America Infected by Dreadful Disease

Just a few weeks ago we Americans were infected by a dreadful disease.  Not a plague of the body that escaped from Africa — one of the mind that was deliberately spread here.

Ebola was producing hysteria when I posted What to Do About Ebola following comments on my post about how politicians and the media were using Ebola to promote fear.

“Obama’s spectacular incompetence turns deadly” wrote Joseph Curl on October 15 in the Washington Times.  The election was coming up…

Joni Ernst, subsequently elected to the Senate from Iowa with ads showing her castrating hogs and pulling a handgun from her purse, claimed that Obama simply didn’t care if we get Ebola.

Just before the election, Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post: “Ebola has crystallized the collapse of trust in state authorities.”  Everything that’s wrong is Obama’s fault…

But the next day, October 31st, in the same paper, Paul Waldman wrote: “If you actually look at the facts, the disease has been completely prevented and contained here in the United States.”

Waldman continued: “Imagine that a year ago, I told you … west Africa would see the largest Ebola outbreak in history … that despite regular travel in and out of the affected countries … there would be a grand total of two … Americans who contracted the disease here …  both of them would be treated, and would survive and be healthy … You’d say that sounds like a public health triumph.”

On November 11, Steve Benen reported: “The U.S. is now free of known Ebola cases.  That’s not to say the threat is over … but Americans can nevertheless feel good about where things stand.”

Perhaps we will hear no more about Ebola now the election is over and it it is clear there never was a reason to panic.   That would be unfortunate because there will continue to be outbreaks in West Africa.

We could afford to reduce and perhaps even end those outbreaks by spending less to protect ourselves against military threats that do not exist.

We could also make ourselves less vulnerable to such plagues by establishing a health care system that encouraged all those with symptoms to get promptly checked and, if necessary, treated.

But you and I as individuals can only think through whether we even want an affordable, equitable health care system.  We can’t establish one by ourselves.

What we can do, though, is grow less vulnerable to fear, the disease with which we are deliberately and daily infected.    As I write in Why I Write About Fear and Loathing, fear shuts down our reason.  It makes fools of us.

No need to be fools.  No need even to admit to others when we have been.  No need to despise or hate politicians, media personalities or anyone whose ideas are different from ours.  No need for unquestioning confidence or fear of our government.

All we need do is question what we are told, verify the facts, test the logic and above all be kind.

Not everything we are told makes sense or is healthy for us.

 

Beyond Media Hype: Why Write about it?

Fear whipped up by the media stimulates our emotions, shuts down our reason, and excites “fight or flight.”   That makes us selfish and violent.

We must understand what is being done to us.  Selfishness and violence are not intrinsic to our nature.   My original inflammatory “Fear and Loathing” title for these posts is because we’re on fire!

I didn’t share Hunter S. Thompson’s hatred of Nixon, who he said represented “that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character” and I don’t hate Obama or others now.  But Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” is a great title.

We are being brainwashed to feel fear and loathing.  It’s time to be alarmed about that.

What fears?  Immigrants stealing into our “homeland” taking our jobs and living on “welfare,”  a disease from Africa sweeping through our land, Islamic terrorists slipping in from Mexico to do terrible things, fundamentalist Muslims overwhelming our Christian values, Iran nuking us, and on and on…

I began to explore these fears in Ebola and Homo Politicus.  I showed how our expectation about the performance of government agencies is based not on facts but political bias.  Now I’m exploring the implications.

In Fear and Loathing of Immigrants I surveyed history.  Immigrants are often blamed for society’s troubles, but illegal immigration only became a big issue in the 1990s.  Then, after 9/11 , we expanded our border forces enormously.  That was when fear and loathing were very deliberately cranked up.

I followed the logic of militarizing our border to its conclusion, that we should also deport every “alien” already here, and, observing that Christian Church leaders condemned the 2012 GPO budget for failing to help our “poor, hungry, homeless, jobless,” I pointed out it’s not just that we no longer want other nations’ “tired, poor, huddled masses.

We are also being brainwashed to reject all those like them, even our fellow citizens.  We’ve been told the poor are bleeding us dry ever since Reagan’s 1976 campaign anecdotes about a “welfare queen” who defrauded the government of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The woman Reagan spoke of appears to have been a murderer and kidnapper as well as a thief, but the stereotype of the “welfare queen” is an idle black woman.  The label plays on racial fear.

Racial fear?  Imagine how the media would have responded if Ebola appeared not in black Africa but Israel.  Where would we have been told Ebola came from and how to respond?  From Palestinian terrorists so it’s time to support an Israeli final solution?  From Iran so it’s time for our nukes to finish what we helped Saddam Hussein attempt?

In Defying Hitler about the German equivalent of 9/11, the burning of the Reichstag, Sebastian Haffner writes:  “I do not see that one can blame the majority of Germans who, in 1933, believed that the Reichstag fire was the work of the Communists.  What one can blame them for, and what shows their terrible collective weakness of character … is that this settled the matter.  With sheepish submissiveness, the German people accepted that, as a result of the fire, each one of them lost what little personal freedom and dignity was guaranteed by the constitution, as though it followed as a necessary consequence.  If the Communists had burned down the Reichstag, it was perfectly in order that the government took ‘decisive measures.’ … from now on, one’s telephone would be tapped, one’s letters opened, and one’s desk might be broken into.”

We are living through, as Yogi Berra said: “Déjà vu all over again.”  Substitute Americans for Germans, terrorists for Communists, September 11, 2001, for 1933.

We must learn from history.  We must do better.

Beyond the Media Hype: Immigrants

I wrote in Ignorance, Fear and Imaginary Facts that we imagine facts to support what we fear, and that one of the things we greatly exaggerate is the number of immigrants.  I said that’s a problem because politicians tend to focus on what we believe, not the actual data.

So, what have they done based on our fear of immigrants?  First, a reminder.  We imagine that 32% of our population are immigrants while the actual number is 13%.  This means we have 60 million imaginary immigrants in addition to the real 41 million.

Sixty million is a lot of imaginary people!  It’s enough that we’d expect some big actions.  And even though 60 million people are imaginary, we caught 1.6 million entering illegally in 2000 and we do not know how many are already here.  There really is cause for concern.

Immigrants

But what do we mean by “immigrant”?  Everyone was an immigrant when the Constitution was established in 1787.

Our first citizenship law was established in 1790.  Any “free white person of good moral character” who lived here two years and in the same place for one could apply.  The requirement was increased to five years in 1795 with a three year wait, and in 1798 to 14 years with five years notice of intent to apply.

All children born here have been considered citizens since 1868 and African Americans could become citizens since 1870.  Asians could live here then, but not become citizens.

The first law restricting immigration was passed in 1875.  It prohibited any Asian coming to be a forced laborer, any Asian woman who would be a prostitute, and anyone who was a convict.  The labor provision was largely ignored but the ban on female Asians, especially Chinese, was heavily enforced.

Then the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers (it was only repealed at the end of 1943).  Chinese immigration that started in the 1848-1855 California Gold Rush had continued for huge labor projects like the Transcontinental Railroad, but then came the 1870s post-Civil War economic slump.  Chinese workers were blamed for depressed wage levels.

We began deporting those who entered the country illegally in 1891, a year after the Wounded Knee Massacre near the end of when our ancestor immigrants finished dispossessing the Native Americans.

Small-scale deportations began five years before we dedicated the Statue of Liberty with its poem, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”  We did little to stop illegal immigration, however, until Congress established the Border Patrol in 1924.

Our main focus until the 1950s was Canada.  The first large-scale deportation of illegal Mexican immigrants was Operation Wetback in 1954.  It was not until the 1990s that illegal immigration became a big issue.

At the start of the Clinton administration, Border Patrol had 4,000 agents.  That more than doubled to 9,000 by the end of his administration.  Border Patrol’s enormous growth followed 9/11.  It doubled again to 18,000 agents by the end of the Bush administration and to 21,000 in Obama’s first term.

When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was set up following 9/11, Border Patrol was reestablished as part of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with a $12.4 billion annual budget and a staff of 60,000 that includes 46,000 gun-carrying Customs officers and Border Patrol agents.

We have spent over $100B on border and immigration enforcement since 9/11.

CBP is by far our largest federal law enforcement agency.  Its 250 planes, helicopters and drones make it the largest law enforcement air force in the world, as big as Brazil’s entire combat air force.

US Border Patrol

Border Patrol’s growth was far too rapid for quality hiring, and it has not been well led.  Until March of this year, it went five years without a Senate-confirmed leader.  An average of almost one CBP officer per day was arrested for misconduct between 2005 and 2012, and Border Patrol agents have shot and killed almost 50 people since 2004.

