Some Historical and Social Antecedents of Trumpistan

August 6, 2017 § 2 Comments

Dangerous Loyalty

Recently the media has noted a declining percentage of our neighbors who cling to their faith in the rectitude and promise of President Trump.  The number is estimated to be 35%.  I derive no comfort from these revelations for two reasons:  First, an even lower percntage of our neighbors express faith in the government of our country, the only institution with the power to limit the authority of the President to continue his discredited policies.  Second, in a population estimated to be 326,000,000, that means that 141,100,000 of our neighbors cling to their enthusiasm for President Trump.

These facts, to me, describe a country adrift, without effective guidance, in a perilous world.  Multinational corporations and the United States military complex seem to be the only sources of effective power, a circumstance I regard with anxiety.  It describes Germany in the 1930’s.  It describes Egypt and Turkey, both of which are sinking into the hands of  military-backed totalitarian governments.

Even our Supreme Court, the institution charged with the preservation of our Constitutional republic, appears to be in the hands of a majority who seek the ressurection of legal principles which opposed  Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Justices like McReynolds and Field, in the 1920’s and ’30’s,  sought to superimpose on the Constitution the limitations of what they referred to as “Natural Law” which, in practice always coincided with and favored the interests of business corporations and thwarted the collective efforts of the people, acting through their government

The Nature of Mass Delusions

Dangerous nonsense thrives when one or more of the following is true:

First, there is widespread disparity of access to accurate and pertinent information.  For the first few centuries of life in our country, this disparity prevailed between the majority of our citizens who lived in generally isolated small villages and settlements and a minority who lived and did business in cities.  Our literature and folk lore is replete with stories of the “rube” from the country who is the victim of manipulation by a “city sliker”.  This phenomenon prevailed until the 1920’s when the automobile and the radio significantly erased this isolation.

Second, there is general access to many sources of information but no filter to insure its reliability.  Britebart and numerous similar sources offer carefully crafted misleading and false information equally accessible with CNN, CBS, NBC and BBC.  The Internet and the ubiquity of smart phones leave individuals no way to distinguish lies and baloney from truthful  information.

Third, significant disparity of knowledge between the originator of information and its consumer and target.  “Insider trading” and commercial advertising are  examples of this kind of trolling for suckers.

Fourth, the educational background and store of knowledge of the consumer of information determines his or her ability to evaluate and choose sources of information.

To summarize:  Our technology, a potential asset for the dissemination of knowledge, has, instead become a treacherous vehicle for demagogues to peddle their messages of hate, division and chaos and to undermine the fail-safe protections of our Constitution.

The Intellectual Ancestors of Trump

The self-absorbed  buffoon, supremely oblivious of his own stupidity and groossly unsuited for the task he has chosen, is a character famously protrayed by talented writers and playrights.

Don Quixote

The first great novel, Don Quixote de La Mancha, Cervantes’ two volume masterpiece, featured a hero who, after reading tales of dashing knights, fair maidens and thrilling exploits, failing to understand they were fictional, embarked on his own  quest for fame and fortune.  His efforts were, like our similarly self deluded President, fraught with a series of pratfalls and misadventures.

John Falstaff

A few decades earlier, Shakespeare enlivened four of his plays with the antics and absurd exagerations of John Falstaff, who, like Trump, shamelessly misrepresented his accomplishments, ignored his critics and never acknowledged his errors, regardless of how plainly they were perceived by others.

Elmner Gantry

Our own Nobel Prize winning novelist, Sinclair Lewis, immortalized a religious huckster who, again like Trump, transfixed large crowds with emotional performances, promising salvation and happiness to his listeners while offering them protection from threatened harm from their enemies, the devil, in Gantry’s tents personified as Democrats in Trump’s.

Major Hoople

For a few decades, beginning in the 1920’s, a couple of cartoonists, Gene Ahem and Bill Freyse,  entertained readers of the funny papers with the puffery and exaggerated exploits of Major Hoople in a comic strip named Our Boarding House.  The Major, who was a sargent in the Civil War, promoted himself with endless bragging about his bravery, just as Trump never tires of regaling listeners with accounts of his financial successes, artfully omitting mention of his bankruptcies and the legal settlements of suits brought by victims of his tortious misconduct and desperately refusing disclosure of his income tax returns.

