Saturday, July 30, 2016

Caught In the Cross Fire: A Visit to Lynndie England's Hometown

Cross-posted from Blog Them Out of the Stone Age

The following is a re-printed post I published twelve years ago, back when this blog was in its infancy and entitled Interrogating the Project of Military History.  The post was originally entitled "Drive-by Journalism," but since Rush Limbaugh long ago adopted "the drive-bys" as an epithet for mainstream media journalists, I felt obliged to change it.  This is one instance, though, when the term seems entirely appropriate.

June 7 [2004] - The Society for Military History had its annual meeting on May 20-23 in Bethesda, Maryland.  The Iraq war hung heavily over the whole affair, partly because the war hangs heavily over the whole country, but mostly because the conference organizers looked deliberately toward the strategic policy-making community.  Bethesda, after all, is cheek by jowl next to Washington, DC.

Between one thing and another, I had not attended an SMH meeting since 1997.  I went this year strictly out of a sense of professional obligation.  I wasn't looking forward to it.  (I wound up having a far better experience than I expected, but that's for a future entry.)

Consequently I took my sweet time getting there, stopping off at the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in eastern Ohio, then at a nearby antique store.  I stuck with the Interstate until I reached Washington, Pennsylvania, at which point I decided I'd take US 40--the old National Road--down to Fort Necessity National Battlefield.  I'd never been there before.  It's the most poorly-chosen military position I have ever seen.  I had read about it, but jeez.  You look at it--a tiny stockade in a marshy meadow, too close to the woods and with a constricted field of fire--and you can't believe the guy who selected it wound up winning the war for American independence.

I didn't think beforehand about the route I'd take after visiting Fort Necessity, but it turns out that US 40 dumps you onto I-68 a few miles west of Cumberland, Maryland, which, it suddenly occurred to me, was only a few miles from Fort Ashby, West Virginia, home town of Lynndie England.  These days everybody knows Pvt. England by sight if not by name:  she's the female MP pointing at the genitals of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib with one hand while giving a "thumbs up" with the other.  Even after a day of dawdling down the highway, I was in no hurry to reach Bethesda, so I found the exit to West Virginia's State Route 28 and drove the thirteen miles to Fort Ashby, population 1354. [1380 per the 2010 census]

The community, about a mile square, spreads out from the single major intersection--Washington Street and Green Street-- which sports a solitary traffic light.  It has a gas station, a convenience store, a Dairy Queen clone, but no McDonald's (whether a town has a McDonald's is my rough-and-ready way of determining if it's a real town or merely a wide spot in the road).  After the prisoner abuse story broke in late April, a flurry of journalists showed up to evaluate Fort Ashby on the theory this would tell us something about Lynndie England, who had immediately become the poster child for all things nasty at Abu Ghraib.  Since the easy thing was to portray Fort Ashby as if it were so far removed from civilization that its residents had to pipe in daylight, that's the way the media tended to portray it.  And yes, there are a few double-wide trailers and maybe the odd junker on blocks in the front yard.  Mostly, though, the houses looked like this one:

The house looks remarkably like the split-levels in my own subdivision, except that the shrubs are better pruned. 

My plan was to find a diner or, preferably, a bar where I could nurse a drink while eavesdropping on the local conversation.  Initially I was disappointed:  nothing suitable caught my eye.  I was about to leave Fort Ashby when I belatedly realized that at the southwest corner of the main intersection stood a ramshackle building that looked as if it might be a bar and--yep--turned out to be just that.  According to a newspaper article I found this morning on LEXIS-NEXIS, the place is called the Corner Club Saloon.  But since almost nothing in the article resembled anything I saw, I give no assurances the name is correct.
I was wearing Dockers, a button-down shirt, and a sport jacket:  much too dressed up for the Corner Club Saloon.  But nobody called me a dude, challenged me to explain what I was doing there, or offered to rearrange my face.  Instead the bartender served me one of those low-carb Michelob Ultras and said, in response to my question, that yes, he sold quite a few of them.  The guys to my right continued to shoot pool.  The women to my left continued an urgent discussion of something that very obviously had nothing at all to do with Iraq, Abu Ghraib, or Lynndie England.

As the minutes ticked by and I reflected with each new sip that $1.75 spent on a Michelob Ultra was $1.75 utterly wasted, I hoped against hope that a) the television above the bar from which CNN Headline News silently flickered would yield an image of the prisoner abuse scandal and, ideally, Lynndie England; and b) somebody in the bar would see it and comment on it.  No such luck.  But there was something homey and comfortable about the Corner Club Saloon.  After a while I didn't give a hoot about my original mission.  Instead I got another beer, looked over the menu, and ordered some chicken tenders for supper.

About the time that the chicken tenders arrived, the woman at my left turned to me and asked, in a neighborly sort of way that was neither challenge nor come-on, who I was.  It was just her way of including me in the group.  I gave her my name and said I was passing through on my way to Washington, DC.  We must have chatted for five or ten minutes before she asked, inevitably, what had brought me to Fort Ashby.  Any story I made up would sound so obviously made up as to be insulting, so I said, "Well, to tell you the truth, it was originally because I knew this was Lynndie England's hometown.  But I don't want to speak of rope in the house of the hanged, so we don't need to talk about that."

It turned out that my new friend, whom I'll call Kitty, did in fact want to talk about that--or, more precisely, about the town's recent experience with the media.  In fact, she wanted everyone within earshot to talk about it.  "Hey, do you know why he's here?  It's that Lynndie England story."

The men in the bar didn't immediately pick up on this subject, but the women did, especially Kitty and the Corner Club Saloon's other bartender, whose name was Colleen Kesner.  Colleen was married to the first bartender, Randall, and together they had owned the Corner Club Saloon for not quite a year.  Kitty wavered between wanting to talk to me and wondering if I was another reporter "out to do a number on us."  (A friend of Kitty's even patted me down in a joking-but-serious way, and there was brief consternation when she mistook my cell phone for a tape recorder.)  Colleen, on the other hand, gave me the benefit of the doubt and accepted me cordially on my own terms.

Although Lynndie England is far and away Fort Ashby's most famous persona, Colleen was more or less thrust into the role of Fort Ashby's civilian face, thanks largely to the efforts of a reporter named Sharon Churcher.  I have now read a number of press accounts of life in Fort Ashby and while they all lean far too heavily on the Appalachia stereotype--Fort Ashby is, in fact, a near-suburb of Cumberland and its population includes doctors, attorneys, dentists and accountants--only Churcher decided to engage in wholesale character assassination.

Here's the article Churcher wrote.  It was published originally in a New York tabloid, as I understand; this is the article as reprinted in the Sydney, Australia, Daily Telegraph on May 7:

Good ol' girl who enjoyed cruelty

POINTING crudely at the genitals of a naked, hooded Iraqi, the petite brunette with a cigarette hanging from her lips epitomised America's shame over revelations US soldiers routinely tortured inmates at Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad.

Lynndie England, 21, a rail worker's daughter, comes from a trailer park in Fort Ashby, West Virginia, which locals proudly call "a backwoods world".

