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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

The Death Penalty Revisited

 

Judicial Killings

Pagun

On June 17, 2015, 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and shot and killed 9 people and injured one more. Among the dead were a senior pastor and state senator Clementa C. Pinckney. After a brief manhunt, Dylann RoofRoof was arrested and confessed to the murders and stated that he had been trying to instigate a race war. Although support for the death penalty has been declining in the US, there has been little negative reaction to the state’s announcement that in this case, the death penalty would be sought.

There probably never was a defendant who more richly deserved the most severe penalty provided by law. The mass murderer was indicted under South Carolina’s hate crime provisions; Roof has shown absolutely no remorse and in fact he appears to be proud of his act. Roof is an unrepentant, arrogant, racist who took innocent lives for no reason beyond his all-consuming hatred for his victims and anyone else of colour.

The disparity between the number of executions of blacks v. whites and the possibility of executing an innocent person are the two most persuasive arguments for the abolition of the death sentence in the US; and they don’t apply here. Roof is the poster boy for the imposition of the ultimate sanction.

Nevertheless, I take the view that, even in the case of this repugnant piece of human filth, the death penalty is wrong, it shouldn’t be imposed on Dylann Roof, and ought to be abolished.

I chose this particular case to use in my discussion of the death penalty because I want to be perfectly clear: although I have used arguments like its ineffectiveness as a deterrent, as well as the racial DeathPenaltyEditorial2_0bias in its imposition, and the possibility of judicial error, these are not my fundamental objections to state sanctioned killing. If somehow those objections could be persuasively countered, I would still maintain that abolition of the death penalty is a moral requirement of any civilisation.

The ultimate penalty is reserved for cases in which there is the calculated and cold blooded taking of human life; the presumption here is that human life is the ultimate value, and respect for it is demanded and expected of every member of our society. I argue that it is hard to make that case when the state takes it upon itself to decide that one human life does not have ultimate value; in fact, it has no value at all, and can legally be taken by other human beings. To execute a murderer is to say at one and the same time that life is supremely valuable and that is not, as we reserve the right to end one if society deems it appropriate. The logic doesn’t work.

Of course, that logical argument can be parsed and debated ad infinitum and simple logical propositions are not particularly persuasive when we are dealing with an emotionally loaded issue like this one. The argument that I find the most persuasive when someone speaks for the abolition of capital punishment is that I do not want to be part of a society that makes it legal to take another human being’s life in a calculated, premeditated act of judicial killing. To support our right to kill with judicial approval diminishes me and coarsens the very fabric of what passes for civilisation. We have already agreed that the most heinous crime of all is cold-blooded, calculated, premeditated homicide; I can’t be part of that, even if I have the law on my side.

A society that condones brutality – and make no mistake, execution of a human being is brutality – and even imposes it is quite simply a society of brutes. And somehow even proponents of capital punishment are aware that the death penalty is obscene. If the deterrent argument worked or even if the retributive argument had any legs, we would have public, even televised executions. Surely if everyone actually watched the death of a convicted murderer, any deterrent effect would be multiplied. And, as to the retributive justice theory, if society is going to find some sense of Death Penalty has no place in 21st Centuryclosure or feel that some sort of scale of justice is balanced by the death for a death, surely that sense of justice would be enhanced by having justice done openly and without apology or shame. That isn’t the case, however. Executions are carried out furtively at the crack of dawn or in the dead of night in front of a few select witnesses. There seems to be a sense that, if the executions were public and open,   we would be demeaned by the spectacle; that sick, voyeuristic sadists would get their perverse jollies from seeing someone die. Of course, that is almost certainly true. The sight of a deliberate killing is coarse and ugly; coarse and ugly souls will love it. But if it is the right thing to do, why don’t we own up to it and stop dispensing justice behind a screen?

The short answer is: because we know it’s wrong and we prefer to do wrongs with a minimum of scrutiny. We know that public executions would bring out the real nutjobs who love to witness or participate in brutality; even when executions are done with minimal fanfare, the death groupies show up at the doors of prisons where they are to be carried out and cheer for the cruelty that is going on inside. Burn, baby, burn. Are spectacles like that indicative of refined feelings? Are those vicious brutality junkies the kind of people from whom any reasonably enlightened person would take moral guidance? Far from it; those are the very worst of our species and it is their moral judgements upon which we rely to execute people.

If civilisation survives for much longer, historians will point with contempt at countries that death penalty countriescontinued to impose the death penalty after pretty much every developed country abolished it. Historically, the United States clung to slavery long after the civilised world had grown beyond the trade in human beings. It’s not too late for the US to get on the right side of history with respect to capital punishment. Wouldn’t it be nice for the US to occupy the moral high ground for a change?

ENDITEM…

Does SCOTUS pass the buck?

Breaking the rules

Pagun

 

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – It becomes clearer as one gets older just how resigned society is to certain paradigms of lifestyle. To test this observation, all you have to do is step outside if the established pattern for a bit and see exactly how square the hole into which your rounded shape is trying to jam itself actually is. 

Oh, we’re all used to the iconoclasm of youth, particularly those of us who are baby boomers We know all about the fights over long hair, the youth culture battles of the late ‘60s, emergence of the rock culture, recreational drug use, living together without the sanction of marriage, single parenthood, and pretty much everybody either has or has known someone who has come out as gay. But the truth is that those issues have pretty much either resolved themselves or society has come to some kind of accommodation with them. 

Those of you who know me personally also know that one of the personal characteristics frequently remarked upon is that I tend not to think or act in a mainstream way much of the time. It seems that the direction my life has taken in the last few years has reinforced that impression. For someone who is fairly familiar with being out of step with much of society, I have been discovering that things that seemed normal and straightforward to me are considered to be eccentric, even bizarre by many people. 

My son just turned four. This summer I will turn fifty seven. That strikes a lot of people as strange; some are even offended. I’m not going to recount the full backstory of how, why, and with what difficulties Yolanda and I adopted JJ at my venerable age; I don’t feel inclined to defend that decision. I will say that had Yolanda and I not chosen to do what we did, our beloved little boy, who has brought us indescribable joy, would be naked, parentless, probably unloved, malnourished, and facing a bleak future in an impoverished village in a 3rd World country. 

Nevertheless, I am often looked at askance when I mingle with the parents of JJ’s pre-schoolmates. For one thing, since, as a writer, I work out of the house and am JJ’s primary caregiver, I attend those kinds of events when Yolanda is at work; most of the parents with whom I associate are women easily young enough to be my daughters. I’m fairly used to that atmosphere, of course; Yolanda, being more than twenty years younger than me and from a different part of the world, has necessarily turned our social circle into a pretty eclectic and non-traditional group. 

But as the world becomes more flexible, as people’s life expectancies increase, and as tolerance becomes expected rather than the exception, it becomes clearer to me that the ideal of withholding judgment while respecting the choices, lifestyles, and rights of others still has a long way to go. I am occasionally annoyed by the implicit ageism I run into as the parent of a four-year-old. I must acknowledge with a degree of pride that, in Canada, Yolanda and I have never, not once, been subjected to any detectable racism despite our different skin colours and ethnicities (except for online trolls, and I discount those cowards); we have, however, frequently shocked or at least raised eyebrows with our age difference. 

It therefore is not completely unclear to me just how painful and awkward it must be for gay couples in a society that still thinks there is a reasonable debate to be had as to whether the right to marry the person one loves ought to be denied on the basis of chromosomal distribution. Canada, I’m happy to say has for many years recognised marriage equality and it did so without fanfare or hand-wringing. It was obviously the right thing to do, so it was done. Nobody who is in a male-female marriage can legitimately claim that they were negatively impacted, and the institution of marriage is doing just fine, or as fine as it was doing before the legal recognition of marriage equality. 

I have often wondered just how brutally painful it would have been for me and for Yolanda had there been a legal impediment to our marrying because of our races.

(In Indonesia, where we were married, there do exist laws preventing mixed marriages…specifically, marriages between people of different religions. Like most inconvenient laws in Indonesia, however, these aren’t taken very seriously. The laws are Muslim-inspired laws intended to prevent Muslims from diluting their faith by marrying infidels and possibly bring up children as kafirs. Some Muslim clerics believe that for a woman to convert from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death, so conversion for convenience isn’t very common. I personally know at least five men, however, who legally converted to Islam so that they could legally marry Muslim women. Nobody in the union takes either the conversion or Islam itself seriously, of course – in fact one of those people is an ordained Christian minister – but this way they avoid any hassles.)

But it’s worthwhile remembering that in the US laws against mixed race marriage existed right up to the mid-20th Century. We know now that such laws were a grotesque violation of the civil rights of people who simply wanted their committed relationship to be recognised by society like anyone else’s. It ought to be a source of shame for any thinking American that the Supreme Court of the United States isn’t simply mechanically ruling for equal rights. The anti-marriage equality forces haven’t even raised an argument for their position…they are doing nothing but fighting equality by trying to keep the Supreme Court out of the fray and allow the decision to devolve to the states.

 

Learning hatred

It is also worth noting that some of the most fervent Christians have it on good authority that God disapproves of mixed marriages and quote Deuteronomy 7 to support that bigotry. In today’s pro-bigotry argument, they have Leviticus 28:22 to support their anti-equality agenda. Nevertheless, there is Jesus, who espoused inclusion, tolerance and non-judgmentalism (and according to some historians was clearly gay). Go figure. But since we’re dealing with the Supreme Court here, there is a piece of literature that is literally a higher law than any scripture of any religion: the Constitution of the United States of America. And that is supported by the Founding Fathers’ clear and explicit intention to maintain an impregnable wall to serve as the separation of church and state.

If the Supreme Court passes the buck to the states on this issue it will be a shameful piece of judicial duty shirking. Nevertheless, there seems to be an inclination to do exactly that, solving exactly nothing. There has rarely been a clearer constitutional issue than the question of extending constitutional guarantees to all citizens. It’s in front of SCOTUS right now…let’s see whether this court is still behind the curve of the rest of society.

…enditem…

 

Surgery with a blast

Drone strikes

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA –The recently uncovered internal memos discussing the US administration’s policy governing the use of “drones” are deeply unsettling.

The memos and the white paper they discuss are part of an ongoing internal discussion of the use of unmanned drones which can be targeted to strike specific people from a great distance. The US has been using them for over a decade now to seek out and kill strategic targets in both the war in Afghanistan and in the apparently interminable and far more loosely defined “war on terror”. Under Obama’s watch, drones have become the weapon of choice for prosecuting wars and for enforcing US doctrine wherever they are deployed. So fond of drones is the current administration that ten years ago the US military deployed 50 drones. In 2012, it launched 7,500.

Drones, once they have been programmed, can be flown from afar, either by following its internal programming or robotically by a distant ground-based operator (whose training, apparently, consists of hours of video game practice). Drones have been used extensively to take out individuals without the necessity of sending in an assault force or even a SEAL team. Although they are described as surgical in their operation, they are surgical in the way that a leg can be amputated by strapping a stick of dynamite to the affected limb and detonating it.

(It is the indiscriminate destruction and potential collateral damage that made a human strike necessary to take out Osama Bin Laden. In the political climate that exists in the US during Obama’s presidency, a drone strike followed by an announcement that Bin Laden was dead would have been greeted with howls of derision and a flood of accusations of lying by the administration. Let’s not forget that Obama’s opponents invented “birthism”; they are now claiming that photograph of the President shooting skeet at Camp David is doctored; they have even accused the administration of having “faked” the Sandy Hook massacre. Obama needed a corpse. Blood spattered rubble simply wouldn’t do.

That assassination actually was surgical.)

Drones, in contrast to a genuinely surgical strike, take out a great number of civilians – women, children, non-combatants – as collateral damage; they also destroy property

Collateral damage: “OOPS!”

including businesses and vital services. But drones only kill others and only destroy property outside of the continental US. Sending in a drone strike is much simpler and much less expensive than mounting a human military operation. It is so much less costly and less dangerous (to the aggressor, anyway) that drones are now the go-to weapon among US military leaders. They don’t replace a single weapon; they replace an entire task force.

Compare the human and financial cost of mounting the raid on the Bin Laden compound in Pakistan. Once the target was acquired, the raid entailed: the logistics to transport the Seal Team and its backup to the launch point, the risky flight of the team in its helicopters across a sovereign nation, the equipment, the extraction, the ship on the Red Sea and all its personnel. At the kill zone there was the risk to the SEALS themselves and their transport team. Under other circumstances a single drone strike could have accomplished the mission’s objective, with no risk to American lives and at a fraction of the cost.

From a cost management perspective, drones make sense; both in financial terms and in terms of human lives. Human American lives, anyway. A little tough on those on the business end of a drone strike, but no US Marines are getting slaughtered in a full frontal assault, and even Navy Seal’s lives are not being risked. Only foreign strategic targets (and some unfortunate collateral damage) get hurt.

