Thursday, June 28, 2012


In a world of undifferentiated sameness repeated increasingly in every direction in every place, we risk the loss of self in this meaningless chaos.
There are, however, places in nature and history that break through this tedious mediocrity that so many embrace without question.
A Romanian historian wrote, there are “privileged places, qualitatively different from all others” where we may experience peace, inspiration, an understanding of who we are and may even participate in what’s sacred.
President Abraham Lincoln famously said at Gettysburg that many “gave their lives” so that our “nation might live” thus “consecrate[ing]” the special place where they fought and died so that our nation might enjoy “a new birth of freedom.”
In Waterford, Virginia, on August 27, 1862, White’s Rebels, fighting for the Confederates, skirmished with the Loudoun Rangers, fighting for the Union, in that mostly unionist village; Rangers were killed and wounded and bested by the Confederates; those Rangers consecrated this place.
The rolling hills of grass lined with three board fences along Loyalty Road from Taylorstown to Waterford compare favorably with an Irish countryside.
The prolific Quaker Janneys came to Virginia from Pennsylvania to found Waterford in 1733. 
In 1983, I bought the Joseph Janney House, a log cabin in Waterford, with weathered boards and a stone foundation, built on land purchased by Janney in 1781, but restored more recently by the Rev. Brown Morton with devotion to the cabin’s historic antecedents.  Brown restored and preserved what others might squander and destroy. Walking on the broad beam floors of that cabin, you were walking in the steps of early inhabitants since become shadows.
This place was special because it enjoyed a “coincidence of opposites” -- unionists faced states’ rights nullifiers, slave owners opposed abolitionists, brothers and neighbors disagreed with each other, war broke out, blood spilled, and lives were lost among neighbors in the heights and valleys in Northern Virginia. 
One Janney descendant, John Janney, struggled to resolve these coincidental opposites.  Janney had studied law at the county court in Leesburg, and went on to draft a bill to abolish slavery in Virginia’s General Assembly.  His most significant defining act may have been his insistence that Virginia remain in the union.  Are we that far distant from those days when we are still arguing over whether the federal or state government is in charge?
Waterford was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1969, and was also selected that year as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.  The Waterford Historic District was created in 1972 by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to “protect against the destruction of, or encroachment upon historic areas.” 
We have a Historic District Review Committee (HDRC) in Loudoun County to consider what designs are appropriate in the various historic districts including Waterford for preserving, rehabilitating, restoring, reconstructing or remodeling.
Unfortunately, there are some who come to Loudoun for what it is and soon afterwards want to make it what they left.
There has only been one petition filed that I can find to “delist” the Waterford Historic District.  Milari Madison insisted that the claims of Waterford’s “historical significance” were “exaggerated.”  In November 2007, at the Catoctin Presbyterian Church,  Ms. Madison was reportedly the only speaker who wanted to “delist” Waterford.  About 30 speakers including Loudoun County Board Chairman Scott York spoke against de-listing Waterford, and the petition failed because Waterford was “remarkably intact” as to preservation and historic significance.
Ms. Madison also challenged a broader preservation initiative, “The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Act,” introduced by 10th District Congressman Frank Wolf (R).  Ms. Madison signed a “coalition letter” stating that “National heritage areas corrupt the principle of representative government;” the objection really was that Ms. Madison objected to any restriction on property rights.
You have to wonder if one hand knows what the other is doing when Board Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) has reportedly nominated Ms. Madison to join the County’s Historic District Review Committee (HDRC). 
The HDRC states that an appointee “must have … interest in the preservation of historical and architectural landmarks.”  Ms. Madison apparently favors private property rights to the disadvantage of preservation. 
Watch for whether this nomination is approved by the Board of Supervisors for, if it is approved, it signals that Waterford and other special places of historic designation in the County are at risk.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Dad (and Mom)
As a young Irish Roman Catholic kid in St. Thomas Aquinas parish in the South Bronx. the symbolic end of your childhood, your initiation into young adult life, was confirmed in your early teens by a slight symbolic slap to the cheek by a Bishop standing at the altar in a marble floored church filled with families, candles and clouds of incense.
The sacramental slap symbolized that life may be harsh.
The truth be told, however, I learned most about how to navigate life and death from my father – not that I didn’t also learn from Fathers Byrne, O’Brien, Shea and McDonald (as well as Sister Augustine from the Dominicans and other religious who were not so Irish).
My father subscribed to Proverbs (22:6), “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” 
The way he said it to me was I should do better than he did.
When I was about 5 years old, “Johnny up stairs” beat me up.  I ran to our fourth floor tenement apartment and asked my father to beat up little Johnny, never thinking for a minute that adults shouldn’t be beating up little children.  
My father got down on his knees on the linoleum in our hallway and had me punch his hands, left-right-left, first one, then the other, correcting my pug moves until I said, “This is fine Dad but when are you going to take care of Johnny?” 
My father said, “You have to fight your own battles,” and sent me on my way back downstairs.  
I didn’t believe I could go home if I didn’t beat up Johnny.  Fact is our sparring session was quite effective.  I bested Johnny, learned something both useful (and necessary) to survive in our neighborhood, how to stand up for yourself, for what you believe, and how to fight for others you care about.  I marvel that these days we can’t figure out how to handle bullies, young or old.
I was good at basic Science and Math.  It was because my Dad sat at the kitchen table going over and over math that we weren’t yet doing in school, fractions and decimals especially.  I’d cry literally trying to understand what he was teaching.  He was always patient.  In a way, that made it more important that I “get it.” Soon, I was correcting teachers in class (at some serious disciplinary risk but luckily my math was always right).  When I got to High School I was chosen to study Calculus at Fordham College.  I asked my Dad one night to help me understand a calculus assignment.  He said he didn’t know anything about calculus but was so proud that I was studying something that he knew nothing about.
One evening back from College, my Dad asked me to fix the TV set.  It was one of those consoles with a big tube that had a green tint when on but it wouldn’t go on.  I said, “Dad, I don’t know how to fix a TV set.  He said, “But, you’re studying Physics.”  I said, “It’s not that kind of Physics.”  Dad said, “So what good is it?”  I got mad and slammed my hand down on the top of the TV, jiggling the tube, and the picture flashed onto the screen.  My Dad said, “What have you done?”  I said, “There I fixed the set.”  My Dad laughed, asking “So what principle of Physics allowed you to do that?”  Gamely, I said, “Newton’s law, that is, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  I’d catch my Dad telling his buddies afterwards about his son, “the Physicist” and “how he fixed the TV by punching it.”
My Dad was surprised when in Grammar School I started competing in oratorical contests.  But both my Dad and Mom encouraged that I participate in conversation when adults gathered in our home and they gave me the floor to tell a story or make a point that probably, looking back on it, was more cute than competent – but gave me the confidence ever after to speak publicly.
My Dad always discouraged me from smoking, although he did.  When, at 68, he was dying of lung cancer, I asked him if he regretted smoking.  I hated myself for asking the question the instant the words escaped my mouth but I hadn’t said it harshly.  Nor did my Dad take it badly.  He said, “We were like cars, although we lasted a lot longer.  Sooner or later a fender comes off or the engine fails.”  He was at peace with his imminent death.  He gave me a gold ring my Mom gave him.  The best gift he gave, however, was his example of how to die after having spent so much time instructing me how to live. 
What more could a Dad do for a son?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