She faces a court martial, but at home she is toasted as a hero.

At the dingy Corner Club Saloon they think Lynndie England did nothing wrong.

"A lot of people here think they ought to just blow up the whole of Iraq," Colleen Kesner said.

"To the country boys here, if you're a different nationality, a different race, you're sub-human. That's the way girls like Lynndie are raised.

"Tormenting Iraqis, in her mind, would be no different from shooting a turkey. Every season here you're hunting something. Over there, they're hunting Iraqis."

In Fort Ashby, in the isolated Appalachian mountains 260km west of Washington, the poor, barely-educated and almost all-white population talk openly about an active Ku Klux Klan presence.

There is little understanding of the issues in Iraq and less of why photographs showing soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company, mostly from around Fort Ashby, abusing prisoners has caused a furor.

Like many, England signed up to make money and see the world. After her tour of duty, she planned to settle down and marry her first love, Charles Graner.

Down a dirt track at the edge of town, in the trailer where England grew up, her mother Terrie dismissed the allegations against her daughter as unfair.

"They were just doing stupid kid things, pranks. And what the Iraqis do to our men and women are just? The rules of the Geneva Convention, do they apply to everybody or just us?" she asked.

She said she didn't know where her daughter was being held, but had spoken to her on the phone.

"She told me nothing happened which wasn't ordered by higher up," she said.

"They are trying to pin all of this on the lower ranks. My daughter was just following orders. I think there's a conspiracy. "

A colleague of Lynndie's father said people in Fort Ashby were sick of the whining.

"We just had an 18-year-old from round here killed by the Iraqis," he said.

"We went there to help the jackasses and they started blowing us up. Lynndie didn't kill 'em, she didn't cut 'em up. She should have shot some of the suckers."

Six soldiers from the 372nd are facing court-martial.

The commander of the prison service in Iraq, Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski, 50, has been suspended from duty and is expected to be charged.

Colleagues of the tough, super-fit officer last night described her as a woman with one mission -- to raise her own profile.

Sources also said soldiers at Abu Ghraib, where Saddam Hussein was held after his capture, were often drunk -- including when the shocking pictures were taken.

One colleague said: "Janis sees herself as making way for women to get to the top in the US Army. But many of her soldiers said she had been promoted beyond her ability because she was a woman.

"She was out of her depth and on a mission to raise her own profile. Now, she ll be forced to quit.

"She should have been aware what her troops were doing, but she wasn't."

Another soldier facing charges is Staff Sergeant Ivan Chip Frederick, 37, of Dillwyn, Virginia.

His father, Ivan Frederick, 76, said his son, an ex-prison guard, sent him a journal outlining the barbaric treatment of Iraqi PoWs.

He said his son was a scapegoat.

"He was unhappy with what he saw. There is no way Chip would do these things unless he was ordered to do," Mr Frederick said.

Pentagon officials have confirmed that other alleged incidents of torture under Brig-General Karpinski's regime were being investigated.

A military source said: "The word is that she was told it would be beneficial if the prisoners were willing to talk.

"Let's just say a blind eye was turned to certain events."
Colleen had a copy of the article behind the counter and showed it to me.  She said that the reporter had appeared at midnight on a Thursday or Friday night at the height of turkey-hunting season, when the place was full of hunters and so raucous with conversation you could barely understand a word anyone said to you.  Colleen had not yet heard about the prisoner abuse scandal, Lynndie England's role in it, and possibly even about the fact that England was a hometown girl.  (Others in the bar knew the England family; I'm not sure Colleen did.)  The reporter had to explain all these things to Colleen before she could ask Colleen to comment on them.

I doubt if the reporter could hear much of anything Colleen said in response, and in any case she spoke to Colleen only a few minutes.  I wound up talking to Colleen for three hours--far longer, she said, than any of the reporters who interviewed her.  The impression I had of her was of someone who habitually refrained from passing judgment, who was keenly aware of the complexities of living as a human being in this world, and who had a fundamental sympathy toward pretty much everyone.  Kitty, for her part, was emphatically of the opinion that nothing--not orders from a superior, not the transgressions of the prisoners--could justify what England and her comrades had done.  "Two wrongs don't make a right."  Nobody toasted Lynndie as a heroine.  No one defended her.  The most anyone did was to stick up for the young woman's parents, to say they were good people.
Colleen herself mainly seemed hurt and embarrassed to have been portrayed as saying anything remotely like:  "A lot of people here think they ought to just blow up the whole of Iraq . . . .  To the country boys here, if you're a different nationality, a different race, you're sub-human. That's the way girls like Lynndie are raised. Tormenting Iraqis, in her mind, would be no different from shooting a turkey. Every season here you're hunting something. Over there, they're hunting Iraqis."

I don't think Colleen said anything of the kind.  In fact, I doubt if Colleen said anything quotable at all.  Everything I heard her say had a reflective, tentative quality--a sort of principled refusal to draw conclusions before the facts were in--the kind of hesitation that leaves each would-be sound bite still-born.  This must have been maddening for a reporter on a deadline, besides which it largely undercut the point of doing a story on Fort Ashby.  The fact of the matter is, a visit to Fort Ashby sheds absolutely no light whatever on what transpired in Abu Ghraib, but when your editor has sent you to get a story and you've traveled hundreds of miles:  well, if the bar is loud enough and conversation is difficult enough, your ears can hear pretty much whatever you need them to hear.

The closest Colleen came to anything quotable was the following:  "Lynndie never came in this place.  She was underage.  But if she came in now I'd give her a hug, I'd buy her a beer, and then I'd ask her, 'What in the hell did you think you were doing?'"  Even this quote doesn't get at the heart of what Colleen was trying to say.  It needs context.  What framed the comment was Colleen's recognition that at 21 years of age, Lynndie had made a mistake from which her young life would quite likely never recover.  Most of us screw up, at least once or twice, in a big, big way.  Few of us screw up so publicly that the world forever sees us frozen in the worst moment of our lives.

I finally broke away from the Corner Club Tavern around 9:30 p.m.  As my headlights lit the highway back to Cumberland, I thought about the story that had brought Sharon Churcher to Fort Ashby:  the way in which American service personnel had abused and humiliated human beings in Iraq.  I doubt it ever crossed her mind that she, in turn, had abused and humiliated human beings in Fort Ashby.

Follow-up:  A search of Lexis Nexis this morning shows eleven hits for articles containing the terms "Lynndie England" and "Colleen Kesner."  The headline in the version published by the London Daily Mail is drawn directly from the quote attributed to to Colleen:  "Here if You're a Different Race, You're Sub-human. Tormenting Iraqis to Lynndie Would Be Just the Same as Shooting a Turkey."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What is Truth?

