Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist



I was preparing for my new job as legal liaison for the American Bar Association’s Central and East European Law Initiative (ABA/CEELI) in Serbia, one of the remaining republics of the former Yugoslavia after its breakup. That required some new clothes. At a little boutique in Ashland, Oregon, the young clerk who was helping me asked about my upcoming travels. When I told him where I was going, he surprisingly knew something about recent Balkan history, specifically the five years of war that divided the country geographically along ethnic lines. When he pronounced “That could never happen here,” I realized he didn’t know so much about U.S. history. “But it already has,” I informed him, reminding him of our Civil War.

My main job in Serbia was to find ways to support a handful of judges who had defied the authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milosevic, which bore primary responsibility for the years of war. Cities throughout the country had just voted in the opposition to Milosevic’s rule. Never one to shy away from electoral manipulation, Milosevic sued and the court overturned the results. But the citizens were tired of his autocratic ways which had proved disastrous for the country, so they took to the streets in massive numbers — and stayed there for three months in the winter despite freezing temperatures. Five courageous higher court judges supported them, publishing an open letter that showed how Milosevic’s actions were illegal and violated the constitution. With the judicial support and demonstrators’ persistence, Milosevic backed down and the opposition took over in Serbia’s major cities.* 

More than two decades later, the U.S. is immersed in a similar situation. We’re facing an election that many fear will not reflect the people’s vote, an election where the winner (if it is not the current inhabitant of the White House) may refuse to concede. Moreover, our judiciary is losing its independence. Trump and McConnell have appointed 216** judges of their political persuasion. And now, they will take the opportunity to appoint another ideologue to the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court. 

I am reminded of a speech I gave to a conference of the nascent Serbian independent Judges Association. I congratulated them on their achievement (several hundred judges had joined by this point) and added these fateful words: “Someday we may need your help to maintain the independence of our judiciary.” While I knew our judiciary wasn’t perfect and reflected class and race biases, I never thought it would become the puppet of one political party.

We are experiencing a nonviolent coup, where a minority has persistently acted to take control of our government — all three branches: the Executive, the Senate, and the Judiciary. While the House stands apart, its power is hamstrung by the Senate that walks in lockstep with the President. Where are those Serbs when you need them? Sadly, they are experiencing a return to nationalism. Those still fighting for independence have their hands full and cannot come to our aid.

There’s an ill wind blowing around the earth. Despite deep feelings of despair and hopelessness, we have no choice but to continue fighting. I am not an optimist, but I know that change is a constant. I am also reminded that in Serbia’s darkest days, citizens were encouraged by their young people. And their youth never gave up. They ousted a dictator. I am also reminded of what I said to a Serbian colleague when he was despairing, “Democracy and human rights are never permanently won. We must get up each day and fight for them anew.” And so we must.




* Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. Milosevic triggered another war in Kosovo and hung on for five more years. In 2000, the citizens voted him out of office and followed up with mass demonstrations. Within a matter of months, the reform prime minister shipped him off to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, where he died from a heart attack on March 11, 2006 before the trial could be completed.

** As of September 17, 2020





Waiting for Time to Pass

I remember standing in my Den Haag flat, staring out the balcony doors, seeing nothing. I was wishing for time to pass, for the endless days of a trial I was monitoring to finally end so I could go home. I’d been at the Tribunal three long years, and there was no end in sight. I missed my partner, friends, and family. I missed Oregon’s giant fir trees and its scrubby pines. Den Haag was a sweet village with cobbled and bricked roads, canals, boutiques, museums, cafes. It was not a hardship post like Belgrade. But I wanted time to pass. It struck me how appalling it was to wish my years to pass more quickly, for what’s at the end but death. I didn’t want that. I wanted an imaginary future, where I was always happy, loving, and loved, where beauty abounded, life was interesting, I was never bored or burdened with other people’s sorrows.

