Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blog #38: Of Clinging and Singing

Addenda: Monday, June 2, 2008: The Sunday Chronicle carried a “balanced” report on the aftermath of the FLDS raid over the weekend reporting the ideas of supporters of the CPS’s action following the raid on the FLDS compound in addition to those who were critical. However, it seems to me that both supporters of the raid and the Judge and CPS agents miss the main point of the Appeal Courts ruling. In short, the court said you cannot treat 460+ children as one. You need to deal with each situation, one child at a time. Judge Walther and the CPS still hadn’t read, or at least accepted the court’s ruling on Friday, for they were attempting to impose conditions upon the return of the children, and not just the older girls which 3 of the Supreme Court judges deemed at risk. The conditions that were being hammered out by the judge and CPS Friday would have pretty much kept all of the returned children under CPS control. When one of the lawyers cried foul, and pointed out that that wasn’t what the appeals court had ordered, the judge left the courtroom.

The CPS and the judge are attempting to impose conditions on the return of the children in part to attempt to justify what has to be the largest and most egregious deprivation of parental rights in the history of the republic. And when you consider how the Judge and CPS ignored the testimony of their own expert witness who had counseled against separating these children from their parents en masse, it makes you wonder. Naming an agency that would take children from their parents without an ounce of due process a Child “Protective” Agency stretches credulity beyond bounds of reason. And even now, after they have had their day in court and lost, the judge and the CPS are trying to attach conditions on the return of the children which would continue them keeping them under CPS “protection.”

The judge muttered something about desiring an organized process for the return of the children, a comment which flies in the face of the court’s original removal of the children, which couldn’t have been more disorganized. Isn’t is interesting how now as they are attempting to bide for time they plead the need to get organized? Maneuvering on such a grand scale is probably just what you would expect considering the weight of the judgement against them. Outside of a court of law conduct like theirs attempting to impose such conditions on the return of the children taken unlawfully in the first place could be construed as blackmail. It should prove interesting to see whether after a weekend of study and reflection Judge Walther elects to follow the Appeals Court’s instructions as written and return those children to the care of their rightful parents in all possible haste, or will the lawyers for the children have to go to the Appeals Court in Austin for relief? And so so, dear friends, we leave you with this question. Will Judge Walther get those busses rolling on Monday? Stay tuned. Inquiring minds want to know! And those ten days must have just about ticked away by now.
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It is certainly refreshing to note that the high Texas courts will step in to protect parental rights when the state egregiously misuses its power, as was the case with the FLDS seizures. According to a story in the Houston Chronicle by Janet Elliot and Lisa Sandberg, “Texas child welfare officials began preparations Thursday to reunite more than 450 children with their parents after the state's highest civil court said their removal from a West Texas polygamist ranch seven weeks ago was illegal.”

In a statement after the ruling, Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services, which won custody of the children after a raid on April 3, said, “We are disappointed, but we understand and respect the court’s decision and will take immediate steps to comply.” (Do they really understand, and how immediate is immediate?) The statement added: “Our goal is to reunite families whenever we can and make sure the children will be safe. We will continue to prepare for the prompt and orderly reunification of these children with their families.” What rankles in a careful reading of the preceding sentences is the phrase “whenever we can,” which was followed by the phrase “prepare for” in regard to the prompt and orderly reunification of these children with their families. The CPS taketh away, the CPS must giveth back. The Appeals Court’s order was quite clear, the state can only withhold children who are proven to be in some kind of imminent danger, and the state has to prove such a danger on a case by case basis. The CPS’s rationale for taking all of the children and putting them in foster care was illegal and wrong.

The Texas Supreme Court upheld the May 22 ruling by the Third Court of Appeals in Austin. The Third Court had ruled that the state didn't have enough evidence to order every child who lived at the Yearning for Zion Ranch into foster care, instead of just the teenage girls who child welfare officials might deem at risk of being sexually abused by marriages to older men. "On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted," said the court in an unsigned opinion.

In fact, six of the Texas Supreme Court judges supported the 3rd Appeals Courts ruling giving Judge Walther ten days to revoke her ruling in its entirety. Three justices, Harriet O'Neill, Phil Johnson and Don Willett, said they would favor keeping pubescent girls (who might be of marriageable age) in state custody but return younger girls and all of the boys, thereby allowing Judge Walther the proviso that she could retain the state’s supervision over certain of the children, however the state would need to prove the need on a case by case basis.

Although the circus seems to be over, the clowns who called the original shots in this travesty are still in the center ring. "It is a victory as to returning the children to the families, but it does not mean the case is over," said Laura Shockley, an attorney who represents some of the children. "It doesn't mean that re-removal of some of the children couldn't occur again." "They're going to have to return the kids, but this is going to be a fiasco," said Shockley, whose FLDS clients include a 26-year-old mother whom CPS insisted was an underage girl until a week ago. The Dallas attorney said it's not a clean win for FLDS parents. "Yes, they have to return the children, but they — CPS — can put provisions in an order that requires all sorts of monitoring and home studies and that sort of thing."

