Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Impeachment Recap And Reflections


At 4:32pm on Wednesday, 2/5/2020, the Constitution of the United States was rushed to the Library of Congress and placed in intensive care, suffering from significant assaults against its Principles and Values. Concurrently, the spirits of the 39 Founders who signed the Constitution gathered in an impromptu vigil, waiting to see whether or not the Patient would survive its injuries. The outcome for the Republic is in doubt.

There is much to take away from these past five months of Impeachment and Trial.  The specific takeaways will vary considerably depending on the lens of our varying perspectives through which we view these events, shaped by our widely varying life experiences. In many respects, our concerns are not over what was specifically said and done. Instead, our greater concerns should likely focus more around issues of “rules of law and rules of order,” new precedents being established, and our basic assumptions about our government’s commitment and responsiveness to “We, the People.” Space limitations of this essay does not allow for in-depth discussion of these events; that will be left to the historians. Meanwhile, perhaps the following reflections may be helpful.

1. It is a violation of federal law to solicit or receive assistance from foreign entities for a political campaign. All discussion starts with that legal reality. Donald Trump admitted in the notes of his July 2019 call to the new President of Ukraine that he did solicit such election help by demanding a foreign investigation of his primary potential election rival. [Such admission was also consistent with his public call for assistance to Russia in 2016 (“Russia if you are listening…”), his interview with George Stephanopoulos in June 2019 expressing his willingness to accept political dirt from foreign entities (“I would look at it and decide whether to use it…”), and his 2019 request of China made on the lawn of the White House inviting them to “also look into corruption by the Bidens.”] These public/confessed actions broke the law. He reinforced his demands by acts of bribery/coercion in holding up a White House show-of-support meeting, along with illegally (per the General Accounting Office) holding up $250M+ of military aid appropriated by Congress. These actions constituted Impeachment Article 1.

2. The violation of the foreign interference law was not an accidental, one-time event, but was a deliberate campaign authorized and orchestrated by Trump that went on for nearly a year. It involved numerous employees and non-employees of the government to either obtain the Biden investigations, and/or to hide these secretive efforts. As was said, “everybody was in the loop” –cabinet secretaries, department heads, and outside players. It significantly included Devin Nunes (House Intel Committee ranking Republican) and Pat Cipollone (lead counsel on Trump’s defense team) – two significant conflicts of interest. Keeping these secrets hidden included a total refusal to comply with any legal Congressional subpoenas for testimony by participants, along with relevant documents. The defense argued that “there was no first-hand testimony about the president’s actions,” yet Trump refused to let firsthand witnesses testify. If Trump was truly innocent of these charges, why did he not flood the Senate with witness testimony and documents that would rebut the prosecution and prove his case? This, blanket refusal to cooperate with the House investigation constituted Impeachment Article 2.

3. The House Managers prosecuting the Senate trial were well-organized in laying out the detailed course of events underlying Impeachment Article 1. Their presentation earned compliments from a number of senators from both parties. This was in stark contrast to Trump’s legal defense team which never seemed to settle on a consistent line of defense.

4. The facts upon which the impeachment charges were based proved unarguable and uncontestable. This led Trump’s defense team to pursue an evolving line of defense. First: he did not seek a “political favor” from Ukraine. Second: well, he did, but what he did was not wrong. Third: well, his actions may not have been the best to do. Fourth: well, he asked Ukraine for a “favor,” but there was no quid pro quo – in spite of the substantial testimony to the contrary. Fifth: well, he committed no actual crime. Sixth: well, yes, he may have committed a crime, but it is a crime that does not rise to the “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” level of impeachment. Besides, ultimately a) Ukraine announced no prosecutions and b) they got their money. (Is the burglar who doesn’t find the jewels therefore innocent of the break-in?) Various Trump supporters tried to denigrate the significance of Trump’s solicitation of political help from Ukraine (and Russia and China). But for the Constitutional Founders, resisting any interference by foreign entities was a high priority and concern.

5. Twenty years ago in the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, Senator Lindsey Graham and constitutional professor Alan Dershowitz separately argued that impeachment does NOT require the commission of an explicit statutory criminal act. In this trial on behalf of Trump, they each reversed course and said that impeachment DOES require a criminal act (an opinion rejected by the vast majority of legal scholars and Constitutional Founders). So which is it? Is legality based upon the law, or who the defendant is (and what political party s/he belongs to? Founder Alexander Hamilton wrote in “The Federalist” that impeachment applied to “the abuse or violation of some public trust” and “injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Professor Dershowitz went on to offer a painfully nonsensical legal argument that if whatever the president does is for what s/he concludes is in the best interest of the country as s/he sees it, it is not illegal or impeachable. This includes concluding that if s/he is the best person to be president, then whatever s/he does to get elected is permissible. It is a discredited reasoning reminiscent of President Nixon’s statement during Watergate that “If the President does it, it is not a crime.”

