He’s Back…

No, not The Terminator; this time it’s Sebastian Lukacs Gorka, the red faced, bespectacled, Mephistopheles-like, Hungarian troll. Truth to tell, he never left; though on May 1, 2017, under pressure, the White House announced his imminent departure. Today (August 15), three and a half months later, four minority caucuses in the House of Representatives are again calling on the White House to fire the Deputy Assistant Advisor to the President – for his remarks in the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy.

Who is this dude and why should you care about him? I’ve written about him twice before, but he’s a cancer in the White House and, given his position as Deputy Advisor to the President, Americans should know his story.

Sebastian Lukacs Gorka was born in London of Hungarian refugee parents. After attending school in the UK he migrated to Hungary where he spent 16 years padding his resume’ with a bogus PhD and a set of self-created counter-terrorism credentials. While doing so, he attached himself to the right wing autocratic government of Viktor Orban and aligned himself with local neo-Nazi, anti-Roma, and anti-Semitic organizations. In 2008 he was granted a Green Card and immigrated to the US with his neo-con American heiress wife. He immediately associated himself with Fox and Brietbart News.  In 2012 he became a naturalized American citizen, and in 2016, following the election of Donald Trump, he rode the coattails of Steve Bannon from Brietbart to the White House.

Early in 2016 he was arrested at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport for attempting to carry a 9mm Browning handgun through security in his carry on luggage. One month later he was arrested for reckless driving for the second time in two years. On February 3, 2017, two weeks after Trump’s inauguration as President, the gun charge was dismissed. What do you suppose the chances are that another immigrant would be treated this leniently on the same charge? Everyone deserves a second (or third) chance but what does this tidy little set of criminal violations tell us about the man and about the new White House?

Lately, Bannon’s Hungarian avatar has been prowling around the media outlets on behalf of the White House threatening viewers and issuing imperatives like “Do not challenge Donald J. Trump…”. Over the weekend he told Fox viewers that the Unite the Right, white supremacy, neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, was likely a “false flag” event created by leftists to provoke a violent response, discredit the right, and crack down on First Amendment rights.

Trump and Bannon apparently believe Gorka’s Lucifer-like gravitas lends a kind of Euro-trash credibility to the white supremacist rhetoric they’re peddling. Gorka seems to pop up on the Sunday morning news shows whenever Steven Miller, the other Bannon mouthpiece, gets savaged by the press corps for his brash nerdy assertions that the President has the power to do anything he wants – period.

Lately there is gossip throughout the mediaverse that Bannon and his posse will soon be dismissed, but contrary to his reputation at The Apprentice DJT is a coward when it comes to firing people. He insults, demeans, and defames them via Twitter, but doesn’t have the courage to confront them. Consider the way he fired FBI Director James Comey; by sending a termination letter via courier to FBI headquarters in DC while the Director was speaking to FBI agents in Los Angeles. With others, his strategy is to Tweet them to death and hope they will be too embarrassed to stay in their jobs. Surprisingly, little Jeffy Sessions didn’t do that.

Trump is a weakling and a coward! This is not reality TV. This is the Presidency of the United States. When will this national nightmare end?

I cringe every time I see him descend the steps of Marine One, see him unbutton his suit jacket, see his too long tie and fat belly, and the short fingered salute he gives the Marine guard at the foot of the steps. This coward, who never served a day in the military, is a disgrace to those of us who did.

I only hope that his infatuation with all things military and his respect for Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster, the grown-ups in his Cabinet, will lead to the dumping of Bannon, Miller and Gorka before more white supremacist gibberish or neo-Nazi dog whistles spew out of the White House. He won’t man up and do it, of course, but McMaster or Kelly might take just charge and throw them out. Cross your fingers, troops.

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Mix Up Some New Kool Aid!

I grew up knowing America was the greatest country on the planet, that it offered its citizens the most opportunities for advancement, that its judicial system was the fairest, that it had the best education system in the world, that its elected officials (usually) respected the rule of law, and that politics was about more than money. I was proud to be an American. I still am, but these things are no longer true. We need to make a fresh batch of Kool Aid. Times have changed.

How do you fit in this picture?

