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Picking up the candy hearts

By Rich Tucker

Adulting remains difficult. But it’s more important than ever right now.

First published at

By Memorial Day it was, finally, time to pick up the candy hearts.

During my son’s freshman year at Vanderbilt University, I sent him a letter or a package every few weeks. Not so much to cheer him up; he loved the university and enjoyed being there. More to cheer myself up, and remind myself that I still mattered to his life.

Around the first of March I spotted two-week old Valentine candy hearts on super-duper sale at a CVS. No doubt they were 95 percent off by that point. Who wants hearts that say “I Love You” when it’s already March, the Roman month of war? I dashed off a letter to my son, packed it in with the candy, and sent it off to Nashville.

Then they closed his school.

On March 9 Vanderbilt had a report of exposure to coronavirus. The administration planned to shut down for a week or so, but my wife correctly predicted there would be no further classes on campus this Spring. She booked my son on a flight out the next day. He hadn’t gone back to Nashville since.

Zoom replaced office hours, online learning replaced lecture halls. The candy hearts sat, unopened, on his desk.

In late May, the school announced its next step. Students should return at prearranged times to clear out of their dorm rooms. That’s how we ended up driving to Nashville on Memorial Day weekend.

It was eerily quiet when we arrived at his dorm. When we’d moved him in back in August, campus had been a madhouse. Teams of students unpacking cars and helping freshmen move in. Thousands of sad parents milling around. Now, we were about the only people on campus. We parked, illegally, in the roundabout by his dorm and headed in.

A gallon of milk from the fridge quickly went down the drain. A bag of apples ended up in the front seat for the drive home.

I unzipped the suitcase we’d brought, and realized there was a smaller suitcase inside. When I unzipped that one, I found a third. Because I didn’t want to get stuck in an Abbot and Costello routine, I didn’t open that third suitcase to find more and more and more suitcases. I just set it aside.

My son didn’t have much stuff. His clothing fit in the large suitcase, his schoolwork and books into the second one. His bedding went into the dirty clothes hamper. Some posters, a small keyboard, toiletries. Boom. Within an hour we’d packed everything from the room neatly into our car.

“Ready to roll?” I asked.

“Sure, but it’s warmer than I thought. I shouldn’t have worn a long sleeve shirt,” he answered. We were both sweating from the trips up and down from the fifth floor.

“Well, you have about 100 short sleeve shirts in the trunk,” I noted. It took just minutes to pull one out of the suitcase and we headed toward home.

The drive back is a metaphor. 

For hours and hours, we rolled through the country with no problems. The sun was shining. I listened to podcasts, he tapped into music on his phone. It could have been 2019, except that we also spent some time plotting our family’s future in this changing world.

Suddenly, after seven hours on the road, as I was preparing to have him drive again, came a challenge. A downpour of biblical proportions. I slowed but didn’t stop.

Gripping the wheel and concentrating on the stripes in the middle of the road, I steered carefully for more than hour, able to see just well enough to keep us, like our nation, moving forward. While I kept a white-knuckle grip on the wheel, I noted that my son was playing on his DS, apparently oblivious to the storm.

And I realized: this is the difficulty of being an adult.

“Adulting” means, simply, that there are people depending on you. You cannot afford to let them down even when it’s all too easy to do so. I suddenly had a memory. I was a child, riding home through a snowstorm on New York Route 17, an interstate-like highway. That trip meant hours of high-stress driving for my father. As a child, though, I had no idea the pressure he was under. Now I understand.

Also on my mind is the fact that, just a week before this trip, I’d lost my job. I’m laid off from a trade association because of Covid-19. It was nothing I’d done, they told me. They just needed to make some cuts in this new economic environment. I have no idea when or whether I’ll land another gig. That makes for some white knuckles as well as gnawed fingernails.

What will the world look like after Covid-19? The thought is as scary to me as a downpour on I-81. However, we cannot avoid the coming crisis. We can only steer through it as best we can, keeping our eyes on the road and hoping for the best.

My family is depending on me, just as your family is depending on you. As Americans, we’ll all get through this together.

As for us, well, we ate my son’s candy hearts on the drive back. When I dropped them in the mail, I’d never expected to see them again. Today, the world of Valentine’s Day 2020 no longer exists.

Our family is luckier than most. My son had a normal high school graduation, and more than half of a normal freshman year. He can expect to see the Vandy campus again in good times.

As for the rest of us: yes, there’s a downpour. But we need to keep our eyes on the road and keep moving forward. Adulting remains difficult. But it’s more important than ever right now.


Younger Generations Will Build A Better Future

By Rich Tucker

When this virus passes, the United States will quickly look very different. The very pace of change will be an opportunity. It’s time to embrace that change.

(First published at

It’s impossible to say what the United States will look like when the Covid-19 quarantine is lifted, although there is no doubt some businesses and even entire industries will be swept away. Certainly the social distancing habit is likely to stick around for some time, if not forever.

However, there are many ways that the U.S. can bounce back in the months and years ahead. To do so we must unlock the potential of rising generations and make an opportunity out of this crisis.

The first thing to do is reduce overly burdensome regulation.

As the country geared up to fight the virus, governments tried to speed the response by waiving many regulations. But these changes came too late. For example, Andy Kessler in The Wall Street Journal reports that a doctor from Johns Hopkins tried to get a Covid-19 test approved in January. “And we lost precious time when one of the original scientists submitted an application and was told that he had to submit it also by paper mail with a CD-ROM with the files burned on it,” Dr. Marty Makary explained.

The federal government isn’t ready for the digital age, but rising generations of Americans can change that. At Facebook, “new hires and even summer interns could, within a week of starting, see their features distributed to a billion users. That’s the speed of software in 2020,” Kessler writes. As another author puts it, “the faster things change, the younger and younger the best and most competent models get.” That’s Joseph Henrich in his book “The Secret of Our Success.” We need new generations to deliver that speed throughout the economy.

