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Tuesday, 09.07.2010

 A break from blabbing about politics.

A very few people have wondered why I haven't been posting any of my political opinions the last couple years. Not a few years ago, when I was working as a trusted aide/adviser to the Minnesota Supreme Court, I occasionally was asked by the powers- that-were to say a few words to incoming law clerks, fresh out of law school and filled with political ideas and opinions. One question that some of them wanted answered was the extent to which law clerks could participate in partisan political activities. I suggested they talk with the individual judges with whom they worked for details but that as a rule-of-thumb they ought to consider themselves bound, as I always did, to the same limits to which the judges were bound. I remember adding on more than one occasion that they actually might enjoy a break from partisan politics, that it might be one of the best "perks" of working as a judicial aide. I, for example, used to enjoy saying to political solicitors that I worked for the judiciary and as a result had chosen not to sign any petitions or give any money or support to candidates or parties. So why have I not been posting, in bow-wow blogger's style, any of my opinions? In short, the last couple years I've given myself the gift of a break.

Where am I now? I'm still a Republican, of the liberal Eisenhower kind. I stll think Ike was the best President in my lifetime. Alas, there are very few of us Eisenhower Republicans left. As a Republican, I crossed over and voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but I've been somewhat disappointed in his performance thus far. We're still in Afghanistan and Iraq -- for no good reason. The economy is in worse shape than it was when Obama took office, and the cheap money policies and bigger-is-better onward-and-upward mentality that led once again to the creation of yet another bubble and to the inevitable bursting of the bubble, all of which I predicted, -- those policies have continued. Our government's "plan" seems to be to re-inflate the bubble with cheap money -- which is a hidden and very vicious tax on the savings of the prudent, especially retirees. I think, however, that Obama has done better than John McCain would have done, and I'm ashamed at the right-wing-dominated Republican Party's say-no-to-everything approach (Ah! if only a few more Democrats and a few Republicans had had the guts to say no to Bush II on, say, Iraq!). I'm also upset by many right-wingers' villifying of President Obama (the other night on the BBC World I heard a fellow who compared Obama to Hitler!), all of which reminds me of some right-wingers' villifying of President Kennedy in Dallas in 1961-1962, when I was a freshman at S.M.U. in Dallas.

We're in another election season. Who to vote for here in MN? I never tell people who I think they should vote for, because I'm usually wrong. I voted for Lyndon Johnson in my first election, 1964, thinking he'd end the Viet Nam war, which I had long opposed. He escalated it. Barry Goldwater couldn't have done worse and might have done better. I hoped Obama would get us out of Afghanistan and Iraq sooner rather than later. Sadly, we're still bogged down in both places. And so it goes....

But, in politics as in life, one has to chose. This time, here in Minnesota, I'm choosing Mark Dayton, the DFL candidate for governor. Why? Some TV ads by supporters of the right-wing MN GOP's candidate, Tom Emmer, say Dayton was the worst of all the U.S Senators and that "he wants to be our worst governor." No, the worst senators were those who got suckered into voting to pre-emptively and unjustifiably invade and occupy Iraq. Mark Dayton and the few who had to guts to say no -- they were the best senators. I said in 2004 in my anti-war campaign for Congress that voters should vote against all the senators and representatives who got suckered into voting to invade Iraq. I'm voting for Mark because he was one of the few who was right on that great moral issue. And I think he'll make a better governor than either the right-wing MN GOP's guy, Emmer, or the Wayzata Republicans' guy, the split-the-difference candidate, ad-man Tom Horner.

In short, count me as a liberal Eisenhower anti-war prosperity-through-peace-and-prudence civil libertarian Republican voting for a good man, Mark Dayton. In voting for Mark I'll be doing what many Democrats in MN in 1952 and 1956 did when they joined Citizens for Eisenhower and voted for Good Ol' Ike. BTW, did you know that back in the 1950's on multiple occasions right-wing warmongers in the GOP urged Ike to take military action in response to this or that crisis? As Stephen Ambrose points out in his prize-winning multiple volumes biography of Ike, Ike knew what war was and on each occasion he said, simply, "no." Have a nice day....

Tuesday, 03.25.2008

History of political campaign blogging.