GAZETTE COLUMN: "Mind if I search your car for Drugs?" by John P. Flannery

Too many teenagers and young adults in Loudoun County and across the nation are stopped and asked, "May I search your car for drugs?"  

incidentally, this appears to affect disproportionally those who are Hispanic or Black.

You may know the drill but, if not, you should.

State and local police loiter near bars and restaurants and movie theaters late at night, watch who leave, and follow them when they leave. 

They let them go through an intersection and stop them for a rolling stop instead of a full stop, or a license plate light that's out. 

The persons stopped often insist the alleged violation was false and only a pretext for stopping the vehicle.  In other words, the stop was a fishing expedition to see what the police might find.

The driver may be your son or daughter.

The officer asks, "Mind if I search your car for drugs?"  He may say, "I smell pot," whether or not he does.  The officer is trained to lie to provoke a response.  He's encouraged to lie to obtain an admission.

If your son or daughter says, "No, officer, it's late and l want to get home," the police officer says, "what's the matter, you got something to hide?"

The car is usually held by the side of the road while other officers are called to the scene and a K-9 unit is called.

This dog is led around the car and an officer decides the dog "alerted" on the car, meaning the dog suspects drugs are in the car. 

You can see what an ensemble of officers and time and resources are involved in a single stop of this kind.

The officers then toss the car, search it, and, if they find nothing.  When this happens, we don't get to hear about the "false alert" - that the sniffing dog got it wrong - as the motorist goes on his way, perhaps with a ticket for a broken tail light.

If they find something, they assert they had probable cause, for example, to unearth a joint under the front passenger seat - as indicated by the sniffing canine.

Then they closely question your son or daughter, "tell me is that your pot?" 

You may say they should be advising your son or daughter he or she has a right to remain silent.

But, they don't because, most often, they insist, your son or daughter is not in custody. 

Miranda says you have to be in custody to be warned.  But who thinks, when stopped by the police, with other squad cars on the scene, and police dogs, and officers crawling in your car, searching it, that you are not in custody, and that you are free to go on your way?  No one I've ever met!

At the end of this drill, your son or daughter is arrested for possession of some insignificant amount of marijuana.

What's wrong with this picture?

Several years ago, California Governor Arnold "the Terminator" Schwarzenegger sought to terminate misdemeanor marijuana possession prosecutions  asking why California spends such resources on an offense that should be an infraction with a fine instead of being treated as a crime.