6. One example of how far integrity has disappeared from Congress was the abdication of the Impeachment Oath. All one hundred senators swore an oath to their god committing them to approach this senate trial, and review the accusations and defense, from a perspective of “impartial justice.” Nevertheless, some senators from both parties announced their decision and intended vote well before the trial started. In particular, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went even further by stating his intention to shut down and dismiss the trial as soon as possible, and that he was “in total coordination with the White House” (i.e. Trump) as to how the trial would be conducted. Hypocrisy reigned supreme.

7. To justify his decisions about the trial rules, McConnell (and other Republican senators) claimed that this trial was following the same rules as the Clinton impeachment. This was wrong. Clinton’s trial was based on the findings of an “Independent Counselor” (Ken Starr, now a part of Trump’s defense team) appointed by the Attorney General, who spent several years investigating Clinton. Starr turned over boxes of his interviews and supporting documentation – including sealed grand jury testimony – to the House, which formed the basis of the House’s Articles of Impeachment. This was supplemented by three witnesses called to the Senate. No such Independent Counselor or grand jury testimony was allowed for the trial of Trump. Trump’s trial was the first to include no witness testimony or additional documentation (though 70% of the public supported such input).

8. Some Republican defenders of Trump made the argument that this impeachment “was a partisan affair from the get-go in the House, an attempt to reverse the results of the 2016 election; the guilt/innocence of Trump should be left to the voters in November.” First, if it was a partisan affair in the House, would not the country be best served by rising above partisanship in the Senate and conducting a demonstrably model impartial trial– instead of tit-for-tat partisanship? Second, the Constitution assigns responsibility to the Congress for determining whether a president should be impeached and removed. It does not assign that responsibility to election day voters. Congress needed to step up to the job rather than pass the buck. Third, the basis for the Article 1 charge was that Trump sought to illegally tamper with the 2020 election. How does one defer his trial to the very process corrupted by his guilt?

In the end, this entire episode was not a proud moment for an America that has been an aspiration and role model for democracy for the world.  Trump broke at least two federal laws, threatened the security of both a European ally and America, and then tried to hide his actions from Congress and the citizenry. Virtually no Republican senator disputed that Trump committed these actions; rather, the trial was reduced to the subjective question of “how important” was it. The Senate “trial” proved to be no trial at all based upon many Americans’ understanding – by their own experience – of what constitutes a trial. In the process, the Senate effectively announced that: a) the President IS in fact above the law; b) House and Senate Republicans will back Trump in virtually whatever he chooses to do; and c) Congress has surrendered its oversight role over the Executive Branch – access to testimony, documents and information will henceforth be limited to only what a President allows.

Where this takes us from here, and what Trump will now feel free to do, is anyone’s guess. Now it is the People’s obligation to speak its impeachment judgment at the polls in November. What will America’s verdict be in November 2020?

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 18, 2020

2020 Vision


A new year is upon us. Not just a new year, but also a new decade. As it turns out, a decade as important and significant as was anticipated, a decade that will be defined by its first year. The events and the language are going to set our table, and define our future, more so than any year since 1945. Faced with a variety of choices, directions and alternatives, this is the year that will call the questions of who we are as a people and a country, and ask us to clarify what kind of country we want to live in, based upon what values and principles are truly most important.

We have been entrenched in uncivil conflict for 20 years, conflict now coming into open headlong collision. As a country, we have been arguing among ourselves about America’s purpose and promise since the very beginning of the Republic. We have been through and survived even worse times and fissures in our relationships. But not since our American Civil War has there been such a concerted attack on the institutions and principles that have held this country together in spite of our arguments. We argue about government programs, policies and priorities. We file endless lawsuits to try to clarify our laws, many of which are in fact clear in their intention. We elect leaders who do not lead – and do not even follow – but rather pursue their own personal agenda (or enrichment) with little regard for “the greater good.” Our conversations with each other have become superficial and outright mean, making societal progress and solutions to problems nearly impossible. Our Constitution – that marvelous expression of social and governmental creativity built upon our population’s better nature – is being chewed up by our population’s worse nature. We are drowning in fighting each other while we ignore the opportunities that are possible if we instead worked together. This dysfunction is funded by outlandish amounts of money spent to benefit self-interests in governmental, non-profit, cultural, religious, and corporate realms. And there seems no end in sight to this toxic and counterproductive environment.

Right out of the chute in 2020 will be the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Will this process be a political sham? Or will one hundred senators ignore the Politics of Power and, instead, act in an ethical exercise responsible to their special oath as “impartial impeachment jurors?” Separate from the ultimate verdict, will our citizens (and the world) watch our democracy in action, or will they see only political grandstanding and theater. Depending upon the outcome of the Senate vote, what actions will then follow, what forces will be unleashed?

