Listen To The Women, Evaluate The Evidence, Then Pass Judgment

Five days ago, when the accusations against Sen. Al Franken came out, when right-wingers were gloating and left-leaners were in a panic and some were overreacting, I was on Twitter urging caution:

…this isn’t Roy Moore territory–yet. We shouldn’t lose our ability to evaluate the relative severity of inappropriate behavior.

A short time later, I responded to a tweet by left-leaning writer Jimmy Williams, who had written that he hoped “ANY woman or man accusing ANY sitting senator of sexual harassment creates an Ethics Committee investigation.” I wrote:

Sorry, but we should stipulate that the accusations be credible ones or this whole exercise will become meaningless and hurt real victims.

Those two elements—evaluating the relative severity of the alleged behavior and evaluating the credibility of the accusations—were lost in the rush to judgment during the immediate days following the charges against Franken. Among those rushing to judgment was another liberal writer and a woman whose opinion I greatly respect, Michelle Goldberg. Writing for The New York Times, she said of Franken, “I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat.” Now, after some reflection, and after many pundits are beginning to evaluate what is happening more soberly, Goldberg has had second thoughts:

Personally, I’m torn by competing impulses. I want to see sexual harassment finally taken seriously but fear participating in a sex panic. My instinct is often to defend men I like, but I don’t want to be an enabler or a sucker. I try not to be a hypocrite, while being aware that the right plays on the media’s desire to seem fair-minded, which is part of what led to wildly excessive coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails during the presidential campaign, among other distortions.

Goldberg noted the fact that it is “organizations with liberal values” that are expected to react decisively against alleged sin in their own camps, while little accountability is expected from Republicans. She continued:

As a result, it sometimes feels as if liberal institutions are devouring themselves over sex while conservatives, unburdened by the pretense of caring about gender equality, blithely continue their misrule.

Adding to the confusion is the way so many different behaviors are being lumped together. Weinstein’s sadistic serial predation isn’t comparable to Louis C.K.’s exhibitionism. The groping Franken has been accused of isn’t in the same moral universe as Moore’s alleged sexual abuse of minors. It seems perverse that Franken could be on his way out of the Senate while Moore might be on his way in.

Obviously, with all the allegations flying around about creepy, caddish, even criminal behavior toward women, this is a major cultural moment. As I have always held, the women making such accusations should be believed until evidence surfaces that casts doubt on their charges. But that means the initial claims have to be subjected to an analysis that takes account of the available evidence, including the responses of those charged.

Image result for roy moore and bibleOf course we should treat the claims of offended and abused women with utmost seriousness. But we also have to treat the process of evaluating guilt or innocence with equal seriousness, as well as determining the proper penalty for bad behavior. Because, in time, we will see some charges advanced against men in power (so far, that’s who we are talking about) that are not true, that are part of a vendetta, either personal or political. And when that happens, if just one innocent man suffers because of such a vendetta—especially one aided and abetted by our eagerness to right past cultural wrongs—you can bet the creeps, cads, and criminals among us, employing nervous men as their mouthpieces, will use that miscarriage of justice as part of an attempt to squelch the vital movement we see sweeping the country, from California to Michigan to New York to, yes, Alabama.

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24 Comments

  1. Political correctness, it seems, has made a paradigm shift over the past couple of years, especially the last few months. The moral gap between the liberals and the conservatives has grown wider. The liberals are for the victims and the conservatives are for the victors. And this applies to most of the political issues we face, including the decline of the middle class, quality education, employment and globalization, free press, free speech, global warming, gun control, health care, immigration, policing, poverty, racism, regulations, science-based reasoning, tax policy, white supremacists, and women’s rights, among others. It’s the latter, of course, that’s now getting all the attention.

    As you point out Duane, there are slippery slopes aplenty in the field of sexual misconduct. There is a wide range of acts that offend the established social norms – from telling an offensive joke to child rape. Of course, it wasn’t always this way.

