Concentration Camps

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Representative Alexandria Occasion-Cortez, of New York, recently called the U.S. detention camps for migrants “concentration camps.” She caused quite a stir by so saying. I have been saying the same thing for months. I feel that it is a complete moral outrage for the American government to detain these men, women, and children in these camps.

Now we are arguing over the terminology. In my view a thing ought to be called what it is. And these camps are clearly concentration camps. The meet the technical definition. Historian Andrea Pitzer has made the same assertion in her piece in Esquire magazine: “The United States has created a concentration system.” She argues that mass detention of civilians without a trail was what made these concentration camps.  The full text of AOC’s tweet reads as follows: “This administration has established concentration camps on the southern border of the United States, for immigrants, where they are being brutalized with dehumanizing conditions and dying. This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.”

Strange bedfellows Liz Cheney and Bill Maher condemned the remarks as being emotionally laden with memories and connotations of the holocaust. Masha Gessen, writing in the New Yorker, says this is a failure of imagination. We don’t’ want or cannot imagine a world where we as a people would be evil enough to place human beings in the same predicament as the Nazis did in WWII. Well, I agree with Green and I disagree with Bill Maher. Maher every once in a while, strikes a sour note and sings out of tune. It is surprising coming from a fellow who wears his political incorrectness on his sleeve like a red badge of courage.

These camps meet the technical definition of concentration camps, and so what if it brings up images and memories of the holocaust? It doesn’t devalue it. Rather, it shrieks out a warning, do not go there! It should be a warning that this is what we are capable of, the same thing the Nazis did in WWII. This what Hannah Arendt describes as the banality of evil.

We have to have the moral imagination to realize what we are doing is wrong and can lead to greater evil. We need to make a course correction now!

 

 

Electoral College

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Recently a couple of my Facebook friends have used Prager University to support their political points. Once in reference to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and once in reference to the electoral college. In response I would make the three following points:

  1. Prager University is not a University but rather a right-wing propaganda mill. As such it has no credibility in academic discourse.
  2. The United States is a federal republic and a constitutional representative democracy. To say it is one and not the other is simply wrong.
  3. The electoral college was driven in part by slavery. The 3/5’s compromise was enacted to count slaves as 3/5’s of a person in order to give slaveholding states more power based on population, although these slaves couldn’t vote. The Three-Fifths Compromise is found in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution which reads: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

The electoral college is a shameful holdover from these times. It is said to protect minorities, but in modern times this means protecting whites from being ruled by people of color. Either way it is based on a racist outlook, is morally reprehensible, and must be abolished in order to provide free and fair elections by the majority of the people. One has to go no further than former Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, who said that white people would be hurt if Maine joins other states in an effort to reduce the impact of the Electoral College. “Actually, what would happen if they do what they say they’re going do is white people will not have anything to say,” LePage said during an interview with WVOM radio. “It’s only going to be the minorities that would elect. It would be California, Texas, Florida.”

Five times a candidate has won the popular vote and lost the election. Andrew Jackson in 1824 (to John Quincy Adams); Samuel Tilden in 1876 (to Rutherford B. Hayes); Grover Cleveland in 1888 (to Benjamin Harrison); Al Gore in 2000 (to George W. Bush); Hillary Clinton in 2016 (to Donald J. Trump).

 

 

 

 

 

ELECTION 2020

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Well, we are in a new presidential election cycle. It seems only yesterday that the monster Donald Trump was foisted upon us.  There is literally nothing more important than removing him from office, either through the ballot box or otherwise. We have a rather large field of Democratic candidates. Should be an interesting primary season.

My favorites include Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke,and Julian Castro. Any combination of these candidates would work for me. Of course, the most important consideration, in my view, would be electability and the ability to defeat Trump. Although I do think it might be questionable if Trump lasts long enough to run. If he does, we are all in danger.

I believe the electorate needs and wants a female candidate and a person of color on the ticket. I think it is high time we have a woman president or vice president. There is no question that Hillary Clinton was robbed last go round.

Joe Biden has the most experience, has the most gravitas, and is the most presidential. He would restore much needed decorum to the office and the land. However, he has some drawbacks. He has some things in his past which will bear scrutiny when his record is examined. Also, his age and gender might work against him. Do we really need another old white guy in the Oval Office? But, if he agreed to one term and chose a younger running mate, it might work.

I like Kamala Harris. She impressed me by her intelligent questioning in some of the congressional hearings that she has taken part in. She has an impressive record and background and I agree with her on many policy issues. Also, of all the candidates, she has got social media down to a science. A necessary ingredient in today’s world.

Cory Booker appeared on my radar while I was living in New Jersey and he was mayor of Newark. Quite an impressive fellow and a man to watch. Elizabeth Warren has the best record on consumer rights of any candidate and of any congressperson ever. This is a subject close to my heart she gets extra point for this.

Beto O’Rourke reminds me of a young Bobby Kennedy and he brought democrats together in Texas. He could turn the state Blue and would be a valuable asset on a ticket.

We will just have to see how all this shakes out. Can’t wait for the debates. Let the games begin!

 

 

Colorado Baker

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

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Justice Neil Gorsuch

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Right Commission. I thought these issues had already been decided but I guess I was wrong. The case centers on an anti-gay baker in Colorado who claims a First Amendment right to ignore state law and refuse service to same-sex couples. A key issue in Masterpiece is just how far the court’s conservative justices are willing to go in subverting civil rights law to protect the freedom to discriminate. Here is my opinion on the matter:

Restaurants are considered places of public accommodation. The primary purpose of a restaurant is to sell food to the general public, which necessarily requires them to follow equal protection laws. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. The laws of a state must treat an individual in the same manner as other people in similar conditions and circumstances. A violation would occur, for example, if a state prohibited an individual from entering into an employment contract because he or she was a member of a particular race. Furthermore there would be a violation if a restaurant owner refused service to a person because of their race.

 

These rights are spelled out in the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. Places of “public accommodation” include hotels, restaurants, theaters, banks, health clubs and stores. Nonprofit organizations such as churches are generally exempt from the law. The federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, so gays are not a protected group under the federal law. However, about 20 states, including New York and California, have enacted laws that prohibit discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation. Colorado also happens to be one of those states.

Colorado law prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation based on marital status or actual or perceived sexual orientation. According to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, “sexual orientation” means heterosexuality, homosexuality (lesbian or gay), bisexuality, and transgender status. Transgender status means a gender identity or gender expression that differs from societal expectations based on gender assigned at birth.

Therefore, the Colorado baker has clearly violated the civil rights of the gay couple and is violation of Colorado law. At issue before the Supreme Court is whether the baker’s right to free speech is being violated. Enter Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch queried the Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yager regarding the remedy imposed on Jack Phillips, the baker. His concern was that Phillips was to provide comprehensive training to his employees. Gorsuch viewed this as compelled speech which might possibly violate Phillips’ free speech. Yager responded by saying training is a common remedy in civil rights cases.

Gorsuch continued his questioning, “But this isn’t attending your training. The order was ordering him to provide training and presumably compelling him to speak, therefore, and to speak in a way that maybe offend his religion and certainly compel him to speak.”

This theory could seriously undermine civil rights law and have far reaching effects.

It is not unusual to have conflicts with respect to civil rights between parties. That’s why we have judges and trials to help sort these things out. My own view is that if you are in business to serve the public you must do so without discrimination. If you can’t or won’t, even for religious reasons, you have no right to be in business and you should close up shop and go home.

We are a secular country here in America with a clear separation of church and state. When you operate a commercial enterprise in the public sphere you must leave your religion at home if it causes you to discriminate against the public. When you are in business to serve the public you must serve all the public.

 

 

 

 

Assad Gasses His People Again

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According to news accounts (Reuters, April 4, 2017), a suspected Syrian government chemical attack killed scores of people, including children, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun located in the northwestern province of Idlib. The U.S. government believes the chemical agent sarin was used in the attack.

This incident would be the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since August 21, 2013, when a sarin gas attack killed more than 1000 people in Ghouta near Damascus, many of them again, were children.

The use of chemical weapons is a particularly odious form of warfare, banned for good reason by the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed and agreed to by 165 of 189 countries in 1993, and administered by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons (OPCW) in the Hague.