Immediately thereafter (or even concurrently), the citizenry will begin to speak through the sacred voice of their vote. They will pick their candidates, and then their final choice, for president, but also for thousands of other federal, state, and local representatives. How will we conduct this election process, given that our experience suggests that this will be a very hard fought and ugly process, filled with exaggerated mistruths? Who will we choose, based upon what criteria: proposed policies; demonstrated competency; evidence of Character? Will this election be governed by fair rules that welcome all eligible voters, or corrupted by partisan misdeeds, perhaps even sabotaged by foreign adversaries intent on disrupting our faith in the results – if not the results themselves?

Alongside this internal journey, there will be incidents, threats, opportunities and conflicts happening across the globe. Ones we may be able to anticipate through today’s eyes; others not yet even a blip on our radar. Who will we entrust to navigate these events in the deeply interconnected world we now live – a world where isolation is no longer an option and cooperation is mandatory. Who will make friends and build partnerships, who will confront enemies appropriately, and who will be unable to distinguish between “friend and foe”?

Running in and out of these major narratives will be a continuing parade of investigations – federal and state prosecutions, judicial rulings, congressional oversight, and media reporting. There seems no end to the list of questionable actions and falsehoods still being continually uncovered. In 2020, some of these investigations will be concluded, some will continue to slowly unfold drop by drop, and (amazingly) some new ones will arise. For many Americans, it is nearly impossible to keep track of all of the separate cases now in process, much less the details embedded in each. But we have to try if we are to be informed voters trying to make good and rational decisions for our country.

Meanwhile, our many divisions continue to get bigger and deeper. We are building barriers over just about every facet of our society with an intention to dominate each other and establish one single “what’s right” for everyone. We are split between two political parties, and split even further within each. Many of our religions are dividing into more narrow denominations and branches over issues of faith, dogma and operational control. Economic goals conflict with social aspirations amid wide-spread debate about the role of government. Divisions over social, religious, gender and immigration questions are “negotiated” in seemingly daily barrages of bullets and violence. Meanwhile, “truth” and “facts” are strewn alongside the highway, roadkill casualties to our efforts to win at all costs. Potential progress is lost because it is “the other guy’s” fault.

Depressing? Yes, quite so. But it does not have to be this way. Our future is our choice – a choice to continue as we are or to make it different. What kind of America do we truly want? What American message do we wish to speak – to ourselves and to the world? When will we get tired of the fighting, and move to a renewed spirit of reconciliation and cooperation? What are we willing to give, and to give up, to achieve a renewed America?

In 2020, we will answer these fundamental, critical questions not by our words, but by our participatory engagement and our actions. It starts with our taking responsibility for the political and cultural environment we find ourselves in. It is not the other guy’s fault; it is our collective fault. The way out requires us to commit to truly staying informed, as difficult as it may be in these times when major events and headlines arrive on a seemingly daily basis. It requires us to reintroduce ourselves to our “opponents” and remember that these are our neighbors whose needs and aspirations should be our concern. It requires us to change the nature of our conversations from throwing bricks and hurling insults at each other, to listening to one another so as to understand why our worldviews differ. It requires us to reject lies, to speak from reasonable facts, to demand truth, and to insist on ethical behavior. It requires us to sit together, work together, and find the many middle grounds that are necessary to make living together possible. It requires us to move away from “my way” and to find “our way” by Compromising with each other – the very foundational and essential principle that our Founders had to draw upon to create this Republic in the first place.

Change does not start in the White House or Congress. Nor in governors’ mansions or state legislatures. It starts in each of our living rooms. Around our dinner tables. It is, as it was designed to be in the beginning, upon us – “We, the People.” What will we do with what we have been given?

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Impeachment Deja Vu


For those of us that lived through the turmoil of the late-1960s/1970, I have previously remarked that our current times have an eerily familiar sound and feel to that time. So it is with the current drumbeat marching us undeterred towards our fourth instance of presidential impeachment proceedings. This fourth instance (out of 45 presidents) seems like a drama we have already seen before, a repeat of history with minimal rewrites of the script. Consider the following:

1. The President:
1974: Republican President Richard M. Nixon (RMN).
2019: Republican President Donald J. Trump (DJT).

2. The President’s Goal:
RMN: To obtain political dirt on his reelection Democratic opponent, George McGovern.
DJT: To obtain political dirt on a leading reelection Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

In both instances, the central issue was/is about using illegal “dirty tricks” to win reelection.

3. The Crime:
RMN: The break-in and wiretapping of the DNC headquarters (June 1972), and using the power of the federal government to cover it up for two years.
DJT: Soliciting help from a foreign leader in generating political dirt, coerced by illegally withholding Congressionally-mandated military aid to that leader, and using the power of the federal government to cover it up (April October, 2019)

4. The Perpetrators:
RMN: His reelection committee; Howard Hunt, Gordon Liddy, several Cuban freedom fighters.
DJT: His personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, multiple Ukrainians (foreign and naturalized citizens) now under indictment.

5. Principal Enablers:
RMN: Aides Haldeman, Ehrlichman, ex-AG Mitchell, Acting FBI Director Gray; other staffers.
DJT: Secretary of State Pompeo, Acting Chief of Staff/Director OMB Mulvaney; AG Barr; various other staffers.

6. The Congressional Investigation:
RMN: Senate Watergate Committee, conducted on a bipartisan basis. Assisted by Special Prosecutor appointed by Department of Justice.
DJT: Joint House Intelligence Committee (lead), Foreign Affairs Committee, Oversight Committee, but not conducted on a bipartisan basis. No special prosecutor made available by DOJ for House committees; seeking the details of the prosecutorial work of Robert Mueller.

7. Revealing The Inside Story – Breaking Through The Wall Of Silence:
RMN: John Dean; Jeb Magruder; Alexander Butterfield; others then followed.
DJT: An unnamed CIA whistleblower; Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch; Ambassador William Taylor; others then following.

8. The Guilty  Confession (“The Smoking Gun”):
RMN: The “White House tapes,” recorded in the Oval Office, Cabinet Room, and Nixon’s private office.
DJT: The “notes” of Trump’s phone call to Ukraine president. (Official transcript remains hidden on private server and unreleased.)

9. The Firings:
RMN: Fired his Attorney General (Elliot Richardson), the Deputy Attorney AG (William Ruckelshaus) in order to force the Solicitor General (Robert Bork) to fire the investigating Special Prosecutor (Archibald Cox) pressing for the release of the White House tapes. The pushback was so strong that Bork appointed Leon Jaworksi as replacement Prosecutor, who then continued (successfully) to go after the tapes. (The “Saturday Night Massacre.”)
DJT: Has fired more of his appointees at this point in his term than any other president to this date, including numerous senior members of the DOJ, FBI and CIA who have not supported his defense claims.

10. The Stonewalling:
RMN: Fought turning over any documents under “executive privilege,” until overruled by the courts. Tapes turned over by Supreme Court ruling.
DJT: Citing “executive privilege,” fighting turning over any documents; forbidding any Executive Branch testimony (people testifying anyway); claiming a president cannot be subject to ANY step in the judicial process (including being investigated); claiming impeachment process itself is illegal; appealing (mostly losing) adverse court decisions.

11. The Impeachment Charges:
RMN: Charged with obstructing justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.
DJT: Likely to be the same; other charges potentially to be added.

12. The Outcome:
RMN: On July 30, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three Articles of Impeachment and sent them to the House floor for a vote. On August 7, senior Republican Senators Barry Goldwater, Hugh Scott, and Representative John Rhodes advised Nixon that he had no chance of surviving an impeachment vote by both political parties. Nixon resigned as President the next day, before the full House could formally vote on the Impeachment charges. President Gerald Ford issued a full and unconditional pardon of Nixon on September 8. In all, 69 associates of Nixon were indicted on various charges; 48 were found guilty. After his resignation, around 1/3rd of the American voters continued to express support for Richard Nixon.

DJT: To Be Determined.

*****

How this current impeachment process, or the election in November 2020, will ultimately work out is unknown. Virtually nothing has been foreseeable and expectable for the past three years. Will it follow historical precedent? Will it chart a brand new course? What is assured is that America’s structures will be further pulled apart, our relationships with each other will be even more deeply divided, and our country’s core values will be tested as never before. This course of events will prove unhealthy and dangerous regardless of one’s political views and positions, requiring years of deliberate work thereafter to set right. In the end, will facts, the rule of law, and our principles of Constitutional government prevail? The jury is literally still out on these critical questions.


©   2019   Randy Bell               https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Friday, October 4, 2019

Invitation To Impeachment


For months, Donald Trump taunted Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats by daring them to impeach him. When the day came that Pelosi decided to open an Inquiry into his conduct, Trump was surprised and caught entirely flatfooted in his response. His surprise was somewhat surprising itself, because Trump is inevitably his own worst enemy and brings most of his bad press on himself. In this case, if he wanted to start an impeachment inquiry into himself, he certainly took the steps necessary to do just that.

Step 1: Announce in a nationally broadcast interview for all to see and hear that, if offered political dirt (“oppo research”) on an opponent by a foreign entity (ILLEGAL), you would certainly take it, and “maybe” tell the FBI after you reviewed it.

Step 2: On a phone call, solicit help from a foreign leader to dig up political dirt on a potential political opponent in your 2020 reelection campaign. It is a CRIME for foreigners to involve themselves in a U.S. election – as well as to request such involvement from them.

Step 3: Add emphasis to your request by holding up Congressionally budgeted and authorized foreign aid until that leader “plays ball” with your requested help. Congress has the exclusive power to appropriate taxpayer funds per the Constitution. Holding up (or redirecting) such funding, as well as hiding that fact from Congress, is Constitutionally ILLEGAL. Trading that funding as an inducement for that leader to commit an illegal action is somewhere between Extortion and/or Bribery – a CRIME.

Step 4: Hide the evidence of your criminal conversation with that foreign leader. Hiding or destroying evidence of criminal conduct is a CRIME of cover-up. Misclassifying the security level of the transcript of your phone call in order to further hide evidence is a CRIME.

Step 5: When a whistleblower reports your criminal activity through established and protected legal channels, threaten to a) disclose his/her identity, and b) retaliate &/or arrest &/or execute that person. Threatening a whistleblower with exposure and/or retaliation is a CRIME.

Step 6: Threaten those persons who gave information to the whistleblower with similar retaliation / arrest / execution for being “spies.” Attempting to influence testimony, tamper with or block witnesses from testifying freely and honestly in court or to Congress is a CRIME.

Step 7: Assert “executive privilege” to keep administration personnel from revealing actions, or conversations, about illegal activity. Similar to the restriction on attorney-client privilege, if the conversation is in regard to the commission of a crime, the right to executive privilege is VOID.

Step 8: Accuse the whistleblower of being a “partisan hack” driven by political motives, and basing his/her accusation on “2nd-hand knowledge”(i.e. hearsay). Then release your own “Notes” from the phone conversation that corroborates the whistleblower’s accusations nearly 100%. If the accusation is proven true, it does not matter what the whistleblower’s motivation was or what was the source of the allegation. The only relevant issue is that you admitted to being GUILTY as accused.

Step 9: Extend a web of conspiracy to achieve this political “dirt digging” objective by referring the foreign leader to various personnel within the U.S. State Department as well as the U.S. Attorney General for follow-up. Government employees are prohibited from doing political campaign work on business time; to do so is a CRIME. Assisting anyone in the commission of a crime is also a CRIME.

Step 10: Send your unpaid “personal attorney,” who is not a government employee and was supposedly hired to defend you against the Mueller investigation, overseas to work out with relevant people the details of the foreign political interference. Non-governmental, private citizens who purport to be acting for the government and seek to conduct foreign policy affairs with other countries are committing a CRIME.

Beyond the above CRIMINAL steps, not all bad decisions are a crime. Sometimes those bad decisions are just plain stupid.

Stupid 1: For three months, wage a reasonably successful media campaign to convince your base voters that the Mueller Report (erroneously) “exonerated” you from colluding with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. Then do a national television interview and say you would absolutely accept opposition research from a foreign power even though it would be ILLEGAL – such illegality supposedly made clear to you at the time. (See Step1 above.)

Stupid 2: Two months later, actually solicit such dirt from a different foreign leader, and then confirm that in your phone call Notes. This essentially said to American voters that, “I got away with it once. Why not do it again?” This arrogance made the allegation of 2016 cooperation with the Russians all the more plausible – if not likely.

Stupid 3: Continue to deny that Russia took actions to help with your 2016 election. The entire American intelligence community – along with several foreign intelligence agencies – as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee have all agreed that Russia did so. Your continued rejection of their conclusions, and (mis-)using the Attorney General of the United States to discredit all of these agencies, only confirms voters’ doubts about your intentions and your inexplicable continued fealty to Vladimir Putin. However it happened, you won the 2016 election. Declare victory once and for all and move on. Trying to rerun the 2016 election is likely to defeat you in the 2020 election.

*****

It is truly sad, even if somewhat inevitable, that the last three years have brought us to this place. This impeachment inquiry is not just a matter of Donald Trump. There are many other casualties that are, and will be, caught up and hurt in this event. One is American democracy and our shared citizenship. Another are the various civil servants across the government who have been, or will be, dragged into this. Some will be innocent of motivation, simply trying to do their jobs as they know it, with their reputation shattered nonetheless. They deserve our compassion. Others will be active perpetrators, blinded by ambition for power and fame, their reputations deservedly shattered.

The biggest loser is Ukraine and Europe. For around 70 years, America has been the backbone of European peace and security – to our great benefit – by its NATO commitment to aid others if they are attacked. That commitment was extended to Ukraine on a bipartisan basis in 2014 when it was attacked by Russia. It is a “hot war” that Ukraine continues to fight to this day for its very existence. By his series of actions, Trump has pulled the rug out from  under Ukraine in favor of satisfying Vladimir Putin. That alarming message to Ukraine and Europe – that America no longer has your back and can no longer be counted upon – will take years to correct. That is the biggest loss of all.

Taking all of the above together, this is why the Impeachment Inquiry is underway. Mr. Trump, you asked for this. You created the means for this. You got what you wished for. Now what?


©    2019   Randy Bell            https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Descent Into Inhumanity


In early August 2019, a form letter was sent out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to a targeted group of non-citizens currently living in the U.S. The letters served as official notification to revoke the special exemption immigration visa status that these recipients are currently under. This program is being completely and immediately shut down, even though there has been no advance announcement or public discussion about such a policy change. The recipients have been given notice to leave the country within 33 days of the mailing date – a chunk of that time already having expired as a result of the bureaucratic mailing process itself.

