Some Brief Saturday Afternoon Comments

October 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Dan Carlin, Cent Ugar and TYT

For several years I have enjoyed a series of podcasts from a web site entitled “Dan Carlin’s Hard Core History”.  Before my legs developed neuropathy that made it impossible, I was a runner (when I was much younger), then a jogger (for years after that), then a walker (in my 70’s).  To amuse myself during the hour or so while engaged in those exercises, I listened to podcasts.  My favorites were Carlin’s and Ira Glass’s “This American Life”.

Recently I discovered that Dan Carlin has a new podcast series, “Common Sense”, a weekly commentary on various issues and occasional interviews.  Carlin is not an ideologue but, because he bases his opinions on facts and research, he usually, but not always, arrives at liberal conclusions.  His disdain for both Fox News and CNN is constant, not because of their political biases but because he finds them intellectually barren.

I mention Carlin because, on one of his “Common Sense” episodes, he interviewed Cenk Ugar, the head of an online group of news and entertainment channels called “TYT”, an abbreviation for The Young Turks.  Here is a link to that episode:  Common Sense

This is an hour-long show.  It requires some patience.  The first 8 or 9 minutes consist of Dan Carlin’s monologue about himself and his approach to his job.  It was interesting to me because, as stated, I have respect for him and I enjoy his ideas.  If you don’t want to bother with that, just move the cursor over to about 9 and you will hear a conversation between him and Cenk Ugar.  For me, this conversation was a treat.  Two intelligent guys talked about several issues that interest me and did so in an intelligent way.

In case you are too busy to invest an hour, please Google TYT Network and sample some of the episodes you find there.  Ugar and two or three others discuss politics every week day on a TYT channel called “The Young Turks”.  You can click on recent shows from a column along the right side of the screen.

BTW, the TYT network has almost twice as many daily average viewers as CNN and significantly more than Fox.  Two billion people have signed up as “members”.  You guys are probably already aware of it and are regarding as quaint the fact that I have just awakened to discover it.  I hope that is true but, if it isn’t, you should try it.  I have found it more interesting than either CNN or MSNBC.

One more thing – and this is important, so listen up – Ugar and his crew are trying to use Article 5 of the Constitution to force a state legislature-compelled convention to add an amendment to the Constitution that will prohibit corporations from making political contributions and declaring that corporations are not people and, hence do not have enforceable First Amendment rights.  The state legislatures of Vermont and California have already joined this effort.  Recent polling reflects that 80% of Americans are in favor of this idea and opposed to the present money domination of our political system.  Both Democrats and Republicans agree on this issue.

The effort is called Wolf-Pak.  Please Google it and sign up.

Gary Webb, The Contras and Cocaine

There is a new movie out, Kill the Messenger.   It is about Gary Webb, an Oakland California newspaper reporter who, in 1996, wrote a three-part series of articles entitled “Dark Alliance”.  He described an alliance between the CIA, the Contras and Central America drug smugglers to finance the ouster of Nicaragua’s government.  The Reagan Administration was opposed to that government because its president was Daniel Ortega, the leader of the Sandinistas, was resisting the influence of the neo-colonial policies of conservative political faction backing the Contras.  This cocaine connection was an added piece to the Iran-Contra scandal that  exposed the lawlessness of Ronald Reagan and led to the imprisonment of Ollie North, one of the wack-a-doos commissioned by Reagan and his neo-cons to trash the “rule of law”, a idea much admired in public but ignored in private when it hampers the current goals of government leaders.

There are two long stories that describe this tawdry episode in our history.  One is this recent article in The Nation.  Another is a long account of how John Kerry, when he was a freshman Senator, risked his political career by sponsoring an investigation into the Contra-Cocine-CIA connection.  This story appeared in Salon.

Waiting for Turkey and Sanity About a Travel Ban

Finally, I am still waiting for some media attention to a couple of facts that are still bothering me.

First, I don’t know why, despite all the pursed lips and head shaking about why Turkey is being so obdurate about doing something about the impending fall of Kobani to the forces of ISIL, no one ever mentions that maybe it might have something to do with the oil deal between Turkey and ISIL  Yeah, yeah I know about the PIK issue and Turkey’s complaint about reluctance to join the opposition to Bashar al-Assad.  But shouldn’t the oil deal at least be mentioned?

