Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Celebrating Jubilee - Reconciliation First.


Freedom by Vesna Martinjak
For my friends, family, and myself, it feels like an entire year of celebration. In fact, I just told a judge on Friday that there's too many painful moments we experience, but we need to really seize the beautiful days we have, like today. Friday was a beautiful day. And I spent the afternoon and evening at Santa Monica, enjoying the sun, sea, and sand. It made me think about how this is Jubilee year. Just a few weeks ago began the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.

What's Jubilee? The secular definition is a celebration of an anniversary. Hence, the Queen's Platinum Jubilee is the celebration of her 70 years of rule. 

But the Torah gives us a much more specific definition. In Hebrew - Jubilee means "ram's horn" - which was blown to announce the start of the Jubilee year, an awesome year. It's also related to the Hebrew word for "release" and "liberty".  

According to Leviticus, Jubilee was celebrated after seven cycles of a sabbatical year, which occurred once every seven years. A sabbatical year was a commandment by God to rest and to do no work and to let the fields lie fallow. If you think about it, it's pretty radical that God would say stop working for an entire year and not make any money. 

Practicing the Sabbatical and Jubilee was really a practice of obedience and trust in God. It was a declaration that doing what was right, like letting the land rest, or redeeming someone's freedom, or letting the poor eat off your land, was more important than earning a profit. And the Jewish people had to trust God would provide during that year and some time after, for practicing active rest, celebrating, and honoring a good God.

Incidentally, followers of my blog will remember, I actually took a year and 3 months off of a sabbatical. Finances were tough on my return. But looking back, no regrets. Taking a sabbatical was like removing the string of the bow of my mind and restringing to make it sharp again. I was mentally more agile because I took a year off, gave work a rest, and made no money in that year.

Well; Jubilee was even more radical. On the 50th year (49 years for 7 cycles of sabbath), the Hebrew people were commanded to forgive all debts, free all slaves and prisoners, and return all ancient lands to their property owner. It was a year, in which Heaven could be experienced on Earth. Some Rabbi scholars actually argue that Jubilee required two years of rest: the 49th year and the 50th year, meaning that God's people actually had to really have faith that provisions would be made.

In any event, Jubilee was and is a year of celebration, because we're celebrating the fact that all debts have been paid, and we're free. It was also a future foreshadowing of how God would one day reunite his people to him one day by forgiving all sins and clearing the slate free for all of us to bring us back to Him, because as Numbers says (which I've been reading and enjoying thoroughly): "In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now." (Numbers 14:19-21).

One scholar says that the Jews never practiced Jubilee, perhaps because they refused to forgive everyone's debt. (Lester L. Grabbe, A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Vol. 1, p. 223; Bloomsbury, 2006). Sadly, that also meant that the people didn't receive the full blessing and benefit of the greatness of debt forgiveness.

In any event, even if we can't fully practice all the regulations of Jubilee this year, I do ask we try to make this year about reconciliation with family and friends. Leviticus clearly commands that if a family member becomes a slave, that the family has to repurchase his freedom back during a Jubilee year. How often is this happening in our society today? Often.

People fall into gambling debt. People fall into drug addictions. Families are split up and broken by greed and seductive but empty affairs. Leviticus never says the person isn't to blame for her poor choices that brought her into bondage. It says despite that person falling into slavery, we who have more and are more fortunate, are commanded to get them out of slavery and reconcile them back to family. God commands us to do this, because He does it for us. And that's at the core of God's heart.

This year, I had to help free two people who were imprisoned into slavery by their bad choices. Both times, I was really upset that I had to do so. I also felt like it was really unfair for me to carry such a heavy burden alone, both financial and emotional.

But I manned up. I owned the responsibility. I told myself my motivation is to do the right thing. And I'm going to do it. Looking back, I can say, there's nothing like having relationships restored.

So - this Jubilee year - I'm asking everyone to make the goal of restoring relationships more important than making a profit. The next one will be 50 years from now. So, let's practice and celebrate an awesome year together.

We're here to set the captive free. Then we can celebrate the freedom we both experience. Not only is the person in bondage free, but letting go of money (and our faith in it) to purchase someone else's freedom also frees those who have wealth and privilege.

I end with the last two verse from the Parable of the Prodigal Son. My son,’ [the more privileged one] the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:31-2, NIV).

Rembrandt's Prodigal Son.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Be Salt; Be Light


(c) Alamy

I'm sorry I haven't wrote in awhile again. Because again, my family's had health issues. Several weeks ago my father had a fall. While this happened, I was also working on his elder abuse case. His girlfriend and family appear to be the culprits.

Then, after the fall, my father was hospitalized last week and nearly died. He was in a coma and his body was convulsing violently. Very sad to see.There were all sort of complications and details that I won't discuss. I will say it was a very frustrating and painful ordeal. 

In any event, he's recovering and doing much better - though he's not out of the woods yet.