Except that the memos indicate that it is the considered opinion of the administration that the US has the right to deploy those drones against American citizens. Apparently, using Bush era rationalisation for executive authority, this government believes that it is within its rights, “upon reasonable suspicion” of a person posing an “immanent threat” to US interests, to summarily execute him (and anybody standing nearby) by use of a drone. The memos also disclose that “immanent threat” need not refer to an identified specific action against a specific US interest or target, or at a specific time. What “immanent” means, therefore, is hard to say. Indications are that, like when Humpty Dumpty employs a word, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”.

It is disconcerting that in the name of efficiency and cost cutting, it is apparently part of the doctrine that a US citizen can be accused, tried, convicted, sentenced, and executed as part of a military decision. This has been done, for example, when the military targeted two US citizens, a father and his 16 year old son as terrorists. There is little question that the two had joined Al Qaida and were indeed critical components of a developing terrorist plot. The drone took them out and ended that particular immanent threat.

The concern is the denial of due process. Who among us is comfortable with an opaque system

Unnamed military officers replacing due process?

in which unnamed military officers employing a confidential set of criteria can decide to kill a US citizen? Those of us from other countries have even greater cause for concern because the doctrine also allows these strikes to be made in other, non-belligerent, even allied countries, if someone in the Pentagon determines that the target warrants it.

The White House is still scrambling to answer the inevitable questions and has not yet come up with a coherent explication of the doctrine, its legal justification, or any assurances to those of us who are very concerned that this, in contrast to the near continual Republican accusations, is a genuine case of presidential overreach.

Along with gun control, the deficit, the debt, immigration reform, and electoral reform; the ball is in your court, president Obama.

…enditem…

 

 

The times just might be a changin’ back

The pendulum at the top of its arc?

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Since about the time that Ronald Reagan was swept into office in November 1980, the conservative movement has thrived. The liberal or progressive movement which had reached its peak in the waning years of the 1960s had gradually fizzled through the decadent 1970s and lapsed into a coma as the right wing came roaring back on the coattails of a senile ex-movie actor turned populist president. 

The Reagan Presidency was characterised by a neo-hawkish foreign policy that saw Reagan describe the Soviet Union as “an evil empire” and put an end to détente. The world had changed. Domestically, the youth movement had been routed; perhaps the best metaphor for the scattering of the tribes is the fact that Abby Hoffman, perhaps the highest profile “youth leader” of the 60s was underground working as an environmental activist, while Jerry Rubin, perhaps the second highest profile “youth leader”, was working on Wall Street as an investment adviser.

But as the pendulum continued to swing toward the right, it was in economic policy that conservatism really began to come into its own. Reagan appealed to latent racism with dog-whistle expressions like “welfare queens”, to push his party’s agenda of dismantling the social safety net. Self-interest became a virtue. “Trickle-down” economics was passed off as a progressive move.

For those unfamiliar with trickle-down or “supply-side” economics, it is the ludicrous proposition that if we give enormous tax benefits to the wealthiest citizens, they will spend more and that additional spending would have positive effects on the economy…effects that would trickle down to the middle class, the working poor, and the destitute. Although self-evidently absurd and laughably self-serving, it was part of the new conservatism and the Reagan doctrine.

AND THEN WE TOLD THEM IT WOULD TRICKLE DOWN!!!!

Since that time, conservatism has been the order of the day. “Liberal” became a bad word and a term of derision, where it had once been a proud label. Any political philosophy that supported egalitarianism or the maintenance of a social safety net was treated with scorn; the poor were demonised, the unemployed disdained. Ayn Rand looked down upon the world and smiled with satisfaction; the politics of self-interest and greed were the new religion. Greed was good and the new conservatism’s fictional hero Gordon Gekko was a folk hero who perverted Robin Hood’s mission and advocated stealing from the poor (much easier) and simply keeping it.

Liberals were forced underground; they had to hold secret meetings and develop secret handshakes because they couldn’t survive out in the open. Only a few of us wore our principles on our sleeves and continued to fight for fair play and human decency while the new right kept moving further away from anything resembling compassion or consideration of other human beings. But as the new century dawned, the taste of cruelty and indifference to suffering began to cloy. Greed became a tiresome mantra and the right began to be seen as a polarising force. The United States elected Barack Obama, a centrist black Democrat as President.

Then the backlash hit, exposing the right for what it had become. The Tea Party, a grass roots movement of fanatically devoted ultra conservatives mobilised and pushed their agenda. Their elected representatives were strong-armed into signing a pledge never to vote for anything that could have the effect of raising taxes for any reason under any circumstances ever. And betraying their oath of office, the new congress all signed up. They were anti-immigration, they supported legislation that would bring an end to women’s right to choose, they even sought to deny contraception to working women, they paid thugs to help to suppress the voting rights of minorities, they were virulently anti-gay, pro-gun, anti-government except for where the government would enforce anti-choice laws and clamp down on the teaching of evolution as a science. Their explicitly stated mission was to obstruct any initiatives introduced by the hated black man in the White House and they vowed on his inauguration day to deny him a second term.

This mindless group of uneducated and terminally ignorant proto-fascists overstepped themselves. Behaving with the licence they believed had been given them as the result of decades of conservatism being considered mainstream, they finally nauseated rational conservatives. The left had been nauseated for a long time, and the excesses of the new brown shirts rekindled the fire in their bellies. The liberals came out of the woodwork and brought Obama back for a second term, increased the Democratic majority in the Senate, but thanks to Republican gerrymandering, failed to retake the House.

But the writing is on the wall.

The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party have torn the GOP apart and rendered it a shambolic, in-fighting mob. Many of the freshman

THE RIGHT

Representatives are utterly incompetent as political leaders, have no idea how to operate within a deliberative body, see compromise as a betrayal of principles, and are simply too stupid to understand anything beyond their immediate demands. Those inept ideologues lost the election this year for the GOP. There is no way Obama could have won the election except for the Tea Party. A president in a sluggish economy, with unemployment above seven percent, with massive debt and an enormous deficit, a wildly polarised country, and who inspires deep, bitter hatred in much of the population should simply not have won a second term. But the GOP is so hopelessly FUBAR that Obama decisively trounced them and easily walked into his second term.

The Tea Party, because of the power they wield within the GOP forced its candidates to fight for the furthest right position they could grasp in order to win the primary. By the time the convention was near, the rhetoric from the candidates for the nomination was frightening in its assault on women, minorities, LGBT citizens, youth, and pretty much anybody who isn’t a bigoted white middle-aged or older male. Romney took the nomination simply because he went so far right he couldn’t see center any more. And of course, according to plan, in the actual presidential campaign he tried the Etch-a-sketch maneuver; he turned his campaign upside down, erased everything he had avowed during the primaries and started over as a moderate. Of course, even the American public isn’t quite that stupid, and his duplicity became a punchline.