Only days ago, New York Governor Cuomo asked the State Legislature to decriminalize marijuana possession in his state.  He was responding to stop-and-frisk practices by the New York police, asking individuals to empty their pockets and then prosecuting them for misdemeanor possession when they had a joint or any marijuana in their pockets.  This is not so different from the practice in Virginia of stopping cars on traffic violations when really they are looking to make pot busts.

Cuomo objected that these aggressive tactics result in the life-altering trauma of arrest, create arrest records for young people who are often minorities, who had no prior record, requiring them to retain or have counsel appointed, and suffering a stigma that may follow them their whole life long no matter what else happens, compromising their education and employment opportunities.

Cuomo was emboldened by the fact that a dozen states have decriminalized possession.

I was a federal drug prosecutor in New York City in the war on drugs in the 70s and we prosecuted organized crime syndicates bringing hundreds of kilos of pure heroin from Thailand and France to New York.  We seized the drugs, arrested the conspirators, got million dollar bail amounts from the court, convicted drug kingpins, garnered front page headlines, got them long sentences in miserable prisons, and, looking back into the rear view mirror today, it made hardly any difference at all. 

In the intervening years we are always re-declaring this never-ending war on drugs but to little good effect.

Whatever it is that we must do to reform our nation's drug policy to make any sense at all, one thing is clear, we shouldn't be trashing the lives of our young with penny ante pot possession charges.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


We all know presidential candidate, former Senator John Edwards, had an affair with self-styled avant-garde film-maker, Rielle Hunter, that they made a baby while Edwards’ wife was battling cancer, that Edwards first denied it was his child, that Edwards’ loyal friend, Andy Young, said it was his, and, finally, Edwards admitted, yeah, that’s my child.  Thus have we removed all doubt that Edwards is a despicable human being
But was any of this a crime?  More to the point, was it a federal campaign violation because monies were received and spent to hide this affair and the Hunter love child?  In order to be a campaign funding violation, according to the law, the money had to be given “for the purposes of influencing any election for federal office.”  In addition, Edwards had to know it was a violation and intend to violate the campaign finance laws.  He had to act “knowingly and willfully” to be convicted of such a crime.
In Edwards’ favor, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), when they reviewed Edwards’ campaign filings, didn’t require that these funds dedicated to covering up the affair be reported in the campaign filings as campaign contributions. 
The North Carolina federal jury heard the government’s evidence at Edwards’ trial and heard federal judge Catherine Eagles’ instructions on the law and the jury outright acquitted Edwards on one count of receiving illegal campaign contributions, and hung on the other charges, tilted, according to press reports, toward Edwards’ innocence of all charges, prompting Justice Department sources to say that there won’t be another trial.  Truth is, there never should have been a first trial.
Nor is this debacle an exceptional case of federal prosecutors over-reaching beyond the facts and the law compromising the justice system’s claim to being fundamentally fair. 
Another example of a federal prosecution gone awry, in Florida, five-month old, Sabrina Aisenberg, was kidnapped and the federal prosecutor indicted Sabrina’s parents on secret tape recordings that the prosecution claimed showed that the parents had kidnapped the child. 
The grand jury was told these statements were overheard on the tapes.  But, in truth and fact, there was no such statements on any of the tape recordings.  The court later found the probable cause to make these recordings was bogus as well.  The government was forced to drop the case because there was no evidence and the Judge awarded $1.5 million in legal fees to the Aisenberg family lawyers. 
As for the federal prosecutor, the Just Us Department suspended the responsible prosecutor for two days (a Saturday and a Sunday).  No, he wasn’t fired.  He was permitted to join another federal prosecutor’s office in Florida.  The family thought they had a slam dunk civil rights action; the court told them, however, that the prosecutor enjoyed immunity and dismissed the suit.
Earlier this year, the Justice Department admitted that its federal prosecutors engaged in misconduct in their prosecution of Senator Ted Stevens when they withheld vital evidence that “seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness.”  This all came to light afterwards.  In the meantime, Stevens was convicted, lost his re-election, and then afterwards his conviction was vacated for the government’s misconduct.
To show that this is not just a few random instances of misconduct, USA Today conducted an in depth  survey and found 201 federal cases across the nation involving prosecutorial misconduct punished by the court – prosecutorial abuses that put innocent people in jail, and others that prompted the court to let some who may have been guilty go free -
The power of a federal prosecutor is enormous.  The filing of an indictment naming anyone is a personal catastrophe – no matter what happens afterwards to the Accused.  We can’t afford to have prosecutors undermining the law by breaking the law themselves.  I know I was a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York at a time when we believed that constitutional rights were the rules of the road and any crime had to be construed strictly and could not be charged to scare someone into pleading to something else.  But more and more, prosecutors treat these powers recklessly.  This gross prosecutorial misconduct will not stop while prosecutors enjoy immunity from prosecution themselves, and are hardly ever disciplined or even criticized when they do wrong.