 Some credit the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2004 with maintaining the first campaign blog. Others cite as the first a blog maintained by a congressional candidate in 2002. Actually, one has to go back earlier, to 2000. I was a nonpartisan candidate for Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in the general election in November 2000. I began planning my first law blog, BurtLaw's Law And Everything Else, one of the pioneering law blogs, in 1999, but I delayed starting it until after the 2000 general election. My 2000 campaign website, the no-longer-extant VoteHans.Com, contained a personal campaign blog (weblog or web journal), i.e., a blog actually written and maintained by the candidate, not by some staffer. I like to think it was the first campaign blog (a/k/a weblog or web journal), although it's quite possible someone else independently came up with the idea and executed it contemporaneously in 2000 also. Because most "web archivers" were not in business in 2000, there has been no web record of my campaign website and campaign blog. For archival purposes and in the public interest, I have reproduced and reposted as near as I can given software changes, the contents of what was VoteHans.Com as it appeared in 2000. The contents are in an archives at The Daily Judge. Here are the links: Campaign Home Page; Campaign Journal; Earlier Journal Entries; Even Earlier Journal Entries; Earliest Journal Entries; Endorsements and Contributions; Mandatory Retirement of Judges; Judicial Independence and Accountability; Questions and Answers; BRH Speech; Emerson for Judges; Quotations for Judges; MN Const. Art. VI; About BRH. As you will note in reading it, I may not have won a lot of votes but I had the smartest, best and most loyal campaign manager of any candidate in the history of MN politics. Her name was Mathilda Ragnhilda Doolittle Hanson. She's depicted above, wearing one of the campaign's virtual "I Like Hans" buttons. She died of cancer a year ago today, in my arms in the front yard of my residence, as I was helping her get ready for an anticipated visit by one of her beloved pack members.

Monday, 02.12.2007

Barak Obama's peroration.

"It reminds me of something Dr. King said two weeks after Bloody Sunday, after some of those young people had gone down and risked their lives, after the marches had been turned back...He gathered people out there and said I understand that you're fearful, I understand that you may be near despair, but let me just tell you something, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice. Here's the thing...young people, it doesn't bend on its own, it bends because you put your hand on that arc and you bend it in the direction of justice. It bends in that direction because you decide that youre going to stand...You make that decision, and if you grab that arc. Think about all the power that's represented here if all of you decide that you are going to get involved. If you all grab that arc, then I have no doubt, I have absolutely no doubt, that regardless of what happens in this presidential year and regardless of what happens in this campaign, America will transform itself."

In this speech and in other ones of late, Sen. Obama, whom I admire, has been using the "arc of the moral universe" quote. I like it. Indeed, I used it myself in my quiet and un-noticed anti-war campaign in the primary in 2004 against an entrenched incumbent vigorously pro-war MN GOP Congressman, Jim Ramstad. Specifically, I used it at the end of this position paper I wrote in support of same-sex marriage:

Rev. Theodore Parker also wrote, at another time:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long  one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; [but] I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice....

There are many voices calling to us at any one time on an issue like this -- the voices of the past, the voices of the crowd, the voices that are being shouted down by the crowd, that still small voice within each of us, the voices of the future. I've tried to listen to all these voices. Like Rev. Parker, I'm not sure where the arc will bend in the short term. But I like to believe, in fact I'm pretty sure, that Parker was right and that in the long run it bends toward justice. In any event, in the unlikely event that I am elected, I will do my best to see it bends that way. But then I'll do that even if I'm not elected.

Sunday, 09.17.2006

"It's my ball," said the spoiled boy from Texas. "If you don't do it my way, I'll...."

At his Rose Garden press conference on Friday, 09.15.2006, President Bush repeated, over and over, that if Congress insisted on making it clear simply that Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to C.I.A. agents interrogating suspected terrorists, then "the program" of interrogating them "won't go forward." Bush doesn't like Article 3: "Common Article 3 says that, you know, There will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's like -- it's very vague. What does that mean, outrages upon human dignity? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation." Bush says he wants Congress to clarify that general language. And if it doesn't? Here's his answer: "[T]he bottom line is simple: If Congress passes a law that does not clarify the rules -- if they do not do that, the program's not going forward."

