Saturday, December 31, 2011

Real Conviction, Not the Fake Kind

As the calendar flips into 2012, I long for an antidote for the bloated demagoguery, fundamentalist tripe and misguided nostalgia emitted for many months now by the Republican presidential wannabes -- and the (so far) timid silence from the Obama camp.  I think I may have found it the other day, in the form of an amazing video of former Czech (and Czechoslovak) President Vaclav Havel, who died two weeks ago.  On November 11, a visibly ill Havel sat down for a chat with his onetime fellow political prisoner Dominik Duka, who is now the Archbishop of Prague (and presided over Havel's state funeral last week).  They discussed a range of serious issues, from their imprisonment, to global politics, to spirituality, while managing to maintain a sense of humor and dignity.  They suffered mightily for their beliefs but, unlike many American political and religious figures, did not cheapen their experiences by using them as fodder for a narcissistic jeremiad.  The interview is viewable here in Czech and I've begun a rough translation into English.  Here's the first bit:

Vaclav Havel and Dominik Duka: Joint Interrogation

In 1981 they met in the Bory prison in Plzen.  There arose friendship, respect and mutual inspiration.  After 1989, one of these “men destined for disposal” became the first President of the Czech Republic, the other became the Czech Archbishop.  Today they sit together again.

Havel:  I remember that when we met 30 years ago in jail, the other prisoners who surrounded us -- various murderers, thieves, etc. – said to us:  “You’ll be a minister of government,” “You’ll be a Cardinal,” “You'll be president.”  And we didn’t like that sort of joking around.  But it turned out that in our prison block we had a future senator, a future foreign minister, a future archbishop and a future president.  It turned out that those prisoners were right.  And they had a far greater historic instinct than we did.

Duka:  Well, I can say that one of my interrogators, who was a very talented secret police candidate, had a revelation in 1985.  It was before the Velehrad pilgrimage that he called me, and when he said goodbye, he said, “But Father Dominik, you know they made a mistake, they shouldn’t have locked you all up together.”  And it was interesting, that this man then fully retired from the State Police, switched to the normal police, and in 1988 he returned to the Skoda auto plant as a worker.  Between Christmas and New Year’s in 1989 he came to ask me for forgiveness.  He very beautifully told me that he came from a devout family, and said, “My work at the State Police convinced me that the regime is inhumane.”

Havel: If we are going to remember our joint stay in prison after all these years I must mention the secret service that we held in Bory.  It was a Sunday, when at some point prisoners were allowed to play chess.  We established a chess club and under the guise of chess we attended Mass.  I also remember well during compulsory gymnastics in the yard when you gave a small sermon.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Jersey Must Pay the Piper

So much for the fiscal belt-tightening espoused by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. While Mr. Christie stumps for Romney in Iowa, a federal judge just ordered New Jersey to pay $10,000 to a disability rights group suing New Jersey's human services commissioner for violating the rights of psychiatric patients. The judge ordered the sanctions due to the abusive and dilatory litigation conduct by the private attorneys hired and paid by New Jersey (which, mind you, has several hundred assistant attorneys general on payroll). If I were a New Jersey taxpayer, I'd be a little peeved.

Disclosure: I represent the disability rights group, and wrote, argued and won the motion.

You can read the judge's opinion describing the abusive and dilatory tactics employed by New Jersey's hired guns here.

You can check out the judge's order putting NJ on the hook for $10,000 here.

Finally, you can watch a 2-minute TV broadcast about the case featuring an interview with me here.