Showing posts with label democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label democracy. Show all posts

Monday, July 31, 2017

Democracy And Rule Of Law

Democracy is more than just elections.

The Soviet Union had elections.

Joseph Stalin usually received 98 or 99% of the vote.

The Soviet Union didn't have rule of law. The fictonal Ivan Denisovich was sentenced to ten years in a labor camp for suspicion of an offence. Actual Soviet citizens were sentenced for making jokes about Stalin.

Soviet citizens, like those of Tsarist Russia before them, lived in mortal fear of even minor bureaucrats.

One of my favorite stories by Anton Chekhov is titled "Death Of A Bureaucrat." It describes the terror faced by a minor official who accidentally sneezes on a senior civil service official, keeps apologizing obsequiously and fears the senior official does not excuse him. He goes home to bed, turns his face to the wall and dies of mortification.

When our soldiers came home from World War II, they were determined to prevent our country from going down that path. We might not have been a perfect democracy in 1941 or yet in 1945, but we aspired to be as perfect as we could be and to continue perfecting that state.

What defends us from autocracy is democracy and the rule of law. Not just a casual regard for laws, but a deep respect for law.

Five years ago, our elected officials in the Town of Oriental turned away from rule of law and toward arbitrary exercise of authority in favor of the wishes of the wealthy and the powerful.

When elected officials in a democracy abandon rule of law in favor of influence or some other value, that is a betrayal of democracy and of its citizens.

Last Friday's meeting of the Oriental Planning Board was an attempt to address the consequences of a five year old betrayal.

More to follow.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Comey Testimony - Some Thoughts

I've been reading, watching TV and listening to commentary for the past few days. Conclusions: America's democracy is under serious attack.

The attackers are Russia and the American GOP.

Russia has been attacking our democracy since about 2008.

The GOP has been attacking our democracy since at least 2,000 but in some areas since about 1948.

Only we can protect democracy.


Don't wait for the Lone Ranger.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Donald J. Trump Disrespects Veterans; Disrespects Europe; Disrespects Democracy

Watching TV coverage of President Trump's first foreign trip, I was reminded of Casey Stengel's question during his first season with the newly-formed NY Mets: "Can't anyone here play this game?"

Apparently the answer is "no."

If we were dealing with simple incompetence, that would be alarming enough. But we seem to be dealing with something worse - actual malice toward Europe and toward democracy.

But there is also incompetence of a particular kind. An astonishing unwillingness to recognize reality.

What is said at official international meetings is important. There is both the substantive importance - the content of the statements; and there is a kind of ritual importance that may count for more.

Trump's refusal to reiterate the continued commitment of the United States to Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty - at a meeting that unveiled a monument to 9/11, which is the first and only time NATO ever invoked Article Five - was a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to our allies.

Coming on the eve of Memorial Day, it was also a statement of disrespect to the brave Americans and Allies who invaded at Normandy, at Italy and in the South of France in 1944, fought their way across Europe, reestablished democracy. It reflected disrespect for the sustained defense of democracy in Europe.

What the president said (and didn't say) and the way he said it reflected not only disdain for NATO, disdain for democracy, but also immense ignorance of how international security is managed on a day to day basis.

Oh, by the way, he also doesn't understand the first thing about international trade. I'll offer a hint - we have flexible exchange rates and flexible markets. One result is that bilateral trade balances are meaningless. He doesn't understand that.

He doesn't understand a lot of things.

Why doesn't someone on his staff explain these things?

I wondered about that. Especially since the National Security appointments are universally viewed as an order of magnitude more knowledgeable than the civilian appointees. So I looked up the bios of the generals appointed to these positions.

What I learned is that none of Trump's "brilliant" generals has any substantive knowledge about Europe, about Russia, about China, about East Asia, about Latin America, or about Africa. All they know is Central Asia. I don't even see evidence that they have any particular knowledge about Iran.

This is not good.

It means that it is almost impossible for anyone to brief the president on issues in the rest of the world.

On top of that, our journalists have very limited access to the government leaders in those parts of the world, because many foreign bureaus have been closed. As a result, Americans find themselves largely cut off from information about the outside world.