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I roundly condemn this reprehensible act of unspeakable cruelty, as all civilized men would do. Trump has condemned it as well, which is to his credit, but he makes a mistake when he blames Obama. Yes, Obama drew a line in the sand.  He said he would act, but he put his resolution for action up for a vote before congress and congress would not approve of his action. In my view, congress is at least partly at fault for failure to take action against the Assad regime.

What did happen was there was a negotiated weapons deal brokered by the United States and Russia. OPCW inspectors, working with the United Nations, were in Syria in 2013 when the attack occurred. They returned in October as part of the deal.  They located and destroyed 1000 tons of chemical weapons. Not a shot was fired and a significant result was achieved. Fast forward four years until today. Where did Assad get his chemical weapons? The options are that either he held back some of the weapons he was supposed to surrender, or he acquired new weapons, or he produced new weapons. In any case, the Russians bear some responsibility for not doing a better job controlling the chemical weapons. The ultimate responsibility, however, lies with Assad and his use of these weapons and he must be held to account.

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What is to be done? According the New York Times and other news sources, the Pentagon is preparing military options for a strike against Assad inside Syria. In the final analysis, in my view, Assad must be removed from power and tried as a war criminal.

All war is evil, but sometimes it is necessary to choose the lesser of two evils. For the United States not to act in the face of such evil perpetrated against the civilian population by the Syrian government would be, in my view, both unethical and immoral. If we do nothing, we are sending a signal to Assad and others who would violate international norms that it is OK to use these weapons with impunity. That is a danger to our national security interests. This does nothing but encourage their use and nothing to discourage their use. A price must be paid and Assad must be held accountable.

 

 

Media is the Enemy

 Really?

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Donald Trump recently tweeted the above loathsome comment in his ongoing battle with the press. White nationalist, chief strategist, and senior presidential adviser, Steve Bannon, has said the press is the opposition party. Senator John McCain has described these words as the words of a dictator.

Freedom of the press is perhaps the freedom that has suffered the most from the sudden degradation of our liberty under the tyranny of would be dictator Donald Trump. With freedom of the press we cannot be sure of moving towards justice but without it we can be sure we are not going there.  Justice is done when the rights of the people are recognized and there is no right without freedom of expression.

We must be vigilant regarding this principle of freedom of the press which is enshrined in our constitution and is the first right enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

Whoever does violence to the truth or to its expression eventually mutilates justice. Censorship and oppression prove that the word is enough to make tyrants tremble. Every lowly person, when he rises up from oppression, reaffirms by so acting the solidarity of all men. Only he who is uncompromising as to his rights maintains this sense of duty. The great citizens of a country are not those who genuflect before authority, but rather those who rise up against authority, if need be, and are adamant to the honor and freedom of our great country.

You see the protest in the streets. What is beginning is a period of indomitable men and women devoted to the unconditional defense of liberty. Those who, like me, have broken with friends and family by the rejection of any complicity with parties, whether on the right or left, that justify the suppression of a single one of our liberties.

 

 

 

 

To My Russian Friends

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In Defense of Intelligence, based on the writings of Albert Camus

What always stands in the way of friendship is falsehood and hatred. We shall not accomplish anything for friendship if we cannot get rid of falsehood and hatred. For months now, we in America have been subjected to an unparalleled outbreak of hatred. Our poisoned hearts must be cured. The most difficult battle must be fought within ourselves. With exceptional effort we must transform our appetite for hatred into a desire for justice. Not giving in to hatred. Not making concessions to violence, not allowing our passions to become blind. There are things we can do for friendship and against Trump. It is essential that we never let criticism descend to insult. We must save intelligence. Years ago when the Nazis seized power in Germany, Goering declared, “When anyone talks to me of intelligence, I take out my revolver.” That philosophy was not limited to Nazi Germany. We see it on the rise today. Donald Trump, during his campaign, declared, “I like the uneducated.” He also said, “I could pull a gun out on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and no one would care.”

The only way to defeat Donald Trump, and defeat him we must, is through intelligence. When intelligence is snuffed out, the dark night of dictatorship begins. Friendship is a knowledge acquired by free men. There is no freedom without intelligence or without mutual understanding. Resist the idea that intelligence is unwelcome or that it is permissible to lie to succeed. Do not give in to guile or violence or inertia. Then perhaps friendship may be possible.