Inhumanity of the Law, Part 2

July 25th, 2018

Having determined to their own satisfaction that deportation of an already traumatized thirteen year old to a hostile environment, where he would face the risk of substantial impairment of his liberty due to persecution, torture, and death (as the appeals court judges described his situation), did not implicate liberty interests sufficiently akin to a day’s incarceration in jail or a juvenile detention facility, so that he was not entitled to have the government provide him with an attorney to defend him against deportation as he would have been entitled to an attorney to defend him against charges of crime or juvenile delinquency by virtue of their incarcerative potential, the Ninth Circuit judges considered whether the immigration court’s failure to provide C.J.L.G. with a lawyer resulted in a deprivation of his right to due process of the law.

Due process rights flow from several sources.  Most important to the Ninth Circuit’s decision in C.J.L.G.’s case were the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, and the statutes governing immigration.  The Fifth Amendment states the general rule that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”  Note that it applies to “persons,” without regard to citizenship.  Statutes implement such broad constitutional guarantees.  The Immigration and Naturalization Act says that an alien in immigration court “shall have the privilege of being represented (at no expense to the Government) by such counsel… as [the alien] shall choose.”  C.J.L.G. argued that he had been deprived of due process on both the constitutional and statutory levels.  The appeals court focused on the statutory claim first, consistent with the appellate preference for deciding cases on the narrowest basis possible. I’ll follow that order, looking at court’s treatment of the statutory issue in this post and the constitutional issue in the next.

In order to overturn the deportation order, the appeals court held, C.J.L.G. had to show, first, that the immigration court had violated his due process rights; and second, even if his rights were violated, he also would have to show that this “prejudiced the outcome,” that is, with a lawyer he could have avoided deportation.

Let’s pause right there. The appeals court acknowledged that there is one established exception to the rule requiring a showing of prejudice: “A petitioner need not show prejudice where he was denied his statutory right to privately-appointed counsel.”  Of the two reasons the appeals court gave for this exception, the second is interesting: “denial of counsel differs from other statutory violations because it fundamentally affects the whole of a proceeding, meaning it is impractical for courts to determine whether prejudice accompanied a particular denial of counsel.” Catch-22!  C.J.L.G. has to prove prejudice, but it cannot be done.

To switch literary allusions, the Ninth Circuit judges dived down a rabbit hole.  In a previous case, Jie Lin v. Ashcroft, the Ninth Circuit had reversed the deportation of a juvenile, Jie Lin, because the lawyer who had represented Lin in immigration court had done such a woeful job that Lin was effectively unrepresented.  C.J.L.G. argued, if Lin’s deportation order was reversed for lack of competent legal representation, was not C.J.L.G.s claim to reversal even stronger?  He had no legal representation at all.  The Ninth Circuit responded that the two cases were basically different.   They observed that Lin himself had hired the crappy lawyer, whereas C.J.L.G. hadn’t hired anyone.  Recall that the immigration statutes grant aliens the “privilege” to be represented by a lawyer in immigration court proceedings “at no government expense.”  The Lindecision, said the Ninth Circuit judges, “is rooted firmly in the statutory right to privately-retained counsel,” that is, the right to be represented by your own, privately hired attorney.  By demanding that the government provide him with a lawyer, C.J.L.G. was talking about a different sort of right, one which the statute did not give him.

Is a person deprived of counsel due to that counsel’s incompetence, as was Jie Lin, in a different situation from a person lacking counsel entirely, as was C.J.L.G., with regard to due process rights?  The Ninth Circuit answered, yes, the statute enacting those rights treats Lin and C.J.L.G. differently because one hired a lawyer and the other didn’t.  But we can’t stop there; a statute may implement a constitutionally fundamental right, but cannot restrict it.  To determine whether there was a substantively meaningful basis for distinguishing Jie Lin’s case from that of C.J.L.G., the Ninth Circuit would have had to look behind the words of the statute and decide whether the statutory “privilege” of representation “at no government expense” is coextensive with the Fifth Amendment’s due process rights.  Why should “due process”mean one thing for a person who can afford counsel, and another thing for a person who cannot?  But they didn’t go there.

