Saturday, July 4, 2015

OPPOSING SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

In response to an article in The Guardian (4 July) about intensified Republican opposition to same-sex marriage and growing resistance to the Supreme Court decision determining that the right to marry is a fundamental one, I wrote the following:



I really do understand that Republicans or conservatives oppose same-sex marriages and the SCOTUS decision finding it a fundamental right.  But I do not understand their reasoning; they are so busy fulminating about it and frothing about religious freedom that they do not set forth the basic reasons for their position.  I confess that I could not likely be persuaded otherwise, but I would be willing to read or hear cogent, civilized arguments against them and it, with cogent, civilized rebuttals of arguments for them.


I would like opponents to justify why a traditional function of civil government in all 50 states does not apply equally to all citizens in them.  We do not live in a sharia-controlled state, and we do not live under some version of the Judeo-Christian-controlled state either.  I would like to know why the religious views of some should determine the laws, or limitations on the laws, applied to all.  I would like to know why the religious views of some trump the religious views of others—and in the name of religious freedom.  I would like to know how and why the marital choices of some people affect the marriages of other people.


Lacking well reasoned, well argued answers to those questions, opponents of same-sex marriage seem little more than aggressive meddlers in the affairs of others which do not affect them.  If it all comes down to serving cupcakes, I would say that the opposition is trivial and splenetic.  More, if they invoke religious grounds to meddle in the lives of others, then I have to wonder at the moral character of their religion.  In particular, whatever “four-word” text in the Bible may condemn homosexuality, the larger context, both in the Old and the New Testament, is a message of welcoming the stranger and loving the enemy.  I see nothing of those moral injunctions in the fulminations and frothings of the opponents of same sex marriage.  So I see nothing in the religious opposition to same-sex marriage but the hypocrisy of invoking religion in order to treat others disrespectfully and abusively.



The “Comments” section provides for just such responses, and I look forward to receiving them.

Friday, June 26, 2015

RACHEL DOLEZAL AND THE STATUS OF RACIAL IDENTITY AND AUTHENTICITY

  The brouhaha precipitated by Rachel Dolezal shows how far we are from having any sensible, not to say constructive, conversation about race.  We cannot discuss race if we cannot agree on what defines race or identifies someone as a member of a race.  The dilemmas posed by Dolezal accentuate our difficulties.

Dolezal was born white but has long represented herself as black; has served as the volunteer president of the Spokane, WA, NAACP chapter; and has taught black studies at Eastern Washington University.  By all prior accounts, she has performed effectively as an activist and a teacher.  She claims to be black or to identify with blacks; her marriage to and children with a black man, and her career in activism in Spokane align with this claim.  The disparity between her “birth-race” and “life-race” has led many people to accuse her of dishonesty, emotional and mental problems, and impossible claims about her race or ethnicity.  Most disregard her good work as a parent, activist, and teacher.

Many accuse Dolezal of dishonesty by lying (and thereby deceiving) others.  To lie, people must state as true what they know to be false; they do not believe what they state.  People who believe what they state, although it is false, do not lie.  If Dolezal believed that she was or had become black, or so identified with and imitated blacks that she could not distinguish herself from them, she was not lying.  Her accusers’ disregard of these truths does not impeach her honesty or sincerity.

Her critics accuse Dolezal of lying without regard to the diversity of lies.  Lies are good or bad; altruistic or selfish; helpful, harmless, or hurtful.  People tell lies of many kinds, at many times, for many reasons.  There are “little white lies,” fishermen’s lies, padded resumes, plagiarized papers, false accusations, perjured testimony, and the lies of patriots who die under torture to save comrades and serve country.  Her accusers have not shown that her lies helped her by hurting others.

Dolezal’s critics’ biggest problem is their difficulty in understanding her motives.  They understand that blacks pass as whites to lose the disabilities of one race and gain the advantages of another race.  But they cannot understand why whites would pass as blacks and become liable to those disabilities.

Their puzzlement leads many, including her parents, to accuse Dolezal of having emotional or mental problems.  The accusation intends or serves to smear someone different and not understood.  In view of the long, troubled, and even toxic, relationship between daughter and parents, their motives must be suspect; their comments, which could not do her any good, do not suggest loving parents.  Like parents, like accusers: they have sought to smear her with psychoanalytical conjectures, not solid evidence.

Dolezal is unclear when she explains her development toward her claimed black identity or affinity, but she does not seem disturbed or confused.  Like true believers, she is intensely and unusually committed to her cause, social, particularly racial, justice.  The dynamics of her inner life provide no basis for discrediting her claims of racial identity or affinity, much less her work as an activist professing to be black and accepted as black.

Those most outraged by Dolezal’s claims are not whites, but blacks, and they focus less on her moral character or psychological condition than on race-related issues.  The lesser issue is that she has the possibility, denied them, of her being able to return to being white and to the presumed benefits thereof.  The more provocative issue is the impossibility of her being black or achieving black authenticity.  They argue that she lacks the biological prerequisites or the background experience of blacks in America; some even allege that her claims disrespect blacks and the black experience, as if imitation does not flatter.  Their outrage indicates that issues of black identity and black authenticity are not academic, denatured issues, but lived, painful ones, expressed with an intensity fueled by uncertainty or insecurity.

  The Dolezal Dilemma focuses on these issues.  What defines or characterizes some people as black or confirms them as authentic?  Having a certain DNA element or sequence?  Having little white blood after some number of generations?  Having some amount of melanin?  Living in public housing in a ghetto or in a backwoods shack without utilities?  Being unemployed or unemployable?  Doing crack, not powder, cocaine?  Having a rap sheet?  Liking hip-hop?  Styling dreadlocks?  Not “acting white” in school by attending regularly and studying hard?  Are “authentic” black men only those who have a poor education or no job, have been jailed, or have fathered children and abandoned families?  Are black women “inauthentic” if they are, in many of these respects, the opposite of such black men, and seek to “marry out” for suitable partners?

For her black accusers, Dolezal’s biological legacy and ethnic background impeach her claims.  They cite the physical evidence of genes and blood.  But this evidence is weak because white and black genes and blood have mingled for generations.  They cite the different historical experiences of whites and blacks in America; to be authentically black is to be, or believe oneself, inescapably scarred by past servitude or damaged by present deprivations in a white society.  But this evidence is no better because anyone who tries can experience it vicariously yet meaningfully, though perhaps imperfectly.  Those halfway there have been dubbed “wiggers”; those like Dolezal who go farther adopt the personal and cultural features—skin color, hairstyle, etc.—and claim a black identity and affinity with black experience.  It may help to think of changes like hers as resulting from a racial conversion, rather like a religious one.

Thus, the Dolezal Dilemma threatens all-or-nothing categories by suggesting the permeability of racial identity and the absorption of ethnic experience.  Black anxiety about what it means to be black and authentically so finds release in anger at Dolezal.  Confusion and discomfort about race issues appear in the tactical back-and-forthing about whether race is a clearly delineated biological taxon, or group, or a social construct, with variations and gradation; or whether identity reflects natural birth or acquired ethnicity with clear standards of authenticity.  The inconsistency, which serves rhetorical convenience in different discussions, reveals that neither a unified definition of blackness nor a uniform standard of authenticity exists.

The Dolezal Dilemma suggests that we are not yet living in a post-racial world.  When blacks and whites talk about race, nothing is black and white, everything is a shade of gray, intellectually difficult and emotionally fraught.  Getting mad and moralistic, imposing stereotypes, or simplifying a complex human problem can only get in the way of addressing and resolving it.  Whether Dolezal is white or black, she, however flawed, and her effort, however unusual, deserve credit for having the right motives and achieving good results.  Who of her critics can claim as much for themselves?

Monday, May 18, 2015

THE SECOND CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION COMING (TOO) SOON

Article V defines two significantly different ways to amend the Constitution.  One way—and the only way which America has used in about 225 years—is for Congress to draft, debate, and pass (or not) amendments and to send those passed to the states for ratification.  The practice has been to address one amendment at a time.  The other way—one not used thus far—is for two-thirds of all state legislatures to call a convention “for proposing Amendments,” whatever they may be.  That is, states can call for a constitutional convention without having agreed on an agenda of possible changes to the Constitution or without having agreed upon or drafted even one proposed amendment.

The second way, the one never used, presents a problem in a country divided in fundamental ways.  The problem is that a constitutional convention can do whatever it chooses to do, whatever the real or declared intentions of the convening states.  And it would have historical precedent for doing whatever it chooses to do.  For the first one convened for the avowed purpose merely to amend the Articles of the Confederation and concluded that the country required an entirely new compact among the states—thus, the Constitution and, within a few years, the Bill of Rights, its first ten amendments.


Despite differences on some important issues, not least of which was slavery, the drafters shared a common culture and a common history in the American Revolution.  Today, many politicians seem to have nothing in common, not even an agreement on the importance of factuality and rationality in matters of policy; not a commitment to personal decency, integrity, and responsibility in political discourse and official conduct; and no understanding or acceptance of the traditional political “rules of the road”: moderation, negotiations, and compromise.  The dangers of a constitutional convention are a great threat to democratic government as Americans have known it for two-and-a-quarter centuries, yet a second constitutional convention seems likely.


In 2015, Republicans control both legislative chambers in thirty states.  Although the Nebraska legislature is unicameral and non-partisan, it is conservative and sympathizes with most Republican positions.  Depending on one’s idea of balance, two states are within a few elected officials in one or both chambers of becoming a Republican-controlled legislature.  The total of state legislatures controlled or nearly controlled by Republicans is 33 states.


For the past several years, as some media have noted, Republicans have invested heavily in influencing state, country, and even city elections.  Although some media sniff that such nationwide political involvement is unseemly, other media find it alarming.  Yet Democrats, who rouse themselves only for quadrennial contests led by the campaign for the presidency, have not considered the possibility that Republicans might have a long-range strategy to win enough legislatures—34 is the threshold number—to call for a second constitutional convention.

One major question is what Congressional vote does Article V require for approval of such a state-initiated call for a convention.  On its more obvious interpretation, approval requires only a simply majority, not a two-thirds, vote.  In which case, today's republican-controlled Congressits very large majority in the House and its large majority in the Senatecould easily, and would likely, approve such a call for a constitutional convention.


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In these acrimonious and partisan times, what would a second constitutional convention undertake to do?  If the examples of recent legislative actions in states with governments controlled by Republicans—that is, with both Republican governors and Republican legislatures—the likelihood is enact a combination of political, economic, and religious provisions consistent with current Republican positions.  The basis of them would be a revised Preamble which would omit establishing justice and promoting the general welfare, and limit the functions of government to defending the country, ensuring domestic order (not “tranquility”), and promoting the economy.  I itemize a few specific items consistent with these narrow purposes; the list of possibilities is far more numerous.


First, Republicans would restrict the franchise in ways hindering or denying voting by the poor, minorities, seniors, and students.  Restrictions might include fees, some measure of income or property, or some degree of education.   They would limit individual freedoms and rights in the Bill of Rights, and limit or eliminate other amendments, including the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th, 24th, and 26th.  They would limit political expression—for example, no flag-burning—and political action.  They would make the judiciary branch subservient to the legislative branch, in particular, the Supreme Court to Congress.


Second, Republicans would change the tax code to make it more regressive (disproportionately taxing lower incomes than higher incomes), would restrict or eliminate economic associations like unions, would eliminate tax exemptions for social activist organizations, would eliminate some departments (e.g., Education), would reduce the powers or eliminate regulatory agencies (e.g., EPA, OSHA), would reduce support to social service programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act), would reduce support for public institutions and infrastructures (schools, national parks and monuments, transportation), would increase police and posse comitatus powers, would greatly enlarge the military-industrial complex, and would more closely coordinate police, military, and intelligence agencies to serve federal, state, and local governments.


Third, Republicans would define America as a “Christian nation,” would ensure an unrestricted religious conscience/expression exemption to civil law, would elevate property rights over civil rights, would provide tax benefits to religious institutions (churches and schools), would outlaw abortion and possibly (some forms of) contraceptive medications or devices and (all forms of) abortifacients, and would define marriage as heterosexual (one man, one woman—no backsliding into polygamy, Utah!).


I have addressed only some of the positions which Republicans would be inclined to establish as Constitutional provisions.  The 10th amendment would be the basis for the resurrection of moribund doctrines of state interposition or nullification.  I suspect that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is preparing, if it has not already prepared, both a draft call for a second constitutional convention and a draft for that convention to consider and approve.  Ratification would require only four additional states to those calling for the convention.


You may wish to support such changes in the country, its form of government, and the Constitution of the United States.  If so, you will support Republican candidates at all levels of government as they work to launch a constitutional coup against America’s democratic constitutionalism.  Your politics will find support from the unrestricted “freedom of speech” (money talks, right?) largess of today’s generation of robber barons.  In turn, you will support business efforts to control government and subvert government to promote business interests, with sops thrown to religious fundamentalists.


Unrestricted money and sophisticated technology make even local politics national.  In the recent recall election funded by Koch brother money and in repeated robo-calling by Congressman Steve Pearce in support of county land and water commissioners, Las Cruces has already experienced the influx of outside agents and outside money to subvert local decision-making processes through the exercise of top-down Republican power.


More will follow, and not only in an out-of-the-way small town in southern New Mexico.  You may want to continue to live under America’s democratic—neither liberal nor conservative—constitutional government—not under a constitutionally conservative regime which centralizes and concentrates political, economic, and religious power.  If so, you had better prepare yourself now.  Oppose with all possible vigor any effort to convene a constitutional convention.  Pay attention to state and local as well as federal elections.  Prepare to ignore or protest incessant, dishonest, and smearing campaign commercials.  Be on guard against the ugly political commercials from unknown sources and funders which flood the media at the last minute and pander to fear and hatred.  Finally, vote for candidates of either party who represent your real interests and your hopes that they will work with their colleagues for our better future.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

LAS CRUCES POLICE: A FORCE WITHOUT "P.R.I.D.E."

Las Cruces is not going to have a riot as Ferguson or Baltimore has had riots because of police misconduct, but not because it has a professional police force.  Ferguson and Baltimore have had riots because many complaints about routine police misconduct were ignored for decades.  Similar police misconduct occurs in Las Cruces, but with few complaints from a predominantly Catholic Hispanic populace known for its passivity, submissiveness, and resentment.  Anything as concerted or energetic as a riot is unimaginable.  The police know it, politicians know it, so city leaders, with each councilor fearful of criticizing and attempting to control the police, tolerates the unprofessionalism which pervades the LCPD.  (Even if he wanted to and were not too timid to do so, the City Manager would lack the support to control the Police Chief.)

I know from reading the papers, chatting with neighbors, and serving as a District 1 representative on a review panel of an independent consultant’s report on the LCPD that the abuses range from the trivial to the serious, with fear and disrespect of the police being widespread though whispered.  My experience as an older, white man is of the trivial sort, but I take it as signifying how much worse it is for others younger and differently hued.  Indeed, the very triviality of police misconduct in my experience indicates the reflexive belligerence and instinctive dishonesty of police officers and officials.  So, as I relate my encounters of the trivial kind, bear in mind that what the police do in minor cases ensures similarly belligerent and dishonest conduct in major cases.  For the LCPD, protect and serve means self-protection and self-serving.

Half a dozen years ago, when the lights were out at the 70-Triviz/Elks intersection, I flagged down an officer in the hope of getting him to direct traffic to clear up the huge back-ups all ways.  His response was to pull me over, check my license and registration, and leave without asking why I had hailed him.  When I challenged his rudeness and his conduct, he put his hand on his gun, approached me aggressively, and demanded what my problem was.  (My wife feared that he was going to shoot me.)  When I said helping traffic, he said that traffic control was not his concern, got in his car, and drove off.  The detective to whom I complained excused the officer as probably—no facts—on call, though he remained silent when I asked why, if so, he had time to pull me over.  So much for the “serve” of “protect and serve.”

Last year, I reported a police car, not using lights or sirens, driving south on the revitalized section of Main Street at 28 mph, about double the 15 mph speed limit.  I made a report that day, 24 February; I got Chief Jaime Montoya’s response on 19 March, over three weeks later.  “The officer was justified in taking the course of action alleged as inappropriate.”  I requested to know the basis for the justification.  He answered:

I can’t give you details of the actual investigation other than to say his driving behavior was within policy.

There are times when we respond to calls with our emergency equipment engaged and there are many reasons why we may need to exceed posted speed limits when not running code.

Some examples are:
Burglaries
Officer assistance
Alarms
Some Felonies
Etc.

When our employees violate policy we will hold them accountable.

Montoya’s first statement is a lie.  Montoya could have given me the details but refused to do so.  He did not cite an on-going investigation or national security as a justification.  He did not even cite one of his listed categories as a justification.  The reason: he wanted to avoid yet another lie and an admission about the officer’s unjustified speeding.  When a police car speeds through a slow-speed, congested zone, it is endangering life, limb, or property, not protecting or serving.  The Chief’s dishonest responses indicate that his top priority is to protect officers even if their misconduct endangers the public.

On April 23, I wrote Chief Montoya about police assistance in dealing with traffic congestion caused by roadwork on Church Street.  I copied the City Manager, the Mayor, and all City Councilors.  I provide Montoya’s and my exchanges on the subject “Serving the Community”:

Perhaps I am asking for far too much service to the public, but, given the disruption and diversion of Church Street traffic, do you think that the LCPD could put police officers to direct traffic at intersections not used to heavy volumes in mid-day, not to mention rush hour.

You must not have noticed the middle-of-the-afternoon backup on Campo at the intersection right across from your office on Picacho.

- - -

Mr. Hays,

This is the first complaint we have receive about the congestion, we will take a look at the area to see what type of problem there may be.

Chief J. Montoya #290
To Protect and Serve with P.R.I.D.E.  [“Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dedication and Excellence”]

- - -

Chief,

This reply does you no credit.

First, why does it matter that I am the first to complain?  Is it your way of saying there is something wrong with my complaint (because no one else has complained)?  Can you tell me how I might be the second (or third or fourth…) to complain?

Second, does it occur to you that people do not communicate with your department because they expert no responses or snotty ones like this one.  The appropriate response would have been to thank me for calling this matter to your attention (and, if you wonder at my tone, be assured that, in a similar situation, a police officer curtly told me that he did not do traffic control).

Third, why do you not know that the Sun-News has reported complaints; you might read it.

Finally, why are you incapable of pro-active thinking about this matter?  Church Street is two northbound lanes.  Because of construction, it narrows to one lane, then provides a one-lane detour to a two-way, two-lane street.  The Picacho/Spruce intersection has a stop sign only for Campo.  Do you need to be a brain surgeon to imagine traffic issues?

When you figure out “what type of problem there may be”—how long will the investigation take?—perhaps you will also decide to do something about it.

No one—not the City Manager, not the Mayor, not any City Councilor—responded to this matter—no doubt in compliance with their concept of protecting and serving.

Three points:  One, Las Cruces has an unprofessional police force which operates in defiance of its policies and posted legal notices, and in contempt of the truth and the citizens with whom it deals.  Its inability to operate professionally in minor cases means that it is even less likely to operate professionally in major cases.  Two, the nine highest ranking city officials—Chief Montoya, City Manager Garza, all six Counselors, and Mayor Miyagishima—are indifferent to the lack of professionalism in LCPD.  Three, in a state which is a national leader in per-capita police murders, Las Cruces is unprepared for the “Big One.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

DO YOU WANNA BOMB. BOMB, BOMB IRAN?

[personal note: I consulted to DOD, DOE, and ACDA on nuclear proliferation by means of the civilian nuclear fuel cycle and on nuclear weapons production in the Carter and Reagan administrations.]



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Such would be the highly likely, if not inevitable, result of the policy urged by Senatorial hawks, many others in the GOP in Congress, and Reagan-Bush neo-cons waiting for a hawkish GOP administration.  Obama’s reputation for talking big and carrying a small stick, and turning red lines into pink ones gives them some reason to urge a tough deal or strong measures.  But the 47 Republican signatories to Cotton’s letter to the Ayatollah show themselves ignorant, irresponsible, and unwise, with potentially dangerous consequences for national and international security.  Just consider McCain’s explanation for signing: he was in a rush to get to the airport to avoid a snowstorm—this trivial reason for risking harm to national interests from a GOP leader on foreign and military affairs.



In its habit of denying ideas and facts contrary to its political ideology, the GOP takes enormous risks without caring about, much less understanding, the technical, economic, political, or military issues.  For a war with Iran would be of a kind on scale and scope with consequences not imagined by Congress—and one which the American people would not likely approve if they understood the issues or the consequences of GOP risk-taking and war-mongering.  Presently, they do not understand them.  But, then, neither do the majority of Republicans in Congress who want to insert themselves into the negotiations.



What everyone in Congress and the media refers to as “Obama’s deal” with Iran is nothing of the sort.  The negotiations which may or may not lead to a “deal” involves two sides: on one side, Iran; on the other: the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—the U.S., China, England, France, and Russia—and Germany.  None of these six countries wants to see Iran with a nuclear weapon, and none can act alone to reach an independent agreement with Iran.



The claim by some members of Congress in both parties that it has a proper role in these negotiations or the resulting “deal” is contrary to history in such foreign policy matters.  Every previous administration, Democratic or Republican, has had the sole authority to negotiate essentially administrative arrangements in accordance with existing treaties.  So the interest of some members of Congress in involving itself in negotiations is unprecedented and dangerous in undermining future administrations’ authority to do what past administrations have always done.  Other nations will be reluctant or unable to negotiate with the U.S. with confidence that it is participating in good faith or to any good purpose if Congress can modify or revoke any agreements.



Most Democratic and Republican senators seem to know little or care less about the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the enduring, painstaking work of informed officials and experts throughout the world—now at risk of being undone on the initiative of a rookie Arkansas Republican senator.  The Treaty drafted in 1968 and entering into force in 1970 responded to the inherent dangers posed by nuclear energy: many facilities in a civilian nuclear energy regime can be used by a military nuclear weapons regime.  The NPT provides a framework for permitting the use of nuclear energy for civilian purposes and proscribes its use for military purposes, which signatories must renounce.  Thus, the NPT, by its signatories’ compliance, keeps the world safer than it would otherwise be.  As an NPT signatory, Iran is entitled to its benefits.  But some violations of NPT provisions give good reason to suspect its avowed purpose to develop civilian nuclear power.  What the six nations are negotiating is not a treaty but an arrangement to secure Iran’s compliance with, and thereby preserve, the NPT.



Finally, although the 47 GOP signatories to Cotton’s letter and their amen chorus of talking heads outside Congress declare the deal a “bad” one, none of them knows the terms of the deal because it is still being negotiated.  Their efforts to sabotage these multi-national negotiations reflect the arrogance of their ignorance.



In its idea-free, fact-free approach now characterizing its approach to difficult problems with possible solutions contrary to their partisan interests, Republicans are unwilling to declare their willingness to increase the risk of war by disrespecting Obama, discrediting the United States, disrupting the negotiations, and preventing a deal.  As Leslie Gelb put it, they hate Obama more than they hate a nuclear Iran, or, I would add, love America.



Nevertheless, under the circumstances, a “distrust-but-verify” deal makes sense.  Without it, without inspections and other limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, the rest of the world would have little or no timely knowledge of Iran’s use of nuclear energy.   So Iran, with a nuclear weapon in its arsenal, would constitute an existential threat not only to Israel, but also to other countries in the Middle East and beyond.



Without a deal, the threat becomes unmanageable and intolerable.  An assumed breakout time of one year from uranium enrichment to nuclear weapon is mistaken; in countries like Iran with expertise, technologies, and infrastructure, the breakout time can be three months or fewer—a huge threat to one and all—and perhaps not discoverable in time.  Worse still, if a breakout occurs, is discovered, and does not elicit a response reversing or undoing it at once, many other countries in the area would likely initiate their own nuclear program for military weapons.  The NPT would be abrogated by a consensus of the scared.  The shorter timeline and broader effects make the threat much greater in the absence of a deal than Republicans realize.



Whatever the final deal, the six countries negotiating with Iran can assure the world that Iran will not be allowed to develop military uses of nuclear energy.  It can adopt and announce several principles of action reserved to themselves, separately or collectively, without regard to Iran’s views.  First, the right to impose immediate and full-scope economic, financial, and political sanctions if Iran violates the inspection regime in any way.  Second, the right to define a breakout from civilian to military use as an act of war and to take such action as they deem appropriate, including a devastating response, possibly nuclear.  Third, an announcement of planning for a military response as their preferred option because no country willing to risk severe non-military sanctions by violating the inspection regime will stop the attempt if faced with only them.  Finally, the interpretation of the development and deployment of missiles, which exist only as a means to the end of delivering nuclear bombs, as an indication of the likelihood of a breakout and military intent.



In short, the nuclear weapon/missile threat posed by today’s Iran is not unlike the threat posed by yesterday’s Soviet Union.  With that threat comes the need to prevent it by peaceful means if possible, to deter or destroy it by credible military means if necessary.  The threat is perhaps greater because miniaturization makes it possible for non-bomber, non-missile delivery of nuclear weapons by sub-state actors.  To the weapons and tactics used in conventional or bomber- or missile-based nuclear warfare, Iran can add those of guerilla and terrorist warfare.  Welcome to the new world of mutual assured destruction, with demonstrated fanaticism assuring us that turning the other cheek will get it blown, or cut, off.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

REFLECTIONS ON FERGUSON AND THE "CONVERSATION" ON RACE

      Over the past few days, I have been making a number of extended comments on, or related to, the indictment of American justice and America’s leaders which Ferguson has become.  I collect and lightly edit a few of them here.
 

The first three items are comments posted under “How Robert McCulloch Indicted Himself” HuffPost Politics (25 Nov).


The most conspicuous failure was to make the grand jury a trial jury. The job of grand juries is to ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence to support a charge; it is not to balance that evidence with the evidence which undermines that support—the job of the defense at trial.  A second failure is to pretend that conflicting or even inconsistent testimony is something unusual and discrediting to a case; if it were, almost no one would get charged, must less tried, much less convicted of any crime with witnesses.  The most obvious failure was of justice, not just “for all,” but for any.  McCulloch has issues; he also has interests—like running for higher office, possibly?  His partiality corrosive of the legal system shows him to be unworthy of public trust in any capacity.


In response to which, Karen Nord writes, “Obviously you have some vendetta against Bob McCulloch…..which is totally unfounded and incorrect. He is an excellent prosecuting attorney and has been a great asset to St. Louis for many years.  You certainly did not hear (if you listened to him the other night) what I heard.  He did everything correctly and justice was served…..it’s just sad that people can’t accept the facts and live with it.  Yes, it is very sad a young man was killed, however, the Police that protect us all, also have to protect themselves and that is exactly what Officer Wilson did AND a Grand Jury proved that.  You are entitled to your opinions, however, hopefully people won’t take them as factual. Sad, sad, sad of you to lash out like you have.”  [I have to report that almost every respondent took Ms. Nord to task for her bias and ignorance.]


To which I responded, “‘Obviously,’ my arse.  ‘Totally unfounded and incorrect,’ also my arse.  I do not know the man, have had no encounters with the police in Missouri, do not live in Missouri (wouldn’t, if I had the chance), and have considered both diverse, reputable accounts of McCulloch’s prosecutorial conduct, and widespread disapproval of his actions by ‘other prosecutors, lawyers, and legal scholars.  It is absurd to claim that the police protect “us.”  Who are us?  Middle-class, white Christians only?  It would seem so.  Only if those different from that narrow norm live long enough to get to court do they get the possible chance at “justice for all.”  But usually, the non-middle class, non-white, non-Christian get summary justice by police whose response too often is the excessive use of force in dispensing summary judgment on the street.”


Widespread distrust of the police reflects the equally widespread disregard of principles of accountability.  The vague definition and virtually unchallengeable exercise of discretion means that anything goes in enforcement; the law is the law as the police apply it in the streets, with the connivance of prosecutors and judges.  Their discretion is invariably conditioned by cultural, psychological, and social factors.  The result is too often a prompt resort to excessive violence, with disproportionate casualties being blacks, especially young black men; the emotionally distraught or mentally unstable; the drug-influenced; and the homeless or the poor.  Those presumed innocent until guilty if they live long enough to get to court are not otherwise protected and served.


The most important reason for the unprofessional behavior of police officers—how good are the “good apples,” since they tolerate the “bad apples”?—is the unconscious governmental decision to employ those who are in, or aspire to, the middle class to enforce a Norman Rockwell view of America.  Such a view either does not recognize or does not respect diversity in what is regarded as the normative white Christian America.  The police are thus the approved local, state, and federal government agents to maintain a society which does not accept that “all men are equal” and denies “liberty and justice for all.”  Who can trust those whose actions undermine their sworn oaths to uphold the Constitution?


Not only is race a factor in Michael Brown’s murder, but it is also a fact conditioning the meaning of justice in America for all Americans.  Ironically, the first black—he is really half white and half black, but, in America, black is the dominant taint—Obama has proven to be both not transformative, but not even informative, not to mention helpful.  He has never been, but has not wanted to be seen as, an Angry Black Man.  He is, instead, and wants to be seen as a mild-mannered, agreeable, obliging black man.  So his words on race never rise to the level of a conversation, which he claims we need, and, of course, do not rise to an indictment of American racism, especially in the American system of justice.  Who better qualified to address this issue and lead that “conversation” than a lawyer specializing in Constitutional law and a black president?  So the disappointment in his lack of leadership on this issue is great at the opportunity lost.


Long ago, it would have done everyone a world of good if he had responded directly to the insults made possible by prevalent racism.  One such opportunity was the reception he received when he landed in Arizona, when its governor, Jan Brewer, waved a finger in his face.  He might have stopped right there and scolded her for her racist bad manners exercised only because he was a black man.  Let her explain her behavior.  Another such opportunity was the response to a portion of his State of the Union address, when SC Rep Joe Wilson called him a liar.  A presidential riff right there on the state of race relations in America would have been a powerful one.  Both responses, human responses to insult and teaching moments as well might have given pause to racists in public office, who always fear being called out for their racism.  Who besides them and their racist supporters would have been upset with his calling out these insults for what they and as seen and heard by him and everyone else in those moments.  But no; so Obama’s timidity on this subject condones the very racist behavior which he presumably would wish to condemn.  Obama is not a bad president because he is black, but his self-concept as a black man in a white society has impaired his ability to lead with confidence, courage, and conviction on this issue.


My final remark.  It is long since time that the white people of my generation especially—I am nearly 75—grow up, shed the various bigotries which their bigoted parents taught them, stop being afraid of everything today different from the way it was yesterday, and cease trying to preserve or resurrect a discredited racist past.  When I think of the troglodytes of my times, I rarely think of racists like John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and all the rest of the GOP establishment.  I think of their “base,” people like Paula Dean, who seems perfectly happy to blame her parents for her bigotry and then to think that she is blameless for continuing their bigotry and for refusing to learn or change a thing in light of the civil rights movement of our adolescence and youth.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

POPE FRANCIS REVIVES THE CANARDS OF ANTI-JUDAISM AND ANTI-SEMITISM

[NOTE: A story in the 19 October Telegraph alerted me to Pope Francis's 13 October homily delivered at Santa Marta and published by Vatican Radio.  I write in disappointment and alarm at his words.]



The adoration of Pope Francis has swept all before it.  The man inspiring people in the Catholic Church and appealing to people outside it, he has earned a reputation as a leader who appears liberal in outlook and kindly in approach to divisive issues, mostly concerned with marriage, divorce, and abortion.  Whether he can lead the Catholic Church to different practices, if not different doctrines, on these issues remains to be seen.  Certainly, the result of the latest synod, which first floated, then deflated, a statement welcoming to those whose conduct departs from church teachings, raises questions about his effectuality, but not about his enlightened, progressive views sincerely held and forthrightly advocated.


While the synod was debating a statement initially favorable to gays, lesbians, and divorced individuals, Pope Francis was delivering a homily surprisingly regressive in its views of Judaism.  In essence, it countered changes of attitude toward, and position on, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity begun by Vatican II over 50 years ago.  Under Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, the Church not only notably repudiated its past position that all Jews then and since shared responsibility for the Crucifixion, but also more controversially implied a dual covenantal view of the relationship between Jews and God, and Christians and God.  The short form of the justification for this view is, “God did not, and does not, make mistakes”—or, I might add, renege on his promises.  In essence, the Church tacitly acknowledged that Judaism is a complete, coherent, cogent, and, for its believers, compelling faith independent of any other faith.


Pope Francis reverted to a traditional view that Judaism is merely a consistent and self-contained code of rigid laws which constitutes an incomplete, thus an imperfect, faith because, he claims, it did not, and does not, recognize the full trajectory of its prophetic teachings fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah.  Thus, on 13 October, at Santa Marta, this Pope declared, as reported by the Vatican Radio, that “‘a path is not absolute in itself,’ it is a path towards ‘the ultimate manifestation of the Lord.  Life is a journey toward the fullness of Jesus Christ, when He will come again’....  Pope Francis added, ‘they [“the Doctors of the Law,” as he calls them] failed to understand that the law they guarded and loved’ was a pedagogy towards Jesus Christ. ‘If the law does not lead to Jesus Christ’ - he said – ‘if it does not bring us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead....’”


Nothing can save Pope Francis from the implications of his words.  His homily echoes centuries of anti-Judaic preachings in its pejorative depiction of Judaism as a faith of the “dead” under the “law.”  The characterization of Judaism as a faith defined by laws is false to, and disrespectful of, Judaism.  The representation of Judaism as a dead legalism and the disregard of its moral merits and religious integrity because it does not accept Jesus as the Messiah condemns Jesus’ faith only because it is different from Christianity.  Bad enough is his re-assertion of anti-Judaic views which repudiate the best thinking of religious thinkers, many of them Catholic, since the Second World War.  Worse is his revival of the old canards about Jewish believers as something rather like religious zombies, living dead, untouched, and untouchable, by Christian truth or stubborn in its denial—and what all else?  The old canards newly stated or implied by Pope Francis have had dangerous and deadly consequences for Jews in the past.  Is this Pope prepared to accept responsibility for their consequences in the future?


As Pope Francis advances sympathy for, and acceptance of, Catholics who have deviated from Church teachings on social issues, he retreats to scorn and rejection of Jews, who never accepted them in the first place.  The Pope’s views are enlightened when it comes to Catholics (Christians, more generally) but benighted when it comes to Jews.  It is easy for him to win acclaim on the Left, for the New Left combines approval of LGBTs and disapproval of Jews and Israel.  For many Church leaders, his liberal views on same-sex marriage, divorce, and abortion may be anathema, but his conservative views on Judaism and Jews reveal prevalent Catholic attitudes and beliefs hidden by a half century of hypocrisy.