But the right has shown its hand and the rest are not impressed. They have demonstrated that they are heartless, self-serving, not very bright, and completely willing to lie, steal, and cheat to achieve their hate-driven agenda.

The pendulum is swinging back. We can only hope that this last outrageous example of the cupidity, if not the stupidity, of the extreme right has sickened enough people that conservatism will once again become a dirty word. We can all get behind that pendulum and give it shove.

THE LEFT

The general public is now in favour of marriage equality while the Republican position against it has become more entrenched. The public, by and large, doesn’t agree with the conservative viewpoint that science in schools is bad, prayer good. The nations of North America are evolving and looking for political answers that don’t amount to “Fuck you, Jack; I’m all right!” We are becoming somewhat kinder and gentler. We need to encourage this sea change. Let’s listen to John Lennon sing Imagine again, and let’s all sing along with Bob to The Times They are a’Changin’

We might see, if not a new dawning of the Age of Aquarius, at least some human decency return as a standard to which both sides of the political spectrum aspire.

 

…enditem…

 

 

 

Death merchants

The NRA comes out, guns blazing

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Never mind the fractured syntax; it’s the tortured logic of Wayne Lapierre, Executive Director of the NRA, which is terrifying. In the NRA’s first public statement since 27 people including 20 1st grade children and six staff members of an elementary school were slaughtered by a gunman using a legally acquired assault rifle and several legal semi-automatic handguns, the tone was combative and defiant. The general message was that it was the media’s fault for demonising guns and that if only the teachers – and presumably the children – had been armed with their own weapons, lives would have been saved. Not ensuring that teachers carry weapons, it seems, is irresponsible, and gun control advocates can shoulder the blame for the deaths of the children. And of course, gun control advocates are further to blame for “politicising” the question of gun control legislation, according to the anti-gun control legislation lobbyist.

It wasn’t really a press conference – Lapierre read a prepared statement and took no questions – it was more of a commercial advertisement for the gun lobbyist’s clients, the weapons manufacturers. After suggesting that teachers ought to carry weapons to class, Lapierre dwelt on his frankly bizarre argument that since we see fit to protect the president with the Secret Service and our money in banks with armed security, we ought to ensure that there is armed security in every school. He went on to call on the government (this small government arch-conservative gun lobbyist) to place at least one heavily armed security guard in every school in the country; the clear implication was that the government was to blame for the death of those children. It wasn’t mentioned that there was an armed guard at Columbine whose effectiveness was nil. Nevertheless it wasn’t lost on many that to implement his plan would result in a spike in weapons sales in the United States. Presumably creating a business opportunity for his clients out of the unthinkable tragedy is less cynical than seeking legislation to prevent it from happening again.

Continuing the cynical tone of the advertisement, Lapierre blamed gun violence on everything he could think of except, hardly surprisingly, guns. He blamed video games, he blamed movies, he blamed rap music, and he blamed mental illness. It never came up (as I mentioned, there were no questions permitted) that games, movies, music, and nutjobs are available everywhere in the world, but this level of gun violence is still a uniquely American phenomenon. Somehow the fact that, largely because of his organisation, the United States, with five percent of the world’s population, has fifty percent of the world’s guns just didn’t get a mention. Moreover, the fact that eighty four percent of gun homocides in the entire world are American didn’t get any play. And the NRA sees the solution as arming more Americans.

While the world shakes its head in dismay and the people of the United States

Your Child Here

bury more bullet riddled children, and wonder why they are being told that more guns will solve the problem, the NRA has leapt upon this latest marketing opportunity. The NRA sells death and pimps its product by peddling fear.

The NRA has blood on its hands, but it isn’t satisfied yet; it wants more. It’s time to shut that organisation down.

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Gun control: the ultimate no-brainer

Happiness is a warm gun

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – The United States Supreme Court has affirmed the right of citizens to bear arms. Although proponents of an armed citizenry feel that such a decision brings an end to the discussion of gun control, there are a few things that need to be noted. Firstly, the second amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but is not absolutely clear as to how that expressed right should be implemented. The phrase in question reads as follows:

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. 

Gun control advocates have frequently argued that this should be interpreted to mean that a country should have a standing army to defend the state. The counter-argument was that the framers of the constitution meant that the people themselves should have the right to be armed. The Supreme Court apparently bought the counter-argument despite the “well regulated militia” phrase, so that’s the end of the battle over the constitutionality of the right of a US citizen to have firearms.

Supreme Court: Empty Chamber?

The second point though, is that the Supreme Court doesn’t determine whether that right should exist; it determines whether the right does exist. That determination means that if there existed sufficient public support, and political courage in the country’s leadership, a constitutional amendment could address the epidemic of gun ownership in the most heavily armed civilian population in the history of the world.

But the third, and perhaps most important point is this: no right, constitutionally guaranteed and protected or not, is absolute.

Freedom to bear arms, despite the protestations of the NRA, is no more absolute than any other right protected under the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Free speech certainly isn’t absolute; there are libel and slander restrictions, restrictions on disseminating classified information, making false emergency calls, uttering threats, and dozens of other limitations to where and when the right to free speech may be exercised. The right to life? There are more inmates on death rows in the US than any other country on earth. The right to liberty? The United States has a higher number of its citizens in prison, mostly for non-violent crimes, than any other country on Earth. Virtually every criminal law ever enacted can be construed as a limitation on somebody’s right to the pursuit of happiness, the third in that sacred trinity of guaranteed rights. It follows then, that reasonable limitations could be placed on the right to bear arms, without requiring a constitutional amendment.

The NRA’s rhetoric that the constitution assures them that there ought to be no restrictions, limitations, or even controls exercised over the Second Amendment right to bear arms is nonsense. 

The justification for placing limits on acknowledged rights is invariably the harm to others that can result from the unfettered exercise of those rights. The exercise of free speech, for example, can have a negative impact on the feelings and finances of others. Since finances and feelings are acknowledged to be important, libel, slander, and defamation laws are in place to restrict citizens from exercising their free speech when it can affect them negatively. The right to life, arguably the most fundamental right of all, can even be curtailed if it in some way is seen to benefit society for that right to be taken away from someone. A military draftee can be ordered into combat at the risk of losing that life, if it is deemed to be better for society as a whole. One is said to have forfeited one’s right to life in death penalty states if convicted of a capital crime. All of these justifications for limiting, restricting, or even removing a constitutionally protected right employ some version of the harm principle.

Are ya feeling lucky? Try to say your ABCs!

The paradox is that the most vocal supporters of society’s license to suspend even the right to life tend to be the people who most adamantly oppose any limitations on the right to bear arms. While a conservative hardliner might passionately advocate for the death penalty – the deprivation of a fellow citizen of his right to live – he may very well advocate every bit as passionately for no restrictions whatsoever on his and his neighbours’ right to bear arms. That inconsistent application of the harm principal is at the centre of much of the mayhem that is the undercurrent to life in the most firearm obsessed country in the world.

Having established that placing limitations on legally protected rights is precedented and reasonable within the context of harm reduction, we have to consider just what restrictions on gun acquisition and ownership would be appropriate in the United States of America. To do that, it is perhaps fair to consider the specific claims of the most vocal opponents to gun control and try to come sort of accommodation.

The NRA objects to restrictions on firearms because they claim that would have an unfair impact on hunters or those who keep weapons for self-defence.  Fair enough. Say what you will about hunting, it is legal, and it is traditional in some areas. One can even argue that hunting ought to be done with bows and therefore guns are not necessary. Nevertheless, let us compromise even though every compromise increases the number of deaths by firearm that will occur. Let us accept that hunting rifles and shotguns ought to be permitted. Assault rifles, semiautomatic shotguns, high capacity magazines…none of these are necessary for hunting or self-defence. And surely a background check before one is permitted to buy a lethal weapon isn’t too onerous. A licence that assures the public that one has basic firearms safety training is clearly reasonable. A registry is not even a restriction on firearm ownership, so let’s have a long gun registry where each weapon has its ballistic fingerprint filed in a database available to law enforcement. What legitimate hunter or person intending to use a firearm only in self-defence could object to any of these steps?

Before people get (and I use the phrase advisedly) up in arms over licensing hunters and registering their weapons, let me point out that a firearm has only two purposes: to kill, and to practice to kill. We accept the licensing of cars and drivers, and automobile registration as necessary for public safety, and although cars can be lethal, killing is not their primary, much less their sole purpose for existence.

What remains to be seen is how the NRA is going to defend its radical position in the face of a nation grieving the deaths of twenty 6 and 7 year old children and their devoted caregivers murdered by use of  a semi-automatic assault rifle owned, among other semi-automatic military and police weapons, for no apparent reason by a single mom and proud member of the National Rifle Association. Self defence? Her arsenal didn’t do her much good, apparently.

And let us remember as well that, despite their marketing, the NRA is emphatically not an association formed to represent gun owners or enthusiasts. The NRA is purely and simply a lobbying group financed to represent the interests of the manufacturers of the weapons used to murder innocent civilians, including children in Columbine Colorado, Casa Adobe Arizona, Aurora Colorado, Virginia Tech Virginia, New Town Connecticut….

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Wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine…

Marriage equality

Pagun

 VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – If you’re a Canadian, as I am, it’s fascinating to watch the United States struggling with the question of marriage equality; if you’re a liberal, as I am, it’s bewildering to realise that the US, which sees itself as “the most free country on earth”, still can’t get solidly behind a basic human rights issue that the rest of the developed world sees as essentially a no-brainer. Progress is being made, but marriage equality – the right of people to marry the person they love, regardless of their genders – is still a profoundly contentious issue south of this border.

Family Values? Whose family…The Manson Family?

The US Supreme court has just agreed to hear two cases that deal with the issue, so a decision as to the constitutionality of same sex marriage will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, Canada was the fourth country in the world and the first outside of Europe to enshrine marriage equality in national laws. It was done without fanfare or even much discussion; after all, since the last century, Canadian same sex couples have been legally entitled to all the legal benefits enjoyed by traditionally married couples, so it was only a question of formally acknowledging the relationships as marriage in every other sense. But then Canada and the US have always had different outlooks on human rights.

Canada never had slavery, never had segregation, never even had to pass civil rights legislation to redress an uneven treatment of people of different skin pigmentation. It is odd, but the United States, which prides itself on its own mythology of rugged individualism, is far more inclined to impose the will of the majority on the minority; is far more inclined to ferret out “deviant” behaviour; is far more inclined to demand conformity in lifestyle, religion, and politics than are Canadians. Non-conformity and individuality are far more readily tolerated, even celebrated here in bland, homogeneous Canada than they are in the “freest country on earth”. Canada’s paradigm is that of a mosaic; the United States is a melting pot. Canada, far more than the United States of America, nurtures a live-and-let-live social contract.

This is the threat we must defend against!

It is therefore bemusing to Canadians that so many citizens of the United States become so exercised at the very thought of a gay or lesbian couple having their union described as “marriage”.  It’s even more bewildering when one considers that the desire for gay and lesbian couples to legalise their unions as marriages is not merely an attempt to find acceptance or to proclaim their love publicly – both perfectly reasonable desires – but to become eligible for the approximately one thousand legal benefits from tax breaks to veterans’ compensation available to married partners in the United States. The wish to have their marriages legally recognised is not a frivolous desire nor is it a demand for intangible advantages; moreover it does not impinge in any way on those who are already married, or intend to be married to a partner of a different sex.

Nevertheless, some people actually claim that to allow loving couples of the same sex to enjoy the legal status of “married” is to destroy the institution of marriage. This homophobic faction has attempted to pass federal legislation under the name “Defence of Marriage Act” (DOMA) that would declare same sex marriage unconstitutional and therefore illegal even in that handful of states that have embraced marriage equality. That is one of the cases the Supreme Court will hear. Rationally, one would expect the decision to be favourable to freedom and equality, but given the preponderance of conservative justices, that is by no means a foregone conclusion.

My family

If we look at the state of human rights in America 150 years ago, we are appalled. But it was less than fifty years ago – within my lifetime – that the seminal civil rights battles were fought in the southern US. Rosa Parks, the freedom riders, the march on Selma; all these resulted in the elimination of the Jim Crow laws and, in theory at any rate, cleared up any question that people of all skin intonations have the same rights under the law. Nevertheless, miscegenation (a crime of which I am proudly guilty) was illegal in many states while I was in school, and the laws against mixed race marriages were enforced until relatively recently. The idea of legal segregation or systemic racial discrimination is horrifying today (perhaps more to Canadians than to people from a country that had historically accepted it).

Without doubt, the denial to gay and lesbian couples of the right to marry will be seen as a similar travesty at some future time, and everyone will be similarly congratulating themselves for having eliminated another human rights abuse. The question that remains is: why don’t the homophobes, if they can’t actually get behind this obviously reasonable and just redress of historical abuse, just stop fighting it? Just shut up and save their energy for a serious battle? Although they might score a few small victories, it’s not a war they can ultimately win; theirs is a mean-spirited, bigoted position; and the longer they drag this on, the more they hurt others and diminish the already tarnished respect in which the US is held by the civilised world.

