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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

Can ANYTHING Disqualify Trump?

About a week ago I deliberately stopped writing columns that were direct responses to the madness of the Donald Trump presidency and looked at a few other topics of interest to me and my readers. Then, I took a few days off to recharge and cosset my slowly returning health a little bit. Then this little story popped up and refused to go away, thanks to  the Tangerine Titan’s refusal to acknowledge having made profoundly racist remarks about a federal judge who is trying a case against him and his pretend “university”. (I use the “scare” quotes here advisedly; Trump calls it a university; the city of New York doesn’t; and the law calls it a fraud.) So it looks like we’re back at it whether I like it or not.

Pacino pull quote

 

Avoid 5th Avenue If Trump is Nearby

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) By now pretty much everyone is aware of the bare bones of the uproar. Trump University and its staff and owners aretrump u being sued by former clients in a series of class action suits, for fraudulently misrepresenting the school and what it offered. According to the plaintiffs, and the documents that have already been released, as well as the testimony taken at depositions, the defendants ran a classic bait-and-switch scam deliberately set up to fleece its victims with a particular focus on the most vulnerable.

The plaintiffs claim that little was taught regarding the promised real estate wisdom, Trump’s hand-picked faculty consisted of totally unqualified people of whom Trump couldn’t name a single one, their promised personal interaction with Trump consisted of their being photomexicanlogoweb-1graphed next to a cardboard cut out of the defendant at their graduation, the campus was non-existent, and classes were merely seminars held in large function rooms of hotels. Moreover, they allege, the introductory classes were merely exercises in flogging ever more expensive seminars, some costing over $35,000.00

With that as a backdrop, the latest outrage exploded when Trump brought the case up at a rally and then suggested that the federal judge trying the case, Gonzalo Curiel, was biased and had been expressing his hatred of Donald Trump by handing down rulings with which the plaintiff disagrees. Not content to let that bit of character assassination stand on its own, Trump went on to point out that he and his people “believed” that Curiel, an American citizen born in Indiana, but of Latino heritage, was Mexican (which, according to Trump, was fine, it was great; he’s going to do very well with the Mexicans).

But this was no Trumpian slip of overheated hyperbolic rhetoric; for one thing, Trump actually had that nonsense in a prepared set of notes he made his best effort to read. Moreover, he has doubled, tripled, and quadrupled down on that inane accusation since then by pointing out what, to him, is the obvious. Curiel: Mexican. Trump: Building a wall, okay? Ergo, conflict of interest. What are you, a loser? Try to keep up, will you?

But the best part was when he was asked point blank if he didn’t believe that saying that Curiel was incapable of doing his job, specifically because of his race, wasn’t the very definition of racism, he looked baffled and said no, he didn’t believe so. After having delivered that response, an answer that was almost as preposterous as his coiffure, he must have run home and looked up the definition of “racism” and then alerted his damage control thugs. Since then, the lunatic fringe, right wing media has been digging into Curiel’s life in an ex post facto exercise in desperately attempting to uncover some protective covering for Trump’s outspoken bigotry. Stories of Curiel’s association with a Latino lawyer’s association have been trotted out along with every association that association has ever had. Smoking guns are apparently everywhere. It seems now, in the Trump alternate universe, that Justice Curiel is, in fact, the racist and Trump his victim. By the time the Trump minions have done their job, Gonzalo Curiel will have been pilloried as a rabid Mexican terrorist, regardless of any absence of supporting evidence. He will be buried in an avalanche of lies and invective; he will have become an international celebrity, without having made a public appearance or having uttered a word outside of the requirements of his judicial responsibilities.

Although he is a distinguished judge who has been praised for his courage as a public prosecutor when he judicial restraintproceeded against Mexican drug cartels in the face of very credible death threats, having encountered Donald Trump, he will now have his life shaken up. He is already a more controversial jurist than any since Lance Ito. Because Curiel is an ethical man and has always lived by a strict code, he has remained, thus far, silent on the controversy; he is, after all, a sitting judge trying a case, the defendant of which is running for president of the United States. But it would be both undignified and unethical to respond to a defendant’s out-of-court statements, regardless of who the defendant was. Dignity and ethics. Trump’s people should run out and get him definitions of those words too while they’re trying to understand the definition of racism.

The campaign’s strategy at this point seems to be that, if Trump can start a social media war with the judge or his supporters, the lack of impartiality he will have created will disqualify Curiel; Trump appears to be creating a situation in which his accusations become true, not on their merit, but because he made them in the first place. See, how can he be impartial when I have ruined his career and forced him to take his kids out of school because of fear of my supporters?

klan court

If he had a choice, which would Trump choose to try his case?

Therefore, Trump, being Trump, took it even further into the repugnant stew of half-thought-out hatreds that serve him for rationality. In response to a direct question, he agreed that probably a Muslim judge would be equally disqualified from trying a Trump case. So presumably would be a woman, a black judge, or a Chinese judge; as Stephen Colbert pointed out, it seems that the judicial robes of the only qualified people to judge Trump would be white and come with a matching hood.

It is an open question as to whether Trump has any core beliefs; the evidence is that, outside of his own greatness, he doesn’t. Trump, of course, is a textbook narcissist. Narcissistic personality disorder can be a very dangerous mental aberration in a person with great power, and Trump has demonstrated time and again that he is inclined to abuse the tortureconsiderable power he already wields as a corporate leader. He has demonstrated his thin skin countless times by his tendency to lash out viciously as those who ask him legitimate questions or decline to give him a free pass on his more outrageous lies. He has expressed his willingness to see a virtually unlimited proliferation of nuclear weapons to everyone from the Koreans to Lilliputians. He has promised to expand the already bloated American military. He has frequently mentioned his approval of torture and the murder of innocent family members of those he suspects of terroristic leanings.

So, please, any Trump supporter launch subwho reads this. Please tell me what you think of a world in which a demonstrably mentally unstable, racist, thin skinned plutocrat, who loves violence and brutality but hates non-white, non-Americans, and is the commander in chief of the most powerful and heavily armed force in history, has the power to destroy the world in a fit of pique? This is the world you advocate. What on earth is wrong with you? And especially after this week in which Trump has worked very hard to prove that he is not fit for public office, much less the highest one, please…just what could Trump do that would make you reconsider your support? He has already ridiculed you by telling us that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and you’d still be stupid enough to vote for him. Does he have to prove that to you? Or does he have to launch the missiles to convince you that he actually, literally, means the idiotic, truculent, vicious things he says?

With Donald Trump’s tiny little finger on the nuclear switch, what could possibly go wrong?

H Bomb

ENDITEM…

 

A War Protest

Time for an armistice in the war on drugs

Pagun

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) The “War on Drugs” was declared by Richard Nixon in 1971 although, like Nixon’s other favourite war, Vietnam, it had actually been going on for a number of years prior to the administration’s owning up to it. Anybody who was around during the Sixties can attest that recreational drug use was both rampant and a top priority for law enforcement years before Nixon named drug abuse “public enemy number one”, in an address to Congress on June 17. Although Nixon proposed that Congress address issues of “prevention of new addicts, and the rehabilitation of those who are addicted”, it was the phrase “War on Drugs” (and the attendant empowerment of the law enforcement community to lock and load and target the youth of the era) that really resonated. The groups Nixon hated, and nixon-war-on-drugs-quoteespecially the youth of his time were the real targets of his ginned-up, phony crusade; drugs were Nixon’s equivalent of Bush’s weapons of mass destruction – a chimera conjured up to justify a bullshit war.

Since that war has been raging for close to half a century now with no victories scored, and it having cost Americans billions upon billions of dollars to prosecute and hundreds of billions more to try, convict, and incarcerate drug users with no discernable effect on drug use, it is clearly time to re-evaluate the whole business.

It’s worth noting that weed has been around since prehistoric times and has been used as a marijuana plant_1sedative, as an herb, for pain management, and for recreational purposes for most of human history; it wasn’t until the 20th Century that it became illegal. Cocaine, opium, and heroin were easily obtainable until the 20th Century as well. The Bayer company sold diamorphine over the counter and by mail order under its trade name, “Heroin”, well into the 1920s. During the previous century, the use of laudanum was widespread as a tonic, and as a tranquiliser and sleep aid. Laudanum, of course, is a heroin jartincture of opium containing all of the opiate alkaloids including morphine and codeine. Queen Victoria used to take a serious draught every night before bed. Opium smoking had been declared illegal in the 1870s in a number of US jurisdictions, but that had nothing to do with opium itself; the laws were aimed at the Chines population, as there was some concern that white women were being seduced by the evil Chinese in their opium dens. Let us not forget either that at the beginning of the 60’s, LSD was perfectly legal; Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters on the West Coast and Timothy Leary on the East both started their infatuations with acid while it was not yet against the law.

Much of the war on drugs is a descendant of the generational warfare that characterised the 60’s. The younger generation was vocally in favour of exploring the frontiers of consciousness and the older generation was so offended and so afraid of what was happening to their society that they zeroed in on drugs as the most visible and easy to demonise target of opportunity. Kids whose grandmothers had war profiteersbaked cookies with weed or had a sip of their daily “tonic” were being thrown in jail for lengthy sentences for taking a toke or two. Since then, the effort, the money, and the human resources squandered on something that doesn’t work and most certainly causes far more damage than the non-problem of people’s access to psychotropics ever did has clearly demonstrated a need simply to stop. That’s right; just say no to the pointless and expensive waste of our society’s resources.

It’s time we simply legalise – not decriminalise – all psychoactive chemicals (coke, heroin, MDA, MDMA, etc.) and natural (mushrooms, weed, peyote, morning glories etc.) products. Make it so that if I decide I’d like to indulge in a few bumps of coke this weekend, I could just drop by my pharmacy and buy a couple of grams of high quality, unadulterated blow. If I’m going clubbing, maybe pick up a couple of hits of Ecstasy. Or heroin. Or LSD. Of course everybody starts freaking out and raising the spectre of casual users overdosing and littering the streets with their drug-soaked corpses. Why do we think that’s prescriptionlikely? Like any other drugs dispensed by a pharmacist, these would come with usage and dosage instructions and a consultation with the pharmacist if there is anything unclear about how to use the drug.

Oh, but look at all the new drug addicts we’d have…how terrible that would be! Well, there are a number of problems with that objection. Ask anyone who strongly believes in prohibition backed up by legal sanctions whether he or she would be likely to start using addictive psychotropic drugs if they were suddenly made legal. Few will admit that the legal status of the drug is not the criterion upon which their abstinence is predicated. Oh, I’d never start using. It’s other people who would. How patronising is that? And in any case, if someone were to decide to experiment simply because it now is legal, what of it? Only a tiny percentage of even regular users of psychotropics actually become addicted. They can be and generally are used responsibly. It is the illegality of the drugs that creates the problems. From the spread of disease to poisoning by adulterated street drugs, it is the fact that drugs cannot be legally purchased for even responsible recreational use.

Let’s take heroin, the most demonised drug of all. Side effects directly attributed to the use of diamorphine are simply OIC (opioid induced constipation) and potential physical dependency. That’s it. And a weekend user simply cannot become addicted to heroin. It would take daily use for weeks before dependency became an issue. One almost has to set out to become a junkie. And as long as one can continue to pay for one’s heroin, even addiction isn’t necessarily a big problem; there are now some very effective treatments for OIC.

The harm that results from drug use is virtually completely the result of the illegality of the drugs as opposed to the drugs themselves. Overdoses are usually the result of unpredictable quality and potency of street drugs. Drug interactions cause some deaths; a problem that could be addressed simply by the warnings and explanations given by pharmacists at the point of sale. Look at any real problem associated with drug use and then ask whether the problem would exist if the drug was legal and readily available.

