How to Buy Power and Influence

DDOnce, you bought elected officials. Today, you buy the election. How? With ads! Short, distorted, repetitive, intense, saturated, without facts. Who pays? Outside groups. An example: since 2006, the Republican State Leadership Committee has gone from spending $20 million on GOP candidates to a projected $37 million by next week, mainly aimed at state legislatures and judges. In a break with precedent (and mainstream media coverage!), the new era of free speech has focused attacks on elected judges, especially on state Supreme Courts. In North Carolina, one televised ad accused a sitting judge of “siding with child predators.”

And win or lose, these ads are working. A new report  says state judges are considering these ads when they issue rulings in court. The net effect of these ads is slowly, invisibly changing justice, even on constitutional questions.

According to the American Constitution Society (ACS):

Outside interest groups, often with high-stakes economic interests or political causes before the courts, now routinely pour millions of dollars into state supreme court elections. These powerful interests understand the important role that state supreme courts play in American government, and seek to elect justices who will rule as they prefer on priority issues such as environmental and consumer protections, marriage equality, reproductive choice and voting rights. Although their economic and political priorities are not necessarily criminal justice policy, these sophisticated groups understand that “soft on crime” attack ads are often the best means of removing from office justices they oppose.

The Society issued a report, Skewed Justice: Citizens United, Television Advertising, and State Supreme Court Justices’ Decisions in Criminal Cases, that compiled data from more than 3,000 criminal appeals decided in state supreme courts in 32 states from 2008 to 2013.

It found:

  1. The more TV ads aired during state Supreme Court judicial elections in a state, the less likely justices are to vote in favor of criminal defendants. In a state with 10,000 ads, a doubling of airings is associated on average with an 8 percent increase in justices’ voting against a criminal defendant’s appeal.
  2. Justices in states whose bans on corporate and union spending on elections were struck down by Citizens United were less likely to vote in favor of criminal defendants than they were before the decision. In these states, the removal of those prohibitions after Citizens United is associated with, on average, a 7 percent decrease in justices’ voting in favor of criminal defendants.

ThinkProgress notes: “Outside spenders pay for ads with particularly vicious content” even as candidates they support distance themselves; one in Ohio dissembling its support by claiming an ad against his opponent as not an “appropriate approach to judicial campaigning.”

A Mother Jones article cites these phrases from ads: “Terrorist sympathizer. Friend to criminals. Pedophile supporter.” A “free a terrorist” ad ran in Michigan 416 times!

Heavy on emotion, short on facts, completely without context or specifics, watch this example from Michigan:

This kind of ad, televised, makes electoral debate a tough sell and appeals to the lowest forms of information, anger and fear—at the sacrifice of the freedom the soldier died for.

In states with elections for local court seats, money is also wielding a bigger presence on justice.

But the changes in political funding created by the Citizens United decision, along with the internet, have also created more citizen ads, with low production values and distinctively local flavors. For example, these next four, each a little bizarre: Continue reading How to Buy Power and Influence

Turkey, Sayreville, and Some Democrats Get It Wrong

DDI.

Turkey’s actions, however it thinks itself justified by its internal and regional politics, have been outrageous on the international front and strike the wrong balance for a country concerned about its security.

Turkey should have promised aid long ago when the international coalition against ISIL formed. Aid helps promote peace and opens new channels. Aiding the Kurds in the fight against ISIL might further the peace talks with its Kurdish opposition and win support for coexistence within Turkey among its Kurds, 20% of its population and long oppressed. One thing is sure: the act of denying support and access only hardened old tensions and angered the international community and the Kurds at home. Turkey is missing a unique opportunity to forge a new era of cooperation by failing to focus on a dangerous regional enemy and turn a new page.

That missed opportunity—which Turkey is now trying to regain—may prove to be a greater threat to Turkey’s future than the narrow concerns that drove it to launch air attacks early last week on the Kurdish rebels, taking advantage of the Kurdish forces’ engagement with ISIL.

After hitting the Kurds with F-16s, Turkey accused the Kurds of using Kobani support as a “blackmail” tactic for the peace process. In reality, Turkey is using Kobani to further its wrongheaded military aims and as blackmail to compel the US coalition to attack and engage the Assad regime in Syria.