Not well led?  In Obama’s first year, Border Patrol was ordered to change its definition of “corruption.”  There would be “mission-compromising corruption,” e.g., bribery, narcotics- or human-smuggling, etc. and “non-mission-compromising corruption,” e.g., sexual or other assault of detainees or theft.  Only “mission-compromising” incidents were to be reported to Congress.  That did not cut corruption but it did cut the statistics by almost a third.

Border Patrol’s leader since March has his work cut out, and the October federal budget funds 2,000 more CBP officers, the largest single increase Congress has ever passed.

But no matter how successful BP’s new leader is, stopping people from entering illegally is only half the battle.  We should also make it easy to identify illegal immigrants and promptly deport them.

The high likelihood of being promptly deported would be the greatest deterrent against attempting to enter illegally.

That would require some form of national ID, which advocates of civil liberties oppose.  Because the Constitution grants all rights to the States that are not specifically granted to the Federal government, driver licenses and other identification cards are issued by each State separately.

The REAL ID Act of 2005 established standards for state-issued identification documents to make them acceptable for restricting entry to DHS headquarters, nuclear power plants, and other restricted federal facilities, and eventually to restrict boarding of federally regulated commercial aircraft.  Only 21 States were compliant at the beginning of 2014.

The REAL ID Act is not aimed at identifying who is and is not eligible to live and work here.  The State driver license and other such databases are neither uniform nor interoperable, and that is how State government officials and civil rights advocates want it to stay.  The States want to retain their prerogatives.  Civil rights advocates fear government abuse if we are all recorded in one big database.

There certainly is potential for abuse.  Hoover’s FBI kept files on enormous numbers of people he considered suspect and all of us are now in the NSA’s database.  Our emails, texts and phone calls are searched and stored.  Our travels probably are, too, if we carry a smartphone.  Our activities are captured by surveillance cameras and presumably searched with facial recognition software.

But civil rights advocates are misguided.  We already have far less privacy than we imagine, and we are rapidly losing more.  The protection we need is around the use of data.  We need to protect ourselves directly against government abuse and corruption, not hobble its ability to protect us.

What we need is a dependable way for everyone who has the legal right to live and work here to prove that, and for the form of proof to be very hard to forge.

Our passport system may be a good starting point for the identification documents all legal residents should have.   More than a third of Americans (35%) now have a passport.  That is up from 6% twenty years ago and passports issued since 2007 contain chips that enable facial recognition.

We could establish a system for checking who has the document and deporting those who do not.  We don’t consider it abusive that we must carry a driver license whenever we drive a car.  It would be little more burdensome to carry an identification document at all times.

What have I left out?  Stopping illegal immigration is not enough, we must also establish a just and effective way of deporting those who are here illegally…  Oh, yes, we must also decide who we want to have immigrate and make it easier for them to do so.

We no longer want other nations’  “tired, poor,  huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Actually, as well as not wanting them, we also want to get rid of those like them who are here legally.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced Ryan’s proposed 2012 budget, which the GOP House passed, because it “fails to meet the moral criteria” of the Church, failing to help “the least of these as the Christian Bible requires: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless.”

Ryan is still chairman of the GOP’s House Budget Committee with more power now the GOP controls the Senate.  We are not likely to get a more Christian budget or immigration policy any time soon.

Our fears will be used to legitimize more violence.

Fundamentalists in the Mirror

Our media shows Muslim fundamentalists terrorizing the Middle East, shooting an Afghani schoolgirl, offering safety in Pakistan to those sworn to destroy us – a world we cannot understand whose people we have no choice but to fear.

What impression do they have of us?

An ongoing study, “The Republican Party Project”, offers a mirror where we can glimpse what they see.  It is timely since our government is now shut down by the Republican Party.  Muslims have seen us attack them with rhetoric, sanctions, drones, and armed forces.  Now they see us at war with each other.  They must have a theory about why we do these things.

Republican Party demographics suggest their idea may parallel ours about them.

The Project`s research finds the Party comprises 47% evangelical and religiously observant (30% evangelical), 22% libertarian-leaning Tea Party supporters and 25% moderates.  The Christian half sees an America being destroyed by cultural rot from the outside.  The libertarian quarter sees an America being destroyed by accelerating dependency on ever bigger government.  Both groups are in a desperate fight to restore a deeply valued culture.  The moderate quarter feels, and is unrepresented.

We see fundamentalist Muslims suppressing moderates “over there”.  What the mirror shows is fundamentalist Christians and libertarians suppressing moderates “over here”.