Instead, they went deeper down the hole.  When the Ninth Circuit reversed Jie Lin’s deportation order and remanded his case, a court-appointed lawyer was not among the remedies they told the immigration court to offer him.  (These included giving Lin a postponement to find competent counsel or helping him to find one.)  Since Lin wasn’t offered this remedy, the Ninth Circuit implied, Jie Lin v. Ashcroftcannot be precedent for providing it to C.J.L.G., even if the cases weren’t different, although they are, so there.  I have to call this disingenuous.  Lin was not asking for court-appointed counsel.  Lin had been able to hire a lawyer.  It does not appear from Jie Linthat he would have been unable to hire another lawyer.  In short, there is no reason why the remand would have provided a court-appointed attorney for Lin, even if the Ninth Circuit had accepted that a right to such a thing might exist.

You may at this point be thinking, okay, Seth, I’m confused.  Are you saying that the Lin case is the same as the C.J.L.G. case, or are you saying it’s different?  You can’t have it both ways.  So… it’s true that Jie Lin v. Ashcroftdid not state explicitly that minors facing deportation have a right to court-appointed counsel if they cannot find one for themselves.  As the Ninth Circuit correctly observed in C.J.L.G. v. Sessions, that was not the issue in Jie Lin.  But… if one is looking for a statement that a minor deprived of the effective assistance of counsel in immigration court has been denied his right to due process, Lin is the precedent you want, and the Ninth Circuit’s efforts to distinguish it from C.J.L.G.s case make no sense.  Their emphasis on the statutory language at the basis of Jie Linis mumbo jumbo, since the statute merely reflects the Fifth Amendment.  Moreover, on the one hand the Ninth Circuit said that Jie Linhas no bearing on C.J.L.G.,while at the same time pointing at the relief Jie Lin was granted, to C.J.L.G.’s detriment.  Who is having it both ways?

But wait, there’s more.  The Ninth Circuit did not stop at enlisting Jie Linagainst C.J.L.G. despite their own argument that the cases have nothing to do with each other.  They also claimed that by granting C.J.L.G. several continuances “over the course of nearly a year and a half” to explore the DHS list of putatively free attorneys, the immigration “judge” “took an affirmative role in securing representation by competent counsel, which is all that Jie Linrequires.”

Let us not spend too much time wondering why, if C.J.L.G. was not entitled to counsel in the first place, the immigration court should have had an affirmative obligation to help him find one.  In the end, the answer may have something to do with bad conscience.  Let’s consider instead the Ninth Circuit’s lack of interest as to why these efforts were unavailing.  C.J.L.G.’s mom had told the immigration “judge” that she had tried to find an attorney and they all cost more money than she had.  If any evidence contradicted this, or if the mother was not credible, the Ninth Circuit did not mention it.  She was given a list.  She was given time.  That should have been enough.  If it wasn’t enough, well, as the saying goes, “It sucks to be you.”

Scrupulous attentiveness to the niceties of verbal distinction – e.g., “statutoryrights” – sits side by side, in C.J.L.G. v. Sessions, with strange indifference to what those words represent and to the litigant in his capacity as a human.  I am in mind of an extraordinary footnote in the decision.  The Ninth Circuit judges appended it to their evaluation that much of what C.J.L.G.’s mother wrote in her son’s asylum application “is borderline inscrutable and non-responsive.”  The footnote gives an example.  In response to a query whether the applicant “has ever caused harm or suffering to another based on a protected ground, the application states: ‘THE GAN’S TOLD ME I HAVE TO KILL A PEOPLE TO BE AND THE GAN’S.’”  Is this not heartbreaking, and the condescension breathtaking?  Not least because of the appeals court judges’ implicit assumption that C.J.L.G. and his mother, barely literate in English, without the assistance of a lawyer, should have understood what was meant by “causing harm or suffering to another based on a protected ground.”