Turkey’s change of direction may help in the fight over Kobani. But it may come too late to win brownie points internationally or further peace internally.

II.

Attitudes in response to the Sayreville hazing range from cavalier to laissez-faire to open anger and hostility—all which point to evidence that we have a larger problem: we are becoming a nation of bullies and victims who are to minimize their degradation and find the humor in their shame. It matters less the details of who did what; the crime here is the attitudes that are shaping the response of both the children and adults. It seems that few can see or realize the moral failing put on display by the hazing. Whether as a potential threat or a real one, physical restraint is not “bonding,” it is intimidation. It takes away a fundamental right to feel safe and secure physically among peers. It’s a social form of attack that violates every moral and legal practice, but few seem to get it. All have dismissed the homoerotica in the nature of the hazing which was planned and executed; the lights out symbolic of denial.

Evidence the young female student quoted in the New York Times as saying, “We sure as hell hate them now,” about the victims. She feels her righteous indignation is justified by her sacrifice—not being able to attend football games. She has not a single thought of empathy for those hazed and expressed no ambivalence about the misconduct. She simply wants to pile on. She does not see in her own anger cause for remorse.

In a sport in which individual behavior affects and penalizes the team, many seem to be denying this fundamental relationship and consequence of bad behavior. Too many are focusing on sport and competitive success. If not the hazing, it’s really about a massive failure of character and the community climate which enables, supports and justifies the debacle.

III.

Neither party nor policy is responsible for the shredding of the President’s leadership by Democratic candidates: with job growth unprecedented, GDP growth up, troops at home, uninsured numbers reduced, US oil production globally number one, the Dow doubled, consumer confidence tripled, and higher wages on his plate and several successful fixes for the bureaucracy in progress, his opposition is in name only. Largely without support or cause. Continue reading Turkey, Sayreville, and Some Democrats Get It Wrong

Police Bullets Kill People and Truth

DDA cop’s strongest weapon is the truth. Honesty is more powerful than his or her bullets. I can sense doubts, objections and disclaimers rushing forward. Honesty won’t save you from physical threats, from people armed with guns! True, but is the prime strength of policing the biggest capacity for violence? It’s a dangerous world! True, but is strength measured by who’s quicker to the trigger?

An irony of violence is it loses its strength when it is applied for the wrong reasons or when it serves the wrong purpose. When state violence steps outside of the law, or only serves itself, it is illegal. It violates the social order it cunningly claims it protects.

More and more, violence is embraced by individual police officers, who cite a person’s actions as “threatening” to their own safety and welfare. This assertion is not made on behalf of public safety, but officer safety: the state is making the claim on behalf of its right of enforcement that officer safety, no matter the degree of doubt about the claims of “threat,” is paramount, above all public good and order. It asserts the police decision is supreme. This is a meta-legal process. It argues I have to kill to protect my right to kill and to protect my person, and my judgement is sufficient alone to determine the threat.

The last group of renegades who acted on these self-granted claims of violence and power were the Confederate Cavalry under “Fightin’” Major General Joe Wheeler, who pillaged and sacked Southern plantations, looted their treasures and supplies, and raped their women (to maintain morale), in support of the cause.

Police violence is no longer serving the public; it is acting out personal ends. With the rubber stamp of the state. Protest and the police show up with armored personnel carriers, military rifles, and snipers aimed and ready.

Once the threat that entitled force was “resistance,” violence was justified when the subject was resisting arrest or apprehension. During slavery, Frederick Douglass reported the most common offense for whipping was “impudence;” it was charged whenever it pleased the propertyholder. Today, the police buzz word is the ubiquitous “threat.”

Is violence justified by the feeling of a threat without a real perception? Is the mere idea of a “threat” enabling police to get away with murder?

In some analyses, anger is a threat. An angry officer, “threatened” by a subject, fires and kills.

Are there elements within police culture that tacitly support violence—or vigilantism, the taking of the law into their own hands?

The strongest weapon of policing is the one that meets the goals of policing: to protect and serve, to reduce crime and threats. That weapon is truth. But let’s look at the law.