    I suppose we could blame it on evolution – physical and moral. For most of written history, especially in Western civilizations, women were second class humans; subordinate to males, becoming equal or superior only in the rarest of circumstances. Such inferior status was memorialized in the Abrahamic religions and, thereby, made part of the social contract down through the ages. In our species, it’s the females who attract the males — as the vast majority of visitors to porn sites who are men clearly demonstrates. Men are bigger and more powerful. And sometimes their genes and memes get the better of them.

    I tried to think of my past to see if I was guilty of unwanted sexual advances. I’m sure there were such occasions where I crossed the line, at least as the line is understood today. Then, too, there were times when I tried to go too far. But I was taught that No means No and I stopped. Well, that and the thought of police sirens and sharing a jail cell with Bubba.

    I don’t know where al this is headed. Maybe it will inform those who would continue such acts that there are consequences. That’s be a good thing.

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    • Excellent, Herb.

      Funny thing, but I almost always look at these kinds of things in evolutionary terms. It isn’t a wonder that men tend to be the predators and women the prey. The biggest part of it is pre-wired in our brains (our aggressiveness, for instance, which results in large-scale violence–like war–and small-scale violence–like rape), and some part of it is post-wired in our brains (men were expected, as part of their social roles, to initiate relational contact and do things like “propose” marriage, etc.). That post-wiring was, of course, based on the pre-wiring. Social roles were designed in conjunction with nature.

      Where is this headed? Hopefully in social strictures put permanently in place that serve to rewire the brains of men, particularly young men. It is possible, I believe, to acknowledge the natural aggressiveness of men, inherited from our evolutionary past, while placing severe social costs on acting inappropriately on that aggression. After all, we all know what it is like to see some bully talk tough to a person perceived to be weaker, and melt when someone tougher comes along. That “someone tougher” can be social mores (like losing your job for certain behavior) and, in some cases, the law (losing your freedom for more severe behavior).

      Most of what I see happening right now is absolutely a good thing. I just worry about tossing every offender in the same basket.

      Duane 

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  2. Anonymous

     /  November 21, 2017

    According to the DOJ’s definition of sexual assault, grabbing or fondling a woman’s rear is sexual assault, it’s only a matter of determining the severity. If the victim is in shock and doesn’t respond immediately and have 360* documented video footage of the incident or handprints visibly marking such, then proving such occurred is the victim’s burden. Add to that, refusing to tell your spouse immediately for fear of his attack on the perp, or humiliation or embarrassment in telling others.

    It’s pretty easy to sympathize with why women underreport these assaults, thus emboldening the offender. Throw in the varying state requirements on statutes of limitation to file, willingness of prosecutors to bring charges without “bullet-proof” evidence, and the guaranteed character assassination by the accused’s attorneys, and even then it’s a slim chance that the accused doesn’t plea bargain to a lesser charge for all that the victim has been through.

    With all the cell phones, security cameras, and other technology now available, an offender is ignorant to commit such in today’s society. Regardless of porn, Harlequin novels, Hollywood, 50 Shades of Grey, et.al. sexual assault is a crime that demands redress. Perhaps when Trump leads us into the Orwellian society where everyone is under surveillance at all times, we will no longer commit such crimes against each other. It would be much better for society if this were a watershed moment, where we mark an important change in our culture.

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    • There’s no doubt that the system makes it too hard for women to report assaults (and, too often, harassment). That’s because the system was established by men. Women are changing things, though. That’s what we are seeing before our eyes. 

      My caution about this issue is that we make sure that the accused men are not all painted with the same brush. Some offenses are clearly worse than others. Some of the evidence presented is clearly more convincing than other evidence. And my biggest fear is that some prominent man will get accused by someone who, for whatever reason, is not telling the truth. And after the man’s reputation has been shattered, after he has been publicly condemned by the reporting and punditry, he will be the poster boy for a backlash against this all-important movement to right the wrongs done to women in this society. 

      We help the victims of past and present (or future) offenses not only by treating the evidence they present (often only their testimony) seriously, but by respecting the process of evaluating that evidence without resorting to conclusion-jumping and premature condemnation.