What did I learn from all this? At one point, I felt tired from dealing with all this, especially when these duties weren't assigned to me. Family issues are tough. 

But I asked a former pastor of mine for counsel, and I was encouraged by it. He told me, "I'm glad you're doing everything you're doing. As a Christian - you're duty is to expose and fight evil, and shine a light on it." Those words helped me confirm that I was doing the right thing, even when other family members told me otherwise. (That's family for you, and as the Chinese say: "Matters of the heart are complicated.")

I'm glad I stuck with it, and persevered. I'm blessed to have great counselors, especially older ones who respect fathers. It helps to have a coach in your corner, who has experience with darker people and knows how to sort them out.

After I put my father in a safe place, I saw a strange sign. (From time to time, this happens in my life.) Our cat, "Jeh Pan", (Trial)), killed and brought me several lizards as presents. I told him, "Jeh Pan - the lizards eat the insects. Stop doing that." But he looked at me in a way that told me he wasn't going to listen.

Later that day, Jeh Pan jumped on the house's official chair. From there, he watched all the various fish in the aquarium and made it clear he was now in charge. I smiled and said, "Sah Jah (Lion) - you are way too spoiled for your own good." But we spoil him, because we love him.

The day after, at around 1am, I saw a pack of dogs chase my cat. Taking advantage of the darkness, he ran and hid underneath a car. The dog was still prowling out on the street, but after my run, I found him in a hiding spot and picked him up and took him home. He was happy. Now he acting like the king of the block.

Anyways, last year, I wrote that the verse of the year was  Hebrews 12:14. (GNT): "Try to be at peace with everyone, and try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it."

Finally - the theme of my year has come to me. “You are salt for the earth. . . . You are light for the world. . . . [L]et your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven." Matt. 5:13-16 GNT. Remember; salt and light are not incidental elements; they have the power to destroy disease.

If you're not that into the New Testament, I think that the Jewish Scripture equivalent is as follows. "No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God." Micah 6:8 (GNT).

Thursday, February 3, 2022

OpEd Published - Private Criminal Prosecution: Contracting our constitutional due process rights to the ultra-wealthy

(c) Cam Cottrill, published on NY Times
My opinion editorial was published yesterday in the Argonaut News - a local paper for Marina del Rey, Venice, and Santa Monica. It hasn't been uploaded on the site yet, but I appreciate them publishing my article. I've copied and pasted it below for you guys. They published it here.

Private Criminal Prosecution: Contracting our constitutional due process rights to the ultra-wealthy

Judge Loretta Preska sentenced environmentalist lawyer, Steven Donziger to 6 months of imprisonment for a criminal contempt misdemeanor for withholding confidential information. Donziger has already served 787 days under house arrest. The UN human rights council declared that the house arrest violated international human rights law. Judge Preska ignored the decree.

Chevron began its campaign to war against Dongizer after he obtained an $18 billion judgment against Chevron for dumping toxic waste in the rivers of the Amazon rainforest. The dumping harmed at least five indigenous communities, whose livelihoods depended on this water.

After the judgment, Chevron filed a racketeering suit (a type of charge generally reserved for mobsters). Without a jury, the court found against Donziger. Then, the New York Bar revoked Donziger's license to practice law. The court ordered confidential communication to be released. For refusing, the court ordered one of the longest house arrests in American history. To find Donziger guilty of criminal charges without a jury trial, the court appointed a private law firm, which previously profited from Chevron, to criminally prosecute Donziger.

Although it appears that numerous legal errors were committed here, the purpose of this opinion is to stress the hidden, illegal and trending unconstitutional practice of contracting out criminal prosecution to contractors. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee that the government cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. As Donziger’s case proves – without due process – a person’s life and reputation can be ruined.

One of the core rights of due process is that a defendant is entitled to have a prosecutor who is fair and neutral, because of the heavy, scarring, and maiming impacts of a criminal conviction. For instance, a criminal record is a bar to a number of employment opportunities.

There are three rights that a defendant is entitled to from a fair and neutral prosecutor. One, a defendant has the right to decide whether the government should spend its resources in filing the case. Two, the defendant has a right to a fair plea bargaining deal. Three, the defendant has a right to a fair sentence by the prosecution.

Prosecutors are paid on salary. Therefore, since profit is not the reason she is making government decisions, neutrality is presumed. But a contractor, who profits off a case, has every reason to prolong a criminal case, or file a frivolous one, or recommend punitive sentences, which a party like Chevron may want.

There are three ways that contractors can profit from the accused. This happens when they get paid by the hour, are paid more for prevailing against the defendant, or execute decisions with an eye for future contracts with the government. Here, the Department of Justice, the government’s default prosecutors, declined to file charges against Donziger. Because Chevron wanted to circumvent the government’s decision, it hired a law firm that profited by all of the above factors.