Violence, which used to be the last resort for police, is now becoming the first choice. The legends of the Wild West, of Dodge City and the OK Corral, haunt certain neighborhoods, where police training standards are disappearing and their fade is supported by administrators who argue the justifications for the wanton and obvious misuse of force, deferring to excuses and denials, and more often, just plain lies.

Trust is based on truth. Trust is the collective virtue that is the basis for the unnamed rights implied and protected by the seldom mentioned Ninth Amendment, that addresses a host of the natural rights of people and communities, including the right to associate and travel freely, without state interference, suspicion or monitoring.

Strangely, no court cases have ever been decided under the Ninth Amendment. It has been alluded to only once, as the basis of the legal protection of privacy within marriage. It does, however, provide constitutional protection that citizens have the right and expectation to be free from state violence—and police shootings—during the normal enjoyment of their lives and their duties and leisure. Further protection is provided by the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects citizens against the denial of those natural rights without due process—which includes snap decisions made by police under duress. Continue reading Police Bullets Kill People and Truth

What Is Happening to the Children

DDWhat’s happening to the children? I bet your first thought is which children? The kidnapped girls in Nigeria who captured the interest of the world, gaining commitments from international governments to send troops to pursue their return—but suddenly vanished from our imaginations, or at least our television screens and social media accounts?  Or the 40,000 children massed along the US southern border with Mexico, whose 1,000-mile pilgrimages were met with protests, demanding their immediate return to countries and communities where they would be met by death and rape, the violence of  promised threats from criminal gangs? Or maybe the uncounted and silent thousands of children who suffer from hunger because food assistance was cut by the Congress to “help” the balance sheet of federal deficits driven by Wall Street and tax giveaways to corporations, who are leaving the country in a huff because they want more even as we give the children less.

The Lost Boys of the Sudan. Duane Romanell photo.

The Lost Boys of the Sudan. Duane Romanell photo.

Thousands of children are refugees, displaced by conflict violence, whose only hope is to abandon their homes with their families and flee into the unknown. They live on the edge of civilization, marginalized as temporaries, their lives suspended from education and the security of a society rooting for them to find a future of success. As refugees, they live in a world in which hope is denied.

What’s happening to the education of US children? Why are states and communities resisting a national standard that allows any methodology and curriculum to meet the new standard?

Why is there a virus that suddenly emerges in 47 states that is sending hundreds of children to hospitals and has registered more US deaths than Ebola, with only miniscule public outcry?

Why are teachers engaging in sex with students, according to reports from Louisiana where two female teachers are alleged to have had a threesome with a male high school student; in Virginia where a married female teacher admits to having sex with four high school students; in Red Bank, NJ where a male substitute teacher is accused of having an ongoing sexual relationship with a student; in Bucks County, PA where a female middle school band teacher is accused of having sex with a student inside her vehicle; in Maplewood, NJ where a female teacher is charged with having oral sex with 15-year-olds on school property; in Brooklyn, NY where a male math and science teacher at one of the city’s elite high schools is charged with having sex with at least six female students, supported by evidence from videos and texts; in New Hampshire, where a male teacher is accused of having sex with a student in his classroom and encouraged the student to cover it up in an e-mail; in El Paso, TX which has reported four incidents so far in 2014; in South Carolina, where among multiple incidents involving multiple students, a female Berkeley County teacher is alleged to have had sex with a three students during a house party? Continue reading What Is Happening to the Children

The Secret Service's Open Secrets

DDIt was clear she had been a dedicated agent and administrator, but Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was in over her head. She spent her years in the Service as a field agent in Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida, and except for four years from 1988 to 1992, she was never directly involved in Presidential Protections or White House duty except for oversight.

From her resumé:

In 1996, Ms. Pierson entered the agency’s supervisory ranks with her selection as Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Protective Operations. Later that year, she was transferred to the Tampa Field Office where she served as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge and was responsible for directing Secret Service investigative and protective activities in western Florida. Ms. Pierson established an Electronic Crimes Task Force to investigate cyber crimes in the Tampa Bay area.

