The Sunday Dog: Showdown in New Haven

Please help the Idea Dogs help Nury Chavarria. Click here to sign the petition to stop her deportation.

The power and patience of the federal government is being tested this weekend in New Haven, Conn. A tense standoff between Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and a Guatemalan national has extended to include the city of New Haven and a local church along with Connecticut state representatives.

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Nury Chavarria (right) with her children. Photo: Nury Chavarria

On Friday, ICE officials declared Nury Chavarria a fugitive from justice, which is a bit of bureaucratic irony since Chavarria is the party seeking fair and humane treatment. Chavarria has been living in the United States for 24 years since fleeing from Guatemala in 1993 when she was 19-years-old.

ICE officials ordered the 43-year-old mother of four to purchase a one-way ticket to Guatemala and leave on Thursday. She would be barred from reentering the U.S. for ten years. Instead of abandoning her four citizen children — ranging in age from nine to 21 — Chavarria instead took refuge in the Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal church in New Haven. She remains there with her 9-year-old daughter while volunteers, activists, and Connecticut government representatives urge the federal immigration agency to reconsider its position on Chavarria’s removal.

The case highlights the growing tension between states seeking to do the right and humanitarian thing, and federal agencies operating under the Donald Trump’s xenophobic regime. While immigration matters fall within the purview of the federal government, a growing number of states and municipalities are refusing to participate in anti-humanitarian policies advocated by Trump. The discord has given rise to a growing number of sanctuary cities and states, of which New Haven and Connecticut are both.

From the beginning of his rise to power, Trump has been a boisterous and ignorant advocate of his own anti-immigration policies — especially concerning both Hispanics and Muslims. During his 2016 campaign, Trump referred to Latin American immigrants as “bad hombres” and vowed to build a wall between America and her southern neighbors to keep undocumented aliens out of the country.

Nury Chavarria is a good mother and not one of the undocumented bad guys Trump rants about regularly. Her oldest son suffers from cerebral palsy, and she works diligently to care for him and three other children — all legal citizens. She was denied asylum from her civil war-torn home, but has been granted stays of deportation on humanitarian grounds since 2010. She has paid taxes, checked in regularly with ICE, and is not a criminal. None-the-less, she remains a target of Trump’s racist and nationalistic cleansing to “Make America Great Again.”

In June, ICE denied Chavarria’s latest stay of deportation and gave her less than 30 days to purchase her plane ticket to Guatemala. On Wednesday, with the help of Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, Chavarria hoped for another reprieve that did not come. Rather than report to the airport on Thursday, she chose instead to seek refuge in the New Haven church and became a fugitive for a cause — her children and her American dream.

Trump has repeatedly alleged that undocumented immigrants are the source of crime in the United States. However, a recent study of comparative incarceration rates by the Cato Institute suggests that native citizens are imprisoned at a rate almost twice as high as undocumented immigrants. Another study by The Police Foundation calls the perception of undocumented immigrants and high crime “not supported empirically” and “refuted by a preponderance of scientific evidence.”

Like the boy who cried wolf, Trump has been spreading fake news to sway public opinion and support for his personal beliefs and a political crusade of bigoted and inhumane policies. Nury Chavarria and her family are one of the many innocent undocumented Americans caught in the snare.

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The last refuge of a mother…

While Chavarria awaits her fate in a small room in the church, politicians, activists, and the New Haven community have rallied around her cause. Though labelled a fugitive by ICE, there is speculation that ICE will not attempt a forced extraction while Chavarria remains in the church since recent enforcement policies frown on immigration actions in churches, school, and other highly sensitive and visible public places. Several lawmakers have called ICE’s treatment of Chavarria repugnant and inhumane.

Once considered a home for refugees and asylum seekers, the United States is playing an ever-decreasing role in accepting those displaced by violence and humanitarian crises in their home nations. Based on total people of concern versus native populations, European nations — France and Germany especially — and 100 other countries open their doors more often than America.

Many displaced persons seek asylum in the United States claiming violations of the Convention Against Torture in their home countries. The CAT covers a broad range of conditions that may or may not qualify for protection and is open to the interpretation of an immigration court. In Chavarria’s case, Guatemala was in a state of constitutional crisis and political uprising when she left the country. The aftermath created years of instability and immigration judges sided with Chavarria for nearly seven years, granting stays of deportation for humanitarian reasons.