  • Are you white?
  • Did you grow up above the Mason-Dixon line or on the East or West Coast?
  • Was your family’s home in a safe neighborhood?
  • Were your parents university graduates?
  • Were your parents business professionals or academics?
  • Did you go to a private high school or boarding school?
  • Did your parents have enough to pay for your college education?*

*If you’re under 50 and checked all those boxes you can be forgiven for believing as I did. The game is rigged in your favor. If you’re African-American, Hispanic, Muslim, or poor you have to work harder to grab the brass ring. It’s not impossible but you have to work harder.

Income inequality has divided America into two classes – upper and under. The top 20% in wealth can check almost all of the boxes. There are exceptions but here are the astonishing statistics:

In 2007 the richest 1% of the American population owned 35% of the country’s total wealth, and the next 19% owned 51%. Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country’s wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%.* (CNN  Money, August 18, 2016)

Though the scales have fallen from my eyes I still believe in America’s goodness and inherent promise. We have work to do, but what could be more satisfying than working  to restore America’s status as the best of the best. I believe education got us there in the first place and is the key to reclaiming it.

The full quote is:

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.            Education is the key to eliminating gender inequality, to reducing poverty, to creating a sustainable planet, to preventing needless deaths and illness, and to fostering peace.”

I know the value of education, because I’m a product of public education, I know how to make the case for it and I know we can deliver quality education to the majority of Americans. My education came at time when public school was the norm and private school was for the privileged or religious. I graduated from a state university and state law school, both listed among the top schools in the nation and I paid less than $500 tuition per year. That’s not a typo though it seems like one when you look at tuition costs now.

Today, ten of our twelve grandchildren attend public school, but the schools are a mixed bag. Some are good; in affluent neighborhoods with generous well-educated parents. Some are marginal; in districts where resources are limited and parents less involved, and others are failing miserably in crumbling, poverty heavy neighborhoods.

Except for a few federal guidelines and some government dependents’ schools – military and foreign service – most public education is managed locally. There is no uniformity. Quality education should be a right not a crap shoot or a privilege. Today it’s not; American education is sliding down the scale behind that of other developed nations.

According to the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings developed by the Office for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a consortium of 34 democracies with market economies, American students rank 25th out of 70 in science, 24th in reading, and 40th in math, but we spend more money than any of the other countries to get there.

Why am I beating this drum about public education? It’s because education is democracy’s most powerful weapon, and today American education is in the doldrums. Our higher education is the envy of the world, but we need to take back our leadership in elementary and secondary education. Like the race to the moon 50 years ago, it will require more than lip service. It will mean changing more than the number of teachers and classrooms. It will mean we have to address things like healthcare, poverty, immigration, infrastructure and transportation because these things are linked and at the core of what made America the best and most successful nation on earth 50 years ago.

The education crisis is not Donald Trump’s fault but his administration exemplifies everything wrong with America’s political, moral, and educational stature today. Narrow self-interest and xenophobic nativist patriotism emanates from the top. The White House is a hornet’s nest of greed and self-dealing. The First Family is enriching itself and the administration is redistributing wealth upward at our expense. Rich white men occupy almost every cabinet position, and Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, a rich white woman who never attended one is in charge of our public schools. These choices and these political leaders are not making good decisions for our country.

My neighbors, Gery and Laurie, were both teachers for 30+ years. Gery believes the basic problem is class size. Laurie is more nuanced. Other teacher friends have different ideas, but whatever the mechanics of recovery and reform are I believe we need to show teachers the respect they deserve by paying them the same as other professionals – the way they are compensated in other developed countries. If we did, university students would be able to choose teaching as their profession versus competing fields like law, medicine, engineering and business. We would be able to recruit and retain high quality teachers instead of relying on the altruism. The people teaching our children and grandchildren should not be asked to make alarming sacrifices in order to fulfill their roles in the classroom.

Here is another list of top ranked countries based on student-teacher ratios, length of time in school, and percentage of graduates with a quality education.*

  1. Australia
  2. Japan
  3. South Korea
  4. Finland
  5. Norway
  6. Singapore
  7. Netherlands
  8. Switzerland
  9. Germany
  10. Ireland
  11. United Kingdom

*www.globalcitizen.org from the United Nations Human Development Report

This stuff isn’t sexy like the race to the moon, but if we want to be number one in education and reclaim our stature in the world we need to brew up a fresh batch of Kool Aid. The old stuff is stale and flat. We need something fresh if we’re going to climb back to our former ranking in the world. Right now it looks like we’re nibbling around the edges – vouchers, charter schools, home schooling, magnet schools, etc.