We can imagine a response like this:  “If American fundamentalists will risk plunging their economy into unfathomably deep depression, if they care so little for their people’s future, can there be any limit to the suffering they would wreak on us?”  It`s a logical question.

Our media offers a worldview of Muslims “over there” who are our enemies unto death.  It is logical to assume the media “over there” offers a worldview of Christians and other fanatics “over here” who are their enemies unto death.  They will not have forgotten the “Crusade” President Bush said 9/11 compelled us to undertake, his “War on Terror” that would not end while a single terrorist remained alive.

The infection carried by these fantasies about those “over here” or “over there” whose symptoms are fear and hatred is highly contagious.  We must reverse our rising fear and hatred of each other.  We can counter the actions motivated by fear, hatred and greed without succumbing to the same infection.

Chemical Weapons and the Law

Syria is subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which makes the recent use of chemical weapons there a crime.  UN Weapons investigators analyzing evidence collected in Syria need about another week to establish if the weapons were used by Syrian government forces, if Syria’s leader authorized their use or was informed later, if they were instead used by rebel forces, or if more evidence is required to make a judgment.

President Obama says Syria’s leader is responsible for the crime and proposes unilateral retaliatory military action.  Congress is debating whether to authorize that.  Its vote is scheduled for two days hence, before the UN team completes its analysis.  President Obama says he has the authority to take military action even if Congress votes no.

Unfortunately, US governments always have placed their faith exclusively in military power and refused to accept the rule of international law.  President Bush’s UN representative formally excluded the USA from ICC jurisdiction.  President Obama, despite his law degree and Nobel Peace Prize, is acting the same way.

Banning chemical weapons has been a long and tortuous challenge.  The first attempt was the 1925 Geneva Protocol following the use of poison gas in WW1.  Another attempt was initiated following the WW2 Holocaust but was stymied by the Cold War.  In 1962 the US and USSR proposed elimination of all such weapons to the UN but between then and 1971 the US sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of chemical weapons in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia which resulted, according to the Vietnam Red Cross, in as many as 400,000 people killed or maimed, and half a million children with birth defects.

We knew Iraqi troops were routinely using chemical weapons against Iran in the early 1980s, and supplied them with a couple of batches each of anthrax and botulism bacteria in 1986.  The Senate unanimously passed the Prevention of Genocide Act in 1988, which would have banned any military assistance to Iraq and import of Iraqi oil, but it did not pass in the House.  We continued to supply Iraq with equipment we knew was for use in their chemical and nuclear weapons programs until Saddam Hussein misjudged our friendliness and invaded Kuwait.

In 1993, the UN called for destruction of all existing chemical weapons, no more manufacture, and an inspection body.  Congress reluctantly ratified that statute in 1997 but then passed legislation so we could refuse inspections.

At last, the genocide in Yugoslavia and Rwanda sparked the UN in 1998 to initiate creation of an International Criminal Court, an enforcement mechanism.  The court’s independence and jurisdiction were major issues.  Could it be prevented from launching a prosecution by a veto from the US, Russia, China, the UK or France?  Would it require approval to prosecute from the country where a crime was committed?  Could it prosecute if there was already a court proceeding in that nation?   Could it prosecute crimes committed in civil wars?  Could it prosecute crimes committed before it was established?

We said we supported the ICC.  In fact, we worked hard to emasculate it.  We demanded that no US citizen could be indicted without our approval.  We required veto power over any indictment.  We insisted that the ICC could prosecute crimes only in nations that are a party to the ICC Convention.  We said the ICC could have jurisdiction only if national courts failed to act.  We demanded that national security and/or a superior’s orders must be accepted as grounds for defense.

Even though those severe constraints were reluctantly accepted, we voted against creation of the court.  The vote was 120 in favor, 7 opposed and 21 abstentions.  The court would become effective when ratified by the 60th nation.  We worked hard to prevent that.  In 2001, the Senate passed an act that would have prohibited us from cooperating with the ICC in any way, barred military aid to any country supporting the ICC and required us to use any means to release US citizens held by the court.

When in 2002 the 60th nation ratified the ICC and it came into force, we notified the UN that we refused to be a party to the treaty.

At this time 122 nations have ratified the ICC and 31 more, including Russia, have signed but not ratified the Statute, 3 of which, Israel, Sudan and the US, have withdrawn their signatures.  41 other UN member nations have not signed the Statute, including China and India.

Governments of nations that have refused ICC jurisdiction tend to be engaged in activities the ICC might well prosecute, e.g., Israel’s settlements, India and Pakistan’s activities in Kashmir, China’s in Tibet and Xinjiang, ours in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and etc.