It’s important to note the main way that the current recession is different from the recession caused by the mortgage meltdown in 2008. In that crisis, Wall Street was the cause of the disruption. When the market started to drop, millions of Baby Boomers lost millions in their 401(k) accounts. Some, no doubt, shelved plans to retire.

This time, the banks are part of the solution, not part of the problem. The market has rebounded. It is down from February’s records, but (as of mid-April) the S&P 500 is still about 25% higher than it was at the end of 2016. So Boomers may still feel flush. Meanwhile, the older generation has been working from home for weeks now.

A good number of workers in their late 60s and 70s are going to decide they don’t want to go back into an office every day when this is all over. They will retire, switch to part time or work from home. This could present leadership opportunities for younger workers.

These generations are ready for more, and ready to work. “My whole generation learned relentless work was the way to cope with the rolling crisis, with the mood of imminent collapse and economic insecurity that was the elevator music of our entire youth,” writes Laurie Penny in Wired. But that effort hasn’t paid off yet.

“Millennials and Gen Z are disillusioned,” Deloitte Global’s 2019 Global Millennial Survey found. “Many are not particularly satisfied with their lives, financial situations, jobs, government and business leaders, social media, or the way their data is used.” The aftermath of Covid-19 could give these generations openings to show real leadership and finally be rewarded for their hard work.

They’ve earned it. A crisis can define a generation, and even elevate it. “The experience of World War II in their development window may have forged America’s Greatest Generation, permanently elevating their national commitment and public spirit,” Henrich writes in his evolution book. And yet today’s generations may be even more self-sacrificing than that one was.

“As loudly as their contributions resound in history, two-thirds of them were drafted,” Lt. Col. John Nagl (Ret.) notes in his book “Knife Fights.” He adds, “This new greatest generation has fought longer if not harder than its grandparents did, and all have been volunteers.”

Nagl was writing about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we can add the battle against Covid-19 in there as well. Younger people were at little risk from the virus, yet volunteered to stay home to bend the curve and help their elders.

When this virus passes, the United States will quickly look very different. The very pace of change will be an opportunity. It’s time to embrace that change. As those younger generations rise, we can be assured the United States is in great hands.

Bind Up the Nation’s Wounds

By John P. Caves III

Many difficult and uncertain things need to go right for our nation to heal and recover its full vigor. They will take long, patient, arduous work. But they can still be done. Only malice or despair can render them impossible.

This piece was first published on

As was said by Abraham Lincoln one hundred and fifty-five years ago, so still it must be said: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds…”

Our nation is wounded again. In 1865, there were more than 500,000 dead from civil war. In 2020, there are more than 200,000 dead from disease, plus a small but growing body count from street violence sparked by police shootings. At perhaps no point in between have political passions been so vindictive.

Right now, one big political fight—the presidential election—is nearing its climax. Another, over the Supreme Court, has suddenly resurfaced with the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Each has only two possible outcomes: either the Republican or Democratic candidate will be elected President, and the next Justice will be installed by either the incumbent President or the next one. The daggers are drawn, and both duels will soon be settled. That much is unavoidable.

Whether or not the partisan bloodletting is followed by healing depends on the conduct of the winning side in the presidential contest.

Either the victor will indulge malice and vindictiveness, and so ensure that our Republic continues to bleed until it lies dead on the ground; or else, by following Mr. Lincoln’s example, the winner will nurse the Union back into health and stand it once more on its feet.

We cannot expect the latter from the incumbent President. Donald Trump—may he soon recover from his brush with Covid-19—exudes malice. He has shown us as much for four years, and he will not change.

Joe Biden perhaps has the character and temperament to heal the nation. Yet his election, if he is elected, will not in itself be enough to do so. It is not sufficient merely to have a “Good Emperor.” To maintain a republic, there must be no emperors, and thus the fear and contempt that lead people to seek one must be stemmed.

Mr. Biden can do this, or at least begin it. There are four bandages he could apply to staunch the bleeding, none of which are inherently partisan.

He must first set aside those in his party whose “attachment to their country itself, is only so far as it agrees with some of their fleeting projects”—as Edmund Burke derided the radicals of the French Revolution—and instead cultivate thoughtful pride, to replace hollow flag-waving, in the one thing that all Americans have in common: our country. To his credit, he has already begun to do so.

As polarization will not fade overnight, the next act of triage is to make politics less winner-take-all by decentralizing decision-making, when constitutional and practical, to state and local governments. Mr. Biden can begin by simply not wielding federal funds as a weapon for bending cities and states to his will.

Decentralization might be a difficult sell to today’s Democratic Party, given the long history of excuse-making for slavery and segregation with hollow “states’ rights” arguments. Yet federalism, done right, stands on enlightened political ideas. It accommodates regional and cultural differences in a large republic by diffusing power and providing more opportunities for different interests to win a share of it. When all issues hinge on the Presidency and the Supreme Court, the struggles to gain them are harsh and embittered. The more that state and local governments can meaningfully determine policy, in contrast, the more partisans can healthfully expend their energies in another election rather than battle each other in the courts or on the streets.

Indeed, it could help to give each state’s residents space to sort out their disagreements among themselves. A Wisconsin Republican may be more willing to trust a Wisconsin Democrat if he or she doesn’t fear that a Manhattan Democrat is pulling the strings. In local governments, where one party often dominates, greater responsibility for governing may force different wings of a party to pit their ideas against each other, helping to restore intellectual diversity and rebuild the “big-tent parties” whose loss we sorely feel today. There is potential here: when there has been constructive policy innovation in the past decade, it has often been in towns and cities.

Third, the Presidency itself needs to be curtailed. We have seen it unrestrained by any respect for tradition—and it is a fearsome spectacle. Many of the powers a President wields today are not inherent to the executive branch under Article 2 of the Constitution, but have been delegated to it over decades by Congress. Congress should take some of them back.