Second, when the GOP ignorami bray about travel bans from Ebola infected West African nations, why doesn’t someone ask them how it would work, given the fact that there are no direct commercial flights from any of those countries to the U.S..  Do they really want a travel ban from Belgium or the UK or other European nations from which travelers from West Africa change planes on their way to New York.

These are the matters that evoke conversations between me and a TV set for a few seconds until I realize I am talking to a machine.  So, who’s the crazy one?


Turkey Makes a Deal

September 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Secret Quid

As I have noted in a recent post, Turkey has been unbecomingly shy about joining the effort to curb and eventually destroy the paramilitary forces calling themselves ISIS or the Caliphate State.  When several Middle East nations issued a joint communique declaring their opposition to ISIS, Turkey refused to sign it, citing, as an excuse,  their effort to rescue 49 of their citizens held hostage by ISIS .

Today’s papers report that the hostages were returned to Turkey.  They were released from “. . .Raqqa, Syria, the de facto headquarters of the Islamic State militants . . .” according the NY Times report.

Turkish officials declared no ransom was paid.  An unnamed “senior American official” said  the U.S. had not been notified of the release of the Turkish hostages and had not been asked to assist in their rescue.

So, we know what the “quo” was.  We know nothing about the “quid”.  I may be proved wrong, but I have a guess:  It had something to do with the future degree of seriousness with which Turkey cuts off ISIS’s funding resulting from the black marketing of oil stolen from Iraq and sold at bargain prices to people in Turkey.

Part of  my suspicion is based on the near hysterical reaction of the Turkish government to last week’s NY Times story about this black market oil.  The Times has a follow up story describing that reaction.  I invite you to read the story but, to give you a taste of what I mean by “hysterical”, here is a short excerpt from the government press:

On Friday, leading pro-government newspapers controlled by allies of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published front-page photographs of Ms. Yeginsu, [the Times reporter] who is Turkish, and suggested she was a traitor and a foreign agent.”

If and when we ever learn the truth, I suspect we will discover that, not only do Turkish consumers enjoy a windfall from cheap oil, but also a few well placed people, probably related in some way to the government, are profiting handsomely from the new oil business.  I confess to having no facts on which to base this suspicion but I’m not bound by the ethics of journalism or the rules of evidence in a trial, so I can speculate.

The Oil Industry

Most of my above stated suspicion is based on my observation of the oil industry during my adult lifetime.  I regard it as a unique example of capitalism’s worst offspring.  It is an industry whose operation typically begins with deception and ends in corruption.

The deception occurs when the searchers for oil start buying access to the subsurface of land often owned by rural farmers or ranchers.   Capitalism regards deception acceptable when, instead of  outright lying, it is limited to using fully the asymmetry of information between the buyer and the seller.  The concept is enshrined in the patois of the market as caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware”.

So, when a land agent hired by the oil company visits with a landowner, the agent’s employer has done state-of-the-art analysis to determine the likelihood of oil beneath the surface of te landowner’s farm or ranch.  The company knows how important to its plans the acquisition of each specific tract is.  It knows the probable future demand for oil and the likely effect on oil prices demand will produce.

Little or none of this information is available to the landowner.  So, a bargain is struck by two parties, one of whom is blindfolded.    His or her “bewareness” is useless but the slogan nevertheless applies to strip him or her of any remedy if the deal proves to be grossly unfair.

Then the corruption kicks in.  Once the oil is discovered, it is raised to the surface, where, to be marketed, it must be transported to refineries or to distant markets through pipelines.  Paths for these pipelines must cross long lanes of privately owned land.  Here, the blindfold won’t work because even the most simple minded landowner will understand, if his land is athwart the most efficient path for a pipeline, he has some bargaining power.

This problem has been taken care of by the concept of eminent domain:  The government requires that the pipeline be permitted to proceed.  This is not an evil concept.  It prevents one or more greedy landowners from sabotaging the availability of a necessary resource in our motorized culture, and greed is not limited to people in the oil business.

The problem with eminent domain is that adjusting the relative rights of  pipeline operators and  landowners can become legal contests between financial behemoths and struggling individuals lacking the wealth to finance extended litigation.  This week’s Texas Observer describes how this process actually works.   I acknowledge the process doesn’t always involve the kind of horror reported here, but the story illustrates the danger of legal weapons  that can be used as a sword to overwhelm weak adversaries.