      Duane

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      • Anonymous

         /  November 22, 2017

        I agree with your overall assessment, however, your fear that a prominent man will be falsely accused is mitigated by his ability to afford the best defense available to protect his denial. I am in the 50% of Democrats that believe Franken should be replaced by a Democratic female. For a US Senator to meet the DOJ bar to be charged with sexual assault, that should prohibit his ability to serve.

        I believe his accuser! Reading reports where she made Facebook posts to friends at the time, describing him as a “perv”, gives her story additional credibility. I’m sure an overzealous fan that fawns over a photo op with a prominent man might in some way signal that his alleged “ass grabbing” was somehow okay in a celebrity’s egocentric view. Trump even stated he felt entitled to do just that, because of his celebrity.

        If Franken will tell the American people that he did not do what this lady has claimed, I would be inclined to hear his defense. However, he has not done so, he has only stated he does not recall meeting or groping her. So, let the ethics hearings begin, and forget the “statute of limitations” of the crime as he was a sitting Senator. I will agree that I should be struck from any such jury, as I have already formed an opinion.

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  3. ansonburlingame

     /  November 27, 2017

    Duane,

    I agree with your call for caution. A new political weapon capable of “mass” destruction is now upon us. Who knows who will be left standing after all the allegations are published.

    At what point will “innocent until….. becomes the norm again.

    What level of proof is going to be needed in these cases which usually happen in a he said, she said environment. How does one find “beyond a reasonable doubt” OR “perponderance of evidence” even? Must we now come up with a new definition of burden of proof?

    Finally, can anyone define “harassment” in sexual matters and get most people to agree with them. Yes, stopping when someone says NO is called for anytime. But what if they only say No, afterwards while having second thoughts? Can a man regretting a sexual encounter later on, blame the woman for allowing such to happen? Is it possible for a woman to seduce a man or is it only a one way street?

    If a woman in a workplace “feels humiliated” is that now automatically sexual harassment?

    Can any woman now fired claim …… and get away with it? Go back to burden of proof and ask Congressman Conyers (and soon a host of others perhaps).

    I am not trying to make excuses for gross behavior, etc. I am just trying to understand the new rules in play and if any and all past behavior must now fall under the purview of such new rules. And yes, I agree, showing up at the door to great a visitor while wearing no clothes is gross, for sure.

    Not trying to start a fight. But agree, again, we must all tread carefully in this new social minefield. Think about how you would react if your son was involved is one of these incidents.

    Anson

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    • Anonymous

       /  November 27, 2017

      Anson,

      It’s really pretty simple defining such, according to the E.E.O.C., you are guilty of Sexual harassment if:

      Sexual Harassment
      It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
      Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
      Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
      Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
      The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

      *Note the disclaimer that stipulates as to when it becomes illegal, on frequency or severity.

      If you go further and actually initiate contact, then the DOJ says you have committed sexual assault if:

      Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

      *Note that neither definitions specify whether the offender is male or female, it doesn’t matter nor should it.

      This is a matter of personal responsibility, something you conservatives shout with the enthusiasm of a jihadist shouting “Allah Akbar”. These are known laws, if you violate them, expect consequences. Whether it is you or your son, matters not. The evidence will be weighed in each instance, and a fair jury will consider all. I wouldn’t try to sell the jury that I dated teenagers in my 30’s, but not as young as 14, or that I didn’t recall groping them, because that dog won’t hunt.

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      • This is a matter of personal responsibility, something you conservatives shout with the enthusiasm of a jihadist shouting “Allah Akbar”.

        In my experience, when Republicans claim to be “the party of personal responsibility”, what they mean is that Jimmy Carter is personally responsible for everything bad that happened to America between August of 1974 and August of 1992, Bill Clinton is personally responsible for everything bad that happened to America between August of 1992 and August of 2005, and Barack HUSSEIN is personally responsible for everything bad that has happened to America since then.