Argument versus Assertion in Discourse

In the 18th Chapter of the Gospel of John, the following exchange takes place:
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.  Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”   “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.
To a large extent, this dialogue represents much of the thinking of our time.  
One side sates that there are certain things that are absolutely true, while the prevailing thought is that truth is either a statement of preference i.e. I prefer A to B, or that it is simply a matter of perspective, meaning that there can be as many interpretations of an event as there are observers.
The reason that this latter view holds such sway in our modern society is that there is great distrust of the "true believer".  This is easy enough to understand: in the 20th century, non-religious ideologies, specifically Fascism and Communism led to the deaths  of well over 100 million people.  Without higher principle, the argument of the "ends justify the means" makes such acts easy to justify for their perpetrators.  To insulate against this, the philosophy of postmodernism states that there is "no overarching metanarrative" which, as explained by William Marsh in Nothingness, Metanarrative and Possibility means that since there are many assertions that cannot be verified objectively, then there are no universally accepted truths.  In short, there is no truth that is valid at all times for all people.

The impact of this thinking on modern discourse cannot be overemphasized.  As a more conventional thinker, I think of debating ideas as a kind of High Noon showdown.  Two opponents, armed with the ideas they have and the evidence supporting these ideas face each other and exchange fire until only one is left standing.  The problem with this however is what Mark described in his recent post about the debate on sharia.  Often there is no effort even to understand the other side's point of view, and a cheap game of one-upmanship ensues.  Even under the best of circumstances for me to comment on one of Mark's posts on Facebook is a dubious proposition.  I ignored good judgment in this case and got in the middle of the fray about the article.  I mainly took exception with the polemics of one worthy who kept on sneering at the 

ignorance of everyone about the Quran and Hadith, which are the key components of sharia without sharing anything about what his own views were.  In the spirit of this blog (and genuine curiosity about where he was coming from intellectually) I offered to have a substantive offline discussion, even to the point of posting my personal email address.  I was told no thanks because he did not wish to have a "theological" discussion.  Think about that reply - how does one understand sharia, which means "the way" and is about the rules by which a good Muslim lives without having a theological discussion since they are based wholly on who Islam says God is?  This is an example of the reluctance there is to really having one's carefully held viewpoint challenged.  So while we say "there is no overarching narrative" none of us live that way truly.  Our own cherished beliefs, whether secular or sacred, are not to be denied.

Another problem we have is whose facts do we accept as valid?  As Mark observed, there are any number of sources for information on the internet.  Some years ago, a book was published on how this phenomenon had affected selling products.  The book was called Mastering the Art of the Complex Sale by Jeff Thull, and one of the ideas in the book was that so much information was available on the internet that buyers went into informational paralysis and defaulted into the only thing they could readily understand - price.  The book argued that ironically this made the role of the outside sales force more vital than ever as educators as much as salespersons.  This same role is served in political discourse by the pundits: it is rare indeed that we look at raw data and come up with our own conclusions.  We depend on the opinions of others for much of what we believe and, since it is an acceptable idea that truth is subjective rather than objective, the quest becomes to find validation for what we already believe instead of testing our ideas against others.

The worst problem of all though, is when facts are ignored when they don't fit our narrative.  A case in point is the Black Lives Matter movement.  Some view it as a noble continuation of the civil rights struggle.  Others view it as an anarchist movement against the very concept of law of order.  What is frustrating though is trying to have a rational discussion.  The first question it seems to me is whether the premise of the movement is a valid one, namely is there a measurable bias in the way the police treat and react to people based upon the color of their skin.  Two statistical studies have been published recently that challenge this notion.  One is the book The War on Cops by Heather MacDonald, a Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.  She makes a compelling case that, if anything, African Americans are underrepresented in numbers as victims of police shootings.  The same thing was found in a recent Harvard study.  (Note the NYT headline uses the term "surprising new evidence" in summarizing the story since it seems to go against conventional wisdom).  Now comes the frustrating part - instead of being happy that the statistics do not fit the narrative that cops are engaged in open season on African Americans, the response is either disbelief or, more tellingly, so what?  The facts don't fit the narrative, therefore they must be wrong or ignored.  This is where a fundamental breakdown of dialogue happens (and C.S. Lewis is once again proven correct). 

I will close with an op-ed piece from the New York Times that I came across researching this post.  I think it presents a good argument that there is no mass insurrection going on, as some think.  Truth is complicated and often elusive, but we all owe it to ourselves to try to find it objectively and without bias or agenda.  Otherwise there can never be any kind of meaningful dialogue.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Facebook Wars: The Case of Sharia Law

According to the Pew Research Center, 38 percent of Americans report that they often get news from social media and web sites or apps.  Within that group, a significant number get some of their news via Facebook.  That number includes me.  Although I have digital subscriptions to the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, I frequently click on links embedded in the timelines of some of my 1,000+ Facebook friends.  They, in turn, can click on links to news stories, op/eds, etc., that I think worthy of their attention.

Many have lamented that because most people on social media interact with persons who are politically like-minded, this phenomenon creates a filter that reinforces what we already believe and distorts or excludes what we don't already believe.  I entirely agree.  But lament all we want, this phenomenon isn't going to go away.

Related to it in an important way is our ability to "talk" to one another about news items:  in the case of Facebook, through "liking" a particular link or adding a comment.  This brings us to the question of what political discussion online looks like, and whether it leads anywhere or is merely the equivalent of a cat chasing its tail.

Three days ago I posted this article link on my Facebook timeline:  A Lesson for Newt Gingrich:  What Shariah Is (And Isn't) (New York Times, July 15, 2016).  The article--and my decision to call attention to it--stemmed from comments by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich after the latest ISIS-inspired massacre, this one in the French city of Nice.

Gingrich made the comments in an interview with FOX News commentator Sean Hannity. The full transcript is here.  The entire interview is laden with eye-popping statements, but the remark that made the most headlines was this: "Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in sharia, they should be deported. Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization."

From the way that Gingrich (and Hannity) talked about Sharia law, one would suppose that it consisted mainly of instructions about how to oppress and kill people.  The article I posted explained the actual nature of Sharia:
Put simply, for believing Muslims, Shariah is the ideal realization of divine justice — a higher law reflecting God’s will.

Muslims have a wide range of different beliefs about what Shariah requires in practice. And all agree that humans are imperfect interpreters of God’s will. But to ask a faithful Muslim if he or she “believes in” Shariah is essentially to ask if he or she accepts God’s word. In effect, Mr. Gingrich was proposing to deport all Muslims who consider themselves religious believers.

Start with a crucial distinction. Shariah doesn’t simply or exactly mean Islamic law. Properly speaking, Shariah refers to God’s blueprint for human life. It is divine and unchanging, reflecting God’s unity and perfection. It can be found in God’s revealed word in the Quran and in the divinely guided actions of the Prophet Muhammad.

In contrast, another Arabic word, “fiqh,” refers to the interpretation and application of Shariah in the real world. Fiqh is Islamic law as practiced by people. Because it’s a product of human reasoning used to understand God’s word, Islamic law is subject to debate and imperfection.

The distinction between Shariah and fiqh matters especially because Muslims, including religiously traditional Muslims, do not all agree on what Islamic law requires in practice. They’re disagreeing about what God wants, to be sure. But almost all faithful Muslims would say that they believe there is a single, truthful answer that lies in Shariah — we just cannot be absolutely sure as humans what that answer is.  
The article squared with what little I knew of Sharia law, mainly that it bore scant resemblance to the caricature all too often peddled as truth--including Gingrich, who should have known better and probably did.

