From Those Who Know ISIS Best: “No Thanks”

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.

 

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.

The AUMF

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”

or

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.

Conclusion

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

Bob

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.

Conclusion

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?

Bob

 

 

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.

 

 

Governor Perry: Oops #2

August 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

The Indictment

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.

 

Moral Complexity

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?

An Afterthought

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>

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 228 other followers

%d bloggers like this: