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.

Journalistic Malpractice

April 8th, 2017

Only one business–the press–enjoys protection under the U.S. constitution, very special protection that our nation’s news-mongers routinely abuse. The damage they do is all but incalculable, but it’s safe to say the awards would be astronomical if our courts recognized legal liability for journalistic malpractice. 

The latest atrocity from our embedded mass  media is their coverage of the US missile attack on a Syrian military airfield. As is their custom, US news reporters rushed past the facts surrounding the events, hurtling headlong into accusations, political pronouncements, declarations of pride and glory and applause for the brave civilian warriors in Washington who launched the missiles. Reporters had to abandon professional responsibililty to sell the story, which is not just false, but preposterous.

The story they’re telling is that the Syrian leader (who, in unreportable news, is supported by the overwhelming majority of Syrians and has waged a six-year struggle with a rebellion armed by governments in the US and Europe) this leader dropped poison gas on a village currently controlled by rebels. The only evidence presented by the media is a video of people who look as if they might have been poisoned. The video was provided by the rebels, who enjoy widespread support in Washington, London and Tel Aviv. This evidence is considered sufficient, in the nearly unanimous opinion of US news-mongers, to launch guided missiles against Syrian soldiers without legal authority of any kind. Although the missile attack was clearly meant as revenge, our media characterize it as an act of humanitarian intervention. Lately, they have been offering the attack as a seminal indication that Trump might just be a real president after all.

Whether news-consumers are buying this story can’t be known, since the media never assess their own credibility. Polls asking whether people believe what they hear in the news are few and far between. The media tell us we believe three skyscrapers fell down in Manhattan because airplanes crashed into two of them. They tell us we believe our government had nothing to do with the deaths of the people who were inside those buildings when they came down. Millions have expressed disbelief at the media account, skepticism that the media, speaking  with one voice, treat as madness.

From the point of view of media critics, madness is believing anything the media tell us. A wise man said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. We’ve had experience with presidents who waged war to escape adverse public opinion. Typically, the media allow them to lie about events and conditions, and we shed an ocean of blood in consequence on one or another pretext sold as a rationale for war. We’ve let this happen over and over again. If we’re not insane, we’ll eventually put a stop to this madness and hold our media to account.

If they were honest, the reporters would acknowledge that they probably invited the poison gas attack. The rebels know that our media will accept as truth any propaganda they care to produce. Poison a few civilians, put the sick and the dead on CD, send the CD off to CNN, and within days US missiles will rain down on your enemies in the Syrian army. It’s plausible, and it actually happened a few years ago, minus the missiles, which the president at the time decided not to launch. Now,  with a new, dumber US president, we’re expected to believe that the Syrian leader just felt like poisoning some civilians, and that’s the only reason this happened.  Yeah, right.

Reporters could have demanded additional evidence of the gas attack–debris from a bomb or missile, contaminated material or living tissue, photos of the site attacked, for instance–but they didn’t do that. They could have asked whether there was legal authority to attack Syria, but they didn’t. They could have invited a discussion of possible alternatives to armed force in response to the video, but they didn’t. They didn’t do anything to find out what really happened or to help us decide on the best course of action, as journalists are supposed to do. They are liars. They are whores. They are enemies. In a just world they would be sued till naked.

Judge Judged

March 23rd, 2017

If you would like to find out why Democrats are so widely reviled, spend a few hours watching the interrogation of Neil Gorsuch, now under consideration for the Supreme Court by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Gorsuch is a Federal appeals court judge from Colorado. Democrats found a half-dozen cases (out of the hundreds Gorsuch has decided) on which to base an orchestrated campaign of character assassination. Their attack was as unpersuasive as it was brutal. They owe the judge an apology.

As citizens, Gorsuch and I are almost certainly on opposite sides of many issues, but as lawyers we share a view of what judges are supposed to do, and Gorsuch, after hours of questioning, is exposed as an exemplary judge. What he does is follow precedent, as he’s required to do. Sometimes, the result is that decent people get hurt. There are deficiencies in federal law that judges have no authority to correct. Democrats turned up three or four such cases and they pounded him incessantly with them. The judge challenged the lawmmakers to remedy the deficiences with legislation, and they pleaded impotence.

Because of Gorsuch’s adherence to judicial precedent, nearly all the cases he has sat on were decided unanimously. He’s been reversed only once by the Supreme Court in ten years on the appeals court bench. His Democratic assailants tried to find something in his record showing political bias, but there was nothing, so they resorted to underhanded tactics like guilt by association (anonymous rich people have spent millions promoting  his nomination) and name-calling (he’s an “originalist” and a “corporatist”).

