Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Re: Ruminations On News Of The Last Two Weeks

April 5, 2005 [[[audio]]]

Re: Ruminations On News Of The Last Two Weeks.
From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

When watching and reading the news during the last two weeks, there have been moments of encouragement.

The public understood and dissed the tawdry political motives of Congress and G.W. Bush in getting involved in the ultra-sad Terry Schiavo matter. Even a federal court of appeals judge lambasted the politicians’ conduct.

Prominent members of the media and/or old Washington hands have been caught saying true things such as that we will fight wars (of empire) willy nilly unless and until the children of the powerful have to face combat too, that half of what Congressmen say is lies, and that people are now automatically tarred as supposedly unpatriotic if they do not favor whatever war a President happens to want to fight at the time.

Prominent journalists occasionally took out after the rendition and torture disgracefully practiced by the United States. In this regard, let us particularly thank God for Bob Herbert, who said on March 28th that "The Bush Administration is desperately trying to keep the full story from emerging . . . . These atrocities have been carried out in an atmosphere in which administration officials have routinely behaved as though they were above the law, and thus accountable to no one." A Washington Post editorial said bluntly that the Pentagon is trying, in its various pseudo-investigations, to evade the question of whether high ranking officials should be held accountable for the illegal abuse of prisoners. Congress, it said, "could put a stop to this bureaucratic cover-up, but despite loud public protestations, its Republican leadership appears not to have the stomach to do so." "Willingly or not," it later continued, "congressional Republicans are identifying themselves as a party ready to accept systematic American violations of human rights." Amen to the Post. Paradoxically, though, a Post article claimed that "some members of Congress are demanding a thorough probe" of the rendition situation (a probe which I’ll believe when I see it. And how many are "some" -- three of 535, six of 535, ten? And do the "some" have any power?)

There has been more reporting identifying the very airplanes and flight records involved in the renditioning that continuously lying government officials say never took place. Letters to the editor in major papers have commented adversely on American torture, and, in a wholly different context, on the fact that our nation has become a place where all kinds of people lie every day about all kinds of things.

A proposed new draft of rules of interrogation of detainees bans confessions obtained by torture: as opined here early-on, when the idea still was only an opinion, not a fact, and was literally never bruited, the fact that confessions obtained by torture are inadmissible in federal courts was a major reason, was perhaps the reason, why Bush’s so-called administration did not want detainees tried in the federal courts. (Of course, Dick Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, two truly evil guys, are against any changes in the rules.)

A federal trial court judge ordered the federal government not to send detainees to other countries, where they might be tortured, without giving them and their lawyers notice and time to object. Another federal judge enjoined a Bush Administration rule that allowed corporations to screw retired employees who reach age 65 out of medical benefits because they are eligible for medicare. The judge said the administration was violating a Congressional statute and was trying to "‘issue a blanket exemption for illegal behavior.’" (Shades of Jay Bybee and John Yoo.)
Leading Washington Post reporters wrote that a majority of the public now disfavors Bush’s war, disapproves of his handling of his war, and thinks the American casualties in his war are not worth it.

A review in The Times itself of the new book on Enron by one of The Times’ own business reporters, the crackerjack Kurt Eichenwald, said the obvious truth about Eichenwald’s claim that, at the top, Enron was a case of "mere" unbelievable stupidity, not criminality: "But with so many alarm bells going off, it is hard to take seriously Eichenwald’s picture of ignorance. Directors of corporations are known for using board meetings to catch up on their sleep, but that the people actually charged with running the company had succumbed to a Rip van Winkle doze lasting years strains credibility." With regard to claimed ignorance, the same review saliently said, "The dangers here are clear, and it’s time to ask at what point ignorance itself should be considered criminal, not only for top management but for that often all-too-clubby group of corporate directors who are supposed to be monitoring what management is doing. After all, the stakes are enormous."

