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Why Your Vote Counts

Originally published inThe Rutland Herald

 Those of us who are not highly partisan voters are faced this year with a choice between two unusually unattractive candidates. Some of us will take a deep breath, suck it up and vote for the one we believe to be less unattractive. Others say they simply will not vote at all.

The polls would seem to show that many of those who have made the decision not to vote are younger people who facing their first or second elections.

Those who plan not to vote are the voters who really need to take a second look. Why? Simple. Because there will be a number of Supreme Court justices appointed by the next president.

The Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power to overrule, if necessary, the actions of the president and Congress. In that context, the court has ruled in Citizens United that corporations and wealthy individuals may contribute, virtually without limit and at will, to political parties and candidates, in effect diluting the strength of the individual American’s vote.

Additional Roberts court rulings materially affect our lives in the areas of securities fraud, affirmative action, banking, campaign finance, wiretapping, the loss of personal freedoms, picture IDs for voters, and voting rights.

Where does the Constitution ban abortions? It bans murder, but does not tell us when abortion slides into murder. The court tells us that. What makes them more competent than medical doctors or ministers?

There is serious dissent, particularly in the law-enforcement community, about Roberts court decisions on gun rights. The Constitution protects gun ownership as follows: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In the face of massive annual gun deaths, it’s hard for the vast majority of Americans to understand how that enables the decisions that the Roberts court has made that curtail any and all attempts, not to take handguns or semiautomatics away, but to make gun ownership safer.

Additionally, against the Jeffersonian dictum of the “separation of church and state,” a phrase accepted by virtually any American who can understand the Constitution, one now sees the current court edging into a practice of favoring one religion over other belief systems in matters of taxation, schools and monuments.

Where does all of this lead us? It leads to one extraordinarily important fact of American life that is all too often overlooked by voters. When we vote for presidential candidates, we are voting for future Supreme Court justices, almost all of whom, depending on our political and philosophical leanings, will make decisions that will make life either better or more contentious and difficult for large groups of our citizens.

What it says is that when you cast your vote for president, whether or not you like him or her, you had better be absolutely certain that your candidate shares your values and philosophy. If you truly believe that the Roberts court has improved life for all Americans, vote for a Republican, the more conservative the better.

Why? Because the president elected in 2016 will appoint up to five new justices. Four of the current members of the court are now over the age of 70. The Scalia seat is already open.

On the other hand, if you believe that wealthy individuals and organizations should not own either parties or candidates; that women should have control over their bodies; that Americans are often venal, cut legal corners and must be monitored to comply with existing laws; that we are in the process of losing our personal freedoms in the forlorn hope of gaining security; that we need to have background checks for gun purchasers and rule out those who are criminals or insane; that there is no place in the land for those who would underhandedly and illegally curtail anyone’s voting rights; that there should be more equity in the lives of all our citizens and that we need to decrease, not increase, the economic gap between the haves and the have-nots in America, then you need to pay attention to what the candidates are saying right now.

Your choice for president will be gone in four or eight years, but your vote will change the political posture of the court for decades to come, either for better or for worse. You had better make it count, for it will directly affect you, your children and grandchildren for most of your lives.

 

 

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Putin’s Agenda

Originally published in THE RUTLAND HERALD                      

 

Vladimir Putin is a Russian who understands Russian history. He is swayed only by his pragmatism and has a very precise picture of what he wants for Russia in the world today.

President Donald Trump has a sparse record on the policy level and can only be measured by his statements since the beginning of the primary campaign.

Keep in mind that Russia is still very much our enemy. The fascinating thing is that Putin’s stated goals seem to be almost completely in harmony with those of Trump. Precisely what are those goals?

NATO

If Putin could write his own ticket today he would want to see the end of NATO, which has been a thorn in the side of Russia since its inception in 1949.

Trump has called NATO “obsolete.” There is concern here and in Europe that Trump’s comments will not only undermine the European Union, but benefit Russia, which would prefer a weakened NATO and a strained Europe-U.S. alliance.

