Delusion becomes fact in the political world of a modern GOP?‘dictator’

July 24 ,2024

This is the fourth commentary in a series examining Niccolo Machiavelli’s analysis of challenges facing free governments, past and present, and his admonitions regarding the steps needed to preserve critical institutions.
Samuel Damren

This is the fourth commentary in a series examining Niccolo Machiavelli’s analysis of challenges facing free governments, past and present, and his admonitions regarding the steps needed to preserve critical institutions.

The previous commentary discussed the “office of dictator” in ancient Rome.

The Roman Republic actually had such an office, but it was extremely limited in scope and duration; only put in place to respond to substantial and imminent threats when traditional political institutions were unable to do so.

When the threat was removed, the dictator stepped down and returned the Republic to its prior good order.  At least that was the model, according to Machiavelli, until Julius Caesar abused the office by leading an army with allegiance to him to threaten violence in the heart of the Republic thereby ending free government in ancient Rome.

The previous commentary concluded noting Donald Trump’s statement in a Fox News town hall meeting in April that he wanted to be “dictator for a day” after his possible election as President this November.  He later “walked the comment back” in a Time Magazine interview saying the comment was a “joke.”

The subject of this commentary poses the follow-up question: If not as future dictator, what role does Trump occupy in current politics and is there any parallel to that role in political history?

Trump is certainly not a “role model” even to supporters. On the eve of the Iowa caucuses, a middle-age Iowa woman, interviewed by an AP reporter, laughingly said that while she supported Trump, “I wouldn’t vote for him as my pastor.”

There are likely a substantial number of responsible roles that other supporters would also not want Trump to fill in their personal lives.

Notwithstanding, supporters enthusiastically embrace his “no holds barred” and “anything goes” approach to political practice, including incitements to violence which they discount because it is not aimed at them.  

Before Trump, a person with these flaws would have been automatically disqualified from any political role in America.  Those same flaws, however, would not be in the slightest disqualifying in 16th century Italy if the role in question was that of mercenary.  

Mercenaries or “condottieri” occupied a prominent position in the political structure of the time.  The five major city states (Florence, Milan, Naples, Rome and Venice) all hired mercenaries to initiate and defend periodic, but repeated, military advances against one another.

Machiavelli railed against their role in Italian politics believing they brought ruin to the legitimate interests of the populace at large and the city states in particular.  His critique of their injurious effect was threefold.

First, by definition, mercenaries are “men without any territory.”  As a result, they owe allegiance only to themselves and view the world from that vantage.  Their leaders mistrust everyone.  They conspire against supposed friends, allies, and employers; and, believe others continually conspire against them.

If it is to their advantage, mercenaries shift allegiance or undercut alliances formed by their employers without hesitation.

Second, mercenaries are only paid in times of war.  As a result, they encourage and prolong division among employing city states and foreign interests in lieu of pursuing peace.

Their greatest source of funds is through plunder from the sacking of the territories of adversaries. They can be bribed and also extort employers and the citizenry if that is to better advantage and less risky.

Third, by practicing only the “Art of War,” mercenaries have no knowledge or experience in governing except by bullying, threats, and violence.

Mercenaries are ruthless and cruel. They demand absolute loyalty from troops upon penalty of exile or a gruesome death.  When unchecked, they rule as tyrants.

Donald Trump is the portrait of the modern-day political mercenary.

He reduced the Republican Party from a democratic institution to mercenary troops who either support him, are expelled, or confront “political death.”  RNC funds have become his personal plunder.

As President and candidate, Trump extorts or connives with foreign powers to provide dirt on domestic opponents.  He continually churns division in our body politic to prevent the possibility of peaceful resolution.  

As all mercenaries do, Trump schemes.  He overlays conspiracy upon conspiracy in a form of destructive paranoia that leads him to proclaim delusion as fact.  

Five hundred years ago, Machiavelli reviewed the aftermath of a political world of free government broken by the princes and mercenaries of Italy.

It is that same world Donald Trump now offers to America.


Samuel Damren is an attorney and author in Ann Arbor.

