August 9, 2016 § 5 Comments
The title of this essay means that when there are two choices, one or the other must be chosen. The average preschooler can deduce this kind of math. It is, however, too complicated for some of those who have realized Trump should not be President, but who have not figured out the consequence of their realization. I hope to convince them that their actual choices are limited and failure to understand this limitation may lead to a result inconsistent with their realization.
The Late Responders
As I read and watch the news about the political Hamlets who have finally realized the obvious fact: That Donald Trump is an amoral irresponsible narcissist, I am astonished and outraged about the next act in the drama of many of their lives. Like Hamlet, they express their “dark night of the soul” [to mix a couple of different referents] and conclude that they will not vote for Donald Trump but they also will not vote for Hillary Clinton.
Their epiphany tales are all similar. They noticed that Trump does not distinguish between reality and fairy tales. They express dismay at the prospect of his childish impetuosity and habit of enraged response to any criticism , ensconced in the Oval Office, the red telephone at hand. They have, at last, concluded that such a temperament is unsafe for one with the power and authority of a Commander in Chief of the worlds most powerful military force, a force that includes control of nuclear weapons.
Nevertheless, wearing serious faces, wrinkled brows and pursed lips, they declare that Hillary is “untrustworthy”; that her emails and her flailing around about them violate their high standards and moral purity.
These complaints, offered as an excuse for passively refusing to use a vote to prevent Donald Trump from becoming President of the United States, are either evidence of abysmal ignorance of the American political system or an astonishing degree of dispassionate indifference toward a disaster that could threaten the lives of millions and perhaps render much of this planet uninhabitable. Even the presumed instinct of self preservation does not seem sufficient to jar these people out of their effete fantasy land.
The Difference Between Moral Purity and Political Reality
These converts to UnTrumpism are, in many cases, in their 50’s and 60’s, having held responsible government positions.. Many of them confess to having voted for Republican candidates for President during their past lives, presumably for George W.Bush when he was re-elected after four years of decision-making that should have been enough to convince any serious observer that he was plainly unqualified to govern the United States or any other significant government entity. It is somewhat easier to understand the present ignorance of those who voted Republican in that election, but still their present awakening, after sleeping late, with an appropriate decision about Donald Trump is inconsistent with their failure to perceive its obvious cerebral consequence.
As incredible as it seems, there are some simple facts about American politics that have not been noticed by these UnTrumpers. The American political system is built around two political parties. Even before the creation of the GOP, presidential elections were contests between two competing variously named political organizations. Third-party insurgents, even when led by a candidate as famous and respected as Theodore Roosevelt, have not been successful in defeating candidates nominated by the two major political organizations. Teddy’s Progressive Party, nicknamed “Bull Moose” after he described himself as one after being wounded during a campaign appearance, merely allowed Woodrow Wilson to take advantage of the division between Taft and Roosevelt and become President.
This fact leads to a second fact. If one is convinced that Donald Trump would be a reckless and dangerous President, the only rational thing to do is vote for his opponent. Not voting or wasting a vote on a sure loser seeking attention through some form of political purity, is both dumb and indefensible. Dumb because, having acknowledged the dangers of a Trump presidency, failing to do everything necessary to prevent him from becoming President is like confronting an armed and dangerous intruder in your home with spitballs. Indefensible because failing to do the simple act of voting for Trump’s opponent amounts to sharing responsibility for a Trump presidency if he wins.
I agree completely with the premise of the arguments made by those who understand the danger of a Trump presidency. But that premise absolutely requires a vote for Hillary Clinton and committed efforts to persuade others to vote for her. It does not require and, in fact, has nothing to do with agreeing with her or approving of her. It has to do with defeating Trump.
Never in my lifetime have I voted for a presidential candidate with whose policies I agreed completely. If I ever find myself in agreement with mainstream politicians, I will go off somewhere and figure out how I have sold out. And I doubt that will become necessary. When this election is over, I will try to support the political revolution led by Bernie Sanders. Election campaigns are useful for recruiting and identifying people for the next political contest. Campaigns end. Organizing goes on forever.
November 9, 2014 § 5 Comments
On October 20th I woke up and discovered that my eyesight had malfunctioned and, as a result, everything I looked at was a double image, one atop the other. When this problem persisted and my effort to ignore it proved to be too taxing, I finally went to a neighborhood hospital center. After a CTscan, an MRI, an EKG and a thorough series of blood tests, the message from this premier medical center was: ” Good news! You don’t have diabetes; you didn’t have a stroke; one of your cranial nerves has malfunctioned; we don’t know why, but it will probably correct itself and your eyes will return to default condition sometime in a few weeks. Put a patch on one eye and you’ll be fine. And, if that doesn’t happen, we’ll fit you with a pair of glasses with an embedded prism that will correct the problem.”
So, now I have a clue about how pirates feel, except I don’t have a peg-leg and a parrot.
This mishap has curtailed my reading and my attention to this blog. But, I do have one comment on last Tuesday’s “Republican Sweep” and the “Top to Bottom Assessment” that the Democratic Party has now launched.
I find myself agreeing with Bruce Bartlett, a conservative writer and former adviser to HW Bush and Ronnie Reagan. He recently wrote an article in American Conservative magazine entitled, “Obama Is A Republican”. He supported Obama in 2008, because he was furious at GW Bush because of GW’s fiscal policies. In his article, he cites chapter and verse to explain his contention that Obama forgot his Saul Alinsky roots and governed like a moderate Republican. Here is a link: Bartlett
I commend the article to you. Bartlett is a right-wing true believer in some economic policy fairy dust, but he has produced a thoughtful reminder of some of Obama’s policies.
I mention this article now because I think it offers a clue about why the Democratic Party voters did not vote last Tuesday. Maybe it was because they were no longer convinced that Barack Obama’s policies promised the kind of relief and change they needed. Their wage levels were dwindling. The jobs they lost were not being replaced with work that enabled them to support a family. They needed policies that targeted the excessive greed of the rentier class. They were looking for Elizabeth Warren and what they were offered was a now-fully-disclosed Barack Obama and the future prospect of Hillary Clinton. They didn’t perceive Obama as an enemy. What they perceived was indifference, not in his rhetoric, but in his actions.
I don’t think those voters were thrilled by speeches about women’s reproductive rights and gay marriage. There were three groups of potential supporters for Democratic Party candidates: Chicanos who want legalization and a path to citizenship; young people who want relief from oppressive debt and prospects for decent jobs; and working class wage earners who wante decently paid jobs. I didn’t see or hear many campaign speeches talking about those issues.
I hope the post election assessment convinces the Democrats to forget about “reaching across the aisle” and foreswearing “class warfare” and “populism”. We live in divided country. There are two sides. When the Republican side talks about “compromise” and “getting things done”, they mean “agree with us”. The voters are not sophisticated. They do not understand how the nuts and bolts of government work. But they do understand discussions of their fears and their desperation. If we want to preserve our democracy, we better begin to offer some solutions even if the solutions don’t please the tiny fraction of our population that furnishes most of the money that corrupts our politics.
I have zero confidence that my proposal will even be discussed at the high-level strategy sessions that are probably now occurring. The hallmark of political expertise in America is recognition that political policies that displease those who furnish the money in political campaigns are “tilting at windmills’ style notions and Sancho Panza is not a viable political mentor.
I have mentioned Dan Carlin before in posts on this blog. He has a channel called “Common Sense”, in which he discusses various current issues. In a recent one, he discussed what he perceives as a real threat to our democracy: Pent up rage and frustration in response to government’s indifference to the economic problems facing working class Americans. If you would like to hear his reasoning on this subject, here is a link: Common Sense
This link takes you to the home page of his blog. Scroll down and click on “The Specter of Dissent”.
August 24, 2014 § 1 Comment
A Travis County grand jury has charged Governor Rick Perry with having violated two sections of the Texas Penal Code: 39.02 and 36.03. Those sections are as follows:
§ 39.02. ABUSE OF OFFICIAL CAPACITY. (a) A public servant commits an offense if, with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another, he intentionally or knowingly: (1) violates a law relating to the public servant’s office or employment; or (2) misuses government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant’s custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.