Trump, in his distaste for NATO, has made it abundantly clear that he opposes the membership of any of the former Soviet satellite countries in that organization. What this has done is strengthen right-wing political movements in those countries, movements that oppose the E.U. and NATO and their countries’ involvement with them.

EUROPEAN UNION

Putin will revel in Britain’s exit from the E.U. and in the chaos it causes. The political swing to the right resulting from the xenophobic European reaction to the refugee flow and the concomitant move away from European political cooperation is clearly approved by Putin. Such is the case in countries like Austria, Italy, Sweden, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Trump shows little love for the E.U., saying recently that he had a “very bad experience” in which “getting the approvals from Europe was very, very tough.” Trump seemed to be referring to an E.U. ruling against a wall he wanted to build at an Irish golf course he owns because it would endanger protected snails.

Trump has negatively dismissed the 28-member E.U. as a “vehicle for Germany.” European officials and analysts say the Trump administration seems to be trying to rewrite the terms of the U.S.-E.U. alliance in ways that are potentially destabilizing for Europe.

SYRIA

The flow of refugees from Syria, the rest of the Middle East and Africa to Europe does not bother Putin because that flow also further weakens the E.U. and, through that, NATO. That partly explains the continuing heavy involvement of Russia in the Syrian conflict.

Trump’s Syria strategy, as seen by Foreign Policy, would be a “disaster.” The president-elect wants to fight the Islamic State and to cease support to those fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The main effect of those policies, however, would be to eliminate the moderate opposition to the Assad regime, empower extremism and create chaos across the Middle East.

EAST EUROPE

The historical Russian preoccupation with border states like Estonia, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria, all of which are showing indications of dissatisfaction with E.U. involvement, is of critical interest to Russia today. One of the causes of that discontent, migration from the Middle East and Africa, is something the Russians would clearly like to foster.

US DOMESTIC

Putin would do everything possible to weaken the United States. He would love to see ethnic and religious divisions in the United States grow. He clearly revels in the dissent that now exists in our political system between Republicans and Democrats.

Given the first few days of his administration, it is clear that Trump wishes to continue the ideological and political divide that has plagued this country for far too long. His recent edicts on Muslims in the U.S. have provoked widespread, divisive demonstrations around the country. His moves in foreign policy have exacerbated the same national divisions.

US INTERNATIONAL

Putin would want to see America to withdraw from the world, particularly from areas like the Middle East where Russia has had unmet goals for centuries. He would do everything possible to see us lose our ability to affect events abroad.

“America First” — we all know that to be a cornerstone of Trump’s overall policy. What it means in terms of our foreign policy is that we will withdraw from the world. No longer will America be a dominant force, politically economically or militarily, in the international arena.

If you agree with Russian policies as reflected here, then there is no problem. If you do not, this administration’s policies are a real cause for worry.

Originally appeared in THE RUTLAND HERALD

The situation today in Israel/Palestine (the old British Mandate of Palestine) is dictated almost entirely by history, by demographic reality and by the fact that each of the parties involved seeks to control the entire area at the expense of the other.

Historically, the first documented instance of the name “Israel” dates to the 12th century B.C., although Jews previously had already been living for centuries in what is now Israel/Palestine. During the first two centuries A.D, the Romans expelled most of the Jews from the area and replaced Israel with the Roman province of Palestine. That was the beginning of the Jewish diaspora. After the third century A.D., the area became increasingly Christian. Following the seventh century, it was largely Muslim and remained so until the middle of the 20th century.

On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a partition plan for the British Mandate. This plan established borders for new Arab and Jewish states, side by side, and created an area of Jerusalem that was to be administered by the United Nations.

The end of the British Mandate was set for midnight on May 14, 1948. That day, David Ben-Gurion, the president of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared “the establishment of a Jewish state, to be known as the state of Israel.” That proclamation precipitated the departure or expulsion of almost three quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs from Israel, many of them ending up in refugee camps in the surrounding Arab countries. Tens of thousands of them and 1.5 million of their descendants remain in those camps today.

