Washington Blackmail

January 8th, 2019

Article Two, Section Three, of our constitution obliges the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” The current occupant defies this legal mandate by ensuring that the laws cannot be faithfully executed. Federal agencies designated to execute US laws have been shut down in consequence of his deliberate inaction on Congressional budget appropriations. Donald Trump demands an appropriation for a wall between the US and Mexico, and the newly-installed Congress can’t or won’t accommodate him. He has no power over Congress, but he does have the power to interrupt government. He threatened to do just that, and he did it.

Trump should have consulted a criminal lawyer or maybe applied a little common sense before resorting to this tactic. His threat was an act of extortion, a felony under Title 18 of the US Code. What he did was blackmail, by any definition, legal or conversational. He did this “in our face,” and we are now obliged to hold him accountable. If we decline, we sacrifice the rule of law. With extreme prejudice.

From a legal standpoint, the case against Trump is open-and-shut. He’s committed malfeasance by extortion, a species of misconduct that’s been pursued by corrupt public officials throughout recorded history. They use their authority to exact something of value from others. In a typical fictional case, a crooked cop expects a free lunch from the restaurants on his beat and withholds police services from uncooperative merchants. Trump’s government shutdown differs only in scale.

The crime of extortion is not difficult for ordinary citizens to grasp, although they might have some trouble appreciating the wrongfulness of the conduct. Their news media find no fault in the shutdown tactic, maybe because it’s not without precedent, and it gives reporters something to talk about. They depend on government officials for just about everything they report about government, and this makes them reluctant critics. Abuses of authority–even government shutdowns–are taken for granted.

When it comes to raising money, Congress has the upper hand. The media like to refer to Trump’s border wall as a “campaign promise,” but he’s in no position to deliver anything but persuasion. The House of Representatives is where the Constitution says appropriations of money must originate, and that body is not persuaded. The law does not permit Trump to shut down exective offices to pressure the legislative branch to make an appropriation. In fact, the preservation of the rule of law now obliges the legislative branch to bring him to account for this high crime.

Journalese: Glossary of Meaningless Terms

December 3rd, 2018

I’m a having a problem with the term “fake news.” If a report isn’t true, it’s not news but fiction. I’m sure that our cherished free press churns out a considerable volume of fiction, but let’s not call it news. I suggest we use the term journalists themselves like so much: “narrative.” A narrative doesn’t have to be true, and when a journalist uses that term, he absolves himself of any responsibility to tell you whether it is true or not. 

“Narrative” is a good example of a new language today’s news-mongers employ. Journalese is a composite of shorthand, metaphor, fad, abbreviation, stereotype, superlative and like substitutes for factual, literal words, phrases and sentences.  Some words, like “narrative,” are used to weaken whatever the report is meant to document. A reporter can save a bit of time and effort by using this term in place of “fact,” which might require some research and cross-checking.

I’ve been collecting bits and pieces of journalese, and I think I have a sufficient supply to declare that the new language renders most of what we get from newsmen altogether meaningless. The predominant trend has been a movement away from language with precise meanings to language that is ambiguous or amorphous, often consisting of new coinages for which you are left to supply your own meanings.

Take “red” and “blue,” for instance. One or another TV network in one or another national election color-coded the 50 states so that those whose electoral vote went to the Republican candidate were marked red and those that favored the Democratic candidate were marked blue. Before long, all reporters were referring to red states and blue states, as if this were a means of categorizing voter preferences or public opinion. In fact, the color coding tells us very little about a state. It’s far less descriptive than “sparsely populated” or “urban” or “agricultural” or “economically depressed” or even “former confederacy.” The implication of red and blue designation is that it tells us how people will vote in the next election. Except that it doesn’t. It’s a much used substitute for discussion of issues of public policy, demographics, geography, and history, and it gives a shapeless and indistinct picture of politics that is so far from a factual rendering as to be falsehood. The only good thing you can say about the imagined red-blue dichotomy is that it relieves the reporter of any obligation to find out what actually goes on in various states. News-consumers must be satisfied with a snapshot of which party got the electoral vote in the last presidential election.

“Midterm” is another phrase that moves us in the direction of imprecision and saves the reporter some work. We used to refer to congressional elections, but that phrase has become inoperative. “Midterm,” which once signified tests high-school kids take halfway through a marking period, now refers  to an election halfway through the presidential term, as if the presidential election were somehow elevated in status above an election of legislators. The problem with calling it a congressional election is that you might have to say something about the matters at issue, and that involves journalistic work, something journalists can dispense with when it’s merely a “midterm” election. And journalists like the wholly inapposite imagery of a midterm test, suggesting that the congressional election is a test the president must pass. Looking back on this latest election, we can see that the focus of the media was not what the new congress might do but how the election reflects on the popularity of Donald Trump. There’s nothing factual about this sort of shorthand coverage, but it’s cheap and easy for reporters, so we’ll have to learn to like it.

