August 6, 2017 § 2 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
October 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
First, a Correction Notice
I have made some corrections to my last post (www.bobsremonstrance.com “A Mind Meld, a Grok and A Couple of Reactions”). The substance has not changed, but I have removed two or three “that”‘s that escaped my notice when I originally edited it. “That” is a word almost always as useless in a written piece as “you know” in a conversation. I ordinarily excise the “that”‘s that creep in but, this time, I missed some.
Also, in memory of my high school English teacher, I cleaned up a sentence in the part about “Crime and Punishment”. I originally wrote: “The novel is an engaging description of a part of Russian society, set in St. Petersburg.” My only excuse is an aging brain. The sentence now reads, “The novel, set in St. Petersburg, is an engaging description of a part of Russian society”
Finally, I removed the redundant word “mental” from my effort to describe Styron’s long window into the mind of Peyton. I wrote that he described her “mental musings”, as if “musings” could be other than “mental”. So “mental” is now gone.
Is There A Conspiracy?
I have long considered those who interpret current events as the product of conspiracies to be CooCooBirds. So, with great hesitation, I present my version of the present struggle over funding our government and paying our bills. I hope I am wrong, but the evidence seems persuasive that we have among us a cadre of powerful and wealthy individuals who want to convert the democratic republican government of the United States of America into a plutocratic corporate oligarchy.
American Business Community: Has It Been The Dog That Didn’t Bark?
I have a friend who never tires of rebuking his liberal comrades for claiming and assuming that the GOP is the party of business. He insists that the Tea Party insurgency within the Republican Party has separated it from the interests and policies of American capitalism. As he analyzes the issue it reminds me of the epic struggles within the labor movement in the 1930’s when factions allied with the Communist Party sought leadership roles. There were some unions in which they had some success but the newly organized CIO, notably the Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers, fought back in a series of epic convention battles. The Communists were effectively drummed out of the labor movement and never gained any significant power in unions. My friend contends that the relationship between the Tea Party and the GOP is similar to the Commies versus the CIO.
In the last week the press has reported that agents of the Chamber of Commerce and some representatives of Wall Street’s financial community met privately with House Speaker Boehner and other GOP leaders. They expressed alarm at the prospect of a government default if the “debt ceiling” is not raised. In apparent response, Boehner stated he will not allow that to happen. The Tea Party members, led by Ted Cruz continues to threaten a default. It remains to be seen how this will play out. Boehner’s statement is interesting. He is not promising that his party will not threaten a default; just that they won’t allow a default. How kidnapping extortion works when there is no threat to shoot the hostage is a mystery.
Those who insist GOP policies no longer align with those of the capitalists point to these reports as confirmation of their argument. I see the matter somewhat differently. I perceive the Tea Party as the latest iteration of a movement, attitude and set of policies that have roots planted long before they acquired the clever “Tea Party label . They can be summarized with three words: Hate the Government.
This history can be traced through rhetorical artifacts. In 1978, Alan Greenspan told a Finance Committee, “”Let us remember that the basic purpose of any tax cut program in today’s environment is to reduce the momentum of expenditure growth by restraining the amount of revenue available and trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.” A Wall Street Journal article quoted a Reagan staffer who summarized the idea with a bumper sticker quip, “Starve the Beast”. St Ronnie, in his 1981 inaugural address, said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Grover Norquist stated the goal plainly: “I simply want to reduce it [the govenment] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bath tub.” The Great Communicator told his adoring followers, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”
These ideas, repeated and elaborated over and over by hate radio hosts like Limbaugh, Hannity and dozens of others scattered throughout the country, embedded themselves in mainstream consciousness and had powerful effects. I believe they relate to the present political climate and the outsize influence of the “Tea Party” in the same way that the Taliban’s ideas related to the advent of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. This “hate the government” policy is to our democracy as the dogmas of Sharia are to Muslim ideas of government. It is true that the Taliban does not represent the policies of the majority of Muslims. Most Muslims do not favor government run according to Sharia law.
Unlike the labor movement, however, the Muslim/Arab community, while some representatives have disclaimed allegiance to Al Qaeda, has mounted no vigorous public opposition to the growth of that extremism. Recent developments in Egypt reflect how timidly and ineffective such opposition has been.
And, also unlike the labor movement, the American business community, far from denouncing the growing political clout of these government haters, have favored, with generous financial support, candidates who have based their campaigns on these “hate the government” policies.
Why Did the Business Dog Not Bark?
I began by asking myself why the corporate business community would permit the Republican Party to threaten the stability of our financial system by failing to make timely interest payments on our debt. I assume the Koch brothers, the Club for Growth, the other controlling owners of Big Oil and the complex of Wall Street banks and hedge funds could exert a powerful influence on the policies of the GOP should they choose to do so. They have certainly paid handsomely for that kind of access. So, intimately involved as they are in the domestic and international financial markets, why would they allow a US default that would do immediate and long term damage to the reputation of U.S. bonds? To oversimplify, why would they want to damage the ability of the U.S. government to borrow money at low rates of interest?
When I stated the question in this simple way, I caught a glimpse of the answer: If their goal is to weaken and, if possible, destroy the ability of the U.S. government to create and maintain programs that protect ordinary working class citizens from the turbulence of unregulated capitalism, they would prefer that the funding of such programs be dependent on the power to tax, not the ability to borrow.
Government, like private enterprise, cannot grow if it lacks access to borrowed money at reasonable interest rates. Powerful corporate businesses are intuitively and invariably opposed to taxes and government regulation. The Supreme Court has enabled such interests to wield virtually unlimited power to favor obedient politicians and to punish disobedient ones. Thus armed, they probably are confident they can prevent large tax increases. And, if taxes must be raised, they have shown impressive ability to insure they are levied against the middle class, not the corporate ruling class.
I believe the silence and indifference of the business community to the growth of these ideas has resulted, in part, from changes in the nature and makeup of that community. The wealth and power of American capitalism has become more concentrated in the financial system. Engine Charley Wilson’s claim that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” seems quaint in today’s America. General Motors owes its existence to a Democratic Party president and a financial life preserver tossed by the government. Wall Street banks have become so powerful and so capable of capsizing the American economy that the Attorney General has pronounced them “too big to fail and too big to jail”.
I believe the present conspiracy is the result of a very long train of events that were engineered by a relatively small group of people who were active in business, but who did not comprise the mainstream of business leaders. They created think tanks, institutes, foundation-funded university and college chairs and fellowships. They promoted candidates whose rhetoric identified the federal government as the enemy.
The complicity of the mainstream business community consists, I believe, in its enthusiastic embrace of the results of these political tactics. They have eagerly applauded the destruction of the labor movement. They have railed against fair taxes. They have bitterly opposed reasonable regulations. They have contributed large amounts of money in support of candidates who preached hostility toward the government in which they sought elective office . The business community has, like Dr. Frankenstein, created a fiend they did not fully understand or expect.
We will soon discover whether American capitalism will forswear its Faustian bargain with the Tea Party and force a return to rational politics. Regardless of the brash claims of independence by the Tea Party office holders, I believe if they were told that pursuit of their destructive policies would net them a few hundred million dollars worth of opposition when they run for re-election, their devotion to principle might wane. So long as the opposition of Wall Street is limited to “tut tut” and “shame on you”, I agree with the Tea Partiers: “These guys are not for real.”
Safe Havens for Domestic Political Terrorists
During the past ten years, using arcane political ploys, too complicated to attract the attention of ordinary voters, the corporate plutocrats and their client state office holders have created a network of what the British once called “rotten boroughs”, voting districts composed of like-minded constituents who would return representatives to Congress regardless of how dramatically their views differ from those of the majority of Americans. These were and are safe havens for the Tea Party caucus. They are the American Afghanistan. In Texas this was engineered by Tom Delay, a creation of corporate lobbyists.
Who Are These Terrorists? What Do They Want?
The carefully crafted political climate in those districts has enabled the election of a group of Congressmen who regard government as the enemy. They are not anarchists. They favor government policies that protect property rights, provide for an expanding military force and other services that facilitate business activities. So far as concerns such functions as the “safety net” and promoting the “general welfare”, they regard such expenditures as charity, inappropriate for taxpayer support.