Since 1948, Israel and Palestine have both felt aggrieved. The Israelis feel that they have an historical and moral right to the area by dint of their past ownership in the centuries before Christ. The Palestinians believe that they were expelled from lands that were theirs because of their occupancy of those same lands after the death of Christ. The parties have gone to war over the issue on five occasions since the founding of Israel in 1948 and have seldom lived in any sort of peace.

The international community considers the establishment of Israeli settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine illegal under international law, because the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibits countries from moving their citizens into territories (the Palestinian occupied areas) occupied inawar. The U.N. Security Council, the U.N. General Assembly, the International Red Cross and the International Court of Justice have all affirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies. Israel disagrees, saying the 1967 conflict was not a war.

Since 1948, the United States has vetoed dozens of anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian resolutions in the U.N. Security Council. The first time America has done anything different was when it abstained on the late December 2016 U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, creating a maelstrom in Israel and inducing endless anti-Obama administration remarks from right-wing Israelis and their American supporters.

Israel has choices. It can occupy all of Israel/Palestine, as some Israeli voices are already recommending, and either expel, or leave the Palestinian Arabs (the numerical majority) as non-voting, non-citizens, thus voluntarily becoming an apartheid state. Or it can create a state that includes Palestinian Arabs (the majority) as voting citizens — voluntarily becoming a non-Jewish state. Finally, if it truly wishes to survive, it can agree to the creation of two separate states, Israel and Palestine.

The demographic realities of Israel/Palestine dictate that, under the current arrangement, in 2025, 48 percent of the future population residing there will be Jewish. That would drop to 46 percent by 2035. The Palestinians are reproducing at a rate far faster than the Israelis.

Absent a two-state solution, if Israel wants to remain democratic, it will be in the minority in its own country. If Israel chooses to remain Jewish, it will have to expel the Palestinians or go to an apartheid system. Neither of these solutions is acceptable. Israel is a democratic Jewish state and is internationally acceptable only as such. Given the reality of demographics, that can only be accomplished through a two-state solution with Israeli and Palestinian states side by side in peace.

Those who argue for the two-state solution, like Secretary of State John Kerry, are the best friends Israel has, whatever Mr. Netanyahu chooses to say. Those who argue against it, whether Israeli or foreign, are Israel’s worst enemies in the long run.

First appeared in RURAL RANTS          

America has just now experienced a totally new and shocking approach to presidential politics.  By the time it was over, the Republican candidate had offended just about every group that existed as a potential voting bloc against him.  That list included African Americans, Mexicans, Asians, Latinos, immigrants in general, Muslims, women, POWs and the disabled, to mention just a few.

His manner, vocabulary and attitudes were mean-spirited, crass and completely unapologetic.  The Democrats, basking in his essentially unacceptable demeanor, figured they had the contest won.  Probably the one thing that made that unlikely was their own candidate.  If they had wanted to choose a weak candidate, they couldn’t have done better than the one they chose.  With her approval ratings among the lowest on record, it was going to be an uphill climb for the Democrats.

The first group to turn on the Republican candidate was made up of a number of more traditional conservative Republican politicians.  They either pilloried him for his baseness or refused to endorse his candidacy.

Nevertheless, he persisted in his indiscriminate attack on all those groups that conventional wisdom said were absolutely critical to any candidate who wanted to gain the Presidency.  How could that be?  How could an essentially intelligent man so callously attack the people and groups he would need if he wanted to win the election?

It is difficult if not impossible to believe that he didn’t know what he was doing.  Quite the opposite.  It is far more likely that he had identified the only group that could bring him an election victory and that all the groups that conventional wisdom recommended were exactly those that he did not need.  In fact, he needed to attack them if he was going to guarantee the support of his only important, potential support group – angry, disenfranchised, white, working class Americans who were preoccupied with inevitable, coming, demographic change   And so he did.