Dan Barlow, 75, an excommunicated member of the FLDS who has four children in state custody, said he was thrilled to learn of the court's decision. "I think it's the right one. It means what we've prayed for." Barlow had been waging a legal battle to have the children reunited with their mother, who after his ouster was reassigned to another man and was living with their four children on the YFZ Ranch at the time of the raid.

Friday evening at 10:10 the Houston Chronicle reported that the release of the children has hit a snag. State District Judge Barbara Walther was about to approve an amended agreement that would have, with few exceptions, returned all of the children to their parents after a nearly two-month separation following a state raid and alleged sexual abuse investigation. The plan would have returned the children to their parents possibly as soon as tomorrow with certain conditions. But just as Walther was set to approve it, a lone attorney — by telephone — objected to some minor points added by the judge. The attorney insisted that the judge could only cancel her original removal order and return the children or go with an earlier draft that attorneys for mothers of the children endorsed.

"I will take a look at the original order to see if I can sign it," said Walther before taking a recess. The judge later returned to the bench and informed attorneys that she would sign the original order as long as it had the signature of 43 mothers who are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who had sued the state to get their children returned. "If you provide me with an order signed by all of your clients, I will sign it," she said before abruptly leaving the bench, throwing the courtroom into turmoil.

It turns out that the court and the CPS had spent Friday detailing plans for returning the children that attempted to keep strict control by the CPS on all of the children, concerning where they could live, directing the parents to take lessons on parenting, providing CPS full access to all of the children at all times, etc. The morning had begun with the draft which had been approved by attorneys for 43 of the mothers. However, the CPS and the judge kept layering on other provisions. Finally a lawyer attending by conference call pointed out to the judge that what she and the CPS were doing was not called for in the Appeals Court ruling. The court had simply ordered Judge Walther to vacate her original order that had turned the children over to the CPS and return them to their parents.

Judge Walther had professed a desire to return the children in an orderly procedure, even though there had been not one damn thing orderly in the way she had taken the children from their parents in the first place. The judge recessed to consider the matter, then returned offering to sign the original order approved by the lawyers if they would get the signatures of the 43 mothers. Judge Walther then adjourned the court. Some lawyers for the children threatened to appeal directly to the Appeals Court to vacate the judge’s original order. In the meantime, it should be noted that the Appeals Court ruling (left in force by the Supreme Court) had given Judge Walther ten days to vacate her original order, and that the ten days should be up sometime in the coming week. Will the judge vacate her original order as directed by the Appeals Court? Or will she along with the CPS continue to attempt to put restriction after restriction on the return of the children? Tune in again next week for the next exciting chapter.

If you read a news story about 460+ children being swept up in a raid on a religious compound, and forcibly removed and put into foster care by the state, children of all ages, even nursing infants (although the court later softened its stance by allowing nursing mothers to remain with their infants), where would you think such a monstrous incursion of human and familial rights might have taken place? In the former Soviet Union? Communist China? Iran? Perhaps a modern dictatorship the likes of Myanmar? Would you believe Texas? As in deep in the heart of.

Now it is perfectly true that the people of that compound practice a religion which believes in men having multiple wives, and that in the eyes of the sect after a girl passes through puberty she is of marriageable age. However you might well ask, doesn’t Texas join with the rest of the United States in believing in the freedom of religion? That people can believe in whatever they damn please as long as it doesn’t encroach on the beliefs and rights of others? It was not as if this sect was roaming the streets of our cities, like pied pipers wooing children away from their rightful parents, enticing them into this perverse way of life. These children belong to these parents, they had them in the age old, god given, time tested way most all children are conceived. Through good old fashioned sexual intercourse, the very act that seems to bring on the ire of the Texas CPS. It seems to be true that these people believe that girls should be allowed to marry and have children at the age their bodies and nature allows, not at some arbitrary age set by politicians in Washington or Austin. Even if you accept that their beliefs are far enough afield to be out of the ballpark, how does that excuse the forcible removal of all of their children, boys as well as girls from their rightful parents?

According to the Texas Child Protective Services, members of this religion were endangering the health and safety of every one of those children by believing in these multiple marriages, and by having marriages of underage girls to older men, marriages arranged by sect elders. To those who asked, why take all the children? Why not limit the removal of children only to girls who are nearing or had reached puberty, and consequently who the authorities might feel are most threatened? In their sputtering response the CPS’s mouthpieces came up with a most original theory, that “all of the boys of the compound were being raised to be sexual perpetrators, and all of the girls were being raised to be victims of sexual abuse.” And so according to the oracles of the CPS ALL of the children, even infants, were in immediate danger and had to be removed from their homes.