The above described political strategy and policies have been accompanied by an effective media campaign powered by Fox News and talk radio. An echo chamber has been created in which a significant percentage of our citizens live and work. There they are relentlessly bombarded with reasons for hostility toward their government, especially the federal government. So-called “social issues” like abortion and gay marriage are featured. The Bill of Rights is interpreted to be important as protection of gun ownership and property rights, but as a hindrance to apprehension and punishment of suspected criminals. Above all, taxation to pay for relief from poverty is denounced as theft and an invitation to moochers and lazy loafers. Government regulation is blamed for interfering with the pursuit of profits and healthy competition.
Federal laws enabling workers to bargain through labor unions have been gutted. There is no “labor movement”; only a few vestigial survivors of the struggles that occurred during the first half of the twentieth century. The only effective organizations capable of exercising significant influence on national political policy are private corporations. Political party organizations are generally ineffective. Political candidates create ad hoc organizations that disappear after elections.
What If They Prevail?
The end result of these developments is easy to envision. If the policies they represent prevail, the decisions affecting the lives and fortunes of ordinary Americans will not be made in the halls of government in Washington D.C.. They will be made in the board rooms of a few corporations with enough power and money to control lower tiers of lesser corporations whose success depends on access to capital and favorable treatment by the tycoons of finance. The profit motive and free market capitalism will replace any thought of empathy, compassion or fairness as determinants of government policy. Workers with no bargaining power, facing fierce competition for jobs, will be forced to accept whatever employers choose to offer. The “Iron Law of Wages”, rejected as morally unacceptable by Ricardo, will become the hallmark of American labor policy.
We’ve Seen An Earler Version of This Movie
Our history offers a preview of how this looks. In the early 1900’s a few powerful business giants controlled the railroads, the coal, the iron and the Wall Street banks that, in turn, operated the United States as a corporate subsidiary. This was the age of the “Robber Barons”.
That earlier period of institutionalized selfishness and greed did not permanently change our country because its victims fled westward into the still sparsely populated frontier of our vast land. Also, in the 1920’s, the Wall Street casino, operating without any significant regulation, created a gigantic bubble of exuberant greed that finally popped. FDR and his brain trust cleared away the wreckage and established a new system based on a balance between capitalism and government. That effort was aided by the financial stimulus required by our mobilization to fight WWII.
How Did Domestic Political Terrorism Become a Political Strategy?
Fifty years later, led by Ronald Reagan, the government began dismantling the balance established by the New Deal. He began by attacking labor unions. He used his office to demean and discredit every government program designed to alleviate poverty and enable the underprivileged to enjoy a reasonably comfortable middle-class life. He used his skills as an actor to spin yarns about “Welfare Queens”. He inspired a generation of government haters to follow his example and design ways to foster distrust and hostility toward the United States government.
This effort, in the past five or six years, has emboldened a group of angry ideologues, calling themselves the “Tea Party”, to claim the right to set minimum standards of political purity for the Republican Party. Like Al Qaeda, they are so loosely organized that identifying their responsible spokesmen is difficult. They have an agenda, but no formally elected or appointed leaders. They operate like free-ranging enforcers of their ideology. They have demonstrated their ability to intimidate members of the GOP holding public office who, if they stray from the dictates of the Tea Party, find themselves opposed by primary candidates more aligned with its dogmas. Ted Cruz, a first-term Senator from Texas, is their Supreme Leader. His current fatwah requires a jihad against the Affordable Care Act.
In 2011, the President and the leadership of this terrorist group made a deal. It was in the form of a promise to make a deal. They promised to reduce the federal deficit by a stated amount by January 1, 2013, and, to insure that they would bargain in good faith on ways to achieve that goal, they agreed that, if they failed to keep that promise, a group of budget cuts would be imposed in ways thought to be so irrational as to be unacceptable to either political party.
The negotiations that followed revealed that, contrary to expectations, the domestic terrorist group declared they were agreeable to the irrational budget cuts and, hence, would not agree to any reasonable alternative. On January 1, 2013, an impasse occurred and the damaging budget cuts took effect in March, 2013. The domestic terrorists were emboldened by what they regard as their successful strategy aimed at weakening and crippling the federal government, thus fulfilling their promise to the electorate in their Afghanistan districts. They learned that, by focusing on sabotage rather than governance, they could not only survive, but exercise power.
The similarity of this recent history to the strategy of the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Russian revolution is remarkable.
What Happens Next?
I think, during the next few weeks, this domestic terrorist group will mount an assault on the financial system of the United States by forcing a default on our bonds. If they are successful, the economy may gradually slide into a new form of recession. This time, weakened by the debt default, the government may not have the ability to counter the faltering economy with financial stimulus money. Any chance of moving forward with gun safety laws or immigration reform will disappear. The wish list of America’s most powerful and ruthless corporate enemies of the federal government will become the agenda of the Tea Party’s next fatwahs.
If this happens, it is difficult for me to believe that it will occur by accident. It will convince me that there has, indeed, been a well thought out and deftly executed conspiracy to take over our government by a corporate plutocracy. I know this sounds like Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society in the 1950’s railing about the “communist threat”. I only hope it proves to be as goofy as that.
September 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
My Lucy’s Football Complaint
In July and August I spent too much time reading, thinking and writing about my country’s policies and activities that were, to me, depressing and shameful. During the Bush-Chaney-Rumsfeld-Yoo years I was angry but not depressed. I was comforted by the hope that their excessively wanton brutality would produce a commensurate degree of righteous reaction that would propel forward the forces of justice and decency.
When Barack Obama was elected I was thrilled. I thought a man of conscience and intelligence would use the ingenious organizing ability that produced his victory to transform the Democratic Party into a political coalition that could dominate American politics for a generation. He took office when the financial power brokers had been brought down by his predecessor. They were coming to Washington, hat in hand, desperate to avoid an implosion.
I assumed , as a student of history, he would recognize that he was in a position similar to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who became President when the policies of Herbert Hoover and the Republicans had capsized the American economy. FDR used that crisis to change the relationship between capitalism and government and to brand Hoover and the Republicans for decades as the enemies of working class Americans.
Instead, Obama used the power of government to pay off the debts that profligate Wall Street bankers had incurred, restore the auto industry, and leave working class Americans without jobs or forced to accept deep pay cuts and menial work to avoid starvation. Far from identifying and branding those responsible for the economic debacle, he made speeches and spoke at press conferences about “looking forward, not dwelling on the past.”
Obama and his team used government generosity to enable Wall Street bankers to recover quickly from the near bankruptcy of their casino. The bonuses and multimillion dollar salaries have climbed to galactic heights. This was done regardless of how politically unpopular it was. No political price was regarded as too high to accomplish this feat.
That attitude was in sharp contrast to the cautious and timid attitude toward other politically difficult projects: Changing labor laws to enable and encourage the resurrection of the labor movement was not even considered – much too difficult- now is not a good time-etc. etc. etc. . Insisting on solving our health care problem by extending Medicare, one of the most popular government programs in the history of the United States, to all. No, that might be branded as socialism – not practical – would never pass in Congress. Well then, if the insurance industry must be left to make useless profits from providing health care, how about a “public option” to place limits on how egregiously they can sabotage the distribution of health care? “Well, we tried that, but couldn’t get enough votes.”
The one political strategy that was never considered: Propose fair and just policies. If they are not adopted, continue to insist on them. Attack those who oppose them. Praise and reward those who support them. Never stop organizing and attacking. Relentlessly target the leaders of the opposition. Name them. Take pains to distinguish them from those who are merely stupid, ambitious or both; they may choose to abandon their opposition, especially if it appears likely to lose.
President Obama is a reasonable person. I think his fatal flaw is his belief that proposing reasonable solutions to problems will win arguments. As a trial lawyer, I shared that belief and, more often than not, I found that juries were more likely to favor the litigant who presented a reasonable argument rather than one who relied on bombast and assaults on the credibility and good faith of the opponent. It didn’t always work, but my average was respectable. I really had no choice. Like Obama, I was never able to sell myself as a shouter, a bully or a fist-shaker.
Political contests, at least those in which I have been actively involved and the ones that have been waged in Washington for the past five years, are wars, not trials. There are few rules and the rules that apply are routinely ignored. The folk description of them is that they are fought by people “down for money, marbles and chalk.” Obama’s obsession about avoiding the stereotype of the “angry black man”, I think, led him to begin negotiations with ruthless and unprincipled demagogues with compromises that, if they were ever appropriate, should have followed, not preceded, a hard fight. I think he brought a knife to a gun fight.