I think it was Louis Armstrong who said in response to the question, "What is Jazz," that if you have to ask, you'll never know. If you've grown up in Austria, you have "the Waltz" in your soul and don't need to ask what it is, and if you've grown up in America you don't have to ask what Jazz is -- or, for that matter, what our various deeply-held ideals mean. Ideals that we hold dear are always "vague" in the stating -- ideals like "equal protection" and "due process" and the "right to privacy." So it is with the ideal of "human dignity." Most of us know what human dignity is and know violations of it when we read about them, as we've been doing for many months now. What Bush wants, of course, is for Congress to put a gloss on Article 3 by "clarifying" it to specifically allow the kinds of abusive techniques that have shamed our national honor and that would absolutely enrage us if any foreign power were to use those techniques on our Citizens. For him, "clarify the rules" is a code phrase, a euphemism, for "approve the interrogation techniques the C.I.A. was using until the Supreme Court issued its ruling." And if Congress doesn't do it his way, he's going to hold his breath or take his ball and go home or do any of the other things spoiled boys do when they don't get their way.

Interestingly, I first called President Bush on his "I'm going to hold my breath if I don't get my way" routine back in August of 2001, a month before 09.11. I reprint herewith, in its entirety, my entry dated 08.14.2001, as updated 08.17.2001:

"It's my ball," said the spoiled boy. In the NYT today (08.14.2001) Dubya is quoted as saying he'll veto any legislation extending federal support for embryonic stem cell research beyond the parameters he set in his announcement last week. He said his announcement was based on what he thinks is right and "any piece of legislation that undermines what I think is right will be vetoed." (The news report is accompanied by this photo of Dubya strutting away from an outdoor "stage" at his ranch where he'd just signed a bill. Every time I see him walking that way, I ask myself, "Who the hell does he think he is -- the President or something?" He seems to be one of those folks who can "strut sitting down.") Also in the news today, in the Wichita Eagle, is this related item about a district court judge in Kansas who apparently thinks like Bush. This judge, Paul Buchanan, submitted a supplemental budget request to the county board listing eight items of equipment and salary totaling $493,900. When the board denied his request, he summarily issued an order that the items "shall be included in the budget." When the board approved the county budget without including the supplemental $493,900, the judge summarily issued a contempt citation against the board members. The board members have asked the Kansas Supreme Court to intervene. [more] When I was growing up, sometimes a kid who had furnished the ball for a neighborhood pickup basketball game would threaten to take his ball and go home if he didn't get his way on some issue. It's because of stories like these that one should be daily thankful our Founding Fathers recognized the need for checks and balances on the powers given to each branch of government and each official. It's why, e.g., our courts are not super-independent like the courts in Iran but independent and at the same time accountable. In Minnesota we can be thankful that our courts are not just indirectly accountable to the voters but directly via the requirement that every six years each judge must submit to potential opposition in an election. Update (08.17.2001) More... (08.14.2001)

Sunday, 08.20.2006

Some thoughts on waste and excess in everyday life.

   a) Courthouse to be recycled as community theater. "For a century, citizens of Appomattox would sit on the benches of the old courthouse to watch cases unfold. This fall, they’ll be able to sit in those seats again to watch a new case unfold...only this one will be on stage. The town and county of Appomattox recently signed a deal that will allow the old courthouse, which closed in 2004, to reopen as a community theater. The non-profit theater will be ready by September, and will put on its first production, Anthony Shaffer’s murder-mystery comedy Whodunnit? in November...." More (Lynchburg News and Advance - VA 08.14.2006). Comment. The best depiction of what is taken when a beloved public building is taken down was a 1971 episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, They're Tearing Down Tim Reilly's Bar, which Serling said in his final interview was one of his favorite creations. Among the beloved buildings of my youth in a small town in western MN that have been demolished are the Carnegie library, the southside grade school, Our Savior's Lutheran Church, and the Great Northern Ry. Depot. Another such building, the Paris Hotel, was destroyed by fire. The old courtroom in the courthouse was, I believe, cut up to make smaller courtrooms, and a not-attractive-to-my-eyes jailhouse addition to the courthouse was built. The wonderful Railroad Park was diminished in size to provide more downtown parking. The destruction of each historic building is one more reason for me not to go home again -- except in memory. But the people of Appomattox have shown there is another way -- it's called creative recycling/reusing of old beloved public buildings and spaces. Any community that wants to save historic main streets, promote restoration rather than teardowns (& the obscene McMansions that replace them), etc., should contact former-Minnesotan & former-Mondale-aide Richard Moe and his staff at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a terrific organization. Too bad the folks in my hometown didn't have the wisdom to do that. But, wait! It's never too late to start afresh. I'm thinking of the historic second-floor Benson Opera House, which, last I heard, was used for storage by its private owners. Perhaps funds could be obtained to purchase and restore it.... Related. Old Lexington courthouse's new look, new use (Kentucky.Com 08.15.2006); Museum of Art eyes old courthouse (Tucson Citizen 08.16.2006).

