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Friday, April 26, 2019

No collusion? How about betrayal?

The question is raised by the Constitution.  It is raised by a phrase in one sentence:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. 
The words "adhering" to our enemies and "giving them aid and comfort" define an act that comprises treason.  To "adhere" to an enemy is to  ""believe in and follow the practices of" that enemy.  "Aid and comfort" includes approving what another country does by encouraging its actions and becoming passively complicit with them.  

The Constitutional article is implemented in the U.S. Code:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

The Mueller report specifically stated that "the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities."   But it did note that the Campaign responded with an accepting and cooperative attitude by being receptive in some instances of Russian offers to help.  At times, the campaign was complicit with the Russian efforts. The report stresses that it is not the final word on the Trump Campaign's involvement with the Russian government and that there might be more to find with further investigation:

 A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.

Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps [instances where information could not be obtained]the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.
Those statements in effect lay out a plan for further investigation of the Trump Campaign and Administration by Congress and makes a recommendation that it do so.  Although the report does not formally make a charge of obstruction against Trump, it details 14 instances, any one of which could be a case against him, if Congress wishes to make it.

However, as Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi have pointed out, Congress should not go hell bent for impeachment,  Rather, it should focus on the fact that Russia has committed an extremely serious hostile act against the United States that transcends politics and threatens to throw the nation into hopeless dysfunction.  Congress' job is to investigate all the factors that are pushing the nation into dysfunction and deal with them accordingly.  Rather than rush into an effort for impeachment of Trump, Congress must use the facts established by the Mueller report as the guideposts for further investigation, analysis, and legislative action.  If the facts lead to impeachment, so be it.  But the objective is to save the nation.  Donald Trump and what is done about him is merely incidental to restoring the standards of liberty, equality, and justice for which the United States strives.

Trump has betrayed the nation with his fraud, his malice, and his ceaseless lying. His personal history shows that he has always behaved this way. Trump is not the essential problem.  The 40 or so percent who support him and the malignant cancer he brings to the presidency are, along with Putin's Russia,  the sickness that has made the United States a democratic invalid.  Trump is a growing malignant tumor on the body politic.  If the nation is to survive as a democracy, he must be removed.  But his removal will not necessarily put the nation into remission or restore it to health.  To many, the election of Trump is a symptom that the country has relapsed into the racism, sexism, and inequality that it has tried to overcome.  The kind of support Trump has is a symptom that democracy in the nation has a potentially fatal illness.

Although the Trump campaign did not have any formal agreement of coordination and conspiracy with Russia to meddle in the 2016, it was openly blatant about shouting approval and encouragement of Russia's efforts.  It applauded Russian activities at obtaining Democratic emails and and offered comfort if not specific assistance.  Approving so overtly of Russia's efforts was a betrayal of the nation.  It offered no discouragement of Russia's intrusions and provided the comfort of giving approval.  And that is part of the definition of treason.  What the Mueller report documents is overt attempts to exploit the products of Russia's work:
After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would "find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails.264 Michael Flynn-who would later serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administrationrecalled that Trump made this request repeatedlyand Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.
In sum, the investigation established that the GRU hacked into email accounts of persons affiliated with the Clinton Campaign, as well as the computers of the DNC and DCCC. The GRU then exfiltrated data related to the 2016 election from these accounts and computers, and disseminated that data through fictitious online personas (DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0) and later through WikiLeaks. The investigation also established that the Trump Campaign displayed interest in the WikiLeaks releases, and that the evidence was sufficient to support computer­ intrusion and other charges against GRU officers for their role in election-related hacking.
While the Mueller report concludes that the Trump Campaign did not have a formal arrangement of coordination and conspiracy with the Russians, it details complicity through encouragement and anticipation of using the results of Russian intrusion.  The Campaign's approval of Russian hacking is an act of betrayal.

As Congress pursues the factual guideposts furnished by the Mueller Report, it should not limit itself to acts of obstruction of justice.  Despite the Report's declaration that no evidence was found that the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia in its sweeping and systematic effort, the Report provides specific instances of betrayal.  It is Congress's job to determine if the actions of the Campaign in adhering to Russian efforts offered enough aid and comfort to comprise acts of treason.  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

If there were a draft, would you serve this country?

I was drafted and served two years of military active duty and four in the reserves.  It never occurred to me at the time to refuse.  Nor did it to most of my contemporaries who were also drafted.

