Friday, December 16, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)

Moral courage is defined as "the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences." In other words, moral courage is the courage that is required to do what one knows or believes is right when that choice involves personal risk, or when it will result in personal vilification or actual danger.

Moral courage is often exhibited by the most ordinary people, and examples are all around us.

Fannie Lou Hamer was the daughter of a black sharecropper from rural Mississippi who helped black American citizens exercise their rights to vote in the 1960's.  For that simple act, Fannie Lou Hamer was threatened, thrown into jail, beaten so badly she suffered permanent kidney damage, and shot at.  For helping other Americans vote.  For standing up to those who would deny those people their rights as American citizens.  For that, she should've been awarded a medal.

In 1962, already 45 years old, Fanny Lou Hamer made a decision to attend a public meeting held by young civil rights workers who'd come to the Deep South to register black voters.  After that meeting, she and 17 other hopeful black voters rented a bus and traveled to the county courthouse in Indianola, Mississippi, about 25 miles South of Ruleville, intending to register themselves to vote.  That very day, when she returned to the plantation where she worked picking cotton by hand, she was fired by the plantation owner who had warned her about registering to vote.  She was forced to leave the plantation where she'd worked since she was six years old.

Fannie Lou, rather than give up the struggle for black rights, began traveling with the Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organizing freedom schools and black voter registration drives.  She said, later, "They kicked me off the plantation; they set me free."

In 1963, while returning to Ruleville, MS from a literacy workshop in Charleston South Carolina, was arrested in Winona, Mississippi and jailed on a false charge.  While in jail, she was held down in a cell while two other inmates were ordered by the police to beat her with a blackjack.  The beating was nearly fatal, and had lasting physical effects; but it didn't stop Ms. Hamer.  She returned to her work, organizing voter registration drives in Mississippi.

Fannie Lou Hamer came to the attention of the entire nation in 1964, during the US Presidential election that year, when she traveled to Washington, DC with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (or "Freedom Democrats").  The Freedom Democrats were there to challenge the Mississippi delegation at the Democratic Nominating Convention which was all-white, and anti-civil rights.  The population of Mississippi in 1964 was 45% black [source]. That meant nearly half of the people of Mississippi were not represented politically at the convention.

PBS's American Experience told the story of Fannie Lou Hamer's powerful speech to the 1964 Democratic National Committee and President Lyndon Johnson's ridiculous response to it:   (3m40s)

I gave up a good job, a 20-acre farm and the house we built in Alabama, to get out of America's Deep South.  All I had to do to keep those things was to do what Fannie Lou Hamer would not  – what I was taught growing up in America's Bible Belt: a little "Yassuh, Massah, Suh!" never kilt no n*r."

I'm glad I had an example like that of Fannie Lou Hamer to emulate. Someone for whom Liberty is more than just a word or an empty promise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Act as a sovereign individual; always. Not as a slave of the State

On 25 January, 2013, John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison for exposing torture in Guantanamo Bay. He served every day of that 30 month sentence.  He is the only man who ever went to prison because of the CIA torture program.

At the time, General David Petraeus (a man of no great moral authority), who was then CIA director, stated "This case ... marks an important victory for our Agency, for our Intelligence Community, and for our country. Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws".

That's the argument that was used by the defendants at the Nuremberg trials ... that their oath of allegiance to the State, and to serve as an instrument of that state, absolved them of responsibility for their own actions.  They were hanged anyway ... the judgement of the court being that we are all, individually, responsible for our own actions.  Not the State, the Marine Corps, the First Baptist Church, or the Boy Scouts of America.  

Moral autonomy is having the freedom and possessing the courage, and the will, to make moral decisions on one's own, individually.  It's standing on one's own two feet; and sometimes that requires sacrifice.

Moral autonomy is at the root of what is termed "character."  Character is always individual.  You don't display character by joining a group.  Moral autonomy is the ability to choose the right course of action, by oneself, without any outside pressure or influence.

Our first allegiances, as men and women of characters, should always be to our principles, and to our families, those who depend on us, not to some oath of allegiance to a State.   To put the powerful above our principles is to act as a tool of an authority that seeks only to enrich and empower itself at our expense; in other words, to act as a slave, rather than a man. It is not just a choice to act amorally, giving over our moral choice to another; it is moral cowardice to refuse to do what we believe is right, using our "oath of allegiance" to excuse that choice.

Ironically, it was under US leadership that the Allies prosecuted not only leaders of the Nazi Party but also industrialists, doctors, and prison commandants. The Americans and Soviets also wanted to prosecute the people who had created the legal framework for the Nazi regime, but British and French leaders objected. Consequently, the United States, acting on its own, convened a separate Nuremberg tribunal to try lawyers, judges, and legal policymakers. In doing so, it established the principle that anyone who violated international laws against harming prisoners in wartime could be prosecuted as war criminals, no matter how many internal memos they had written to the contrary or how much they claimed they were "only doing their jobs."

The precedent for dealing with war crimes was set by Americans.  And they're fully prepared to walk away from that precedent now.  It is not only a glaring hypocrisy to the whole world ... it is a demonstration of weakness.  And a clear indication of how far the nation has fallen, morally. 

So, my verdict on war resisters like Justin ColbyKimberley RiveraDean Walcott, Edward Snowden:  heroes, by virtue of retaining their autonomy as human beings when all around them grovelled, claiming they had no choice other than to act as a helpless tool of authority. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Yes, trials ARE the American way

There's a twisted irony in the fact that Saddam Hussein was never convicted of the single worst charge brought against him, the claim that he authorized the use of chemical and nerve agents to murder innocent civilians (specifically in one Kurdish village, Halabja).

Under the charter of the Iraq Special Tribunal which tried and convicted Saddam Hussein, there was a "presumption of innocence" for that crime:

SECTION THREE: Jurisdiction and Crimes
PART TWO: Rights of the Accused
Article 20.

a) All persons shall be equal before the Tribunal.

b) Everyone shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty before the Tribunal in accordance with the law.
In other words, Saddam Hussein, never having been convicted of the Halabja murders, is legally and by our own standards of justice, presumed innocent of that genocidal crime.

History now records that Saddam Hussein was hanged for executing the perpetrators of a plot to assassinate him and overthrow his government in military coup d'état. Referred to as the Dujail Massacre, more than 140 people were sentenced and executed for their alleged involvement in the plot.  He was guilty of that, it was a harsh act, a brutal one, and it was an act of reprisal against his political enemies ... but it was not the genocidal murder of innocent civilians that Halabja was.

The trial of Saddam Hussein for the Halabja massacre should've been completed before his execution. My opinion is that someone did NOT want the truth to come out about that massacre.

As it stands, Saddam Hussein is innocent (by presumption) of that crime. Forever. That is the law.

There were damned good reasons why the Nazi officers were forced to stand trial for war crimes at Nuremberg before they were hanged.  There were reasons why the full truth was made public; documented, and committed to history.  Reasons that persist to this day.  Very few serious doubts remain about the atrocities that they committed in the name of "social cleansing."

There are very good reasons that we should always want men like these brought to trial.  Public trials.

Now Saddam Hussein will never be tried for genocide. And the evidence against him will remain, forever, a "classified" secret.

There are very good reasons that we should always want men like these brought to trial.  Here's one:  Saddam Hussein is, by law – a law we are all bound to respect – innocent of genocide.  


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Viola Desmond to be on a new Canadian $10 bill

Viola Desmond, a Nova Scotia businesswoman who once refused to sit in a blacks-only section of a Nova Scotia movie theatre, will be the first woman other than a Queen or a Princess to appear on the front of a Canadian banknote.  Desmond’s image will be featured on Canada’s next $10 bill, which will be issued in 2018.

It should come as no surprise, I suppose, to learn that Canada has pockets of racial prejudice similar to what I knew growing up in the 1960's American South, but I was surprised to learn that Canada had its own Rosa Parks in 1946, 9 years before Ms. Parks said "No" when asked to give up her seat on a public bus to a white person.

Last year, the neighbouring province of Nova Scotia, celebrated its first annual "Heritage Day" statutory holiday.  The holiday was used to commemorate 
Viola Desmond, an African-Nova Scotian, who, in 1946, bought a movie ticket at a New Glasgow movie theatre. But instead of sitting upstairs where the "coloured people" were supposed to sit, she took a seat on the main floor.  She was jailed for that "crime", but was granted a special pardon by the city of New Glasgow in 2010, 63 years after her arrest and 45 years after she died.