However, during her annual ICE check-in in June, Chavarria received the devastating news that her time in America had finally expired and no further stay was granted. The political pressure of the Trump regime may have finally reached the bench of the local immigration court and ICE office.

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…And the last refuge of a scoundrel.

While the showdown in New Haven continues, Chavarria and her 9-year-old daughter rely on the kindness of strangers and volunteers to ensure a happy future. has begun an online petition, and lawyers are exploring legal avenues to allow Chavarria to remain with her children who rely on her love, care, and income.

The humanitarian crisis facing the Chavarria family is just one example many and of the tenuous nature of life in America under the Trump regime — a call for help and the return to relaxed, informed, and humane policymaking. It is a cause that a certain immigrant who has gained sway and influence in America via her own journey would be wise to represent…someone who married into America for money and fame who could redeem herself with just one reciprocal act. It is too bad that woman’s husband is too much of a misogynist bigot even to listen to her.

The Daily Dog: Miscarriages of Justice

As the Trump regime begins to spin out of control, a widening rift is opening between Trump and the nation’s top law enforcement officials. This week, Trump has publicly criticized his attorney general and spoken out against the long-standing structure of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. With growing discord at the federal level, it is unfortunate that state and local officials are feeling emboldened to act beyond the typical rules of law.

During an afternoon that witnessed a media frenzy over the possible release of O.J. Simpson from a Nevada prison, other more nefarious machinations were happening in courtrooms across America. If only the main stream media paid as much attention to an average mother’s or father’s parole hearing as they did to a yesteryear celebrity, there might be less abuse in the American penal system and more success.

One demonstration of the draconian abuses that still exist in America originated from a Tennessee detention facility on Thursday. At the White County Jail, prisoners are being given a choice at sentencing: participate in a sterilization program or expect to complete their term of incarceration in full.

The last time the terms sterilization and prisons were used in the same context, a man named Adolf Hitler was trying to cleanse the world.

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Judge Sam Benningfield: doling out justice one sperm at a time.

General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield approved the jail program in May. The announcement of trading sentence time for sterilization outraged civil rights groups and caused concern among local officials. Benningfield justified the eugenics styled program by saying he hopes it will “encourage prisoners to take personal responsibility…to not be burdened with children.” Not even the local district attorney agrees with the judge’s ill-conceived plan.

A statement released by the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called the sterilization trade-off a violation of the fundamental constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The ACLU went on to condemn the judge’s interference in a person’s childbearing choices.

Beyond the judicial considerations of the White County Jail program, is the personal pressure it places on individual standing before the bench. Plea bargains are the blight on the fair administration of justice in courtrooms across America. Over 90% of all criminal cases prosecuted in state and federal courts are resolved by plea bargains.

The extensive use of plea bargains detracts from the fact-finding trial by jury system and is one of the most detrimental Supreme Court rulings of the past century. Prosecutors achieve high-leveraged bargaining positions by charging the accused with as many severe crimes as possible — often resulting in pages-long indictments for even minor offenses. The prospect of maximum sentences, mandatory minimums, fines, and other considerations frequently overburden the will of the accused in deciding to go to trial.

The last thing any person facing jail or prison time needs is an added decision or enticement to gain freedom. Sterilization is an emotional and unfair bargaining chip that no honorable judge should be willing to consider in court.

Judge Benningfield’s misconception that sterilization will encourage personal responsibility is a sign of low-level reasoning unbecoming of the bench. Personal responsibility comes from being able to make choices that lead to success. Asking prisoners to submit to sterilization in the name of personal responsibility is like asking a repeat drunk driver to sell his car to be responsible. Neither solution addresses the underlying problems.

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“I sentence you to no children.”

The United States has a long and sordid history vis-à-vis sterilization programs. When Hitler sought a model for his early eugenics policies, he looked across the Atlantic to a country that, at one time in its early history, sterilized the infirm, lower classes, and intellectually challenged among others. Any modern revival of the practice, no matter how far removed from 1920s forced sterilizations, should be condemned — not only for its civil and constitutional rights violations, but also for the mere history of where eugenics can lead.