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  November 28, 2017

    Anonymous,

    Thanks for listing “something”. And of course the items listed are vague enough for any good lawyer to drive a truck through, driving in either direction I might add. Franken said it correctly. Given the allegations there is nothing he can say now to “regain the public trust”. I would add Conyers to that mix now as he has been accused of 1. using tax $ to “settle” a sexual case and 2. greeting a woman at his door while wearing only underwear. I would also add that I would no more vote for Moore (or trump) than fly to the moon simply because they are sleazy men, period. But I can’t make that case in a court of law.

    My concern is simple. Throughout my professional career I wanted to be able to do my own job “right” and get others to do the same. The tools I was taught, and learned, was holding myself and others accountable for mistakes. Holding people accountable gets harder and harder today. As well my sense of a mistake made might well be very different from yours. Thus my efforts to hold someone accountable would be wrong in the first place, much less the manner in which I tried to hold them accountable.

    One of the great problems in education today is holding students accountable for what to me seem like grievous errors on their part. You might disagree, strongly, with just that assessment, on an individual basis, and raise unholy hell against me. Sex and race are now very much a part of that disagreement if I tried to hold you “accountable” in a workplace. How can one defend himself when accused of taking disciplinary action just because the discipline was directed against a “minority”. “You did THAT to me because I am a woman, black, etc.” Lost in that argument is the “fact” that the person actually did something wrong and someone was trying to “straighten them out”.

    I learned long ago to accept arguments used by those against my actions in the workplace because I was too “tough, demanding, etc.”. But I have no idea how to defend myself publicly if someone called me a racist, a womanizer, you name it and went back to say 1965 to make their point. Once so accused, today, well no words will regain the public trust, it seems and both sides of the aisle are going to be fighting that massive “public disdain”, when what they really “might” have done (or at least tried to do) is simply “chew someone out” in an attempt to get them to do their (damned) jobs.

    I actually felt sorry for Pelosi recently in her attempts to try to diminish the arguments against Conyer and Duane’s seemingly trying to say Franken is not as bad as Moore. Rose showed up naked at the door but Conyers still had on his underwear is not a very good rebuttal today. And yes, Moore is ten times as bad as Franken, but ………..

    Anson

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  5. Anonymous

     /  November 28, 2017

    Anson,

    Nobody is going to be convicted of sexual harassment unless the incident is severe or frequent, plain and simple. The charge of sexual assault is defined by the DOJ in 2 sentences. A “good” lawyer might use character assassination, obfuscation, or whatever means necessary to defend his client and succeed in his efforts. Victims realize this, and are often hesitant to bring charges for those reasons. What is astounding is conservatives find no fault with electing a president with more accusers than any other politician, past or present.

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  6. Anonymous

     /  November 29, 2017

    What is interesting in the reckoning taking place regarding sexual assault and harassment is that business organizations like CBS, NBC, PBS, etc. have terminated alleged violators before any legal proceedings. Apparently they do not fear unjustly firing an employee that could possibly be proven innocent of such allegations. They do not fear a lawsuit, or possibly falsely accusing a possibly innocent man it would seem.

    It would seem the “liberal” in the media are not claiming the victims to be liars as conservatives Trump & Moore have done. I’m sure Pat Robertson will tell you Trump/Moore are good Christians whose faith is being tested. Ahem, bullshit. The liberal media as conservatives describe it, is not morally or financially afraid of the slippery slope based on their employees assertions, victim belief, or desire to be associated with such conduct.

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  7. ansonburlingame

     /  November 29, 2017

    Good exchanges, Anonymous. Be assured that I don’t want “sleazy men” governing any more than you (or your wife) would want.

    I reference an “old” book entitled “The Dark Side of Camelot”, a rendition of all the “womanizing” (among other things) that took place during the JFK years in WH (and before). NO ONE considered a WaPost story in the early 60’s of what probably went on in the White House swimming pool or the “fact” that Jackie was so fed up with JFK’s sexual proclivities that she left him during the Cuban Crisis. Today, just imagine such a story about trump and how everyone would react. Both men were probably cut out of the same sexual fabric and we could add Bill C to that list as well, probably. Hell even our 90 plus year old former president now in a wheel chair is getting such mud slung in his direction. Is that helping America, or ………

    It seems to me that the best “tool” to oppose political efforts is one of “character assassination” today. Make allegations of someone being a sleaze bag (do we all agree what that entails, today) and you stand a much better chance of achieving a political goal than simply opposing “policies”. I emphasis that my experience in such matters is very limited. But I saw, at least twice, where “policy” arguments were carried forward (by different unions) through attempts (though unsuccessful) to challenge someone’s personal character. No, I was not so personally challenged but I saw others suffer, without real cause, such unfounded allegations.