We have gone so far down that road, though, that to limit the power of the Presidency will require the acquiescence, if not the active support, of the President. Mr. Biden may be reluctant to give it; few people who ascend to high office want to constrain themselves. But Gerald Ford turned away from the imperial presidency to heal the country once, and Joe Biden can do it today.

Fourth, the aspects of our elections that feed extremism—namely primaries and gerrymandering—need to be reformed. Mr. Biden cannot do this himself, but he can encourage it. State governments have it largely within their power to act.

Once our wounds have been bound and, under those bandages, are beginning to heal, then we as a nation can productively debate and act on divisive national issues such as entitlements, inequality, immigration, and representation for Washington, D.C., and the territories—to name but a few. Then, for the love of God, our Republic, the Earth, and posterity, let’s take on the century-shaping issues which we have neglected for far too long: the challenge from China, the national debt, global warming, and the regulation of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.

Many difficult and uncertain things need to go right for our nation to heal and recover its full vigor. They will take long, patient, arduous work. But they can still be done. Only malice or despair can render them impossible.

Let us not give into that temptation. Let us not, on our watch, accept our Republic degenerating into a dictatorship; let us not, in the world, accept freedom taking second place to despotism; let us not, through inaction, accept the map of the United States being redrawn by rising sea levels; and let us not resign our grandchildren to automated social control and winters without snow.

Let us, through forgiveness, hard work, and dignity, “do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Is this really a Christian nation?

By Mike Frates

Is the United States of America a Christian nation? Well, that depends upon how you choose to construct the question.

I have a world of respect for Judge William Carey, and I enjoyed the opinion piece he submitted to The New Bedford Standard-Times published Sunday, March 11 (“Your View: A free lunch on contraceptive services.”) That said, I do wonder if Judge Carey is picking favorites regarding the specific clauses in the First Amendment to our national Constitution. “… or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ” is the second clause in the Amendment, and where the faithful usually hang their hat, but we do curtail religious practice in this country, don’t we? In fact, the very first time the Supreme Court interpreted this clause, that’s the conclusion it reached. “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices.”

The Reynolds case involved a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who married a woman already married to another man. Now, in the Mormon religion, polygamy is considered a religious practice sanctioned by their holy creed, and we stopped it dead in its tracks. As recently as 1990, the Supreme Court was willing to uphold state laws that criminalize certain religious ceremonies, albeit only indirectly. In Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, our High Court ruled that Native Americans were not exempt from the laws of our land, and could not ingest peyote during religious ceremonies while it remained as a criminal offense on Oregon’s books. So long as the prohibition against peyote indiscriminately applied to all Oregonians, the faithful had to bow to it.

Notably, Florida screwed this up in 1993 with Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah when they sought to-single out a specific religion, Santeria, and criminalize a particular religious practice: animal sacrifice. We even saw a bit of such prejudice right here in my home town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, recently when William Camacho was discovered holding chickens for slaughter and consumption in accordance with his chosen religion, Palo Mayombe. A Caribbean religion similar to Santeria. With all the hoopla involving Mr. Camacho, I laughed out loud at the hysterical proposition that the chickens in Mr. Camacho’s custody met a harsher fate, prior to his dinner, than do the commercially processed birds that land on our dinner tables.

Let me tell you something, take a glance into the world of commercial poultry and you will soon realize: That was one pampered chicken.

So, here we are. The Catholic Church and its ministries, including private universities and hospitals, have a religious prohibition against providing their employees with birth control. The government has mandated that all employers in the country provide their employees with the same. The mandate in question in no way singles out the Catholic Church; it clearly applies to all employers and all employees across the nation. And, yet, the Catholic Church has hunkered down for a fight. Do they think they can win? Probably, and due in no small part to the general belief that Judge Cary touched upon in his letter: that this is a Christian nation.

This leads us to the first clause in the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Is the United States of America a Christian nation? Well, that depends upon how you choose to construct the question. Yes, the overwhelming majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian. This is both clearly true and part of the problem. It’s problematic because, as such a strong majority, they stand ready to run roughshod over the rights of their fellow religionists, and the rest of us, by promoting a vision of America that incorporates their beliefs while ignoring those of others. In the matter at hand, the Catholic Church wants preferential treatment due to its sheer numbers and kindred spirit with the far larger population of Protestants.

Implicated here are the economic and social consequences of supporting unwanted children often shouldered by unwed mothers who otherwise had dreams and opportunity of their own. I can hear the mantra now: abstinence, abstinence, abstinence. This always reminds me of that old saying, “Conservatives care a great deal for your baby – right up to the moment he or she is born.” Is this a Christian nation? No, not as long as the establishment clause prohibits that final, governmental endorsement and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment stands ready to protect religious minorities from the, “tyranny of the majority,” in Tocqueville’s words.

Judge Carey’s preferred construction of this debate is that it’s all about a, “struggle for power,” but isn’t every political, social or commercial contest a, “struggle for power,” if you so choose to view it that way? The definition of, “power,” is getting someone to do something they don’t want to do.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, March 15, 2012.

Fear AND Loathing in the Time of Corona

By Phillip C. Jack

Okay, let’s begin by acknowledging that the coronavirus is scary as hell. Each day we wake up, hit snooze 17 times as we lay in our beds listening to the soothing sounds of spring outside and wonder “is today the day I catch corona?”

By Phillip C. Jack

Wake up. Time to die.


Okay, let’s begin by acknowledging that the coronavirus is scary as hell. Each day we wake up, hit snooze 17 times as we lay in our beds listening to the soothing sounds of spring outside and wonder “is today the day I catch corona?”

