Hold Israel to a Higher Standard?

In the course of an argument yesterday on Twitter about the U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council, someone tweeted, “Maybe the council does hold [Israel] to a higher standard, I believe they should be. They are the Chosen, have been enslaved, kicked out of their homeland and stolen from their homeland for thousands of years so should know better and see wrong for what it is

The Tweeter did an excellent job of encapsulating 2 1/2 millennia of mistreatment in a single sentence. It could be expanded into an article, a book, or an encyclopedia, and I think it is  well for us to remember the Babylonian Captivity, the expulsion from and destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman, dhimmitude in Moslem lands, anti-Semitic violence in Europe culminating in the Holocaust, followed by destruction of ancient Jewish communities in the post WWII Middle East and North Africa. Finally, we need to realize that when the State of Israel was proclaimed, with U.N.  recognition, in 1948, the immediate reaction of the Palestinians and front line Muslim states was to invade and try to destroy it.

Seventy years later, although Jordan and Egypt have made peace with Israel, the Palestinians have not, and therefore are still at war with Israel. And this is not merely a technicality, a “phony war” on paper. For decades, Palestinians have been engaging in terrorism in Israel. Israel has responded with defensive measures, some of which have been criticized as excessive. None of those, however, would have occurred if the Palestinians had chosen to live in peace with Israel.

Even apart from the history of the past 70 years, the Tweeter’s suggestion strikes me as perverse. If Israel wants to say to itself, “We have Torah and the prophets, and we can’t expect the other nations to be as holy as we are,” that would be okay. Even that, however would not entail giving up the right of self defense. But for the rest of the world to say to Israel, “Because of all that the Jews have suffered at our hands up to 1948, we are not going to tolerate actions by you that we tolerate from others,” — which is what a higher standard means — is surely adding insult (and further injury) to injury.

Given the millennial history of suffering the world has inflicted on the Jewish people, the world should, if anything, be cutting Israel some slack in its current situation, not holding it to a higher standard.

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The Crisis with Children of Immigrants

It occurs to me that Fathers Day is a good day to think about this. The Republican Party has often claimed to support family values. The current handling of children of illegal immigrants, like the case of Elián González in 2000, is inconsistent with that claim. The right of parents to raise their children, which implies the right to custody of them, is one of the basic principles concerning families. Here, however, as in the González case, that right is being denied, not for the good of the children or out of some overriding necessity, but for political reasons.

Elián González. Here is a link to a synopsis of the case. After his mother drowned in the attempt to take him by boat from Cuba to the United States, he was placed with relatives in Florida. They resisted his father’s request that his son be returned to him. The resistance was not on the grounds that the father was an unfit parent but because they preferred that the boy be in the United States rather than under the Communist regime of Fidel Castro. In other words, the Florida relatives and their sympathizers in the United States, including many Republicans, were  willing to ignore parental rights for political reasons. On the other hand, the fact that refugees from Cuba entered the country illegally was not a problem for any significant number of people of either party.

Trump/Sessions Policy. Senator Susan Collins (R, ME), in a letter (apparently to a constituent), explains the situation as follows:

In May, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would begin prosecuting individuals who crossed the southern border illegally, which could mean that parents who are apprehended at the border could be separated from their children in some cases.

She goes on to write about the dangers of the voyage from the parent’s home to the border and the the apparent belief of the parents that if they can reach the United States they will be allowed to stay. Although she does not explain what that has to do with the new policy or the treatment of the children, it seems consistent with the argument others have advanced that when the policy becomes known, it will discourage others from trying to immigrate this way.

“In May … would begin …” In other words, contrary to Trump’s claim that this was necessary because of some “horrible law” enacted by the Democrats, this is a new policy, freely chosen by Jeff Sessions. It is not necessary under current law.

“the southern border” The Constitution requires equal protection of the laws. To have a set of rules for those entering across the southern border which is not applied equally to those entering across the northern border or at any port of entry by sea or air is clearly unequal on its face. The obvious difference between those coming across the southern border and those entering elsewhere is that the former are Hispanic while the others generally are not. In other words, this policy is based on ethnic bigotry.

“parents … could be separated from their children …” The only hint of a rationalization for the deliberate change of policy which produces this result is not that the parents are unfit but that it will send a message to other, unrelated individuals, to discourage them from coming here. As with Elián González, people want to take children from their parents for political purposes.

Comments and Conclusions. Regrettably, it seems that many Republicans — now as then — are, at best, selective in their support of family values or ignorant of what they entail. It seems that an anti-immigrant fervor, which is directed only at Hispanics and Muslims, takes precedence for them. The bigotry of the Administration and their supporters makes them comfortable with using the children as pawns/hostages in their attempt to get funding for the border wall. Those who recognize the rights of children and parents are being pressured to fund the wall as part of a deal to end this unnecessary policy.

It should be noted that one difference between the González case and the current situation is that Elián was with family members, whereas the children now are not being placed with loving and caring relatives. Presumably, in the vast majority of cases there are no such known relatives, so they are being held in custody. This raises the point that if parents and children alike are in custody, it should be possible for them to be together in custody. This is not like the situation which often occurs in other sorts of criminal cases, in which a child  can be placed with other family members when a parent is in custody.

It is true that the United States cannot be expected to allow open borders. We need to have sensible immigration policies and procedures, including better border controls. But that need doesn’t mean that anything goes or that the natural rights of parents and children may be disregarded.

What we need now is an immediate reversal of the DOJ decision of last May. Then we need serious immigration reform. Until such reform is enacted, immigration enforcement should be limited to cases of serious criminals, the “bad hombres” Donald Trump pretended to be concerned about. People who have merely violated immigration laws or are convicted of non-violent crimes should be allowed to remain until Congress passes comprehensive legislation; and that legislation should allow those who have already made a peaceable life for themselves here to remain.

Mass Killing in Parkland, Florida

The killing of 17 people at the high school in Parkland on February 14 has led to renewed calls for various forms of gun control, including measures to prevent those with mental health problems that make them dangerous from having access to firearms. There have also been people who have said, “Let’s not politicize the tragedy.” Speaker Ryan cautioned against a “knee-jerk reaction” before all the facts and data are known.

My response to Speaker Ryan is, “If you won’t do anything about Parkland, there are many previous mass shootings about which all the facts and data are known. Do something about them.

As for politicizing the issue, the question is what is meant by “politicizing.” If it means, “seeking solutions through governmental action,” there is clearly nothing wrong with doing that. That is part of our rights as citizens. If it means “attempting to win advantage for one political party over another,” the real possibility that some people will politicize the matter is not a sufficient reason for others to ignore the problem. Such hyper-partisanship is an increasing problem in our politics*, but rather than yielding to it, we should refuse to let it stop people of good will from seeking to resolve problems.

            *The fiasco on February 15 in the Senate on immigration legislation, leaving the Dreamers unprotected is the most recent example.

The proposals I’m aware of include general restrictions on sales of guns — background checks, banning sales at weapons shows, waiting periods, etc. — banning certain types of weapons and accessories frequently used in mass shootings, such as AR-15 rifles and bump stocks; and restrictions on persons, preventing dangerous individuals from owning or purchasing firearms. I think all approaches have merit, and I see no validity in saying only one facet — sales, weapon types, or mental health — is the problem. All contribute to an intolerable situation, and all should be addressed.

Some people will claim that the Second Amendment prevents some of the proposed actions. But the courts have already recognized that the Second Amendment is not absolute. It would be absurd to suggest that individuals have a right to possess nuclear devices or guided missiles. When there are types of arms unknown to the framers of the Amendment, it is at least questionable whether the original intent of the Amendment was to include them. Therefore, it is proper for legislative bodies to consider whether they should be restricted and for courts to decide whether such restrictions are constitutional.

The response of the students themselves gives me real hope that this time something will be different. In addition to grieving the loss of life and honoring those who responded heroically, this time they are angry, and they are articulating that anger powerfully in a clear demand for long overdue action. I believe that this anger-driven demand for action is likely to a effective movement driving politicians to respond with legislation, not just the empty pieties that have followed past acts of this sort.