Of course a week ago the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin stated that State District Judge Barbara Walther had abused her discretion when she ordered all of the children seized and gave her 10 days to vacate her order. However, undoubtedly in the hope that jurisprudence is indeed blind the CPS appealed that ruling to the State Supreme Court, asking the Court for a stay of the Appeals Court’s ten-day order, hoping against hope that their bizarre reasoning might prevail in the end. Fortunately for the children, their parents, and all of the people of Texas, Supreme legal minds read from the same law books as do Appealing legal minds. We can rejoice that this case will be over and done with, and hope that each child is returned to his/her rightful parents, and with as much haste as the CPS used to take them away.

I guess the question we all need to ask ourselves is: how free are we really in our modern, so-called enlightened society? What rights do we have when push comes to shove and the state turns to grab? We talk a good line, sure. But how far are we really allowed to deviate from the straight and narrow before the Texas CPS or so some other government entity can swoop down upon us, and without an iota of proof or evidence or even proper legal representation, gather up our children and fling them to the four corners of the state. And most particularly after their own expert had advised them against removing all of the children, warning that such a violent separation would have serious consequences in regards to the mental health of the children.

We Texans have some serious thinking to do, and choices to make. I should hope the politians who represent us in Austin will examine this incident, and the lapses in civil rights that seem so clear in hindsight, but at the time the Texas CPS and the lower court judge were so blind to. We should find out how our representatives feel about issues like this and cast our votes accordingly. Although I don’t personally believe that the way to heaven is paved with early motherhood, on the other hand, I don’t think whoever is directing the CPS has any more insight into God’s or nature’s laws than do I or the members of the FLDS. To each his own is a time-honored phrase. We need to live and let live, and bureaucrats need to take their self-proclaimed bureaucratic omnipotence with a gigantic grain of salt. There are laws on the books that were meant to preserve our inherited rights. The CPS and Judge Walther have made a mockery of them, and seem to be continuing to this day. The least they can do is to make up for their grievous behavior would be to return every one of those children to their rightful parents with at least as much haste as they used in removing them. And saying they are sorry would be in order, although it is probably more than they are able to manage.
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Well, it is indeed a strange world we live in. Finally someone who was privy to the real goings-on of the Bush administration has written what seems to me to be a terribly honest and clear cut account of what went on during those years. I particularly found his narrative of the run up to war in Iraq most fascinating. Although I haven’t as yet had a chance to read his tome in its entirety, I have read newspaper accounts of it, and heard the interview Wolf Blitzer did with him on the Situation Room. He seems to have detailed in clear, no nonsense language what I had suspected had gone on, especially in the buildup to the war, but of course none of us had any proof of this at the time. I personally could not bear to watch news channels during that awful period, like the proverbial ostrich I buried my head in the NBA channel. At least Commissioner Stern was trying to unite Europe and Asia, not overthrow any governments.

Our brand new tale teller is Scott McCellan, of course, and his book is called: "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception." Not surprisingly his old White House cronies look upon him as a traitor who turned on his old boss and his former coworkers. It is the talk of the cable news networks (except I’m told Fox, which seems to have hardly noticed) and you would think the reception McCellan has been getting would be friendly, at least among those of us who have long been critics of the administration. But what is genuinely surprising to me is that many of us who lean to the left aren’t much better than the Bushies, with comments like, “Why did you wait so long?” and “why didn’t you say something while all of this was going on?” His answer to those questions is very straightfoward, when you are in a bubble like the one encompassing the White House, you are not aware of anything else, and you don’t question what is going on. It is after you leave, and are once again among normal people, that you slowly acquire a renewed sense of judgement and proportion. And of course, there is the explanation that explains Ariana Huffington’s seeming antipathy, which is probably wrapped up in envy at his book’s number one position on, and all the publicity it is receiving. She has her own new book to sell, and I’m sure doesn’t welcome the competition. When Wolf Blitzer mention Richard Clarke’s book, and how McCellan had roasted it when as White House spokesman he had to deal with it, McCellan reported running into Richard Clarke a couple of nights before in New York, and he told Wolf he apologized to Clarke, who by chance also has a new book out, one also being overshadowed by the attention McCellan’s book is receiving. But of course, this is America, we wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t constantly impugn someone’s motives and then again, no one, not even those on the left, respect turncoats.

But wait just a little minute here, people. I ask you, what is wrong with someone who had to present spin and downright untruth for several of those momentous years leading up to the Iraq war? What is so hard to believe about his going back to Texas among people less guileful than those he associated in the Washington bubble, and on further reflection on what he had had to do during those years, having the guilt and shame he felt at having been complicit in the runup to that completely unnecessary war and the shocking administration reaction to Hurricane Katrina? What is so unreal about such a person trying to write his way out of that terrible experience?