The real corruption occurs after the oil reaches the refinery or the market place.  Like the drug business, the awl bidnes involves billions of dollars and the managers of those billions are often newly minted millionaires and billionaires.  Noblesse oblige is not a concept with which they are familiar.  They have not been acculturated by generations of wealthy living.  They are driven by fear that unimaginable wealth rapidly acquired, can as rapidly be taken away.  That fear, like most fear, makes them ruthless.  They correctly identify democratically elected government as their most dangerous foe, because it is the only foe with enough resources to challenge them.  So, with unerring logic, they focus their capacity for corruption on elective officials.

Whether it’s satchels of cash,   jewelry and fleets of expensive automobiles for Middle Eastern sheiks or six-figure bribes disguised as “contributions” to domestic politicians, they use their wealth to twist  tax laws, block enforcement of environmental protection, weaken bargaining rights of workers,  goad foreign policy, including military policy,  toward protection of their foreign oil interests, the world’s oil companies spread ugly capitalism everywhere they operate.

I suspect Turkish awl bidnes is afflicted by all these defects and, at this moment, that is protecting the interests of ISIS.

The Remedy

I can think of no remedy short of socializing the oil and gas industry for many of these problems.  The likelihood of that approximates the chances of John McCain  announcing, following an epiphany, he has decided to join the Peace Corps.  Nevertheless I believe, because energy, especially the oil and gas industry, is vital to the viability of our nation, it should be owned and controlled by our government for the same reason our highway system is.  But, as stated, pun intended, that is a pipe dream.

There are some things, however, that could be done and, if some voting patterns change, might have a chance.  My thinking is shaped by over fifty years as a trial lawyer.  The only institution I have encountered that has remained generally true to the concepts of justice is our legal system, especially our system of trial courts where decisions are made by juries.

The problem is, access to those courtrooms has become so expensive, they are not available in many situations where they are desperately needed.  One is the system of eminent domain I wrote about earlier in this post.  Land owners can challenge the right of eminent domain asserted by a utility like a pipeline but, the challenge requires the expense of a lawyer, often beyond the reach of the landowner.

This is the kind of obvious problem recognized when the National Labor Relations Board was established to insure the collective bargaining rights of workers.  Rights under that Act are litigated by government lawyers.  If that were not true, individual workers would be helpless when faced by U.S. Steel or Shell Oil or Boeing.

That same remedy should have been included when the Civil Rights Act was adopted.  Because it wasn’t the enforcement of the Act was left to a small group of lawyers in the Department of Justice who take only what they regard as precedent-setting cases.  Individual rights were left to “private attorney generals”, private lawyers who were expected to finance very expensive litigation in order to enforce the Act.   My observation and occasional participation in this process convinced me it was not a good idea.  Lawyers were often faced with what amounted to a conflict of interest.   If they refused to settle a claim and chose to litigate it, their adversary was invariably more able than they were to finance years of hearings, trials and briefs.  Some of the results, especially the class actions, benefited the plaintiffs’ lawyers at the expense of the plaintiffs.  The statute should have established a government staff of lawyers trained and equipped at public expense to enforce that law.

I am not familiar with the new Consumer Protection Act but, if it does not make available a government lawyer to represent a consumer who is victimized by a violation of the Act, it will not be enforced as it should be.

The  principle should be recognized and adopted as part of the accepted jurisprudence of America that when legal rights are created to correct an imbalance between powerful interests and individual citizens, the law should include the right to representation by a government lawyer to enforce the rights protected by the law.

I have no fear my remedy will undermine the health of the legal profession.  We live in a litigious culture.  There will always be plenty to keep private lawyers busy.







From Those Who Know ISIS Best: “No Thanks”

September 15, 2014 § 6 Comments

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.


The Weakness of Power

September 14, 2014 § 1 Comment

The Theme of this Essay

One thing insufficiently noted and understood about the exercise of power is that responsibility for its exercise is coextensive with its scope.  When the President of the United States assumes personal responsibility for committing our lives and treasure to a war in plain violation of the restrictions on his authority imposed by our Constitution, his decision is both dangerous for us and foolish for him.