Who are these dangerous and fearsome targets of this policy change? Mostly children, and their families that have accompanied them, who legally entered the U.S. to receive life-saving medical treatment needed due to their otherwise fatal disease. They include children with such things as cystic fibrosis, heart disease, transplant recipients, and cancer. All would-be fatal conditions except for the care they are receiving, care not available to them in their home country. Care that their doctors say is vitally needed, without which their short-term death is assured.

Take one case that has surfaced in the unfolding news stories relating to this situation. Years ago a seven-year-old girl came to the U.S. from Guatemala, suffering from a very rare enzyme disease certain to kill her. The research hospital affiliated with the University of California-San Francisco invited her to come here to voluntarily participate in a clinical trial being established to find a cure for her disease. Her participation in this group was critical, because given the very rarity of the disease, assembling such a trial group would be very difficult. Fortunately, she was granted legal entry; she came; she participated. Thanks to her contribution, a life-saving treatment (not a cure) was developed. For most of these afflicted children, seeing teenage years is a highly unlikely prospect. However, thanks to this treatment program, she is now 24 years old, recently graduated from college, and thinking about attending graduate school. But to accomplish all of this, she must receive a drug injection on a weekly basis to keep her alive. In thanks for her contribution to health science and helping others to live, she has now been given 33 days to leave the country. 33 days to return to Guatemala, which has no such requisite medical facilities. 33 days not to look forward to the rest of her emerging life, but 33 days to begin her deathwatch. Some may argue that the people on our southern border seeking entrance to the U.S. may or may not be truly in fear for their lives in their home country. There is no such debate about these “33-day people,” Send them home; sentence them to their death.

The DHS visa termination letter not only unilaterally ends this humanitarian visa program, it makes no case-by-case distinction regarding the individuals involved and their respective situations. It further states that there is no appeal to this decision, and thereby no appeal process in place. Upon inquiry from media reporters, DHS cannot even clarify whose idea this was, where it came from, how the decision was reached and by whom, and what supposed objective is to be accomplished. Within the Department, different agencies are pointing fingers at each other as to who was and will be responsible for this program; apparently no one wants to take the heat for this cruelly inhuman decision and non-process.

For several years, we have witnessed our country sink further and further into a sinkhole of national amorality. A sinkhole that has rapidly expanded over these last three years. A sinkhole drawing our citizenry into a daily exercise of hate, anger, and violence toward one another. And just when we want to believe we have finally hit rock bottom, we discover that some unnamed individual, hiding in anonymity, has taken us to yet another new low. This is not an immigration issue, a solution to a national security threat. This is simply meanness for the sake of being mean. It is just exercising power for the sake of power.

We were once the America of hope, of opportunity, of compassion for other human beings, of welcoming arms, of neighbors who looked out for one another. Where has all that gone? I know it still exists in pockets, though increasingly shouted down and hidden in the shadows of our anger. Why are all of our political representatives and religious leaders not standing on the barricades of human decency, reminding us of what is truly important in living our human life. Where are the voices of the citizenry saying that these kinds of actions “are not who we have been, nor who we are, nor who we seek to be.”

Perhaps we thought that separating young children from their families, planting potential seeds of a lifetime of trauma, was bad enough. The bottom of our collective amoral barrel. Apparently it was not. Closing our doors, turning off life supports, deliberately sending sick children home to most assuredly die, is not the America we thought we knew.


©   2019   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Friday, August 16, 2019

Frontier Justice


America has a panoply of national icons. Those shared images that we believe personify the Nation and its people. They can cover a wide range of themes, including people (e.g. Mt. Rushmore), things (e.g. the Statue of Liberty), and events (e.g. Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon). Probably our first national icon was George Washington, “the Father of our Country,” his image showing up in all manners of contexts honoring his dedication and leadership to the Country. From that original icon, the catalog of our treasured imagery has expanded unendingly. These icons tell us about ourselves, and the values and principles we believe in, even though our preferred icons are specific to each of us. Taken together, they can inspire our aspirations and guide us in our decision-making.

In the late 1800s, we added a new icon to our portfolio: the American Cowboy. For years preceding, individuals had banded together to expand the American boundaries westward, some of whom found work in managing cattle herds. But after the Civil War there was a new mass migration from the eastern United States determined to fill in that great expanse of open space called “the Plains,” a vast, minimally inhabited gap in the middle of America. It was an area lying from Canada to Mexico, from just west of the Mississippi River to the Rockies, an arid, often brutal expanse made more feasible for settler occupancy by the installation of the trans-continental railroad and the resulting expansion of national trade.