(b) An offense under Subsection (a)(1) is a Class A misdemeanor.
(c) An offense under Subsection (a)(2) is: (1) a Class C misdemeanor if the value of the use of the thing misused is less than $20; (2) a Class B misdemeanor if the value of the use of the thing misused is $20 or more but less than $500 ; (3) a Class A misdemeanor if the value of the use of the thing misused is $500 or more but less than $1,500; (4) a state jail felony if the value of the use of the thing misused is $1,500 or more but less than $20,000; (5) a felony of the third degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $20,000 or more but less than $100,000; (6) a felony of the second degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $100,000 or more but less than $200,000; or (7) a felony of the first degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $200,000 or more.
(d) A discount or award given for travel, such as frequent flyer miles, rental car or hotel discounts, or food coupons, are not things of value belonging to the government for purposes of this section due to the administrative difficulty and cost involved in recapturing the discount or award for a governmental entity.
Sec. 36.03. COERCION OF PUBLIC SERVANT OR VOTER. (a) A person commits an offense if by means of coercion he:
(1) influences or attempts to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influences or attempts to influence a public servant to violate the public servant’s known legal duty; or
(2) influences or attempts to influence a voter not to vote or to vote in a particular manner.
(b) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor unless the coercion is a threat to commit a felony, in which event it is a felony of the third degree.
(c) It is an exception to the application of Subsection (a)(1) of this section that the person who influences or attempts to influence the public servant is a member of the governing body of a governmental entity, and that the action that influences or attempts to influence the public servant is an official action taken by the member of the governing body. For the purposes of this subsection, the term “official action” includes deliberations by the governing body of a governmental entity.
The Factual Background
The Travis County District Attorney presides over the Public Integrity Unit, an agency charged with investigating and prosecuting public officials who are found to have misused their authority in some corrupt or criminal manner. That unit is funded with money appropriated by the Legislature.
In April, 2013, acting on a phone tip from a motorist in Austin, the police arrested Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and charged her with DWI. A video of her arrest and jailing, later released to the media, showed her behaving in a drunken and embarrassing way. She plead guilty and served half of a 45 day jail sentence.
DA Lehmberg is a Democrat. Perry is a Republican.
On June 14, 2013, Governor Perry vetoed the appropriation of funding for the Public Integrity Unit. Before doing so, he publicly demanded the resignation of DA Lehmberg and stated that, unless she resigned, he would veto the funding. She refused to resign. According to press reports, the Governor and members of his staff engaged in negotiations before June 14, offering to appoint a Democrat to replace Lehmberg if she would resign. Those negotiations were not successful.
At the time the funding was vetoed, the Public Integrity Unit was engaged in an investigation of possible criminality related to the handling of millions of dollars worth of public funding for a cancer research facility. There were allegations that supporters and large contributors to the political campaigns of the Governor and other GOP officials were wrongfully benefited.
According to press reports, two other Texas District Attorneys were found guilty of DWI in the recent past, during Perry’s term of office. One of those DWI charged involved the DA’s collission with another motorist. The Governor took no notice of those convictions, nor did he question the budgets for the offices of those DA’s. Both of them were Republicans.
The Facts Surrounding the Indictments
In June, 2013, Texans for Public Justice, a liberal group, filed a criminal complaint against the Governor, charging him with wrongfully using the threat of a veto to force the resignation of DA Lehmberg.
Ms Lehmberg recused herself from any action or decision based on that complaint.
A District Judge in San Antonio, a Republican appointed by then Governor George W. Bush, appointed Mike McCrum to act as special prosecutor to handle the complaint. McCrum had served as an assistant U.S. Attorney when G.W. Bush was President. His nomination to become U.S. Attorney was supported by Republican Senators John Cornyn and Key Bailey Hutchinson.