I grew up in America's Deep South, and have lived in 6 different "Bible Belt" states, the most recent being Alabama.  Growing up, I saw a lot of things I didn't understand, and that I thought were wrong; I accepted them as "just the way things are."  It wasn't until I was nearly an adult, I suppose, that I perceived the hatred, generations of it, in which those things were grounded.  I also realized that I was "expected" to continue the cycle and adopt the hatred into my own notions of "how things should be."

Viola Desmond exemplifies the type of courage we can all emulate, and strive to demonstrate in our own lives.  It's the courage that simply says "No!" to things that we know, without question, are wrong.  

In 1946, how many of the good white citizens of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, do  you think had the courage of principle to stand with her?  Very few, if any, I'm sure.

A friend of mine who grew up in New Glasgow, described the town as he knew it in the 1960's:

Even when I was a pre-teen (late 1960's), the balcony at that theater was known as "n_gger heaven" 
and good white families didn't allow their children to sit up there – no matter how much we begged.

Down the street was the "Cozy Corner" diner where the tables at the front – in view of the street, 
were "reserved," you might say, and blacks were "expected" to sit in the back tables, away from 
the windows.

Who wants to live in a place like that, among people like that?  Not my friend from New Glasgow.  Certainly not me.  We both left communities in which hatred was deeply woven into the social fabric; passed downed from generation to generation in a self-perpetuating cycle.

The people of New Glasgow did the right thing in absolving Viola Desmond of a crime ... but only after waiting 63 years.  They waited until a time when it cost them nothing; when it required no sacrifice.  When it was convenient.  When it took no courage.  What's that worth?  Not much, in my book.

Viola Desmond stood up and spoke back to a reprobate authority.  Viola Desmond had the courage of one among many thousands.

Why can't more of us do the same? Why do you think most people simply can't act courageously when the chips are down?

America's wars changed this Southern boy forever

Why, yes, of course I'm glad I immigrated to Canada from the US Deep South when I did (October 2005).  It was the right decision for me and my family; and the best thing I've ever done; even if many years too late.

But it was a lot more than simply a change of residence.  It marked a change in me; who I choose to be, and how I choose to live the remainder of my life.  And, as strange as this sounds, I have to credit America's headlong foolish rush into a series of unnecessary wars for that change in me. Without the wars; I'd have remained the man I was, "happy as a pig in slop" as they say in Alabama.  
Too often. people told me that I should "get over it."  In other words, return to who (or even where) I was before.  Never.  
I remain absolutely antiwar, but America's wars aren't what's important; they only reveal the truth about Americans. The wars didn't change most Americans like they changed me; they only brought to the surface, and made visible, what was already there.  Something I discerned for the first time; something I want absolutely no part of.

And to those who say, "What have you accomplished, what have you changed?", I'd say this:  I changed the most important thing of all.  In the end, the most important thing I did, and certainly the most difficult, was this:  I changed myself.

Here's the bottom line:  I will no longer give my unquestioning allegiance to politicians, to institutions, to political parties, and to religious leaders, especially those who have betrayed my loyalty and trust.  I'll go with my gut from now on.  All morality is ultimately individual.  Allowing institutions to define moral behaviour for us, refusing to live by a personal standard, is not merely "amoral" ... it is immoral.  It is a choice to abandon morality as a basis for one's actions and to yield the moral responsibility for one's choices to another person or an institution.

By the way, where were America's churches when all this went down?  Most (at least in the Bible Belt) were in lockstep with the national sentiment of hate-filled desire for blood ... for vengeance. Their role was to assure Americans that evil had God's "stamp of approval."  That was a lie ... a blasphemous lie, and I'm using the term "blasphemous" both literally and accurately.

The wrong choices that most Christians made were made because they were easy to make.  In my opinion, the right choice for Christians should never been an easy one.  The basic tenet of the Christian faith is love for others, and Christians should be immune to all appeals to the basest emotions of humans (hate, envy, greed, prejudice, and the desire for vengeance).  They were not, because society had made the wrong choices easier; the right choices (like speaking out against evil-doers) very, VERY difficult 15 years ago.

Why do I kick against a stone wall?  I guess I'm actually trying to make those hard choices a little easier for others, and more socially-acceptable – choices that better society ... that better the living conditions and the prospects for the greater number.  I don't want others to have to endure the pain I have.  And, maybe along the way, I might save the lives and limbs of a few young men and women who are being used to advance the purposes of those who care nothing for them. Americans were easily led into an extended series of wars that, as most wars do, will be manifested most vividly in the blood shed by the sons and daughters of poor men serving to make rich men richer.  [the US is currently involved in direct military action in at least seven countries; four more than when President Obama took office eight years ago].  

Where were the good Americans when all this started, and when all of this could most easily have been prevented?  I believe they were learning to listen to voices that "tickle the ear." Those voices say, "The messages of peace, love, kindness, compassion, self-sacrifice and humility are old-fashioned, quaint, we can't afford them anymore.  It is your destiny to own more, and to think of yourself first ... not to worry about the plight of others or even the world you leave your children's children."  I know, because I heard that message, I heard that lie, and I loved it.  I loved it, and I lived it for 45 years. I'm no longer that man and never will be again.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Viva la revolución. Viva Castro!

For what it's worth, Canadians don't buy the American lies about Fidel Castro.   And neither do I, anymore.  Canadians are very proud of having stood by Cuba, an ally, despite the shameful US embargo against that tiny country, which caused incalculable (and unnecessary) poverty and suffering to the Cuban people. For some bullshit theory about Communism taking over the world.   

Try as they might, lie as they might, American leaders have failed over the past 5 decades to convince the Cuban people and most of the world (especially Canada) that the poverty in Cuba is due to its socialist government.  Cuba's poverty is the result of a 54-year trade embargo by the United States, an embargo that completely failed to result in an overthrow of the Castro government.   

Incidentally, Fidel Castro was not primarily a communist; he was never an ideologue, he wasn't following a socialist ideology ... he was a nationalist.  His first concern was Cuba, and his people, and after overthrowing the corrupt US-backed Batista government in 1959, he appealed to the West to support him, to welcome his new government and to help Cuba survive.  He was rebuffed by President Kennedy in the US and Canada's Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, refused to meet with him.  Castro's government was forced to accept aid from the Soviet Union in order to survive.  Which is the only reason it survived.  Things could've been different, if men had been better, wiser, more courageous, and I don't mean Fidel Castro.  His courage, his resolve, his dedication to his people, was absolute and unquestionable.

The CIA made hundreds of attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro in Cuba.  According to one source, 638 attempts have been documented. They used poisons, exploding cigars (seriously), and they attempted to embarrass him by using a super-hallucinogenic to induce a wild acid trip during a public appearance.  They also tried to use a  "potent depilatory that would cause his beard, eyebrows, and pubic hair to fall out."  

Especially in comparison to his "enemies", Fidel Castro stands tall as a man and a leader.

Canadians are glad they stood by him.

We disagree with the approach the United States has taken with Cuba. We think that our approach is much better – of partnership, of collaboration, of engagement.

It's not our job to tell our friends and allies what they should do or shouldn't do. It is our job to make sure we're doing what we know that we should do, that we can do in terms of creating opportunities for Canadians, for Canadian companies, but also opportunities for Cuba to continue to develop, to modernize, to improve in the many areas that it's building success in.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the University of Havana, 
Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What was Libya like under the "cruel dictator" Muammar Gaddafi?

I know that Hillary Clinton (as the US Secretary of State) is being blamed for the 2011 overthrow of the Libyan government (that of Muammar Gaddafi) and turned that country into a failed state that is now a major source of violent extremism. It is true that the election of Hillary Clinton to the Presidency would have almost certainly guaranteed more US aggressions for the purpose "regime change" and, consequently, a spread of terrorism. But she didn't act alone ... not at all. With the recent examples of the US failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, what was the overwhelming mood of Americans in 2011 to the use of military force to overthrow another government in Libya? It was shameful. There was almost no opposition in the US except, perhaps, among Libertarians. Certainly not from either of the political parties. Where was the "opposition party" that was so willing to attack Clinton for Benghazi? Silent.

The exaggerated reports of Gaddafi's evil cruelty were swallowed whole by a frightened gullible public.  Propaganda works well on Americans. Too well.