His soaring rhetorical claim that we live, not in blue states and red states, but in the UNITED STATES, was a noble effort to moderate political conflicts. He should have recognized, however, that it did not describe the kind of political viciousness that characterized the political arena of Washington D.C. in 2008 – 2013,
At my age, I am not naive about politicians. No elected official has proved satisfactory to me. Ralph Yarborough came close and my admiration for him more than compensated for every instance when he did such things as sponsoring James Latane “Soapy” Noel, his college room mate, for appointment to a federal judgeship in Houston, who turned out to be an abysmal failure when Houston’s public school integration depended on his judgment. Lyndon Johnson fought every effort to create a viable and dominant liberal Democratic Party in Texas. Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” cleverness spawned the Democratic leadership Council and NAFTA without any protection for the rights of workers, not to mention his enthusiastic embrace of of Wall Street deregulation. My experience with these men taught me, once again, that Democratic Party politicians can do just as much damage as Republican politicians. Even Hubert Humphrey, after a lifetime of dedication to liberal ideals, ran for president wearing LBJ’s Vietnam warbonnet after claiming the nomination in Chicago during a police riot.
So, I have callouses on my backside from running full-tilt toward Lucy’s football during political football games. That’s why Obama was so depressing. I thought we had, at last, elected a steadfast Lucy. Like they say, “There’s no fool like an old fool” Or, as I’ve often said, “like an Old Fart Lawyer.”
The Affordable Care Act
I am hopeful that the ACA will not be a “train wreck”, as predicted by its critics. I am sure the GOP will do everything it can to sabotage it and call attention to every negative aspect of its implementation. The fact that thousands of Americans die each year due to lack of health care makes the stakes too high for betting against it, a mere detail that will have no influence on those who want it to fail. The only human life that concerns them is life in the womb.
Having said that, I believe the ACA is a solution that would have made sense in 1942, but is inappropriate in 2013. When millions of men were withdrawn from the workforce to fight WWII, America was in desperate need of manpower to produce the goods and services vital to the war effort as well as the sustenance of the civilian population. Competition for workers was fierce. Wage levels were frozen. So, employers, primarily industrial employers, began offering health insurance as an inducement to attract and retain workers.
During the New Deal years, as a result of the Wagner Act, many industrial workers were represented by unions. So, a pattern of negotiated arrangements for job benefits was developed. Neither employers nor unions wanted to create machinery for handling and adjusting claims, so a large health insurance industry was created to handle this new demand for health insurance.
If the ACA had been adopted then, it would have been a sensible legislative regulation of these new arrangements. Dramatic changes have occurred since then. Many of those industrial giants no longer exist. The vitality of unions has disappeared in the face of changes in federal law and a failure of the Democratic Party to insist on protection of the rights of workers to organize for collective bargaining. What we now have is a giant insurance industry, regulated lightly by state governments, and employers free to make choices regrading health insurance for their employees, usually free from any significant bargaining through unions. The Employment Retirement Income Security Act, usually designated ERISA, does not require employers to make health insurance available to its employees, It does include some requirements if the employer chooses to do so. It does not, however, prescribe minimum levels of benefits which must be offered.
Another dramatic change occurred when Medicare was created to guarantee health care for those over the age of 65. That law has become a model of government service and is wildly popular. It proved that government can establish and implement a successful program providing health care to a large population, even a population of elderly people whose health care needs are well above those of the general population. Choosing to leave health care in the hands of insurance companies instead of extending an already established model government program was dumb.
Having stated my now-irrelevant bitch, I acknowledge at least two positive developments resulting from the flawed process that produced the ACA. First, the Republican Party has obsessively and enthusiastically branded itself as opposed to the law. That means that, when the law becomes effective, and millions of Americans discover that they have access to health insurance at prices they can afford, they will, perhaps, begin to question their loyalty to Republican politicians who tried to prevent it. I am not sure about this. American voters are notoriously willing to vote for politicians whose policies are harmful to them. This masochistic stupidity is an endemic mental disability linked to American politics.
The second positive result is that Barack Obama has, finally, responded with some degree of anger and moral outrage to the attacks on the ACA . This morning, September 26, 2013, less than a week before the ACA becomes an active program affecting every American, after years of hysterical assaults by the GOP, thousands of hours of lies about the law, and a twenty-hour harangue by a Jackass Senator from (of course) Texas, our President, in a speech to a community college crowd in Maryland, displayed a little bit of outrage and struck back. He didn’t name anybody. He wouldn’t want to spoil the collegiality he enjoys as he works with his “friends across the aisle”. But he did mention that the Republicans have been lying about the ACA. That is a step forward.
Here is my hope: Americans have now been promised health care. The promise has been made by their government. When the insurance industry allows its greed to interfere with providing that health care, the people will demand action from the government. At some point it will become so obvious that even American voters will realize that health care for which government is responsible should be managed and administered by government. The ACA will transition to Medicare. As usual the question is: How much pain will be necessary to energize the electorate to demand it?
A Mind Meld and a Grok
As stated, after reading about the NSA trashing of the 4th Amendment; the secret FISA court and its secret jurisprudence, I was angry and depressed. The consensus seems to have been accepted that, given our modern technology, we are doomed to submit to government’s limitless access to our private lives, all in the name of protecting us from a constantly expanding array of terrorists in a state of boundless and endless martial law.
I followed that investigation by reading Jeremy Scahill’s book describing the government’s “global war on terror” in which the bombing of innocent civilians is accepted as collateral damage. Bypassing the Bill of Rights and assassinating American citizens without warrant, indictment or trial is explained as an acceptable tactic in the GWOT. “Signature strikes”, firing missiles and dropping bombs on people based on the “life pattern” of some in their midst is said to be justified on the basis of the probability that terrorists will be killed.
These revelations about the policies of my President and my country depressed me. After a few days, I tired of thinking about them. One of my favorite bumper stickers states, “Reality is for People Who Can’t Handle Drugs and Alcohol”. I am one of those people, so a bottle of Jack Daniels was not an option.
I remembered that, for most of my life, beginning in Elementary School, I was almost always in the middle of reading a novel. That changed a few years ago and I began reading non-fiction. I decided I needed a break from all this serious stuff. I needed to escape.
Crime and Punishment
In 1997, my mother-in-law, whom I loved and admired, gave me a handsomely bound copy of “Crime and Punishment”, Fyodor Dostoevsky”s psychological novel. It had lain unread on a bookshelf for sixteen years. I chose it to begin my recovery. Dostoevsky was a remarkable person. He was a dissident in the 1850’s. He was imprisoned and sentenced to death. He and two other prisoners were taken to the prison yard, tied to stakes, a firing squad was assembled and the first two of three orders were given to carry out the sentence, when a messenger from the Tsar arrived breathlessly to announce that their death sentences had been commuted to terms of imprisonment in Siberia.
[Spoiler Alert. I assume that most of you have read this classic, so this is probably unnecessary. But, the following paragraphs will disclose the ending of the novel.]
Dostoevsky became a popular writer after surviving that term of imprisonment. “Crime and Punishment” was published in 1861, when our civil war was beginning. The main character, Rodion Roskolnikov, a young penniless lapsed student, uses an axe to kill an old lady who operates an amateur pawn business, as well as her mentally disabled sister who unexpectedly witnesses the murder. The novel describes Roskolnikov’s struggle with his conscience and the fear that ultimately drives him to confess to his crime and accept imprisonment in Siberia. The novel is actually two narratives. One is in Roskolnikov’s head and the other one involves his family, his friends and a number of protagonists in the government’s criminal justice establishment.
The psychology is presented in terms of a philosophical conflict. Roskolnikov initially tries to convince himself that he is a member of an intellectually superior group of people, whose talents entitle them to ignore ordinary rules of conduct applicable to their inferiors. He tries to analyze his crime as the just sacrifice of a couple of worthless women in order to enable him, a person of significant potential, to survive. This hubris is a barrier that prevents him from having an intimate relationship with either his male friends or a young woman, Sonya, who falls in love with him.
The novel, set in St. Petersburg, is an engaging description of a part of Russian society. There are lengthy passages describing Roskolnikov’s thinking, similar to “stream of consciousness” narration, except that it is written in the third person rather than as a transcript of the thoughts going on in Roskolnikov’s head.