The ICC has so far opened investigations only into 8 situations in Africa.  It has indicted 30 people, issued arrest warrants for 21 and has 5 in custody.  The atrocities being committed in Syria should be prosecuted by the ICC and we should be insisting that it do so.  We should consider other options only if the ICC is barred, e.g., by a veto from Russia, from that investigation.

We should stop telling the world we are its judge and executioner and start supporting the international rule of law.

 

The 2nd Amendment, Revolution and Self-Defense

DaveR sent me a Facebook message:  “Thought you might be interested in the article at this link:  One of our traditions — throwing off the shackles of a government that has overstepped its bounds — is at odds with another, the one that accepts the results of elections.”   We agreed to copy our long and lively discussion here.  It raises important points that I hope will provoke more discussion.

I responded: “I hadn’t thought about this idea in the article: “In a democracy the majority determines what the law is and could, at least theoretically, take away the rights of individuals for the sake of the ‘public good.’  In a republic, majority will is held in check by constitutional guarantees that forbid legislation encroaching on individual rights even if 51 percent or 95 percent of the population favors it.”  It seems more complicated in real life.   The right guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment is “encroached upon” by subsequent legislation that defines what “arms” we the people may and may not “bear” and the circumstances in which we may bear them.  In the same way, the definition of “we the people” has been the opposite of encroached upon, i.e., expanded by civil rights legislation.”

Then I got off track with an ignorant assertion:  “I always come back to the same state of bafflement about the 2nd amendment.  Do the folks who believe they need guns to overthrow the government really believe their weapons would make that possible?  Or are they like those in the South who knew in their hearts they would fail but went ahead with the War of Northern Aggression, anyway?”

Correcting my mistake led to the important topic of revolution.  Dave responded:  “Well, the South most certainly did not think it was going to lose the Civil War.  In fact, it very nearly won in the first few years.  Many also truly believed that they would receive political, if not military support from Britain (whose textile industry was utterly dependent on southern cotton in 1860).  Interestingly, part of the reason why they did as well as they did despite the North’s superiority in industry, manpower and infrastructure, was precisely because of their cultural military tradition.  Many in the Southern Armies used their own weapons, horses, and the like for the entire war, which is interesting considering this 2nd amendment debate.  I think the 2nd amendment is actually pretty important, but I am for regulation, background checks, etc.  I most certainly do not support repeal. And as I’ve said before, I choose not to avail myself of this right at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I want to get rid of it.  As for your last question – it’s a good one.  In the event of a true, justified revolution in this country, would gun ownership make the difference?  I think, yes, it absolutely would.  Partly, because I think a plausible revolution (not just a bunch of 2nd amendment nuts) would engage a broad enough selection of the populace that we’d see a split in the military.  Think about well-documented revolutions and civil wars – the American or the Spanish Civil Wars, for instance, and you see that the arms used were piecemeal at first, but became more professional as time went on.  Do you think the Syrian rebels wouldn’t love to have some AR-15’s?  Have you seen the improvised weapons they’ve been using?  Some are literally held together with duct tape.  And yet, despite air superiority, tanks and chemical weapons, they seem to be slowly gaining ground.  Civil war these days is an urban war, and small-arms make plenty of difference in city streets.  It scares the hell out of me, but I really do sometimes think I’m going to see a 2nd Civil War of some kind in my lifetime.”

I replied:  “The only thing I’m certain about is, I should actually study US history.  My small patchwork of knowledge means I’ll be mistaken if I believe any theories that occur to me.  I try to discard them and usually don’t believe I understand anything about the Civil War.  Thanks for the correction!  I’ll think more about “true, justified revolution” and respond later.  Thanks for making me think, Dave!”

Dave responded:  “The US Civil War was something of an obsession for me growing up.  I’m probably a bit TOO certain about my “facts” about it, though.  Ken Burns’ documentary is always a good place to start, if you’re really interested (and if you have like 12 hours to kill). And thank YOU.”

After giving more thought to the 2nd Amendment and the Constitution in general, I wrote:  “I want legislation and enforcement to reflect our evolving democratically made decisions about what firearm technologies folks in our society can have.  That requires definition of the purpose.  For example, although I do not hunt I do not want to prevent it, so I’d favor legislation that explicitly approved hunting along with what kinds of hunting firearms are authorized.  I would not expect automatic rifles to be authorized for that purpose, for example, or any kind of handguns.  I would favor background checks for all purchasers of such firearms in every market.   I’m not trying to define the legislation here, just the guiding principal.  Starting from that viewpoint, I’d prefer the existing 2nd amendment to be replaced with one corresponding to today’s society and its needs, not the situation almost two and a half centuries ago.  The amendment now reads:  “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  We no longer expect to defend our nation by raising an army of civilians supplying their own firearms.  We still have uses for firearms that we want to authorize, but not that one.  You make an excellent point about guerilla warfare. Having thought about it more, I agree that an armed uprising might possibly succeed. That makes me think replacing the 2nd amendment is more important, not just something that would theoretically be good.  I want our society to be made better by the working of democracy.  I don’t want there to be a Plan B where we don’t engage in the democratic process but start a Civil War if things don’t turn out the way we want.  If we were writing our Constitution now, and not even thinking about the one we already have, we probably would not include bearing arms as a fundamental human right.   We would probably also draft the 4th amendment in a different way to make explicit some right to privacy.  Search and seizure was the only relevant technology a couple of centuries ago. No phone, internet, satellite or security cameras, etc.  Or maybe we’d decide that in the interest of public safety, we would forgo any and all privacy.  In the real world, I think we should just keep doing what we’ve been doing about the 2nd amendment all along, ignoring the “shall not be infringed”.  We already don’t allow “the people” to have most weapons used by our military forces.”

Dave responded:  “Again, I largely agree with you.  But I have to ask a question you haven’t addressed yet: When is revolution justified? Is it ever?”

It had been taking me quite a while to figure out what I think about that.  I replied:  “Revolution can become inevitable.  Oppression can become too extreme and too prolonged.  It could happen here.  Our tax and spending policies are making hardship from technology-enabled structural change in the economy a lot more painful.  Wealth is being transferred to the already uber-rich from all others.  I expect we will change direction but there’s no guarantee.  It’s not impossible, for example, that unrest could grow severe enough that some “strong man” could use the moment to seize dictatorial control.  “President Cheney declares martial law in response to ongoing riots in cities throughout the land”.  It seems unreasonable to say revolution in such a case would be unjustified.  But if I interpret “justifiable” to mean I would be willing to kill, I can’t use the word.  In a democracy we get what we deserve.  We could have seen that our government’s actions would, if not altered, lead to revolution and we did not make the necessary effort so, shame on us.  It’s not an exact parallel but my grandfather and his five brothers all refused to fight in WW1.  My grandfather’s objection was philosophical.  I’m more moved by what one of his younger brothers said: “I thought, what would I say to his mother if I killed a German boy, or what would he say to mine if he killed me? Nothing could make it right.”  That doesn’t mean I’m absolutely a pacifist.  Maybe there could be a war or revolution where I’d feel I had to participate.  But what I believe I’d do if I saw revolution coming is try to leave and join some other society, one I could feel better about being part of.”

Dave replied:  “Thank you.  I sometimes wonder what I’d do as well.  I suppose it would really depend on what was happening at the time.  But I do think that the idea that our government is getting away from us is part of what drives the 2nd amendment types, and it makes me less supportive of any effort to repeal the amendment.  You say “If we were writing our Constitution now, and not even thinking about the one we already have, we probably would not include bearing arms as a fundamental human right.”  I wonder: isn’t the right to defend one’s self a fundamental human right?  I feel like I have the inalienable right to defend myself from anyone who tries to interfere with my free will.  I’m not interested in fighting, weapons, or anything like that.  I don’t think I’m particularly paranoid, and I don’t see any immediate threats to my freedom (to my health is another story), but I do see my right to privacy and to not be wrongfully seized being whittled away.  Anyway, if it came down to it, I’d probably choose exile as well. Maybe we’re more cosmopolitans than patriots, Martin?”

I responded:  “Yeah, we must work to stop our government from getting away from us.  I’ve started emailing my Representatives about issues I see as especially important and I intend to pester them increasingly more actively.  It’s a cop-out to tell myself one voice won’t make any difference.  I started my original blog because I felt I didn’t understand enough to give them good feedback.  I feel quite a bit closer now to understanding at least which are the most important issues.  Self-defense is confusing.  The way one expects to go about it may be the key factor.  We’re less likely to be attacked if we project confidence, more likely if we project fearfulness.  We need to learn how to project confidence in a way that is non-threatening.  The confusing part is I really do believe non-violence is the right aspiration.  Ahimsa.  I hope I never find myself in a situation where it would be rational, for example, to wear a handgun in order to deter violence.  I’m really not sure what I would do if my everyday life put me in that kind of situation.  I try never to get into such a place.  It was not my intent but it should have been, for example, to avoid a cool project management gig in Mexico City.  The guy I’d have worked most closely with was shot coming out of his office soon after.  But what if I couldn’t avoid it?  I can say, well, if we hadn’t allowed all those guns to be purchased there wouldn’t be nearly so many in the hands of bad folks and our world would be less dangerous, but it’s too late now. The guns are already out there.”