What did the United State do to Libya? Ask, rather, what was Libya like under Gaddafi's dictatorial rule (and, yes, it was dictatorial)?  But how did the people of Libya fare under Gaddafi, at least compared to other nations in that region of the world?

We know, for instance, that everyone in Libya had access to an excellent health care system:

The number of medical doctors and dentists reportedly increased sevenfold between 1970 and 1985, producing a ratio of one doctor per 673 citizens. In 1985 about one-third of the doctors in the Libya were native-born, with the remainder being primarily expatriate foreigners. The number of hospital beds tripled in this same time period. Among major health hazards endemic in the country in the 1970s were typhoid and paratyphoid, infectious hepatitis, leishmaniasis, rabies, meningitis, schistosomiasis, venereal diseases, and the principal childhood ailments. Malaria has been eradicated, and significant progress has been made against trachoma and leprosy. In 1985 the infant mortality rate was 84 per 1,000; by 2004, the U.S. Agency for International Development estimated that the infant mortality rate had dropped to 25.7 per 1,000. Other estimates report an infant mortality rate of less than 20 per 1,000.

We know that primary education was both free to all Libyan citizens and was compulsory:
In 2001 public expenditures on education amounted to about 2.7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) ... in the early 1980s, estimates of total literacy were between 50 and 60 percent, or about 70 percent for men and 35 percent for women, but the gender gap has since narrowed, especially because of increased female school attendance. For 2001 the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report estimates that the adult literacy rate climbed to about 80.8 percent, or 91.3 percent for males and 69.3 percent for females. According to 2004 U.S. government estimates, 82 percent of the total adult population (age 15 and older) is literate, or 92 percent of males and 72 percent of females.

We know that Libya ranked 55th out of 170 countries on the 2010 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, which measures overall quality of life. 55th in the entire world!

The government subsidizes medical care and education. A labor law provides for workers’ compensation, pension rights, minimum rest periods, and maximum working hours. The government also heavily subsidizes rent, utilities, oil, and food staples.

It is a fact that the full truth is never exactly what we're told. In the case of the Libyan war, the truth was very much different from what we were being told.  The Libyan war was, first and foremost, a propaganda war; and it was another war for regional power and control of resources.  Concern for human rights or for national self-determination through democratic elections, were non-issues.

So, after decades of relative stability in Libya, especially in relation to the rest of the middle east, why did it suddenly become necessary for the U.S. to support (financially and militarily) Gaddafi's enemies in a civil war?

In January, 2009, Gaddafi announced that he was considering the nationalization of the foreign oil companies in Libya.  He also threatened to grant Russian, Chinese, and Indian oil companies the rights to pump and purchase Libyan oil.  Gaddafi sealed his own fate when he made the mistake Saddam Hussein made when Saddam announced in September 2000 that Iraq was no longer going to accept the U.S. petro-dollar for oil being sold under the UN’s Oil-for-Food program and, instead, Iraq would begin using the euro as Iraq's oil export currency.  Gaddafi, like Hussein before him, threatened U.S. hegemony over the oil resources of the middle east.  That was his real "crime."

Patriotism and "democracy" were used sell yet another neocon war ... and this time, just like every other time, most people bought it.

Just like most people will buy the next one. 

Don't tell me there won't be a "next one." You just wait for it.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening – who were they?

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by a joint resolution of the United States Congress on August 7, 1964 and was signed by President Lyndon Johnson three days later.  The Resolution gave the US President congressional authorization to make the first major military strikes (followed by a rapid escalation of the war) on Vietnam and its neighbouring countries without a formal declaration of war by Congress (a requirement of the US Constitution).

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gave Johnson the authority to launch the first major military strikes on Vietnam and began a ten-year period of abject shame for the United States.

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, but it was opposed in the Senate by two men, both were Democrats which mean they broke with their party in voting their consciences.  Those Senators were Wayne Morse (Oregon) and Ernest Gruening (Alaska). During the debate on the Resolution, Senator Gruening told the Senate that he opposed "sending our American boys into combat in a war in which we have no business, which is not our war, into which we have been misguidedly drawn, which is steadily being escalated".  He was, of course, 100% right in taking that stand.

