pappin, Keith Magnuson (who supplemented his income in the off-season by showing up at Little League Baseball trophy nights in Chicago), Pit Martin and Bill White. Let us not forget, though, the men who made those games come to life for us kids and adults alike. Lloyd Pettit, Jim West and Lou Angotti were such greats of the Hockey game, also.

For most of us, that was the "Golden Age" of Chicago Hockey. Until now, as Mark Lazerus so eloquently put it today in the Sun-Times. The current Blackhawk "brain-trust" has put together a team that, considering the league as it is today, better all around than any we've ever seen on the ice in Chicago Blackhawk sweaters. The kids who watch now-a-days will, of course, remember the names of Jonothan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith. Yet, they will also remember those other players who probably won't be household names outside of Chicago. Guys like; Sharp, Crawford, Hjalmarsson, Shaw and Saad will also live on in their memories because this is The Golden Age of Hockey in Chicago (again, maybe?) Thank you to the whole Chicago Blackhawk franchise.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Where's the change, Mr. President?

That's right, I said it! Where's the change, Mr. President? President Obama, you campaigned on a promise of CHANGE. "Change You Can Believe In" was your chief campaign slogan. For the last few months now, I've been looking for it. I've looked at the financial markets. I've looked at the way our government works, or doesn't work, actually. I've looked for the bankers who should be in jail now. Nothing! Okay, maybe I've got to look in other places, "change" could be hiding on me. I've looked in the park. I've looked under rocks. Nope, not there either. I've run out of places to look. I CAN"T FIND THE CHANGE! And it ABSOLUTELY KILLS ME TO SAY THAT!!
It doesn't kill me to say that because it would mean that I was wrong. Those of you who know me know that I don't have a problem admitting when I'm wrong. It kills me to say that because I had such high hopes. It kills me to say that because I can't find the change. 

Before I go any further, for those of you who don't know my political leanings, let me tell you. I'm basically a Democrat. I lean to the left, a little. I seriously mean that, too. I don't do the "big McGaff" to the left like some Dems (and there's nothing wrong with the big lefties- they don't even come close to the far right wing nut-jobs). I even have some Republican leanings, too. Yet, for the most part, I'm a Democrat.

I've been a big supporter of President Obama since the beginning, voted for him and talked him up. I believed in his campaign slogan, "Change you can believe in". I don't just mean that I liked the idea, I actually thought that the man could do some changing. I actually thought that HE thought that he could make changes. I do believe that he thought so, too. Unfortunately, I can't see the changes. 

Now, don't get me wrong, everyone knew that the President couldn't turn Washington upside-down but what I thought,
"I'm telling you, the Civil War was about
States' Rights, NOT Slavery"
and others thought also, was that the President would do some changing. I understand that he's got a congress that won't work with him. I understand, and let's put this on the table right now, that there are a lot of people in those "hallowed halls" who can't stand him because of his skin color. Hell, Congress is just like the rest of America in the sense that they've got their prejudices too. No, I'm not going to say that the Senators and the Congressmen are a smaller representation of America itself because that would be ridiculous! The percentage of Senators and Congressmen who are a part of the 1% doesn't come close to the percentage in the real world but they have their prejudices just like America, on the whole, does. So, to start with, the President never stood a chance. 

The earliest example is the team of financial advisers who he had during his 2008 run for the White House. Those guys were some different "cats" than the ones who'd been advising previous Presidents. The President had been given some great advice about what to do to "fix" the bankers and their corrupt bunch before he was elected but, during the interregnum, the Washington insiders got to him and he dropped the bunch of 'em- dropped 'em like "bad habits"! I'm not going to go into specifics with this but the stories were out there when it happened. He had to change the face of his financial team and I remember thinking, "Uh-oh"! That was the first inkling that I, and others had, that this wasn't going to go as planned.

Soon enough, the President slipped into that "go along to get along" posture. Everyone knows the problems he's had with the Congress and everyone knew that it wasn't going to be easy but no one seems to care that it doesn't even look like he's put up a fight. 

Now we have this "Net Neutrality" issue in front of us. It's
Cable's Brain Trust-
Can you trust them not
to screw the consumer?
been brought to the fore by the recent hearings about the Comcast/TimeWarner merger that's going on as we speak. Yet, if anyone had been paying attention, we would have realized that the Internet and Neutrality weren't going to be living on the same planet together the moment that President Obama's appointee to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) revealed his thinking about a few things. Mr. Wheeler feels that it's really no problem for the FCC to 

"forbid ISPs to block any legal websites or services, but allow them to favor some traffic under "commercially reasonable" arrangements, to be reviewed by the FCC on a case-by-case basis. A deal Netflix recently reached with Comcast to ensure that the video company's content appears bright and sharp on Comcast customers' iPads and TVs – one that Netflix suggests it signed only because it had no alternative – would probably fall well within the rules." 
Without re-hashing my last post about this issue, it's just another case of "Corporatism" style capitalism. Please see my post; The Monopolistic Threat to Net Neutrality. The post talks about how ISP's (Internet service Providers) would be able to charge content providers more money for better access to the consumer's t.v. This would cut out the new or smaller companies, who don't have the billions of dollars that the select few have, and screw the consumer. This is what I'm talking about. More of the same- "Crony Capitalism"! Watch this recent episode of "The Rubin Report" with Dave Rubin. Rubin and his guests talk about the "Net Neutrality" issue and Obama's inability to make change happen.