And of course the notion of abandoning our prejudices and preconceptions regarding drugs has been shown to work in countries that have adopted harm reduction measures such as creating safe injection sites and medical supervision of drug use. Heroin addiction has gone down significantly in Portugal after instituting progressive measures like that. Ditto for Switzerland. Denmark is going down that road too, with very gratifying results. Closer to home, look how successful the part-measure of legalising cannabis has been in those jurisdictions that took that tentative step. Drug related thefts and violence practically eliminated and enormous revenue streams created for citizens and the government.

value of war on drugsIf we were to take the necessary steps to create a more compassionate and enlightened drug policy, the savings in financial as well as human terms would be immediate. If we were then to take the next logical step and pardon and release all non-violent drug offenders, we would take a massive step to emptying our overcrowded prisons; perhaps the United States could move down from the top of the list of countries with the most prisoners. For absolutely certain, we could benefit from the recovery of the tens of billions of dollars currently allocated to fighting an absurd and useless war on drugs.

Surely we don’t need another fifty years to open our minds to the reality that a radical change of direction is necessary. It’s time for that paradigm shift and every day that we delay just results in more and more broken lives.

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…

 

 

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.

…enditem…

 

Come over from the dark side…

Sanity begins to dawn

Pagun

VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – It’s truly exhilarating to see the groundswell movement among the vast silent majority of Americans, finally demanding that something be done about the proliferation of guns in the United States. Confronted with this grassroots demand in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, President Obama is, as I write this, announcing the specifics of his intention finally to take “meaningful action” to prevent future slaughters. He has just promised to use all the power of the office of the president to bring common sense to the nearly completely unfettered gun ownership that prevails in the country.

Today there will be another 34 people killed by firearms in the United States; that is, unless another maniac brings a perfectly legally acquired arsenal of semi-automatic weapons to a school or mall or movie theatre and skews that statistic upwards. Another 30 or more will die tomorrow, and again the day after that. Meanwhile The NRA remains eerily silent and declines to comment until “all the facts are in”. But the chat rooms and news comment forums resound with the anguish of everyday people who are bewildered and frightened by what’s happening on the streets and in their children’s schools. The feeling is one of helplessness in the face of a society for whom firearm ownership is a more fundamental right than their children’s right to live.

From my cold, dead hands! Batshit crazy.

And make no mistake about it; that sentiment, that gun ownership is sacred, is expressed in those words dozens of times each minute by others in the same online forums. There is a vocal and passionate segment of American society that sees any rule, any regulation, any control or limitation on the country’s vast civilian-held arsenal to be a dangerous infringement on their liberty. These are the members of a dangerous fringe that represent themselves as the majority. They speak as though they believe that, with exception of a few panty-waist commie fags, everyone in the country recognises that the population of the United States is under the heel of a dictatorial, authoritarian, and illegitimate government bent on stripping each American of every last freedom. In their shared delusion, these deeply disturbed gun rights advocates are freedom-fighters and defenders of liberty; they are unable to see that they really are nothing more than barely literate, ignorant, heavily armed paranoiacs.

In the last few days I have seen people seriously advocating requiring grade school teachers to carry concealed firearms. I have, in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six of their teachers, heard people seriously suggesting that what is needed is easier accessibility to handguns – so people can defend themselves should they find themselves in a similar situation. Today an eleven year-old was sent home for carrying a loaded Glock 9.mm semi-automatic in his waistband; his father had insisted he bring it to school, “just in case”. Listen to the rhetoric:  If you disarm the criminals, only criminals will have guns. Hitler passed anti-gun laws to take over the country…Obama has an identical agenda. If the Sandy Hook principal had her own M16, she could have stopped the slaughter. You’ll get my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hand. The batshit crazies have had sane people treating them as though they were rational for far too long. The voices of sanity are starting to make themselves heard.