I did not expect anything more than a few "likes" to the link I posted.  Instead it generated dozens of comments, replies to the comments, replies to the replies, and so on.  The one I found most interesting was this one:  "The article obfuscates the reality of Sharia law. I notice it doesn't get into any specifics of what Sharia law prescribes."

"In that case, enlighten me," I replied.

Facebook Friend 1:  "Google it.  It's too depressing."

Me:  "Oh come on. If you're going to make statements as if you know what you're talking about then you should be able to demonstrate that you know what you're talking about. On an issue as controversial as Sharia law, telling someone to simply 'google it' will not do."

Facebook Friend 1:  "Shariah law contravenes the US Constitution. To give a few examples, it relegates women to an inferior status. A woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist. It criminalizes homosexuality. It allows an adult male to marry girls as young as 9 years of age."

At this point a second Facebook friend joined in.  "Sura? Hadith? Author? Where do you get this stuff?"

We were thinking exactly the same way, because an instant later my next response appeared.  "Sources! What are your sources??"

Facebook Friend 2:  "Or, I'd like to play: the Bible is inconsistent with the Constitution, allowing incest (Lot and his daughters) and polygamy (Abraham and Sarah) and forbidding the accumulation of private property (Jesus and the camel through the eye of a needle).

At least this bigotry is semi-informed, if utterly devoid of context."

In the meantime I looked up Sharia in a college textbook, An Introduction to Islam (3rd ed.), by Frederick Matthewson Denny, which I happened to have in my library.  Then I wrote:

"Sharia 'law' is somewhat of a misnomer, but essentially it is sweeping in scope and forms what might be called the scaffolding of Muslim spiritual life. So to place a ban on Sharia law would be to place a ban on Islam itself. But to take one of your allegations--about marrying 9 year olds-- no country in the world allows girls to be married at 9. The lowest is 10. Massachusetts has a law on the books permitting marriage at 12 under "exceptional circumstances. Indonesia, which has the largest population of Muslims in the world, has a threshold of 16. A strong query can be lodged against the phenomenon of child brides, but it is a worldwide problem."  I supplied the source for the marriage age issue, an article in the London Daily Telegraph.

Facebook Friend 1 correctly noted that the chart showed that in Iran the lowest age is indeed 9.  I didn't see the correction until hours later, because by that time I'd gotten off Facebook to get on with my day.  In the meantime Facebook Friend 1and Facebook Friend 2 had exchanged twenty responses with one another.

Taken on the whole, the Gingrich statement and the string of comments and replies to the link I posted left me wondering about how we exchange information with one another, because if we can't get our facts straight meaningful dialogue is impossible.  But since nowadays one person's fact is another person's opinion, at a minimum we need to be clear about the sources of our information.  I'm not saying that we must footnote everything, but when someone asks us for a source we should be able to supply it.

I decided to follow Facebook Friend 1's suggestion when I asked him to supply me with specifics about Sharia law as he understood it.

"Google it," he had written.

So I did.

Here are the top ten Google hits to "Sharia law" as of 1 a.m. today:

Sharia Law (Simple English Wikipedia, accessed July 18, 2016)

Sharia (Billion Bibles, accessed July 18, 2016)

Obama Makes JAW-DROPPING Statement About Sharia Law (Allen B. West, July 16, 2016)

Sharia Is Nothing to Fear (TIME, July 16, 2016)

Sharia Does Not Mean What Newt Gingrich Thinks It Means (The Atlantic, July 15, 2016)

Sharia (Wikipedia, accessed July 18, 2016)

5 Things You Need To Know About Sharia Law (Huffington Post, July 15, 2016)

Shariah (Islamic Law) (New York Times, accessed July 18, 2016)

In a Swipe at Gingrich, Obama Rejects "Repugnant" Call To Test Muslims (CNN Politics, July 15, 2016)

The Ugly Truth About Sharia Law (Washington Times, June 13, 2016)

I'll have more to say about this in a future post.  In the meantime, take a look at these links and consider what, after perusing them, you would reliably know about the specifics of Sharia.  Or whether you think anyone would actually take the time to look at them.  Or whether they would read the articles which fit their existing world view and dismiss those that did not.  Or whether they would give up and watch cat videos.

Friday, July 15, 2016

An Anthem For Our Time

Early this week a memorial service was held for the Dallas law enforcement officers slain on July 7 while shepherding a protest demonstration. President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush were both in attendance.  Both spoke eloquently. President Obama took on the difficult task of weaving together the tragedies of both the slain officers and the African American men, whose deaths at the hands of police had prompted the demonstration, and placing them in the context of the larger historical tragedy of American racism. I thought he did well at that. But the speaker who touched me most deeply was Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who held the podium for just five minutes. In that brief moment he gave me an example of simple grace and unadorned humanity that I shall never forget.

You owe it to yourself to take six minutes to watch Chief Brown's address, but if not, here's a transcript:
When I was a teenager, and started liking girls, I could never find the right words to express myself.  And after a couple of words they'd just walk away leaving me figuring out, "What do I need to do to get a date?"  And so being a music fan of 1970's rhythm and blues love songs, I put together a strategy to recite the lyrics to get a date.

So for girls I liked I would pull out some Al Green or some Teddy Pendergrass or some Isley Brothers and I'd recite the lyrics to their love songs.  But for people I loved--if I fell in love with a girl, oh I had to dig down deep and get some Stevie Wonder to fully express the love I had for them (for the girl).

So today, I'm going to pull out some Stevie Wonder for these families.

So families, close your eyes and just imagine me back in 1974 with an Afro and some bell bottoms and a wide collar:
We all know sometimes life's hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your lifetimes that and twice it's double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
So make sure when you say you're in it, but not of it
You're not helpin' to make this earth
A place sometimes called hell
Change your words into truths
And then change that truth into love
And maybe our children's grandchildren
And their great grandchildren will tell
I'll be loving you until the rainbow burns the stars out of the sky

I'll be loving you until the ocean covers every mountain high
I'll be loving you until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea
I'll be loving you until we dream of life and life becomes a dream
I'll be loving you until the day is night and night becomes the day
I'll be loving you until the trees and seas just up and fly away
I'll be loving you until the day that eight times eight times eight is four
I'll be loving you until the day that is the day that are no more
I'll be loving you until the day the earth starts turnin' right to left
I'll be loving you until the earth just for the sun denies itself
I'll be loving you until dear mother nature says her work is through
I'll be loving you until the day that you are me and I am you

Now ain't that loving you?
Until the rainbow burns the stars out of the sky.
Ain't that loving you?
Until the ocean covers every mountain high.
And I've got to say I'll be loving you always.
I'll be loving you always.

And there's no greater love than this, that these five men gave their lives for all of us.

Chief Brown then introduced President Obama, who acknowledged the presence of President George W. Bush and other dignitaries, concluding with Brown himself, and ad libbed:  "I'm so glad I met Michelle first, 'cause she loves Stevie Wonder." 

I used to love Stevie Wonder too--"Isn't She Lovely?" is one of the first songs that leapt to mind when Chloe was born--but I did not recognize the song that Chief Brown quoted.  I googled a phrase and quickly learned it was "As," from Stevie Wonder's 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life.  I downloaded the song and realized that I did know it after all.  It hurtled back to me from another lifetime forty years ago when, aside from the Afro, I dressed a lot like Chief Brown.

And somehow, listening to "As" again, this time in the context in which Chief Brown had used it--to comfort desolate families at a memorial service for five martyred officers--the song suddenly seemed a shout of defiance at all the haters who are trying to drown us all in hate.

The song runs a little over seven minutes, but do yourself a favor and take time to listen to it.  The song as originally recorded is here, but I recommend this live performance at a concert in Java, Indonesia, in 2012:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

In Defense of "Crooked Hillary"

On Sunday, July 9, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd  published a scathing indictment of Hillary and Bill Clinton.  Calling the political couple "the Tom and Daisy Buchanan" of America politics--a reference to characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, whose careless, self-absorbed behavior sets in motion the chain of events that result in the death of the novel's protagonist and title character--she explained:
It says a lot about our relationship with Hillary Clinton that she seems well on her way to becoming Madam President because she’s not getting indicted.

If she were still at the State Department, she could be getting fired for being, as the F.B.I. director told Congress, “extremely careless” with top-secret information. Instead, she’s on a glide path to a big promotion.

And that’s the corkscrew way things go with the Clintons. . . . Their vast carelessness drags down everyone around them, but they persevere, and even thrive.

In a mere 11 days, arrogant, selfish actions by the Clintons contaminated three of the purest brands in Washington — Barack Obama, James Comey and Loretta Lynch — and jeopardized the futures of Hillary’s most loyal aides.
Dowd continued:
On Tuesday, after Comey managed to make both Democrats and Republicans angry by indicting Clinton politically but not legally, Barry [Barack Obama] and Hillary flew to Charlotte, N.C., for their first joint campaign appearance.

Obama was left in the awkward position of vouching for Hillary’s “steady judgment” to run an angry, violent, jittery nation on the very day that his F.B.I. director lambasted her errant judgment on circumventing the State Department email system, making it clear that she had been lying to the American public for the last 16 months.
Dowd then went on to rehearse Bill Clinton's ill-advised impromptu meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, which created the impression that she then issued Comey with marching orders not to indict Secretary Clinton.  And she elaborated upon the jeopardy that  her own high-handedness and lack of candor (if not outright lying) had placed several of her key staffers, who stood to become collateral damage in the scandal over the now infamous Clinton private email server.

We’re resigned to the Clintons focusing on their viability and disregarding the consequences of their heedless actions on others. They’re always offering a Faustian deal. This year’s election bargain: Put up with our iniquities or get Trump’s short fingers on the nuclear button.

The Clintons work hard but don’t play by the rules. Imagine them in the White House with the benefit of low expectations.
I posted a link to Dowd's column, without comment, on my Facebook page.  That generated a spate of comments from several Facebook friends, as well as an email from a retired colleague at Ohio State, frustrated that so many of his friends and colleagues were buying into the "hated Hillary" line, requesting that I provide evidence to support Dowd's thesis.  I replied that Dowd's observations were, like many op/eds, unprovable; and anyway I don't always post items with which I fully agree.  In this instance, while I remain a firm Clinton supporter, I resent the way in which Secretary Clinton's actions have placed me in the position of casting an anti-Trump vote in November rather than a pro-Clinton vote.

This brought another email from my colleague, offering two articles which argued that the case against Secretary has been vastly overblown.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Avoiding the Process of Becoming Devils

Making the Most of a Teachable Moment

Yesterday, as I was preparing to depart for a day of sales calls, my wife told me about two things that were all over the internet that morning.  The first was the video shot by a woman describing, rather clinically, the situation as her boyfriend bled out beside her in the car.  The other was the news of a sniper attack at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.  

As I was on my two hour drive to Nashville, I received a call from my sales rep in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.  Normally we discuss sales opportunities, quotes, and service issues, but yesterday our 30 minute discussion centered almost exclusively about the video.  My rep had watched it, and was extremely disturbed as there seemed to be no provocation that would justify the lethal force the video documented, and this had shaken her profoundly.  She talked about the fact she has a 24-year old daughter with a diversity of friends who does not always hold her tongue, and this worried her, especially if a routine traffic stop had the potential to go so bad so quickly.

I was disturbed too, by the superficial knowledge I had of the Dallas shooting.  It is a classic guerrilla tactic to use the predictability of an enemy to advantage.  Provoke a response and, when the inevitable reaction force shows up, destroy them.  Without any real access to news as I went through my day, I brooded and prayed about the juxtaposition of these two events, I became more and more concerned that things were spinning out of control beyond the ability of men of good will to contain them.

So I did something I have not done since we were children:  I reached out to my older brother, not to discuss family matters, or even to talk about the events of the day, but to try and find comfort and sense in the moment of seeming despair and bleakness.

My brother, sister and I had the misfortune of having our parents first separate through divorce and then both die extremely young (Mom was 47 and Dad was 54).  As a result, we have missed out on the primary tie that binds adult children together such as family: things like Thanksgiving meals with their parents and having impartial arbitration of disagreements and disputes.  This lack explains much of our family dysfunction and outright hostility, as we have had no restraining influence to counteract our strong wills and reaction to each other.  So what I did yesterday was both unusual and deliberate.  I wanted words of comfort from someone who was family and who probably saw things less bleakly than I was at the moment.

We had a long and very productive conversation.  Both Mark and I are very concerned that too much conversation in this country consists of making our own points and not listening to the other person's point of view.  Opinion and assertion in the form of talking points that are spoon-fed to us by whatever source our "itching ears want to hear" have become substitutes for really looking at the facts.  The basic divide is this: some of us look at America as a glass half full and concentrate on the positive aspects of our society and history and ignore the rest.  Others see the empty part of the glass and focus exclusively on that.  Both sides are in denial.  America is indeed the "last best hope of mankind" and the "City on the Hill", but it is flawed in many areas as well.  In this, it is a reflection of the good and bad contained in all of us.  

C.S. Lewis describes this dynamic brilliantly in the chapter entitled "Forgiveness" in Mere Christianity, his masterpiece of Christian apologetics .  Mark brought this up in our conversation and then read a passage from it.  In context, Lewis has just concluded a discussion of how the notion of "love the sinner hate the sin" makes complete sense.  He then puts forth this test of how well we are able to apply this in the following passage that Mark read:
The real test is this.  Suppose one reads of filthy atrocities in the paper.  Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.  Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite as bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, or even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible?  If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process that will make us into devils.  You see, one is beginning to wish that black were a little blacker.  If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black.  Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not being able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
I think this properly describes much of the process behind the rhetoric of the day.  Newt Gingrich yesterday did a live feed from his Facebook page with his colleague from his time on CNN's Crossfire, Van Jones.  Van did most of the talking, explaining the legitimate feelings that galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement.  He conceded that perhaps a better term for the idea would be "Black Lives Matter Too" because that is the real message.  Of course, this is nothing more than the message of Christianity that all human life is sacred and should be cherished as we are unique in all being "created in the image of God".  Christianity doubles down on this concept with the Doctrine of the Atonement, which states that man's estrangement from God by sin was so intolerable to God that He sent Jesus to die as substitutionary sacrifice for our sins so we could resume our proper place as "children of God".  Van also said something that resonated with me.  Conceding that he and Newt have vastly different views on many issues, he said that they were both sincere in wanting to find the best solutions to the problems confronting the nation.  He used the phrase "two minds, one heart" which I think describes Mark and me as well.