I say the Ninth Circuit was strangely indifferent to human reality.  Legally, of course, if C.J.L.G. was not entitled to a lawyer, it does not matter why he did not have one.  Technically, that’s all there is to it.  But… let me put it this way.  When I was sworn in as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Vermont in 1990 by the great Jeffrey Amestoy (a position I retired from in 2017), he said to me, “Do justice.”  We call the judges who sit on our supreme courts “justices.”  The law enforcement branch of our federal government is called the Justice Department.  Lawyers and judges work in something we call “the justice system.”  No matter whether it may be describable in a technical sense as legally correct, a decision lacks justice that starts out by acknowledging the fundamental and pervasive importance of an attorney in court proceedings and the limited competence of a minor to advocate for himself, goes on to ignore the reasons why that same minor, barely literate, facing deportation, may have failed to find a lawyer, and concludes that such as he can do without one.  Tortured language and reasoning are evidence of this lack.

 

This is the second part of a series.  A third part will follow.  Stay tuned.

Inhumanity of the Law, Part 1

July 20th, 2018

Some weeks ago I used this platform to express my horror at the practice of forcing minors, some as young as three, to appear in U.S. immigration court proceedings unrepresented by any adult, let alone by a lawyer.  I said I thought that any “judge”*who presided over such a proceeding should be fired, and any government attorney who proceeded against such a respondent should be disbarred.  In my shock at having learned about such practices, I was reacting out of humanity, not as a lawyer.

Since then, I have learned some things.  They don’t really change my reaction much at all.

I have learned that this barbarism is not peculiar to the present administration, but is a feature of our immigration law enforcement system.  Since I do not think that Trump et al. represent anything fundamentally new on the American political scene, I’m not surprised.  He is neither the first racist, nor the first authoritarian, nor probably the first psychopath to occupy the White House, nor the first occupant to combine all three traits.  He is a throwback to the earliest days of the republic, redolent of Andrew Jackson, his hero.  Trump is unique, perhaps, in his devotion to the Oval Office as a vehicle for personal aggrandizement, but in all relevant respects he represents longstanding if odious American traditions.  Our immigration laws originated in racist and nativist initiatives to constrict the nineteenth century’s essentially free flow of immigration.  They are at basis illiberal and invidious in their treatment of immigrants.

I have learned that, while it is generally accepted that persons appearing in immigration court to answer deportation petitions have a constitutional right to due process, they are not considered to have a legally established right to government-appointed counsel.  That is, they can have a lawyer, if they can get one, but the government is under no obligation to provide one for them.  So the three year old peering over counsel’s table in the courtroom is allowed to hire her own lawyer, but if for some reason she doesn’t do so, she’s on her own.

“But how can this be?” you ask.  After all, we provide a lawyer to anyone facing even one day of imprisonment on criminal charges who cannot afford to hire counsel for themself.  The “reasoning,” if you want to call it that, behind the difference in the way we treat cases in immigration court turns on the fact that immigration court cases do not belong to the “criminal” classification.  Instead they are classified as “civil.”

“Aha!” you say, “Criminal not civil…  I see… that explains it… Not!  Why should a person’s right to representation depend on how the case is classified?” The answer, in part at least, is that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that every defendant in a “criminal” case has a right to counsel. This is commonly read to mean that under the Constitution a criminal defendant who cannot afford counsel must have a court-appointed lawyer.  By contrast, the Constitution says nothing about any such right for litigants in non-criminal proceedings.  This is commonly understood to mean that there is no such right.

But that leaves the question why immigration court proceedings, which may result in deportation (or “removal” as the jargon has it) are not considered to be criminal cases, or the equivalent thereof.  What is the difference between a criminal case, where you get a court-appointed lawyer, and a civil one, where you don’t?  If the basis for the distinction between “criminal” and “civil” cases indicates that removal proceedings are more similar to the former, then immigrants facing removal who can’t afford their own lawyer should have one provided for them by the government.