 In 1987, in Young v. United States ex rel. Vuitton et Fils, 481 U.S. 787 (1987) the U.S. Supreme Court found the practice of private prosecution to be repugnant to due process.  It stated, “That state official has the power to employ the full machinery of the state in scrutinizing any given individual. Even if a defendant is ultimately acquitted, forced immersion in criminal investigation and adjudication is a wrenching disruption of everyday life. [S]uch an [interested] attorney is required by the very standards of the profession to serve two masters.”

But nearly 35 years later, the practice rears its ugly head again to prosecute protesters,  the poor, and civil rights attorneys. In a case I litigated, the City of Baldwin Park contracted a private law firm for $25,000 to charge an 80 year old man for putting up a sign that criticized a politician of being corrupt. The problem was that the City filed charges against the father of the alleged offender and not the person who put up the sign. And get this: the corrupt politician actually and eventually pled guilty to bribery in federal court.

Three years ago and also in California, in “Coachella and Indio, the law firm Silver & Wright has repeatedly filed criminal charges against residents and businesses for public nuisance crimes—like overgrown weeds, a junk-filled yard or selling popsicles without a business license—then billed them thousands of dollars to recoup expenses” reported the Desert Sun. One woman was even charged $6,000 for violating the chicken ordinance.

For all these reasons, private prosecution must clearly be prohibited. Our constitutional rights cannot be decided by corporate interests. Doing so ultimately concentrates powers and rights in the hands of the ultra wealthy, at the expense of the citizen. Having money shouldn't entitle the rich to be able to criminally prosecute people they don't like, just because they have money. For this reason, even Chief Justice Roberts recognized: “A basic step in organizing a civilized society is to take that sword out of private hands and turn it over to an organized government, acting on behalf of all the people.”




Sunday, January 30, 2022

On Fasting


I've been on a modified fast now for 44 days. It's been tough but rewarding. (By modified, my fast is more like the style the Muslims practice during Ramadan. I eat once a day in the evening.) I decided to fast to lose some weight, but I continued for spiritual reasons.

In general, I practice a dry fast once a year during Yom Kippur. I started this in 2015. For those of you who don't know, Yom Kippur is the holiest Jewish holiday of the year. For about 24 hours, you don't eat or drink or put anything into your mouth. Along with other practices, you repent (or say you're sorry) for all the things that you've done wrong that year. You make peace with all your relationships during that time. And, after it's all over, you're forgiven by God. (Before this, I only fasted once in high school.) Then the New Year begins. Great way to start the New Year on a clean slate.

Of course, it's a tough holiday, not like our American ones of feasting and indulgence. Not only are you not eating or drinking, but you're thinking about all the things you've screwed up during that year. 

So, one year I didn't do it. Why? Too hard. Too inconvenient. And the consequences weren't good. My year really didn't go as well.

Back to my current fast. I probably had two times that were really painful. The first moment came the first three days into it. I had terrible and incredible and sharp hunger pains. It made me realize I was addicted more to food than I realized. But I endured.

The second time came around the third week. The sharp pains left. But I was fatigued often and feeling cold. And I asked why I was doing all this? I also hit a weight loss plateau. I was ready to end the fast.

But I continued during this time, because I thought if the Muslims can do this for 30 days, I can do this too for 30 days. I was impacted by my trip in Istanbul in 2015. I came during Ramadan, and I watched an entire country fast for weeks. I remember the festivities after Ramadan was over.

I was also influenced by my time in Mauritius (an island off the African continent, literally on the other side of the world of Los Angeles) in 2018, when the owner of my apartment fasted for Ramadan. I remember asking him if he was happy the fasting time was over. And he said, "No. I'm sad. It was a reflective time." The response left me somewhat puzzled. I thought he would be happy to eat again and feast. But I understood probably into Day 30 of my own fast, what he meant.

I found fasting important, because it made me realize that I'm more than just my body and that I'm not subjected to my appetites and desires. The New Testament for this reason states, "'Food for the stomach and the stomach for food'--but God will destroy them both." (1 Cor. 6:13). It means that we're more than just flesh and bones and a need to consume food. Hence, we need to subject our appetites and desires to self-control.

Both the Old and New Testament command humbling one's self before God. The Prophet Ezra said, "I proclaimed a fast...that we might humble ourselves before our God" (8:21). Thus, the most practical easiest way to humble one's self before the Lord is to fast. (Incidentally, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, would disqualify candidates from ministry who didn't fast.) There's so much talk in the Christian church but not enough practice of actually humility in fasting.

Now, I know that I have a lot of atheists and agnostics who read my blog. And if you got this far, then, thank you.

One last hero that fasted often was Gandhi. He led the entire Indian nation in a fast, which helped in destroying the power of the British Empire without ever firing a gun back at them. The power of a national fast against the oppressor awakened the spirit of hope.

During this time - I realized the importance of saying No to the excess we have in the West. Fasting has and continues to teach me the power in conquering myself, who is my own worst enemy often.

For this reason, Saint Augustine once said, "Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity."