February 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
Several of the crazier representatives of the Republican Party and some of the shameless hacks employed by Fox News have attacked President Obama because he does not label ISIS or ISIL or any of the groups affiliated with those organizations as “Islamic Extremist” or “Islamofacist Extremists” or some other catchy label associating the armed thugs with the religion of Islam. Various “experts” on combating terrorism have pontificated that “accurate labeling” is essential to effectively opposing terrorism.
These attacks have implied that failing to identify the terrorists with Islam implies some kind of unwillingness to “call a spade a spade” – a sort of unmanly, weak hesitation to be blunt and forceful.
I agree that it is time to call a spade a spade. There are three possible explanations for these attacks: First, they may result from stupidity and ignorance. Second, they may be the result of minds so consumed with hate and bigotry that rationality has been overwhelmed. Third, they may be a political strategy based on the assumption that the American public is so stupid that such attacks will be effective to gain political points.
This is not a close question. There is no “on the other hand” or “maybe they have a point” here. These attacks are unadulterated stupidity.
The proper motive for any media-based attack on ISIS or ISIL is not to influence or change the minds of members of ISIS or ISIL. That is a futile exercise. The only sensible response to members of ISIS or ISIL members is to kill them and destroy their organization and its philosophical and ecclesiastical claims. That task must be led and accomplished by legitimate leaders and adherents of Islam. When secular leaders attack ISIS and ISIL, their appeal is directed to people who have not yet succumbed to the false claims of Islamic legitimacy. We should do nothing to lend credence to those claims.
This is not the time for a new Christian Crusade. It is also not the time for another “Global War on Terror” waged with the same ignorance and futility that characterized the recent War in Iraq.
Haven’t we learned anything? Is our collective memory so deficient that we can’t recall the outcome of that foolishness?
Our public posture toward ISIS and ISIL should be exactly what President Obama has articulated: We are not going to be drawn into a war against Islam. ISIS and ISIL are not legitimate representatives of Islam. Their actions do not have any legitimate roots in the religion of Islam. They are lying about that. They are trying to mask their bloodthirsty activities with the language and rhetoric of Islam.
The last thing we should do is assist them by agreeing that they represent some part or sect with any legitimate claim to ties with Islam.
The KKK Example
After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan was born as a violent response to Reconstruction. It was a lawless group of frustrated Southerners who sought to instill fear and horror through lynchings and murders and beatings mostly, but not entirely, directed at black men and women.
The KKK continued long after Reconstruction ended and new forms of KKK organizations have persisted to the present day.
Throughout its bloody history, the KKK has claimed legitimacy by masking its hateful rhetoric with Christian religion. The burning cross is the universally recognized symbol of its public activities. Here is a link to KKK’s present website: KKK If you click on the “about” button, the first sentence is “The Loyal White Knights is a law abiding Christian Organization.“
From the beginning of this wretched organization’s existence, there have been brave and steadfast opponents eager and willing to publicly oppose it. But never, so far as I am aware, did the opponents choose to refer to the KKK as a “Christian extremist organization” or as a “Christian rogue sect”. Does anyone think that would have been an effective way to oppose the KKK? Of course not! Why on earth would the KKK’s opponents want to associate it with the Christian religion?
Which should, but apparently does not, suggest to the ignorami who are attacking Obama that perhaps his approach is sensible and theirs merely exposes their misunderstanding of how to oppose terrorism.
November 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
In response to the murderous attack on Jews worshiping at a Jerusalem synagogue, Netanyahu ordered the demolition of the family homes of the two murderers. He also ordered the demolition of the family homes of two others who recently committed violent attacks in Jerusalem.
All of the attackers are dead. The razing of their homes does not punish them. It punishes their families. The United States has declared this reaction by Israel “counterproductive”. Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Great Britain have denounced it.
This kind of collective punishment is a continuation of the policy that produced the war on Gaza that destroyed thousands of homes and killed over two thousand Palestinian civilians in response to mostly ineffective missiles launched from Gaza into Israel.
Here is a link to a Haaretz article that describes the issue: Demolitions
I believe this persistent policy raises an ethical policy well known to lawyers:
A client is entitled to be zealously defended by his lawyer, regardless of how immoral or illegal his conduct has been. But a lawyer may not, in any way, facilitate a client’s engagement in illegal or immoral conduct. If he does, the lawyer becomes complicit in the illegal or immoral activity.
I believe Israel has placed the United States squarely in the middle of this dilemma. We continue to furnish arms, supplies and money to Israel while Israel continues to engage in conduct that offends basic rules of fairness and justice. Collective punishment imposed on innocent people in response to violent acts by individuals violates international law.
This latter principle is sometimes subject to nuanced exceptions. For example, when a drone bombs a house to kill an enemy, innocent people are often killed. Such tragedies are excused as “collateral damage”. In my opinion this excuse is a lame one in some instances but, regardless of that argument, the Israeli policy of home demolition is different. The home demolitions ordered this week are specifically aimed at innocent victims.
We impose “sanctions” on Iran and Russia when they pursue policies that violate our values. I think we should consider whether sanctions should be imposed when Israel does the same thing.
It also seems chutzpah for Netanyahu to accuse Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas of “inciting” the violent episode at the Jerusalem synagogue. The “incitement” is plainly related to the brutal occupation of Palestine by Israel, the expansion of illegal settlements on the West Bank, the network of checkpoints that serve as daily interference with normal travel by Palestinians and conflicts between Jews and Muslims at Jerusalem’s holy sites. The demolition of homes of families who had nothing to do with the crimes committed by two now dead family members will certainly incite more violence.
One final thought: Suppose, after two brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, Barack Obama had ordered the demolition of their families’ homes. Do you have any doubt that a federal court would have granted a Temporary Restraining Order, prevented the demolition and probably ordered an immediate psychiatric examination of Obama to see if he was deranged?
During the recent Israeli war on Gaza, Netanyahu often said, “How would you Americans react if Mexico was lobbing missiles into your country?” It was an effective argument because our history is replete with disproportionate responses to minor events. The explosion on the Maine and subsequent war against Spain; the naval bombardment of Vera Cruz on 1914, in response to the arrest of 6 sailors in Tampico; and the assault on Ft. Sumter triggering the Civil War come to mind. But I’ll bet he doesn’t make a similar argument about the home demolitions, because we have a legal system that wouldn’t permit it and a set of values that wouldn’t condone it. We don’t punish the families of wrongdoers.
September 15, 2014 § 6 Comments
I just got around to reading yesterday’s New York Times. I just read two stories that made me angry.
One reports that, when Secretary of State Kerry asked Mr. Sameh Shoukry, the Prime Minister of the Military Government of Egypt, to join the effort to stop the growth and spread of ISIS, he responded, ‘Egypt believes it is very important for the world to continue their efforts strongly to fight this extremism.’ But Egyptian officials declined to specify what help they would provide in the campaign against ISIS, and Mr. Shoukry made it clear that he also had in mind fighting Islamist militants at home and in neighboring Libya.”
Translation: “Oh, you mean those crazy ISIS people? Oh no, we wouldn’t be interested in becoming involved in that problem. After all, they’re in Iraq and Syria, aren’t they? We’re too busy with our own issues to help you out over there. Good luck, though!”
The other story reveals how ISIS picks up over a million dollars a day by selling oil they steal from Syria and Iraq and selling it on the black market in Turkey. When President Obama asked Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to crack down on that illegal avenue of funding, a Turkey “senior official” described the talks as “sensitive”. The real response came a few days later. Here is how it went:
“Turkey declined to sign a communiqué on Thursday in Saudi Arabia that committed Persian Gulf states in the region to counter ISIS, even limited to the extent each nation considered ‘appropriate.‘ Turkish officials told their American counterparts that with 49 Turkish diplomats being held as hostages in Iraq, they could not risk taking a public stance against the terror group.”
Translation: “We are grateful you guys decided to send your pilots over here to stop ISIS. They’re real scary dudes. We hope not too many of your young people are shot down. It would be terrible if they are captured by ISIS. But we think we may be able to make deal to save our diplomats. And besides, our people really like the bargain prices for that black market oil. Good luck!”
Yesterday I posted my reaction to Obama’s pledge to stop ISIS. I think he allowed himself to be bullied into making an unwise promise and violated the Constitution. After further thought, and after these two stories confirm what I expected to be the reaction of the countries located in the Levant [see yesterday’s post to find out what “Levant” means.], I have a sort of “Plan B” reaction.
If President Obama intended to declare war on ISIS, he, at least, should have negotiated with Middle Eastern countries who face more imminent threats from ISIS than we do, before announcing his decision. That would have given Secretary some leverage. By making the commitment first and recruiting allies second, he left his negotiator nothing with which to negotiate. Why should Turkey, Egypt, Syria or Saudi Arabia become involved in an expensive and dangerous conflict with ISIS when all they have to do is make encouraging but meaningless noises while American men, women and taxpayers do the all the fighting and bill paying?