It is generally said that he is a reasonably nice guy and that the face he showed the electorate does not accurately reflect his true personality.  If that is true, it lends more credence to the observation that his pre-election personality and behavior were part of his realization that it was the tactic required to win over the one critical group he needed in order to prevail in the election.

And that was very likely the realization that determined how he would run his campaign.  He knew how unhappy and marginalized white, working class America really was.  They had not benefited, as a group, from the economic revival and job growth being touted by the administration in office.  Quite the opposite.  The newly created jobs were a far cry from the good old days of work in the factories where they made enough in good wages and benefits to live solidly middle class lives and even educate their children.  Instead, they got low wages without benefits at places like Walmart.  He and his followers would “make America great again” without identifying the year in America’s past to which we would be returning, but it clearly would be in the pre-Walmart era. How often has a return to the past worked?

Part of the dynamic that brought this unusual tactic to the electoral process was the depth of disenchantment within the white, working class.  He may not have realized it at the time, or may have simply decided he had no choice but to take the risk, but what he found was that no matter how ugly his statements about POWs, Muslims, Mexicans, Black Americans, women and everyone else he attacked and offended, his white Americans would all simply suck it up and take it.  Those attacks had nothing but a positive effect on the white, working class group he was courting.  Not only did they accept this mean-spirited behavior, they actually supported it.

The final and perhaps most fascinating part of this story is that when the actual election came around, the Republican candidate got the vote of not only white working class Americans, but of many women both white and black, and of Mexicans and Latinos as well.  They also picked up Sanders supporters who shared their views on economic fairness.

The overriding issue, clearly, was the state of the economy and the strong belief of his supporters that they were being excluded by the power centers in both the Democratic and Republican parties from their fair share of prosperity.  Given an inevitably changed demographic future, that should cause panic in the Democrat and Republican parties alike.

Ripe for Revolution

Originally published in the The Rutland Herald and the Barre Times-Argus

It’s difficult to look at our ongoing national political contest and not think that our system is in the unprecedented process of being turned upside down.    One of our major parties has been taken over by a leader and a very large group of dissidents who are pushing it in directions never before seen.    Racism, misogyny, sexism, immigration, civil rights and the endorsement of violence, are only among the most prominent areas that have seen changes in attitude during this election cycle.

During the Cold War, largely because of its preoccupation with Soviet-sponsored “revolution” around the world, the United States’ intelligence community put together profiles of countries likely to be vulnerable to revolution. They were monitored because ongoing developments gave a good idea of the extent to which any given country was either entering a revolutionary state, or maintaining a non-revolutionary status quo.

The primary indicators for revolution were: a large gap between the wealthy and the less affluent, an absent or shrinking middle class and the disaffection of large portions of society with those who held power and used it. Looking at contemporary America in those terms, one could assume that the U.S. is entering some sort of revolutionary phase.

Let’s take a look at current realities in our country, in addition to those outlined above, that might precipitate coming change:

— The richest 1 percent of the American population owns over 40 percent of the country’s wealth. The top 1 percent earn 24 percent of total national income, while those 15 percent (46.2 million people) who live below the poverty line earn 3.4 percent.

— The net loser, apart from the poor, is a disappearing American middle class. During the decade from 2000 to 2010, Americans in the middle of the pay scale saw income go down 7 percent, while the richest 40 percent actually gained wealth. Additionally, 14 million Americans are unemployed and 8.8 million are part-time employees.

— The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has given extraordinary and unprecedented political power to the rich and to corporations, in effect, removing that power from ordinary voters.

— Republican and Democratic administrations have refused to prosecute the most senior members of the U.S. banking community for their role in the recession and financial crisis of 2008, despite clear evidence of law-breaking.

— We have a totally dysfunctional Congress (approval rating in the teens) that cannot work across party lines.

In addition to that, we are faced with some realities that could lead to violence in such a revolutionary environment, augmented by the Republican candidate’s continuing allegation that, should he drop in the polls the election is “rigged.”

