Monthly Archives: October 2016

FBI Takes a Position in Presidential Politics

October31, 2016. When the Watergate scandal had been top news for months and the so-called Erwin Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate had been exposing evidence of White House crimes for many weeks, the FBI Director finally let it be known his agency had done almost nothing except watch. Remember? The usual excuse given, however, was that the FBI should stay out of Presidential politics—even if that meant ignoring Presidential involvement in burglary. You may remember that the burglars belonged to a unit that had been created by the Republican Party and the White House. As the head of both Party and House, Richard Nixon was implicated by the actions of both, and the victim of the burglary was the Democratic National Committee, the purpose of the burglary appeared to be the obtaining of political information for political purposes, and the burglary occurred in the middle of a presidential election. The Director of the FBI kept the Bureau out of the fray and the Bureau contributed very little, if anything, to the investigation of the Watergate burglary. Few people expressed disappointment at that fact because it was generally recognized that the overall working of our democracy depends upon—among many other factors—on the absolute neutrality of the national criminal investigation unit of the national government.

When the government’s criminal investigation forces become involved in politics very bad things usually happen. Think of Joseph Stalin controlling the KGB an using that control to turn Leon Trotsky into a fugitive, while millions of other Russians were being turned into “suspects”. Think of former KGB boss Putin becoming dictator in Russia. Think of J. Edgar Hoover wiretapping Martin Luther King, Jr., keeping secret files on numerous other American political leaders, and leading the country into the paranoid McCarthy era. Think of the use of the Thought Police in Orwell’s novel 1984; there the investigative arm of the government’s police has become the brutal enforcer of a tyrannical government that demands conformity in thought and deed. Think of the incorporation of Hitler’s SS into the national police in Germany, and remember the consequences.

The Clinton Email investigation has been one of the strangest uses of police power for its entire duration. It starts with the FBI announcing that it is investigating the former Secretary of State for the allegedly criminal activity of putting her Email on her private computer and sharing some of it with her closest confidants and advisors. This is said by some to be dangerous, as well as a violation of the rules of her Department. Why? Because some criminal might hack into her private Email server the same way that criminals have hacked into the official government servers repeatedly. If that had happened, unspecified diplomatic secrets of the State Department might join the mighty stream of secret government documents that are being released by these hackers almost daily. The public might learn about State Department activities and policies that are, or should be, unpopular. Think here of the revelation that the government’s official spy agencies have hacked into the private Email of Andrea Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany! And then been hacked by Wikileaks so that ordinary people learned of the spy agency’s unscrupulous behavior. The insinuation of the FBI investigation was that the Secretary of State of a democracy had possibly committed the allegedly heinous act of exposing herself and the U.S. government to the same sort of embarrassment the FBI or a similar government spy outfit had inflicted unwittingly on the German head of government.

Several months ago Mr. Comey announced to Congressional investigating committees that, though careless, the former Secretary of State had committed no crime, injured no victim, and done nothing that deserved a criminal indictment. This news so infuriated her Republican critics that they began demanded that she be jailed anyway. They nominated a man who announced he would see to it that his presidential victory would lead to the incarceration of his political rival anyhow. Numerous Republican spokesmen called for their life-long Republican comrade, Mr. Comey, to resign in disgrace after admitting that careless handling of Email has in fact been made a serious crime by the statute book, even if Mrs. Clinton would become the first person ever treated as a criminal for committing that error. They expected better of a man who has never been a law enforcement officer, but who has been a senior vice-president of LOCKEED MARTIN, one of the world’s largest weapons makers and who has been a major operative for THE world’s largest hedge fund. Personally I expected Mr. Comey to become again involved in insinuating that the Democratic nominee just might be headed for legal trouble again. He has fulfilled my expectations. This weekend he wrote a letter to the Congress and announced that the national police, the FBI, would be reopening the Email investigation. This time his insinuation also includes reference to a Jewish Congressman’s inappropriate communications with a fifteen year old girl. And it is open ended, not to be substantially resolved until after the voting for president between now and next week. Half-truths and hints of dark deeds have always been more effective for character assassination than clear accusations of specific wrongdoing. The Federal Bureau of Insinuation. Very sad development indeed.