Let us consider this question as it was answered on January 29 of this year by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the specific context of an appeal by a minor, C.J.L.G., claiming that he had been denied his right to legal representation at a deportation proceeding.  The thirteen year old boy was assisted in immigration court by his mother, who had fled with him from Honduras the day after gang members, capping an escalating series of attempts to recruit him, had held a gun to his head and threatened to kill him, the mother, and his aunt and uncles if he did not join the gang within 24 hours.  Although DHS had given the boy a list of attorneys who might be willing to represent him “pro bono”, that is, for free, the mother eventually explained to the immigration court “judge” that every attorney they contacted wanted $6,500, and she did not have that kind of money.  The boy lost his case in immigration court and was ordered to be deported.  He appealed this decision, and the appeal went to the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision is silent as to whether the immigration court “judge” enquired specifically why the mother had not secured representation from one of the purportedly free attorneys on the DHS list.  Somehow the “judge” does not appear to have asked why she couldn’t find a free lawyer despite having been over a year of time and multiple continuances in order to contact the names on DHS’ list of purportedly free attorneys. In its decision, which you can read here, the appeals court several times refers to the significance of the long delay, the list, the continuances, which it sees as evidence of the immigration court’s fairness; the “judge” gave her every chance to get a lawyer.  The appeals judges were not interested to learn why none of this availed.  They could have remanded the case to the immigration court for it to take evidence and make findings on this question, but they didn’t want to know.  The game, to them, was not worth the candle.

Appealing the deportation order, C.J.L.G., now represented by a lawyer, argued that the Supreme Court recognized that children cannot receive fair hearing without counsel when it held that minors in delinquency proceedings, facing commitment to a state institution, are entitled to court-appointed counsel at government expense. The Ninth Circuit responded that the Supreme Court’s focus was on the possibility of incarceration in a state institution “which is akin to punishment for a criminal conviction.”  Since C.J.L.G. wasn’t facing incarceration, the immigration court proceeding was not “akin” to a criminal one, and the government was not obligated to provide a lawyer for him.

My purpose here is not to critique the Ninth Circuit’s decision from a legal, scholarly perspective. I do not know enough about immigration law and constitutional law to do that.  But there are other types of significance.  On the one hand, the Ninth Circuit denied C.J.L.G. a lawyer because “such a right has been recognized to exist only where the litigant may lose his physical liberty if he loses the litigation.”  On the other hand, the same judges acknowledged that “the private liberty interests involved in [removal] proceedings are indisputably substantial,” that “children are, as a general rule, less capable of advocating for themselves than are adults,” that “arguably, sending C.J. back to a hostile environment where he has faced death threats in the past implicates his freedom,” and that a person such as C.J.L.G.’s interest in the outcome of removal litigation “could hardly be greater.  If the court errs, the consequences for the applicant could be severe persecution, torture, or even death… deportation is a harsh measure; it is all the more replete with danger when the alien makes a claim that he or she will be subject to death or persecution if forced to return to his or her home country… An alien facing deportation stands to lose the right to stay and live and work in this land of freedom.”  (Yes, in explaining why they approved sending this thirteen year boy back to risk persecution, torture, and death, the Ninth Circuit judges did employ, without the faintest hint of irony, the phrase “land of freedom” to describe the place in which they were denying him the right to stay and live and work.)  Despite all this, the Ninth Circuit judges focused their analysis on an idea the Supreme Court had expressed: “actual imprisonment is the line defining the constitutional right to appointment of counsel.”

The Supreme Court had drawn that bright line against Abby Gail Lassiter, a mother who asserted a right to counsel at government expense in a proceeding to terminate her parental rights.  The Ninth Circuit could have distinguished Lassiter’s case from that of C.J.L.G. on several grounds. Lassiter was an adult; C.J.L.G. was a kid.  Awful as it is to lose one’s parental rights, fear of persecution, torture, and death are on a different scale.  The stakes “could hardly be greater.”  The Ninth Circuit could have held that fear of persecution, torture and death implicate liberty interests at least equivalent in gravity to the potential consequences of conviction for delinquency (commitment to a state institution) or its kin, crime (a day or more in jail).  But there was that word, “incarceration.”  The Ninth Circuit’s use of that word, incantatorily, as if to invoke it were to dismiss all the claims of realities the judges themselves recognized and eloquently described, raises the question: what kind of thought process is involved here? Is it concerned with justice in the real world, or with the ritual manipulation of magic formulae?