Huey Long

Another example of an earlier model of the Trump was Huey Long, the rags to riches Louisiana politician who epitomized Edgar Lee Masters’ warning through one of his characters in Spoon River Anthology:  “Beware of the man who rises to power on one suspender.”  Long was a demogogue who, like Trump, built an empire with extravagant construction projects.  Less fortunate than Trump, Huey’s governorship was cut short by assassination.  Also, unlike Huey, Trump had a handsome inheritence, not one suspender, to assist his rise to power.  A novel about a character like Huey Long, also the basis for a movie, is All The Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren.  Despite the similarities, Warren has stoutly denied his novel was a roman à clef .

Extraordinary Popular Illisions and the Madness of Crowds

Just as the Trump character has several fictional and real identifiable ancetors,  his ability to mesmerize large numbers of people with his outsized promises of prosperity has similar historical examples.   Several of  these have been described in a fascinating book by Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Illusions and the Madness of Crowds.  The book can be read online as a PDF file at https://vantagepointtrading.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Charles_Mackay-Extraordinary_Popular_Delusions_and_the_Madness_of_Crowds.pdf

[Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Bernard Baruch said that what he learned from reading this book,, prompted him to sell all his stock before the crash of 1929.]

The book invites skipping around among chapters listed in the table of contents.  Unfortunately I was unable to find any way to skip directly to a particular chapter, so scrolling is required.

This book was published in 1841.  I contains a well written account of about a dozen instances when greed motivated crowds of otherwise sane and sensible people to hand over their money to promoters of schemes so bizarre as to challenge the imagination.   The events occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries when education levels varied significantly according to class and communication technology was primitive by our standards, thus leaving ordinary people without any means of checking the accuracy of tales of foreign lands or in places inaccessible to the public, like laboratories, mines and business offices.

The circumstances were, as a result, ripe for promoting promises of wealth based on incomplete and sometimes deliberately false information.

Here are a couple of examples:  Tulipmania:  descibes the obsession of British citizens with tulip bulbs from Holland and the amazing marketing of different colors of tulips, leading speculators buy and sell popular species at inflated prices until the market collapsed, leaving a wreakage of lost fortunes.

The South Sea Bubble is a more famous example.  Tales of gold located in Peru and Mexico served as a basis for a partnership between the British government and some private investors in ventures promising great profits from access to those mines.  Shares were marketed in the project and crowds of English men and women risked fortunes competing for those shares, whose value inflated significantly until the scheme collapsed, leaving prominent members of Parliament and countles private citizens victimized and impoverished.  This occurred before limited liability laws protected investors to the extent they do now.  The consequences were, therefore, more catstrophic than they would be today..

The South Sea Bubble, like public confidence in the financial prowess of Trump, is an amazing exemple of publc gullibility because:  (a) At the time of the Bubble, Peru and Mexico were part of the empire of Spain and, hence, not available for exploitation by the British.  and (b) Trump’s claims of financial prowess depend entirely on the claims by him and his family, all made while vigorously opposing  efforts to enable public access to his income tax returns.

Conclusion

This morning I watched Fareed Zakaria’s program on CNN.  He is, for me, close to   Paul Krugman as a source of intelligent information about what is happening.  During his opening remarks he spoke of a new book by Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.  I have ordered a copy.

Lilla’s message is, according to Zakaria:  The Democratic Party needs to broaden its appeal beyond the issues of race, ethnicity and abortion.  He does not argue that these issues should be abandoned, but those who disagree, for example, with abortion rights should not be excluded from the appeal of the Party.  Lilla is a Catholic and is not a supporter of abortion rights but he regards himself as a liberal .

I am not making any judgment, obviously, because I haven’t read the book. I have, however, expressed before my frustration about the Democratic Party’s indifference to the rights of unions.

In that way, I feel like Lilla:  I find no comfortable place in political efforts which, in my opinion, fail because  they treat the working class as in need of education, deserving rebuke for their lack of enthusiasm for racial justice, and as a group  having limited relevance in this age of technological sophistication.  I attribute the loss of the recent election to these policies and to the fact that neither the Clinton nor the Obama administration paid any attention to the rights of working people.