Reading the book had its desired effect. For several hours I was in Russia, feeling the cold, tense as the main character edged closer and closer to a resolution of his inner conflict, while a parallel effort was going on as a smart law enforcement official came closer and closer to trapping him.
After his confession and banishment to Siberia, Sonya moves there to be with Roskolnikov. Finally, after several years, he accepts her love, casts aside the heartless intellectualism that kept him aloof and alone, accepts responsibility for the crime he committed and becomes an adult human being.
Lie Down in Darkness
Over fifty years ago, Larry Goodwyn gave me a priceless gift. He told me about William Styron. I read his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness when I was thirty-one or two. As part of my recovery from too much reality, I re-read it. It still blew me away. The astonishing thing about it is that Styron wrote the book in two years at age twenty-two to twenty-three. How he managed to acquire, at that young age, the knowledge and insight to describe, in words carefully crafted and filled with imagery, the musings, dreams and fears of a fifty-year-old woman and her twenty-year-old daughter, is beyond my understanding. I don’t pretend to have that ability, but Styron’s descriptions have the feel of absolute authenticity. As I re-read them, at age 82, having had lots more experience with lots more people of different ages, than Styron had time to have had when he wrote this novel, his descriptions were believable to me.
His writing was compared to Faulkner’s. I don’t know about that. To me, the tenderness and understanding of human fears and weaknesses he describes made me think of Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night . After grabbing me and telling me a long story about death and loss and love and betrayal, Styron ends his novel with a penultimate section, forty-nine pages without a paragraph break, in which he transcribes the thoughts in young Peyton’s head. Unlike Dostoevsky, Styron does not stand aside and write about what Peyton is thinking. Peyton herself lets you into her head and allows you to think with her, feel with her, remember with her.
Grok and Mind Meld
A.E. Heinlen invented the term grok in his novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, a science fiction fantasy based on a Martian who visits Earth. The visitor has the ability to relate to another person by communicating between his own and his or her minds. The process is called groking. It obviously enables a degree of intimacy otherwise impossible to achieve. As I read Crime and Punishment, I realized that Dostoevsky was enabling me to relate to Roskolnikov’s mind,, rather than merely with his actions and statements. It reminded me of Heinlen’s groking.
Styron, on the other hand, took me a step closer than Heinlen. Throughout his novel, and especially in the 49-page internal monologue, he enabled Peyton and I to communicate through a mind meld, a Vulcan ability introduced to Earthlings by Spock, an officer in the Starship Enterprise, commanded by Captain Kirk.
I don’t intend to escape from reality permanently but I have decided to temper my dabbling in reality by vicariously experiencing other people’s lives through the pages of well-written, or just moderately well-written (I’m not very discriminating when it comes to fiction) novels.
May 20, 2013 § Leave a comment
In the following essay I will argue that President Obama’s claim of authority to order assassinations of American citizens and others without complying with the requirements of due process and without disclosing the factual basis for his order violates the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
The etymology of the phrase “Lynch Law” is murky. It may have been named after James Lynch Fitzstephen of Galway, Ireland who, while mayor, hung his son from the balcony of his home in 1493, after convicting him of murdering a Spanish visitor. It has also been attributed to Charles Lynch, a Virginia planter and American revolutionary, who presided over a county court. Judge Lynch, without formal jurisdiction, imprisoned British loyalists for up to a year during the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress retroactively affirmed his action. William Lynch, also of Virginia, claimed the phrase originated in a 1780 privately negotiated compact between him and his neighbors in Pennsylvania County.
Lynch law has a long and shameful history in America. A study at Tuskegee Institute listed 4,743 lynchings between 1882 and 1968; 3,446 blacks, 1,297 whites.
Based on this history, it is fair to characterize lynch law as lawless imprisonment, punishment or execution.
A Brief Historical Comment
The history of warfare is a record of expanding the reach and capacity of men for death, mayhem and destruction. The process began when the first man picked up a stone, a club or a stick to gain advantage over an enemy. The sling extended the range of the stone. The spear in the hands of a strong armed warrior extended the range of the stick. The bow and the catapult added range to both the spear and the stone. Roman soldiers armed with short swords, standing shoulder to shoulder in squares, powered an empire. Genghis Khan and his fearsome mounted army swept away everything in his path from Mongolia to Western Europe with highly trained horsemen armed with bows and arrows.
Explosive compounds, rockets and airplanes enabled transcontinental range for destructive weaponry. In the past sixty days, we learned that American stealth bombers based in Missouri flew nonstop 6,500 miles to engage in war games on the Korean peninsula and returned home. Nuclear technology and chemical warfare have increased the destructive capability of men to a potential for rendering our planet uninhabitable.
War and The Law
In a fitful effort to control these forces of chaos and destruction, societies have developed various systems of laws and cultural norms designed to impose some limits on war. One of the most basic legal principles established by laws related to war is that assaults, homicides and property destruction are not criminal if committed by soldiers engaged in wars. War affords its participants a legal justification for acts that, if committed by private citizens, would justify prosecution and punishment. Western democratic societies have tried, with very limited success, to establish limits on this defense to prosecution. An effort has been made to define “crimes against humanity” and to prescribe punishment for such “crimes”, regardless of whether committed during a war.
These efforts have resulted in somewhat skewed results. The victors in WWII prosecuted, imprisoned and executed German and Japanese “war criminals” for wanton destruction and killing of civilians, conveniently ignoring the bombing of Dresden and the nuclear and fire bombing of Japan. This said, however, it is true that, until the past decade or so, the distinction between crime and war was generally recognized and observed.
Even revolutionary wars, pitting neighbor against neighbor and countryman against countryman, were treated as wars and the participants were not viewed as criminals. Confederate soldiers in the Civil War were not prosecuted for treason, even though Union rhetoric accused them of being traitors. When the war ended, Confederate prisoners were released to return to their homes. A vengeful Congress stripped them of their rights as U.S citizens, but even those retaliatory measures were later modified as part of a political deal.
9-11, The Failure of Checks and Balances and the Patriot Act
On September 11, 2001, airplanes piloted by agents of Al Qaeda crashed into two office buildings in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C.. The buildings in New York were destroyed and the Pentagon sustained significant damage. Seventeen days later, on September 18, 2001, with one dissenting vote in the House and a unanimous vote in the Senate, the U.S. Congress adopted a joint resolution that stated, in pertinent part:
“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.”
This joint resolution, entitled “Authorization for Use of Military Force”, often abbreviated as AUMF, has been used by the Bush and Obama administrations to authorize the President to by-pass the Constitutional provision that reserves to Congress the power to declare war. [Article I, Section 8]. In fact the last time Congress declared war was in December, 1941.
The United States has used military force against against North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya, all without any declaration of war by the Congress. Harry Truman named the Korean War a “police action” to explain why he sought no Congressional declaration of war. LBJ claimed that the Vietnam war was waged in response to an attack on an U.S. Navy vessel in the Gulf of Tonkin. A Joint Resolution of Congress authorized the president to use military force to help countries who were parties to the South East Asia Treaty Organization secure “their freedom”. A later investigation concluded that most of the claims that the Navy vessel was attacked by North Vietnam ships were false. Nevertheless, 58,000 dead American soldiers and countless Vietnamese and Cambodians resulted from this undeclared war based on those lies foisted on Congress.
The Bush and Obama administrations have ignored the language of the Joint Resolution that limits its targets to “. . . 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,. . . .” Al Qaeda has been interpreted to mean any person or group that seems to have some wish or intent to do harm to Americans. The only requirement seems to be that the target must be somehow “associated with” some group, regardless of how amorphous or loosely organized, that can be linked to the phrase “Al Qaeda”.
At a Senate hearing on May 18, 2013, representatives of the Department of Defense testified before a committee of the Senate. In response to friendly questioning from Senator Graham they claimed the right to wage war anywhere they found anyone threatening any “terrorist” act against the United States; that the “battlefield” encompassed an area they described as “from Yemen to Boston”. This testimony astonished even Senator Graham’s political clone, John McCain. To appreciate the scope of our present lawless and unlimited military machine, see the excerpts published by the Huffington Post.
To summarize: Both Bush and Obama have used the above-cited 2001 Joint Resolution as a basis for their authority to make war on anyone, anywhere, any time if they can relate some activity, threatened or likely activity of the target to some “future acts of international terrorism against the United States”. Some times that relationship seems, at least to me, so tenuous as to be credible only to those who, like the audience watching a play, are engaged in a “willing suspension of disbelief”. “Six degrees of Separation from Kevan Bacon”, an interesting parlor game, seems to have become a template for the “war on terror”.