When a judge approves such a drastic departure from acceptable judicial norms and advocates for sterilization of criminals — voluntary or otherwise — his judicial impartiality and ability to hold the bench must be questioned and corrected. With the nation’s leadership faltering in moral value and public policy, it is incumbent that our local and state institutions remain steadfast and strong to the Constitution as the states may soon be all we have to rely on.

The Daily Dog: Sticky Fingered Sessions

Last summer, New Hampshire proudly joined a growing list of states pushing back against long-standing and abusive civil forfeiture laws. Recognizing the importance of due process considerations in any proceedings — criminal or civil — some states are acknowledging the need to reform policies that permit law enforcement to seize assets and cash. Two states — New Mexico and Nebraska — have eliminated their forfeiture laws altogether.

Most jurisdictions across the United States grant law enforcement broad reaching authority to seize assets in cases of suspected criminal conduct — drug related or otherwise. Seizure is often permissible even before and without a criminal conviction. The practice of civil forfeiture has often led to innocent individuals losing property without any legal due process protections. A mere allegation or suspicion of criminal activity is frequently sufficient for the accused to lose assets even before the government seeks formal charges.

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Someone asked who wants more money, and Sessions shouted, “I DO!”

Despite being a policy fraught with concerns, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that he will issue a directive to federal agencies to increase asset seizures. Opponents of “policing for profit” practices worry that Sessions’ plan will contribute to the existing widespread abuses of civil forfeiture. Additionally, Sessions is seeking to help states circumvent Obama-era reforms designed to increase forfeiture legitimacy and transparency.

Before Donald Trump seized power and installed Sessions as the nation’s chief law dog, Washington, D.C. had enacted sweeping reforms of its own civil forfeiture practices. In 2014, the District of Columbia City Council passed the Civil Asset Forfeiture Amendment Act. With enhanced due process protections, Washington’s reformed practices also targeted policing for profit policies that have earned condemnation and criticism from national civil rights groups and instilled deep seeded public mistrust and skepticism.

For anyone who has ever ogled a $100,000 Porsche or Hummer emblazoned with their local police department’s logo, those vehicles are probably the result of some form of forfeiture action. Forfeiture gives law enforcement officials unbridled powers to seize assets (cars, property, cash) believed — not proven — to have facilitated or originated from criminal enterprises.

Recovery of seized assets is nearly impossible because of the twisted rules of procedure that govern the process. Property owners bear the burden of proof against mere suspicion and uncharged offenses. Recovery proceedings entail years of expensive litigation attempting to prove innocence against a non-existent crime. When the government does not pursue formal charges, civil forfeiture is a due process nightmare that leaves the innocent prejudiced in courts where law enforcement officers’ credibility usually trumps the suspect.

In a small number of states pursuing reform, forfeiture rules have changed so that property may only be seized after a defendant has been convicted of a crime. In these states, the courts have shifted the burden of proof dramatically. Asset owners now enjoy being presumed innocent, as they should be. Moreover, in cases of home seizures, a person must have been convicted of a crime.

In the midst of states’ reform efforts, Sessions indicated that federal law enforcement agencies will soon begin pursuing escalated forfeiture programs. The Washington Post said it best with a headline that warned, “Jeff Sessions Wants to Take More Cash from American Citizens.”

Even in states where civil forfeiture is now more regulated, a common practice called equitable sharing still allows state and local law enforcement agencies to benefit from federal asset seizures — in some cases up to an 80% share. Equitable sharing is a tempting form of bribery for small agencies with limited resources and Sessions suggested Monday that his departments would help states avoid policies designed to cut back on the practice. The policy shift is yet another example of the Trump regime’s strategy of “One step forward, too many steps back.”

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A police asset seizure gone bad.

Beyond due process violations, another consideration in the use of seized assets is that abuses often lead to more damage than good, especially when the public perceives it as a heavy handed policing for profit agenda. With little to no oversight of police practices, many jurisdictions face public scrutiny and mistrust in how seized assets are utilized.


