September 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
I just got around to reading yesterday’s New York Times. I just read two stories that made me angry.
One reports that, when Secretary of State Kerry asked Mr. Sameh Shoukry, the Prime Minister of the Military Government of Egypt, to join the effort to stop the growth and spread of ISIS, he responded, ‘Egypt believes it is very important for the world to continue their efforts strongly to fight this extremism.’ But Egyptian officials declined to specify what help they would provide in the campaign against ISIS, and Mr. Shoukry made it clear that he also had in mind fighting Islamist militants at home and in neighboring Libya.”
Translation: “Oh, you mean those crazy ISIS people? Oh no, we wouldn’t be interested in becoming involved in that problem. After all, they’re in Iraq and Syria, aren’t they? We’re too busy with our own issues to help you out over there. Good luck, though!”
The other story reveals how ISIS picks up over a million dollars a day by selling oil they steal from Syria and Iraq and selling it on the black market in Turkey. When President Obama asked Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to crack down on that illegal avenue of funding, a Turkey “senior official” described the talks as “sensitive”. The real response came a few days later. Here is how it went:
“Turkey declined to sign a communiqué on Thursday in Saudi Arabia that committed Persian Gulf states in the region to counter ISIS, even limited to the extent each nation considered ‘appropriate.‘ Turkish officials told their American counterparts that with 49 Turkish diplomats being held as hostages in Iraq, they could not risk taking a public stance against the terror group.”
Translation: “We are grateful you guys decided to send your pilots over here to stop ISIS. They’re real scary dudes. We hope not too many of your young people are shot down. It would be terrible if they are captured by ISIS. But we think we may be able to make deal to save our diplomats. And besides, our people really like the bargain prices for that black market oil. Good luck!”
Yesterday I posted my reaction to Obama’s pledge to stop ISIS. I think he allowed himself to be bullied into making an unwise promise and violated the Constitution. After further thought, and after these two stories confirm what I expected to be the reaction of the countries located in the Levant [see yesterday's post to find out what "Levant" means.], I have a sort of “Plan B” reaction.
If President Obama intended to declare war on ISIS, he, at least, should have negotiated with Middle Eastern countries who face more imminent threats from ISIS than we do, before announcing his decision. That would have given Secretary some leverage. By making the commitment first and recruiting allies second, he left his negotiator nothing with which to negotiate. Why should Turkey, Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia become involved in an expensive and dangerous conflict with ISIS when all they have to do is make encouraging but meaningless noises while American men, women and taxpayers do the all the fighting and bill paying?
Here is a link to the Egypt story: Egypt
Here is a link to the Turkey story: Turkey
To paraphrase President Obama, this was a dumb way to start a war.
September 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
I don’t have anything to add to this. I just watched Elizabeth Warren talking to Bill Moyers.
It is inspiring and her obvious authenticity and sincerity are so different from the usual talking points presentations of Washington politicians, carefully vetted and sanitized, that it broke through my political filters.
I hope you will watch the program and then look on the left side of the screen to find a list of other videos. Try the one labeled “Web Extra . . . .”
Here is the link: Elizabeth Warren
September 3, 2014 § 6 Comments
I have a proposal for consideration. I know that, at least for today, it has no chance of any consideration. It may be a permanent “non-starter”, the common euphemism for a fatuous fantasy. Still, because I have been thinking about it, I have decided to own it by posting it on the internet.
I propose that the United States Congress enact a law requiring every citizen of the United States, on the day he or she becomes eighteen years of age, be drafted into public service for a period of two years. No exemptions should be granted for physical impairment (unless the impairment is so severe that the person is unable to perform any useful work). No exemption should be granted to permit the person to attend an educational institution.
The draftee should be permitted to apply for available types of public service and the applications should be approved or denied by boards of citizens residing in the communities where the draftees live (similar to draft boards during WWII).
Those decisions should be based on a quota system established to insure that enough applicants are approved to perform all the tasks and goals set for public service during the period for which the draftee is being considered. One of the categories of public service should be military service. That category should be large enough to insure that the national security requirements of the nation are satisfied.