— We have a Republican presidential candidate who has attempted to subtly encourage violence within his followers and in the “Second Amendment people.”

— We have a powerful and effective NRA fighting any and every move, however nonthreatening, to our Second Amendment rights to exercise any control, however sensible, over the type and sale of weapons.

— We have more weapons in circulation per capita than any country in the world, and absolutely no ability to further limit either their type or distribution.

— We have increasing racism against blacks and now, Muslims, along with increased violence and ambivalence within police departments about how to handle it.

Most importantly, however, particularly when coupled with our extensive gun ownership, we have an extraordinary rise in the numbers of “militia groups” and their membership.

According to USA Today, the “Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 1,360 anti-government groups in 2012, an eightfold increase over 2008, when it recorded 149 such groups. The explosive growth began four years ago, sparked by the election of President Obama and anger about the poor economy.”

It is generally acknowledged that these groups share a common belief in the imminent rise of a tyrannical government in the U.S., which they believe must be confronted through armed force. Militia News believes that “Tyranny Will Rule If Hillary Clinton Takes The Oval Office,” that “Violence In The Face Of Tyranny Is Often Necessary.” It continues on about “manufactured civil unrest,” “the approaching endpoint of Democracy,” “Liberty fading,” and a “Corrupted FBI.”

In a recent interview on Vermont Public Radio, the interviewee, a young, educated, white, married father of two from the South, when asked what effect the election of the Democratic candidate would have on the country, replied that there would surely be a revolution. He went on to say that he was in the process of joining a militia group.

Violence and racism are increasing. The public is being given permission during this campaign to blame immigrants and minorities for whatever problems white people are facing. This could preface major trouble ahead as Americans pursue the new revolution.    

It has become abundantly clear that the deployment of US military might to the Middle East has not served our national interests. In fact, as we increased our commitment from Afghanistan to Iraq, we saw our fight morphing from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency which brought with it problems we had not envisaged and which some of our leaders and politicians still refuse to acknowledge

 

This change came about largely as a result of our commitment of troops to the region. What the presence of those troops ultimately did was not so subtly persuade local citizens that we were not the savior that we had told them we were, but that we represented a threat to their own Islamic way of life. As soon as they made that mental adjustment, our problems with terrorism shifted into high gear.

 

Many of our politicians. having seen the horror of recent terrorist attacks here in America, say they want to fight ISIS and al Qaida overseas. How thoughtful of them! If we look at our own counterterrorism policy in the region right now, that means the commitment of US Special Forces, the continued deployment of drones and our openly acknowledged, heavy support of local military establishments in the battle against terrorism.

 

But it won’t work! We can commit limitless resources to counterterrorism in the Middle East and it will have no positive effect whatsoever. In fact, it will have a double negative effect. It will keep regional citizens and governments stirred up and angry about our activities on their turf and it will motivate terrorist organizations to take the fight to us here at home. And that doesn’t touch on the effect on self-motivated residents of America.

 

In comparison to Europe, we have one major counterterrorist advantage here in the US. That is the Atlantic Ocean. Since 9/11, the US has spent a fortune setting up a system which has enabled us to protect ourselves pretty well against terrorist operations that originate on the other side of that ocean.

 

What we have not been able to do is protect ourselves against self-starting, internet-radicalized citizens and residents of our own country. The lone wolf terrorist can, pretty much on his own, pick a target, assemble the necessary hardware and implement an attack. The Boston Marathon, Orlando, The World Trade Center, Fort Hood – The list goes on and on. In each case, there have been no readily interceptable communications between the perpetrator and terrorist organizations abroad. The perpetrators have been motivated at least partially by US military activities in the Middle East. Everything they need to know, from howto get weapons, to how to case a prospective site, to the construction of a bomb, is available in our stores or on the internet.