And so they came, farmers and cowmen eking out a subsistence living from the oft-unforgiving land, while concurrently creating the small, rural frontier towns that still dot the contemporary landscape. Spread over such a broad territory, it was very much a “make it on your own,” self-sufficient life. That included the need to protect one’s self, family, and possessions from those thieving varmints who were hell-bent to take it away from you. Lacking an established local police presence, and a military force spread thinly over too vast an area defending settlers against Indian wars, security had to be achieved by one’s own abilities.

And so it fell to frontier justice. Where a badge was available, fine. But where not, justice was in one’s own hands – hands that held a rifle and a six-gun. The weapons of the hunt also served as the enforcer of law and order, delivering “do what you need to do” ad hoc justice. And so the myth, the icon, of the American Cowboy, was born out of this setting.

The Cowboy was a product of the Great Plains, but was nevertheless adopted by the cities in the East and Far West United States. Thanks to the dime novels and ballad songs of the times, the romanticized image of the independent, solo drifter wandering the plains, accountable to no one, living his life as seen fit, burned its way into the national psyche. Even the “bad guys” were elevated to mythic status.  Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and Sundance, the Clanton brothers may have been outside the law, but they bowed to nobody, including the law of Pat Garrett, the Earp brothers, and Wild Bill Hickok. Dodge City,  KS; Tombstone, AZ; and my hometown of Fort Smith on the Arkansas border of the Indian Territory (backdrop for the “True Grit” movies) served as stages for the Cowboy’s performance.

As is often the case with icons, the truth was far less than the myth. Being a Cowboy was typically a low-paid, lonely, unstable, non-family life. And it turned out to have a short timeline. By the early 1900s, “civilization” caught up with the Plains, and the Cowboy gave way to towns, local governments, automobiles, merchants, schools, and churches. Arizona, New Mexico, and the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) achieved statehood, with all the attendant expectations of civilization.  The frequency of murders and associated mayhem brought calls for an end to the lawlessness and uncontrolled violence. Gradually the rifles went into display cases; the holsters into the drawers – no longer the mandatory fashion accessories.

But if the fact of the Cowboy died, the myth stayed on. The images that had been created from the dime novel became tangible across the country by the Buffalo Bill Cody traveling “Wild West Show.” The advent of moving pictures made Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, and William S. Hart box office leaders. Legendary lawman Wyatt Earp retired and went to Hollywood to become a movie advisor, mentoring John Wayne and director John Ford. Zane Grey western novels topped book sales; western art (e.g. Frederick Remington sculptures) gave majesty to the disappearing Cowboy.

The tools of frontier justice disappeared from the streets. Instead, violence returned its focus on the South’s continuing assault on “freed” African-Americans through the mid-20th century, with a Depression Era side trip into gangster violence (Bonnie & Clyde; John Dillinger) and Mafia internal turf wars. Today, the Cowboy of 1870-1900 may be long gone, surviving only in pale imitation of its once self. But the heritage of his history remains implanted in the minds of a substantial number of Americans. The rodeo is an annual event across the country; dude ranches offer simulated fantasy excursions; fans in western clothing dance at western music shows. Far from where the Cowboy called home, the Cowboy legacy lives on. It is a legacy of the independent loner, going his own way, refusing to be told what to do, dispensing justice as he sees it, avenging perceived wrongs at the point of a gun.

Horrifyingly, this legacy is being reborn in modern America. The gun has now resurfaced in our social places, held by those unable to separate old myth from current reality. Funded by the gun manufacturers, promoted by the NRA, protected by vote-seeking politicians, inflamed by made-up claims of racial and ethnic threats, condoned by federal and state leaders (including intentionally divisive rhetoric from the highest and lowest levels of society), and legitimized by overly misguided judicial rulings, guns are now back on the streets of America. The Cowboys are back, reliving their own versions of the Wild West and vigilante justice. We are once again settling our disagreements and fighting off “enemies” with bullets – far more bullets than ever came out of a six-gun – in an increasing carnage of innocents.

To fight this carnage, some politicians and short-term thinkers propose that we all get a gun to protect ourselves, as if flooding the citizenry with guns is going to magically eliminate gun warfare. More guns in the hands of even well-meaning citizens is a recipe for more gun deaths, not less. But what happens when/if here-to-fore victims start shooting back? Will we finally descend into the race/cultural internecine war that white nationalists and Russia have been seeking to provoke?

I will not be getting a gun, even though as a teenager I learned to shoot one quite well. I will not participate in giving credence to insanity. I will not patronize establishments than allow guns on their premises. Nor is it the Moslem immigrant from the Middle East, or the Central American mother and child, that I fear. It is the modern American wanna-be Cowboy, typically male, white, aged 18-30, caught up in learned hatred, that I fear most.

America had its time to play Cowboy long ago, and determined to give it up in favor of community and laws. We need to put the guns back into the drawer – figuratively and factually. Make our streets, schools, businesses, and churches into safe places for gathering, not war zones. Allow our teachers teach, not guard schoolhouse doors. Make politicians’ substantive commitment to responsible gun safety a Priority One litmus test for how we vote. We, and our ancestors,  have worked too long and too hard to reach a still incomplete level of “civilized” to now let that achievement be lost. Our Cowboy past informs us of what was thought and done then, and how we arrived at now. That past does not tell us what our future should be.