The non-military categories would consist of such tasks as public park construction and repair; public school construction and repair; teacher aide and student mentoring; expanding the availability of health care to under served communities with supervised health care trainees; and other public service jobs. The model would be the CCC program of the 1930’s.
One feature of this program should be the extension of the GI Bill to insure that each draftee is able to enroll in a college, university, technical school or apprentice program for a period of at least four years. It should provide for payment of tuition and a stipend sufficient to support the draftees who choose to take advantage of the education benefit.
The Draftees’ Reaction
I assume the young people would complain about this idea, but spending two years between high school and college, some job or career wouldn’t damage them as much as they might think. After all, we all live longer now, so they’d have had plenty of time to make mistakes after they reached twenty. Getting a late start wouldn’t be so bad.
When I was eighteen, I had the results of polio and didn’t qualify for the draft. But I would have been happy to join this kind of program. I probably would have married my sweetheart, just like I did. We would have found some way to work together and we would have been fine, probably better than the way it actually happened. Who knows? One thing sure. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
This would address five problems.
First, it would moderate the eagerness of our population to goad our government toward military solutions for world problems. If our military forces consisted of a general cross section of our population, mothers would not be so sanguine about going to war.
Second, it would transfer a sizable amount of money to American young people as well as furnishing them with employment alternatives to gang membership, drug culture and irresponsible idleness.
Third, it would enable generations of Americans to get college educations.
Fourth, the transfer of money the program would help to solve the inequality problem presented by Thomas Picketty.
Finally, it would encourage a sense of community and involvement in public service, a counter measure against the current and growing culture that foments division and suspicion, especially based on hatred of democratically elected government.
Well, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably shaking your head and have concluded that Bob has finally lost his last marble. I know this is a fairy tale today. I don’t like professional armies. I don’t like wealth inequality. I don’t like price tags on higher education that limit it to a dwindling elite class. I don’t like military cops and center city crime and a criminal justice system that jails generations of mostly black young men. I think this would address those issues.
What do you think?
September 1, 2014 § 2 Comments
The Dallas News has published a description of how Gregg Abbott used the authority of the Texas Attorney General’s office in 2010 to shut down a Harris County voter registration drive called “Houston Votes”. Here is a link to the story: Houston Votes .
I urge all to read it carefully.
The only honest and truthful statement made by any representative of the Attorney General’s office is this one, made in response to the story: ““In this investigation . . . evidence uncovered dictates direction,” Now I have omitted the phrase “. . .and all other investigations conducted by the office of the Attorney General . . .” because, while I have some suspicions about those other investigations, I don’t have any information about them.
So far as concerns the Houston Votes investigation, the facts uncovered by the Dallas News are: The accusation that apparently triggered it came from Catherine Engelbrecht, leader of the King Street Patriots, a right-wing outfit based in Harris County. Her public statements about the Houston Votes effort to enfranchise people in low income neighborhoods were laced with multiple easily identifiable lies. She quoted an inflammatory statement attributed to a Black Panther. The statement was made four years before the Houston Votes effort was launched. Then, she claimed that the building housing the Houston Votes project was associated with Black Panthers, a lie. The Houston Votes office was nine miles away from the Panther headquarters. There was no connection between the two .
The evidence acquired by Abbott’s investigation was submitted to the Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, a Republican, who refused to file any criminal charges. A spokesman for the DA’s office explained that criminal charges were filed only if there was “probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed.”
So, as stated, I agree that the “evidence uncovered” dictated the “direction”. And the “direction” was, in fact, a gross assault on democracy’s most basic principle: That government should be based on the consent of the governed, expressed through their votes.
I urge you to read the Dallas News story carefully and reflect on the likely consequences of elevating this man Abbott to the governorship. How would you like to have a governor who slavishly responds to the reckless lies of Catherine Engelbrecht?
By the way, I have written about these King Street Patriots before. See “King Street Patriots”, a post in September 2010.