Once again, Trump and his regime underlings are demonstrating that making America great again is an oxymoronic policy. The federal government — every Trump appointee-headed agency included — is engaged in an anti-progressive attack on, and rollback of, constitutional, civil, and human rights policies aggregated over the past 240 years. With Sessions’ policy shift on Monday, Trump has succeeded in bringing the United States a step closer to his favorite police state — only in America we pay our robbers in dollars and not rubles.


If making America great means returning to a time of over-privileged white establishment and mass incarceration, then President Trump’s agenda moved a step closer this week with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ policy shift on federal criminal prosecutions. The mid-week announcement rolls back Obama-era administration guidelines on charging and sentencing.

Sessions’ directive to federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious provable charge and longest and most severe associated sentences is a return to an ineffective and expensive war on crime and drugs. Obama-era policies on incarceration and criminal justice reform enjoyed bipartisan support and success during the past eight years, but Sessions — like his boss — seems acutely unaware of educated strategy decisions. While he grandstanded for the press, former prosecutors and policy-makers across the country were left scratching their heads over his personal war against America.

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A typical window in a 1-bedroom American suburban home.

As the country’s prison population has burgeoned since the 1970s, criminal justice reform has become an increasingly hot topic for both state and federal administrations. According to The Sentencing Project — a leading reform non-profit — more than 2 million Americans live behind bars in America. Countless more are subject to some form of government supervision like parole or probation.

The application of mandatory minimum sentencing laws, draconian sentencing guidelines, and the erroneous presumption that harsh punishment deters crime have all come under fire in recent years. Reports sponsored by reform-oriented non-profits like the Brennan Center for Justice and Sessions’ own department have repeatedly debunked the ideas driving tough-on-crime incarceration. Despite the contradictions and lack of empirical data showing any correlation between crime rates and incarceration, Sessions ordered a return to the failed policies of mass imprisonment and long-term sentencing that government leaders and activists have been struggling to correct.

Even before a trial and conviction, an unfortunate corollary of Sessions’ policy is that it will lead to more pressure on the accused. The “throw the book at ‘em” theory of prosecution often scares defendants into plea bargains and false convictions. The American criminal justice system has become reliant on the plea bargain as opposed to the jury trial. According to the Supreme Court of the United States, over 90% of all convictions are a result of some type of plea. Excessive charging and threats of severe punishment, like those advocated by Sessions, adversely influence a defendant’s ability to exercise his constitutional rights in a trial.

This week’s policy shift combined with Sessions’ reticent attitude toward consent agreements concerning police reform demonstrate a possible and unfortunate return to abusive and racially and economically motivated government policing. It is another step backward by the current administration — a step in the direction of antebellum conventions that America has long since outgrown.

The United States is a drop in the bucket in terms of global population, representing just five percent of the world’s people. However, our country holds a disproportionate amount of the planet’s prisoners at 25%. One-quarter of all men, women, and children living behind bars on Earth do so in America. It is not a statistic that contributes to greatness.

President Lincoln had a vision to make America great by eliminating slavery and racism. Franklin Roosevelt strove to lift families and the country from poverty and depression. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson sought to elevate America through advances and equal rights. Most recently, President Obama championed criminal justice, police, and prison reform. In each instance, America became greater through progressive social evolution and respect for human rights — setting the bar high enough for the rest of the world to admire.

It is inevitable and a basic principle of physics that time moves in only one direction: forward. America will move forward through the next four years of the Trump presidency regardless of how many times the administration tries to force it backwards. Whether it is the attempted reversal of progressive and effective criminal justice policies or setbacks in the ideals that have made America great without Trump, time will win. The only question is how many Americans will suffer in the Trump Time Machine as it bumbles along uncorrected?

Straight A’s Outta Compton

Today on Good Morning America, ABC honored a group of 2017 high school graduates. A senior from Compton, Calif., E.J. Vaughn, was among those recognized and praised by the morning show anchors. Like many disadvantaged students, Vaughn faced down the obstacles of violence, poverty, and a single-parent household en route to his extraordinary acceptance at Harvard.

Vaughn also overcame another hurdle during his childhood. It is one that is a mounting obstacle for American children across the country, and one that carries a shameful stigma — with enough disgrace that Vaughn and his mother lied about it like many other families.

When asked about his father’s absence during his childhood, Vaughn laughed. He admitted that he had frequently told friends that his dad was away on business…in Hawaii…for thirteen years.