The Dems’ onslaught was transparently phony, as senators read statements prepared by others pulling quotes out of context from writings Gorsuch published before he was appointed to the federal bench and goading him to agree or disagree with opinions of others on controversial legal issues and to disclose his personal political opinions. As hard as it may be to believe that a clown like Trump could pick a qualified person for the Supreme Court, the hearing–two days of nonstop, repetitive, often disrespectful interrogation–was conclusive: the nominee is an asset and  should be confirmed. C-SPAN has the hearing archived, and if you can watch Feinstein, Blumenthal and Franken without nausea, it’s definitely worth a few hours.

The Brand

March 8th, 2017

A few days ago at a high school basketball game here in Connecticut, fans cheering for the mostly light-skinned home team taunted players from the mostly dark-skinned visiting team by chanting the word “Trump.” The school principal correctly interpreted the chant as a comment on the race of the visiting players and disciplined the offending students. The incident made news across the state and embarrassed a number of people.

The media discussion of the incident focused on the racial prejudices that might have given rise to it. What the media missed was the reflection this chant casts on the Trump name. It’s a name that once stood for wealth and status and success that’s suddenly become a shorthand expression of racial mockery. And it wasn’t Trump’s detracters that used his brand in this way–to hurt feelings–but his most ardent young supporters.

What if the Trump brand is being degraded by his presidency? Some would say the brand is his principal asset. If the brand is losing value, the value of the property that bears the brand must also be in decline. That means the monetary worth of Trump’s estate depends critically on what he does as president. We call that a conflict of interests, and there’s only one remedy for it: liquidation.

Trump can’t function properly as president as long as there is a Trump brand. His assets must be sold and the Trump brand must be retired. Sorry, Donald. Nobody forced you to run for president. It’s unfortunate that the mass media didn’t mention this during the election, but that’s fake news for you. You knew about it, and so did many of us.

The home-team school principal did point out that it was a small group in the student cheering section that took up the Trump chant, and it’s probably worth noting that the same is true for Trump support generally. Sixty million people may have voted for him, but over a hundred million didn’t who could have. For some reason, the media never ask him whether he owes any obligation to that majority. He does. The idea that his side “won” the election and is thus entitled to make policy without consulting the majority is delusion. Policy’s just words on paper.

Trump, as the fake news media don’t tell you, faces these two imperatives: he must sell his assets, and he must accommodate the majority who don’t support him. If he fails in either of these, he will have abused the authority of his office and must be impeached and removed.

Presidents Day

February 20th, 2017

The Donald Trump presidency exposes a serious deficiency in our constitutional system. Despite numerous safeguards adopted by the authors of our charter–checks and balances, as we call them–the president of our union of sovereign states now wields imperial power, far beyond anything the founders could have contemplated. Backed by military force of unprecedented destructive power, the US chief executive can decree the political course of just about every nation on earth. Letting that power reside in the hands of a vanity-driven real estate speculator frightens many people.

Far from a world order with the US president at the head of it, the government created at the founding was one of enumerated powers, controlled by the people acting through Congress. The founders’ writings tell us that the president’s role was to supervise the officers and departments created by Congress to administer the government, always according to rules acceptable to the people, expressed as the will of Congress.

Observers around the world claimed to be startled when the first president George Washington vacated his office in favor of his successor at the expiration of his second four-year term, but locals knew that Washington wouldn’t have dared to assume authority not granted by the Constitution. Neither would Congress ever have permitted such a usurpation.

Right up through Dwight Eisenhower, presidents have been held fairly closely to the rules. Franklin Roosevelt had to wait for Japan to attack before he could join World War II. Truman had to call the Korean War a “police action” to keep it legal, and the courts kept him from taking over private industry. Things changed abruptly in the 1960’s. Since Kennedy, there’s been no such delicacy, as successive chief executives simply seized power, putting the country through war, debt and discontent as a result.

Not that presidents before Kennedy did much better. Most presidents have been vain, ingratiating crackpots who have done more harm than good. Our presidents have proved that the ability to get votes is by no means a qualification to govern.

History tells us we need additional restraints on the power of the executive branch. We probably ought to have three presidents–the people’s top three choices–with equal authority, acting by majority rule. They could check and balance each other and guard against the neo-dictatorial regime we tolerate now, one that conflicts starkly with the fundamental values of republican government.