I understand. Everyone is super anxious. Plus, we’re cooped up in our houses with all these total strangers who claim to be spouses and children. Yeah right, as if I wouldn’t have noticed you the last 20 years. Anyway, we’ve all tried to make lemonade out of them lemons by playing board games and doing puzzles, binging Netflix and Amazon and knocking off a lot of half-forgotten home improvement projects (thanks so much for reminding me, Honey). But let’s face it, this is starting to get old. 

Fortunately, we are not completely isolated from the world. 

We have the internet and cable news, and it’s corona time all the time, baby.  Not to mention there’s those sweet Trump press conferences every single day. I love those – and I was inspired!

As soon as our President informed us that he had declared war on Covid-19, I immediately sprang into action to do my part as an American. Being far too old to enlist in the military, I fulfilled my patriotic duty by supporting our troops. And by that, I mean of course those serving on the front lines in our local wine superstores. I’m proud to report that I singlehandedly kept two establishments afloat during those first three weeks of March. Unfortunately for me, wine leads to baked goods, and by late March, I was working as a stunt double for the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  

Onions have layers. Ogres have layers.


This is probably as good a time as any to mention that my family and I have had coronavirus.

Thankfully we all recovered, but I blame catching it on my new addiction to supermarkets. It started innocently enough.  My gateway “sup,” as we junkies like to call them, was a Stop & Shop on Temple Street. We were low on TP and out of pasta and eggs, so I popped in to see what they were pushing. Dead end. I tried the sup on Old Connecticut Path and then the two on Rt. 9, but they were all out. Desperate, I sped to the Whacker (aka Price Chopper) in Hopkinton and there, at long last, got my fix. Since then I can’t go more than two days without visiting one, you know, just to see if they have anything good. I knew they were germ factories, but I couldn’t stop myself. 

Those of you who have spent time in supermarkets recently will understand what a surreal experience it has become. Faces that a few weeks ago would have been friendly now look at you with this strange mixture of fear and anger. Like you’re contaminated, or worse, the enemy, and they need to put distance between you.

It’s palpable, and you can feel the chaos brewing just under the surface. It makes you wonder what would happen if there truly were major food shortages. Where would that fight or flight instinct lead to then?

It was unimaginable only two months ago, but my gut now tells me there would be more than a few ugly weeks. But what happens after that? Does the world spiral into some decidedly uncool version of the Walking Dead? I don’t believe so (although if it does, I call dibs on the ninja sword – I’m talking to you, Obama). No, I believe that under that layer of uncontrollable fear still beats the heart of our common humanity.  In the end, we’ll figure it out.  

These jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back.

            The Boss – My Hometown

I don’t want to seem insensitive (I am, I just don’t want to appear that way). I understand that millions of Americans have lost their jobs recently.  Heck (pause as I spit my tobacco), I even applied for that there PPP for my firm.  I really do get that this is bad, and it’s a travesty how little savings most Americans have and how poorly many seniors are forced to live in the richest country in the world. 

Having said that, if I read one more article or hear one more talking head ramble on about the new normal I’m going to do something crazy. Like make a pathetic midlife crisis TikTok. Or shop at a supermarket from 7:00-8:00 AM cruising the wrong way down aisles until retired, yet still surprisingly surly, Hells Angels drive me out. At a minimum I’ll join a stay-at-home protest and shoot a semi-automatic rifle wildly into the air whilst whooping hysterically like slapstick jihadists in movies 30 years ago before we realized terrorists were neither harmless nor funny.

I just don’t believe it’s going to take years for most of those jobs to come back, particularly in the service industry.  I for one can’t wait to Uber my butt around for a week straight fattening myself up like a Thanksgiving turkey at every restaurant in eastern Massachusetts only stopping to visit movie theaters, malls and massage parlors. (Note that if I lived in Georgia, I would have added bowling alleys as Georgians evidently love to bowl. When the state reopened – like 4 years too early – all the news coverage was “The Governor has reopened restaurants, nail salons and bowling alleys”. And the people, they did rejoice). So let’s be real, Starbucks itself will put half those people back to work.

The Once and Future King

            T. H. White

I daydreamed that I dreamt during a corona fever that our country had been taken over by a cross between Elmer Fudd (who owns a mansion and a yacht) and the Heat Miser (he is too much, bump bump). Which of course makes Nancy Pelosi Mother Nature. My god but that woman is old. If anyone is looking for the world’s supply or formaldehyde call me – I found it. Seriously Dems, if Biden wins please, please elect someone younger than dirt as the next Speaker. 

To be fair though, I worked on the Hill right out of college and a legislator’s efficacy wasn’t always obvious to the public. So I’m sure Ms. Pelosi has done a moderately mediocre job behind the scenes. On the other hand, I don’t really remember much about DC other than eating free appetizers at lobbyist events in Rayburn and drinking heavily in a dive bar from the Twilight Zone. The floors were sticky, the barkeep a dead ringer for Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and occasionally a dwarf in an apron would wander out with a carving knife from some back room we all hoped was the kitchen. But pitchers were 5 bucks and happy hour was still a thing, so no one really cared. My friend and I eventually got banned from this fine establishment for reasons I must assume were completely unfounded, but that’s a fireside chat with the kids for another night. 

Problem is, I never had a corona fever, and I awoke from my daydream realizing that the Heat Miser was in fact President and leader of the free world. But here’s the thing. If this were almost any other country, our self-aggrandizing, delusional, pathological liar Banana Republic strongman would constitute an existential threat to its democracy.  But this isn’t any other country.

This is the United States of America and sure, we can be obnoxious, hard charging, and a bit ignorant at times. But if there’s any truth to American exceptionalism, it’s that our people and our democracy can shrug off a term or two of a man like Trump like it was a bad batch of sushi from the truck stop counter fridge. Sure, we threw up all over ourselves in the process because we just had to try something new, but in a few days, we won’t even remember it. That’s what makes us exceptional. 

So all hail the 331 million American kings and queens.