Welfare programs and training school scholarship programs do not empower the beneficiaries.  We are suffering because the only empowered force is corporate wealth.  Hiring more experts in money raising and TV ad design is not going to solve our problem.Empowering the working class is the only weapon that will change the political dialogue.  That will take years and it’s way past time for the Democratic Party to awaken and begin the process.

In the meantime, I have enjoyed a few hours of placing our present embarrassment in the White House in some kind of historical and sociological context.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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European Cuba

July 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

Some Idle Speculation

It appears to me that the EU is not making a good faith effort to guide Greece toward a viable economy.  My suspicion is that, led by Germany and some European financial oligarchs, the EU is really dead set on forcing the Greek people to disavow the results of its recent election of a left-wing government.  If I am right, the EU is becoming a sinister enemy of democracy, not a healthy alliance of European economies.

This smells to me like what the United States tried to do when Fidel Castro and Che Guevara freed Cuba from the oppression of Batista.  We are now, decades too late,  making amends for that effort.  The bad odor of the EU’s treatment of Greece is more pungent because it seems to be driven by Germany.  Some of the virulent rhetoric attacking Greece sounds like an echo from the 1930’s.

Yes, I know it has become verboten to make reference to Germany’s Nazi past, but we, during the past few months, have witnessed how ugly pasts are like crab grass, aggressive and hard to kill.   Half our country, a hundred and fifty years ago,  embraced government protection of an economy based on slavery.  A brutal war was required to end slavery.  But, for the past few months, a significant segment of our citizens have been passionately defending its symbols, referring to them as respected relics of cultural pride.  Today, as South Carolina congratulated itself for lowering the Confederate flag, I heard a TV commentator remark that a recent poll showed that 57% opposed the decision to do so.  Those opposed contend the flag represents a valued “heritage” and should be regarded as homage to their ancestors who fought in the Civil War.

I assume there are many Germans who have similar feelings about WWII and their “heritage” and ancestors.  But, just as Southerners who honor the Confederate flag don’t discuss the horrors of slavery, I suspect the Germans who still recall with pride the glory of the 1930’s, don’t discuss the horrors of the Holocaust.

My suspicion is that, while the rhetoric has changed,  most of those who honor the Stars and Bars have no enthusiasm for ending the continuing prejudice and racism that remains a shame and a plague in our country.  I also suspect that there is a broad overlap between the German minority who feel some bitterness about the outcome of WWII and those who are prominent in Germany’s right wing political faction bitterly opposed to the democratic socialist government of Greece.

If  I’m Right

If I’m right, Germany will not abide by any reasonable effort to save Greece from an economic meltdown.  Unless, of course, its elected leaders resign and call for a new election.  Angela Merkel will have the same reluctance to oppose the extremists in her parliament as has been exhibited by some GOP presidential candidates toward lowering the Confederate flag.   The political right wing in America successfully delayed the recognition of Cuba for fifty years and, even now, Obama’s executive decision to right this wrong has not been supported by the GOP leadership.

If Only

I wish both the Russian  and Chinese governments were not going through an economic crisis.  The timing is terrible.  I think it would be great if either of those governments would send an emissary to Greece with this message:

“It seems you guys are having some trouble getting your so-called friends to lend you money on terms allowing you to stabilize your economy.  Tell you what:  How about we lend you some money with a structured pay-out that will permit you to survive your problems with dignity and compassion for your people.  Of course, part of the deal will be:  We partner with you in deals with African nations and we get to establish military, especially naval,  bases in your country on favorable terms.  See, we Russians have been troubled for centuries with limited access to the Mediterranean  Sea.  And we would like to have a convenient base from which to launch favorable trade deals with Africa.  We think this could be the beginning of a great alliance.  We communists are flirting with privatizing some of our economy and you Greeks have taken some steps toward socializing some of your economy.  If we’re smart, that could be the basis for mutual success.”

I know this ain’t gonna happen.  The Chinese don’t know how to manage a stock market and the Russians have never learned how to manage their economy.  When they have to choose guns or butter, they always choose guns.  [We make the same choice, but we do a better job of marketing our guns.]  Still – it’s fun to speculate what such a deal would do the European bullies who are enjoying pushing Greece around.  It would give Angela something else to think about – might get her mind off the right wingers who are making so much noise about Greek socialism.  Nothing like a nuclear-armed commie neighbor to focus the mind.

