Sunday, May 6, 2018

Impeachment Properly Understood

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Impeachment Properly Understood
P. Schultz

            Below is a link to an article considering, among other things, the impeachment process embedded in our constitution. And it is illuminating, at least up to a point. But the article contains one rather important inaccuracy, concerning what kinds of presidential acts are impeachable. The article claims:

“From this point of view, it seems most persuasive that prosecutors should be able to charge a sitting president with ordinary crimes. Insofar as it restricted impeachment to “high crimes,” the Constitution did not directly address a circumstance like this one.”

            The error here is the claim that presidential impeachment is “restricted . . . to ‘high crimes’.” Presidential impeachments include but are not limited to “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which is an error commonly made. This error is related to another, more important error, viz., that impeachment is about removal from office and only about removal from office. Rather, as the early history of impeachments illustrates, impeachment is a means of holding office holders accountable for their actions and accountability need not dictate removal from office. The Constitution should be read as saying that, only in cases of high crimes and misdemeanors, may a president be removed from office. For other instances of abuse or misuse of power, presidents may be held accountable via impeachment without necessarily being removed from office. They may be punished or dealt with in other ways, such as fines or censure. [Andrew Jackson was censured by the Senate and he argued not that this could not be done but that it could only be done via the impeachment process. Jackson was correct.]

            So, for example, in the case of Bill Clinton’s impeachment and trial, he could have been held accountable for his behavior, censured by the Senate and, perhaps, be required to apologize to the American people for his behavior, without being removed from office. And, of course, this would have made more sense than thinking that Clinton’s actions constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors,” when clearly they did not. To say that “obstruction of justice” is always a “high crime and misdemeanor” is unconvincing, especially when the obstruction was not in the service of hiding a political abuse of power, such as undermining the Constitution via illegal actions like funding a war against congressional wishes or conducting secret bombings of a country the nation is not at war with.

            To me, while I don’t support impeaching Trump, this is not to say that he could not be, constitutionally, impeached, tried, and held accountable for his behavior without being removed from office. As Gerry Ford said a long time ago, it is up to the Congress to decide what is an impeachable offense and whether the alleged offense or offenses constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The men who wrote the Constitution knew that they were creating a dangerous office when they created the presidency and, via the impeachment process, tried to adopt a way of holding its occupants accountable as well as making them removable. We would do well to follow their constitutional procedures.



Monday, April 30, 2018

Trump: Doing the Work of the Deep State


Trump: Doing the Work of the “Deep State”
P. Schultz

            Although it may seem odd, given Trump’s criticisms of the CIA and the FBI, often identified as agencies of what is being called “the deep state,” but it seems to me that Trump is actually an ally of that state, and that he is seeking to reinforce that state as much as possible. To explain.

            9/11 served the purposes of the deep state, that is, the government agencies that engage in secret or covert activities that were created after World War II with the onset of the Cold War. These agencies, the CIA, NSA, DIA, the Pentagon, were thought absolutely necessary in order for the U.S. to successfully confront and contain – and even roll back – communism as found in the Soviet Union and China. And many today would say that such thinking was absolutely correct.

            These forces, the deep state forces, were buoyed by 9/11, to say the least. As one commentator put it, “9/11 was a victorious moment for the proponents of the deep state,” and especially for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who had been advocates of such forces for decades. But as 9/11 receded from view and as the U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed pointless, the forces of the deep state needed to be resuscitated. And just in the nick of time, apparently, along comes Donald Trump with his agenda to “make America great again.”

            It may seem strange, given Trump’s rather antagonistic relationship to agencies like the CIA and the FBI, to argue that he is doing the work of or for the deep state. But it is useful and necessary to notice that Trump’s attacks on the CIA and the FBI are not attacks on those agencies per se. Rather, they are attacks on their current manifestations, primarily for not living up to their potential, for not employing their powers as fully and as vigorously as they could or should. This is a large part of Trump’s claim that his political task is to “make America great again.” For Trump, America was great when the forces of the deep state were in control, i.e., before the eruptions of the 60s, before Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, and before the congressional investigations of the 70s that undermined the power, especially the covert power, of the CIA, when the CIA could, for example, overthrow governments in Iran and Guatemala without opposition or even criticism from Congress or the people.