This is the first of a multi-part series.

*I am putting “judge” in scare quotes because I don’t think anyone who would preside over such a farce deserves the title, or to be called “the Honorable”.

The Key

July 18th, 2018

It all makes sense once you accept that absolutely nothing he says has any substantive meaning.  Everything he says is purely transactional, responsive only to the situation and whatever he considers will advantage him in that situation.  He behaves in public in such a way as to reveal this, because he does not understand fully that other people use language differently.  He thinks we all are like him.

ICE Evil

July 6th, 2018

It has been reported recently, by credible sources, that ICE is forcing toddlers – yes, children as young as three years old! – to appear in immigration hearings alone and unrepresented. (See https://www.texastribune.org/2018/06/27/immigrant-toddlers-ordered-appear-court-alone/). It seems incredible that our system of justice, in any of its branches, would lend itself to such a barbarous perversion, but that apparently is precisely what this administration is doing. Talk about kangaroo courts! I want whoever is responsible for this shameful practice to be exposed and punished. I want every “judge” or “magistrate” who allowed his or her courtroom to be degraded in this manner to be stripped of his or her position and cast into the gutter. I want every government attorney who colluded in such a sham proceeding to be disbarred. I am so utterly disgusted! The so-called ‘family separation” policy was bad enough, but this stinks in another way; it is a fundamental corruption and perversion of the law and the legal system. The Trump administration is not merely another ideological faction with whom we happen to disagree. It is radically evil and must be opposed and fought until it is uprooted and destroyed root and branch.

Himmler in the White House

June 20th, 2018

“The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect.  Men may hate us.  But, we don’t ask for their love, only for their fear.”  So said Heinrich Himmler.  I thought of this quote today when I heard Trump today explain his decision to reverse his family separation policy, which he had attempted earlier to sell as a deterrent to illegal immigration; that is, as a weapon of terror.  He talked about the choice between being weak, pathetically weak, on the one hand, and being called heartless for being strong, on the other, and said, “I would rather be strong.”

It seems increasingly likely that the target of the family separation policy was not, in fact, immigrants so much as it was the United States Congress.  That is why Trump and his minions insisted, against all reality, that only Congress could change the policy.  The idea seems to have been to ram through the “Four Pillars” of Trump’s immigration policy (the Wall, etc.) as a necessary adjunct to any immigration reform that he would support.  Thus Congress would be compelled by public outrage to move  against the family separation policy, and the Four Pillars would be smuggled through Congress in connection with addressing that policy.  Since Trump is in fact heartless, he miscalculated the level of outrage that would be directed against him for ripping babies from the arms of their mothers.  The gambit having failed, Trump now reneges on his claim that only Congress could change the policy, and pledges to do it by executive order.  We will see if this promise is any more credible than anything else he says.

Himmler on some level seems to have been a true believer in Nazi racism.  One may debate whether he and Trump exercise a similar level of cynicism.  What seems incontestable is that, as with Himmler, the one constant guiding star of Trump’s political life, apart from self aggrandizement, is xenophobic, racist animus and that, like Himmler, he is not only expressly willing to sacrifice the most basic humane values in the service of that cause, he regards basic humanity as a source of weakness and brutality as strength.

 

Texas Theresienstadt

June 17th, 2018

One begins to run out of adjectives to describe the depths to which this administration is dragging our nation. Trump’s concentration camps for children are an abomination. They are evil. They are, or should be, intolerable. They are completely unjustifiable. They are an exercise in the crudest sadistic depravity, of helpless and innocent people being punished for no reason other than that they are helpless and innocent and vulnerable to the whims of those in power. This must be stopped, and stopped now.

Having said which, I am tempted to throw up my hands.  How to influence the policy of a psychopath so that it takes humane directions?  I am reminded of that scene in the movie Schindler’s List when Schindler prevails upon the concentration camp commandant to spare the lives of his inmates for a day, as an exercise in the allegedly transcendent power of mercy.  The commandant tries it for a while, enjoys some mild satisfaction, and then picks up his rifle.  Trump is cut from this cloth.