In 2005, Ms. Pierson returned to the Office of Protective Operations as Deputy Assistant Director. In this position, Ms. Pierson oversaw the agency’s Presidential Protective Division, Vice Presidential Protective Division, Special Services Division, as well as budgetary operations for 1,200 employees.

Since June 2006, she has held the position of Assistant Director of the Office of Human Resources and Training. As Assistant Director, she was responsible for all human resource programs and training for the Secret Service, including policy development and management of the agency’s Personnel Division, Security Clearance Division, Workforce Planning, Work-Life Programs, and the James J. Rowley Training Center.

Good jobs. But do any of them sound like the kind of hands-on innovation and knowledge of drills required of the world’s most important Master Chief or Sergeant Major, responsible for the daily details and lightning responses, piersonafter long, numbing periods of maudlin ennui, to thwart potential threats against a President from an ever-growing list of crazies?

Did her resumé really prepare her for a laser focus on carrying out the policies and standard of the performance, training and conduct of the Secret Service’s Presidential Protection Division?

One Congress member at Tuesday’s House hearing pointed out that protection detail agents had received no training in 2013 and only one class the year before. Pierson acknowledged different segments of the Service can’t communicate because they use different radio frequencies. But most telling was an inspector general’s report that indicated the rank and file had little trust (less than 50%!) in the bosses, a vital tell that signaled the problems that kept reoccurring and the reasons why they are not fixed.

The breach of the White House and the other recent failures in protection and agent misconduct begin with the loss of personal and professional integrity, apparently widespread among the Protection Division, according to an earlier Inspector General report. That 2012 report reviewed agents soliciting sex workers in Cartagena, Columbia ahead of a Presidential visit, and noted such incidents were numerous. Continue reading The Secret Service’s Open Secrets

Racism and Noble Virtues

DDWhat is racism? Is it a universal idea? A judgment about biological identity? A group of dysfunctional behaviors in a culture? Persistent myths about a community’s strength and weaknesses? Does it belong equally to white and black, and yellow and tan?

Is racism a political idea? A wedge for advantage? Does it exist? Is it an excuse? Do statistics verify its presence? What role does it play in society? How does it change individual lives?

Racism does exist; it always reflects the role race plays in society. For instance, the structures and forms of racism during slavery have virtually no role in society today. The laws, punishments, limits and ideas that governed race then were very different and many have been erased.

Since these ideas have lost their viability, does that mean racism has ended? In modern society with its pledge to equality, has racism been eliminated? No. But it has changed forms. Remember, each era produces its version of racism. Remember, the construct of racism is based on the role race plays in the social milieu.

Before looking at modern racism, let’s ask: How does race fit into today’s society?

In America today, race has become the major standard and measure for equality and equal opportunity. Collectively, through numbers and statistics; individually, through incidents and events, race provides the details and the rough measure of fair play and justice. Race sets the bar for social and economic improvement, the standard for civil liberties, but is also the target of anger for those in and out of power, and a source of constant confusion. This positivist function of race is rarely mentioned; race is most often framed as a problem or a source of friction, or as a factor of mistreatment.

But race has noble virtues. It is the source used to reflect how far America has come in resolving internal tyranny and it measures America’s social progress. It is also a measure of how far apart Americans stand on many social issues. It has been the bubble at the center of the builder’s level.

Race, in part, is the weight of a group response, for both blacks and whites. The shooting of whites by police, while tragic, doesn’t alert the nation to the attack of police violence and misconduct aimed at the American Promise; race is a sentinel for the entire country—not just for blacks. Race puts blacks in the vanguard of social change, yet also makes blacks one of society’s most vulnerable groups. The paradox leads to scepticism and ignorance about the fix for social problems as race as a change agent is caught in a fluid whirlwind of individual and indirect forces.

That is why whites were always visible and angry in the Ferguson protests, every night, in every frame, side by side with blacks. Race is America’s active metaphor for character and justice, for liberty and criminality, for alarm and good riddance. It is not a discussion about blacks or whites, but about the vision and substance of America and the content of the American character, not just of the individuals whose roles shape the discussion.

In the same way, America’s educational success is measured by race. The differences in student test scores reflect race as a means of distributed wealth.