Here is the problem though: when confronted with this positive message coming from Newt Gingrich, there is that reaction Lewis talks about, the desire to continue to portray your enemy in as bad a light as possible.  According to the article, headlined: Newt Gingrich Suddenly Acknowledges Structural Racism. Here’s Why It’s Hard To Take Him Seriously. , while what Newt is acknowledging is true, the author says we still do not trust him primarily because he is Newt.  He is somehow not being sincere, he is doing this out of some calculation, or is being hypocritical, etc.  Point made C.S. Lewis!  Until we can transcend the blinders that keep up married to our narratives, we will never be able to move forward.    

Friday, July 08, 2016

Jukebox Requiems

Last night was a bad night.

I spent much of it at a fraternal lodge where I'm a member.  It's less than a mile from my home, so on any given day it's easy to walk up there and just hang out.  Sometimes I go there to actively socialize.  But sometimes I go there just to be around friends, and will sit at the bar nursing a beer and reading the New York Times on my iPhone.

Everybody has their little pastimes.  At the lodge you can buy little tickets, called bingo lottery tickets, that you can open and, if you're lucky, win fifty or a hundred bucks. (The bartenders spend as much time counting out and handing these tickets to members as they do serving drinks.)

Lots of my friends like to blow a few bucks playing those tickets.  I blow mine playing tunes on the jukebox.

I fathom myself to be the lodge's unofficial disc jockey.  There are two types of people who put money in jukeboxes:  people who play for the crowd and people who don't.  People who don't are really missing out.  There's much pleasure in correctly estimating the age of an older couple at the end of the bar, selecting a song that was popular in their youth, and watch their pleased surprise when the tune begins to play.  Or listen to someone talk about how much they love Ireland and then play something by The Chieftains.  Or play "Girl Crush" for a bartender whose face lights up every time she hears it.  ("Blurred Lines" and "Can't Feel My Face" also work well.)  Or play Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," which might as well be the lodge's official anthem.

In the creaky dim past of ten years ago, you'd have to insert actual money into a jukebox.  Nowadays most bars come equipped with jukeboxes owned by TouchTunes.  TouchTunes has an app that allows you to queue up songs using your smart phone, which is both convenient and adds a nice touch of incognito.

Last evening I had barely ordered my first beer than I heard a conversation at the end of the bar about the recent deaths of 37-year old Alton Sterling and 32-year old Philando Castile.  Sterling was shot to death by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 5.  Castile was shot to death just one day later by a police officer in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.  Both Sterling and Castile happened to be African American men.  Consequently they are posthumously getting their fifteen minutes of fame.  That means, among other things, that they are the latest grist for barroom discussions about whether Black Lives Matter or whether that's just political correctness because really All Lives Matter.  And even though there's video of both shootings you can't really know for sure what happened, can you?  And anyway more blacks die at the hands of other blacks than at the hands of police officers.

There's seldom any point in participating in these discussions because they go nowhere.  The pattern is for one side to take the view that police shootings of black men (and boys) is a problem and the other side to take the view that this characterization is unfair to the police.

If you haven't heard this discussion in a bar, just tune into any radio or cable television talk show.

Well, I wasn't about to involve myself with that.  On the other hand, I did have that TouchTunes app, so...

It would be nice to report that the hubbub in the bar quieted and the members paused to listen to the passion, despair, and contained anger in Bruce Springsteen's voice. And that the conversation at the end of the bar took a new turn and the discussants--all of them good men with good hearts--quit rehearsing the same tired talking points. But of course nothing of the sort occurred. It was a sizeable crowd that night, with clots of people everywhere sharing laughter and friendship and Bud Lights and those stupid tickets. And the song isn't catchy. And I doubt anyone had heard it before anyway.

A little while later, on the big screen TVs above the bar, images began to appear of a demonstration in Dallas, Texas--one of several to occur across the country in  the wake of the killings of Sterling and Castile, with hundreds of protesters marching under the protection of dozens of police officers.  Something had happened.  Some sort of ambush.  This time the victims were cops. . . .

 (I think this post works best if you take time to view the videos, but if not, the song lyrics are below the jump.)

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Why Did Comey Decline to Indict?

Reflecting on F.B.I. Director James Comey's remarkable decision to make a compelling case that Secretary Clinton broke the law, on the one hand, and decline to indict her on the other, my brother Scott and I independently came to the same conclusion.  If he had indicted Clinton, it would have made the F.B.I. a kingmaker.  And to become a kingmaker by dint of indicting a presumptive presidential nominee for was, in this instance, not healthy for the republic.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that we were hardly the only ones to think of this.  Here's an excerpt from an interview aired yesterday between (*gulp*) Rush Limbaugh and former Federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy:
RUSH:  You've had a day -- we've all had a day -- to digest this.  You had your piece at NRO [National Review Online] yesterday that basically shredded the FBI director's claim that he couldn't find any intent here and, as such, no reasonable prosecutor would seek charges or would seek to prosecute the case.  Where are you today after having an overnight to digest this, talk to people about it, and review your own thoughts?

MCCARTHY:  Well, I guess, because I think highly of Jim Comey -- he's been a friend of mine and someone I have a lot of respect for personally for a long time -- I try to find some silver linings in what otherwise is a pretty disappointing outcome. . . .
And the only upside I can see to what's happened here is he -- in a very expansive, lavish way -- laid out exactly what the FBI's investigation found so that at least the American people will have that before them when they go to the polls in November.  Now, I should underscore that I don't think that's the FBI's job.  I like the idea that the law enforcement people do law enforcement and leave the politics to the politicians.  But I am grateful for the fact that at least we have a full accounting of what they found.

RUSH:  You know Comey, so in that regard let me ask you: An analogy made here yesterday that others have made also is that this was strikingly similar to the Chief Justice John Roberts saying (summarized), "You know what?  I don't feel comfortable finding a major piece of legislation of the president's that was voted in favor by the people's representatives...  I just don't want... I'm not gonna rule this unconstitutional."  So he changes it from the bench essentially to make it pass muster.  And some people are saying that Comey has, in his own way, done the same thing here, that he just couldn't bring himself to have such a major impact on something as important as a presidential campaign by taking an action that might result in the nominee of one of the major parties being taken out.  Any reaction to that theory?
McCarthy agrees that the theory has merit.  Then:
McCARTHY:  I've never understood this idea that, you know, we have to have the election calendar in mind when we're doing these political corruption cases because we wouldn't want to do anything that would make the FBI responsible for the outcome of the election.  Well, you know, look, if you're in these jobs -- and I've been in these jobs -- you have two choices.  You either indict someone who deserves to be indicted and affect the election that way or you don't indict someone who deserves to be indicted, and you affect the election that way.  One way or the other, you are in the situation where you're affecting the election.  So that ought to be liberating.  We shouldn't be worried at all about how our exercise of discretion affects the politics.  What our job is, is to exercise discretion correctly and let the chips fall where they may.
The point here, of course, is that although McCarthy himself believes that the FBI in this instance could not place itself outside the election process--it would affect the election outcome whether it indicted Secretary Clinton or not, he thinks Comey considered only the first half the dilemma: "You . . . indict someone who deserves to be indicted and affect the election. . . ."

Historians know--or certainly ought to know--that we can rarely discern the motivations of historical actors with certainty.  We're usually in the position of making educated guesses, and we try to make those guesses as educated as we can.  But that Comey decided the FBI should not play the role of kingmaker--or in this instance, queenmaker--is the explanation that is so far the most plausible.

We do not say that we accept Comey's potential reasoning as valid.  As a Republican, Scott is naturally adamant that it isn't.  I, as a Democrat, would like to accept this reasoning but can't.

Civil political discourse and damn-the-torpedoes partisanship cannot mesh.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Calling Your Own Fouls: My Assessment of the F.B.I Report

The opening of this post is essentially a reprint of  my contribution to a thread of comments, made on a friend's Facebook page, re the outcome of the FBI investigation into the Clinton server issue.

The point of departure for the thread was the The Federalist's reaction to the decision not to pursue charges against Secretary Clinton:

Hillary Clinton Is Above the Law 

The thrust of the article:
No reasonable person could possibly square what FBI Director James Comey said about Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail system during her time as Secretary of State with his final recommendation.
On Tuesday, Comey spent 15 minutes meticulously detailing every illegality of Clinton—including her negligent behavior and obstruction of the investigation. And yet, at the end of it all, he offered the absurdly counterintuitive position that no “reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges in such a case.
 The clear implication here is that Comey is an idiot (and if so, an idiot characterized in the Washington Post as "a Republican with a sterling reputation among leaders of both parties") or else that he succumbed to political pressure.

Re the "or else," that's speculation, and in my book speculation doesn't cut it. To sustain this position two things are required: actual evidence that pressure was applied to Comey to produce an outcome favorable to Hillary Clinton, and evidence that Comey was too weak or too corrupt to resist this pressure.

Thus far we have no evidence that the first occurred, and the fact that Comey produced a report that is clearly politically injurious to Clinton (the WaPo article in which the characterization of Comey appears is headlined "Even Without Charges, FBI Rebuke Leaves a Heavy Political Cloud Over Clinton") is pretty compelling evidence that Comey resisted any such pressure. He may have reached a conclusion at odds with the wishes of Clinton's detractors, or their assessment of whether the numerous mistakes made concerning the private server warranted indictment under the relevant statute, but I'm satisfied that he reached his conclusion based on his own judgment. To maintain otherwise requires making a case, based on actual evidence, that Comey lacks both strength of will and integrity.

Comey's oral summary of the findings of the FBI report, and its recommendation against prosecution, is here.

Samples of the coverage by the supposedly pro-Clinton liberal media, as exemplified by the Washington Post and New York Times:

Clinton's Email Problems Might Be Even Worse Than We Thought (WaPo, July 5)

How the FBI Director Systematically Dismantled Hillary Clinton's Email Defense (WaPo, July 5)

Also this rather scolding editorial:  Clinton Was 'Extremely Careless."  That Is Not A Crime, But She Must Do Better in the Future.  (WaPo, July 5)  The editorial compliments Comey on his handling of the investigation and what it regards as his judicious conclusion.  It concludes with this admonishment to Secretary Clinton:  "Rather than toss off this experience with a back of the hand, Ms. Clinton needs to learn from it and find a way to show voters that she has better judgment than the combination of high-handedness and defensiveness she has displayed here."

F.B.I.'s Critique of Hillary Clinton Is a Ready Made Attack Ad. (NYT, July 5)

The opening paragraphs of this analysis are worth quoting in full:
Hillary Clinton may not be indicted on criminal charges over her handling of classified email, but the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, all but indicted her judgment and competence on Tuesday — two vital pillars of her presidential candidacy — and in the kind of terms that would be politically devastating in a normal election year.

The silver lining for Mrs. Clinton is that this is not a normal election year.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is built on the premise that she has the national security experience and well-honed instincts to keep Americans safe in the age of terrorism, and that Donald J. Trump does not. Nearly every day, she seeks to present herself as a more thoughtful and responsible leader.
She has spent months describing Mr. Trump as “reckless,” “unprepared” and “temperamentally unfit” to be president, and she has pointed to her four years as secretary of state and eight in the Senate as unparalleled preparation for becoming commander in chief.
Yet in just a few minutes of remarks, Mr. Comey called into question Mrs. Clinton’s claims of superiority more memorably, mightily and effectively than Mr. Trump has over the entire past year. And with potentially lasting consequences.
The New York Times editorial on the F.B.I. report is more in line with the conservative orthodoxy that the "liberal media" is protective of Secretary Clinton.  It bends over backward as far as it can, but nonetheless concludes:  "[Secretary Clinton] has done damage to her reputation by failing to conform to the established security policies of the department she ran and by giving evasive or misleading answers about her actions and motivations. If there was ever a time that Mrs. Clinton needed to demonstrate that she understands the forthrightness demanded of those who hold the nation’s highest office, this is that moment."

The Wall Street Journal, the conservative counterpart of the WaPo and NYT, contains what is so far the best argument I have seen that an indictment was warranted based on Comey's demolition of the web of Secretary Clinton's numerous evasions.  But unlike some other arguments I have seen, it does not make accusations that "the fix was in."  It does not impugn, directly or implicitly, Comey's integrity.  Its basic tone is one of perplexity--which I think at this point is the responsible way to frame it.

The perplexity owes to the paradox that the F.B.I. report details enough negligence and malfeasance to justify an indictment, yet no indictment will be sought.

The analysis, made by former U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who served in the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, concurs with Comey that prosecution under a statute requiring proof of purposeful intent to destroy government records, or intent to obstruct justice"--even it occurred, which is a not unreasonable suspicion--was untenable.

Consequently, the F.B.I. focused on the question of whether Secretary Clinton and her staff violated two other statutes, one a felony, the other a misdemeanor.

Re the felony:
It is a felony for anyone entrusted with lawful possession of information relating to national defense to permit it, through “gross negligence,” to be removed from its proper place of custody and disclosed. “Gross negligence” rather than purposeful conduct is enough. Yet Mr. Comey appears to have based his recommendation not to prosecute on the absence of “clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information”—though he did say in the same sentence that there was “evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Re the misdemeanor:
The misdemeanor involves simply the knowing removal of classified documents to an unauthorized location.
This last clearly occurred, and Makasey notes that this is the same statute violated by General David Petraeus who disclosed classified information to  Paula Broadwell, his biographer and mistress.  In that instance, Petraeus faced prosecution and pleaded guilty in 2015.

In my view, Makasey makes a compelling case, and I have not yet found an argument that satisfactorily counters it.  My conclusion, then, is that Comey arrived at his decision based on his own judgment--not political pressure--but that a good case can be made that he reached the wrong decision.

In a comment on my brother Scott's Facebook page yesterday, I rejected his contention that an article in the Conservative Tribune offered irrefutable proof that the Clinton server was hacked and that Secretary Clinton knew it.  I based my rejection on the following:
The terrific thing about the Internet is that it is possible to source every statement of consequence. What I did not see in the piece--or any of the links in it, which as far as I could discern were to other attack pieces--was the source for [Clinton staffer] Huma Abedin's statement.

 In other words, I expected at some point to see Abedin's statement quoted verbatim with a citation to the source of the quote. What I saw instead was [gadfly Judge Andrew] Napolitano's paraphrasing. I may well have missed it. If so, I'd be obliged to have it pointed out to me.

I also noticed (in a linked article) that an IT person responsible for security for the server discerned an apparent attack and temporarily shut down the server so that it would not be hacked. The plain meaning of the statement is that the server was not in fact hacked.

To be clear, I think that the very fact that Clinton used a private server showed extraordinarily poor judgment and violated established State Department policy. And what seems clear from the IT person is that he regarded protection for the server as lax. So my purpose here is not to exonerate or excuse Clinton. I simply expected competent sourcing, and didn't see it. Again, I may well have missed it--I had a finite amount of time in which to go through the article and the various linked articles.
What I have tried to do in this post is to model two things:  a willingness to face facts, even when the facts are unpleasant (I'm a Hillary Clinton supporter), and a commitment to sourcing material for the reasons I just now outlined.

In my view, these are at least two of the requisites for the kind of political dialogue my brother and I seek to foster.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Rejecting the Politics of Rage

Between vacation and catching up from vacation, I haven't had a chance to post for several weeks, but not because my mind hasn't been on the political scene.  In fact I have found it difficult to think of anything else.

This near obsession goes well beyond simple interest in the election.  It touches something at the core of me, an ancient wound that has never healed.  Put simply, in my family growing up there was a chronic inability to achieve constructive dialogue.  Instead there was a hell of a lot of rage that eventually atomized my family into five angry, hurt, and lonely people.

I say "inability" because it was not for lack of trying.  Our parents simply lacked the requisite skill set.  This was hardly surprising, for in their own childhoods no one, as far as I can tell, supplied them with even elementary instruction.  My mental picture is one of visceral rage, a kind of wraith chasing my ancestors from one generation to the next, and finally entering, fatally, the home in which I grew up.

In the past year I've read countless op/eds attacking the various candidates with the temerity to run for president when, for various reasons, these candidates are quite clearly horrible people bereft of wisdom, principles or character--and willfully, culpably wrong, hell-bent on destroying the country.  That's the common thread.  A lot of it's kind of fun to read, or listen to, because commentators can muster devastating eloquence or side-splitting humor in their attacks.  But at the end of the day, the overall tone is the equivalent of "you f--ked my wife, you shot my dog."  The politics of rage have always been a feature of American life, and yes, I can identify times when it was just as bad or worse.  But so what?  Why do we ourselves choose to embrace it?  Why have we made it practically our drug of choice?

A lot of Americans, I know, are so disgusted with politics that they avoid it as much as possible  But for those of us who are interested in politics, we have transformed ourselves into political junkies, and every morning or evening or both, we faithfully tune in to our preferred radio or television talk show, listen to the usual commentators blat out utterly predictable observations and speculations and damnation, and get our talking points for the day.  Because when I listen to ordinary Americans engage in what passes for political conversation, it rarely rises above the level of dueling talking points.  Or more often, like-minded people trading talking points and, despite actually being in agreement, doing so at the top of their lungs.
Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out but when they will I can only guess
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy
She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me
I can’t help it if I’m lucky   
That, as many of you will probably recognize, is the opening stanza of Bob Dylan's "Idiot Wind." It's not about political talk per se.  It's about the way we have made a blood sport out of attacking celebrities.  But the final stanza is dead on point:
Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats
Blowing through the letters that we wrote
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves
We’re idiots, babe
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves 
 Something in me simply rebels at this.  Yes, the politics of rage has its efficacy in terms of rallying those who agree with us, pumping us up to make sure we go to the polls and if possible put a political contribution on our credit card.

But here's the thing it does not do.  Unless you're already persuaded, it does not persuade.  Every time we attack Donald Trump, we attack everyone who supports Trump.  Every time we attack Hillary Clinton, we attack everyone who supports her.  This plainly forecloses civil discussion.

If everybody you know is politically like-minded, this isn't a problem.  But if you have friends, as I do, with divergent political views, it is.

Both Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton are less than appealing candidates.  I cannot recall an election that involved candidates who were viewed on all sides as appealing.  Consequently it's easy to sneer at the candidate we oppose.  And it's natural.  It's how the political game is classically played.

But something about it is not good for the soul.

I will try to explain it this way.  I adhere to the Christian faith, and my faith teaches me that in God's eyes there is not a dime's worth of difference between the best of us and the worst of us, that Jesus of Nazareth writhed in agony on the cross because he loved all of us and thought that by dying for us he could redeem us.  I do not even need to believe that Jesus was the Son of God to be moved by the idea of a man willingly sacrificing himself for me, believing that by his death I could find forgiveness and release from every sin I've ever committed, and they are legion.

It is thus central to my faith that he died for me, and that what he basically demanded from me in return--and yet demands, if he was and is indeed the Son of God--is that I respect all human beings simply because they are human beings, made in God's image.

And more than that, I am commanded to love them.

And more than that, I am to heed the warning that I myself will be judged according to the standards by which I judge others.

And as an obvious corollary, to recognize that he sacrificed himself for Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton as well as me, as well as you, as well as every human being who walks the earth or has ever walked the earth.

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I cling to this faith by the tips of my fingers, that all that keeps me within the fold is a force opposite of the wraith I spoke of earlier.  It is a force that Catholics sometimes call the "hound of Heaven," trailing after me:  God intent on keeping me near him no matter how much I'm sick of the judgmentalism and weaponizing of Scripture that is an all too prominent feature of Christianity and makes me just want to get as far away from it as I possibly can.

So I am not speaking as someone who is deeply grounded in faith and coming at you from a position of profound spiritual wisdom or maturity.

All I'm saying is that my faith warns me away from the politics of rage, easy as it is to fall into, emotionally gratifying as it plainly is, and suitably edgy to make for effective op/eds.

Yes, it is my right, and as a citizen my obligation, to take a good hard look at both candidates and voice concerns and criticisms and to cry foul on the not infrequent occasions when any decent human being would cry foul.  But I can't do it the way the society around me assures me that it ought to be done.

I have to find another way.

I'm beginning to form some ideas about what this other way would look like--aided, in great measure, by people who have pondered this same issue much longer and more deeply than I have done.

I'll start to tell you about these glimmerings in my next post.