On the rational side of the ledger some proposed controls are being offered. What is striking about them is that they aren’t in place now; one can’t help but be astonished that they haven’t been stringently applied for years. It is hard to imagine, for example, that although everyone who drives needs a licence that ensures that the holder has a basic level of proficiency, none is needed to own and use a weapon of war. It seems unthinkable that every car must be licensed, insured, and registered, and must be reported if stolen, but a weapon that has only one purpose – to kill – carries no such requirements. Safety regulations are everywhere…construction sites, swimming pools, shopping malls, public buildings, vehicles, playgrounds… everywhere. But there are no laws that require firearms to be secured. While professionally trained firearms users – police officers, military personnel, etc. – make a habit of storing ammunition and weapons separately, even keeping the firing pins in a third secure storage area, and are advocates of trigger locks when transporting weapons, the great majority of amateurs keep their weapons in the house loaded and ready to kill.

Nevertheless the NRA and hard-line gun rights activists decry as an infringement on their second amendment rights any suggestion that these appalling circumstances ought to be examined. Of course, the argument that the right to bear arms is the only civil right in the USA that should have no control, no limitation, no parameters whatsoever, is nonsense; it is an obdurate negotiating position and it is reasonable to disregard that view and to consider exactly what safeguards are appropriate.

If one looks at the current situation in the United States dispassionately, there are a few steps that could be taken immediately and it would be only common sense to take them. Many of these proposals don’t, in fact, impinge on anyone’s second amendment rights, so no constitutional amendment would be required; some of these proposals could probably even be implemented administratively, not even requiring political bipartisan approval.

Among the first steps would be the creation of a national gun registry. It would be a big task, to be sure, given the number of firearms in the country, but not impossible, and one that would employ thousands of people. It would simply be a matter of a wide public campaign, giving every owner of a firearm in the country one year to bring any weapons to a local firearm registry office and have its serial number entered into a national database and test fired to take a ballistic fingerprint. This, combined with a requirement that all lost or stolen firearms be reported to the police, and zero tolerance for possession of an unregistered firearm, would result in an immediate increase in the apprehension of those who commit gun related crimes. It would give law enforcement agencies a place to start their investigation in virtually every instance of gun crime. It would also act as a deterrent, in many instances, to those who think about using a firearm that would otherwise be untraceable.

A universal background check on all those who want to buy firearms seems like an obvious safeguard. Surely the most adamant gun rights activist wouldn’t want people with dangerous mental illnesses, convicted armed robbers, or those on the terrorist watch list to be permitted to purchase firearms legally. As it is, any of those categories of people can go to a gun show and buy any weapon they see there with no questions asked; it is easier and there are fewer limitations to firearms purchases than to boarding an airline.

The Democrats are proposing an obvious bill: one that bans magazines that hold more than ten rounds. The ban on assault rifles that expired in 2004 is being rewritten and strengthened and reintroduced. Internet weapons sales are going to be looked into. Perhaps the political will actually exists, in the wake of the most recent in a long series of mass shootings, to make some reasonable laws controlling weapon access.

A comprehensive examination of the laws across the country is another obvious step in the direction of injecting some reason into the Wild West mentality that pervades the United States when it comes to guns. Federal statutes, consistently enforced across the country would go a long way to achieving some rudimentary sanity. The examination could address some truly bizarre anomalies such as the laws in Florida and Iowa which prevent a convicted felon from voting or owning a gun; the ban on voting is for life, but a felon is eligible to purchase a firearm after five years. Each state has its own gun laws, yet crossing a state line intending to break one of their laws is a federal offense. It’s a federal offense to transport a weapon across state lines for illegal purposes, yet it’s perfectly legal to order a weapon on the Internet or ship one by post or UPS. Given the ease of travel in the United States and the proliferation of weapons, it would make sense to enact a federal firearms statute that overrides any state laws; the infrastructure for enforcement already exists in the form of federal law enforcement agencies whose jobs would be greatly simplified with consistency in laws across the country.

Now is the time to move firmly in the direction of bringing rationality to the chaotic legal and enforcement structure that permeates the insidious gun culture that defines the USA. The political will exists, the public outrage still burns hot, but it won’t for long…the people of the US have a notoriously short memory when it comes to violent death, perhaps even the violent death of first grade students. Perhaps we should keep reminding ourselves that if the Sandy Hook massacre had been the act of a Muslim terrorist, nothing whatsoever would prevent even the institution of the most draconian measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

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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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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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