Elites of yesterday and today exhibit need to be revered

July 10 ,2024

This is the second commentary in a series examining Niccolo Machiavelli’s analysis of the challenges facing just political institutions, past and present, and his admonitions regarding the steps needed to preserve their continuity.
Samuel Damren

This is the second commentary in a series examining Niccolo Machiavelli’s analysis of the challenges facing just political institutions, past and present, and his admonitions regarding the steps needed to preserve their continuity.

Machiavelli is a controversial figure from the Italian Renaissance. He combined political experience in the chancery of Florence with noted scholarship and literary skill. By the end of his life, Machiavelli enjoyed greater recognition across Italy as an accomplished dramatist and poet than for the political works for which he is known today.

One of Machiavelli’s original contributions to political theory, contained in “The Discourses on the Ten Books of Livy,” concerns discord. Contrary to the accepted views of other contemporary historians, Machiavelli contended that “disturbances between nobles and the plebeians … were the primary cause of Roman liberty” in the Golden Age of the empire.

The assertion arose from Machiavelli’s more generalized observation that “in every republic there are two different tendencies, that of the people and that of the upper class, and that all of the laws which are passed in favor of liberty are born from the rift between the two.”

In the ancient Roman republic, that “rift” resulted in the creation of separate consuls and tribunes: one selected by Senate nobles and the other selected by a plebeian assembly. These officials could exercise power in enforcing and proposing laws, but they also could obstruct the powers of one another.  

As a consequence, Machiavelli argued that the “people” and the “upper class” were forced to debate, discuss, and productively negotiate proposed laws to the satisfaction of each other. The process was not simply the product of acknowledged mutual dependency.

To ensure the integrity of the process, tribunes were granted the “power to indict citizens … when they commit any kind of offense against free government” as well as the complementary power “to punish those who make false accusations.”    

These powers were routinely exercised during the period where Machiavelli conceived Rome as the “perfect republic.” Without such institutional powers, factions would be permitted, and encouraged, in Machiavelli’s view, to corrupt forums of government where “wise men” had the opportunity to bring just resolution to political discord.

Machiavelli places significant blame for the erosion of these values and the undermining of critical institutions in ancient Rome on the failure of succeeding emperors to place stewardship of the republic ahead of personal ambition. He is far more caustic in his literary denunciations of the desire of factions in Italy’s 16th century elites to be “worshipped” rather than govern and thereby “become stained with every sort of filth.”

In one of his famous plays, “The Art of War,” Machiavelli directs his protagonist, Fabrizio Colonna, to deride such “princes” –

“They believed it was sufficient to be able to think up a clever riposte … to display wit and quickness in speech; to know how to concoct a scam; to adorn oneself  with precious stones and gold; to slumber and dine in greater luxury than anyone else; to keep plentiful lascivious pleasures at hand; to treat one’s subjects with avarice and arrogance; to become enfeebled with indolence; to award military promotions in exchange for favors; to display contempt if anyone showed some praiseworthy way; and to want their words to be accepted as the responses of oracles.”

Similar disturbances in MAGA politics now work to corrupt American political institutions.

The next commentary in this series presents Machiavelli’s views on the Roman  office of dictator. And yes, they had such an office in ancient Rome; but no, it is  not what you think.


Samuel Damren is an attorney and author in Ann Arbor.

‘Second Look’ legislation can correct injustices in Michigan

May 22 ,2024

Over my 40-year legal career — with 20 of those years spent on the prosecution side — I’ve learned a lot about the role of extreme punishments in Michigan’s legal system.
Carol Siemon

Over my 40-year legal career — with 20 of those years spent on the prosecution side — I’ve learned a lot about the role of extreme punishments in Michigan’s legal system.

I firmly believe that the primary function of our criminal legal system is to ensure accountability and public safety. An overarching consideration and ethical requirement for prosecutors is making an effort to achieve justice, and that means justice for everyone: the community, the victim, the victim’s family and friends, the accused, and the people in the accused’s life.

That’s why I’m proud to support Michigan’s Second Look Sentencing Act. This legislation would allow incarcerated people to petition their judge for a reduction of their sentence after serving at least 10 years if they are found to no longer pose a risk to the community.