We’re. Not. Crazy.

May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Last Thursday evening I read three articles. two new and one old, that, for me, were like being in the woods at night, lost and lonely, stumbling over fallen tree branches, feeling fear that began in the pit of my stomach and ended in  my throat, then emerging on to a clearing where, a half mile away, a coal oil lamp cast a pale yellow glow from a window.  Sometimes the future and the past loom so dark that the friendly light of intelligent hope is more comforting than stimulating.

Bernie Sanders

One of the articles was a biographical character study of Bernie Sanders, the man with a distinctive accent and usually unkempt hair; the socialist candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination to become president of the United States.  Here is a link:  Sanders .  It was easy for me to identify with him, not only because of his political beliefs but also because of his personal history.  He spent the early years of his adult life engaged in futile political efforts.  He wrote articles advocating policies that were generally ignored by his fellow citizens of Vermont.  He lost four statewide races, two for state senate and two for governor.  He was finally elected mayor of Burlington, his first job with a salary sufficient to finance a middle class life style.

I can identify with that history, although, instead of losing statewide races as a candidate, I worked on the staff of candidates who lost statewide races.  My record was 0-6.

I found the title for this essay in a vignette from Bernie’s early life.  When he was without a job, which was often, his friends took him in.   One was Richard Sugarman, who shared many of Bernie’s beliefs.  Every morning Bernie would greet his friend, not with “Good Morning”, but with “We’re.  Not.  Crazy.”

Albert Einstein’s Gentle Socialism

The Bernie Sanders article included an embedded link to a 1949 essay written by Albert Einstein entitled “Why Socialism”.  Here is a link:  Einstein  Like the Bernie Sanders story, Einstein’s essay was a beckoning lamplight seen from a dark place.    It is the only reasoned argument for abandoning capitalism I have read that did not assume violent revolution would be necessary.

Einstein, instead, describes a dichotomy of needs and influences that shape our lives:  The drive for individuality, what Abraham Maslow later called “self actualization”,  and an equally competitive identification with and support for the needs of society.  He contends that those different forces can be accommodated and acknowledged without sacrificing either one.  The secret is awareness of and respect for those forces in others and willingness to mobilize government’s power to support them.

This essay  captivated me.  Einstein acknowledges his limited background in social science but he insists that the same rigorous discipline required by physics and astronomy can be applied to social and economic issues.  He charmed me with evidence that he had studied Thorstein Veblen and relied on Veblen’s evolutionary analysis of our progress, or not,  from what Veblen called the “predatory phase” of human development.  Einstein contends that the democratic socialism he advocates would facilitate emerging from that “predatory phase” to one less brutal, more intelligent and more capable of satisfying our need for security and contentment.

Einstein also, having observed the results of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, acknowledged the problem it poses.  Here is the somewhat sad and plaintiff penultimate  paragraph of his essay:

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

How indeed.  I know the answer.  We have it in our hands.  It is our Constitution.  It may require an amendment or two but the concept has been left to us by our forefathers.  With two amendments and commitment to rigorous enforcement our Constitution would be an adequate response to Einstein’s question.

The two amendments?  First, “The words ‘person’ and “people’ in this Constitution apply to living natural persons.  They do not apply to any legally created entity.  Neither do they apply to a person not yet born.”  Second, “In this Constitution the protection of freedom of expression does not apply to the spending or investment of money.”

With those two amendments, our Constitution is, I believe, entirely adequate to prevent government bureaucracy from becoming a threat to individual freedom.  Political vigilance and common sense would be required and an independent federal judiciary would, as always, be essential but those requirements apply to any government scheme.   Soviet Russia had an admirable constitution but it was useless because the judiciary was powerless to enforce it and the police were allowed to ignore it.