Race as an American idea is always in motion; different than last year, changed by new experiences, redefined by the culture it represents. Unfortunately it is often tied to omissions, deficiencies and neglect more than success, and its noble side is missed.

From this view, I propose racism plays three key roles in today’s America, all three tied to politics and culture:

  1. To unify race appearance (by skin color) into a common culture of values and desired qualities (i.e., loyalty, defense, ideology) that lead to mutual and joint actions for power and privilege limited to and controlled by a group.

  2. To install social barriers supported by legal frameworks and individual decision makers that limit life chances and prospects for many of those outside of the group.

  3. To deny the advantages that racism inherently seeks to make permanent.

The three are easy to understand with examples.

1. At the diner where I often eat, we wondered during the 2012 election how long it would be before Mitt Romney screamed, “I’m white!” to pander for votes. The opposite nearly occurred. Romney’s campaign adviser John Sununu approached that edge, claiming someone needed to teach the President “how to be an American.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich skirted the same precipice: he cited Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial world view” “as the the most accurate, predictive model for his [Obama's] behavior,” calling it “a profound insight.” “The food stamp President” was another of Gingrich’s contributions.

Rick Santorum came within a syllable of an offensive racial slur before he caught himself. Recently, a New Hampshire police chief uttered the word publicly (saying the President “met and exceeded” his criteria). He refused to back down, resigning but never apologizing.

My oft-cited example is the empty chairs that appeared after the 2012 Republican National Convention, tied to tree limbs on private property, often with roped nooses hung over chair backs—performance art that starkly expressed the dark dread of justice as lynching. These spontaneous racial installations were a reminder that the media never reported in 2008 the high degree of fear in the black community for Barack Obama’s life; people were frantic and the hysteria went unnoticed.

Racism is tasteless and invisible—until the first tug of attitude pushes one of its many structures into place to block progress—and to strangle black success. Members of Congress have said Barack Obama was only elected because he is black. Others say he won due to white guilt.

These conversations and actions call white people to band together under a banner of skin: a favorite principle of racism is to unite to defend and defeat the idea of the other. The other is different—and also more dangerous, more deadly, more deficient. The most important other in America is race. Its group tensions involve a history of violence, lynching, lawlessness, blame, poverty and social control.

I think that race as a social measure should change. Women and children are suffering greater attacks than African-Americans in this historical moment; women and children need a movement worthy of the anti-war and Civil Rights movements, yet they remain on the edge of America’s conscience. Thankfully, ending domestic violence has become a noble virtue. So should ending the murders of children by their peers.

2. Examples of social barriers abound. The most prominent and dangerous, as US House member John Lewis rightly recognizes, are the state-level bills that are redefining the right to vote. The new tactic recognizes it is not necessary to disenfranchise minority voters en masse (the old, pre-1960s tactic). Trimming voter turnout  by 3 to 10 percent will often be enough to swing close national elections.

Remember, racism fits the role of race in society. In politics, that’s votes. After the Civil War, bills sought to disenfranchise the entire Negro vote, which ended with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Now, in this era, with this Supreme Court, the same outcome can be achieved with a more limited, targeted effort to restrict early voting, raising the bar to voter access by requiring more paperwork and reducing polling hours. Continue reading Racism and Noble Virtues

In the Fight Against ISIL, Going Beyond Either/Or

DDA big part of the American legacy is to reduce things to a simple either/or. It creates the illusion of being willing to make tough choices, of moving forward with decisive shows of strength while leaving piddling details unexamined.

Often this preferred way turns out be a stumbling block; America trips over details and consequences patience would have allowed the nation to foresee. Barack Obama’s mighty effort to restore the nation to the security and values of patience has been met at every turn with resistance that insists on immediate either/ors. But his patience is not incompetence, as America is soon to find out in the fight against ISIL.

Rush in, says John McCain. Despite being the Senate’s senior war hawk, his state’s Republican Party voted last January to censure their senior Senator for a voting record insufficiently conservative. Send troops, “think of an American city in flames,” Lindsey Graham cries. The terrorists have already occupied space in his mind.

But the criticisms of the President continue, this time from sources who attended a recent off-the-record press meeting and a White House invitational dinner. At both, the President reportedly said he would not rush to war. He would be deliberate. “I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater,” sources quote him as saying.