The most dangerous power of government is military power. The United States has the most powerful military force in the history of the world. The only protection from misuse of that power is the Constitution, a worthless document unless its terms are enforced, either politically through elected officials or legally in our courts. During the past seven decades we have passively watched as that military force has become stronger and the restraints that render it safe have all but vanished.
This has occurred for three reasons: First, American citizens have been terrorized, not by foreign terrorists but by home-grown political demagogues who have used appeals to patriotism and exaggerated fear to convince Americans that constitutional protections against lawless government are mere hindrances that interfere with efforts to protect them against dreadful attacks. Second: Elected officials charged with enforcing those constitutional protections have defaulted because of political cowardice or corrupt alliances with corporate business forces that profit from military armament. Third: Our courts have been unwilling to halt the erosion of constitutional protection because they perceived the issue to be political, rather than legal and, in cases involving individual rights, have been too willing to accept the so-called “national security” defense that allows government to cloak in secrecy the factual bases, or lack thereof, for its actions.
The “War on Terror”
I have expressed my concern about the undeclared wars that have cost trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives and devastated several countries. I am convinced that the costs of those wars, both in blood and treasure, have greatly exceeded any benefit that resulted from them. I am convinced that none of them, with the possible exceptions of the Korean war and the first Gulf War, were necessary. So far as I can tell, neither Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq nor South East Asia are better off today because America waged war against them.
I am grateful, of course, that many of the leaders of Al Qaeda, a vicious and dangerous organization, have been captured or killed. I do not believe, however, that tracking them down and dealing with them required the trashing of our Constitution and the various wars that have been waged in response to the attack on September 11, 2001. Terrorist attacks are crimes committed by criminals. They are not acts of war and the criminals are not soldiers.
We have criminal laws and orderly constitutional procedures for dealing with criminals, both those found in America and those found elsewhere in the world. When the September 11 attacks occurred, we should have organized an international team of law enforcement officials in a joint effort to locate and apprehend those responsible. When they were caught, we should have extradited them to America, jailed them, tried them and imprisoned or executed them without violating our laws and without engaging costly and unnecessary wars.
The vast Homeland Security bureaucracy employing 180,000 people, created in the panic following the 9-11 attacks, had little to do with the successful effort to deal with Al Qaeda. Neither the Iraq war nor the Afghanistan war has resulted in any appreciable damage to Al Qaeda that could not have been accomplished with a more targeted law enforcement effort. Individual leaders of Al Qaeda have been captured or killed by small teams or specific attacks unrelated to those wars. Misnaming our reaction to the September 11 attack as a “war on terror” has done little to injure our enemies. It has done significant damage to our system of laws.
The extra-judicial invasion of privacy spawned by the Patriot Act, claimed to be required because we are in a “state of war”, has enabled government access, without a warrant, notice or hearing, to our emails and our telephone calls. Our activities are recorded by ubiquitous cameras mounted on drone aircraft as well as thousands of other stationary locations. The information about us thus secretly acquired is then secretly analyzed by nameless bureaucrats whose motives and methods are secret, hidden from judicial oversight and public disclosure by claims of “national security”.
The Advent of the Drone
The development of drone aircraft capable of carrying explosive weapons and controlled from remote locations have, in my opinion, significantly increased the danger to all of us resulting from the above described expansion of presidential discretion to kill people located anywhere in the world because they are claimed to be, or likely to be or become “terrorists”. This new weapon sheds the disguise of a “war on terror”. It is an individualized personal weapon to be used against specific named persons. In other words, a drone does exactly what a law enforcement officer does: Seek and kill people suspected of having committed a crime. As presently used, however, drone killing is done with no pretense of due process.
A thief who shoplifts a candy bar can be arrested only based on probable cause, is entitled to Miranda warnings, a written statement of charges against him or her, a lawyer and a trial before an impartial tribunal. If, however, he or she is in Yemen and can be somehow be connected to some group calling itself “Al Qaeda”, he or she can be added to a hit list by a group meeting in the White House and blown up in a drone strike based on secret evidence never disclosed.
If this does not concern you, because you are confident that Barack Obama and his administration would not misuse this authority, I have just two words for you: Ted Cruz. He will probably run for President in 2016. How much are you willing to wager that he won’t be elected? Your life and your liberty? Did you think American voters would grant George W. Bush a second term in 2004, given the fact that his disastrous first term had embroiled us in a senseless war in Iraq, converted a budget surplus to a giant debt, and allowed Wall Street bankers to wreck our economy? No? Neither did I. But they did, by a larger margin than his first election, the one they had to steal.
The Supreme Court and the “War on Terror”
In Ex parte Merryman Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled that the President, even if the country was at war, could not suspend the writ of habeas corpus without Congressional authority. The case is an interesting one. In 1861, the Civil War was beginning. President Lincoln, desperate lest Rebel sympathizers in Maryland cut off Washington from the rest of the union , called up the loyalist Maryland militia to defend against the Rebel forces. He declared martial law in Maryland and told General Winfield Scott that, if he found it necessary, he could suspend the right to habeas corpus and summarily detain anyone who acted against union forces.
John Merryman was a sympathizer with the southern cause and a lieutenant in the Maryland militia. He committed acts of destruction and sabotage and was arrested, charged with treason by a Brigadier General in the Union Army and jailed at Fort McHenry near Baltimore. He filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus in the Federal Court presided over by Chief Justice Taney. Taney was a Democrat and hated Abraham Lincoln. He granted the writ and ordered Merryman brought to his court. When the writ was served, the General in charge of Fort McHenry responded with a letter declining to recognize Taney’s writ. Taney issued a writ of attachment ordering a federal marshal to arrest the general and bring him to court. The marshal was denied entry into the Fort. Taney responded with a lengthy opinion castigating Lincoln for arrogantly presuming to possess authority capable of suspending rights protected by the Constitution. Taney quoted from the Declaration of Independence. One of the justifications offered for revolting against King George was that “He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”
President Lincoln ignored Taney’s decision as well as several other federal court decisions rendered thereafter agreeing with Taney. Finally, in February, 1862, Lincoln rendered the issue moot by releasing on parole all political prisoners. However, a month later, after Congress refused to grant him authority to suspend habeas corpus, he defiantly suspended the writ throughout the country. The matter was finally settled in March, 1863, when Congress enacted the “Habeas Corpus Suspension Act”.
[An aside: After reading this account of Lincoln’s disdain for the Constitution, I was reminded that Obama admires and has carefully studied Lincoln. I assumed he admired Lincoln’s noble assault on slavery and his wise moderation toward conflicting views. After reading this case, I wonder if my political support of Obama has blinded me to other aspects of his philosophy and admiration of Lincoln which, to me, are not so attractive. ??]
The next case pertinent to the present inquiry was Ex parte Milligan, decided in 1866. Lambdin P. Milligan and several other Southern sympathizers planned to free Rebel prisoners or war held in Yankee prisons, organize them into a military force and take over the governments of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. He and several of his cohorts were arrested, tried before Military Commissions and sentenced to death for treason. The Civil War ended before the date of Milligan’s executiion. He filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus and the Supreme Court granted his application.
The Court ruled that martial law and trials by military commissions were proper in three situations: First: Military courts or commissions could try members of the armed forces. Second: During a war, a military force occupying enemy territory could try civilians in military courts or commissions during the continuation of the war and until some new government was established. Third: In time of some catastrophe or chaotic event when regular government courts were not available, martial law could be declared and the writ of habeas corpus temporarily suspended.
The Court ruled that Indiana, where Milligan was arrested, was not occupied territory and that trial before a military commission was not proper because the courts were available. Therefore, Milligan’s application was granted, the Court ruled that the trial before a Military Commission was unconstitutional and he was freed.
In Johnson v. Eisentrager, decided in 1945, the Supreme Court held that German soldiers arrested, tried and convicted in China by a military commission of having fought with the Japanese army against United States forces, and later detained in a prison in Germany could not invoke the jurisdiction of an American federal court to hear an application for habeas corpus. The applicants were not American citizens and, at no time had been on any American territory. They were convicted of committing acts of war against the United States after the war against Germany was concluded. Justice Jackson held that persons who were engaged in acts of war against the United States in a foreign land, who were neither American citizens nor aliens located in an American territory, had no right to assert rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Ex parte Quirin is the Supreme Court case relied on by Bush and Obama for their authority to deprive “enemy combatants” of any semblance of due process, imprison them indefinitely without any formal charges against them, and to deny or severely limit their access to counsel or to any hearing before an impartial tribunal.