The same reviewer, near the end of his piece, made an ultra important point which has largely been forgotten and ignored since Ronald Reagan launched America’s latest, still all pervasive affair with unalloyed greed in 1980, an affair in which shareholders and the price of the stock are the economic Deutschland of America’s economic Deutschland uber alles: "Conventional wisdom to the contrary, shareholders are by no means the only constituency that counts. The economic reach and power of companies like Enron affect everyone -- employees, suppliers, customers, whole communities and regions." The more so given such stakes, one is tempted to say that people like Ken Lay, with his Ph.D., or Bernie Ebbers, simply must not be allowed the phony Sergeant Schultz defense: "I know nothing!"

In the corporate field, too, the whistle was blown on Hank Greenberg of AIG, another dictator who seems to have gotten away with murder so to speak. It is interesting here that Eliot Spitzer seems to have had more than a little to do with bringing down Greenberg. Spitzer, of course, has had an awful lot to do with cleaning up the mess on Wall Street and in our corporations. This is not only because of what he himself has done, but also because his actions shamed, or in effect forced, the then somnolent, incompetent federal government to become active. He has taken a lot of guff from Wall Street types because of what he has done, but this is a case where a man should be known and admired for his enemies. He appears to grasp that the only thing that bad people in power understand is the possibility of prison and, possibly, gargantuan fines. Having watched his actions, and seen a tape of one of his speeches, he seems to be one of the vanishingly few politicians that is capable of doing a reasonable job for this country. This nation may not be ready for a Jewish President or Vice President (notwithstanding the various ancestral, current, or spousal affiliations of such as John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean and, would you believe, Barry Goldwater (nee Goldwasser)), but, if it is ready for a Jewish President, Spitzer would seem to be far and away the best man. In fact, I would guess he is the best man no matter what, because of his comprehension that jail, and perhaps gargantuan fines, are the only thing(s) understood by the white collar criminal class that runs so much of the economy (and so much of the country).

So in the last two weeks, there have been either some bright spots or some times when the mass media acquitted itself admirably when discussing spots that are far from bright. But none of this is to say that there has been an absence of the more usual horrors -- the lies, immorality, unchecked greed, and miscarriages of justice and other daily fare that is enough to make you sick. Some of it, indeed, while on the one hand making you sick, can on the other hand simultaneously almost make you laugh because of its irony or its preposterousness. Sometimes, moreover, it is merely the other side of the coin from the bright spots.

Let’s start with a story that, in terms of ironic humor, is just an absolute scream. As The Times wrote, "The long-time program director of the Boy Scouts of America and Chairman of its Youth Protection Task Force" is "expected to plead guilty" to a "federal charge of receiving and distributing child pornography on the Internet." That’s right. The Boy Scouts’ program director, and head of its "Youth Protection Task Force" is an aficionado of kiddie porn. As Dave Barry says, "I’m not making this up." You couldn’t make it up.

But it gets better. This guy responded for the Boy Scouts to a former Eagle Scout named Bruce Collins who objected to the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policy. What did he say in his response to Collins? He said "‘some intolerant elements in our society want to force scouting to abandon its values and become fundamentally different.’" Collins, he said, "‘would do well to communicate his displeasure to those directing their discriminatory assault against his beloved Boy Scouts -- the ACLU.’" One has to ask: Just what fundamental values is this kiddie porn aficionado talking about? What is it that this kiddie porn guy says the "‘intolerant elements’" -- the ACLU for chrissake! -- want the Boy Scouts to "‘become fundamentally different’" than? The mind reels at possibilities.

But it gets better still. What federal agency was it that uncovered this hysterical piece of evil humor? What federal agency "sleuthed out" and protected us against this dire threat to the country? Why it was the Department of Homeland Security. Yes folks, the Department of Homeland Security -- your g men in action, protecting you, me and all of us against dire threats to the country. Terrorists can buy assault rifles in the U.S. We still have vastly inadequate information on Al Qaeda and other threats. But the Department of Homeland Security is on the job protecting us against kiddie porn sent over the Internet.