            Once we recognize, as we should, the basis of American greatness, viz., agencies like the CIA, the FBI, NSA, and the Pentagon with its largely invisible military spread throughout the world, then and only then will America be great again. For Trump, it is not popular government, not republican politics that made America great and could make her great again. No, it was power exercised secretly and covertly throughout the world. Trump is anything but a populist, although he tries to pose as one. He is a defender of those forces that compose our deep state; those forces that are in tension with and that sometimes undermine popular or republican government.
            It would be useful if (a) this were more widely noticed and (b) if the Democrats would embrace a popular or republican political order. But the Democrats seem to share Trump’s faith in our deep state and so they don’t draw attention to the anti-republican core of Trump’s project to “make America great again.” Which is unfortunate because as James Madison pointed out, the American choice, its most important choice, is between republican and non-republican government. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

American Hypocrisy

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American Hypocrisy
P. Schultz

            Tonight, April 13, after he launched a missile attack on Syria, Trump addressed Russia and Iran in his speech as follows: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?”

            Well, to answer his question, Trump might want to ask America’s allies because this is a nation that also has committed “mass murder of innocent men, women, and children.” He might also want to ask nations that have allied themselves with the Israelis, who also have committed “mass murder of innocent men, women, and children.”

            Here is one link that points to the hypocrisy that characterizes Trump’s thinking and that of many Americans. Read it and weep: https://consortiumnews.com/2018/03/22/how-many-millions-of-people-have-been-killed-in-americas-post-9-11-wars-part-one-iraq/.
Indeed. How many millions has the US killed since 9/11? Hard to say but it is several millions at least.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

1962: How American Government Works


1962: How American Government Works
P. Schultz

            The year is 1962, John F. Kennedy is president, Robert Strange McNamara is Secretary of Defense and they confront a war in Vietnam. Now, in the conventional understanding of how our government works, these men, and others, are trying to decide what would be the best course of action for the United States and to make that decision they – and others – are investigating, making assessments of “the facts” from which they can draw conclusions.

            Well, would that it were so. But it wasn’t. As the book by John M. Newman, JFK and Vietnam: Deception, Intrigue, and the Struggle for Power, makes clear, there were many involved in this decision who were willing to deceive, engage in intrigue in order to ensure that the United States would commit its soldiers to the war in Southeast Asia, and President Kennedy was apparently not among them. And this deception, this intrigue came to a head in 1962 at McNamara’s fifth SECDEF conference, which was, as Newman concludes, “a watershed event in more ways than one.”

            At that conference, with the approval and participation of General Harkins, who was the head of our effort in Vietnam, “The Secretary of Defense was purposely misled on nearly all of the crucial aspects of the war: the size of the enemy; the number and quality of enemy operations versus the number and quality of friendly operations; the territory controlled by the enemy versus the territory controlled by friendly forces; the number of desertions from South Vietnam’s armed forces; the success of the placement of U.S. intelligence advisors; and the problems with [South Vietnam’s] Self Defense Corps. The maps, the statistics, and briefings he was given led him to remark at a press conference after the meeting that ‘every quantitative measurement . . . shows that we are winning the war.’” [p. 255]

            And there is more. At an earlier SECDEF conference, there was ambiguity about the enemy’s “order of battle,” that is, about the number and disposition of the Viet Cong’s and North Vietnamese forces. Of course, the order of battle is probably the most crucial information to be had in a war as it establishes how many of the enemy there are, where they are, the weaponry they possess, their ability to resupply their troops, and their morale. So McNamara ordered that a special group be formed to come up with a definitive account of the enemy’s order of battle. Such a group was formed and they concluded after an intensive investigation that the strength of the enemy in numbers was 40,000 hard-core troops in the Viet Cong.

            Now, as this figure was considered far to high by the Air Force colonel, a Col. Winterbottom, who had given an earlier and much smaller estimate of the enemy’s strength, he told the men who had arrived at the 40,000 figure that they had to lower it. “As the middle of April [1962] neared, the order of battle team ‘had a figure which we were fairly firm on,’ Benedict [a team member] reports; ‘the local force battalions and recognizable guerrilla units were over 40,000.’ This figure simply ‘blew away’ Winterbottom. He ‘flat said that was unacceptable.’ To their amazement, Winterbottom ordered them to come up with a lower one.” [p. 242] But because most of the members of the order of battle of team were military, they felt that they had to obey Winterbottom’s orders. They then concocted a scheme by which they could lower the 40,000 number to 20,000 “confirmed” enemy, with another 10,000 being “probable,” and with another 5,000 being “possible.” But this number “was still unacceptable to Winterbottom, who was after a much lower number.” [243] And because two members of the order of battle team were a threat to Winterbottom, one who was a civilian and the other who worked in the Pentagon, Winterbottom had these two men taken “off the order the battle study and assigned other duties.” [243] The final number that was presented to McNamara was 16,305!

            In another little drama, just before McNamara arrived for his SECDEF conference in May 1962, a multi-colored map had been prepared to show the Secretary of Defense, red representing “VC in ascendancy,” blue representing “VC controlled areas,” yellow depicting “GVN ascendancy,” and white representing “neither VC or GVN control.” As Newman describes the event: “[General] Harkins apparently assumed that since he had cut the enemy hard-core forces to just over 15,000, the map would reflect this figure, and he never actually looked at it until the night before McNamara’s arrival. That evening he presided over a rehearsal of the briefing he would give to the Secretary the next morning. Harkins and his entourage entered the room and took their seats. ’Oh my God!’ Harkins blurted out, spotting the map. ‘We’re not showing that to McNamara!’ The map got ‘edited’ then and there. Winterbottom stripped off large portions of acetate depicting enemy areas, and replaced it with acetate depicting neutral or government areas. Allen [the civilian member of the team], who witnessed the entire event, recounts General Harkins directed while Winterbottom physically removed and changed ‘large chunks’ of the acetate overlays. In all, Harkins and Winterbottom removed about one-third of the ‘enemy-controlled’ areas, and converted about half the ‘neutral’ areas to ‘government’ control. [The falsified ‘measles map’ was declassified at the author’s request in 1988.]” [249]

            So, there you have it. A little peek into how our government operates, even at the highest levels. And with this peek you will understand why I use to tell students in my classes, “Don’t believe anything the government tells you, unless you have confirmation from other, independent sources.” And what was cost of these lies? At least 58,000 + American military deaths, hundreds of thousands of maimed and crippled Americans and Vietnamese, and millions of Vietnamese deaths. And no one was held responsible.

           

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Indecency of the Decent

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The Indecency of the Decent
P. Schultz

            Recently, as I was involved in an exchange of letters with an old friend, actually an old girl friend with whom I had not been in contact with for many years, I was reminded of a passage in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. In that passage, the narrator, Thomas Fowler, is talking about Alden Pyle, the quiet American, who is in Vietnam in order to “save” that country from the Communists and has managed to commit an atrocity that he thinks will help his cause.

            And Fowler says of Pyle: “What’s the good? He’ll always be innocent, you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them. Innocence is a kind of insanity.”

            I was reminded of this quote because my former girlfriend, who is Republican and a Trumpette, has claimed in her letters to me that what she wants is to recreate the “civility,” the “stability,” the “morality” that use to exist in the United States but that exists no longer. It dawned on me that she thought nothing of her desires, that is, she thought nothing could be more self-evident than restoring such things as they once existed. Certainly, she gave no thought to the harm she might do in pursuing and achieving her goals. After all, what could be controversial or dangerous about restoring civility, stability, and morality? She was convinced that her politics, like those of Trump and other right wingers, was harmless.

            But that got me to thinking and I wondered whether in fact her desire to restore decency to American society was as harmless as she assumed it was. And that would depend on whether the decency that she pined for had been harmless in its earlier manifestation. What did constitute decency when she and I were in high school and college in the 60s?