Some of us look to Mueller for succor, forgetting that he has power only to indict and prosecute, not to remove from office.  That latter power is confided to a Congress controlled by a party so abysmally corrupted by fear of its own authoritarian wing, like a giant cowering at the sight of its own shadow, and so riddled with ideologues, fools, and self-serving conscienceless hacks, that nothing good can be expected from it.  Some of us look to the 2018 elections for relief.  Some of us wake up every morning hoping to discover that a beneficent god, in whom we do not really believe, has sent St. Infarction to intervene, or caused the Malefactor In Chief to choke on a peanut.  (I confess I am one of these latter.)

The problem with all of these fantasies is that they give no room for me to act, and the crux of the matter is that to retain my self respect I must act.  Oh, I will vote for anybody or anything other than a Republican in the elections this year; and then the matter is out of my hands and depends on the political calculations of some 400+ ego-driven careerists, who in any event will take months or years to do anything and may well in the end do nothing at all.  (Viz. Andrew Johnson’s impeachment and trial.  Speaking of which, those who think Trump is unprecedented in our history should look a little more closely at Mr. Johnson.)  Meanwhile, I must do something, I can’t depend on them.

My particular gift, if such it is, for action in the world is through words; so I write these things and fling them up on the screen, hoping to inspire someone else to do whatever it is they are given to do.  We, individually and collectively, survive such times with decency only by refusing to surrender our integrity.  Please take the time today to use whatever gift you have been given to inject some good into the world.  Paint a poster.  Sing a song.  Speak to a friend.  Write letters to your representatives.  Howl with rage and sorrow.

 

National Pravda Radio

May 18th, 2018

I want to know how NPR can claim to be a credible news source, when its talk show hosts, journalistic commentators, and reporters continue to use the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe such things as waterboarding, when even the New York Times calls them what they are, which is torture.  Is it because powerful people prefer the euphemism?  But isn’t that why we have a free press, to counter the lies of powerful people?  Language matters.  Euphemism elides the truth.  It may be that NPR presents a less distorted mirror than do Breitbart and Infowars and Fox News, in that NPR doesn’t engage in just making things up and presenting them as fact.  But what NPR does is more insidious, if less extreme.  It paints a factually plausible picture of the events it covers, but with the highlights softened and the shadows shifted until the picture no longer matches the reality.  An enhanced interrogation technique is a bureaucratic quibble.  Torture is an atrocity and a crime against humanity.

Why Not Let’s Just Kill A Buncha Folks

April 10th, 2018

In the ongoing media yakkety-yak concerning the recent Syrian/Russian chemical attacks on civilians in Douma, reference is made frequently to the media’s hazy recollection that Trump ordered missile strikes on an airfield a year ago in response to something like such an atrocity.  Will he or won’t he do it again?  One of the things that seems to be forgotten is that the missile strikes did minimal damage, and the airfield was in use again almost immediately.  The missile strikes were a public relations display of ire at human suffering, ordered by a man who is indifferent to the sufferings of others but is fairly sensitive to public relations.

I mention the above in order to emphasize the point that this story is not really about Donald Trump and whatever he may or may not do, although the American media, speaking to and representative of a supremely narcissistic nation, persists in presenting it that way.  The story is about Bashar al Assad.  When you think about it that way, one thing becomes glaringly obvious.  Assad is fighting an existential threat to his regime; and not just to his regime.  For him, one may be reasonably sure, the existential threat is personal.  From that perspective, any action, including the use of chemical weapons, is measured by whether it makes his survival more or less likely.  And by that yardstick, the chemical attack on Douma has been a success, in that it helped secure the battlefield from his enemies.

An equally obvious corollary is that any “punishment” child Trump may, in his “wrath”, mete out, is entirely beside the point unless it is directed tellingly and personally at Assad himself, with sufficient impact to threaten to reverse whatever gains he may have accrued toward his own survival by virtue of releasing the chlorine gas in the first place.  Otherwise, it is just a cost of doing business.  One may surmise with reasonable confidence that Assad and Putin made this calculation for themselves long ago; literally scores of such attacks have taken place since Obama drew his red line.