   b) Courthouse cuts proposed -- herein of judicial luxuries. "Scaled-down renovation and expansion plans unveiled Thursday for the Lehigh County Courthouse eliminate four floors [from the eight-story plan], nix the upscale amenities and shave $22.5 million off the more than $80 million project's price tag. The reductions, with borrowing included, will save taxpayers a total of $35 million...Two of four private judges' bathrooms, custom-made exterior panels, expensive finishes on light fixtures and doorknobs, and 17-foot-high courtroom ceilings didn't make the...cut...[R]educing the height of the ceilings to 12 feet reduced the need for extra stories, saving the county $10.7 million...." More (The Express Times - PA 08.11.2006).  Comment. If on any weekday you drive up and down the streets of the suburb in which I live, you'll see truck after truck belonging to this or that home remodeling company. Thanks to President Bush's tax cuts, which favored people with high incomes, these people have money to remodel their already more-than-adequate homes. Contractors are buying and tearing down upper-bracket houses and replacing them with tasteless (in my opinion) "McMansions" to sell for McMillions of dollars. In 1999 Princeton University Press published a book titled Luxury Fever: Money and Happiness in an Era of Excess, in which the author, R.H. Frank, coined the expression "luxury fever" to apply to the resurgence in the 1990's of what Thorstein Veblen, the great Norwegian-American economist/sociologist termed "conspicuous consumption." It's all about the desire of small people to convince themselves and others of their own bigness -- bigness in cars (they're called SUV's), bigness in boats, bigness in breasts (they're fake), bigness in houses, bigness in this, that and everything. And it's continuing. But every bubble eventually bursts. And every luxury comes with a price that eventually must be paid. All of which is why that wise Spartan moralist, Justice Brandeis, said that "the worst" was not the Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression of the 1930's but the sad excesses that preceded and led to the Crash.... Further reading. I have expressed similar views but in the specific context of "judicial luxury fever" in previous postings, including Annals of judicial chambers makeovers and Reining in those wild-spending judges.

Sunday, 07.16.2006

Cracked baseball bats and the lessons they taught. A couple NY pols want to ban the use of aluminum baseball bats in games played by kids under 18. Although you never can tell these days, presumably they wouldn't criminalize the mere possession of such bats by minors. And presumably passage of their proposal wouldn't change existing practices of school administrators, who undoubtedly consider the bringing of any baseball bat, wooden or aluminum, into a school an imminent threat to the safety of all, requiring immediate suspension (or even expulsion) of the outrageous transgressor.

But I jest. Perhaps the idea is not only one worthy of consideration, for their reason or other reasons, but one that doesn't go far enough -- perhaps we should entirely ban the use of aluminum bats in organized play, even when adults are involved.

First, their reason: there apparently are studies showing that balls hit with aluminum bats travel at significantly greater speeds, thereby giving defensive players, particularly pitchers, less time to react. There apparently are studies showing an increase in injuries by players on defense as a result -- broken eye sockets, broken teeth, head injuries, even deaths.

But there are other reasons: sound, for example. Some folks who live near ball fields can tell you what it is like to have to listen for hours on end to the ping or ding (or is it clank?) sound that emanates when a pitched baseball makes contact with a swung aluminum bat (or is it the other way around? -- a philosopher's conundrum indeed). Personally, I don't even like thinking about the sound made by aluminum bats.

But then, I'm a traditionalist in matters like baseball. I spent many a summer morning playing backyard, neighborhood sandlot, and organized baseball in my hometown in western MN, all in the glory days before 1970, when the first aluminum bats were introduced. One of the regular pleasures of a lazy, hot summer afternoon, after finishing a round of golf, was going to Paul's Sporting Goods Store or Amlie-Strand Hardware with my friend, another "Paul," and picking up the various wooden bats -- Adirondacks, Hillerich and Bradsby's Louisville Sluggers, etc. -- and giving each of them a slow-motion swing or two, and deciding which one we would buy, if we were to buy one. Occasionally I did buy one. One always did so with a mixture of hope and fear -- hope that it would be just the right one to improve my hitting performance, fear that the damn thing might not last long.

I had one that cracked the first time bat met ball. You might think the tendency of wooden bats to crack is an argument in favor of aluminum bats. But aluminum bats cost lots more. And cracked bats taught us that things we care for, like people, can break -- and require tending and mending. Most broken bats, you see, can be mended, with the aid of some thick black electrical tape.  And broken bats formerly owned by pro and semi-pro players are artifacts little boys could dream about or beg for. I've had a few in my day. And I have one now, one that my late brother, Dr. R. Galen Hanson, Ph.D., got from a now-former Twins player of little reknown, back in the days when kids (including big overgrown ones like my brother, who loved Twins baseball) could get close enough to the players during pre-game practice on a summer afternoon out at the old Met that they might be able to talk with a player from a distance of 5 or 10 feet, and ask for, and beg for, and grovel for, and maybe come home with a broken bat. (06.30.2001)

Sunday, 07.02.2006

Are 'campaign lies' free speech protected from government regulation? "Can political candidates lie about their opponents and chalk it up to free speech? The state Supreme Court is wrestling with how to balance the goal of fair-minded and civil campaigns with the First Amendment's broad guarantee of free speech. The nine justices presided over a lively debate Thursday over whether the state's law regulating political advertising is constitutional. The high court previously threw out a law that barred campaign lies and the Legislature responded by writing a narrower version that gives the Public Disclosure Commission authority to police candidates' most damaging and malicious lies about their competition...." More (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 06.30.2006).

Comment. Bill Maurer, executive director of the Washington State chapter of a libertarian law organization is quoted as saying, "The idea that the government must shield the people from falsehoods in political campaigns is both patronizing and paternalistic. It assumes that the people are too ignorant or disinterested to determine the facts and that the government must enforce its vision of the truth through prosecution." We agree.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., said that "experience" is "the great teacher." In 2000 I stood for the position of Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in the general election. In my non-campaign I accepted no contributions or endorsements and spent less than $100, confining my efforts to a self-produced website. The campaign website, the no-longer extant VoteHans.Com, contained a personal campaign weblog, possibly the first such use of a weblog or blog. In writing the weblog and in writing several position papers, I came to have first-hand Holmsean experience with the Minnesota Supreme Court's experiment in restricting speech in judicial campaigns. I spoke to what that experience was teaching me in a 10.07.2000 entry in the weblog:

I grow less impressed with the court's effort [in restricting speech in judicial campaigns] and more wary of the whole business. I worked for the court for more than 28 years, 26 and a half of them as deputy commissioner, and learned a thing or two about speaking and writing in a judicial manner or judicious way. And yet, even I find it difficult to fathom the operational meaning of some of the court's restrictions -- that is, how the restrictions apply in practice. Perhaps there is something to be said for the attempt, and I don't doubt the judges who approved the restrictions, including my opponent, acted in good faith. But each of us has feet of clay and each of us has blind spots. I submit that in this instance the court somehow got itself involved in the business of trying to rein in democracy.

It really ought not to have surprised anyone that the U.S. Supreme Court, in the so-called "Judicial Free-Speech Case," struck down those restrictions. See, Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002). By the same token, I guess we shouldn't have been surprised by the legal community's reluctance to comply with that decision. On this, see, inter alia, SCOTUS declines review of USCA's case on judicial campaigns - MN. Supreme Court reversed again on free speech - Free speech is a 'bad idea'? As I like to say, Emerson knew what he was talking about when he wrote in his great journal, "[L]awyers...are a prudent race though not very fond of liberty." Ralph Waldo Emerson (Journal 04.1850).

Truth-in-campaigning laws, like the kind under advisement in Washington, and like rules restricting judicial campaign speech, undoubtedly have noble purposes, such as keeping campaigns clean, preventing fraud upon the voters, protecting the more scrupulous candidate from the less scrupulous candidate, etc., etc. But, at root they are anti-democratic. As Mr. Maurer points out, these paternalistic, patronizing laws show a profound distrust of voters. Ultimately, they say that voters need protection by prosecutors and judges. I have always had a different view -- a perhaps naïve belief in the ability of ordinary people to distinguish the real from the fraudulent, if not immediately, then eventually. I take comfort in the fact that this "naïve belief" was shared by Thomas Jefferson, who said, "If you state a moral case to a plowman and a professor [or a prosecutor or judge], the farmer will decide it as well, and often better, because he has not been led astray by any artificial rules." Jeffersonian farmers and other voters can see through campaign rhetoric, lies and distortions without Big Brother, who is no more qualified than they are, serving as Authoritative Voter Guide. All such attempts to rein in and purify democratic elections in the hope of protecting voters from making "mistakes" will and ought to fail.