That case involved German saboteurs. Four debarked from a submarine in 1942 at Long Island, New York. The others landed on the east coast of Florida. They wore incomplete German uniforms but changed to civilian clothes after landing. Their mission was to destroy various strategic targets in the United States.
One of the saboteurs, Hans Haupt, was an Ameerican citizen. The other seven were German citizens. They were tried before a military commission, established pursuant to an executive order from FDR and sentenced to death. They were represented by counsel. They filed an application for habeas corpus, challenging the legality of their convictions. The Supreme Court denied their application for a writ of habeas corpus. Six of the applicants were executed. The other two were sentenced to prison terms.
The Court did not deliver an opinion until several months after the executions. Justice Stone delivered a per curiam opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court denying their claims. He based his decision on the fact that war had been declared on Germany; that they were actively engaged in making war on the United States; that they were not soldiers and, therefore, not entitled to treatment as prisoners of war.
The opinion was based on draft opinion written by Justice Jackson. There was unanimous agreement that the applicants were not entitled to a jury trial and that they could be tried by a military commission. The justices were divided on the extent to which Congress could circumscribe the discretion of the President with respect to the trial of the saboteurs. Because the Court concluded that the detention of the Germans was legal and that their trial by a military commission was proper, they found it unnecessary to rule on the procedure followed by the commission or the extent of the President’s authority to order such trials.
Louis Fisher, an expert on the law of war and, especially on the use of military commissions, has written extensively and critically on the procedure followed by FDR concerning these German saboteurs. [See Louis Fisher, “Military Tribunals: A Sorry History”, e.g. . This essay is available online.]
Having read this decision as well as some of the commentary concerning it, I do not think it is a Mother Hubbard clause added to the Constitution granting discretionary authority to the President to ignore the Congress and the Constitution in all situations involving terrorist threats against the United States. It is disturbing to me that our former constitutional law professor President disagrees.
Another Supreme Court case pertinent to some of the issues raised here is U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez (1990). The Defendant, a Mexican citizen residing in Mexico, was suspected of smuggling dope into the United States. With the cooperation of Mexican authorities, U.S. law enforcement officials searched his home in Mexico, found evidence of his crimes, arrested him and extradited him for trial in the U.S., where he was convicted. In this appeal, he argued that the search in Mexico violated the 4th Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures”. The Court disagreed, holding that an alien living in a foreign country was not protected by the amendment because it began with the statement that “The right of the people to be secure . . . shall not be violated. . . .” The Court stated that “the people” refers to residents of the United States, not residents of foreign countries.
The Court, however, cited the following distinction: “That text, [the Fourth Amendment] by contrast with the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, extends its reach only to ‘the people.'” (emphasis added) They continued, “Before analyzing the scope of the Fourth Amendment, we think it significant to note that it operates in a different manner than the Fifth Amendment, which is not at issue in this case. “The privilege against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment is a fundamental trial right of criminal defendants” (emphasis added). ”
In other words, the Court made clear the fact that, if the defendant had been deprived of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, even if the deprivation occurred in Mexico and even though he was a Mexican citizen, that circumstance, if material to his case, might have vitiated his conviction. Because he relied only on a 4th Amendment violation, his conviction was affirmed.
In 2004, the Supreme Court decided Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Yaser Esam Hamdi was born in Louisiana in 1980. As a child, he moved to Saudi Arabia with his family. In the Summer of 2001, twenty-year-old Hamdi went to Afghanistan to work as a relief worker. He was taken into custody by the Afghan Northern Alliance during the American invasion of Afghanistan. They turned him over to the U.S. Military. He was interrogated and then transferred to Guantanamo. When the authorities there discovered that he was an American citizen, he was transferred to a Navy brig in South Carolina.
His father, as next friend, filed an application for habeas corpus in a federal court. The federal judge conducted a hearing and, after listening to the government’s case, concluded there was no persuasive evidence that Hamdi was an “enemy combatant”. The government appealed and the 4th Circuit reversed, ruling that the court had no jurisdiction to challenge the discretion of the President concerning the treatment of a person accused of having participated in hostile activity during a military invasion. The case was remanded to the district court, which again ruled in Hamdi’s favor. The 4th Circuit again reversed and Hamdi appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court took the case and, in 2004, ruled that the government had no right to detain an American citizen without complying with the requirements of due process. A four-member plurality of the Court ruled that “due process” in view of the government’s claim that Hamdi had engaged in active hostilities in a combat zone during a military invasion, did not mean that Hamdi had the rights of a defendant in a peacetime criminal proceeding. They did, however, firmly reject the Bush administration’s claim that federal courts had no jurisdiction to evaluate Hamdi’s treatment. After describing the manner and timing of Hamdi’s arrest and detention, the Court stated: “[W]e necessarily reject the Government’s assertion that separation of powers principles mandate a heavily circumscribed role for the courts in such circumstances. Indeed, the position that the courts must forgo any examination of the individual case and focus exclusively on the legality of the broader detention scheme cannot be mandated by any reasonable view of separation of powers, as this approach serves only to condense power into a single branch of government. We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. ‘Youngstown Sheet & Tube,’ 343 U. S., at 587. Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with other nations or with enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake. […] Likewise, we have made clear that, unless Congress acts to suspend it, the Great Writ of habeas corpus allows the Judicial Branch to play a necessary role in maintaining this delicate balance of governance, serving as an important judicial check on the Executive’s discretion in the realm of detentions. […] it would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.” (emphasis added)
The Court also limited the scope of the “enemy combatant” classification. Here is their language: “There can be no doubt that individuals who fought against the United States in Afghanistan as part of the Taliban, an organization known to have supported the al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for those attacks, are individuals Congress sought to target in passing the AUMF. We conclude that detention of individuals falling into the limited category we are considering, for the duration of the particular conflict in which they were captured, is so fundamental and accepted an incident to war as to be an exercise of the ‘necessary and appropriate force’ Congress has authorized the President to use. […] A citizen, no less than an alien, can be ‘part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners’ and ‘engaged in an armed conflict against the United States,’ […]; such a citizen, if released, would pose the same threat of returning to the front during the ongoing conflict [as an alien].[…] Because detention to prevent a combatant’s return to the battlefield is a fundamental incident of waging war, in permitting the use of ‘necessary and appropriate force’, Congress has clearly and unmistakably authorized detention in the narrow circumstances considered here. […] Under the definition of enemy combatant that we accept today as falling within the scope of Congress’ authorization, Hamdi would need to be ‘part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States or coalition partners’ and ‘engaged in an armed conflict against the United States’ to justify his detention in the United States for the duration of the relevant conflict.”(emphasis added)
To me, this means that when the Afghan war concludes, those alleged to have been “enemy combatants” in that war, must be released. The Court clearly was not willing to agree to an endless “war on terror” to extend the detention powers of the government.
Following this decision, the government made a kind of modified “Br’er Rabbit” deal with Hamdi. They agreed to drop all charges if he would renounce his American citizenship and agree to be deported to Saudi Arabia, where his family lives. He agreed not to travel back to the U.S. or to several other places in the Middle East without approval of the Saudi government. Apparently, they knew full well that they could not prove their accusations against the young man. And, oh yes, he also had to agree not to sue them for having abused and imprisoned him for several years. As Chris Dixie, my law partner, used to say, “These people have no class.”
In Rasul v. Bush (2004), the Supreme Court ruled that citizens of Great Britain and Australia, arrested in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Afghan war, accused of actively engaged in hostilities against U.S. forces, had due process rights to challenge their detention at Guantanamo. The Court ruled that their citizenship was not determinative of their rights to enforce constitutional limits applicable to the government of the United States; that they could go to federal court to enforce those limits by filing an application for habeas corpus.
After these defeats, Bush and his supporters in Congress crafted a set of rules for military tribunals. That effort tried to render useless the rights of prisoners affirmed by the Supreme Court in Hamdi and Rasul. The Congress also purported to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction to consider challenges to the legality of these measures.