Dreamers Aren’t Most Senators’ Priority

Looking at the voting on the roll calls in the Senate last Thursday, I must conclude that for the vast majority of Republican Senators, building the “Wall” is more important that letting the “Dreamers” stay in the U.S., while for the vast majority of Democrats, stopping the “Wall” is a higher priority that protecting the “Dreamers.”

On the first roll call, all 48 Democrats and “Independents,” except Manchin, voted in favor along with four Republicans, Senators Flake, Gardner, Graham, and Murkowski. The remaining Republicans — except John McCain, who was absent due to illness and took no part in any of the voting — all voted against the bill.

On the next roll call, all 40 Republicans present voted in favor and were joined by Democrats Donnelly, Manchin, McCaskill, and Stabenow. The two “Independents” and the remaining 43 Democrats voted against it.

On the third roll call, eight Republicans — Alexander, Collins, Flake, Gardner, Graham, Isakson, Murkowski, and Rounds — joined 44 Democrats and both “Independents” in favor.  Three Democrats joined the remaining 42 Republicans in opposition.

 

The point I’d make is that if the “Dreamers” aren’t taken care of now, they’ll be gone as a group forever, while the “Wall” and questions of family reunification and visa lottery can be revisited another time. Yet there are only four Democrats and four Republicans who considered them the top priority. Republicans Alexander, Collins, Isakson, and Rounds were ambiguous, but it could be argued that by supporting the “Dreamers” when their preferred version failed, they made them the top priority. As for the other 45 Democrats and “Independents,” and the other 42 voting Republicans — the “Dreamers” just weren’t that  important to them. So let’s have no criticism of the President or other party from those 87 insufficiently caring Senators.

 

Among those whose message to the “Dreamers” is, “Drop dead,” are my state’s two Democrats, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

Judy Shepard & ADL: “The Fight for Justice”

On Tuesday evening, January 30, I attended a program titled “The Fight for Justice with Judy Shepard” sponsored by the New England office of the Anti-Defamation League. After a brief video about Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998, Robert Trestan, the Regional Director of ADL interviewed Matt’s mother, Judy Shepard, who has been crusading for equal rights since the death of her son.

She spoke about Matt’s personality. He dressed in a preppy style, which was not typical for 1990’s Wyoming college students. He had strong opinions, and could be argumentative. He liked theater (played the younger brother, Wally, in “Our Town,” for example), thought he could sing, but he couldn’t. He was only 5′ 2″ tall, and very slight.

She sees the current situation in our country with respect to minority rights, including LGBTQ, as a retreat from the progress of the previous approximately two decades. But she doesn’t think the current expressions of prejudice indicate new feelings. She believes that the election of Barack Obama gave a focus and increased intensity to long-standing bigotry. Then with the election of Donald Trump, people felt free to express those feelings in virulent and sometimes violent ways.

Judy Shepard wrote a book titled The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed. Robert Trestan said that he had brought three copies with him, from a supply that they have in the ADL office, adding that the book is now out of print. (I’d guess that used copies are available on line.) After the event I mentioned to Mrs. Shepard how moving I had found “The Laramie Project,” and that the element of  denial which was shown creeping in by “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.” Then I approached Robert Trestan and asked if the copies of The Meaning of Matthew were available for purchase. He replied that they were not, but he would give me one. A few moments later it occurred to me to ask Judy Shepard to autograph my copy of the book, which she graciously did.

When asked what we should do now, she said the most important thing to do is vote.

All in all, it was an inspiring evening, a valuable reminder of what is at stake in the fight against hatred.

“Trickle Down:” Inefficient Stimulus

As I understand it, the “trickle down” theory says that if the top tax rates are reduced, those in the top brackets will put the money into business activities which will hire lower-bracket people. Those people, in turn will spend the money they get, which will support a growing economy. The increased wage and business income will lead to additional tax revenue which, it is claimed, will balance the revenue lost when taxes were cut.

Thus, the benefits are largely dependent on additional money finding its way into the pockets of those in the lower tax brackets. Lowering the top rates is a means to that end. It seems to me that, instead of the two step process of trickle down, it would make more sense to focus the tax cuts on the lower brackets and increase the refundable credits in order to benefit even those who have no tax liability.

Another thing which would help drive the expansion of the economy would be what is generally called “universal basic income:” a fixed amount, sufficient to provide necessities of life, given monthly to every resident (possibly less for minors living at home). For the unemployed and those living paycheck to paycheck, this would represent a significant increase in spending power, leading to a significant increase in spending, further stimulating the economy. Businesses would expand, producing the goods most people need and want.

Unlike “trickle down,” which depends on the wealthiest to use their tax savings in ways that put money in the hands of the less well off, lowering the taxes of the less well off and (or) providing a universal basic income will accomplish directly what trickle down can only accomplish indirectly and with a real possibility of some of the lost revenue going to other things (e.g., foreign travel, investment, or purchases).

Trump and the Protests against Racial Injustice

As appalling as Donald Trump’s statements about the protests in the NFL during the National Anthem have been, I’m more unhappy at the reactions of many who have commented on social media.

Although Colin Kaepernick spoke about the reason for his protest, many people ignore what he said and insist, contrary to what he said, that the protesters are disrespecting the flag and the country, some going so far as to insist that the protest was exactly the same as burning the flag or spitting on it. They are fabricating a straw man — possibly as a way of justifying their failure to deal with the real issue. At any rate, unlike many protests, this is peaceful, non-disruptive, and about as respectful as a protest can be (no signs, no chants, a genuflection). As I see it, the protest does not disrespect the flag or the country. It calls the country to live up to our professed values and principles, specifically in the way black people are treated.

Some people try to make the issue one of respect for our armed forces, past and present. Again, that is a fabrication. Not only is it clear that the protest isn’t directed at our armed forces, but also it is an error to suppose that the National Anthem is specifically about the troops and veterans. It’s about the whole country, “the land of the free,” which promises “EQUAL protection of the laws” to all because “ALL … are created equal … with [the same] unalienable rights.” (Emphasis supplied.) The protest is over a perceived failure of the country to deliver what it promises, and many veterans share the perception of the protestors.

Beyond the misrepresentations of the meaning of the protest, there is a denial of the validity of the protest on its own terms. People say, in effect, “What racism?” either they deny racism outright or they try to deny that it’s a big problem. But even if the opponents haven’t observed any racism that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If they think it’s not a major problem for black people — since clearly it wouldn’t be one for white people — the question is how they could know that. One has to understand the experience and perceptions of black citizens. What has made the protests ring true to them? Until someone realizes that. one is in no position to dismiss the complaint of injustice. Any attempt to dispute the validity of the protest will fail to convince the protestors. Furthermore, it will not truly address the protest.

Some people do not dismiss the protest itself or misrepresent its meaning but still try to argue that, valid as the protest may be, kneeling during the National Anthem is the wrong way to make the protest. The editors of National Review, for example, said that there were “a dozen ways” in which the protest could appropriately be made. But they didn’t offer any. If people want to say, do it differently, they need to give specifics about what form of protest would be acceptable. It seems significant that when one team knelt, not during the anthem, but before it, they were booed as if it were during the anthem, giving rise to the suspicion that for many, it’s not about the National Anthem  — that what they really hate is these uppity black people protesting at all.

What Donald Trump has done is to confirm the misrepresentations of the issue in many people’s minds, and he has done so in a way which once again shows that he is a boorish demagogue. His praise of NASCAR introduces a real irony with regard to the “disrespect for the flag” spin. It has been pointed out that NASCAR events are notable for people waving Confederate flags in the stands. It’s a greater disrespect to the flag, to the armed forces, and to our country to proudly wave the flag of rebellion against the United States than to genuflect quietly during “The Star Spangled Banner.”

I’ve heard it suggested that the protests were fading out of public awareness, and that Trump has blundered into making them a big issue again. Whether they will continue at the level of last weekend is doubtful, but at least many more people have been thinking about the protests than would have if he had kept quiet about them. But since he has misrepresented the issue, it has done nothing to promote the reflection which should be taking place. He did the country no service. Some people think he did this to take people’s attention away from his failure to get a repeal of Obamacare or his terrible performance in dealing with North Korea. I doubt he is intelligent enough to plan such a diversion. But I have no doubt he’s been paying attention to the protests to the detriment of fulfilling his real responsibilities.