McCrum, according to a report by a San Antonio reporter, interviewed over 40 witnesses in the course of investigating the charges against Perry. He presented the evidence to the Travis County grand jury which, as stated, handed down a “true bill”, reflecting their opinion that there was cause to believe that Perry had committed crimes,, sufficient to warrant a trial based on those charges.
The Issues and the Non-Issues
Governor Perry has not been charged with wrongfully exercising his right to veto the funding for the Public Integrity Unit. He has not been charged with publicly calling for DA Lehmberg to resign. Like any citizen, he was and is free to express his opinion about her or any other public official. Perry’s indictment does not have anything to do with whether or not DA Lehmberg should have, or should now, resign and discontinue her duties as District Attorney. That is a matter for her and the voters of Travis County to decide.
It is a crime, however, for him or any other public official, to use his authority to force, or to try to force, another public official to stop performing his or her duties, or to perform them in some way contrary to his or her oath of office. That is what Rick Perry is charged with having done.
So, all the high-toned pontificating by the likes of Professor Alan Dershowitz and David Axelrod about the “sketchy” charges and the “criminalization of politics” has more to do with their cherished images of moral rectitude than with their understanding of the facts and the law.
As usual, the Texas Observer has the best balanced account of the controversy I have read. Here is a link.
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.
June 16, 2013 § Leave a comment
The last four essays posted on this blog concerned different versions and elaborations of my objection to the targeted drone killings and broad surveillance by the Obama administration to locate and capture or kill people who seek to harm the United States. I have included a discussion of a friend’s disagreement with my objections. In the “Comments” section of the third essay, entitled “The Prism of Work”, I copied four sets of those objections and some supporting material related to them. I have also posted an essay by Sam Harris that emphasizes the seriousness of the threat posed by adherents to an extreme form of Islam that offers membership in paradise to any who wreak harm on America.
In the following essay I will contend that, although the threat of harm from terrorists is real, I nevertheless believe we should choose to maintain our safe haven from the dangerous intrusions of our government into our lives as well as its claim of authority to kill people, including American citizens living abroad, based on the secret judgment of a small committee composed of the President and a few of his advisers.
Some Historical Perspective
The Alien and Sedition Acts
Fear of harm from foreigners is a recurring theme in American history. In 1798, just nine years after adopting our Constitution and its Bill of Rights, the Federalist dominated Congress adopted the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Alien Act granted executive authority to the President to force the deportation of any foreign emigrant whom he regarded as “. . . dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States, or shall have reasonable grounds to suspect are concerned in any treasonable or secret machinations against the government thereof,. . . .” A companion act provided that a person would be guilty of “a high misdemeanor” if he should ” . . .unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States, which are or shall be directed by proper authority, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate or prevent any person holding a place or office in or under the government of the United States, from undertaking, performing or executing his trust or duty, and if any person or persons, with intent as aforesaid, shall counsel, advise or attempt to procure any insurrection, riot, unlawful assembly, or combination, whether such conspiracy, threatening, counsel, advice, or attempt shall have the proposed effect or not. . . .”
President John Adams signed these legislative panic buttons into law.
Thomas Jefferson, the Vice President and opposition leader of the Democratic Party, and James Madison anonymously authored a written , criticism of this legislation, known as “The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions”, but that did not prevent several people from being jailed pursuant to it. The ACLU would make short work of these laws today, but a court’s right to declare void a law authorizing actions prohibited by the Constitution was not established until 1803, when John Marshall rendered his decision in Marbury v. Madison.
Jefferson won the 1800 presidential election and, after taking office in 1801, he pardoned everyone who had been convicted pursuant to the Alien and Sedition Acts during the Adams administration. The laws were never repealed, however, and Jefferson used them to prosecute a few of his own critics. They have never been formally overruled but later Supreme Court decisions referred to them disparagingly and made clear that, if challenged, they would not survive.