It is now sixteen years later and I find myself wishing these days would pass, these days of confinement, of being locked down, locked away from friends and family. I’m older and there’s not so much time left. Will I yet sip cappuccino or Turkish coffee at Marino’s funky Bosnian café? Talk with Zoa for hours at Monti’s about politics, philosophy, and family, snacking on a blueberry almond scone? Will my favorite restaurants still exist? My precious Jade District is shut down and people are afraid of anything Asian, especially Chinese. Will we lose Ocean City, HK Café, and Pure Spice? Will my local farmers’ market, where we shop for fruit and veggies but also go to meet neighbors and listen to music, open as the crops come in? Will the crops come in? Who will harvest them?  Is there a visit to the Academy Theater in my future? Do I have a future? I have an “underlying medical condition” and I am over 65 (by quite a bit).  

I do not want to wish time to pass. There’s so little of it left. But I am not in prison. I am not surrounded by grey cement walls in a 6 X 10 foot cell. I am not confined in solitary. My beloved Kate is with me, as she was not in Den Haag. We have a lovely house (these days, it is well-lived in and I trip over stacks of books, shoes, and displaced chairs). Our refrigerator and freezer are finally getting cleaned out. Our pantry still holds nourishment and cookies. I can sit in my overstuffed chair patterned with books and read from the hundreds I have not yet read and reread any of those I cannot remember having read. Kate will always be here for dinner. We can walk together in our neighborhood and occasionally up Mt. Tabor when others stay home – a boon of all those rainy days. There is Britbox on our TV, though streaming is a challenge at times, as are most technical devices in my vicinity – the printer is broken, the computer has three dozen programs on it that won’t close, most of my photos are inaccessible, entire files vanish when I save them to my three terabyte thumb drive. (I think fondly of the old days when I just turned on the TV and a screen appeared. I could twist a knob and select from four channels, but then PBS only showed British mysteries and comedies on certain nights, not Friday evening at seven or whenever we have time and inclination to watch. Nothing is perfect.) I can watch the squirrels gobble up corn and sunflower seeds on our side porch, though I’ve run out of squirrel food and they’re not so fond of bird seed, of which I have 44 pounds. But then there are birds to watch. Kate, for the first time we’ve lived here, has planted a garden. Every day at least once she rushes outside to see whether any sprouts have pushed up their wee heads. She’s keeping worms in a compost bucket and assiduously cutting up veggie and fruit scraps. We have a few flowers. The tulips are up. The geraniums and primroses that wintered over continue to display their multicolored petals, while the jasmine drapes over the neighbors’ fence, safely dispensing fragrance through the air with no chance of carrying a virus (I don’t think). I saw a fat, black and white bumble bee the other day, foraging on the ground. I don’t know why. We are warm. We eat well. We have gloves and masks (bought several years ago for cleaning and preventing wildfire smoke inhalation).

A bounteous life. Why would anyone want time to pass quickly? We don’t know what May, June, or July will bring. We only always ever have today, now, this minute. A mix of abundance and loss. Today I am given the opportunity to observe and accept what is – with equanimity, and possibly joy. Am I up to it?


It’s only the latest. First there was my desktop computer. Then it was the new laptop. Before that, it was the television. And, of course, my cell phone. The latest is my printer/copier. None of them are fond of me. They find ways to disturb my peace and to make me sound like a raving maniac. Very successful, they are.

Confession first. I am a Luddite. I miss my electric typewriter. I miss a landline. I miss a television with only four channels and a dial. I called the first computer I used “Murphy” after Murphy’s law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong). You young folks keep “improving” technology, then try to explain it to us Luddites from another era using your tech terms that make instructions read like Mandarin or Gaelic spoken backward. I do not live with anyone under the age of 40. I do not have an IT person at my beck and call. I’m on my own with changes (should I mention that I hate Microsoft 10?) and glitches and major breakdowns. Now, without the ability to take a device to someone with tech expertise, I’m really on my own—an unhappy prospect for my partner who must listen to me rant and rave. I haven’t yet destroyed anything.

Which brings me to the latest breakdown. My printer/copier. It was working fine until I tried to stop it in the middle of a print job. It didn’t like it. Though it eventually started again, it didn’t last long. Soon, I got the dreaded flashing light and ERROR MESSAGE: “An error has occurred. The printer needs repair. Turn the device off and unplug the power cord from the power supply [i.e. electric outlet]. Then see the manual and contact the service center.”