Some have the mistaken idea that the longer someone is incarcerated, the “more” justice there is. Far too often, our criminal legal system conflates concepts of public safety and accountability with incarceration.

Extreme, lengthy prison sentences, particularly in such large numbers, produce diminishing returns on public safety.

Nevertheless, Michigan continues to use long-term incarceration and punishment in the promise of more community safety.

I believe that there are some individuals who will never be able to be safely released into the community. When I reviewed individuals eligible for parole as an elected prosecutor, about 38% of the time, I wrote letters opposing parole due to what I

believed to be their continued danger to the victim or society, or due to their incomplete rehabilitation.

Instead, research and the experiences in other states and countries with less punitive systems shows that extreme sentences disproportionately impact the most marginalized individuals in our society. That includes persons of color, especially Black Americans.

In Michigan, 68% of the people serving life and long-term sentences of 50 years or more are

African American. These unnecessarily long sentences tear apart families and cause ripple effects of trauma that make it more likely that the children of incarcerated persons will become involved with the criminal legal system.

Our culture in the United States is uniquely punitive.

Other countries find that they can safely allow incarcerated persons to re-enter society after 15 years or less by utilizing exceptionally well-trained corrections staff, focusing on what is needed for rehabilitation, and keeping incarcerated individuals connected with their families and communities as much as possible.

Of course, even those countries do have provisions for keeping incarcerated those few individuals who continue to pose a substantial risk of causing harm or committing new crimes.

Unfortunately, because we have created a culture that promotes the idea that justice is the same thing as long prison sentences, that is sometimes what victims and their loved ones expect.

For decades, the two most frequent comments I heard from victims were: “I want to know why they chose me or my child to victimize,” and “I want to help make sure they don’t do it to someone else.”

Often, “not doing it to someone else” means they want the person who caused the harm to get needed help, including therapy, support for their families, and meaningful opportunities to heal and truly be rehabilitated.

Lost in the punishment paradigm are the very important voices of victims who truly want a system that rehabilitates and provides a second chance. Lost is the success that other jurisdictions have with shorter sentences and increased options for

review and possible release. Lost are the voices of those who want us to invest some of the huge expenses associated with long sentences to instead provide meaningful healing resources for victims, their families, and for the defendants’ families too.

Michigan’s criminal legal system has too narrowly interpreted what “justice” actually means for the entire society. A more humane, effective system would provide a wide variety of potential options that can be more effective in actually addressing current harm and preventing future harm.

The Second Look Sentencing Act would be a significant step in the right direction, and I urge Michigan legislators to pass this important legislation.


Carol Siemon is the former Ingham County Prosecutor.

A time for change

May 01 ,2024

It has been more than 30 years since the Michigan legislature imposed “caps” on medical malpractice cases. Since that time there have been only a few challenges to the law.
A. Vince Colella
Moss &?Colella P.C.

It has been more than 30 years since the Michigan legislature imposed “caps” on medical malpractice cases. Since that time there have been only a few challenges to the law. In fact, the paucity of challenges is rather curious, especially given the rather flimsy constitutional grounds on which the law sits.

Putting aside the legal merit of limiting recovery on damages, from a public policy perspective, it just doesn’t make sense. In the late 1980s early 1990s, when states were adopting laws capping damages on mistakes made by doctors and hospitals, studies over the following decades suggested that the industry-proclaimed “health crisis” was not rooted in reality and was likely the product of fear mongering to lower insurance premiums for health care
professionals and limit exposure to legitimate claims of injury and death related to sub-standard health care.

For example, one study from the Center for Justice Democracy at New York Law School found “indisputable” evidence that “caps” on damages in medical malpractice cases (euphemistically referred to as “tort-reform”) produced more medical errors and higher health care costs.

Perhaps more importantly, the study determined that the adoption of damage caps did not increase the number of physicians, shattering the myth that doctors were unable to enter the practice of medicine due to the high cost of insurance and exposure to significant jury verdicts.

Still, notwithstanding data to the contrary regarding them, Michigan joined a number of other states in the passing of reform placing caps on damages. Following the legislative enactment, medical malpractice cases began to percolate through the appellate system centered on the constitutionality of the new law. In Zdrojewski v Murphy, the first appellate panel to address the issue — in an unpublished opinion — the court embraced the propaganda of a “perceived crises in the health care system” and found the public policy for “reducing medical malpractice liability” (the purported impetus behind the law) was sufficient to pass constitutional muster.

While the special interest of protecting doctors and their insurance carriers from having to be held fully accountable for medical errors influenced one panel of judges, the Court of Appeals quickly reversed course. In Wiley v Henry Ford Cottage (a published opinion) the court was outwardly critical of its predecessor opinion and re-emphasized Michigan’s Constitutional guarantee to a trial by jury did not end at determining liability but extended to the determination of damages. The Wiley court aptly pointed out that the fatal flaw in the Zdrojewski opinion was that the existence of a medical malpractice claim is not a creature of the legislation, therefore not subject to legislative abolishment.

In other words, “while the Legislature may take away what it has given, it may not take away what the Constitution has given.” The fundamental unfairness of the caps is simple: arbitrarily reducing the amount of damages awarded by a jury handicaps its ability to provide full justice.

Unfortunately, the Wiley decision did not stand. Under the steady hand of a Michigan Supreme Court regime criticized for wreaking havoc on the rights of personal injury victims, Justice Clifford Taylor penned an opinion that would lead to three decades of discounted justice. Interestingly, the case that cemented the constitutionality of medical malpractice caps did not involve medical malpractice!

In Phillips v Mirac, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether a statutory damage cap on lessors of automobiles, (i.e., rental cars, for injury caused by the negligent operation of the vehicle) was constitutional. In Phillips, the Supreme Court demonstrated its keen ability to perform the legal gymnastics of a proper constitutional analysis while pivoting toward a retrofitted opinion that protected the economic interests of the insurance industry. In finding caps to be constitutional, the court provided statutory examples of limitations on recovery. Of course, none of the anecdotal illustrations involved pure common law causes of action independent of statutory origin.
Conspicuously absent from Justice Taylor’s opinion in Phillips is any reference, analysis, dissection or even mention of the Wiley decision. Perhaps in her dissent, Justice Elizabeth Weaver said it best: “No industry should be allowed to shift its burden of responsibility and accountability to the shoulders of the severely injured merely because it claims to be in crisis.”

The time is now. Caps on damages have the ulterior consequence of de-incentivizing doctors to behave carefully. Lowering the risk of malpractice lawsuits weakens the deterrent factor necessary to maintain responsible care, judgement and decision making of medical professionals. A jury verdict is not an “award” or “compensation,” these are terms associated with things we achieve or earn. Rather, a verdict is a monetary measurement of human suffering. The idea that caps lower insurance premium costs, increases the number of health professionals and creates greater access to health care has been debunked.

The only true consequence of placing a cap on recovery for those who have had the unfortunate experience of unimaginable suffering due to mistakes made by doctors and hospitals is cheating victims of their right to fully recover what has been lost or destroyed.


A. Vince Colella is a co-founder of personal injury and civil rights law firm Moss & Colella.

The ripple effect: A look back at Mayfield v. ASC Inc.

April 10 ,2024

Years ago, I attended an American Bar Association Conference held in Beverly Hills, California.
JJ Conway

Years ago, I attended an American Bar Association Conference held in Beverly Hills, California. One of the speakers was Jay Foonberg, Esq., a marketing guru in the legal profession. Foonberg was a real character. He said a lot that day. One of the things I remember is that he referred to his law degree as a “magic carpet.” He carried the example even further saying that when he kneeled on it, it took him to places he could never imagine. I thought it was a funny line, maybe a bit wacky. As time has marched on, I am beginning to realize just how right Foonberg was. His magic carpet analogy just keeps coming back to me as I look back at some of our clients’ cases that shaped the law and served to help others in a tangible way.

Mayfield v. ASC Incorporated Health & Welfare Benefits Plan (E.D. Mich. 2007) was one such case. The case would have otherwise been a routine healthcare denial but for the person who brought it. Christopher J. Mayfield was a dynamic salesperson with an infectious enthusiasm for life. He brimmed with optimism and punctuated every observation with a huge smile and hearty laugh. As lawyers, we know there are some clients whose call we would take anywhere, anytime. Chris was one of those clients.

He and his wife, Liz, an impressive person in her own work life, had a son who was struggling during the early stages of his development. The child’s actions suggested that he was having difficulty communicating and making sustained eye contact.

The couple sought out help from the child’s medical providers. They were informed along the away that their son, in all likelihood, had autism spectrum disorder. The condition was on the rise, and statistically the number of cases among toddlers was growing rapidly– 1 out of 150, 1 out of 100, 1 out of 60.

Still, there was no known cause and no known cure.

The couple began researching treatment options and seeking out the advice of medical providers. What they found was that young children receiving a decades-old therapy known as Applied Behavioral Analysis — or ABA — showed progress in establishing improved communication abilities and independent living skills. For those children on the spectrum who were higher functioning, ABA held the promise to help those children’s functional abilities become almost indistinguishable from children without autism.

As promising as ABA therapy was, there was a dearth of treatment centers. And because the signs of autism tended to surface around 18 months, which coincided with the age for administering the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, the internet was awash in misinformation. This was a perfect setting for health insurers to exploit. Medical plans reflexively denied all claims for ABA therapy by labeling it “experimental” or “investigative.” That meant that ABA treatment, which was costly, could be denied under the general exclusions section that appear in all health insurance contracts.

The problem with this reason for the denial for the Mayfields was that they saw real gains in their son’s abilities. Their son’s ABA therapy, which sometimes involved 40 hours per week of intensive work, was showing real functional improvements. And the setting where the therapy took place was safe – it was kid-friendly but also had sufficient clinical controls and was overseen by top-notch physicians on staff with a major medical center.

The Mayfields also noticed what later became known as the “parking lot problem.”  The cars in the ABA treatment center parking lots tended to be expensive cars suggesting that care was available for those with means, not those without. At the time, the cost for ABA therapy was as much as a year of college tuition with room and board — and there was no 529 plan to tap. In other words, without insurance coverage, parents were paying college-tuition size bills for therapy being provided to two-year-olds.

The Mayfields resolved to fight the denials and fight them hard. They asked me to go and observe the ABA treatment of their son. They set up interviews with ABA experts. They made arrangements for me to receive a crash course on the therapy’s efficacy by doctors who provided me with studies and literature that would allow us to challenge the underlying basis for the denial. So, we went to heart of the denial — was ABA therapy really still in its experimental stages as the insurers alleged? There was so much research showing it was an established mainstream treatment that the old studies were embarrassingly shallow.

The Mayfield’s case was 100 percent evidence based. They kept it data-driven by design.

After all the internal administrative appeals, litigation, and ultimately a federal court hearing, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor’s order in their case was elegantly simple. She overruled the insurance company, threw out the exclusion as applied to ABA therapy, and ordered the treatment covered. She ruled the therapy was proven, mainstream, and effective. It was a brief, terse ruling. But this brief order was like throwing a stone in water, as it would have real implications for the rights of children with autism and their parents in the coming years.

The Mayfield case led to many cases seeking ABA therapy on both an individual and class-wide basis (which will be discussed in a future column). But the universal takeaway is that a lawyer should listen and learn from their clients.

No one knows a case better than the client, even a case involving purely medical evidence, and there is an extremely valuable knowledge base there. The idea of listening, learning, and incorporating those ideas into a case makes for a winning strategy and rewarding lifelong relationship.


John Joseph (J.J.) Conway is an
employee benefits and ERISA attorney and litigator and founder of J.J. Conway Law in Royal Oak.

Global crises warrant more than just faint media attention

April 03 ,2024

We’ll begin with an unfair, unjust and ugly truth: Once again, the world is condemning Israel for the war in Gaza, while ignoring other disasters, some much worse, around the globe.
Berl Falbaum

We’ll begin with an unfair, unjust and ugly truth: Once again, the world is condemning Israel for the war in Gaza, while ignoring other disasters, some much worse, around the globe.

Not only does the world give Hamas a pass -- the war would be over immediately if the terrorist organization laid down its arms -- but it expresses little anger or concern over other global humanitarian crises.  
Here are just a few facts as reported by various sources:

--In the Sudan, conflict has produced “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent years,” says the U.N. Three million children have been displaced, more than the entire population in Gaza. More than 70,000 are facing malnutrition.