August 24, 2014 § 1 Comment
A Travis County grand jury has charged Governor Rick Perry with having violated two sections of the Texas Penal Code: 39.02 and 36.03. Those sections are as follows:
§ 39.02. ABUSE OF OFFICIAL CAPACITY. (a) A public servant commits an offense if, with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another, he intentionally or knowingly: (1) violates a law relating to the public servant’s office or employment; or (2) misuses government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant’s custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.
(b) An offense under Subsection (a)(1) is a Class A misdemeanor.
(c) An offense under Subsection (a)(2) is: (1) a Class C misdemeanor if the value of the use of the thing misused is less than $20; (2) a Class B misdemeanor if the value of the use of the thing misused is $20 or more but less than $500 ; (3) a Class A misdemeanor if the value of the use of the thing misused is $500 or more but less than $1,500; (4) a state jail felony if the value of the use of the thing misused is $1,500 or more but less than $20,000; (5) a felony of the third degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $20,000 or more but less than $100,000; (6) a felony of the second degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $100,000 or more but less than $200,000; or (7) a felony of the first degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $200,000 or more.
(d) A discount or award given for travel, such as frequent flyer miles, rental car or hotel discounts, or food coupons, are not things of value belonging to the government for purposes of this section due to the administrative difficulty and cost involved in recapturing the discount or award for a governmental entity.
Sec. 36.03. COERCION OF PUBLIC SERVANT OR VOTER. (a) A person commits an offense if by means of coercion he:
(1) influences or attempts to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influences or attempts to influence a public servant to violate the public servant’s known legal duty; or
(2) influences or attempts to influence a voter not to vote or to vote in a particular manner.
(b) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor unless the coercion is a threat to commit a felony, in which event it is a felony of the third degree.
(c) It is an exception to the application of Subsection (a)(1) of this section that the person who influences or attempts to influence the public servant is a member of the governing body of a governmental entity, and that the action that influences or attempts to influence the public servant is an official action taken by the member of the governing body. For the purposes of this subsection, the term “official action” includes deliberations by the governing body of a governmental entity.
The Factual Background
The Travis County District Attorney presides over the Public Integrity Unit, an agency charged with investigating and prosecuting public officials who are found to have misused their authority in some corrupt or criminal manner. That unit is funded with money appropriated by the Legislature.
In April, 2013, acting on a phone tip from a motorist in Austin, the police arrested Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and charged her with DWI. A video of her arrest and jailing, later released to the media, showed her behaving in a drunken and embarrassing way. She plead guilty and served half of a 45 day jail sentence.
DA Lehmberg is a Democrat. Perry is a Republican.
On June 14, 2013, Governor Perry vetoed the appropriation of funding for the Public Integrity Unit. Before doing so, he publicly demanded the resignation of DA Lehmberg and stated that, unless she resigned, he would veto the funding. She refused to resign. According to press reports, the Governor and members of his staff engaged in negotiations before June 14, offering to appoint a Democrat to replace Lehmberg if she would resign. Those negotiations were not successful.
At the time the funding was vetoed, the Public Integrity Unit was engaged in an investigation of possible criminality related to the handling of millions of dollars worth of public funding for a cancer research facility. There were allegations that supporters and large contributors to the political campaigns of the Governor and other GOP officials were wrongfully benefited.
According to press reports, two other Texas District Attorneys were found guilty of DWI in the recent past, during Perry’s term of office. One of those DWI charged involved the DA’s collission with another motorist. The Governor took no notice of those convictions, nor did he question the budgets for the offices of those DA’s. Both of them were Republicans.
The Facts Surrounding the Indictments
In June, 2013, Texans for Public Justice, a liberal group, filed a criminal complaint against the Governor, charging him with wrongfully using the threat of a veto to force the resignation of DA Lehmberg.
Ms Lehmberg recused herself from any action or decision based on that complaint.
