Trump Abandons Stateless Children

September 5th, 2017

In support of its decision to rescind the federal policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants to enjoy some of the privileges of citizenship, the Department of Justice declares  that its adoption was in defiance of federal immigration law. Known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the policy is a direction to immigration officers to refrain from enforcement actions against immigrants who entered the country as children, provided the beneficiary is 30 years old or younger, is attending school or has a high school diploma or honorable discharge from the armed forces, and has no criminal record. The policy has been challenged in federal court on the grounds that the president doesn’t have the authority to relax enforcement under current immigration laws. The Justice Department’s action amounts to capitulation to the court challenges. It acknowledges the plenary authority of the legislative branch to make immigration laws. It’s likely to result in a loss of employment and possible exclusion from the USA for hundreds of thousands of young people.

If the logic of the rescission were applied consistently, our armed forces would be obliged to interrupt combat operations in Syria and Afghanistan and generally refrain from killing people in faraway places. These operations are in defiance of our constitution which explicitly vests the legislative branch with plenary authority to declare war. The president may be commander-in-chief, but, just as he’s not allowed to make immigration laws on his own, he’s not allowed to attack foreign countries without congressional action.

If it seems odd to you that an unlawful exercise of authority that benefits disadvantaged people is so easily challenged while an unlawful exercise of authority that amounts to mass murder goes unchallenged, you’re not alone. If you’re planning to write your member in support of a legislative solution to the problem facing these young immigrants, you might also remind him or her of this other longstanding abuse of presidential authority and the devastation and misery it’s causing people in distant lands.

Unprepared

August 29th, 2017

Knee-jerk hypercapitalists may recall the words of their celebrated  spokesman Grover Norquist: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The quality of preparedness and response furnished by state, local and federal authorities to the people of Houston tells us the drowning was successful. Even though the “responsible” authorities knew that there would be widespread flooding, there was no evacuation plan, no advance provision for emergency shelter, no coordinated rescue strategy, nothing to indicate that Houston or Texas or even the USA has a functioning government.  You might hope that your state and city have made better preparations for big emergencies, but they probably haven’t. 

Not that anybody is asking. Well into the third day of the crisis in Houston, you can search high and low for journalistic criticism of government authorities, and you will find nothing. On the contrary, the media have been showering praise on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which didn’t even show up until Day Two of the disaster, and the Texas National Guard, which is “mobilized” but still ineffectual as of Day Three. You might expect that the question on every reporter’s lips would be “Was any lesson learned from Katrina?” It’s not.

What do you have a right to expect from government in an emergency like the one in Houston? The answer seems to be, “Nothing.” The consensus among reporters is that this disaster is simply too big and too severe for government. Nobody is questioning the decision of authorities in Texas not to evacuate Houston in advance. The media people know perfectly well that it was a bad call, but they’re censoring the inadequacy of preparedness out of their coverage. You can see that there are few boats plying flooded neighborhoods, few cots in emergency shelters, few buses delivering refugees, no sign of responsible government whatsoever. Plenty of video of inundated neighborhoods and occasional rescues by private parties, but not much in the way of an organized response, and no comment from the media.

The censorship should come as no surprise. The corrupt institution we call journalism depends on access to government officials for a supply of press releases, statements, and leaks to feed the information stream we innocently accept as “news.” In return for access, news-mongers must refrain from criticism. It makes it difficult for us news-consumers to assess the performance of our leaders, but accountability is the price of freedom.

If all this sounds like capitulation, it is.  The Houston police and fire authorities are prepared, but not for this. Terrorism is the big risk, and the authorities are armed to the teeth for that sort of unlikely event. Heavy weapons, kevlar suits, shields, and armored personnel carriers have been distributed in abundance; boats for flood-prone areas, not so much.

It’s true that Texans voted for less government, but maybe they didn’t deserve to get it.