            Well, one aspect of that decency was a condemnation of homosexuality and homosexuals. Such condemnation was the decent thing to do then because it wasn’t enough to let gays and lesbians alone, let them be. Moreover, another aspect of that decency was condemnation of interracial romantic relationships and even interracial relationships of a non-romantic character. My mother, who allowed my brothers and I to play with the Weathers family, a black family, was criticized for that behavior, especially when Jimmy came to our house to play or we went to his house to play. That was the decent thing to do in those days and it was my mother who was, according to many, behaving indecently.

            You see, the problem with decency and the decent is that they depend on judgments rendered elsewhere, as it were, judgments that reflect the prejudices and hatreds of the broader society. In a racist society or a homophobic society, as society was in the 60s, decency requires that the decent be racist or homophobic. It is like when in Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn decides that he will not turn Jim in even it means that he will burn in hell for his actions. In a racist society, racism is the decent thing to do, even that which is required by the gods or by god. But undeterred even though convinced of his own indecency, Huck will do the indecent thing even at the price of his eternal life.

            I knew a young man in the 60s who I suspect was gay. Without being required to do so, this young man enlisted in the armed forces, went to Vietnam where he died. I imagine in some sense that possibility didn’t look so bad given how indecently he would have had to live as a gay man in American society in those days. And if he had survived, who would dare question his “manhood?”Maybe, he thought, he could even reclaim "it" from his demons, proving he was a "real man."

            The decent people often, in fact very often behave indecently as Alden Pyle did – and many other Americans as well – in Greene’s Vietnam. But as Fowler noticed, “you can’t blame the innocent, they are always guiltless. All you can do is control them or eliminate them.” Because, after all, “innocence is a kind of insanity.” And like lepers, Fowler asserts elsewhere, the innocent ought to be required to wear bells so we know when they are present and we can protect ourselves from their madness. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

JFK and Vietnam: Blinded by the Light


JFK and Vietnam: Blinded by the Light
P. Schultz

            I am reading an interesting book, Death of a Generation: How the Assassinations of Diem and JFK Prolonged the Vietnam War, by Howard Jones.

            At one point, Jones asserts that “Lacking any understanding of these people, US observers attempted to explain their motives in terms that were meaningful to Westerners.” [p. 271] I believe what this means is that Westerners deal with political life – and perhaps life itself – as a series of problems, trying to solve each one with the application of expertise of one kind or another. So, for example, people in the US today conceive that there is “a gun problem,” just as in Vietnam when Kennedy was president there was “a Buddhist problem,” “an infiltration problem,” and/or “a corruption problem.”

            But as Jones intimates, it is questionable how much understanding this approach, this mindset promotes. And it seems to me that while it promotes what might be called “wide understanding,” it does not promote “deep understanding.” As a result, our politicians are left with a superficial understanding of the situations they confront.

            So, when the Buddhists rebelled in 1963 in Nam, JFK and his advisers were not aware of it’s meaning, of its depth or importance. As Jones puts it: “The Saigon event blindsided the Kennedy administration. ‘How could this have happened?’ the president stormed to Forrestal.” [p. 271] And “Years afterward [CIA agent] Trueheart made a revealing confession: ‘Nobody guessed the Buddhists had such an important role to play. We had zero knowledge of Buddhism.’” [271]

            This is as much to say that JFK and his advisers has no real knowledge of Vietnam. Whatever knowledge they possessed was superficial; it lacked the depth that would have allowed the administration to understand the Vietnamese and their society. The administration did have expertise of various kinds, political, economic, social, and military but this expertise only guaranteed that they saw widely, not that they saw deeply. And lacking such knowledge, JFK and his advisers did not know, could not know what “the Saigon event,” the Buddhist revolt, meant. They were even tempted to explain it with reference to drug use among the Buddhists, the influence of the Viet Cong on the Buddhists, or with such flaccid phrases as “religious fervor,” as if that explained anything. As one person pointed out, however, “Any threat to Buddhism, especially coming from a ‘non-Buddhist minority,’ could draw ‘a more personal and spontaneous response from the ordinary Vietnamese peasant than Viet Cong political propaganda.’” [278-79]