Dean Baker’s Demolition of TTP

The third article that illuminated my dark feelings was a critical analysis of the arguments for the Trans Pacific Partnership by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, a Washington DC think tank.  I have expressed my own hostility toward this “Partnership” in a previous essay posted here.  Dean Baker adds authority and devastating contradictory data to support his identification of this proposal as a threat to the fair distribution of international trade benefits.  Here is link:  Baker 

The House of Representatives will vote on “fast tracking” this abomination within the next couple of weeks.  The Senate has failed to kill it.  We can only hope that the Democrats in the House will save Obama from being responsible for burdening our working class with this unjust agreement for the next two or three decades.  If he succeeds, he will join Bill Clinton on the list of presidents who betrayed the hope and promise that motivated those who voted for them.

Conclusion and a Personal Note

I feel I owe an apology for the emotional language in this effort.  I have been affected by the bombardment of hopelessness that has pelted me recently.  Netanyahu’s re-election followed by his empowering the most passionate politicians determined to convert Israel into a theocratic bully was a disappointment.  David Cameron’s Conservative Party wipe-out of the British Labour Party in the recent election was another.  The growing strength of ISIS and the apparent unwillingness of Iraq’s military forces to effectively oppose it is another.  The dismemberment of Syria accompanied by the threat of ISIS involvement there is another.

My real nightmare is the probable symbolic terrorist attack in the United States or a mass beheading of Americans broadcast in living color.  Other countries, Britain, Spain, Holland – bear such attacks and react with mourning and redoubled efforts at prevention.  In America our leaders choose endless war and thousands of needless deaths as the  appropriate response.  I’m sure ISIS is aware of this grotesque fact.  I fear they will use it to their advantage.

All this bad news comes at the beginning of what promises to be an extravaganza of hateful stupidity from a jackass choir of Republicans eager to compete for the allegiance of the lowest common denominator tranche of the American right wing.  And who will be our St. Jeanne d’Arc?  Why Hillary from the House of Clinton of course!  Her head is already bloody but unbowed and her baggage, packed in a truckload of trunks just waiting to be unpacked by reporters, political archivists and GOP flacks, follows her everywhere.  But, having spent a billion dollars, she may become our next president.  And if not, we will be led by Jeb the Timid or  Brash Young Rubio or, worst of all, by the union scalp hunter, the Bible thumper from Wisconsin, Scott “Bring ’em On” Walker.

I plan to stay sober for the next seventeen or eighteen months but only by many repetitions of the Serenity Prayer.

Some Common Sense Constitutional Law: The DACA Issue

March 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

I am tired of watching and listening to politicians with serious looks on their faces repeating the asinine claim that Barack Obama has violated the Constitution of the United States by issuing an Executive Order entitled “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”, usually abbreviated as DACA.

What is DACA?

Here is what DACA provides:

“You may request consideration of DACA if you:

  1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  2. Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
  3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
  4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  5. Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012, meaning that:
  • You never had a lawful immigration status on or before June 15, 2012, or
  • Any lawful immigration status or parole that you obtained prior to June 15, 2012, had expired as of June 15, 2012;
  1. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  2. Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.”  [Copied from posted online information from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services]

What does the Constitution Provide?

Article II, Section 2.3 provides, in pertinent part, “. . . he [referring to the President of the United States] . . . shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed . . . .”  That’s it.  That’s all it says.  The President plainly has the responsibility for faithfully executing the laws.

So, Has President Obama Violated the Constitution?

Now answering this question requires two things:  a. Some common sense and b. Rudimentary understanding of basic math.  According to FACTTank, a publication of PEW Research, in 2012 there were 11.2 million undocumented aliens living in the United States.  FactTank

President Obama has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents, so there are now 21,000 of them.  If everyone of those agents was relieved of his or her duties and assigned to rounding up 11.2 million aliens, each one would have to grab 533 1/3 aliens.  Then, assuming that 200 aliens could be packed into each bus, each agent would need 2.9 buses, a total of 58, 800 buses, to haul those aliens back to Mexico, and various other countries in South America, as well as the other places throughout the world from which they immigrated.

Now, given the apparent IQ of some of these constitutional strict constructionists who have been braying about this, I assume they will promptly direct their staff to begin drafting an appropriate law to carry out this plan.  I hope, however, that we still have enough elected officials with enough brains to recognize that some picking and choosing of rational priorities would be a better idea.  The truth is that laws are not, and cannot be,  enforced without some rational and sensible discretion by the enforcers.  Faithfully executing laws does not mean that law enforcement cannot be done selectively if the criteria for doing so are reasonable and consistent with the purpose of the law.  No court has ever held otherwise because such a holding would impose an impossible degree of blind obedience inconsistent with reason.