Morse and Gruening opposed the Resolution for the most honourable of reasons, they believe that the war dishonoured America and, as it turned out, they were both right about that. They didn't do it to garner votes, or to go along with their political party and its leaders, or to gain the approval of their peers.   Moral courage being defined as "the courage to take action for moral reasons despite the risk of adverse consequences," I regard those two votes as acts of courage; extremely rare among political leaders at the time.  Rare even today.

Both men died in 1974, just after the Vietnam war ended. I am glad they saw their act of courage vindicated by events.  We aren't all so fortunate.

Saigon, 1966

Monday, November 7, 2016

The "Mayaguez Incident" (May 1975)

Saigon. The following day, the South Vietnamese government of President Thieu surrendered to the Viet Cong, and that long regrettable war was over.

Earlier in that same month, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was quoted in the Washington Post as saying: "The U.S. must carry out some act somewhere in the world which shows its determination to continue to be a world power

The US had been humiliated in its first decisive military defeat. And that's why, in May 1975, the "Mayaguez Incident" became a huge news item; proof that Americans were back from their defeat and on top again. The military operation that "rescued" the crew of the Mayaguez; well, that was the proof. Except, the story spun as propaganda was not quite true.

So, what actually happened?

The Mayaguez was an American cargo ship that had sailed from South Vietnam in mid-May 1975 en route to Thailand. As it passed an island which belonged to Cambodia (a country the US had bombed during the Vietnam war, it was stopped by the Cambodians, whose government had recently fallen to the Khmer Rouge. The ship was forced into an island port, and the crew was place on a fishing boat and moved to the Cambodian mainland. The crew was questioned about spying, but at no time were any of them mistreated, and they later said they were treated respectfully and courteously. The Cambodians, convinced that the ship was not spying, released the crew and put them on a fishing boat headed for an American fleet. That was about 6:15 P.M. [all times are EDT] on Wednesday, May 14. At 7 P.M, Phnom Penh radio, which is heard in Bangkok, announced the release of the Mayaguez crew. That transmission was intercepted by the CIA station in Bangkok and translated.

There is little doubt that the Americans in knew of the crew's release. Nevertheless, the Marine assault ordered by President Gerald Ford on Koh Tang Island (where the Mayaguez crew had been held before being taken by ship to the Cambodian mainland) was not halted That assault was a disaster. Four of 11 helicopters transporting the Marines (CH-53s) were shot down, five more were disabled. 12 Marines were killed in the initial assault, from gunfire and drowning, and one-third of the Marine landing force (65 out of 200) were soon dead or wounded (which, by the way, exceeds the casualty rate in the Marine invasion of Iwo Jima). 23 more were killed in a helicopter crash (which was quickly hushed up) in Thailand during the evacuation of Koh Tang Island.

Final toll: 41 US Marines dead. 15 killed in action; 3 MIA and presumed dead, 23 killed in an evacuation helicopter crash. 50 wounded. And they "rescued" no one.

The Mayaguez assault on Koh Tang was the last official battle of the Vietnam War. The names of the Americans killed, as well as those of three U.S. Marines who were left behind on the island of Koh Tang after the battle and were subsequently executed by the Khmer Rouge, are the final names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 

President Ford actually went on U.S. national television to announce the heroic recovery of the Mayaguez and the rescue of its crew, but he conveniently forgot to mention the fact that the crew had in fact been released voluntarily by the Khmer Rouge.

The 1975 Mayaguez Incident was a fiasco for the US military. But that's not at all the way you heard it, is it?


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Have Americans completely abandoned their belief in the "natural rights of man" ?

Americans make a huge deal out of their founding documents (the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution), but few would acknowledge that those documents, and the United States itself, were founded on "natural rights."

What are "natural rights"?   These are the rights of all human beings; rights we all enjoy simply because we are human beings.  These rights are not granted by governments, or laws, or constitutions and, therefore, they cannot be abolished by governments.

Natural rights are the rights of all people, everywhere ... not granted by virtue of citizenship in any one country or adherence to any of the "one true" religions.

I'm not going to try to sell libertarian principles, but I would say this, libertarian thought is completely grounded, just like the United States itself, in the whole notion of "natural rights."  Libertarianism is completely consistent with every founding principle of the American nation.   The whole basis of libertarian thought is based primarily on the recognition of natural rights.  And if you want to understand American principles, read a modern explanation of libertarian theory.  I'd recommend the first three Chapters of Murray Rothbard's book For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, first published in 1973. (download it for free)

If you prefer to avoid modern libertarian ideas completely (and I think that's understandable), you really need to read the works of those Western thinkers of the "enlightenment" whose ideas spawned the American revolution. John Locke (1632–1704) was one of the first and most  prominent of those who conceptualized rights as natural and inalienable. Locke, Thomas Hobbes, even Thomas Paine (Common Sense and Rights of Man), Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (the Federalist Papers).

Thomas Jefferson in the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, famously condensed this to:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they 
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights ...

Thus, America, perhaps uniquely in the annals of history, was a nation born in an explicitly libertarian revolution, a revolution against global empire; against taxation, corporate favoritism (primarily trade monopoly), and against militarism and concentrated centralized power (in a monarch or chief executive).

But Americans have strayed far from that tradition, and have changed dramatically to become the most powerful enemies of the notion of natural rights on the planet, systematically destroying it everywhere, replacing it with the idea that rights are a gift to other nations by the great and wonderful United States.  No matter if hundreds of thousands of people are dying; at least they're free from communism, or Islamist fundamentalism, or some other "-ism" just as evil.

And the US has a list of other nations that it wants to "gift" with their form of democracy.  I just can't understand why they'd resist, can you?

Most Americans are 1) authoritarians and 2) they are statists.  Both of those things stand in opposition to the concept of natural rights. Most Americans today believe that any rights we enjoy are granted by the laws created by men, protected by the armies of men, and are limited to those people who live under the protection of those states which recognize these rights in their legal systems.

The traditional American notion, long since abandoned, is that we all (every human being by virtue of our humanity) possess certain unalienable rights (we cannot be separated from them).  The men who enshrined this belief in the American Declaration of Independence believed so strongly in natural rights that they considered it a "self-evident" truth; in other words, they believed it was an obvious truth that didn't need further justification.  At that time, if you'll recall, the concept of natural rights certainly wasn't obvious or recognized by those who believed in the so-called "Divine Right of Kings", the monarchists or Tories who believed that defying the will of the King was heresy, the King ruled by divine appointment, not by the "consent of the governed."

Most Americans are authoritarians.  It surprised me when I realized that.  I had been so steeped in the "myth" of the rugged, courageous and independent American, I wasn't able to see how badly the myth differs from reality.  Americans are largely followers.  And while I thought for a long time that the Democratic Party offered an alternative to the "goose-stepping" obedience of the Republicans that surrounded me in the Deep South, that notion was shattered when Democrats gave their unquestioning support and allegiance (especially in the first two years of his 1st term in office) to the war policies of President Obama.  Because he was "their" leader, everything they criticized the former President for was suddenly A-OK.  Authoritarian followers.

Most Americans are statists. Statists believe that a large, powerful, central government is desirable; they may argue endlessly over whether that government should be be primarily a "welfare state" or a "warfare state," but in the end, neither side being willing to compromise on its goals for society, Americans will continue to live with government attempts to have both.  And, in the end, they'll live under a totalitarian state, essentially one that is financially unsustainable, and an enemy to liberty.

In short, Americans believe that government grants them their rights; and government can rescind those rights.  
And I don't accept that belief.  Do you?  To the contrary, that implicit trust in government is all that is necessary to ensure those rights will be abridged.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Have you heard of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952?

It was a surprise to me, thirteen years ago (and "surprised is quite an understatement), to receive death threats for having the audacity to question, in a public forum, the wisdom of attacking a country without just cause, on the basis of unproven claims of a threat (which turned out not to exist).

I was surprised, again, when I called the FBI detachment near the threatener's home in Cedartown, Georgia, and was told, "Mr. Auids, our country is at war, and we must all be willing to give up our freedoms for national security."   I was astonished at that response, and I told the young FBI agent that that was not how I understood my rights as an American.  "If young American men and American women are supposed to be dying to defend our liberty, then what kind of a coward would I be to give those liberties up, without hesitation, because of my fear?"  He did not understand.  Few people did, thirteen years ago.  

I was surprised, recently, to learn that Pierre Elliott Trudeau, prior to becoming Prime Minister of Canada in 1968, was blacklisted in the 1950's by the United States and prevented from entering that country because of a visit he had made to a conference in Moscow, and because he subscribed to a number of left-wing publications.  Trudeau was not considered a security risk; he was prevented from entering the country because of his beliefs.   It was his ideas that the US government was afraid of.  Think Stalinist Russia, the East German Stasi, or North Korea under Kim Jong-un.  

Trudeau was banned under the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 which, while sponsored by two Democrats, was strongly opposed, by President Harry Truman, whose veto of the bill was overridden.  The bill, which was designed, ostensibly, to remove racist discrimination from US immigration statutes, replaced race with ideology as a basis of discrimination, as a way of keeping Communist ideas out of the country. It was Americans' way of keeping ideas they feared out of the country.  Now, 60 years later, we're seeing fear driving calls for new immigration restrictions, based again on ideology.  I'm pretty darned confident that the majority of Americans will find their way back to the traditional values of the nation, but fear will often make people act in irrational, shameful ways. 

Truman's objection to the bill, which was designed to block immigration from Eastern European countries (Soviet bloc) was that it was unAmerican in its departure from the traditional American position of offering refuge to those who who were fleeing tyranny and oppression.  America was supposed to be a different, better, place.  Because fear of ideas was not an American trait.  

The McCarran-Walter Act is still on the books, although the provisions have been softened somewhat.  Restrictions based on political opinions for temporary immigration were revoked by the Immigration Act of 1990; however, those restrictions can still be applied to those seeking to permanently relocate to the United States.

In an appearance before a House of Representatives subcommittee held in 2005, author Larry McMurtry (who wrote Lonesome Dove), representing PEN America (a literary journal which advocates for the freedom of expression in journalism), said:

An objective look at the laws that govern the flow of people and information across our borders reveal some serious shortcomings in this regard. One of the most glaring examples of our failure to consistently and fully protect First Amendment rights is the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act whose ideological-exclusion provisions—still in effect for those who seek to reside here permanently—are an affront to all who cherish
the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and association. To a writer whose living depends upon the uninhibited interchange of ideas and experiences, these provisions are especially appalling.
January 3, 2005 
Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and Administrative Justice of the House Judiciary Committee

For the record, after being banned from entering the United States, Pierre Elliot Trudeau appealed that ban and it was rescinded.

A word to the unwise. 
Torch every book. 
Char every page. 
Burn every word to ash. 
Ideas are incombustible. 
And therein lies your real fear.  
– Ellen Hopkins

It was an "unpology"

I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them.
Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize. I’ve traveled the country talking about change for America, but my travels have also changed me. I’ve spent time with grieving mothers who’ve lost their children, laid-off workers whose jobs have gone to other countries, and people from all walks of life who just want a better future. I have gotten to know the great people of our country, and I’ve been humbled by the faith they’ve placed in me. I pledge to be a better man tomorrow and will never, ever let you down.
Let’s be honest — we’re living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today. We are losing our jobs, we’re less safe than we were eight years ago, and Washington is totally broken. Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground. 
I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.
– Donald Trump, Saturday, 8 October, 2016

This week, that "apology" was mentioned to me by several Canadian co-workers, most of whom wanted to know what I thought about (as a former American).  All agreed that it was not a true apology.  Canadians just know that; they recognize it as a denial of responsibility.  Donald Trump refused to accept responsibility for his own actions; he merely admitted that those actions were wrong (or, more accurately, stupid), but he certainly didn't apologize for anything HE had done; only saying he was sorry if someone else might've been offended.

So, I asked my co-workers, "What's that called?"  No one knew, although they knew very well that it was insincere, and it was worthless; they didn't know what to call it.  I said, "It's sort of like a back-handed (insincere) compliment, but that's not it ... I mean ... there has to be a name for that."

So, this morning, I took the time to find out what that's called.  It's popularly termed an "unpology" (as defined here).

An unpology can be recognized by what it contains that you will never find in a sincere, genuine apology:

  • Lots of I-statements that aren’t "I'm sorry" 
  • The word "if," as in, "if you were offended."
  • Deflection of blame
  • Excuses cantering on the apologizer, e.g. "I was hurt and lashed out."
  • The apologizer's desired outcome, e.g, "I hope we can all move on."
  • A change of subject following the apology

See which of those you can find in Donald Trump unpology.  Oh, you just gotta love that last paragraph, such an obvious attempt at deflection of guilt.