But the Wall Street Journal used these sources to speculate about his motivation rather than applaud the President’s principles. Richard N. Haass, an invitee (a former Bush official and president of the Council of Foreign Relations), said the President has been “forced to react to events here.” Haass goes on in the Wall Street Journal article:

“… attention to nuance is a double-edged attribute. “This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”

In this scene from Apotheosis of the US Capitol, armored Freedom, sword raised and cape flying, with a helmet and shield reminiscent of those on the Statue of Freedom, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power; she is assisted by a fierce eagle carrying arrows and a thunderbolt.

In this scene from Apotheosis of the US Capitol, armored Freedom, sword raised and cape flying, with a helmet and shield reminiscent of those on the Statue of Freedom, tramples Tyranny and Kingly Power; she is assisted by a fierce eagle carrying arrows and a thunderbolt.

Haass is wrong. Patience provides you with a better perception; it prevents the errors that come from a rash rush to judgment. But Haass has assumed his conclusion and made it fit the circumstance. He has reduced the President’s incredible strength to wait without wasting resources into a waste of time. He deliberately denies that patience is an investment of time, rewarded by its unique benefits of resolve and understanding—a special quality of the President’s keen insight, tied to his clarity and force of intellect. For some, the President is always on the wrong side of their either/or. Likewise, the either/or of “boots or no boots” (to use US combat troops in Iran and Syria or no) is distorting the military argument and misleading strategy by failing to focus on choices outside the forced choices that neocons like Haass embrace and take comfort with in their sleep. The purpose of forced choices is to create limits. They do not enhance freedom; they tighten restrictions. They ignore options.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014.

We see how the forced choices of either/or set limits on the domestic front. Voting rights, women’s rights, fracking, education standards, taxes, healthcare, immigration are all discussed without nuances—which prevents using the overlooked details to find a path that is reinforced and refined by answering its objections and working in its strengths; instead, Haass and his ilk double down on win or lose and participate in the giddy exercise of shutting down the government or the repetitive stupidity of voting 54 times to repeal a healthcare bill without a chance of success and with no alternative. Continue reading In the Fight Against ISIL, Going Beyond Either/Or

Who Is Our Neighbor?

DDThe story of the Jericho Road is well-known to many; a man traveling down the dangerous 17-mile old world passage that climbs between Jericho and Jerusalem; it is winding, steep, remote. Historically known as the Bloody Pass; in the one biblical story from the Gospels, a man is jumped by a gang of marauders and falls injured, unable to help himself. Several men of supposed good will—including a priest—pass him without offering aid. They see him and ignore him. Who knows why? One thing is clear: the victim is not their neighbor.

Not only in the sense of a person who is not of their community or one whose identity is unknown, but also in the sense of ethical action—a willingness to offer a hand to someone in need in times when danger threatens even good intent.

The ethical will which fails or is abandoned has a political and social side. Ethical choices have powerful consequences that quickly grow complicated and cover a broad range of actions. Immediate reflection shows the idea of the neighbor is at the center of our domestic politics. And the idea of the neighbor and ethical action is a paired “who and what” that underscores the immigration crisis that carried tens of thousands of children to our borders, our school lunch programs and the fight against obesity, the school-prison pipeline (middle school children in handcuffs taken out of school), our support for affordable healthcare (ethical actions of costs, coverage and value) and violence against women (perpetrator and societal victim blaming). The answer to “who” identifies the persons and communities, the victims we are ethically tasked to love and help, to take risks ourselves in order to render aid, to challenge the inherent dangers by our actions. As our national resolve weakens or gives in to hate and fear, the list of  ”who” grows short.

The Jericho Road.

The Jericho Road

Who we see as our neighbor positions us on the political spectrum. It often determines the laws we support and social action we engage in (California communities illegally stopping government buses of immigrants from entering government facilities weren’t met with militarized policing as has been seen in protests elsewhere). Who we see as our neighbor often shapes the attitudes that are the milieu of society and define the bottom line of survival. It determines who we look up to and down on, the level of anger and respect we have for individuals and institutions. It separates us into friends and enemies.