When the draft was ended and all military service became voluntary at the end of the Vietnam War, part of the reason for ending it was that a significant number of men were refusing to serve.  Many fled to Canada and later returned to the U.S. when President Carter gave them amnesty.  Others found ways to avoid the draft, such as acquiring bone spurs by bribing doctors.  However, men who were in the service were showing dangerous signs of mutiny.  The incidents of "fragging"--the killing of officers and noncommissioned officers with hand grenades by American troops-- alarmed military commanders and government officials.  The prospect of an insurrection within the military sent shock waves through the nation.  When the military is undisciplined, the nation as a whole is threatened.

The avoidance of service and the rebellions within the military were motivated by the realization that the 
Vietnam  War was a vicious and lethal absurdity.  It wasted 50,000 American lives, killed about a million Vietnamese, and caused turmoil in the streets of the United States.  People also came to realize that the draft was unfair, with the wealthy finding ways to avoid it, leaving the poor to bear the brunt of it.  Some leaders were in a panic that a class war would devastate the nation.  They sought to remove the causes of discontent that were moving the nation toward violence, so they ended the war and the draft.

One of my contemporaries, who was drafted about the same time I was, recently raised the question about how he would feel about military service during the Vietnam War or our current time.  Like me, he was given an honorable discharge from the service.  He had been active in the anti-war movement but also in supporting veterans of the Vietnam era.  He said veterans had to deal with PTSD and the disturbing irony of receiving honorable discharges from a war that was a dishonorable atrocity.  They felt that they were complicit with the dishonor.

American citizens today are faced with a comparable dilemma.  How can one be proud of citizenship in a nation which elects the epitome of depravity as its leader?  How can any person with respect for decency support a man who brazenly flaunts corruption as a badge of success, whose words cannot be believed or trusted, whose behavior constantly displays a puerile malice?

The dislike of Trump is not a political issue.  It is a moral matter.  When the nation is compared with the moral collapse of Germany as it embraced the Nazi regime, some glibly cite Godwin's Law, which says that as soon as some makes a comparison to Hitler and his deeds in a discussion thread, the discussion is ended.  It is true that mere name-calling using Nazi associations is unproductive and pointless.  But the Holocaust is the moral touchstone of modern history in which an entire continent submitted to and often participated in the commission of atrocities in the name of attaining a superior society.  Nazi Germany defined the intellectual and moral degradation to which humans can fall.  Since World War II, the factors which contributed to humanity's  greatest organized atrocity have been studied and analyzed so that we have an understanding of the motives and moral circumstances that made it happen.  When people who have worked to understand those circumstances compare the age of Trump to the age of Hitler, they are not dealing in cheap political invective.  They are defining malignant social trends that run counter to what this country was designed to be and fought for in World War II.  They are warning that America is adopting the very trends against which members of the Greatest Generation once defended it.

It is not merely a political matter that Americans chose a person of the values of Donald Trump, although politics is the social vehicle that made Trump possible.  But the politics reflect a  shift in American values away from an affirmation of human decency to an embrace of fraud, greed, mendacity, and malice toward many.  Forty-six percent of the voters chose Trump.  They knew precisely what they were voting for because Trump stridently announced and displayed his values during the primary and general election campaigns.  Forty-six percent of the voters chose to make the U.S. a nation of discrimination against and oppression of minorities, a nation that desires and supports malicious lies, a nation that encourages and celebrates corruption.

Supporters and defenders of Trump answer the questioning of his demented tweets and oval office pronouncements by saying he will never be criticized without fighting back, and when he fights back, he fights for all those beleaguered people who have also been criticized.  What informed analysts of Trump's speech acts note is that Trump fights for no one but himself.  He serves only his own depraved purposes.  His tweets and comments are almost always intended to accomplish harm or to encourage others to do harm.  His speech acts comprise a constant stream of malice.  Those who claim that Trump represents them are those who choose to participate in malicious purpose.  And that purpose is based upon racial, ethnic, religious, and social enmity they hold toward other people.  If they feel criticized and demeaned, they might wish to consider how contrary they are to the American premise of decency.

The divide in America is not merely a clash between the self-righteous and ordinary citizens.  It is a moral abyss of the same kind that divided believers of humane values and Hitler's collaborators.  The current collaborators are not generally engaged in a holocaust at this point, but they fully endorse the fraud, the corporate dictatorship, the pervasive dishonesty, and the malice.  And those who do want a holocaust have shown they feel encouraged by the trend Trump is leading.

Those who are advocating for conciliation between Americans just are not paying attention to the moral and intellectual opposites at issue.  The fight is between the benign and the malicious.  

The divide became an issue when the first black president was elected.  Dormant racism was agitated into a political force.  The civil rights movement had advanced the cause of equality to the point where a strained coexistence was possible.  But when a person who many thought should be  a house boy was elected to be master of the White House, resentment exploded into open hostility.  And when Trump began his racist tirades against Latino immigrants, the seething racial bigots found a leader to their liking--someone who would wage a pogrom of hate and oppression against minorities and "libbies," and make manifest the gospel of Rush Limbaugh.  There is no possible way that an American liberal can give in to the hatred, the dishonesty, the malice of Trump without realizing that they would be abandoning the essential purpose of the nation's creation.

The problem for Americans is that defending the country would be defending fraud, hatred, and malicious aggression. The resurgence of social democrats is a response to the realization that capitalism has assumed the aspect of plantation politics, led by a totally corrupt master.  Trump has abolished the efforts at nuclear disarmament, diplomatic restraint of Iran, agreements to address the destruction of climate change, and efforts to promote fair and effective health care.  How can one take up arms against outside aggressors when the most lethal efforts against the American people are coming from inside the country?  And when our allies view America as a danger to them?

The 48 percent who voted against Trump (46 percent of the voters voted for him) are in a dilemma.  If they were asked to defend the country, would they be defending the quest for liberty, equality, and justice?  Or would they be defending the descent into corruption, mendacity, and oppression?  Or would they choose to join the military in an insurrection?

It really is not something I would have to think about.  I'd fight for the country I once served, not the country Trump has made of it.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Colleges once conferred degrees, not status

Two events in higher education led the nation to being the most advanced in the world.  During the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the Land Grant College (Morill) Act which led to the establishment of public universities in every state.  As the U.S. was making the transition from a rural and agricultural nation to an industrial and technological one, the public universities supplied the research and knowledge and the opportunities for young people to acquire the knowledge.  It meant a huge leap of growth in all areas of knowledge as it provided students with the critical thinking skills of the liberal arts, as well as  scientific and technical knowledge.

The second event was the passage of the post World War II G.I. Bill.  As veterans returned to civilian life there was a shortage of jobs.   The G.I. Bill enabled them to attend college so that they could plan and pursue careers which allowed them to not only assimilate back into society but to greatly increase the human skill and talent for the nation's development.  In 1947, 49 percent of the college students were veterans attending on the G.I. Bill.   Rather than facing a difficult readjustment into a peacetime economy, the Bill sparked an unprecedented growth in the economy and advances in all aspects of American life.

Higher education also received huge benefits as it geared up to receive the influx of students who were determined to study hard and apply the knowledge and skills they acquired.  The influx of serious and determined students helped colleges and universities to strengthen and expand their curricula, and to upgrade their teaching and research activities.  America's public higher education system became the most respected in the world, and it set the standard for the advancement of knowledge.  The public universities rivaled the elite Ivy League schools in terms of the knowledge and talent they produced.  While the exclusive Ivy League institutions and other private universities claim an elite status and "star" professors, the public colleges and the private ones which participate in the mission to make education available to anyone who wants it are the force that raises America's education level and creates the vast pool of educated workers which have elevated the nation into world leadership.  

The current college admissions cheating scandal is not an education issue, but a skirmish in class warfare.  When people spend millions of dollars to get their kids into a prestigious university, they do severe damage to higher education.  Their objective is to make their children members of an exclusive club, not to provide them with a real higher education.  Cheating is the bane of academe.  It kills the scholarly enterprise because it destroys the trusted reliability on which knowledge depends.  Most people with education have learned the penalties of plagiarism, the passing off of someone else's work as their own.  People are not as aware of other violations of academic principle for which professors are summarily fired and banned from their profession:  falsifying data, bribery, malicious and sexual misconduct, mendacity.  All of those are behaviors that our current president practices constantly.

Those are the kind of acts that are involved in the college admissions cheating scandal.  They were committed to gain young students entrance into prestigious institutions, but they undermined the most essential qualities that give the colleges their prestige: meticulous honesty and striving competence.  Genuine knowledge is generated, refined, verified, and imparted only in places that apply the rigorous principles of scholarship.  One lie or deception can invalidate an institution as a source of information and as a participant in the making and delivery of knowledge.  For this reason, reputable institutions will rid themselves of personnel who indulge in graft and reject students who gained acceptance as a result of it.  Dishonest practices destroy a college's very reason for being.

Those young adults whose parents tried to buy them admission to prestigious institutions could get real educations at almost any of the  3,275 nonprofit public and private colleges in the U.S.  Many of the universities that do research along with their teaching rank academically as high--in some cases higher--as those that parents tried to bribe for admissions of their children.  Of the universities named in the indictment, six are private: Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, Stanford University, Yale University, Wake Forest University, and the University of San Diego.  Two are public:  the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Texas, Austin.  These universities have earned reputations because of the significant scholarship they have produced--at least at some point in their histories.  It may be the case that some students whose parents bribe their admission are interested in performing a high level of scholarship.  But their parents are paying for prestige and conniving ways to scam admission requirements.  They give little credence to the intellectual work and its products that are the basis for earned reputations.