--Nearly seven million people have been displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, amid accusations of mass killings.

--In Yemen, 250,000 have died in conflicts with 20 million needing assistance.

--In the Central African Republic, nearly 6 percent of the total population, it is estimated, died in 2022.

In Ukraine -- remember Ukraine? -- Russia is executing thousands of civilians and has abducted ten of thousands of children.

London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies states in its latest study there were 183 conflicts in the world in 2023.

This hypocrisy, of course, is not new. Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been the victim of a double-standard, fighting several wars initiated by neighboring Arabs states determined to destroy the Jewish state and has been the victim of countless terrorist attacks.

Regrettably, little can be done to change that reality -- as unfair as that may be.

It is futile for Israel and its supporters to argue that civilians die in all wars, indeed, generally in greater numbers than those in the military. Yes, the Allies deliberately leveled several German and Japanese cities, killing tens of thousands in World War II, and two million died in Vietnam. Do we need mention the two A-bombs?

But yelling “hypocrisy,” “unfair,” or “Hamas uses civilians as shields,” while all true, is a waste of political energy, and does nothing to quell the critics’ voices. Worse, arguing that others have committed humanitarian disasters as well does not alleviate guilt, it exacerbates it. We don’t accept the “Johnnie did it too” excuse from our children. And, as Jews, we have always put a premium on human life, even the lives of our enemies.

I have written about the world’s hypocrisy in previous columns, but the debate over Gaza must be broader and more encompassing; it cannot just end there.

Not only has Israel failed in effectively refuting unjust charges, but it has given fodder to critics with fiery, insensitive and inciteful language.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have inflamed the political rhetoric and hatred directed at Israel.

They have brazenly ignored the plight of Gazans and used provocative language in pledging to continue its miliary operations, the critics be damned.

Israel’s uncompromising stance has put undue pressure on President Biden, Israel’s important, prominent and invaluably ally. Indeed, Biden has endangered his reelection with his support of Israel.   

A display of diplomacy and expression of sympathy for the loss of civilian lives surely would have been welcomed by some, particularly those who understand Israel’s conundrum but find themselves politically pressured to join the unending chorus of criticism aimed at Israel.

As a result, Israel is becoming more isolated daily and eventually may pay a price in cancelled economic pacts, strained relationships with allies, loss of vital intelligence gathering with other countries, impairment of partnerships in dealing with Iran and its proxies and other serious repercussions.

It could have much different if, for instance, Netanyahu had addressed the world, and Gazans in particular, with understanding along the following lines:

“We grieve the death of innocent civilians. It is heartbreaking and gut-wrenching.  We did not choose this war. Indeed, thousands of Gazans crossed the border daily to work in Israel; we had programs to take sick civilians to our hospitals.
We had hoped that when we left Gaza in 2005, we could live side-by-side in peace.

“We hoped that Hamas would use the billions of dollars it received in aid to build an infrastructure that would improve the lives of Gazans with educational, medical, and other vital services. Instead, it built tunnels in preparation of this conflict.

“Hamas chose war on October 7 with a savage attack and butchery that was unimaginable. There was no war October 6 and there doesn’t have to be a war tomorrow. All Hamas had to do is lay down its arms.

“It was another Israeli prime minister, Golda Meir, who said, ‘We can forgive [you] for killing our children. But we cannot forgive [you] for forcing us to kill your children.’

“To the Gazans I say, Israel prays this war will end soon, and we will do what we can to restore Gaza and pledge to help you rebuild your lives.”

If Netanyahu had only displayed more statesmanship and did not cater to the baser instincts of some of his ministers and his far-right constituency. And he could have -- nay, should have -- provided much needed humanitarian aid for civilians.

Netanyahu’s political opportunism has cost Israel dearly. As New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman observed:

“I am seeing an increasingly rapid erosion of Israel’s standing among friendly nations -- a level of acceptance and legitimacy that was painstakingly built over decades.”

Now the question becomes: Can that acceptance and legitimacy be restored?


Berl Falbaum is a veteran political journalist and author.