So, what caused the American Congress to cede such sweeping powers to President Adams and thence to President Jefferson? The French Revolution had begun with the assault on the Bastille in 1789. It continued for ten years, during which the French National Assembly adopted “The Rights of Man”, a list of rights that made uncomfortable the landed gentry who were running the fledgeling United States government. The radical French ideas were carried to America by French immigrants and, with support from Jefferson’s Democrats, the Federalists were fearful that some kind of revolution might ensue if these new trouble makers were not restrained. The Whisky Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania in 1792, and the execution of King Louis XVI in 1793 were unsettling to Federalists like Adams. They regarded the French revolutionists in ways similar to the way we fear Muslim terrorists: Foreigners hostile toward our institutions with a proven willingness to use violence to attain their goals.e
The Red Terror
There have been several perceived excuses for abandoning the limits on government. Anarchists mailed bombs to a lengthy list of politicians in 1919. The bombs did not succeed in killing any of the intended recipients, but they did kill some innocent staff members and friends as well as blowing off the hands of one housekeeper.
That, along with some strike violence (caused either by the strike-breaking cops and Piinkertons or by the union strikers, depending on your point of view) and the uneasy reaction to the Russian Revolution that began in 1917, gave Woodrow Wilson and his Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, an excuse for the infamous “Palmer Raids” between November 1919 and January 1920. 10,000 people were arrested and over 500 aliens were deported. Palmer authorized the raids but they were directed by J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation’ s “Intelligence Division”.
Congress stoked these activities by adopting a new Espionage Act in 1917. The Act was amended and broadened in 1918. It provided a death penalty for anyone discouraging compliance with the draft. In a 1919 Supreme Court decision, Schenk v. U.S., Justice Holmes concurred in affirming a conviction of a Socialist who distributed pamphlets urging men to resist conscription. In his opinion Holmes coined the “clear and present danger” standard for government suppression of expression, often used by advocates of free speech to defend against censorship but, as stated, he voted to send the pamphleteer to jail. Later that same year, in Abrams v. U.S., he joined Justice Brandeis dissenting in a similar case because, he explained, the pamphlet in that case was “. . . a silly leaflet from an unknown man . . . .” Fortunately for the First Amendment, his “clear and present danger” statement is better known than the “silly leaflet” rule.
The Espionage Act, as amended in 1918, made it a crime for anyone to use “. . .”any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States … or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy”. It authorized the Post Master to intercept any written material he regarded as containing anything prohibited by the Act.
Describing these laws, court decisions and even the out-of-control raids that they enabled do not truly give an adequate picture of the fear and panic that seems to have gripped the political leaders of our country in response to the threat of Bolshevism. The Russian Revolution, like the French Revolution 130 years earlier, was like a icicle stabbed in the heart of this country’s business class. They were concerned about unions and domestic socialists and anarchists but they were confident that those threats could be handled with the usual weapons of government suppression. The fact that a vast country in the world had been taken over by Bolsheviks in command of the Red Army was an entirely different kind of menace.
The Senate appointed Senator Lee Slater Overman to chair a special subcommittee to investigate Bolshevism. He heard testimony for months in 1918 and 1919. His committee finally issued its report in June, 1919. It was hair raising. The June 19, 1919 New York Times ran an eight column full-page spread on the report with the headline, “Senators Tell What Bolshevism in America Means”. The story made clear the fact that if Bolshevism came to America it would be the end of everything. The only evil thing the story failed to associate with Bolshevism was the Black Plague.
These Bolsheviks were not just rearranging the political furniture; they were tearing the government house down and were apparently willing and able to kill or jail the former occupants. This was by God SERIOUS!
I am not old enough to have lived in the decade or so between 1917 and 1929 but, from what I’ve read, the reaction of the corporate business class and the government it presided over to the Russian Revolution was far more fear driven and excessively geared toward government suppression than America’s reaction to 9/11, even with Bush continuously ringing giant alarm bells and Rudy Giuliani, in the words of Joe Biden, conducting a campaign for the Presidency with nothing but “a noun, a verb and nine eleven”.
It is one thing to face the threat of a bomb launched by a foreign enemy, but that does not equal the fearful possibility of an actual invasion and takeover by the bomb launchers. I do not know of any serious evidence that Al Qaeda wants to invade and occupy the United States. They do want us to get out of Saudi Arabia, stop invading their neighboring countries and stop arming their enemies. I do not agree with them. I regard them as murderous misguided zealots. But I don’t see any evidence that they aspire to invade our country.