Moreover, a much, much more significant problem, as I see it, is not fraudulent campaigning but bland, even gutless, campaigning, both in legislative elections and in judicial elections. This last winter I witnessed a very sad debate among some Republican candidates for Congress in one of Minnesota's districts in which not one of them mentioned the War in Iraq. See, my entry dated 02.19.2006 titled Who's the most narrow-minded? at BurtonHanson.Com. I'd rather participate as voter in a contest between two professional political mudslingers who address the important issues, albeit in a messy, dirty way, than as a voter in the sort of contest in which those nice candidates likely will engage.

Thursday, 06.29.2006

The Golden Rule and Bush's War on American Ideals.

"The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners. In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized by any act of Congress and that their structure and procedures violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949. More (Washington Post 06.29.2006). Comment. On 11.14.2001, while others, including my own Republican Congressman, Jim Ramstad -- and nearly every other Member of Congress, including most Democrats -- were busy playing "Follow the Leader," I posted a strongly-worded opinion piece in the "War on Terror IV" section of my pioneering law weblog, BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else. In the piece, I opposed President Bush's just-announced plans to try the Guantanamo detainees before military commissions. The piece, which I proudly reproduce verbatim from the page on that site where it still resides, follows (note: many of the links have "expired"):

Military justice. Yesterday (11.13.2001) I posted a link which I titled "21st Century Justice: secret nonjury trial." I intended sarcasm. The link was to this news story at Court TV's website. The story relates to the start of a "closed-door" so-called "trial" in Tehran, Iran, of members of an outlawed "reformist" group, a trial that the "moderate" President, Mohammad Khatami, has denounced as "unconstitutional." Before 09.11, I posted a number of critical comments relating to "judicial" actions by the "hard-line" super-independent judiciary in Iran. The purpose of those comments, as well as my pre-09.11critical comments relating to human-rights abuses in Pakistan, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, China, and Zimbabwe, was partly to remind myself and those who regularly visit this site what precious things are our liberties and that the price of keeping them is, as Jefferson said, "eternal vigilance" -- eternal Jeffersonian self-examination, Holmesian skepticism, ACLU-scrutiny, etc., etc. Because each of us is assigned, by God, the task of being guardian of his own soul, we as a unified people, committed to the socio-political contract implicit in the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution, must also guard our nation's soul. It looks like we're going to have a time of it, now that we're engaged in an anti-terror campaign -- a campaign of military, economic and diplomatic components -- to which the President has affixed the label "war."
There've been a number of ominous signs. One was the spoiled Yale-boy smirk I saw on Bush's face the other night when he was addressing the well-orchestrated, choreographed political-convention-style rally before that carefully-chosen audience. I was switching channels when I caught a few seconds of the speech and saw that smirk. I said to myself, "This guy likes the fact that he gets to do what Clinton moans he didn't have the opportunity to do -- be President during a time of great crisis." I switched to one of the networks that thankfully chose not to broadcast what really was a speech designed to maintain the President's high ratings in the polls. That was only one of the ominous signs. The latest is this announcement that the President is invoking his "war powers" and is going to follow the Iranian or fascist model of conducting closed-door "military trials" in certain terrorism cases involving noncitizens, thereby bypassing the inconvenience, I take it, of due process, public scrutiny, appeal, etc. The timing of Bush's announcement could not have been worse, coming on the same day that the front page of the New York Times carried stunning sequential photographs showing soldiers of our latest "allies," the Northern Alliance, which has a human rights record on a par with that of the Boys of the Taliban, summarily and brutally executing a captured prisoner of war.
Can Bush do this? Well, the boys in Washington say there's precedent for it. Oh, sure, there's precedent for it. We've done it before during times of war. Hell, one of our Presidents used his war powers to ship an entire subpopulation of American citizens -- those of Japanese ancestry -- off to our version of concentration camps, and our great U.S. Supreme Court concluded it was a.o.k. More.
A better question is: Should Bush do this? I don't think so, and I'm hoping fair-minded Americans, who were fed the Bill of Rights before we were fed Pablum, will give this latest decision by the President the intense critical scrutiny it deserves. Why? a) Because it looks to me like we're reserving to ourselves basically the right to conduct the kind of faux-trial and summary executions that the Islamic fascists, the Taliban leaders, have conducted on a number of occasions recently in Afghanistan. b) Because in this, as in everything, the "Golden Rule" is applicable: If your son, at least presumably innocent, were arrested in some foreign country and charged with terrorism, wouldn't you want him to receive a fair, open trial, with a meaningful right of appeal? Wouldn't you be absolutely appalled if he didn't receive that but instead received a quick middle-of-the-night closed-door military trial? Well, if you're unwilling to provide a noncitizen with a fair trial, the kind we hold out as a model to the world, then you've lost the moral authority to complain when Islamic fascists arrest, try and execute your son or some other American in an unfair way. But, you say: Our military justice is fair, ain't it? Julius Henry (a/k/a Groucho) Marx, who didn't have a degree from Yale but was a wiser man than George Bush (either one of them, take your pick), answered that when he said, "Military justice is to justice what military music is to music." I think Groucho "swiped" the aphorism from French statesman Georges Clemenceau -- if so, good for him. Regardless of who said it first, it speaks a basic truth: military justice ain't the kind of justice we're familiar with or famous for. Shockingly, the military tribunals Bush has authorized for alien terrorists don't even equate with typical military trials. They're worse. (11.14.2001; revised, 11.18.2001) Update: Seizing Dictatorial Power -- Bush's first historic mistake (William Safire, 11.15.2001, NYTimes, free reg. req.); On Left and Right, Concern Over Anti-Terrorism Moves (11.16.2001, Washington Post); Editorial: A Travesty of Justice (11.16.2001, NYTimes, free reg. req.); Nat Hentoff on Bush's idea of due process (Village Voice); Prof. Dershowitz on military justice (Village Voice); Kangaroo Courts (William Safire, 11.26.2001, NYTimes, free reg. req); Wake Up, America (Anthony Lewis, 11.30.2001, NYTimes, free reg. req).