And what was the Boy Scouts’ reaction to all of this? A spokesman said "‘We’re shocked and disappointed. Never in our recollection has an employee been charged with anything like this.’" This almost could have been straight out of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca: "I’m shocked. I’m shocked. Really I am," although presumably the Boy Scouts really were shocked. And disappointed.

Like I said, folks, I’m not making this up. No one could. Read it for yourself on page A13 of the March 30th National edition of The Times.

Then there’s the case of the lying Texas official who oversees that state’s railroad crossings, "where more than 5,000 people have been killed or injured . . . in the last 20 years." (Emphasis added.) To the extent that it’s relevant in the interest of full disclosure, let me say the following here: The article about the Texas official was written by a reporter who, in approximately the last year, has written somewhere between, I would guess, six to ten major pieces on railroads’ failures of safety, particularly their misconduct regarding grade crossings. He also, I gather, has done a documentary TV special on the subject, which I have not seen. The full disclosure involved is that it is my understanding that this reporter got a lot of his initial information from a good friend who is extraordinarily knowledgeable on the subject and appears as an expert witness for plaintiffs. So, if that’s relevant to full disclosure, there it is.

Anyway, over the course of eleven years this Texas official signed about 100 affidavits, at the request of defendant railroad companies, that were in crucial respects false, but that got plaintiffs’ cases thrown out of court in Texas. He would generally have the railroad companies draft the affidavits for him and then he would sign them though they said important things that were not true and that would cause plaintiffs to lose. He testified that he did this "in part because he believed he was protecting the state from lawsuits arising from grade crossing collisions." So, as has become customary in the United States, he apparently felt it was okay to tell falsehoods if it helped his cause.

As for the State of Texas, a spokeshole -- I have just learned that word. It’s a beaut, isn’t it? It says so much -- a spokeshole for the Texas Department of Transportation said that "‘Any allegations that [the official] has done anything wrong in this matter are absolutely without foundation.’" So lies are okay in Texas (as was rotten evidence from the crime lab in Houston). Is it any wonder that Texan George Bush wouldn’t know the truth if he fell flat on his face over it? And a spokeshole for the Union Pacific said, "‘Union Pacific is entitled to rely on the sworn statements of a Texas state official" -- false sworn statements that were generally drafted, one gathers, by the railroad’s own lawyers.

It’s great to live in an honest country, isn’t it?

There was more on (dis)honesty in court in the last couple of weeks, in the Justice Department’s case in federal court against the tobacco companies. One of the companies has refused to turn over a memorandum which, one gathers, may be quite incriminating. An Australian court quoted from it a few years ago, and the company was ordered to produce as a witness an executive who would be able to answer questions about the publicly revealed parts of it. The company has admitted that it spoke falsely when it said a particular executive could do so, and the federal judge fined it $250,000 for "egregious lack of candor." Of course, to a tobacco company, one would imagine, $250,000 is not even chump change, particularly when compared to the hundreds of millions or numerous billions it could lose if its conduct is revealed -- just as the tobacco companies were previously driven into settlements costing hundreds of billions when documents for which they claimed attorney/client privilege were released to their opponents.

Let us not forget John Negroponte. Our new and first director of national intelligence has favored and fought for the wrong side of nearly everything, hasn’t he? He helped arm the contras and helped manage their war, ignored kidnappings, torture and murder by Honduran military units when he was ambassador there, helped Kissinger in his so-called "peace negotiations" with the North Viet Namese -- and got out because he thought Immoral Henry was being too soft in his demands, was the American ambassador to the U.N. who pressed our phony WMD claims there in order to pave the road to Gulf War II, and recently was George W. Bush’s ambassador to the disaster called Iraq. This is the guy who will now have power that can affect every one of us. But not to worry: he grew up on Park Avenue and Long Island, went to Phillips Exeter, went to Yale, for awhile went to Harvard Law School, and used to take skiing vacations in Switzerland. He is, in short, a typical American -- of the George Bush stripe.