So on the verge of US military engagement, as the world is rife with hot spots, as US domestic officials’ and pundits’ sound bites call, without clear specifics, for Presidential impeachment for high crimes (an echo that also engulfs Hillary Clinton’s unannounced run for President!), who is our neighbor? Is the President right to patiently, stubbornly push Iraq to create an inclusive government (making neighbors of distrustful clans) before increasing military aid to resist ISIL? ISIL, the well armed and financed jihadist extremists who control oil production facilities, and at one point held Iraq’s major dam, and whose fighters are only a short drive from Baghdad? Do the beheadings of two Americans change the equation? What should the good neighbor do?

Surprisingly, President Obama foresaw these choices. He wrote about them in the The Audacity of Hope, pointing out the many advantages of coalition building as a pillar of foreign policy and as an answer to global threats (among the advantages: improved skill sets in intelligence gathering, analysis, tactics, strategy, execution, weaponry, sanctions, coordinated isolation, diplomatic dialogue).

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, N.H., Feb. 2, 2010.

President Barack Obama walks to the Oval Office after returning to the White House following a trip to Nashua, NH, Feb. 2, 2010

His Nobel Prize acceptance speech later identified the looming threat of intra-national violence (violence within states by non-state insurgencies and movements operating across borders) and the heightened risks to civilians. He foresaw the dramatically increased demand for refugee services. He is well acquainted with how the mass movement of people escaping violence places destabilizing pressure on regional governments and local communities not engaged in conflict.

Right now, more than 50 million people are displaced and living in refugee camps, according to the UNHCR (the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; created in December 1950, the worldwide agency coordinating refugee assistance; it won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1954). President Obama knew the effect disruptions have on generations of children who would be denied education and families denied income. He understood how violence set back peace and prosperity by indirect means felt and experienced by refugees and by their host countries,who are often ill-equipped and under-resourced to receive those fleeing violence. In the President’s world view, our neighbors were any global citizens of good will who sought a concord with the American Promise—prosperity and peace in mutual association.

In all of his writings and speeches about how we help our neighbors, the President has argued for minimum military force over maximum force. He was aware of the paradox of maximum force: in the long run, it often expands the threat it is intended to crush. Continue reading Who Is Our Neighbor?

How to Exalt the Deaths of James Foley and Steven Sotloff

DDIt takes an unbelievable arrogance to believe the God of your faith demands and applauds the slaughter of innocents. It takes hatred and blindness and a stupidity beyond redemption to believe that God praises the killing of human sacrifices as just and right and will reward those who killed for specious claims with mercy. The ISIL killings are evidence of a malicious design that heralds the destruction of those who falsely believe themselves to be the persecutors of God. Of their open wickedness, God has taken notice; their bitter words are like the wind, and punishment, both human and divine, shall answer their sins. For in God’s wrath, unlike human wrath, there is justice. There will be justice for American reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

But human justice can be propelled by rage and unleash a rabid desire to tear their killers, individually and collectively, into a bloody porridge fed to dogs, then poured into the dirt, then left to turn putrid in the sun. Barring their becoming dog food, many are calling for war. Because of our habitual reliance on war as a tool of justice and punishment, we feel weak and impotent when the drums are not beating; we want to attack and kill.

At the moment in the attack when virtue gives way to thrill, we need courage. Not to confront the enemy but ourselves. Courage finds its power in inner strength, in restraint and patience that adds truth to its case. Truth must always replace anger as a motive and source for restoring justice through good works—where the taking of a life is rendered as a virtue applied to the guilty, cloaked in sorrow and not vengeance covered with boasting and new provocations and threats.

Those who grieve and tremble in rage at the sight of those who seek to find holy pleasure in self-pronounced vengeance, the killing and death of innocent captives, must also remember in the darkness of death is the birth of fear. We must find strength to honor and celebrate the lives of those who have died. Their lives were pure. We should not corrupt the pure. Celebrate their lives in joy. We should stand in awe of their sacrifices and the lives they lived. Continue reading How to Exalt the Deaths of James Foley and Steven Sotloff

Exploring Our Paradoxes

DDThere is a convergence of paradoxes no one seems to understand. There is an outward motion that is taking unusual turns and twists, and politicians are using these unique circumstances and unfamiliar challenges to offer and project blame.