Memorial Day Weekend - 2006

Here is an item I initially posted on Armistice or Veterans' Day, 11.11.2002, as our country's leaders prepared us for yet another war.

Born in Minnesota, buried in the Philippines. One of the important "father figures" in my life lost a son in WWII. He's buried in The World War II Manila American Cemetery and Memorial (depicted right). The cemetery "is located about six miles southeast of Manila, Republic of the Philippines within the limits of Fort Bonifacio, the former U.S. Army Fort William McKinley....The cemetery, one hundred and fifty-two acres in extent, is on a prominent plateau, visible at a distance from the east, south and west.  It contains the largest number of graves of our military Dead of World War II, a total of 17,206, most of whom gave their lives in the operations in New Guinea and the Philippines...." Click here for a listing of American casualties in our major wars. In 1991 the U.S. estimated that we killed 100,000 Iraqi soldiers in the Gulf War; Iraq estimated its civilian dead at 35,000. Our government reported a total of around 300 American battle and nonbattle but war-related deaths. A little over a decade later, our great political leaders, most of whom never served in the military (or, if they did, ever saw actual combat), are once again preparing the country for war, a war they will bravely direct from the relative safety and coziness of Washington, D.C. My friend, who in his old age became somewhat pessimistic about human nature and political leaders, used to say, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." And during the Viet Nam War, those of us who opposed it were fond of a song with the rhetorical refrain, "When will we ever learn?" (11.11.2002)

As of 05.25.2006, 2,460 American soldiers (up from 1,655 last year at this time) have been officially listed as killed in Iraq War II, and 17,869 have been officially listed as wounded in action. More (ICasualties.Org). Other sources suggest the number of Americans wounded is significantly greater. Sources disagree wildly as to the number of Iraqi casualties. One source estimates Iraqi civilian deaths at between 37,848 and 42,216. More (IraqBodyCount.Org). (Permanent Link)

Saturday, 05.20.2006

Condi the Con-Woman.