A popular scam involving colleges is the rankings of "best" colleges" put out by  organizations such as U.S News, Princeton Review, and Niche.  These rankings are more marketing ploys than indicators of academic excellence.  Many colleges refuse to participate because the rankings have no scientific basis.  A critique in The New Yorker makes the point: "There’s no direct way to measure the quality of an institution—how well a college manages to inform, inspire, and challenge its students."  The reason is:

"Sound judgments of educational quality have to be based on specific, hard-to-observe features. But reputational ratings are simply inferences from broad, readily observable features of an institution’s identity, such as its history, its prominence in the media, or the elegance of its architecture. They are prejudices."

A few schools may be diploma mills that confer degrees as something that is purchased with tuition and fees--and may include some "prestigious" institutions.  And the degree of rigor required to earn a degree does vary.  But most colleges maintain standards for scholarship so that a degree is a statement that the student who has one has earned it. Students who hold degrees from community colleges and have then graduated from a state four-year school have generally have degrees comparable to those granted by more prestigious institutions, and they graduate with much lower debts.  But the clamor to get into prestige institutions has cut enrollments at many reputable and substantial state colleges, causing the to cut programs and faculty.  The focus on prestige institutions has had the effect of eliminating some affordable but competitive opportunities for students.  The preferences for the prestige schools is not based upon the facts, but on false information--on silly prejudices.

The hard fact is that paying millions of dollars to get children into prestige institutions is not necessarily going to provide a better degree than one earned by a student who worked his/her way through a community college and then a modest state university.  In terms of educational substance and quality, that working student may have the better degree.  

Real college degrees are about actually improving life.  They are not pretentious ornaments to be brandished like jewelry and luxury cars.  Real degrees mean something.  They mean that the people who earn them know something.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Joe Biden prowls rallies, sniffing out women with funky hair

I was browsing the net reading the latest efforts at informing the populace.  I read this passage:

As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. “Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”
I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, “I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?” He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.” I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. My name was called and I was never happier to get on stage in front of an audience.

After I read this far, I looked for an identification of the source.  I thought I was reading The Onion or some other publication of humor and satire.   But it was from a magazine called The Cut, which says it "covers the issues that matter to women with stylish minds: fashion, politics, motherhood, health, ambition and culture."  This alleged account of Joe Biden coming up behind a woman and sniffing her odoriferous hair has made the national news with interviews in major newspapers and cable news shows.  It has prompted Joe Biden to issue a statement that “not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately.”  Furthermore, he said, We have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention.”

The woman who wrote that passage said Joe's alleged actions disqualified him from running for president and that she is not accusing him of sexual harassment but of invading her space.  What I'm paying attention to is the cheap, absurd, tabloid-level writing style of the account.

"I felt him get closer to me from behind."  Prepare for an attack.

"I felt two hands on my shoulders."  Thank god he only had two.

"He leaned further in..."  Joe, the contortionist."

"...and inhaled my hair."  Was it sprinkled with coke?  You mean that hair in Joe's nostrils ain't Joe's?

“I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it."  That ought to throw him into a fit of passion.

"...what in the actual fuck?"  That's a nice, folksy touch.  Not sexual, but a mere invasion of space.

"He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head."   Told you so.  Nothing like snorting and slowly sucking up a head of reeking hair.  

" My brain couldn’t process what was happening." Of course not, silly.  He was sucking your brains out.

"I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused."  Anything else you'd care to list?

"There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.”  Get a little diversity in there.  But it wasn't mother earth.  It was good ol' Joe Biden. 

The Onion has had fun with Joe Biden during his vice presidency, featuring a picture of him out in front of the White House washing his car.

That passage from The Cut seemed to be in the same vein as a parody of lurid and vulgar writing.  It is hard to read it as an authentic account of something that happened. 

Ultimately, the story is significant for the level to which public discourse, especially in politics, has deteriorated.  If this was a noteworthy incident, competent editors would not let it be told with such atrocious writing.  Political talk of our time consists largely of exchanges of racial and sexual stereotypes--thieving Latinos sneaking across the border, predatory old white males forcing themselves on women, black families hoarding food stamps, etc.  This mode of thought and expression has given us Donald Trump.  It has to do with literacy.  Just as the the words of the Declaration of Independence shaped our direction of development for centuries, the current level of discourse shapes our future.

We deserve what we get.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States