Blue Lives, Black Lives, ‘The Republic’ and ‘Leviathan’

By Mike Frates

A strong central government may be necessary to keep us in check, but that same government may be employed as a tool of oppression in the hands of a tyrant.

Plato of classical Athens, to this day, is one of the ten most cited intellectuals in contemporary scholarly publishing. This should at least give us pause since he was also one of the Western tradition’s most ardent critics of democracy. In any case, we have decided to make a go of it, and, accordingly, we can’t simply sit back and blame our problems on a tyrant. A democratic republic places responsibility for our state of affairs squarely upon our shoulders, and the loss of life in our African-American communities at the hands of the police is no exception. This piece is about the relationship between our sovereign and her citizens.

Signed during the summer of 1215, the Magna Carta was an agreement between an unpopular English king and his barons. More than just commercial issues, the Magna Carta guaranteed a modest set of civil liberties to the wealthy aristocrats subject to his rule. Within weeks, the document was scrapped, and, some years later, annulled by the pope, but the Magna Carta earned its place in history as the first time limitations were imposed upon the authority of a legitimate European monarch.

The need for such an agreement had become clear; the West has been no stranger to tyranny. The first ruling family of the Roman Empire, the Julio Claudians, gave us two of history’s most famous tyrants. Germanicus, better known by his nickname, Caligula, and Nero, whose malevolence became legendary. A democratic republic doesn’t necessarily inoculate against the rise of a tyrant. The Roman Republic, which preceded the Empire, produced Sulla, and Hitler came to power by completely legitimate means. Indeed, the Frenchman Alexis De Tocqueville counseled us against the, “tyranny of the democratic majority.”

This conversation was defined by Thomas Hobbes of 17th century Europe. Hobbes believed that we are a fundamentally flawed species. He believed that life for, “man in the state of nature,” was unpredictable. “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” His masterpiece, “Leviathan,” published in 1651, argued for a strong central government to check the passions and proclivities of men. “Leviathan” may be the second most influential work of political theory we have after Plato’s “Republic”.

And, herein lies the problem: A strong central government may be necessary to keep us in check, but that same government may be employed as a tool of oppression in the hands of a tyrant. In 1748, Montesquieu published “The Spirit of the Laws” exhorting us to divide our government into separate, coequal branches with a Judicial Branch dedicated to mediating the executive’s desire to enforce the law contra its citizens. President Rutherford Hayes, in 1878, signed the Posse Comitatus Act into law promising the American people that they will never face the United States military.

Today, our state and federal constitutions serve has a bulwark against such abuse. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our national Constitution, is enforceable only against the government to stem overreach. The First Amendment guarantees the government won’t punish us for speaking our mind. The Fourth Amendment ensures freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. And, the Eighth Amendment promises we won’t be subject to cruel or unusual punishment. The government must prove our transgressions in a court of law, as required by the Sixth Amendment.

Understanding manufacturing processes is part of any good business school curriculum. No one cares if you’re building cars, rugs or light bulbs; the principles are the same. So, when the professor gets the inevitable question from one of her students, she responds, “Today, we’re building ‘Widgets’.” Likewise, no two Americans are alike. We all have different histories, biases and beliefs. Some of us are caring and gregarious while others sharp or perhaps a bit slow. Some hold good will in our hearts and others less so. A police officer has no idea who he will encounter on any given shift so he is trained for any contingency.

When it comes to lives both blue and black, l would simply like to make one point. When a confrontation takes place on our streets between a police officer and a black man, consider this: On one side of this equation is a police officer with a badge and a gun. Standing behind that police officer is the municipality by whom he is employed. Standing behind that municipality is, in my case, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and standing behind the Commonwealth, by operation of the 10th Amendment, is the most powerful political entity in the history of civilization. On the other side is a widget.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, November 6, 2016.


By Dave Barend

Here’s an actual email that I received at about 4:30 p.m. on March 12, 2020: “Dave, are you alive?” . . . You see, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament had just been announced. And I’m a little nutty for the Tournament. You know, much like Bill Nye is a “little nutty” for science

(This article was first published by Basketball Times as “Avenging The Grinch who stole the NCAA Tournament” – 5/2020)

Here’s an actual email that I received at about 4:30 p.m. on March 12, 2020:

“Dave, are you alive?”

In case you are wondering, the answer was yes. I’m not sure what the expected response would have been had the answer been no.

But within minutes my inbox became filled with similar concerns for my mental well-being.

“Dave, are you catatonic – like Ferris Bueller’s friend Cameron?”

You see, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament had just been announced. And I’m a little nutty for the Tournament. You know, much like Bill Nye is a “little nutty” for science.

For example, as an attorney I filed many motions to continue cases due to a “religious obligation”. I failed to mention that the “religious obligation” was actually the NCAA Tournament. I swear that is true. Unless you are a member of the Board of Bar Overseers, then I swear it’s not true. 

The Tournament is, without question, a holiday in my house. My daughters say it’s second only to Christmas. They are wrong. It’s number one.

We actually exchange gifts and decorate every inch of the house with wall-sized brackets. My neighbors can’t understand why we take the time to put them up. Whereas I can’t understand why we ever take them down.

My daughter once wrote in her first grade class journal, “This weekend we will be celebrating Selection Sunday.” But her teacher did not follow college hoops. So that Monday we received a call. “This is social services.  Have you joined a cult?”

Then that damn COVID-19 hit. 

As I sat nearly comatose, my youngest daughter tugged on my shirt.

“Daddy, why don’t we be like the Whos?”

“Huh, I do like The Who.”

“No the Whos”

“Whose what?”

“Not what, Whos.  You know, from Who-ville.”


Clearly I should have added “First base.” But instead, like the stellar parent I am, I said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Don’t you remember Who-ville and the Grinch who stole Christmas from the Whos?”

“I’m really not in the mood . . .

“Well the coronavirus is kind of like the Grinch, and we could be like the Whos.”