    One other point, the WaPost story that broke on Moore, a real sleaze bag, no doubt in my mind. I wrote herein about an exchange, a year ago I had with Bob Woodward wherein he said the “Media was now going to General Quarters”. How true that is as viewed a year later.

    The WaPost admitted that “they” sought out the women now accusing Moore. The women did not come forward on their own. It took reporters literally it seems, “knocking on doors” to find “dirt”. Do you wonder, like me, how many doors they knocked upon and were told “go away” before they found what they were looking for, personal dirt of the worst sort.

    From age 19 until I was “retired” at age 57 or so, I lived under the threat of intense (to a degree at least) of government actions to knock on doors in every neighborhood in which I ever lived, since birth. I held Top Secret (and above) clearances throughout my professional years (Even a Secret clearance in college!!) and knew I was being subjected to intense, personal scrutiny by “law enforcement”/”government”. It is not “fun” to be subjected to such but it was simply a part of my professional life.

    Today the press fills that role as well. to a significant degree enabled by today’s technology. Hell you even write “anonymously” for reasons that I don’t challenge, but don’t particularly like as I feel that what is said “publicly” should bear the name of the writer. Such “anonymity”, legal anonymity, can be broken apart by the press is in flash today.

    I can also assert that during all my professional career I had a “clean record”, clean enough to gain access to highly classified material, back then, at least. But did I ever get drunk at a wardroom party, even pat some navy wife (other than my own) on the ass or pull some other social misdeed that today would leave me unemployed? Bet your bippy (ass) I did and could now be called a sleaze bag by a political opponent. today. Hell I still get called a racist just in this blog and if you go back to the 1950’s your could make your point in an allegation.

    Finally, I wonder how many heads rolled during the French (or Bolshevic) revolution based on allegations alone. Dangerous stuff, to me and I worry just how far it might go, in America, today.

    On the other hand, I don’t try to argue with you (or Duane) on these points. I only urge caution as character assassination takes on a whole new meaning and approach, politically, today. A whole new swamp, it seems to me, with unintended consequences embedded therein if we are not very careful.

    Anson

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  8. ansonburlingame

     /  November 29, 2017

    Just after posting the above, my wife informed me that Garrison Keiller (spl?) had just been fired due to sexual matters. Know him, the kind “gentleman” long on some popular radio broadcast and recently a columnist in Globe.

    As I said, just how far must all this go, I wonder?

    Anson

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    • Anonymous

       /  November 29, 2017

      Anson,

      There are statutes of limitations on such crimes. Even the pedophile Moore cannot be prosecuted as the time limit is 10 years or until the child reaches 21 years of age. Wrong in my opinion, that a child must attain the courage prior to age 21 to publicly accuse a sitting justice, the psychological damage caused by such should not require a time limit. But on all adult cases, there are statutes that must be met, which vary by state.

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      • Anonymous

         /  November 29, 2017

        Anson,

        Sorry, I misspoke, there are no statute of limitations on sex with a 14 year old in Alabama. The ten years or adult age was in Kansas, not Alabama.

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  9. ansonburlingame

     /  November 30, 2017

    Anonymous, again,

    Of course I am not writing about legal remedies in such matters. I am only addressing how we now handle “allegations”, things that destroy careers, reputations, marriages, life in general, without solid, legal proof of malfeasance, actually allegations of malfeasance.

    I offer the Trevon Martin matter. His killer was tried and convicted herein and elsewhere long before any trial. My reaction to the killing was wait and see what happens in court. Then of course “the courts were wrong” was the popular reaction. I of course always “thought” OJ was guilty, as sin, but I joined no chorus of disdain against him, then or now. I accept the rule of law in almost all cases simply because I can find no other reliable system to judge guilt or innocence, no matter what I may “think” about the matter.