I looked through the entire 100 page manual but found no advice for this problem. The service center was closed. I went on-line and watched several videos, showing me how to fix this particular problem, one video was in German. In another, a very pleasant woman demonstrated a trick, which unfortunately didn’t work for me. She suggested the company programs this error into their printers so that people will buy new ones (assuming we would be stupid enough to buy the same brand!). My favorite video was by a fellow who started by laying out the tools I would need, beginning with a bottle of beer. So far so good. Then, a screwdriver, an electric screwdriver, and a hammer. He proceeded to take a swig of beer, then to unscrew parts of the printer. I was a little disconcerted when he took the beer outside, then returned for the printer which he placed in his firepit. He opened the printer cover and poured beer all over it. Next, he walked over to a woodpile and selected a large log and proceeded to smash it on top of the computer. He wasn’t done. He picked up the hammer and struck the printer over and over and over until it was a jumble of plastic and he was well satisfied. He finished the beer.

I haven’t been that brave yet, but I do have a hammer.

How NOT to Win Over Bernie Bros

Bernie Bros and others who support and have supported Bernie Sanders are good people. They are not miscreant children so please do not lecture or condescend to them. They have good values just as Bernie does, just as you do. They don’t want a totalitarian state or a communist government. They want our communities to be healthy, educated, comfortably housed, well-fed, gainfully employed with a livable wage, and safe. That includes addressing the global warming and Covid-19 emergencies, prioritizing life on this planet over corporate profits.

If Joe Biden becomes the Democratic candidate for president and your highest priority is defeating Trump, bullying and criticizing Bernie supporters will not get them to the polls. How about recognizing their concerns as legitimate and having a discussion with them (and Bernie) about which ones should be included in the Democratic platform? How about valuing them (and their votes) and INVITING them to support Biden? Some pundits believe we cannot defeat Trump without courting disaffected Republicans and moderates, at the same time they disparage Bernie supporters as leftwing extremists. Does this make sense? Is this any way to unify opposition to Trump after a bruising primary?

I am not a Democratic Socialist, but I share many of their values. I supported Elizabeth Warren and am saddened on many levels that so few saw her brilliance, vision, compassion, and leadership. Now, in my seventies, I have spent nearly all my adult life voting AGAINST a candidate (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Robert Dole, George Bush). Only twice did I enthusiastically vote FOR a candidate (Barack Obama despite disagreeing with some of his policies).

If Joe Biden is the Democratic candidate, I will once more vote AGAINST the Republican. I worry about Biden’s lack of courage and vision, evidenced in his leadership in passing the 1996 Crime Bill, a major factor in mass incarceration, and welfare “reform” that significantly increased the number of Americans living in poverty, as well as his opposition to busing to implement Brown v. Board of Education. I worry about his belief in compromise and bipartisanship given today’s Republican Part. Consider how it worked for Obama. I am not convinced he is the best candidate to defeat Trump, as I imagine him on a debate stage with this unscrupulous bully and liar. Will he be able to stand up to him? Still, I will vote AGAINST Trump.

Please, Biden supporters, have some respect for those who have a different view, but also want to hold onto and improve our democracy. ASK (politely). Don’t TELL.


            For a while now, I have been worrying about the characterization of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as extremists, likening them to extremists on the Right – who promote white supremacy and oppose anything considered “politically correct.” We Leftists or Liberals are warned that, if we support Warren’s and Sander’s policies, we’ll be responsible for Trump’s reelection. We need to be more centrist, we’re told. We need to support those who favor compromise with Republicans, aka “working across the aisle.” This, despite the fact that Republicans are not interested, as they’ve so blatantly shown over the last 11 years.

            On November 16, 2019, Roger Cohen wrote an op ed in The New York Times relating an interview he had with “Chuck Hardwick, lifelong Republican, former Pfizer executive, now retired in Florida, voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but not without misgivings.” Hardwick isn’t sure who will get his vote in 2020. “He admires the president’s energy, his courage in taking on difficult issues like China ‘stealing its way to prosperity,’ his corporate tax cuts, and what he sees as a revitalizing impact on American ambition.” But he’d fire Trump if he was a corporate officer because of his inability to manage people. Hardwick is looking to the Democrats. He likes Michael Bloomberg (a former Republican), but he might be okay with Joe Biden. Cohen, who knows the Republicans in Congress will never vote to impeach Trump no matter how damning the evidence, tells us “he will never be dislodged the conventional way.” And advises, “Think Hardwick.” In other words, let disgruntled Republicans determine the Democratic nominee and, by extension, the next President.

            On November 17, the NYT published an Op Ed by N. Gregory Mankiw, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers for George W. Bush, and later, economic advisor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns. Mankiw has relinquished his Republican Party membership and become an Independent because of Trump’s trade wars, huge budget deficit, attacks on the Federal Reserve, denial of climate change, and attacks on U.S. allies – AND because, as an Independent in Massachusetts, he can vote in the Democratic primary. So, who will he vote for? Not Elizabeth Warren (Senator from his home state) or Bernie Sanders. They “are proposing to move the country too far in the direction of state control of the economy,” which “will tempt those in the center and center right to hold their noses and vote for Mr. Trump’s reelection.”

            Mankiw will vote for the Democrat who supports a return to Free Trade, a market-based approach to climate change, incremental healthcare reform (i.e. not “medicare for all”), and doesn’t demonize the wealthy. In the past, that would have been a Republican agenda. It is now creeping into the Democratic Party and will influence who their presidential candidate will be. In other words, Republicans are diluting the progressive policies of the Democratic Party. The Party is becoming more Republican as Republicans look to it as an alternative to Trumpism.

            Warren and Sanders are no more moving the Democratic Party to Socialism than Franklin Roosevelt did. Their platforms favor community, where all can reach their fullest potential, improving society as a whole, over a self-aggrandizing individualism, where the wealthy believe they earned every penny solely through their own efforts, ignoring the hard work of those (underpaid) workers who made it possible for their businesses to succeed. Mankiw does not want to share because he apparently believes that his business success has already raised living standards and contributed to higher productivity – which sounds like the debunked trickle down theory that Republicans have been promoting for decades. So, he should not pay higher taxes, and, as he says, the proposed wealth tax won’t be enough to raise living standards anyway. (I can’t help wondering whether he uses loopholes available to the rich to significantly reduce or erase his tax contribution so those who might also be entrepreneurs could afford an education and contribute to society.)

            First, the pundits warned that the Democrats needed to court white working class men who abandoned the Party to vote for Trump, i.e. dump the ‘radical’ Left and support centrists. Now, we’re told we need to support centrists (who sound a lot like Republicans) because the rich feel demonized and Republicans won’t vote for Leftist “extremists.”

            Trump is driving Republicans toward the Democratic Party. With their influence, are we in danger of turning the Democratic Party into what was once the Republican Party?




A conundrum: Many pundits and media assert that only a “moderate” Democrat can beat Trump. That apparently means they expect that all those Left of Moderate will compromise and vote for the Moderate, but that the Moderates won’t compromise and vote for someone considered more Left. Who is moderate here? Who is willing to compromise in order to defeat Trump? Why are so-called “Moderates” so inflexible?

I’m Running for President!

Well, why not? Everyone else is. And I could certainly do a better job (even with my failing memory) than the current holder of the office, who has no memory at all of what he’s said from one day (hour) to the next. So, I’m joining the list of 21 (soon to be 22 when de Blasio jumps in) Democratic candidates. You might consider running as well and others among your friends and family and maybe your French Poodle.

What are the benefits? I can write a book and become rich. Well, I probably won’t become a millionaire like Bernie, but richer than I am living on Social Security. I will get my name in The New York Times, if only because I will be the 23rd or 40th declared Democrat. They may even ask me my opinion about . . . Healthcare for All, the Green New Deal, immigration, taxing the rich and jailing corporate officers for failure to pay taxes. When reporters ask if I believe in the death penalty, I will say yes, for corporations that willfully contribute to climate change. They are “people,” after all. In this way, I will gain notoriety.