The inappropriate imagery of “midterm” is typical of much of the metaphor journalists like so much. You’ll find reports of people “connecting the dots” and “leveling the playing field” and “walking back” statements and “drinking the Kool Aid” and “weighing in” and sometimes doing several of those things in the same sentence. News-consumers might see these as picturesque turns-of-phrase if they weren’t altogether trite and largely devoid of meaning. The good thing about “connecting the dots” is that the reporter can leave it to the reader to figure out what the facts actually are and how they fit together. Connecting the dots allows the reporter to imply that the mystery is solved witihout actually solving it. Did the crown prince of Saudi Arabia have a writer assassinated? Connect the dots, and decide for yourself. Don’t expect the reporter to expend any effort finding out whether a head of state did or didn’t commit murder.

Abuse of metaphor is endemic in news reporting. The theory seems to be that imagery is always better than no imagery, because news-consumers are fatuous morons who don’t really care to know what’s happening but crave familiar, pictorial-seeming phrases. Metaphors are mood-enhancers. If somebody weighs in with an opinion, you can comfortably enjoy a mood of satisfaction at having heard it. You’re meant to experience gravitas. And what does “gravitas” mean?  From a factual standpoint, it means nothing. It’s one guy’s opinion of another guy’s opinion. Weight could be in play, but beyond that, connect the dots.

“Play” figures prominently in journalese. It’s not just the playing field. Events are always playing out. Factors are in play or at play. The reporter doesn’t tell us whether he’s talking about a game or a drama of some kind or a musical performance, but there are players, and they are playing. Could be poker or could be football. If you get the impression that the reporter is playing you, you may be onto something.

Speakers of journalese have a “take” on everything. A take can be an impression. It can be an interpretation. It can be an appraisal of merit or quality. Like so much of journalese, the word–and even the concept of a “take”– is so imprecise that it carries no meaning, very convenient for reporters lacking facts.

The art of imprecision can be taken to extreme lengths. It’s permissible in journalese to say on December 3 about an event that happened four days ago that it happened last month. You can say that a person has “ties” to the Kremlin if he’s a soldier in the Russian army. You can safely say that a guy is “mob-connected” if he’s Italian and has a criminal record. Approximations like these typically stand alone, with no supporting facts, leaving you free to supply your own stereotypes, fictions, rumor and gossip.

Journalese, if used properly, should make the news-consumer feel like a witness to history, and so it’s peppered with superlatives. “Legendary” and “iconic” are routinely used to describe people and events that are neither legendary nor iconic. Things that can be characterized as the first of their kind might include the election of a Wiccan to public office or the deadliest mass shooting this calendar year. Speakers of journalese never pass up an opportunity to point out an extreme. You might not think a weather event could be “on steroids,” but storms of that character turn out to be common, and you never know when you’re going to run across something that’s “writ large.” Some superlatives are so inappropriate as to be silly. “That’s some incredible reporting, Jim!” is meant as a compliment coming from a speaker of journalese, when it actually expresses grave doubts about Jim’s honesty and credibility. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that when a reporter says that something is legendary or iconic or on steroids, he’s not making a statement of fact and he’s not giving you useful or coherent information. His meaning is whatever you choose it to be.

Fads are common in journalese. A word like “robust” might be used incessantly for a period of months or years and then fade in popularity, to be replaced by “stunning,” for instance. Some fad usage practices are meant to be cryptic. Why would a writer use “agency” to describe free will or “take-away” to refer  to a lesson learned? Would a writer of news intentionally cloud meaning by choosing an ill-defined metaphorical term over a specific factual reference? Maybe not, but using the term “agency” for anything other than actual agency is an act of obfuscation. Try to figure out what’s meant by “granularity” or “rent-seeking” or “block chain” next time you see one of those elusive, all but meaningless terms.

Some terms are tortured almost to death. “Existential” is a made-up coinage first used in French to describe a 20th century philosophical movement that had more to do with personal conduct than with existence. Reporters now use it to describe a species of danger. The risk that something might cease to be is now an existential threat. The very abstract meaning advanced by the coiner of the term is extinct now. And when you say “existential threat,” you’ve said enough. It’s jargon that’s used as shorthand in place of facts about the precise character of the threat.

The shortest of all shorthand phrases–and one of the least meaningful–is “LGBTQ.” It’s a totally artificial grouping of individuals whose only shared characteristic is indulgence in certain unspecified sexual practices. It seems likely that a significant proportion of news-consumers who hear the term “eljeebeeteecue” couldn’t tell you what the letters stand for, much less what members of this category do for fun. Grouping them all as one class lets us supply our own stereotypes. I use “LGBTQ” every so often to denote a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich with a slice of gherkin, cut in quarters.

Are there consequences when words and phrases lose their literal meanings? Should we be concerned that “gay” no longer means “joyful?” That hawks and doves have stopped being birds? Should we regret that “shooting in the foot” is uttered so often now by reporters that the phrase no longer refers to an intentional act of cowardice by a soldier to avoid combat but, rather, any blunder. What was a very precise metaphor for a very specific type of misconduct has become a general reference to a foolish error.  Is our language improved or degraded by such changes of meaning? Don’t look for an answer among news-mongers. Speakers of journalese live to alter language. There is no good reason to say somebody “gifted” something when he actually gave it, but in journalese the verbed noun is a thing of beauty. Intentional mispronunciations abound in journalese. “Nuke-ya-ler”  and “her-ass” seem to be the accepted versions of words that used to demonstrate connections to their ancestral roots. Much meaning can be sacrificed by such rhetorical tactics.

Some journalese is transparently manipulative. “Oligarch” is a word you hear often. It usually refers to a rich businessman in Russia, but that’s not what oligarchs really are. Oligarchs rule, and they rule jointly. Russian businessmen may exert undue influence but they rule nobody, and the use of the term to describe them is a slur and is meant to make you dislike them and their fellow Russians. “Black Friday” is another term of manipulation. It’s journalese code for “Go Shopping!” There is actually no reason for you to shop on the day after Thanksgiving, but the sponsors of the news–advertisers–depend on you to spend money, and any additional impetus that news editors can furnish is welcome. It’s funny that the “black” in “black Friday” refers to the color of the ink on the retailer’s ledger which goes from red to black when the news media decree that the shopping season has begun (as if shoppers should actually care whether retailers are making a profit). Black Friday used to be the day in 1929 when the stock market crashed, but that historical artifact can be conveniently abandoned now.

The destruction of meaning is not an exclusively reactionary or commercial enterprise. Among leftish reporters, the nearly meaningless words “commodification” and “intersectionality” have gained widespread currency. Don’t attempt to derive meaning from the components of these words. The first mentioned one has nothing to do with modification, nor does the second denote anything resembling an intersection. In fact, they are recent coinages with no set meaning. “Commodification” is meant to suggest commodities, in the sense of goods offered for sale, and seems to refer to the corruption for profit of social institutions like education and family. The term is so imprecise that the most you can derive from it is a general impression of crassness. “Intersectionality” refers vaguely to the aggregate adverse effects of various social forces as they combine with individual disadvantages. It seems to be a shorthand term in journalese for some sort of invidious conduct, but I have found it impossible when confronted with the term to pin any facts down with precision. Consulting the dictionary definition of the word was not helpful.  This sort of terminology is meant to create an impression or elicit a mood, but it is never meant to convey meaning.

My favorite journalese terms are “sorta” and “kinda.” These terms are a refuge for the ignorant. Things that can’t reliably be said to be what they are can be conveniently described as “sorta” what they are. It’s safe to say Putin is sorta autocratic and Trump is kinda moody, because sorta moody can be just about any degree of moody from hardly moody at all to moody as a bored sixth-grader. The imprecision that kinda-sorta affords is a priceless gift to a reporter who has no reliably true facts to report. Kids who use “like” three times in every sentence graduate to “sorta” after college. So far, kinda and sorta haven’t found their way into print, but the weakness of expression that these terms bring to any sentence is a mainstay of journalese usage, and news writers have discovered any number of similar rhetorical tactics to avoid unqualified statements of fact.

The best practice for news-consumers confronted with journalese is to probe for meaning. What’s a “think tank?” How many are included in “a growing number.”  Is a “wonk” a smart person or an idiot? How does a “divisive” issue differ from any other issue? If an event was “surprising,” who exactly was surprised? Who is able to discern the message of a “dog whistle?” Should we recall high-school physics when we hear “optics” or high-school math when we are warned about the “graphic” character of a picture or description? Do these terms retain some literal meaning? Do they have any meaning whatsoever? Are they really intended to obscure meaning? Are speakers of journalese enemies of meaning and destroyers of language? If you ever get a straight answer to any of these questions from these folks, give me a holler.


November 21st, 2018

The rule of law is fragile. Laws are nothing but words on paper, and the rule of law ceases to function when laws are suspended by those charged with seeing that they are faithfully executed. The law against murder was suspended this week by the President of the United States in the case of the head of state of Saudi Arabia.  Despite substantial evidence that Muhammad Bin Salman, ruler of the Arabian monarchy, ordered the murder of one of his critics a few weeks ago, the U. S. president has now said explicitly that this nation will continue to support the handsome prince, even if he’s a murderer, because his nation spends lots of money here. 

By way of rationale, Trump remarks, “Who’s to say whether he did it or didn’t do it?” That’s the question faced by every police detective, every judge, every prosecutor, and every juror in every criminal case, and it’s a question that gets resolved routinely under the rule of law. When the chief executive declines to confront that question, the rule of law must be considered extinct.

News-mongers are a bit upset over the president’s move, not so much because it undermines the rule of law or gives a license to kill to another head of state, but because the assassination victim was a Washington, D.C., newspaper columnist.  This victim’s popularity with colleagues in the news business seems to have blinded reporters to the implications of Trump’s pronouncement. If, as our president says, this head of state can kill  his critics with impunity, doesn’t it follow that our president has the same power? Don’t hold your breath waiting for a newsman ask that question.

When the President of the United States relaxes the rule of law for a particular person or party, the consequences can reach far beyond the one case. If heads of state are privileged to commit murder with impunity, their critics must all consider themselves at risk of assassination. Critics who want to survive are well advised to withhold their criticism, here as in Saudi Arabia.  And if the President of the United States is unwilling to impute guilt despite compelling evidence against one or another of his associates, mustn’t every other prosecution be considered arbitrary? Since he speaks for us, mustn’t we all be deemed outlaws?

This is not the first time the rule of law has been suspended to accommodate a privileged party. Gerald Ford did it when he pardoned Richard Nixon. The U. S. Senate did it when it acquitted William Clinton. The difference, of course, is that in this case the offense is murder. Trump once said that he could commit murder and get away with it. He can. So can anybody.

Unmeddled Democratic Process

October 26th, 2018

I was unfortunate enough this morning to hear a candidate for governor of my state interviewed by one of the embedded mass media’s so-called “correspondents.” The candidate tried to bring up the subject of state government policy but the reporter wanted to talk about the latest public opinion poll suggesting a close contest. She wanted to know what the candidate intended to do to stem the tide in favor of his opponent, and she wasn’t about to be distracted by references to public issues. This is typical of the politics industry, preoccuped as the participants are with polls and fundraising. An election is imminent, and the central task is to raise money and spend it to get votes. 

If you’re one of the 60-odd million sanctimonians who populate the political right wing, you’ve seen no let-up in solicitations to battle enemies like Trump-baiter Elizabeth Warren. Uncomfortable as you may be to ally yourself with Saudi Arabia and Israel, you cough up. If you favor Warren, you’re getting incessant appeals for cash to take on Trump and his minions, even as Warren and her party facilitate Trump’s transfer of billions of dollars to arms dealers in faraway lands, like Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Regardless of your leanings, you’re probably not surprised to hear Democrat Joseph Biden plead against impeachment, aware, as Biden is, of the immense value of Trump as a means of raising money. The various political contenders will spend billions to influence public opinion, and the politics industry–advertisers, news-mongers, political hacks–will prosper. In fact, the pursuit of money–not the administration of government–seems to be the principal point of elections in this third millennium. The media like to talk about divisiveness, never acknowledging how much money they make by promoting political divisions.

The media don’t seem to be at all abashed over their part in this process. They decide which candidates you will hear from, and their decisions seem to be based principally on how much money can be raised and spent (with them). Dispensers of political advertising seem disposed to stick with brand names like Clinton, Bush and Trump, betting on them to have the capacity to spend copiously. If you can’t or won’t raise sufficient pelf, they tell the electorate you’re not a “serious” candidate.  History suggests that the ability to raise money is not a qualification to govern, but the election industry operates in its own interest, and big spenders are favored by the embedded mass media. We shouldn’t be surprised that reporters don’t report on their own election meddling.

The main tactic of political manipulation seems to be the selling of enemies to the targeted public. All parties agree that the Ayatollah, Putin, Kim, and Assad are murderous enemies. “Give us money,” say the purveyors of democracy, “and we’ll fight them off for you.” With a national election on the near horizon, ’tis the season to fund that promise. By defeating their proxies and facilitators in the ranks of the political opposition, one or the other crime family pledges to rein in designated enduring enemies. Of course, the sooner these designated enemies are defeated, the sooner the money flow will cease, yielding, ironically, a permanent, futile state of struggle to overcome them.

Political enemies generate money all the year round, but the big money comes in during the weeks preceding an election, and it must come from people like me, because I’ve been bombarded with email from the likes of Warren, Biden, Clinton, Trump, and even Barbra Streisand, pleading desperately for me to underwrite the expenses bankers, lobbyists and other racketeers incur to maintain cooperative Democratic and Republican parties. I wonder whether I’m alone in feeling a disposition to boycott the election in response. Could that be the point of all this?

Rape Club

October 5th, 2018

The racial and cultural gap that divides elite White guy Brett Kavanaugh and underprivileged Black guy Clarence Thomas may not be much in evidence when nubile law clerks pass the two of them in the quiet chambers of the U. S. Supreme Court. 

“Nice butt.” Justice Brett might say.

“Not dissenting from that view.” Justice Clarence might answer .

Reporters don’t tell us how Justice Ruth and Justice Sonia relate to Justice Clarence, but we can be pretty sure that when irascible young Brett joins the court, those women will, as any female white-collar worker would under similar circumstances, view the two sexual predators as a fraternal order of some kind. The taint that stuck to Thomas will bind him to Kavanaugh, producing a stink that will detract from the dignity of the entire court.

Some observers believe Kavanaugh was elevated in spite of his history of sexual predation. More likely is that he was elevated because of his spotty record and not despite it. When you’re recruiting personnel for a racketeering outfit, best practice is to find people who are tolerant of deviant conduct. Parties to crime and their facilitators tend not to blow whistles on their criminal associates.

It’s not that difficult to find qualified miscreants. Liars and cheats can, if they’re clever enough, rise to positions of power and authority by using dishonesty to their advantage. Creators of fiction from Dickens to Le Carre tell us how it’s done, and social scientists confirm that psychopathic types are overrepresented among real-life chief executives and other high-prestige types.

We’ve had an unbroken string of criminal presidents over the course of decades, culminating with the present comic-book villain, and so it should come as no surprise that our federal government is populated at the top with politically connected cheats and liars of various talents. Kavanaugh should fit right in. As a member of one of Yale University’s secret frats, he’s been in training for this very special arm of the deep state since adolescence.

Government has evolved to accommodate its malfeasant administrators. People who were disposed to perform ethically in their jobs have long since departed the upper echelons of government service. The tiny fringe who had the effrontery to unmask corrupt authority, people like Brett’s teenage victim Christine Blasey, have all been discredited, and they stand as an object lesson to would-be stool pigeons. It’s a lesson directed not only at women who are abused by powerful men but at the subordinate males who ought to protect them. Complain, and you will be crushed.

I terminated my law career some years ago, partly because of age and infirmity, but mostly because of my distrust of what we blithely refer to as our system of justice. I won’t have occasion to appear before Justice Kavanaugh, but lawyers who do, if they’re anything like me, will have trouble contemplating the black robe without also imagining the man inside the robe displaying his genitalia to unfortunate onlookers.

Who Me?

September 23rd, 2018

With the deliverance of Judge Kavanaugh from accusations of attempted rape, we witness the birth of the successor to the “Me Too”  movement, the “Who Me?” movement. This is in recognition of the privilege men are accorded to deny uncorroborated charges of sexual predation. It’s not so much that women are actually disbelieved. It seems unlikely that a woman would want to expose herself to degrading attention by fabricating such charges. Rather, it’s simply that, in spectacular displays of cognitive dissonance, we favor innocent explanations of accusations against our sons, even at the expense of our daughters. 

In fiction, we’re quick to accept that predatory, conscienceless men frequently occupy positions of authority and celebrity, but when we run across one in real life, a guy like Bill Clinton or Bill Cosby, for example, we tend to excuse him rather than sacrifice our admiration for him. This may be instinctive. The female of our species, like the female of many mammal species, doesn’t mate willingly with every male that crosses her  path. Her mate tends to be the male that out-performs other males. Dominance is his key to success, and this, we believe, contributes to the soundness and survivability of the species. Boys will be boys, and it’s a good thing, too, or we might not be here. We don’t like to admit it, but we believe that if the decision were left to women, there would be a lot less mating and maybe not enough to keep the human race in business.

Kavanaugh’s critics face an additional impediment: precedent, in the form of the Clinton-Thomas doctrine. Thomas, a notorious sexual predator in the days when he could still get aroused, sits comfortably on the nation’s highest court, and Clinton, known among women in his circle as a sex fiend, addresses huge audiences of Democrats to enthusiastic applause. They wear the characteristic who-me smirk like a badge of honor. If their ugly sexual misconduct was not sufficient to trigger disapproval, why should Kavanaugh not enjoy the same protection?

There is every reason to believe that the very personality traits that propel ambitious men to positions of authority also enable them to abuse that authority. Not only do bosses touch the women around them, they do it in front of subordinate men as a sign of their dominance. They are above accountability, and they want to be sure everybody knows that. Researchers have demonstrated repeatedly that sociopaths are overrepresented among chief executives and other powerful men. Venality proves to be an advantage in career enhancement. More often than is healthy for women, miscreant boys like Kavanaugh grow up to occupy positions of dominance.

Kavanaugh’s critics tell us we should remember that his appointment is for life. What they don’t mention is that the conditions created for women by him and his role models–Clinton, Weinstein, Thomas, Moonves, Trump, et al.–will prevail long after these men shuffle off to Hell. Women who are forced into proximity with powerful men must now and into the indefinite future either bear the abuse or keep a lethal weapon handy. There was a day when a victim of sexual misconduct could tell her brother or father about it, and the culpable party would get a bloody nose. Those days have long since passed. The who-me movement guarantees that women who complain will be destroyed by the powerful men who prey on them.

A Chain of Tragic Accidental Circumstances

September 20th, 2018

I can’t help feeling some affinity with the 15 Russian airmen who died when their aircraft was shot down over Syria this week. To all appearances, they were just finishing up an airborne intelligence-gathering mission similar to the ones I flew 50 years ago. According to published reports, some going back several years, their aircraft, an Ilyushin-20, was outfitted for the interception of signals intelligence, probably including encoded data transmissions and unencrypted voice communications. Most likely there were foreign language specialists on board to monitor conversations in Arabic, Urdu, Hebrew, English and maybe other languages. That would be similar to what I did back when Hungary was considered an adversary in the late 1960s. Our aircraft were specially equipped C-130 turboprop cargo planes very like the IL-20, and we typically flew with a crew of 15 men.

If the Russians were on a spy mission, their routes and maneuvers would have been routine and altogether familiar to other military intelligence-gatherers operating on behalf of any of the half-dozen nations involved in the Syrian conflict. Such missions typically involve repeated passes through air space that’s within radio range of the transmissions being intercepted. Day after day, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth for eight to ten hours, listening and recording, sometimes passing information on to forces on the ground within minutes of an intercept. According to one published report, this airplane was the only one conducting such surveillance, and so the aircraft and its crew would have been key intelligence assets for the Russians.

We considered ourselves key intelligence assets for the USA, especially those who were trained in the Russian language, as my unit’s aircraft tested the adversary’s air defenses and kept tabs on their radiotelephone traffic and telemetry. It was top secret work, and we were forbidden to talk about it, but our airplanes were clearly visible to radar and other aircraft, and our targets knew perfectly well what we were doing, just as American, Israeli and other forces knew what the IL-20 was doing, and roughly when each mission began and ended.

For the last 40-some years, my Air Force comrades and I have got together every Labor Day weekend. There’s a group of about a dozen of us who stay in touch. Labor Day weekend comes around the same time as an anniversary many of us have been observing for over 50 years. Most of us served with the 6916th Security Squadron, based then in Frankfurt, Germany. Some years before most of us got there, our outfit had an airborne detachment in Turkey that flew missions over the Black Sea, where some of the Soviet Union’s critical air defenses were located. On September 2, 1958, nine years before I arrived in Germany and one year after my unit got its first C-130s, one of our airplanes, tail number 60528, disappeared while on a Black Sea mission. There was a plaque in our briefing room commemorating the event, and the subject usually comes up when we get together every year. Most authorities agree that a Russian missile brought down the airplane. The remains of the flight crew were returned to the USA some time after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but the intelligence guys were never repatriated.

The Russian airplane, destroyed 60 years and two weeks following the disappearance of my unit’s C-130, was not brought down by hostile forces, but by a Syrian missile, according to sources that ought to know. The Syrians were firing at Israeli jet fighters, which were bombing or had bombed a Syrian base a few kilometers from the Russians’ airfield. At least one missile mistook the IL-20 for an Israeli F-16. All three F-16s got away safely. In the hours immediately following the incident, a spokesman for the Russian military said the bombing was a deliberate provocation, intended to elicit a response that would endanger the Russian plane. Israel denied that.

Vladimir Putin characterized the event  as “a chain of tragic accidental circumstances.” He may actually believe that, or he may simply be taking a diplomatic position for strategic advantage. If the military spokesman is right, and Israel intended to expose the Russian plane to Syrian missiles, the ultimate goal could have been to provoke an armed response from Russia, drawing the USA into direct conflict and possibly resulting in the destruction of Syria and Iran, with Iraq and Libya serving as models. Putin defeats that plan by deferring to the Israeli claim that the shootdown was unintended.

We’re not likely to find out whether Putin or the Russian officer is closer to what really happened, but we can be fairly certain that Israeli and US intelligence were tracking the Russian airplane throughout its mission and at all times knew exactly where it was and what it was doing. It’s also clear that the loss of this aircraft and crew is a serious impediment to Syrian efforts to retake territory now occupied by armed opponents of the government. This may have been the only plane conducting airborne intercepts of the occupiers’ conversations, and the occupiers gain from its loss. As enemies of the Syrian government, anti-government forces operate to the advantage of the USA and Israel, and so the destruction of this particular function would be welcome. The juxtaposition of this event to the 60th anniversary of the loss of the American crew has to be coincidental.

Coup d’Etat

September 16th, 2018

By executive order signed  last week citing a “national emergency,” agencies of the executive branch are now empowered to intrude on the states’ election apparatus and given plenary power to do it clandestinely. Under the pretext of “foreign interference,” universally alleged by the deep state and mass media but never proved, federal agencies are given unchecked power to oversee election infrastructure, defined as “information and communications technology and systems used by or on behalf of the Federal Government or a State or local government in managing the election process, including voter registration databases, voting machines, voting tabulation equipment, and equipment for the secure transmission of election results.”

If we had actual journalists reporting our news instead of disk jockeys, comedians and quizmasters, we might recognize this executive order as the flagrantly dangerous act it is. Reporters might point out that our constitution is explicit in enumerating the powers of the central government, and control of elections is not among them. Rather, elections are left,  intentionally and unconditionally, to the states. Any attempt by the executive branch to usurp this power ought to be recognized as meddling. Reporters might like you to worry about Russian posts to Facebook undermining “our cherished democratic processes,” but meddling by our own federal government, neglected by the mass media, is far more dangerous.

If federal authorities actually get their mitts on databases, voting machines and tabulation equipment, what do you suppose they might do with those resources? Might they guarantee a Congress sympathetic to Donald Trump or committed to a permanent state of war or to the further enrichment of rich people? If you depend on US mass media for information, you won’t be conscious of such risks until it’s too late to do anything about them. For some reason, news editors want you to worry about Russian meddling, but you need not be concerned about this executive order and its “framework for the process . . . which may be classified in whole or in part.”

Compare the risk posed by federal government interference in your state’s electoral process, in which federal officers have authority to oversee the operation of voting machines, with the risk posed by Russians, whose meddling seems principally to have involved paid advertising trashing one or another candidate. That seems to be the character of the national emergency conjured as a pretext for this executive order, which will almost certainly be used to swing the 2018 congressional election in favor of the order’s authors and sponsors.

Don’t depend on NPR or the New York Times to tell you about this. The Constitution and the text of this thoroughly illegal, subversive and antidemocratic executive order might as well be in a foreign language, as far as their reporters are concerned, and all discussion of its implications for what’s left of our republic is carefully censored.

News Report of Local Stabbing Death Obfuscates

September 13th, 2018

Above the fold on page one of yesterday’s edition of my local paper–The Hartford Courant–under the headline, “Suspect Collapses in Court,” readers get an account of a scene in Enfield Superior Court involving a teenager accused of a fatal stabbing and a group of friends of the stabbing victim.  We learn that the spectators at the defendant’s presentment–forty of them–shouted obscenities at him in the courtroom, and we deduce that this was the cause of his collapse, in which he wept and fell to the floor during the proceeding. Some of the intruding spectators had to be escorted from the courtroom, and several started a brawl in the hallway and outside the courthouse. The defendant is pictured alongside the front-page text, a dark-skinned adolescent in tears, one of a small racial minority in Enfield, which is 90% Caucasian. 

The two journalists reporting the events in the courthouse and the events surrounding the stabbing very carefully avoided any mention of the racial implications of their narrative. They were forced to abandon key journalistic standards to accomplish this. For example, there is a quote from the defendant’s lawyer that her client was subjected to bullying at school in Enfield, but there is no attempt to support or rebut that charge or to connect it to the stabbing. The reporters mention that the accused boy withdrew from Enfield High School to finish his studies out of state, but they offer no further comment. No school official is quoted or even mentioned.

The stabbing occurred during a fist-fight on an Enfield street late at night, a fight that seems to have been precipitated by the boy who died. There is an implication that the boy showed up with friends to fight the defendant, but there is no clear statement from any witness relating to the details of the fight except a charge that the defendant stabbed the other boy more than once. The reporters mention that the accused had a bandage on his hand or wrist when he appeared in court, but they leave it to readers to discover from a photo that one of his eyes was swollen.

The journalists give readers no timeline whatsoever. The first event for which a time is mentioned is the 911 call, which didn’t come until after the stabbing. Left unanswered by the reporters: when the stabbing victim arrived for the fight, how long the fight lasted before the stabbing, and why law enforcement got no call until it was too late for help. Also neglected by the reporters is how a parade of disrupters could have taken over a courtroom full of law-enforcement personnel without being charged with any crime. The reporters tell us there was only one arrest.

Could the stabbing have been an act of self-defense? Was this dark-skinned defendant threatened by a crowd of light-skinned assailants? Did the light-skinned protesters get special treatment from court personnel? Is this an instance of institutionalized white supremacy? The Courant doesn’t tell us.

The headline should probably have read, “Lynch Mob Gathers at Enfield Courthouse.” Readers might have got a more complete account of what really happened.

Tort of the Century

September 5th, 2018

I’m probably not the only attorney in America who was inspired to pursue a law career by the accomplishments of Ralph Nader. In my case, it was a mistake. I should have gone to library school but, argumentative person that I am, I thought I was cut out for advocacy. Making the best of a bad decision, I restricted my practice to the cause of ordinary individuals, especially injured and disadvantaged people. My professional biases and prejudices have always run parallel to those of Ralph Nader. In civil matters, I’ve always been a plaintiff’s lawyer. 

One of Nader’s major projects, the American Museum of Tort Law, located in an old bank building about a half-hour from me in Winsted, Connecticut, should be an attraction for plaintiffs’ lawyers. I visited the museum a few weeks ago, when I joined the “studio” audience for a radio broadcast featuring an interview with Nader.  The museum is impressive. There are exhibits illustrating precedent-setting cases involving asbestos, cigarettes, automobiles, dangerous toys, and superheated coffee, among other hazards.  Each exhibit explores specific issues of civil liability for injury caused by wrongful conduct, the legal definition of the term “tort.” Most of the exhibits consist of big posters by fine-art cartoonists accompanied by plain-language explanatory text. There’s a collection of interesting exhibits, including an array of hazardous toys and a shiny, deadly Chevrolet Corvair.

What’s spectacularly missing from the museum is any mention of the tort of the century that occurred in New York City on September 11, 2001. Many precedents were set by that event and its legal aftermath, but they’re assiduously avoided by the curators of the tort museum. Maybe Nader doesn’t want to be singled out as a “conspiracy theorist” (although he does document the conspiracy General Motors initiated to destroy his reputation) or maybe they just haven’t got around to this topic yet. Also possible is that most museum visitors simply aren’t ready to confront the legal issues illustrated by the case. Attendance could fall in the shadow of an exhibit on the World Trade Center. Or it could rise.

If I were designing such an exhibit, I would concentrate on the legal precedents the events have set, in keeping with the rhetorical tone of the museum. This would permit harsh criticism of the legal system’s handling of the events of 9/11 without raising any suggestion of paranoia. So great is the weight of evidence of a profound corruption of the rule of law to accommodate this case that it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the U. S. government was somehow complicit.

Here’s what one Connecticut plaintiffs’ lawyer might recommend in the way of an exhibit discussing the tort of the century.

The tort.

By any explanation of the events of 9/11, the failure of the buildings must be reckoned a tort for which some person or persons are responsible. The buildings were designed to withstand powerful forces, including hurricanes, earth tremors, explosions and collisions with errant airplanes. Even the most optimistic terrorist could not reasonably hope to bring down one of the twin towers by crashing an airliner into it, much less both of them. And yet they came down, both skyscrapers, barely an hour after initial impact, killing many hundreds of people inside.

It was a collapse that exceeded all precedents. Never before or since has a concrete-and-steel building collapsed under such conditions. Video of the collapses is shocking. One moment the building is there, with people inside. Seconds later it’s reduced to dust, along with the occupants. Nothing like this had ever been seen before, and it occurred with cameras rolling, in our face. Were these important buildings in violation of applicable building codes? Are the codes deficient in some way? Did somebody rig them for destruction? There is no explanation of the collapse of the buildings that doesn’t implicate the owner and the city. As it turned out, the owner of the buildings got a multibillion dollar insurance settlement, and the mayor of the city at the time now sits at the right hand of the President of the United States. Events without precedent. Tort of the century.

The parties.

Even if you can’t pin the collapse of the buildings on the airlines whose planes were used to crash into them, you still have a tort for them to answer for. If, as official reports allege, men were allowed on board who commandeered the aircraft and used them as projectiles, the airlines would have to bear some liabililty for the immediate result.  There was a fall in the value of their stock on the New York exchange, but there never was an imposition of liability on any airline corporation. So far, we have the building owner and the airlines with what looks like open-and-shut liability, along with the city as a potentially culpable party, but in an unprecedented miscarriage of justice, nobody is to blame.

Then there’s the U. S. Air Force. Anybody who’s ever served in this outfit knows they brag about being able to intercept airborne intruders within minutes. In this case, they couldn’t find their way to New York City for an hour after the airliners stopped interacting with ground controls.  But you can’t sue the Air Force. This is because of a doctrine called “sovereign immunity.” There are many cases in which government–”the sovereign”–is accused of wrongdoing, but cases actually holding government liable for injury are a fairly recent phenomenon. For obvious reasons, governments–national and local–have held to the doctrine of immunity. If the U. S. Army mistakenly sends a missile through your bedroom window, don’t even think about suing anybody. If the Army ever had to pay for the injuries it’s caused, it would have gone bankrupt ages ago. And so the Air Force couldn’t be sued. Neither was there discipline for any of the Air Force officers who were in command of the interceptors that didn’t intercept. In fact, several were promoted.

It’s not unprecedented for culpable parties to escape liability, but in this case, the means of excusing the guilty was without precedent. By an act of Congress, victims and victims’ survivors were allowed to collect a sum of money from a fund, in amounts commensurate with the extent of the loss, including the (variable) value of lost lives, if they would pledge not to sue anybody. Almost everybody aggrieved by the catastrophe assented to this settlement. Following a catastrophic loss caused by wrongful conduct on the part of private individuals and government agents, the U. S. government issued and paid out on a policy insuring against that loss. It’s a new twist in tort law, at least, and, coupled with the doctrine of sovereign immunity, worth some consideration by the museum.

The investigation.

There are protocols for investigations of airline crashes and building failures. These protocols are important not only in connection with questions of liability but in the prevention of similar, avoidable losses. When buildings fall down, codes and code enforcement are called into question, and measures are often adopted to remedy deficiencies. When airliners crash, procedures for various aspects of air travel are reviewed and sometimes reformed. Among the protocols for failed buildings and crashed airliners is the preservation of materials found in intact portions and in debris after a loss. This investigation was without precedent in that it disposed of all of the physical evidence of the crash and building failures as scrap metal, and it managed to get  just about every item shipped beyond U. S. borders within weeks of the event. Someone should have been punished for the the premature destruction of evidence, but nobody was.

As for the official government investigation of the tort of the century, it took months to initiate, was conducted by an assembly of political hacks, relied on testimony given behind closed doors and not under oath, and seemed principally aimed at exonerating government officials, which it did. To accomplish this, the commission assembled to inform the public how this tort could have occurred was obliged to violate every rule of standard investigative practice. What was unprecedented in the investigation of the tort of the century was the willingness of the public to accept the self-serving explanation the government fed them. What happens to tort law when people sell out, as we seem to have done here? Question for museum patrons.

Lasting effects.

The tort of malfeasance typically goes unpunished, and this undermines the credibility of a republic like ours. The tort of the century illustrates this phenomenon. Since it happened, we have allowed standards of every kind to deteriorate. What we seem willing tolerate–war, gross material inequality, environmental degradation, enrichment of public officials, hiphop, etc.–has broadened and deepened over the past 17 years, and this should worry us as workers and museum patrons.