    Sure, I know that courts (and politics) make mistakes. Our current President is a classic and historical example. Bad as he might be, and I think he is really BAD, I am not ready to lynch him by mob violence or “dirty tricks” playing out in the political arena.

    You see, Anonymous, I don’t “trust” any party, any political “group”, etc., today. That is very different from how I was raised and how I lived my professional life in the military. I “trusted my government” back then. Today I don’t, either side or party. What a sad state of affairs that has become in MY country and yes, it scares me, a lot, as I consider how my grand children will live and prosper (or not) in the future.

    I am simply looking for leaders today that I can trust and would be willing to literally “lay my life on the line” to protect and defend a system that “used” to work pretty well.

    And now I will go read Duane’s latest about how the GOP is determined to “kill Americans” with a tax bill. OMG!!

    Anson

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    • Anonymous

       /  November 30, 2017

      Anson,

      The organizations that have fired prominent men have done so after hearing both sides of the issue. They have consulted with their in-house legal department, Human Resources, and top executives and made the determination that firing them is the appropriate remedy. When you’re paying a man $20 per year, you can bet it’s not a decision taken lightly.

      For you or anyone to second guess their decision is an issue that has legal remedy. If you feel you have been wrongly accused, there are a plethora of attorneys that would be willing to take your case. I don’t expect you will see this occur because of the amount of evidence coming to such a decision requires. But the option is still there for any such person that feels wrongly accused, particularly for prominent men.

      George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, plain and simple. Killing is not an easy thing to live with, and I think George & OJ’s life has been hell since, and will continue so until they die. Appropriate, and I can live with that. You make decisions in life,for whatever reason, and you will have to live by the results of those decisions even if it destroys careers, marriages, and reputations. It’s personal responsibility, as you so often cite.

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    • Butting in here, I will say this about the OJ case and Zimmerman case. I was upset by both for the same reason. Biased juries let guilty men get away with horrible crimes. And all of us should scream like hell when that happens. People on juries have a duty to justice to leave, as best they can, their prejudices outside the courtroom. As much as I despise Donald Tr-mp, I want justice even for him. 

      Duane

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  10. ansonburlingame

     /  November 30, 2017

    We certainly agree about how to handle trump, legally. Where I disagree, however, is when juries decide cases and appeals are complete, I accept the outcome, like it or not. Of course when OJ later crashed and burned, well that “pleased me”. Zimmerman will do the same that then will be the time to “get revenge” as well. As well I will listen to constructive comments on HOW to change the legal system. But not revolution in the streets for me at least unless someone first figures out how to do it so ALL Americans benefit!!

    trump, legally, I’ll just have to wait and see, and read you blog to see if it makes “legal sense” to me. I have yet to hear any proof (yet) that would stand up in court, but allegations, they are all over the place.

    AB

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  11. The stepson of the woman accuser of Judge Roy Moore has said that his stepmother is a liar. Search out the information and you will see that that is true. So should we believe a lying woman? How much was she paid? Why didn’t she come forward earlier? This is political.

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    • The stepson of the woman accuser of Judge Roy Moore has said that his stepmother is a liar. Search out the information and you will see that that is true.

      [citation desperately needed]

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    • Cheryl,

      I don’t know if Cheryl Jones is your real name. I also don’t know whether you are a Russian troll or simply a fact-averse fundamentalist Christian who supports Roy Moore.

      The link you provided goes to a ridicule-worthy website whose primary, if not only, contributor appears to be someone going by the name of Sorcha Faal. No one with a brain, though, believes Sorcha Faal is a real person. Rational Wiki believes it is a man named David Booth, a conspiracist so kooky that other kooky conspiracists don’t respect him.

      So, whoever you are, I suggest you rethink your allegiances, whether to Russia or a nasty version of God (or both), and pledge some allegiance, however attenuated, to the facts, as best we can know them.

      Sincerely,

      Duane

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