But blame obscures our paradoxes. It’s a pretense to an easy answer that misses the real point. One main point is itself a paradox: the point that paradoxes are often missed. They are confusing and confounding. Paradoxes challenge not only our identity and legacy, the missions we have “accomplished,” the “hope” at the center of our faith and courage—and our voting—they challenge the zeitgeist we cherish—paradoxes challenge the spirit of the age. All around us, paradoxes are redefining our times. Our response is we fuss, surrender, complain or turn mean.

One major American institution, driven by greed and ego, has been taken over by its own self-created paradox: the media that is to inform us often conceals and shades from us the most important facts it purports are its reason to exist. Too often, its reporting offers no analysis. Its experts spend too much time on politics and prophecy—answering the unanswerable, “what happens next?” Seldom does it answer what happened before.

The news, intended to inform us, is a tabula rasa (an erased tablet) and instead is shaped by its thrill factor, be it warmth or fear. Warmth: YouTube pets parade through the networks; cute, cuddly, silly; American. Fear, horror: any GOP sound bite, any battlefield; any natural disaster or crime scene or courtroom.

How many networks invited or interviewed any of the 51 African heads of state who attended the historic first US-African Leaders summit, held in Washington, DC less than 3 weeks ago? How many Americans know what agreements were signed? What commitments were made for future plans? Or what these continental leaders see as their most important needs?

How many media companies have focused on the obvious in the story of ISIS (or ISIL, as the administration terms the terrorist group): who is providing its well organized and funded supply chain? Capturing battlefield weapons from fleeing regulars doesn’t supply spare parts. Nor does the mass killing of civilians provide the bullets and other armaments that continue to be readily available in abundant supply to ISIS as it fights on multiple fronts. Who keeps its trucks filled with gas, feeds its mob of killers—who trained them in military discipline and tactics—when none of these skills, experiences and capacities are a part of its leadership’s resume?

Don’t jump to the easy answer; don’t be quick to blame.

The smooth operation and steady funding points to more than Arab benefactors; to my mind, only the Russians have the ability to organize a clandestine supply chain of the size and variety ISIS requires, especially in the middle of multiple conflicts surrounded by hostile states. But how? The media appears to have no interest in knowing the “how” of this important hidden story.

And American media absolutely refuses to work its way through the paradox of race and violence, especially violence as state actions driven by group and individual attitudes, supported by law and court decisions, backed by paranoid, local communities.

Not once has the media pointed out that police brutality was an assumed routine in black communities nationwide well into the 1970s. Suspects were beaten into confessions. Police killings went unquestioned. And white youth also suffered death. In May 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds, killing 4 unarmed college students at Kent State. At one point in the 1970s, in Detroit, the city with the highest incidence of police killings in the 1970s, 40 fatal police shootings resulted in only 4 misdemeanor charges.

Police killings are not only committed against black male teenagers. The elderly and mentally ill often are killed by officers sworn to protect the lives of those they serve. Yet police investigators often focus on justifying shootings by officers, rather than determining what really took place. Investigators routinely aid officers in changing stories to protect themselves. Investigators also regularly fail to interview eyewitnesses and gather evidence against the police.

America has increased the numbers of police, from 602,000 in 1992 to 794,000 in 2012; decreased the likelihood of police dying in service by 33%, as crime rates have fallen; yet, civilians killed by police were estimated at 587 for 2012. More than 5,000 civilians killed in the decade between 2002 and 2012, according to the Justice Policy Institute. That 5,000 greatly exceeds the numbers of Americans killed by terrorists in the same period.

The police have created the paradox of brute force: its very use is justified by its use. And its use is quickly becoming overuse, changing the law by attitudes to accommodate actions at the margins of law and beyond the line of justice. Unlike sports, over the line isn’t a win; it’s a loss of American freedom. It targets communities and individuals, robs segments of the population of the right to live without fear.

The paradox of those who are to protect us using their power to create a tyranny that micromanages behavior by confrontational deadly force points to the most bewildering paradox we confront. Continue reading Exploring Our Paradoxes