Here is a link to the Egypt story: Egypt
Here is a link to the Turkey story: Turkey
To paraphrase President Obama, this was a dumb way to start a war.
August 2, 2014 § 5 Comments
Winston Churchill famously declared, “In wartime, truth is so precious she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” As I try to sift through the cacophony of accusations about blame for the deaths and injuries of innocent civilians in Gaza, I recall that statement. The Friday evening suspected capture of an IDF officer by Hamas has evoked a violent response that appears to have extinguished, at least for now, the flickering candle of hope that the carnage might soon end.
Friday evening, about 9:30 pm local time, some Hamas soldiers emerged from a tunnel near the Israeli/Gaza border. IDF soldiers, arriving there to destroy the tunnel, encountered them. One Hamas soldier appeared to be wearing suicide explosives. A firefight ensued. Both sides sustained casualties and an IDF officer was seen being dragged into the tunnel. It has been assumed that he was captured. Hamas has denied that they have him. President Obama has called for his immediate and unconditional release.
This incident occurred during the first hour of an agreed ceasefire. It was a plain violation of that agreement. Some have suggested that the Hamas troops may have been unaware of the ceasefire. Brief cease fire periods had occurred intermittently during the previous ten days. The fact that the firefight occurred less than an hour after the cease fire began lends some credence to that possibility, but there is no evidence either to confirm or refute it.
Israel immediately declared that the ceasefire arrangements had been breached and, within an hour, began a wholesale assault on Rafah, a small village near the incident’s location. using both tank-mounted artillery and areal bombardment. At least 65 Palestinian civilians were killed and about 350 were injured. Since then, Hamas has renewed the launching of rockets into Israel and Israel has resumed assault on targets in Gaza as well as a wide-ranging search for the captured soldier.
The Guardian has posted a comprehensive account of the incident. Here is a link: Guardian
Media Reports and Reactions
These events have been reported and discussed at length by journalists and commentators in Israel and around the world. Some have likened the capture of the IDF soldier to the kidnapping of an Israeli man several years ago, which led to extended negotiations. Finally, after five years in captivity, the Israeli was released in exchange for the release of over a thousand Hamas members and supporters held by Israel. Others have objected to this comparison, arguing that capturing opposing soldiers is a normal and generally accepted occurrence during a war, not usually thought of as a kidnapping.
Here is another account of the incident from BBC which I found helpful because it includes a timeline and some details conveniently organized as well as a video of the newscast. BBC .
Here is blog post by a Haaretz writer, Peter Beinart. Beinart This blogger is a liberal American journalist who has been writing and reporting on Israeli issues since 1985. He is a practicing Jew whose parents were Holacost survivors. He has definite opinions that conflict squarely with those of Benjamin Netanyahu and his political supporters, opinions he makes no effort to conceal.
I offer his views of the background of the present conflict because the facts he cites are different from those often cited by both American and Israeli news sources. Beinart is a controversial but respected journalist, having worked for the N.Y. Times, New Republic as well as Haaretz. He has written a book about some aspects of Israeli history.
The current dispute was briefly debated by Beinart and Alan Dershowitz and another commentator during a news program I found interesting. Dershowitz .
Some Thoughts of Mine
I am put off by the constant claim by spokesmen for Israel that Hamas uses “human shields” as tactics in their war against Israel. I am skeptical of these claims.
First, when a family is destroyed while in their home because the building where their home is located is flattened by Israeli-launched missiles or bombs, it is a stretch for me to accept the idea that they were “human shields”. The Israeli spokesmen explain this kind of carnage results because someone from the building fired on IDF troops; or because the IDF had information that some Hamas member was in the building; or because Hamas told the occupants not to respond to an Israeli warning by leaving the building. The first two of these justifications seem insufficient to me and the third seems extremely improbable.
Taking number three first, I find it incredible that a mother would put her children, herself or her other family members in danger out of loyalty or devotion to Hamas. My advice to Israel: Stop using this one. It won’t sell.
One and Two are also troublesome to me. They would be reasonable rules of engagement if opposing armies were facing each other on a battlefield where lines were drawn and plainly recognizable. In that case, if fired upon, any army would fire back with whatever force was available. But the war in Gaza is urban warfare conducted in tightly packed neighborhoods where there are very limited numbers of safe places. In those circumstances, I think it is incumbent on the IDF to make diligent efforts to determine whether a building is occupied by innocent civilians before destroying it. The pictures I have seen don’t show little cottages where single families live. They show multistory buildings where several apartments are located. The occupants can’t control every nook or cranny where some marksman may be crouching. It is not reasonable to me that anything less than a complete atmosphere of passivity and tranquility is required to avoid being targeted for a massive assault.
Finally, like anyone else, I bring to these judgments my own history. WWII occurred when I was ten or eleven. I read Life magazine and watched newscasts in darkened theaters, waiting for Saturday afternoon cowboy movies. One episode I remember very well concerned Lidice, a small town in Czechoslovakia. Some British commandos killed Reinhard Heydrich, a Nazi official and a close friend of Hitler, near that town. There was a claim that one or more people in Lidice were complicit in the killing. In response, the Germans executed 192 men and sent all the women and children to concentration camps, where most of them died. Here is link to an a account of that event: Lidice .
To my young eyes and ears, that was a frightening event. I thought it was unbelievably brutal and vicious. The idea of mass punishment for the acts of specific individuals was shocking to me. I am long years away from that memory. My judgments are now informed by many other events. I neither equate nor relate Israel to the evil minds that caused that horror. But I realize that childhood experience affects my reaction to justifying innocent death and injury by citing hostile actions of unrelated combatants.
My Tort Lawyer Brain
For over fifty years I made my living trying lawsuits and arguing about liability for civil wrongs, or torts. A fundamental principle underlying the concept of tort law is: Every person is responsible for the natural consequences of his or her acts and omissions. The application of this principle to human intercourse depends on the concept of causation. That is, “What are the ‘natural consequences’ of particular acts or omissions?” Centuries of experience with these ideas has crafted some rough outlines to guide and inform the answers to this question.
One answer is: A person’s behavior will not be judged according to his claim of personal intent. Adults are not allowed to protest, like thoughtless children, “I didn’t mean to.” Their acts and omissions will be measured against the behavior of a fictional and imaginary “reasonable person.” So, when Israel’s defenders say, “Hey! You know us! We don’t believe in killing innocent children. Those are the beliefs of the other guys, not us.”, their acts and omissions will drown out their words unless they conform to “reasonable person” rules.
Some things are undeniable: Artillery shells and bombs are not precision killers. When they are aimed at civilian neighborhoods, the intent to kill civilians is obvious unless reasonable steps have been taken to insure that civilians have been evacuated. But, even if this is impractical, the shelling and bombardment may be excusable if it is the only way to accomplish a reasonable goal. This, as I understand it, is Israel’s defense. That’s why they destroy the electric power system that is essential for providing potable water. That’s why they shell and bomb Rafah because it might be harboring the captors of an IDF soldier.
One thing about which I have seen little comment is the ability of Israel to visually monitor everything and every movement within Gaza.In my last post on this blog I included a link to a July 23,,2014, Haaretz story. The link was labeled “Revenge”. The writer described an incident when some Hamas soldiers emerged from a tunnel wearing IDF uniforms. At first, the Israeli forces were confused. Then they used an areal photograph, taken by a drone, which enabled them to see that the Hamas soldiers were carrying Kalashnikov rifles, not IDF rifles.
This raises a question: If that kind of surveillance is available, why can’t the IDF tell whether women and children have entered a building and have not emerged? Are they using the technology available to them to avoid killing innocent people, or are they using it only to more efficiently destroy neighborhoods?
Further Discussion of the Human Shield Argument
The universally condemned “Human Shield” tactic is designed to prevent an opposing force from attacking the shielded force by hiding behind innocent civilians. The success of the tactic requires that the attacking combatants be made aware of the civilian shield.
In order to fit the IDF’s assault on civilians in Gaza into this model, it must be assumed that they are aware that they are killing and wounding innocent civilians. This precludes any claim that they do not intend to harm innocent civilians. It assumes that the IDF is aware that their rules of engagement endanger innocent civilians and elects to proceed anyway.
I don’t see how they can have it both ways. Either they don’t know that innocent civilians are endangered when they loose their missiles or drop their bombs, or they know they are slaughtering innocent civilians and have made the moral calculus that killing their target is sufficiently important to justify the “collateral damage”.
The tragedy of the Gaza conflict is that Hamas gains strength and leverage, regardless of which alternative is true. In this time of 24-hour-news-cycles and ubiquitous TV screens, Youtube and Iphone cameras, the pictures of grieving mothers and dead children are doing more damage to Israel than the generally ineffective Hamas rockets. Israel should heed the bitter lessons learned by Bull Connor and LBJ: Pictures of children attacked by police dogs are powerful weapons. The picture of a naked Vietnamese girl, skin burned by Napalm, standing alone in the middle of a road, was indelibly etched on enough brains to defeat the war plans of a President determined to win against a much less powerful adversary.
The Moral Difference
When I think about these issues I never forget or ignore a vital fact: Israel represents and embodies a core of compassion, morality and devotion to justice that is, so far as I can discern, entirely foreign to Hamas. Israel would never identify with, or ascribe to, the kind of hatred expressed in the founding document upon which Hamas is based. The first paragraph includes this statement: “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.‘ The document goes on for several pages and never deviates from this kind of violent rhetoric. I don’t recommend that my readers waste their time reading the whole document but, so that it will be available for reference, I offer this link: Hamas .
The pages of Haaretz demonstrate that, even in the emotional cauldron of war, while sons and daughters are in uniform and in harms way, there is an active debate within the Israeli community. While most Israelis support the actions and tactics that I find objectionable, there is a vocal and articulate minority that opposes them. And that minority has not been muzzled or suppressed. It is easy to imagine how differently this kind of public debate would be treated by Hamas.
The tragedy of the Gaza conflict in Gaza is, as I see it: Israel is behaving in ways that are contrary to the ideas and principles that have guided it during centuries of struggle and strife. We should never do anything to weaken or threaten Israel, especially when their enemy is so bereft of morality and justice. But we should do whatever we can to stop them from furnishing their enemies with ways to undermine their reputation for humane justice, not merely because of our concern for Israel, but also because the better part of our own cultural values demand it.
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.
July 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
This week’s developments in Egypt illustrate the dangerous side-effects of a dose of democracy. In this essay I will offer my reaction.
When medicine is prescribed for a patient, it comes with a label or a pamphlet containing advice about potential hazardous side effects that must be understood and preventive measures that should be taken. I think if democracy is adopted as a form of government, it should be accompanied by the same kind of cautionary warning.
Empowering the governed to escape the oppression of tyrants, oligarchs and vestigial neocolonial puppets looks like a trend toward freedom. Recent technological leaps in the realm of communication and social networking have been like a dam-breaking flood that has loosed centuries of pent up rage and frustration as well as the exhilarating thrill felt by rebels who perceive the possibility of toppling a citadel of power theretofore thought to be impregnable.
I find it interesting and, in a way, encouraging that, when these cultural and political seismic events occurred, the model of choice for the rebels has often been the American Declaration of Independence and our form of government generally, though imprecisely, known as democracy. [The conservatives are technically correct in insisting that the United States, as its name implies, is, in fact a republic, not a democracy like Athens. The distinction, however, deserves notice only from academic purists and has not prevented America from being identified as a democracy. After all, Athens had a large component of slaves who did not participate in its “democracy”. Except for New England town meetings , true democracy is, and has ever been, a rare form of government.]
Our Declaration of Independence has, as stated, become the inspiration for many, in the words of Emma Lazarus, “yearning to breathe free”. It has proved far more popular and influential than its main competitor for rebellious inspiration, the Communist Manifesto. Personally I find the latter document to be a stirring affirmation of economic justice, worthy of comparison with our Declaration of Independence. Its focus, however, on the oppression of capitalism, does not fit the aspirations of rebels whose enemies are not private property and capitalism, but the oppression of government. For that kind of oppression, there is no better license for rebellion than these radical words of Jefferson:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights,governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” Ideas are the true weapons of freedom and justice and those words, expressing those ideas, are a powder keg waiting for a lit fuse.
Democracy’s Side Effects
When, following a rebellion, a new government is formed based on the outcome of a democratic election, there are some inevitable and serious side effects. The losing side or sides, representing significant fractions of the population to be governed, are at risk for unjust treatment at the hands of the victors. In the Middle East, the Near East and some parts of Asia, where Islam is the religious choice of large segments of the population, there is a long history of violent conflicts between different sects within that religion. The Shiites and Sunnis as well as sects within those two branches of Islam have intermittently killed each other, either based on fear of future violence or revenge for past violence.
Of course, Islam is not unique in this regard. Jews and Christians , in the past, have engaged in similar violent conflicts. One part of the twisted and brutal ideology that led to the Holocaust was based on Christian antisemitism that had been latent in varying degrees for centuries in Europe. The Crusades represented the self-righteous hostility of Christian Europe toward Islam in the Middle East.
This kind of irreconcilable hatred based on religious belief should be part of democracy’s warning label. Democracy means that government will be administered by representatives of the faction that wins the most votes in an election. Every election will involve only a plurality of the population. Thus it will almost always be true that elections will be won by less than a majority of the population to be governed. When there are more than two competing groups vying for votes, the winner may represent only a fraction of that population.
These two facts: First, that religious conflicts are often impossible to mediate peacefully; and Second, that democratic elections, even when they are fair and honest, will seldom empower a majority of the governed population; strongly suggest the first necessary warning:
“Enforcement of religious conformity must not entrusted to a democratic government.”
If this warning is not heeded, government becomes a vengeful mob and those whose religious beliefs are challenged and discounted become outraged. Maintenance of order, a basic function of every government, becomes impossible without brutal suppression of dissent.
This first warning implies a second, correlative, warning:
“Limits on the power of government must not depend upon or be subject to the outcome of democratic elections. Those limits must be enforceable in courts whose impartiality and integrity are accepted by a majority of the total governed population . And the procedure for securing the judgments of those courts must involve an adversary process implemented by lawyers free to advocate all sides of every issue.”
This corollary warning, if vigorously enforced, will obviate resorts to violence by those who feel victimized and harmed by governmental policies. They will see that their protests are fairly and fully presented to judges whom they trust. They will not feel hopeless if their arguments are not successful. They will realize that their interests may prevail in future elections and that changed circumstances may demonstrate the validity of their positions. The enforcement of government’s limits will assure them that they need not fear their government. They will be able to trust it to protect them from their neighbors who may disagree with some or all of their beliefs and preferences.
The third warning insures the effectiveness of the first two:
“Freedom of expression must be guaranteed to all, regardless of how repugnant to elected officials or to most of the population that expression may seem.”
Democracy cannot safely be adopted unless competing views are not only tolerated, but vigorously protected. If majority views are the only ones allowed, democracy becomes as oppressive, if not more oppressive, than government by a dictator or an oligarchy. The losers in democratic elections must be free to continue efforts to persuade potential voters in future elections to approve the policies they favor. Otherwise, they are left with no alternative but violence and disorder.
The Egyptian Constitution
A friend of mine, Nivien Saleh, an Egyptian scholar, has translated the 2012 Egyptian Constitution into English. Here is a link: Constitution
I confess that I have not read, much less studied this long document. I have, however, read enough of it to understand how fundamentally it fails to pay attention to anything I have advocated in this essay. Far from omitting religion from the proper concern of government, it proclaims Islam as the “State religion” of Egypt. True, the next section provides: “For Egyptian Christians and Jews, the principles of their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of their spiritual leadership.” (emphasis added) This section, to me has a sinister unstated premise: The State is granting to Christians and Jews an exception to the general application of the State Religion. I have no idea what “Christian Law” or “Jewish Law” consists of. The Bible’s book of Leviticus contains a lengthy description of laws observed by Jews thousands of years ago but, so far as I know, the State of Israel does not countenance slavery or punish blasphemy with a death sentence. [‘See Leviticus 24: 10-23.]
Part One, entitled “The Elements of the State and Society” contains three sections: “Political Elements”; “Societal and Moral Elements” and “Economic Elements”. The second of these sections, in Article 11, declares: ” The state promotes morality, decency, and public order, as well as a high level of education and religious and patriotic values, scientific truths, the Arab culture, and the historical and civilizational patrimony of the People.”(emphasis added) This kind of language, to one knowledgeable about historical experiments involving government prescribed morality , prompts an intuitive reaction that, roughly translated, is “According to who?”
So far as concerns freedom of expression, Article 215 establishes a “National Body for the Press and the Media” and empowers that agency as follows: “The permissions and standards it creates ensure that the different media abide by norms of professionalism and decency, preserve the Arabic language, and observe the values and constructive traditions of society.” In other words, “We will be watching you and you better behave in a way that does not offend our ideas of “decency” and “constructive traditions of society”. Keep in mind that some elements of Islam believe it is not only permissible, but obligatory to kill a man who draws a cartoon depicting Mohamed.
Conclusion and Summary
I think President Morsi’s brief and limited tenure was predictable when he permitted a religious faction of Islam to en-graft religious doctrine into the fabric of government. I doubt that the Egyptian people who successfully ousted Mubarak will be content to be ruled according to Sharia law or to conform to religious strictures that do not fit their beliefs. The successful effort to end the oppression of Mubarak was a hopeful sign to me. I hope it will finally be followed by democracy in which warning labels are heeded.