Take it a step further.  Suppose Trump blows some stuff up.  Suppose he even kills some people.  Suppose some of them are Russians.  Suppose, finally, that Assad and Putin are not the only people playing this game who know the score well enough to understand that every bomb not dropped directly on Assad’s head is a mere public relations gesture.

I am not advocating anything here, much less that high explosives be deployed by the U.S. in the cause of regime change.  I am just pointing out who is getting played for dupes in media coverage that breathlessly enquires, over and over, “What will he do?  Will he do what he did before?”  The deaths likely to result from the imminently forthcoming “punishment,” since that punishment almost certainly will not reach to Mr. Assad, will serve no purpose but public relations; it is hard to believe that Mr. Trump, Mr. Assad, and Mr. Putin do not understand this.  It occurs to me that ISIS was universally reviled in these parts for lopping off people’s heads in order to make a statement.  Tell me how we’re different.  I’m listening.

 

UPDATE 4/14/18:

Well, the good news, if it is not premature to say so, appears to be that they didn’t kill anybody.  So, for only tens of millions of dollars in expended munitions, it seems the following results have been achieved:

  1. Trump enjoyed a catharsis.
  2. Macron and May picked up potentially valuable IOUs against the United States.  You don’t think their participation came free, do you?  I say “potentially” valuable because the debtor-in-chief is Trump, and we all know what his word is worth.  This may explain why Merkel decided the game wasn’t worth the candle.
  3. Trump, May and Macron got to look tough in defense of “international norms”.
  4. Putin got to look tough in standing up to the US, and loyal in standing by his ally, Assad.
  5. Trump got to look tough on the Russians.
  6. Trump got to commit an act of war against a foreign sovereign nation without getting congressional approval, thus striking another blow for the fuhrerprinzip.
  7. U.S. weapons manufacturers will get to build replacements for the expended munitions.  Jobs jobs jobs!
  8. Some empty buildings in Syria got blown up.
  9. Assad got to use chemical weapons on “his” people, again, without paying anything much for it.  Sure, see #8, above.  But this doesn’t amount to much, given the stakes he is playing for.

I’d call this a win-win, wouldn’t you?

Mass action

April 7th, 2018

Now that Trump is sending National Guard troops to the southern border to fend off a threatening caravan of mostly women and children fleeing from gang violence, thereby showing just exactly how tough he is, we are being reminded from various media platforms that his predecessor and his predecessor’s predecessor took similar measures, albeit they were acting against drug traffickers and not against noncombatants fleeing for their lives.  I thought it might be relevant to quote some lines from To Join the Lost (which book, coincidentally, you may purchase at this website), describing a certain European head of state of seventy or eighty years ago:

Thousands of tiny

human forms composed his mass,

an assemblage of rococo subtlety

and power, limbs and torsos wrestling,

clenching, leaning, bending, stretching, grasping.

A muscle in his jaw twitched:

committees leaped.  He waved his arm: armies

marched.  Backs impossibly bent to

hitch his belt.  His stomach rumbled: they wept.  He

shrugged his shoulders: hundreds slumped with

relief – contortions Rodin might have sculpted.

Proportionality

April 2nd, 2018

I do not understand how it is “proportional” to use live ammunition against a handful of young men who are throwing stones and rolling burning tires against a fence.  Normally I try to avoid making judgments about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, because I do not think anyone who does not live there can be intimately enough acquainted with the facts and history of the situation to have a sufficiently informed understanding of it; and I try to be reticent about expressing any viewpoints about it, as I think that meddling from outsiders is in large part to blame for inflaming things (I’m thinking of you, Sheldon Adelson).  But when an extraordinary claim is made, such as that it is a proportional response to use live ammunition against people on the other side of a border fence who are armed only with stones, slings, and burning tires, I believe some additional explanation is necessary in order to avoid the conclusion that “proportional” does not mean the same thing to the IDF that it does to people who use the word honestly as if it had meaning.