Right on, Scott McCellan. First rate job. I know it must have taken a lot out of you telling the truth as you now see it about your experiences back then. But I’ll bet you feel cleansed now after flushing all of that bile out of your system. And I for one hope your little endeavor brings you the fortune it deserves. You certainly earned it, being as candid in your memoir as you weren’t able to be when spinning for the White House.

Scott McClellan says he did not set out to write a memoir that was sharply critical of the White House. Indeed, one publishing industry insider described his early concept as "a not-very-interesting, typical press secretary book." But somewhere between proposal and publication, as McClellan told it yesterday, the scales dropped from his eyes, leading him to write a book that accuses his former boss, President Bush, and his senior aides of abandoning "candor and honesty" to wage a "political propaganda campaign" that led the nation into an "unnecessary war."

"Over time, as you leave the White House and leave the bubble, you're able to take off your partisan hat and take a clear-eyed look at things," McClellan, said in an interview yesterday. ". . . “From the beginning, the focus was what had happened to take things so badly off course. I don't know that I can say when I started the book that it would end up where it was, but I felt at the end it had to be as honest and forthright as possible."

Bush apologists past and present have lined up to attempt to deflect McCellan’s criticisms. McClellan and Peter Osnos, the founder of PublicAffairs, the small company that published "What Happened," rebutted suggestions from some Bush defenders, including former press secretary Ari Fleischer, that McClellan may have had a ghostwriter or undergone heavy-handed editing. Fleischer and others have repeatedly said that the book does not "sound like" McClellan, who is known as genial and soft-spoken.

McClellan said that he started focusing on writing the book about a year ago and that the work was especially intense over the past several months as the publishing date approached. Osnos said McClellan just needed editorial guidance to tell the story he wanted to tell all along. "First we had to ascertain what kind of book he wanted to write," said Osnos, a former Washington Post reporter and editor. "We are journalists, independent-minded publishers. We weren't interested in a book that was just a defense of the Bush administration. It had to pass our test of independence, integrity and candor."

In his interviews yesterday, McClellan repeatedly highlighted two incidents that he said helped sharpen his criticism of the administration: when White House officials Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby inaccurately told him they were not involved in the leaking of a CIA officer's name, and a conversation in 2006 when Bush admitted that he had authorized the selective release of classified information about Iran. There are a number of signs that McClellan's focus hardened over time. A book cover still depicted yesterday on, for example, had the subtitle ending with "What's Wrong with Washington" rather than "Washington's Culture of Deception." Osnos said the subtitle evolved. Osnos called the book "a really sophisticated, thoughtful, reasoned and, in many ways, pained portrait of a president" and said, "The Bush he came to serve went off the rails." He also dismissed suggestions that McClellan is merely hoping to cash in. Unlike some larger publishing houses, he said, PublicAffairs almost never pays more than a five-figure advance. "No one has ever done a book for PublicAffairs for the money," he said.

Former presidential counselor Dan Bartlett, appearing after McClellan on NBC's "Today" show, called the book "beyond the pale." "I would not personally participate in a process in which we are misleading the American people, and that's the part that I think is hurting so many of his former colleagues," Bartlett said. McClellan said many of the early reactions are based on excerpts rather than the whole book, which has just begun to appear on store shelves. "They're trying to look at the book in these 'gotcha' terms," he said. "It's exactly what I talk about in the book – it's playing the Washington 'gotcha' game."

Leave it to Karl Rove who conceived lame attempt to show how much Bush cared after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina by having him fly over in Air Force One, but getting no closer than twenty thousand feet just accented Bush’s distance. Rove’s scenario painted a picture alright, of a president both uncaring and incompetent. A president who in truth had not a clue. Michael Moore showed a similar Bush with that video he showed in Farenheit 911 of George Bush taken on the morning of 9-11 when he was to read to school children, but during which he had been handed notes telling of the World Trade Center and Pentagon flyins. A frightened, all too human reaction, of course, but this was not the president that was presented to us in 2000, and for reelection in 2004.

In his book McCellan comes up with the best explanation I have yet heard for Bush’s reasoning in his run up to war in Iraq. Besides avenging Saddam for his reported plan to assassinate his father, which we knew about, McCellan points out that Bush wanted a state of war because one: it would add to his legacy, and two: keeping the White House in a constant election mode would help insure Bush’s reelection. For it turns out he was obsessed with the fear of being a one term president, as his father had been.
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And so another week ripples along. We invite you to check back again next week for the next installment of the CPS drama. Meantime have a good week.

The Real Little Eddy

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