In Hamden v. Rumsfeld (2008), the Supreme Court ruled that those efforts were unconstitutional. The Court ruled that any military tribunal scheme had to comply with the Geneva Convention as incorporated into the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They also disallowed the effort of Congress to deprive them of jurisdiction to enforce the Constitution.
One of the interesting sidelights of the Hamden case was an amicus brief filed by Senators Lindsey Graham and John Kyl. In their brief, the Senators presented an “extensive colloquy” purporting to show that the Congress was aware, when they enacted the “Detainee Treatment Act of 2004”, that it would strip federal courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to the legality of the Act. The “extensive colloquy” was added to the record after the debate, a detail not mentioned in the Senators’ brief. Again, “no class”.
These cases establish, for me, three propositions: First, the protection of “persons” in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments applies to citizens and non-citizens if their life, liberty or property is being threatened by the United States government. Second: Even if the government accuses a person of having engaged in active hostile acts in a war zone, if the accused person is in a territory subject to the jurisdiction of the United States courts, the accused is entitled to challenge his detention and treatment by filing an application for habeas corpus in one of those courts. Third, neither the Congress nor the President has the right to strip federal courts of jurisdiction to enforce these rights.
The assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki convinced me that the hazy “Al Qaeda” label, the willfully misunderstood language of the AUMF and the flexible designation of “enemy combatant”, combined with drone technology has finally confronted us with a President and a military/intelligence establishment that threaten our lives and liberty in far more serious ways than any Muslim fanatic is likely to do.
Anwar Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico. In late September, 2011, drone aircraft controlled from a Middle-East CIA location, fired missiles at a car traveling across a dessert in Yemen. Al-Awlaki and Samir Kahn, both American citizens, were killed. Kahn was the editor of a violently anti-American internet publication, Inspire. Al-Awlaki was a fiery Muslim Imam who used YouTube and emails to preach violently anti-American diatribes, including statements that praised the killing of soldiers and others at Ft. Hood by Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist on November 5, 2009, the acts of a martyr.
The American press has highlighted the fact that, during the months before the Ft. Hood attack, Hasan and Al-Awlaki had exchanged several emails. The emails were initiated by Hasan, in apparent response to Al-Awlaki’s YouTube postings. There is no evidence that Al-Awlaki urged Hasan to kill anyone or that Al-Awlaki helped Hasan plan the attack. The Department of Defense has not charged Hasan as an “enemy combatant” or claimed that he is being held as a prisoner of war. He has been charged with murder and is being prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
On September 11, 2001, Anwar Al-Awlaki was a Muslim preacher at a large mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. He denounced the attack as an outrage, was interviewed on TV, profiled in a piece in the Washington Post and was featured in NPR episodes concerning the 9-11 attacks. When the FBI learned that one or more of the 9-11 attackers had attended a mosque in Los Angeles when Al-Awlaki had been the imam there, he was interviewed and cleared of any wrongdoing related to that circumstance.
The story of how this American Muslim preacher became a target for assassination by an American President is a long and interesting one. I have read two versions of this story. One, written by New York Times reporters, repeats the government’s version. The other, written and narrated by Jeremy Scahill, a writer for The Nation and a longtime correspondent for Democracy Now, the liberal media program presided over by Amy Goodman, is based on information gleaned from non-governmental sources as well as from current and former members of the American intelligence community. The Times’ version generally justifies, with some reservations, the government’s case against Al-Awlaki. When it mentions the gaps in the government’s factual case, it gives the government the benefit of the doubt. Scahill is less forgiving. He also adds many details left out of the Times’ version.
Here are links to a long Democracy Now interview of Jeremy Scahill by Amy Goodman. It is in two parts.
Here is a link to a video of Jeremy Scahill stating his criticism of the government’s handling of the Anwar Al-Awlaki killing. Scahill video
These are long stories. I know that, with busy lives, you may not have time to have read this far in this too-long essay. I understand this. I have indulged myself by writing this and doing this research because I believe that America is, as the neo-cons keep insisting, an exceptional place, but not for the reasons the neo-cons claim. I don’t think our exceptionalism is based on our ability to bully people and nations. We are an exceptional nation because we have declared ourselves willing to accept the substantial risks of being free.
We do not value our safety more than our freedom. We respect our government because it is our creation, based on our authority and subject to a written enforceable contract we drafted and adopted. We did not copy it from a form book. We haggled, raged and argued about it and we refused to agree to it until the first ten amendments were added, but finally, recognizing that it was imperfect and the result of many compromises, we ratified it. Our Constitution and the government it established are unique accomplishments, unmatched in the history of human efforts to govern.
I think some of the core ideas that distinguish America from all other nations are under serious attack by well meaning but nevertheless dangerous people. And, unfortunately, technology has produced the ideal weapons, like drone aircraft, powerful tiny cameras and computers capable of sorting and compiling information about us on a scale impossible to imagine. These weapons, eagerly adopted by those who perceive government’s power as a desirable means of insuring our safety, have caused a perilous imbalance between the force of government and the power of a democratically empowered population. Delegating to military agencies functions traditionally left to civilian law enforcement authority has become an accepted circumstance, claimed to be necessary to insure our safety. Secrecy has been allowed to conceal information that is necessary to alert us to government judgments and choices that threaten our freedom and render impotent the protection we sought when we adopted our Constitution.
After thinking about all this, I had to organize and write some kind of structured statement of my concerns. This enables me to sort out my fears and confront them with pertinent facts. Only then can I say to myself, “This is the way this problem developed. I see how some of the pieces fit together. I now have an outline in my brain, a kind of scaffolding to adorn with future information. I think I can now tell the difference between real peril and distracting rabbit trails.”
Finally, for those of you, if any, who are still with me: I want to share with you a video of a “good ol’ boy”‘s YouTube tirade against the government that finally works up to a justification for killing American soldiers. This is the kind of rhetoric that Anwar Al-Awlaki is accused of using in his YouTube rants. As you watch it, understand that the speaker is the co-owner with his wife of a weapons store and that this is one of 170 videos posted by him on YouTube. See philliptjrYouTube
I think this guy is pathetic, but I damn sure don’t want some drone to drop a bomb or a missile on him. Not in my country. And, by the way, I am aware of the fact that I have just written a tirade of my own about the government. I insist there is an important difference between the two of us: I think it is vital that he be able to say whatever he wants to say. He probably thinks I, with my opinion about our gun culture, ought to be shot.
October 31, 2012 § Leave a comment
Here is an editorial from the July 27, 1935 issue of Saturday Evening Post, attacking FDR because he was not a “business man”.
THE SATURDAY EVENING POST
FOUNDED AD: 1728
PUBLSHED EVERY SATURDAY BY
W CURTIS PUBUSHINC COMPANY
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A.
GEORGE HORACE LORIMER. EDITOR
PHILADELPHIA. JULY 27, 1935
IF THE President’s “soak-the-rich” tax proposals
had been made for the purpose of balancing the
budget; if they had reached down to the lower income
brackets, so that everyone in proportion to his
means bore his share of the tax burden; and if they
had been accompanied by an expressed determination
to redeem his campaign pledges of drastic economies,
there could have been no just criticism of
these purposes. It is, therefore, with sincere regret
that we must conclude, on the evidence of both his
message and his “must” attitude toward Congress,
that his primary concern is with his political fortunes,
aa they are threatened on the left, and not
with the fortunes of America, as a whole.
The left should not be discouraged, even if they
feel that the proposed taxes will not soak the rich
enough. The objective, to adopt the President’s
football figure, the goal posts toward which the
Administration snake dance, with its wobbling from
right to left, has been heading from the first, should
now be perfectly plain to the gentlemen of the left,
as well as to those who, seeing, still could cot believe.
The New Dealers seem determined to uproot the
twin posts of constitutional government and the property
rights of the individual. And if they are leveled,
the crossbar of democracy, those other rights of the
individual, will fall to the ground and we shall find
ourselves members of a collectivist society.
Anyone with ordinary sense who has followed the
windings of this tortuous dance, one step to the
right and two to the left, can only conclude that
Professor Tugwell and the President are twins in
their determination to roll up their sleeves and make
over America. And what a mess they are making of
their making over !