A District Judge in San Antonio, a Republican appointed by then Governor George W. Bush, appointed Mike McCrum to act as special prosecutor to handle the complaint. McCrum had served as an assistant U.S. Attorney when G.W. Bush was President. His nomination to become U.S. Attorney was supported by Republican Senators John Cornyn and Key Bailey Hutchinson.
McCrum, according to a report by a San Antonio reporter, interviewed over 40 witnesses in the course of investigating the charges against Perry. He presented the evidence to the Travis County grand jury which, as stated, handed down a “true bill”, reflecting their opinion that there was cause to believe that Perry had committed crimes,, sufficient to warrant a trial based on those charges.
The Issues and the Non-Issues
Governor Perry has not been charged with wrongfully exercising his right to veto the funding for the Public Integrity Unit. He has not been charged with publicly calling for DA Lehmberg to resign. Like any citizen, he was and is free to express his opinion about her or any other public official. Perry’s indictment does not have anything to do with whether or not DA Lehmberg should have, or should now, resign and discontinue her duties as District Attorney. That is a matter for her and the voters of Travis County to decide.
It is a crime, however, for him or any other public official, to use his authority to force, or to try to force, another public official to stop performing his or her duties, or to perform them in some way contrary to his or her oath of office. That is what Rick Perry is charged with having done.
So, all the high-toned pontificating by the likes of Professor Alan Dershowitz and David Axelrod about the “sketchy” charges and the “criminalization of politics” has more to do with their cherished images of moral rectitude than with their understanding of the facts and the law.
As usual, the Texas Observer has the best balanced account of the controversy I have read. Here is a link.
August 23, 2014 § 2 Comments
My Judgment of Protective Edge
I have recently been critical of Israel’s conduct of a war on the Palestinians living in Gaza. I agree. of course, that Israel had the right, indeed was obligated, to respond to Hamas rockets fired toward Israeli civilians. When, after the war started, Israel discovered Hamas tunnels enabling Hamas forces to launch surprise attacks in Israeli territory, Israel had the right to destroy them.
By criticizing Israel’s Protective Edge war in Gaza I do not intend to equate Israel with Hamas. The declared aims of the two are completely different and the standards of morality professed by Israel are different from that of Hamas, especially with respect to their willingness to injure and kill innocent civilians.
These differences do not, however, excuse Israel from culpability for the results of the tactics and weaponry they have used to wage war. I reject the idea that one combatant in a war is entitled to wage war according to the moral standards of its opponent. That idea leads to a downward spiral of barbarity. It is the equivalent of what in our own country’s recent history was known as lynch law: Where the cruelty of the crime claimed to have been committed by the suspect is offered as an excuse to lynch him.
Israel does not disagree with this analysis. They do not claim the right to respond to barbarity with barbarity. They do, however, respond to criticism of their tactics in Protective Edge by pointing to the nature and history of Hamas. They point to the thousands of rockets launched by Hamas toward Israel. Israel claims that they take reasonable measures to avoid civilian casualties, while Hamas deliberately seeks civilian casualties.
As the days and weeks of the conflict elapse, Israel’s defensive rhetoric becomes less and less persuasive. The numbers and the pictures do not match the words.
Hamas has killed 64 Israeli soldiers and 2 Israeli civilians. No significant damage has been done to Israeli infrastructure.
Israel has killed over 2,000 people living in Gaza, approximately 2/3 of whom were innocent civilians. Over 10,000 homes of Gaza citizens have been destroyed and an estimated 30,000 more have been damaged. The infrastructure of Gaza, its water, electricity, schools and health facilities have been either destroyed or significantly damaged. The surviving population in Gaza are living in primitive conditions.
Some Historical and Current Resources
I have been reading some sources of information about the history of the present conflict. It seems that every conflict in the Middle East is an episode in a long history that sometimes encompasses many centuries. I have made no effort to become an expert on this trove of information, but I have found a few summaries that were interesting. By citing them, I do not assert that they are unbiased. I have found very little that would pass that test.
Here is an editorial from Haaretz dated July 28, 2014.