Every traffic violation is not prosecuted.  Sometimes you get a warning ticket.  Police Departments make discretionary choices about enforcing criminal laws.  Some criminals are not prosecuted in exchange for snitching on other criminals.  Murders and assaults are given more attention than broken windows due to errant baseballs.  Some states have decided not to enforce marijuana laws and the Justice Department has, so far, not reacted as if they were faced with an insurrection.  There is still a federal law prohibiting possession of marijuana, but no one seems interested in starting Civil War II about the matter.

Prosecutorial discretion is, and has always been, an integral part of the criminal justice system.  I can think of no reason why the enforcement of our immigration laws should be treated with less rationality than our criminal laws.  Discretion can be, and sometimes is, abused and exercised in corrupt ways.  It should be judged, like all governmental action, according to its apparent goals and the motivation for its exercise.

So, what are the obvious goals of DACA?  First, to avoid punishment of innocent children who have done no harm.  Second, to free immigrant families from living in the shadows in constant fear of being torn apart when a child is threatened with deportation.  Is a dangerous precedent being set?   Are we in danger of freeing our President from the limits of a constitutional democracy?  I don’t think so.

President Obama has repeatedly urged the Congress to preempt his executive order by enacting laws that will establish standards for remaining in this country.  It is important to note that DACA defers action.  It does not grant citizenship.  It confers no permanent status.  It is what it states:  A temporary measure to prevent irrevocable damage to innocent people while Congress considers and designs an overhaul of our immigration laws.

Everyone who has given the issue any serious thought recognizes that we cannot expect to deport all undocumented aliens.  Many of them have family and business ties to this country as a result of residence here for decades.  To appreciate the numbers we are considering:  The number of undocumented aliens in this country is near the total number of people mobilized into U.S. military forces at the height of WWII.  Numbers

Conclusion

This is not, at least to me, a difficult or complicated question.  I know a federal judge in Brownsville has ruled that Obama has violated the Constitution.  I have hung around enough courthouses to pay little attention to that fact.  There are Clarence Thomas’s in black robes on lots of benches.  It is only a 50/50 bet that Obama’s lawyers will win this argument.  There are panels of the 5th Circuit just as nutty as the Brownsville judge, and the selection of panels is a crap shoot.  I have no way of predicting how this issue will be decided, or how long it will take to reach a final decision, but I have no doubt about how it should be decided.  Given the facts and the numbers, somebody must and will make choices about which people are deported.  The Constitution grants that authority to the President.

Bob

Netanyahu v. Obama – Views From Israel and Diaspora

February 28, 2015 § 1 Comment

Today’s Haaretz newspaper included three reactions to Netanuahu’s current effort to court Israeli political support by attacking President Obama and advocating the abortion of peace negotiations with Iran.  The effects of the controversy are presented as viewed in Israel and as viewed by Jews living in America.

Diaspora views

Haaretz Editorial

Jewish Democrats

I offer this commentary for consideration because I am convinced that the ultimate outcome of our effort to avoid another “preventive” war in the Middle East could involve a process leading to a long bitter and costly war – costly not just in dollars but also in lives.  If decisions about this grave matter are submitted and determined,  not by statesmen and knowledgeable negotiators, but by politicians focused only on electoral advantage, it will amount to a failure of democracy to prove itself capable of managing serious issues based on rationality and common sense.

WWI was the result of unwitting  decisions hastily made with small understanding of their terrible consequences.   In our time of nuclear weapons, we cannot afford a repeat of that foolishness.

Dr. Strangelove’s House Call

February 26, 2015 § 3 Comments

The House Call

John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, without consulting with the President and heedless of its potentially disruptive effect on current negotiations with Iran concerning its nuclear program, has invited Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister facing a serious election contest within a few weeks, to address a joint session of Congress, an opportunity rarely offered to a foreign leader and never before offered as a brazen act of hostility toward the President of the United States.