The sooner he leaves office and is replaced by someone sane, intelligent, and competent, the better it will be for all of us, but it will take more than what has happened so far for the votes to be there to remove him from office. Meanwhile there is only a slender hope that he will decide he is tired of being President and resign.

Impeach Now!: Profile in Courage or Quixotic?


According to Aristotle the principal virtue needed in a statesman is prudence.

For a number of years I was vaguely aware of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, But I didn’t think much about him until a minister from Marblehead went to Phoenix to participate in a protest against his actions. When she returned, she told the story which is repeated in this article. Hearing her account of the brutality of Joe Arpaio and his deputies is what convinced me that he deserved no support from anybody. There are other, more widely circulated, accounts  of what can only be called police brutality at his behest over the years, as well as other sorts of malfeasance in office.

From the time I heard Donald Trump in the debates during the campaigns, I have been convinced that  he is intellectually and psychologically unfit to hold public office. My hope has been that his advisors and subordinates would be able to restrain him from leading us into a disaster. But the danger he represents is so great that I hope he will be removed from office as soon as possible.

There are two possible methods of removal: impeachment by the House for high crimes and misdemeanors and conviction by a 2/3 vote of the Senate; or a declaration by the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet that he is unable to discharge the duties of his office (supported by votes of the House and Senate if the President claims he isn’t disabled). Each method has hurdles.

Impeachment requires an impeachable act. In my opinion, the pardon of Joe Arpaio is an abuse of the pardoning power so egregious as to be grounds for impeachment and removal, and I said, “Impeach Now,” in several things I posted at the time of the pardon. I realize, however, that a motion to impeach based on the pardon would be unlikely to pass in the House, much less gain sufficient votes for conviction in the Senate.

Similarly, Trump’s unfitness for office is not the sort of discrete event, such as a heart attack, which the 25th Amendment was intended to cover — even if the grown-ups around him realize that he’s not right in the head. It would take some serious event demonstrating his disconnection from reality for the VP and Cabinet to say, in effect, “He’s incompetent now in a way he hasn’t been since the day he took office.

Beyond these considerations, there is the question of prudence, as Aristotle reminds us. An officeholder must consider the consequences of his actions. A good officeholder can make accurate judgments about the likely consequences. Thus, a Vice President, Cabinet member, Representative, or Senator needs to act based on the likely result of a possible action. What will happen if s/he acts to declare the President unable to govern or votes to impeach or convict?

Clearly, if the votes aren’t there to make the action stick, if the necessary majority does not exist, any action will be futile, and will only expose the person to possible loss of office either by removal from the Cabinet, or by defeat at the hands of angry voters who support the President. We can admire “profiles in courage,” but it does no real good to be defeated over a predictable failure.

But what if one could be part of a successful majority and still face defeat at the next election by voters angry at the removal of Donald Trump? The facile answer is that removing him from office is so much more important than the details of future legislation as to make it prudent for the long term good of the country. But I can concede that a moderate might consider being replaced by an alt-right candidate in the primary is worse for the country, especially if it is likely to happen in many districts. Similarly, a Republican could consider that losing his or her Senate seat to a Democrat, with consequences for the confirmation of conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, would be too great a price to pay.

At this point, the best hope is that the Mueller investigations will produce enough evidence to convince Representative and Senators that they must impeach and convict Donald Trump, and that the case will be clear and strong enough that even many who voted for Trump will realize the his removal was justified. Alternatively, and even better, would be an outcome similar to that with Nixon — Trump decides that he can’t win, or that the cost of fighting would be too much (such as disclosure of compromising tapes) — and he decides to resign.

I hope that those with the authority to act, especially Republican Senators and Representatives, are discussing privately what might feasibly and prudently be done to bring about Donald Trump’s removal from office.

Free Speech, Trump, Charlottesville, and Boston

Freedom of speech is a right of American citizens guaranteed against government interference by the First Amendment. While the protection does not directly apply to  actions against speech by individuals or non-governemntal organizations, the laws against violence apply. Clearly, the right of free speech is not absolute: incitement to violence and the like are not protected, for example.