Topics worthy of more discussion include:

  • When is revolution justified? Is it ever?
  • What are the limits on our right to self-defense?  Are there any?

Armed Revolution and Gun Control

Fairleigh Dickinson University just published the stupefying results of their recent national survey about armed revolution and gun control.  Asked for their opinion about this question: “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties”, 29% said an armed revolution may be necessary.  That’s three in ten of my fellow citizens.  Three in ten!

The survey also shows how belief in the potential need for armed revolution against our government correlates with beliefs about gun control.  Only four in ten (38%) who believe a revolution might be necessary support additional gun control legislation.  Additional legislation is supported by over six in ten (62%) who do not think armed revolt will be needed.

The results also differ by party, with two in ten (18%) Democrats thinking an armed revolution may be necessary versus more than four in ten (44%) Republicans.  That’s a lot of Republicans!  It’s also a lot of Democrats.

The survey also asked if respondents believe that: “Some people are hiding the truth about the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in order to advance a political agenda.”  I feel naive to be shocked that a quarter of us does believe facts about the shooting are being hidden.

One of the poll analysts said: “The differences in views of gun legislation are really a function of differences in what people believe guns are for.  If you truly believe an armed revolution is possible in the near future, you need weapons and you’re going to be wary about government efforts to take them away.”  That sounds accurate.

As I wrote here, I once owned a .22 rifle, but not in case I needed to overthrow my government, and I didn’t get rid of it because it would be outmatched by my government’s weaponry.  I always thought democracy was the least bad of all possible arrangements for a large society.  That’s why I vote.

It’s very disturbing that three in ten Americans believe our democratic form of government may have to be overthrown.   It’s downright peculiar that they also believe their firearms could do the job.

The Life of a Tortoise

A wild tortoise who lives near the cabin where we were staying in the high desert above Yucca Valley, CA has learned that people will give him lettuce.

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He comes out when he hears people because he likes lettuce.  There’s only just enough plant life for survival in those parts so it’s easy to see why he’d be tempted.

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He’s been living there for at least 30 years and has a female consort who we didn’t see.  Maybe she didn’t come out because she’s shy, more likely because the weather wasn’t really hot enough yet, or perhaps it was because he told her not to.  He has a rival, a bigger fellow, with whom he battles for control of the territory and access to the female.  The way battle works for tortoises is they try to flip each other over.  An upside-down tortoise has no way to right itself and soon dies.

These battles must be noisy.  The tortoise hissed loudly if we did not give him the next piece of lettuce as fast as he wanted.  I expect he’d look even more menacing if the issue was survival.

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He usually loses the battles because he’s smaller than the interloper, but not always.  Our landlady once found both of them on their backs.  She checks on them many times a day when the weather is hotter and had to right the home tortoise five times one day.  She has repeatedly taken the interloper several miles away in her car but he always comes back.

Opposing Senate Resolution 65 re Iran & Israel

Please, everyone, join me in urging your Senators to defeat Senate Resolution 65 which would commit us to a disastrous war with Iran that would not even be entered into by our own decision.  Use my letter below as a base if it helps.  I’m sending a slightly different version to my other Senator, Angus King, because he has not sponsored the Resolution.

With these links you can get your Senators’ email address and if they sponsor S.Res.65 as well as its text.

Dear Senator Collins,

With utmost seriousness I urge you to withdraw your support for, and in fact work to defeat Senate Resolution 65.

S.Res. 65’s conclusion, “if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel” would commit us to war with Iran whenever Israel decides.  It  would not be our Government but Israel’s that decides whether or not to invade Iran.

Although S.Res.65 ends: “Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war”,  that is exactly what it is.  If the Government of Israel decides to strike Iran, S.Res.65 would commit us, too.

War on Iran is very much against our interests.    As former Secretary of Defense (2006-2011) Robert Gates, said in a speech on October 3 last year: “The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations … An attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable.  They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.” 