Then all of a sudden I had a wonderful idea – we could be like the Whos!

(With apologies to Dr. Seuss  . . .)

            To heck with that Grinch called COVID-1

We’ll have the best Tournament the world’s ever seen!

            Yeah there’s no brackets, which is quite a pity.

            But we’ll be our very own selection committee!

            We’ll come up with something that’ll be fun you’ll see

            And it will keep our minds off the lack of TP.

            It’ll be a big party, one hell of a bash.

            But don’t tell Mom I ate the last can of Who-hash.

            Now let’s put up decorations to get in the mood

            And prepare for the arrival of the Selection Sunday Dude.

Uh Dave, what’s the Selection Sunday Dude? 

As I’ve told my daughters many times, the Selection Sunday Dude brings presents to children every year. But not to all of them, just the good ones. 

You know, who watch no less than 8 college basketball games per week.  And most importantly, they have to live in my house. 

See, he’s much like Santa. But instead of coming on Christmas Eve in a sleigh colored red, he comes on Selection Sunday Eve in a van that says Amazon.

And come he did with gifts, all college and basketball related, piled under our Fisher Price hoop. This led my wife to openly question whether the Selection Sunday Dude stuck to his budget. No. No he did not.

But we had gifts and were quite happy, just like those Whos from Who-ville.

“Uh Dave, weren’t the Whos from Who-ville happy even though they had no gifts?”

That makes no sense.

So I started calling my girls Cindy Lou 1 and Cindy Lou 2. (There may be evidence that I need to reread some Dr. Seuss.) 

I then told them that just like the Whos from Who-ville sang “Welcome Christmas” we should sing “Welcome Selection Sunday.” I got them started. 

“Fahoo fores dahoo dores . . .” 

And then they did what they do best –  ignored me.

The real gift on Selection Sunday, however, has always been the revealing of the bracket of 68 teams. So I came up with another wonderful idea. A wonderful, amazing idea: I’ll create a way to play all the games in a bracket that I’ll make myself! The response from my family was unanimous.  

“That’s an awful idea.” 

A wonderful, awful, idea? 

“No, a completely awful idea!”

Apparently they all wanted to participate. This led to another family holiday tradition – fighting.

Cindy Lou 1: Iowa should have a much better seed.

Cindy Lou 2: Can you even spell Iowa?

I stopped the fight there because I feared a response of no.

We were all able to agree to include our favorite teams. I chose my alma mater, St. Bonaventure. My wife chose hers – that other Catholic school, you know, in South Bend. My daughters also chose St. Bonaventure, you know, because they love their dad.

Then we concocted a way to actually play the games with dice and with team cards that note the results of each possession.

“Uh Dave, that sounds a lot like Dungeons and Dragons.”

No. Dungeons and Dragons was a game dorks played with dice that determined the results of . .  Ok, maybe it was a little bit like Dungeons and Dragons.

Though actually it was more akin to the old Strat-O-Matic or APBA baseball games. My mom always thought I was wasting time. Little did she know that 25 years later I’d use what I learned from those games to, well, waste more time.

But first, we had to fill out the brackets. This very much confused my wife.

“Why would we fill them out before we play?”

“Because making the picks is the fun.”

“What about the games?”

“Well that’ll be fun too.”

“That’s good to know because I was afraid that playing 60-some games might just be insane.”

After I finished my brilliant bracket, I took a peak at my wife’s picks. I tried not to scoff when I saw she had New Mexico State besting Dayton in round 2. I should have tried harder.

“You do realize that Dayton has Obi Toppin?”

“You do realize that Obi Toppin will not be rolling the dice?”

My wife then made another seemingly keen observation.

“This basketball game you’ve created appears to be missing something – basketball.”

“Have no fear. The Selection Sunday Dude has us covered!”

I pulled out a huge stack of brand new basketball movie DVDs. You name it, the Selection Sunday Dude brought it: Hoosiers, Fast Break, White Men Can’t Jump, and even Slam Dunk Ernest.

“Did the Selection Sunday Dude know that we could have watched them all for free on Prime and Netflix?”

No. No, he did not.

But it was time to let the first play in game begin which pitted my beloved St. Bonaventure Bonnies against my wife’s Notre Dame Something-or-other. ND really needs to a get a more memorable and masculine nickname, you know, like Bonnies.

It did not go well. Before the first half ended the Bonnies trailed by 25 points. Reports that I accused my wife of cheating are not wholly unfounded.

I will, however, dispute any assertion that I overreacted when she rolled the dice off the table. See, she has a history of doing so at a place where doing so is frowned upon – Vegas.

Yes, she rolled the dice off a craps table, and not once, but twice in a row. Well it turns out that when someone rolls the dice off a craps table in Vegas – twice – the pit boss and security will promptly arrive. And when they asked her who she was working with the correct response was nobody. Yet she opted to point at me.

Unfortunately, my dice rolling proficiency was not assisting my Bonnies. Mid-way through the second half, ND still led by 20. We desperately needed a stop. So I did the only logical thing – I looked my wife dead in the eye, stood up, and slapped my hands on the floor.

“What is wrong with you?”

“You’d think someone from Notre Dame wouldn’t have to ask obvious questions.”

And then the Bonnies went on a roll. (Pun not intended or even noticed until the third rewrite.)

After draining three on top of three, St. Bonaventure made the greatest comeback in the history of the NCAA Tournament – Dice Version. My daughters and I broke into a raucous and Purell-less round of high-fives.

            Yet the joy miraculously continued somehow, someway

            For Villanova and Auburn, the Bonnies would also slay.

            They then beat KU and UK to make the Final Four.

            “Unbelievable!” my girls yelled. “Have they ever been there before?”

            “Only one time prior.” I said with much glee.

            It’s time to party like it’s 1970!

            They then made it past Baylor to face mighty Duke.

            The pressure was too much, I thought I would  . . .