PRESIDENTIAL RACE IN BACKSTRETCH

October 2016. In the middle of October the race for the White House appears to be Hillary Clinton’s to lose. Her rival, Donald Trump, has been the only serious contender since he obtained enough delegate votes to win his party’s nomination. Despite the active campaigns of the Green and Libertarian parties, the United States is still a two party political system at the national level. Nor has the dual nature of American politics been significantly altered by the appearance in recent years of the so-called Tea Party. Nevertheless the situation of the Presidential race has been very dramatically changed within both of the major parties.

Of the two the Democratic Party has been changing in ways that are easiest to see, even if not easy to understand. A quick review of party history will show that party has undergone several revolutions in modern times.

The party Democratic party of Franklin Roosevelt was composed of two very stable pieces and one that was in flux. First there was “the Solid South”, that part of the country that favored business owners over workers and consumers, was hostile to the political and civil rights of African Americans, and always followed white Anglo- Saxon men with Baptist and Methodist attitudes and beliefs. Solid South component had been very stably and predictably in place since the Civil War. A second and fairly stable piece of the Democratic Party had come along in the latter part of the 19th Century in the Midwest. It was the populist movement of William Jennings Bryan and the agrarians. Usually opposed to foreign adventures and always opposed to desegregation, the populist movement gave vent to the angers of poor and middle class rural white folks who distrusted the Republicans’ defense of protectionist tariffs and big businessmen and Eastern intellectuals. Until the Franklin Roosevelt revolution the Democrats were not much more trusted by labor unionists and immigrant minorities than the LaGuardia Republicans in New York or Republican progressives associated with Bob Lafollette in the Midwest and Theodore Roosevelt in the East.

After the New Deal, Democrats tended to represent all of those groups previously described as “in flux”. To these were added anti-war activists and African Americans in the civil rights and Vietnam War era of the 60s, sexual preference minorities and “right to choose” advocates in the 70s and liberal internationalists throughout the last half century. All of these constituencies and other minorities have generally subscribed to the Democratic tendency to show distrust for big business and faith in the exercise of social and personal freedoms tied neither to economic individualism nor evangelical religious conformity. But Democrats have generally failed to pursue the broad progressive agenda that could unite middle class and working Americans. Hillary Clinton is accurately portrayed as being more dedicated to saving Wall Street from loss than saving Main Street from disaster; more interested in ephemeral gender questions than providing all Americans with either economic security or environmental sanity.

The Republican Party has been reasonably coherent in philosophy and action since the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1965. That unsuccessful candidacy succeeded within the party of bringing in large numbers of white Southerners and others who resented desegregation and federal efforts to help the poor at the expense of the wealthy and of white social cohesion. With the Nixon candidacy the Republican Party adopted dog whistle codes for putting Black folks and defiant intellectuals in their previous roles within the larger American culture—subservient to the interests of business, Christian social conventions and the perceived needs of the country to root out dissent and deviance. Efforts to achieve sexual equality in the workforce and marketplace were beaten back whenever the Republican Party prevailed—although the party’s front burner issues were usually about such symbolic matters as flag burning, school prayer, loyalty to soldiers fighting in the Persian Gulf, anti-communism, and the personal sex interests of candidates and Presidents. Not until the Tea Party emergence very recent years has the Republican Party experienced any real organized effort to revitalize conventional conservative positions on taxes and deficits. Newt Gingrich led “The Contract with America” House Republicans in 1994, but their conservative agenda never became the basis for party unity much less the foundation for a real conservative agenda. Usually the most visible Republican focus has been on passions to stop abortions, sanction sexual departures from convention, punish drug use and glorify patriotism.