I thought of entitling this essay, “I Told You So”, but decided that would be tacky.  This is not the first time I have dissented from the notion that we should treat acts of terrorism as an excuse for waging war.  See “Bush’s Dumb War and Obama’s Track and Whack War”.  posted on this blog.  Wars expand government’s  authority to infringe liberties protected by the Constitution.  Treating criminal acts as declarations of war is both unnecessary and dangerous.

The First Commander in Chief of Our Worldwide Thousand Year War

President Obama has now committed the United States of  America to an interminable,  unlimited responsibility to rid the world of an amorphous, amoral, murderous, ill-defined, barbarous, military organization claiming affiliation with Islam, called ISIS or ISIL or “Islamic State” or “The Islamic Caliphate”.  Those names are only the latest ones.   The organization has demonstrated expertise in the use of social media and digital communication technology.  It calls itself by whatever name suits its purpose:  To attract and recruit members and support from all over the world.

His decision, probably the most consequential of his presidency, was not made after reasoned negotiations with possible allies, extensive analysis of “actionable intelligence”, or public debate in the U.S. Congress.  It was made in the aftermath of two sensational TV executions of two American journalists, while Congress was in recess and during the opening days of a national midterm election.  Congress was not called back into session so that the issues could be debated.  President Obama first declined to call his plan to bomb targets in Syria a “war”, referring to it as opposition to a “terrorist group”.  When skeptical journalists gleefully picked at  that distinction, his press secretary, after two or three days of pundit discussion, finally said, “Yes.  We are at war with ISIL”.

[Why the President and his staff choose to call this group "The Islamic State in the Levant", continues to mystify me.  I assume  about one percent of Americans understand what the "Levant" is.  I looked it up.  According to Wikipedia, the "Levant" is an area at the East end of the Mediterranean.  Historical definitions have varied but it is generally understood to include Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and part of southern Turkey.  Regardless of the ambiguity of the term, whatever it is, according to the Obama Administration, if ISIS is present in it, we are at war with it.]

President Obama has not stated any defined geographical area as the battleground for this new war.  He has ceded to ISIS (or whatever form or designation it chooses to assume in the future) the right to determine where we will wage war.  He has also ceded to ISIS the right to determine how long we will wage war:  i.e. until ISIS agrees to extinguish itself or surrender.

These circumstances are typical, indeed inevitable consequences of making “war” on ideas rather than on geographically located countries.  They also suggest the peculiar risks of designating hostility toward ideas as “wars”, and then applying to those wars the rules and customs developed over centuries in wars against geographically located countries.  The power to choose the limits of those  “wars” are vested in those who profess the challenged ideas.

I see no reason to believe that ISIS (I’ll use this moniker to encompass all the various names.) will ever surrender or be eliminated.  ISIS does not refer to a place or to a specific organization of people.  It refers to an idea.

Consider  Zionism.  A sustained nuclear attack could destroy Israel, but it could not destroy Zionism unless every  person committed to the goal of establishing a Jewish homeland could be found and killed.  Given the origin of that idea in the Old Testament and its prominent place in Jewish theology, that result seems unrealistic.  Centuries of brutality have proved unable to accomplish the destruction of Zionism.

Consider Al-Qaeda.  The combined might of the United States and the “coalition of the willing” have waged war on Al-Qaeda for thirteen years, wrecked havoc and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in countries in the Middle East and North Africa, invaded Iraq and Afghanistan with massive armies.  Al-Qaeda still exists and shows no sign of disappearing.

I do not mean to equate Zionism with ISIS or Al-Qaeda.   The ideas are entirely different.  But both refer to ideas that have long histories.  ISIS is a Muslim Sunni tribal group claiming to represent all Muslims in the world.  Those claims and the conflict between the Sunni and Shia sects within Islam date back to the 6h Century CE.

There are many ideas that emerge from time to time and capture the imagination and commitment of large groups of people.  Teddy Roosevelt thought the United States was destined to spread its doctrine of freedom and democracy to nations all over the world   “Manifest Destiny” rhetoric inspired thousands of Americans to engage in wars and colonialism in Cuba and  the Philippines.  George W. Bush used similar oratory to enmesh our country in Middle East wars.  If Dick Chaney had his way, we would still be, as he said, “on offense” toward those NeoCon  fantasies.

The point is that, while ideas may go out of fashion, they cannot be defeated or destroyed.  In fact, when they are recognized by the most powerful country on the planet as sufficiently important to require a worldwide war of unlimited scope, they assume importance and gravity that they could never otherwise achieve.