            Taking social and political phenomena as “problems” to be “solved” by the application of expertise blinds us to the context in which these phenomena occur. For example, to think that there is “a gun problem” in the US blinds us to an alternative view, viz., the US society is a violent society, that the American people are a violent people. To see a gun problem in the US is to see superficially, to confuse a symptom for a cause. It is like identifying drug dealing as our drug problem, thereby ignoring drug use, which is most often voluntary, as a deeper, more important phenomenon. By focusing on drug dealing and drug dealers, whose motives are clear to us, we don’t raise the more important issue: Why is drug use in the US so widespread? What is it about our society, about our way of being in the world that accounts for our use of illegal drugs?

            So, seeing superficially as JFK and his administration did, thereby failing to know what the Buddhist revolt meant, JFK and his administration found themselves drawn to assassinations, to killings, then to full-scale war to try to solve its “Vietnam problem.” Just as politicians, domestically, embraced making war on poverty, on crime, on drugs, and on terrorists to solve those problems. And not surprisingly these domestic wars have been as unsuccessful as was the US war in Vietnam. It turns out that, contrary to what our “realists” claim, power is never enough and power devoid of understanding is quite useless.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Time for Change? The Resignation of President Trump

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Time for Change? The Resignation of President Trump
P. Schultz

            Is now the time to make a significant, even radical change in how our constitutional order functions, viz., by forcing President Trump to resign?

            Sounds weird no? Of course it does and this is because the Constitution of 1787 established fixed terms of office for all the offices it created, supplemented by an impeachment process that could result in removal from office. So, we Americans are not accustomed to thinking of tenure in office as unfixed, as something that would reflect a less certain, a less established period of time. But perhaps it is time to change this scheme, to adopt the practice more common in parliamentary systems of less permanent, less secure tenures of office.

            One advantage of such a scheme, especially if done “informally,” that is, without actually amending the Constitution, would be to make government more responsive to changing circumstances. Another advantage would be to facilitate the removal of officials/politicians who demonstrate “ethical deficits,” such as abusing their power and position in inappropriate ways, whether their behavior was sexually or financially inappropriate. Moreover, such a change might help direct, focus, or contain the “rumor mongering” that has come to characterize our political “discourse” insofar as such behavior, to be legitimate, would need to be linked to a political objective.

            Further, although such a practice seems strange to us Americans, it shouldn’t. After all, LBJ was driven from the presidency in 1968 for his Vietnam policies when he decided not to seek re-election. And his successor, Richard Nixon, was driven from the presidency via the threat of impeachment, as a result of Watergate, his domestic spying, and his Vietnam policies. And some would argue that President George H.W. Bush was also denied or relinquished the presidency in 1992 by the threat of exposure of his subversion of President Carter in the 1980 presidential election when he, and others, made a deal with the Iranians not to release the hostages before that election. And, of course, there have been numerous Congresspersons who were forced from office before their tenure expired, ala’ Senator Al Franken of Minnesota just recently. There has even been an example of a Supreme Court Justice being forced to resign, viz., Abe Fortas.

            So, why not make this practice a legitimate part of our constitutional order? To do so doesn’t require any formal changes to the Constitution insofar as many of our changes to our constitutional order, and even some of the most important ones, have occurred “informally,” i.e., without benefit of formal amendments to that document. Constitutional doctrines and practices, like “separate but equal” and “freedom of expression,” were created informally, and the former, “separate but equal,” passed away in the same way. In other words, constitutional changes, even significant constitutional changes have occurred without benefit of constitutional amendments.

            So, why not now openly embrace a movement to force President Trump, because he is unfit to be president, to resign his office? That is, why not treat this practice as a legitimate exercise of political power in our constitutional order, one that is consistent with what we like to think of as a “republican” or “representative” form of government? Seems like a good idea to me.