Children across the country suffer from a wide variety of problems that can cast a shadow on their academic and social activities. Their self-esteem may suffer when a parent loses a job; if they do not live in the right neighborhood; or cannot afford the latest fads. They may not be able to focus because of medical or psychological conditions — both diagnosed and not.

In many instances of disadvantage, a plethora of government and private programs are available to aid student success. School boards and assistance agencies fund and develop rules and policies to ensure access and completion of a “free and public education” in accordance with government regulations.

Less than 4% of school-age children suffer peanut allergies, but schools from coast to coast assure everyone’s safety by policing meals. Autism rates are on the rise and public schools are prepared for the disability that affects 1-in-45 children. Both are considered “common” enough obstacles that students face almost every day to warrant various levels of aid.

Having an incarcerated parent is not that abnormal anymore.

However, there is a more prevalent disadvantage — Vaughn’s own — that affects 4% of children or almost 3 million across the country. Yet the handicap that drags down 1-in-28 students is still overlooked in terms of assistance and support. As demonstrated by Vaughn’s need to lie about where his father was, it carries such a strong stigma that children frequently have nowhere to turn.

Prison WireThe mass incarceration of America is creating an entirely new disability for students, families, teachers, and administrators to solve. In the absence of a prisoner-parent, students like Vaughn are often forced to face questions alone — to lie, cover up, hide their shame, and deal with the self-esteem issues.

There are no mainstream programs, support groups, or IEP plans that address a student’s needs when a parent is behind bars. Instead, everyone looks the other way. In an age when as many Americans have a criminal record as do have a college degree, it is time to do more. It is time to erase the stigma that accompanies having an incarcerated parent because it is not that abnormal anymore.

The 2.7 million students like E.J. Vaughn should not have to concoct lies about parents on distant business trips because mom or dad is in prison. Policies and programs must be devised and implemented to maintain the connection between child-student and prisoner-parent. This is just one of the many problems with America’s justice and penal systems, but one that needs immediate attention.

Congratulations to E.J. Vaughn on his admission to Harvard. Admitting the truth about his father’s incarceration is a step in the right direction for the many students like him who share a dream of college and of having a parent home from behind the wall.

Blowing Smoke on National Policy

A showdown is looming on the horizon in the growing crisis of the impotence of federal government. States are becoming increasingly resistant to the rule of federal law on issues that have localized effects and individual importance. It is clear that blanket national policy does not always represent the interests of the people from region to region.

Though the States may be United, the country has reached an evolutionary point where America must learn to be one and divided at the same time. Fortunately, the foundation for such a concept was laid centuries ago when the founding fathers established federalism and embraced the two-tiered system of rule defined by the U.S. Constitution.

The question facing America’s leadership is what will be the tipping point in the new struggles between the states and the nation? Will it be health care, immigration, or an unlikely suspect named Mary Jane?

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Increasingly, mainstream America is embracing marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes.

This week, congress snubbed Attorney General Jeff Sessions when it renewed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment as part of a new government-funding budget. A contentious appointee of Pres. Trump, Sessions entered office with guns blazing for the marijuana establishment. However, without money to go after states where the drug is legal for medical purposes, Sessions’ will be handcuffed before his guns are drawn.


First enacted in 2014, and renewed for every budget since, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment provides that no money allocated by congress in the federal budget may be used by the Justice Department to “…prevent them [the states having legalized medical marijuana] from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Over 40 states are currently protected by the amendment.

Of course, Sessions can still mobilize federal law enforcement to crack down on the recreational use of marijuana. He has compared marijuana use to heroin and has publicly stated that good people do not engage in using the drug. His personal views and vendetta against pot use appear misplaced and out-of-touch with the states and their citizens.

Federal-state comity is an eternal tug-of-war between regional and national law and often full of conflict. America fought a Civil War over a disagreement between federal and state policies over slavery and racism. It almost destroyed the country, but had distinctly worthwhile moral and ethical implications. One hundred years after the civil war, Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson and governor George Wallace clashed over Alabama’s continued resistance to civil rights ensured by the federal government.