The Alternative:  Obey the Law

I think the English immigrants who tore this country away from England, after a couple of false starts (e.g. The Articles of Confederation), had a good idea: They created the first government in the history of the world without any king, queen, Pope or chief.  [We can quibble over the Mayflower Pact, but that agreement did not create a new nation.]  They decided to rule by consent to a contract, a constitution.  They amended it to insure that journalists, lawyers and courts could protect it.  They recognized that the most dangerous possibility was the misuse of military force.

To address that threat, they did several things.  One was to protect the right to bear arms.  They trusted local militias and citizens with weapons would never allow the central government to overpower the checks on authority put in place by the constitution.  They had a healthy distrust of standing armies led by professional soldiers.

They knew they would have to defend against the envy and greed of other nations, so they provided a carefully crafted system to enable national defense without risking a coup de etat from within.  Their main fear centered on the President.  They had experienced the problem of dealing with kings and took care not to create a new one.

The government created by the Constitution was one of limited powers; the only rights allowed for the federal officials were those granted by the constitution.  All residual power was left with the states and the people.

Here is how they protected us from out-of-control military adventurers and ambitious war hawks:   The House of Representatives was granted the following powers:

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Here is the entire grant of authority granted to the President as “Commander in Chief”:

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;”

It is impossible for any sensible person with a basic knowledge of plain English to interpret these provisions of the Constitution without understanding that the framers took pains to keep the Commander in Chief on a very short leash.  The Congress was given the power to make “rules and regulations” to govern the “land and naval forces”.  Military appropriations were limited to two-year terms.  The arming, disciplining and regulation of the part of the militia used “in the service of the United States” was the responsibility of the Congress, not the Commander in Chief.

The Problem

The Constitution gave us a careful, reasonable way to govern ourselves free of the whims of politicians who might be both stupid and ambitious, of which we have had, and have now, plentiful examples.  They had recently freed themselves from the antics of King George III, a loser in the gene-pool-lottery.

Unfortunately  these provisions of the Constitution did not lend themselves to judicial review.  When the restrictions were ignored, it was up to the Congress to enforce them, with impeachment if necessary.  The history of the past 200 years is a history of repeated failure of nerve and the triumph of political ambition and fear over steadfast dedication to their oath of office.

No elected federal official, including the President, is granted the authority to protect American citizens from harm.  There is no obligation stated in the Constitution requiring that our government protect us from other nations.  Every elected official is sworn to protect “The Constitution of the United States”.

It is true, of course, as Mr. Justice White once remarked, the “Constitution is not a suicide pact”.  But neither is it a menu of rights and duties that elected officials may treat as if they are in a cafeteria, free to choose which ones they find appealing on a given day.  This latest episode is an example of what happens when the President arrogates to himself the power and obligation to be our protector instead of our elected agent, bound by the terms of his contract of employment.  When Obama claimed unlimited authority, he imposed upon himself unlimited duty.  He allowed himself to be goaded into a bad decision by loud mouthed fools like John McCain and Lindsey Graham and trash-talkers of Fox News.

But the most culpable and feckless offenders were the Congressmen and Congresswomen who walked away from their posts, threw open the gates and skulked off to the cocktail parties, fish frys, bar-b-ques, cocktail parties and fundraisers incident to their re-election campaigns, too fearful to enforce the document they were sworn to “defend and protect”.   They eagerly took advantage  of the President’s naive willingness to assume their responsibilities.

We are facing some very complicated and dangerous choices.  We should confront them with faith in our constitution.  We should require the Congress to perform its constitutional function.  The people should be given a chance to learn the facts and the truth about the consequences of what our government does.

ISIS poses a threat to the “Levant” far more immediate than to us.  But, I predict that the governments in the Levant will be perfectly happy for us to assume the responsibility for protecting them and defending them against ISIS.  They have indigenous Muslim leaders and populations much larger and more powerful than we do.   They are in a better position to discredit ISIS’s claims to religious authenticity than we are.  It will require that they stop funding ISIS and stop tolerating extremist Muslim groups inside their country.  That will involve some risk that they are loath to take, but it is more properly their problem than ours.

I hope some ISIS thugs don’t come here and murder some of  our citizens.  But that seems likely, whether or not we continue on our present course.  We should use our technology and surveillance capability to prevent it, but recent history shows that those measures will not ultimately be sufficient.