That brings us to a consideration of our two billionaires:
President Roosevelt and Henry Ford—
President Roosevelt because he is the only man in
the world who has billions to spend as he sees fit,
and Henry Ford, a newspaper-reputed billionaire,
though his actual fortune is probably less than half a
billion. Rockefeller, or any one of a hundred other
men, would do as well for purposes of comparison,
but we have chosen Ford because he ie the best advertised
rich industrialist in the world.
Henry Ford started life as a humble mechanic,
without any special social or educational advantages.
but as he progressed step by atep, hia education
progressed along sound, if not academic, lines, and
he acquired an intimate knowledge of social problems
by personal contacts with both the higher and
the lower strata of society. No college, no professor
and no theorist formed his philosophy of life. No
banker, no trust, no financial skulduggery helped to
found and increase his fortune. He built it step by
step with his hands and his brains, and in building it
he was a member of many classes of society, and
gained an insight into their needs. His matured belief
is that to give work with good pay and an opportunity
to rise according to ability is the first and
soundest thing that can be done for any man. In
carrying out that idea he has been on firm ground.
From our own observation, his is the philosophy of
almost every successful businessman, but their objective
is always to make work, not ” made work.” It
is one of the strong points of the American System
that the men at the head of a business, starting with
tbeir bare hands, almost always create an industry
out of an idea’ and their willingness to stake their
lives on it; or if they have had some advantages, they
have been thrown into the hopper and have climbed
out because of special abilities. Men who inherit a
business, and without foundation training try to run
it, almost always make a mess of it.
As the rich industrialists made their wealth, only a
small part of it was spent on themselves. The major
part of it went into the creation of new wealth, more
jobs and more opportunities for others. Of course,
there are many exceptions—men who have achieved
wealth in devious ways and by sweating labor; men
who have disregarded the obligations and duties of
their position and spent wastefully and selfishly
on vain and vainglorious show, but they are not
representative of the American System, and their
number is steadily decreasing.
President Roosevelt is not, of course, a billionaire
m his own right, but he is by decree of Congress,
Born to inherited wealth, he was educated in select
schools, at Harvard and by travel. In his youth his
was the environment of the rich, and the rich with
social position. He tried business; practiced law;
went into politics and graduated to the position of
an Assistant Secretary of the Navy and a vicepresidential
candidate on the badly defeated Cox
and Roosevelt ticket. It was due to the persuasion
of Al Smith that he ran for governor of New York,
was elected and, under the tutelage of Louis Howe
and his Tammany friend, Jim Farley, became a
presidential candidate. ‘
President Roosevelt is wise politically, but qot
economically. His real experience is largely political.
His environment and inherited position cheated him
out of an opportunity to engage as a private in the
battle of business and to win his stars on the field as
a constructive economist. He is aa theoretical as any
of his professors. His whole course as President shows
that he is willing and ready to tackle almost any
experiment that listens well in the telling, regardless
of the counsels of experience. That, of course, is the
defect of his early environment and later training,
for he never was a real cog in the machine that
makes the economic wheels go round. That, too, is
the defect of his closest advisers.
Young men with brains—and there are many of
them in the field of inherited wealth—if they have
dormant ambition gradually tire of a round of
dinners, balls, hunts, Newport in summer and Palm
Beach in winter, with travel de luxe over and around
the world. Their names and pictures in the Bociety
column no longer give them a thrill and a sense of
importance. They yearn to move over to the news
columns. The deference that is paid to inherited
wealth and social position in America gives them a
sense of superiority and a feeling that they are thoroughly
qualified to iron out all other human inequalities
while keeping their own status on a higher
level, and to mold the rest of us in accordance with
their own impractical social theories. These young
men and women, with many professors and young
radical lawyers, have naturally floeked to the New
As we have already said, the President is not a
billionaire in his own right, but materially he is as
fortunately and as pleasantly placed as the richest.
Aside from his salary of seventy-five thousand dollars
a year, he occupies rent-free the most desirable
house in the United States, with greenhouses and
pleasant grounds, and by all accounts he is determined
to occupy it until 1941, at least. When he
wants to travel, there is a special train at his command;
when he wants to go to sea, there is a Navy
ship at his disposal or the luxurious Astor yacht.
With salary, house, allowances and perquisites, he
probably has what amounts to better than three
hundred thousand dollars a year. This is as it should
be. No one want-s the President to be stinted or to
live beneath the dignity of the office, but his is not
exactly a share-the-wealth background.
Then, as Mr. Garrett has pointed out in a recent
article, he has not one billion, but many billions
to spend and employ in the way that he thinks
best. No one doubts that he expects to spend for
what he believes to be the common good, though
a little personal political increment must necessarily
accrue to one who can dictate the place, time and
manner of such enormous expenditures.
We doubt whether any man in the country is big
enough or experienced enough to employ and expend
this vast sum wisely. If we may judge from
past utterances and the present tax program of the
President and his advisers, they would not trust
any other man in the United States to spend even a
small fraction of this sum. As a matter of fact,
both the sum and the grant of power vested in it
are fantastic and quite beyond the grasp of the
average man, including the average member of
Congress. But let nobody imagine that he will
escape lightly. Even more than the rich, the poor
and the middle-class will be ground between the
upper and the nether millstones of higher prices and
heavier, though indirect, taxation. The essential
difference between our two billionaires is that Henry
Ford creates and adds to the wealth of America,
and President Roosevelt taxes and takes from it.
This is not a nation of peasants and parasites.
There is still a lot of independence and fight left in it.
Farmers may temporarily be tempted by easy money,
but it is hard money for the rest of the country that
is taxed on its bread and meat for their benefit; labor
may be dazzled by the prospect of always-mounting
wages and the domination of industry, but neither
means anything when there is little work and less
industry; business may be beguiled by fair promises,
but when every face-to-face smile is followed by a
kick from behind, fair words soon lose their meaning.
The truth is that not only have we an unbalanced
budget but we have thoroughly unbalanced legisla-
tion, even to achieve the clearly avowed, and some
not so clearly stated, ends of the Administration.
Those who have sharp ears can already hear the
distant popping of the first minor Administration
experiments, punctuated from time to time by a
major explosion, though, so far as possible, the sound
of these blowups is being carefully muffled and the
effects discounted by new bombshells.
The real making over of America will come when
the country as a whole wakes up to what has been
done to it in the name of reform and the more abundant
life by the President and his subservient, though
not quite so subservient as it was, . Congress s0oner
or later, the return to sanity, to common sense and
to the possible, must come, and the foundations on
which America grew to its foremost position will he
rebuilt. They will be stronger foundations, bouud
together by a finer and cleaner cement, instead of
the jerry-built courses that are now being laid in a
professed attempt to build to high heaven.
The amazing thing about this diatribe is that it is so cookie-cutter similar to the Chamber of Commerce/Tea Party line today. The dismissal of college-educated people; the “built it with his bare hands” rhetoric; the equation of taxation with theft; . l. . it’s all there. These guys never change their tune. And even more amazing: Even when they are almost literally standing in the ashes of the latest financial or economic disaster brought on by those “built it with their bare hands” heroes, a substantial percentage of the listeners lap it up.
During the “Roaring Twenties”, the Wall Street geniuses flew the entire American economy into a total collapse and, in 1935, when FDR and the Democrats were desperately trying to resurrect the barely breathing corpse, this jackass was denouncing him for his lack of business skills. Sound familiar?
I have a theory about why this keeps happening: No one ever goes to jail for doing it. Lying, cheating and defrauding seems to be acceptable behavior so that we can retain our “freedom”. It would be too “divisive”, even “class warfare” if the perpetrators of these dishonest schemes paid for their crimes. Bernie Madoff went to jail because he caused a lot of losses among some wealthy “investors”; but the guys at AIG, who made gazillons of dollars peddling phony credit insurance (mis-labeled credit-default-swaps, as a result of a deliberate loophole in the applicable regulations), not only paid no penalty; they were bailed out with taxpayer money. So why not keep doing it? The brokers on Wall Street who sold billions of dollars worth of mortgage-backed derivatives, knowing full well that they were falsely stamped “AAA”; not to mention the dishonest evaluation companies who supplied the stamps –all those guys walked away with their fat bonuses and swanky vacation homes in the Greek Isles and the South of France. So why shouldn’t they keep doing it?
We need to stop this nonsense the only way it can be stopped: Perp walks and prison cells, and I don’t mean minimum security country clubs. Those guys need to get to know the non-violent black kids in prison for possession of a handful of grass or a crack pipe.
I know. It aint gonna happen. But it should.