 

As long as we are actively involved militarily against these terrorist organizations in the Middle East, Americans will self-radicalize, get internet-educated and commit terrorist acts against American targets. Where we are pretty good at detecting and preventing plots that originate abroad, the lone wolf US resident is difficult if not impossible to detect and intercept. Our military counterterrorist activities in the Middle East, even if we were to get incredibly lucky and eliminate ISIS from its holdings in Syria and Iraq, will be feeding lone wolf motivation.

 

It’s time we took a really hard look at our present policy and figured out some other way to take on the terrorist problem. In the past, the one thing that has worked for nations suffering from terrorism has been a combination of Intelligence and Police work. Maybe we could start there, particularly with our home-grown problem.

 

 

Originally published in the Rutland Herald           

If you believe that the Orlando attack was the last one we will experience, you are horribly wrong.

As a result of the nature and magnitude of that attack, we are faced here in America with a complicated choice. That attack and the subsequent endless media evaluations of what “really happened” and what it “really means” will simply hasten the inevitable compulsion that our government will feel to take charge of the situation, driven as it is by public opinion.  How it reacts will color the future of this country for decades to come.

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin correctly said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.

These words appear in a letter written by Franklin on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor. That letter was part of a power struggle between the governor and the assembly over funding for security on the frontier.  It has made its way into today’s vocabulary and taken on a far more significant meaning.

In reality, “safe” countries are not free and “free” countries are not safe.  The more permissive (free, democratic, etc.), as our country is, the less safe it will be.  Only through undemocratic, draconian measures, can terrorism be controlled and safety maintained.  It is up to us to decide whether or not we are better off in the aggregate for the loss of our liberties, remembering that once surrendered, they are difficult to reacquire.  Will a sense of safety, however illusory, be worth that loss?  Or are we better off maintaining our constitutional freedoms, recognizing that they will be accompanied by at least partially manageable uncertainties about our safety?

Our choice is stark because, if we truly want to try to be safe, many of our constitutional freedoms will go by the wayside.  An active, competent and aggressive internal security organization like the FBI, if charged with reestablishing real safety in this vast country will have to seek powers and authorities that it now does not have.  Those powers and authorities will severely limit if not demolish many of the constitutional freedoms to which we are now accustomed.

Finally, given the reality of internet self-radicalization programs designed to appeal to any and all Americans who are thinking of becoming terrorists, there is no guarantee that we can succeed at this endeavor.

To do this difficult job correctly any internal security service like the FBI will have to have freedom to institute and use phone, mail and internet intercepts.  They will need to reintroduce profiling, or the detention, questioning, arrest, and/or search of people solely on the basis of the person’s race or ethnicity.  They will have to be able to hold people in custody in ways that are not compatible with today’s individual liberties.  We will see surveillance, provocation and entrapment operations run against any and all targets presumed to be hostile. Restrictions on “probable cause” will disappear.  The list goes on and on.

These and other similar activities will be necessary as long as hostile terrorist organizations exist here and abroad.  Even if we had the financial and military ability and the will to wipe out ISIS, which we certainly do not, the remnants will remain and they surely will be targeted against America.  As long as there are disaffected Americans, whether native or immigrant, we will be at risk.

Military action against terrorism abroad is unlikely to succeed.  Terrorism is mostly a law enforcement and intelligence problem. Military activity against it results, as we have already seen in the Middle East, in increased hostility toward the United States.

So, we are faced with a choice.  Do we want to surrender many of our basic personal liberties and change this country into something it has never before been in the hope that in doing so we will somehow increase our security?  Or do we want to work within our existing laws, customs and constitutional guarantees in the knowledge that where we may very well be able to inhibit terrorist activity here at home, Orlando will not be the last  attack we suffer?

The tragedy of picking safety over liberty is that it provides no guarantees.  In addition, once relinquished, liberty is difficult to reestablish.

In 2013 in America, 505 people were killed accidentally by firearms and another 11,208 were killed intentionally by another person.  In 2013, 32,719 people were killed in vehicle crashes.  In that same year, 21 people were killed by terrorists in the USA.

It would appear that we have for more compelling issues here than terrorism.