If that happens, we should cooperate with other nations  in an effort to track down and arrest or kill the perpetrators.  If arrested, they should be tried in civilian courts, like other murderers.  That will not involve us in sectarian feuds and cross-border wars.


One of the many abominations inflicted by the George W. Bush administration, reading like Dick Chaney’s wet dream, is the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, yahooed through a cowering Senate shortly after the World Trade Center bombing. It unleashed Bush and his band of amateur believers in gunpoint democracy on the Middle East.  Some of them may have been so deluded as to imagine that the Arabs were breathlessly waiting for deliverance from centuries of oppression.  Instead, their ham-handed military forces spawned chaos and violence in Iraq Afghanistan and Pakistan,  wasted billions of dollars, destabilized several other countries and caused the deaths and injuries of thousands of Americans.  The legions of brutal groups who emerged or were strengthened in response to those wars and the excesses incident to them, are still active and destructive.

Here is the full text of that infamous document:

“Joint Resolution
To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.
Whereas, on September 11, 2001, acts of treacherous violence were committed against the United States and its citizens; and
Whereas, such acts render it both necessary and appropriate that the United States exercise its rights to self-defense and to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad; and
Whereas, in light of the threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by these grave acts of violence; and
Whereas, such acts continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States; and
Whereas, the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
Section 1 – Short Title
This joint resolution may be cited as the ‘Authorization for Use of Military Force’.
Section 2 – Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces
(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.
(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.”

The meaning of this ill conceived document has been often debated.  So far as I am aware, the Supreme Court has not resolved the debate.

The issue is this:  Does the language of Section 2(a) limit the war-making authority to war “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons”


Does Section 2(a) authorize a war against any  nation, organization or person if the motive is to “prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States”?

I have argued, but have not been able to convince a friend of mine, that the resolution limits its scope to those with some connection with the bombing of September 11, 2001.  The Bush lawyers and, apparently, the Obama lawyers, all interpret the resolution to be a completely open ended  grant of authority to make war without any further involvement of  Congress on anyone anywhere if the President claims  the object of  military force either intends to harm the United States, is aiding someone intending to harm the United States or is harboring someone who is intending to harm the United States.

I think that requires ignoring the specific reference to the September 11 bombing in Section 2(a) as well as the phrase “such organizations or persons” at the end of Section 2(b).

It also, not incidentally, deletes all meaning from the above quoted provisions of the Constitution that limit the war powers of the President.  Ironically, the War Powers Resolution cited in the AUMF, was an effort to prevent a repetition of Dick Nixon’s lawlessness when, during the Viet Nam War, he authorized the invasion of Cambodia, which even the fraudulent Tonkin Gulf Resolution did not authorize.

The AUMF, as interpreted by Presidents Obama and Bush, also wipes out all meaning of the War Powers Resolution.


I write these complaints with some sadness.  I thought that when a Constitutional law professor and accomplished writer was elected president of the United States, we could look forward to the thrill of being led by a disciplined scholar.  I admire many of Obama’s accomplishments and I abhor the barely hidden racist assaults which have hounded his presidency.

I fear, however, that, like Woodrow Wilson, his judgment about the proper place of our country in the world will, as Wilson’s did, lay the predicate for more terrible wars with all the horror that comes with them.  Wilson thought European diplomacy and American idealism could create an orderly and peaceful world.

A few decades later, the colonial deals made when the Ottoman Empire shattered led to the emergence of several dictators  whose oppression of Arab countries and Persian Iran, produced pent up rage and Islamic extremism.   In Germany, Hitler used the sanctions imposed after WWI to mobilize anger and hopelessness to produce Nazism and a new and more destructive world war.

If, as I fear, we are on the precipice of another outbreak of worldwide violence, it is a bad time for us to abandon the protection of our Constitution  from reckless involvement in foreign sectarian struggles.  I was hopeful we had an Abraham Lincoln.  We got Woodrow Wilson.  Now I look in vain for an FDR or a JFK or a Winston Churchill.  What I see is Hillary Clinton, who, as a Senator, voted for the AUMF.  And the House of Representatives?  Fugettaboutit!







Elizabeth Warren

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


Universal Service

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.

The Program

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.

The Why

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?




Abbott’s Abuse of Authority

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.




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