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Public sector job actions: Blackmail or negotiation?

I recently wrote a piece on organised labour that drew a lot of email. A common objection to labour unions in today’s world was that when public service employees strike, the public who relies on those services is impacted; many of my correspondents expressed the view that there should be no right to strike among public service employees, and some, by extension, took it to the point that they believed that their unions therefore should be illegal. The following piece discusses those concerns.

 

As an aside, I would like to ask my readers to communicate their discussion points and comments using the comment forum beneath each article. While I enjoy getting your emails, I can’t always answer each one individually, and it provides for a much broader discussion if we use the public forum designed for that purpose.

 

Collective bargaining, essential services, and strikes

Patrick Guntensperger

 

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – While organised labour is often seen as the antithesis of capitalism, a case can be made for trade unions actually being a logical expression of capitalism among those whose assets are less tangible than say, those of a factory owner. Contrary to strict Marxist doctrine, it is possible to understand the relationship between labour and management as one between equals in an exchange of goods and services for mutual profit.

What needs to be understood is that a worker, or any employee of management, is simply engaged in a transaction that involves the exchange of his asset – his labour – for money, which he can then exchange for goods and services. Looked at in this way, the relationship is a straight expression of simple capitalism. One can even take the analogy further and express it in Marxist terms: in this instance, it is the worker who has control of the means of production – his mind and body – and that access puts him in charge of the production; he chooses when to produce, how much to produce, and whether to cease production.

But a capitalist in today’s economy cannot go it alone; by and large individual capitalists pool their resources and form an artificial entity to act on their behalf: a corporation. The corporation is owned by its shareholders who are insulated from personal liability, but who share proportionally in any profits. This increases the power of their capital, distributes the risk, and provides for a higher rate of return on their investment when they exchange their product in the marketplace.

In a like manner, when a person whose only asset is his labour – that’s most of us – chooses to join others and form an entity that can support his efforts, share risk, and increase his bargaining power in the marketplace, that entity is what we call a union. The union deals with the company and individuals deal with individuals; they make contracts, and they engage in in transactions. The companies and individuals sell the products that are their stock in trade and the unions and individuals sell their labour to manufacture those products or provide those services.

This brings us to the crucial point. When a corporation offers its products for sale and the customer doesn’t like the price asked, the corporation simply holds onto the product and doesn’t do the deal. Of course the company foregoes any profit, but the company has every right to refuse to sell its product for less than it considers it to be worth. And this is exactly what a worker or a union of workers does. A worker may sell his labour, his skills, or his talent; he may withhold them if the price isn’t right.

The corporation has the government to protect its rights; if the customer decides to purchase cheaper foreign products, the government steps in and places import tariffs on the competition. The government however, doesn’t protect unions in this way, however; unions have to protect themselves from unfair underpriced competition by demanding that their picket lines be respected. That’s necessary because all a worker has to negotiate with his labour; withholding that labour is the final resort in any dispute over its value.

With that as the framework, it’s necessary to consider the right of workers to withhold their labour when that labour does more than simply produce a product or provide a service that makes a profit for their employer. The purpose of the ultimate collective labour action – the strike – is to deny the company the benefit of the workers’ labour and cause the corporate profits to suffer; when a public service employee such as a police officer, firefighter, teacher, or mail carrier strikes, goes the argument, it is not the employer or his profits who feels the pressure, it is the public who relies on those services who feels the pinch. This is more particularly the case when the service being interrupted is considered an essential one.

If firefighters or police officers withdraw their services the consequences to the public can be catastrophic; this is unreasonable, it amounts to holding the public hostage to the demands of labour, goes the argument. And there is a great deal of truth in that argument. But before we look at ways to resolve the dilemma, let us consider the position of the worker.

The worker, as we have already established, comes to the table with a single asset with which to negotiate: his labour. If all else fails and the two parties cannot come to terms, the worker has nothing left but to threaten, and finally to withhold his labour. It is the only weapon available in a bitter dispute with a much stronger and perhaps completely recalcitrant employer. Because a striking worker draws no salary, the system of organised job action discourages the use of strikes except as a very last resort.

While the consequences of shutting down a fire department or police service would undeniably be dire, is it really to fair to say, in a democracy, that the public is merely an innocent bystander and that any negative impact on the people is unfair collateral damage? Certainly it’s true that in this case management doesn’t suffer because profits are reduced by withdrawal of labour; but as the public is not only the beneficiary of the services provided, but ultimately the employer as well, surely it is the public who must be persuaded by a job action. Ultimately, in a democratic environment, it is pressure from the public to come to terms that will have an effect on management. There being no profit motive, public demands have to substitute. There is nothing fundamentally unfair about putting pressure on the public to back up public service union demands.

Nevertheless, realistically we must recognise that in our modern society, some services are simply indispensable. While we may be profoundly inconvenienced by an interruption of garbage removal services, or a teachers’ job action, or a stoppage of postal services, people can and probably will die if the police departments are shut down, if emergency medical services are interrupted, or if the fire department doesn’t respond to calls. Since these workers are, by and large, caring and dedicated to their professions, a strike would necessarily only occur in the most extreme circumstances and only once every other attempt to come to terms has failed.

However, the public has a right to be protected; they pay for it and it is an explicit part of the social contract. So somehow the public’s right to protection and the worker’s right to sell his labour for a fair price have to be balanced. And, like in every other compromise, both parties will inevitably feel as though they are giving up the most.

Perhaps the only solution to this impasse is for a system of binding arbitration to be agreed upon and accepted by any new workers as a condition of employment. This simply means that in the event of an insurmountable labour dispute, a party acceptable to both sides is appointed to attempt to negotiate a settlement; and, in the event that such negotiations fail, to arbitrate by imposing a set of conditions that must be adhered to by both sides. (The simplest way to achieve such binding arbitration is, as a last resort, for the arbitrator to ask both sides to present their best offer in writing. The arbitrator must then choose one of the two offered solutions without modification and impose it upon the disputants; this ensures that both sides genuinely present their very best and most reasonable offer.) If any worker is dissatisfied with the arbitrator’s decision, he or she is free to resign, and management is free to replace him or her.

There are of course some problems with this kind of arbitration, not the least of which is the selection of an arbitrator suitable to both parties; this can often be as difficult to negotiate as the terms of a contract. One of the sticking points will be that an arbitrator must on the one hand recognise that the union enters the negotiation having already conceded a very important point – the right to strike – and on the other hand must be neutral. Nevertheless, this can be done and it serves as some level of vigilance over both the safety of the public and the human rights of the workers. If all sides of the triangle bargain in good faith and make every reasonable attempt to empathise with the position of the others, public service labour disputes should be easier to resolve than commercial ones.