Now we have a race between the wife of the President whose sexual indiscretions led to his impeachment and a flamboyant business man with a succession of trophy wives, allegations of sexual assault and a history of talking about women in ways most Americans would have found at least crude not long ago. It is surely not surprising that the wife is the Democrat, but has surely been a shock to many that the business man is the Republican candidate. Modern Republicans from Goldwater and Nixon to Reagan and Bush could hardly have been imagined to be sharing the presidential spotlight with the likes of Donald Trump. The Grand Old Party has frequently appeared to be rather stiff shirted and prim; it has never been openly crude and vulgar.

In the closing weeks of this presidential campaign there will still be time for more surprises. The avalanche of spending will dwarf that of prior races. A weird topsy-turvy of some issues will continue to be strangely unfamiliar—such as the Democrat’s closeness to financial fat cats and the Republican’s self-proclaimed championing of industrial workers. There will be more Trump attacks on the press, the leadership of his party and the electoral process itself. But in the long run the one thing that has always characterized the Republican candidate for President will remain absent. Trump completely lacks that one thing—the patina of decency, common ordinary personal decency. I must believe that the lack of common decency will be the decisive issue. After three quarters of a century of watching presidential campaigns I can remember almost every conceivable twist and turn except one. I have never seen Americans elect a candidate for President that most of us would not feel comfortable introducing to our spouse or pastor because of that candidate’s unapologetic assertion of taking pleasure in the sexual humiliation of other people. Such a person could not win the support of the majority of ordinary citizens voting for a candidate for alderman or mayor in their home town! How could we possibly give him our highest and most powerful office?

Sadly the only real issue in this race will be the question of whether our next President will be only pathetically out of touch or pathologically lacking in basic decency as well. Neither of our major candidates offer a real vision of either the nation we want nor the world we all desperately need.

 

 

 

PRESIDENTIAL RACE IN BACKSTRETCH

October 2016. In the middle of October the race for the White House appears to be Hillary Clinton’s to lose. Her rival, Donald Trump, has been the only serious contender since he obtained enough delegate votes to win his party’s nomination. Despite the active campaigns of the Green and Libertarian parties, the United States is still a two party political system at the national level. Nor has the dual nature of American politics been significantly altered by the appearance in recent years of the so-called Tea Party. Nevertheless the situation of the Presidential race has been very dramatically changed within both of the major parties.

Of the two the Democratic Party has been changing in ways that are easiest to see, even if not easy to understand. A quick review of party history will show that party has undergone several revolutions in modern times.

The party Democratic party of Franklin Roosevelt was composed of two very stable pieces and one that was in flux. First there was “the Solid South”, that part of the country that favored business owners over workers and consumers, was hostile to the political and civil rights of African Americans, and always followed white Anglo- Saxon men with Baptist and Methodist attitudes and beliefs. Solid South component had been very stably and predictably in place since the Civil War. A second and fairly stable piece of the Democratic Party had come along in the latter part of the 19th Century in the Midwest. It was the populist movement of William Jennings Bryan and the agrarians. Usually opposed to foreign adventures and always opposed to desegregation, the populist movement gave vent to the angers of poor and middle class rural white folks who distrusted the Republicans’ defense of protectionist tariffs and big businessmen and Eastern intellectuals. Until the Franklin Roosevelt revolution the Democrats were not much more trusted by labor unionists and immigrant minorities than the LaGuardia Republicans in New York or Republican progressives associated with Bob Lafollette in the Midwest and Theodore Roosevelt in the East.

After the New Deal, Democrats tended to represent all of those groups previously described as “in flux”. To these were added anti-war activists and African Americans in the civil rights and Vietnam War era of the 60s, sexual preference minorities and “right to choose” advocates in the 70s and liberal internationalists throughout the last half century. All of these constituencies and other minorities have generally subscribed to the Democratic tendency to show distrust for big business and faith in the exercise of social and personal freedoms tied neither to economic individualism nor evangelical religious conformity.

The Republican Party has been reasonably coherent in philosophy and action since the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1965. That unsuccessful candidacy succeeded within the party of bringing in large numbers of white Southerners and others who resented desegregation and federal efforts to help the poor at the expense of the wealthy and of white social cohesion. With the Nixon candidacy the Republican Party adopted dog whistle codes for putting Black folks and defiant intellectuals in their previous roles within the larger American culture—subservient to the interests of business, Christian social conventions and the perceived needs of the country to root out dissent and deviance. Efforts to achieve sexual equality in the workforce and marketplace were beaten back whenever the Republican party prevailed—although the party’s front burner issues were usually about such symbolic matters as flag burning, school prayer, loyalty to soldiers fighting in the Persian Gulf, anti-communism, and the personal sex interests of candidates and Presidents. Not until the Tea Party emergence very recent years has the Republican Party experienced any real organized effort to revitalize conventional conservative positions on taxes and deficits. Usually the focus has been on passions to stop abortions, sanction sexual departures from convention, punish drug use and glorify patriotism.

Now we have a race between the wife of the President whose sexual indiscretions led to his impeachment and a flamboyant business man with a succession of trophy wives, allegations of sexual assault and a history of talking about women in ways most Americans would have found at least crude not long ago. It is surely not surprising that the wife is the Democrat, but has surely been a shock to many that the business man is the Republican candidate. Modern Republicans from Goldwater and Nixon to Reagan and Bush could hardly have been imagined to be sharing the presidential spotlight with the likes of Donald Trump. The Grand Old Party has frequently appeared to be rather stiff shirted and prim; it has never been openly crude and vulgar.

In the closing weeks of this presidential campaign there will still be time for more surprises. The avalanche of spending will dwarf that of prior races. A weird topsy-turvy of some issues will continue to be strangely unfamiliar—such as the Democrat’s closeness to financial fat cats and the Republican’s self-proclaimed championing of industrial workers. There will be more Trump attacks on the press, the leadership of his party and the electoral process itself. But in the long run the one thing that has always characterized the Republican candidate for President will remain absent. Trump completely lacks that one thing—the patina of decency, common ordinary personal decency. I must believe that the lack of common decency will be the decisive issue. After three quarters of a century of watching presidential campaigns I can remember almost every conceivable twist and turn except one. I have never seen Americans elect a candidate for President that most of us would not feel comfortable introducing to our spouse or pastor because of that candidate’s unapologetic assertion of taking pleasure in the sexual humiliation of other people. Such a person could not win the support of the majority of ordinary citizens voting for a candidate for alderman or mayor in their home town! How could we possibly give him our highest and most powerful office?

 

 

THE BIG PICTURE OF AMERICAN POLITICS: Part 1

OCTOBER 2016. Guest blog by Kelley Kidd. With only a short time left before the 2016 presidential election I am as enthralled with the process as I have ever been since I watched Harry Truman battle to keep his job in 1948. Presidential elections tend to focus my energy on the big questions of public life, or at least on those I happen to believe are the big questions. I suspect that at the heart of American politics the big questions remain the same in each election. Perhaps the main issues of American life are not now dramatically different from those of other moments and even other nations, although particular occasions and appearances vary over time.

From my point of view one of the most cogent descriptions of the big picture came from a corporate executive last year. That description came in the context of the only game in Baltimore Oriole history which was played without any fans in the ball park. A few days before a young man named Freddy Gray had died in custody after having been arrested for running away from being watched by several policemen. To many Baltimoreans it appeared that for African-American men fleeing from policemen had become a capital crime! Rage led to violence. For the first time since the Rodney King incident in the 1990s an American city was wracked with a several nights of street violence. The word riot was used by more than a few commentators. A scheduled Oriole game was played, but the ball park seats were empty. The executive who ordered the gates closed to fans explained that the park closure was intended to protect the safety of fans. Anyone might have expected that executive to bemoan the loss to Orioles fans and to have harsh words for the rioters. Instead we got a long tweet in response to a radio broadcaster’s complaints about those “rioters”:

“I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful nonviolent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLJ, Gandhi, Mandela and all the great opposition leaders throughout history always preached that precept. I also believe in a democracy it is critical that due process and the completion of any investigation must precede any judgment against any accused police member. That said, my greatest source of personal concern is focused neither on the single night’s property damage or upon the acts, but upon the four decade long period in which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the US to China and others, plunged tens of millions of good hard working Americans into economic devastation and then followed that action y diminishing every American’s civil rights protection in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living at the butt end of an ever more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.”

The executive was John Angelos, the son of the wealthy owner of the Oriole franchise. That same young man made these statements long before the rise of the Trump phenomenon with its emphasis on denouncing the movement of American jobs abroad and its calling for closing our borders, lowering taxes on the very wealthy and corporations to induce the latter to retain employment in the US, and its repetition of the Nixonian call for “law and order’. The greatest issues of our times seem to be linked in concern for both the rise of a police state and the decline of the economic fortunes of the many at the hands of the few. How these issues are linked seems to divide us; that they are linked appears to be a notion that transcends the usual political and economic roles of the very rich. Neither Trump nor Angelos are crowd pleasers with large numbers of us , but they are talking about the same issues.

THE U.S. AND ISRAEL ANNOUNCE AN ARMS DEAL

OCTOBER 2016. Last month the United States and Israel signed a military aid package which will cost the U.S. 38 billion dollars at the rate of 3.8 billion per year for ten years. The agreement commits the U.S. to give Israel to that amount and no more— unless Israel is attacked in war. In other words unless Israel becomes involved in a real shooting war 3.8 billion is the annual ceiling on military aid. A further limitation is that Israel is to use this aid to buy military goods from the U.S. or corporations chartered in the U.S., so the aid the money cannot be spent on arms development or purchases within Israel. Prior to this agreement Israel could send 25 percent of U.S. military aid money in ways that employed an indigenous Israeli arms industry.

This deal is being attacked by both Republican supporters of Israel and those who are critical of any support for Israel. There appear to be some Republican Congressmen who benefit politically by frequent championing of new military aid assistance for Israel, a practice which may now be burdened by the “no new money without war” restriction. But the much louder criticism has come from those who support anything which opposes the nourishment of Israel, a state many of these people believe to be based upon the illegitimate occupation of Palestine by Jews bent upon oppression, apartheid and colonial exploitation of land belonging to the Arab Palestinians. There is little that anyone can say about the subject of arms for Israel that could address the underlying hostility of many who oppose the very existence of Israel, the aided entity.

Those who are indifferent to or opposed to the very existence of Israeli Jews are not happy about any aid being given by anyone to protect their safety. The Journal of Public Law will address those folks directly in other posts. But I want to address the concerns of those who wonder if all this military aid for Israel is justified, who believe Israel should exist but question whether so much help from the U.S. is needed. The 3.8 billion is approximately 23 percent more than the 3.1 billion current annual aid figure. And that nearly 4 billion is several multiples of the amount being given to Egypt or any other aid recipient listed for American military assistance. Although this country undoubtedly spends far more than that in Afghanistan and Iraq, these are countries in which there are intense military conflicts. And of course Iraq and Afghanistan are also countries in which, for better or worse, the United States has been an occupying military force for well over a decade. American soldiers are not now stationed in Israel and have never been. So why should the United States be planning to give so much military aid to Israel?

Some of the critics of aid to Israel point out that Israel is not a particularly poor country. Phyllis Bennis refers to Israel as the 23d richest country in the world, and the CIA factbooks list it as among the 50 top countries for income per person. All rankings of nations by personal income, life expectancy, education level and happiness rank Israel among the top 25, while the U.S. is itself gradually slipping from among those so ranked. The goal of making America great again is surely not brought nearer by aid efforts to assist other countries which also rank among the great! Is not greatness usually the outcome of internal efforts, and should not other wealthy countries be expected to take care of their own problems? Are we not made more secure in the United States primarily by our efforts to help ourselves? The critics certainly have good arguments on their side even if one grants the premise that Israel should exist.

But if one believes that the State of Israel is necessary to protect the future of the 6 million Jews living there, then there are reasons for concern about the military posture of that country. Israel has enemies in the region. Many people in American liberal and leftists circles seem to ignore the fact that at least the following countries and militaristic organizations are not only opposed to the very existence of Israel, but also have powerful military capabilities: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS, Syria, Pakistan. Saudi Arabia, for example, is a country whose wealth dwarfs that of Israel, has always clearly been opposed to the existence of the Jewish State, and has a military budget of more than 80 billion per year. Math was never my strong suit, but that figure appears to me to be at least 20 times over larger than the U.S. planned aid to Israel. Iran has a military budget that dwarfs that of Israel as well. And many leaders of predominantly Muslim entities have expressed a lack of support for the existence of Israel and the continuation of Judaism.

Are any of these countries or organizations real threats to defeat or take over the U.S.? Of course not? Are any of them threats to the safety of Israelis? Certainly they are. Pakistan has more than one nuclear bomb and a long history of expressed sympathy with those who have advocated for ridding the world of Israel and its Zionists (aka Jews). The U.S. Congress has recently approved a sale of over one billion dollars in arms to Saudi Arabia. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Saudi Arabia does not need nor ask for monetary assistance, but it purchases many billions of U.S. made arms and military equiptment. Egypt receives more than a billion in U.S. aid, much of it for the purchase of weapons made by American firms like Grumman and Lockheed; now there is a country which has fought four wars with Israel. Little Lebanon, a next door neighbor which has not always been friendly to Israel, is the home of Hezbollah, a powerful militarized anti-Israeli organization. Incidentally Saudi Arabia has approved a military aid program for Lebanon of approximately the same figure as the 3 billion the U.S. currently gives Israel. The neighborhood in which Israel lives is a tough one for anyone who loses a fight or gets in one with a tougher opponent.

The size of Saudi military expenditures is perhaps less relevant to the discussion of U.S. arms policy than the fact that Israel is not even among the top ten purchasers of weapons made by U.S. firms. The largest purchaser of U.S. weapons since 2011 has been Saudi Arabia, not Israel. Nor is Israel even among the top ten, but the Arab Emirates rates second only to Saudi Arabia, and both of these heavier-than-Israel purchasers of American tools of war have in common that they do not recognize Israel as a nation; both of these countries, as well as 16 other members of the Arab League are still firmly within the camp of Moslem nations that would eliminate Israel if they could. Many of these countries are oil rich and do billions of dollars in business with America’s huge energy companies.

An aid package for Israel should be seen as a humanitarian gesture in its effects, if it certainly is not primarily a humanitarian gesture in the intention of the arms manufacturers or the politicians who favor it. The phrase “6 million Jews” has a horrific connotation in recent European history. The systematic murder of Europe’s Jews might not have happened if there had been a Jewish state to give them refuge in the twenty years leading up to the 1947 declaration of Israel’s creation by the Zionists who are so deeply hated by large numbers of Muslims and self-righteous Americans. History is made by the hates and loves of real people. I am a lover of Jews, including those who live in Israel. Denying these people protection will not lead to peace. Arming them is not the cause of their mistakes either. Those who would deny the Israelis any arms deal that would give Israel current defensibility from potential military aggression should recognize that their hostility to arming Israel is also the hostility that could bring on another slaughter of Jews.

This posting raises more questions than it answers. I am aware of the need to follow issues raised here with much greater attention to the history of current international law and practice. Quick glib answers to complex problems can easily do harm. But I hope this posting at least opens the proverbial door to further reflection.