Actually, of course, the Bolsheviks never tried to invade the United States. Their rhetoric, however, especially from Leon Trotsky, who never deviated from his “permanent revolution” doctrine, was perfectly tuned to produce a cold shiver along the spine of the denizens of Wall Street.
These historical references are my response to those who claim that the threat of harm from Muslim extremists is unique and, therefore, merits extraordinary remedies that have not been necessary in he past. My point is that the real threats we now face are no worse than those we have faced in the past. Our present enemies, as we perceive them, are no worse or fearful than our perceptions of our past enemies. And, while we have survived the foolish damage to our rights done by our past choices to relinquish our freedom in exchange for government’s promise of safety, I will argue that the kind of weapons that government will grasp if we docilely fail to stop this latest encroachment may be impossibly difficult to take back.
The Dangerous Nature of Governmental Metadata
Here is a link to a documentary video produced by Laura Poitras and published by the New York Times. Just wait through the Acura commercial. The ten minute video will give you an idea of the kind of dossier that Uncle Sam probably has on you and me and millions of other Americans. I hope you will then understand that we are not discussing databases containing only your telephone number and the telephone numbers of those with whom you have exchanged telephone calls.
I don’t claim to be an expert on the details of the surveillance programs we are discussing, but here is my understanding: The government for at least the last seven years has been obtaining from each of the suppliers of telephone service in America all of their recorded data consisting of every telephone call made by or to every one of their subscribers. That has been done because the FISA court has given a broad interpretation to a law that entitles government agencies to demand “business records” from any American business if those records are potentially useful to any proper function of the agency. The accumulated records of telephone calls are “business records”, ergo . . . .
Now, we are told by the government that, although they have all this information, they are not permitted to use it to identify any individual unless they have obtained from FISA an order entitling they to do so. And, they are required to have some “particularized suspicion” that the person whose records they access is somehow related to some matter pertinent to the “War on Terror” or whatever that metaphor is called in governmentspeak. My understanding is that they do not have to get a separate warrant for every individual whose records they look at. I understand that FISA’s orders set certain parameters for accessing those record and, within those parameters, the agencies or their contractor agents may use their judgment. And -listen up; this is important – all details of this process especially the parameters and the orders of the FISA court are top secret.
Now, we are not to worry about this secrecy because, as stated, a court [the top secret FISA court, that is] has oversight to prevent any abuses. Also, the Senate Intelligence Committee is also charged with oversight to see to it that this program is conducted according to the requirements of the Constitution and applicable law.
Here is a link to a Cspan video of Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaking on the Senate floor in support of an amendment he wanted to append to the December 2012 extension of the FISA Amendment Act, which extended the life of FISA for another seven years. The Act was adopted a couple of days later. The chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, Diane Feinstein of California succeeded in preventing Wyden’s amendment to be added to the bill. This is a long video (over an hour). I’ll tell you what the Senator was upset about: He and some other Congressmen had been trying for over a year to pry information out of NSA concerning the number of American citizens residing in the the United States whose records had been swept up in the metadata accumulation. NSA responded that information was unavailable. They then asked for a rough estimate, either based on the NSA’s records or on estimates made by some other source of information. The NSA refused to respond to that request.
Here is a link to a Mother Jones story about this Senate debate and its outcome.
[If you have time, you should listen to Wyden’s speech. He makes a perfect analogy between NSA’s dragnet approach to acquiring information and the “Writs of Assistance” used by the British to catch smugglers in the American colonies before the Revolution. There was much resistance to the British taxes on imports (“no taxation without representation”) so the Writs of Assistance allowed British agents to search the houses of citizens to see if they had imported goods for which no tax had been paid. Those writs were part of the reason for the Revolution.]
The official position of NSA is that records of domestic telephone users are not “intentionally” acquired, only incidentally or inadvertently acquired. Senator Wyden plainly regards that as nothing but BS and the refusal to grant his request for the facts only confirmed the results of his smell test.