In the absence of a profit motive and with all stakeholders realising that the public is being served by the department in question as well as the union workers, and that the public is footing the bill for those services, and that the workers and management are also part of the public, a resolution can be found. The bottom line is that those services must not be terminated, and the public who uses them must pay for them. It’s simply a question of finding the best formula to accomplish this. But denying either side the right to bargain honestly or to require that either side be unfairly hamstrung in negotiations will only result in those vital jobs being sought only by workers of lower calibre; something nobody wants.

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Class Warfare

 

The Farmer-Labor Train
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

From the high Canadian Rockies to the land of Mexico,
 City and the country, wherever you may go,
 Through the wild and windy weather, the sun and sleet and rain,
 Comes a-whistlin' through the country this Farmer-Labor train.
Listen to the jingle and the rumble and the roar,
 She's rollin' through New England to the West Pacific shore.
 It's a long time we've been waitin', now she's been whistlin' 'round the bend,
 Roll on into Congress on that Farmer-Labor train.
There's lumberjacks and teamsters and sailors from the sea,
 There's farmin' boys from Texas and the hills of Tennessee,
 There's miners from Kentucky, there's fishermen from Maine;
 Every worker in the country rides that Farmer-Labor train.
There's warehouse boys and truckers and guys that skin the cats,
 Men that run the steel mills, the furnace and the blast,
 Through the smoky factory cities, o'er the hot and dusty plains,
 And the cushions they are crowded, on this Farmer-Labor train.
Listen to the jingle and the rumble and the roar,
 She's rollin' through New England to the West Pacific shore.
 It's a long time we've been waitin', now she's been whistlin' 'round the bend,
 Ride on on into Congress on that Farmer-Labor train.
There's folks of every color and they're ridin' side by side
 Through the swamps of Louisiana and across the Great Divide,
 From the wheat fields and the orchards and the lowing cattle range,

 And they're rolling onto victory on this Farmer-Labor train.
This train pulled into Washington a bright and happy day,
 When she steamed into the station you could hear the people say:
 "There's that Farmer-Labor Special, she's full of union men
 Headin' onto White House on the Farmer-Labor train."

Union busting

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA

 It’s disturbing to see the growing tendency of big business and well-off individuals to vilify unions. The rhetorical denigration of trade unions is accompanied by a concerted effort to prevent their inception and even to undermine and destroy

Woody Guthrie

existing ones. Given the growing disparity between the rich and poor in North America and the political impetus on the part of the right wing to increase that gulf, the attempts to subvert collective bargaining rights are deeply worrying. There has been a deliberate and gradual movement away from societal support for organised labour; big business’s constant vilification and repeated empty accusations that union demands are responsible for the financial crisis have resulted in a Dickensian  hostility to any attempts to protect the worker from exploitation.

The truth is that businesses have never been more profitable than they are now, never been subject to lower taxes, and their upper management has never been better compensated, with their incomes having increased at a pace ten times that of labour. Twenty years ago, an American corporate CEO took home forty times the salary of his average employee; today that same CEO takes home four hundred times the salary of the average worker in his company. Nevertheless, unreasonable union demands are frequently cited as the cause of the current economic situation. That current economic situation, despite unprecedented corporate profitability and billions of dollars in government subsidies to the most profitable corporations on the planet, is described as anti-business – with a straight face. Big oil companies, which are not just the most profitable corporations on earth, but are the most profitable corporations in human history, enjoy billions of dollars in grants and subsidies while their obscenely wealthy CEOs accuse their out of work customers as “takers” and “parasites” if they stoop to accepting emergency unemployment insurance.

Businesses are frantically trying to find ways of outsourcing jobs to avoid paying local workers on the one hand while referring to themselves as “the job creators” on the other hand. Anyone with even a smattering of understanding of economics or even a bit of common sense knows that the most powerful driver of any economy is a middle class with more money to spend; nevertheless the top 1% demand more and more concessions, for which the burden of payment must be borne by the middle class.

The wealthy rail against any suggestion that they pay any more in taxes, even rejecting the notion that they pay taxes at the

Taxes? We don’t need no stinkin’ taxes!

same rates that were in effect during the periods when their country was at its economic peak; meanwhile they demand cuts to the benefits that save the lives of poor and middle class citizens who pay higher marginal tax rates than they do. They demand more for themselves and they demand that the rest of us get less, and they refer to any attempts to redress this absurdity as “class warfare”. In that, for once they are right; this is a war of the rich against the poor – one that they are waging and have been winning.

While all this is going on, a growing number of business owners and CEOs have apparently decided that their authority over workers extends to controlling their vote. Plant workers and blue collar employees of several corporations across the US have given the media copies of memos they have received from their bosses telling them that it would be in their best interests to vote Republican; this is backed up by threats of layoffs or pay and benefit cuts if a Democrat is elected.

In the wake of the Obama re-election, Papa John’s Pizza and Denny’s Restaurants have publicly announced that they will be laying off employees and charging “an Obamacare surcharge” on their products and recommend that if their customers are not happy with the five percent increase in price, they ought to take it out of any gratuity they might have intended to give to the servers. Now that’s class warfare.

The six members of the Walton family, the inheritors of the WalMart stores, are collectively worth more than the bottom 30% of US families combined; they have a net worth greater than  that of most countries on Earth.

Skiing Walton Mountain

Nevertheless, there isn’t a corporation that is more fervently anti-union anywhere, having shut down stores and bankrupted entire towns upon the rumour of a union being discussed during coffee breaks. A full time WalMart employee with five years seniority with a family to support can still be below the poverty line; but this is rare, because it is a WalMart policy only to hire part-time employees in order to avoid minimum wage regulations which in many jurisdictions only apply to full time employees. Hours are being cut, benefits are non-existent, and wages have actually gone down while employees are being asked to give up more and more in a call for austerity in tough times; meanwhile executive wages and bonuses increase every year.

People tend to forget that the annual vacations and weekends and eight hour workdays that everyone takes for granted wouldn’t exist as part of our labour landscape without unions. It was the right to bargain collectively that allowed those whose product for sale is their labour to charge a reasonable price. It was the exercise of that right that created the middle class; without the labour movement we would still have a society comprised of those who own the means of production and those who labour to maintain the ruling class’s wealth. And that is precisely why the right wing and big business and Republicans loath unions with such profound bitterness.

The anti-union activists in business and industry bemoan the existence of a middle class; the good old days they pine for are the days of pre-industrial Europe where there was the elite (as they see themselves) and the working class (that would be us). They claim to want to return to a mythical 1950’s Camelot, but their efforts are to restore a two class society not of the last century but of the 17 and 1800s that actually did exist. It was period of desperate poverty, ill health, and squalor; child labour and 14 hour workdays were the order of the day.

As WalMart employees strike this week, those of us who believe in a person’s right to stand with his coworkers and bargain for a fair price for the labour they sell will stand in solidarity with them. Some of us recognise that it was the emergence of a middle class that made western society the powerful proponent of human dignity and level playing field that it was and could be again. We recognise that the union busting that has been all too common in recent years is a tremendously retrogressive move and if supported, even tolerated, by society as a whole can undermine the very foundations of our economy.

It is time that we started to recognise that the rhetoric of the right in which people are divided into “makers” and “takers” has it backwards; the makers are those who actually do things; the takers are those who live in sybaritic luxury and milk those who actually labour until there is nothing left.

 

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American Exceptionalism

War criminals among us

Patrick Guntensperger

PARKSVILLE, CANADA – Perhaps my inclination to be hypercritical of US politics and popular culture obscures the fact that I have a great deal of respect for the people of the United States of America. I criticise the US because I respect the people and their ability to absorb criticism and in the hope that the criticism will be given due consideration by the open-minded segment of the population that reads my analysis. It is in that spirit that I offer the following commentary on a recent US president. 

If George W. Bush had been the head of state of any other country but the United States of America, I believe that there would

Logo of the International Criminal Court

have been a strong movement, possibly even spearheaded by the US, to have him indicted and tried in the World Court as a war criminal, and further, I contend that he probably would have been convicted.

Specifically, I believe that he is guilty of what is described in The Nuremberg Principles and the United Nations Charter as “Crimes against Peace”. That specific charge is defined in those documents as:

   the “planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of wars of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing”.

 There is little argument that Bush manufactured the casus belli his administration used to justify the bombing, invasion, conquering, and occupation of a sovereign country, Iraq, and the apprehension, incarceration, and execution of that country’s head of state. Moreover there is little argument that he and his administration lied deliberately and lied repeatedly to the American people and to allies of the United States in an effort to create an international coalition to aid in a war of aggression and the overthrow of a sovereign regime.

The putative justification for the war prosecuted by the US and its co-conspirator nations against Iraq was that the country had or would shortly have weapons of mass destruction, and that, combined with Iraq’s bellicosity and Saddam Hussein’s intransigence, was sufficient to justify a pre-emptive strike. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke ominously of “mushroom clouds” being the smoking gun if the attack wasn’t launched, and one official after another spoke of “incontrovertible proof” and “absolutely unambiguous intelligence” assuring President Bush that the WMD, including biological agents and nuclear weapons, were being manufactured and stockpiled.

Of course that simply wasn’t true. Nevertheless the United States, with the co-operation of British prime Minister Tony Blair, and a “coalition of the willing” comprised of 49 countries including three (the UK, Australia, and Poland) who provided

One convicted war criminal

troops, launched a first strike against Iraq and ultimately occupied the country and executed Saddam.

It’s important that, as we consider whether Bush’s actions rise to the level of war crimes, we don’t follow the red herring of Saddam’s venality. Let us stipulate at the outset that Saddam was a miserable prick and a thoroughly detestable bastard; he had no business running a country, he was a brute and a vicious despot who thoroughly deserved the enmity and hatred of civilised people everywhere. Whether he deserved the death penalty is a matter for another discussion. The question isn’t about Saddam’s behaviour; it is about Bush’s actions. And there unquestionably exists a prima facie case that George W. Bush, as commander in chief of the armed forces and head of state of the United States committed acts that are specifically proscribed as crimes against peace by the world community.

And lest we forget that crimes against peace are a serious matter, let us remind ourselves that those crimes, specifically waging an unprovoked war of aggression, were among those for which the Nazis were tried at Nuremberg after WW II. Albert Speer spent 20 years in Spandau prison when convicted of those crimes, with the court remarking that leniency was shown in his case because of the evident remorse he showed – something entirely absent in Bush’s post war behaviour. Many of Speer’s compatriots, notably those who, like Bush, persisted in maintaining that they were justified in their behaviour, were executed.

Every rational post-game analysis of the genesis of the Iraq invasion reveals that there was, in fact, no credible evidence of WMDs in Iraq prior to or after the capture and execution of the Iraqi head of state. What Bush and his surrogates described as incontrovertible evidence of WMDs wasn’t even thought to be truly suggestive…even by the CIA who gathered and analysed the intelligence and briefed the president and the Joint Chiefs. And of course, it turned out that there were no WMDs or even evidence of any attempt to manufacture or acquire them. The pathetically unsupported conviction that they nevertheless existed is one more example of the inclination of America’s right wing to self-delusion; to living in a bubble and not letting facts or even common sense intrude into their self-created world view.

Not only was there no evidence to support the empty claims used to justify the war of aggression, but Bush knew it and lied to the world about it. But Bush and Cheney wanted it to be true, Bush because he wanted to be a warrior president and Cheney because his company, Haliburton, made untold millions as war contractors, so they told themselves and us it was true perhaps even until they actually believed it. So they killed over 100,000 (according to Wikileaks) men women and children, then started looking for the weapons of mass destruction that had never existed. When it became clear that they were trying to bring home a chimera, the Bush administration never admitted their culpability and Bush never even offered a “my bad!”

The Republicans are of course somewhat diffident when it comes to acknowledging Dubya as one of their own; he was conspicuous in his absence from the recent GOP convention, and the average Republican shuffles his feet and changes the subject when his name is brought up. But let’s be clear that the reason for their tacit disavowal of their erstwhile president has nothing whatever to do with his war crimes…it’s all about how his economic policies torpedoed the US economy; that’s really embarrassing and hard to explain. War crimes apparently not so much.

Nevertheless the rest of the world, even this commentator – unlike the RNC – is not ensconced in a delusional self-congratulatory bubble. I am fully aware that there will never be any serious attempt to prosecute Bush, Cheney, their sycophants like Blair, and other equally culpable wagers of wars of aggression on charges that, if proven, would see world leaders and heads of smaller, weaker states tried, imprisoned, and possibly even executed.

Just a few of Bush’s victims

That war was hypocritically launched and prosecuted by the United States of America and, other than the loss of many young American men and women in uniform, there will never be any repercussions or accountability. Any other country would have had some ‘splainin’ to do. Bush, though, has retired to a life of ease and prosperity, insufficiently intelligent or burdened by morals to suffer any pangs of conscience for the deaths he caused in his vanity war. He is, after all, an elder statesman…an American one.

Perhaps this is the true nature of the much vaunted “American exceptionalism”.

IMPUNITY

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