Mr. Netanyahu, also without consulting the President, accepted the invitation and has declared his intention to deliver a speech deliberately designed to undermine and disapprove the President’s efforts to reach a peaceful negotiated agreement that would ease fears that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

Introductory Background

Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 cult classic anti-war comedy was entitled Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  The movie was about a demented person’s delusional effort to start a nuclear war.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, is determined to force a war between the United States and Iran.  That war, given the volatile state of world politics and the current number of overlapping and interlocking conflicts, could, if there is a miscalculation by any of the combatants or their allies, result in a nuclear tragedy.

The Middle East, where most of the probable participants are located, is a place where suicide bombing is a weapon of choice.  The phenomenon usually referred to as “mutually assured destruction” has so far been an effective deterrent to nuclear war.  In most Middle Eastern countries it would not serve because the religious zealots who live there eagerly await the Apocalypse and have little apprehension about dying for reasons believed required by their religious beliefs.

Pending Negotiations

For the past few years, the United States has been trying to dissuade the government of Iran from developing nuclear weapons.  That effort has employed progressively serious economic sanctions coupled with both formal and informal negotiations.

In recent months, following Iran’s  election of new and less bellicose government leadership, a team of negotiators led by our State Department has engaged in serious negotiations with representatives of Iran’s government concerning this issue.  Those negotiations have now reached a crucial stage.  According to published reports, there is some hope that Iran may, at last,  agree to enforceable measures that will, at least, slow and postpone development of its nuclear capability and provide hope for verifiable steps insuring that it will not develop nuclear weapons.

A vital factor affecting the negotiations is the opinion of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  Here is a link to an informative and somewhat hopeful article from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists concerning this issue:  Khamenei  Like all negotiations, success depends on shared confidence that proposals are made in good faith; that if accepted, they would be adhered to.

The failure of this effort at peaceful settlement of these issues can, and probably will, have grave consequences for Iran, the United States and Israel.  If Iran insists on a course that could lead to a nuclear attack on Israel, the United States will be forced into yet another Middle East war.  As stated above, such a war would be dangerous and its outcome and long term consequences impossible to predict.  The recent emergence of ISIS and various other similar military groups adds to the complexity and risks that will confront the United States if it becomes enmeshed in such a war.

Enter Dr. Strangelove

The United States confronts these dangerous possibilities because it is  committed  to safeguard the safety of Israel.  Instead of supporting  efforts to forestall a possible nuclear holocaust that could obliterate Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has joined factions of his supporters in opposing all efforts intended to achieve a peaceful settlement with Iran.

Some articles related to such efforts have equated them with Neville Chamberlain’s negotiations with the Nazis in the 1930’s, and equated Chamberlain with President Obama.  History has labeled Chamberlain naive and branded him with his speech upon returning from Munich which featured the often quoted phrase, “Peace For Our Time”. [Usually misquoted as “Peace in our Time”]

According to Netanyahu, Iran cannot be trusted to abide by any agreement and, hence, negotiations are merely a ploy to buy time to build nuclear weapons to destroy Israel.  The inevitable logic of this argument is that war between the United States and Iran is the only sensible solution.   All indications that peaceful negotiations are succeeding evoke more intense and raucous efforts to sabotage them from Netanyahu.  The sabotage tactics have now culminated in this unprecedented effort by a foreign elected leader openly to engage in political  conflict with the elected leader of another sovereign nation.

Our Form of Government

Lest it be forgotten, we are governed by a Constitution.  Article II describes the duties of the President.  It states, in part, “He shall have power, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties . .  . .”  This authority has been construed to give the President the authority to negotiate with other countries.  The Supreme Court, in a 1936 decision sustaining the right of the President to impose an embargo on the export of arms, wrote, “The President is the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations – a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress, but which, of course like every other governmental power, must be exercised in subordination to the applicable provision of the Constitution.”  United States v. Curtis-Wright Export Corporation.

Conclusion

It is very plain that neither the House of Representatives nor Benjamin Netanyahu, as an elected leader of the State of Israel, should intrude like bulls in a china closet into the fragile and important negotiations between the United States and the nation of Iran.  It is time for our government to send Netanyahu home with a message:  Our President will respect  your proper concern for the safety of your country, but we will not countenance your effort to dictate the policies we design in the interest of our country.  Our obligation to Israel is to protect it from harm but the tactics and policies related to that matter must be and will be made and designed by us, based on our judgment and our system of government.  Their design will not be and has not been delegated to you or your government.