Here, for some comic relief, is an interview on Fox News of Rick Santorum concerning Obama’s “failure to support Israel”. Toward the end of the interview, you can almost see the impatience of the Fox guy when Santorum fails to use the leading questions to attack Obama sufficiently to satisfy Fox.
Ari Shavit is a favorite of mine. I have previously written about the valuable information I gained by reading his recent book, “My Promised Land”. He impresses me as a clear-eyed Israeli who, despite and, in some ways, because of his love and admiration for his native land, writes with skill and truth about its conflicts and challenges. Here is his op/ed piece in Haaretz. He challenges liberals like me to recognize the evil of the various Muslim groups that have emerged in the Middle East. He warns against treating them as innocent victims while criticizing the excesses of Israel’s response to them. In his final paragraph he acknowledges the “. . .justified criticism against Israel (for the occupation, settlements, racist fringes). . . .”
Finally, here is a powerful article written by Ari Shavit for Haaretz a couple of days ago. It expresses better than I can, the way I feel about Israel and the proper reaction to its policies.
Ari Shavit places me squarely where I often find myself: Opposed to the acts or omissions of one side of a conflict while equally or, as here, even more opposed to the opponents of that side. I remember well years ago when I wrote a brief and a law review article about the right of “Remonstrance” and received very complementary responses from people eager to use my effort as justification for their hatred of government – the so-called “militia” crazy fringe groups.
Finally, here is an article by a Haaretz blogger, an Israeli liberal, who expresses the kind of troubling issues that have affected me for the past six weeks.
The View From Palestine
In addition to Haaretz, I have been reading articles posted by Nadia Harhash, a Palestinian woman who has managed to retain her gentle intelligence while living in the chaos of Protective Edge, an achievement I regard with admiration.
Here is a long essay posted by Ms. Harhash. It reads like a “stream of consciousness” rendition of how she reacts to living in Gaza. I posted a comment, dissenting from a sentence in her essay and she replied. English is not her native language but she manages to convey some of her feelings and thoughts.
The Dahiya Doctrine and Other Legal Issues
Here is a long essay by an American anthropologist, Jeff Halper, who has lived in Israel since 1973. He is a well educated critic of Israel who has written several books about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is worth noting that his presence in Israel, free to express his opposition to the policies of its government, is strong evidence that Israel practices admirable tolerance of dissent.
The Dahiya Doctrine was approved in 2006 during an Israeli conflict with Lebanon. Here is the way Dr. Halper describes it, quoting an Israeli military commander:
“In the second Lebanon War in 2006, after destroying the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut, the Hizbollah ‘stronghold,’ Israel announced its ‘Dahiya Doctrine.’ Declared Gadi Eisenkott, head of the IDF’s Northern Command,
‘What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006, ‘will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on…. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.… This is not a recommendation.This is a plan. And it has been approved.'”
Four years later, during another conflict, the Jerusalem Post article stated that the Dahiya Doctrine was still being debated within the Israeli military leadership. I don’t know whether that doctrine governs today’s IDF strategy in Gaza, but some of the reports of attacks on civilian locations look suspiciously like it.
For example, here is story from yesterday’s Haaretz reporting that Israel’s bombs killed three military leaders of Hamas. Buried in the account of this success is the following description of last Tuesday’s effort to kill Mohammed Deif, the commander of the Hamas military wing:
“Even more significant would be the death of Mohammed Deif, the shadowy figure who has survived several previous Israeli assassination attempts with severe injuries and was the target of Tuesday night’s attack. Mr. Deif’s fate remained unknown Thursday, though the body of his 3-year-old daughter, Sara, was recovered from the rubble of the Gaza City home where five one-ton bombs also killed Mr. Deif’s wife, baby son and at least three others.“
This raises a question: Was ten thousand pounds of explosives an appropriate way to react to a report that the subject of a long hunt was in a home? Was there no way for troops on the ground to go to that location and either kill or capture Deif without killing his wife, son and three others?
This has absolutely nothing to do with anything serious. I will add it because, when I read it, I escaped, for a few moments, from death and war and fear. Here is today’s post from skywalker>