Just like the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the claim that Iran is making nuclear weapons is false.  US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate on March 12 this year: “We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons”.  He said Iran is not enriching to weapons grade and we could quickly detect it if they do.  Inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency who monitor Iran’s nuclear sites say the same thing.

I care deeply about this both as an American and a parent.  I proudly support our son’s service in the military.  I believe you care about him, too.  Do not blindly commit him to a war that is against our interests and would not even be entered into by our own decision.

Respectfully,

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and More

Our foreign policy is bankrupting us, poisoning the minds of our children, and turning the world against us.

Iraq:  We have so far spent $1.7T on war in Iraq and will pay $490B more in benefits to veterans, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.  The rationale that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was false.  The results are a traumatized Iraqi society, reinvigorated Islamist militants throughout the region, and we destroyed Iran’s only military rival.

Afghanistan:  The combined cost of our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is almost $4T.  The estimated death toll from the three wars is 330,000.  The rationale was to make Afghanistan a well ordered democracy that could no longer be used as a refuge by Al Queda.   But unless we remain there permanently, the Taliban will regain control.

Pakistan:  The UN terrorism and human rights envoy just issued a statement that our drone strikes in Pakistan violate international law.  “The position of the government of Pakistan is quite clear,” he said.  “It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and it considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.  See here for a table and map of our drone strikes inside Pakistan.

Libya:  After we supported the French-led overthrow of Gaddafi, his Tuareg supporters allied with Islamist militants to fight for the independence of northern Mali.  A French-led force is now pushing them back but they can return temporarily to Libya, or just as easily go to Algeria, Niger or Mauritania.  Throughout North Africa the driving force is not nation states set up in the relatively recent past by France and other European conquerors but milennia of tribal rivalry.

Yemen:  Bordering Saudi Arabia and major oil shipping lanes, Yemen was almost brought to civil war last year by southern separatists and northern rebels.  They sabotaged its major oil pipeline for long enough to shut down Yemen’s main refinery.  They blew it up again a couple of weeks ago.  Meanwhile, we’ve made 65 drone attacks in southern Yemen, mostly in the last 15 months, according to this report.

Syria:  Secretary of State Kerry recently promised aid to fighters against the Syrian government.   Because there is little real separation between them, the al-Nusra Front and others we say are terrorists, some of our aid will inevitably get to the terrorists.

Iran:  We say Iran is developing nuclear weapons and threaten whatever it takes to stop them.   Late last year former Secretary of Defense (2006-2011) Robert Gates said: “The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations … An attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable.  They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.”  The US Director of National Intelligence told the Senate this week that Iran is not enriching to weapons grade and we could quickly detect it if they do.  Inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency who monitor Iran’s nuclear sites say the same thing.

Insanity:  But, stupefyingly,  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently introduced “for himself, Mr. Menendez, Ms. Ayotte, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Cornyn, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Casey, Mr. Hoeven, Mrs. Gillibrand, Mr. Kirk, Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Crapo, Mr. Cardin, Ms. Collins, Mr. Begich, Mr. Blunt, Mr. Brown, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Portman, Mr. Manchin, and Mr. Lautenberg” Senate resolution 65 which “urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.” 

S.Res.65 means:  It would not be our President but Israel’s who decides whether or not to invade Iran.  S.Res.65 ends: “Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war”.  That is, however, exactly what it does do.

I will not say more in this post about the cost or counter-productiveness of our invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan.  I will just highlight again Secretary Gates’ warning: “a military strike on Iran could … haunt us for generations” and say why drones are not the answer.

Drones:  See this excellent piece on the legality, morality and practicality of drones:  “[they] provide a highly efficient way to destroy key enemy targets with very little risk.  But they also allow the enemy to draw the United States into additional theaters of operation … in the jihadists’ estimate, the broader the engagement, the greater the perception of U.S. hostility to Islam, the easier the recruitment until the jihadist forces reach a size that can’t be dealt with by isolated airstrikes.”

Islam:  It’s not just that drone attacks make other people believe we are hostile to Islam.  A teacher friend tells me our relentlessly sensational media reporting has made our own children believe Muslims hate us.

What we must do:  Stop trying to control the world.  In particular, stop threatening Iran.  They do not have nuclear weapons.   Fearing they would attack with them is foolish because Iran would be destroyed if they did.  Therefore, they will not.  Never again go to war to destroy weapons that do not exist or make wars that cannot be won.  Scuttle Senate Resolution 65.