An Afterthought

There are two Jewish lobbyist groups in the United States.  The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, usually abbreviated AIPAC, generally supports and promotes Netanyahu’s policies.   The other, Jewish  Voice for Peace, operates as a grass roots political organization.  Its membership is not limited to Jews.  It supports, advises and furnishes information to elected officials generally identified as liberals.  Its primary aim is to promote peace between Israel and Palestine based on security and fairness.  Here is a link to an article written by a spokesperson for that organization concerning the issues discussed here:  JVP

Willful Ignorance

February 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

Several of the crazier representatives of the Republican Party and some of the shameless hacks employed by Fox News have attacked President Obama because he does not label ISIS or ISIL or any of the groups affiliated with those organizations as “Islamic Extremist” or “Islamofacist Extremists” or some other catchy label associating the armed thugs with the religion of Islam.  Various “experts” on combating terrorism have pontificated that “accurate labeling” is essential to effectively opposing terrorism.

These attacks have implied that failing to identify the terrorists with Islam implies some kind of unwillingness to “call a spade a spade” – a sort of unmanly, weak hesitation to be blunt and forceful.

I agree that it is time to call a spade a spade.  There are three possible explanations for these attacks:  First, they may result from stupidity and ignorance.  Second, they may be the result of minds so consumed with hate and bigotry that rationality has been overwhelmed.  Third, they may be a political strategy based on the assumption that the American public is so stupid that such attacks will be effective to gain political points.

This is not a close question.  There is no “on the other hand” or “maybe they have a point” here.  These attacks are unadulterated stupidity.

Why?

The proper motive for any media-based attack on ISIS or ISIL is not to influence or change the minds of members of ISIS or ISIL.  That is a futile exercise.  The only sensible response to members of ISIS or ISIL members is to kill them and destroy their organization and its philosophical and ecclesiastical claims.  That task must be led and accomplished by  legitimate leaders and adherents of Islam. When secular leaders attack ISIS and ISIL, their appeal is directed to people who have not yet succumbed to the false claims of Islamic legitimacy.  We should do nothing to lend credence to those claims.

This is not the time for a new Christian Crusade.  It is also not the time for another “Global War on Terror” waged with the same ignorance and futility that characterized the recent War in Iraq.

Haven’t we learned anything?   Is our collective memory so deficient that we can’t recall the outcome of that foolishness?

Our public posture toward ISIS and ISIL should be exactly what President Obama has articulated:   We are not going to be drawn into a war against Islam.  ISIS and ISIL are not legitimate representatives of Islam.  Their actions do not have any legitimate roots in the religion of Islam.  They are lying about that.  They are trying to mask  their bloodthirsty activities with the language and rhetoric of Islam.

The last thing we should do is assist them by agreeing that they represent some part or sect with any legitimate claim to ties with Islam.

The KKK Example

After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan was born as a violent response to Reconstruction.  It was a lawless group of frustrated Southerners who sought to instill fear and horror through lynchings and murders and beatings mostly, but not entirely, directed at black men and women.

The KKK continued long after Reconstruction ended and new forms of KKK  organizations have persisted to the present day.

Throughout its bloody history, the KKK has claimed legitimacy by masking its hateful rhetoric with Christian religion.   The burning cross is the universally recognized symbol of its public activities.  Here is a link to KKK’s present website:  KKK  If you click on the “about” button, the first sentence is “The Loyal White Knights is a law abiding Christian Organization.

From the beginning of this wretched organization’s existence, there have been brave and steadfast opponents eager and willing to publicly oppose it.  But never, so far as I am aware, did the opponents choose to refer to the KKK as a “Christian extremist organization”  or as a “Christian rogue sect”.  Does anyone think that would have been an effective way to oppose the KKK?  Of course not!  Why on earth would the KKK’s opponents want to associate it with the Christian religion?

Which should, but apparently does not, suggest to the ignorami who are attacking Obama that perhaps his approach is sensible and theirs merely exposes their misunderstanding of how to oppose terrorism.

Bob

 

 

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