We need innovation and new energy if we’re going to level the playing field and eliminate the advantages of birth, wealth, and privilege. We won’t be taking anything away from anyone; we’ll be providing a solid 21st Century education to everyone, and everyone top to bottom will benefit. We’ve done it before and we can do it again if we build state of the art schools and fill them with well paid professional teachers whose mission is to educate ALL young Americans to become global citizens and leaders.  If we do it right, we won’t need to talk about American “exceptionalism.” We will be living it.


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The Trump Defense

In criminal law there is a presumption of innocence (and sanity). Nevertheless, in some cases even though guilt is established, punishment may be mitigated when mental capacity is at issue. In those cases, an insanity defense based on the McNaughton Rule may apply. Established in an 1843 English case, the traditional rule states:

“that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and… that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”

It’s definitely time to review McNaughton because Donald Trump is acting like a crazy man – attacking NATO allies, cozying up to Vladimir Putin, complementing totalitarian autocrats, picking fights with his cabinet appointees, re-litigating his electoral college victory in a speech to the Boy Scouts, demanding the FBI charge Hillary Clinton with crimes related to her email server, preparing to fire the Special Counsel who’s looking into his money laundering, Russian connections, golden shower activity, and the scope of his family’s criminal enterprise. And… all of this in the last week. It’s almost orange jumpsuit time for DJT and insanity might be his only defense.

Last week David Brooks wrote about “The Moral Vacuum in the House of Trump” in his “failing” New York Times column. Using Donald Trump Jr.’s episode with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower as the centerpiece, Brooks stated his case this way,

“I don’t think moral obliviousness is built in a day. It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a person’s mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing; to take the normal human yearning to be good and replace it with a single-minded desire for material conquest; to take the normal human instinct for kindness and replace it with a law-of-the-jungle mentality. It took a few generations of the House of Trump, in other words, to produce Donald Jr.”

The Trump variation on the McNaughton Rule excuses the family’s behavior, not on the basis of ignorance or stupidity, but on the theory that a genetic defect has prevented everyone in the family from distinguishing right from wrong. If successful, the new formulation could lead to involuntary commitments in the looney bin rather than lengthy prison terms for their high crimes and misdemeanors. On the other hand, that cagey, immoral, and unscrupulous clan might opt for a presidential pardon as its way to sidestep the orange jumpsuit fraternity. Who knows? The imperial crap game is still going and the metaphor of the swamp (a naturally occurring phenomenon) has been superseded by the unnatural stench of raw sewage coming from the White House. Hold your nose folks; this is not over yet although the vultures are gathering as I write this.

Digging the Sewer

And, as if that wasn’t evidence enough, last week the Director of the Office of Government Ethics, the man responsible for making sure the White House is in compliance with all the ethical rules, resigned. As they say in divorce proceedings, there were “irreconcilable differences.” Walter Schaub, the government’s top ethics watchdog said in an interview:

It’s hard for the United States to pursue international anticorruption and ethics initiatives when we’re not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility,” Mr. Shaub said in a two-hour interview this past weekend — a weekend Mr. Trump let the world know he was spending at a family-owned golf club that was being paid to host the U.S. Women’s Open tournament. “I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point.”

Mr. Schaub had recommended several changes to the US ethics code to strengthen the government ethics system, including tightening the rules exempting the President from conflicts of interest, revising financial disclosure rules, mandating the release of tax returns, clarifying rules regarding self-enrichment and expensive trips to family-owned business properties, and nepotism. A White House official dismissed the recommendations, saying that Mr. Shaub (note the spokesman’s misspelling) was simply promoting himself and had failed to do his job properly.

When he resigned, Mr. Schaub predicted that Trump’s gang of thieves would bypass the #2 officer in the ethics office and appoint a low level staffer they could control to head the office – and that is exactly what happened.

I don’t know where this will end. Every day there are new indignities perpetrated by the gypsies in the White House, and every day the nation is drawn closer to a constitutional crisis. It’s become a matter of faith for me – faith that the principles of our democracy can withstand this assault on its traditions and institutions and faith that Robert Mueller will shine a light on all the improprieties of the Trump family and campaign surrogates. My fingers are crossed.

Photos courtesy of:

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Joe Diedrich (1927-2017)

Yesterday would have been his 90th birthday. He had been in poor health for almost a year and in September when I spoke to him for the last time he acknowledged that the end was in sight. Two weeks ago I sent him an email. His wife responded with the news that he died the day after he received it.

Men aren’t particularly good at grieving though we commonly talk about it when a friend leaves us. Still, Joe wasn’t like anyone else and grieving doesn’t really describe my feelings. Regret is probably better. Regret that I won’t see him in Mallorca as planned this fall, and regret that I won’t hear more of his self-deprecating stories and biting commentary on the world.

Friendship comes in different guises – transactional, familial, social, romantic, and aspirational. My friendship with Joe is complicated to describe. Women connect with each other emotionally. Men form their bonds through activities – work, sports, school, or the military – but pilots, at least in our day, were a different breed. Every day we went to work and every day we added new people to our lives – one or two other pilots, a cabin crew, and a plane full of passengers. Over time we encountered an astonishing number of people. It wasn’t a traditional work environment and relationships were often fleeting. It wasn’t “normal,” but it gave us a diverse and interesting array of people to choose our friends from. That’s how we lived, Joe and I.

German is better than English at differentiating modes of friendship. In German, the word “bekannt” signifies a close acquaintance that doesn’t rise to the level of “freundschaft” i.e. friendship. Ein freund is someone with whom you share a deep friendship. Americans, on the other hand, are fond of using “friend” to signify anything from a person they met on the street years ago to an intimate sexual partner. Of the 2500 pilots on the Pan Am seniority list I probably had 5-10 friends in the German sense. Joe was one of them. I still keep in touch with some of the larger group but there are only a few I consider friends in the German sense.

Joe and I shared something else; we always found it easier to talk to women than men. He married five of them and I married three. Neither of us was garrulous but we liked women and thought their conversation was more interesting than that of most men. He may have been untraditional in many ways, but he was immensely proud of his four children as am I of my three.

In 1976 I was newly transferred to Berlin with Pan Am. It was a small base with only 150 pilots. You got to know everyone. Joe, who was 10 years older, had been there since 1969 and that added an older/younger, senior/junior, mentor/mentee cast to our friendship.

He was raised on a family homestead in Wisconsin, but Wisconsin was too dull and isolated for a restless soul like his. Teachers and friends knew he was bright, and at 16 he was offered scholarships to a couple of Ivy League universities. Instead, he chose Rollins College, a sybaritic party school on a beautiful lake in Florida. He remained connected to the family homestead on Big Cedar Lake throughout his life and it’s where he died, but he never returned except to visit. He was too curious, adventurous and restless to live in America’s heartland.

After college he did a tour as a Navy pilot in Morocco then joined Pan Am in Miami. A couple of corporate furloughs took him to Lima and Beirut as an oil company corporate pilot, but once back on the Pan Am payroll and after a couple of years in San Francisco he transferred to Berlin and never left.

We met there and at first I found him difficult and intimidating. He was older and didn’t suffer fools though he was surrounded by them. At Pan Am he was in a unique intermediate category – younger than the Sky Gods of the old Flying Boat days and older than my vintage of  “new hire” military pilots.

When he arrived in Berlin he set about learning German, which he did well. In 1979, after ten years there and determined never to live in the US again, he and his wife, Jacqui, moved to Mallorca. For the rest of his career he commuted to Berlin. Two weeks on, two weeks off.  Following retirement he continued to live there. He spoke Spanish from his days in Miami and South America. The island was a perfect refuge for this global citizen.

Among Joe’s mysterious assets and acquisitions was a familiarity with accounting principles, and when the Internal Revenue Code was revised in 1976 he dug into it and discovered a loop hole for foreign-based Americans enabling them to save a sizeable chunk of what should have been taxable income. Soon he was preparing tax returns for his fellow Berlin-based pilots.