 

Nevertheless, over the past year we have seen a number of examples of scheduled right wing speakers being disinvited by universities because of threats from the left wing. Dennis Prager’s appearance as guest conductor at several has been opposed because of his right-wing opinions. In Berkeley, the anti-right protestors actually resorted to rioting.

 

Whether or not Donald Trump had these examples or left wing intolerance, protests, and violence against right wing people (not all of whom are Nazis, KKK, or advocates of violence) in mind when he spoke after the violence at Charlottesville, it is clear that there has been violence advocated and perpetrated by “both sides” in our recent history. A “Free Speech” rally was scheduled to take place in Boston a week after Charlottesville. Even before Charlottesville there was much handwringing by the mayor, others, and the press about not wanting the event. The anonymous organizers went public, claimed that they were only interested in upholding the right of unpopular speakers to speak,  and disinvited some scheduled alt-right speakers from their event. Counter-protests were planned; and the mayor, governor, police commissioner, and newspapers called for both sides to refrain from violence. The event took place without serious incident. The police decided that they needed to protect the rally organizers and speakers from potential violence by driving them away in police cars.

 

It seems to me that there is hypocrisy when Trump is excoriated for calling attention to the presence of violence-prone and peaceful people on both left and right, while others who acknowledge the fact receive no rebuke (since they are merely acknowledging what is common knowledge).

 

Clearly, Nazis and neo-Nazis profess allegiance to an ideology hostile to the United States. The KKK and other white supremacists set themselves in opposition to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. There is no justification for them to resort to violence, but they have not forfeited their First Amendment rights. Nobody is obligated to provide a forum for them or to listen to them, but nobody has a right to prevent them from speaking peaceably where they are invited. Similarly, the opponents of Trump and the opponents of the alt-right have no right to resort to violence, but they have the right to present their position peaceably.

 

The threat of violence, and worse still its use, strikes me as a serious challenge to our system of self-government. The legitimate way for citizens to achieve their goals is by petition and through elections, not by violence.

 

 

Immigration, Refugees, and the Executive Order Fiasco

There was no crisis requiring emergency action. As has been pointed out in various places, no refugees from the seven countries subject to the restrictions have engaged in terrorist acts in the United States. So there was minimal risk risk of a potential terrorist slipping in during the time it would have required to prepare and issue an Executive Order which was not so unclear and which agencies were prepared to enforce. That minimal risk did not justify the hasty action. (I sarcastically suggest that this Executive Order was such a fiasco that we need a 120-day moratorium on executive orders until proper procedures can be devised for their preparation and enforcement, and that all EO’s after the moratorium must be subjected to extreme vetting.)

On the other hand terrorist acts have been committed by immigrants from other countries than those targeted and by people born here. The Executive Order does nothing to protect anybody from the sorts of terrorism which have actually occurred. It does nothing to prevent the radicalization of people, native or immigrant, who are already here. If the purpose of the order is to protect the American people from terrorist attacks, it fails because it is not directed against the actual threat.

Terrorist acts get widespread coverage, but we should remember that the casualties from such acts are minuscule in number compared to the deaths from non-terrorist violence, to say nothing of the much greater still number of preventable deaths by accident. Unfortunately, the terrorists have, to a considerable degree, won because we have let them turn our focus from much greater dangers to the almost negligible risk they present. As a nation we seem to be panicked quite unnecessarily.

Some people point to the terrorist actions in Europe and say that we should not allow people to come here and do the same. But Europe does not have the Atlantic Ocean between them and the Middle East. They are much more vulnerable to infiltration. Furthermore, spectacular as those events have been, they are of minor importance compared to all the violence committed by ethnic Europeans; and we must also, when the focus is on immigration, consider the degree to which terrorism is perpetrated by home-grown terrorists.

For years, some people have called the activities of the Transportation Safety Agency “security theater.” Their point is that what TSA does has very little effect in actually making travelers safer, but it gives a show which makes most travelers feel safer. It seems to me that the Executive Order, issued in haste without being thought through, practically useless because directed against a virtually nonexistent threat, and unconcerned with larger (though still small) threats, but garnering maximum publicity, must surely be considered a perfect example of security theater. It responds, not to reality, but to vastly disproportionate fears which politicians and media have — perhaps unwittingly at times — cooperated to stoke.