I've gotten a bit lazy of late in my "political" blogging. Three reasons: a) It's spring and I have other things to do; b) I devote most of my blogging energy to my newest website, The Daily Judge, which is developing a regular readership; and c) I often feel I can't improve on some of the stuff I've already said that still remains on point. Take, e.g., the following entry from 11.11.2002, originally posted at BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else, when the country was getting suckered into pre-emptively invading another country on the weakest of evidence supporting the claim of necessity. Now "all about us" are looking for excuses for their supporting this preposterous and immoral and costly war. I suggest those in positions of authority who supported it look in the mirror if they now "need" someone to blame -- and I suggest that this fall all the voters who've been "a bit lazy" in supervising their representatives go to the polls and vote against every Member of Congress who voted to authorize this blot upon our country's record and against every gutless candidate for Congress who does not make ending the war the central issue in his or her campaign.

What's ludicrous? What isn't? Bush's National Security Adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Ph.D., was on ABC TV's This Week on Sunday morning. Asked about Sadam Hussein's calling his rubberstamp parliament into emergency session to consider a response to the U.N.'s resolution, Rice called the legislative session "ludicrous," adding, "Saddam Hussein is an absolute dictator and tyrant, and the idea that somehow he expects the Iraqi parliament to debate this -- they've never debated anything else. I'm surprised he's even bothering to go through this ploy." Why should she, or we, be surprised? Bush went through "the ploy" of getting approval from "his" Congress knowing he'd get what he wanted. To me, the only thing sadder than a rubberstamp parliament is a democratic legislative body in which the members of the opposition party have the freedom to stand up to "the leader" but don't. I'm referring to the absence of meaningful debate of Bush's latest war plans both in our Congress and in the recent elections. We got lots of nasty exchanges by the candidates in the various elections for Congress around the country, but the exchanges were on the same intellectual level of the mutual dissing by the opposing rappers in the Eminem movie, 8 Mile, that my daughter and I saw the other night. Totally missing was any meaningful debate on any of the issues, including the big one. I like that word "ludicrous" that Ms. Rice used, but I think we should apply it to the conduct of our representatives and the candidates who seek to represent us -- and, most of all, to our own conduct in asking so little of them. (11.11.2002)

Monday, 05.01.2006

Onward Christian Soldiers - another oldie but goodie. The other day we reprinted an entry we posted on our BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else website on 11.06.2002, i.e., right after the election, in which the G.O.P. fared well. Here's a companion one, posted the same date:

How did Cheney, Bush, Coleman & the other Chickenhawk Generals do it? Simple. They were well aware, as clever politicians have been for hundreds of years, of the truth behind one of Geo. Simmel's fundamental principles of conflict theory, that conflict with an external entity, or the threat of it, brings persons and groups together even though their interests are not otherwise shared. By keeping our eyes on the ball of War against the Great Evil Enemy, they diverted us from other issues, such as the Administration's dismal handling of the economy since gaining power, its abuse of our civil liberties, etc. What would be amusing if it weren't so sad is the parade of basically good people -- including churchgoers, kindly neighbors who ordinarily wouldn't harm a flea -- waving the banner of the necessity of War against Evil, knowing, of course, that their own sons won't have to put their lives on the line. Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition. Onward, Christian Soldiers. Sad stuff. Sad. (11.06.2002)

Friday, 04.21.2006

Chickenhawk Generals - an oldie but goodie. Here's a verbatim copy of an entry we posted on our BurtLaw's Law and Everything Else website on 11.06.2002, i.e., right after the election:

Chickenhawk General Norman Coleman. A "chickenhawk" is "a term often applied to public persons - generally male - who (1) tend to advocate, or are fervent supporters of those who advocate, military solutions to political problems, and who have personally (2) declined to take advantage of a significant opportunity to serve in uniform during wartime." The definition is supplied by Steven Fowle, a Viet Nam War veteran, editor of the New Hampshire Gazette, who maintains the Chickenhawk Database, an in-depth tabular presentation of the military records of all the brave men who are so intent on invading Iraq. If I were a hawk, I'd be eligible for listing. But, as I was during the Viet Nam War, I'm a dove on this one, at least until Cheney, Bush & Co. persuade me otherwise. All they've persuaded me of thus far is that their subtle use of war talk to divert public attention from their domestic failures in order to win control of both houses of Congress was as sinister and cheap as it was well-timed and effective. No one did a better job of it than Minnesota's Norm Coleman, who was hand-picked by Cheney, Bush & Co. American soldiers, we give to you the newest and glibbest of the Chickenhawk Generals who will send you into battle, General Stormin' Norman Coleman. (11.06.2002)

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