Turning again to the world of business, there were two notable, if little noticed, occurrences. One is the other side of the clean-up which has been occurring because of officials like Spitzer. Now that some of the crooked, the dishonest, the immoral, the faithless are getting their comeuppance, two Wall Street types are quoted in The Times as saying we have gone too far. One is a big time Wall Street lawyer and the other a big time Wall street investment banker, wouldn’t you know. The lawyer said "We are in a regulatory frenzy." "Corporations are acting out of fear and they don’t want to take a chance that employees did something wrong under their watch, so they are basically cleaning house. Someone has to say enough." The investment banker "merely" said, "The pendulum has swung too far." These guys must be right, I guess. I guess we should stop cleaning out the crooks and the dishonest and the faithless, and should indeed put some of them back into office as CEOs and CFOs and Chairmen, etc.

The other business news is a story that should provoke outrage, both among those who support George Bush’s war and those who oppose it. Everyone knows, of course, that Bush and Cheney’s big business buddies -- the Halliburtons of the world -- have been making fortunes off the war. But what has been happening to the common soldiers and the reservists who have been sent off to fight it? Well, they have been losing their houses and cars and other items to foreclosures and seizures, or have been threatened with this, because, while on duty, they cannot pay the debts they owe for these items. Sometimes guys learn about planned foreclosures or seizures as they are getting on the plane to Iraq. We wouldn’t want them to have nothing else to worry about than what they will face in Iraq, would we? No indeed. So here, fella, worry about your house being taken.

Of course, there is a law against these foreclosures and seizures, a law specifically designed to aid those who have been called up to serve the country. In one form or another the law has been on the books since the Civil War. But somehow or other, the big banks, the big lenders, the landlords, the judges even, have managed not to hear of it. Or so they claim. In this day and age when every law is not only on the books, but on the Internet, huge banks and lenders that have thousands of lawyers at their disposal have not heard of the law, they say. Oh man, gimme a break. These big shots invariably have heard of every other law that remotely could affect them, but not this one? "Gimme your house and your car fella. And have fun in Fallujah." How come we don’t hear George talking about this monstrous situation? Could it be because the big banks and the big lenders are his people? A lot he cares about the small guys who are doing the fighting -- it’s not his kids or his friends’ kids who fight, die and, to add insult to injury, have their houses and cars seized.

The last couple of weeks have also seen some "interesting" news about American abuses in the Iraqi war. The army announced that commanders had decided that 17 soldiers would not be tried in the deaths of some prisoners despite the recommendations of investigators. The excuses included that a soldier had not been sufficiently informed of rules of engagement. But not to worry. An army spokesman said the army takes "‘each and every death very seriously,’" is "‘committed and sworn to investigating each case with the utmost professionalism and thoroughness" and is "‘determined to get to the truth wherever the evidence may lead us.’" Yeah, right. Tell it to the Marines, as they say. Or tell it to the Iraqi who got executed in cold blood by an Army captain -- as a form of "mercy killing," it was claimed in another incident. The captain, whom a court martial merely dismissed from the army, and who received no jail time, is reported to have said, "‘He was in a state I didn’t think was dignified -- I had to put him out of his misery.’" So he performed what was called a "‘mercy killing.’" Please hope, dear reader, that no such captain ever considers you not to be dignified.

There has also been news about the ever present claim that national security forbids giving the public access to information. The ACLU obtained and released a memo showing that for a period General Sanchez authorized such techniques as use of dogs, stress positions, and extreme heat or cold. This memo’s existence but not its contents had previously been known; release of the memo had been resisted on the claim of national security. Since the use of dogs, stress positions, etc. has long been known, it is pretty obvious that the reason for non release was not national security, but a desire to protect Sanchez and the army. And, in another incident, a Canadian citizen who was kidnaped by American agents and rendered to Syria for torture has filed a suit about the matter, which is also being investigated by the Canadian government. Our government "has refused to cooperate with the Canadian inquiry . . . and has asked a judge to dismiss most of his lawsuit, saying that allowing it to proceed would reveal [ -- you guessed it -- ] classified information." This is the ever present cry of the Executive -- nobody has any rights, in court or anywhere else, because national security is involved. Of course, usually it is national misconduct or national nonsense, not national security, that is involved.