Autoreviewing

August 25th, 2017

The President of the United States should be a role model for all of us. In that spirit, I’m recommending that all of us (for fun) talk like Donald Trump. So, for example, when you make a batch of hamburgers for your family, you say, “These are going to be the best hamburgers you’ve ever eaten. No, the best hamburgers anybody’s ever eaten in the history of the world. And that’s because of the quality of the cook. If there was a  Nobel prize for cooking, I would definitely get it. Ask anybody . . . ” and so on. If we all did this all the time, it would be a great crowd gag and maybe motivate some of the people who have the power to do it to dump this clown. In that vein, here’s a link to a radio program of  mine that would get a Peabody award if there were any justice in the world. The link expires Sunday, so don’t delay. It will definitely be the best radio program you ever heard.

Link

Defaming Islam

August 18th, 2017

News-consumers are entitled to an explanation of this phrase, which appears in just about every journalistic account of the latest mass killings in Spain: “The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Barcelona violence.”

The statement is not factual, because there is no person who speaks officially for “The Islamic State,” which is itself not an identifiable political entity but, rather, an acronym of English intitials invented by somebody somewhere to refer to terrorists and used on the Internet to claim responsibility for acts of mayhem. There’s an online presence that calls itself the Amaq News Agency, but it’s no more identifiable as a Muslim organization than the entity it claims to speak for. No other source is disclosed for the claim of responsibility, which effectively lays blame for the attack with people of a particular religion. If you seek further verification of this universally reported claim, you won’t find it anywhere I’ve looked.

Suppose there was a group that wanted to defame Islam and Muslims. Might it arrange for someone to commit an act of mayhem and claim responsiblity for it on the Internet, in the guise of a Muslim news agency? That’s a no less plausible explanation for this atrocity than the one offered unanimously by our embedded mass media, that fanatical Muslims were responsible. In fact, given the lack of trustworthy provenance for the published claim, coupled with the ease of falsification and the fact that there are many groups that habitually defame Islam, the possibility of a false claim seems even more likely.

People should ask what else, if anything, the media can tell readers about the provenance for the assertion that something called “Islamic State” carried out this attack, or even that such an entity exists at all.

Vandals for Social Justice

August 17th, 2017

I seem to be part of a small minority of peace-and-justice advocates who don’t want to remove offensive monuments. I’ve taken to the street in opposition to every war waged by the USA since 1970 (when I took off my military uniform for the last time), but I think the memorials should be left standing. Yes, I’m offended when I consider the corrupt legacy of Christopher Columbus, whose statue stands prominently here in Hartford,  but I’d rather suffer the offense than remove the statue and forget how we once venerated him.   

The embedded mass media tell us it was the removal of a statue of rebel general Robert E. Lee that sparked the exhibition of Nazi paraphernalia in Charlottesville last weekend. Maybe, but the event was billed as an assembly of right-wing groups from around the country. I watched some of the “protest,” and I kept seeing the same faces over and over. It looked like a minuscule group, maybe a few hundred. If that’s the far-right, it’s tiny and not worth the attention it got from the media. These same media mock us when we turn out a few thousand to resist war, but I didn’t hear a single reporter suggest that the turnout for this convention was pathetic.

I’m embarassed to be on the same side as the Nazis on the question of Lee’s statue. Lee was a good general, not because of his dedication to slavery or to killing but because of his ability to get his subordinates to carry out orders.   There haven’t been very many good generals, because you don’t rise in the military without kissing a lot of butt, and that selection process eliminates the most qualified leaders. Lee was as good a general as Grant, but Lee’s civilian commanders were deficient, while Grant’s eventually gained competence.  Plus Lee’s sponsors openly espoused a brutal, altogether American ethic that still infects us. His image reminds me of all that.

It’s true that most of these memorials went up during a renaissance of bigotry in the 1920’s, accompanied by a surge in Ku Klux Klan membership and a rash of racist mob violence, but that’s not a good reason to desecrate them. In fact, it may be the best reason to keep them. Once they’re gone, they can no longer remind us of the circumstances that motivated their creation. After all, a memorial is meant to keep an event in memory, not necessarily to celebrate the event.  Nobody celebrates the crucifixion of Jesus, but it’s depicted everywhere.

Somebody recorded the destruction of one monument. It was a statue of an anonymous rebel infantryman meant to honor the soldiers of the confederacy. I found the scene unpleasant. I’m probably not alone in thinking memorials to soldiers should be preserved, no matter which side they were on, in recognition of their devotion to duty and their willingness to sacrifice for each other. It’s not impossible to oppose war and honor soldiers. Most veterans respect pacifists, and many militantly oppose war. The mob scene I witnessed discredits me and the movement I advocate and puts me in mind of the vandals who blew up the Buddhist monoliths in Afghanistan. This crowd looked disturbingly similar to the ones you see in pictures of lynchings and cross-burnings.

Does anybody else think it’s odd that people should get all riled up over monuments to a war that ended a long time ago and express so little concern over wars that our leaders are waging today? I hope we don’t find it as easy to forget our legacy of violence and exploitation once we’ve removed all the memorials.

Water on the Rocks

July 25th, 2017

If I were an emir, I’d take a portion of the oil money and organize an expedition to the Antarctic to mine a hunk of the iceberg that broke away from the ice shelf a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t heard where that iceberg is right now, but some part of it–it’s as big as Delaware–must soon be floating in international waters where it could become fair game. 

Is water worth mining? At the high end of the market, where water is scarce,  a dollar buys about 50 gallons. An equal amount of crude oil, by comparison, costs about 50 dollars. Overhead is lower for water than for oil, however. The water is floating on the surface of the ocean, easy to recover, while the oil lies deep in the earth’s crust. The water just has to be melted to be put to use. The oil must be refined. The recovery, processing, transport and consumption of oil are polluting activities. Water, not so much. If the pipeline leaks, it’s not catastrophic.

How many tug boats would it take to tow an iceberg a thousand miles? That’s the distance from the Antarctic ice sheet where the berg broke off to any number of Southern Hemisphere ports with ready access to vast stretches of arid land. How many 747’s would you need to fly half the berg to Nevada and drop it, one piece at a time, into Lake Mead? If people were to develop a technology for moving large amounts of ice to dry land, they might become prepared in time to prevent the big splash that’s expected when pieces of land-bound polar glaciers drop into the ocean because of warming seas.

A pipeline covering the distance from the port of Capetown, South Africa, for example, to the heart of the Kalahari Desert could be built in a matter of months. Tow the berg in summer when the sun shines 24 hours a day at the South Pole, and you might be able to move it  with solar power. Dig a lakebed nearby the port to contain the ice while it melts and break it up for land transport or send it by pipeline to where it will do some good. Orange trees in the Kalahari and less sea level rise in Capetown sounds like a win-win proposition. Iceberg mining’s not going to prevent the extinction of human beings, but it might postpone it for a generation or two.

Chill, People!

June 30th, 2017

July 20 was and may still be a day of observance among some Europeans. It’s the date in 1944 when a group of German officers, including Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, made an attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler, their national leader and supreme commander. They planted a bomb under the table he was to sit at. It went off, but Hitler managed to escape with minor injuries. I recall an issue of the European edition of the US armed forces daily “Stars and Stripes” marking the 25th anniversary of that event and featuring photos of the bomb damage and a recounting of the assassination attempt and its aftermath. 

People have speculated on what might have happened if the July 20 plot had succeeded. The war that had ravaged Europe over the course of five years might have ended abruptly instead of raging on for eight more months. The policy that prohibits the murder of political leaders might beneficially have been relaxed for that particular assassination. The question thus arises whether there might be other occasions on which that policy should be relaxed. Of course, all discussion of that question is forbidden.

We tend to chill discussion of certain issues under certain circumstances. One particularly chilling circumstance is the commission of acts of inhumanity by our own government. As in the case of the Nazi regime that governed Germany during the war, our leaders use armed force to advance political and commercial ends. They do this without the formal approval of the people, evading the responsibilities imposed by our constitution. The destruction and bloodshed they inflict thus amounts to mayhem and murder. We might expect rational people under those circumstances to question whether their violent leaders might be restrained by the threat of violent consequences, such as Hitler faced in the summer of 1944. Don’t hold your breath waiting for such a discussion.

Recent events here in Hartford, Connecticut, are illustrative. A professor of sociology at Trinity College lost his job for publishing an essay confronting a closely related issue. A few weeks ago, a heavily armed man began shooting at a group of Republican members of Congress who were taking part in an athletic event at a ball field not far from the Capitol. None of the Republicans was killed, but one–a high-ranking right-winger with a reputation for bigoted rhetoric–suffered serious injuries. A member of his security detail–an African-American woman who might reasonably consider herself a target of his bigotry–risked her own life to help the member. In the aftermath of that ironic episode, the Trinity professor published an essay suggesting that victims of bigotry might justifiably withhold aid from bigots in trouble. He didn’t advocate the assassination of bigots, but his context was an attempt at just such an assassination. The college promptly placed the professor on leave, over the objections of a faculty committee.

The chill that goes out with the action against this professor reaches far beyond Trinity. If violence may not be mentioned in discussions of appropriate responses to bigotry, it’s certainly off-limits in discussions of just retribution for malfeasance among public officials. That’s unfortunate, because Americans are suffering an epidemic of official corruption, and there’s no apparent remedy for it. Corruption has so enriched the political class that it is immune to all accountability. The possibility of a violent, revolutionary response from the governed might profitably be discussed under such circumstances, maybe in the context of the July 20 plot, but that discussion is forbidden, as Trinity reminds us all.

Bring It On!

June 24th, 2017

Would you entrust a war to an army that couldn’t defeat some of the weakest nations on earth? The armed forces of the United States have been engaged for over a generation in warfare against governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Syria. They have managed to destroy lives and property in abundance and have extinguished entire ancient cultures, but they have accomplished no discernible mission. Typically facing poorly-armed and undernourished enemies, they have been unable to record a victory since 1945. Should we trust them to take on Russia?

Our armed forces are a refuge for civilian society’s rejects, and this weakens them. The last victorious US army consisted of conscripts, with all able-bodied men called to service. Today, only one in a hundred of our children volunteers for military service. Nurturant parents don’t let their kids join up, and young people with good jobs don’t quit to put on a uniform. That leaves recruiters with a pool of kids with weak family connections and little in the way of career prospects. Only a nation of idiots would go to war with such an army.

The military record is rife with deficiencies. If people of high rank were subject to discipline in the same way individual soldiers are, a host of generals, admirals and their civilian handlers, including several commanders-in-chief, would spend considerable time behind bars. You can go back 50 years to a day in June when the Israeli navy torpedoed and strafed a US intelligence vessel in the Mediterranean, killing 34 seamen, with no consequences whatsoever for the killers or US officials. Or you can go back a couple of weeks, when a US warship was allowed to collide with a merchant ship on the open sea, killing seven seamen. Consequences should, again, be considered unlikely.

The record for air defense is zero for three. Separate airplanes were aloft for extended periods before crashing into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia. No coherent explanation has ever been offered for the failure of air defense to intercept the offending aircraft. As for offensive operations from the air, they are now carried out by remote control, from bunkers thousands of miles from the targets. Not only is the tactic an exquisite expression of cowardice, it’s altogether arbitrary in its selection of targets and has proved as likely to vaporize a wedding party as an assembly of fighters.

The nation’s infantrymen fare no better. They are more likely to find themselves engaged in raids of civilian neighborhoods than in firefights with enemy soldiers. The casualties they suffer are hardly reported at all in stateside papers, and their military objectives, such as they exist at all, are completely unknown to the civilian population. If battles have been won in combat over the last several years, we haven’t heard about it. No wonder veterans commit suicide at double the rate of civilians. “Thank you for your service. Go kill yourself.” Think you can win a war with an army of men who, with justification, believe that the people they’re supposed to defend don’t care about them?

You may have noticed that, amid the beating of war drums by the embedded mass media, you hear nothing about whether our armed forces are capable of actually waging war. The record would indicate the contrary, and somebody ought to bring that up.

Pledge This!

May 21st, 2017

We stand beneath the symbol of our union.
We pledge to do whatever must be done
To strengthen those so fragile bonds of conscience
That should unite the multitudes as one.

We might have been a fit and worthy nation
With liberty and justice under law.
Instead, we pledged allegiance to illusion,
To burning, bombing, killing, shock and awe.

Never was a banner so dishonored,
Stars and stripes dragged rudely through the mud.
Boys and girls must wake at each dawn’s twilight.
Reckoning its toll in flesh and blood.

This we pledge, then, as we gaze upon you,
Dreaded symbol all the world around:
Someday by our acts we will redeem you;
To this pledge shall we be ever bound.

Reflections for April 29

April 29th, 2017

All indications are that Trump is frightened, and with good reason. His potential assassins, if there are any, have a moral (and possibly even legal) route to vindication, provided any survive to stand trial. As with the lives lost in the recent bombing of Syria by forces under Trump’s command, the current president’s life could readily be sacrificed as a matter of national security. I imagine he’s been warned of this.

Consider the laws that regulate the taking of human life. Homicide is legally justifiable if a life is taken in defense of self or of another person. We have a right to kill a person who presents an imminent, lethal threat to another person. This is the law in every US state, with each state giving the killer more or less discretion in the decision to use deadly force.

The idea of justifiable homicide in the interest of national security is simply an application of the defense-of-person doctrine to the nation and all the people in it. It’s the very rationale–”self-defense”– that the USA invokes when it uses armed force against people in Yemen or Somalia or Syria or Afghanistan or any of the other defenseless countries we attack from time to time. There’s no reason in law or logic that this rationale can’t be used against our president himself or any of his highest-ranking minions.

The current secretary of state is a good example. He’s on record as saying “there are no red lines”–in essence, that everything’s “on the table”– when it comes to North Korea. His interviewers in the embedded mass media can’t ask him explicitly whether our nation is prepared to drop bombs on Pyongyang, but that’s because they know we are. “Everything’s on the table,” is not an invitation to sit down for dinner but a threat of lethal violence. What might be the result if our government made good on this official’s threat? Could there be an exchange of atomic bombs, with one or more blowing up alongside your grandchildren?

It would be nice if you could hold this official and his bosses to account in a court of law–threats of the kind he’s made against North Korea are forbidden by the laws of nations–but you can’t. Thugs have so thoroughly infiltrated our government that there is no prospect of justice for any of them. We have a law that is supposed to empower victims of organized crime–and the corruption of federal authority is organized crime of the highest order–but it’s a sham. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (expressed as an acronym, RICO, which doubles as an ethnic slur) purports to enable those damaged by racketeering to sue the racketeers in federal court. Because of the corruption of the federal bench by a string of corrupt presidents, the courthouse doors are closed, as racketeering cases filed by victims are routinely thrown out by federal judges. That’s what happens when criminals run things.

Before Trump, a notorious predator with a long record of malfeasance in the private sector, we could pretend that we were governed by people whose main interest was the nation. That pretense can’t be maintained any longer.

If your grandchildren are imminently, mortally endangered by threats of violence on the part of these people, and there is no legal means to restrain them, might you not consider using lethal force against them? In the case of the secretary of state, might you have an obligation, for the protection of human life and the good of your nation, to “take him out,” in the terminology thugs like Tillerson and Trump like to use? Is it not conceivable that there is, in every city, some loyal American who imagines himself part of a historic act of violence against corrupt leaders?

Of course, it’s not just the President and his cabinet who should be frightened. In the tradition of organized crime, Trump has brought his whole family into the racket. When you’re depending on people to carry out criminal assignments, family members are indispensable. This makes Trump’s wife and children singularly vulnerable, acting, as they do, in a quasi-official capacity as accessories to his racketeering activities. Ironically, the government employees who are assigned to protect Trump’s relatives have all pledged to uphold the Constitution against all enemies, “foreign and domestic.” This must create a bit of cognitive dissonance in some of them, possibly interfering at times with the task at hand. The Trump family must be aware of this. Likewise, potential attackers.

The case of Adolf Hitler is instructive. On a day in July 1944, when Germany, then governed by a gang of thugs, was in danger of utter disintegration, a group of military officers, for the good of their country, detonated a bomb at a meeting in which the Fuhrer was taking part. Hitler got out safely, but the lesson for national leaders is still fresh: racketeering can be risky. On this day in 1945, April 29, the dead body of Hitler’s contemporary, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, another thug, hung upside-down over a Milan street, a target of stone-throwers for many hours. Historians have mused over how things would have gone if these two had been slain earlier by responsible countrymen. Their fate must also be on the minds of our leaders.