Last week Germany took the hint and decided to lead Europe in its own direction. France had already repudiated Russian attempts to interfere with her elections.

Last year's House of Cards included an episode where a character said, "the president IS the people around him."

We are just beginning to learn who some of the people around Trump are. Not promising.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Are there any Patriots in the Republican Party?

Gobsmacked. There's no other word to describe my reaction to Trump's latest assertion of the power to disclose intelligence information from other countries to the Russians. And to do it from the hip.

This is just one more example of Trump's apparent belief that he was elected emperor or dictator. No wonder he likes the Russians so much. Before the 1917 revolution, Russian Tsars ruled by issuing decrees (Ukase) on any subject they wanted to. Putin follows similar procedures, even to the point of having his opponents assassinated.

So when Donald J. Trump tweets that he has the "absolute right" to declassify anything he wants to, that sounds an awful lot like the assertion of an absolute monarch. He apparently is under the impression that there are no limits to his power.

That isn't in keeping with our patriotic traditions.

There is a reason that officers of the United States swear to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States," rather than an oath of loyalty to the president.

We also had an early dispute over how to address the president. An early candidate phrase was "Your Highness." That didn't fly. Quite rightly.

Every day in every way we learn yet again that when other candidates declared Donald J. Trump unfit to serve as president, they were absolutely correct.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Deja Vu All Over Again

I'm not a great admirer of FBI Director Comey. I think he acted wrongly on the Clinton e-mail matter. But I don't think those actions had anything to do with his firing.

I also don't think Sally Yates' decision about Trump's first immigration order had anything to do with her firing.

This is about Russia.

Let's get this straight! Our democracy is under attack.

It is under attack by the Republican Party, whose leaders demonstrate contempt for democracy.

It is under attack by Russia, whose leader, Vladimir Putin, despises democracy..

I have seen some such attacks before.

My wife and I were in Washington DC during Watergate.

I knew some of the players in the White House, in the Congress, in the Department of State and in the Pentagon.

But it was a different time.

I have learned some things recently about ties between the Brexit campaign, Russian hacking, Steve Bannon, Bannon's billionaire sponsors in the Mercer family and extraordinary computer technology to target specific voters with particular false news reports.

These same techniques were used to get the UK out of the European Union, satisfying a major goal of Vladimir Putin. The same techniques were used in our 2016 presidential election, and succeeded in electing Donald Trump. I suspect the same techniques have been used in US elections to state and congressional offices over the past eight years.

The same techniques were used last Sunday in France, but it didn't work. They will probably be used in this summer's elections in Germany.

Now the deputy White House spokeswoman urges that the Russia investigation be ended.

A hundred years ago last month, President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany "To make the world safe for democracy."

Our democracy in 1917 was flawed. Women could not yet vote. Blacks could not yet vote in most of the country. Unions had few rights. We still had child labor. And on and on. But over the next 80 years we worked hard to make our democracy better. And we spread democracy across the industrial world.

This plainly did not impress our billionaire class. Like the bandits in "Treasure Of The Sierra Madre," they don't need no stinkin' investigations.

Since the presidential campaign of 2000 and the case of Bush v. Gore, our democracy has been subjected to one attack after another.

It is time to fight back.

Follow the bodies.

Only we ourselves can defend democracy from its enemies.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Vive La France!

I certainly breathed a sigh of relief at the outcome of the French election for president.

I only regret that I don't have a tricolor to fly from our front porch in recognition of France's dedication to Democracy and to Europe. The UK has abandoned the cause of Europe and has largely abandoned politics to the Tories.

France still stands as a champion of democracy in Europe.

Some years ago I posted other celebrations of the actions of French citizens in the face of tragedy. For example, after Charlie Hebdo: and

Now we have a subsequent election in the aftermath of several episodes of terrorism in France - a clear choice between a candidate dedicated to improving Europe against a candidate committed to erecting barriers and withdrawing from the EU and from NATO.

But French voters stood up for freedom and for Europe.

Vive la France!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Making The World Safe For Democracy - 1917 To 2000

In August, 1914, Europe erupted in warfare  For nearly three years, President Woodrow Wilson kept the United States out of the war, even in the face of actions that could have justified US entry.

American lives were lost on the high seas when German submarines sank the British civilian passenger ship Lusitania without warning and without stopping the ship and boarding it to determine if the cargo included contraband or offering passengers the opportunity to escape in life boats. These were well understood measures in maritime law intended to protect civilian life. To sink the ship without warning violated international law and custom.

Germany justified its actions because, since the last maritime war in the early 19th century, Marconi's invention of the radio made the traditional procedures too hazardous for warships to follow. The United States protested and Germany relented to a certain extent.

But Germany was becoming desperate. Enough so that they sent a telegram to Mexico offering to return territory taken by the US in 1846 to Mexico if they would join the war if the United States entered on the British side. That Zimmerman telegram alone could have been enough to justify US entry. But Wilson held off.

Then, in January 1917 a desperate Germany renewed unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking merchant ships on the high seas without warning no matter what flag they were flying. The goal was to starve England and France to the negotiating table. They expected this would cause the United States to enter the war, but expected they could defeat the allies before the US could recruit, train, equip and transfer to Europe a force sufficient to tip the balance against them.

It was a bad bet.

Last week PBS broadcast a three episode series showing the US entry into World War I:

If you missed the series, I recommend you seek it out and watch it.

Consequences of that decision produced powerful effects whose ripples are with us to the present time.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The German Question

It is becoming pretty clear that the most urgent question facing today's Europe is the German question.

Paul Krugman sees Germany as killing the European project:  I agree, and have been commenting on the looming disaster for about three years now. The biggest surprise to me is how patient the long-suffering public has been. I hope Greece uses whatever time they have gained by this weekend's deal to print bales of new drachma and prepare to exit the Euro. Spain and Italy should do so as well.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times  claims we thought we had solved the problem of Germany in 1945. I take issue with that, though I think we did believe we had solved it by embracing Germany within the stifling arms of NATO and the Western European Union. As NATO's first Secretary General explained, the purpose of NATO was to keep the Germans down, the Russians out, and the Americans here. To Europe, NATO was at least as much about Germany as it was about the Soviet Union. From 1945 for more than four decades, NATO publicly blamed the Soviet Union for a divided Germany and privately hoped the division would continue. It was Germany under Willy Brandt whose "Ostpolitik" began chipping away at the barriers between East and West for the purpose of making German reunification possible. In the United States, we studied what might happen after Tito died, but never examined the implications of a reunited Germany. Everyone knew that could never happen. Everyone was wrong.

The late George Kennan had some thoughts on Germany, which we should have considered, but of course no one did:

More recently, the economic historian Brad Delong had some interesting thoughts in response to Simon Wren-Lewis' ruminations on the Euro: "And we are seriously considering, after reading him, whether the Euro project needs to be blown up--indeed, whether the fundamental flaw was in U.S. occupation authorities allowing the formation of the Bundesrepublik, because a European Union that now had five members named "Brandenburg", "Saxony", "Bavaria", "Rhineland", and "Hanover" would be likely to have a much healthier politics and economics than our current one, with one member named "Germany":"

That's a thought worth retrospective consideration. It is a much more creative idea than the quickly-abandoned "Morgenthau plan."

It's very hard to get toothpaste back in the tube.

Did we waste a whole war?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cox v. Town Of Oriental: The Real Story

A lot of nonsense has been promulgated by Oriental Town Government about why I filed suit against the Town over closing of Avenue A and South Avenue.

It was about taking away public rights, but it was very much about defending private property rights.

I call it a swindle. It can also be called theft. Constitutionally, it was a "taking." Takings can be lawful, if taken for a public purpose. But this was neither an exercise of eminent domain nor an exercise of the state's "police power." The only other circumstance in which a street closing is clearly authorized by case law is if all the property owners in a subdivision agree to it.

The Town's attorney Clark Wright knows this. Mayor Bill Sage knows this. But they wanted to do what they did, and they didn't even want to protect public access to the "donated property" by a public dedication, a deed restriction, or any other measure that would protect the public in the future.

It changed the face of the Town forever, and since I have now withdrawn my suit, it can't be undone by the courts, even if it is unlawful.

It isn't really complicated, but the Town Board and its attorneys spent (they say) $80,000 to protect the deal by keeping it from the Court of Appeals.

Here's my story: