Saturday, June 23, 2012

ROMNEY DISSES HISPANICS; LEAKS OF SECRETS DO NO HARM

Romney Disses Hispanics: Children of Illegal Immigrants Penalized on Path to Citizenship

Romney disrespected many Hispanics when he took a hard line against illegal immigrants. In the Republican primaries, he condemned benefits for them and their children, and endorsed “self-deportation.” Now, as the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential candidate, he continues the disrespect. Recently, he did so with a proposal responding to Obama’s decision not to deport those who came to America as children of illegal immigrants. Aside from vague assurances about long-term solutions and “civil” and “bipartisan” approaches, Romney suggested that he would support citizenship for these children if they first served in the military.

This proposal, clearly intended to serve political purposes, fails to make moral or practical sense because Romney is playing politics with it. He cannot appear to his conservative base to give anything to those illegally resident, so he requires something of them. He proposes to penalize Hispanic children who are innocent of any illegal act. Punishing the children of lawbreakers would be morally unacceptable under most conditions. For Romney, political expediency trumps ordinary moral standards.

Even so, given Republican claims that illegal Hispanic immigrants displace American citizens from jobs, Romney’s proposal is counter-productive. If Romney were able to implement it—he often talks as if he, if he were president, can effect things without benefit of Congress; that is, he talks as if he were a corporate executive, not a president—he would require 800,000 Hispanics to enter the military services. If the military services could absorb these recruits, they would displace many American citizens for whom voluntary military service is a chance for a career or self-improvement before post-military education and employment. Ironically, Romney’s proposal would deny many in his conservative base the opportunity for military service.

And the proposal is impractical. The military services would be unable to absorb so many recruits. First, need fewer new recruits. Reductions in force will continue to take place as foreign wars wind down. Re-enlistments will be high when unemployment is high in an unsteady, slowly recovering economy. Second, as with any population, many of these Hispanics would be disqualified from duty. The disqualifications are numerous and include educational, intellectual, or physical deficits; occupational exemption; health or handicap; or other reason. Some would serve, some would not; if not all, why any?

Romney’s proposal calls into question his mastery of the issues and his competence as a manager. Illegal immigration by large numbers of Hispanics is not a new issue, and many presidential and congressional proposals have addressed it. Romney has had time to educate himself on the issue and to analyze and evaluate proposals addressing it. But he has not done so, apparently not even his proposal, as its numerous flaws indicate.

Worse, this failure suggests that he cannot manage a staff to do its job of preparing him on an issue which everyone understands is a complex, sensitive, and important one. If he cannot manage a staff to prepare him on this long-standing issue of some urgency to his campaign, he probably cannot manage a staff to prepare him on any other issue, much less those with short fuses, in his presidency.

Thus, as this disrespectful, ill-conceived proposal suggests, Romney makes snap decisions to serve tactical political needs, not to make them on the basis of a strategy, a policy, or principles. Indeed, his flip-flopping between his views as governor and his views in the current campaign, and between his views in the primaries and in the presidential race, suggest a propensity to make politically impromptu decisions—not the hallmark of an informed, competent manager.



Leaks of Classified Information Are Threats in Politics, not to National Security

In the context of expressions of outrage at recent security leaks, let me make a few remarks having little to do with the possible politics involved, except to say, that, one, presidents and other administration officials of both parties leak classified information as a matter of political expediency and, two, such leaks do virtually no damage to national security. Indeed, senatorial blowhards of both parties now decrying such leaks are players in the political game of leaks only to show how much they really, really, care about the security of the United States of America. Let me answer the question “why” so little damage results, which no one seems to have asked.

Let me begin by disclosing a “SECRET” which had White House distribution during the Vietnam War. The definition of “SECRET” information indicates the seriousness of this disclosure: information the disclosure of which would threaten “serious damage” to the security of the United States. My “SECRET”: “The U Dong VC battalion attended a wedding.” Someone classified this message which contained no military information, identified neither a source nor a site of collection, and revealed no method of collection. When this cable crossed my desk and was my only information for the day’s intelligence briefing, my only question was whether the U.S. was thereby invited to send a wedding gift! Bet Lyndon and Lady Bird stayed up all night trying to decide on a suitable gift before giving up and turning the issue over to Dean Rusk at the State Department!

At most, the disclosure, if known to the VC, would have told them that someone somewhere knew about a wedding which some of its VC forces attended. Imagine their dismay to learn that people were gossiping about a public event! Imagine their response to learning that our knowledge of this gossip jeopardized our troops!

Most of what I saw in my time in military intelligence—excuse the oxymoron—at both Army and field levels was drivel. At the Army level, much highly classified material was available in the public media; the only difference between open publication and classified material was acknowledgment of government knowledge of the facts. At the field level, much of the classified material was just drivel masquerading as something important or as evidence of work being done. The old joke, told to newbies with a straight face by experienced analysts, was that they could tell the difference between CONFIDENTIAL and SECRET, and between SECRET and TOP SECRET, but not between TOP SECRET and UNCLASSIFIED.

In the case of drone or cyber attacks, our enemies either know or suspect but, in either case, anticipate such attacks. Al Qaeda did not have direct knowledge of NSA’s ability to tap cell phones anywhere in the world, but it acted as if it did and thus relied on couriers—the source of “actionable intelligence” which resulted in Bin Laden’s detection and death. Does anyone really think that the Al Qaeda and the Pakistanis do not know that drones are attacking them? Does anyone really think that Iranians smart enough to develop a nuclear program and to bury its facilities underground do not imagine that their enemies might use cyber attacks to impair their efforts? Really, does a belief in American exceptionalism imply a belief that all others are too stupid to know what is or could be happening to them? In short, the primary non-security purpose of much classified information is to keep the American people ignorant of what its government is doing in its name and to thereby exclude them from expressing their views through their elected representatives in its decision-making process.

But no one should conclude that all classified information is devoid of sense or seriousness, and without great value. From both my military and my defense consulting experience, I know that some is truly critical. But a government official never leaks such critical information to the press. Instead, what he or she leaks is information of political importance, without bearing on national security. Of course, he or she may sell critical information bearing on national security to an adversary, but, if so, he or she does not want that information made public, not only to avoid arrest, but also to increase its value to the buyer. For part of that value to the buyer is that the government does not know that its critical secrets have been compromised.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

HOT TOPICS; FOREST FIRES, SAME-SEX MARRIAGES, AND ABORTIONS FOR GENDER PREFERENCES

Learning from the Big Burn

In trying to turn the monster Gila forest fire to advantage—every disaster becomes his opportunity to advance a business-oriented agenda—Congressman Steven Pearce presents only one side of two sides of the continuing debate about forest management policy (“Responsible forest management is imperative,” LCS-N, 5 Jun 12). The debate boils down to a choice between lands denuded by lumbering or lands ripe for denuding by forest fires, between the cut-and-clear crowd and the save-our-trees-at-all-costs crowd. Between the business folk and the Bambi-lovers, there is little to choose.

For the forests suffer from the policies implemented by both sides because, for over a hundred years, both sides, exploiters and environmentalists, have defined forest fires as bad, bad, bad. But a moment’s reflection, if both sides would pause from fighting one another long enough to reflect, would show that forest fires are not bad in themselves. They result from a natural cause, lightning strikes; and. despite thousands of them over millennia, forests were robust until we promoted lumbering or protected them from it.

The benefit of naturally occurring fires is that they prevent understory build-up of brush. When humans protect this brush by putting out fires, it creates the excessive fuel for unnaturally intense fires. Such fires not only destroy brush and trees, but also sterilize the soil by overheating it or actually burning it off. The result is land slow to revegetate, with centuries required to make the transition from small plants and bushes to trees of any kind. Needless to say, the effects on wildlife are equally disastrous.

The best policy for forests is to return them to as close as possible to an approximation of an ecologically balanced, or “natural,” state. Today, because many forests are overgrown, the Forest Service should systematically prune undergrowth to natural densities, perhaps permit selective lumbering to help restore these forests to natural conditions, and build and maintain fire breaks to prevent the spread of fires to residential or commercial areas. Tomorrow, national policy should be to let nature tend to forests with the small, localized fires by which it has always tended them.

Pearce has it right without knowing why that present fire-fighting policy is wrong, because the Forest Service creates conditions for monster fires, which, once they occur, leave nothing to burn; he has it wrong without caring why that the timber industry’s clear-cutting practices are also wrong, because they leave nothing to burn.


Same-Sex Marriage

The Devil may quote Scripture, but even Christians who hate their enemies cannot cite the Bible as an unequivocal authority on monogamous marriage only. After all, Hebrews practiced polygamy for centuries, and procreation with family servants as well as wives. The importance of procreation—“be fruitful and multiply”—for economic and military purposes suggests clear reasons why these considerations prompted religious approval of these practices and religious sanctions against same-sex relationships.

Those considerations do not apply today, so ancient censures make no sense. As contemporary morality reflected historical circumstances to justify polygamy and reproduction by proxy, so modern morality reflects, or should reflect, present circumstances to justify alternatives to heterosexual marriage. In this sense, moral relativism is a fact of history recognizing and respecting an evolving cultural reality in a slow response to changing circumstances. Moral relativism does not mean no morals; it means that different people in different cultures or circumstances have different morals. In a free country, have your morals, let other have theirs, and debate, not dictate, them.

The definition of “marriage,” like that of “life,” is a cultural and traditional one, not an immutable, inherent one. In America, states define and sanction marriage. Although many marriage ceremonies occur under religious auspices and are presided over by religious leaders, officiants are acting as agents of the state in establishing the legal, marital relationship between two people, however sanctioned also by religious words and rites. Thus, any state’s definition of “marriage” based on religion violates the First Amendment’s provision against an establishment of religion and for freedom of religion.

Opposition to same-sex marriage has two main motives. One is fear and loathing of social change which energize the culture war between Christian fundamentalists, whether Protestant or Catholic, and other social conservatives; and everybody else. The other is a perceived threat to the opponents’ marriages, whereby they project their fears for their marriages and, in their opposition, may even be speaking indirectly to their spouses, for whom opposite-sex marriage covers their same-sex inclinations. The steady stream of revelations of same-sex proclivities in those most given to denouncing same-sex relationships is evidence of precisely this tension-fraught situation. In any event, opponents have never explained how a marriage between same-sex partners, usually strangers, can and does adversely affect their marriages.

I shall be happy, not hateful, if others can have committed, loving, and fulfilling relationships, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. More such relationships are better than fewer, and a society offering equality for all is better than a society divided between first- and second-class citizens.


Abortions for Gender Preferences

The House of Representatives—that means the Tea-Party-dominated Republican Party—is developing legislation to ban abortions based on a woman’s choice to have or not have a boy or a girl.

Some women face a dilemma: they favor woman’s freedom of choice respecting abortion, but they disapprove of abortions to avoid a child of a gender not preferred. A few days ago, one of them, a pro-choice, mainstream Christian, asked for my opinion.

Here it is. First, I clear the ground of prejudice against those who are developing this legislation. No one should care that it comes from the usual suspects who want to infringe upon a woman’s right to choose and whom many regard as both personally and political unsavory, for reasons which I need not elaborate.

Second, even though the legislation comes from virulent anti-abortionists I think that the dilemma should be resolved on its merits. Even stopped clocks are right twice a day.

Whether a woman believes that life begins at conception, at breach, or in days later, she must value and respect the fetus as potentially fully human. Her decision to abort must not made for frivolous reasons. To abort or not to abort—the question is not on a par with a mall shopper’s question to buy flats or heels, shorts or slacks. Worse, a woman wanting a choice based on her gender preference indicates a diminished regard for even the child meeting her specifications. For the choice discloses her self-centeredness; her child is all about her, for her—a perspective boding ill for the child. For, to her, a child not meeting her expectations will likely be a disappointment.

So I come down against this choice and for such legislation if it does not go beyond this limited purpose. For instance, I would oppose a specific piece of legislation which gave more weight to doctor’s opinion of the woman’s motives than to the woman’s statement of what they are—a likely abuse to be expected of many doctors in many states.

Whatever else may be argued about a woman’s right to choose, no rights are absolute. The right to free speech, say, is limited; treason, incitement, libel and slander, and the like are not constitutionally protected. Likewise, the right to an abortion has been limited in a variety of ways already, rightly in some instances, I think, and should rightly be limited in this instance.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

ON WISCONSIN; PLUTOCRATIC POLITICS

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case is a deliberate effort by corporate-friendly justices—Thomas, Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and Kennedy—to give legal sanction to property (money) over people (speech) by pretending that money is speech. Given their judicial records—corporations over government, government over citizens—and records of personal favors paid for by corporate interests, money talks, to them and now to the rest of us. Because the media pay little attention to the decisions of the Supreme Court and less to the doings of its members, most people know little or nothing of the conflict-of-interest corruption of these five members.

But many people have a visceral sense that something about the Citizens United decision is amiss. They have always understood that campaign contributions or other favors can influence politicians on issues. Yet Republicans support the decision as giving them an enormous advantage over Democrats. Not surprisingly, Republican positions on economics and taxes differ only in degree between the period before and the period after that decision. However, Republican attitudes and approaches have hardened. Since the decision, Republican resistance to basic economic facts and proven economic approaches in the recession has intensified, and Republican refusal to raise revenues, including higher taxes on the rich, as well as to make cuts has become uncompromising.

The consequences of these differences of degree amount to differences of kind. The biggest change is that influence is not only no longer only individual, but also now collective. The Big Picture is of coordinated Republican efforts to ensure that money influences, not just an individual politician pushing a particular issue, but an entire party advancing a particular ideological agenda. A picture inset is of efforts by nationally funded groups to influence the election results in states according to this agenda. Yesterday, all politics was local; today, money makes all politics national. The acute irony is the Republican money is making states rights—the right of states to make decisions for themselves and in their interests—obsolete.

The picture is of a circle. Republicans in federal or state legislatures attempt to pass, or succeed in passing, laws transferring wealth to the rich, in the form either of tax cuts or of other benefits (deduction, subsidies, etc.). The rich give a portion of the financial benefits—think of it as tithing—in the form of campaign contributions to Republican federal or state legislators or candidates, who vote for more wealth transfers to the rich.

The circle is vicious. If money from that tithing prevails in elections, both the federal government and a growing number of state governments could become dominated by large Republican majorities. The possibility grows that enough Republicans legislators in both chambers of Congress would be able to pass federal Constitutional amendments and that enough Republicans legislators in the chambers of state legislatures would be able to ratify them. (So, too, amendments to state constitutions.) Those amendments might accord not only with traditional and recent Republican positions, but also with any other provisions not to their liking. With nothing in the Constitution safe from amendment, the entire document could be rewritten piecemeal in a matter of years. In other words, Republicans could redefine the nature of the political system and change it from a representative democracy to anything else at all.

The list of amendments might include, among others, the abolition of income taxes and the right to abortions; the redefinition of citizenship; and the establishment of property qualifications to vote. It might mean, among others, a redefinition and restriction of the inter-state commerce clause, the establishment of property rights over civil rights, the enlargement of executive powers, and the curtailment of judicial review. The possibilities are numerous, and the restraints under such conditions virtually non-existent.

Such legislatures will also be able to grant consent to executive nominees to federal and state courts, who will be selected because of their sympathy with the Republican ideology or support for the Republican agenda.

Welcome to an unimaginable future inimical to democracy, until a Second American Revolution in mid-century.