            (If only there was a word that rhymed with Duke.)

            Though the Bonnies would try, it would all be for naught.

            Yeah that’s exactly what I originally thought.

            But somehow, someway St. Bonaventure proved too strong.

            Because, as my wife likes to say, I’m often wrong.

            Shouting, “They won! They won!” we ran upstairs and slid down railings.

            I then said sorry to my wife for Selection Sunday Dude’s budgetary failings.

            She simply gave me a kiss and said, “Whatever.             Honey, this has been the best Tournament ever.”

The Enlightenment and its Enemy: White Nationalism

By Mike Frates

Our goal should be to repress our inner Troglodyte, and embrace our better angels, but that’s not the problem right now. The problem is that the troglodytes are winning.

The European Enlightenment of the 1780s made two promises. The first, if we embrace reason to the exclusion of all other human capacities, the inner workings of nature will be revealed, and the technology that results will better our lives. The price we paid was the embrace of a loving God. As the great Enlightenment philosophers began to apply reason like a scalpel to our understanding of human nature, Jeremy Bentham and Emmanuel Kant were developing sophisticated theories of moral philosophy that bring us to the second covenant. The Enlightenment also promised to make us better people, instilling the wisdom with which to wield this technology. One promise was kept, the other … not so much.

Our species survived for quite a while without the benefit of Enlightenment principles. We fashioned tools out of rocks and sticks to better manipulate our environment. Hunting methods provided us with the protein necessary to support our evolutionarily expensive large brains. And, we developed strategies to exploit the resources around us. That which was different from us may have been dangerous in the form of competitors or predators.

Hunter-gathering gave way to farming, and crop surpluses allowed families to barter for goods and services. The feudal bureaucracy was born. Militaries were assembled, and walls were built to protect us from other humans. We continued to highlight the differences between ourselves and others because that which was different may have been dangerous. The Portuguese slave trade aggravated these ingrained, superficial biases.

We share ninety-six percent of our DNA with one of the most vicious and territorial animals on the planet, Pan troglodytes: the chimpanzee. As we civilized ourselves, those hunting, social and mating strategies began to translate into two principles that will forever bedevil our species, “pride and respect.” The recognition of which became a zero-sum game. Our attempts to make sense out of our world through mythology, and, later, the three great monotheistic religions, normalized these influences. Instead of describing the evolutionary psychology that shaped our behavior, they became the values that dictated how we should behave.

Militaries grew larger, the walls got higher and the 1780s came and went. The lessons of the Enlightenment triggered Industrialization along with advances in warfare. We also witnessed the geopolitical status quo reach its culmination in balance of power politics. Germany brought the world to the brink of war when England, and the rest of Western Europe, failed to contain Bismarck. The old way of doing business had broken down, and humanity was about to pay a dear price as a result.

We responded to the two World Wars by embracing Enlightenment principles. Nations were no longer judged based solely upon their actions, but now their intentions as well. We held state action to moral standards. We embraced universal human rights in recognition of our common humanity, and self-determination flourished with the spread of democracy. We learned that pooling our resources would result in greater social justice for all. We looked forward to ameliorating human poverty and disease while we looked back upon the Holocaust.

Populist elections both here and in Britain have, for the first time, placed this global order founded on Enlightenment principles under serious attack. But make no mistake: These issues have been raging ever since Nietzsche declared God’s death. Science unleashed the wonders of nature while it reduced love to a chemical reaction. Science charted the heavens as it stripped us of our soul. The death of God meant the death of Our Father who gave our lives meaning and purpose. To embrace reason – to embrace the truth – we had to step out from beneath God’s grace, and find the courage to tackle the world on our own terms. From Roe v. Wade to how we educate our children to our justice system, everyone has a dog in this fight.

There are a few groups who oppose the Enlightenment. Pride of place goes to religious evangelicalism trying to resuscitate an enchanted vision of Camelot, but there is something refreshingly honest about these white nationalists. Instead of using religion to drape their most base impulses in respectability they put their pre-Enlightenment, tribal racism right there on display stripped of any pious pretext. Our goal should be to repress our inner Troglodyte, and embrace our better angels, but that’s not the problem right now. The problem is that the troglodytes are winning.

Mike Frates practices criminal law in the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Originally published in the New Bedford Standard Times, April 30, 2017.

Fund States to Ensure America Recovers from Coronavirus, Then Help Them Fund Themselves

By John Caves

In the struggle against Covid-19, the states have possession of the field. State governments led by both parties have made, and will continue to make, the toughest decisions about how to contain the virus.

(An earlier version of this piece was first published at

As the war against Covid-19 rages in empty streets and crowded hospitals, a battle over the authority and resources to wage it has broken out in the halls of government between the federal government and the states.

President Donald Trump opened the engagement by claiming “total” authority to reopen states, only to retreat under heavy fire from both parties. He then attempted a flanking movement by egging on protests against state governments, followed by a bait-and-switch by encouraging and then undermining the governor of Georgia’s own decision to reopen.

Mr. Trump was soon reinforced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who responded to a funding request from the National Governors Association by advising states “to use the bankruptcy route.” Drawing fire in turn, Mr. McConnell gave ground, saying there “probably will be another state and local funding bill” soon.

The outcome of the political battle is yet to be seen. But in the struggle against Covid-19, the states have possession of the field. State governments led by both parties have made, and will continue to make, the toughest decisions about how to contain the virus. They took initiative on social distancing when the federal government was slow to act. And they can shield their residents from certain misguided federal impulses, such as premature reopening or ill-judged medical advice.

This is possible because the states’ reserved powers under the Constitution enable them to function as an unofficial fourth branch of government at the national level. In this way, they don’t only make the Union more resilient in a crisis, but help to guarantee its long-term liberty and vitality through separation of powers.