And think of the enemies I’ll make: the NRA, Fox News, Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, the list is endless. I might even get a tweet or two from Bonzo (oh, that was another troublesome president), uh, the Orange Menace and a nickname like “Jude the Obscure.” Of course, you will all have to pay me gobs of money and contribute to the 65,000 signatures I’ll need to debate the other 22 or 39 Democrats. Or you could pay me not to run. Perhaps, we might do that for some of the other 22 or 39. Other ideas? Oh, and please let me know if you plan to run. I’ll add my signature, but don’t expect a check until the book revenues come in.

Democrats, Don't Take Me For Granted!

I am not a white working class male. I am a Democrat only because I want to vote in the primaries and Democrats put forward policies I usually support, though they don’t always follow through. I am tired of voting for the least worst candidate, which I did until 2008. Now, the Dems are telling me I have to do that again because white working class males are more important than I am. Don’t take me for granted. Yes, Trump is a disaster. He’s done untold damage to our country. So, you say, I should vote for anyone YOU think can beat him. I think you’re wrong. The Democratic Party has long been cowardly. It tries to make nice when faced with a bully. From personal experience, I can tell you it doesn’t work.

Apparently, you think the Dems lost the 2016 election because working class white males jumped ship. What about Russian interference? That’s been established by all our intelligence agencies and the Special Counsel. What about the failure to take decisive action against those efforts? What about Democratic campaign mistakes? What about Comey’s announcement on the eve of the election to reopen the investigation of Clinton’s emails? What about an unfair system (the Electoral College) that weights Ohio votes heavier than California votes? What about an unfair system (gerrymandering) where political parties carve up the map to dilute the other party’s votes? What about voter suppression of black and brown people? Do you really think that all those who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 will vote for Trump in 2020? And all independents?

I hear that we need a white male candidate. Cowardly pandering to racism and sexism. The media promotes that view, the view of the establishment, read “old white males.” Were you asleep in 2018 when women, people of color, and young people changed the make up of the House? Or have you just disregarded that because it doesn’t fit your view of what is right and proper, what power looks like? Most of the mainstream media promotes your position, trying to make it a fait accompli. I don’t think it will work.

The primaries are nearly a year away. Debates begin in June. Democrats should celebrate the diversity of those who have stepped up to run in the primaries.


Most everything has been covered by the pundits. The report is available to the public and easily downloaded. Still, here are two thoughts I find worth emphasizing.

1. Trump knew what he was doing was wrong. When he heard Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to investigate his and his campaign’s ties with Russia and his attempts to hide them, he responded: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.” Not sure this can be called a conscience, but there it is.

2. Russia was successful. This is not to say it tipped the election in Trump’s favor. It is impossible to determine which of many factors had the most influence. But Russia, the long time master of propaganda, succeeded in ramping up divisions among the American people. That and Trump’s election have seriously undermined our Democracy and our reputation in the world. Putin hasn’t yet gotten sanctions relief, but I’ll bet he has a bottle of vodka on his desk for toasting our demise.

It’s no longer easy to get to the full Mueller Report on the Department of Justice’s webpage, though I did it yesterday. Today, my google search takes me to the DOJ website and Attorney General William Barr’s comments. Better to try the New York Times site: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/18/us/politics/mueller-report-russian-interference-donald-trump.html



Oregon is spending millions of dollars on a system that is useless for its intended purpose – and, in fact, causes harm to thousands of people. The law requires everyone convicted of a sex crime to register with the Board of Parole and Post Prison Supervision (BPPPS). Currently, 31,000 people are on the Oregon Registry. The intent is to prevent future sex crimes by monitoring those who have been convicted, regardless of whether the crime is sexting or serial rape. The problem with this approach is that the vast majority of those convicted of sex crimes are unlikely to commit another sex crime. Only 5.6% do. While for decades we monitor the sexually curious 10 year old who touched his 6 year old sister’s private parts, the sexual psychopath can be lost in the numbers.