There are so many unusual things about Joe, so many layers. It was years after I met him that I learned that my friend – this incisive observer of people and places with a wealth of experience – had been writing stories about his adventures. His dry, sardonic style and keen observations made him a superb storyteller and he published several stories in high quality literary journals. So, writing was another interest that brought us together. He was more successful at publication but for 15 or 20 years we exchanged letters and emails about it. Two years ago he told me he’d given up looking for place to send his stories even though he still had a stack of them, unpublished, under his desk. I offered to act as his agent, but he had made peace with the situation and didn’t need my help.

Yesterday, as part of the process of saying goodbye, I reread his story The Lady Who Lassoed Jaguars from Travelers’ Tales Central America. I was struck by the parallel between that story and some advice he gave me years ago. At that time, the young wife of an older Pan Am Captain was letting me know that she was interested in something more than a “bekannt” friendship. She was uncommonly beautiful and the temptation was potent. Joe knew her well and was aware that she occasionally strayed from her marriage. One day as we were getting ready to read the preflight checklist, he turned to me and said, “Be careful, Jack. Frau X is trouble.” He didn’t need to elaborate and the subject was never mentioned again. Years later I thanked him. His Jaguar story has a similar theme and ends with this paragraph:

“I have found as I get older that I can usually live with the memories of things that I have done that I should not have done. It is the things that I did not do that keep me awake, sometimes, in the middle of the night.” 

A fitting epitaph.

Joe Diedrich (1927 – 2017)


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Herma Hill Schreter Kay (1934-2017)

Professor Herma Hill Kay died at her home in San Francisco on June 10, 2017. She was a respected teacher, colleague, and personality at Boalt Hall, the University of California’s law school in Berkeley for 57 years. After obtaining her undergraduate degree (magna cum laude) in anthropology from Southern Methodist University she attended the University of Chicago law school, and after a year as the law clerk for Roger Traynor, legendary Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, she began her tenure as a law school professor at Boalt. I never had a class with Professor Kay and can’t claim her as a friend, but we did have one funny encounter in Seattle years after I left California.

In 1963 Professor Kay shocked the Boalt community by divorcing her first husband and marrying one of her students. It wasn’t so much a scandal as a curiosity. There was titillating gossip but no obvious backlash. She continued to teach and he continued on to graduation. With all the voyeurism, political correctness, and sexual politics in today’s air I can’t imagine what the school administration’s response would be nowadays. Nevertheless, the only public commentary I’m aware of occurred during the  law students’ annual theatrical when a verse was inserted in the score memorializing her action. Herma was a class act and her amused response to the song’s verse confirmed it.

I thought the song was so amusing I never forgot it, and in 2005 when she came to Seattle to host a fundraising luncheon I had a chance to refresh her memory by singing the verse to her during a Q&A after lunch.

Herma Hill Schreter Kay loved anthropology.

Shed her last husband without an apology.

Turned family law into more than mythology

While I was reading the regs.

Amusement and law school theatricals aside I’ve been a longtime admirer of Herma’s. She retired in 2016 after serving the Boalt Hall community for 57 years as teacher, dean, and advocate. She joined the faculty in 1960, two years before I started, and served as dean from 1992–2000. Berkeley was ahead of its time and so was she. At the time of her appointment, in 1960, she was one of only 13 women serving as full professors at major law schools. To Berkeley’s credit she wasn’t the first woman professor at Boalt. That distinction was held by Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong, Herma’s mentor, who, in 1935, became the second woman to become a full professor at an ABA accredited law school.

While active at the school, Professor Kay taught family law, conflicts of law, and diversity in legal education. She wrote extensively, including a casebook co-authored by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sex-based Discrimination, and when Sandra Day O’Conner, another friend and colleague, retired from the Supreme Court in 2006, Professor Kay was on the short list as her replacement.

Her marriage to the law student ended in divorce but she married again, had three children and four grandchildren, one of whom graduated from Boalt shortly before her grandmother’s death at age 82.

I was shocked to read her obituary in the New York Times this weekend and shocked to discover she was only two years older than I am. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have surprised me that she married a student. We were all about the same age, but because of her faculty position she seemed older – or at least more serious.

RIP Herma Hill Schreter Kay Brodsky


** Photos courtesy of NY Times and University of California

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