Like I've stated, I was, and still am a supporter of President Obama. That's why this whole issue upsets me so much. Sure, he's made some great headway and improvements to the economy. I know there are some right wing nut-jobs who will say that they're not really his achievements to own but they're wrong, they are his to own and champion. The progress has happened on his watch. That's the way this all works, whoever is in the White House takes the credit AND the blame, the good AND the bad and it all gets heaped on them. Why? Because they are at the helm. Now, just a couple of his achievements since he's been in the White House;

  • The Affordable Care Act- Over 10 Million Americans now have coverage.
  • Just today (May 15, 2014) it was announced that the unemployment rate is at it's lowest in seven years. That's since before the debacle that happened on Bush's watch!
  • He's cut the deficit in half!
This is great stuff but there's a difference in these achievements and the "Change you can believe in" stuff. He explicitly said that we needed to change the culture in Washington. Well, I don't think anyone is going to change the culture, totally, in Washington until we get money out of politics. Yet, something needs to be done in regards to the corrupt bankers who, darn near, brought down our economy and our nation. Not anywhere near the number of bankers ever ended up in jail. Okay, Bernie (Madoff) did and so did a couple of Enron guys but this kind of stuff has been going on for decades now! The Savings and Loan scandal of the early eighties is an example of how long these guys have been getting away with it. A couple of those guys went away too, A COUPLE. The Banking community gets in trouble and they offer up a sacrificial lamb to quell the desire for vengeance and it's over until another disaster hits. By the way, these guys get away with theft for years and the only reason we find out about it is when there is a disaster. Watch this great "Ted Talks" episode called How to Rob a Bank From the Inside- William Black. He really spells it out. 

The "Crony Capitalism" is another thing that needs to be addressed. I look at the divide that we have in this country and it's ridiculous. America was proud of the fact that we were the "Great Middle-Class Nation". We aren't anymore. In a New York Times report from April 22, 2014, statistics show that America is no longer the wealthiest "middle-class" nation. In fact, while six other countries "middle-class' income" has grown since 2000, the United States' "middle-class' income" has dropped .3%.

I'm not saying that we must rig the game in favor of the little guy. I'm saying the little guy, at least, needs a level playing field and the things that are going on in Congress these days, and years gone by, slant that playing field towards the big corporations. I don't have the specific answers on how to do this but that's why we elected Barak Obama to the Presidency, so he could get the people on board who could make the changes that are necessary.

Mr. President, your administration started with such promise. You are the first African-American President voted
Election Night
into office by a nation still struggling with racism. I know that's some heady stuff, but you can't tell me that any of that "racism" has been a hurdle that's too high for you. I know you don't believe that it's been a hindrance. Yes, it's there, but I know you haven't let it be a problem. You still have some time left in your term to rally the nation and create some "change you can believe in". Let's marshal the forces that you have at your command and get some things done to get our middle-class on an upward course instead of the slow decline that we've been on. A country is only as good as it's middle-class and ours needs some help. These are the people who catapulted you to the highest, most powerful office in the world! Let's return the favor and give them something to believe in because you are starting to lose them. We need to continue with this idea of "CHANGE", the stability of our country depends upon it. Why don't you get the ball rolling again with something that will make our politicians work for us. The Young Turks host, Cenk Uygur, has started " It's a campaign to get a Constitutional Amendment to rid our political campaigns of the corrupt money that is killing the middle-class. Let's do something about the regulations that allow the bankers to get away, scot-free, with theft! Years before the catastrophe of 2008, an S.E.C. (Security Exchange Commission) regulator was screaming to high heaven about the "crash" that the "Credit Default Swaps" market was going to bring. Bankers started freaking out when they realized that she was going to put an end to their "Golden Goose". As a result, they put so much pressure on the Bush administration to get rid of her that, not only did they fire her, they totally discredited her. They did it in a public way to serve notice to the rest of the regulator community, "Don't even think about threatening us or we'll ruin you". Unfortunately, two years later, she was right! "CRASH" went the economy! 

So, as I end my diatribe, I'll ask the question that I opened with, "Where's the change, Mr. President?" Although our belief in you is fading, we still have that hope that you can do something to leave a lasting legacy. We're pulling for you! "Your Legacy", that's a powerful motivator, isn't it? Every President must get consumed by it. As an administration comes to an end, they all have struggled with starting to shape their "Legacy" into something they could be proud of. Some, such as Dubya, must try to craft, or invent, something that they can say was a positive "Legacy" but that's kind of hard to do when everyone, finally, realizes that he brought this nation into a war through a pack of lies about W.M.D.'s (Weapons of Mass Destruction). People from his administration don't even try to continue with the lie anymore. They know everyone has come to believe it was a lie! Mr. President, give us something to be proud of. Give yourself something to be proud of. Give yourself a "Legacy" of "Change you can believe in".

And that's, "As I Understand It Now...'til it changes".
Thanks for reading.
Michael K. Stichauf.