In 2013, the Oregon Legislature adopted a new way to categorize sex offenders, changing from a crime-based system to a risk-based system. The BPPPS was to have it in place by the end of 2018. But having to assess the risk level of over 30,000 people, the Board has made little progress -- despite the fact that risk levels are determined by a simple 10-item check list, called the STATIC-99R. Though widely used throughout the U.S., it is controversial. The STATIC is an actuarial tool, i.e. it was developed by pooling populations of sex offenders and discovering what they had in common. None considers the seriousness of the sex offense for which he was convicted.

A person receives points against him (the STATIC is not applied to women or juveniles) for being less than 34.9 years of age at release; for not having lived with a lover for at least two years; for having an unrelated victim, a stranger victim or a male victim; for having four or more prior sentencing dates for other crimes, however minor; for having been convicted of a violent crime at the same time as the sex offense; for having been convicted of a prior violent crime; and for having committed prior sex offenses. If the offender receives a score of three or less, he is considered at low risk to reoffend (Level I). If his score is four or five, he is at moderate risk (Level II). High risk offenders are those scored six and above (Level III).

How does this square with the more accurately determined recidivism rate of 5.6%? It doesn’t. A person who has a history of greater involvement with the criminal justice system – not because of prior sex crimes – will score higher and be considered a greater risk of committing another sex crime, not another non-sex crime which is more likely. But only those who have committed a sex crime are placed under surveillance for anywhere from five years to life, even though they are less likely to commit a future sex crime than someone who has never been convicted of one.


This makes no sense. It reflects our knee jerk reaction to the rare but heinous sex crime (usually the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a child) committed by a psychotic serial offender. When these crimes occur, we understandably and laudably want to do something to prevent them happening again. Yet in our haste we pass legislation, set up huge bureaucracies that are based on myths about sex offenders (‘once a sex offender always a sex offender,’ ‘all sex offenders are alike’). And once the bureaucracy is in place, it is very hard, if not impossible, to change – regardless of whether it is effective or not.

The consequences are harsh – for those placed on the Registry and those we seek to protect. Former offenders will face the suspicion of those whom the police notify (neighbors, school officials, colleagues, fellow church members, etc.). They will find it difficult to get a job or find a place to live. They fear vigilante violence by some righteous person who finds them on the Registry. While Oregon places only those who have a STATIC score of six or above on the public registry, it is easy to find others through private for-profit websites.

Oregon provides a possible way off the Registry for everyone except Level III offenders. After five years from the date supervision ends, Level I offenders may APPLY to be removed. It is up to the Parole Board or the Court to decide if they meet the lengthy criteria in the statute.[3] After 10 years, Level II offenders can apply to drop down to Level I and, after five more years, they may apply for removal, a total of 15 years.

For example, a young man convicted of statutory rape (consensual sex when he was 20 with a 15 year old) with a five year sentence could be on the registry until he is 40 if he has had other problems with the law. Given that African American men are over-represented in the criminal justice system, they are more likely to score higher on the STATIC, which makes the STATIC – and the whole Registration system -- discriminatory. It also discriminates against gay men – note the extra point if the victim is male. Constitutional challenges to registration have mostly been unsuccessful since the majority of courts consider it a regulatory scheme, not punishment, where constitutional protections (ex post facto, due process, and prohibitions on excessive sentences) apply.

Every state and the federal government requires registration of people convicted of sex offenses. Despite the fact that registration is ineffective in making us safer, we are unlikely to get rid of it and put money into prevention of sex crimes and treatment of offenders, because we have invested millions of dollars and countless hours to build the registration edifice. More than that, the myths about sex offenders prevent even minor reform, lending themselves to salacious headlines and opportunistic politicians focused on reelection or higher office.

Perhaps the only way to bring down this behemoth and divert resources to something that works to prevent sexual assault is to wait until the system reaches its logical conclusion and a majority of citizens are or know someone who is on the registry and become intimately familiar with its destructive consequences.


[1] Cathleen Meaden.

[2] Laurie Guidry, Massachusetts-based licensed clinical and consulting psychologist who focuses on the treatment of sex offenders and the prevention of sexual violence.

[3] ORS 163A.125 (5) sets out nine specific items the court must consider, plus “any other relevant factors.”