Let the legacy die. Enough is Enough. Do Something.

©   2019   Randy Bell               https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Love It Or Leave It


In the early 1970s, America was a deeply divided nation. The 1950s/1960s had seen a national debate about our racial divide, legalized segregation, poverty, and lack of equal opportunity. By 1970, those causes had been subsumed under the weight of the Viet Nam War. The civil rights movement had provoked violent actions from those who saw their social order and way of life being upended. In turn, the anti-war movement provoked violent actions from those who believed that the government had embarked on a morally, politically, and militarily futile endeavor that was destroying the ethical character of the nation.

The war between the greatest military power on earth and a tiny far-away country in southeast Asia fighting its own war for independence and reunification struck many as an unwarranted and disproportionally unequal conflict. The national protest against it had already driven Lyndon Johnson out of the presidency. President Richard Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the war never materialized; by 1970 it was clearly now Nixon’s war. One part of the country, fresh from the unifying memory of WWII, felt an obligation to support the government in this war as a patriotic duty. Others, seeing the war continue to widen into Laos and Cambodia, seeing the growing number of Americans called into service, and seeing the extreme carnage being inflicted on both sides, concluded that this war was unjustified and unwinnable. Getting out was rapidly becoming the new national priority for our military.

As the war increasingly ground to a stalemate, as the optimistic reports from the front became more and more unbelievable, the public gradually turned towards less and less support for the President and his war. As Nixon desperately looked for ways to shore up the increasingly negative public opinion, he came up with a new tactic: define the war as a patriotic duty, and thereby attack the patriotism of the protestors as being un-American. It is an old rhetorical trick: when your rationale and logic in the debate no longer works or stands on its own, then shift gears and attack the character and credibility of your opponent. Skip over the debate question itself, disengage from the discussion, and just convince people that your opponent is personally so badly flawed that his/her argument is thereby inherently wrong.

And so began the drumbeat of the anti-anti-war populous: “America – love it or leave it.” Dissenting against the war, dissenting against the government, failing to support the President, was cast as anti-American conduct. Objecting to point-in-time decisions and actions of the President was un-American and unpatriotic. The war was not wrong; protesting against it was wrong. Disliking what the government was doing somehow meant that one disliked America. If you did not like America – meaning you did not like what the President/government was doing – one should not fight or criticize to try to change it. Rather, just keep your opinions to yourself or go live somewhere else.

In this love-it-or-leave-it climate, America descended into even greater division. Instead of discussing whether continuing the war was justified, or how to properly conduct it, the discussion now became personal: who was the true American and who was the anti-American.

None of us likes to be criticized. No president likes to be criticized. In 1798, President John Adams tried to make it a federal crime (the Alien and Sedition Act) to make false or malicious statements that criticized the president or the government. His effort to stifle dissent ultimately contributed to his reelection defeat, and no president since has tried to silence criticism so overtly through the law. But that has still left the rhetorical devices available for a weak leader to try to use.

Our Freedom of Speech certainly caries the expectation for us to speak responsibly. But Freedom of Speech does not mandate us to speak intelligently, or to simply repeat the prevailing opinions of the day, or to not speak critically of those that serve us in government positions. Criticism of our President comes with the territory; it is not a job for the weak of heart or the insecure or the untested. Our current President has elected to try the same wrap-me-in-the-flag patriotism card with his political opponents. He speaks in variations of “America – love it or leave it.” Accuses his opponents (without substantiation) of “hating America” simply because they hate the policies and decisions he is making. “Send her back” is a contemptable chant from intolerant hearts. “Go back where you came from” is a short trip for someone who is a U.S. citizen.

In the end, Richard Nixon lost his effort to silence his critics over who was the true patriot. The White House tapes made it very clear who were the non-patriots. As the times from 50 years ago repeat themselves in continuing reverberation today, Donald Trump will likely similarly lose the battle over who are today’s true patriots. The litany of his crimes, me-first pursuits, and cronyism exposes his self-serving understanding of patriotism. Loving one’s country is not measured by loving one’s politician or what s/he says.

The ideals of America are perfect; the implementation of these ideals has always been less than perfect. Military and civilian personnel over our history have sacrificed themselves for the right to speak up, to put ideas – however crazy – into the marketplace of the American public debate. Such debate helps us find the best of ideas to accomplish our ideals. Nobody needs to “leave America.” Nobody needs to “go back where they came from.” Everyone needs to stay right here and let the debate over ideas happen. In the meantime, we can skip the non-debate about who is “the true American.” We can call out those who would subvert our right to self-govern through open debate. We should not allow ourselves to become entrapped within someone else’s empty and malicious rhetorical tricks.

©   2019   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com