While the marijuana issue pales in relation to racially motivated policies, there is some irony that Sessions, an Alabama politician, has been promoted to Washington, D.C. The city is the seat of federal government, but is also an autonomous entity with home rule where 64% of its residents approved legalization of recreational marijuana in a 2015 ballot initiative.

A capitol district resident can literally sit in view of AG Sessions and blow smoke in his face.

Of course, residents of states that have legalized recreational marijuana may still face federal prosecution, but the F.B.I. and other national law enforcement officials must have more serious issues to contend with today. Isn’t that what Pres. Trump has been telling Americans for the past year — that there are terrorists and “bad hombres” streaming into the country to cause havoc and chaos?

When Trump speaks of things that are archaic and obsolete, or bad for the country, perhaps he should avoid the U.S. Constitution and focus on the federal war on marijuana instead. The legalization movement is gaining momentum and at some point, all 50 states and the District of Columbia will have recreational use laws. Will the Justice Department still be pursuing enforcement when the entire country is against it?

In 2015, Colorado reaped over $1 billion in revenue from legal sales of marijuana. Across the Potomac, where Maryland is issuing legal grow permits, even former DEA agents and judges are bidding for cultivation licenses. It is clear that congress keeps renewing the Rohrabacher-Farr provisions because state representatives know that the revenue from marijuana sales is benefiting their home districts.

As states exercise more independence from over-reaching federal laws and policies, Washington must decide what battles are important. If federal leaders continue to push personal agendas and outlandish policies on the rest of the country, the best place for an impenetrable wall to be built might just be around the Capitol Beltway — to keep the likes of Jeff Session in, and the rest of the country free.

A Bully in the Ninth Circuit

There should be little surprise that President Trump has floated an idea to break up the Ninth Circuit. The suggestion corresponds to similar manipulations such as redistricting voting precincts or realigning Congressional districts to gain advantages in elections. It is the highest form of cheating in attempted political domination.

Practically everyone can recall a time in elementary school when the playground bully was team captain or the very best at something. To keep possession of the ball, court, or field, the bully had to keep winning. There were rare occasions when the bully did face a potentially embarrassing loss.

It was always on the brink of a momentous loss that the bully announced, “Rule Change!” Bullies are notoriously sore losers.

Planning to break up the Ninth Circuit is a rule change and a slap in the face to the residents of western states who tend to lean progressive. The west comprises a more sympathetic and accommodating aspect of the nation’s many faces — a nation that is built on diversity and a fundamental right to disagree. An attack on a judicial district that reflects those values is an attack on the very people themselves.

A sitting president is tasked with not only representing the many peoples of the nation, but also respecting them. While the president has a right to express conflicting opinion, he should not try to mold one of the largest population segments of the nation to suit a win-craving ego.

One of the central precepts of American democracy is that it is supposed to be representative. From time to time, it does fail. (As when a candidate who does not attain the popular vote goes on to win the Electoral College and thus gain the presidency as a majority loser).

The idea that controversy exists among the courts should be comforting to everyone, except perhaps the playground bully. Disagreement reaffirms that somewhere, someone in the government of this diverse nation shares an opinion with a common person. If every court catered to the executive branch as the president demands, America might indeed become slightly more Russian with one opinion and one opinion only Vassily.

There is a reason the judicial system is multi-tiered and procedurally complex. It allows that a disenchanted litigant has recourse to a multi-faceted appeal. As an American boasting of greatness, the president should set an example and utilize the judicial system like any other litigant. He should recognize and respect the judiciary and the slow, but effective process through the system’s bowels.

The path to finality in the U.S. court system is not a journey of instant gratification for ex-reality show hosts. Even an ultimate ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States is not etched in stone. The paradigm of justice fluctuates with the nine Justices of the high court. The courts are like the weather, and the old saying about waiting five minutes…except the five minutes might be five decades. This is the system established by men wiser than one president is. It is not perfect, but it is a necessary feature of a democracy that America heralds around the globe.

Playground bullies hate to lose. When threatened, they will invariably try to change the rules to leverage an advantage. However, the playground is for everyone and not only the bully. As the president speaks more and more about changing the rules in order to win, maybe it’s time for the nation to pay more attention to the First Lady’s soft-spoken words on bullying. There is a reason she chose that platform…