I would hazard that, before all this Iraq business is over, we are likely to hear a lot more claims that national security -- and/or so-called executive privilege -- permits the government to hide information. Sanchez is far from the highest ranking guy the government will want to try and protect by hiding bad stuff. The problem goes up, one can be confident, right to Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush. It is a virtual certainty, in one man’s judgment, that they are all guilty of the serious, impeachable felony of conspiracy to commit torture, which carries a sentence of up to life imprisonment. As evidence of guilt higher on the ladder slowly, slowly emerges, the government will become ever more desperate to hide the guilt of those at the top who are responsible. And the method that will be used to try to hide the truth will be the time honored one used by other crooks and/or purveyors of gross immorality like Nixon and all his brethren. The method will be to claim that documents and information cannot be revealed because of national security and/or executive privilege. You can take that to the bank, I would estimate.
* * * * *
So, all kinds of interesting, hopeful, unhopeful, and/or despicable things have happened in the last few weeks. But, to me, the most amazing thing of all to read was something that one suspects would happen but once a year.

Our government, which of course considers itself the moral exemplar to the world -- just ask George -- issues an annual report on human rights in other countries. Other nations, of course, often don’t like what we say about them. Communist China is one of those. So it issues its own counter-report, called "The Human Rights Record of the United States." The Times recently printed excerpts from it (on March 27th, at page 7 of Week In Review), and gave the nearly 60 character Internet address where one can find the English version. (Being a non user of computers, a nearly 60 character net address is frightening to me. Shelley Berman’s joke of the early 1960s, in which he mimicked the dialing of about 30 numbers, and then said, "Hello, operator?", has horribly come to life, both on telephones and, using letters, on the net.) China’s review, said The Times, is "a frank indictment," and, to protect itself, The Times added that it "draws a picture of America that approaches caricature." Yet, The Times further added, this "doesn’t mean it won’t buttress the negative image of the United States held by its critics around the world."

Now, I am old enough to remember when we were fighting what were pejoratively called the Chicoms in Korea, when Lyndon Johnson was worried that they might come in on the side of North Viet Nam, when a horrible dictator ruled their country, when Chinese citizens by the millions or tens or scores of millions got screwed over (as still occurs, I gather) if not killed by their own government, when America did not lust after the Chinese market and Chinese investment in our own country’s securities. People like this writer hold no brief for what was long called Red China during our lifetimes. So it is doubly shocking, triply shocking, to read the Chinese report on America and to think -- the august New York Times to the contrary notwithstanding -- that what China says seems basically right, that what China says seems nothing different, or no more than little different, from much of what a lot of us in the U.S. think.

The Chinese report says we have violent crime, infringement of people’s rights by law enforcement agencies, a huge number of people in jail, a democracy and election system manipulated by the rich who spend fantastic sums on elections, false campaign statements, much poverty, hunger and homelessness, a huge divide in income and wealth, discrimination against and associated bad effects on blacks, restrictions of rights and invasions of privacy because of 9/11, many rapes and assaults against women and children, clergy scandals, abuses of detainees, and a penchant for slaughtering people during American invasions and attacks. Sadly, none of this sounds to me, or to lots of others, like a "caricature," as The Times called it. Rather, it sounds far too much like the godawful truth, like the godawful truth that is a major part of the reasons why so many people of good will are upset about what America has become since it all started (or so I believe) with Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s war in Viet Nam. And to think that such a truth comes out of the mouth of Communist China, a nation so long an object of revulsion and one which still does not seem the moral paragon of the world.*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at velvel@mslaw.edu. Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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