So, given this information, my faith in the checks and balances and oversight that are claimed is equal to my belief in the Easter Bunny.
The “business records” authority, coupled with the AUMF authority, coupled with the Prism program exposed by whistleblower Snowden, means to me that the government already has the capability to know every detail about each of us: our telephone calls, our emails, our internet searches, our credit card purchases, our physical location at any time if we have a cell phone, our motor vehicle IDs . . . and God knows what else. They have this information in a digital database that is searchable and sortable based on algorithms designed by computer geniuses. They ask us to take their word that they will only use that information according to rules that we cannot know, based on court rulings that we cannot know, obtained without any adversarial process to insure that our privacy interests are protected.
This concerns me more than the threat of another 9/11 bomb for the following reason:
Horrific as the bomb will be, its effects will be temporary. We will die or grieve our dead and our country will survive. Digital data is not temporary and foolish misguided patriots, capable of using fear and intimidation to bully political constituencies are ever plentiful. I am not as fearful of the present misuse of this new compilation of information about all of us as I am of the various ways it will be there, like a ticking bomb, waiting for the next demagogue to choose a new target for government punishment or killing. Abortionists? Tax evaders? Political dissenters? Union agitators? Drug dealers? Drug pushers? Drug users?.
In the 60’s I represented two Lee High School kids here in Houston. They, without authorization, put some cans in the cafeteria to collect money for relief for Biafra. They wrote a little newspaper they named the Phlashlyte (I may have the spelling wrong. It was clever.) To get their paper printed they went to a friend at UofH who had access to a copy machine. Their friend was active in SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), then thought of by some as a radical group. They were suspended from school.
I was lucky enough to have my federal suit fall into Woodrow Seals’ Court and he gave me a trial. In the course of that trial I learned that the Houston Police Department had an “intelligence division” to keep track of “subversive” organizations. Houston ISD high school principals made weekly reports to these cops concerning any “suspicious” activity they observed. The Lee High School coach found the kids handing out copies of their newspaper, grabbed their papers and drove them away from the school grounds.
Woodrow granted an injunction designed to stop the harassment. The kids returned to school and, I suppose, went on with their lives. A couple of years later, another high school student was selling Space City News, a local underground newspaper, before school but near school grounds. The principal came out and told him he had to stop or the police would be called. He replied, “Fuck you and fuck the pigs!” He was suspended. I returned to Woodrow’s court to enforce his injunction. He ordered the kid back to school. He finished, got his diploma and went to A&M. HISD appealed Woodrow’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit. They ignored all my First Amendment arguments and ruled that, because of his disrespectful response to the Principal, he did not have “clean hands” and, hence, was not entitled to any relief.
My motion for rehearing was so disrespectful that my law partner required me to edit it severely before filing it. It did no good, of course. The Fifth Circuit left Woodrow’s injunction in force, so the only person left frustrated was me. My client, I suppose, got a degree at A&M and probably became a Republican.
The reason I mention this experience is that local law enforcement agencies already share federal databases [NCIS, e.g.] to assist them in apprehending criminals. It is an obvious next step for that kind of cooperation to include some or all of this new metadata treasure trove of information. It will occur, of course, after some especially horrific criminal episode involving dead children, raped women or similar outrage. When someone like me protests, he or she will be accused of lack of concern for the victims and their families. If the cooperation is disclosed by a whistle blower, he or she will be demonized. But the dossiers will be out there in the cloud, accessible to our vaunted “first responders”. Then, forget about the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. Everyone will have already “incriminated” themselves for every misdeed they ever committed or thought about.
When the government has this amount of information about everyone, the limits imposed by the Constitution don’t work.
There is only one solution to this problem: The databases must be destroyed under the close supervision of a federal court. The data must be erased and the medium containing it must be burned or crushed. There is no safe place for this kind of government metadata.
I know. That same data will still be in the digital vaults of private businesses. But private businesses do not have drones and guns and badges and military forces. They have only greed. I can live with greed. It comes with capitalism and dealing with that problem can await another day.