The states’ tenacious response to the coronavirus has a big price tag, however. Emergency expenditures have depleted state budgets just as the revenues supporting next year’s budgets have dried up. Whereas the federal government largely funds itself with relatively stable (for now) income tax and debt, states rely mainly on sales taxes and have limited capacity to borrow. Sales taxes and related levies on goods and services have been battered by Covid-19: people are buying less, and prices of taxable commodities such as oil have collapsed.

State governments cannot carry out their vital role if they are bankrupt. If America is to emerge resurgent from this pandemic, it must get its states back on their feet.

The first step is for Congress to reconsider its resistance to the National Governors Association request for $500 billion for the states, with no strings attached. The two governors who sent the request — Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland and Democrat Andrew Cuomo of New York — have worked hard against Covid-19. They should be taken seriously when they say the absence of such funds will hamper “public health, the economic recovery, and — in turn — our collective effort to get people back to work.”

But in the long run there will need to be a different fiscal cure. While it is right for the federal government to mobilize resources in times of crisis, it is unhealthy for states to rely heavily on Washington for funding in normal times. The expectation it engenders could incentivize states to habitually spend far beyond their means, the object of Senator McConnell’s ill-timed but somewhat justified concern. More importantly, overreliance could enable a dictatorial-minded president to assert “total authority” by threatening to withhold cash, and we would lose one more restraint on power.

Our states are already worryingly dependent on federal money: it amounts to roughly a quarter of state revenues, much of that tied to healthcare. Let Covid-19 be the impetus to rebalance this. One way is to reduce the federal income tax rate to give states an opportunity, if they choose, to increase theirs. At the same time, give states more responsibility for entitlement programs such as Medicaid that are now run at the federal level but overlap with the role of state governments.

The states would have more work to do, but more of their own resources with which to do it. The federal government could focus on things only it can do such as defense and diplomacy, including working with other countries to contain epidemics before they reach our shores.

There will be a conflicting impulse to give the federal government sweeping power over public health, which we now know entails control over many aspects of life. This impulse relies on an assumption that the federal government is always wise and virtuous. It is not. States are not either; some will make poor decisions in response to Covid-19. But, as a whole, they constantly learn best-practices from each other and find solutions that fit regional needs.

More centralization would be dangerous. Our Union has already concentrated a lot of power in Washington over the past century. As a result, every presidential election now feels like a one-shot, winner-take-all struggle for the only prize that matters: the one at the top.

I suspect that’s contributing to the corrosive polarization we all lament. Instead, let’s heal our country by reinvigorating our states.


By Rich Tucker

“Blueprint” is about how we’ve adapted through social evolution. Traits that make for a successful society tend to be passed along. Traits that do not tend to die out.

The first two months of the Covid-19 crisis may have increased your faith in human nature. Or they may have convinced you that humans have no future. But if you found yourself wondering what make us human in the first place, know that there is a “Blueprint.”

Nicholas Christakis is a Professor at Yale and the co-author of a 2009 book about how our social networks shape our lives. By that he didn’t mean simply Facebook and Instagram (which hadn’t even been invented when the book was published). He meant the way humans interact with each other in groups. We’re “stronger together” (as all the hashtags on Facebook insist), and Prof. Christakis is here to prove that.

Fair enough. And in a wide-ranging recent book, Christakis makes a number of excellent points.

“Animal species may face a wide variety of threats, but the biggest threat to humans, more than predators or any environmental exigencies, is other humans,” he writes, and that is worth remembering even as a virus stalks humanity. “If the most important feature of the human environment is other humans, then that feature is a constant across all physical and biological environments, from the poles to the equator. And our species has adapted to that.

His book “Blueprint” is about how we’ve adapted: through social evolution. Traits that make for a successful society tend to be passed along. Traits that do not tend to die out.

As an aside, the Christakis book shouldn’t be confused with Robert Plomin’s book “Blueprint,” because that is about how DNA makes us who we are. Think of it as nature over nurture for Plomin, nurture alongside nature for Christakis.

What makes for a successful society? Well, monogamy, for one thing. “Political entities, nations, and religions that adopted monogamy had a reduced rate of this sort of violence and could deploy their resources more productively, internally and externally,” he writes. “From this perspective, modern norms and institutions regarding monogamous marriage have been shaped by a kind of evolutionary process in response to the forces of intergroup competition and intragroup benefits.”

That is counterintuitive, since on a strictly genetic level, it would make sense for a many to have sex with as many women as possible. If he could convince another man to pay to raise his children, so much the better. Society flips that script, convincing (most) men to focus their attention on one woman, and invest in offspring with only her. That leads to two-parent households, which are the most effective places to raise children.

A common culture also means we don’t need to begin each generation anew. We can “stand on the shoulders of giants,” and not just Newton, but everyone who has ever lived. “No human has to learn everything on his or her own; we can all rely on others to teach us, a hugely efficient practice present in all cultures,” he writes.

Also, there are no “universal people.” But if there were, they would share certain traits, Christakis writes, quoting another scientist, Prof. Donald Brown. We all seem to “have gossip, music, taboos, belief in magic, rites of passage, attention to male aggressive impulses, fancy speeches for special occasions, as well as other features.”


“If there is a blueprint for a basic, functional society that has been shaped by evolution and that is part of our genetic heritage, why do societies ever fail?” Christakis wonders. Specifically, he blames human violence (we tend to kill each other, although levels of violence are dropping in recent decades) and the threat from difficult physical environments (it’s tough to survive in the Sahara, or at the South Pole).

That’s a good start, but while Christakis goes into exhaustive detail about various societies, if you want to understand how people can cooperate to survive in difficult climes, a much better book is “The Secret of Our Success,” by Joseph Henrich. It’s a much easier and entertaining read.

Meanwhile, a good takeaway from either book is, as Christakis writes, that “when it comes to society, the whole comes to be greater than the sum of its parts, with distinctive features not present in the components.”

Reason enough to be confident about the future of society – and humanity – after Covid-19.