Archive for September, 2018

Who Me?

Sunday, 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

Thursday, 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

Sunday, 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

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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.